Friday, June 24, 2016

Washington DC, May 2016

May took me to Washington DC and some nearby Virginia suburbs for a quick visit to see Sister Virginia and other friends and family.

No visit to DC is complete without going to some of the Smithsonian Museums.  The Smithsonian, founded in 1846, is the world's largest museum, education and research complex.  Admission to its museums is free. Most of its 19 museums are in Washington DC. 

The Renwick Gallery, a branch of the larger Smithsonian American Art Museum, exhibits American contemporary craft and decorative arts from the 19th to 21st centuries. The Renwick has the distinction of being the first building in the United States to be built as an art gallery. It is directly across from the White House.

I've not been to the Renwick before and wanted to see the current exhibit, WONDER, which celebrates the reopening of the Renwick after a two-year renovation. Several leading American contemporary artists were invited to create works specifically for this exhibit. 

Virginia, Kathy, and I stand among artist Janet Echelon's looming spires that she created by stacking index cards.

Virginia was intrigued to be able to walk into the monumental structures by Patrick Dougherty that the artist created on site from tree samplings.

One of my favorite works is by Janet Echelman who created volumetric forms of hand-woven net that hang across the entire 100-foot Grand Salon.  She used colored lighting that constantly changes the mood and colors of this piece.  Many visitors lie down on the floor to take in the light show that this work becomes. 

Of course, no American crafts museum is complete without at least one piece by glass artist Dale Chihuly.  This Seafoam and Amber-Tipped Chandelier is part of the Renwick's permanent collection. 

For lunch with friends John and Kathy, we went to the nearby Exchange Saloon which boasts being DC's Oldest Sports Saloon. It's proximity to the White House, as well as many museums, makes it a popular spot with locals, visitors, and sports fans.

The only other Smithsonian museum we had time for was the Freer/Sackler, the Smithsonian's Asian Art Museum. 

We went specifically for the Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan, a small exhibit that chronicles how a British organization, Turquoise Mountain, has transformed the destroyed Murad Khani district of Old Kabul from slums to a vibrant cultural and economic center. Turquoise Mountain enabled Afghan artists and artisans to restore old Kabul. 

The Turquoise Mountain exhibit will be at the Sackler Gallery through the end of January 2017.

For lunch after the Turquoise Mountain exhibit, we went to the USDA Cafeteria, which is open to the public on weekdays. This is the place for in-the-know tourists wanting an inexpensive healthy breakfast or lunch. The menu choices change weekly and on each day of the week. There is a Hot Bar, an Asian Bar, a Barbecue Bar, and a Soup Bar, as well plenty of sandwich, salad, and dessert options.  

You do have to go through a quick security check to get in, but, it is worth it for a tasty meal for well under $10 a person.  I think the 6 of us in our group ate very well for closer to $5 a person.

As might be expected at the USDA, the cafeteria is decorated with vintage nutrition posters that seem to be as true today as this one was in 1918.  

Each year, on the first two Saturdays in May, the European Union hosts a free open house at all the Embassies in the Union.  

Despite long lines to get into the Embassies, we braved it.  At each Embassy there are cultural exhibits as well as food and drink tastings. It was fun and interesting. Here is the line outside the Portugal Embassy. 

Of course, given the current uncertainty about what countries will remain in the European Union, it is possible that we may have attended the last such open house.

I'm a fan of the Le Pain Quotidian restaurants that are all over the world.  There are several in Washington DC and we had lunch at the one  around the corner from the Portugal embassy.  My meal was the daily Baker's Lunch.  This day it was Avocado Toast, Gazpacho, and a Chickpea Salad. Virginia had Quiche and Salad. 

Some of our other memorable meals were 

a Lobster Roll lunch at Ford's Fish Shack.


celebrating Virginia's birthday at  Coastal Flats.

On Saturday morning, we went to her local Farmer's Market where I was intrigued that most vendors were featuring Wild Ramps, a sort of onion that, to my knowledge, only grows on the East Coast.

And, the final highlight of my visit was meeting her almost-one-year-old grand daughter, Italia.