Monday, November 9, 2009

Smithsonian day

Not much time for sightseeing in D.C., but I did do a remarkably quick run through three (three!) museums in less than three hours. I've never gone through a museum so fast in my life. First up was the Museum of American History, where I made sure to take a look at my friend Franklin Odo's new exhibit on Hawaii. Well chosen but rather utopian; I'm not sure that anything on the darker side of Hawaiian annexation would really fly unless it were on a much bigger scale, like the temporary exhibit upstairs on the bracero movement (the Mexican contract laborers from 1942 to the sixties). The permanent exhibits were fairly interesting; we only glanced at Julia Child's kitchen and the First Lady dress exhibit, which were very crowded. FYI, no Michelle Obama dress yet, but her photo has been added to the lineup. We did enjoy looking at the trains and the never-ending array of scientific inventions, including various light bulbs, engines, batteries, toasters, turbines...

Next we crossed the street to the Museum of Natural History, which has a great fossil collection. A brontosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops, lots of wee dinosaurs I don't know the names of, primitive sea life, primitive horse hooves, you name it. Nothing quite as crazy as the T. Rex at Chicago's Field Museum, but a really interesting range. I towed my male companion upstairs to see the Hope Diamond, currently on display free of its setting for the first time, took one look at it, and said, “Eh... it's a diamond.” Jewels don't have much charm for me unless they have cool historical associations. Now the ruby at the Tower of London that Henry V supposedly wore at Agincourt, that one I stared at for a good long time. We jogged on through bugs, butterflies, Greek and Egyptian collections, quickly looked at a nice little Korean collection including some typical primitivist Cheju Island paintings which I'd never seen before, and finished up in sea life under the big whale.

Last but far from least, I speedwalked down the Mall to the Air and Space Museum. A friend had told me that this was really the most distinctive museum, in a way, and he was really right – you don't see rockets and planes in too many places. It would have been worth it just to see the Apollo 11 command module, which sits near the front encased in thick plastic. The planes were cool, too. I can't help thinking that early commercial travelers really had guts – some of those looked like tin cans. And don't even start on the tiny mail planes. Definitely good times all around at the Smithsonian, and don't forget, they're all free.

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