Final days

02Dec11

Week and a half before I leave these fine shores, and only five days left in DC. Craziness. Spending the final week slowly meandering my way to Los Angeles, via Birmingham, AL (of all places) and San Francisco. Looking forward to getting the train from SF to LA; day-long trip where the rails hug the coast all the way down. In fact, here’s a photo of the tracks I took when I was out there in October (complete with friend living dangerously by sitting on a rail to put her shoes on):

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I’m in this weird space where I am completely and utterly ready to get home and see everyone and eat copious amounts of food with my friends and have Christmas with my family and generally revel in the home-ness of it all. But then on the flip side there’s still so much I haven’t seen or done, and I’m going to miss people over here and the city of DC… I had originally thought I’d spend these last couple of weeks doing a lot more travel, but I came to the decision that I didn’t want to be running around like a mad-woman, trying to see an entire country (or even the entire North East) in two weeks. This is clearly not going to be my last trip to the US. Far from it. And when I come back Boston and Philadelphia and New York and Colonial Williamsburg and Atlanta and Savannah and Falling Water and… well, they’ll all still be here.

So! Instead of running around like a mad-woman I’ve had a mostly relaxing few weeks, getting little annoying things organised (banking, amazon subscriptions, sending packages), eating a lot of food (hello, amazeballs thanksgiving lunch at Lincoln!), applying for jobs back in Australia (urgh), and doing some final (for now) wanders around the city. Have a few photos.

Went for a walk along the Mall the day after Thanksgiving (and accidentally did some Black Friday shopping on my walk to the metro that night, oops). Twas a beautiful day... this is the main building of the National Gallery of Art.

In Winter the fountain at the National Gallery of Art becomes an ice-skating rink. That's the National Archives and Record Administration building in the background.

Skating rink with no skaters. You better believe I stayed to watch that zamboni do its thing. Hypnotic my friends, hypnotic.

Cool silver tree sculpture in the NGA sculpture garden.

I dropped into the Museum of National History further down the Mall, as I’d seen something about live butterflies the last time I was there (to seen an imax movie) and, well, I’m a sucker for butterfly houses. Turns out you have to pay to get in with the butterflies, but it all turned out ok because (1) there were a heap of other live insects on display for free (giant centipedes for the win!), and (2) oh my god AMAZING exhibition hidden behind the live insects called “Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.”

I completely nerded out in this exhibition. So many skeletons! Including several syphilitic skulls! (what, you don’t like looking at syphilitic skulls?) Other highlights:

Skull! Not syphilitic, but the round hole in the teeth? Caused by chewing on a pipe. Apparently this was a common thing back in the day! There was also a female skull with much smaller grooves in the teeth, caused by her holding pins in her mouth. Seamstress teeth! Amazing.

Tuberculosis in the spine! This photo doesn't convey the size very well, but seriously, this thing was so ridiculously compressed and small. Also amazing.

Do you now all think I’m a freak? Whatevs. BONES!

A couple of days later I took another long meandering walk, this time starting at Woodley Park and heading down through Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle to Logan Circle, and then all the way down 11th Street to E (where I saw a movie at the fabulous E Street Cinema). Hey, how about a helpful map to show you where I went! For those of you who have no idea where any of those places are! (i.e., most of you.)

Another beautiful day. This is the Connecticut Avenue Bridge, which crosses Rock Creek Park and links Woodley Park with Adams Morgan.

Logan Circle is pretty.

And another lovely walk today. Started at Pound the Hill, one of my all-time favourite places in DC, and somewhere I am going to seriously miss, especially as they’ve just introduced a range of delicious baked goods. Bread pudding muffins!

From Pound I headed up Pennsylvania to the Capitol, then down the Hill to the Botanic Gardens to check out their holiday display. I guess it must be a tradition of some sort? I was mostly baffled.

There was a big tree, which was nice...

...but then there were also all these models of buildings, both real and imaginary, seemingly made out of plant matter. Here's the Capitol Building...

...and the homes of various Presidents, surrounded by a model train set.

Botanic Gardens did, however, have this awesome festive moose outside.

Popped over to the National Museum of the American Indian, which was also a bit baffling, but that’s always been the case. Spent an hour or so in there, then kept on wandering down the Mall – got accosted by a guy outside the Air and Space Museum who wanted to tell me all about the wonders of yoga. Of course. He had a strange fixation on “heavy Australian dairy products.” wtf.

The Hirshhorn was looking lovely, all lit up in red (I assume for World AIDS Day).

And then there was this view. Ahh DC, I’m going to miss you.

(I will not miss the poor image quality of my cell phone camera.)

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Last day

21Nov11

Last day at work. Sad, because I will miss everyone lots and lots and lots, but not too much, because I’m so thankful I got to work for them at all, and I know we’ll all keep in touch.

Possible return of the daily photo* now I’m not working and may actually do vaguely exciting things? Thick fog this morning, which made the graveyard I walk past on the way to the Metro even creepier than usual. Fun fact: F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried there.

Who knows, there could even be daily videos! My amazing going away present from my amazing colleagues was a beautiful flip video cam.


So…

19Nov11

I guess I still have a blog? That I haven’t updated in over two months? Yeah. Sorry about that. September was insane, with conferences and board meetings and receptions and curriculum development (seriously), and then October I was off galavanting across this great country (Skyline Drive, Charlottesville, Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, Raleigh, Beaufort, Wilmington, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Mono Lake, Yosemite, Santa Cruz!), then there was another reception and a quick jaunt to New York and now it’s November and oh my god I’m going home in three weeks. Three. Weeks.

So I’m not going to try and do an in-depth update that covers everything I’ve done over the last two months, because then I wouldn’t write anything and the blog would never be updated again. Instead, here – have a few more disconnected thoughts and photos that vaguely reference what I’ve been up to.

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The new MLK memorial is ugly. And inappropriate. and the quote is wrong. In fact, pretty much everything to do with the memorial has been mired in controversy.

But I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a little teary listening to the speeches at the dedication ceremony.

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I listened to the speeches on a crappy tv at a tiny regional airport near Beaufort, North Carolina. If you’re ever in the area, you should stay at the Inlet Inn in Beaufort, because you can have views like this out our bedroom window:

If you do go to Beaufort and stay at the Inlet Inn, you should cross the road and go to the Beaufort Grocery for dinner. AMAZING.

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Other places you should eat? Lincoln, in downtown DC. Go for the million pennies stuck to the floor, stay for the pork belly and beans.

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You should all visit Death Valley. As soon as possible. Right now, preferably. Because that place is insane, and definitely one of the all-out highlights of our trip. It’s the hottest, driest, lowest places in the United States. It also frequently looks like the moon.

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Don’t bother visiting Las Vegas. Or, if you do, visit before you go to the Grand Canyon. The cognitive dissonance between the natural grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the disgusting conspicuous consumption of Vegas (all I could think was “carbon footprint”) was just a tad jarring.

Yes, that is indeed a drunk bride standing in a flowerbed.

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I may not have been updating the blog, but I have been updating my Reading list. Up to 26! That means four to go before December 5. Definitely doable, particularly seeing as I finish work on Monday.

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Finishing work! Craziness! I’ll be really sad to say goodbye to everyone; they’re an amazing, inspiring group of people, and there are several projects just starting that I’m sorry I won’t be able to work on. However! There is the possibility that I’ll be back doing some work for them next year, so it’s not a forever goodbye, at least.

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I’ve been following the Occupy protests at UC Davis today. There are many things in this country that make me so sad, and so angry, and so fearful for the future. And then there are other things that make me think that maybe it might all work out ok after all.

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Some photos from (one of) the Occupy DC protests, taken back in mid-October.

Sorry about the date stamps on these photos, I was still working out how to use my new lovely camera.

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The new lovely camera that I left, like an idiot, in the bathroom at the Met in New York last weekend. Arrgghh. This also means that I don’t have photos from the Occupy Wall Street protests, but we did go and have a look (just in time, as it turns out).

The park was a lot smaller than I was expecting, and it is literally across the road from the World Trade Center site.

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Three weeks! Ahh!


Some disconnected thoughts on September 11, then and now:

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Everyone has their own “where were you” story. This is mine:

I was watching The West Wing when the first plane hit. During an ad break Jim Waley came on and announced that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. Like many others, I assumed it was pilot error, a small plane that had veered off course (now, everyone assumes terrorism first, accident second). Channel 9 kept The West Wing going, but every ad break Waley would come back on with updates – apparently he wanted to fully interrupt the broadcast and go straight to the news but higher-ups in the station shut him down. When The West Wing finished channel 9 cut straight to a live feed of CNN, which is why I saw, live, the second plane hit, both towers fall, and learnt about the attack on the Pentagon. I must’ve stayed up until 3am watching the coverage, and I remember setting my alarm and getting up at 6.30 that morning to go back and watch more.

Tasmanian schools were on holiday then, and classes didn’t go back for a week and a half, so we had plenty of time to sit around and be horrified. I remember when we did go back to school, the teacher for one of my afternoon classes giving up and giving the entire period over to talking about what had happened – I think he realised that we all needed to get it out of our system in some way.

***

This afternoon I headed to the “Art on Foot” festival, held on the streets of downtown DC. I arrived around lunch, when the event should’ve been packed, but there was hardly anyone around. I bought some gelato and got talking to the vendor, who said that it had been a lot busier the day before. He talked about how he’d watched a documentary on heroic 9/11 stories earlier in the week; he was in awe that new tales were still emerging.

I walked down a few blocks to “Freedom Plaza” where there was an event going on as part of the 9/11 Day of Service project. It’s entirely possible there were more police at the event than volunteers. Part of the problem is that the only thing about Freedom Plaza that makes it suitable for this kind of event is its name – a block of concrete between two major roads, there’s no shade whatsoever, which is a bit of a problem on a hot day like today. But I think the main problem was that not many people wanted to come out at all, irrespective of the weather, particularly to a place with a crowd of people.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton was speaking when I arrived, but not many people were listening. I sat in the shade behind the stage, but did stand (and cry a little, I admit) when a high school choir came on and sang the national anthem.

To continue the 9/11 theme of the day, I walked over to the National Museum of American History, which was hosting a temporary exhibition of objects retrieved from the crash sites. The line to get into the exhibition was ridiculously long (wait times of 1.5 hours, at least) so I didn’t go in, but in a separate theatre they were showing 9/11: Stories in Fragments, a new documentary about the items from the exhibition.

God. Ten years later, the footage of those planes hitting the towers, and of one and then the other falling, is still profoundly shocking. I think you can watch the full documentary on the Smithsonian Channel website, and I’d strongly recommend it – touching and poignant stories, as well as some great insights into how the Smithsonian went about fulfilling its mission of being the official repository for objects relating to the attacks.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I decided to round out the day with a visit to the Pentagon Memorial. The Pentagon metro stop presented me with this disturbing ad when I stepped off the train:

Lovely. (The entire station was decked out in similar posters.)

I’d never been to the Memorial before. It’s in an unfortunate location – you have to walk quite a way across a parking lot to reach it – but then we can’t choose the location for acts of terror.

The memorial itself is… nice, I guess, and I suspect will be less harsh and more welcoming once the trees and grasses grow.

Unfortunately a lot of the powerful symbolism present in the design isn’t immediately clear, and it was only after listening to the (excellent) audio tour created by the Pentagon Memorial Fund that I understood the layout properly. The Vietnam Memorial doesn’t need a 24 minute audio tour to explain why it’s powerful; it just is. Unfortunately that’s not the case here.

The benches are arranged by the age of the victim; the youngest was only three.

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Living in the US this year has given me a new perspective on the attacks. A lot of my thoughts on the topic are confused and often contradictory, but I do know that I’m far less likely to sneer and cynically dismiss the overt displays of patriotism and flag-waving that we saw in 2001, and still see today. Undoubtedly enormous, grave mistakes were made in the days, weeks, months and years following the attacks. But it’s possible to judge those mistakes, and the people who made them, while still respecting the ways in which the American people dealt with their collective grief. I don’t think I’d really appreciated what a collective wound the attacks had caused on this nation’s psyche until I stood at Ground Zero back in 2008, and at the Pentagon Memorial this year.

If the planes that fly low behind the Lincoln Memorial on their way to Reagan National Airport make me feel a little uneasy then I can’t imagine how it makes those people who were at the Pentagon that day ten years ago feel. When the city in which you live is regularly the target of terrorist threats (as it was this week) then you have to work extra hard not to “give in” to the fear, whatever “giving in” to the fear would actually involve. It’s so sad that when the earthquake hit a few weeks ago, most people’s first thought (including mine) was “terrorist attack.” How long before that stops being our first assumption?

And how long before the US moves on from the large yearly memorial services and collective displays of  remembrance that we saw today? The last memorial service for the victims of the Port Arthur massacre was held in 2006, ten years after the shootings. I don’t have any deep or profound thoughts on this topic, and I’m absolutely not going to try to say that people should have moved on by now etc. because clearly that would be stupid.

But it’s still something that fascinates me – what does it actually mean when we say “Never Forget”? Elizabeth Giddens wrote in the NYT last week about the Prison Ships Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn, the final resting place for 11,500 Americans who died during the Revolutionary War on British prison ships. 20,000 showed up for the memorial’s dedication in 1908, but its purpose is largely forgotten today. While I think the 9/11 memorial in New York will be relevant for longer, as Giddens points out at the end of her piece, “Never is an awfully long time.”


  • reindeer pissing
  • finger starfish
  • “goat on a cow”
  • wet suit woman
  • new york nerd stuff
  • cooking with vegeta
  • some extreme things
  • dip feet mall fountain
  • marinettis corkage [love it!]
  • dangers of opium
  • woman with lions
  • damp horrible beach
  • things made from a hairbrush
  • opium on old time music
  • eat chips walk
  • fish chips disgusting
  • safe explosion 2012
  • t.v is not a waste of time

and finally:

  • internet waste of time

Judged purely by these search terms, I’d have to agree.


A wee update

05Sep11

I’m not dead! Obviously! Have survived an earthquake, hurricane, and some crazy business at work that meant I didn’t leave the office before 7pm all week.

Earthquake was a complete non-event for me – was on the metro at the time and had no idea anything was wrong until I got to work and the whole office was standing outside our building after evacuating. My train had been held at a station for a couple of minutes for “schedule adjustments” but I hadn’t felt anything at all. Bit of a let-down, really. “Surviving an earthquake” is always a good travel story – last time I was in London I was woken up by one, because apparently I only experience earthquakes in cities where they are definitely not typical occurrences (was once woken up by one in Tasmania, as well).

I was slightly worried that the Kennedy Center might have closed that night and I wouldn’t get to see Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, and many other awesome Australians in Uncle Vanya, but all was well. Guys, it was amazing. It’s actually slightly weird to see “big names” like that in live theatre; there’s this strange sense of knowing them already. Although seeing them live does confirm why they are big names to begin with – Blanchett, Roxburgh and Weaving all had such incredible and powerful stage presence. Fabulous night. And the venue didn’t hurt, either: The Kennedy Center’s so beautiful at dusk/night.

The view from the Kennedy Center terrace, looking towards the Lincoln Memorial.

The lower Kennedy Center terrace at night.

The hurricane was also a bit of a non-event, at least where I was, anyway. Lots of rain, sure, and the wind on Saturday night was pretty impressive (was woken by some incredible gusts about 1am), but all in all it was just a relatively bad storm. Don’t believe anything you read though about it being over-hyped, all an overreaction though – 50 people died, and there was (and still is) serious flooding in some areas, particularly in New England. I was actually really impressed by the government preparations. Clearly (and thankfully) lessons have been learned since Katrina.

Taken the day after the hurricane hit: the Apple store in Bethesda was clearly taking no chances, and had boarded up all its windows just in case.

While we’re on the topic of earthquakes and hurricanes, can we just take a moment to tally all the batshit crazy natural phenomena I’ve lived through since arriving here?!:

  • Thundersnow (which resulted in us being without power for 5 days);
  • The hottest July on record in the DC area;
  • Magnitude 5.8 earthquake, the biggest in Virginia since records began;
  • Hurricane Irene; and
  • A swamp fire on the border of Virginia and North Carolina that caused poor air quality in the DC area (at least the hurricane put this out).

And hurricane season doesn’t end until November. People over here are always talking about how dangerous Australia is, with its sharks and its spiders and harsh wilderness. Well, I say the extreme Australian environment has nothing on the US. This continent is scary.

So yeah, apart from surviving extreme weather I haven’t been doing much more than working like a mad woman, and then coming home in the dark to crash and watch Star Trek: Voyager like a zombie on the couch. Guys, this show is awesome! Seriously! TNG will always hold Number One (little pun there) place in my heart, but Voyager is a close second, and not just because I am fascinated by the physics of Janeway’s hair. Just watched a great episode where Tuvok has to care for three children after his shuttle crashes, and it was hilarious. Throughout the show Tuvok frequently makes a look that can best be described as “bitch, please”, and it was on frequent display in this episode.

Wow, this has been a pretty random update. From earthquakes to Tuvok. Sorry about that. I’m hoping to get back into the habit of daily posts, but probably not until next week – work will be similarly insane in the coming days (conference living!) but after that things will hopefully calm down to a manageable level of manic.

To finish: have a rather nice photo of Connecticut Avenue, looking north away from Dupont Circle. Took it one night this week after a long day at the office.


God, it’s been a week. There’s been the good (Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh at the Kennedy Center!), the intense (work has been crazy, and will stay that way for at least the next month and a half), and the weird (EARTHQUAKE). And now… hurricane! It doesn’t look like it’ll hit the DC area that badly – we’re not a coastal area, after all – but that clearly didn’t stop some panic buying of bottled water. I took this photo at the CVS (a chain of pharmacies, along the lines of Priceline in Australia) this afternoon after work. Decimated.

Apart from the chance of losing power (fairly good odds, considering how crap the electricity company is here) we should be fine – a lot of rain, but not much else. So hopefully I’ll get the chance to catch up on daily photo posts this weekend, for as long as the power and/or my battery hold out.

Can I just say again though, for the craziness factor: earthquake AND hurricane in the same week. This continent is a little bit insane.