“Mary, you’re an angry pigeon,” Alexander told me as I huddled deeper into the faux fur scarf wrapped around my chin and ears. I suppose the angry shivering could have been construed as cooing. This beige, concrete city provided no shelter from the cold this early in the morning. As we wandered, looking for a shopping center or coffee shop, I regretted my decision to wear a dress and thin tights. This was super-cold, not just unpleasant, but dangerous and wild. It was 8AM on what ended up being one of the coldest days of the winter, and at the National Mall all of the museums were closed until 10, while all the surrounding buildings were offices that I doubt would welcome tourists sitting in their lobbies. We turned back and found the one place we knew there was a coffee shop, and waited grumpily until 10.
That morning, we woke up at 3:20 AM in order to accompany Alexander’s father on his long, arduous journey into D.C. using many forms of public transportation. We started by driving, then took a train that led us to Baltimore where we walked two blocks to pick up another train, which took us to a subway station, which involved taking two trains to arrive near his office. By 7:30 it felt like lunch, but we had breakfast, anyway. I got a chocolate almond croissant at a place called “Vie de France” which I’m sure is a chain, but the pastries were flaky and creamy. After that, we came to the unfortunate realization in the freezing cold that the museums weren’t even open, yet, having already walked there.
Once we gathered our strength over some tea, we headed over to the Hirshhorn, the museum of modern art. I have a complicated relationship with modern art. I like the idea of new perspectives and avant garde techniques, but find some pieces lack visual interest or are too conceptual. Some of the “found object” art looked like something from Miley Cyrus’s artwork. Overall, I enjoyed my time there, though I did not take any photographs. I was overwhelmed by the cavernous high ceilings and guards walking around, so I didn’t want to risk doing something incorrect. Alexander will be the first person to say that he finds the whole genre humbug, so we skipped a floor of exhibits and continued our journey down the street to the Sakler/ Freer galleries.
Here we found Asian and Middle Eastern art and finds from archeological digs. I found the work of the Sackler to be a little “othering” for my taste, for two of the featured exhibits had a bit of an orientalist slant. One exhibit told the story of the archeological dig led by Wendell Phillips, and another group of photographs showed areas of Asia as photographed from the passenger seat of a car. The door was shown open in each snapshot. It seemed to say “look at these exotic places and exotic people! I wouldn’t dare leave the comfort of my car to walk among them!” and the exhibition seemed to focus more on the British man leading the expedition than the art found there. However, the Sakler did have some beautiful works of pottery and jars.
In the Freer, I found what found to be a sublime example of interior decorating from the turn of the century: the peacock room. This piece surrounded all who entered with decadence and the lovely asian-inspired forms of Art Deco/ Art Nouveaux. Hard to see in my photographs, the attention to detail was extraordinary; the two peacocks had jeweled eyes that shone under the soft lighting. Paired with eclectic pottery, I couldn’t help but imagine incorporating shelves such as this in my own home. I would be thrilled to dine or sleep surrounded by such beauty.
Some of the other treasures I found in the Freer included Chinese jade disks, Japanese scrolls, and many other beautiful pieces of art. I also stopped by the gift shop which I would have enjoyed more if I were not a poor college student. I picked up a small Namaste charm and a postcard with a Japanese woodblock print by Yoshida Hiroshi, 1927. Is it tacky to frame postcards? I really think I want to find a small frame for mine.
By this point of the day, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion was taking hold, as Alexander and I were thrown into fits of giggles as I tiptoed over icy sidewalks with throbbing knees, probably the result of a bad habit of hyperflexing my legs. We tried to find an independent restaurant, but the only one within hobbling distance was the pleasant yet overpriced Smithsonian cafe. The food was good, but was about the level of Panera. After lunch, I was determined to walk to the Natural Science museum, and this should have been a three minute walk, but the mall was undergoing construction, so I conceded to hobble around the grass. Once there, we looked through the ocean exibit and found a large recreation of my favorite fish, the Sunfish. Not only are they the most rare find in Animal Crossing (one of my favorite games!) but they’re very pleasant fish who are so big that they aren’t the strongest of swimmers. They seem like derpy aquatic teddy bears; only once has one injured a human, and that was because it was curious about the boat, so it jumped in for a look. They sort of remind me of my Newfoundland, who is big and cuddly, but not too agile. If you’d like to donate to adopt a sunfish (Mola as they are called) you can go to this website.
The science museum also had a butterfly exhibit, but it was 8$ per person, and having neither time nor cash, we peeked inside the metal dome to see a few. In the spring, they have an outdoor butterfly exhibit which I’d love to see. We ended up in the rock, mineral, and crystal section. I absolutely adore crystals, and whether or not they have “vibrations” I still wear them often because I feel like having an ancient, beautiful piece of the earth that takes years and extreme pressure to form, connects me to the planet in a special way. The raw crystals were gorgeous, and they also included some of the most beautiful jewelry from around the world, but I didn’t bother taking photographs of most of them. The light radiated from these diamonds in ways that made them look like little suns, but in a still photograph that magic was lost. The hope diamond was beautiful, but my favorite was a crown that Napoleon gave to Josephine featuring diamonds and a rare pale turquoise that looked more like a robin’s egg blue.
The trip home was mildly terrible, as I had to walk in the cold once more but with a bum knee and having exhausted myself, but it was worth the visit. We got a snack at a middle eastern sandwich and wrap shop and went grocery shopping (because, why not, if we’re already out) before finally coming home, like zombies. I would love to go back in the spring when I don’t want to kill myself every time the wind picks up. Perhaps we’ll even get a hotel, so we can spend two days. I highly recommend everyone and anyone to visit these and all museums because they make some of the most worthwhile, interesting trips, and are free most of the time.