Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Vacation at Home

A Vacation at Home

They call it a busman’s holiday; a holiday doing what one normally does for work. The difference is that I’m a professional tour guide in the Virginia and DC area. My work as an educational student tour designer is an extension of my life and interests.

So where do I go for a vacation? I stay home. And by staying home, I mean going around to visit places that I don’t normally get to on tour.

Let me give you an example of this past week:

It was the 4th of July so naturally I got up early, and took a taxi to the National Archives. I have a particular place I like to sit and found that there was a lovely lady already there. We exchanged pleasantries and I sat down on the top steps beside her. I realized that the line to view the Charters of Freedom was unusually short (about twenty people) and I suggested that she and I go to visit. But she didn’t want to leave her spot and would be happy to save my place on the steps below the podium where there would be distinguished guests and our forefathers (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin) giving a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence.

The doors opened at 10:00 sharp, and after going through security, I was one of the first up there. It was so quiet. OK. Respects paid. I dashed out, got my fan (the archives give out paper fans with wooden holders that have the schedule of events printed on them), and joined my new friend. (I only missed the first part of the fife and drum corps.)

After listening to everyone, which included Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the United States; Cokie Roberts; and Ken Burns discussing his new series, The War. I gave the parade a miss and went to the other side of the archives on Pennsylvania Avenue and investigated all the activities they had in a series of tents. So I learned about the Cold War Museum and the women who helped to decipher messages, wrote with a quill pen, signed a copy of the Declaration, planted a paper cup victory garden, met two reenactors who portrayed people from the two most popular posters in the archives (I had them pose with the posters), bought a book and had it inscribed by the author.

After that, I crossed the street and took photos of the Navy Memorial and went downstairs to take more. (They have a great film and bathrooms!)

Time for lunch! There was a charming Mexican restaurant and while I don’t generally like TexMex, this was haute cuisine. I had a refreshing ceviche with crabmeat and scallops. They also brought me one of the best limeades I had ever had – there was a bit of carbonation. Yummy!

I spent an hour back at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, finishing up Virginia and hoping sometime before the 8th to visit Mekong River and Northern Ireland.

Part of the Roots of Virginia exhibit was the county of Kent, England. There were several exhibits concerning Canterbury Cathedral and I was able to touch some of the artifacts and 15th century glass.

Time to go home, do some work, and rest up for the evening.

My former roommate, and now neighbor, had called while I was out and I decided to return her call. She wasn’t doing anything for the 4th and I invited her to join me on the National Mall for the fireworks. She demurred because she envisioned that it would be too crowded. Ah! But when one travels with tour guides on their day off, one doesn’t get involved with lines or crowds! After I had convinced her, she was game!

And it was all that I had promised! Imagine, she had only seen fireworks from afar, but never directly above her! It was a thrilling experience for her – and she was shocked that the area in facing the south front of the White House was practically empty! Incidentally, the weather was perfect even after a rain shower two hours earlier.

For the next couple of days I worked a bit at home and ended up going into DC Saturday to wander around some more and take photos. Ford’s Theatre was my starting place as it will be closing down at the end of the summer for about two years due to needed renovations, upgrading of facilities and an elevator.

On the way I passed the FBI building and I think they’re building a new entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, they had to cut down a tree. The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building was a revelation. I had never noticed their courtyard and fountain, and the ceiling of the entrance way was painted! Security only allowed me to take photos from the street.

The statue of Nathan Hale was my next stop and I took photos for a possible future post.

Back to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival concentrating on the Mekong River and Northern Ireland..

I was surprised by the number of secret gardens around the Smithsonian. I had almost forgotten about them. There are three that I photographed extensively and I might do a separate posting on them. The first was a butterfly garden on the side of the Natural History Museum, the second was one all around the Smithsonian Castle, the Sackler, and Freer Galleries (all of which I visited, they were air -conditioned!). The third was one on the east side of the Arts and Industries building. Between the Sackler and Freer gardens I saw a mother swinging her toddler back and forth into a fountain. (It was a particularly hot day and the lad was so joyful to feel the cold water!) I can still hear his laughter and feel his happiness.

I stepped into the Smithsonian Castle for a break and a drink. I had seen what I thought was a bishop in a niche (subject of a future pos) on the side of the building. I went up to the information desk to ask, only to discover that the person I had asked was blind. She hadn’t any idea of what I was talking about and neither did her seeing colleague. But we spent about twenty minutes talking and going over a Braille map that was not only out of date, but inaccurate. I filled in the blank spaces and answered some of her questions. It was a lovely experience.

Then it was time to walk around the doughnut-shaped Hirshhorn Museum and took some photos of the sculpture and architecture before going across the street into their sculpture garden.

There were several Korean teenagers sitting opposite a tree that had all sorts of tags hanging from it. The tree was a recent gift from Yoko Ono and it was called a ‘Wish Tree’ where one makes out a tag and writes a wish and hangs it on the tree. The Korean students had printed several Christian messages. I eventually found out that they were sons and daughters of Presbyterian missionaries in Russia!

Well it was 070707 and there was a concert for the earth at the Museum of the American Indian. Former Vice President Al Gore had been there earlier in the morning. Someone had given me a World Wildlfe Fund fan they had received when the Vice President was there. I stopped for a couple of minutes and picked up another fan concerning a Pow Wow in August. (Did I tell you that I collect fans?) A Starbucks van was parked nearby and they were giving out free raspberry mocha frappachinos, Naturally I had three, they were in small cups!

It was now 5:15 PM and my back was telling me that I needed to return home and rest. (I’m not getting any younger!)

So that’s what I do when I don’t have 45 students trailing behind me.

It ‘s always a pleasure to ferret out more nooks and crannies, meet new people, find out new things, look at my neighborhood with a different set of eyes, and still have time to smell the flowers!

Just an aside about the Folklife Festival: It is a fantastic experience for all ages. There are so many exhibits, hands-on activities and concerts! I particularly liked the crafts and I am always interested in how things are made! There is also regional food at a reasonable price. And it didn’t seem very crowded

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