Tuesday, August 28, 2012

DC: Archives and Nat'l Gallery

We'd been thinking of taking our annual camping trip in Maine or NH this year, instead of Cape Cod. We love the Cape, but we live in NH, and I was wondering if my fixation on Cape Cod had to do with growing up near Boston. Why not save the two days being stuck in traffic (to & from), and try someplace closer?

Then a cousin of mine who lives near D.C. and whom I haven't seen in several years invited us all to a party she was throwing to celebrate a happy event. It was a chance to see some nice and interesting relatives I don't see too often, so we altered vacation plans to do some touring in Washington D.C.

The main problem with this plan was that I wasn't looking forward to waiting in lines and walking in the hot D.C. summer sun, but we actually lucked out with the weather. It was warm enough for us to enjoy a swim at the hotel in the late afternoon when we arrived, and then it was kind of cloudy and rainy for the next two days. There were some downpours, but we didn't happen to get caught in them. They just kept the air relatively cool. Decent museum weather.

The Spy Museum was top on my list, and the kids also thought it would be fun. We checked the website the night we arrived at the hotel and saw that it would cost our family of four $70 to visit. I had thought all the museums in D.C. were free, so balked at that price, particularly since I had never yet seen the National Archives or the U.S. History part of the Smithsonian, both of which are still free.

Saturday morning we found a parking spot across the street from the National Gallery. We walked to the archives. There was a bit of a line at the door, then a bit of a line to enter the Main Attraction--that is, the Rotunda containing the Declaration of Independence, drafts of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, two murals, and a funny letter complaining about the murals, and other stuff too. One of those awe-inspiring places to which Americans likely want to make pilgrimage to at least once. I was glad my children were able to appreciate it.

We ate lunch in the Archives cafeteria. The cans of soda were $1 each, which was refreshing. The street vendors and the roadside rest areas charge much more for drinks. My husband and I shared a cranberry-tuna sandwich. Cranberry turned out to be a good addition to tuna salad, so we learned something even in the cafeteria. All the sandwiches were $5.75 each. The kids didn't want tuna, so ate ice cream sandwiches, which were $2 each.

I dragged the kids into the National Gallery to see one of my favorite paintings, which looks like a science fiction landscape but is actually from the early Renaissance. St John in the Desert, by Domenico Veneziano.

We wandered around to see whatever we could in the time before we had to return to the hotel to get ready for the party. There was a really huge Rubens depicting Daniel in the Lions Den. Rafi and I sat on a bench to look at it and rest our legs. The lions had great fur and were very lion-y, but we started to notice that, as desperate as Daniel looked to be in his predicament, the lions had not yet noticed he was among them. The weren't looking at him. One was even asleep. There was a human skull at the bottom of the painting, so maybe they were still full from the last prisoner.

I tried to get the kids or even my husband to pose against Andrea del Castagno's portrait of David on a shield with their hand spread out like David's, but they all refused. One thing interesting about seeing it in real life is that you can see the bolts of the shield that are painted over. The surface is not entirely flat.

I wasn't aware that Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra de Benci was the only portrait by Leonardo in the U.S., but according to what I remember the placard about it said, it is. The girls did pose in front of that painting, perhaps because I didn't ask them to look silly while doing it. Rafi has a round face that more closely resembles Ginevra's, but I couldn't get a good juxtaposition of the two.

When I was in college, a lot of people had a poster of this girl in a garden by Renoir. Something about it always bugged me--something about the white face and blonde hair, the way it spreads out. I don't know what it is, because I like pretty much every other Renoir painting I've seen, but there's something wrong with this one. I looked at it in the National Gallery to see if perhaps it just wasn't translating well in reproduction, but no, I didn't like it in real life either. And, yes, all the other Renoirs in the gallery were beautiful.

I took lots of photos. If I post them somewhere, I'll link to them.

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