Friday, July 16, 2010

July 15, 2010: Washington - The Botanical Gardens Conservatory, The Museum of the American Indian, Dupont Circle

On July 15 Washington was hot (35 Celsius), humid and unrelentingly sunny. Yet for some crazy reason I decided to go to the Botanical Gardens conservatory, where plants grow in even hotter and more humid conditions! Actually, it wasn't so bad - there were cooling mists and fans, and even a few rare rooms with air conditioning. Oddly enough the most air conditioned room was the lead-in to the desert section, where a number of succulents were growing - I may have spent more time there taking photos (and enjoying the cool air) than anywhere else. The conservatory wasn't tremendously big - there are more plants and a more diverse group of them at some bigger gardens, like those in Montreal, the Bronx or London England. But it was a lovely building, not too busy, and it had great close-up access to their orchid collection (orchids, being rare and expensive, are at risk of being stolen so they are often displayed behind glass or far out of reach). They also grouped plants according to some interesting themes: medicinal uses, rare plants, adaptation. I got a kick out of the Hawaii room, where they had created fake lava flows over the rock base (perhaps I particularly got a kick out of it since I know we'll be visiting Hawaii in December, where I'll get to see the real thing). Outside they were growing a number of food plants; it's astounding how many herbs with differing flavours come from the same mint family: mint, oregano, basil.

Because it was so hot I didn't spend much time exploring the outside gardens; instead I walked down the street to the nearby Museum of the American Indian. It was a surprisingly Canadian experience: the building (which was fantastic) was designed by Douglas Cardinal (whose Bora Laskin Law Library and National Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, I've always admired), and the main exhibition was a survey of work by artist Brian Jungen (whose plastic lawn chair skeleton I remember from Mercer Union in Toronto many years ago). The Brian Jungen exhibition was fantastic - he's got a great ability to create surprising monumentality out of prosaic objects. Who would think that simply sewing together enough red clothing and other fabric objects to cover an immense wall would have such a powerful effect?

The rest of the museum was good as well - the undulating architecture of the building has inspired some really beautiful displays of artifacts. And the main rotunda, which echoes the Frank Lloyd Wright Guggenheim building in New York, was functionally very apt: a market and demonstration of Peruvian song and dance was taking place in it - each level of the gallery that spiraled up around this space was filled with spectators looking down on it from the balconies.

In the evening we walked over the bridge to Dupont Circle - a major centre for restaurants and retail. The view from the bridge over Rock Creek Park is quite dramatic - I'm looking forward to heading down to the park to explore.

Photos: me on the bridge to Dupont Circle, Botanical Gardens Hawaii display with fake lava flow formations, mist falling from the top-level walkway through the jungle, an orchid, a euphorbia, Museum of the American Indian, the atrium ceiling, 'Shapeshifter' by Brian Jungen, 'People's Flag' by Brian Jungen

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