"The View from D.C."    [ 05 ]   
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May 2015

The thing about Washington D.C. is that there is just so much to see. You can stand anywhere, cover your eyes and blindly wing a frisbee in any direction — you are guaranteed to hit a monument, a grand memorial, some towering statue and/or multiple historical sites. The place is neck-deep in so much history you cannot possibly explore it all in one trip. The last time I bounced through was my first-ever time visiting D.C. (blog 2011·01) ~ I was a noob then, camera in hand, fascinated by all the history, Smithsonian museums, and scampering squirrels. (AZ burgs play host to an alarming variety of spiders and scorpions; not so thick with squirrels) Last time here, I learned my way around the Metro, cruised all the main monuments along the Tidal Basin while the cherry blossoms were in bloom, and got a chance to explore the National Air and Space Museum. (Supremely Awesome!) This time, I hoped to make it up to the top of the Washington Monument and hit the Museum of Natural History and, if time permitted, the National Gallery of Art. :-)

Official Government Business brought me here last time, and such was the case now. One of the many computer-based distance learning solutions I helped design and build last summer won an award that, along with other prestigious awards, are presented annually at a televised ceremony here in D.C. This year, the "70th U.S. Department of the Interior Honor Awards Convocation" celebrated dozens of individuals for Distinguished Service (think: scientists and critical systems specialists), and for Bravery and Valor (whether on or off duty), and also .. us . . for developing a successful line of Safety training. So I wore a suit and strolled through the arched and columned halls of the Department of Interior, acting more serious and important than I have a right to, feeling like a sham standing next to men and women who literally risked life and limb performing Truly Gallant Acts like saving lives, rescuing people from fires, or from drowning, and so on. Still, when it was our turn to step up onstage and receive our accolades, I gratefully shook Sally Jewell's hand (U. S. Secretary of the Interior) as she presented us with our award before flashing cameras. For those who actually care to spot us as we hurried off-stage (being the first of all the awardees) here are lynx & stats:

70th U.S. Department of the Interior Honor Awards Convocation
Info page
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About the "70th U.S. Department of the Interior Honor Awards Convocation"
VIDEO
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Link to the video
5:17
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Ceremony proper begins
8:44
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Secretary Jewell's introductory/congratulatory speech (8 min)
15:20
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16:12 = 'Safety & Health Award of Excellence' (our 1 minute of glorious fame)

I believe it was the Colorado State Director who mentioned to me that every one of us had previously been cleared through extra background and security investigations before even being invited out for this. Hearing such a thing is reassuring in one sense, but also a little unsettling. I mean, it's great to be advised you are trusted in the heart of Washington D.C. to meet the Secretary of Interior and all, but it's also a little weird to realize you have been so deeply scrutinized with nary a clue. Such precautions must be taken, I suppose. Nice to know I am cleared at a relatively high security level, but honestly, the greatest risk they run for flying me out to D.C. are my gawking tourist pix!  :-]

There was, however, one crazy thing I stumbled into while exploring those historic streets. Our awards ceremony took place on May 7, just a week or so after an unfortunate incident in nearby Baltimore (about 30 mi / 50 km) resulted in riots and looting, similar but different to the craziness that has gone down in Ferguson, MO. Late one afternoon, I found myself looking for a good spot to eat dinner near the Chinatown district, where a couple of African-American men had set up a small stage with an angry backdrop, shouting through megaphones at the mixed-race crowd of shoppers and workers heading home for the day. Their rhetoric was wild, loud, and incendiary to the extreme, all about how the 'white man' had oppressed them and deserved to be 'put down'. This is the general sense of their hate-speech.. I won't quote it directly, it was so crass and unruly. Just from genuine curiosity I stopped and listened to their scripted tirade. The hatred they spewed through their megaphones seemed tailor-made with intent to stir all their listeners up into some kind of hostile frenzy.

But here's the thing: nobody was buying it. No matter how wild they got, how crazy they yelled, how animated their hopping about and jerking hands and fists through the air, no one within earshot responded. To engage them even in common defense against their manic tirade would be to invite a fresh avalanche of their public abuse. And everyone there could read this situation. Young, old, "black, white, red, yellow, blue or green" - color didn't matter. People of every ethnicity continued to camly and politely stroll across the streets, into and out of shops, holding open doors for one another, saying 'please' and 'thank you' and 'excuse me' as a regular community of people do, going on about their business just as friendly and normal with one another as regular folk anywhere...

These guys were idiots, clearly there to incite a riotous response based on some sort of scripted hate speech. Wary cops stood in the shadows, just keeping an eye on them — on them, not the crowd. Nobody was buying their jive, nobody of any color: a silent declaration of social shame upon these dinks who would go so bananas trying to stir up trouble.

I do not mean to make light of genuine racial tensions and hurts experienced by people of all colors and various social classes, but these goobs weren't even making a political statement .. just blasting HATE out into the ears of everyone they could infect. (Funny, but a street preacher sharing the Gospel in quiet and friendly tones would likely be hauled off to jail by these same cops, as a growing number of such incidents demonstrate .. but idiots like this are allowed to run amok and stir up dissension under the guise of Freedom of Speech... go figure) Like I said, it was just kind of crazy to witness such a thing in person, you know? How NOBODY would engage them because they were so self-evidently WRONG, no matter WHAT color we were, all under the fire-hose spray of their vitriol — THAT was a beautiful and encouraging thing to behold!

So · · weird, crazy, but so Very Cool to see people of every stripe and every kind of walk of life more or less just ignoring the hate some want to vomit into society, thinking that in some way this is helping to fix the world's ills. After recounting all of this to an older wiser friend, she nodded knowingly and called them 'professional agitators'. I had never heard of such a thing, nor even imagined it, but apparently this is a real sort of thing. In fact, many residents in Ferguson have repeatedly declared that most of their riots were instigated and fomented by people who just poured into their city from parts unknown, but with an obvious agenda that smells a lot like the stink I just encountered a few miles from Baltimore. The cool thing is, take the frothy media out of it, and you tend to end up with folks who are not only decent and sound of mind, but self-controlled, socially respectful, and (in my opinion) demonstrate the real GOODNESS of our American society by Living It even when confronted by those who would do such counterproductive stuff as this ...

Right. Back to my government travels and meeting people from every kind of background, from all over the U.S. — members of every kind of race, award winners and award givers — military personnel (lots of high-ranking officers for some reason) and civilians, all manner of folks here to recognize excellence as demonstrated in one's field of expertise, or courage, all in service of the greater good of America's national community. 'Color' or 'race' was no marked distinguisher of persons among us. People were celebrated simply for what they did, no matter who they were. It's great .. and I guess I just wish (like most others, I imagine) more folks from all across everyone else's racial fence could view everyone else as Just People .. you know? . .. Someday, maybe .. .

 
Lots of distinguished people in attendance (I'm seated front left corner)
 D.C. Award
Took a break from Federal festivities on a rooftop patio overlooking D.C.
 Tombo
 
The four of us at the awards ceremony (Tombo, Kathy, Bill, Wendy)
 D.C. Award
Accepting our award from DOI Secretary Sally Jewell (center)
 D.C. Award
 

This unexpected moment of 'fame' (or recognition, rather) in Our Nation's Capital feels to me a lot like how I ended up as one of the "1970's runners" in the movie "Forrest Gump". My then-wife spotted an ad in the Flagstaff newspaper calling for athletic jogger types to try out as extras for a new Tom Hanks movie being filmed around the area. I made the cut and can be spotted a couple of times in the classic 1994 film, if you know when and where to look. I'm jogging in the background for 2 seconds at the 1:56:57 mark, right past the T-shirt guy looking down at the smiley mud smear Forrest made on his shirt. I'm also visible (barely ~ best on blu-ray) standing behind a guy with an afro (a wig prop, just like Tom Hanks' hat/hair/beard combo in all his running scenes) when Forrest turns around to announce he is going home now. That occurs at 1:58:26 and lasts for 28 seconds. So for a grand total of 30 seconds, I'm a pixely extra immortalized in one of the coolest movies ever made — can't complain!  And for the record, Tom Hanks really is as friendly and nice as he appears in interviews & such.  :-D

 
Out-of-focus but plainly visible jogging behind the 'smiley shirt' guy
 Tombo in "Forrest Gump"
Peeking out from behind that afro when Forrest turns around to face us
 Tombo in "Forrest Gump"
 
Everyone parts out of the way nice and smooth-like, except for me . . .
 Tombo in "Forrest Gump"
He's looking right at me here before I finally step back out of the way
 Tombo in "Forrest Gump"
 

New friend Kaycee recommended I check out the 'Old Ebbitt Grill' for dinner one night, which apparently is something like 160 years old, full of tradition and Presidential nostalgia. It has relocated a number of times, currently residing across the street directly East of the White House. After waiting 30 minutes for a table, my dinner there was good, but even better was Chailin's Chinese Restaurant (aka "the Ancient Chicken") recommended by another new friend, where I scored about four times the amount of seasoned scallops for half the price ~ some of the best Chinese food I've ever had!

And yes, I made it to the top of the Washington Monument. Ever since I was a kid, I have wondered what the view might be like from up there, 500 feet above The National Mall which is so chock-full of memorials and monuments, ringed by museums, and capped off by the Lincoln Memorial at one end, and the U.S. Capitol at the other. I've also wondered what it might look like up inside the very top of this pointed monument, which I discovered is called the 'pyramidion'. Pretty inglorious, it turns out . . just slanted stonework bolted at key junctures with power cables and a few ungainly spotlights. But the view outside from way up there is pretty spectacular . . .

 
At the foot of the Washington Monument (looking West)
 Washington Monument ground view
Looking straight up at the Washington Monument  (555 feet tall)
 Washington Monument ground view
 
Looking up inside the top of the Washington Monument's pyramidion
 Inside the top of the Washington Monument
One of the viewing maps posted up over the windows at the top
 Washington Monument - view East
 
Washington Monument view of White House (North) — [ ROLLOVER]
 Washington Monument - view North
Smithsonian Museums and the Capitol Building (East) — [ ROLLOVER]
 Washington Monument - view East
 
Washington Monument view (S) Jefferson Memorial / Reagan Airport
 Washington Monument - view South
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial / WWII Memorial / Lincoln Memorial
 Washington Monument - view West
 

The latest addition to the National Mall is the loooooong-overdue National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is visible under construction in the lower left corner of the photo (above) looking East toward the Capitol Building. It is scheduled to open next year, and should be pretty incredible. Last time I was here, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial was still being finished, so I could finally visit that impressive monument this time around . . . along with about 6,000 school kids on field trip. You can spot them a mile away all grouped by color-coded T-shirts. Mobs of orange-shirted kids, or red, or blue, or green, or whatever flood the walkways everywhere in D.C. This is great and all, but can be a real challenge to navigate sometimes, like slogging through a rainbow shirt convention in Munchkinland... Especially in front of the Ford Theater historical site, where I waded through thousands of kids one morning all up lined up twenty-across. It's weird though. Right next door to the Ford Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated is a big, bold, bright Hard Rock Café .. .

 
Finally made it to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
 Martin Luther King Jr. Monument
Another view of the Washington Monument
 Washington Monument
 
Our United States Capitol undergoing some restoration
 Capitol Building
Capitol walk: "Politics has separated all of us / government has failed."
"Politics has separated us"
 
Just missed the cherry blossoms - fallen and faded
 cherry blossoms faded
A shaded bench on the Tidal Basin across from the Jefferson Memorial
 bench
 
Wandering around later, I found the "Organization of American States"
 Organization of American States
Most buildings in D.C. look like this
 Washington Buildings
 
The official seal of the OAS and nation members (globe) — [ ROLLOVER]
 OAS seal
How you get around in D.C. ~ the Metro subway
 DC metro subway
 

Next time I get a chance to visit, I'm hoping to explore the solemn Holocaust Memorial Museum, and hopefully hit the U.S. National Archives and maybe the Library of Congress .. and will probably check out the Air and Space Museum again because it is Just That Cool. But this time, I spent a day at the Museum of Natural History, which was a fantastic experience! I think I was most surprised by the Gems and Minerals on display: so many colorful examples, virtually every kind of mineral and gemstone configuration you could possibly ever imagine! I saw the Hope Diamond, meteorites (even one cut in half, which was eerie-looking though made up mostly of iron [alien iron]). Other exhibits that stood out were the dinosaur skeletons obviously, and an entire hall of all manner of other beastie skeletons, and the chillingly-misinformation-packed wide-wing Shrine To Evolution, where 'Lucy' and other skeleton bits are displayed in ways that the bones themselves do not indicate or support. (Think I'm making this up? Research it for yourself - you will find that a growing number of secular scientists are quietly distancing themselves from the theory of evolution as presented through such bad dogma)

By far one of the COOLEST things I was able to experience was their IMAX presentation of "Jerusalem 3D". Imagine gliding through the streets and by-ways of that ancient city in GIANT 3D, soaring overhead and taking in views you will never be able to achieve in person, learning about how the Church of the Holy Sepulchre encompasses both Golgotha, where Jesus Christ was crucified, and the tomb in which He was laid to rest and resurrected, and where all of this is in relation to the ancient (and contemporary) city plans of Jerusalem. For the first time ever, thanks to this incredible presentation, I got a real handle on the physical layout of the Temple Mount in relation to the position of the Wailing Wall, which is a stack of the giant stones left over from when the Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. ~ I could have done without the three girls representing Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and the can't-we-all-just-get-along religious happy-crap flopped out by the script-writers for this Nat'l G production. It's always embarrassing for everyone concerned when secular producers and writers try to sweep under the rug religious matters they clearly do not understand. But in spite of this, viewing the sea of Galilee from the hillsides around Capernaum, the grandeur of Masada, and a whole slew of other locales in and around Jerusalem (in 3D!) is SO worth the price of admission, especially when I consider that this is as close as I will likely ever get to the Holy Land in this life . . .

 
Into the Museum of Natural History!
 Museum of Natural History
FROM ALIEN WORLDS!  ~  historic meteorites
 meteorites
 
A large meteorite cut in half  ~  mesmerizingly funky
 meteorite cut in half
This is just one of thousands of amazing gemstone examples (Fluorite)
 Flourite
 
In case you've always wondered what a Rhinoceros skeleton looks like
 Rhinoceros skeleton
Comin' at you like a Spider Monkey (skeleton)!
 Spider Monkey skeleton
 
Sorry for the blurry photo, but I can span 10 keys on a full-size piano...
 Bird-eating Spider
All sorts of critters, big and small, on display
 Snow Fox
 
Tyrannosaurus Rex!
 T·rex skeleton
Full-size, full grown T·Rex!
 T·rex skeleton
 

I booked a later flight back home to allow a few hours to visit the National Gallery of Art (NGA). Oh man * THAT * is where I need to spend another day, or two..! You know how when people talk about fancy art museums, and you think of gilded halls full of statuary and decorative potted plants, tinkling fountains echoing under high vaulted ceilings? ..This is that place. To quote Bill S. Preston, Esquire: "There were many steps and columns ~ it was most tranquil."  :-)  But something else took me completely by surprise ~ (this demonstrates how many world-class art galleries I've visited) The COLORS and incredible vibrancy on display even in works from the 1400's . .. It is truly amazing to drift from one fascinating piece to the next, examining the cutting edge Best Visions humankind could conjure at every stage through history. It is like stepping along through a real time machine, viewing Man's best presentation and interpretation of the world, and himself in the world, through landscapes and portraits and sculptures. Strolling through this incredible pinnacle of human expression, I felt like I was leaning with hushed breath over the shoulder of each artist pouring his or her soul into the Best Moment they could cultivate through their chosen medium. No book can capture the intricacies and those vivid colors that shine in your eyes so richly in real life. This is why people visit art museums. You truly cannot experience this in any other way. I could see the layered brushstrokes in Van Gogh's self portrait, feel the weight of her gaze from Whistler's "Symphony in White no 1 (The White Girl)" appraising visitors from her place at the end of a long columned hall, and sense the urgency and purpose embodied by the big and bold "Shaw Memorial" . . .

There really, honestly, is way too much on display to convey a sense of how wondrous it is to wander these halls, touching the creative vein of humanity's finest expressions through art ... no way to capture the beauty and elegance of the place itself, perfectly blending these dignified works with the sheer joy of creation. You can almost feel the earnest beating heart of every artist through everything presented here. (God help me if I ever visit the Louvre!)

Perhaps the most impactful moment occurred for me when I wandered into a cloistered foyer hosting four large, central-facing landscapes depicting different stages in a man's life. The collection is entitled "The Voyage of Life" as created by Thomas Cole around 1840. "Childhood", "Youth", "Manhood", and "Old Age" ~ the latter being the first I happened to discover, shows the aged man longing for heaven as his guardian angel assures him of his destiny. I am including them pictorially below, but the expansiveness of these large paintings, the spine-tingling details, urgency of color, barely visible nuances .. all of this is lost in my paltry postcard representations. (I know that I have mixed images from his first painted set [3 & 4] and second set [1 & 2], but they were the clearest representations I could find online — for the record, I prefer his original first set on display at the NGA, which may be examined in detail through the links provided) A written legend of sorts provides accompanies each framed landscape, providing deeper insights from the artist himself. But there is something about the imagery in this work, the symbolism found amid the bold sense of adventure, coupled with the ardent inevitability cast by his brushstrokes... I don't know what it is exactly, but no amount of studying them satisfied me enough to walk away. I felt I never wanted to leave!  There is Truth to be found here, as may also be sensed in plenty of other pieces throughout the museum, but this combination struck me most profoundly with its encapsulated portrayal of man's mortal life. I don't know why.

The NGA also showcases an impressive array of artistically designed antique furniture. Of course, you cannot just plop down in one of their decorative 1700's chairs with a bowl of popcorn and your XBOX controller. Most of the commonwealth through the ages could not afford such luxurious accoutrements as these, but I sometimes consider how we live in such decadence now that most KINGS at the apex of their glory could only dream of . .. push-button lights and electric power, hot and cold running water on tap, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, washers, dryers, refrigerators and freezers, not to mention automobiles, airliners, telephones and computers, and so many entertainment options you could choke to death on just a list of categories! Oh, I do very much appreciate our creature comforts and modern expediencies, but can't help sensing that entire eras of craftsmanship are falling to the wayside as PROGRESS keeps dropping more iGoods into scrabbling hands around the globe. I don't know why this bothers me, exactly . .. but it does.

All of these museums are free to visit — no admission fee or anything — so I encourage you, dear reader, to go check this stuff out for yourself if/when you get the chance. You will not regret it!

 
The fountain in the very center of the National Gallery of Art
 NGA Center
A weird, cool, wall-dropping fountain sort of inside/outside of the NGA
 NGA fountain
 
"The Voyage of Life: Childhood" [1] (Thomas Cole)
 The Voyage of Life: Childhood
"The Voyage of Life: Youth" [2] (Thomas Cole)
 The Voyage of Life: Youth
 
"The Voyage of Life: Manhood" [3] (Thomas Cole)
 The Voyage of Life: Manhood
"The Voyage of Life: Old Age" [4] (Thomas Cole)
 The Voyage of Life: Old Age
 
Van Gogh · self portrait (detail)
 Van Gogh
Shaw Memorial (the 54th Massachusetts Regiment 1863) / see "Glory"
 The Shaw Memorial
 
A Most Excellent Gaming Table among NGA's antique furniture displays
 Most Excellent Gaming Table
The "Multiverse" moving light sculpture in the concourse walkway
 "Multiverse"
 

Finally, no Tombo Studios visit to D.C. would be complete without including some ridiculously gaudy painting in the fine tradition of the neon George Washington I found in my hotel room last time. Actually, this was the first photo I snapped even before boarding my flight back East, but it certainly qualifies. It also demonstrates my general opinion toward most Southwestern art. :-) I'll kick in a couple more travel pix along the bottom for good measure. —— So go visit D.C. ~ you'll be glad you did!

 
'Chase' (Dwayne Hall) © 1997 in a Sky Harbor Airport gallery
 "Chase"
 
Just another archway, walking around in D.C.
 archway
The Mackay Emerald Necklace (MNH)
 Mackay Emerald Necklace
Another great Federal Building — [ ROLLOVER]
 Federal Building
 
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