Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

I know this blog is currently just a tour of the various Smithsonian museums, but hey, they’re great and totally awesome to go to! This past week my super amazing girlfriend’s sister and her sister’s boyfriend (collectively, “A2“) were visiting us. The two of them went to a whole bunch of museums while I was working, but on Saturday I got to go with them to the National Museum of Natural History.

The Natural History Museum is by far the Smithsonian to which I have been the most. I grew up not too far from here and when I was but a wee lad we went all the time on the weekends. Specifically, we went all the time because my brother wanted to go. I always wanted to go to like, any of the other museums, but he whined the loudest so we would always go to the Natural History Museum.

Fortunately the museum as a little something for everyone. A2, for example, was most excited about the dinosaurs. I, too, was actually pretty excited to see this because I hadn’t been to the museum in years and the last time I went they were still remodeling the dinosaur hall, so it was nice to see it finally all together. It actually took me a sec though to register where the dinosaurs actually were because instead of walking into the hall and seeing a big ole’ T-Rex he’s kinda hidden a little bit around the corner and you have to walk in past some boring old mammals to see a fossilized tyrannosaur chomp down on a fossilized stegosaurus. Pretty neat though!

My super amazing girlfriend, on the other hand, was always a big fan of ocean stuff. She is pictured above next to a giant squid (she’s on the right). I have to remind myself while writing this that everyone has not been to the Smithsonian a thousand times, but their ocean hall is pretty darn nice. My favorite part of it is actually a bit off to the side where they have fossils of ancient sea creatures, including really big fish and the like and I just imagine swimming around and then encountering some of these ancient big fish and like, not really liking it at all. The ocean can be a scary place! This is why I read the below sign as a threat:

Historically, as I was being carted around the Natural History Museum looking at the things that other people wanted to look at, I enjoyed the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. They got a lot of pretty rocks in there! The centerpiece is of course the Hope Diamond. When I was younger the curse surrounding it seemed a lot more salient but it is still like, wow. I know that picture is terrible but it was harder to get than you think because it was so brilliant that it even overwhelmed my poor cellphone camera. I was also always a big fan of the opals, because I think they are the prettiest and also because they are my birthstone. Another big factor about liking the gems is that they always seemed the most straight-up sciency, probably because they have this one big holographic crystal wall thingy that it supposed to make you feel like you’re inside a molecule, and when I was a kid I wanted to be a scientist, potentially a mad scientist. I would of course go on to get a whole degree in chemistry where I did a lot of stuff on crystals, which makes opals even cooler because they are amorphous and amorphous solids in materials that are usually crystalline have a lot of cool properties and that is neat.

Anyways these days what I find coolest are the anthropological sorta exhibits and also art galleries. Luckily the Natural History Museum had an African Voices exhibit which was pretty neat! It was very dimly lit which is one of the reasons the below photo of two minkisis isn’t too great (of a Mother and Child figure and a Male, and wow also the Smithsonian’s collection website is terrible), and of course forces itself to survey an entire continent of cultures in one exhibit hall, but this is the sort of stuff I enjoy seeing. It has lots of really great displays and reminders to go check out the Museum of African Art and the Museum of African American History & Culture.

But to wrap up one of the coolest things I saw all day was the below copper plate, which was created by the Mississipian culture about 700 years ago. I had known that the Mississipian culture existed, but I had no idea they had art like that and it was a very exciting thing to discover in a museum I had been to many, many times before. I guess goes to show you that there is always reason to broaden one’s horizons.

We didn’t stay way too long in the museum because the rest of the crowd was already pretty museum’d out after three intense days of museums. We wandered out to the mall and took some photos and then got on the metro for the ride home. Overall a pretty darn good day.

Cat Café 4

This blog has many themes. Love, hope, family, the usual. One of these recurring themes, besides 3D printing, Renaissance Festivals, and African colonialism, is of course visiting cat cafés! This past weekend my super amazing girlfriend and I decided to visit Crumbs & Whiskers and it was a hoot!

We decided to go for several reasons. One is that we live in DC now and I had mentioned Crumbs & Whiskers somewhere between several and many times over the course of our relationship. Another is that we are in the market for a cat and we thought it might be nice to go and look at some. The most important reason is probably that it is a lot of fun. This post is titled Cat Café 4 because I have been to cat cafés four times now, once in Singapore, once in New Haven, and twice at Crumbs & Whiskers, though the last time I went to Crumbs & Whiskers was years ago now and they have since moved so it is like a whole new experience.

Well not really a whole new experience. No matter what the general gist of the thing is the same, though I gotta say over the years Crumbs & Whiskers has really refined their experience. It was good last time I went but it was clear they were getting their feet under them, but this time it was a well-oiled machine. Brought you in, sat you down, gave you the ground rules, had you take off your shoes, and carefully monitored you during your time. That sounds like a cat-based big brother, that last sentence, but no it was great. We mentioned we were in the market for a cat and they tried to find the perfect cat for us among the lot, and gently pushed us towards cats they thought would match our personality (or just carried those cats over to us). They also include a polaroid with admission and the hosts were carefully seeing when a good photo op would be. They took a very cute polaroid of the two of us petting a cat. The below picture is not that polaroid, the below picture is me looking out of my mind while surrounded by cats:

We opted for the 70 minute experience on this trip and so we got over an hour hanging out with cats. There are a lot of different things you can do with cats over 70 minutes, especially when there are like two dozen of them. I was impressed by how used the cats were to being handled, especially while they slept, and seemed little perturbed when they were picked up in a comatose state. The hosts knew each cat’s preferred toy and they were more than willing to train us up on proper cat toy usage (trickier than you think!) to get the maximum play out of each cat. I especially liked how waving a toy around could gradually garner you a larger and larger crowd of cats.

But while 70 minutes is a lot of time it is unfortunately not forever and eventually we had to leave. This was a sad moment but now I have a Crumbs & Whiskers sticker and a Crumbs & Whiskers lapel pin and many many cat photos to remember our time together by. I’m excited for Cat Café 5. Until then, here is a picture from the next day of me on the National Mall along with a DeLorean that was there, which felt kinda silly to look at because like, I’ve lived it. Not the time travel bit, but the unreliable car bit:

Renaissance Festival II

When I concluded my last post on the Renaissance Festival, I ended it with “Until next year!” Then of course we all know what happened and that next year wasn’t until this year. A lot has happened since the last time I went to a Renaissance Festival! Many of those things have been documented on this blog, and so my loyal reader(s) you are already familiar with the fact that I started dating my super amazing girlfriend! My dad came to town just to go to the Renaissance Festival opening weekend (the weekend before this has been posted) and we decided to go along as well, which was extra exciting for me and I assume for her because this is the first time my super amazing girlfriend had ever been to a Renaissance Festival!

The photo at the top was the usual opening ceremony of the Renn Fest where the king comes out and greets everyone and welcomes them into Revel Grove. We, however, had showed up 45 minutes early (this is my fault), so the first thing that greeted us at the Renn Fest was a vaccination site, which I view as a good thing but which I was surprised by. I have no doubt there are people who would use this opportunity to get vaccinated, but how many people is that? I don’t know if they administered any vaccines but I don’t think the line could have been very long at any point in the day.

As we waited out the 45 minutes in front of the gate, I took the opportunity to point out some of the archetypical people that show up to Renaissance Festivals. Since I was actively looking for people to point out (pirates, princesses, people not in costumes, people in scifi outfits, etc) this was the first time I think I really noticed the wide range of people that show up to this event. Lemme tell ya, it really is a wide range. I saw people in Trump shirts and I saw gay ravagers walking around with dudes in flip flops. There is a place for everyone at the Renn Fest because drinking out of goblets while wearing silly outfits knows no boundaries.

Before arriving, I had tried to explain the Renaissance Festival to my super amazing girlfriend. Her major reference for Renn Fests was Gilmore Girls, and my various attempts to explain I don’t think helped at all. She was very familiar with craft fairs, and I mentioned all the shops and crafts, but a Renn Fest isn’t exactly a craft fair. She is also familiar with Shakespeare festivals, and I tried to sell the event by pointing out that they often do Shakespeare. I don’t think, however, that I saw excitement in her eyes until she looked at the Renn Fest website and discovered that they sold mac n’ cheese on a stick.

We eventually got that mac n’ cheese, but first we took what dad dubbed “the grand tour,” which is really just a walk around the perimeter. I think the true nature of the Renaissance Festival became clear when we passed by a game booth where you threw very cute rats into hanging buckets. We both played, I got a rat in a bucket, and like the excellent boyfriend I am I won my super amazing girlfriend a prize which she proudly wore the rest of the day. Also as part of the grand tour she bought a flower crown, and I was immensely pleased when she told me it made her feel pretty!

It was the afternoon before we really settled into to watch any of the entertainment at the Renaissance Festival. One of the highlights was watching the Company of Women present a scene from Henry VI, Part III. This was the Shakespeare that my super amazing girlfriend wanted to see, and it was great. At least I assume it was. After the scene I asked my super amazing girlfriend what had happened but she didn’t know either. We also managed to see a very abridged version of Macbeth which was very good!

Eventually we also came to the food! We in fact got the mac n’ cheese on a stick, and throughout the day we also got key lime pie on a stick, chocolate and peanut butter pie on a stick, a buffalo chicken calzone, fried cheese, jalapeno poppers, and a crab cake sandwich, and I am sure other things but I am already hungry writing down this list. It is truly a spectacular array of foods and I am only sad that we don’t have more stomachs.

I also want to mention here what my super amazing girlfriend dubbed her favorite show of the day, which was the Magical Poodles. The most impressive part of any Renaissance Festival show is how far these performers can stretch having one or two tricks. We saw a trio of jugglers who did a whole series of shows and you know what all they did was juggle. They were great though. Anyways our Poodle Lady friend, she was great. I have never trained poodles, so maybe she was at the top of her craft, but the tricks the dogs did were not very impressive. However, they were extremely cute and she was extremely earnest and it was very clear each dog had its own personality it 100% wanted to display as they wandered around the stage or demanded an additional treat before they would perform a trick. These dogs were divas, they knew it, and were twice as cute for it.

All in all it was an excellent day at the Renaissance Festival and I am super excited I got to show my super amazing girlfriend what it was all about. We ate foods and saw shows and got legitimately lost in a maze for a little bit but that gave us an opportunity to take some photos and just be cute together and it was great. I’ve been going to the thing for decades now and I am impressed that you can really find entertainment for all ages and all types as you wander around. We gotta make sure it isn’t another two years before we can go again.

The Ship of State

Reading this week:

  • Brazzaville Charms by Cassie Knight
  • Pastoral Song by James Rebanks

A matter of weeks ago now I started a job with the US Department of State. Pretty neat! This explains why these posts haven’t been going up at their normally appointed hour. The working life is tough! This is why I avoided it for a little over four years. But a strong desire to have a salary once again has driven me towards the 9-5 life. Oh, capitalism.

At any rate working for the State Department has been pretty interesting so far. Over the course of my grad school experience I spent a large chunk of time thinking about how things actually get done, and the thing that was usually getting done in this thinking was US engagement in Africa. There are a lot of people who are very passionate about international development and international engagement one way or another, and as a former Peace Corps volunteer and a grad student in a Global Affairs program I know a sizeable chunk of them. These people, and remember I am one of them, have a lot of strong opinions about what should happen and their zeal is focused of course on the delta between what they think should happen and what does happen.

I want to caveat that it is far from universal, but I think a lot of the time this delta is attributed to something along the lines of a lack of vision of the people doing the work. They don’t quite share the same passion for involving the people they’re trying to help in their development projects, or they don’t quite understand a cultural nuance on the ground. What I have generally discovered is that the people doing the work got into the work because they in fact hold all the same passions and zeals as my strawmanned critics. Unfortunately, this makes the delta between the should and the is more complicated to explain, but now I am perched in the perfect spot to figure out what that is.

One thing I haven’t quite fully figured out is who actually makes policy happen around here. More caveats! So far, for me, the State Department is very small. I talk to a handful of people at the embassy, and I have one or two counterparts in different bureaus and divisions. Relatively speaking, my sense is that there aren’t a lot of people in the Africa space. I hear in other bureaus multiple people will cover a single country, instead of a single person covering multiple countries, but those other countries are outside my purview so I’m not very sure. The caveat I’m building up to here is that I don’t really know how things work, and in fact I just don’t know a lot of things. I’m pretty new. But there do seem to be a lot of people at the State Department who talk to other people in the State Department, and who monitor things and who write reports and who tell those things to other people, but who actually makes US policy happen in, to, or around a foreign country?

Stunningly, I’m starting to think that person might be me. I’ve sent emails and made phone calls to counterparts in foreign countries and, stunningly, things happen? Nothing earth-shaking yet. I haven’t sent enough emails to get world peace yet, though by golly if my sent folder is anything to go by I am trying. Still, I feel like there must be something more.

One model I have of the State Department is that there is in fact a very small number of people who have the ability to affect anything. The rest of the State Department is therefore geared towards getting a certain concept across their eyeballs as often as possible. If you want to affect policy in so and so country, you try to make a lot of noise about so and so country, so that the people who can affect things read reports and the like about so and so country pretty often. Then, when it comes time for some event, or they have to decide something about policy, since they have thought about so and so country so often that they default to that course of action.

I don’t know if that model is accurate but I’m excited to refine my theories as time goes by. One thing I hope to avoid is losing any zeal I have. One unfortunate part about knowing how the system works is that while you learn why things are the way they are, that might convince you that things are the way they are for a good reason. You gotta keep a keen eye out for where things can change. I don’t know if I’ll pull that off, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

National Museum of Asian Art

I just like this cow. State of Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, 12th century

Today my super amazing girlfriend and I went to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art! Look, there is a very good chance that this blog will now become just a series of descriptions of adventures to various Smithsonian museums. The National Museum of Asian Art may very well come up again because the Sackler gallery was closed and so we didn’t go there of course, but the Freer gallery was already so emotionally overwhelming I don’t know if I could have handled a whole extra gallery.

One big advantage of visiting this museum over visiting the National Museum of African Art for me, personally, is that now I got to go with my super amazing girlfriend. In the last blog post I mentioned she had not yet arrived but that is no longer true because we have moved down here and live in the DC area now! Very exciting! So on a weekend when we were otherwise trying to organize our new apartment into something resembling a calm and soothing place to live, we decided to spend the time to go out and do something.

The Freer gallery is a very nice size for an afternoon’s outing. They are particularly proud of their Hokusai collection, as they should be. When we visited it took up a notable proportion of their gallery space, and more is coming because they had one gallery closed for an exhibition of his work they are still putting together. Everyone knows Hokusai, so I know Hokusai, and I was excited to see his stuff. But man. Look I dunno. When I turned and saw the above piece, titled Portrait of a Courtesan Walking and photographed so shittily on my phone that it is a travesty, my heart leapt. I mean, Christ, look at those lines, look at her outfit, look how he has captured her poise. How was I supposed to move on from that? Luckily they also had a cute birb done by him:

After recovering from Hokusai, I was surprised to discover that they also had a collection of works done by Thomas Dewing, and again there is just some stuff I couldn’t believe. Look I shouldn’t be an art critic. Plus it is late at night when I am writing this and I had to wrestle with my insurance company just now. I didn’t know Thomas Dewing before this, and my surprise came from the fact that he was not Asian, so I was a little confused about why I was seeing his works in the National Museum of Asian Art, but I am glad I did. Below is “Study of a Head,” and man just look at it. First off, look how finely her features are rendered. That’s phenomenal in and of itself. Second, it’s done in silverpoint, which lends the work a ghostly quality, like she is just appearing fully formed on the page from some other realm. I think I already said “phenomenal” but I’ll say it again: phenomenal.

We had proceed through the museum counter-clockwise, but I think next time we go through it’ll be clockwise. The China stuff is off to the left when you come in from the mall entrance. My super amazing girlfriend is a China specialist, and so that is her jam, but by the time we came to the China section our emotional fortitude was already sapped by the beauty we had witnessed. But one especially interesting part of the China section is their Neolithic stuff. The museum had a number of jade pieces from the Liangzhu culture, and again wow the stuff was amazing. I mean I suppose Neolithic people are gonna be know for their stone but these peeps took it to another level. The pieces in the below photo are up to 5,000 years old. As I have discussed before I just like being the presence of things shaped by human hands from such an ancient era, but these are gorgeous and translucent and yet again phenomenal to boot!

Emotionally drained, culturally bombarded, and artistically wrecked my super amazing girlfriend and I stumbled out of the museum and onto the national mall where we looked to the symbols of democracy sprinkled about until we regained enough adventurous fervor to get back on the metro. We went off to look for pillows. We didn’t buy any. But how could any pillow even come close to the art we had just witnessed? You should go see it yourself.

National Museum of African Art

“Wind Sculpture VII” by Yinka Shonibare MBE, 2016

We have moved to DC!!!! Well sorta. So my super amazing girlfriend and I have graduated from graduate school and we have both got pretty outstanding jobs in Washington DC. I feel like we have become in many facets a very certain type of person/couple, and I think for now at least we are both pretty okay with that because DC has some excellent museums we are both very excited to go to. We’re in blog time, so by the time you (“you” here being most likely my super amazing girlfriend, so hi! I love you ❤) read this we will both actually physically be in DC, but while I was experiencing these events she was in MA working remotely and I was in DC crashing in my cousin’s basement.

While here in DC I had a weekend free and had recently found out that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art existed and I wanted to go. Besides the museums, one of the reasons that my super amazing girlfriend and I are excited to be in DC is because we have a bunch of friends here. So I rounded up my friend Alison and off we went to the museum. It was pretty great!

“Wedding Souvenirs” by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2016

One of the first and most surprising things I learned about the museum is that it bills itself as “the only museum in the United States solely dedicated to the dynamic and diverse arts of Africa.” It is pretty stunning that it is the only one, though maybe in retrospect that isn’t so weird. The Yale University Art Gallery has a section dedicated to African Art, so the Smithsonian clearly isn’t the only place in the US you can see African art, but maybe it is reasonable that it is the only place dedicated to African art.

Since I had been to the Yale University Art Gallery I was actually a bit worried about this museum. I might be talking out of my ass here, but one thing that made me uncomfortable about that gallery is as you walk around the Africa wing it seemed to me that the concentration of art mirrored very closely the harshness and length of colonial rule. Plus, thinking back, I don’t think I remember any particularly contemporary African artists. That experience had me apprehensive about what I would find at this museum.

“Contact” by Nandipha Mntambo, 2010

I was pleasantly surprised to discover, therefore, that the National Museum of African Art has a much wider range of African art on display, ranging from the more ancient to the contemporary, and in many different styles. It was fantastic! The place is also quite large. The ground footprint is not very large, so I thought it wouldn’t take very long to get through the museum, but it just keeps going down farther and farther into the ground so there is a lot more to see there than you would initially suspect. Below you can see the second sub-basement as viewed from the first sub-basement, and it goes down for another sub-basement after that.

Center: “Rainbow Serpent” by Romuald Hazoumè, 2007

All the pictures so far have been some of the more contemporary pieces that I enjoyed. A couple of them I took pictures of before I realized they had nautical themes, which is I suppose why I was attracted to them. At the very top is “Wind Sculpture VII,” which evokes a ship’s sail, according to the plaque. “Contact,” the piece made of cowhide, was inspired by a ship’s figurehead that “comes towards us but is always just beyond reach.” It was cast from the artist’s own body and made of cowhide as a tribute to her cattle-raising Swazi heritage. The most impressive part of the ouroboros right above is, in my opinion, is that it is made of jerry cans, and man that is a lot of jerry cans.

Benin bronzes, Mid-16th to 17th century

Colonialism did manage to rear its head, however. I was a little stunned, probably naively so, that the museum had some of the Benin bronzes on display. The plaque next to them did talk about the museum’s “longstanding collaboration with Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments,” so maybe there isn’t so much tension there, but still, how haven’t we returned these things? They are, like all the rest of the art on display, beautiful and intricate and detailed, and I am glad I got to see them, but the fact of their presence puts them in a pretty intense conversation with every other exhibit.

Astrolabe constructed by Muhammad ibn al-Fattuh al-Khama’iri, 1236-37

I don’t have anything much to say about the above astrolabe, except maybe wow. That thing is phenomenal. It was in the third sub-level, and so near the very end of the museum experience. I am excited to go back! But having wandered through the whole museum, Alison and I packed up and ascended the stairs to re-emerge into the daylight. She hopped on her bike and head home and I wandered about the courtyard a bit before heading next door to the Castle, which I had passed many times but had never been in. This explains why I was stunned that Jimmy Smithson’s crypt is right inside the front door? This is probably my second-favorite crypt now, after John Paul Jones. Look, my first choice is to live forever, but on the off chance I fail to do that, I would very much like to be interred in an ornate crypt that is trafficked by thousands of visitors. If it is very nearby to an excellent art museum you should very much visit, all the better!

American Victory Ship

As one of the last trips I took as part of our Florida vacation, I went and visited the American Victory Ship in Tampa. You see, what had happened was that my parents recently retired and in a classic move went on down to Florida. Figuring my dad would need some hobbies, I got him a membership to this boat. Victory Ships are apparently like Liberty Ships except I guess just the next class down the line. The SS American Victory is in Tampa and I figured he could help out onboard or something. It’s apparently too far away for him to do that, but since I had gotten him the membership he decided to take me to see it.

The ship itself is pretty good! I mean look, I’ve seen a cargo ship before. I get it. The bunkrooms like, you know, exist or whatever. You can climb on up and get a pretty good look at the harbor, and admire the cranes and whatnot. As these sorts of places are wont to do, the boat had a bit of a museum right when you walked in and that was pretty nice. The neatest part was a full-scale replica of a German mini-sub, which reminded me of a North Korean mini-sub I saw once in South Korea. They also had other, smaller ship models, including one of the USS Saucy, which is a fantastic name for a ship.

One thing I appreciated about the ship is that they have tried hard to think through giving you a good tour. There is a proscribed path that walks you around, and they had a few regularly-spaced air-conditioned rooms to give you a break from the heat. This being COVID times, they also had handwashing stations, which more often than not were just the regular sinks that the ship had anyways, and I found that amusing.

The most exciting part of any given ship is of course the engineroom, but unfortunately you could only really glimpse this one. Since the ship is a working ship in that it goes out every once in a while, I guess the Coast Guard forbids them from letting the riff raff into the engineroom. You could walk across the top though and peer down and get a bit of vertigo from the fear of dropping one’s phone right into the bowels of the bilge. For those interested, however, they do have a video of an engineroom walkthrough, and that’s pretty neat!

After taking a lap around the boat and seeing the sights we had to kill some time, so we hung out for a bit with the volunteer running the booth. He was pretty nice! We all swapped stories the way that disparate Navy veterans typically do, which is tell various stories unrelated to each other (except that they happened on boats) because we don’t really have a solid clue what the other one is talking about (I can’t tell if the guy we hung out with is the same guy from the engineroom walkthrough video, or whether all these veteran volunteer types just start to look alike). Then, you know, we left. So yeah a good time. Anyways, if you’re in Tampa, it might be worth checking the ship out, especially if you’ve never seen one before. Just remember to hydrate! And also please enjoy this picture of a nautical steering wheel lock:

Savannah Part 2

Reading this week:

  • I Saw Congo by E.R. Moon

The first place we went to on our second full day in Savannah was the Pin Point Heritage Museum. The Pin Point Museum was fantastic and I’m gonna say it is a gold standard for cultural heritage museums. It is housed in the former A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory, which was for many years the major employer of the Pin Point community. The community of Pin Point was founded by freedmen after the Civil War, and became part of the Gullah/Geechee culture in the coastal region. One of the big claims to fame of Pin Point is being the original home of Justice Clarence Thomas.

The museum was founded and run in a close cooperation with the actual community. Our guide was Herman “Hanif” Haynes, who grew up and lives in the community and told us about his mother and grandmother working in the factory. He brought us through the story of the founding of the community and where the people came from. Then we learned about the fishing culture of the community and the history of the factory. They have a fantastic documentary to watch, and displays talking about how through its exports Pin Point was connected to the surrounding area. I’m going to say the museum is an absolute must-see if you are in Savannah. I always enjoy boats and crabs and the like but what really made the museum great is how it worked to serve the community it was based in.

Heading back into town, the next place we went was the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. I really liked this museum mostly because it is filled with ship models and that’s great! The museum focuses on the maritime history of Savannah. It’s housed in the William Scarborough house, who made his money as a maritime trader, and besides ship models in general it houses specifically a huge number of models of ships named Savannah, including one of my favorite ships ever the NSS Savannah, pictured above. That sucker was nuclear powered, and although all ships are beautiful, and nuclear-powered ships especially so, the NSS Savannah was meant to be beautiful and I think they pulled it off. Though, on that note, I noticed this time around the model features a tiny Confederate battle flag, which unfortunately does a lot to mar its appearance.

Knowing my boat obsession, my super amazing girlfriend gamely looked at all the models with me. The house itself is pretty neat too. Although it’s one of the historic houses of Savannah, and there are many, it’s not really presented as a house because it’s gone through so many changes throughout the years. One of those changes was serving as a school for Black children. It was, as a sign in the stairway notes, very inadequate, but it existed and at least that was something until Brown vs. Board of Education. After this museum we were pooped, and headed back to the hotel for the night.

Our third and final full day in Savannah was all about the Telfair Museums. This is a group of three museums and we bought the pass to go to all three. There are various different museum groupings in Savannah and I wonder what kind of inter-museum politickings there are. At any rate, we started off at the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters. This used to just be the Owens-Thomas House, but a little bit ago they decided they needed to Do Better and made sure to incorporate the history of the enslaved persons that lived there. Overall I think the museum did a pretty good job at this, though my one criticism is that they were a bit self-congratulatory about it. Maybe it’s necessary to hype it up to get other museums to follow their lead, but it’s really sort of the bare minimum for a space like this. The above picture is the slave quarters themselves.

The rest of the tour is a fairly standard house tour, and this was the first house tour we went on to like, see the house instead of learn about the people or see a bunch of ship models. I guess the house tour was pretty standard overall, but in the basement they have preserved and put on display more of the infrastructure than usual. They have the ice well and cisterns on display, along with a shower room. They also have on display the kitchen, and put a lot of effort into further documenting the lives of enslaved persons here because it is in the basement that a lot of them would worked. This makes it a lot more interesting than the average house tour and I do recommend going.

After the house we went to lunch, and then after lunch we went to the Telfair Academy. We didn’t get a lot of time here because of how late our lunch reservation was, but it was a great museum and apparently one of the oldest in the United States. The above picture is of their very very large octagon room, full of both large pictures and tiny little ones. My super amazing girlfriend particularly admired a picture of a lady with a goldfish bowl, and since the gift shop conveniently had a print for sale I went ahead and bought it. Although I liked that one a lot as well, the below picture was one of my favorites because it displayed what is nearly my ideal future lifestyle:

Titled “Le déjeuner sous les bois,” the one thing it is lacking lifestyle-wise is of course my super-amazing girlfriend.

Upstairs in the museum they suddenly veered into fossils and some of the more old-timey stuff they had. By “old-timey” here I meant the sorts of things popular in old-timey museums, i.e. random collections of interesting things, which I think would make for excellent modern museums, but there are disagreements on this point. They also have some more sculptures upstairs, and although last week I accused my super amazing girlfriend of plotting to steal a spinning wheel, I too am a fan of textiles, specifically old ones, which I mention because they had a small collection that I found cool:

Also, the below statue was outside, but I took a picture specifically to make a joke about sandwiches:

After the Telfair Academy, we did run over to duck into the Jepson Center, but only got a few minutes in there because our day was running out. We were pretty pooped already, but decided to take one last walk along the waterfront to admire the sights. This was a Friday, and by this time the revelers were coming out in full force. It’s a very nice thing to look out over the river and just enjoy being in the place you with absolutely fantastic company. We had a great time in Savannah and hope to be back soon.

Savannah Part 1

Please enjoy the most stereotypical picture of Savannah!

While on our Florida vacation my super amazing girlfriend and I decided to take a vacation from that vacation and headed up to Savannah, GA. We wanted to get as much travel in as possible, see the sights, and explore exciting new cultures (new for her, because she’s from New England. I, raised a Marylander, am technically from the South). It was, overall, a lovely time!

To start, I want to say is that Savannah is first and foremost a city comprised of historical markers. This is how it seemed to me anyways. As we walked around the city I started taking a picture of every one we passed, and this still only represents a small selection because I never dragged us too far out of the way to take a picture. My impression is that most of the signs were put up in the 50s and 60s, so I had to ponder who was trying to shape what narrative. There were also a number of signs put up more recently. Still, it seemed to me at some point the city decided it was now Historical (as an aside, the city was founded a lot later than I thought, only dating to 1733) and went about documenting it.

Picture taken by my super amazing girlfriend.

The very first thing we did in Savannah was stop by the Savannah Seafood Shack to tuck into a lowcountry boil. We ate a lot of good food in Savannah, with other highlights including Treylor Park for their PB&J wings and The Pirate’s House so we could mark off an Atlas Obscura sight (I dragged us to a lot of Atlas Obscura sights this trip, though my super amazing girlfriend has started tracking her sights as well!). I used to live in Charleston, SC, and my only regret during my time there is that I couldn’t go to more phenomenal brunch places, so tucking back into some southern cuisine was a particular treat. On the way back from Savannah we also stopped by a Cracker Barrel so we could really round out the list of stuff-I-have-talked-up-during-our-relationship, but I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have fried chicken gizzards on the menu.

But now into the metaphorical meat of the trip, instead of the literal. Having tucked ourselves into bed after tucking into that lowcountry boil, our first major destination the next day was the Bonaventure Cemetery. The reason you visit the Bonaventure Cemetery is for the vibes. This destination was suggested by my super amazing girlfriend but I am anyways a fan of walking around old cemeteries. This cemetery wasn’t all that old, being only from I think the 1850s or so, but giant oak trees and plenty of Spanish moss made it clear it wasn’t exactly new either. The site was also previously a plantation, and had some revolutionary war history attached to it.

Since the cemetery is a major tourist site for Savannah, it’s got a whole list of popular graves to see, like that of Gracie Watson above. Again, I dragged us around looking for the ones on Atlas Obscura. I’m trying to think of what I liked about the place without just repeating the vibes line I used in the last paragraph, but no yeah the cemetery is in a beautiful location (though, as a former plantation, with a dark history), with a “bluff” overlooking the river and nestled within trees providing shade. And maybe the best part is just walking around with someone you love, thinking about beauty and other philosophical thoughts. After we were done with that, we went to lunch.

A portrait of Juliette Gordon Low
My super amazing girlfriend plotting to steal Juliette Gordon Low’s spinning wheel to add to her collection.

We began the afternoon of our first full day in Savannah at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Museum. She founded the Girl Scouts, and the museum is now run by the organization. This was a pretty quick tour, but well done. Most of the museums we went to were having you do self-guided tours due to COVID of course. They typically had you scan a QR code on your phone which brought you to an audio tour you could walk yourself through with. The tour walked you through the house and focused on what inspired Juliette Gordon Low there to found the girl scouts. Besides her uplifting story of wanting to inspire girls of every race and class to better things, I also admired some very nice crown molding and some of her art collection.

After the museum, we wandered off through Savannah, looking at sights including Forsyth Park pictured at the top. We admired more signs, more graves, and a collection of hats before getting a drink at a rooftop bar and tucking into dinner. Afterwards we head back to our hotel, and in my notes about the day I wrote down “lovely showers.” I used to judge events by how nice the shower would feel afterwards. After a day of hiking around Savannah and getting to know the city those showers felt very nice, giving the day quite a high rank indeed.

Edison & Ford Estates

Edison’s house and also my super amazing girlfriend.

While on our Florida vacation my super amazing girlfriend and I took the trip down to Fort Myers to visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The two industrialists were classic snowbirds, and sensibly made the trip down to Florida to escape the harsh and grueling winters of Michigan and New Jersey, which is a notion I fully support. Since they were such buxom friends they got estates right next to each other so they could hang out and stuff. I went there once when I was a kid and I mostly remembered a very large banyan tree which I admired. I am happy to report the banyan tree is still there, still large, and that I still admire it!

The latex laboratory.

When you arrive, the Estates have two major parts. The first is the museum which tells the overall history of both Edison and Ford (with more emphasis on Edison). It’s got a variety of artifacts and man if you are into gramophones it is the place to go. This side was originally also a botanical research center from when Edison was trying to figure out a new source of rubber that didn’t involve the Amazon. I like that they keep the theme growing by selling plants, including fruit trees and a variety of decorative plants. This side also has the laboratory where they analyzed plants for their ability to produce latex. Across the street are the estates themselves, with the preserved buildings you can peer into.

Not a gramophone, but Edison’s last breath instead.

We started with the museum and I think overall it is pretty okay. Like I just said I think it winds up more skewed towards Edison, but that actually makes sense with the site. Although Ford gets top billing in the name of the site, it was Edison that moved down here first with Ford buying his neighbor’s estate when the neighbor moved out. Edison also had a whole research facility here, so it’s mostly actually the Edison estate with Ford the next-door neighbor. They have a lot of artifacts, including many dynamos, many more gramophones, and a number of cars. They got a whole display too about Edison’s fishing hobby, and in three different locations around the site they tell the same fish story about him catching a small tarpon.

The biggest weakness of the museum is that I don’t think they put a lot of effort into contextualizing the men. The most glaring omission, based on my knowledge of the men, is any discussion that I could find about Ford’s rampant anti-Semitism. My super amazing girlfriend spotted that they did sell the book Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate in the gift shop, so that’s something I guess. In one of the kitchens in the houses, the site is also eager to talk about Queenie Adams, the Edison’s long-time cook. I didn’t know these people, but the site is eager to make her and the Edisons sound like dear friends. Mrs. Edison chartered a Pullman car to take her home when she was dying, which isn’t nothing, but this sounds like a relationship ripe for a historical re-evaluation. Being more critical in analyzing these men would vastly improve the site.

Moonlight garden, looking at Edison’s Study. It’d be cool to have a study with a moonlight garden.

The estates themselves though I gotta say are pretty darn beautiful. Edison picked a good spot. They are right on the water and the grounds are planted with fruit trees and other plants. I really wanted to take a mango. Edison had a “Moonlight Garden” designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman which was gorgeous, and there was a pond next to the swimming pool that was being admired by a family of ducks while we were there. They had a riverside walk that was lovely to stroll by. The houses themselves were also pretty great, large but much smaller than mansions and Edison’s especially felt airy and comfortable and we were peering in from the porch. I would have very much enjoyed hanging out in the library overlooking the river through the coconut trees, I think.

An excellent if immature grove.

One of the funnier bits too was the orange grove planted over on the Ford Estate. Back when Ford was in residence there as a large citrus grove, and in recent years they have planted a new grove to represent the old one. The trees are still small but are interspersed with signs sponsored by Florida Juice that are downright bombastic about Florida Oranges. They really want you to know how juicy Florida oranges are. How juicy? Really juicy. Not like those California oranges, no. It would take way more than 1.7 California oranges to make a glass of orange juice. Pretty, despite the bombast, and since my dearest dream perhaps is to have a grove of tropical fruit trees it inspired both admiration and jealousy.

Our tour was briefly interrupted by a thunderstorm which forced us to seek shelter in the next-door restaurant. We consoled ourselves with oysters, crab Rangoon, and sangria. We were back at it though soon enough and got to admire the rest of the grounds at our leisure. Even if it could use a bit (a lot) more contextualizing of both Ford and Edison instead of just hagiography, the estates are lovely and an interesting place to read about turn of the century invention and industrialization and also fish stories. I’m excited to install a riverwalk and fruit tree grove whenever I get around to having an estate.