When flying into Washington D.C., I actually prefer flying into DCA or Reagan National Airport because of the proximity to the DC Metro which pretty much gets you just about everywhere you need to go in the D.C. metropolitan area provided you are willing to walk just a little bit. I actually really do enjoy walking around cities as it is the best way to explore a city and get a “feel” for what places are like. I’ve been here a couple of times, but the last time was a few years ago during the Clinton administration. Since that time, I must say that there has been a dramatic change of sorts to this town. Specifically, I have been more than a little amazed at the high number of police and security forces compared to the last time I was in D.C. back in 1994. The volume of small arms being shipped to D.C. for the use of government and private security forces alone must have bumped up the traffic in small arms over the past five years or so. Never in my life have I seen so many police cars and security forces in one place. They are just about everywhere in central Washington, D.C. at every road entrance to buildings in the National Mall, Capitol Hill, the National Archives, Supreme Court and in just about all public buildings there are now magnetometers at every entrance. You are screened for everything in public buildings these days. It’s a sad reflection on where we have gone these days as a country, and ironic that the capital of the worlds greatest democracy is so close to a police state. Also, did I mention that not even pocket knives are allowed in federal buildings now? The guy in front of me in the security screening line of the Museum of Natural History had his tiny little Swiss Army pocket knife confiscated from him. I’ve carried a little Swiss Army or Benchmade pocket knife with me for years just about everywhere I go and even had one with me going through the White House 15 years ago, but now we have a culture of fear that is being promulgated upon the American people and common tools are being taken away from everyday people.
I understand that we have 9/11 to consider, but I would argue that we have to be careful not to believe that we are in more danger now than we have been before in history as we as a nation are more safe now than we have ever before been in history. We are not in any immediate danger of revolution, we are the worlds sole remaining superpower, and we have an economy that is unparalleled. However, if we succumb to fear and give up our liberties in the name of false security, we have lost. In contrast to current US policies of economic isolation of many of what Thomas Barnett would call “Gap Nations”, we should embrace these countries economically and socially so as not to isolate them. Economic and social isolation of many of these countries is exactly what allows extremist groups to gain and hold power. Just look at any states or countries that have been economically isolated and you will find dictators, warlords or otherwise bad actors that maintain their power through isolation of the people they subjugate. Embrace those countries with economic policies designed to bring them into the core and international trouble with those countries will stabilize and prove less demanding of US military resources.
All of that said, Washington, D.C. is an amazing city. The buildings, the documents, the contents of libraries, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Museums, National Archives, monuments and all are simply an unbelievable concentration of history, architecture, learning and government. So, today I planned on spending the entire day basically being a tourist and seeing as much of the central Washington D.C. Mall that I could cram in.
First came a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I’ve always loved this museum and like the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History comes with an elephant in the entryway.
There was an exhibit on insects at the museum and they had an impressive exhibit of living insects including the giant redheaded centipede, black widow spiders, wolf spiders and giant locusts.
Unfortunately, the exhibit with the squid and the whale was closed for renovation. I have a thing for octopus and squid, and was dearly hoping to see this exhibit, but the other exhibits more than made up for the loss. They have an amazing exhibit of rocks and minerals including the Hope Diamond, a 45.52 carat blue diamond deriving its color from trace amounts of boron in the diamond. The stone was originally park of a larger 112 carat stone, that was stolen, found, stolen, sold, inherited, inherited again, sold a number of times and then donated to the Smithsonian. The stone is also rumored to be cursed and has quite the history.
Oh, they also have a wonderful display of phosphorescent rocks. Check this out:
And while I have seen moon rocks before, they were very small and encased in class. The lunar rocks here are actually one of the better exhibits I’ve seen with lunar anorthosites, basalts and breccias.
The anorthosite is 4.5 billion years old, almost as old as the moon itself. It is composed mostly of plagioclase feldspar and was collected in the lunar highlands near Descartes crater by the lunar landing crew of Apollo 16. The breccia, formed from repeated impact events breaking and welding rock together was also collected by Apollo 16 near the Descartes crater. The lunar olivine basalt was collected by Apollo 15 in the Hadley Rille near the edge of the Imbrium Basin and are about 3.2-3.4 billion years old showing that volcanism in the basin lasted approximately 200 million years. Click this link to see where the various Apollo landing sites were.
And as long as we are talking about space rocks, this picture is 1.2 Mg of diamond crystals that were isolated from the Allende meteorite.
One of the exhibits that this museum is famous for is the dinosaurs and fossils exhibit. Chicago may have Sue the tyrannosaurus rex, but the National Museum of Natural History has an eryops.
Overall the National Museum’s dinosaur exhibit is pretty good, but I’d rank it behind the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City with the exception of the trilobites. There is a spectacular trilobite exhibit here in D.C., showing different species and developmental periods with some of the best preserved trilobite eyes I’ve ever seen.
Finally, the National Museum has a wonderful exhibit of modern skeletons showing allometries and adaptive features in the skeletons that allow a variety of organisms from fish to large mammals to optimize their function in specific environments.
After a few hours in the National Museum of Natural History, I walked up the mall to the National Gallery of Art. The building is a huge space that does justice to the works of art here. First up was a smaller version of the bronze statue of Diana that I saw in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The statue of Diana in the Philadelphia Museum of Art designed by Augustus St. Gaudens is 18 feet tall, weighed 1800 pounds and once topped Madison Square Garden where it functioned as a weather vane spinning around its axis with the wind.
Now I am always for some reason stunned when I find the original paintings that for years were seen only in textbooks and the following image of the painting by Degas was another such experience. As I walked from one gallery to another looking at the art, I turned a corner, looked up on the wall and there was this painting by Degas.
Another artist whose work is fairly well represented here is Auguste Rodin. Actually, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a special permanent exhibit of Rodin’s work that should not be missed including his Gates of Hell and The Thinker, but there were a couple of works here that deserve mention. Particularly the Hellenistic like marble bust of JB van Berckelaer and the more abstract Sphinx rendered in marble. Rodin created this figure in a number of forms and media including presenting it on his Gates of Hell bronze doors.
There was so much more to see that I wished to have more time to photograph the art and the space the art contained. But I only had one day to capture it all…
Next up was a quick run across the Mall to the National Air and Space Museum. It was horribly crowded, so I was hoping to stop by the museum restaurant to grab a bite to eat. I was however, horrified to discover that the nice little Flight Line Cafeteria that used to be in the museum had been replaced by a gigantic McDonalds where a cheeseburger and soda will cost you more than $7. The fast food chain had apparently managed to secure the contract back in 2002 to provide a food service.to the museum’s clientele, effectively turning the National Air and Space Museum into a franchisee. We are seeing this sort of commercialization just about everywhere in government these days with national museums and national parks being turned from educational resources and preserves of American and world history and nature to economic opportunities for exploitation. I have to say that I was rather annoyed at both the commercialization and the outrageous prices so much that I ended up going back to the National Museum of Natural History for a tasty roasted chicken sandwich on cranberry bread. However, before I left, a picture of Spaceship One was necessary in its new home next to Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 and Charles Lindberg‘s Spirit of St. Louis.
After a more satisfying lunch than one could obtain at the National Air and Space Museum, I walked over to the National Archives to see the documents that framed our countries formation and future. This is the third time that I have seen the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the effect it has never ceases to amaze me. The clarity of purpose and the boldness of speech set the tone for the rest of this countries history.
Late in the day at this point, I decided to go back up to Capitol Hill to look for a place to eat in case a phone call did not come through to meet a DC local for dinner.
Ultimately that evening, dinner was had after a Metro ride over by where I was staying at a place called Rays the Steaks. It looked promising with a variety of steaks at reasonable prices. The signature steak had been suggested to me, so I had to order it. Man, that was a big piece of meat, but it was just OK. I ate the whole damn thing because I was so hungry, but it was fairly tough and not really medium rare as requested. Desert was a chocolate mouse that was likely made the day before and stored in the fridge, but my biggest complaint was the service. The maitre d’ was polite enough, but my waitress seemed completely distracted bringing me items I did not order (hot chocolate?), and not really listening to my questions.
After dinner, I simply went back and collapsed into bed well after dark at the hotel eager to start the meetings that had been the original reason to fly to D.C.
One Reply to “Washington, D.C.”
That photo of the monkey skeleton is awesome. How can anyone look at that and NOT believe that we have a common ancestor to primates? Seriously! Is there even a reason to question it anymore?