December 13, 2018
Washington was a 3 and a half hour train journey from New York. Travelling by rail was so much more civilised than flying . It was made even better because on arrival there was a buggy available (with a driver!) and it transported us plus luggage free of charge to the taxi rank which was quite far…Maybe this wonderful service is laid on for elderly travellers?
We had great weather, up to 18 centigrades through the 3 days spent in the US capital!! On the whole Washington is an easier place for a visitor – the taxi drivers know their way round (in New York it was shockingly bad: one would ask to be taken to the Metropolitan Museum, and the driver would not know where it was…) At the museums, the guards were kind, polite and engaged in conversation… The museums we saw were superb – and one of the favourite was the National Museum (part of the Smithsonian) with the “new” West Wing – planned by the same architect Mr Pei, who did the pyramids at the Louvre….The interior space with views and first class lighting is superb as is the hanging – comprehensive and not over crowded. And what a superb collection/s thanks mostly to the Mellon family who also financed the construction of the building. I thought it was maximum ten years old judging by its condition and its modernity and, therefore, was really surprised to find out that it was built 40 years ago!! Particularly memorable were the French Impressionist collection of small size paintings on the ground floor and sculpture garden on the terrace of the top floor . The Caldor works, both 2 d and 3d , were another joy, right next to the sculpture garden. The older wing of the museum, just across the square, has superb works from the 15th century onwards.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is a 2 years old state-of-the-art building that addresses nearly every aspect of the African American experience, covering the arts, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, athletics and much more. The building’s exterior, conceived by Ghanaian-born British architect David Adjaye, is artfully made up of a three-tiered, bronze-coloured screen. The museum’s collection of artefacts is astounding: 3,500 are on view, with another 35,000 or so in the collection. It is set up in a way where you start your journey at the bottom of the museum and work your way upwards. The exhibits serve as an introduction to the concept of African American and African diaspora culture. It examines style, food, artistry, and creativity through craftsmanship, social dance and gesture, and language. The visual art exhibition illustrates the critical role that African American artists played in shaping the history of American art. It features seven thematic sections and one changing exhibition gallery, including paintings, sculpture, works on paper, art installations, mixed media, photography, and digital media. One of the most interesting section showed an untrained elderly woman’s paintings and drawings who only started in her fifties to paint and draw. Her works were my favourite.
In terms of museum experience, or any experience, the greatest impact was the National Holocaust Memorial Museum which was opened in 1993. Interestingly, its first visitor was the Dalai Lama. Nothing prepares one to the depth and breadth of the theme – the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy. It is superbly presented as a documentary, leaving the spectator to form his/her opinion. Upon entering large industrial elevators , visitors are given identification cards, each of which tells the story of a random victim or survivor of the Holocaust. Upon exiting these elevators on the fourth floor, visitors walk through a chronological history of the Holocaust, starting with the Nazi rise to power in Germany 1933-1939. Walking to the third floor, one learns about ghettos and the Final Solution, . The Permanent Exhibition ends on the second floor with the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces; it includes a continuously looped film of Holocaust survivor testimony. We spent four and a half hours and felt totally exhausted both emotionally and intellectually. One wishes the world would have learnt a lesson from this awful phase in history but sadly the savagery continues in other countries…
We ate really well in Washington – and on my birthday was treated to a superb meal by the river that, appropriately, served wonderful fish dishes – . The service was excellent too – what a great treat!