Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Stone of Hope

This is the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was dedicated on the National Mall this weekend to mark the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech given on August 28th, 1963.

The inscription on one side reads "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." Fittingly, the figure of King is, to put it in appropriate Biblical terms, "hewn out of the mountain." The visitor approaches the memorial from behind, passing figuratively through the mountain with him, before rounding the monument to view it from the front.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the monument--whether the image of King was exaggeratingly racialized, the enormous licensing fees paid to the King family for use of King's image and quotations, the later egregious misquoting of speeches used in the memorial, choosing a Chinese sculptor whose other famous works include a monument to Moa Zedong, and the list really goes on, all the way down to whether the design itself was an appropriate representation for the tribute. But, really, there will always be controversy. If the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial were being built today, there would be an outcry. No doubt in time, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will become as much a part of the recognizable landscape of the National Mall as the Reflecting Pool, where the crowds gathered that day to hear that immortal speech.

One of my favorite tributes to Dr. King is Patty Griffin's song "Up to the Mountain," which was inspired by the last speech Dr. King gave. It's full of emotion and soulful gospel lyricism that is reminiscent of Dr. King's speeches.

Monday, August 29, 2011

District Daily Natural Disaster

So it was a pretty busy week in DC. You might have seen something about that on the news. As Irene began rolling towards the city, workers scrambled to patch cracks left in the Washington Monument by Tuesday's earthquake. One of these cracks was four feet long and over four inches wide, making the sky above visible from inside the monument. They managed to temporarily patch the cracks, but many of them are still visible. If you click to view the larger version of this photo, you can see cracks shooting off from the corners of the observation window on the right. A larger crack, where the stones are visibly misaligned, can be seen in the center stone, three stones up from the circular lights. The monument is closed indefinitely. The hurricane, luckily, caused minimal damage to the city--much less than expected. But, as you can see, the rain finally cleared away.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Browse the Archives

It's that time of year when even pictures of the National Archives, normally one of my favorite sights in DC, is spoiled by a giant tour bus. I rarely feel those waves of patriotism that seem to wash over crowds of people at ball games, but there's something about knowing that possibly the most important and influential documents in the modern world are housed in this building, a short walk from my front door. It gets me.

Sadly, it's also that time of the year when full panic mode sets in as exams loom. So feel free to browse my own archives for a few days, and I'll see you next Monday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two Stories for the Price of One.

The Charles Sumner School was one of the first schools for African Americans in the District of Columbia. Later, it became the first teaching college for black students. Now it's home to the DCPS archives. It was named for a prominent abolitionist, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner is one of the subjects of David McCullough's book The Greater Journey. Sumner had never been particularly involved in abolitionist activism before; in fact, he seemed to have thought that black people lacked the capacity for anything outside of hard labor. As many young men from England and the US did, Sumner went to Europe to "finish his education" in the late 1830s. While in France he saw black Frenchmen attending medical lectures at the Sorbonne, welcomed amongst the fellow students. He was impressed by their intellect and eagerness to learn, thus countering everything Sumner had been taught to believe about racial inferiority. He returned to the US a few years later and began to fight for abolition and educational opportunities for black people. While a Senator, he enraged Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina by speaking out against slavery. Brooks attacked Sumner with a gold-handled cane on the Senate floor until he was unconscious. Other congressmen tried to go to his aid, but another representative from South Carolina pulled out his pistol to prevent anyone intervening. Even after Sumner collapsed, Brooks continued beating him, presumably to kill him, until his cane broke. He was later charged $300 for disorder conduct, and Sumner suffered from physical and psychological damage the rest of his life. And you thought the Congress people we have now are crazy.

Ready for number 2? The building was designed by Adolf Cluss, one of the most successful architects in DC during the mid1800s. Many of his buildings still remain as historic landmarks throughout the city, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and the Eastern Market. Cluss was quite controversial himself. Born in Germany, Cluss became a very early member of the Communist movement, and continued life-long communication with Marx and Engels. Because he popularized architecture that featured large buildings of red brick, DC was for some time called Red Brick City, but it was often said with a tone of sarcasm pointedly aimed at Cluss's political affiliations.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Daydreams and Fountains

Continuing with the theme of yesterday's post, the fountain at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden is the perfect place for daydreaming. I suppose the first pretense is that I'm going there to read, and I usually do get through a page or two...but most of the time I watch the water and the people, listen to the giggle of children, and just enjoy the spray of mist picked up by a gust of wind. It reminds me of afternoons spent in the Tuileries in my early twenties, writing in my leather journal about children pushing boats through the fountain and how I was going to conquer the world. Yeah, I was one of those kids, a little scruffy, overly pretentious, chasing ghosts of Joyce and Sylvia Beach. Ah, young idealism. Here are a few of my favorite blogs, in no particular order, that keep me fantasizing about running off to Paris.
  • Paris Daily Photo, you know.
  • Little Brown Pen is gorgeous. I especially love Nichole's Paris Color Project. I'd love to do something like that for the District. Basically, this blog is everything I wish I could do with mine.
  • From Me To You is not just about Paris. The rest of the blog is pretty too, but the Paris section is so pretty it aches a little.
  • Codzienny Paryz, Elsa's daily Paris photo blog, is not just gorgeous, but also impressively trilingual.
  • David Lebovitz: living the sweet life in Paris covers my two favorite topics--Paris and food. That makes this blog just about perfect. But before you click, just a warning, don't lick your screen, folks.
If I missed your favorite, please let me know. I'm always looking for new sites to while away the day.

Now, back to DC! On Friday afternoons in the summer, a jazz band sets up next to the fountain and the entire park fills up with picnickers sharing cool pitchers of sangria sold from carts around the garden. And when there's a blanket covered with an assortment of cheese and desserts and surrounded by a group of good friends, it's better than daydreaming.

Inside the garden as it rained.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Just Pretending

I'm often tempted to find the cheapest flights out of DC and head to Paris. Since this is only a fantasy, I don't even contemplate how expensive those tickets would be. I just concentrate on the romance of jumping on a plane and waking up in the hazy gold and blue of a Parisian morning. Sometimes, I go to PAUL for mille feuille (which the til humorously abbreviates as MILF) or some macarons. This weekend, between rainstorms, I read in the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, which is almost a mini-Luxembourg. That's where you'll find one of Hector Guimard's original art deco entrances to the Paris Metropolitain, which is much more aesthetically pleasing, if not nearly as clean, as our own DC Metro.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Studies in Coffee

This is a mocha from Chinatown Coffee Co., purveyors of some of the best coffee in DC. I have a special place in my heart for independent shops that serve out of actual coffee cups.

The interior is exposed brick, sleek, modern fixtures, and eclectic art.

This is actually a different coffee cup...on a different day. Because I consume a lot of coffee.

An empty coffee cup is a sad, but beautiful thing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

National Geographic Museum

I spend a lot of time just wondering around museums, but I have an annual tradition of going out for a while on my birthday before meeting friends for dinner. It's a great way to recharge and remind me of all the things I really love about DC and life in general, really. This year it was the National Geographic Museum.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Shake Shack

The popular NYC eatery Shake Shack recently opened their first two locations in DC's already overpopulated burger metropolis. The lines are usually pretty long, and as burgers go, it's not the best among many. But the fries are perfectly crispy, and the shakes are rich and creamy. I've always really liked the building's architecture, which is kind of DC meets old Hollywood.

Friday, August 5, 2011


So I took off a few days for a special occasion. I won't say what it was, but I will say that I have the best friends in the universe. And also, the weakest constitution where the drink is concerned. Below is the dining room at Marvin, where my lady fellas treated me to a delicious dinner and quite a few beverages.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Let there be light.

If you've been reading for a while, you may have the feeling that you've seen this place somewhere before.