Friday, February 24, 2006


Wednesday was a Mall Day. In other cities, that means something else. But here in Washington, D.C. it means the Boy and I took advantage of the fine weather to take in some museums.

It took us 30 minutes to metro downtown, a straight shot with no changing trains. (How do people in the suburbs even cope?) In the answer to a previous query, it appears as though the Boy sees reflections on glass, and not through the glass itself. Or at least he didn't put up too much of a fuss when I positioned him to see the tunnel lights accelerating away into the darkness of the metro tunnel.

I get off at the Archives/Navy Memorial stop on the green line, and make a bee line towards the Museum of the American Indian. But the wind is blustery and the Boy is fussing, so I veer off towards the fountain in front of the East Building of the National Gallery. This brings us closer to the exhibit on Dada that I also wanted to see. But its primary advantage is its cool fountain. The Boy loves water generally, but fountains especially.

The fountain sits among the glass pyramids of the I.M. Pei designed site. The glass pyramids are the roof of the underground tunnel connecting the East and West Wings of the National Gallery. They look like the ones outside the Louvre in Paris. The fountain jets are set flush with the ground and leap about 5' tall from a puddle where the water collects before washing down stone blocks in a sharply angled plane leading below ground. It is really cool to see from below, with the glass pyramids overhead and looking up at the white frothy water coursing down the blocks and onto a glass wall. The boy is delighted, not fussy at all anymore.

We duck into the Dada exhibit. I kind of wanted to avoid this situation: it is important to know what a pipe is before to trying to grapple with this.

Moreover, one of my early introductions to theater was through Bertholdt Brecht and the Theater der Verfremdung ("Theater of Alienation"), and it nearly ruined theater for me. Similarly, I took a wrong turn through the Chicago Art Institute once, and wound up walking "backwards" from the late abstract expressionists (think blank canvases and empty aluminum boxes) to the abstract painters, the impressionists, the naturalists, and so on back to pre-Renaissance perspectiveless Jesus canvases. By the time I had seen all the freedom, color, and deconstruction"ism" of the later works, it was impossible to appreciate anything sublime in the Old Masters. That's why I was leery of making Dadaism a formative art experience for the Boy. After all. I had already taken him to the Renwick, and if Gamefish isn't dangerously pomo, I don't know what is.

We went in anyway. Dada provided overstimulation for all the senses, so I was pretty ginger about exposing to some of the weirder sights and sounds. But he was a champ, and we moved briskly. As a treat, I took him to the tunnel between the Gallery wings and showed him the fountain from beneath. (He loved it.)

After all that time in the carrier, I let him stretch out a bit and feed some from his bottle. At some point, I realized he was staring up at the huge Calder mobile hanging in the East Building. Art was happening -- an aesthetic moment -- and it was grand.

We left for the Museum of the American Indian. Outside it is a wonderful water feature that goes on forever. It made me nostalgic for all of the whitewater rivers I've paddled in the Southeast, and of many coastlines I have seen in the U.S. It prepared me for a sympathetic understanding of the People Who Were Here First. (Its front door is directly opposite the Capitol, where some pretty harsh anti-Indian legislation was born. Ouch.)

The exhibits were OK, but a little too tech-heavy with an emphasis on interactive displays and video monitors. Best of all was a bright, carpeted room with comfy couches where the Boy slept in my arms. (I might have even grabbed a wink or two.)

I wanted to walk to the Conservatory of the U.S. Botanical Gardens, but there was construction and they looked closed. I walked up Capitol Hill, found a metro and went home. The boy was none the worse for wear.


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