Washington, D.C.: Haphazard Write-Up and Recs

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Let me say up front that I made an uncharacteristically half-assed tourist in Washington. One of my former – and, in a stroke of good timing, laid-off – roommates lives there, so I did zero planning and rode his coattails to an odd assortment of destinations around the capital. Worked out pretty well for me, I gotta say.

Here’s my random assortment of recommendations beyond the usual political buildings and the Smithsonian.

  • Mount Vernon. The presence of baby goats almost made up for the fact that it was 137 degrees outside. Ah, the south.

    Thomas Jefferson had better taste than George Washington, but still, nice work George. Beautiful position above the river and lots of places to wander. The visitor’s center is skewed towards school children, but that’s probably OK. One thing not to miss: the disconcerting, de-aged portrait of Martha Washington. You know that technology they’re always pulling up with on CSI/Law & Order/Without a Trace that shows how someone will look when they’re 20 years older? They applied it in reverse to the famous portrait of Martha and voilà: George’s hottie.

  • The Hirshhorn Gallery has a Louise Bourgeois exhibit up until Sunday and if you’re in the area, you should go. I’d never heard of her (shame!) but read about the exhibit and realized I did know her work. You probably do too: giant spider ring a bell? Drove by the one that was on the Embarcadero on my way to work for a year. She’s 98 years old and still working. I want that, no doubt. I can’t stand Florida or golf + I love my work. What else am I going to do with the rest of my life?

    Aside from the sheer volume of her output, there’s the work itself. The Arch of Hysteria is worth a visit all on its own as are the cells. There are works on paper, in bronze, in wood, in marble, paintings, installation pieces. You name it, she’s done it.

  • A couple of other Smithsonian favorites: the cafe in the basement of the East Building of the National Gallery (gelato, espresso and a cascading fountain) and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden which runs the gamut from a cast of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais to a wishing tree by Yoko Ono. (That tree is intended to be poignant and is. Sort of. People leave wishes on bits of paper attached to the branches. It’s less poignant if you find a note saying, “I wish you hadn’t broken up The Beatles. – Ringo” on your way down the stairs into the garden.)
  • The Newseum is a recent and unique addition to Washington’s huge museum circuit and is worth a visit (after you’ve been to the key galleries of the Smithsonian), but fair warning that it might also be unexpectedly upsetting. It was for me.

    If you are discouraged by your daily newspaper’s incessant bad news, this place is not for you. Decades of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, most of them featuring children dying or dead, soldiers injured, people in moments of massive crisis, and graphic coverage of every war and disaster of the last century. A permanent 9/11 exhibit I couldn’t handle even from a distance. An exhibit on press repression around the world featuring a bullet-riddled truck, bloody clothing, and detritus of destroyed lives. It’s a lot to take.

    As its name suggests, the museum is focused on the history and present of the news and its outlets. The place is multimedia on steroids, which is simultaneously appropriate – newsmedia is, after all, media – and offputting: standard expectations of galleries and some quiet are disappointed and there’s not a lot to hang onto in exhibits built around video.

    That focus on interactive and multimedia exhibits is certainly forward-thinking, but a stronger curatorial hand would be welcome. A number of the exhibits feel – much as news often does – like a lot of information tossed together without a complete context. “Yeah, that seems bad,” was the extent of my reaction to the exhibit on press censorship and the Lincoln assassination coverage was frustratingly incomplete. (Who the hell is that chick that’s listed as Wilkes Booth’s accomplice? For God’s sake, tell me already!) Also, there’s a ton of empty space (room to grow?), which undermines a sense of flow or identity for the place as a whole.

    I get that the museum’s mission is to cover the news, but when that news is covering almost entirely bad news, it makes for a depressing morning.

  • For a happier outing, head to Domku Cafe for your weekend brunch. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you drive by Seafood & Things at the end of the block. Checking the picture below the sign, by “Things” they mean “pizza.” This is not swank brunch. If you want that, stay closer to downtown: Domku’s cozy and eclectic, not trendy.

    They say they’re Slavic as well as Scandinavian, but the brunch menu is heavy on the Scandinavian plus I’m Swedish, so I’m blind to anything that doesn’t include herring or carbohydrates. We ordered a ludicrous amount of food, and everything but the hash was more than worth what was kind of a long wait. (They’re small and get crowded.) The Norwegian pancakes are huge, flat crepes with the bacon cooked right into the pancake (yum!), the Swedish waffle with its heart-shaped sections is small and sweet and recommended for sharing, the scones are perfect, the egg in the grits bake is tastily baked into the center of the casserole, and the noodle kugel might as well have been made by your grandmother. Layer on the fact that they have tiny, fake birds on branch wreaths hanging over your table and excellent coffees and you should be all set.

  • Oddity: the only outpost of the California fromagerie Cowgirl Creamery is in downtown Washington. Like, right downtown. Not near a gourmet market or in a residential neighborhood. Might be on your way home though and they give out samples willingly. Never turn down free cheese.
  • I’d recommend the variety of pub quizzes in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, but you’d have to get a team together and be there on a Tuesday, which might be tough if you’re on the road negotiating some kind of climate treaty. But if you can swing it, by all means do.
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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany

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