Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Did I really see that?

Backtracking to our trip to Washington, DC I will play tour guide for this post. Imagine that you have checked off all the tasks necessary to apply for a tour to the White House.

  1. Contact your congressperson with date of requested tour
  2. Collect full names, birth dates, social security numbers, height, weight, true hair color, well maybe not precisely all of that, but most of it—for each person going on the tour
  3. Receive confirmation of tour about five months later, complete with instructions and confirmation number.
  4. Let reality sink in—there are no bathrooms available to the public tours. You may not take any bags of any kinds, no cameras, no hand held devices, nothing that won’t fit in a pocket, around your neck or waist and come off easily for security scrutiny. You MUST have a photo ID, and you MAY have a cell phone or umbrella.
  5. Arrive at the Visitor’s Center about half an hour early—last chance for a potty.
  6. Walk to the gate and show your confirmation number, with all names of those touring.
  7. Walk to next checkpoint where a guard with a clipboard checks all the information against your ID, which, of course, cannot be in a bag of any kind.
  8. Thinking you are inside, you walk several yards before realizing you are walking the opposite direction from the entrance. In fact you are headed to yet another checkpoint. This is the serious one. It is inside a temporary facility where powerful metal detectors look at any information you may still have on your person, then you step through the detector and “redress” yourself. Now that I think of it, it’s pretty amazing that my credit card and Metro fare card were not demagnetized at that point.

At last! We walk in the direction of the House. Enter the East Wing, and view poster sized photos of the Bush family at the Olympics. Then there are the historic photos of administrations past, drawings, the view of the gardens from the East Wing. Under renovation, presumably for the next resident, the East Room is spectacular, even without it’s draperies and it’s carpet partially rolled back. Oh the history!

Next we see the rooms of color—Red, Green, and Blue. Yes, they are beautifully decorated and much of the credit to their historically accurate design goes to Jacqueline Kennedy (do you remember that elegant voice, guiding us through the televised tour of the renovated White House?) But, my lasting impression of each of those rooms will always be the art. My goodness! The paintings, sculptures, architecture are breathtaking and representative of great artists throughout history, including the 20th century. The Green Room is a virtual gallery, probably more works of art there than in some of the rooms in the American Art Museum.

Walking westward, the dining room holds the famous painting of Abraham Lincoln (The East Room has the famous portrait of George Washington that Dolly Madison saved from the fire when the British burned the White House in 1814.), and the dining room, although large by normal home standards, is still small enough to feel intimate, with say, 20 -24 people seated around the table and the fireplace blazing, snow out the south window toward the Washington Monument. Sigh.

On our way out met one of the guards, who is from Forth Worth, TX, bless his heart. He graduated from GWU and has been in the current job, uniformed White House guard, for four years. Now, that’s public service!

That afternoon Muffin and I walked to the National Gallery of Art for two current exhibits, which I mentioned in another post. The CBS Sunday Morning News did an excellent piece on the Afghanistan exhibit, almost as good as being there. However, as I watched the recording of it, I was still asking myself, “Did I really see that?” And the White House? And the Martin Puryear art? And the moirĂ© silk on the walls in the Green Room? For real? Hard to believe today, here on my sofa in my own living room.

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