Washington DC holds a lot of personal history for me, so I was super excited when Brent suggested we add in DC between NYC and Anderson, SC. Besides my personal history, my best friend lives there and ever since she had two babies and I’ve been perpetually busy, we haven’t seen each other very much, but the powers that be really came through for us and we got an entire afternoon together on this trip. It was glorious.
We also got to visit with Brent’s cousins, which was a lot of fun. One recurring theme we realized was going to play out in many US cities we visit was the sense of disappointment from not being able to see everyone we would like to see or not being able to spend as much time with the people we do get to see. The limits of time are beyond my control, unfortunately. Time has always been my most precious and scarce resource.
Here is the personal history part which you’re welcome to skip if you’d rather just hear about DC: I first visited DC in March of 1994 for a job interview at The Genetics and IVF Institute. I was in my last semester of my undergraduate career and had given birth to my first child the previous month. Having a baby during your senior year of college without taking any real time off is not for the faint of heart, but that’s another story. It was extremely difficult to leave my newborn son even for an overnight trip and my nervousness with being away from him played out in my leaving my interview suit on the train as I disembarked to connect to a second train. Frantic and crying, I mean hyperventilating, I found a conductor and explained my dilemma. He instantly took sympathy on me when he saw my plastic case for my breast pump, my youthful appearance, and most certainly the look of exhaustion I wore continuously during those years. He radioed to the conductor of the train I just left and together they made a plan for me to catch up to the train with my suit. The following day when I shared the story with the PhDs interviewing me, the one from Texas, Ed Fugger who became my boss, said with the thickest Texas accent you can imagine, “You could have worn a potato sack and we would still be offering you this job. We could care less about your clothes, it’s your undergraduate research and your brain that interests us.” Aaahhh, if only the entire work force thought the way Ed Fugger did…
For reasons too complicated to share here, our stay in DC only lasted a year before we returned to Champaign. But even in that short year I was deeply affected by everything around me. There is no place on earth with that combination of science, medicine, politics, art, and nature. I found the power of DC palpable. It felt as if everything was being decided there. I took a sliver of that power with me as I navigated the next steps of my career.
One thing I loved to do on the weekends was put Avery in his stroller, buy a $5 unlimited weekend Metro card and visit the Smithsonian. Natural History, Art, and American History were my subjects of choice. If someone had told me 22 years ago that I would be returning to DC with a very different career behind me and an extremely different future ahead, I would not have been able to see how that would be possible.
Highlights from our trip: We chose DuPont Circle as our home base and camped out at the Palomar Hotel. The service, rooms, and hotel restaurant were great. We joked that we could have fit exactly two of our rooms at the Marlton in NYC inside our room at the Palomar. DuPont Circle is close enough to walk to Georgetown, the White House, and the Smithsonian.
We happened to arrive on opening day of the Cherry Blossom Festival and the trees did not disappoint. I’ve been searching for spring basically since I moved to San Francisco with its season less year and I’m happy to say, we found spring in DC.
My favorite museum experience took place at The National Museum of the American Indian, http://www.nmai.si.edu. While US History textbooks practice the art of historical revision this museum tells it like like it was and shows a glimpse into how the American Indian Nations are living today. I left the museum feeling a mixture of emotions that can’t be described here. Those emotions are too much for a blog post on a trip to DC. But I wish every American would visit this museum and learn about the only real natives to this country.
We took a highlights tour at the American History Museum and I highly recommend doing this if you’re pressed for time or if you just want to get an overview before digging in. Our tour guide was so lovely and she shared many personal insights that were highly interesting.
I’m becoming deeply fascinating with the War of Independence, otherwise known at the Revolutionary War if you went to grammar school in the 70’s, and this museum’s interpretation of events does not disappoint. We were moved by seeing Abraham Lincoln’s top hat worn while he was assassinated.
The Natural History Museum had/has a plethora of photography exhibits that kept our attention for the better part of a day. Of particular interest was the Iceland exhibit on primordiaL landscapes. It was fun to see this special land celebrated for its unique place in natural history and relive our memories from being there last spring.
I could go on and on about all we saw and learned at the Smithsonian but then this would be a book instead of a blog post. One last tidbit, nobody knows why the British philanthropist James Smithsonian left his fortune to the United States. The story behind how these museums came to be is quite fascinating. If you have time google this topic and I promise you’ll be in awe of these events.