Wednesday 1 October 2014

Museum guilt

Is this an official thing? It should be: I'm certainly afflicted with it right now. It's what happens when you visit a museum where immense effort has been clearly expended in accumulating and displaying exhibits, in explaining them clearly and thoroughly, all with the most honourable of intentions - and then you the intended beneficiary of all this work and enthusiasm just flit past, glancing and selectively ignoring, in the most superficial way possible. It doesn't matter that it's not  by choice, that it's dictated by time constraints out of my control, and by epic jetlag (Joburg to Auckland to San Francisco with just one night in my own bed in between, remember)  - I still feel bad for all those curators, their hard work spurned. Sorry!

But what I did see,  through the blur,  was so impressive. The Capitol, with all its statues (no JFK, incidentally - it's not good enough to be President, you have to have served your time as a senator to qualify). The Library of Congress, its main hall just gorgeous, from the stained glass ceiling to its marble floor. The Conservatory, so high and so lush with jungle  plants. The Smithsonian Museum of Space and Air, crammed with the real thing, from the Wright brothers to Apollo 11 (though somewhat dismissive of Richard Pearse's achievements pre-1903, I have to say - also, New Zealand is missing on their globe).  The new Newseum, with its 9/11 display so well done one visitor was moved to tears, and its fascinating collection of front pages through the centuries. And finally the Natural History museum, the Hope Diamond sparkling and the sprawling rhino shot by Teddy Roosevelt a sad sight. ("Currently highly endangered" says the label succinctly.)

There was also a night tour of the monuments with a cheerful, funny guide: in the dark those dignified buildings are arguably even more beautiful, and definitely more theatrical. The monuments too: Martin Luther King, Jr is just mighty, and it seems appropriate that Lincoln looms higher the further away you get from the statue. If I had to choose, though, it's the Iwo Jima memorial that was most impressive under the lights, different and dramatic from every angle.

So that's Washington DC done. Not done at all, of course - so much missed out. Sigh.

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