Monday, June 27, 2011

National Building Museum

The National Building Museum has a pretty impressive home. It was built in the 1880s as the National Pension Office, serving army veterans from the Civil War, but it was also intended as a space for hosting extravagant events. There have been a few official presidential inaugural balls in the Great Hall, starting with Grover Cleveland in 1885.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Room 9

Nothing I could tell you about this place would be half as interesting as this story from the Washington Post.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Daguerre at the Office

This monument to Louise Daguerre stands outside of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and American Portraiture, which I may have mentioned a few where I often spend my days. For some reason, I had never noticed this monument to Daguerre until a few days ago, which is pretty odd considering that a good portion of my time at the museum is spent researching photography.

As his name suggests, Louis Daguerre was the inventor of the daguerreotype, one of the earliest methods of photography. Daguerre worked on his method throughout the 1830s and finally presented it to France's Académie des science in 1839. The daguerreotype was heralded as a wonder of modern science, but it was also looked at with skepticism and explicit paranoia. What if someone takes a daguerreotype of you--Does that image belong to you or the daguerreotypist? This was at a time when privacy was closely associated with social status. Well-bred people didn't expose themselves to public scrutiny. What if your image was used in something really vulgar like a placard for soap or some medicinal tonic. There would be a scandal!

But not nearly as notorious as the scandal that was reported only a few months after the daguerreotype process was revealed, in which a French gentleman claimed to have made a daguerreotype of his young wife with her lover. Incroyable! Photography could be used as evidence in cases of infidelity. Comment dit-on en francais "Gumshoe?" One of the most remarkable things about this case is that the daguerreotype was accepted as evidence, apparently, without even being seen. What no one stopped to consider is that the exposure time for a daguerreotype meant that the subject, if human, had to remain very, very, very still. If the Frenchman had managed to capture the tryst, the image would be blurry at best.

The process of producing a daguerreotype was extremely complicated and required constant exposure to any number of lethal chemicals. It consisted basically of a glass plate covered in silver alloy, which was treated with chemicals that made the alloy photosensitive. The result was a strikingly detailed image. The closer the plate was to the aperture in the daguerreotype camera box, the smaller the surface of the plate would be exposed to light, and the less defused the light would be; that is, the smaller the image, the more detailed. There is one story of a photographic plate that looked as though it had a speck of dust or a small scratch, but when examined with a microscope, it was a perfect portraiture. The implications were immediate. Spies could transport glass plates with microscopic reproductions of documents or maps, all in the guise of a photographer. If questioned, they would be found only with seemingly unexposed plates. Or, perhaps less intriguing, Britain's entire public archive could be stored on a few glass plates. The possibilities were endless.

When Fox Talbot, an English inventor, heard of of the daguerreotype, he announced his own simultaneous invention, which he had been keeping private. Talbot perfected his process for many years, introducing the first photographic negatives. Daguerreotypes were metal plates; they couldn't be reproduced. Talbot's negatives (The term was coined much later.) could be used to reproduce multiple prints on paper. The daguerreotype enjoyed some popularity in the United States, but within the UK, its success was short lived, and the daguerreotype soon disappeared, along with its characteristic fine details, which were lost until well into the 20th century.

See, I told you, super nerdy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Exterior of the Office of the Day

So here's my confession: Sometimes I take long breaks because I don't have much time to take photos. And sometimes I have a whole queue of photos just waiting to be posted. The problem is that I'm a writer. And writers like to write things. It's a compulsive thing. I'm also a big nerdy academic, and I want to go all big nerdy academic on here, without actually having time to write.

My new summer schedule should allow me more time for both. Hurrah!! But no promises... Until then, here's a picture of the outside of my frequent Office of the Day, with a tiny bit of big nerdy thrown in for good measure. Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural ball was held in this building.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Silent George

A few days ago, I walked out of Love Cafe, after consuming entirely too many cupcake calories, to be kind of startled by giant mural of George with his mouth bound. According to the DCist, the building is owned by the founder of DC Vote, an organization which advocates for full democratic voting rights in DC. According to their website, DC Vote is "dedicated to securing full voting representation in Congress and full democracy for the residents of the District of Columbia."

Voting is a bit of a touchy subject in DC, which is why the motto on our car tags reads "Taxation Without Representation." The Constitution only guarantees Congressional privileges to the states, but DC isn't a state. Therefore, we have no senator or representative. Eleanor Holmes Norton is DC's "Delegate to Congress." She can vote on procedural matters and committee votes, but not on the actual House floor votes. And, despite the fact that we pay taxes to the city--the highest per capita tax bracket in the United States--our city budget is completely at the mercy of Congress. Remember the looming federal shutdown a few months ago? We weren't even going to have garbage pickup. And you thought your hometown was buried in bureaucracy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This rather hazy phone-cam shot is of Frrrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3 in Georgetown. If you've never had it, imagine rich, icy chocolate milk. The cafe's namesake is a landmark eatery in NYC, not far from the perhaps even more famous restaurant Le Cirque. For a while, after the release of a cheesy, formulaic movie of the same name, Serendipity became a fashionable hangout, making frequent appearances in magazines trying to convince you that you're no different from celebrities. You both eat hot dogs! Ah, but Serendipity's hot dogs run around $14. The Georgetown location has been rumored for years, before I even moved to DC, and it finally opened on Memorial Day weekend. The food is delicious, though overpriced. And the interior really is gorgeous--I'm contemplating getting lighted signs for my walls. And, though it's not someplace I'll go to often, it's a nice place to spend a great afternoon gossiping with friends and contemplating why John Cusack's movies always suck.

Monday, June 13, 2011


So I've been busy....and moving right along.

It's LGBT Pride Month! This past weekend was the big Capital Pride celebration, which culminates every year in a Saturday parade and Sunday Street Festival. But this camera failed me. Or I failed my camera, rather, by not charging it properly. "Such an amateur," I can hear you say. So these are actually from '09 and '10.

The pic above is of crowds waiting along the parade route outside of Cobalt, a popular club. The parade winds through the Dupont Circle area, which is DC's "gayborhood." The pic below is from my favorite part of the parade every year. Yes, I just love having beads collide with my face, along with lollipops and condoms, but my favorite things are gay parents marching with their kids, and--even higher on the list--parents marching with/for their gay kids. I'm not going to get all emotional about my mom, but, have no doubt about it, she is awesome. But I can't imagine her ever joining PFLAG, the organization of Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. (Don't you just love acronyms?) Still, when I see the love pouring out of these parents, who are so proud of their kids and so passionate about their rights, it melts my heart. Every. Single. Time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

DC Jazz Fest

The DC Jazz Fest is in, seriously, no pun intended, full swing. I found this out by accident when I went to my usual Office of the Day in Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian's Reynolds Center. You might remember this place from before, if not, here's another reminder. I didn't get much work done, but I did get a free show from Nasar Abadey & Supernova. (That's Abadey kickin' it on the drums.) And though they're really not my kind of jazz, it's still a great reminder of one of my favorite things about DC: Summer always means free music.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Greater Journey

Last night I was back at the Sixth and I Synagogue (and here, here, and here) for David McCullough, probably the most eminent historian in America. He is the winner of not one, but two Pulitzer Prizes, for his biographies Truman and John Adams. So, yes, you have him to thank for 7 hours of Paul Giamatti in sausage-curl wigs. McCullough has written 10 books, all of which are epically proportioned. His latest is The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, chronicaling the influence of Paris and Parisian intellectual life on nineteenth-century American writers, painters, scientists, and politicians, everyone from Samuel Morse to Harriet Beecher Stowe.

When I was contemplating moving to DC and transitioning back into grad school, I came across a documentary called David McCullough: Painting with Words (which one could easily find online). The film, produced by Tom Hanks, is an intimate and charming portrait of McCullough, his life, his relationship with his wife and children, and his antique typewriter, which he still uses to write every single word. In the film, McCollough talks about the beauty of language and how his goal is always to write great literature that happens to be about history. I took this as a sort of personal model, a desire to write literature that happens to be about literature, and I decided that if I moved to DC, I'd somehow get into one of his lectures.

Not surprisingly, David McCullough is just as charming in person as he is in the film, though, perhaps a bit rambling, as the extremely knowledgeable tend to be. He clearly loves his job. He loves history and archive work and reading and writing, and perhaps most of all, he clearly loves standing in front of an audience and educating. He has a lot to say about education, as well. He spoke passionately about the need for teachers who love their subject matter and the imperative necessity of a cultural shift towards valuing educators in our society. His strongest criticisms were rightly placed on No Child Left Behind, which is little more than an industrial model of education in an increasingly post-industrial society. (For more on this, you can see Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk.) At the end of the evening, I left with the same feeling that I had from watching the documentary on his life, wanting to be a better writer, a better researcher, and a better educator.

If you're in the DC area (or will be in September), McCullough will be at this year's National Book Festival.