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Homeward Bound After a Capital Week in Washington DC.

Sunday, Mar 19, 2017: Washington-Southport, CT.

Homeward Bound:

Early the next morning, as we wanted to beat the traffic and because a Sunday dawn is the best time to hit the road, Llew and I got into the car while the rest of the Britto family slept. They had insisted we stay for a very special breakfast of halva-puri that they were going to enjoy with local friends—but we declined. We really did want to get home by lunch-time and were keen to get started.

It was drizzling when we set out but, fortunately, there was no snow or flurries and within five and a half hours, with just one stop to pick up breakfast at a Hi-Hop place in Delaware, we were home.

Conclusion:

Washington DC had been a true revelation! Little did we expect, when we had started out on our trip, a week ago, that we’d have so many exciting experiences, so many lovely reunions with fond friends and relatives and so many notable first-time sights to see. But for the weather, which was lousy except on the last day—luckily, our outdoor day—we had the time of our lives. Were there places we still wish we’d covered? Of course! We hadn’t set foot into Georgetown, the Kennedy Center or the Pentagon (which also requires three-week advance planning).

But we are sure there will be a next time—and soon! The capital is much too accessible and our contacts in the area too numerous for us to wait for another 25 years before we return there as tourists.

Thanks for following us on this journey. The writing of this blog is always worthwhile because I know that I have a handful of faithful followers who read my posts.

Until the road rises up to greet us again…bye-bye.

 

A Day for Memorial Monuments in Washington DC–And a Slap-Up Tapas Dinner

Saturday, Mar 18, 2017: Washington

A Day for Memorials:

As it turned out, the weather improved considerably today. The deep freeze, in which we seemed to have been stuck, lifted, much to our relief, for we had ear-marked this day to explore the outdoor memorial monuments scattered around the Mall and the Reflecting Pool. It would involve a great deal of walking and, indeed, by the end of the day, we had walked 7.5 miles. Yes, I do have a pedometer app called Moves attached to my phone and that is how I know exactly how much I walk each day. (My daily average is 4 miles while my record is 25 miles on a single day.)

Marian set us off on a way with a substantial breakfast that included bagels and croissants with butter and preserves as well as good coffee. She dropped us off at the metro station from where we boarded a train to the Smithsonian stop. We emerged on the Mall itself. It was the first time we were setting foot on this broad green expanse which was recently so much in the news as the debates raged on regarding the real crowd size for Trump’s inauguration which took place on it.

Viewing the Washington Monument:

We took a series of pictures of the Capitol in the background on one side and the tall obelisk of the Washington Monument on the other. It is no longer possible to climb up to the top of it—security restrictions are rife. Across the street we saw the Museum of African-American History and Culture, the newest addition on the Mall. Unfortunately, it is so impossible to get tickets to enter it as demand is overwhelming. Despite the fact that we awoke at 6.30 am on two consecutive days to get tickets online, we were unsuccessful. We have simply decided to wait for another occasion.

The Jefferson Memorial:

From the Washington Monument, we walked for quite a distance until we arrived on the banks of the Tidal Basin across which is my favorite monument in the city—the Jefferson Memorial. This Neo-Classical Rotunda, modelled entirely on the architectural drawings of Italy’s Andrea Palladio, is a recreation of Jefferson’s beloved home, Monticello (which we visited a few years ago). Since both Llew and I have been inside this lovely place, we avoided the long walk to actually get inside it and instead skirted the Tidal Basin. In doing so, we walked under the famed cherry trees for which Washington is renowned and which give the city a spectacular appearance in the spring. Hundreds of cherry trees were gifted to the United States by Japan as a symbol of friendship—ironically just before the onset of World War II. We had arrived in the city just shy of the blooming weekend—for the arrival of the blossoms is greeted in Washington, just as it is in Kyoto, Japan, with exhilaration. We arrived at the spot where the first two trees were planted (marked by a plaque and a Japanese stone lantern) and too pictures.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Monument:

Our next monument of discovery was the Dr. Marin Luther King Memorial which is a new addition to the cityscape, having been installed long after we were last in the capital as tourists. It is an immensely interesting piece of work: A towering sculpture of a very stern-looking Dr. King emerging out of a massive piece of granite. The bottom quarter of the sculpture is left unfinished. The piece of marble containing the sculpture seems to have detached itself from a larger stone block at the back—indeed, Dr. King’s portion of the sculpture seems to have stepped forward to dominate the spot. He stands solemnly with his hands folded on his chest. The following words are engraved on the side: “Out of the Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope.”  I thought that the entire conception of this monument was ingenious. All around the location, there are quotes from the various speeches of Dr. King. They evoke quite vividly the huge struggle for civil rights in this country through the turbulence of the 1960s.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Monument:

On foot we continued as we made our way to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Monument on another side of the Reflecting Pool. I was especially keen to get there as we had seen Lawrence Halperin’s designs for the venue at the National Building Museum, a couple of days ago. What we found was a vast plot of land devoted to recounting the achievements of four Presidential terms in office enjoyed by this one individual. (There has since been an amendment to the Constitution that permits no more than two terms). As you walk through each term represented by an individual ‘room’ created by delineating rocks, you are presented with a sculpture denoting the salient historical feature of that period. There are the long bread lines of the Great Depression, for instance. There is also a sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt, his loyal companion, who played one of the most effective roles of First Lady in the 20th century. As you move through each ‘room’, you are completely impressed by the glorious achievements of this man.

At the very end of the monument, you come upon a massive bronze sculpture that has weathered to a green verdigris patina. FDR is seated in a chair wearing a vast cape around him to hide his wheelchair. A few feet away sits his dog, a Scots terrier. As was well-known, FDR was physically handicapped (having suffered from polio which made it impossible for him to walk). He was, therefore, always confined to a wheel chair. The disabled in America were deeply offended by the fact that the sculpture hid his disability and they insisted on the installation of a second sculpture that would portray him on the wheelchair he designed himself. Hence, while the original sculpture is to be found at the end of the monument in front of cascades of cooling water, the one in which he is depicted on his wheel chair is right at the beginning of the monument. Inside, in the gift shop, the visitor can see one of the actual wheelchairs that FDR used and which he designed and fashioned himself using a wooden kitchen chair. We found the entire visit deeply moving for we have visited FDR’s home at Hyde Park on the Hudson and were quite familiar with his stupendous achievements during World War II, his New Deal that give us Medicare and Social Security payments during our retirement and his Fireside Chats.

Lunch at a Local Kiosk:

Being that our day was steeped in Americana, it was about time we stopped and filled our bellies with the typical great American meal: cheese-chilli dogs with fries and sodas. And that was exactly what we found in one of the kiosks run by the National Park Service on the Mall. We found ourselves seats in the sun and took a much-needed rest as we enjoyed our very tasty but very casual meal. Lunch done, in the shadow of the Neo-Classical Lincoln Memorial, we got up and continued our exploration.

More Memorials to Peruse:

The Korean War Memorial:

The Korean War Memorial was very close to the lunch kiosk and it was there that we went next. In a most interesting composition, a couple of dozen Americans are seen knee-deep in tall vegetation, draped in the long, loose rain ponchos that they wore while in Korea fighting the least-known of the American wars. They are seen trooping towards the American flag in a curving single file. The entire vignette is deeply engaging. Alongside them, there is a black granite wall that has been engraved with the faces of Americans who served in Korea. Since it was a coalition war, fought with the assistance of UN troops, the names of the many countries that participated in this war, are also engraved on low stone markers. Overall, a most moving portrayal of courage in the face of danger.

The Lincoln Memorial Monument:

Right across the street stood the marble edifice of the Lincoln Memorial—so that was our next stop. It sits high on a hill overlooking, in arresting symmetry, the Reflecting Pool that stretches in front with the Washington Monument at the other end of it. This time, we did climb the stairs to enter the monument and to take in Daniel Chester French’s magnificent sculpture of the seated Lincoln (a Marquette is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) as well as the engraving of the entire Gettysburg Address. The interior of the monument was simply swarming with people–indeed, it was the most crowded of the memorial monuments. It was also about 2.30 pm by the time we arrived there. The day had warmed considerably and it was very pleasant to be out in the sunshine that seemed to have sneaked into the city after a particularly frigid week. Needless to say, we took a number of pictures before we carried on.

The Vietnam War Memorial:

The next memorial we saw was the Vietnam War Memorial—both of us had seen this before on previous visits to the city. The rather stark monument was designed by a young architecture student, then at Yale, named Maya Lin. She won the competition for a monument that would comprise a black granite wall that would be engraved with the names of the thousands of Americans who perished in that most notorious of recent wars. On past occasions, we have found mementoes of the visits made by war veterans in honor of their lost comrades. This time, there was not much to be seen. But again, there were hordes of people everywhere. Not far away, is a newer monument that recalls the role played by women in the Vietnam War—non-combative in those days, but nevertheless, deeply significant.

 

The World War II Memorial Monument:

And finally, we arrived after a nice walk alongside the Reflecting Pool, at the new World War II Memorial Monument that is the newest addition to the Mall. It is composed around another pool with fountains that play constantly. Tall granite columns rise up, each representing one of the American states. They are crowned by wreaths and carry the name of the state. There is also a Wall of Gold stars, one star for each thousand soldiers that died. There are friezes designed and created by Ray Kelsey that encircle one side of the monument (we had seen the Marquettes of these at the National Building Museum). Overall, we were left feeling deeply subdued by the amount of American blood that has been spilled through the dreadful wars that checker the country’s very short history.

And by this time in our rambles, it was just past 4.00 pm. We had been almost entirely on our feet since 10.00 am and had already walked about 7 miles. We were more than ready to return to McLean and when we received a text from Marian telling us that she was headed for the 5.00 pm Mass at her church, we decided to try and get there in time to join her as we would be on the road, the following (Sunday) morning and would probably not be able to get to Mass.

Mass in McLean:

Marian’s church is one of those modern amphitheatrical affairs with the altar in the center of a pit that offers views from every part. It was quite packed for a Saturday evening and the congregation was composed mainly of Filipinos and South Asians. It is these communities that seem to keep Roman Catholicism alive and worshipping around the world! It was a good mass with a very traditional bent—far more formal that our masses in Connecticut.

As soon as it was done, Marian drove us home to her house. We stayed long enough to enjoy bowls of tasty ice-cream provided by her daughter Anjali who works for Coldstone Creamery and who is entitled to a tub of ice-cream every so often. It was our last chance to chat with Marian and Anjali before we said goodbye to them, piled our overnighters into our own car and made our way to our next port of call—Reston, Virginia—for we were switching home again for the last night of our visit.

Arrival at Reston:

Reston is the residence of my cousin’s daughter Carol, her husband Ajit and their kids, Nick and Dia. We had spent two nights with them quite recently en route to and back from Charlotte, North Carolina, and since they thought our time with them was too brief, they insisted we return. However, this entire week they were busy with a professional move—Ajit is an orthodontic surgeon and Carol is his Office Manager. The moving of the premises of their own family-run business (with Ajit’s sister Mala, who is also an orthodontist) had consumed their week, but they were keen that we spend at least our last night in the area with them. We were delighted to do so as we really do enjoy their company tremendously.

We arrived in Reston at 7.00 pm to an uproarious welcome from their dog, Duke, who is the friendliest fellow you ever did see! He greeted us like old friends and it was only after he had calmed down and we had a chance to chinwag for a while that the Brittos suggested dinner outside. We were ravenous and quite ready to leave in two cars. We would follow them as they took us back into downtown Washington DC for they had made a reservation at Jaleo’s, a very high-end restaurant whose chef Jose Andres, has developed a sterling reputation as one of America’s most note-worthy, at the moment.

Dinner at Jaleo’s on our Last Night in Washington DC:

Ajit and Carol are foodies—so we found eager partners in crime as we sat ourselves down to enjoy the very interesting tapas-based menu on offer. But first, drinks. At Ajit’s suggestion, we ordered a pitcher of sangria for the table. It was surprisingly bracing and refreshing at the same time with citrus fruit floating in it.

As for the meal, in a word, wow! Going slow and pausing between orders, we had a variety of tapas items that went down a treat—from chorizo sausage with mashed potato and cider sauce to salmon, from bacon-rapped dates to Spanish omlette, from a Brussels sprouts salad to garlic shrimp (which was awesome)—between the six of us, we tasted about nine of the tapas dishes and each one was better than the other. For dessert, we chose to share the Basque cake which was served with cinnamon ice-cream—a real palate-cleanser, after what had been an astounding meal. It was the most unexpected and truly ritzy end to our meal for the space was huge, the décor modern, the service impeccable and the company exuberant (just as we expected). It was a fantastic way to catch up with the Brittos and their kids and we had a truly grand evening: the crowning glory to what had been an incredibly exciting week in Washington. We thanked out relatives profusely for their generosity for they insisted on treating us and made us promise that we would return again soon to partake of a meal at the famed Little Inn in Washington, which all of us had wanted to try at some time or the other.

Until tomorrow, see ya…

Bibliophilia and Art Mania in the Capital–Grand Day for Libraries and Galleries

Friday, Mar 17, 2017: Washington

A Day for Bibliophilia:

Museums, yes. Art galleries, of course. Famous buildings and private residences, certainly. But libraries? Since when do folks put the visiting of libraries on their tourist itineraries? Well, they do so if they are the Almeidas. Because books are our passion, touring spaces devoted exclusively to them and getting into the minds of fellow-bibliophiles, is something we have done for years. Among the many gems we have uncovered through our travels: The Long Library at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland; The Coimbra University Library in Portugal; The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. And on this trip, it would be the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress we would peruse. Boy, were we excited!

Breakfast at Marian’s:

But first….it was to be a breakfast to remember at our friend Marian’s place. Married to a South Indian named Anand, Marian has grown into something on an expert on the making of idlis—soft rice cakes eaten with a lentil stew called sambar.  For us, it is a rare treat, eaten perhaps once a year on a trip to India. So, imagine our delight on awaking to find that Marian had steamed the rice cakes for us, heated up the sambhar and laid the table in her kitchen for our eating pleasure. Washed down with good coffee, it was a great start to our day. A quick shower later, we were piling into her car and she was dropping us off to her metro station so that we could start our exploration of the day.

At the Folger Shakespeare Library:

It was a bitterly cold morning. In fact, Llew and I laughed at the irony of the fact that we had wished to escape the cold of Connecticut by taking a trip “someplace warmer” during my Spring Break, only to land ourselves in a place six hours south of us that was colder than our home base of Southport. Oh well…as they say, you can change many things, but never the weather. Indeed, it had been a freezing week overall. Thankfully, the capital had some of the best indoor attractions in the world and we were kept toasty on our travels.

The metro dropped us off on Capitol Hill (Capital South) and a short walk later, we found ourselves facing the marble-clad building of the Folger Shakespeare Library which, on the outside, resembles any one of the Neo-Classical buildings that Pierre L’Enfant envisioned when he designed Washington DC. We made our way up the short flight of stairs to the main entrance and then, lo and behold, we were whisked back to Tudor England! Can you imagine my delight???

Once we cleared security, we were at the Main information Desk where we were informed that guided tours were given a few times a day. There was one starting in just ten minutes, so off we went. A volunteer docent gave a handful of visitors an introduction to the collection. How did the library come into being? What does it represent? It would be easiest for me to quote directly from the library’s website to make sure I get all the facts right. Here they are:

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s founders, Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, established the Folger in 1932 as a gift to the American people. Emily Folger later wrote of Henry Folger’s belief that “the poet is one of our best sources, one of the wells from which we Americans draw our national thought, our faith and our hope.” This belief in the deep connection between Shakespeare and America is the reason the Folger is located in the nation’s capital. Throughout a long career in the oil industry, Henry Folger, with his wife’s assistance, built the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. Together, Henry and Emily Folger then planned the library that would house their collection.
After it opened in 1932, the Folger steadily expanded its holdings to become a world-class research center on the early modern age in the West, while remaining the premier center for Shakespeare studies and resources outside of England. Its public outreach programs, beginning in the library’s early decades with exhibitions, lectures, and publications, have also grown over time.

The Folger collection began in 1889 with Henry Folger’s first purchase of a rare book. Already fascinated by Shakespeare, he paid $107.50 for a copy of the 1685 Fourth Folio of the plays. Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger spent decades gathering the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, broadly defined to include Shakespeare’s era as well.

As Henry continued to work full-time as an oil company executive, Emily tracked the growing collection and flagged possible purchases. When the complete collection was transported to the Folger Shakespeare Library before the library’s 1932 opening, it came to an astonishing 200,000 items in 2,109 packing cases.

In 1938, the library gained a new strength in English printed books with the purchase of most of the private library of the late Sir Leicester Harmsworth, which came to about 10,000 books, including small, later purchases from the estate. After the war, from 1948 to 1968, Folger Director Louis B. Wright added substantial materials from the Renaissance in Europe, acquiring 22,000 continental books and 19,000 more English books. That growth continues to this day, with new acquisitions which build on the collection’s existing strengths.

The guide took us first to the Tudor Main Hall. Believe me, you could have been in any one of the grand Elizabethan manors in England such as Hatfield House or Knole House—it was that authentic. Paneled in dark-wood with a huge brick fireplace as its focal point and a vast library (Reading) table surroudned by chairs in the center, the room is grand in its proportions. Since light comes from small stained-glass window, the room is on the darker side, but no matter. This aspect adds to the ambience. She began by giving us a brief history of the building. Once again, I shall quote from the library’s website in order to get my facts straight:

When one thinks of the treasures of the Folger Shakespeare Library, books and manuscripts and artwork immediately come to mind. But for many, the library’s national landmark building—designed by Paul Philippe Cret (1876–1945)—is a high point.

Located a block from the US Capitol, the Folger Shakespeare Library is an Elizabethan monument with a neoclassical exterior. On the outside, its white marble harmonizes with nearby buildings, such as the Library of Congress, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court. Inside, the design evokes Tudor England, with oak paneling, ornamental floor tile, and high plaster ceilings. The Folger building is best known for the Shakespeare bas-reliefs along its north façade.

The building is extensively ornamented with inscriptions of quotations by and about Shakespeare. Quotations were often used to adorn English great houses of Shakespeare’s day, and are an essential part of the Folger’s architecture. Henry Folger personally selected the inscriptions that may be found throughout the interior, the exterior, and the grounds. It was his wish that any texts taken from the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare should be spelled as they appear there, rather than in the modern style.
The chief architect for the Folger Shakespeare Library was Paul Philippe Cret, a well-known Philadelphia architect and French emigré who had trained in the Beaux Arts tradition in Paris. Some of his previous projects included the Pan American Union in Washington and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington architect Alexander Trowbridge was the consulting architect for the project.
The Folger Shakespeare Library was dedicated in 1932 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Tudor Hall had two Tudor paintings on the wall—one of Queen Elizabeth I in her younger days (although the white-painted face is in evidence) and another of an Elizabethan worthy whose name I did not catch. The walls are surrounded by glass cases in which a huge collection of ceramic Shakespearean busts and statues abound together with ceramic portraiture of the many characters the Bard created. In the center of the main table, there was a facsimile copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623 and in a glass case, taking pride of place in the room was the real thing—a Fourth Folio, Henry Folger’s proudest acquisition.  There were many questions asked by visitors which included a grad student, a high school teacher of English and a professor (moi)—which left me wondering whether most of the traffic that this building sees are those involved in education.

After spending quite a long time in the Tudor Main Hall (which set the tone quite beautifully for the rest of our visit), we trooped into what looked like a Long Gallery (a frequent feature of Elizabethan aristocratic homes in England or Scotland). This was filled with valuable works from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, that included a Greek Bible, splendid illuminated manuscripts from the medieval period and other landmark publications from the Renaissance. Founded exactly five hundred years ago in 1517, the College quickly acquired a significant collection under the leadership of its founder, Richard Fox. Llew and I spent a while browsing through some of the main works and eventually were permitted a peak into the Main Reading Room as this room is out of bounds to visitors. It is a long and very ornate room constructed in two tiers and lined everywhere the eye descends, by books. We saw several scholars working on their research materials. Readership is select and scholars are meant to apply for scholarships which grant them residence reader rights for short or long terms. It was all very impressive indeed.

Viewing the Folger Shakespeare Theater:

However, much as the Tudor rooms were fascinating, it was the Theater that was the piece de resistance of our tour—understandably, it was kept for last. This time we could go inside and take our seats on the very chairs that the audience would occupy during one of the many performances that are presented year-round. These include Shakespearean works as well as those by his contemporaries and by modern-day playwrights who have taken their inspiration from the Bard. We enjoyed feasting our eyes on the wooden-clad theater that is based entirely on the design of the Globe Theater in London. There are three gallery levels that look down upon a wooden stage which is exactly as you would have seen it in Shakespeare’s day except that it is not open to the sky. We were enchanted. Furthermore, the guide told us that the Folger Shakespeare Library is the venue of the Pen/Faulker Award—judges meet here and the award ceremony takes place here. It was especially significant for Llew whose personal collection of hard bound first editions (often signed by their authors) includes each year’s winners of the Pen-Faulkner Award.

After what had been a thrilling tour in many respects, we left the library and crossed the street to find ourselves in the magnificent Library of Congress.

Touring the Library of Congress:

The Library of Congress Building is quite plainly the most glorious building in the Capital. Both inside and out, it dazzles. Clad in Neo-Classical marble, it had wide steps that give main entry into the building. Once security in cleared, you find yourself in a space that is simply spectacular. Words cannot convey the initial impression that the interior décor makes on the viewer. It truly has to be seen to be believed. Suffice it to say that we joined a guided tour which had masses of people in attendance, were treated to a brief film in the Visitors’ Room that introduced us to the library and its collection and then were walked through the Main Hall and taken into the sanctum sanctorum, the actual Reading Room itself.

So here is a brief account of this library from its website:

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. The Library preserves and provides access to a rich, diverse and enduring source of knowledge to inform, inspire and engage you in your intellectual and creative endeavors.

As in the case of the Bodleian and Fitzwilliam libraries in Oxford and Cambridge Universities in  England respectively that receive one copy of every book ever published in the UK, so too, the Library of Congress receives a copy of every book every published in the USA. This means, of course, that my book on The Politics of Mourning is at the Library of Congress and when I looked up their Search Catalog, I did find that they have two copies of it, much to my delight! My other book on Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age is also in the Library! Of course, every book published in the USA also receives a catalog number from the Library of Congress.

I took a lot of pictures during our tour as I simply could not get enough of the opulence of this building. It has everything you can imagine in Baroque interior design: pillars, cupolas, domes, marble staircases, stained glass windows, wrought-iron ornamentation, thick carvings in wood and stone…indeed, the décor beggars description.

The guide took us around to the most important elements of the collection from the Gutenburg Bible to the Main Reading Room which we could view from several stories up. Anyone can get a Reader’s Card for the Library of Congress provided you can submit two pieces of identity. It is a handy Washington DC souvenir—although we were discouraged unless we really meant business—and business, in this case, involves doing research in-house as it is not a lending library—merely one from which one can temporarily borrow materials for reading on the premises. The Library is also a record-keeper for the nation and people come there to do all sorts of archival research relating to family histories, land rights, etc.

Our view of the Main Reading Room was simply astounding. I had thought, a few months ago, while doing research in the Radcliff Camera of the Bodleian Library in Oxford that it would be impossible for me to focus on my reading when I was surrounded by so much grandeur. But the Radcliff Camera, despite its extraordinary Baroque interior pales in comparison to the Library of Congress with its vast number of bronze sculptures of writers and scholars that ring the Rotunda and the magnificence of its dome—for like all the great domes of the world (St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Brunelleschi’s Duomo in Florence, for instance) this is simply arresting. Grecian architectural elements combine with Renaissance Baroque ornamentation to create a space that must be overwhelmingly thrilling to the scholar fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study here.

When the tour ended, we made our way to two exhibits that we were told not to miss: one was a map of the world in the time of Amerigo Vespucci who named America soon after its ‘discovery’ by Columbus. This huge engraving sits in two vast show cases and occupies an entire section of the building. It is accompanied by other contemporary documents such as a printed version of the journal of Christopher Columbus (in Italian) that he penned as he made his crossing of the Atlantic for the first time in 1492. (I had seen the original—the actual journal itself– in the Columbus Museum in Barcelona, Spain). I took a lot of pictures.

Finally, we ended our tour of the Library of Congress by taking in the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, President of the US, after whom this building of the library is named. Here, from the website, is information pertaining to how Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection of books came to be in the Library of Congress:

Throughout his life, books were vital to Thomas Jefferson’s education and well-being. When his family home Shadwell burned in 1770 Jefferson most lamented the loss of his books. In the midst of the American Revolution and while United States minister to France in the 1780s, Jefferson acquired thousands of books for his library at Monticello. Jefferson’s library went through several stages, but it was always critically important to him. Books provided the little traveled Jefferson with a broader knowledge of the contemporary and ancient worlds than most contemporaries of broader personal experience. By 1814 when the British burned the nation’s Capitol and the Library of Congress, Jefferson had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States. Jefferson offered to sell his library to Congress as a replacement for the collection destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. Congress purchased Jefferson’s library for $23,950 in 1815. A second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851, destroyed nearly two thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson.

Through a generous grant from Jerry and Gene Jones, the Library of Congress is attempting to reassemble Jefferson’s library as it was sold to Congress. Although the broad scope of Jefferson’s library was a cause for criticism of the purchase, Jefferson extolled the virtue of its broad sweep and established the principle of acquisition for the Library of Congress: “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Proclaiming that “I cannot live without books,” Jefferson began a second collection of several thousand books, which was sold at auction in 1829 to help satisfy his creditors.

What remains of Jefferson’s Library looks small, but it is beautifully displayed in a semi-circle made up of glass cases. Color-coded bookmarks let you know if the book was an original from his library or whether it was a later replacement copy of a book he originally possessed. Occasionally you will find dummy cardboard boxes with the names of books printed on them. These signify books that were in the original collection but which have yet to be found and added to it. It was all quite fascinating indeed and we had a grand time. We found every second fully rewarding.

Lunch at Eastern Market:

We could have stayed at the Library of Congress forever; but then, there is only a small limit to our stamina. Our tummies beckoned and we decided to go to ‘Eastern Market’ which every guide book suggests in a Must-See venue in Washington. It happens to be a covered market (similar to the one outside Faneuil Hall in Boston) with vendors selling mainly food products: fresh produce, deli meats, etc. There is a butcher, a spice dealer—that sort of thing. On the weekends, the market comes into its own with a flea market developing outside on the sidewalk. Tourists flock there to buy everything from cheap souvenir trinkets  to hearty breakfast sandwiches.

We were looking out for lunch and, to our delight, we found the perfect place at the end of the market, in a stall that offered seats to appease our hunger. Since we were in Maryland and had not yet partaken of its best-known dish—Maryland Crab Cakes–we selected those. Placed within burger buns, they made the most perfect sandwich lunch you can imagine. Tartar sauce, lettuce and tomato filled our burger and proved to be the best accompaniments to the most succulent crab cakes I can recall eating. Although there was nothing to rave about in terms of ambience or atmosphere, we had seen the famed Eastern Market and had ourselves one of the more memorable lunches of our visit.

An Afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art:

On reading through our guide books, I discovered the existence of the National Portrait Gallery. Knowing the National Portrait Gallery in London almost like the back of my hands, I felt slightly ashamed that I had never been to the same institution in my own country! Hence, a visit to this venue was definitely on the cards for us.

Lunch done, we took the metro and made our way to the National Portrait Gallery. Housed in a grand Greek Revival building, away from the Mall where most of the Smithsonian’s museums are located, it is one of the oldest structures in the city. Once we were inside the building, we discovered that it is, in fact, two museums—for it houses the National Portrait Collection as well as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art. Joining the two separate ‘wings’ of the museum with its two separate collections is the handiwork of the contemporary British architecture, Norman Foster, who designed the undulating, wavy, glass ceiling that, at first glance, reminds you of the Great Courtyard of the British Museum in London. And indeed, you would not be mistaken for Foster designed that as well. Known as the Kogod Courtyard, it provides an all-weather canopy from the elements for visitors to the museum and a fine meetings place for a drink or a bite. We crossed the courtyard as we took in the highlights of the collection (easily accessible for visitors with paucity of time) through a handy leaflet that enumerates the must-see items.

Highlights of the Collection:

We went on to see paintings from Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, a portrait of Pocahontas in Elizabethan garb, of an Indian named Sequoia, a sculpture called The Vine, landscapes by Asher Durand of the Hudson River School and Albert Bierstadt of the prairie landscape and a portrait of four of our current female sitting justices of the Supreme Court. On the top floor, in the Grand Hall (itself a fabulous architectural achievement), we saw magnificent contemporary portraits of Michael Jackson, Toni Morrison, Bill and Melissa Gates, dozens of sporting figures such as Mohammed Ali, Babe Ruth, etc.

For Llew and me, however, the piece de resistance was a portrait of Katherine Hepburn that was placed on a wall just behind a glass case that contains all four of her Best-Actress Award Oscar trophies—for Hepburn is still the record-holder with the most number of Oscars in the Best Actress category (yes, even more than Meryl Streep!)! That was the closest Llew had ever come to an Oscar and he was thrilled. I had seen an Oscar for the first time, eight years ago, in a maritime museum called the Kon-Tiki Museum in Bygdoy in Norway, right outside Oslo, where the Oscar for the Best Documentary based on a film that recounted the trans-Atlantic voyage of Thor Heyerdahl on a raft (if you can believe it!) sits in a similar glass case—also donated to the museum by the film’s director. Naturally, we took a picture of Hepburn’s Oscars and then continued on our perusal. There was also a very interesting take on the iconic painting called “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emmanuel Leutze which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Well, the Japanese-American artist Roger Shimomura has created a revision of this painting with a marvelous canvas that presents himself in the guise of George Washington. He titles his painting “An American Knock-Off”. I thought it was all quite astonishing indeed. Seriously, it is difficult for me to put into words the amount of sterling art we saw in these two museums including Gilbert Stewart’s portrait of George Washington.

Dinner in McLean:

But with the museum closing and darkness soon to fall upon Washington—and our stamina levels running pretty low—we decided to call a halt to our sightseeing and take the metro back to McLean. A text to Marian brought her to the metro station where she picked us up and took us back to her home. Well settled with drinks, we nattered on until she got dinner organized for us. In fact, Marian took loads of trouble putting on an Indian feast before us: it was to be an evening of Indian chaat which is North Indian street food. She made ragda pattice (a potato patty smothered with a spicy stew of chickpeas and onions) and bhel puri (a mixture of puffed rice, onions, potatoes, a spicy snack called sev and a variety of hot chilli and sweet date chutneys that makes the entire concoction tongue-tingling). Marian also served us delicious paneer or Indian cottage cheese. Since it was a Friday in Lent, both Llew and I were off meat—hence, it helped to have found crab cakes and a wonderful Indian vegetarian meal at Marian’s for dinner. Best of all, we enjoyed quality time with Marian as we reminisced about old times in Bombay (where we were both born and raised) and in New York (where we both arrived at the same time as new immigrants almost thirty years ago). It was a sheer delight to look back on our lives and although we missed Anand, her husband, who was in India, Marian was the perfect hostess.

We fell asleep deep fulfilled about the thrilling variety that the day had offered.

 

Until tomorrow, see ya…

More Americana in the US Capital: National Building Museum and Supreme Court

Wednesday, Mar 15, 2017: Washington

(A Day for More Americana)

            Breakfast at Heather’s place was far more elaborate this morning. In addition to toast with butter and jam, she had a spicy coconut-coriander chutney as well as cold cuts such as ham and turkey. She encouraged us to make ourselves sandwiches as she prepared her son, Jeremy, for school. As soon as we showered and dressed, we were leaving to drop Jeremy off at school before climbing back into Heather’s car to ride back to Washington DC with her and Maria. As they did yesterday, today too, they dropped us at Farragut West metro station. We rode the train to a stop called the Judiciary from where the National Building Museum was right opposite. This was a place neither one of us had seen before but the description in the guide books was rather enticing and since architecture is an art form for which I have developed a grand passion, I was keen to explore this museum.

Exploring the National Building Museum:

This museum is not part of the Smithsonian—which is the umbrella organization that runs the main museums on The Mall. Hence, there is an entry fee for this museum ($10) which includes a guided tour which is given twice a day. We decided to take the one beginning at 11.30 am. Meanwhile, with about an hour to kill, we roamed through the exhibits on the ground floor and were fully enchanted.

A word about the building: Built in the 1880s as the Pension Building, the National Building Museum might be familiar to Americana buffs as it is the venue of the Presidential Inauguration Ball that takes place every four years when a new President is sworn in.  You can, therefore, imagine that it offers space for a grand ballroom. What you might not expect to find is that the towering heights of the ceiling for the building rise to five floors that are held up by massively-thick Neo-Classical pillars that are faux-painted to resemble marble (but are actually entirely brick-clad on the inside).

We started out on our own taking a look at some of the marquettes for the national sculpture that is dotted all around the capital. I was particularly struck by a large bronze lion that watches carefully over a pair of cubs that are curled up on the other side of a small walkway. On reading the plaque, I discovered that the actual full-size sculpture is to be found across the street at the metro station. I, therefore, resolved to go out in search of it at the end of our tour.

Also amazingly, the ground floor of this building contains a most unique exhibition of model paper buildings that represent some of the world’s best-known structures. As Llew and I walked around in deep fascination, we realized that we have seen so many of these buildings in real life: from the Vatican to Fenway Ball Park in Chicago, from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul to the Burj Khalifa Building in Dubai, from the Al-Hambra in Granada to Buckingham Palace in London, from Schloss Neuschwanstein near Munich to the Cathedral of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. These little paper models were so exquisitely detailed and done so perfectly to scale that I had to take pictures of almost every one of them.

Next, we moved to an exhibit on the work of Ray Kelsey, a master sculptor who designed the various sculptural vignettes that encircle the World War II Memorial near the Reflecting Pool in front of the Washington Monument. We were able to look at the photographs he took of real male and female models who donned period costume. From the photographs, he made sketches of the sculptures and those in turn were cast in plaster and then in bronze to create the real thing.

Also quite astonishing is an exhibition on the work of Lawrence Halperin, an American architect, whose work is sprinkled all over the US and other parts of the world. He is solely responsible for the design and creation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial off the Reflecting Pool behind the Mall. We were able to look at the detailed drawings and landscape paintings he produced as part of his design portfolio when bidding for the commissions that he was granted. I was delighted to discover that the campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz, where I have had the pleasure of spending a few weeks during past summers, was designed by Halperin. I could not wait to see the FDR Monument which we would be doing tomorrow.

Taking a Guided Tour of the National Building Museum:

The guided tour began at 11.30 am and had attracted quite a fan following. The guide was excellent. After giving us an introduction to the original use for which the building was intended—to govern pension distribution—he moved on to talk about the plaster frieze that encircles the exterior of the building. This is rather a striking feature when one enters the building and the observant visitor cannot help but notice it. We discovered that the building was the work of a late 19th century architect called Thomas Meigs who was completely inspired by a famous Italian palazzo in Rome called the Palazzo Farnese. Hence, the arched floors of the building are entirely inspired by the Palazzo Farnese, but there are some significant changes that were carried out to make the Pension Building more functional.

As we climbed higher and higher up the building, we were quite taken by the brick work in the stair wells that were pointed out to us as well as the Neo-Classical elements such as the Corinthian columns that were finished off with huge gilded plaster acanthus leaves at the top. I was also struck by scores of white plaster busts in the highest niches at the very roof line—these were modelled in the early 20th century after the original 19th century ones had disappeared. No one seems to know where they might be found. It is only on a guided tour that you can get to the highest floor from where you are parallel to the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian columns.

There was a goldmine of information that was offered quite expertly indeed to us and although it was an hour-long tour and I started wilting at the end of it, I have to admit that I learned an enormous amount and found it deeply stirring. I would most heartily recommend this museum to anyone who is looking to do something off the beaten path when visiting the capital.

Finally, on exiting the building, we made it a point to examine carefully the frieze about which we had learned so much on the tour. Also, much to our delight, I discovered that the lovely lion and lion cubs marquette that we had seen inside the museum was exposed in all its bronze glory, larger than life-size, just across the main entrance. It certainly made my day.

Lunch at Union Station:

Union Station in Washington DC is the equivalent of Grand Central Station in New York—it is the hub from which trains radiate across the length and breadth of America. Since it has, in recent years, evolved into more than just a train station, we decided to go there and take a look at its Neo-Classical architecture as well as the recent refurbishment that has turned one level into a Food Court. It would be a good place for us to get a bite to eat as we had started to feel quite ravenous.

Union Station’s interior is indeed quite astounding. The arched ceiling is divided into square blocks that are ornamented with full-blown carved flowers. I realized, in fact, that all of the underground metro stations are modelled upon this pattern—so that a uniformity of structure exists in the capital’s transportation network.

We climbed one floor up and arrived at the Food Court where we did the rounds of the entire place to decide what we would eat. Eventually, we chose a food chain that has not yet made its New York debut—called Roti, it presents Mediterranean cuisine in a cafetaria-like concept where patrons choose a base of either white or brown rice or salad greens, then choose their meat (chicken, lamb, meatballs or salmon) and finally select a variety of accompaniments or toppings such as humus, tahini, feta cheese, tabbouleh, salads made with bases of couscous and bulgar wheat, etc. and end with a salad dressing from a nice variety. The end result in a large and very substantial combination of Middle Eastern ingredients made up quite cleverly into a ‘bowl’ of food. Both Llew and I found our choices delectable. Well fortified for the next part of our day, we walked towards the US Supreme Court which we hoped to tour.

A Lecture in the US Supreme Court:

Neither Llew nor I had ever been inside the Supreme Court. On previous visits to Washington DC, we had skirted by car the grand Neo-Classical buildings that give the official part of the city—Capitol Hill–a distinctly Greco-Roman appearance. This time, we not only hoped to enter the building but to take a conducted tour that would enable us to get access to the actual Court Room in which the nine justices who comprise the Supreme Court meet and give decisions on some of the most important aspects of American policy.

It was a fifteen minute walk to the Supreme Court from Union Station and we got there at a time when most visitors have had their fill of sightseeing for the day. We entered through the Visitors Entrance, went by all the screening devices that make these buildings feel worse than airports and arrived at the ground level which is filled with glass cases holding items relating to the history of the Supreme Court. There are also detailed cases on the design and construction of the building, the choice of characters from history (that played the role of law-makers including the Prophet Mohammed whom I have seen depicted in art for the first time) as well as a large numbers of oil portraits of Supreme Court justices who have left their mark upon American legal history.

We were informed that there are no guided tours of the buildings. What visitors can participate in is a lecture that is given in the Court Room itself. As the next one was supposed to begin at 3. 30 pm, we joined it. While we waited, I perused the glass cases on the ground floor and found myself quite fascinated by all I saw. At 3. 30, we joined the line that made its way into the Court Room.

The lecture, half an hour long, was given by a competent docent who explained the workings of the Supreme Court. We were told that nine judges work under the leadership of the Chief Justice (currently Justice John Roberts who was recently watched around the world as he administered the oath of office to new President Trump). They allot no more than half an hour for each case that they hear in what is essentially an appellate court. An attorney representing each side is given no more than five minutes to state the case. Questions are asked that pertain to the case. Papers regarding the case would have been submitted months in advance so that each judge would have had sufficient time to mull over the case. However, none of them discuss any aspect of it in advance of its appearance on the board for that day. Thus, none of the judges has any idea what a colleague on the bench thinks about it. This allows them to deliberate afresh after the initial arguments are made and then take independent decisions. The guide also explained to us the quiet and subdued décor of the room and the various motifs that make it so solemn. I found the entire experience absolutely stirring. It was awesome to me to actually be in the very court room in which some of the most significant decisions in US history (such as Roe VS Wade) have been made.

By the time the tour ended, it was about 4.00 pm and we were just in time to make our way on the metro back to Farragut West where we were to meet Heather and Maria who would be driving us back to Silver Spring.

Thai Dinner at Heather’s:

As Heather had ordered so much Thai take-out food yesterday, she urged us to return to her place and to help her finish some of it. Since we love Thai food so much, we did not need to have our arms twisted too much. Indeed, we enjoyed the delicious dishes of the previous evening which we washed down with beer and wine.

But we did not linger too long as we were ‘moving house’ again, We would be spending the next two nights with another friend in McLean, Virginia, and it was to her place that we headed as we said goodbye to Heather and thanked her, Chrys and Jeremy for a very hospitable and comfortable stay.

About an hour later, we arrived in McLean and found the sprawling home of our friend Marian Kumar who graduated from the same high school in Bombay as I did. She welcomed us in very warmly indeed and since we had already eaten dinner, she offered us drinks which we accepted as we settled down for a long chinwag as we were seeing Marian after a very long time. When we were quite done catching up, she showed us to our en suite room in her three-story home and we settled down for the night feeling quite delighted by what had been another very exciting day in Washington DC.

 

Until tomorrow, see ya….

A Day for Americana in the US Capital: Museum of National History and National Archives

Wednesday, Mar 15, 2017: Washington

(A Day for Americana)

We devoted this day to Americana. Awaking in Heather’s home, we were delighted at the prospect of getting a ride into the city with her as she and Maria had planned to drive to work. But first breakfast: Heather had toast with jam and butter ready for us and with some coffee, we felt ready to face the day. She and Maria dropped us off at the entrance to the Metro at Farragut West from where we rode to the Smithsonian Metro stop. Our first port of call was the Museum of National History on The Mall. Because we entered it from the Constitution Avenue side, we did not see the Mall. The day was still cold and very grey—it made sense to spend it in a museum and thankfully, the capital has some excellent ones.

Exploring the Museum of National History:

The museum opened at 10.00 am and we were there just after at about 10.15, when there was already a crowd and a line outside the main entrance. Security clearance always takes ages in these buildings–a big hassle and a real mood-spoiler. Still, better safe, I suppose, than sorry.

When we did get into the museum, we found that there was a highlights tour at 11. 30 am. Llew and I decided to join it. That would leave us an hour to wander about on our own. Using the museum brochure and the guide books we had carried, we made our way to the top floor first and thought of finding our way downstairs to the most important items. In total, on our own and in the company of the tour guide, this is what we saw:

  1. The Gunboat Philadelphia which went down in the Revolutionary War after being struck by a cannon ball. You can see the entire boat (pulled out of Lake Champlain in Vermont) with the cannon ball still stuck in its side.
  2. Lincoln’s Top Hat (worn on the evening he was killed at Ford’s Theater).
  3. Jefferson’s lap writing desk (a precursor of the laptop!).
  4. Archie Bunker (and Edith’s) armchairs and coffee table from the 1980s hit TV show, All In The Family.
  5. Mohammed Ali’s boxing gloves.
  6. Original puppets Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.
  7. Julia Child’s entire kitchen from her last home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  8. The original lunch counter from Woolworth’s in Greenboro, North Carolina, where the lunch-time sit-ins had continued for three whole months during the Civil Rights Movement.
  9. Inauguration Ball Gowns of every American First Lady from Mary Todd Lincoln to Michelle Obama. (Melania Trump has yet to submit hers for inclusion). I particularly loved Hilary Clinton’s.
  10. Porcelain china dinner sets designed for the White House by every First Lady in America.
  11. A ship’s surgical set from the 1800s that contain a real saw with which limbs were amputated (without anesthesia).
  12. Clinton’s saxophone.
  13. A portion of the original Berlin Wall.
  14. Dorothy’s Ruby Red Shoes from the film The Wizard of Oz.
  15. A most unusual seated sculpture of George Washington wearing a Greek toga.
  16. The Biggest highlight of them all (and we saved the best for last), the original Star-Spangled Banner.

The last item requires a bit more commentary. It is the original flag that flew over Fort McKinley during the war of 1812 when the American Revolutionaries received a thrashing at the hands of British troops. Expecting the American ‘stars and stripes’ to be lowered by the morning, the poet Francis Scott Keys awoke to find (through his eye-glass) “that our flag was still there”. His joy resulted in the penning of a poem which eventually developed into the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. This original flag, mammoth in its dimensions, is now placed in a specially-constructed, climate-controlled room under very dim lighting (to ensure that the colors do not fade) and left open to the public with the words of the entire national anthem projected on a screen at the back. Bits from it that were cut off and given away as souvenirs, are missing and attempts are still being made to find them. Meanwhile, the person who sewed the flag, Mary Pickerling, with her two daughters and daughter-in-law, are revered by history and accounts of their lives and the sewing of the flag are available in the same room (where photography is strictly prohibited). We thought that this museum was superb for any history buff, for anyone who wishes to know something more about our country and for anyone who wishes to see how carefully we preserve those items that speak to our past with all its flaws and its failings.

Needless to say, we were starving by 1. 00 pm and decided to go in search of lunch.

Lunch at Paul’s:

I have always been a huge fan of the Belgian patisserie chain called Paul’s to which I had become endeared when I lived in London. In particular, I adore their hot chocolate and their almond croissants (which I have consumed by the hundreds during my European travels). I have always wondered why Paul has no American presence and when they will consider crossing the pond to open a shop in the US. So, imagine my delight when I discovered that Paul is alive and baking in the capital! Of course, I had to get my croissant and hot chocolate and with Llew as my partner in crime, off we went to the shop (a short ten minute walk away) and there we found it! Eureka!!!

Sadly, Paul in the US does not sell hot chocolate! What???? I was heartbroken. Even worse, their last almond croissant had just sold off—all they had was a chocolate almond croissant which we grabbed and shared. We also bought a slice of quiche each and ordered coffees instead of cocoa. It was small compensation for the kind of meal of which I had dreamed all morning! Still, at least it was a genuine European meal and I polished off every crumb from my plate.  Fortified, we decided to move on to the second item on our agenda on our day devoted to Americana.

A Tour of the National Archives:

Continuing with our determination to see places neither one of us had seen before, we crossed the street for, most conveniently, the National Archives building stood right there in front of us. Again, getting in proved odious, for we had to wait for a while as only a limited number of people are allowed into the building at any given time. After what seemed forever, we made our way through a side entrance of a handsome Neo-Classical, marble-clad building into the interior, where we joined another queue.

The greatest treasures of the National Archives are just three items: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and The Bill of Rights. Can you imagine building an entire structure to house just three bits of paper??? Well, there you have it. In a grand building with a huge main hall constructed in a Rotunda (thanks Andrea Palladio for giving us the concept of the Rotunda that is so ubiquitous in Washington DC), we stood in line to see these three most seminal of democratic documents. There is strict security at every turn and strict rules prohibiting photography. This is what the guard on duty told us: “There are three rules here regarding cameras—No Photography, No Photography, No Photography. And for those who do not understand, no pictures can be taken at all, of anything!” Wow!

Well, the documents are faded, to say the least. Everyone looks long and hard for John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration of Independence and it is a good job he wrote such a huge one because it seems to be the only one that has survived the test of time. Even that has suffered fading, but the grand old J at the beginning of his first name is unmistakable. The rest are well…barely discernible at all. We moved from one glass case to the next, braving several heads in front of us, until we saw them all—it took us no more than ten minutes really to see the three.

And then, we were out of there. We found some good exhibitions in other halls which also had some wonderful documents that are part and parcel of our history—but we did not have the time or the energy to see any of them. I was particularly fascinated to see The Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 that set all slaves free. But there were many important letters and edicts pertaining to Civil Rights, to Womens’ Rights, etc. that are indeed a gold mine for any buff of American History. Llew and I loved every moment of it all and sincerely wish we had more time to peruse them with the attention they deserve.

We then took the metro back to Farragut West where we to met Heather and Maria who drove us back home to Heather’s place in Silver Spring—but not before we stopped en route at a Thai restaurant to pick up a ton of food.

Dinner was sorted as Heather put out the take-out containers of Chilli Beef, Thai Green curries, flat rice noodles with shrimp and Thai Fried Rice. Everything was finger-licking good and we were pleased that we were able to eat so much Thai food (one of our favorite cuisines) on this trip. Not long after, we decided to call it a night.

 

Until tomorrow, see ya…

A Capital Day for Art and Artists: At the National Gallery of Art in Washington

Tuesday, Mar 14, 2017: Washington

A Day for Art and Artists

The day dawned white, quiet and still—the sort of morning that accompanies dire news of an impending snowstorm. With dread, I raised the blinds up in our room to survey the outside and found, to my deepest shock, that we had a mere sprinkle! What an anti-climax! Indeed, the area had no more than two inches in the worst-affected parts. It was not at all what we’d expected. Over breakfast of hot cereal and buttered toast with coffee, we decided to go ahead with our plans. Schools in the area were shut, many government offices would stay closed but public transportation was available and go we would.

Off to the National Gallery of Art:

Our plan for the day was to explore the National Gallery of Art, one of the world’s premier collections and one we have had the pleasures of perusal on multiple occasions. Still, it is always a joy to say Hello to old favorites and it was with enthusiasm that we took to the Metro after Corinne dropped us off to the station. We bought ourselves SmartTickets (which look like London’s Oyster Cards) and with Top Up As You Go options, we filled ten dollars in each of our cards and were off and away. Metro service was pretty sporadic as the snow had scared personnel away—they were, therefore, running a skeletal service which made it a bit uncomfortable as we had to wait a long time for our train on a freezing platform with no winter shelters. But finally, we were aboard and heading into the capital, getting off at the station and making our way to the museum.

Exploring the Collection at the National Gallery of Art:

The capital’s collection is so huge that it is contained in two buildings: the West Building is the older, marble-clad one that contains works from the Renaissance to the 19th century. The East Building, the newer one, designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, contains Modern Art from the 19th century to contemporary times. We decided to arm ourselves with audio guides which we obtained from the visually-stunning central hall or Rotunda. This is focused around a sculpture of Hermes (Mercury) that was completely surrounded by spring blooms: azaleas in the softest tones of pink, peach and mauve were amassed around the fountain and it was inevitable that we would pause there to take pictures.

Our exploration of the collection began with the Portrait called Ginevra de Benci—a 15th century Florentine aristocrat whose face (probably an engagement portrait) was painted in oil on wood by Leonardo da Vinci—it is the only Da Vinci work in North America. The back of the panel is equally interesting as it features the family crest with significant motifs.  Using our audio guide, we walked ourselves around the work and then paused to take in the other significant Renaissance works in the same or nearby galleries: works by Sandro Botticelli, Fra Lippo Lippi, etc. For the next three hours, we lost ourselves in the wealth of magnificent art as the museum filled with more patrons. Among the many canvasses we saw, here are a few:

  1. Madonna by Giotto
  2. Wonderful busts and wreaths from Lucia della Robbia on whom there was a special exhibit.
  3. The Alba Madonna by Raphael
  4. St. George Killing the Dragon by Raphael
  5. Portrait of Saskia by Rembrandt
  6. The Old Man by Rembrandt
  7. Lady with a Red Hat by Vermeer
  8. Delft Courtyard by Pieter de Hooch (my favorite Flemish painter)
  9. Self Portrait by Rembrandt
  10. The Mill by Rembrandt
  11. Daniel in the Lion’s Den by Peter Paul Rubens (the most arresting of the lot)
  12. A Woman and Child by Renoir

 

Feeling quite peckish by 1.00 pm, we stopped and walked along the psychedelic lit walkway towards the East Building to get to the Museum café for lunch. In a cafetaria style setting, we chose the NPG Burger which consisted of a patty with grilled onions, blue cheese and other fixings. We also picked up sweet potato fries and a soda and found ourselves a comfortable table where, surrounded by printed art works from the collection and the company of a few souls who had braved the elements to appreciate art, we had a substantial lunch.

After lunch, we set off towards the East Building, pausing to appreciate the genius of Pei who has created a building that has distinct similarities to the Louvre, not just in the creation of the glass triangles but also in the wide open spaces that form the café and the gift shop. Here are the items we paused to appreciate in the Modern collection:

  1. The Couple by Gustav Klimt
  2. The massive Mobile by Alexander Calder in the main lobby
  3. Harlequin Family by Picasso (the first important group portrait of the 20th century)
  4. The Artist’s Garden in Vetheuil by Claude Monet
  5. The Japanese Bridge in his Garden in Giverny by Monet
  6. Portrait of a Little Girl by Renoir
  7. Madame Monet with a Parasol (and her Daughter) by Monet
  8. Children on a Beach by Mary Cassat
  9. Portrait of a Man by Cezanne
  10. Still Life with Oranges by Cezanne
  11. Self Portrait by Van Gogh
  12. Roses by Van Gogh
  13. Dancers at the Bar by Degas
  14. A Mound of Butter with Eggs by Vollot
  15. At the Moulin Rouge by Toulouse-Lautrec
  16. Views of Rouen Cathedral by Monet
  17. Reclining Gypsy by Cezanne
  18. On the River Stour by Constable

Of course, there were hundreds of paintings that we saw and at which we paused, based on the Director’s Tour that was part of our exploration with our audio guide. But by 4.00pm, we were physically exhausted and ready to call a halt. We had seen the best that the museum had to offer and felt deeply edified by the experience. It was time to go out and enjoy a quiet evening in another venue.

We took the metro back to Lorton, Corinne met us as the station and drove us home and after a quick cup of tea and a nibble at her place, we said our goodbyes and thank-yous and made the drive to Silver Spring, Maryland, as we would be spending the next two nights at the home of my cousin Laura’s daughter, Heather, her husband Chrys and their little boy, Jeremy. The drive took about 45 minutes. All highways had been cleared and since many people had stayed at home, traffic was rather light.

We arrived at Heather’s place and had a lovely reunion with her and her family. She lives in a large apartment complex in a two-bedroom apartment but is in the midst of a move as she has just bought a home and will be leaving it shortly. Heather plied us with wine and nibbles and then served us a home-cooked dinner of roast pork which was very comforting on the cold evening. We also made the acquaintance of her next door neighbor Maria who is a work colleague and who was interesting company. Soon Maria’s son and daughter joined us too—making for a very companionable evening overall.

It was not long before we said goodnight and took a well-deserved rest.

Until tomorrow, see ya…

Worming Around the Luray Caverns in Virginia

Monday, Mar 13, 2017: Washington-Luray,Virginia-Washington

Worming Around the Luray Caverns of Virginia

We spent the next day in Washington by getting far away from it! In fact, since the blizzard was expected to be quite immense, we thought it best to stay local through the worst of it. It made sense then to go off into the wilds of Virginia on a beautiful day when the sun shone brightly and there was a less vicious nip in the air.

Our aim was to get to the Shenandoah Valley National Park to see the Luray Caverns. Less than a month ago, whilst on our way back from North Carolina where we had been for the Memorial Service of Llew’s brother, we had seen signs pointing to these caverns. About six months ago, when Chriselle had joined me in London, the two of us had taken a ten-day trip to Eastern Europe and had visited the Postjona Caves in Slovenia—one of Europe’s biggest attractions. Since Llew had not been with us then and we had been completely bowled over by the sights within these caves, I persuaded them to drive with me to the Luray Caverns for a similar experience. And thus it was that we found ourselves heading out of the nation’s capital and into the beautiful mountains of Virginia in which these caves are concealed.

In the Heart of the Luray Caverns:

The Luray Caverns are so-called because they are located in the small Virginian town of Luray. This sleepy hamlet would have remained unknown to the rest of the world were it not for the caves that were discovered quite by chance by three young men who were cavorting aimlessly in the area in the late 1880s. When they discovered cool air emanating from a hole in the ground, they suspected that there were hollows to be found beneath. They started digging and lo and behold, the caves revealed their hidden secret: miles of dark caverns had developed over the millennia through the action of water (a river ran close by) over rock. Over a long period of time, the drippings that carry mineral deposits develop into the stalagmites (rooted to the ground) and the stalactites (hanging from the ceiling) that give the caves’ interiors such an eerie aspect. After thousands of years, these calcified deposits join together to form pillars (of which we saw many grand examples).

We bought tickets to enter for $28 per head and joined a guided tour which begins every twenty minutes to a half hour depending on the crowds. We were quite surprised to find that at least twenty people joined our tour. You descend deep down into the caves through stairs hewn into the rock and find yourself in a dimly-lit space surrounded by towering natural forms. For the next thirty minutes, we were led on a walking tour through man-made walking paved paths that passed by all sorts of interesting rock formations from rocks that hung like sheets of bacon to those that resembled eggs fried sunny side up! We passed the Fish Market where rocks seems to hang like slimy fish and underground grottos carved by arched rock bridges. Everywhere we turned, there were opportunities to take pictures. Often times we were in spaces so vast that they seemed like cathedrals. No wonder a musician has set up a pipe organ in the caves which is capable of making music when the organ’s hammers hit different parts of the rocks. Gives a whoel new meaning to the term ‘rock music’, eh? Everything was quite fascinating and we were enthralled through it all.

It was about 1. 30 pm by the time we re-surfaced from the depths of the earth to re-emerge on its surface. We were rather hungry by that point and decided to go out in search of food. Just a five minutes ride away were a few fast food places and it was in McDonald’s that we found hamburgers that sustained us (as there was not much else by way of choice). With burgers, fries and sodas, we felt ready to embark on the next part of our sightseeing—a peak into the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum that was just next-door.

The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum:

If we were bowled over by the Luray Caverns, we were completely stunned by this amazing museum. In what looked like a warehouse space, we were whisked away to the late 1800s and to the age of the pioneer wagons that crossed the American frontier. We walked along pathways that were lined by the most wonderful collection of ancient wagons, caravans and carriages and then when technology arrived, into the age of the automobile–cars. Standing alongside these cars were models of human beings dressed suitably in Victorian or Edwardian garb. Among the more unusual items we saw were baby prams (perambulators) and carriages, covered milk vans that went delivering milk from door to door in rural Virginia as well as a host of plush cars from around the globe, many with vintage pedigrees. There were Model T Fords, of course, America’s great contribution to the Industrial Age as well as spiffy Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. We found it incredible that so valuable a collection of antique and vintage cars could be assembled here in the midst of nowhere–the collection of one man, H.T.N. Graves, the President of Luray Caverns–who set out, with his staff, to assemble the most impressive collection of vehicles from a historical standpoint. The end result is this marvelous cornucopia of treasures—some of it deeply glamorous (there is the vintage vehicle of Rudolph Valentino) and some of it genuinely rustic. Overall, it was a great pleasure to peruse these babies and we had a grand time.

Inside the Luray Museum:

Our next port of call was the Luray Museum which is located right across the street and which offered some more striking insights into life in this sleepy region of the world. It is still incredible to me how much vintage memorabilia of yesteryear has been collected by this museum and then carefully curated in order to take a visitor on a tour of the region through past times. It would take an entire day to see the collection properly. As it was, Llew and I simply skimmed through the contents but were impressed at every turn. We saw the region’s history of mining, agriculture, metal-working, etc. we learned about the quiet daily life of a hard-working mountain and valley people who took enough pride in their work as to preserve so many aspects of their mundane lives. In going through room after room of what was essentially a log-cabin, we derived a composite idea of the Luray region and were deeply gratified by our discovery.

By 3.30 pm, we were back in our car making our way to Washington for a last quiet evening with Corinne as we would be moving out of her home the next day.    

         Until tomorrow, see ya….

Vietnamese Dinner at Corinne’s:

Corinne chose to treat us to a Vietnamese dinner at her home as she had picked up large bowls of pho (Vietnamese broth) filled with thin rice noodles, vegetables and bits of steak and meatballs floating in them. It made a very hearty supper indeed as we retold Corinne our discoveries of the day. It was not long before we cleared up and called it a night.

We drifted off to bed with some dread as TV reports were riufe with awful news of the incoming blizzard—the area was expected to be engulfed with snow and we had little idea of whether or not we’d be marooned for the next couple of days in Corinne’s home while putting paid to the rest of our sightseeing plans.

Little did we know how wrong we’d be…

Zootopia, an Impressionist Masterpiece and a Turkish Repast

Sunday, Mar 12, 2017: Washington

Zootopia, an Impressionist Masterpiece and a Turkish Repast

We awoke on our second day in Washington to eat breakfast while listening to the telly that predicted the coming of a massive blizzard on Tuesday. Temperatures were supposed to get successively lower as the days progressed—so much for our desire to get away from the cold! Notwithstanding the predictions, we hurried through breakfast of muesli with yoghurt and hot buttered toast with coffee before we showered and got ready for a day outdoors.

By 9.00 am, Corinne was driving us downtown—a very generous gesture on her part, although we were more than happy to take the metro (underground) from the nearest stop. As we drove through the main streets of the capital, I realized how much I was relishing the architecture of every building for each façade was completely different from the other. As we passed through churches, private residences, apartment buildings and the like, I felt silly that we had stayed away from the capital for so many years and made only cursory stops through it.

Exploring Washington’s Zoo:

It is a little hard to imagine that we, who are devoted to museums and art galleries, would make a bee-line for the Zoo in a city that boasts the treasures of the Smithsonian .  But since our aim was to explore places we had never seen before and because the capital’s zoo is reputedly one of the country’s finest, it made perfect sense that we should head there first. Corinne dropped us right outside the main gate which is flanked by gigantic sculptured lions and, within minutes, we found ourselves at the Visitor’s Center. Sadly, they were unable to offer us maps, but our guidebooks did the trick in leading us to the most important parts of the zoo.

The zoo is located in a sprawling mass of well-landscaped property. Laid out in the middle of the 19th century, it is surprisingly natural in outlook and design. The highlights are the giant pandas that are always present in the zoo on loan from the Chinese. As one only rarely sees these animals, in the wild or in captivity, they are a huge attraction and most visitors head to their section first.

Imagine our delight when we found the pandas (in the Asian section) bright, alert and hungry when we arrived at their pits. Bamboo grows in luxurious wildness all around their enclosures and for very good reason—pandas spend 18 out of 24 hours of each day eating—and all they eat is bamboo!!! Fortunately, bamboo grows very quickly. There has, therefore, been no dearth of food for their munching pleasure. To our good luck, one of the pandas decided to ham it just for our cameras and deliberately ambled towards a straw hammock where he parked himself with a huge stalk of bamboo that he slowly proceeded to consume. Our video cameras whirred and our still cameras and phone cameras had a field day as we tried to record the delightful sight. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the sight but there were other pandas in the enclosure that also demanded our attention.

Other creatures that left an impression on us were flying orangutans, massive black gorillas, lion-faced tamarins and a scary-looking anaconda (the world’s largest snake). There were loads of poisonous snakes such as adders, vipers and cobras in glass tanks but it was the boa constrictor, all curled up, together with the anaconda that was more memorable to me. In addition, we saw seals, sea lions, Asian elephants and—get this, a white Sumatran tiger (all seemingly within a few feet from us). There were birds galore, alligators, crocodiles, giant tortoises that were as big as small cars, and a host of other interesting animals that had us swooning. It truly was a wonderful morning and by pacing ourselves carefully, resting wherever we could, stretching our calves to avoid discomfort or foot soreness, we managed to see everything worthwhile in about four hours.

Would we recommend a day at the Washington Zoo? Most certainly…and especially for children. Best of all it is free of charge!

On a Date with Renoir at the Phillips Collection:

It is astonishing when you come to think of it, that one of the world’s most renowned Impressionist paintings is not to be found in the Louvre or the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, not in the National Gallery in London or even in the National Gallery in Washington—but in a small, nondescript private collection in Washington DC called The Phillips Collection. What is also astonishing is that we have never seen it ourselves—despite making several trips to Washington DC over the years. Hence, it was a priority on our To-Do List and since it was open until 7.00 pm on Sundays, it made sense to head to the Phillips.

Located on a quiet side street not far from the famous Dupont Circle, The Phillips Collection has a hefty entry fee—fortunately, my Metropolitan Museum of Art ID card gets me (and a companion) into most of the world’s finest art collections for free–and the same perquisite prevailed here. Armed with our entry tags, we entered the lovely private mansion of a very wealthy couple called Duncan and Marjorie Acker Phillips whose love of contemporary art, led to their amassing of some of the most significant works in the 1920s. Although the canvasses hung initially in their home—a genteel mansion–they acquired the property next door to theirs and converted it into an art gallery for the browsing pleasure of the public.

Over the next few decades, they collected works by all the leading lights of the era. However, their most famous acquisition and the one that all art lovers head directly to see is the gorgeous painting entitled Luncheon of the Boating Party that occupies a room almost entirely by itself. Its vast proportions and pleasing composition leave the viewer stunned. Featuring as its central character, the model who would become Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, it was exhibited in 1882 and caused an immediate sensation. Duncan Phillips bought it in 1923 from its owner, the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel for $125,000—probably the costliest painting he had ever owned.

Posed at the Maison Fournaise, a restaurant on the Seine at Chatou, are a host of friends and acquaintances that Renoir knew well, including the woman who would become his wife. They are casually dressed and seen making conversation over glasses of wine. The color in the composition is stunning but it is the soft images created through the famous blurred lens of the Impressionist painter that renders it delightfully charming. Needless to say, we spent a long while in front of the painting and whipped out our phones to get some Wikipedia notes on it—in order to appreciate its nuances more deeply. I am delighted to note that with the viewing of this painting, I have, in fact, seen all 100 Masterpieces of Art that the art critic Marina Vaizey provides in her book of the same name. I had bought the book several years ago in Bombay and it has taken me about 33 years to see them all as I have made my way through cities like Paris and Florence and small towns such as Cambridge and Oxford to see each of them in the flesh.

In addition to this masterpiece, the collection boasts works by Picasso (The Blue Room which features a canvas by Toulouse-Lautrec in the background was especially interesting), Degas, Van Gogh, Pissarro and Sisley which make the collection quite remarkable. What was even more interesting was a special retrospective on the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec which occupied almost an entire floor of the museum. Filled with the publicity posters that he designed for such night clubs as the Chat Noir, the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin Rouge, viewers were able to see his works in progress.  A large number of the printed lithographs of the originals had been acquired by Phillips and they form a substantial part of his collection. From Aristide Bruant to the famous La Goulue, from Jane Avril to May Milton (whose figure hangs in a poster in Picasso’s Blue Room), the big names of the period are to be seen in glorious color as they reproduce the gaiety of a bygone era. It was simply delightful and we loved every second of the exhibition. We then walked across via a bridge to the mansion of the Phillips where a specially fitted Music Room with a splendid grand piano had been the venue of a concert that we could hear from the outside (tickets were required to enter). Inside we saw some of the most interesting paintings from Constable’s View of the River Stour to works by Bonnard and Degas.

It was 7.00 pm when we finished our perusal of the museum (at which point, it was being shut). We spent a short while in the gift shop and then called Corinne who was supposed to pick us up for our next appointment: dinner with herself and her friends in a restaurant nearby.

Dinner at Ottoman Taverna:

It was not long before Corinne and her friend Bill picked us up from the famed book shop at Dupont Circle called Kramerbooks which is also known for its Afterwords Café. We browsed about for a little bit while awaiting our pick-up and then coasted along to a Turkish Restaurant called Ottoman Taverna where our friends have eaten before and felt compelled to share their finds with us. Over the next couple of hours, we got to know another couple that joined Corinne and Bill—Debasis and his wife, Jyotsna Basu, who were originally from Calcutta. We ordered a number of delicious dishes—the lamb chops were a hot favorite. I ordered the Shrimp Stew as a starter and the Turkish lamb sausage over a white bean stew for my main course. Dessert was a sampler of kanafi (which Llew and I have relished all over the Middle East) and baklava—the layered dessert made with phyllo pastry and thyme honey. Not long after, we got back into Corinne’s car and made our way to her home for another restful night.

One thing was sure: we’d had a superb day and had crowned in with a memorable meal in the company of people who were tons of fun.

Until tomorrow, see ya…

Mr. Almeida Goes to Washington (with his Wife–Moi!)

MR ALMEIDA (AND HIS WIFE) GOES TO WASHINGTON

(OR WHAT I DID DURING MY SPRING BREAK) 

            Why Washington DC? Well, primarily because we were looking for some place close at hand and warmer than Connecticut (ha!) to spend Spring Break. We had last been tourists in our nation’s capital more than 25 years ago (when Llew, Chriselle and I had led my Dad who was visiting from Bombay on a tour of a few north-eastern US cities) and thought the time was ripe to re-discover the rich cultural and historical heritage of our own land. Also, we had a load of friends and relatives (some of whom have emigrated recently to the USA) who had extended frequent offers of hospitality. We thought it would be terrific to spend some quality time with them. So, there we were…Mr. Almeida and his wife would go to Washington!

Much has changed in our country since we last trod the capital’s touristic pavements. While in the years before the tragedy of 9/11, one could merely line up for entry tickets into the Capitol, the White House or the Pentagon, today, you need no less than three weeks of planning, writing to your own state senator’s office and procuring of timed tickets to enter these hallowed grounds. We felt fortunate that we had done tours of the first two, albeit decades ago. We’d have liked to have gone inside the Pentagon, but there is always something one ought to leave behind for a future trip, right? Well, as it turned out, we found several things we’ll have to do on another trip. Our aim was to try to get to as many places for the first time ever as possible. That way, we’d not feel bored, our touring would not be repetitive and, hopefully, we’d come away learning a lot more about our country and its people than we knew already.

So, off we went…please join me now on your own armchair travels through Pierre L’Enfant’s beautifully designed city of Washington.

Sat, Mar 11, 2017: New York-Washington

            We left our home in Southport, Connecticut, at exactly 7. 15 am on a quiet Saturday morning and by doing extraordinary time (though not hair-raising speeds), we arrived at our friend Corinne’s place in Lorton, VA, at just after 12 noon—exactly five hours from door to door. Corinne was delighted to see us again after a good ten years at least. Having just moved into a beautiful gated community, she was eager to share her new home with us. We were pleased with our en suite room on the main floor of her house and by the very classy way she has furnished and decorated her space to reflect her taste and interests.

After a late lunch of Pakistani-style Lamb (Corinne is a Catholic Goan from Karachi and a very old and good friend of Llew) and an endless catch-up on all that has gone on since her recent retirement from the International Monetary Fund where she worked for decades, we decided to go out for Mass. My aim was to attend Mass at the National (Episcopalian) Cathedral which we have visited before. But Corinne suggested the National Basilica (Catholic) of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Washington. She offered to drive us there and since neither of us had been there before, we opted to hear Mass there.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: 

As we were approaching the basilica, I was struck by its glorious architecture—Byzantine-Gothic in conception, it has humongous proportions. In fact, with its dome and its single minaret, you might well believe you are heading into a mosque. The parking lot was packed when we arrived just as Mass began. We hurried inside and were stunned by the size of the place and the congregation. At least 2,500 people can be seated in its pews with several hundred more standees. Mass had begun and the booming voice of the pastor echoed around the soaring heights of the nave. The ceiling and the shrines or Lady Chapels that encircle the basilica are covered with Byzantine-style mosaics composed of tiny bits of stone composed to form images of saints and of Our Lady. The dominant image just behind the altar is of Christ in Majesty. After Mass and Communion, we toured the precincts of the church and were struck by the varied shrines representing devotion to various avatars of the Virgin Mother: as Mother of Sorrows, as our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (headquartered in Paris, France), as the Black Madonna of Poland, as our Lady of Guadalupe, etc. As we circumnavigated the church, pausing to pray or to light a candle at each of the altars or shrines, we were stunned by the beauty, the workmanship and the devotion of the faithful that were involved in this mammoth project.

Corinne then led us down to the Crypt from where the Sunday Roman Catholic Mass is televised nationally throughout the USA through the mini-church in the basement. Sculpture of newer saints such as St. Teresa of Calcutta are dotted around these vast marble floors while stained glass windows in niches brought jeweled tones into the interior. It was all quite fascinating indeed and we could not believe that we have never toured a place that was initiated in the mid-1800s and that has become a primary center for Roman Catholic worship in America.

Dinner at Le Thai Restaurant:

Night had fallen by the time we entered Corinne’s car for the 25-minute drive home to Lorton. At her suggestion, we opted for Thai cuisine (which we both adore) at a modest place called Le Thai where the owner, Bobby, has known Corinne for years. We had Tiger Tears (marinated steak in a chilli dipping sauce) and Thai Chicken Wings for appetizers (both superb), Chicken Pad Thai, Panang Curry with Shrimp and Pad Se Ew (wide rice noodles with broccoli in a spicy soy sauce). Everything was grand with the proper balance of sweet, sour, spicy that is the hallmark of good Thai cuisine. We had no room for dessert, so we returned home to gab some more with hot tea as we slowly made our way to bed.

It has been a great first day and we were quite pleased with the start of our holiday.

Off and Away! Blissfully Homeward Bound Again!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Essex-London-New York

Finally the day dawned for my departure home again to the USA. I could not have been more ready! Indeed, while usually, I am sentimentally and nostalgically taking my last looks of my surroundings with wonder about when I will return, this time, I was so mentally set to leave that I did not wish to look back.

Preparing for Departure:

I awoke at 5.30 am and decided to have a very early shower. So before the rest of the Fradley household was up, I was done with the upstairs bathroom, had washed, dressed and had my backpack ready. By 7.15 am, I was downstairs joining Matt and the boys Jacob and Daniel who were deep into their breakfast bowls. I had Dorset muesli with skimmed milk and honey—a really hearty breakfast—when Rosa joined us. Matt said his goodbyes to me and left shortly for work.

Rosa and I continued our chatter over breakfast and the boys watched telly. But by 9.00, am, she was driving Jacob off to school, leaving Daniel with me. Fifteen minutes later, we were all in the car and she was taking me off to the station at Stanstead Mountfitchet to say goodbye to me before dropping Daniel off to his nursery. It had been a heartwarming two nights with his delightful family and I had enjoyed every second of it. My life away from home and in the UK was coming to a slow end as I had unwound fully with this family, enjoyed their family life, had partaken of their delicious generous meals and had found a way to start thinking of my life back home in the USA while in the serene bosom of their quiet ,almost-rural hamlet.

Back in London:

I caught the 9. 24 am train that came bang on schedule to drop me at Liverpool Street Station. There was a mistiness to the entire journey that allowed me to call several of my UK friends to say Goodbye and Thank-You. They all wished me a happy journey and safe return home. When I alighted at Liverpool Street, I went straight in search of Marks and Spencer to buy tinned Ox Tongue. Alas, they had only 3 cans, but I bought them all. Had I wanted more, I’d have had to go to the one on Bond Street and I decided I could do without the stress. I bought a few more biscuits from Tesco Metro at Bishopsgate (where I had a horrible experience with my credit card that I almost left behind in the store and got told by the clerk Monica there that it was not in the drawer—when all the time, it was!). Armed with my goodies, I took the bus back to NYU—an excruciatingly long and slow drive as there were some traffic issues .However, reach there I did.

The immediate business of putting away stuff from my backpack into one of my two suitcases and, at the same time, dividing the weight was far from easy. And although I have become something of a pro at it, it is still always stressful. Thankfully, this is the last time I will find myself in such a situation for a long time to come. About an hour later, after I said goodbye to my colleagues at NYU, I called an Uber cab to Bedford Square and went directly from Bloomsbury to the airport at 1. 30 pm—right on schedule. I had a very chatty Sikh cabbie who dropped me to Heathrow airport at 2. 30pm—Uber is so much cheaper and I ended up paying under 35 pounds.

Off Home—At Last!

All went well at Heathrow. Since I was a half an hour early and before my check-in counter could open , I indulged in one more treat–a Chocolate and Caramel Sundae at Carluccio’s (how could I leave the UK without one visit to Carluccio’s, right?). It filled me up and prepared me for the ordeal of checking two bags in and going through the strain of finding out whether I’d have to pay for extra baggage—fortunately, I had no such issues as I found myself a male traffic assistance called Stuart Brock with whom I flirted shamelessly so that he would overlook my excess weight. Well, my strategy paid and I was off without so much as paying an extra sou! There was then time enough to visit Jo Malone and spritz myself for the journey ahead as also the Lancome counter at Terminal 5 which has developed into a classier mall than most British high street malls. Sadly, there was nothing on sale at Harrods’, so I bought nothing. About an hour later, I was juicing up my phone and then making my way to my gate and in no time at all, on a very light flight, I had a most comfortable ride home. Throughout the flight I watched a TV series called Marcella, about a British detective, in eight episodes. I finished them all before we touched down. Talk about superb timing!

In Conclusion:

I could hardly believe that six incredible months in my life had passed just like that. I had done so much, seen so much, achieved so much, met so many people, changed house so often, moved far more than I had intended to, ticked off most items on my To-Do List and am living with a gigantic sense of fulfilment that will see me through a very long time to come with little longing to return.

So goodbye London and thanks for all the good times. May they roll again—but not too soon.

Thanks to all of you for following my blog posts and for armchair-traveling with me.

Until the next time when I am footloose again, cheerio…