Wednesday, August 4, 2010

August 2, 2010: Washington - Monuments, The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center is one of those monumental buildings that seem attainable, but the closer you get the harder they are to reach. All the streets that headed toward it curved away, or dead-ended, or turned into speeding expressways. So my first attempt to reach it failed, and I ended up down at the Mall, close to some of the major monuments. I've been wanting to see them, but it's just been too hot to make the long walk (they aren't near any subway stops).

So, I visited the Lincoln Memorial (which had an astounding number of people sitting on its steps) and enjoyed the symmetry of the reflecting pool with the Washington Monument obelisk. Then I walked through the Vietnam War Memorial. It's a subtle experience - at first you don't quite notice that the wall that has started to appear from within the earth has names carved on it - and you feel a little guilty for not reading the names. But the numbers of them soon becomes overwhelming, so you stroll along until the walkway has sloped down deep enough that you can't see over the wall, although there are still some leaves of grass silhouetted from the top edge against the sky reminding you that you are, in a sense, buried below the ground. In softer light, with fewer people, it would probably be quite eerie. But in daylight, amidst the crowds, it didn't quite measure up to my expectations. Still, it's a good deal more interesting and relevant to what it commemorates than the latter-day Greek temple of the Lincoln memorial.

The Kennedy Center turns out to be a memorial too, as well as a performing arts center. I got there on my second try, checking the map more carefully for a viable route. It had a surprising international presence, as various countries from around the world have given gifts (works of art, chandeliers, marble cladding, etc). Our tour took us into each of the three main performance spaces, which were impressive. We also saw a few of the lounges, each one decorated by a country. The tour ended on the roof, with a great view across the city. The tour wasn't as fantastic as the behind-the-scenes tour I'd gone on at the National Cathedral, but it was thorough. The only annoying statement was the claim that Robert Berks, the sculptor of the 8-foot high bronze bust of JFK, is America's Michelangelo because he too 'sculpted famous people'. Hello? Could Robert Berks paint a Sistine Chapel ceiling? Design the architecture of Saint Peter's Basilica?

Photos: the Lincoln Memorial; view down the Mall to the Washington Monument; the Vietnam War Memorial (note the grass along the top edge); Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center; Tim Yip's "China Red: Light Dances of the Paper Cut"; Opera House chandelier - a gift from Austria; missing crystal from the Irish chandelier (now this room is off limits unless security is present); the bust of JFK by Robert Berks; Willy Weber's "Apollo X", 1971; the view from the roof terrace

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