Ok so last week I skipped brunch, which meant I totally forgot about posting something to this blog. I profusely apologize. Insert bloggishy irony-laden reference to disappointed masses of readership here.
For the past week, since last Saturday, I’ve been up Nawth in Pennsylvania being a Good Son. Or so I’m told. But really, it’s only a week out of my life and I spent most of it on my keister watching TV and working on my computer and petting really really tiny dogs.
It’s been at least a decade since I spent any great length of time in the company of my parents, and the details of their life stood out for me in great relief, compared to what I’ve been used to having sort of evolved my own patterns of living. So for the last week I’ve been an interested observer of Things I Never Noticed While Growing Up In Your House. I’m still familiar with the rituals and rhythms of the house, but the little things like just exactly how many boxes of cookies are in the house, and what they eat for dinner every night, and how narrow the range of their food choices… how STABLE it all is, 37 years into a marriage. Cookies and stew and 2% milk and baked macaroni and cheese and and *gasp* I think I probably gained five pounds; I haven’t checked, because I’m afraid.
Now I have to lose weight. Not entirely because of this last week, but man it’s getting oppressive in this flabby tub o’ grease I’m walking around in. I just generally gotta get in shape y’now? I have been so totally slacking for the last, oh, two years. I really really mean it this time. I’m not a completely fat slob or anything, yet, but God forbid I should be chased through the streets by an angry mob; I’d be run down and clubbed to death in scant seconds.
I made a good start at it yesterday. Well, if you don’t count the huge Red Lobster dinner. But all day yesterday I walked and walked and walked around Washington DC. You see, my flight to and from Atlanta was booked through Hotwire, and the way they make Hotwire flights so cheap is that one leg or the other is at god-fucking-thirty in the morning. In this case, my return flight.
Rather than get up at 3:00 a.m. to drive from Harrisburg, PA to Dulles Airport (a 2.5 hour drive) I decided to spend the day at the Smithsonian, sleep at a hotel, and have a nice easy commute to the airport in the morning.
Getting to Washington is pretty easy. I stuck “Harrisburg -> Washington Monument” into Google Maps and it worked OK although it was telling me to get on some weird variety of a highway that turned out to basically run parallel to the real highway but was totally pisspoor signage-wise. That’s the thing about DC. The signage, or lack thereof is an issue. A sticking point, sharp as a kitten’s tooth. But I got there. Eventually. I had to stick around and say goodbye and eat some oatmeal and just generally fart around until 1:00. And print some maps.
My goal for the day was kind of nebulous, no agenda other than the Hirshhorn art museum. The Hirshhorn and maybe one or two others to be named later. It was waaaaay too cold for seeing any of the monuments, although even in 33-feels-like-10 degree weather there were plenty of tourists walking around without enough clothing on. Chumps.
Getting my slack ass into town at 3:00 p.m. kind of forced my hand a bit, since most of the Smithsonian museums close at 5:30, and parking is a total cluster. I wound up parking in some garage on the Hirshhorn side of the Mall (where the Smithsonian “castle” is). You can only park in the pink spaces. The garage was under this kind of large shopping center where every store was closed at 3:00 on a Saturday. Welcome to DC.
I was kind of nervous, because I don’t have the greatest sense of direction and it felt like I had parked somewhere off the beaten path. But I only wandered around for fifteen (f-ing COLD) minutes or so before I found the Hirshhorn. The Washington Monument is pretty handy when you don’t know where you’re going. The city’s height-restriction ordinances mean that the big white phallus is basically viewable wherever you are in town.
So I made it to the Hirshhorn, which only had a couple of floors open but also had some great art. There were a couple of Calder mobiles that were actually pretty cool. Smaller ones, but neatly balanced and kind of intricate. I usually think his mobiles are a waste of space. I’m not sure why this is the first thing I chose to describe.
There was also a piece that looked like somebody had dug up a ten-foot-square patch of muddy dirt, plopped it on a table, stuck it in the middle of an art gallery, and put motion-sensitive alarms all around it. A table full of dirt. Or “earth” if you feel like being that way. On the “earth” were all these fake mushrooms. But they looked really real. Really really real. The card said something about urethane and such, so the artist (Roxy Paine) must have made all those mushrooms and the fake dirt and the fake little pools of water.
But cool as it was, I’m not really a fan of art where it’s really the artist’s ingenuity on display rather than his artistic statement. So, like, it’s cool and all that you made a bunch of really awesome-looking fake mushrooms, but I’ll be over here looking at the f-ing AWESOME Max Ernst. Which is in the same room as the first Okeeffe I saw that day. “Goat Horn with Red.” I liked the Ernst better, but still, I adore Georgia Okeeffe so I spent a good fifteen minutes staring at a painting of a red goat horn.
Oh, that reminds me, I have a bone to pick with you, Hirshhorn curator. Next to the Okeeffe was this platform where they had a couple sculptures. One of which was this fantastic shape carved out of “plane wood” or something, with some painted sections. It was really great, but since it was on a platform and the platform was up against the wall, I couldn’t see the other side! And there was definitely another side. So, if you visit the Hirshhorn and see the wood sculpture next to “Goat Horn with Red” and are blown away like I was but also aggravated because you can’t see the surely-awesome other side of the work, make sure you lodge a complaint.
Speaking of ingenuity vs. artistic value, there was this video, a very POPULAR video, which seemed to be a filmed rube-goldbergian sequence. I couldn’t get too close, because there were always dozens of people in the room watching the video. So I gather it was pretty cool. But I was there for ART, not a film clip of an intricate series of mechanical interactions, ’cause I saw that on the Mythbusters Christmas special.
Eventually I was Hirshhorned-out. Needed to rest my eyes a bit. But before I got Hirshhorned-out I saw a Magritte, some more Ernst, a Miro, a Jasper Johns, this funky “video flag” by Nam June Paik made of neon and video monitors displaying stuff and junk, and I saw this great sculpture of a woman reclining on a lounge. It looked like it was made of plastic, but was way better than that description probably makes you think. Oh, and a couple Picasso sculptures.
So my day was, once I got to DC, off to a great start. My next stop was the National Gallery, sucked in by this tantalizing sign:
“Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych”
Lemme tell you, kids were DRAGGING their parents in to see that. I mean, how could they not? Unfortunately, the gallery was about to close when I got there (FYI, it closes at 5:00) so the Netherlandish Diptych remains mostly un-unfolded in the great linen closet of my mind. But I did see some great Chinese porcelain, so thin and pretty and perfect and old and yet pristine. And I did take the opportunity to get annoyed by the pretty girl with the stupid boyfriend making stupid comments, and then more annoyed when she started making stupid comments too. Not trying to be clever, just… just… ugh. Dumb. Well, at least it wasn’t a pretty girl making really smart comments. I might have just seppuku’d right then and there, ’cause that’s just torture. Pretty, smart girl with stupid guy. *seppuku*
Like I was saying, the porcelain was pretty great. And the guard with the hiccups was amusing. It was a really bad case, man. He could hardly get a word out for hiccupping. Hiccoughing. “The gall-hic-ery is hic-losing. P-hic-lease g-hic-et ou-hic-t.” Heh, poor guy. Stupid gallery, stupid five o’clock.
But there is a museum open past 5:30, and it’s freaking AWESOME. If you’ve been to the Air & Space Museum, skip it and visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum, at the Reynolds Center. The same building also houses the National Portrait Gallery. Which is nearly as great as the American Art Museum.
Right now, for example, the Portrait Gallery has this extensive collection about Josephine Baker, and a whole bunch of sculptures by Jo Davidson which are great of people like FDR and Gertrude Stein. Just heads, but even though the busts are of bronze or terra cotta or whatnot, it’s like you’re staring Lincoln Steffens in the face. Lincoln Steffens!
But it was the American Art Museum that I really went there to see, mostly because I had a hunch there were more Okeeffes lurking somewhere. I was not disappointed. On the ground floor exhibition, you can sit on a bench and stare at “Manhattan” for as long as you want. It’s an abstract depiction of Manhattan, with some roses around it. And it turns my head inside out. I can stare at that painting for a long time. in fact I did.
And what do you know, not thirty seconds after I finished text-messaging Rob that I had seen two Okeeffes that day, when a third was just hanging there. On the wall. A lesser work, an abstract with beautiful colors, that I don’t remember seeing before. So, three Georgia Okeeffe paintings, in the flesh, in one day.
Also on that first floor was an exhibition of folk art. Some of it was really interesting. There’s this enormous tin-foil monstrosity that some guy spent basically his whole life constructing. There are some paintings of dubious value. And there’s an Elvis-head jug.
And a robot lady.
There are three floors to the Reynolds Center, basically split between the American Art and the Portrait Gallery. Stuffed to the freaking GILLS, and the third floor is this beaaaautiful renovated space that a sign on the wall says used to be the largest room in the country. Up there on the third floor is the modern art, which is pretty close to the Hirshorn’s collection. They share a couple artists even, there’s another work by the guy who did the “video flag.” The video flag was pretty big, but at the Reynolds Center there’s a HUGE wall of monitors, broken up by neon into the 50 states, with different video playing for each state. I think Georgia’s monitors were playing the Olympics. Hawaii’s monitors were playing “South Pacific.”
The curators of the Smithsonian’s art museums like conceptual art. They like video art. They’re probably very hoity toity. There were a bunch of dark rooms you could go in and watch boring videos. But then there were at least four works by Nam June Paik: the video flag, this other giant piece with like a hundred video monitors playing kind of wild variations on Japanese stuff, all mixed up and buzzing and loud and freaky, the one with the states, and this piece which was just an old-fashioned TV with one single line of light going across it.
There was a card there that explained how this work was reducing television to displaying the most simple thing when it is usually displaying a lot. I hate those freaking cards.
I like conceptual art, as long as I find it visually appealing. If it’s ugly (to me) then I can’t be arsed to stand there and ponder it. Who considers the cow turd? But if it looks cool it can, on a good day, move me to consider something I probably wouldn’t have thought about. If I’m looking at a big red canvas, I might stand there thinking about communism, or blood, or bloody communism, or commie bloodunism. Or if I looked at the TV with just a line on it maybe I’d reminisce about the Outer Limits or think about the limits of technology and the fragility of our reliance upon same. Who knows! It’s a field day for the imagination!
But once They start explaining conceptual art, telling me definitively what some scholar has decided is the Meaning, what is Being Said, all the fun goes out of it and I stand there looking at the piece, reading the card, then deciding if it’s bullshit or not. It reduces the art to a thumbs-up/thumbs-down reaction for me.
Stick the little cards on old portraits or pictures of action scenes, or explain how Picasso did his cubist paintings and what all you can find in them if you look. Point out the symbolism, discuss the technique, tell me what’s going on contextually in the time period of the work. But let me decide for my OWN self what the flowers thumbtacked to the wall mean in relation to my life and times.
But despite the best efforts of those pedantic little cards, it was a good day. As I was walking back to my car (via a circuitous route that makes sense only to my subconscious) I passed near four girls walking down the street, arm in arm, singing what I think was the theme to “The Facts of Life.” They seemed to be having a grand old time on their field trip.
They made me smile. Before I got too near I turned down another road so as not to make them nervous. I’m very conscious of that sort of thing. If I’m walking behind someone on the sidewalk at night, I’ll whistle like, “Ode to Joy” or something, so my sidewalky companion will know that I’m a person of culture and breeding and not an assailant. This particular day, I was wearing an army-green jacket and shitkicker Sketchers. That army-green jacket could easily be mistaken for a tatterred old actual Army jacket worn by some insane homeless veteran. Because of course all veterans are insane and homeless. That is what I’m saying. And also my film-student black-rimmed glasses just shout “rapist.” This bit of altruism probably only cost me another ten minutes wandering around in the cold before I found the garage.
But I did, eventually, wander back to where I parked, underneath the strangely empty shopping center in the building that also houses the National Transportation Safety Board, and that apparently used to house a movie theater for which they never bothered to take down the arrows directing you to it throughout the mall. So don’t get your hopes up. There is no movie theater at The Promenade. Just get in your car, parked in one of the emasculating pink spaces (pink = public I guess, like public bathroom soap), and get the hell outta Dodge City.
Only good freaking LUCK getting out of D.C. man. The convicts of the District must love to fuck with tourists, ’cause there seems to be only ONE SIGN for any particular highway, when you really need like four to find your way to the onramp. Seriously, you’ll see “I-66 W –>” nailed to a hotdog shack 100 yards off the road, behind an elderberry bush, and you’ll go “oh crap” and make the turn just barely in time, but then there won’t be any other signs and the damned highway is nowhere to be found. You know how often you can just sort of look around and go “oh, it’s over there” and kind of make your way to the road you’re looking for? Not in our nation’s capitol. I drove around for half an hour looking for that motherfucking road. And make a wrong turn in D.C. and you wind up, literally, in Virginia.
Oh, and don’t trust Google either. The directions to my hotel failed to mention that the one vital turnoff was closed for construction and you couldn’t get there that way. Why don’t mapping services include alternate routes as a matter of course?
So I had trouble finding the highway, then I had trouble finding my hotel. Oh, and Google Maps also failed to mention the two toll stops on the road to my hotel. Kind of getting lost looking for my hotel was how I wound up at Red Lobster, stuffing my gullet with an Ultimate Feast. It could be worse actually, the Ultimate Feast involves broiled scallops, crab legs, a Maine lobster tail, four or five fried shrimp, and a baked potato.
It’s the cheese biscuits that do you in. Basket of four. Gotta be 400 calories each. But so. Damned. Good.
Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head and drove to the airport. Have you ever been to Dulles International Airport? It’s a bit on the weird side. The main terminal is this huge cavernous thing with a sort of billowy top, if you can think of concrete being billowy. When you’re inside, it feels like the ceiling is made of canvas and there’s too much snow on it and it’s about to cave in. Except it’s not. It’s a vast expanse of concrete.
Although the signage at the airport is pretty good, the ticketing area kind of looks like the architect didn’t anticipate all the roping-off that airlines have to do to manage their line flows. So you have this big empty space, and these ticketing counters plopped in the middle of it with hundreds of those spring-wound rope pole things. If the terminal is supposed to have any kind of effect, it’s lost. I must say though, that United is pretty efficient in getting people through their line. And even at the gate, I was struck by how together the United crew was. Lots of announcements, clearly spoken, useful. Good job, folks. Even you, dude with the lisp.
Oh, also, Dulles is kind of a facade. There’s this big architecty terminal, but once you’re through security you go down this hall and walk through this non-descript door and suddenly you’re on a giant shuttle bus to your gate, which is this drab lump on the tarmac.
The shuttles look like something they would have used to transport Space Marines in Aliens. All huge and industrial machine punk, grimy and purpose-built. You literally walk through a door into what appears to be just a room. Little do you know, the first time you get on one, that you’re in a magical carriage on top of four humongous wheels, and you’re twenty feet off the ground and that your gate (or the terminal, if you’ve just arrived) is a five-minute drive away. Those things have to get like no miles to the gallon.
Flight home was fine, except for a rather abrupt landing. The flight attendants didn’t do much of a check before landing. I didn’t even have to unrecline my seat. I think they were taken a little offguard, perhaps not enough communication from the pilots. The landing man, dude *slammed* on those brakes, hard enough that it was difficult staying in my seat.
Made it though. Got my bag with no trouble. Got the shuttle to long-term parking with no trouble. Found my car, paid the lady ($76!!! Never again), and drove home. A nice enough trip. Read three books. Saw three movies, “Children of Men” (C), “The Hitcher” (D), and “Pan’s Labyrinth” (B+). Saw three Okeeffe paintings. Hung out with my parents for six days straight.