Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I am just back from a week and a half in Washington D.C. and Virginia. My sister Virginia, who lives in Virginia, and I spent two whole days in Washington D.C. where the weather mimicked the cold, rainy days that I left behind in Northern California. None the less, as "tourists" we were out and about and busy.

Whenever I am in D.C. I spend time at the Smithsonian museums. And, each time I visit, I am in awe of what a vast cultural and historical resource the Smithsonian is and that admission to its museums is FREE!

We started one day on the National Mall at the Smithsonian Metro station.

Before heading to Smithsonian museums, we walked to the relatively new World War II Memorial, which is part of the National Park System.

The Memorial officially opened in 2004 but this was the first time we have visited it. Strategically located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, it has been sunk down sufficiently as to block neither of those Memorials while providing views of both of them.

I was intrigued by the bas-relief plaques on either side of the Memorial's entry paths; they depict scenes of America at War.

The Freedom Wall consists of 4,000 gold stars commemorating the more than 400,000 Americans who died in World War II.

I observed many older people visiting the Memorial and overheard them recalling their experiences in the War. It's a very moving experience to make this visit as an American.

Even with heavy rain beginning, we managed to walk through the entire Memorial and to take a short guided tour with a US Park Ranger.

The expanse of the Mall always deceives me, just as walking around Paris always does. This is not a surprise since Pierre L'Enfant, a French artist and engineer who became friends with George Washington while serving in the Revolutionary War, designed both cities. The open space, combined with a lack of high-rise buildings always makes things seem closer than they are...that is, until you start walking from one place to another because it looks nearby and you are still walking half an hour later and still not there.

So, off we went in the rain from the World War II Memorial, past the Washington Monument and eventually arrived at the National Museum of American History.

My main reason to visit this particular museum, other than being hungry for lunch and that it was the closest one to the Washington Monument, was to visit Julia Child's Kitchen and to see the dresses that First Ladies wore to the presidential inaugural balls.

For me, a visit to Julia Child's Kitchen is a pilgrimage of sorts. I was living in Boston when Julia Child started her NPR television series. As a fund raiser for WGBH, the television studio allowed visitors to attend tapings of Julia's shows for a $10 fee. My friend Amy and I, Julia groupies from the start, went to as many tapings as we could. After the show was finished, we got to chat with Julia and husband Paul. Unfortunately, we did not get to taste any food; it was saved for the staff to enjoy.

Julia Child's kitchen at the Museum is the set that was used for her early TV shows. It is a duplicate of her home kitchen which was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Because many Julia fans like myself come to see Julia's Kitchen, I enjoyed talking with them and reminiscing about this one woman who shaped our culinary habits and interests, as much as I enjoyed looking at the exhibit.

We loved having an up-close look at Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball dress.

Interestingly, when we got the part of the American History Museum that paid tribute to the Apollo Theatre and black entertainers, we saw that the dresses that the Supremes wore when they performed at the Apollo were of similar fabric to that of Michelle Obama's dress...any connection here?

Just outside of the Apollo Theatre is the Greensboro Lunch Counter, where sit ins by black students took place in the 1960s as part of the Civil Rights movement. It was at this F.W. Woolworth's "whites only" lunch counter, on February 1, 1960, that four African American college students sat down and politely asked for service. When their request was refused, they remained in their seats. After six months of protests, this North Carolina lunch counter was desegregated on July 25, 1960. When the Greensboro Woolworth's closed in 1993, this small section of the lunch counter was donated to the Smithsonian.

While we were at the Lunch Counter exhibit, we were treated to musical entertainment by two Black singers who sang and talked about the struggles of Blacks in America.

We ended our day at the Museum of American History with a visit to Kermit the Frog, who reminded us that it is not easy being Green.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The Julia Child Kitchen at the Smithsonian is not a replica but her Cambridge kitchen. With support from many donors, including the American Institute of Wine & Food (she was a founder of the organization), her kitchen was archived and moved to the museum by experienced museum quality movers (who donated their time and skills). The opening celebration in August 2002 honored both her donation and her 90th birthday.