146 Washington, DC

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National Portrait Gallery After our many visits Washington feels like a hometown. Now we concentrate on what’s new and sample what we’ve seen before by exploring selected museum exhibits in depth. Washington never disappoints, there’s always something new. This time the years’ long renovation of the old (1850’s) Patent Office Building. It has finally opened as the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. We went for a visit and were swept away. The galleries holding the collection are wonderful. The portraits on the walls make American history come a live. We explored on three different visits and still didn’t see it all.

The Hirshhorn Museum never disappoints. This time the lobby featured installation art. The floor had become a piece of art. Bright multicolored vinyl tape completely covered the floor in vivid patterns. We’d arrived just in time. A week later a crew took on the hard job of pulling up the tape.

On Wednesday tents started going up on the National Mall. Chairs, tables and stages showed up on Thursday. Friday CSPAN pulled in and large generator trailers were spotted and cables strung. Saturday the National Book Festival started under a gloomy drippy day. By the time we showed shortly after the official starting time the tents were jammed with people looking at books and listening to an intriguing collection authors. In addition, one tent contained tables from all the States handing out books marks and other memorabilia. We’d thought we’d spend a few hours browsing and sampling bits of the various speakers, instead we stayed all day.

Bob Woodward being introduced

The speakers’ tents seated hundreds, and it quickly became evident that it would take a bit of planning to get a seat. As speakers changed only a few of the seated audience got up and in seconds their seats were filled by people very close by. If no one moved near where you were standing you were out of luck and had to stand for another presentation. Figuring that out we went over early to where Bob Woodward (State of Denial was due to be released on Monday) was scheduled to talk as the last speaker of the day. We got our seat and enjoyed two speakers leading up to Bob. CSPAN showed up and set up TV cameras partially blocking our view. Because of his next day “60 Minutes” appearance he didn’t talk about State of Denial. Instead he talked about Deep Throat—William Mark Felt and how they communicated during Watergate. It made for a great piece of history and grand finish to a fun day.

Takoma Park’s Street Festival was just starting as we arrived by Metro. We poked around browsing the stands being set up, sampling a bit of the food and music. Then we wandered on to sample the neighborhood. No two homes looked alike. They all had character reflecting the 30’s and 40’s. A few had been upgraded reflecting a contemporary look. Flyers on for sale signs listed heart-stopping prices reflecting a neighborhood now very much in demand both because of its charm and also proximity to the Metro.

The Circulators—new inexpensive-to-ride buses circling the Mall, going to Georgetown, down by the marina and out into nearby the suburbs made it a bit easier to get around many of the places we frequent. We took advantage after watching the Imax “Mars Rover” film and rested our feet as the bus brought us back to the marina.

Taking the dinghy made visits between Odyssey and Tom and Judee on Cheshire Cat much easier since we could skip the security gates at each marina. We met each other back in 1997 as we both started living aboard. Electronic paths cross frequently, physical paths less often. It had been a few years since we’d swapped notes in person, and we enjoyed filling in the details difficult to convey in electronic communications.

W greets Ruth in front of the White House

One man had his own way of protesting in front of the White House. There he stood with his “W” mask with horns, costume and sign. We watched, and then joined the many tourists posing with him for a picture.

A walk to Barnes & Noble got us a Sunday New York Times and a few books. Heading back we sampled the Turkish Festival then headed back across the Mall. A Mall bench became home for an hour or so as we stopped to people watch while reading the paper.

Washington Marina didn’t have Wi-Fi so we packed up our computers and walked over to the Smithsonian Castle. We got our morning tea, coffee and sweet rolls and settled in at a table to do Internet work we’d saved. The ebb and flow of tourists stopping by the Castle entertained us as we waited for the Journal to be published and online shopping transactions to be completed. It made for a fun way to spend a morning.

Sitting in the first row of Ford’s Theater balcony my eyes kept drifting right to the Lincoln box and then down gauging the distance to the stage where Booth jumped and wondering why he hadn’t broken both legs.

The play “State of the Union” rapidly pulled us in. A very old dial telephone and style of the clothes reflected that the play was first performed in 1948. The words, about a potential presidential candidate who wanted to speak what he believed while experts worked hard to have him say what ‘voters’—actually interest groups wanted to hear. It was an entertaining afternoon lesson of history repeating itself.

The Anderson House, now the headquarters of the Society of Cincinnati, is open for tours. It’s an interesting view into how the super rich lived in the early 1900’s. Who else would have a painting commissioned showing a stylized map of where they went for Sunday drives and huge tapestries lining a hall wall? The Society of Cincinnati is only open to male decedents of officers of the Continental Army during the Revolution making it quite an exclusive club.

Planning for future potential visits by RV we rode the Metro and then a bus out to check out the Cherry Hill RV Park just north of the I-495 beltway. Once out of downtown the Metro is above ground giving us a feel for the city along the line. The bus line ends at the RV Park. The park is beautiful but at $52/night (2007 rate) and an hour ride each way we decided that visiting by boat was a much better deal in terms of cost and convenience.

Ruth had read about Major General Daniel E. Sickles visiting his leg in Civil War history books. He lost it during the battle for Gettysburg and sent the bones to the Medical Museum at the Walter Reed Medical Center in a coffin-shaped box. We found the Major’s bones; a jagged scramble of fragments bearing silent witness as to why the leg was amputated. The remainder of the hard to find museum (the security people at the gate weren’t even sure of it’s location) was a fascinating cross section of medical history. An Iron Lung from the 50’s brought back childhood polio fears. Displays of bones and preserved organs showed unusual medical conditions. What appeared at first to be a long suspended plastic box turned out to be hundreds of hanging plastic sheets each one painted with the cross section of slice of a full sized human body. Running a hand along the sheet edges gave an animated tour inside a body from head to foot. A huge collection of microscopes each remarkably different made us wonder as to why the variety. After the museum we explored the surrounding neighborhood as we headed back to the Metro.

Each week we scan the Washington Post list of upcoming events. One, a lecture, “The Physics of Superheroes” sponsored by the Library of Congress caught our attention. A phone call got us a reservation to the free lecture. Rain was coming down in buckets as we headed for the Metro and then dashed to the lecture site a few days later. The lousy weather seemed perfect for sitting listening to a lecture. We arrived early and staked out a seat in front of one of the two large plasma TV’s on either side of the lectern. James Kakalios, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota showed up, plugged in his laptop and connected a USB plug. The plasma televisions lit up, and we were into the physics of comic book superheroes. It was very apparent the days of flimsys and overhead projectors are over, as his computer based slides filled the TV screens. The lecture, a combination of parts of his book “The Physics of Superheroes”, and his freshman class lecture by the same name was entertaining and educational—that is, of course, if you are interested in knowing how to calculate the force Superman needs to leap over a building in a single bound.

Danielle and Heather pictures in our new frame

Danielle and Heather pictures in our new frame

A unique picture frame caught our eye at the Bethesda Art Festival and became part of our collection of art objects, each conveying a memory of places we’ve visited. The show had been an excuse to visit Bethesda and explore a bit. A tapas lunch while watching people enjoying the festival added a bit of flavor and extra interest to our day.

We exited the Metro north of the Mall and wandered a bit, mingling with all the people enjoying a warm fall day. The outdoor garden the Botanical Garden Building had just been completed days earlier. We walked its paths filing mental notes to gauge plant growth against future visits. Finally we stopped at Jenny’s the Asian restaurant we’d first visited when we arrived. We sat resting tired legs, enjoying a drink as the sun turned an orangey red and talked about all we’d packed in since our arrival a month earlier.

At first light the next morning Odyssey was moving down the Washington Channel heading for the Potomac River and points south.

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