The struggle of waking and getting ready for the day was an even greater one than usual. And that’s saying something. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited to get out and see the sights, it was simply the fact that the bed in the apartment is the single most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Ever. In all my life. Even my king-sized mattress back home with the pillow top and brand name can’t compare. It’s fabulous.
Finally I forced myself to the coffee machine and soon hurried out the door to face a fashion conundrum. I pride myself on dressing for all occasions at the same time. I want to wear something that can allow me to walk amongst the people without stunning them with my glamour and also allows me to casually walk into the finest hotels without anybody thinking I’m out of place. I always accomplish this, but I was somewhat disappointed in the others. Black, black, black, black everything. Nary a pop of color anywhere. Now, I hear you, I know what you’re saying. I often comment on how black is the chicest color and how I intend to only wear it in the future. I still mean this. But, black alone does not fashion make. You must put together interesting assemblages of clothing to make a completely black outfit work. A shapeless suit or coat is not going to do this for you. And so, I shrugged in indifference as I passed by hoards of government employees not wearing sunglasses (WHY? It’s so bright!) nor wearing scarves. This is a problem, my fellow Americans. I do not understand why we, as a nation, have not embraced the scarf. It keeps your neck warm, and if you choose the right one you’ll look effortlessly attractive. This is science. Don’t argue with me.
I perused the area around the Capitol for a spell; it’s quite lovely, but the clouds and gloom were a bit overwhelming.
I enjoyed a brisk walk down to the National Gallery of Art, which is only about fifteen minutes from the door of my apartment. That apartment is in just the most perfect location.
I was thrilled at the onset at the National Gallery. I’m something of an untrained art snob, and nothing delights me more than wandering though halls all day looking at paintings and sculptures. Not the modern stuff, though, because it agitates me. Seriously, reader, I find myself getting irrationally angry and desirous of violence. Anyway, back to the nice paintings. When I lived in Paris for the first time, I had this fantasy of living inside the Louvre. It would just be marvelous, and I have always been so envious of those post-Revolutionary peasants that filled the halls after the fall of the monarchy. They didn’t have art hanging everywhere. They kept chickens inside the now famous museum, but still, they were there!
It’s not quite the same going to a big museum without Jessica. She is oddly fond of them, too, and enjoyed lampooning the artwork with me. Alas, she was in Iowa and I was left alone to make the jokes to myself. Surely the guards thought me insane as I giggled at a variety of paintings. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:
[In the future, I will do a better job of noting the name of the paintings and their creators. I don’t know why I don’t keep track of these things.]
Suddenly the art took a turn for the worse and abstract paintings were hung on the walls as if they had every right to hang near a Van Gogh. Madness. Then, a most magical moment happened. I met a child who could well have been my daughter. She wailed, “Oh no! Not abstract art! Not again!” She might have been ten, and she was not having it at all. I’ve been thinking about that girl a lot. How blessed she is, even if she doesn’t know it, to have been exposed to so much art in her young life and to have developed an understanding and opinion of it. I wasn’t exposed to art at all until that time in Paris. Iowa is not a hotbed of culture, you know. If for some reason I had a child, which I don’t plan on, they would be dumped into all kinds of art programs in the vain hope that they would be artistic or theatrical or something. I wouldn’t want my child to be a lawyer. I’d want her to be a poet or a painter or anything at all as long as it was interesting. Life is so boring when you’re common.
I was starved to death, so I found a nice restaurant in the basement of the museum that seemed to be staffed by French imports. I was, of course, at my leisure. The Garden Café is a buffet, which I was not aware of when I asked for a table. I would not have gone in if I had known. I have a strong aversion to buffets. Perhaps it was too many trips to the Golden Corral in my youth? I needn’t have been alarmed. It was the nicest buffet. Instead of room temperature pizza with sauce that tastes of iron, there were beautifully dressed salads, vegetables, roasted mushrooms, an elegant assortment of cheese, and artisan bread. I was in heaven. I even ordered wine. I don’t drink much wine, but I do like Chardonnay. I’d forgotten that. Chardonnay is delicious. I had just the nicest time, watching the elegant people dine and chatter, and then I listened to their conversations, and I was horrified. I had just been listening to the melody of their voices. Elegant people speak musically, you know?
They were all talking of business deals and going on team building retreats to Yosemite and the campaigns they were working on. It was exhausting and soulless. I was reminded of an episode of Absolutely Fabulous where Edina and Patsy are very, very, very stoned in a restroom. Out of the blue, Patsy tells Edina with great feeling, “Don’t ever make me a cup of tea.” That line has always spoken to me. Patsy never wants to become normal. She never wants to do what everybody else does. She doesn’t want something so common as a cup of tea. That’s how I feel about life. I never wanted to be normal or stereotypical. I’ve always wanted to just have fun. And I have. I could never be like these people going on and on and on. They never spoke abut their dreams, their favorite colors, or their pets. They just talked about money.
Finally, though, some more touristy people came in, an elderly couple who discussed an upcoming trip to Paris. Little did they know who they were sitting next to. They were planning to stay at a common hotel in one of the cheaper arrondissements. They had a food budget. They wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. They planned to take a bateau mouche. They were worried about terrorism. I couldn’t help myself. I had to stop them from having a miserable time. Paris is not the place to be a tourist! I introduced them to AirBNB. I told them about some nice cafés and talked all about my favorite place in Paris, the Grande Mosquée. I suggested they go to the top of Notre Dame or the Arche de Triomphe instead of the Eiffel Tower. The crowds are lesser and the view is better. Instead of a boat ride down the Seine, they’re now walking leisurely along the quays. I felt so relieved that I had helped them. It’s my sacred mission.
Fully stuffed, I made my way to the next museum on my list, the Museum of Natural History. I rather hated this one the minute I walked inside. It was filled to bursting with children on field trips. The displays were poorly done, and I found the whole experience to be far from engaging. Still, I went to see what I came to see. The Hope Diamond was lovely, but not nearly as massive as my expectations had led me to believe. It was just a pretty rock. Reminded me very much of the necklace so prominently featured in the cinematic classic, Titanic.
Next up was an exhibition on life and death in ancient Egypt. I am fully prepared to enjoy even the most minor of Egyptian antiquities, so I skipped on over, and I was appalled. It is an elementary display. There is a mummy, but the poor thing is not displayed with proper severance. There are some figurines and a coffin, but the display is not well put together and the information cards were severely lacking. I was rather upset. I wanted to find a curator and make some suggestions, but that would look odd. Instead, I hurried out because I was getting ready to lecture a group of students who didn’t have any of their facts straight. I didn’t want to be thrown out of the place or be known as an eccentric amateur Egyptologist, so I left them to their fanciful beliefs and left the building.
The Museum of American History was somewhat more interesting, but the layout is even worse. It feels so dated. It’s practically begging for an update. The gallery where some iconic pieces (the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Count von Count:
Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves) is decorated the vilest hues red and purple. It screams 1997, and I was really quite horrified by the décor.
Blissfully the display that showcases the Star-Spangled Banner is much nicer. It’s a smart display that leads the viewer down a series of hallways. Along the walls are objects that illustrate the War of 1812, and then, looming before you, is the massive flag. And it’s quite monstrously large, and really quite beautiful. It tugs somewhat at your heartstrings.
I wasn’t really feeling my time here. The American History Museum feels a lot like the Des Moines Historical Building. That’s not necessarily a compliment. I was going to head out and see other things, but then something flashed in my mind. I don’t know where it came from, but the brain works in remarkable ways like that. I wonder if science will ever be able to figure it out? I hope not. Mysteries are so much nicer. I remembered, you see, that Julia Child’s kitchen was in here somewhere.
Eagerly, I found an information desk and I was soon in the bowels of the museum. And there was her voice. And then in front of me was the kitchen she had in her home in Connecticut where she and Paul lived after their exciting lives in Europe.
I didn’t expect it to be quite such an emotional exhibit for me. But, perhaps unbeknownst to you, she was one of the major players in my life. I never met her, of course, but as a youth with an interest in baking, you eventually hear about Julia Child. I would watch her old episodes and read through her cookbooks. I haven’t cooked through them, and I have no intention to. It’s a pretentious claim that people make, even my Martha and Ina have claimed to have done it. But, I do study them and make the dishes that trip my trigger. Her quiche aux oignons is truly a masterpiece. Make it tonight. Oh, and her tarte normande aux pommes for dessert. Fabulous!) Somehow, I always knew that she went to Le Cordon Bleu, and I made up my mind to do the very same thing. And the rest is, as they say, history.
I got all emotional reader, which is not a becoming sight. I was sitting on a bench, looking over her oven and countertop and sniveling like a fool. I still can’t figure out why seeing it laid out as if she was going to come through the door at any moment affected me so strongly. (If I thought these were strong emotions, I had no way of knowing how I’d react the next day. Get ready for it. I was a mess.)
I dried my tears, looked at this very important artifact in American history:
then peeked at the china collections of the First Ladies — Martha Washington and I have the same taste: simple white china with subtle gold accents — and then hurried out of there. I had a bakery to find.
Watergate Pasty was on my list mainly for the name. It took absolute ages to get there, the wind gave my hair the look of a neanderthal, and the vicinity was very old fashioned. Not the good kind of old-fashioned, either. It was like stepping into the 1970s. The pastries and cakes were attractive and very cheap, so I ordered quite a few things, which the kindly woman behind the counter wrapped and decorated with a ribbon. A nice touch, that.
Deeply fatigued, I resolved to head back to the apartment, which was about an hour’s walk. I could easily take the Metro home, but unless I’m in Paris, I have a reluctance to using them. Not because I’m afraid of them or because I have some unexplained resistance to their convenience, but I have a deep passion for walking. I love walking. I could walk all damn day. I want walking to be added to the Olympics and then I want to be crushed under the weight of all my gold medals. I don’t know exactly what walking in the Olympics would look like, but I’m all for it. Besides that, I’m on vacation to explore, see the sights, get a bit of adventure in, so I walked up F Street. Mainly because I’m immature and that made me laugh. It was well worth it, too. But I stopped by the White House first for the mandatory selfie.
Before, I had thought that DC was a bit boring. There weren’t a lot of stores or restaurants that were immediately apparent to me, but it turns out that I was just in the wrong area. My apartment is in a residential area where senators and other such people live, so they don’t usually have a L’Occitane on the street corner or a Gap next to a nice French bistro. But, here they were on F Street. I enjoyed poking into shops, especially CoCo.
It was staffed by a charming Bolivian man, who I think was flirting with me, but I need somebody to tell me when this is happening, because I am otherwise clueless.
“Where are you from?” he asked as I tried to understand how five pieces of chocolate could cost $14.
“Iowa,” I replied.
“Cool! What country is that?”
I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. “Well. it’s in the middle of this one.”
“Right, right!” He laughed. “What to people go there for?”
Again, I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. “Well, Adventureland.”
“Yes, well,” I muttered, “farming, if you’re into that.”
“You should go to Bolivia.”
I nodded. “I’ll do that.”
It was odd.
The walk to the apartment was even windier than before, and I was scared to look at my hair when I returned, and I was right to be worried.
I had dinner of some food I had assembled at the local hipster grocery store and then ate the pastries I had walked my feet off for. They were awful. I chuckled and threw them in the bin.