June 24: Carrying a picnic basket akin to Moses in the bullrushes (and just as heavy), I followed my friends Kathy and Susan to a shaded table with a hilltop view — and a discernible slant. I settled down-tilt of the table and promptly spilled a glass of wine all over myself. We laughed and I requested a refill, one inch at a time.
We dove into picnic fixings and conversation. Then, within 30 seconds of each other, Kathy’s glass spilled to my right and Susan’s to my left. More laughter. It was a pleasant, warm night and I was now wine-cooled inside and out.
Eventually, we entered the amphitheater of Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts, operated by the National Park Service. We had tickets for “Broadway in the Park,” and I relished the idea of hearing a few classics. Earlier in the day, Jeremiah had seeded my brain with Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” (Jeremiah sings the Frank Sinatra version.) I wondered: Kiss Me, Kate, perhaps?
Sure enough, Tony-award winning actress Kelli O’Hara burst into “So in Love” from that musical. And I burst into tears. (My mask is wonderfully freeing.) My Dad used to croon that song to me when I was very small, back when I thought that my Dad wrote every word to every song he sang to me.
“Strange, dear, but true, dear/When I’m close to you, dear/The stars fill the sky/So in love with you am I.” As he snuggled me close, I believed him completely. I still believe him today.
June 25: A car rolled to a stop at the intersection. Two young women sat in the front seat, their windows closed. A fifteen-year old boy sat in the back seat, his window open. He stared out to the street, the sidewalk, the passersby. I wondered if he’d be allowed to keep the window open. The car started to move and the boy closed his window.
I’ll try to remember to be especially kind to people riding in the backseat.
June 26: “Bea, will you join me up here?” The pastor sat down on the chancel steps and patted a place near him. In a red dress, red tights and red shoes, Bea stepped out of her pew and walked slowly down the church aisle pulling a toy wooden frog on a string. Its mouth opened and shut as it rolled along the carpet.
The pastor asked Bea what frogs do (they hop), what they say (ribbet) and what they eat (flies). Then he invited Bea to say a repeat-after-me prayer: “Thank you God for loving frogs. And thank you God for loving me.”
Bea and her frog turned to go. Bea’s mom came to meet her halfway up the aisle, but not before Bea, after carefully placing her frog at the bottom of the steps, decided to hop hop hop.
June 27: I walked along our creek this morning and was delighted to see a female duck paddling downstream with me. Another duck joined her, and another: five female ducks in all. Upending their bottoms, they paused to eat tasty organisms in the stream bed. I paused too. They paddled single-file along a small channel and waddled over a stony patch. I walked with them. Then, having lost sight of the ducks because of creekside vegetation, I rounded a bend in the path and decided to linger at a promising pool. No ducks, no ducks, no ducks. Then I heard the crunch of gravel — and to my delight saw my husband Kevin, out for his own shady creek walk.
June 28: With my usual haste, I asked a docent at the Smithsonian American Art Museum where I’d find the Alma Thomas collection. She drew a circle on the map, pointed me to the Luce Collection, and offered to give me detailed directions within the gallery. No, no, I said breezily (and I hope not unkindly), I’ll be fine. The Luce Collection, after all, was a massive flamboyant room of contemporary art that I’ve visited before. How hard could it be?
Well, obviously, I wasn’t listening. The docent didn’t say the Luce Collection or even the Luce Room. She’d said the Luce Foundation Center, a majestic third-floor attic space that looked more like a 19th century library than a contemporary art wing. And I’d never been there before. To my astonishment, I gaped three stories up to see skylights, iron grillwork balconies, and row upon row of glass-fronted cases. I ascended and found myself weaving in and out of miniature galleries of American art from the last 250 years. Within each bay were about a dozen paintings, usually thematically grouped, equipped with name of the painting, name of the artist, a date and nothing more. I saw pieces by Milton Avery, Lee Krasner, Kenneth Noland, Georgia O’Keefe, William H. Johnson, Childe Hassan, Jackson Pollock (before he was Jackson Pollock) — but mostly paintings by artists I’d never heard of.
Here’s a glimpse of the exhibit hall.
Eventually I came upon a label for a piece by Alma Thomas, with a note saying it had been removed. Perhaps lent to the Phillips’ exhibit? Fair enough.
I continued to peruse the cases, playing a kind of scavenger hunt for names or schools of art I might recognize. And then suddenly, in a miniature foyer on the third level I saw three Alma Thomas pieces, grinning a bit impishly from their humble glass case. I was alone with them. Did anyone know they were here in this secret place? (Well, the docent, obviously, but …)
I pulled myself away and wandered on, soon encountering a school group on a real scavenger hunt. The Luce Foundation Center describes itself as “the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, D.C.” Brilliant, I thought. Instead of encased in crates, these works of art — many modest, some exquisite — are here for anyone to admire.
I spent nearly an hour — and completely ignored the sculpture, glass and ceramic collections. I’m definitely coming back to one of the best kept secrets in Washington, DC.
Bonus: Remember yesterday’s ducks? Today I walked along the creek to find all five ducks — bodies resting on a sandy shelf and bills tucked under their wings — sound asleep.
June 29: Bricks grown from mycelium, the root-like fibers of fungi. A biodegradable pod-shaped burial capsule that would use my composted remains to grow a tree. A vehicle called a Hyperloop that, using magnetic levitation, would whisk me to New York City in 12 minutes, with zero emissions. And outside, colored pebbles on the sidewalk that disappeared when a cloud covered the sun.
I’m at the Smithsonian’s “Futures” exhibit, lodged in the Victorian-era building that once featured locomotives, tractors and other futuristic machines from the mid-1800s. Now we are invited to imagine water harvested from air, wetlands fed by washing machines, and meditation with artificial intelligence…..
So, about that AI. The sign said, “Slow Down and Let Your Mind Wander.” Um, I don’t do that. But the technology (art ?) in front of me looked like a huge green-and-fuchsia teddybear pincushion and the sign promised that it would choreograph unique movements in response to my own. I swished my hips, waved my arms, and did all sorts of yoga moves. The teddybear pincushion danced too, the way a sponge rooted to a coral reef might dance (and far more gracefully than I did). Next, remembering the instructions, I chose “contemplative” and it swirled into its own sweet helix. Finally, I did nothing but breathe, and — incredibly — it seemed to breathe too.
When I round the corner, will it look for me?
Bonus: I particularly cherish one of the quotes painted on the exhibit wall: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” — Angela Davis.
June 30: At my coffee shop a few weeks ago, a woman spotted my Alma Thomas tote bag and urged me to visit the Hirshhorn’s Laurie Anderson exhibit. Uh, I said to the woman, the Hirshhorn is a little weird, isn’t it? The woman, who directs education at the Hirshhorn, urged me to give it another chance.
So, I finished my Museum Week at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which describes itself as the national museum of contemporary and modern art. And I was stunned. Described as the largest-ever U.S. exhibition of artwork by Anderson — a groundbreaking multimedia artist, performer, musician, poet and storyteller — Laurie Anderson: The Weather debuts a dozen new works interspersed with others created over her fifty-year career.
Despite all my bloviating about contemporary art, I am too easily mystified or discouraged by what I see. Anderson’s visual and verbal storytelling, however, punched me in the gut (in a good way). As the Futures’ teddybear pincushion implored me yesterday, I slowed down and let my mind wander. And I still missed so much.
For once, I didn’t visit the show on its closing weekend. I have five more weeks to take myself there again — and see what more Anderson wants to tell me.
June 30 postscript: Whew. Now I’ll go to the beach for ten days — and do absolutely nothing.
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