Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29, 2010: Washington - World Without End - Ended, Homesteading, Architecture of the Americas, A Pre-Ordained Book Purchase, Market Surprise

After a three-day marathon I finished reading Ken Follett's 'World Without End'. I was prompted by my visit to the National Cathedral last week to read it; I was hoping for the same kind of detailed insight into medieval architecture as there was in its prequel, 'Pillars of the Earth'. There were some good sections on bridge construction and foundation failure, but overall it wasn't as satisfying as the first book. But it was good enough for 1014 pages to fly by in short order!

I started the afternoon off with a lecture at the Department of the Interior, on the history of homesteading in America. It was a long, hot walk from the nearest subway station, so it was a treat to sit in a cool auditorium for an hour afterward. It was a grand old room, with classic velvet-covered wooden folding seats, like a classic cinema. The lecture was quite good too - the speaker obviously loved the topic, and probably could have talked for twice as long. Part ways through his talk there were two loud noises from outside - just about everyone in the auditorium seemed convinced that there had been an explosion. But it was just thunder - rain was beginning to fall as I exited the building.

Luckily the Art Museum of the Americas was just around the corner. They had an exhibition about the design of the House of the Americas building for the Organization of American States (a Pan-American association) by Paul Philippe Cret, celebrating its 100th anniversary. Not a very big exhibition, but a welcome respite from the rain that started to pour down not long after I arrived.

When it started to let up I headed over to the historic Decatur House, as the rain started to come down harder again. And there I had what might well be a pre-ordained encounter with a book. In undergrad my friend Lisa visited me in Mississauga, and we drove out to the nearby movie Chapters bookstore. While we were there a torrential downpour started, so we were stuck waiting for it to end. I spent the time reading Anna Pavord's book on Tulips, which was gorgeously illustrated and fascinating to read - I purchased it when we left. And today, while waiting out the rain in the Decatur House bookstore, there was a copy of a new book by Anna Pavord, on the history of botanical naming, reduced to a fraction of its original cost. I bought the book, and had a nice conversation with the women at the cash register (who had also read and enjoyed 'Tulips').

I didn't get to see much else of Decatur House, as you have to take a guided tour Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but there was some information about the history of it, particularly as it related to the stories of the slaves who had lived in the home.

On my way back to the bus I ran into a farmer's market. And not just any market - this one had chefs cooking up free samples for us! There were three tents, and everything was delicious: a pork shoulder with pasta dish, a vegetable and meat terrine, and a panna cotta with peach desert and ice peach drink. The best surprises really are the delicious ones.

Photos: Photo across the courtyard from the House of the Americas; close-up of showing the Central American influence on the architectural decoration; model of Philippe Cret's design (isn't there always something wonderful about photographs of miniature models?)

July 28, 2010: Washington - The Freer and Arthur M Sackler Galleries of Asian Art

Still hiding out from the heat, so I planned today's trip to be very close to a subway station. I got out at the Smithsonian stop and went to the very first museum, The Freer Gallery of Art. There was a wide-ranging collection of Asian art: Chinese scroll paintings, Japanese pottery, intricately patterned Islamic objects. I found the very wide and tall panoramic landscapes created in the Chinese brush paintings and Japanese screens very interesting - there's a distortion of perspective somewhat similar to that which happens when you take panoramic photographs, but these were created long before the invention of the photographic lens.

The Freer led, through its basement level, to the Arthur M Sackler Gallery. This gallery is almost entirely underground, going down three levels, with only a small glass-topped entryway aboveground. An interesting artwork hangs down the stairwell all three levels - a long chain of calligraphic metalwork, each of the twenty pieces representing the work monkey in a different language (and all in reference to a fable of 20 monkeys who hung in a chain trying to reach the moon, only to discover it was a reflection in the water at the end).

Following the Sackler there was another underground concourse level, with an exhibition of contemporary art - it was grouped around themes of illness, disability and treatment - either in subject matter or in the artists' own lives. There were some great pieces, and an interesting diversity. The most remarkable was a painting by Sunaura Taylor - a huge (80 x 120 inches), rich, lush painting of chickens crammed into cages on the back of a truck - such a startling contrast between the classical style and the sad, contemporary subject matter. It had a precision level of detail that seemed so precise at a distance, but up close it was very loosely and boldly painted. And then I read on the label that the artist, because of her disability, paints everything with a brush held in her mouth. I'm in awe - this would be a hugely physical effort to pull off for anyone, due to its size and the need to constantly check the balance between the close-up and distance effects of the painting style.

Photos: Chinese scroll painting 'The Southern Journey', 1505, by Tang Min; Syrian Globe, mid-15th century; Xu Bing's 'Monkeys Grasp for the Moon', 2004; Christina Casebeer's 'Touch', 2006, using antique crocheted gloves; Sunaura Taylor's 'Chicken Truck' 2007, 80 x 120" and detail

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27, 2010: Washington - The Zoo, Lebanese Twins

Quote of the day (as per a child at the zoo):

"Mommy, why do they look like stuffed animals?"

"Why shouldn't they?"

"Are they stuffed?"

"We make stuffed animals to look like real animals."

Not much else to report from the zoo. I'd intended to sit and do some sketching, but forgot about the hordes of children who would be blocking my view of any interesting animals. I'll try again, but I'll take along a book to read while I wait for an opportune time, like a hunter, waiting in ambush...

In the evening we went for dinner with Heather and Anthony at the Lebanese Tavern. Afterwards we went for a walk around the nearby residential neighbourhood - many palatial homes, including one that is the Lebanese Embassy. How odd that the night had two connections to Lebanon.

To finish off, we walked across the bridge to Dupont Circle for gelato - I had a delicious combination of white peach (peaches fresh from a local farm) and lavendar honey with fennel.

July 26, 2010: Washington - A Visit, The National Gallery

My sister is in town for a workshop, so we got to have a visit. Since she and her husband are staying in Bethesda, just further up the same subway line as me, we were able to meet up easily and head downtown to the National Gallery. We briefly toured the East Building, then went through the underground passageway to the West Building - they're joined by a moving walkway surrounded by a trippy artwork of LED lights by Leo Villareal.

In the West Building we visited a small exhibition of anatomical art. It had just opened, and I'd been looking forward to it, but it was a bit disappointing. It only used books from their library to show how anatomy was important to artists through the ages - what a shame to not show any corresponding artwork.

However, the other exhibition we saw, photographs by Allen Ginsburg (of Beat poem 'Howl' fame) was great. In it there were photographs he took in his youth in the 1950s and then rediscovered years later, reprinting and captioning them. As a record of the times they're great, but combined with his arresting descriptions they're even better. Best story was in a photo of his grandmother, who learned English late in life, and as an assignment for her language class wrote the patriotic essay 'God Blast America'.

On our way back to the subway we passed through the Sculpture Garden. It's all modern or contemporary sculpture, apart from the inclusion of one of Hector Guimard's Paris Metro Art Nouveau entrances. It's beautiful, but it isn't really clear why it's here.

Photos: the illuminated walkway at the National Gallery; Heather and Anthony in front of the Paris Metro gateway at the Sculpture Garden

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 25, 2010: Washington - Farmer's Market, Aquarium Let-Down, The Scouts' Parade, Natural History Re-Visited, A Delicious Roast Chicken

We started off our day with a trip to the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market. We picked up corn, kale, pattypan squash, tomatoes, basil, nectarines, blueberries, bread, eggs, a melon, eggplant and green beans. If it hadn't been so hot already so early in the day we might have sampled some of the many cheeses and meats as well - maybe we'll have better luck next week. But I am loving the heat for the delicious harvest it's delivering.

Mark, being a fan of aquariums, had been keen to visit the National Aquarium since we arrived. Although I'd read in the guidebook that it was housed in a somewhat uninspiring former government building, I didn't imagine that it was quite as uninspiring as it turned out to be - it's basically two long hallways in a basement that's been painted black, floor to ceiling. However, it was air-conditioned, not too crowded, and had a fantastically lively octopus. Since our visit was shorter than we had imagined it would be, I picked out another destination that we wouldn't have to walk far too - the Natural History Museum.

As we walked down the street, we crossed paths with the Boy Scouts, turned out in force for a parade. I've since read that it's the first time they've paraded through Washington since 1937. It was remarkable how little affected by the heat they seemed - I couldn't imagine wearing full-length uniforms of pants and sleeves, walking in direct sunlight, marching in time and playing an instrument. Mark pointed out that at the last minute some groups had been permitted to wear hats as protection against the sun - their caps didn't match.

We escaped the heat but not the crowds in the Natural History Museum. What a change from when I visited before on my own on a weekday - every exhibit was crowded, which really diminished our enjoyment. However, I pointed out a few of my favourites to Mark (like the diminutive skeleton and recreated model of the now-extinct humans from Flores). And then we noticed the dark skies and whipping trees outside - a thunderstorm had come, seemingly out of nowhere. So, we continued to wander about until the skies cleared, and then headed home. We could see the evidence of how fierce the storm had been - there were huge puddles of standing water everywhere that hadn't yet drained.

Once home we stopped in at Pizze, an Italian place across the street that advertises carry-out rotisserie chicken, pizzas and pasta. Our chicken took two hours, but was absolutely worthwhile - juicy, flavourful, and the perfect accompaniment to the corn and kale we had bought earlier that day.

Photos: two nautilus (nautili) suspended in the water; a large tank with fish swimming amongst the seaweed; jellyfish; an octopus; underwater close-ups; Scouts parade; a couple of long-necked species; I pose next to the model of Homo floresiensis

July 24, 2010: Washington - Air & Space, Boy Scout Jamboree, An Astounding Meal

After a morning spent at work indoors, safe from the heat, we set forth for downtown. Our choice of destinations was determined by how close they were to a subway stop - I selected the National Museum of Air & Space, which had the additional advantage of being a place that I hadn't visited yet.

And by the time we got there, it was clear that my initial sighting of Boy Scouts the previous day had only been part of a bigger event. They were everywhere - in packs on the train, roaming through the museum, sometimes slight differences in uniforms distinguishing one group from another. As I now know from looking it up online, it's the 100th anniversary of scouting, and the national jamboree is being held just across the river in Virginia - small wonder we were encountering them everywhere.

I started to doubt whether my choice of the Air & Space museum was doomed (where else would so many teenage boys choose to go?), but we went in anyhow. After a few tight squeezes in the popular exhibit areas (like the flight simulators) we found some peace and quiet in a room devoted to the Wright brothers development of flight. It was a great exhibition - it laid out each step in their ultimate success clearly, showing the experiments they undertook and improvements they made. It made the achievement very comprehensible, yet still just as impressive.

I also liked the exhibitions on early astronomy (some impressive instruments) and a great collection of photographs of the various planets and moons - so many photographs have a strong, raking light which really highlights the textures of the landscapes.

On our way home we got off at the Cleveland Park stop to try out a restaurant I had read about, Ripple. I'd walked past it the day before and it looked like it wouldn't be difficult to get into - this stretch of town has several restaurants, but seemed rather quiet overall. However, at nighttime it was transformed - all the restaurants were packed, and we doubted whether we would get a table. Luckily, there was one small table for two available, and we sat down to an astoundingly good meal. They use fresh, local food whenever possible, but their technique was great too - everything was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The review had mentioned their corn soup, which Mark ordered - it was amazing - each mouthful transforming from sweet to smoky. I ordered duck breast - both crispy and luxuriously rich. For desert we had a cheese plate with five selections. By the end we were deliriously happy, and all for considerably less than it would have cost in Toronto. I think we'll have to make a point of returning here once more before we leave Washington.

Photos: a classic model of the planet Saturn, with its moons in orbit; fascinating texture of grooved sand dunes on Mars; the Wright Flyer; Boy Scouts swarm the Museum; the Screamin Demon

July 23, 2010: Washington - A New Story, The National Cathedral, First Sighting of Boy Scouts, The Library

My friend Jenn sent me a new 'story' for review (it is, of course, a full-length novel of 300 pages, rather than a story). And I've discovered that I can print for free at the business center in our apartment building - so I've got 75 pages so far that I can carry around and edit during my travels - a perfect solution for portable reading material (most of the books in the library system are hard cover, and just a bit too heavy to tote about).

After a morning spent at home, I made it to the National Cathedral just in time for the Behind the Scenes tour at 1:30 - although the 20-minute walk nearly did me in - it just isn't possible to walk briskly when it's 37 degrees Celsius. As it was I took the subway one stop up to Cleveland Park to make the walk as short as possible - it would probably only be about 35 minutes to walk directly from our apartment. Ridiculous to take the subway to shave off only 15 minutes, but every bit helps.

And I'm definitely glad that I did make it in time - the tour gave great access to otherwise locked upper levels, attic-type storage, the narrow balcony directly in front of the rose window, and the opportunity to stand out on the roof. Our tour guide was great too - a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable woman who's clearly a pro - she knew how to keep things hopping along. An hour and a half flew by in no time - I was sorry to see it end, and I'm tempted to go back for another visit (perhaps when it's cooler, so that I can explore the outside in comfort).

As an architectural achievement the cathedral is a marvel: the sixth-largest cathedral in the world, constructed with genuine Gothic methods (all hand-carved stone, no steel framework supporting any portion of the soaring ceiling). It was started in 1907 and not finished until 1990. Unlike some other churches I've visited which have had a long history of construction (I'm thinking of St John the Divine in New York, and Montreal's St Joseph's Oratory) it was as impressive on the inside as the outside - it's such a let-down when amazing buildings have stark, dismal interiors.

At one point in the tour our guide mentioned that she was glad we had saved her from the Boy Scouts - there was a group of them off on another tour. I didn't quite grasp the significance of this first sighting of the scouts until the end of the weekend...

Visiting the cathedral made me want to re-read Ken Follett's 'Pillars of the Earth', an historical novel about the building of a cathedral. But I just re-read it about a year ago, and it really isn't that great a novel to re-read again so soon, so I stopped in at the Cleveland Park library branch and picked up the sequel, 'World Without End'. This is a book I definitely won't be carrying around on transit - it's huge. My order for Connie Willis' 'Lincoln's Dreams' was also in. I've read it once, but it seemed worth a re-read - one of the characters in it is having dreams about the Civil War, that seem to be so detailed that she must be channeling the dreams of an actual participant in the war. My recent visit to the American History Museum's Lincoln exhibit sparked my desire to re-read this one.

Photos: interior of the Cathedral; a view from directly in front of the rose window; attic storage; a statue under wraps; a model of the Cathedral; the spiral staircase to ascend the bell tower; on the roof; close-up of a grotesque

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 22, 2010: Washington - The Laundry, Two Ill-Fated Attempts at the Museum of Women in the Arts, The Library, American Art, The Zoo

Time for laundry again. This time I logged in to the website to check laundry usage: - it's strangely entrancing - machines in use are shown in red, vibrating; occupied but idle machines are shown in yellow; free machines are white. It's laid out according to the actual set-up in the room, you can view it from multiple angles. Rolling over a machine tells you how much time is left in the cycle. It's a little virtual world of laundry - it reminds me of Sim City. I suspect I may have to resist the temptation to check out the laundry activity when I'm not actually using the facilities.

In the afternoon a bus trip downtown, in a fateful attempt to visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts. According to the map it would be a quick walk from the bus stop along H Street. But by the time I had walked along H to 9th St I knew I had gone to far. Since I don't like to look like a clueless tourist by opening maps on city streets, I decided to walk down 9th to the Martin Luther King Jr library which I had visited earlier in the week - I could discreetly check my map there, while also browsing for more books. After locating the museum (I had passed it, but it was in one of those complex intersections where 3 major roads crossed each other) I walked back. Through the heat. To discover that it cost $10. What to do? There are so many other free museums here, and I only had at best an hour and a half to look around. I decided to walk back to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Kitty-corner from the library. In the heat. Sigh.

However, I had 45 minutes of enjoying a look back at Christo and Jean-Claude's Running Fence project, which I hadn't had time for when I visited earlier in the week. The controversy and furor this project caused was rather extraordinary (environmental assessments, town hall hearings, legal action), and there was a good film about it. In a weird coincidence, ideas I'd had earlier that day for using topographical maps as inspiration for ring designs was confirmed by seeing a large-scale topographical model of the landscape for the fence - the markings where rivers have carved a channel are just what I was thinking of.

In the evening we strolled up the street to the zoo, which was open late for an outdoor evening concert. Although we didn't listen to the music for long, it was a nice opportunity to enjoy the zoo grounds after hours (it seems that only the cut-rate animals get to stay out late - an emu, prairie dogs, turtles). We caused a turtle frenzy when we walked up to the edge of the pond - someone must be feeding them on the sly...

Photos: the completed Running Fence 1976 (photo Jean-Claude, Smithsonian website); construction of the fence 1976 (photo Wolfgang Volz, Smithsonian website)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 21, 2010: Washington - Renwick Gallery, Foggy Bottom

The most affecting exhibition I've seen so far has been at the Renwick Gallery of American craft. Somehow you expect to see small-scale, superficially amusing items at a craft gallery - nothing of great meaning or importance. But the exhibition 'The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese Internment Camps, 1942-1946' was both heart-breaking and inspiring. With little else available to them in terms of material comforts or productive employment, many of the internees turned to crafts, and you can see how much time and attention was lavished on them. All of the items are labeled with what the artist did before their internment, how long they were in the camp, and what they did with their life after the camp - really hitting home the disruption to everyone's lives.

From a cultural standpoint it was fascinating to see how different artistic trends developed at the various camps - a camp with someone expert in embroidery would come to have many beautiful embroidered pieces; another camp with many shells in the soil would come to make intricate artificial flower arrangements out of tiny shells. There was a film that described how different crazes would take off - a National Geographic issue about birds would inspire carving of miniature birds.

Surprisingly, some people who produced amazing, intricate works of art in the camps didn't continue their artistic pursuits after their release. It was inspiring that these activities filled a void in their lives when there was nothing else to fill it. I wonder whether it was too painful a reminder of that time to continue their art, whether it didn't serve a purpose once they returned to their complete lives, or whether they never had the time and energy to return to it - rebuilding their lives, which had been on hold for so long, must have been a great struggle.

The remainder of the gallery was fairly small - a second floor with some paintings and some contemporary craft, with a few good pieces. The most remarkable thing was the stairway - not only were the steps carpeted in red, but the handrails were covered in red velvet. That just seems impractical.

After the gallery I walked over to Foggy Bottom to a farmer's market. It was considerably smaller than the Dupont Circle market, but I was still able to pick up some nice produce (peaches, pattypan squash, tomatoes) and a peach blueberry pie.

Photos: Art of Gaman flower pins, made of shells and beans, by Shigeko Shintaku Iwa Miura, and Grace Ayako Ito (Terry Heffernan photo from the Renwick website); Art of Gaman birds, carved from wood, by Himeko Fukuhara and Kazuko Matsumoto (Terry Heffernan photo from the Renwick website); Renwick Gallery staircase with velvet-covered handrails; Beth Lipman's all-glass 'Banquet' 2003; Karen LaMonte's 'Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery' 2009, also in glass

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 20, 2010: Washington - The Bus, American Art, The Library

I have now successfully used the DC Circulator bus system - the beginning of the line is just at our subway stop, and it ends at a fairly central point downtown. It's cheaper than the subway (just $1 per ride, even during peak times), runs frequently, and it let me see some new neighbourhoods along the way (looks like there's some useful retail in Columbia Heights). It took about twice as long as the subway, but that still only added up to 30 minutes.

Once downtown I went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum & Portrait Gallery. It was better than I expected; I suppose I thought it would pale in comparison to the National Gallery. But it had a nice mix of early American, modern and contemporary pieces. The main exhibition was paintings and drawings by Norman Rockwell from the collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (it's rather extraordinary that both of these filmmakers have collected his work so extensively). Some beautiful drawing - convincing handling of light and shadow, texture, and some very interesting distortions of space suggestive of extreme telephoto lens compression.

There were also some crazy pieces of folk art (so earnest; irony has no place in folk art). Grand landscape paintings were displayed with trappings of the time - theatrical curtains, buffalo hides draped over benches. And the building was great - a mix of an early section that used to the U.S. Patent Office, which had small rooms at the sides of a grand hall that were used to display patent models - a fascinating mix of large and small-scale architecture. The upstairs level has a great contrast of monumental, classical architecture and cutting-edge contemporary art. There is also a central atrium that was recently roofed over, with a great undulating grid of glass, which casts interesting shadows across the space below - it's better than just open sky.

Afterwards I checked out the nearby Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library - I have hit the jackpot. It's huge. Browsing amongst the DVDs was the best part - so many odd selections. I ended up selecting 'Travellers and Magicians' - a Bhutanese film (one of Mark's colleagues spent some time working in Bhutan - a beautiful, unusual place), and the other 'IP5', an adventure of two Parisian street kids in the forest near Grenoble (since I'm interested in all things Grenoble before we end up there ourselves in the spring). I would never have stumbled across these if I'd just been looking up DVDs in the collection online.

Photos: Norman Rockwell's 'Forsaken' 1952 (collection of George Lucas, photo Smithsonian website); Norman Rockwell's 'Going and Coming' 1947 (collection of George Lucas, photo Smithsonian website); Norman Rockwell's 'Let Nothing You Dismay' 1941 (collection of Stephen Spielberg, photo Smithsonian website); Norman Foster-designed roof over atrium at Smithsonian Museum of American Art; Albert Bierstadt 'Among the Sierra Nevada, California' 1868, installed with theatrical curtains as was done in hyped-up unveilings by Bierstadt himself; Jenny Holzer's 'For SAAM' 2007, with ever-changing rotating messages displayed in LED lights; over the top aluminum foil and cardboard folk art creation of James Hampton, 'The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly' c1950; The Great Hall of the former Patent Office, which has at times been the largest room in the USA, the first national museum and the setting for Lincoln's second inaugural ball

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 19, 2010: Washington - National Geographic Society

First, a quiet morning at home, finally cracking open my French lessons, in preparation for Grenoble this spring. It's starting off quite basic, but I'm due for a refresher.

In the afternoon I visited the National Geographic Society headquarters, where they had two exhibits. The first was Leonardo da Vinci - an institution in Italy has created models of the many machines described and drawn in his sketchbooks. They're quite fascinating: clocks, gears, weapons, flying apparatus. There was also a section on the Mona Lisa, showing information gleaned from new types of photographic studies - the most surprising thing was that there is evidence that she originally had eyebrows.

The other exhibit was 'Design for the other 90 Percent', with design solutions for clean water, generating energy, inexpensive housing, etc for the developing world. A fairly wide range from practical (energy and water) to improbable (much of the housing solutions). The most memorable was an O drum - a drum for toting water, which is shaped more or less like a doughnut - the result being that you can tie a rope through the middle and tow it behind like a tire, rather than having to carry it. So simple, yet so counter intuitive to design a drum in this way.

To get to the National Geographic building I got off at a different subway stop: Farragut North. I've now used most of the subway stops in the downtown core, and am getting fairly well oriented. I've realized that, for all its monumental buildings, Washington isn't very large. If the weather was more pleasant it would be very walkable. As it is, I'll keep using the subway to get as close as possible from one point to another, so that I don't melt away in the heat and humidity.

Photo: exhibition of reproductions of Leonardo's drawings and models of his mechanical inventions and ideas

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18, 2010: Washington - Dupont Circle, National Gallery of Art

This morning I walked over the bridge to the farmer's market at Dupont Circle. It was a great market - at least 20 stalls, and lots of variety. Unfortunately I was so winded by the heat and humidity by the time I got there that I had no enthusiasm for shopping and carrying purchases around. So I kept walking until I found the Whole Foods on P Street, where I enjoyed some air conditioning while shopping for food that wouldn't be available at the market. Unfortunately, by the time I got back to the market I'd missed my chance for a few things (the kale was all gone - sigh), but still got enough delicious fruits and vegetables to make the trip worthwhile. Next time I'll take the subway there and back if it's as hot as it has been for all my time so far in Washington. After a full week of this I'm having to conclude that the climate truly is different here, and it's important to accept the heat rather than denying it.

In the afternoon I went to the National Gallery of Art (the West Building only) for a great collection of paintings and sculpture. Highlights were a collection of paintings by Martin Johnson Heade, three Vermeer paintings, an exhibition of German drawings and watercolours (which included 2 pieces by Caspar David Friedrich), and Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de'Benci (easily the most photographed painting in the museum). Most interesting find was 'Portrait of a Young Woman as a Wise Virgin' by Sebastian del Piombo, c 1510. Not an artist I'm familiar with. A very modern-looking portrait in comparison to the others in its gallery - not idealized, but very specific to the person he painted.

On the way home I stopped in at Barnes & Noble to do a little reading (tried out a Janet Evanovich mystery - not sure yet if it's worth finishing; read a few essays by David Sedaris).

After one full week of living in Washington I'm pretty pleased. The free museums are great - not only do they not cost anything, but it means there are virtually no line-ups to get in anywhere, because there are no ticket transactions that have to take place. And, with the huge quanity of museums in town to choose from, I have yet to encounter any real crowds on the level of what I've seen in other major tourist destinations like New York or London.

Photos: Reflection from the oculus of the National Gallery dome onto a marble pillar; tourists crowd Ginevra; Sebastian del Piombo's painting