Saturday, 23 June 2012

DC & New York: III (and a little bit of Father's Day)

Father's Day Adventures: 

The plan is to use cloth diapers for the most part, but a couple of trusted friends have said to buy some disposable ones for the first little while. I’m still hoping we won’t have to use them much, but I can definitely see the wisdom in my friends’ advice. So strong as my leaning is towards cloth diapers, (I’d say my feelings about them are almost as strong as my feelings about contraception!) I decided to get a pack of disposables. I think David and I made a delightfully befuddled pair as we stood at the [very limited] shelf of our local grocery store, trying to pick which of the options to get! I changed my mind about twenty times, finally bought a pack, and then tried to insist on returning them once I got home. Fortunately I have David around to point out “they’re only nappies, not a lifetime commitment”.

Also, apparently coffee shops are the place to take your newborn baby on father’s day. Either that, or it’s the place to go on father’s day when you’re not English. I suspect all the real English fathers were down at the pub.


On our last full day in DC we took time to visit the National Gallery of Art together. We both love art galleries and this one certainly did not disappoint. The building itself is beautiful and the staff were very friendly. We decided to spend our time looking at the collection of mostly European art, starting in the Middle Ages. This meant a trip to the top floor, and we discovered that in the main areas under the domes they have these beautiful fountain pieces, surrounded by flora and fauna:

The art collection itself was extensive and impressive. I won’t bother listing all the artists here, although pictures of our favourite pieces can be seen in our holiday album on Facebook. The gallery even has one of da Vinci’s paintings, so that should give you an idea of the caliber of artist they’ve managed to get their hands on. As David said at the time, it really does live up to the idea of being a national gallery:

Four Seasons in One Head -- Giuseppe Arcimboldo
 A Marian piece by El Greco

Young Girl Reading -- Jean Honore Fragonard
After the gallery we went our separate ways. I continued down the mall towards the Capitol, where I had reserved a time for a tour of the building. The security steps to get into the building and get onto a tour are complex, and the beautiful weather we’d been having unfortunately decided to change into a torrential downpour which even my English umbrella couldn’t help against. I was soaked to the skin by the time I’d made it through the first security line and into the building. 

Once inside, I collected my tour ticket and then killed time by looking at the various forms of statuary on the ground floor. Eventually it was time for yet another lineup, where I made friends with a lovely American couple who were visiting from Oregon. Then, finally, we could make our way into the auditorium for the first part of the tour—a video on the history of the Capitol/Washington DC. The video was well done and very informative, and really got me thinking about how impressive early American history is. You have this group of colonials who get an idea into their heads and decide to take on the British Empire. And they win. And then the British (via Canada!!) set fire to their city and burn down part of the Capitol, but instead of giving up they just rebuild it into something better than before, and use loads of marble so that it can’t be easily torched again. There is such pride and independence in that statement.

After the video our tour began. It was just a short walk and talk through the dome room and into the side room that used to be the original meeting place of the senate, but it was quite interesting and the interior is very beautiful to look at. The acoustics inside the building are strange in spots—at one point you can stand about 12ft away and whisper, but the sound is loud as if the person were next to you. When you leave that spot the noise dies down. The halls are full of statues, and we learned that each state was asked to contribute two statues of their claims to fame. I really enjoyed how throughout DC you see this sort of tribute-donation by the states. I think it’s a great way of showing their unity while at the same time their individuality. 

very American statuary in the room where the Senate used to meet
I was still quite damp by the end of my tour, so I decided to try some hot food from the Capitol’s cafeteria. It wasn’t in the budget, but I excused myself by sticking to soup and by figuring that eating lunch at the Capitol sort of counts as a tourist experience. The cafeteria was pretty neat, for a cafeteria, in that it features various types of American food—bbq, burgers, italian-american, and lucky for me, new england clam chowder. The soup was surprisingly rich and creamy, so even tho it was just a boring old cafeteria it was still a fun experience.

My original plan for the day was to head to the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, but the skies were still raining and I felt I’d be wisest to avoid an afternoon of getting soaked. I was disappointed to have to change plans, but it didn’t seem worth jeopardizing the rest of the trip partway through by risking a cold. Instead I headed towards the Smithsonian Galleries of American Art &Portraiture. En route I passed a protest outside of the Supreme Court, where a large group of Washingtonians were protesting the Obama-Care bill. It certainly called into question my earlier thoughts on America’s revolutionary spirit. In New York, David and I had a chance to discuss Obama-Care with an American friend and understand why so many people dislike it, but to someone coming from both the Canadian and British healthcare systems I confess that the mind boggles at first glimpse of anyone disliking ‘universal’ healthcare as we experience it here.

A DC Protest -- helping to make my visit as authentic as possible!
The Smithsonian galleries fell short of expectation, although not so much as the American museum of the day before. My primary interest in going was to see their folk art, but apparently our definitions of folk art are very different so they mostly had a display of hideous pop art from the 70s. Horrid, nasty stuff! The rest of the galleries were mostly unimpressive but with a few good pieces. It wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, but it did pale in comparison to the National Gallery and even to some of the small local galleries I’ve seen in England.

The best bit of folk art I found was in the portrait gallery: Benjamin Lay -- William Williams

Considering how ignored the story of the Native Americans is in DC, I thought this piece was particularly interesting.

This is one of my favourite pieces, from our whole trip. Up close it was very impressionist and blurry, but when photographed it became 3-dimensional: The Mirror -- Robert Reid
David was attending the conference dinner on Saturday evening so I was on my own. I was a bit nervous about dining out on my own and then getting a cab back to the hotel, but as usual in these situations I just remind myself that I managed to get halfway across the world and through Heathrow Immigration on my own and that usually bolsters enough confidence! I decided to treat myself to dinner at the zagat rated Haad Thai. My appetite, which had mostly vanished thanks to jet-lag, suddenly returned with a vengeance and I think I did justice to the menu. I had a delicious minced pork stir-fry with noodles for my main course, a sweet Thai iced-tea (I believe it had coconut milk in it) to help cut the spice, and allowed myself to be tempted with one of their signature desserts—tempura fried ice cream with chocolate sauce. The batter was light and not greasy, and the ice cream melted only the slightest bit. It was delicious and meant that I could cross “eat American novelty food” off my list. Then I dodged the rain and surprised myself by managing to hail a taxi cab right away. I really hate riding in taxis on my own, as I find most of the drivers vaguely sinister, but I got back to the hotel safely and spent the evening reading and relaxing. It was perfect.


  1. It's so interesting to me that you mention being nervous about going out to eat alone - I always see you as so fearless!

    Loved reading about your trip! That ice cream sounded amazing.

  2. It was amazing! I wasn't sure how fried ice cream would work but it works very well.

    Normally I don't mind eating alone, but I wasn't comfortable in DC when it got to be night-time because of all the alleged crime, and I wasn't sure how good the restaurant would be :)