Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dumbarton Oaks!

Here in the DC area, in early November, we still have some delicious Fall weather.  The leaves are turning or have turned, and it is still warm enough to walk around without bundling up.
I decided to savor this climate, which we all know can turn on a dime, to enjoy Dumbarton Oaks public park, garden, and museum.

The public park  
The official Dumbarton Oaks grounds only open at 2 PM in the winter (which starts November 1), but is free in the "winter season" which is a  savings over the high season cost of admission ($8/ adult, $5 for each child and senior citizen).  I arrived early, so I began my tour of Dumbarton by going for a walk in the park literally next to the Dumbarton Oak grounds.  The park has an informal dog run, and paths where local families took their kids for a picnic, and some just went for a joyous Fall afternoon.  The public park is very natural and beautiful, with a small stream that is evidently popular with children.  There is no public rest room.

Dumbarton Oak garden 
In the Fall season, the Dumbarton Oaks grounds are not crowded, which is nice for everybody.  Parents let their children run loose without worrying they would bother other guests, and everyone got a sense of having the grounds somewhat to themselves.  The grounds are large, which you get a hint of by the large front yard leading up to the house.  They include terraces, a rose garden, fountains, and sculptures.  Parents might want to note that there is only one bathroom stall available for public use in the green house.

Dumbarton Oak museum 
The house itself is closed to the public, but around the corner is a museum entrance, which the last private owner of Dumbarton Oaks is individually responsible for.  The last private owner, Mr. Robert Woods Bliss collected Byzantine and pre-Columbian art, including armor, gold pieces, and ceramics, while he owned the grounds.  He also created an enormous music room which earns the envy of any present-day entertainer.  The music room has 15th and 16th century furniture and a mural dated 1928 in a back alcove.  On the right upon entering, it has a beautiful old piano.  The basement has public restroom for visitors -- I recommend these restrooms to parents who are spending the afternoon at Dumbarton!  But remember, it only opens at 2 PM.

Bonus Information 
Like many of the large and beautiful homes of earlier times, the grounds were used for historical events.   Dumbarton Oaks hosted the "1944 Conversations", a meeting of American, British, Russian, and Chinese diplomats and statesmen who met to discuss and negotiate for international peace, friendly relations, international cooperation, and reaching common ends.

Dumbarton Oaks has a relaxed outdoor element to it, as well as educational elements.  It is up to the guest what he or she gets out of it.  I will tease you with one fact though -- the house started with the Rock of Dumbarton in 1702!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

National Harbor Revisited

Last weekend I attended an event at National Harbor, but without photos or the chance to visit the village, could not do it justice for you.  Well, I liked National Harbor so much, that I went back to get a sense of it so you could hear more about it, and see photos as well.
First of all, the website tries to make you think that "National Harbor" is a city for an address.  It isn't.  No GPS will have the city listed as such -- its Oxon Hill, Maryland.  You can drive there and park, which is $3 / hour, or take the pricey ferry from Alexandria, which is $8 one way, $16 round-trip.
The National Harbor, a new gem that is essentially south of Washington DC, across the Potomac from Alexandria and Mount Vernon, is still developing.  It is, however, developing into a cross between Reston Town Center and Shirlington -- but on the water, with restaurants and even condos that have a view.  Cute and hip, National Harbor has sit-down restaurants and a Pot Belly, Ben & Jerry's and a gelato place, a Majorga coffee shop (thank God not another Starbucks) and a Fossil store.  It has a cute pet shop, a hotel right there, an established event area, and is down the road from Gaylord.  Today, the event area had a lobsterfest!

New and clean, National Harbor is a place to go on a sunny day for a bike ride, a meal, and a stroll.  For the stroll, I can recommend walking between National Harbor's "downtown" area and Gaylord.  It really is a beautiful area, and this time I have photos to prove it!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

National Harbor & Oktoberfest

This weekend I discovered not only the first of the area's Oktoberfest celebrations, but also our newly developed National Harbor.
Oktoberfest is an activity for beer-drinking groups whether the group members drink in moderation or excess.  There were two kinds of tickets: regular or VIP.  Regular ticket holders are given 6 chips for the price of admission and a plastic mug.  Each chip buys the drinker 2 oz of a taste of beer.  VIP members pay $20 per ticket but have unlimited tastes of beer and their cup is filled up to 6 oz per taste.  The event was filled with 20 somethings and was sprinkled with attendees in costume.  There were vending booths who might have sold goods, but the populace there was, without a doubt, there for the beer.  Bratwurst and knockwurst were sold in addition to potato pancakes and regular fair food.  To get there, you could drive and park, take the water taxi from Alexandria, or take a taxi from anywhere nearby.  The water taxi is a pleasant but pricey experience compared to drive and park, but worth taking once.
The real treat of the event being at the National Harbor was the harbor itself.  Maryland had invested in creating an attraction, and succeeded.  Cirque du Soleiel has chosen to stage this year's Washington DC area show at the Harbor, and people from all around go to the National Harbor for shopping and eating on the waterfront.  There are even public bathrooms that are well-maintained and a beach with a statue of Poseidon lying in the sand.
I did not remember my camera for this event, but I encourage readers to Google search the National Harbor in Maryland, and if you haven't been there, give it a try.  There is plenty of pleasant walking space, as well as a nice area for shopping and eating.  I plan to take out of town visitors there!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Signature Theater Cabaret: 4 Stars!

There are two things that make a cabaret great: a good music selection, and great talent.  The first of the new cabaret series, The Lost Songs Of Broadway, 1950-1960 featured many songs that were omitted from musicals or were written for musicals that never got to the stage.  As the singers point out, that doesn't mean the songs aren't good.  The combination of songs tonight included humor, sentiment, secrets, sadness, and almost always, love.  What made these songs great were the three powerhouse voices that sang the songs.

There were two women and a young man, a soprano, a mezzo-soprano/alto, and a tenor.  The soprano, Erin Driscoll, has a soaring powerful soprano that is widely heard without being shrill.  And Erin applies a healthy dose of acting so that you really get the feeling of the song.

The mezzo, Sherri Edelen, is an experienced singer with humor, versatile mood singing, and joyous ease.
The young tenor, Jake Odmark, is a welcome returning face to Signature.  He gets appropriately into the mood of the songs, which has presented difficulty for past tenors.  He also enjoys the female company that he sings with.
Every song was sung well and the pianist also applied clever and entertaining accompaniment.

The question on my mind, now and always, is why the young sophisticates of the area have not yet learned to enjoy the cabarets at Signature.  If the joy of great singing isn't enough, any audience member can bring wine and a cheese board, dinner, or dessert into the theater -- as long as you buy it there.

For those of you with a sense of adventure for culture, I urge you to buy tickets to the cabaret.  You will not be disappointed!
Cabaret: Original Soundtrack Recording (1972 Film)Cabaret: The Illustrated Book and Lyrics

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chess Musical in Shirlington

The new musical season has begun at Signature Theater, and my first show was "Chess".  You may remember that "Chess" was first staged in 1986, and the song "One Night in Bangkock" became a hit.  The musical, up against "Cats", "Phantom of the Opera", and other big hits, did not survive on Broadway in New York City.  The benefit of a theater like Signature in Shirlington is that good musicals -- unique shows -- can have their chance to be seen.

My first observation about this musical was the obvious talent that was hired for the cast.  In a theater as small as the one in Signature, every audience member sees the detail of anger in the eye, and hardness of the firm-set mouth.  There were so many times that the cast conveyed the feeling so well, that the man who sat next to me became uncomfortable!  He wasn't accustomed to being so close to so much passion.

Unlike some easy-going musicals of earlier eras, "Chess" is edgy, full of songs from angst-ridden people.  It is, after all, set during the Cold War.  And the chess match that the musical's name is based on is between a Soviet and American.  As if that rivalry isn't enough, the American's "second", an attractive blond woman, has a love affair with the Soviet player.  All the conflict and passion that theater lovers go to see is based on these three characters; and the actors put everything they have into the show.  Sparks fly and emotions run wild!

A final nod to the audience that the song writers put together are the background songs for each major character.  The Soviet sings about what its like to be an ambitous player controlled by his nation; the American male sings about why he's such a jerk -- his terrible childhood; and the woman sings about how she got herself into a situation that she hates -- and how hard it is to get out of it.

In the grand finale, you see the struggle for happiness and the strain it puts on the three main characters.  I could hear audience members sitting behind me sniffling back their tears by the time the actors came out to take their bow. 

Last time I saw "Chess" was in London, in 1986.  The musical has waited a long time to return to the stage, and I am glad to see it back.  If you like musicals and don't want to pay a lot of money, try Chess.  You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

City Culture in a Small Village

How many of us enjoy the restaurants and theater of downtown DC?  And how many of us would like it better without the hassle of traffic and paid parking?
Well I have news for you -- the Village of Shirlington in Arlington, Virginia has everything you want and nothing you don't.  You can enjoy cabaret theater, musicals, and plays at the Signature Theater, and eat at any number of ethnic and American restaurants.  There are fountains, outdoor seating, and free parking -- thanks to a very walkable area.
Signature Theater won a Tony for the best regional theater and has two theaters with a show in them at all times.  If you attend a cabaret, you can get wine and cheese at the theater and take it with you to watch the show.  For the young residents of Shirlington, the singers in the cabaret are perfect -- young, vibrant, and talented.  For that same crowd, there are a series of restaurants to meet the hip village that Shirlington has become.  These restaurants include Busboys & Poets and Capital City Brewery, two of the region's favorites.
There is also a movie theater, a frozen yogurt shop, and a wonderful bakery/coffee house.  Indeed, all the town is missing, as a friend astutely commented, is a piano bar.
For the young crowd budding around Shirlington, dinner and a movie or dinner and a show is just the beginning!  Aside from the pool hall in town, there really isn't anywhere to go for the later Friday and Saturday night hours.  I'd bet that this town could support a couple of different kind of late night establishments -- such as a piano bar and a comedy bar.
For those of you who live in NoVa, want the culture of DC without the hassle, give Shirlington a try.  Just do this fan a favor -- don't spread the word too far!  Leave some parking for us regulars. ;-)

Street & Road Map of Arlington, Virginia VA - Printed poster size wall atlas of your home town

Sunday, August 15, 2010

National History Nearby

Many of us know the name, “Stonewall Jackson”, and some even remember the location “Bull Run Creek”.  For local residents, these names don't need to be abstract names from the history books.  You can go to the place where General Jackson got his nickname and where the first American Civil War battle occurred.
At the Battlefield of Mananas, you can learn all about the two Civil War battles that occurred in Mananas.   

Interestingly, Congress set aside the historic battlefields in the thick of World War II – an indication that one war made them realize that we'd want to know all about the history and sites of earlier wars.  The first sad detail that you learn is that because this was the first battle of the war, aside from the leading generals, the soldiers were as green as they come.  Also, the blue & grey uniforms weren't issued yet, so it was hard to tell who fought for what side of the war.  The flags also looked quite similar, so some people died from friendly fire and by mistaking the enemy for friends.  Naively, the soldiers thought that war is glamorous, and in the first battle of Mananas, they were fighting so close to each other that all they'd see are dead bodies of young men just like them.  There was, they realized, no glamor in war.

Stone Wall Jackson statue
The great thing about this historic site is that the current roads are built upon what was there at the time, so the tavern that they turned into a Federalist hospital is easy to get to.  So is the site of the New York City volunteer army, and the Stone Bridge which became a central part of the battle that morning.  The first battle site gives you a brief tour of their grounds and a narrative of what occurred on the day of battle.  They also give you a handout with a driving tour that includes the second battle, and the sites for both Mananas battles.  I liked the driving tour, it felt a bit like a scavenger hunt for historic locations.
This site is very close to anyone in the DC area, and in fact my drive home replicated the Federalist army’s retreat back to the Capital!  I will let you visit yourself for the history lesson, but give you the following tidbits: 
  • part of the Federalist guarded the Stone Bridge to keep the Confederate army from invading Washington DC, where President Lincoln was,
  • this was the first time railroads were used to transport American soldiers for combat, and
  • Thomas Jefferson knew that the nation would fight about slavery.  He thought it should be abolished, although his vast estate was supported by slaves.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Special Edition: Small Summer Haven for the Busy

Remember when we were small children, and we loved splashing around in the pool?  Various digits would prune, our lips would turn blue, and our suntan lotion would wear off, and yet we loved the water on the hot summer days.

I just revisited this simple, exquisite escape from the humdrum -- my neighbors belong to a neighborhood pool "club".  On their way to the pool one afternoon, they rang my door and asked if I wanted to join them.  The adult of the pair said that there are cold drinks there, and tables with umbrellas.  I don't know what, but something about this relaxed, outdoor, social activity sounded especially appealing.  I went with them!

Upon arriving there was the charming and familiar scene of various towheads of all ages splashing around in the pool.  Some with siblings or friends, and a few with parents.  Chairs and parents were lined up near the shallow end, watching.  At the other end were picnic tables where some people were planning to have dinner.
Then the life guard blew his whistle, and the children cleared out quickly -- adult swim!  Although there is an ever-present lap lane, for ten minutes every hour, adults have the pool the themselves.  During this time, of course, the children want some treat from the kitchen, the vending machine, or their parents' cooler.

We were there for a few hours that afternoon, and there was something about that particular afternoon activity that I loved.  It wasn't just lying around the pool, and it wasn't just talking to the neighbors.  It was both -- and doing something that felt as summery and natural as going to a baseball game or celebrating July 4th with a grilled hot dog.

Of course, the cost of pool membership for a season is more than my annual gym membership, which makes me say "yikes"!  My gym has a pool, if I really want to swim.  But visiting for a few hours, it is easy to see why parents join.  Their kids have hours and hours of cool-off time in a safe, controlled area with their friends and neighbors.  The parents can sit and relax while eyeballing their children.  One of the parents can even swim during adult swim.  They bring lunch, consume beverages of all types, and maybe get a tan.  Not a bad way to spend a summer day!

So ... to all you parents out there ... I'm sure you know already, but if you don't, consider a community pool membership for your towheads.  Each of them them is a fish or frog waiting to come out and let loose in the pool!  And, you will probably enjoy this activity too ... most of the parents I saw had a good time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Botanical Garden: Mid-town Peace

This weekend we had nice weather, so I wanted my outing to be outdoors.  I decided to visit the Botanical Garden in downtown Washington.  Most of the garden is the conservatory green house, but because of that, there is a great variety of plants to see.
Inside The Conservatory the visitor can be transported to another place, like Hawaii or a dessert, or another time like the Primeval days.  You can also find plants to suit your daily needs in the Garden court, which has spices, fibers, woods, cosmetics, and beverages.  There is also a Children's Garden, although the Jungle area seems enough to please most children.
There are also information displays throughout the conservatory and some of the outer buildings.  I noticed that there are many signs about doing things like gardening roses environmentally and the concerns about water conservation and distribution.  Many plants were labeled as endangered, including Echinacea, which is an all-natural plant used to boost the immune system during cold & flu season.  There was also a display about the "CSI" of finding out what happened during the Irish potato blight!
One of the nicer things about the Garden is that right in the middle of downtown, there are plenty of seats in the middle of beautiful and fragrant environs for the average commuter working in the Capitol to sit and eat lunch.
On a quirky note, the writer in me wonders why all the political drama movies that have secret meetings never occurred in the Conservatory, or a studio copycat of it.  It really would be such a neat place to arrange a "secret" meeting.
For those of you that are in downtown area around lunchtime, think about packing your lunch and bringing it there to eat.  You'll find yourself enjoying your lunch and tempted to wander inside!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Operation Oasis: Downtime Needed

On occasion, or perhaps more than that, we sometimes don't want to learn anything new or drive a long way, we just want down time.  We want to relax, and, as if we're a battery, we want to recharge.
I just had such a weekend.  Last weekend I had a plumbing surprise and a power outage one right after another.  I went through a week of feeling inexplicably tired, which ended with a team mate's resignation at work on Friday.  By the time Saturday morning came, I was tired enough to let my loving cat Tigger coax me into mid-morning nap.  I still don't know how he knew that I needed it, but he did.
So that set the tone for this weekend, I would not explore, but recharge.  I chose to visit one of my old haunts, Marina Place in Alexandria, off George Washington highway, a skip & a jump from National Airport.  So why this place?  The marina really has something for everyone.  For the plane fanatic, you can watch planes take off and land at National Airport, and for the boat lover, you can watch sailors leave the marina and sail around.  The animal lover can feed the ducks in the Potomac, and if you're hungry, there is a snack bar and a restaurant right there.  Even if you're bicycling or jogging in the area, its a good spot to take a break.
When you want to recharge, you can bring a book, your sketch pad, or your needlework to this place, sit outside in the nice weather, and pursue your hobby in a spot that's always peaceful, always beautiful, and welcomes you during all hours and weather.  So I sat there with my book until the foreboding, rainy weather rolled in, and slowly left.  Some people were still sitting there when I left, with their baby, their dog, or their child.  And they, too, were just trying to get some rest before the new work week.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

George Mason House: Hidden History

 Just south of Washington DC in Lorton, Virginia sits the George Mason museum and house.  As the video in the beginning explains, George Mason was a central figure in his time and for our history, but because he was such a private man, he became a mystery and was never the well-known figure that some of his contemporaries were.
Who Was George Mason?
George Mason wrote Virginia's bill of rights at the beginning of the American Revolution which was widely distributed, and he was called to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.  Interestingly, Mason refused to sign because there was no bill of rights yet, and he feared the Federal government would have too much power.  Compelled by Mason's action and argument, the Bill of Rights was written shortly thereafter, and was based on Mason's Virginia bill of rights. 
George Mason was like many of his friends and colleagues of the time -- wealthy with a plantation on the river.  Today we'd like the view of the river, but back then, plantation owners would receive most shipped items and visitors by river.  Mr. Mason's house is no more than 3/4 mile from the river, although today's trees block the river view from his house.
George Mason's House
Upon approaching Mr. Mason's house, having seen Monticello and Mount Vernon, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that Mr. Mason was less well-to-do.  This, however, is not true.  First of all, many of the outer buildings that the estate used to have simply aren't there anymore.  By the time the state owned the grounds, several generations and owners had lived there first.  There was no maintenance of what was there other than the house, and the state hasn't chosen to completely rebuild the entire plantation.  Mr. Mason also chose to spend his money and display it a little differently.
Like few of the other wealthy men of his time, George Mason build his house of brick -- and the exterior walls of the house have two layers of brick -- which was his first indication of his wealth.  It also made it difficult to add onto his house the way that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did.  While some men of his time used maps to show off wealth on the walls in the front hallway, George Mason used hand-painted wall paper imported from England.  Like many houses of gentlemen of that time, George Mason had a very formally decorated dining room and sitting room for visitors he wanted to impress, but it contrasted deeply with very sparsely painted and decorated private quarters.  Some ways that his style distinguished itself was that he hired a decorator from England, who brought with him the concept of oriental style wall paper and oriental carpets in the formal sitting room.  The dining room wall paper was a fabric, and not painted paper, and is quite lush, even by today's standards.
The upstairs of the house has several bedrooms for his multiple children and visitors, although it is known that Thomas Jefferson sometimes stayed in the Mason's multi-purpose room on the ground level.  Mason's multi-purpose room was where the family ate meals, where Mason worked from, and where Mason might have slept when his wife received visitors after birth.  With much lighter and smaller furniture in those days, it was easy to change a room's purpose in a few minutes -- especially with slaves to help move things.
George Mason had many children, so he had a school room on his grounds.  For the days when the instructor could not get home, the upstairs of the school room has a bed.  On those nights, the instructor would eat with the family.  Mr. Mason also had a brandy-making room, using the fruit he grew there, along with all the usual buildings that plantations used to be self-sufficient, such as a large food storage structure that would be stocked all spring & summer so that it could get them through the winter.
The George Mason house and museum provide the visitor with two kinds of information: political history and social history.  A lot of people don't know or remember George Mason's role in the making of our history and national policy.  Mason's house also, like many houses of the time, reinforces to the visitor how the wealthy spent their money -- and how they didn't.
Admission is $15 for adults.  Seniors and AAA members get a small discount, children are $8.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

National Arboretum: Defines Hidden Treasure!

Just off New York Avenue northeast Washington DC sits the deceptively large National Arboretum.  The first fact about this gem is that for those of you watching your wallet during this long-lasting recession, admission is free!  You can also call a toll-free number to get a guided tour of the arboretum.
The arboretum features a variety of interesting gardens for the local naturalist.  There is an enormous bonsai museum which contains a Japanese, Chinese, and North American pavilion containing shaped bonsai plants from each region.  An indoor museum has a display called "Becoming a Bonsai" which has advice on pruning trees, wiring the trees, and potting the trees. 
Nearby sits a huge herb garden, which is divided by use of the herbs.  Inside you will find "beverage" (such as tea) herbs, the fragrance garden which has herbs like clove, gardenia, and rosemary, the culinary garden which has herbs like lemon thyme, and a medicinal garden!  The medicinal garden even has an "antibiotics" patch.  The herb garden also includes plants used by Native Americans in their practice, and a dye garden.
Just past the herb garden are columns from the central portico of the US Capitol, which were placed in the arboretum in 1990.  The arboretum notes that the columns, when at the Capitol, were a site of speeches, rallies, etc.
The next very intriguing garden is one which holds promise for our future -- the Farming Energy garden.  This garden has signs explaining that we will eventually run out of fossil fuel, but that familiar plants can in fact produce biofuel for our energy use -- if only our culture is able to adapt.  I know you're wondering what plants could be used, and how, so some examples are below.
The following plants can be used by producing biodiesel fuel: castor bean seed, mustard, sunflower, soy, peanut, and canola.  These next plants can be used by producing ethanol oil: barley, sugar, corn, and sugar beet!  The way these plants become fuel is that the alcohol they produce for regular consumption is further refined to produce fuel for cars. 
There are several other gardens, such as the Azalea collection and the Dogwood collection which I didn't see but may be of interest to the local nature lover.
Although the arboretum isn't particularly restful or wholly beautiful, it is very educational and it has picnic tables for those who wish to take the kids there for an afternoon.  It is also quite large, and can easily take several hours of the day.
Of note are the following recommendations:
  • Go in the spring or fall, the humidity makes being outdoors for long very uncomfortable
  • For those with children, note that there are only two bathrooms, no cafeteria, and a soda machine.  Come well prepared.
  • For those with children or others that have difficulty moving around much, bring extra cash!  There is a trolley that drives around hourly (on the hour) during weekends that costs $4 cash for each adult, $3 cash for each senior citizen, and $2 cash per child.  By taking this, the visitor will see much more of the grounds.
For the local naturalists, gardeners, and others, this is a rare spot in the Washington DC area to connect with your interests and learn a few things.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Richmond, Part 1: Tiffany and Hollywod

I decided to drive down to Richmond for a day trip mostly because I wanted to see the Tiffany exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. I wasn't necessarily planning to see anything else, although I was hoping to have time. But on my way out the door, some other sites were mentioned to me, such as the Hollywood cemetery.

When I arrived at Richmond I went to the museum first. Parking is $3 and can be paid for at the visitors desk or at the garage. The Tiffany exhibit admittance is $15 for an adult. It will not surprise you that photos were not permitted. Tiffany was in business from 1848-1933 and Tiffany glass began in 1880. Louis Comfort Tiffany was born in 1848, the son of a prominent New York jeweler. In 1875, he founded Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists, which eventually employed over one hundred skilled craftsmen. His interior designs were very popular, and after restyling rooms in the White House in 1883, he was the most fashionable decorator in New York City.
All of Tiffany's later work grew out of his early success in interior design. From the start he used glass extensively, with tiles, lamps, murals, and windows as an intrinsic part of his style.
Some of the work on display was at the exhibit was a pink, white, and blue cameo blown vase, and beautiful jewelry made of materials like enamel on metal, opal, and moonstone. There were also his well-known vases in the shape of flowers. Now I know that you are wondering about two things: windows and lamps! The museum had on display several stained glass windows -- including a beautiful Mermaid Window which used hues of blue and green that depicted a woman riding a seahorse, with shells in the glass framing the main image. Tiffany was commissioned to create this window for a sugar magnate in Hawaii. Another beautiful water-themed window was "Starfish & Anemone", in which Tiffany used undulating glass to give an impression of the waters' movement, and more beautiful green and blue hues. Of course you can see the starfish and anemones among the water.
Tiffany began creating lamps as luxury articles, which is easy to understand when you see them -- they are impressively extravagant. My favorite lamps were the dragonfly and the peacock. The audio tour will tell you that the wisteria was very popular in Tiffany's day, and the cobweb was known for its unique look. The audio tour also informs you that Tiffany created the lamps with the full realization and intended purpose of using electricity and light bulbs to illuminate the stained glass in the same way the sun lights his windows.
In the Art Deco exhibit outside the exhibit room on a different floor in the museum, you will find a few more great Tiffany pieces. There is a punch bowl made from hand blown glass, gilded silver mount and all gold coloring which the museum staff think was used "only once" for the man who commissioned it. There is also the Magnolia and Apple Blossom window and many more lamps.
Tiffany's glass work was inspired by nature, which is no surprise to his fans but is something that resonates with many of us. The exhibit at the museum includes a video on making glass, information on glass and other materials Tiffany used, and historical information about his company. I have not mentioned some of his other works, so if you want to know about it all, go visit! (
Hollywood Cemetery
After this museum, I decided to go next door to the Hollywood cemetery which is known to have burial grounds of some US presidents and Virginia governors. First of all, you have three choices for viewing some of the famous graves: 1) walking, 2) driving yourself, and 3) taking an infrequent tour. Whether your drive yourself or get there for a tour, I strongly advise against walking. It is bigger than it looks, and very hilly. If you don't make it for a tour, then you can find a grave map in the parking lot when you enter. It is a huge cemetery, so I only went to see the grave of President James Munroe, President John Tyler, the First Confederate Burial, and the William E. Starke burial ground dog. I noticed that many families are buried together, including sisters!
I did not see any other part of Richmond, but to me this was quite enough for one day. I was hot, tired, and told by locals that the other sites I mentioned were "all the way across town". I was later told that their "all the way across town" isn't like a Washington DC "all the way across town" -- but that's okay. I can go back down, perhaps in the Fall. I would like to extend a special thanks to Grace & Ted who welcomed my unexpected arrival at their house in Mineral, when I really needed a good long break from the driving and exploring!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hillwood Estate: A Local Gem!

Just a few minutes off Connecticut Avenue in Northwest DC lies a hidden, beautiful treat for the locally savvy.  Hillwood estate was owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post ("Marjorie"), daughter of the Post cereal mogul.  During her lifetime, Post became part of General Foods, and under her advise, General Foods bought Birds Eye (the company that now makes the frozen vegetables). 
Features of the House
The Hillwood estate is decorated with French and English furniture and fine Russian goods.  I was not permitted to take photos inside the house, but I could take notes to relay the information to you!  Marjorie began saving Russian pieces when she lived there in the 1930s.  The Russian government was selling Russian aristocratic and royal goods, and Marjorie developed the "nucleus" of her collection at that time.  As part of her collection she has the Icon Room, which holds 400 Russian Orthodox liturgical pieces including a Faberge 1914 Easter egg with gold and pink enameling and the Russian porcelain room.  In her Russian porcelain room, she has various salt & pepper shakers, signs of welcome, and on the floor a double eagle in her wood floor -- another sign of welcome to Russians.  In her hallway, Marjorie has Russian portraits hanging all over the walls and an enormous Russian Imperial chandelier.
Marjorie became a collector of French 18th century furniture and began buying it to use for her home.  The biggest display of it is in her private spaces, upstairs for her bedroom and dressing area.  Her bedroom has a beautiful French desk which is featured in the video at the Visitors Center.  She also has French porcelain that she used for formal occasions, French commodes in the front hallway, and a great deal of French decoration in the dining  hall, although it is combined with an Italian dining table to seat 30 and 2 large Dutch paintings. 
The English influence appears in her first and second floor libraries, which are decorated like a British country house.
There is one mystery in her house -- there is a guest bedroom named after the most frequent visitors -- "the Adam brothers".  The recorded guide does not say anything more than these brothers belonged to the Adam firm, and so the unguided visitor is left to wonder who these men were.  As if to amplify the mystery, you can't help notice that their room was decorated in light blue and gold with very small twin-sized beds.  Were they boys or men?
There is one room that was made to entertain rather than to display her collection.  She called it the Pavilion, but today we would call it the media room.  In this room, Marjorie had speakers installed into the ceiling and a projector showing films from the balcony!  There are also sofas with small built in trays for guests to put snacks and drinks on during the show.  If she was not showing films in this room, she would move the furniture and have a square dance!  And, to protect the floors, she would give the ladies plastic covers for their heels.  This wonderful hostess thought of everything!
The Extensive Garden
After being in the dark and slightly cramped indoor space, the gardens are quite literally a breath of fresh air.  The gardens spread out behind her house and the museum staff has provided seating for a visitor to read, eat, or chat with friends.  Of note in the garden, Marjorie had a Japanese garden and a rose garden.  She also had a small golf field and a green house which housed 2000 orchids! 
The Japanese garden was built in 1957, a much later addition to her grounds, and was landscaped at a time when Marjorie was already thinking about opening up her home as a museum.  The terrain of this garden was meant to mirror the mountainous terrain of Japan, and the plants within the garden were meant to  provide color contrast.  There are also stone lanterns, bridges, and statues to fully decorate the garden as a Japanese garden should look.  It is worth noting that a lot of Asian visitors took photos of each other in that part of the garden!
The rose garden had roses to give it a beautiful scent, and they were of all different colors.  Marjorie did not cut flowers for the house from this part of her grounds, however.  She had a cutting garden and greenhouse for that!
I noticed that Marjorie did not leave any good space unused, nor did she cram her outdoor space.  She simply provided cozy space and sprawled out space, sitting space and walking space.  Outside as well as inside, she tried to consider everything.
Nothing in writing can really do this estate justice -- the reader must visit to experience the splendor of this estate.  From the courteous guard who tells you where to park upon arriving, to the cafe that provides teas, lunch, and refreshment for the parched, this estate provides a rare experience.  By experiencing the house and grounds, with such fine European influence, you are temporarily removed from the Washington DC area, and are transported to a different time and place.  You find yourself strolling the gardens, sitting down to read or talk, and just enjoying the weather.  For a native, it is hard to believe that this restful place sits so close to the heart of Washington's hustle & bustle. 
I strongly recommend that all readers visit these grounds -- it is worth the $12 you pay for your ticket!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Art in Alexandria

Today I decided to become familiar with the free things to do on an average weekend day in Alexandria.  The first thing was to find free parking.  I know that there are paid garages, but I'm from NYC --so I still prefer to find unpaid street parking!  So I drove up Union Street and found a free spot up the street. 

After that, I walked through the park, along the water, and into the Torpedo Factory.  First of all, the Torpedo Factory is a piece of art itself.  In the underside of the spiral staircase, I found figurines.  On a platform circulating around the second level, I saw little zoo animals.  And then I found some of my favorite studios there.  In Studio 13, I found kimono prints which were very intriguing.  The artist was not there, but her card was.  If you'd like to see a website of her work, and a photo which I couldn't fairly take, you can go to:  I also found beautiful paintings of local beaches by Marian Van Landingham.

Principle Gallery
Next I walked up King Street to the Principle Gallery, where I found two artists that really resonated with me: GC Myers, whose signature is a red tree with Japanese wood block influence.  Myers lives in upstate New York and is a self-taught painter who began the art after an accident left him debilitated.  He has a great blog named after his tree called the Redtree Times (  Myers uses beautiful colors in all his artwork.  I also saw artwork of Lynn Boggers whose subject was not just natural in subject, but also painted outdoors!  Mr. Boggers lives in West Virginia, uses a palette knife and cement trowel, and provides instruction on his methodology.  He will be giving a demonstration on the afternoon of August 14th. 

P&C Art
My next stop was up the street at P&C Art, a completely different gallery than the last.  This gallery is the largest in the area for contemporary international art.  From artists around the world you can buy art of people, famous places such as Paris, familiar Alexandria and Georgetown sites, and Dr. Seuss artwork.  

There is great, enjoyable art and creativity in Alexandria.  I strongly recommend to anyone with empty wall space a trip to Alexandria.  There is great, beautiful, and varied art there.  Enjoy!