The photo above of the U.S. Supreme Court building perfectly illustrates my assertion that Washington is as tourist friendly as it’s possible for a city to be: the Court is undergoing renovation and is covered with scaffolding, all of it wrapped Christo-style in a scrim bearing an image of the building. Talk about going the extra mile! The Washington Monument, below, is similarly scaffolded at the moment but the apparatus has been perfectly fitted so as not to unduly mar this national and civic landmark.
The Washington Metro is not quite as user friendly although once we were shown the ropes of how to calculate each fare it was easy enough. The lighting down there, however, is shockingly poor, it’s like Tales from the Crypt with commuters playing the zombies. Station signage also leaves something to be desired — if your seat’s not lined up with the few station names you’re out of luck, especially since the PA announcements were often unintelligible.
One tunnel I was much more impressed with connects the National Gallery of Art’s East (modern art) and West (pre-20th century) buildings. Designed by Leo Villareal, Multiverse (2008) is a dazzling extravaganza that’s never the same twice. Nicola and I rode the walking sidewalk a few times and found it endlessly entertaining, at one point the LEDs slowed almost to nothing then revved up and rolled toward us in waves — I was utterly captivated.
Above ground there’s an impressive sculpture garden to the west of the National Gallery and we were pleased to see so many people enjoying the art. On the other side of the Mall there’s an even better sculpture garden, part of the Hirshhorn Museum of modern art, below (with Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke).
The Hirshhorn is part of the Smithsonian Institution, America’s largest, most exhaustive museum collection. Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Gordon Bunshaft, the building is shaped like a slide carousel; there’s a lovely fountain in the central courtyard (visible behind the Lichtenstein) and an imposing Calder at the door, below, which sets the tone for the contemporary work inside.
By the time we got to the Hirshhorn our feet were sore again so we sort of tore through the galleries not really giving the stupendous collection its due. This is one place I will definitely revisit to take my time with the de Koonings, the Dubuffets, the Warhols, et al.
Two of the contemporary works that captured our imagination were Ann Hamilton and Kathryn Clark’s palimpsest (1989) above left, and Nick Cave’s Soundsuit (2009), right, but honestly, there were rooms upon rooms of great work to enjoy. And whole other galleries we never even got to. After Nicola flew home on Wednesday I found time to visit the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery of contemporary craft (below) but I never did get to the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, so there’s still lots to do if I get back to D.C.
With my pal decamped to Toronto I rented a car and drove to the Delaware seashore. The weather was heavenly which might account for the suffocating crowds but I suspect it’s like this all summer. I’d been told that Rehoboth Beach, below (photo by Rick Collier), is something of a gay mecca but sexual orientation was completely beside the point — the beach and the town were swarmed, parking was impossible and you could barely turn around on the boardwalk. Not my idea of a relaxing day at the beach.
So I drove further on to Delaware Seashore State Park, which was busy but bearable. With my ocean swim checked off my list, I headed back to D.C. to wind down the week.
Of course, I spent some more time in Georgetown where I wandered the lovely, historic streets. Manicured and perfectly maintained, every doorway is a well-considered vignette.
I appreciated the modesty of the patriotic gesture below, tasteful and befitting this charming quarter where millionaires and congressmen escape the political heat on Capitol Hill.
I also squeezed in the obligatory church visit, in this case to the impressive Washington National Cathedral, way, way up on Wisconsin Avenue.
Big Washington events are celebrated and commemorated here and I especially appreciated the serenity of a weekday morning. In a quiet corner I found the First Citizen, bathed in the kaleidoscope light of a stained glass window, a precious moment I was happy to capture.
One thing I would never have found on my own was the rooftop terrace of Kennedy Center which is open to the public and provides a perfect perch from which to watch the sun set over the Potomac River. My Home Exchange hosts mentioned this in a bumpf they left for us and I’m grateful for this and other recommendations, thanks Catherine and Jeff!
I had a wonderful week in Washington and highly recommend it. Most of the Americans I met genuinely love Canadians and I was made to feel very welcome indeed. The flight from Toronto takes just an hour depending on the wind; it’s a flight I’m glad I took.