starlady: Holmes and Watson walking around New York (springtime in new york)
I was in Victoria, British Columbia for a thing this past week, and while I'd heard the scuttlebutt about yoga on the beach et al, I was kind of blown away by how pretty Victoria is. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful, of course, but Victoria seems especially so--something about how much water and blue sky there was everywhere, to say nothing of the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades randomly visible throughout the city. Victoria itself reminded me of nothing so much as a cross between Madison and Portland (the one in Oregon). It was all very different from Toronto, in interesting ways. (People here are so friendly. So friendly.)

I didn't get a chance to go whale-watching, but I did wander around the city a fair bit, and I also did check out the Royal British Columbia Museum. I knew nothing about BC and little about Canada (though more than 90% of U.S.-ians, since I can tell you when Canada started), and it was an interesting lok at the human and environmental histories of the province. I was particularly interested to learn more about the histories of the First Nations peoples of the area, which were presented in what seemed to me to be a pretty respectful and interesting manner. There's a great exhibit on the indigenous languages of the province and what's being done to preserve them, and a great mini-exhibit on the Nisga'a Treaty. Wandering through the exhibit "El Dorado in British Columbia," on the BC and other C19 gold rushes, certainly suggested reasons why, as friends of mine report, acknowledgment of the First Nations peoples with whom the settlers share the land is more assiduous than in other parts of Canada. I only wish we had similar habits in the States.

Anyway. I'm not sure I quite buy Victoria's reputation as "Little Britain"--nowhere did I see a chippy, for example, the scones were just okay, and they served my friend a Strongbow with a twist of lime at one of the pubs (!?)--but I had some great food, including a burger with pickled beets on it (!), and some great new Polish cuisine, and all in all, it was a really nice place to spend a rather intense week. I would love to go back.
starlady: Holmes and Watson walking around New York (springtime in new york)
The day after I got in to D.C., I actually went back to the National Gallery to see the Degas & Cassat and Wyeth exhibitions before they closed again, because I liked them so much. I also popped in to see Van Gogh's wheat fields again--still enchanting--and spent some time alone with the North American Da Vinci. You can't do that with the Mona Lisa, IJS.

A few days later I went to the National Zoo, which is also part of the Smithsonian and thus also free, for the first time, and probably the first time in 15 or 20 years that I've been to a zoo. I'm not a big fan of zoos for a lot of reasons, and on the heels of the WWF report that wildlife worldwide has declined by 52% since 1970, it was particularly depressing, although the zoo is quite nice, if showing its age in parts. We wandered around the bird house, and the birds certainly noticed my purple fedora--the red fan parrot fanned his feathers at us as we left, and the macaws bounced up and down on their rope when I bobbed my head up and down. I'm not sure if it scared them or if they liked it. There were eclectus parrots in the central "fly free" portion, too, but they were in their nest box and making quite a lot of noise! Outside there were bustards (!) and I took some pictures of the aggressive cranes and their signs. Sadly the cassowary and the emu were nowhere to be seen, but given that it's literally a five minute walk from my friend's house, I'm sure I'll be back. We also saw the anteaters! I had just packed up my copy of Aunt Eater Loves a Mystery, so I was especially happy about that. We also saw the lion and tiger cubs, and all in all, had a great time.

My last full day in D.C. I flipped a mental coin and headed for Natural History instead of Air & Space, which…was kind of not really that great a decision. Natural History is small, and to be quite frank, most if not all of its galleries could use some serious freshening up; I haven't been there in about 15 years, which is as recent as their newest displays. I think some of the rocks displays might have been slightly newer. I do like rocks, so I paid pretty close attention in that section. It was also quite crowded, which I guess I should have expected; I skipped the dinosaurs, much as I love them, because Tuesday is free butterfly day and so I got a free ticket to go wander around in the butterfly enclosure. There were a lot of butterflies, and since I was wearing my customary bright colors, quite a few of them also landed on me. It was fun, and at the end I wandered into an exhibition of photos celebrating 50 years of the Wilderness Act, all of which were lovely. Not everything is lost, but after I left the museum I actually crossed back through it to Constitution Avenue and went through a small gallery of North American birds that have gone extinct during the history of the Republic, including the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet. Birdies. Not everything is lost, but many things are, and more will be. 
starlady: Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter (alternate history)
My dad and I went to the National Constitution Center to see the exhibit From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen. I have mixed feelings about the NCC; I have none about Bruce Springsteen, or about the exhibit, which was pretty damn awesome, and for Springsteen fans, well worth the trip.

The National Constitution Center is part of the post-2001 reshaping of the heart of the "Historic Philadelphia" area in Old City, and as someone who has very fond memories of the old mall and the old Liberty Bell pavilion, I really just am not a fan of the NCC. It is big, it is ugly, the new parking garage put a hump in the mall that obscures the sightlines to Independence Hall from a block away, and it is fundamentally weird to have an entire museum dedicated to a document that is…in Washington, D.C. That said, I have gone through the NCC's permanent exhibit, "Freedom Rising," which despite the idiotic name is an interesting take on the history of the United States in that it is framed through the prism of the Constitution and the idea that the history of the United States is the history of the extension of that document's privileges to successive groups of formerly disenfranchised people. Which, yes, is a task that is not yet done and is also a particular romantically progressive delusion, but on the other hand narratives make history and our sense of the future and I don't think it's a bad story to tell people, although the exhibit does not, I think, completely hit its mark. Well, as Benny F would have agreed, the great work is still unfinished.

It occurred to me as my dad and I were leaving that the NCC should have the Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage video in its collections. It doesn't, of course, and it won't. Video embedded below )

The Bruce Springsteen exhibit is on one level an odd choice for the NCC, and on the other, if you've ever half paid attention to any Bruce lyrics, a perfect fit. The exhibit collects a lot of archival memorabilia (I have seen the guitar and the leather jacket from the Born to Run cover, the guitar that Bruce has played in hundreds of shows, in person!) and in particular dozens of pages from Bruce's notebooks, showing his obsessive rewritings of some of his most famous and most obscure songs. For me, the insight into his creative process alone was worth the price of admission, and it also sharpened my appreciation for his genius: just where does he get these words? Who the hell talks like this, let alone writes songs like this? Where did Springsteen come from? From New Jersey, from the US of A, from the spirit of the times that summoned him up and has animated him and his career ever since, from the heart of rock and roll. You would never think, listening to a masterpiece like "Born to Run," that the lyrics--which seem so natural, so inevitable--had been rewritten nearly fifty times before he ever cut the demo track. But they were.

Baby we were born to run... ) So it goes, I guess.

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