Holiday Photos: White House and Ellipse

These photos are from 2008, when Barney and Mrs. Beasley Bush were the First Dogs, and George W. Bush was President. The gingerbread house replica of the White House sadly does not include any dogs out front.

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Holiday Photos: Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, and Gardens

Some photos from my 2012 visit, with my parents, to George Washington’s home. We sampled hot chocolate (at least I did; my mother was taking too long reading exhibit text and missed the opportunity!) and saw gingerbread houses, along with the historic mansion, the land and river, and themed trees everywhere.

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Happy Holidays!

Wishing you peace and museums this holiday season!

Brookside Gardens

Brookside Gardens

After a month of spotty Internet (and therefore no blog posts), I am planning to post holiday museum photos in December to celebrate the season, and in January, I will resume blogging about the places Metro goes.

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A Tale of Two Trips to One City

My parents recently returned to the US from a week-and-a-half-long vacation to London, where they enjoyed the food (and tea) and toured the sites. Ten years ago, in summer 2004, I too traveled to London. Although that trip happened in what is many ways a bygone era, England nonetheless has its place in my life as one of eight countries I’ve been to, and with several museums and historic sites I have visited.

While my parents were gone, I lived vicariously through them and texted them every day asking for updates on their adventures. I was struck by how few sites overlapped on my trip and theirs.

Like me, my parents toured St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and they saw Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. On both our trips, we went to Borough Market for food and sightseeing as well.

But while I visited the National Gallery, my parents went to the National Portrait Gallery. I rode the London Eye; my parents saw the city by taking a bus tour. I made a pilgrimage to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden to see a bench during a day trip to Oxford, whereas my parents made a pilgrimage to Abbey Road to see a crosswalk.

Tower Bridge. Photo by Carol DiSciullo

Tower Bridge. Photo by Carol DiSciullo

I visited the museum at Tower Bridge. My parents visited the museum at the Tower of London (though they did take pictures of Tower Bridge). My visit included the encyclopedic British Museum, while my mother and father visited the locally-focused Museum of London. I took a tour of the Houses of Parliament and learned about the British legislature, and my parents went to the Churchill War Rooms and learned about the (former) British executive.

I briefly took a picture of Buckingham Palace, while my parents stayed long enough to watch the Changing of the Guard.

Additionally, my travels included the Globe Theater, and a ride called This Is Oxford.

My parents also saw the Imperial War Museum, the Docklands, the Tate Modern, Kensington Palace, and Kensington Gardens.

Ultimately, London (and nearby cities for day excursions) is a city with far too much to do to fit into one or two weeks, and there is plenty to fill at least two trips.

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Thick Curtain of Tree Bark at Cleveland Park

Cleveland Park is a Metro station I used once in Weekly Museum Visits: to visit Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park. To get to Peirce Mill, I walked along Melvin Hazen Trail, which is one of 114 sites detailed in the book Peaceful Places Washington D.C. by Judy Colbert and Denis Collins.

The book includes a couple of restaurants I love (Busboys and Poets, Lost Dog Café), some interesting landmarks (the Temperance Fountain, the Albert Einstein Monument), and a number of museums and parks, including many from Weekly Museum Visits. Fourteen of my Weekly Museum Visit locations are designated as Peaceful Places in the guidebook.

What makes a place peaceful? Melvin Hazen Trail is described as a path through “a thick curtain of trees” and “occasional cascades of water,” with animals flying and scampering, and picnic tables for resting and eating.

Other places in the book are peaceful because of “the aroma of a thousand rosebushes” (Dumbarton Oaks), or because “miniature trees reflect the patience and skill of the gardeners who cultivated them” (United States National Arboretum). The United States Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center “is understandably quiet as visitors contemplate the bravery shown by our former and current military personnel and their families.” Lost Dog Café is peaceful for many reasons, including “the funky painting on the wall, of dogs in bowler hats playing pool[.]”

I bought the book last year because I was fascinated by the premise: the attempt to make a definitive list of places that have that elusive quality of peacefulness. Does peacefulness refer to quiet and tranquility? To spiritual recharging? To an uplifting atmosphere of harmony and joviality? To a dedication to promoting world peace and social justice?

Here are some places in DC, Maryland, and Virginia I would add to the book’s list:

  1. Acorn Park
  2. American Visionary Art Museum
  3. Art Museum of the Americas
  4. Bladensburg Waterfront Park
  5. Brookside Gardens
  6. Clarendon Common (gardens, fountains, gazebos)
  7. Ellipse
  8. FDR Memorial
  9. Frederick Douglass House
  10. Freer/Sackler and Moongate Garden
  11. Georgetown Waterfront Park
  12. Hillwood
  13. Ladybird Johnson Park and Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove
  14. Lake Artemesia
  15. Man Helping Man sculpture
  16. Meridian Hill Park
  17. Petworth Citizen
  18. Red Emma’s
  19. SiTea in Takoma DC
  20. Spanish Steps
  21. Sticky Fingers
  22. Teaism near the National Archives
  23. United States Institute of Peace
  24. University of Maryland – College Park Labyrinth and Peace Garden
  25. Washington Ethical Society

What sites would you add to the list?

As for Cleveland Park, there are a few other Peaceful Places from the book that are listed in the book nearby: Ardeo and Bardeo, Transcendence-Perfection-Bliss of the Beyond, and Tregaron Estate.

Cleveland Park is on the Red Line.

Melvin Hazen Trail

Melvin Hazen Trail

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The Emu, the Smew, and the Elephant Shrew All Live at Woodley Park-Zoo

The full name of the Metro station is Woodley Park-Zoo-Adams Morgan. (Cue jokes about seeing a zoo of animals during the day, and a zoo of people at night in Adams Morgan.)

At the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, visitors can see the smew (a kind of duck, in the bird exhibit), the short-eared elephant shrew (in the Small Mammal House), and an emu named Darwin, chilling in a habitat along Olmsted Walk along with a wallaby. What can no longer be seen, since it closed in June 2014, is the Invertebrate House.

Jellyfish in the now-closed Invertebrate House at the National Zoo

Jellyfish in the now-closed Invertebrate House at the National Zoo

The decision was announced a mere week before it was implemented, which added to the controversy seen in the public outcry. “Being told ‘it’s closing, see it in the next week or it’s gone & we’re not sure if anything’s coming back’ is very hard,” wrote one Facebook user on the Zoo’s Facebook page.

Letting go of part of the collection is rarely if ever an easy or uncontentious decision for a museum, but a zoo or other institution with a living, sentient collection has greater obligations to what happens to the creatures in it care. Deciding how much living space to allot to each animal is quite different from deciding how much wall space should be left empty between paintings.

The Zoo has genuine reasons for making changes over time to the exhibits, even closing a beloved hall. These reasons include:

  • the evolution of the moral considerations of zoos from our ancestors’ delight in seeing suited-up animals doing tricks in a cage to today’s ethic of education, conservation, and animal well-being
  • a shift toward showing how ecosystems work together rather than simply arranging animals in individual enclosures by phylum and class
  • budget considerations in a time when it is fashionable to protest government funding of just about anything, and private support of cultural institutions is down as most of the population makes do with less. (The Zoo explained the reasons behind the closure of the Invertebrate House in budgetary terms.)

Nevertheless, the loss of the invertebrate house was mourned and objected to by people who are fascinated by animals as diverse as octopuses, jellyfish, butterflies, and spiders. (Note: the Zoo has stated that the animals are going to other homes at the Zoo or at other zoos.) As the news reports on the exhibit’s closing have noted, 99% of the animals on the planet are invertebrates, and an understanding of the natural world is incomplete without learning about our numerous spineless cousins.

Besides the Zoo’s closure of the Invertebrate House, opportunities to see invertebrates have decreased in the DC area in recent years:

  • The National Aquarium’s DC location, whose collection included a Giant Pacific Octopus and sea anemones, had to close in 2013 due to renovation of the Chamber of Commerce building.
  • At the National Museum of Natural History, the Insect Zoo has grown smaller and exhibits a smaller array of creatures because of staffing cuts.
  • While the National Arboretum is primarily a place for learning about plants, it also teaches visitors about the insects whose lives are intertwined with flora, with installations such as a butterfly garden in the Youth Garden. Government funding cuts have led the Arboretum to decrease the hours it is open to the public almost by half.

While you can no longer worm your way into the Invertebrate House and soak up all the information like a sponge, the Zoo is planning a Hall of Biodiversity to open in 20 years, which will include invertebrates. Still, the closing of the Invertebrate House bugs and nettles a lot of people; it makes people feel crabby; it ticks people off. Some people were drawn to the exhibit like a moth to a flame, and now that the exhibit has closed, the decision has stirred up a hornet’s nest. With limited funds and a whole zoo of animals to consider, the Smithsonian will not be able to make all their visitors as happy as clams when tough choices arise.

Woodley Park-Zoo-Adams Morgan is on the Red Line.

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The Park I Want Is (for Now) at Dupont

Update 8/25/2014: A representative from St. Thomas’ Parish has informed me that the new church, like the old, will include a labyrinth that is open to the public. Hooray!


My Weekly Museum Visits project had me using the Dupont Circle Metro station several times. There are museums in every direction from Dupont Circle itself: the Heurich House Museum and the museum-hotel-clutterhouse O Street Mansion southwest of the circle, General Federation of Women’s Clubs headquarters to the southeast, and the National Museum of American Jewish Military History to the northeast.

Northwest of Dupont Circle are Anderson House, the Phillips Collection, Fondo del Sol, the Laogai Museum, Woodrow Wilson House, and (a little farther away in Georgetown but still within a mile of the Dupont Metro) Dumbarton House.

Dupont Circle is not only a good place for people who like museums, but also for people who like food, or drinks, or embassies, or books, or historic architecture, or people-watching, or old churches, or green spaces….

The labryinth at St. Thomas' Parish

The labryinth at St. Thomas’ Parish

One of my favorite places in the neighborhood is the small park at St. Thomas’ Parish, an Episcopal church built in the 1890s and heavily damaged by arson in 1970. The park has a labyrinth, benches, a grassy space frequented by people walking dogs, and signage informing visitors of the history of the building.

Aside from the labyrinth outside the shuttered Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School, I cannot think of another labyrinth in DC that is both so close to a Metro station and so accessible to the public. Some are indoors or on rooftops and only open certain hours, some are on school grounds that are being used by schoolchildren during the day, and the one at Georgetown Waterfront Park is a pretty, but long, walk from the nearest Metro.

I’ve made use of the St. Thomas’ labyrinth to calm my nerves before job interviews and after eating lunch on one of the benches during my break while temping at nearby offices. I have shown it to family and friends after a restaurant meal or a late night out in Dupont. So I was sad to learn that St. Thomas’ Parish plans to build a new, expanded church on the grounds of the park and sell part of the land to a developer to turn into apartments.

Many residents who live near the church share my initial reaction to the news, and they are campaigning for an expansion plan that would better ensure the preservation of the old church building and the park. The Greater Greater Washington blog describes a meeting of parishioners and neighbors, and the contentious discussions of the issue.

Supporters of the church’s plans point out that there are plenty of other parks and green spaces in the area. This is true. There’s Dupont Circle itself, Stead Park, and Mitchell Park, to name a few. Less often mentioned is how unique the park at St. Thomas’ is in having a labyrinth.

Ultimately, though, the owners of this land intend for it to be a church first and foremost, not a park. I will miss the park, but I have realized that it’s not for me to decide how a religious community uses its land. The needs of the parish trump my desire to have a labyrinth on every block (or at least the block of 18th Street between P and Church).

A similar situation went on for several years at Third Church of Christ Scientist, also in Northwest DC. Historic preservationists had the brutalist building designated as a historic structure, while the church found the building expensive to maintain and the general public sentiment held that the edifice was an eyesore. Ultimately, the church won its battle, and demolition of the building has begun. The church has sold the land to be developed for office use, and the church community has relocated to the Eastern Market neighborhood.

These disputes bring up questions of the purpose of historic preservation and the role of religious institutions in the neighborhoods where they are located. There’s the predictable NIMBY-ism involved, as well as concerns ranging from religious freedom to the effects a new development will have on area property values.

Though the labyrinth at St. Thomas’ has helped fulfill my own spiritual needs, it is not its job to do so, as I am not part of the congregation. I would have liked the parish to preserve the park and more of the historic structure where three U.S. presidents worshiped, but it is not for me to decide. The church is not designated as a historic place in any official way that would obligate the church leadership to preserve the structure. Meanwhile, although Dupont will be losing a labyrinth, it will still be brimming with other historic sites.

Dupont Circle is on the Red Line.

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