06 January 2014


I love Washington. The last time I was here was a summer more than 2 decades ago. We stayed with the wealthy mother of a colleague of my father in a quiet mansion with a live in maid, gracious gardens, art on the walls. She took us to dinner at her friend's, a sprightly old woman who liked young company and paid for a student at Georgetown University to  be her live in companion. What an excellent gig for a student, especially if the person you were keeping company was lively and interesting. I remember, fresh from months of touring European museums, being astounded to recognise paintings by painters I knew on her walls. Here a Paul Klee, there a Joan Miro. She served us strawberry soup, salmon and baby potatoes. I thought she was the height of sophistication. 
Washington in winter is a different beast, especially a winter such as this (which I just saw on the TV news is being proclaimed by 3 senators as proof that climate change is a 'hoax'). Today was bitter.  We went to see the money being printed and I decided that my lost career was to be an engraver at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Only a ten year apprenticeship, is there still time?  We walked up the frosty mall to the Lincoln Memorial. It is, to my mind, the very best memorial. It brings a lump to my throat and I'm not even American. Lincoln's famous speeches, etched on the walls, demonstrate perfect legal writing. Each word parsed, nothing extraneous. Accurate, explicit, without flourish.  Of course they exceed legal writing and become art but at their core they are laying out a case.
We trudged past the State Department and onto the White House. I can't help but think of 'The West Wing' and the years I spent with Donna and Josh and CJ. Foreign Nationals can't go inside and even Americans have to write to their member of congress to arrange a tour, so the closest we got was a recreation of the Oval Office in a nearby gift shop where you can take classy photos of yourself and your family as POTUS.  We did, of course.
Yesterday we went to the National Air and Space Museum. The whole Smithsonian complex is extravagantly wonderful and filled with so many things to awe and delight that one can become blasé. So - there is the Spirit and St Louis and SkyLab and the Apollo Lunar Module, what's next? We weren't quite like that but I did feel that much of what we saw was lost on the girls. Their highlight was probably the paper airplane flying competition in the 'principles of flight' interactive section, which Nina won. I'm working on the theory that exposure to amazing things - art, buildings, objects of wonder - somehow is good for the soul, even if your primary recollection is that you had sore legs and were uncomfortably warm inside in your thermal underwear. 
It's hard not to 'out museum' the kids when there are are so many museums within walking distance and all free. Surely we can fit in another? The Hirshhorn had an exhibition entitled Art and Destructon since 1950.  The opening piece was a grand piano that had been attacked with an axe, the axe still in it.  That's the sort of thing kids love. The second photo down is of Nina and Lily watching a video installation called 'Guitar Drag'. An electric guitar was dragged behind a pick up truck and the footage and accompanying audio were on a repetitive loop. The sound was as you would imagine but the installation had the kids transfixed. Perhaps it was just a chance to rest in a cosy carpeted space but we had to drag them away.  Things deteriorated rapidly after that:  'can you not look at me like that?' 'Im not looking at you' 'yes you are', shove, 'Mama X just pushed me for no reason' 'I did not' ' yes you did' etc. We left before something else got destroyed unintentionally.

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