Days 5-8: Dizzyin’ D.C.

The number of museums (all free) in Washington D.C. is staggering, and deciding which ones to visit is a daunting challenge. We decided to each pick one today–and a few off the beaten path. We had already covered the most popular ones in the past with our kids–the National Gallery, the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space.

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First, we headed to the U.S.Holocaust Museum. The featured photo above shows the five-story high atrium of the museum. Photos of Jewish families who perished in the Holocaust were displayed there.  The chain of events leading to the holocaust were many and complex, to say the least.  False evidence blamed the Jews for killing Christ.

Around 1525, Martin Luther initially embraced them. He later turned against them when they refused to convert to Protestantism. It wasn’t until 1994 when the Lutheran church acknowledged Luther’s anti-Semitism.

We primarily think of the Jews from Germany and Austria being sent to camps and killed there. Even more Jewish people from Romania, Poland, Russia and Lithuania were killed. Many were forced to live in ghettos segregating them from mainstream society. However, most Jews living in Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary were spared.

There were chilling graphic depictions of the camps. The arrival of American troops helped to document the horrors before evidence was destroyed. More than half of those who were liberated died within two weeks of being freed. They were already too sick to survive or were unable to digest the food they consumed.

While very sad and sobering, the museum presented an important lesson in history. Similar events could take place again.  This museum teaches us the social, political, and economic circumstances behind such heinous acts and the chain of events that caused the Holocaust. You can learn more about the museum here: https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/museum-exhibitions/permanent.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the Native American Museum. While the museum is housed in an impressive building, it didn’t reduce the weight of the subject and its history. The many tribes and unions between nations were systematically ignored and destroyed.

The many treaties that were created between the Native Americans and the U.S. were constantly violated, despite initial good intentions. The map below shows how Americans pushed the Native Americans westward further and further from their homelands, while new settlers expanded into these territories.

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Non-native Population Expansion, 1820 (Dark Red), 1850 (Rust), and 1890 (Yellow)

We welcomed the slow walk back to the hotel to ponder our thoughts from the day’s deep and sobering educational experiences.

Days 7-8: The NMAAHC, Capitol Hill, and the Museum for Women in the Arts

Many of the newer Washington D.C. attractions like the National Museum of African-American History require advanced tickets. I was glad I knew ahead of time, or I would have been disappointed. The stunning new building was designed by David Adjaye and is clad in filigree bronze screen panels.

After being guided down to the lower floor where slavery, civil war, and segregation topics were covered, we began our long difficult journey tracing and understanding the roots of African-American history.

Everyone was very quiet and pensive as we shared the tragic stories of Africans from mostly Central and Coastal West Africa being captured by Portuguese, Dutch, British, French and Danish slave traders. By around 1800, the importation of foreign slaves was banned. Rhode Island slave traders developed and dominated a thriving domestic trade.

Less than half of the captured Africans survived the journey to the Coast or the horrific slave ships. While approximately 500,000 slaves were brought to the States, a total of around 12 million slaves were captured in Africa and sold in the New World. The largest proportion were sent to the Caribbean or to Brazil.

As families were split up and sold, the humiliating auction blocks were used to showcase the black slaves. They were split up from families and loved ones, mothers from their babies. Both sides of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War used the issue of slavery as a strategy to rally supporters to their side. The British and Americans offered freedom to those slaves who fought in the Revolutionary Wars, and the North and the South also made promises to African Americans that often were not kept.

After slavery, it was difficult for African-Americans to survive the post-Civil war era. Many prominent leaders and heroes were featured, and there were many historic events and landmark decisions. Segregation displaced slavery and became another racist era.

The museum was split into the history and dark past on lower levels, and modern culture on upper levels. The NMAAHC offered insight and understanding of the arduous path of not only African-Americans, but the shared path of all Americans. You can read more about the museum’s collections here:  https://nmaahc.si.edu

The combination of these museums left a powerful imprint on my understanding and perspective of oppressed people in America. It seems more pertinent for all of us to learn about the history and development of oppression as race and religion become major issues in our current society.

The stretches between sights and buildings along the Washington Mall and Capitol Hill are far and wide, so good shoes and good planning are essential for surviving D.C. The Washington Metro provided some relief in getting between points, but the distances by foot are intimidating, even to veteran walkers like us. Thanks to L’Enfant and his grandiose French city planning scheme, the wide boulevards and diminished human scale do seem to put people in their places.

Well, the verdict is in. Yes, Washington D.C. is a pretty awesome place. I couldn’t help but compare the time lapse walking between buildings with that of Versailles. We got our royal injection thanks to L’Enfant. And I’m not sure whether the Kremlin and Red Square came first or we did (around 1800), but I’m guessing that National Mall beats Moscow’s in area. While we’re at it, it might be worth comparing Beijing’s Tian An Men Square and Forbidden City.  A research project for another day.

At the opposite end of the National Monument, above are just a few grand dames on Capitol Hill: the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

Above are one of three perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress; and Cupcakes?!? (click on image to see captions and to increase scale)

Below: interior of ornate Italian Renaissance style Library of Congress. Almost stands up to or equal with the Library in Vienna. (To see the Vienna Library, search posting from Day 27 of 2015, dated Aug. 21)

A very understated but worthwhile visit to the Women’s Museum yielded some gems: a Frieda Kahlo Self-Portrait dedicated to Leon Trotsky, and friend Hung Liu’s noble portraits of women who were prostitutes. Gee Kin had trouble identifying five famous women artists, but managed to come up with these and Annie Liebowitz. Sure enough, she had a photo of Dolly Parton proudly on display.

There were numerous other interesting works there, but I felt sad that these great artists (including Berte Morisot and Mary Cassatt whose works were represented) and others (I didn’t see any Georgia O’Keefe) had to find a cause to be celebrated on their own and could not be integrated with the mainstream art world. Can you name five living women artists?

To top off the day at Momofuku DC: Honey Crisp with Arugula, Kimchee, and Maple Sugar; Skate Wing, and Chinese Broccoli with Cashews. Highly recommended.

Apologies for the long post.  Combined posts will reduce the load on your Inbox!

12 thoughts on “Days 5-8: Dizzyin’ D.C.”

  1. I love DC. I think every American should travel there at least once. We should find a way to fund such travels so that people from around the country and go and learn and feel the history of our country. it is really AWESOME!!! Thanks for sharing…brings back so many wonderful wonderful memories. I have to get there again soon! p

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    1. Agreed! Wish you were here too! I was really struck by the depth and beauty of D.C., especially after being impressed by so many other cities in the world (not to mention Chicago, another fine example of the best of the U.S. of A). I too wish more Americans could partake of the great offerings of DC. Believe it or not, I was actually impressed with how clean it was! It has risen from the depths of dereliction in the eighties to its clean-as-a-whistle new-found splendor. The buildings, albeit only mid-rise, have interesting and beautifully designed facades. Get a job here lady and I’ll come visit!

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    1. Visiting DC as a dink is an out-of-body experience. Coming here still gives me the shakes and thinking that I should be equipped with a fifth-grader list of to-dos. Having the freedom to pick museums better oriented to adults was an unexpected windfall. The Capitol tours do talk to tourists at a fifth grade level (even to adults who may not understand at that level). I felt envious when the guides let the fifth graders answer questions that I knew the answers to! The museums we chose covered very deep topics but presented the material in a way that the teachable moments were learnable.

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  2. I also found Holocaust Museum to be most heart wrenching. The pile of shoes of the dead haunted me.
    Can’t wait to retire and join you in young travels.

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  3. You guys have a lot of stamina: the Holocaust; the genocide of the Native Americans; and the abomination of slavery–all in one visit to D.C. We lived 20 years in DC, so took it slowly, one horror at at a time. My belovèd spouse has finally convinced me to accept that all Settlers are/were equally criminal & genocidal: the Europeans who “settled” the American West; the Europeans who “settled” Africa; the Brits (including my ancestors) who “settled” New Zealand; and the Israelis who “settled” and are still settling Palestine. Know very little about Black America, so have gotten started by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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    1. We planned to go to DC specifically to see the new NMAAHC. After seeing the Museum of Remembrance and Tolerance in Mexico City, I became more interested in the museums that teach about genocides in the world. The Native American Museum was a unique museum in DC, and the Women’s Museum was around the corner from us. You are getting excellent training from your partner. Our girls introduced us to Ta-Nahesi Coates, and he is a great place to start. Thanks for your comments. We have alot to talk about when we meet. No doubt you will slaughter SF on arrival like we are doing to NYC and DC!! Our offerings are much milder and calmer, however.

      By the way, did you see that we made it to Cafe Lily? Thanks to your report we couldn’t resist going! We met the owner and she was great! Ready to do another special report for us??

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  4. Would love to go back to D.C. Last (& 1st) time was in ’02 when I was a chaperone for an 8th grade class trip. Was a few months after 9/11 so things were more restrictive and somewhat rushed since we also took in Pennsylvania & Virginia that week. Enjoyed reading all you posted.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. It’s a fascinating place to visit as an “adult”!! It’s a little bit of Disneyland but the scale is incredibly huge and overwhelming. Walking everywhere really helps, and it’s easy to put in 5k without even thinking. So a good fitness workout. Everything is S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D out here.

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  5. Love this posting and brings back memories. Didn’t know you were going to DC, I was there a few months ago and spent a Saturday with Kate Donuhue in the charming Capitol Hill neighborhood where she lives (retired from the SD)–she would have loved to have seen you (she stayed at your house in SF)!

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    1. It’s been great to refresh everyone’s memories of the Grand Ol’ City. I’d forgotten that you had spent quite a bit of time there yourself, along with David and others. Cities change, but there are still some of the nostalgic parts that help us to remember events and places in our lives. (Like the dodgy Harrington Hotel where we stayed in the early 80’s with Melissa at 12th&E over the soup kitchen!) DC has evolved into a very lovely city. it’s better than I remember it. Let Kate know she can come stay again in SF!

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