Monday, March 11, 2013

Touches of the Orient in the Capital

I spent the first two nights with Liz and her family. She was
to go to one of the Inauguration Balls so had to be spiffed. We
started off at a nail salon in Silver Spring; then to the hairdresser,
then to a dozen different shops trying to find an exact color of
nail polish.

I indulged in a pedicure.  Once, back in the sixties, someone
told me I had beautiful ankles!  That odd remark has become a
running joke amongst my friends, so this is for you, Rodney,
and for you, Jim.  (I also have beautiful arches.)

The next two nights I spent at my friends Bill and Bill's place, and I
was going to die if I didn't get to see the exhibit of the work of the
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei (pronounced, I'm told, I-Way-Way) at the Hirshhorn
Art Museum, so Bill and I (Billy had to work) spent post-InauguralDay museuming.  One
installation was of seven of 81 identical chests Weiwei made using rare quince wood. Four
holes, two on each side, are placed at eye-level and above. "Nevertheless," according to 
the exhibition catalog, "the upper and lower openings always align so that they 
create the effect of showing every phase of the moon ...." That's Bill standing,
at my request, amidst the 4th or 5th chest.  He got scolded by a guard.
I and my camera got off scot-free.

Standing in front of three giant photos of Ai Weiwei dropping an
urn dating from the Han Dynasty, "thus destroying," according to
the exhibit's catalog, "2000 years of cultural tradition and legacy
[and expressing] the notion that new ideas and values are
produced through iconoclasm."
Bill standing before an installation of steel rebars "recovered
from the rubble of collapsed schoolhouses in Sichuan following
the 2008 earthquake."
In one of Weiwei's photos, a large bird is being flipped at The White
House (there's a similar photo with the Chinese equivalent of The
White House).  Despite having gotten him scolded twice already by
the art-guards, I got Bill to flip the bird at the flipped bird. I dared
not use my flash, thus the crappy lack of detail in the photo ... well,
I promised Bill I wouldn't use the flash ... plus my camera's kind
of cheap, plus, sadly, I'm not much of a photographer.

So, though I am way way in love with Ai Weiwei, we moved on
to the Asian Art Museum, also part of the Smithsonian. The only photo
I took was of this beautiful Buddhist memorial stone.

We had lunch at Pret a Manger.  (I didn't understand exactly
what Bill was saying when he suggested this place so I didn't realize
until later that we had eaten at what is the very latest in chic!) "Now,"
said Bill, "I'll take you to the very best coffee place in the city. It's in
Chinatown." "You don't drink coffee, so how would you know where the
best coffee is?" I asked.  "Billy drinks coffee and, believe me, he knows
what is the best place for coffee.  Trust me ... Billy knows."  We passed
the above exotic edifice on our way to the city's best coffee.
There it was, around a corner, with a distinctively hung sign.

The barista was handsome and said it was
okay to take his picture.  Too bad it came out fuzzy.
He created this amazing frothed design on my latte.  
After coffee, my legs rested, we headed for the National Portrait
Gallery to see the exhibit called "Poetic Likeness - Modern American Poets" --
 something which, if I didn't also get to see, I was going to die twice in one day.
Here, standing before a photograph of Sylvia Plath, I'm trying to
express the puzzlement, even to myself, of having spent so much
of my life obsessed with her life and her poems.

And then I stood in homage before the portrait of Stanley Kunitz,
my new favorite poet, whom I admire and enjoy without obsessment,  And then
we got on the Metro, met Billy, and had dinner at a great Asian-Fusion
restaurant called Pauline's.  Then Bill & Billy drove me to Washington National
Airport. I got on the plane at 10PM, landed in Providence at 11PM, found
my pickup in Long Term Parking, scraped the ice off its windows, and
headed for Cape Cod.  I got home at 130AM.  I went to bed at 230AM,
got up at 630AM and went to work.  I'd had life in the fast lane for four days.
It was great.

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