The Last Day and Some Superlatives

Now, to wrap up my DC journey.

Yesterday was it – our last chance to explore this city and ensure that we left with no major regrets.

The first stop yesterday was the Holocaust Museum. This was something I had wanted to do the entire time in DC but I had never heard significant interest from other people and really didn’t want to go alone. But it turns out that there were a few other people in the house who had really wanted to do it as well, so we seized the moment and went.

There’s not really a lot to say about the museum itself. Which isn’t meant to imply at all that it’s not worth seeing or not a good museum – far from it. But, it is exactly what you think it is: moving, heartbreaking, horrifying, fascinating and even at times hopeful. In terms of its quality simply as a museum, I think it was very well done. It unfolded very logically and you leave with a strong idea of how discrimination and scapegoating of Jews and other marginalized peoples warped into mass murder.

One thing I liked about its setup is that as you move between floors, you would always cross on walkways with glass walls that let the natural light pour in. I’m guessing it was a deliberate design. These walkways give you a chance to take a deep breath, collect yourself and prepare to descend once more in the darkness of the exhibits—a darkness that is both literal and figurative.

The Jefferson Memorial, on the side not obscured by construction.

After the museum, we headed to see the Jefferson and FDR memorials. I had heard a lot of great things about the Jefferson Memorial; a lot of people have told me it’s their favorite of the monuments and memorials. It’s located on the Tidal Basin south of the Mall and the walk there is quite pretty, curving along the water and lined with trees.

I have to say though, I was not quite as enamored with the memorial as it seems everyone else is. A lot of it has more to do with the setting than the structure itself. They are currently doing construction on the pavilion in front of the memorial so there were both a lot of loud noises as well as ugly machinery marring the view of the structure in front of the water. Additionally, it’s quite close to the Reagan airport, so there’s a lot of ambient noise from airplanes coming and going. Adding the throngs of tourists into the mix, the memorial becomes anything but a peaceful place. I’m sure it would be lovely at night, and of course would be much better when the construction is over, but for now I’m not so sure what the hype is about. Which is weird to type, since it means I know have enough of a basis of knowledge about to DC to have strong opinions about memorials.

After the Jefferson, we walked around the basin to reach the FDR memorial. I had also heard a lot about this one as an often-overlooked but very pretty memorial. This one definitely lived up to expectations. It’s very different from the other memorials because it’s not just a single structure. It’s a series of water features, statues, stone walls inscribed with quotes and other elements stretching along a long path. You don’t just visit the FDR memorial—you explore it.

If you like water features, you'll love the FDR memorial.

It’s broken into four parts for each of his terms, and the quotes and features of each section are particular to the events of thatterm. So, the section pertaining to the Great Depression and the New Deal has statues of worn and weathered men standing in line waiting for aid, and the section pertaining to World War II has quotes specific to his thoughts on war. It’s all very lush and peaceful (much less heavily trafficked than any other memorial or monument, probably because it requires more walking to get to).

Now that the last of my adventures have been dutifully reported and tied up, I’d like to reflect on the highs and lows of my time in DC. This isn’t meant to be any sort of authoritative list for you to shape your own future visit to DC around; it’s just a way of drawing some final thoughts from this trip,

Favorite Monument/Memorial: I have to say the Lincoln Memorial. I know this isn’t a very novel choice, but it just seems to have the best of everything. It’s a beautiful structure with massive historical significance (so many important speeches and events have happened there). It also has a terrific view of the mall, and, as I experienced myself, is a lovely place from which to watch the sunrise.

Favorite War-Themed Memorial: Definitely the World War II memorial. It’s a very classic style, compared to the Korean and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials, but that gives it a timeless feel: it doesn’t feel dated by the style of any specific era or like it’s making a statement. It’s got huge pillars and fountains and also provides a great view of the Lincoln Memorial. I recommend visiting just after sunrise J

Least Favorite Monument/Memorial: The Washington Monument is cool to look at from the ground, but I don’t think going to the top was really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to pay for tickets, you just have to reserve online or stand in line really early in the morning. But it doesn’t really offer anything special. You go up to the top, you look through little dirty windows at the city, you go back down. I suppose if you like heights it’d be cool, but I’m kind of indifferent to that.

Favorite Smithsonian: American History by far. I’m not a history buff per se, but this museum just had so many fascinating exhibits and neat holdings, like the actual Star-Spangled Banner or Dorothy’s ruby slippers. It’s a museum of American culture as much as it’s a museum of American history.

Least Favorite Smithsonian: I didn’t enjoy the Air and Space Museum much, but that has more to do with my personal tastes. I don’t really like science and engineering when they get technical, nor do I have much of an appreciation for technology and “how things work.” So all the exhibits on planes and flight were much too dry for me. The space side was better, though.

Favorite Thing That Wasn’t Free: The Newseum. You know why.

Favorite Restaurant: I’m sure DC is a foodie’s heaven…if you have the money. I didn’t, so we didn’t do a lot of eating out. But, there was one place we kept going back to, and that place is Good Stuff Eatery. It’s a burger joint, but more like 5 Guys than McDonalds. The burgers are handcrafted and juicy, the fries are creatively seasoned, and the milkshakes… ah, the milkshakes. It’s possible that more than anything, I’ll miss late night runs to Good Stuff. If you are ever in DC, go there. It’s worth every penny.

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The One Museum Worth Paying For

Yesterday, a long-time dream came true and I crossed the one “must do” in DC off my list. It wasn’t a monument or a landmark or a general sight to see. It was the Newseum.

Yes, the museum of news. If you know anything about me, you know I’m a bit off a journalism nerd. I’ve been involved in papers since high school, and though I’m no longer a journalism major (or even a communications major), I do still write for Marquette’s paper (yay Trib!) and in general love newspapers and current events.  My favorite iPhone app is not some goofy game or something that can tell me where I parked my car (though that is still useful!) – it’s the New York Times app. So, suffice to say, I am all over this museum.

A section of the Berlin Wall

And oh, it did not disappoint. Quite frankly, at times it felt like I would have designed the exact same museum for some of the exhibits it had. For example, I really love old newspapers (old meaning from 1700s to just a couple years ago) – I love seeing what people thought and felt about various issues given their historical context and the information they had available. One part of the museum had probably a hundred newspapers on display from various historical events, from the Revolutionary War to Obama’s election. I probably could have spent all day there.

Other notable exhibits: On the basement level, they had a display on East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall that included several panels from the wall and an original East German guard tower. On the main level, there was an extensive gallery of Pulitzer-prize winning photographs, including explanations of the events surrounding the photos. It’s always amazed me how a single moment caught on film can have incredible ramifications.

There was a special exhibit on 9/11, focusing on journalistic coverage of the event. This included a massive wall display of front pages from that day – it’s always interesting to see how papers reacted to such a stunning event, with headlines ranging from a bold, jarring “ATTACKED” (which I still remember my hometown paper at the time, The Florida Times Union, using) to the more inflamed “BASTARDS!” It was a little surreal seeing children go through this exhibit, knowing that they really had no idea what it was like to know both the pre- and post-9/11 world. At one point, I was near a woman who was explaining to two girls, who looked to be about 12 years old, what exactly happened on that day. It was hard for me to imagine my only knowledge of 9/11 coming from museum exhibits and stories from others.

Pictures of journalists who have died doing their jobs

One of the most stirring parts of the museum was the Journalists’ Memorial and accompanying exhibit on the risks of being a journalist. It seems to me people are so quick to demonize journalists but far slower to acknowledge how tirelessly and selflessly many of them work to cover stories they believe are vital for the world to hear. Every day, journalists all over the world are harassed, kidnapped, tortured and even killed for their work – people like Daniel Pearl or Anna Politkovskaya. Journalists deserve to be revered far more than they deserve to be maligned, in my opinion.

The Newseum probably isn’t for everyone. I spent nearly six hours there, so obviously I loved it. If you don’t have a general interest in the media or current events, though, you’ll probably just feel overwhelmed and have a hard time knowing what you should be getting out of this museum. Paying for a museum is a big decision in a city where so many great ones are free, but at least for me, this was easily the best 20 dollars I’ve spent in DC .

Land of the Free… Museums

Phew! So much to catch up on!

The bowling on Friday was good and bad. Good in that I had a chance to meet more people, especially interns (one of whom it turns out also received a DAAD Scholarship, interestingly). It was bad in that I shamed myself thoroughly because oh my God I suck at bowling. I made sure to warn the people on my team, and they, of course, were nice and shrugged it off because hey, it’s about team building, right? But by the end of the game I think many of them were a bit flabbergasted how someone can be so poorly coordinated. Unsurprisingly, I slipped away after the first game and found new people to talk to.

After bowling I had a bit of time to spare before other people got back from their internships and I didn’t want to just hang out in the apartment alone, so I decided to go see the Library of Congress.

Did you know: "Hall o' Madison" is not the proper name for this room.

I first went into the Madison Building (there are three buildings if you didn’t know – I didn’t) which isn’t very pretty from the outside (picture) and does little to redeem itself inside. I just wandered around the halls, which looked uncomfortably like a high school’s (wide, linoleum, fluorescent lighting, off-white walls) but I suppose it’s possible behind some of the doors lies untold splendors. They do have a hall o’ Madison which was kinda nice. It’s a room with a statue of James Madison and some of his quotes (well, I assumed they were his quotes).

After briefly exploring the Madison building I migrated to the main Library of Congress. It made up nicely for the spartan Madison building.

Actually, that doesn’t quite do it justice. The Library of Congress is BEAUTIFUL. I had no idea what it was like inside, but it was essentially my heaven. Standing in the Great Hall, there is so much to look at – columns and arches and walls full of paintings of figures whom you wish you could think of their name because you would feel smarter. They also had some awesome exhibits on topics like the early Americas (meaning, Mayan culture and things of that nature), colonial times, and the role political satire has played in American history. I was impressed at the quality of the exhibits – they were as good as you would find in a Smithsonian museum.

My favorite display was Thomas Jefferson’s library. Essentially they have recreated his entire collection of books (which he sold to the Library of Congress to start its collection) using the original books that he owned or identical copies from other sources that the library has acquired to reconstruct the collection. It was such a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the founding fathers and the kind of literature that was prized then. I would have given anything to have been able to pull books off the shelves and peruse them for hours. Curse you, bullet-proof plexiglass.

The Great Hall: Not just for wizards

Friday night we got phenomenal milk shakes from a nearby eatery called Good Stuff (that’s what all college kids do on a Friday night, right? Drink milkshakes?). We went on a walk around the Capitol (how passé) and unexpectedly found a five-minute fireworks show. Ah, D.C. in the summer.

Saturday we went to the American History Museum. We thought, rather foolishly, that we might hit up the Natural History Museum as well, but it turns out the American History Museum is really quite large and we ended up spending almost five hours there! I really, really enjoyed it though. Most of the exhibits were fascinating. My favorites were one on the history of America’s wars (I think memorabilia from the Revolutionary War is so neat. It’s so old! Do you see now why I think Antiques Roadshow is the best 50 minutes on television?) and the Star Spangled Banner exhibit. That particular one featured the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem during the War of 1812. I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this exhibit. But the history was really interesting and quite frankly, the flag itself was really flipping cool. It was big (huge!) and old and worn and just saturated with history. What more can you ask for?

When we were finally done at the museum, it was too late to go to another museum, but it was still sunny and we were near the Washington Monument so we decided to mosey over there. It was nice to see it up close (so tall!). I guess you can get tickets to go up to the top of it, but they release the day’s tickets at 8 a.m. every morning and apparently people often line up beforehand. So I doubt we will do this while we are here, since why in God’s name would we wake up even earlier than we already do? Madness!

Sunday was zoo day! As in, yet another awesome thing that is totally free. The zoo was very nice, although the animals weren’t particularly active (if they were visible at all) because it was so hot. We’re the ones sweating it out schlepping all over the park to see these guys, the least they could do is come out of their nook. Sheesh. But we saw pandas and elephants and anteaters (my favorite!) and all in all it’s a great zoo at a price that really can’t be beat (unless there’s a zoo out there that pays you to attend. hmm…)

This week I’ve really been able to get a much better idea of what I’ll actually be doing at my internship. I’ve been given a couple projects and even got to sit in on a panel on Brazilian patent law, featuring the president of Brazil’s patent and trademark office. I was surprised how interesting that actually ended up – it was kind of neat to enter a meeting with zero knowledge of the subject matter and leave feeling almost knowledgeable.

I also got a chance on Wednesday to walk around the White House a little bit, since the Chamber is very close. I’d like to go back since I’ve only seen the back of it, but it certainly is a sight to behold. There was a group of protesters there, I think demanding that the president of Sudan be tried for crimes against humanity, but they didn’t bother me. Actually, in a way, I thought it was kind of appropriate for them to be there. The right to assemble and protest has been so crucial to the American identity and experience that it only seems fitting for it to be exercised in the shadow of America’s highest elected official, as a reminder that his power is never absolute (or ought not ever be so).

Finally, just got back from another museum! We went to the Natural History Museum today. It was, shockingly enough, another awesome museum. I think my favorite part of it was the collection of minerals and gemstones – there were so many beautiful things to look at! And of course, you can’t forget the dinosaur skeletons. There was also a fascinating exhibit on human origins that I think is pretty new.

Sorry for the exceedingly long post. I’ll try not to let that happen again.

A Love for Old Things

I have the luxury of being up at midnight the morning of what should be a work day because Friday is not, in fact, a work day for me. Unless you consider meeting up with coworkers at noon for bowling and frivolity hard work, in which case tomorrow’s going to be a real slog.

Wednesday was my first day on the job, although it wasn’t indicative of what a typical day will be. The Chamber was having an all staff meeting in large part because they are transitioning to a new chair. I arrived at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters around nine a.m. after successfully navigating the Metro during the morning rush hour (though I did display my alarmingly poor directional skills once more by essentially walking a circle upon exiting the station). I got my official badge and then met up with the director of the branch of the Chamber I will be working with, called TradeRoots.

She took me to the staff meeting, which was a neat chance to see most of the Chamber staff assembled in one place. I also got to hear the outgoing and incoming chairs speak, which helped me get an idea of the Chamber’s advocacies and positions. Afterward there was a reception complete with cookies and various other snacks – apparently the old college standby of using food to lure people to events works in the corporate world too.

After going to lunch with a couple of the office staff members, I was driven to the offices for TradeRoots – apparently the Chamber is undergoing some renovations, which have moved my office out to a townhouse near the Capitol. It’s a little odd to be working in a literal house (replete with front and backyards, kitchen, etc.) but it’s nice that it’s so small, since it will be easy to know everyone there.  It’s also within walking distance of the Aspin apartments.

I also found out I am actually getting paid for this internship – the hearty sum of six dollars a day. Apparently that is intended to cover my Metro costs since if TradeRoots was in its original offices, I would be using the Metro every day to get to the Chamber headquarters. But, since most days I will only need to walk to work, looks like I’ll make a small profit – just enough for beer money (mom and dad, look away).

Today (Thursday) was our first day of real class. The course we are taking is Congress and Foreign Policy. It’s interesting subject matter, since often our discussions will address specific members of Congress, under some of whom other Aspin interns are working. It’s a neat way to make the coursework especially relevant.

After class a group of us decided to hit some museums on the National Mall. We first went to the Air and Space Museum, which was relatively close, but the Washington DC heat is just brutal. I know I’ve said it before and I will absolutely say it again – it is freaking hot here. The first burst of air conditioning inside the museum felt like the breath of life.

The museum itself was good, although the “Air” aspect wasn’t quite my cup of tea – I don’t normally care for flight museums because I’m not very interested in machinery or technical explanations. I much prefer looking at or reading about old things (really, I’m pretty easy to please). However I really enjoyed the Space aspect; they had a really awesome exhibit on the Apollo missions (old things!) and a beautiful gallery of photos from space.

Next we went to the National Archives – I didn’t realize this was where documents like the Declaration of Independence were held; I had just thought they were in the Museum of American History. When we first arrived we were a little dismayed to see a line stretching outside the entrance just to get in, but it moved quickly enough.  We poked around the other exhibits a bit (and were a bit startled to just happen upon the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation – it seemed like it should have gotten a little more fanfare, but maybe I just like old parchments too much) but we were pretty singularly focused on seeing the big three – the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (old things!)

Those documents were housed in a special chamber with a long queue of people waiting to get in – they controlled the entry so people wouldn’t get quite so bunched up. The line didn’t take too long, and I really enjoyed looking at the documents – there’s just something I love about original documents from different time periods. They’re just such a window into the past, and seeing the original documents themselves makes you think about the individuals who wrote it more as real people than as vague historical figures – looking at the signatures on the Declaration, you realize these were real people making an impossibly bold stand.

The woman who is my intern coordinator isn’t going to be in tomorrow morning, and the entire international division of the Chamber is off for a “staff retreat” tomorrow (the aforementioned bowling) so I am just going to meet up with the staff members at bowling tomorrow. It’s an odd way to start my internship, since I still don’t really have a feel for what I will be doing, but I’m just happy to be here, really.

And here are some miscellaneous pictures:

The Capitol, from the Mall.

This is also the Capitol

This too is the Capitol; however, this picture is clearly completely different as it is at night.

The Archives

The Supreme Court.