Monday, March 25, 2013

Mon 25 Mar - Washington, D.C.

OK, this was not on our cards. Snow in Washington DC in late March. Still, the weather forecast said so, and the weather forecast was right. This is what we woke up to... (Overlooking Union Station and Columbus Circle)

Cold and wet day in DC means museums. Around 9am, we are on our way, as rugged up as our limited packed clothing would allow. Another snow picture below on F Street outside of Georgetown University Law Centre.
We pass DC's judicial centre, and apart from these glorious lions, the Law Enforcement Memorial on this square had the name of every law enforcement officer engraved into two granite walls, who had ever lost their life in the line of duty. Yes, there were many many names...

Di was thirsty but she should have just stuck out her tongue. This is not going to work.

Our first museum visit today is at the International Spy Museum (photo was taken yesterday).
The International Spy Museum runs an exhibition called "Exquisitely Evil - 50 years of Bond Villains".
Photography unfortunately was not allowed inside (and you wouldn't know who is watching...), but here is a baddie car from The World Is Not Enough.

The museum is a huge amount of fun with all the real spy gear and stories as well as the really good Bond Villains exhibition. Weird and wonderful spy memorabilia from Stasi and KGB featured heavily. Somewhat unbalanced perhaps, but very interesting...

We spent 2 1/2 hours here and it's after 12noon when we reach the next location - conveniently located just across the road given the slushy weather, the National Portrait Gallery.

The space for the National Portrait Gallery is stunning. It's the 3rd oldest government building in Washington, D.C. and was the Patent Office. They held the reception for Lincoln's Inauguration here in the Grand Hall. It's now devoted to Portrait exhibitions. The mezzanine level on the 3rd floor was in two parts "Bravo" and "Champions" for performers and sports people.

Some performers - Joan Baez and of course Elvis.

Raquel Welch - in Hans' words "what a babe"...

Boxing champions, Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard. This picture hung in Dempsey's diner for about 30 years and he then gifted it to the National Portrait Gallery. Dempsey is to the right.

After a lunch break at another Chinese restaurant, we returned to the National Portrait Gallery for a 2.15pm free tour. It was highlights only and a bit rushed, but it still took an hour.

The following portrait is of John Muir, the original vagabonder and environmentalist if there ever was one.

And a spiel about Mr Muir...
A quick break after the tour for a coffee in the courtyard (more on that later) and we return to the 2nd floor where there is a whole section devoted to portraits of US Presidents. They limit the display to about one portrait per president except for some really important ones, like George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt and of course the ever-recurring Andrew Jackson (and George Bush...). The Gallery stores numerous portraits per president and rotate them from time to time.

We thought this was an excellent modern art portrait of Bill Clinton. Apparently the artist is a friend of Clinton's and is a physically disabled (we think a Paraplegic). Apparently the Gallery hung a different portrait and Clinton hated it and asked them to hang this instead.

The Bush presidents in the background including a sculpture of George Snr. which was not very flattering.
This portrait of JFK is controversial as many think it is not "presidential" enough, but we liked it.

Theodore Roosevelt is Di's favourite president as he was really the father of America's National Parks. The guide gave a great story about him being the only President with a toy named after him. His nickname in the media was "Teddy" and the story was that during a hunting he refused to shoot a young bear. The media made a big deal out of it calling it "Teddy's Bear" and you can guess what some entrepreneurs then did...

The guy on the left is far more "presidential", the other guy is not George Washington...

For the first time this trip we were given a US$2 note. They are legal but rare. We were told the portrait on the note is in the Gallery and we found it - Thomas Jefferson - but in printing the note the portrait has been reversed.
Andrew Jackson... Again!
And one more famous person whose portrait here appears on US currency - this version of Benjamin Franklin is on the US$100 note, not that we had a note to compare with...
We continued on National Portrait Gallery's portrait competition. It felt a bit like the Archibald prize but for allowing photography, sculpture and film. The standard of the 48 finalists was very impressive. However, no photos allowed for this exhibition...
We walk through the courtyard a few times and love it. The courtyard is old but the roof is new and is stunning. It it 860 curved pieces of glasses, to represent a lining of cloud. The area is paved but peaceful with some water features then kids can run through and real plants. We had our coffee break in the courtyard's cafeteria.
After the coffee break, we wander to National Portrait Gallery's original Basement in the old Patent Office days, but what is now the ground floor. Along the walls are portraits of prominent Americans who have made a contribution and impact to American history.
We skipped most of the Civil War and early politicians as we had already been in the Gallery for nearly 4 hours. We did stop for Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain).
There was also a section on Amelia Earhart which was interesting, with photos of her just prior to her disappearance in 1937 on the last Pacific leg of her aerial circumnavigation of the world.
Amelia is on the portrait below. The other lady there has nothing to do with airplanes except for being an occasional passenger.
This was an interesting painting of various inventors. Apparently, the painter only met with each one individually and certainly never got them together as depicted on this painting. The fact that the 5 lads to the far left are of exactly the same height may be a giveaway. So, who are they? Refer to the subsequent picture.
The National Portrait Gallery also had a temporary modern portraits exhibition. Photography was not allowed but we still managed to get one of this fantastic approach which pieces together a portrait and dismantles it continuously. In other words, the portrait is constantly moving... Weird, but cool.
We also made time for a stop in at the Patents Office exhibition where they had some of their models on display. When this building first operated as a Patent Office, the patent request had to be accompanied by a small model to demonstrate feasibility (although they did not have to prove it worked). Tens of thousand of models were collected until the Patent Officr changed that rule.

Here are some fine and fun real models that were submitted.

We wondered why this "Burglar Beware" patent never took off...

Or this mousetrap...
Around 5pm, we are just exhausted. Still much more to see in the National Portrait Gallery and most has been of exceptionally high quality, but we were "museumed" out. We leave the museum and wander back to our hotel for a break.
Dinner was just a lift and 6 storeys away as we enjoy the Irish hospitality yet again at The Dubliner next door (literally) to our hotel. At 9pm, the daily entertainment begins with folk songs and "Whiskey in the jar". We check out a few songs (not too bad) before taking the lift back up again. Good night.

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