USA Diaries – Day 20 – A day to get the “Bloody Tourist” Stuff done!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 06-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 0024, Pakistan Time:06 August 2012, 0924

Today was “fit-everything-in” Day – which basically means that being the second last day that we will be spending in DC, I needed to get started on my list and get done with as many things possible. This included getting the typical “Bloody Tourist” Stuff – a term a guy at my work place used to describe my desire to see the typical places like White House, Washington Monument etc. Anyways, the morning started with my decision to go and see the Sunday Mass at this Church which is located right next to the hotel in which we are staying. I had no idea what was happening there, considering the fact that I have never really attended a Mass before in my life. But nonetheless, I did everything that I could do by copying the people around me. I have to say that the Church was a truly magnificent structure. The details and the Stained Glass work inside the building was superb and not to mention the lady who was singing the hymns – OMG – Her voice could truly open the sky above. The crowd was a mixed crowd with a lot of younger people with their kids also present in the crowd. When the Mass was over, I asked a man in charge if it was okay for me to take the pictures, and he encouraged me more than anything to go and take as many pictures as I want. This place was truly serene.

At 10:45 am, it was time for us to drive away to Mt. Vernon – the wonderful home of George and Martha Washington. Now I don’t know why but when we entered the place and saw the orientation movie, since then I have been in love with their story and how they got together. So much so that I even bought a book about her and their life together. The book is called “Martha Washington: An American Life” and is written by Patricia Brady. The Mansion was beautiful and showed the love and dedication that each of these individuals might have put in this place and making it into a home.

I liked this place much more though to Williamsburg and the main reason for this was the scale of this place. This place was much smaller and much more quiet and it had a certain intimacy to it which was completely absent from our experience in Mt. Vernon.

The most moving experience however was the one seeing the Slaves Quarters and how they lived in those times. The beds were miserably small and I really doubt that anyone could have lied down straight ever in these beds. I was really moved by seeing the condition of the way they were treated. And therefore it was equally moving to see the Slaves Memorial that has been erected close to the Tomb of the Washington’s.

I then took some time out and headed towards the Wharf and I have to say that it was one of the best decisions that I made that day. The Potomac River is a sight to see and the wind was just perfect. The environment was so serene and peaceful and I could have sat there and enjoyed the weather for days and days. It was just the most wonderful experience ever.

There are so many things that I just loved about this place, the pathways, the forest trail, the wonderful views that you can catch of the River from almost every part of the site – Mt. Vernon is truly a wonderful experience.

Oh – and the Museum, do visit it too. The entire life journey of Washington has been captured so wonderfully and in the most interesting manner. It just makes you wonder about the effort these American’s put into each and everything thing that they do. The other half of the Museum showcased the furniture and the jewellery from the Mansion but photography was not allowed in the hall. It covered the various aspects of the Mansion life, including the food that was cooked in the time of Martha and you can even find the recipes of them in the gallery.

After coming back to the hotel, and half an hour rest, I decided to take a long walk to cover the “Bloody Tourist” List. So via Metro, I got off at the Smithsonian Station and start to wonder towards the most probable location for White House. Now I knew that it has to be on my right, but I had no idea about the exact location. It is therefore, I would like to take a minute, and thank the wonderful people who work in the Signage Department of DC because it wasn’t for them and the wonderful signs that they have put up all over DC, there was no chance in hell I would have ever gotten anywhere. Oh and it was raining today!

It was only due to the signs that I kept finding my way and finally made it to the back side of the White House. There was a huge crowd outside the gate of the White House and nobody was bothered with them and what they were doing. No policeman or Secret Service man came up to people and told them to get off the rail or don’t put you hand beyond the rail or any such crap. People were allowed to take as many photographs as they wanted and go as crazy with their posing as they cared – That is not something that you can expect to happen in Pakistan EVER!

I then walked up to the Vietnam Memorial and finding it was a bit hard. Firstly it was raining and secondly, this time I had no idea about whether to turn left or right even. But here is when my Lonely Planet guide came much handy. Thank you Lonely Planet People .. you have saved another wanderer. Anyways, so I finally reached the Memorial and I take my pictures and head out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, when I hear a man talking about eh Memorial and the concept being it. I just stopped in my tracks and started listening to him; he talked about how the Veterans just by the word of mouth got to know about this memorial and they started sending in money, about how the competition was announced and some 400 entries came and were exhibited in some Air Hanger close by, about how the idea was that by this memorial it would be exhibited how the war cut the people and the nation right in the middle and that is why the structure is not rising but is splitting the Earth and Landscape, how the winner of the design was a 20 year old student of Architecture from Yale. It turned out that the man was the Guide for a group of people who were in town doing Baseball tours – which basically meant that they were looking at all the Baseball Stadiums in the country or something. I have to say that they were the most wonderful people since they let me be a part of their tour so generously.

I then headed out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial…. Now Lonely Planet People, you need to zoom in on that area more where the Memorial is, because I took one hell of a wrong route. I have to say I was pretty scared today, so scared in fact that I had to stop and ask the Old Town Trolley Driver if it was even safe for me to go down that path or not. He guaranteed me that there will be nothing wrong since the Park Police is still patrolling the area. Well it was such a long road that I have to say that his words hardly comforted me for more than five minutes. I walked and I walked and I walked, until I finally saw the Memorial. There was another tour guide driver standing with whom I confirmed my pathway. And then once again asked him “Sir Is it really safe to go there at this time. I mean will there be people in there?”. And he goes “There better be my 59 people who went inside”. I was relieved. So I went inside, and there were so many people inside – I don’t think I have ever been so happy before seeing people.

Anyways, on the way back, I reconfirmed the closest Metro from a Police man and then stalked this couple halfway until I finally recognized the area in which I am. Apparently there is a short cut to get to the Memorial, but that I only discovered on the way back. And finally after an adventure that lasted 3 hours, I was back home. I have to say it was fun being scared in DC.

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USA Diaries – Day 16 – A Night walk on the National Mall!

This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 17, – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating

The day had started off with a continuation of our time with Cathy Hawks, Conservator for National Museum of Natural History. The discussion again touched the various topics like Conservation Management, Storage and Pest Control and similar such topics. It has to be said that any time with her is just not enough. She has so much that she knows and that she shares with everyone. I was however, late for my class, and the reason for that was the most simple one ever – I overslept…. I think DC life is taking its toll on me.

For lunch that day we decided to hop off to this refreshment kiosk outside of the museum. I have to say that it wasn’t one of the best thing I have had in DC… in fact, let me say It was the most expensive and bad food that I have had in DC! Actually, it was so bad that I didn’t even take a picture of it.

Moving on, we had our session with Carol Butler after lunch in which we talked about Collections Management and what it means to work with a vast collection. We talked about their care and the problems that NMNH faces with regards to such a strong collection. We talked about how a collection is only worth something when it is coming in the use of researchers and other scholars and what it means to keep collections relevant.

The second part of this session was taken up by Bill Billeck who is working in the Repatriation Office and is taking care of returning the artifacts of Native American back to them. He talked about how this process is becoming an important step in opening up a dialogue between the Native Americans and the Museum and how such a dialouge has been important in changing the image that many people have had of Archaeologists and Museums as looters who took the stuff of their lands without the permission of the local communities.

 

The afternoon session with Bill had to be cut short though since it was time for our meeting with Richard Kurin – The Undersecretary for Culture and Arts at the Smithsonian. The man has so much knowledge and he surprised us with his knowledge of Urdu and his amazing address to us in Urdu. He is a very knowledgeable man who shared with us many of his stories, including his time in Haiti after the devastating Earthquake hit it. He shared this remarkable story of human spirit in which the people of Haiti after losing everything, their shelter, their musical instruments, their belongings, came out on the street and they SANG! I thought it was a remarkable story which demonstrated the power of culture and of the human resolve that we have.

The man is so nice that he even gave us free copies of his book “Saving Haiti’s Heritage”!

Oh let me share some pictures of his office – located in the “Smithsonian Castle”, the interior of this place is simply amazing. His conference room has these amazing Greek tiles (replicas) all around and there are so many books that cover his table that it is insane.

 

For a more informal type of a conversation, we headed to a shaded place near the back of the Castle and found ourselves some benches, where we continued our discussion on Culture and its evolution and Repatriation and all other aspects of it. Carol Butler has such an amazing point of view about things and the world and it comes with an association with the Smithsonian that has continued on for almost 25 years.  The informal session ended with an agreement on when and where we are suppose to meet for our night walk at the National Mall. Time decided- 8:30 pm.

So at 8:30 pm we were waiting outside the Smithsonian Metro Station and as soon as all of us had gathered, we headed straight to our first destination – The Washington Monument. Now we had been seeing it since our first day in DC, but we haven’t had the chance to come and see it up close. So today was an opportunity – however taking pictures at this time was definitely becoming a big issue.

 

The second stop being the Second World War Memoiral..

And then ofcourse to the Lincoln Memorial…

 

We even made a stop at Vietnam Memorial but since the light were so low it was impossible to take any photographs. But I plan to go there again and take some more photographs.

By the time the trip was over and we finally made our way back, it was almost 12:30 am and therefore there was nothing open or anything except for a Bar plus Restaurant. And since we were hungry like hell, we decided to just go in there and have whatever we could find. The menu was amazing looking, and I chose for myself Grilled Cheese Sandwich, while my friends ordered Chili and Kidney Bean Omlette and Bacon Burger. I have to say that the place was so amazing, it was rustic with all these amazing pictures and posters on the walls. It was really nice! So you can enjoy the pictures, while I enjoy my sleep for the night.