Wednesday September 08, 2021
Day 14: Dwarfed in D.C.
The American wing of the National Gallery begins with Gilbert Stuart's paintings of the first presidents.
Has anyone ever made a movie where an indvidual is dwarfed by the monumental buildings of Washington D.C., the way that, say, John Garfield, is dwarfed by the lower Manhattan buildings in “Force of Evil” or Raoul Walsh's heroes against mountain landscapes in “High Sierra” and “Colorado Territory”? Seems ripe for doing. Patricia and I were so dwarfed Sunday morning, walking from our hotel on K Street to the National Mall. Other than a quick business trip or two in the 1990s, she'd never been to D.C., I hadn't been in a decade or two, so it was fun walking around, seeing the lesser known buildings, reading their taglines chiseled in stone. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a good one (both foreign and domestic, yo), but seems oddly placed in front of the National Archives. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society” is another good and obviously the IRS Building. It's from Oliver Wendell Holmes. Dems should quote it more often. Suggested alternative: “Pay your taxes, you libertarian fucks.”
Patricia wanted to go to the Natural History Museum but there were slow-moving lines snaking all around it when we showed up. Ditto the African American History and Culture Museum. Instead we walked around a bit, found our way to the National Gallery, got in. No line, no charge. Please come see art, people. We split up there and I made the mistake of beginning with the 13th-to-16th century Italian works, which I've seen everywhere. How many Madonna/childs can I take in? More than the art, I was curious how we got them all. That should be included in the plaque: year acquired, from whom, how. I do like the trajectory of who we paint (God, rich fucks, everyone else) and in what manner (formal/straight on, candid/living life). But it wasn't until I came across a discarded visitor map that I made a bee-line for the American wing, which begins with the classic Gilbert Stuart paintings of the first presidents, goes through the landscapes, and ends with American impressionism. I saw Albert Bierstadt's “The Buffalo Trail,” which so impressed me as an undergrad I bought a print for my room. After lunch, attracted by a Howard Rogers portrait of Reggie Jackson, from a 1974 Time magazine cover, we visited the National Portrait Gallery, which, in an exhibit on “Champions,” included a wing for sports stars and another for entertainment stars. I liked the former curation better. Reminded me of my youth: the big stars I watched (Reggie, Muhammad Ali), knew about (Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel), read about (Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Wilma Rudolph, Gertrude Ederle). No one in that wing seemed out of place to me. The entertainment wing seemed a bit suspect.
We ate well in D.C.: a Jose Andres tapas joint called Jaleo, which was just exquisite and required vax cards (thank you!); Doi Moi, a Vietnamese place further north, where we went with my college roommate Dean and his wife Kim; and Shouk, a mini-chain of Israeli/Middle Eastern food with amazing humus. We also got eaten well—or I did. I came home covered in bug bites from both Rehoboth and D.C. Patricia, none. I thought of this New Yorker cartoon, slide 9.
For a place where older people have monumental power, DC seems like a young city. Also good-looking. Saw a lot of tall women there, mostly blonde, to go with the monumental buildings. I assumed Dutch imports. Patricia saw a Black woman who looked to be about 6'4" with a gorgeous, flawless face. I admit, in the musuems, that's part of what I looked at: girls along with the art. D.C. also seems like a city bifurcated by wealth. It's like Seattle in this way but even more so, and along stricter racial lines.