East Coast 08, part 5: Bibles, Bob Hope, and other old stuff

High of 94.5, humidity 72%

Remember the Talking Heads’ 1978 album, “More Songs About Buildings and Food”? Didn’t think so, but it would have been good theme music – at least the buildings part – for our sixth day in DC.

First stop, Supreme Court building. The Supremes weren’t in session and the place was pretty dead, so we ambled across the street to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Who’d ‘a thunk we’d find more ornate and elaborate architecture than we’d already seen? The Library’s Great Hall took the cake (click around on the photo for closer looks at the stunning detail), and the Reading Room is grander than the one in UW’s Suzallo Library, one of my favorite spaces in Seattle.

Of course the Library is filled with art and literary treasures, including two copies of Bibles printed around 1450. One is the first printed with movable type, the other is hand-written. Catch that? Hand-written? I wonder if using a computer running Windows would be easier or faster than writing a copy of the entire Bible by hand. Based on almost twenty years of using Windows, I’d say it’s a fair question.

We found a Bob Hope gallery in the basement with a fun collection from old vaudeville acts and appearances with such luminaries as Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, and the Marx Brothers. I realized that the funny stuff I’ve saved over the years fits in one file folder; Bob Hope kept a joke file vault. But our biggest laugh came from another tourist watching a clip of a 1975 performance. When Aretha Franklin appeared on the stage, slim and trim in a pink pantsuit, the guy exclaimed, “Man, she’s five times that size now!”

The kids wanted to visit the National Archives; the line was just starting to wrap around the block when we jumped in. Oh good – more sweating. Had a couple of interesting conversations with people in line, including a guy supporting Ron Paul as a candidate for president. Susan, in the meantime, had returned to the National Gallery. We were just about ready to quit the line when it started moving pretty quickly and we were inside.

The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom contains The Big Three: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Before we were admitted to the dimly lit room we were reminded 1) of the importance of protecting these old documents from light, and 2) that any kind of flash photography is strictly prohibited. Seconds later in the rotunda someone in our group took a picture – with a flash. A security guard was there in an instant but delivered only a mild rebuke; I think several of us were expecting (or hoping for) a prison sentence.

Seeing the documents was another of those moments offering a sense of living history, and highlighting the courage and genius of those who were able to capture and articulate the spirit and design of a new form of government for a new nation. Very cool.

After lunch in the Air and Space Museum cafeteria, Susan and the kids went to the National Museum of the American Indian and I went back to the National Gallery. Got to see more of Martin Puryear’s work and a fantastic collection of paintings by Monet, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, Degas, Cezanne, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Cassatt, van Gogh – seemed like most of our favorite members of the Impressionist / Post-Impressionist gang were there. ‘Stuff that dreams are made of’ … ‘gilding the lily’ … ‘inexorably drawn’ … ‘many-splendored thing’ … go ahead and pick a cliché to describe the experience. It was all that and more.

Met Susan and the kids at the Hirshhorn Museum. A few days earlier we got there shortly before closing, and spent what time we had in a darkened, out-of-the-way space on the third floor watching a 1987 art film, “The Way Things Go.” Wikipedia describes it this way:

It documents a long causal chain assembled of everyday objects, resembling a Rube Goldberg machine; but it doesn’t perform a practical task…

… The machine is in a warehouse, about 100 feet long, and incorporates materials such as tires, trash bags, ladders, soap, oil drums, and gasoline. Fire and pyrotechnics are used as chemical triggers. The film is nearly 30 minutes long…

(Honda’s 2003 “Cog” commercial stirred up a legal controversy by using the same general idea and incorporating at least one specific idea from this work.)

This time we had a few more minutes to check out the quirky collection of contemporary art before the museum closed.

Lauren and Zack walked back to the apartment from the subway station, and Susan and I walked farther into the Eastern Market neighborhood. Our quest for a grocery store led us much farther than we anticipated; it was a sweaty 30-minute walk back to the apartment carrying a couple bags of groceries. But we brought back ribs, rolls, Italian soda, salad, and local berries and shortcake for dessert. We finished dinner about 9:30, leaving just enough time for showers and a load of laundry before flopping into bed.

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One response to “East Coast 08, part 5: Bibles, Bob Hope, and other old stuff

  1. I remember that Talking Heads album. Sounds like a great trip. Don’t stop writing! One day you’ll have to blog on Vanderbilt Is. Bravo!

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