Phillips Collection

Reading this week:

  • Son of Old Man Hat, told by Left Handed, recorded by Walter Dyk

Recently, as part of a lovely Saturday afternoon out and about in DC, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to the Phillips Collection.

The Phillips Collection is a bit outside of our normal museum circuit. This is primarily because it costs money, and in a town like DC that is frankly a very steep hurdle. Specifically it cost my super amazing girlfriend $16 and me $0 because veterans get in for free, and although in the end I offered to go 50/50 on it she hasn’t sent me a Venmo request yet. So there you go.

Also a little outside our usual paradigm is that the Phillips Collection is a Museum of Modern Art. I have a very well documented (on this blog) like of very old things, so the items in this collection are from my point of view young whipper snapper upstarts. The museum itself however is 100 years old so Modern is a bit of a stretched definition. Their collection had a few of the classics too. You got your Van Gogh, your Mondrian, Renoir, Monet, etc. But after cruising around the museum the items I liked best were the most modern. In fact the oldest item I bothered to take a picture of was the below picture from 1922 and that is mostly because it had boats. Specifically, a regatta’s worth:

Small Picture of a Regatta by Paul Klee, 1922
Small Picture of a Regatta by Paul Klee, 1922

To flash forward a bit, when we finally left the museum I overheard a dude on the sidewalk complaining. He said something like “I can appreciate a good scam; if you can roller some paint onto a canvas and sell it as art good on ya.” Look I gotta say a lot of the art doesn’t quite speak to me. They got a room full of Rothkos here and his art has never really moved me. A long time ago now a friend of a friend took us to see a whole mess of his black-on-black works and they were… fine. But like man, first off the joke is old. “My toddler could do that” well they didn’t and if they could you would be a terrible parent because a lot of these oil paints I am pretty sure are toxic and you don’t want your toddler playing with them. Second dude like, clearly some people find meaning in this. Maybe you should figure out what that is.

The paintings I liked best on this trip were the ones where the materials gave them a very different depth and texture than the paintings I am used to. One piece of artwork that I really liked but didn’t photograph was “Untitled 598” by Florence Pierce. I didn’t take a picture because I knew it would be flat and the picture on their website doesn’t do it justice either. The black spot in the middle is like a rough, textured black, but very black indeed. Like you had painted sandpaper with the blackest black. The rest of it is resin put over a wavy metal sheet, so throughout the piece it has different depths and the light travels through and seeks out different paths through it. I found another piece of hers for sale online for $20,000 so maybe I should cash out my retirement, I dunno. Then again my super amazing girlfriend just took a ceramics class, and she brought home a bowl that is absolutely gorgeous because the clay on the bottom wasn’t smooth, and had a spiral pattern from being thrown on the potter’s wheel. When she glazed it the glaze settled into the grooves leaving peaks with different depths of glaze that did nearly the same thing. So maybe I can save the $20,000 (+$450 shipping) and admire the beauty that both she is and brings home instead.

Black Tiles by Kate Shepherd, 2010
Black Tiles by Kate Shepherd, 2010

The next paintings that really caught my interest were by Kate Shepherd. The above one is titled “Black Tiles.” I am very used to the look of oil paint on canvas, but a major thing I saw on this visit was the use of glossy acrylic paints. A lot of the paintings in the museum took advantage of those materials I thought to really interesting effect. In Kate Shepherd’s paintings (the ones on display at any rate), what she has done is used high-gloss acrylic paint and covered a wood panel as a background. She has a series of these and the acrylic gives the wood panel a very shiny, very smooth surface that is the opposite of the texture you see with oil on canvas. On top of that background she paints white lines in geometric patterns. The other paintings that were on display consisted of mostly straight lines, but in “Black Tiles” she uses curvy lines to give a 3D effect. Combined with the glossy background as I walked towards or away from the painting, with the reflected light changing, it gave a sense of motion that was a tad mesmerizing.

The Charming Statesman by Federico Solmi, 2019
The Charming Statesman by Federico Solmi, 2019

Finally and just to round it out was “The Charming Statesman” by Federico Solmi. This is done with white pen on black paper and it took me a second to figure out what was going on. I thought it was by an African artist with African themes and then I stepped back a bit and realized it was ole’ GW (I think?). Quite the effect nonetheless and the horses’ eyes match the peoples’ eyes and there are flags and it speaks to jingoism (maybe?) but through the eyes of like uh, well maybe the horses or something? I dunno dude, it’s art, and I don’t think my toddler could do this. I liked it at any rate. The Phillips Collection is worth a visit, especially if you can get in for free, but even if you can’t. I had a good time.

National Postal Museum

Housed in the old City Post Office Building, my super amazing girlfriend declared this the “prettiest Smithsonian.”

As you can tell from my myriad blog posts, my super amazing girlfriend and I are working our way through all the Smithsonians. This is a wonderful hobby and I recommend everyone take it up. As you can tell from the title, this of course brought us to the National Postal Museum!

I had myself been to the Postal Museum once before in my ongoing quest to visit a bunch of Atlas Obscura places. This museum is lucky enough to house Owney the Postal Dog, who is a 125-year-old stuffed dog that was once an enthusiastic mascot for the postal service, having trained himself to ride the rails and collect various postal badges. My poor super amazing girlfriend has heard me wonder aloud about this several times at this point, but between Owney, my favorite stuffed goat, and the stuffed mascot of our most recent alma mater (I didn’t know about this one until she told me about it), there must have been a trend at some point to hand beloved animals over to taxidermists once they died. It makes me wonder if, as is the case with all fashion, the great wheel of trends will come full circle once again one of these days and we shall see a resurgence of dead animals gracing our hallways. One can only hope (one way or the other). Anyways here is Owney:

Back to the museum! It is split into two approximately equal parts, with one part residing upstairs and the other downstairs. The upstairs part is all about stamps. Stamps are a pretty robust technology and last time I visited I remember not being so interested in the stamps, but this time I had a new appreciation after seeing the exhibit. The postal museum’s stamp collection is very robust, and going through every single stamp they have on display would take quite a while. I petered out after opening two dozen or so drawers and slide-out displays, but all the stamps are very neat to look at, especially the famous ones like the inverted jenny. Appealing to our Global Affairs hearts, the museum also has a robust display of historic international stamps. Speaking of stamps and international stuff, one time long ago I was in Singapore, having ridden a submarine there. We (the officers and crew) didn’t know we were going to go to Singapore before we set off on this underway, and there is no internet on a submarine, so we were entirely unprepared for what we were going to experience. There was a robust rumor going around that there was a place where you could pay money to fistfight an orangutan. That was, again for better or worse, untrue, but what was true is that the ship had to post a special watch at the “Four Floors of Whores” to keep sailors out of trouble. I relate this to say that when me and a group of my friends saw a sign pointing to the “Singapore Philatelic Museum” we had no idea what kind of wild, depraved, or frightening things we would see there and therefore charted a wide path around it. Later, when we learned what “Philatelic” meant, we were embarrassed. Anyways here is a misprinted stamp I liked from the Congo Free State (only about 40 of the misprinted stamps survive):

Once you get your fill of stamps at the postal museum (and who could, really), you head downstairs where the displays are more about the history of the postal service and how the mail is actually delivered. They had a lot of interesting stuff! I kept teasing my super amazing girlfriend that they have a Massachusetts simulation, which is a little faux-wooded are meant to represent the New York-Boston Post Road circa 1673. They have another display on the history of mail trucks, and a riveting portion on sub-contracting. The postal service apparently sub-contracts out a lot of especially difficult mail delivery, and they have displays of people carrying mail via donkey or sled dog and the like. This portion also include a big-rig truck you can pretend to drive, which is a hoot. All in all, quite the interesting portion and gives you a solid appreciation for the mail.

Having learned a great deal about letters, stamps, mailboxes, and all the other bits that make those things useful, we ticked another Smithsonian off our to-do list and re-emerged into the hot DC sun. Then we got out of the sun and onto the metro to go find a nice cup of tea. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

National Arboretum

Reading this week:

  • Do Not Disturb by Michela Wrong
  • The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils by David Farrier

One of the best places in DC to go is the US National Arboretum, and I finally got to go with my super amazing girlfriend. For many years I had wanted to go to the National Arboretum. When I was a kid and my family drove into DC to visit the museums and the like, we would always pass by the arboretum on the way. As a kid I wasn’t that into trees, but eventually, as I have discussed many times, I went to the Naval Academy. One of the things about the US Naval Academy, or USNA if you will, is that as a midshipman you are normally only allowed to wear “spirit” gear. On weekends during your 1/C and 2/C (Senior and Junior) years you can wear normal civilian clothes, but during the week you gotta wear USNA-themed clothes. At the time I thought it would be hilarious, just knee-slappingly funny, to get a shirt from the US National Arboretum, or USNA if you will, and wear it as spirit gear. Alas, I never achieved that dream while it would have been particularly funny, but years later (and about five years ago now), I did manage to go to the arboretum and obtain an USNA shirt and I wore it to death while in the Peace Corps. And now, although I was down a shirt but up a super amazing girlfriend and we went to go see the arboretum.

One of the most impressive parts of the arboretum is their Bonsai and Penjing Museum (penjing, as we learned, being a Chinese version of miniature landscapes that bonsai also represents). Although I am not normally a museum-book-buyer, last time I visited the arboretum I thought they were so gorgeous I actually bought their book about the collection. Besides their sublime beauty, one thing I like about the bonsai and penjing collection at the arboretum is its efficiency: the whole arboretum is literally about trees, but instead of hiking around and seeing a bunch of big trees, you can walk a far shorter distance and see a whole bunch of tiny trees. That is mostly a joke but it is an extremely impressive collection and is placed in a walled-off and peaceful garden area and would be a wonderful place to spend a whole day just in quiet contemplation. Of course what I especially like in museums are the especially old things, and at the museum they boast a number of 19th-century trees while the one pictured above has been in training since 1795! And it isn’t even the oldest, with that honor being held by very-nearly-400-year-old tree from 1625! Despite the tree being relatively tiny it still makes you feel small.

Although it is easy to see all the tiny trees, seeing the whole arboretum would take many afternoons. It is a big and impressive place. After the bonsai and penjing museum we walked over across the street to the National Herb Garden, where we admired all the National Herbs. You can see above me admiring them. Although the whole arboretum is massive just this garden must be a huge amount of work, given the size and number of specimens. They had a whole section just dedicated to peppers and another labelled the “Beverage Garden” dedicated to things you would find it drinks. They have shadier and sunnier portions and nestled in and amongst the herbs and throughout the entire arboretum there were plenty of picnickers and groups and couples sprawled out and enjoying the lovely and extremely sunny afternoon. The only downside of the arboretum is that it is relatively poorly served by public transportation. I personally thing it would be well worth it to spend a few billion bucks to run a metro station out there just so more people could enjoy it.

Although the sun was nice my super amazing girlfriend and I decided to get out of it and drove to the far end of the park to check out the Asian collections. She was particularly interested in all the camellia plants because they are of course closely related to tea. We hiked around the trails and the best part was probably the few moments we spent relaxing in the above pavilion, taking a forest bath as it were and listening to the sounds of nature there and admiring a squirrel jumping about. I tried to trick her into thinking there was a panda walking around but she didn’t fall for it. Nonetheless it was extremely peaceful and, you know, anytime I am hanging out with my super amazing girlfriend it is a nice time. If I can do it around trees all the better. Satisfied with having gotten back to nature, and an especially gorgeous example of it, we head back home to hang out with our cat.

Goddard Space Flight Center

My super amazing girlfriend is, as I like to mention here, super amazing. One facet of her super amazingness is that when you read this (admittedly you are likely her, hi hon!) she will be working for NASA!!!! This is super cool, and is a reflection and not a cause of her super coolness. But seeing as when I am writing this she is not yet working for NASA, we decided to see if we couldn’t learn a thing or two about the coolest space agency and so we went to Goddard Space Flight Center to check it out!

The visitor’s center for Goddard is small but mighty, much like the rockets they have on display in the backyard. I had been to Goddard once before, when I was but a wee little lad in the Boy Scouts but didn’t remember much of it. Admission is free and when you go in it is almost entirely in one large room full of space stuff:

In addition to the one large room there is a “solarium” which is playing videos of the sun’s surface, and another movie theater which is playing videos that are about space and stuff. I assume they are somewhere in Goddard’s surprisingly impressive YouTube channel.

The special treat the day we visited is that they were doing rocket launches. Unfortunately the Delta rocket they have in the backyard stayed put (it could use a coat of paint), but what they launched were a bunch of model rockets. This was the first time they had done it since the pandemic, but it turns out the first Sunday of every month you can bring your model rocket and they’ll launch it off for you which is an extremely fun way to do model rocketry and have a nice day at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Only a few of the rockets wound up in the trees. Here is a gif of the first launch for your pleasure:

I have failed to find a way to fit this in narratively but I wanted to say that my clearest memory of my childhood visit to Goddard was the story told by the guy (one of the fellow Scouts’ dad) who brought us there. He worked at Goddard (hence the visit) and he was telling us that some of his fellow satellite designers were trying to figure out how to design a fluid ring, which is a uh ring of um fluid that somehow helps satellites stay stable when they’re up there is space. They used to be used all the time on satellites but NASA had gone away from them in favor of more advanced technology or something (look I was a little kid and I don’t work at NASA unlike my super amazing girlfriend the details are sketchy). But they were going back to them due to budget cuts or something, but everyone had forgotten how to design them. But this dude (the dad) mentioned to them that one of the satellites hanging in the visitor’s center had one, so they marched on down there to check it out and it saved the day or something like that. Anyways this is a good excuse to always keep old junk around.

Of all the objects at the visitor’s center I think the one I was most fascinated with was the above piece of equipment, which fitted over a component of the Hubble Space Telescope they needed to repair or replace and was used to capture screws. I dunno, just like, kinda neat, and also it is a perfect piece of NASA engineering, for better or for worse. Also excellent colors! Some really great craftsmanship went into that piece and all to capture screws. I was impressed.

Besides that the other thing I think I learned the most about was probably the James Webb telescope. They spent a few decades building it right there at Goddard and so they were fairly proud of it. I hadn’t actually quite realized what it looked like until I saw a scale model, nor realized how far away from Earth and the moon it was really orbiting. They also had full-sized mirror mockups and the dang thing is just extremely impressive and I am excited to see the images it produces. I think by the time this is published those photos will have been published which will be cool.

And then finally our trip concluded with a visit to the gift shop, where they had a surprising amount of cat-themed souvenirs and a bunch of other cool NASA stuff. I noted the other day to my super amazing girlfriend that just given the relative volume of Space with everything that is Not Space, most museums should in fact be Space Museums and this visit solidified that sentiment for both of us. Going to Goddard doesn’t really take very long but it is an excellent visitor’s center and it was a hoot checking out space stuff with my super amazing girlfriend. I am very excited to see all the cool stuff my super amazing girlfriend learns actually working for them. Gonna be a blast!

Naval Academy

Reading this week:

  • Sketches from the Dark Continent by Willis R. Hotchkiss

The very next day after our exciting adventure in Baltimore visiting Fort McHenry and the Walters Art Museum my super amazing girlfriend and I doubled down on our Maryland weekend and went to Annapolis! We did several very fun things, include getting ice cream and checking out my favorite used bookstore. Although my super amazing girlfriend and I had visited Annapolis together before, and done these very things, there was a difference this time around: we could visit the Naval Academy!

Last time we went to Annapolis the Naval Academy was closed to visitors because of course there was a pandemic on. Some things have changed (and some haven’t), but the restriction on the Academy was no longer true and we could visit at will. My super amazing girlfriend was extremely interested in visiting the Academy, because in much the same way that Captain America was made in a lab, I was made in Santee Basin. So she wanted to see the place at the Naval Academy did not disappoint.

We started at the Visitors Center because they had bathrooms. While there I was delighted to discover the one of my absolute favorite parts of the Academy was housed there, namely 3-0 Jack Dalton. 3-0 Jack Dalton is the stuffed goat in the photo at the top. He was the only Naval Academy mascot not named Bill, and the reason I like him is because he is a century-old stuffed goat that the Academy clearly doesn’t quite know what to do with. I have been going to the Naval Academy since I was but a wee lad, and I think I remember that goat near the ice rink, back when there was an ice rink in Dahlgren instead of across the river. The last I saw him he was in the Midshipmen Activities Center, and now he is stuck awkwardly in a hallway in the Visitor Center, greeting the legions of kids who want to be Midshipmen someday and haven’t quite realized what they’re signing up for yet. This blog post will not feature any cannons, though my one complaint about the Naval Academy decorating scheme is that it is full of cannons they clearly feel they can’t get rid of anymore because now they are Historic instead of just Old. In the same way, I assume at some point you can’t just put your century-old stuffed goat on ebay.

I am going out of timeline order here, but this seems like a good time to say that another place I was especially excited to show my super amazing girlfriend is the other preserved old dead thing at the Naval Academy, ie the Crypt of John Paul Jones. I still think it is Very Strange that the Naval Academy has a crypt. I mean, I like it, I’m a big John Paul Jones fan, me and my super amazing girlfriend rode around on one of his boats just the other weekend (the Providence), and so to be absolutely clear I am entirely for having a crypt. But like I also went to Yale, the whole school is very consciously Oxford cosplay, and yet I don’t think they have a crypt. Any real ones anyways. They want to claim Skull and Bones but do they actually have any skulls, or for that matter any bones? Anyone at all preserved in booze? I think not. Anyways the crypt was nice, I think my super amazing girlfriend was impressed, I can’t believe it exists.

But to back up a bit. After a peak around the Visitors Center I took my super amazing girlfriend on an absolutely terrible tour of the Naval Academy. It probably wasn’t so bad but I was interested in all the places I used to wander around and not necessarily like, the picturesque places the normal tours take you on. This was probably a good decision though because she was blown away by how gorgeous the view is off of Farragut (I should link to a map at this point). I wanted to drag her off to the sailing center so we could check out the boats. I talk about sailing all the time so I wanted to show her the boats I used to sail, and I was over the moon that my favorite boat was there! My favorite boat is the one I am pictured with above, the NA-23 Defiance. This is my favorite boat because I sailed this boat to Bermuda one time and I enjoyed that trip! Our crew was the first to really actually sail that boat, it was brand new when we got her. She is still looking absolutely gorgeous. This is what you can do when you have a budget.

After this I dragged her past all the academic buildings. At each academic building I pointed to it and was like “I used to go to classes in there.” I even pointed to the little Chemistry Majors Study Room at Michelson where I probably spent most of my time. Then it was off to the Naval Academy Museum so we could stare at all sorts of artifacts. By this time we were kinda pooped actually so it was a bit of a whirlwind tour. I was mostly looking for pictures of myself, because I am so important and all, but alas while there was some Class of 2011-specific stuff there was no me. Oh well. I did make sure that we went upstairs to the real centerpiece of the museum, which were all the old model ships they have. Look at this impressive piece! 400 years old!

From there to round out our Naval Academy experience we went and visited the Chapel. The Chapel is the big centerpiece of the Naval Academy layout which is weird. I spent a lot of time in that place as a kid because that is where my family went to church and I hated it. An absolutely massive waste of time every weekend. But it is a fairly impressive building. Looking around I did appreciate all the stained glass windows. They are of course extremely heavy on the oceans/seas/boats theme, and I admire the dedication. The pews where my family typically sat were up on the right, in front of the below window:

Instead of Jesus or whatever boring stuff other people put into their church windows, this is Admiral Farragut lashed to the rigging in the Battle of Mobile Bay, presumably around the time he apocryphally yelled “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” which, you know, hells yeah. So the chapel has that going for it at any rate.

From there we head out and off the Naval Academy to do the one thing my super amazing girlfriend has always wanted to do in Maryland: absolutely devour some crabs. So we went to the place you gotta go, Cantler’s. Having cleverly waited until the lunch rush was over, we only had to wait for an hour. The crabs were served up almost right away, and after only a few warm up swings my super amazing girlfriend was happily hammering away at some absolutely delectable and second-to-none Maryland blue crab. Truly a fitting lunch for such a wonderful day in Annapolis.

Fort McHenry 2 and Walters Art Museum

It has been a long six years since I wrote Fort McHenry I, and now I’m back for seconds. That’s not really quite how it happened. I didn’t even remember I had written an article already about Fort McHenry and I had to google my own site. So there you go. A lot has changed since that first blog post. I joined the Peace Corps. I went to grad school. And most importantly, I got myself a super amazing girlfriend who had never been to Fort McHenry and likes history and stuff. So off we went!

Not a lot has changed since that fateful day six years ago. There is still a very nice video, still a dramatic reveal of the fort at the end, still the dredged-up cannonballs. So that all is very cool. I included the above picture because I noticed there is a dearth of centuries-old hardtack or bread, which I now know, with my age and wisdom, are essential parts of history museums. I also took a picture of the funniest line in the museum, which was (after the War of 1812) “The United States never again attempted to conquer Canada.” That could change, Canada! Watch your back.

The biggest weakness I noticed about the museum this time around however was its pretty uncritical stance on Francis Scott Key. He is still firmly in the Good Guy category by almost all counts. Back during my Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy, we took a YP up to Baltimore for a training event. On the way into Baltimore harbor there is a star-studded buoy to mark the spot where Francis wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner.” As we passed the buoy, we all manned the rails and saluted and stuff to honor such a literary triumph (to get even more side-tracked in my complaint here, they also laud Key for being like, a fantastic poet. The original title of the poem called it “Fort M’Henry.” He couldn’t even figure out a way to rhyme properly the thing he was talking about! Anyways).

But man was Key not an all-around good guy. This Washington Post article outlines all the ways both the anthem and Key were fairly racist. The Land of the Free firmly did not include Black people. The best the museum musters, however, are a few paragraphs off to one side where it notes “Francis Scott Key was a man of contradictions,” saying such deep things like he was against bloodshed but also wanted to defend his country, and as a lawyer he represented both slaveholders and free African Americans. The “man of contradictions” argument I think is a pretty lazy way of avoiding having to take a firm stance on whether slavery was okay or not even if it was 1814. They can do better.

But after the museum we went out to explore the fort. Once again of course we went o’er the ramparts (such a great poet) and enjoyed what was just an absolutely gorgeous day. My super amazing girlfriend had never been to Baltimore before and this was a great way to see how and why Baltimore is still such an important port, and get some sun, and admire some cannons. Although there is an admission fee for the museum and the fort, the grounds are open to the public, and people were using it to walk their dog and read books while eating lunch and lounge in the shade and it was just such a fantastic public space.

Fort M’Henry though was just the first stop in a whole Baltimore adventure. From there we got some lunch and checked out a used bookstore, and then went up to Federal Hill to admire the city and nearly get the car stuck on a dead-end street. After a stop by the wonderful Neighborhood Fiber Co., we finally made our way to the Walters Art Museum.

Baltimore actually has a stunning bevy of art museums, and most at an extremely convenient price of free. The Walters started off as the private collection of um the Walters, and so much of it has a rich person with a hobby vibe, but they have since branched out and the collection is impressive, overwhelmingly so if you have already had a full day of adventures. One of my personal favorite parts of the Walters is the wunderkammer room, pictured above, which is where I draw most of my decorating inspiration from. As you can clearly see from the photo my super amazing girlfriend agrees and we will start doing our own apartment up that way as soon as possible.

Another huge and excellent part of the museum is their collection of Asian art, which is really what the hobby of the Walters was. They were big into southeast Asian art and man it must be wild to be rich, and just let a lot of people know you are willing to buy some Buddha statues, and next thing you know you have hundreds and hundreds of Buddha statues. Now that I think about it though my mom decided one day that she was into otters (this was to fend off her mother’s previous notion that she was into teddy bears), and now she has quite an extensive collection of otters (like, pictures and statues and stuff, not real otters), so maybe we can all glimpse that lifestyle if we really try. Anyways this whole paragraph was just to have an excuse to display the above picture, “Lovers near a Duck Pond,” which, you know, speaking of decorating, I always wanted to have a duck pond.

Anyways I should note that when we were there their big temporary exhibit was the wonderfully named “Majolica Mania.” Majolica is a type of pottery and they really went wild back in the day with the designs and it was extremely impressive what they could do with it. The really exciting part was the extremely colorful lead glaze. My personal favorite pieces was the above set of tea wares because they look like they are tiki and I do love me a tiki aesthetic until I think way too hard about colonialism.

After that we packed up and went home, having had a wonderful day in the wonderful city of Baltimore. It won’t be our last day there, since there is still an aquarium to go to and several boats to visit, but until then, it was a pretty excellent day!

Tall Ship Providence

In all her glory.

Reading this week:

  • Night and Morning in Dark Africa by Harry Johnson

My super amazing girlfriend knows me well, and so for my birthday got us a daytrip on the Tall Ship Providence (she pointed out that even if she didn’t know me well our home décor, or my half of it anyways, would be a constant reminder of the fact that I like boats). It was slated for, you know, my birthday, but on my birthday there was severe flooding in Alexandria and they had to cancel for that day. Ignore the fact that a boat seems like the absolute best place to be during a flood. Anyways that was the last sailing day of the season, so flash forward until now, when it is no longer my birthday, and we got to go on our boat ride!

Riding around on the Providence was an absolute hoot. We had been worried about thunderstorms and were thinking our trip was going to get cancelled again, but when our 4:30 departure rolled around it was a perfectly nice day. Sure there were a few sprinkles, and the severe lack of wind made it not much of a sailing trip, but the seas (my super amazing girlfriend: “we’re not at sea”) were calm and the views gorgeous.

I spent most of my trip explaining to (explaining at) my super amazing girlfriend what the various parts of the boat were called. This like the bow and stern and gunwhales. I also referred to the rear deck as the “poop” and the crew referred to it as the “quarterdeck,” but she was nice enough to let that slide unmentioned.

The biggest thing I learned on our boat ride is that while it is obvious that this Providence is supposed to be a recreation of an older boat named the Providence, I hadn’t realized the Providence to which they were referring had at one point been commanded by the late, great John Paul Jones! I know I am supposed to have known that already, but I was in many ways a terrible Midshipman. So that was a hoot. This led me to doing more mansplaining at my super amazing girlfriend, relating my favorite motivational story for why people should learn navigation. That story is that our buddy Jones (just John Paul at the time) was on a ship as like cabin boy or something. In those times usually only the captain and the first mate knew how to navigate. This was an anti-mutiny measure. I will not accept any fact-checking on this story. Anyways unusually John Paul knew how to navigate, which came in handy when the captain and first mate promptly died of yellow fever. He got the ship safely back to port, and the shipowners were so grateful they made him captain and he lived happily ever after (until he had to kill a guy and flee to America and hid his identity by craftily tacking “Jones” onto his name). Know how to navigate!

Upon learning this I sort of hoped we would find ourselves in a similar scenario. Specifically I was thinking that maybe those thunderstorms would hit and then I would have to come to the rescue. To prepare, I spent the rest of the voyage doing my best John Paul Jones poses, as you can clearly see above.

But back to boating. We launched from the DC Wharf and motored slowly down the Potomac. The crew did their jolly best to give us a great sailing experience, letting the passengers even handle some lines. They kept referring to them as “ropes,” but again in my magnanimity I let that slide. Those lines that were handled in turn handled the mainsails and jib which were raised for the benefit of our pictures, mostly. One of the crew explained that the Coast Guard only allowed them to raise certain combinations of sails lest the ship become too overpowered and capsized. I am sure this explains the reef in the mainsail given that I think at one point we experienced something in the range of 3 knots of wind. Breezy! They also opened a bar which definitely did a lot to contribute to the jolly atmosphere of the boat ride, and I recommend all boats come with bars. My super amazing girlfriend was kind enough to buy me a beer and we really got to pretend like it was 1776.

During the course of the cruise they also took us into the captain’s cabin and down below in the hold to check out those spaces. A fake rat added ambiance and we spent our time marveling at how they fit 70 dudes on a 110′ boat. Doing some back of the envelope calculations, if the submariner happiness factor (trust me here) is calculated by # of dudes / amount of space, they were much happier on this boat than I was on the submarine. All in all a wonderful trip. Eventually however we turned around, and sailed back up the Potomac, where we were treated to a beautiful view of wonderful clouds settling in over um, monumental monuments before docking at the conclusion of our three hour tour, accompanied by exactly zero Gilligan jokes (unfortunately). My super amazing girlfriend is super amazing and it was a great boat ride and you all should do it too.

White House

I had the opportunity, late last year, to visit the White House, and I avoided it because it seemed like a hassle. But just yesterday (as of writing, weeks ago as of posting) on a not so bright Friday morning I visited the White House! I didn’t see Biden, or more importantly Willow.

Entering the White House was a bit nerve-wracking. It was all very straightforward, less security than I thought there would be quite frankly, and the Secret Service guys were great, but I was flanked by off-duty cops sporting Blue Lives Matter gear and that made me uncomfortable as heck. There was a much bigger crowd than I had been expecting given the fact that you have to ask your Congressperson to be able to go on a tour, and I was the only one to dress up. I was going to the White House! So I wore a jacket and tie. The rest of the crowd was much more a t-shirt and shorts vibe, however.

Anyways upon entry you walk past some pictures, in my case of the Bidens’ dogs and again Willow, and you turn the corner after peering out into the Kennedy Garden and then find a gift shop. More like a gift stand, but I picked up a lapel pin for myself and a bookmark for my super amazing girlfriend. I only mention this because I like the thought of the President popping down to pick up something real quick if he needed an easy birthday present or something. Most of the tour would be a lot funnier if the president popped by real quick.

I almost never read ahead, so I wasn’t expecting anything, but the tour is actually very short. In my case it was self-guided, though there was a dude in the ballroom saying stuff about it (it would be weird if he was talking about something else). The big thing in that room was that the chandeliers took a full day each to clean and it required a crane. The public areas of the house are pretty limited. There is a ground floor with a variety of rooms you can peer into, like the China room (which makes me think of that scene where he calls it the dish room in The American President) and the library pictured up top. When was the last time you think anyone read a book from there? Actually my big thing with all the rooms is I wonder if the look will ever get updated. Like it seems Teddy Roosevelt managed to do a major remodel, but when Truman did his remodel he made sure to keep everything as close to the same as possible. But now that it’s like, the way it is, there is no way that President Ocasio-Cortez in 10 (or 2?) years could go in and give the place a minimalist vibe, you know? Can you imagine? This is probably a deeper problem with American institutions but all I’m trying to say here specifically is when my super amazing girlfriend becomes President she is stuck with the wallpaper.

Anyways you eventually proceed upstairs where the rooms go from being functionally-named to color-named. I’m trying to remember if I had any deep thoughts about these rooms. These rooms felt a lot more functional, in that they seem to often have functions in them. The carpets in all the rooms were partially rolled up to prevent us plebeians from walking on them, but it was clear they could be unrolled and then people could stroll about having state functions or whatever. The artwork was mostly focused on portraits of presidents and their families. There were a lot of portraits. In the ballroom was that portrait of Washington Dolley Madison saved, Kennedy looked sadly at some flowers, and Carter and Johnson are next to each other in the main hallway there. There was some other artwork however that was much more my vibe (though I will note again here besides the portraits there was nothing that looked more recent than like 1900 that I remember; when my super amazing girlfriend is President I am going to put up something scandalous) (and maybe even more pictures of boats also):

Anyways after looking at a few more rooms you are almost done. There is what seems to be the designated selfie spot (not pictured) where you can get your picture taken by the friendly guard between two flags, and then you turn around and more or less head out the door. The below photo with the piano is from just inside the door. You can tell the piano came from Roosevelt’s remodel because he really liked eagles and everything he had added came with gigantic eagles (he also had buffalos put into one of the fireplaces). I am supportive of this aesthetic but when I am in charge of decorating I will try to round out the animals included.

But yeah anyways the tour was neat I suppose. I guess things happened in these rooms, but going on the tour didn’t really make me feel any closer to like, the seat of power or anything. Maybe it is because you enter in the side, scurry through the basement, and then hop out what I think is technically the back door to the place. Still, nice they let us American citizens come and check the place out, though an invite to an actual party would be nice sometime, Joe. Anyways I want to end on the note that as I was exciting I spotted mushrooms growing out of the lawn. My only thought there was that if my dad was President, he would still probably spend 10 minutes every time he got out of the Beast picking weeds.

Masonic Temple

Reading this week:

  • Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

The day after our adventurous and wooly trip to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, my super amazing girlfriend, her super amazing friends, and I went to the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple.

Now, as well all know, the Masons are the public arm of the Illuminati, which control all world governments and stuff like that. This used to make me very suspicious of Masons, because I think they are being very rude to not reveal the non-extinct mammoths up in the arctic (I think it would be fun to ride one and have one as a pet), but now everything is cool because one of the aforementioned friends of my super amazing girlfriend is a Mason. This made him very interested in seeing this Masonic Temple, and I am sure it will help me get first in line for a pet mammoth. So it’s all very cool.

I had actually visited this Masonic Temple five years or so ago, before I knew any Masons. I remember it being a very interesting time, and I also remember them being very into George Washington. I realize this makes sense, but man you have no idea if you haven’t been there. This memory was not only confirmed but massively boosted upon this visit. A little later I was trying to come up with the tenants of a truly American religion with my super amazing girlfriend, one that wasn’t like just Jesus fanfiction, involving instead like maybe eagles and stuff, and she pointed out that George Washington is already well on his way if not already an American god (American God?). At the Masonic Temple, this is evident by the sheer and overwhelming number of George Washington relics they have, turning the whole temple into more or less an architecturally impressive reliquary. Going through the things I managed to snap pictures of, a short list of George Washington objects include:

  • His ceremonial masonic trowel
  • His town house desk
  • Chairs from his town house
  • Multiple objects made from trees more or less loosely associated with him, including: a gavel, a carved wooden book, a picture frame, and just a normal block of wood
  • Many parts of his house at Mt. Vernon, including a cypress shingle, a wood rain gutter (how and when did someone take this?), and a wrought iron nail
  • His bootstrap
  • His spurs
  • A tea caddy and gaming pieces
  • A different tea caddy
  • A silver dish cross
  • A strand of his hair
  • A different lock of his hair
  • A leather bucket from the Alexandria fire company he helped form
  • The Washington family bible
The ceremonial trowel is the tiny thing just left of center.

I actually have to admit I am being a little coy with that list. The above list is like, the relatively normal things they have associated with George Washington, because I think the more interesting things are those associated directly with the death of George Washington, along with his two funerals. This list, if you ask me, contains the far more bonkers things and also my favorite objects. It feels like they have every object that was within a 100′ radius of the dead George Washington. For example, they have:

  • The clock that was in the room when he died (above picture, far right; they disabled it to mark the time of his death, leaving both a morbid memento for Mrs. Washington and also ruining her clock? She gave it to the Masons)
  • The pocketwatch used by Dr. Dick at Washington’s deathbed
  • A coffin strap used to carry him
  • The trowel (not the ceremonial one) used to seal the new marble sarcophagus in his tomb.
  • A candle from his funeral
  • A mourning armband worn by a friend at his funeral
  • A paste gem knee buckle worn by some dude at Washington’s funeral
  • The sabers that were laid on his tomb
  • A commemorative shoe buckle (one of my favorite things and I hope when I die people make commemorative shoe buckles)
  • And several objects made from Washington’s first casket, including a pin and a cup. A cup!
This is that cup. Bottoms up!

I mention all that just to say that if you visit the George Washington Memorial Mormon Temple, which I recommend because it is great, you should know what you are getting yourself into. But to start at the beginning, the tour was very nice. You meet in the main entryway, which includes giant marble columns, giant paintings featuring George Washington, and a giant statue of George Washington in his full Mason regalia. Normal stuff and if it had more natural lighting I might push to do up our living room in a similar way.

The tour was led by a very nice man who was himself of course a Mason. During the course of the tour you go higher and higher up the temple, which focuses on being tall. You go higher via an elevator which is cool because it actually goes up at a 7° incline because it is at the edge of the tower and the tower goes up at an (on average) 7° incline. Beside the entry hall there is a recreation of the Masonic Temple room that was formerly housed in the Alexandria city town hall (across from Gadsby’s Tavern, where they also had some meetings). This is where a lot of these George Washington artifacts are. On the next floor up there is a room full of neat Mason costumes, and above that is where most of the Dead George Washington artifacts are, and then also a bust, a statue, and a painting of George Washington, all staring at each other more or less. Finally you ascend to the tippy top floor, where you can go out and see the views. We were also blasted by wind but that added to the charm.

The temple is probably one of the best views in the DC area. It’s higher up than the Washington Monument (well I guess I should say the other Washington Monument) and you are outside so you don’t have to just peer through teeny tiny windows. You can really look out over the landscape. We could quite literally see our house from there. It’s in the above picture, towards the left. I guess you have to squint to see downtown Washington from there though, but then again who wants to see downtown Washington when you can look down King Street and admire the might Potomac river. Amiright? VA forever, DC sux.

Anyways after that they take you back down and you exit via the gift shop. It was a very nice gift shop and if you ever need a Mason-related present it is the place to go for sure. They had quite the line of Christmas ornaments. Anyways if you are in town I recommend a visit, which I realize is what I almost always say at the end of these things. But it was closed for like two years so get those tickets while you can!

Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

Reading this week:

  • The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books by Edward Wilson-Lee
  • Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard
  • Fighting the Slave Hunters in Central Africa by Alfred J. Swann

Two weekends ago, as this is published, because that’s when it was, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival! I would have written about this earlier, but I got distracted by KitchenAid attachments.

We had been looking forward to this festival for quite some time. My super amazing girlfriend is a super amazing knitter as well as spinner and is therefore extremely dedicated to the textile arts, which this festival of course celebrates. I am more of a casual fan, because I realize that if I am ever relegated to living in a hut by necessity instead of choice knowing how to operate a loom would be a handy skill. Anyways, my super amazing girlfriend was so excited about this event that two of her friends came down from Boston to attend with us, and another knitting enthusiast friend of ours came along too. It was quite a crowd!

The day itself dawned rather gloomy and it in fact rained on us all day, though this was overall fine. The sheep didn’t seem to mind, nor did all the people attending the festival. It was quite the crowd, which meant we were shocked when we overheard a lady on a phonecall celebrating the fact it was so muddy because she thought it had driven the crowds away, maximizing her own ability to score the best deals on yarn. There were a lot of people!

The first thing we checked out when we arrived at the Sheep & Wool festival were the sheep. Our entire crowd were all fans of sheep, and how could you not be, really? They are very cute and almost tautologically fluffy. We stopped into a judging booth where they were judging sheep, which is a little unfair because all sheep are wonderful in their own way, and then wandered through all the rest of the booths filled with sheep.

Going through my camera roll the vast majority of the pictures I took were of sheep. As you can see from the picture directly above, I was far from the only one. These sheep were like rockstars man, except well I was going to say better behaved but I guess they probably also leave a mess wherever they stay for the night. They live off a much cheaper diet however, though I suppose sheep and rockstars probably have similar haircare needs.

Anyways the point I was winding up to is that my impression is that the sheep portion of the festival and the wool portion were actually pretty separate. I mean they were all mixed together and overall it is a celebration of the things you can do with hair, but there definitely seemed to be sheep people on one hand and then yarn people on the other and I am not sure how much of an overlap there is. Like, I don’t know how many of the sheep farmers that came to show off their absolutely fantastic sheep also knit, or how many knitters would know what to do if handed a freshly shorn hunk of sheep wool. Certainly a number would, like my girlfriend, who is awesome and can and has gone sheep to shawl in a very literal sense, because she is awesome (she is also going to do this in our apartment soon which I am very excited for). But I think overall the number of intermediaries between the worlds of sheep and yarn were a relatively small portion of the audience here.

Just one other observation before I move on. This observation is that it has to be weird to be a sheep at this event. Mostly what I am trying to say here is that in the above picture there are sheep pelts hung up right next to the sheep, which feels a little morbid. Like these sheep gotta be thinking “man everyone here seems to love me… but why?” and then you have your answer in the form of a sheep pelt. Rockstars don’t (I hope) have this problem.

There were other exciting sheep-related attractions at the festival besides just the sheep themselves. For example, there was a sheep dog demonstration, which was very fun to watch. The poor sheep seemed overall confused but man those dogs were excited. They had like five dogs and only typically had one at a time herd sheep. Meanwhile the others were all constantly just vibrating with excitement, which yeah, I get. Like, you’re a sheep dog, bred to do exactly this thing and now here is an opportunity to do it. So you’re like “put me in coach, I wanna herd some sheep” and herd them they did. They were good! Way better than I would have done. They seemed to have a really good time and the sheep did what they were supposed to. Go left, go right, go in figure 8s, go in the pen, go in the other pen, all because the nice lady whistled some things to the dog. It was great! The other sheep-related attraction was the lamb burgers and sandwiches we had for lunch, which if I thought the sheep pelt was morbid, look who’s talking, buddy. Very good though!

And uh, yeah. That was the sheep and wool festival. The above picture is just one of the barns full of different vendors vending different sheep-related products. There were also alpaca, lama, linen, and other fiber-based products as well. But I had a great time watching my super amazing girlfriend look at all the different yarns and stuff. I got a lapel pin out of the whole deal, which is really typically my #1 goal. And I think if I had a decent shop (I now understand the male urge for a garage) I would try to make a drum carder for less than like hundreds or thousands of dollars. Those things are pricey! Might get distracted by making fanciful KitchenAid attachments though.

Anyways the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival is a great time, way better than that piddly little one up north, you should go!