Sunday, June 28, 2009

Washington's Art

The heading is a rather broad statement.
I should rather say "some" of Washington’s art, because we only visited two art galleries.
On Saturday morning while it was raining we spend 4 hours in the National Gallery of Art’s West building and on Sunday I did what felt like an Indy car race through the Hirshhorn Museum, skipping the sculpture garden.

Nevertheless, some art is better than nothing.

From the National Gallery of Art

"Ginevra de' Benci" by Leonardo Da Vinci (oil on panel 1474/1478). It is the only Da Vinci painting in America.

"The Marquise de Peze and the Marquise de Rouge with Her Two Children" by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (oil on canvas 1787.)

One of the amazing things in the National art galleries is that they allow people to take pictures preferably without a flash. By allowing cameras I can get much closer to the art and exclude the frames. I was sp surprised because I am so used to the galleries in most other cities usually prohibiting cameras and I have to clandestinely obtain a picture or two. I have never understood why cameras are forbidden. A photo will never be the real thing. From a photo you can never get up close and personal or study the brush stokes or even see some of the subtle nuances of the art.

On the left: "A Young Girl Reading" by Jean-Honore Fragonard (oil on canvas 1776)

On the right: "Portrait of a Gentleman with a Tall Hat and Gloves" by Rembrandt Van Rijn (oil on canvas, circa 1658/1660

Surrounded by towering polished black marble columns with the huge rotunda dome on top one cannot fault the perfect place for showing off Giovanni Bologna's "Mercury".

From the Hirshhorn Museum

The last Conversation Piece by Juan Munoz.

As mentioned in a previous post I spent only about 1 hour in the Hirshhorn, although I would have like at least another 2-3 hours. Here is a collage of sculptures that I snapped.

Clockwise from top left:
“Winter Solstice No. 2” by Seymour Lipton (1957)
“Raven IV” by David Smith (1957)
“Stringed Figure No. 1” by Henry Moore (1937)
“Crouching Woman” (small version) by Auguste Rodin (1880-1882)
“Untitled (Big Man)” by Ron Mueck (2000)
“Two Volumes in the Virtual” by Jesus Rafael Soto (1968)

"Delusions of Grandeur (La Folie Des Grandeurs) by Rene Margitte (1967)

"Portrait of Andy Warhol" by Julian Schnabel (Oil paint on velvet, 1982)

Schnabel is known for painting on unconventional material and he used velvet because Warhol used to wear black velvet jackets and sponsored the 1960's band The Velvet Underground.


Georgetown, a famous neighborhood of Washington, DC was already in existance by the time the other George, from Mount Vernon, VA, decided to make the US capital in Washington, well what became known as Washington. Although old George picked the location of the young country's new capital on the banks of the Potomac, he didn't actually named it after himself. That job was left to the city commissioners that was asked to oversaw the construction of the government buildings. They also named the area surrounding the new city Columbia. At the time when all this new city activity happened, Georgetown and another existing town, Alexandria was incorporated into the district of Columbia. Many years later, Alexandria was returned to Virginia, but Georgetown remained part of Washington. By the way, Georgetown is not named after George Washington. No one is sure whether it was named after King George II of England or after the 2 Georges that owned the land, George Gordon and George Beall. The location of our hotel was in Georgetown and here are a few snapshot from our walkabouts.
To read more on the history of the building of Washington, DC, click here.

The Riggs Bank on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, the shopping and restaurant hub of Georgetown.

Row houses converted to businesses along M Street.

Row houses detail.

More row houses along 30th Street.

A Presidential meeting in a painting of some old timers and some younger ones in the window of a art gallery.

Along the Potomac banks, sunset over Georgetown.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Washington, Da Capital

Going to Washington, DC from the “countryside” of Kentucky excited me as much as it probably excited the Roman citizens from the provinces when they had the opportunity to go to Rome. Being a history lover the rich similarities was a draw card; In Rome I could only see the ruins, in Washington I could see the architecture as it is before it eventually will become ruins...someday.

The similarities between modern-day Washington and ancient Rome are numerous: The seat of world power, the stomping ground of big-ego politicians, the vast number of monuments and statues, the grandeur and sheer scale of the architecture and the extensive use of marble in the buildings and monuments. On top of that, today, just as then, the absolute delight to have such a wide choice of cuisine from all over the world.

As usual, my travels won’t be complete without delays (the story of my traveling life.) Our planned three and a half day exploration of Washington was altered to three days on the very first day by bad weather when a supposedly 90 minute flight from Cincinnati turned into a 6 hour ordeal of end list circling south of Reagan airport, a landing and lift-off again from Richmond, VA, before we eventually arrive at Washington, DC.

In general, the 3 days were taken up by visiting museums on the National Mall, visiting some of the memorials and strolling around taking in the architecture. The pictures will tell the story.

There is one thing you can say about the politicians in Congress: They know how to spend tax payers’ money on buildings. Washington must boast some of the grandest government buildings in the nation, especially the many neoclassical style buildings with their endless columns, classic fa├žades and sculpted friezes.

I love paella. As a semi-accomplished self-trained home cook (in my lexicon chefs are always professionally trained) I have made many different paella recipes and I have received many favorable comments, but I have never tasted the real thing prepared by a Spanish chef. One of my objectives for the trip was to do just that and prior Internet research showed that one of Washington’s better Spanish restaurants was just around the corner from our hotel in Georgetown. All I can say is it is back to the test kitchen for me. The Arroz Abanda paella (monkfish, shrimps, calamari and scallops) at The Bodega in M Street was absoluto fant├ístico. Every flavor in their paella complimented another and the starchy flavor of the Valencia rice bind the dish together perfectly. What changes do I have to make to my paella? Use a different kind of rice (I am going to try Italian Arborio, since I won’t find Valencia rice in Kentucky) and use saffron instead of turmeric (the poor man’s alternative.) Now you may say, dah…that’s what you should use every time, but at $18 for a few saffron strings it is the most expensive spice in the world. Add the seafood and other ingredients and suddenly it all adds up to a very expensive dinner for a Friday night (the night they traditionally made paella in Spain…all the week’s leftovers into one pot.)

On other evenings we indulged in French cooking at La Madeleine (not bad at all) and Italian at Fino (stay away as far as possible: the food is not too bad, but the service is terrible and they are too expensive for the amount of food you get.)

Alas, enjoyable as it was, 3 days were not enough for a city of Washington’s stature. There was no time for many places we would have like to see (for example the Washington National Cathedral, inside the US Capital, etc.), or for exploring the surrounding area (Alexandria or Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia), or for taking more time inside museums (our visits to the Natural History and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Museums were nothing but a wam, bam, thank you ma’am.)
The Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts "floating" on the Potomac River.

Reiterating its strong links to Rome, Washington's Pantheon - The Jefferson Memorial

And copying of ancient Greek Parthenonian architecture for the The Lincoln Memorial. However, I have to admit both these memorials as very impressive.

One of the more unusual memorials is the Korea War Memorial at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. Here is a collage of (1) group of grey soldiers walking through a field of junipers, (2) the Freedom is not Free enscription on the wall, and (3) some of many etched faces on the black marble wall. This memorial was one of my favorites.

Arlington National Cemetery.

Taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, resting our tired legs and feet at the end of day 2, in front of us the Reflecting pool with the George Washington Monument on the other side of the pool. I still wanted to take the elevator up the monument for a bird's eye view of Washington, but we ran out of time.

However, we did make time to visit the chateauesque National Postal Museum building and to go up in the tower for a view of Washington.

And from the tower I took this picture of the Washington National Cathedral, many miles away. The cathedral, located on the edge of Georgetown, must be massive because it is visible from many parts of the city.

No visit to Washington is complete without a view of the White House, the south entrance on the left and the north entrance on the right. By the way, the White House actually have a key to the front door. It is on display in the National Museum for American History.

The Smithsonian "Castle". The HQ of the Smithsonian Institute and the first building on the National Mall.