Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Visiting Our Nation's Capital, Part II

(In case you missed it, here’s Part I, in which we visited the National Museum of Natural History and dined at Founding Farmers.)

The next morning we had brunch at Busboys & Poets, a restaurant devoted to Langston Hughes.  If you don’t know his story, Langston Hughes got his big break by dropping some of his poetry in the lap of a poet who was dining at the restaurant where he worked as a busboy.  Who was the poet?  One Nicholas Vachel Lindsay.  Weird, no?  I indulged in a mimosa and French toast while I enjoyed the laidback atmosphere of the restaurant.  Sometimes brunch places are a bit too snooty, something Busboys & Poets definitely isn’t. 

Sunday’s main agenda item was a visit to the relatively new museum, the Newseum.  The idea behind the Newseum is a bit different than any other museum that I’ve been to.  Basically they take a look at how media covers certain events.  From their website: The Newseum “educates the public about the value of a free press in a free society and tells the stories of the world's important events in unique and engaging ways.”  Pretty cool, huh? 

You start out by viewing an orientation video in the basement of the Newseum, before moving on to the G-Men and Journalists exhibit.  This exhibit, obviously, focused on the FBI and how they handled some of the most notorious criminals in history: gangsters, spies, bombers, etc.  I was surprised at how many big news stories I had forgotten about, like the DC Sniper and Jayson Blair.  They had the Unabombers actual cabin on display!  (Speaking of the Unabomber, I never knew that he got that nickname because he targeted universities and airlines.)  There was a small section on the Waco, Texas incident, which has fascinated me since childhood.  My parents didn’t allow me to watch the TV movie since it probably wasn’t the most appropriate thing for a 9-year-old to be watching.  I can’t pinpoint why it’s so interesting to me, but I guess it’s the combination of my fascination with cults (and how people get sucked in) and conspiracies.  I didn’t know until Sunday that the Davidians set the fires and not the FBI (although this is debated, I believe the FBI on this one.  David Koresh was a total nutter).

From the basement, you take a glass elevator to the top floor of the building, where there is a terrace with awesome views of the city. 

The first exhibit that we saw on the top floor was Covering Katrina.  We had some exposure to what life in New Orleans looked like during and after Hurricane Katrina from the news and, when we visited New Orleans in September, Nick and I saw an exhibit at their art museum featuring photographs of New Orleans during and after the storm.  The Newseum exhibit featured news footage and interviews of members of the media and artifacts from covering the storm, including flood-ruined cameras and reporters’ notebooks. 

While weaving through a few floors, we came upon a huge gallery of the history of news coverage.  There were a million front page newspapers from the beginning of newspapers up until present day, including this old Philadelphia Inquirer from during the Civil War.

Then we arrived at the 9/11 Gallery.  The gallery included a timeline of the day’s events, a tribute to the only journalist to lose his life during the attack, and a short film that featured interviews of the journalists who covered the attacks in New York, along with their footage.  There was a single box of tissues in front of a two story wall covered in front pages of the newspapers around the world that covered the attacks.

The Newseum was slightly emotionally draining for me.  Seeing the devastating footage of September 11th and Katrina started to weigh on me.  Even though they are completely different situations, both are overwhelmingly sad. When I look at what happened in New Orleans, I can’t help but think, “We did this to ourselves.”  And that is awful.

The Newseum wasn’t wall-to-wall upsetting though.  One of my favorite exhibits was The President’s Photographer about the White House photographer who is able to catch the President in his everyday life.  We were introduced to the exhibit by a video on the huge 100-foot Big Screen Theater.  One of my favorite images featured in this exhibit is of Barack and Michelle Obama taking a freight elevator up to the inaugural ball.  There are times to be serious and there are times to be silly and there are times to just simply enjoy the company of those around you, and I think this exhibit does a good job at reminding us of that. 
Image Source

To drill this point home, the President’s Photographer was followed by a small exhibit focusing on the First Dogs.  I loved this.  Hands down my favorite out of this bunch was Bill Clinton with Socks on his shoulder.  Are we surprised that in an exhibit focusing on dogs I choose the one picture with a cat in it?  I think it’s a little weird that they strapped a leash on him and walked him around like he was a dog.  Nevertheless, I love a good cat and owner picture.
Image Source

We also got a chance to view the Pulitzer Prize Photography Gallery, which got a little heavy at times.  Being a photojournalist seems like a pretty tough job.  There is a fine line between having to do your job—in this case, capture a moment in history—and act as a human.  Some of the photographs depicted awful situations, including homelessness, famine, and war.  Next to the photos was a description of how the photographer got the shot.  Next to one picture of a young, starving African girl with a vulture lurking in the background, the description told of how, after taking that heartbreaking shot, everyone asked the photographer why he hadn’t picked the child up.  The photographer was so emotionally wracked by this that he took his life less than a year later.  It’s very easy to make judgments about situations looking in, but having to live through the situations, document them, and then deal with the reactions by many is a very difficult thing.  I definitely don’t think I would be able to emotionally handle that job.

After hours of attempting to remain composed, I was sufficiently hungry for a late lunch.  We headed over to Matchbox in Capitol Hill for some absolutely delicious brick oven pizza.  Mine came with double pepperoni, and the pepperoni was toasted perfectly so the edges were crispy but the middle was still warm and chewy.  For dessert we shared some doughnuts covered in powdered sugar and a little cinnamon.  It was the finale of our very delicious food tour of DC and it didn’t disappoint.

Since we still had a little time to kill before heading to Union Station to catch our train home, we drove over to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.  And it’s right across the Tidal Basin from the Washington Monument.  How nice of the folks in Washington to think of perfect photo opportunities.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is impressive.  We couldn’t recall something as big and classy existing elsewhere in this country.  His statue is huge too!  There weren’t too many people around when we were walking to the Memorial, but when we got up to the portico we were surprised to find a bunch of school tour groups hanging out.  On a Sunday?  It was pretty packed, but the sun going down and a nice breeze blowing through provided for a relaxed viewing of this beautiful structure.  The strange thing is that the Memorial is open until 11:00pm.  I would love to one day see the Memorial at night.

We cut the viewing of the Memorial a little short to allow enough time to get back to Union Station.  After a short wait in line, we were back aboard a lovely Amtrak train headed back to the City of Brotherly Love.

With good planning, we were able to pack in a lot during our short stay.  But there’s still so much that we want to see!  I predict another weekend trip to DC sometime in 2012.  Perhaps we’ll make a theme out of our trips and go the next the world will supposedly end.


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