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.

The First Day

Thus far I am loving D.C. (please note that like a good Washington State resident I am referring to it as D.C. and not Washington). The location of the Aspin apartments simply cannot be beat. It’s one thing to hear that they’re located a few blocks from the Capitol, but it’s quite another thing to actually make that walk and realize that you did, in fact, just walk to the Capitol in under ten minutes.

This proximity offers a neat opportunity to develop a familiarity with national landmarks that the average tourist just wouldn’t get. Case in point, last night around 10:30 p.m. or so, a group of us decided to take a walk to the Capitol. I was surprised at how it could still be so stunning at night (though I guess the extensive lighting helps). How many people have taken a late night stroll around the Capitol and the mall simply because they could – and how many even have the opportunity?

I also didn’t realize before my arrival how close so many other symbols of D.C. are nearby, such as the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. I took a walk to the Capitol yesterday while talking to my parents on the phone and my running commentary went something like “Hmm, a large building to my right… Oh, that must be the Supreme Court. And that sign says that’s the Library of Congress. Oh, so that’s the Capitol right in front of me. Huh.”

I haven’t done as extensive exploring as I would like, partly because the extreme heat is pretty prohibitive, and it’s not like I need to be in a rush. Much of the group went on an excursion to Target today for groceries and other miscellaneous goods. It was our first foray onto the Metro and it went pretty smoothly. Keeping track of so many people was difficult at times, but we did a pretty good job ensuring there was No Intern Left Behind.

Tomorrow is my first day at my internship, and it will be interesting. I got an e-mail today that said the original plan had changed. I am working with TradeRoots, a branch of the Chamber of Commerce. They have an office building that is just south of the Capitol (so I could walk there), but apparently there is a big Chamber staff meeting tomorrow at the headquarters (near the White House), so instead I will have to take the Metro up. I’m a little nervous since today was my first time on the Metro, but it seems pretty intuitive and I won’t have to make any transfers. Still, it’ll be the Metro at rush hour. I’m guessing it’ll be an experience!