October 31, 2007

October 31, 2007

Things I've Read: Atlas Shrugged

I finished a behemoth yesterday. Atlas Shrugged, the magnus opus of one Ayn Rand. A hefty 1,168 pages, weighing in somewhere between "almost too heavy to drag around Washington, D.C." and "makes a solidly satisfying sound when thrown onto a table in anger."

Sadly, I'd read Rand before; I wrote an essay on The Fountainhead in high school for a competition (my winnings: $0). You'd think I would have learned, since my main memories of that book are that it was about a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque architect who thought outside the box, bucked the system, etc.

Atlas Shrugged takes those Randian (Randy?) concepts and spreads them over several characters, a few states, and a LOT of pages. The book opens with the question "Who is John Galt?" which is initially a sort of rhetorical question people ask each other when they face the inexplicable. The book closes with readers realizing they don't care who John Galt is, unless he can make this book go faster. (He doesn't. At one point, he has a 60 page monologue.)

Perhaps it's that I couldn't sympathize with any of the characters: high-society intellectuals, titans of industry, and genius inventors, all with amazing wealth, talent, and skill. Perhaps it's that the themes didn't resonate with me: industry versus creativity, the struggle of the social classes, intellectual property rights, et al.

Perhaps it's that the one really cool scene, in which the main characters break into a building in the middle of the night and free one of their own from his captivity there, all the while shooting and killing 90% of the guards, happens in the very last chapter. Really, getting that one Bad Boys-esque event after 1,100 pages of crap was almost worse than no exciting scenes at all. Thanks, Ayn.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that the entire experience had two positives:
-Pulling out that tome anywhere, whether on the bus, or the train, or at a restaurant, immediately made me feel like a member of the intellectual elite. Like someone who does the Times crossword in pen. Or belongs to Mensa. Or makes Proust allusions.
-The EXACT book I read (same cover and everything) was featured in several episodes of Mad Men, a show so grown-up, so witty, so good, it's almost scary.

Ayn Rand: 2, Heather: 0

October 30, 2007

October 30, 2007

You’re not from around here, are you?

On my recent trip to Washington, I saw a lot of tourists. No surprise, since it’s a very popular destination for people who (like me) enjoy museums, history, and art, or for people who (not like me) are on eighth grade class trips. In my opinion, the more people pumping money into the cultural and governmental institutions, the better, as long as they keep a reasonable distance and don’t block my view of the stuff.

However, tourists tend to carry lots of (a) money, (b) credit cards, and/or (c) electronic gadgetry. Like an all-you-can-steal buffet for thieves. So blending in is a good idea when you’re on vacation. I thought people knew this. Judging by what I saw last week, though, a few reminders might be in order.

Tip 1: Never wear a fanny pack. Students use backpacks. Messenger bags are carried by…messengers. But the fanny pack does not appear in the wild. Most of the fanny packs I saw in captivity were being worn by older people, so perhaps it’s some sort of throwback to the Depression, or perhaps the wars. (“When I was growing up, we saved everything…in our fanny packs.” “You know where I kept my ration coupons? In my fanny pack.”) At any rate, until we once again return to a system of barter in the face of impending global apocalypse, let’s keep the fanny packs stowed, shall we?

Tip 2: If you’re not taking pictures, put the camera away. Unless you are Ken Burns, Steven Spielberg, or that girl from MySpace, it’s probably best for you to have your camera out only when actually using it. Also refrain from drawing attention to yourself by staging elaborate group shots that will “totally rock” your Facebook.

Tip 3: Do not stare at the Metro map, hoping it will explain itself to you.

The subway in D.C. can be very intimidating, especially if you are from a small Midwestern town whose idea of public transit is a guy with a haycart. However, I’m sorry to tell you that the Metro system map is not the Rosetta Stone, nor is it the Mirror of Erised. Peering at it intently is probably not going to help you figure out which stop is nearest the Kennedy Center and whether you have enough money left on your fare card to get there from Fort Totten. Ask a station attendant. Or someone who looks like they know what they’re doing. As unapproachable as I am on most days, even I don’t mind helping you out. But you really mustn’t stand and stare.

(Also, as a side note, on the escalators, it’s stand right, walk left. And don’t pool at the bottom. I need to get on that train that just arrived, and if I have to leap over you, I will, and it won’t be pretty.)

So, if we all keep these things in mind, I think we can avoid theft, battery, and the chance that I will have to leapfrog you on a Metro escalator to catch a yellow line train to Huntington.

October 29, 2007

October 29, 2007

In My Opinion: The Darjeeling Limited

My Wes Anderson fanship has been declared already, so I won’t beat a Royal Tenenbaums-loving dead horse and gush over his oeuvre. I can judge this film solely on its own merits.

Plot. The Darjeeling Limited is a train, on which three brothers (Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody) set out to reconnect with each other and find themselves. Yes, they’re going on a spiritual journey on a train. Hello metaphor.

The film is set in India, so it looks good. Very colorful, very exotic. And you get some great scenes out of the incongruity of three very white guys trying to deal with the locals.

Acting. Adrien Brody is new to the world of Wes Anderson, but I thought he did very well. I didn’t know how well he’d pull off quirky, but he managed. Owen Wilson’s character amused me greatly, because he was such a Type A. He had his assistant bring a printer and a laminating machine on the trip. The laminating machine did it for me.

Music. I love Wes Anderson’s soundtracks; he has a knack for great slow motion scenes accompanied only with emotional (but not too much so) classic songs. Like so:

Bonus Features. At the screening I attended, the 15-minute prequel, Hotel Chevalier, was shown before the film. I think they just started doing that. So it’s like you’re getting two movies for the price of one. Or, one and a half movies. Ish.

“F--- the itinerary.”

“I wonder if the three of us would've been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.”

“We haven't located us yet.”

October 28, 2007

October 28, 2007

Trick or Treat 2007: A Recap

Sunny, breezy, somewhere in the 50s. Tiny children wore coats over their costumes, but most of them braved it. Wisconsinites get acclimated to the cold pretty quickly.

The Goods:
Chewy granola bars. Because the “fun size” of most candy bars really isn’t (who are they kidding with that?) and I wanted to be pseudo-healthy. It’s not chocolate. It’s chocolate and GRANOLA.

Cutest Costume:
The kid dressed as Venom from Spiderman. He had to have been, like 4, and ironically was going around with a similarly-sized kid dressed as Spiderman.

Cleverest Costume:
The kid in a lab coat with an “Albert Einstein” nametag. I don’t know who decides to dress up as a physicist for Halloween, but it was endearingly dorky, and I’m a sucker for endearingly dorky.

Random Observations:
-There were a lot of people going around my neighborhood who were definitely not local. We’ll just leave it at that.
-To all the teenagers who think putting on a hoodie is good enough to earn you a pillowcase of candy: Um, no. If you’re taller than I am, you’re not getting any candy.

We only had 40 kids, which was good, since I had exactly 48 granola bars. After that, I was going to have to resort to raisins, Altoids, or re-enactments of scenes from Friends.

(Trick or Treating on army bases is apparently way more fun: my mom had candy for 50 and ran out in 20 minutes. She said they had 700 last year. Note to military officials: Perhaps we need more entertainment venues on base?)

October 26, 2007

October 26, 2007

Washington, Day 7

It’s rained so much here during the past few days that some Virginia counties are under flood warnings. I’m going to pretend that it’s because nature is crying over my upcoming departure, and not some cosmic attempt to ruin my vacation. Yeah.

Phillips Collection
On one of my past trips, I hit all the little galleries: the Freer, the Renwick, the Corcoran, etc. I also remember one whose employees were so full of disdain as to be almost comical. I couldn’t remember which museum that was until today. It was the Phillips Collection.

Its brochure describes the Phillips as “exceptional art in an intimate atmosphere.” You should read that as “some paintings in a converted mansion, protected beneath several layers of meanness and pretension.” Besides the fact that I had to pay $12 admission (and that counts the student discount courtesy of my Maranatha ID), the woman guarding the entrance wouldn’t let me go in until I checked my “wet coat.” Had the coat actually been wet, I would have seen her reasoning. As it was, I was sorely tempted to choke back a “And you define wet as…what, exactly?” Believe me, there was plenty I was already choking back.

I persevered through all of this because there was a pretty good exhibit called “Impressionists by the Sea.” There were 40ish paintings of beachy scenes (bathers, fishermen, etc.). The Monets were very nice, of course, but I really liked the Whistlers. He did paint things other than his mother, apparently.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures here because there were more “docents” keeping an eagle eye on visitors than actual visitors, and I’m sure they would have tackled me, pinned me to the ground, taken away my camera, and perhaps slapped me around a bit. You just never know with those arty types.

And there was a Rothko Room. Ugh.

Dumbarton House
All the crap I waded through at the Phillips, though, was made up for at Dumbarton House. I wasn’t actually sure how to get in at first; I had to use my house museum spidey sense to go through the garden and approach the property from the side. Who is Dumbarton, you ask? What kinds of things did he do in his house? How was his house decorated? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, because apparently no one knows. Even the introductory video said something like, “Dumbarton House remains full of mysteries.” You’d think someone would get on that.

Anyway, the tour guide here was super, super nice, so I actually ventured a few questions. Hey, I watch Antiques Roadshow. I’ve been to a lot of old houses. I can hold a reasonably intelligent conversation involving the terms “Federalist style,” “balustrades,” and/or “English primogeniture laws.”

Embassy Row
I love walking around in Embassy Row, though I almost always get lost and start worrying that officials from a country ending in -stan will abduct me and force me into clerical servitude. I was very nervous taking pictures here, since I wasn’t sure if that would be construed as spying of any sort.

What you don’t see in that picture is that I was getting seriously rained on. By the time I made it to the Air and Space Museum, my coat was so wet that my even shirt was damp.

National Air and Space Museum
I’m not a huge fan of planes. I view them in a very utilitarian way, like batteries. Or sporks. Good when you need them, but nothing to fuss over.

I braved the FREAKISH crowds here, then, for three reasons: to get pictures of the World War II stuff for my dad, to eat at the food court, to see selected items from the currently-closed American History museum on display here, and to get pictures of the World War II stuff for my dad.

The World War II gallery was closed for “fire service updates.”

The food court had scary long lines, even though it was late. I had to wait for about 35 minutes to get what may have been the saddest gyro I have ever seen. I don’t think that was real meat; I’m pretty sure the grill marks were not caused naturally.

The American History museum items were very good, I’ll give them that. Among other things, I got to see the puffy shirt from Seinfeld, one of Thomas Edison’s lightbulbs, and an object without which 80% of my lunches would be impossible:

Possibly the best part, though, was the squirrel that somehow wound up in one of the galleries. I have not the faintest idea how it got in there. Obviously D.C. is a big tourist spot for the rodents, as well.

And that, as they say, is all she wrote. For this vacation, anyway. I'll soon be posting all of the pictures I took (some ridiculous number like several hundred) so you can vicariously glory in the minutiae.

October 25, 2007

October 25, 2007

Washington, Day 6

Today I helped some tourists, was mistaken for an Episcopalian, and got severely drizzled on for approximately 8 hours straight. Ah, vacation.

Washington Monument
The one thing the Washington Monument has going for it is that it opens early. If you’re looking for something to do before 10 a.m., you’re pretty much limited to this, Arlington, or camping outside your museum of choice, forlornly placing your forehead and hands on the glass doors, and staring inside at the employees until opening. Your choice, really.

It was rainy and windy today. And while the precipitation was really just a drizzle, the winds were gale force. I feel as if they should have been named, they were that bad. The Chinese tourists in front of me had these giant hotel umbrellas (way to blend in with the locals, folks) that I expected to be blown into my eyes at any moment.

The views from the top weren’t bad, though I could have used a squeegee or two. (Also, a way to open the window.)

World War II Memorial
The best benefit of a rainy day: 90% of tourists stay in. This meant the World War II Memorial was deserted. I’d also never seen it with the fountain on, so that was nice, too.

This is the D.C. war memorial. No one really knows about it, but I like it because it reminds me of a scene from Gosford Park. Anyway, I love how there are all of these little historical things tucked away around the District.

Korean War Memorial
I think the flags on the left show how ridiculously windy it was.

Lincoln Memorial
Fun fact: the names of all the states are carved on the outside of the memorial. I was asked to take a picture of a group of Russian (Ukranian? definitely something Slavic) tourists here and realized only afterwards that I wasn’t sure I got the Washington Monument in the background, like they’d asked. Eh.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
4 open air rooms + rain. You do the math. I was happy to finally see a statue of a woman, though.

Jefferson Monument
This one’s my favorite. I’m all about the neoclassical architecture. Also, I found out that the rangers get to drive Smart cars. That alone immediately made me respect it as a career choice. They should put that in the brochures.

National Zoo
I went to the zoo for two things: the pandas and the flamingos. On one of my previous trips, the panda cub had just been born; it’s huge now. Hard to tell, I know, but I was psyched that they were out and about at all; on my last visit, the mom and baby were sort of sitting together as the dad snoozed face-down on a tree (something that amused my mom to no end).

I got a bonus panda, though: the red panda. It came right up to the viewing area and started climbing trees like it was going out of style. Very cute. According to the guide, the pandas love this rainy weather. Apparently.

Washington National Cathedral
We don’t have cathedrals in Milwaukee. We have a basilica (maybe more than one), but that’s not quite the same, is it? So much to photograph here, both outside, and in. Like the Space Window, that has an actual bit of moon rock in it. Or the Children’s Chapel, in which everything is built to the scale of a six-year-old. I’m not sure what they planned to do for clergy…midgets, maybe?

The Container Store
Okay, I’m going to count this as a vacation-y thing because we don’t have them at home. And as my co-workers know, I am nothing if not scarily organized. So you know I couldn’t resist. I kept it under control, though, realizing that anything I bought would have to be lugged onto two trains, a bus, and (eventually) a plane. The clerk asked for my phone number, though, and I think I freaked her out a little. I don’t imagine they get too many customers from 414.

Tomorrow: The Phillips Collection (with a big Impressionist exhibit, yay!), the DAR Museum (another hidden treasure), Octagon House, the Air and Space Museum, and anything else that I want to squeeze in on the (alas) last day.

My Thoughts on Tonight's "The Office"

Since I don't have access to a scanner here in Washington, I'm forced to live-blog. The doodles will return next week, I promise.

Favorite Scene: Musical Darryl
Least Favorite Scene: Jam and Jim's Second Life avatar. Is he not-so-secretly unhappy?
Overall Thoughts: It was nice to have an episode that involved the whole office, though I could have gone for a little more Toby.

more Andy singing!
I want a Kit-Kat now.
"Break me off a piece of that apple sauce."
less-urban Aunt Jemima
"Oh, it has losers."
paid by the year
Nashua? Is that a real place?
Andy's explanation of necking makes me want to cut my ears off.
"Hello, Ry."
"5 years old...couldn't even talk yet"
Kool-Aid man - LOL
Oscar on costumes, obviously
"she's crazy hot"
Wow, musical Darryl!
"You need to learn a lot about your own culture."
"operation fallen angel"
second second life
Jim Samtanko
"I don't hate it. I just don't like it at all. And it's terrible."
"the triumph of the will"
don't cry, Phyllis!
2:45 a.m., Pam?! Seriously?
"D for Andy."
ten days later, lol
Aw, Jim. Such a sweetie.
"You have a son, and it's me."
"World's Most Creative Boss"
That was actually a pretty good commercial.
protective Jim...hmm.
It's KIT-KAT, Andy!

October 24, 2007

October 24, 2007

Washington, Day 5

The rain that was threatening yesterday finally came today, so I had to do indoorsy things. There’s nothing like a little improvisation, I guess.

National Building Museum
For me, the highlight of the National Building Museum was the great hall; the columns were just massive. And yes, it was a museum about architecture, but there were lots of fun little models of things and very few other people there. That was enough for me.

Though I ate at a McDonald’s, it was the McDonald’s in the Verizon Center downtown. That place is like an urban jungle, if the jungle were devoid of plants, packed with people, and required you to stand while eating. On the plus side, I discovered that the yogurt parfait, while miniscule, is delicious.

National Portrait Gallery
I think I’m going to have to add this one to my favorites list, because it was amazing. I got to see the originals of many famous portraits, as well as paintings of lesser-known but still important people whose names you learned in history class and then forgot. (Come on, you know it’s true.) Besides the likenesses, there was some furniture, a lot of busts, and (for some reason) one piano.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
This and the National Portrait Gallery are actually housed in the same building, the Reynolds Center. Who was Reynolds, you ask? Beats me. I’d wager it had something to do with art, being rich, or possibly both.

I had high hopes for this museum, since it just reopened after about six years of renovations. Seriously, are we all allowed to just take six years off? At any rate, I’d not been able to visit this museum during any of my previous trips, and was looking forward to finally getting to see it.

Alas, it was more folk art than landscapes. And while I don’t mean any offense to fans of Pollack, Rothko, or those people who base their oeuvre on tinfoil, I prefer art that’s…pretty. Two good exhibitions, though: one of Asher Durand (who did indeed paint pretty landscapes) and the collection of paintings of every sitting President (except Bush--he seems to be missing a lot of stuff). Showing up here plenty of times, though: George Washington. He is all OVER this place. They should name it after him. Oh. Wait.

National Archives

I tried to capture the reason that Metro stop is called “Archives/Navy Memorial.” The building is the National Archives, and the masts and fountain are part of the Navy Memorial. I actually pretended to wait for a bus while listening to a tour guide (on a Segway, no less) talk about the memorial. He said that once a year, they bring in water from “the seven seas” and…do something with it. I wasn’t totally paying attention. So yeah.

Anyway, you’ve probably seen the movie National Treasure, so you’ve seen parts of the rotunda. And while everyone comes to see the big three (Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights), you can also see all kinds of other old stuff, like the Emancipation Proclamation. Until last month, you could also see the Magna Carta. According to the Segway guy, though, Ross Perot wants to sell it for $35 million-ish. So get a few of your friends together and pool your money. The Archives was coy about the whole thing. Such a tease.

The Darjeeling Limited
This wasn’t really something I had to do in Washington, I know, but it was rainy and I had a few hours to kill. My opinion of the movie itself will be the subject of a future entry, but I do want to say that the trailers gave me ideas for holiday viewing (American Gangster, Juno, Be Kind Rewind, and The Savages). I thought I was going to be alone in the theatre (I love it when that happens), but two middle aged women came in right before the film started. So close.

Tomorrow: the monuments (if the weather behaves), Washington National Cathedral, Madame Tussauds (if I can convince myself to shell out a ridiculous amount of money), and the zoo.

October 23, 2007

October 23, 2007

Washington, Day 4

Threats of rain and homework truncated my activities today, but I managed to fit a few things in.

U.S. Capitol
Getting into the Capitol isn’t rocket science, but it’s close. You have to get a ticket. Then you have to pass security. Then you have to stay on your tour guide like white on rice. Back in the day (I’m told), you could just walk in the front door. Thanks, terrorists.

I made sure to get in line for tour tickets extra early, figuring I should stack the deck in my favor as much as possible. The line, to my surprise, wasn’t bad. Extra plus: the family in front of me was from England and absolutely adorable. Actual quotes from the older son (the top of whose head you can see peeking out from behind his dad with the backpack):

“Mummy, are we going in there?” (while pointing to the Capitol)
“Do you have any biscuits?”

I wanted to stalk them for the rest of the day, they were that cute. The mom referred to a “lorry,” the Dad reminded me of Nathan Fillion…frankly, it was just too good.

The Capitol building itself (once you finagle your way in) is definitely impressive. Like most buildings here, there’s a lot of architectural fanciness (was that Frank Lloyd Wright rolling in his grave? I think it was) on walls and ceilings.

You can also stand near (not on, unless your tour guide humors you and mine didn’t) the very center of the District of Columbia.

And the views from the building aren’t too shabby, either.

U.S. Supreme Court
Though the Supreme Court wasn’t hearing arguments today (and I therefore missed my chance to squee at John Roberts), the building was open for lectures and tours. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the courtroom, but there was lots of architectural fanciness there as well (sorry, Frank). Fun fact: sketches of the Supreme Court always feature the Justices’ right profiles because the sketch artists always sit in the same place in the courtroom. Funner fact: no recording devices are allowed, so all reporters have to take notes by hand. *evil laugh*

I finally did a fun lunch today: the cafeteria at the Supreme Court. The food was wicked expensive (a ham sandwich, potato salad, yogurt parfait, and Diet Coke for…$14? Seriously?) and I didn’t see anyone famous, but how often do you get to eat in the highest court in the land?

National Museum of Natural History
More construction and closings here, shocker. I actually hadn’t even planned on making it here this trip, but the timing worked out for me to catch a highlights tour (which was given by a man who appeared to be older than the museum). And while dinosaur bones are dinosaur bones, it’s not every day you can gaze into the Hope Diamond and other shiny objects.

Tomorrow: Monuments (which should make for lots of good pictures), the National Building Museum (new to me), and Washington National Cathedral. Can’t believe I’m past halfway already!

October 22, 2007

October 22, 2007

Washington, Day 3

National Gallery of Art
Many of you are used to both my artophilia and my cheapness, so you’ll not be surprised to hear that its great collection and free admission make the National Gallery of Art one of my favorite museums here. Since at least part of it is usually closed, you can walk through in a little over an hour and still get the gist.

One of the current special exhibits is a huge group of Turner paintings. For those of you who weren’t enthralled by Simon Schama’s Power of Art series on PBS this summer (which was snooty, but also British, so it worked), J.M.W. Turner was an English landscape painter whose signature was a kind of intense vortex of wind, clouds, fire, etc. Look him up on Wikipedia; it’ll be good for you. I enjoyed the exhibit immensely, though the guard you see standing in the doorway made extra effort to point out the “No Photography Allowed In Exhibition” sign to me. Seriously, he just kept pointing at it, in the same way the Ghost of Christmas Future points at Scrooge’s grave in A Christmas Carol. Dude, I got it. *double thumbs up*

I had lunch at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, which sounds a lot fancier than it is. Today’s exotic food choice: Quizno’s. For some reason, there were a lot of Border Patrol agents there. Because the nearest border is…Canada?

Old Post Office
Everybody knows about the view from the top of the Washington Monument, and I agree that it is quite something. But you have to get timed-entry tickets, and have your bag searched, and jam yourself in an elevator with a dozen other people. If that sounds like fun, well, yay for you.

However, the view from atop the Old Post Office tower is just as good, requires no tickets or body cavity searches, and is relatively unknown. And you get slightly different views here, of things like the FBI headquarters, the Potomac, and the monuments.

(Those are wires to keep you from falling out of the window.)

National Museum of the American Indian
Though this is the newest Smithsonian, it’s already under repair. I found that amusing. Anyway, my overall opinion of this museum would probably open me to discrimination lawsuits, so I’m just going to say I think I’m too linear a thinker to appreciate its circuitous aesthetic. Yeah.

U.S. Botanic Gardens
In the past three weeks, I have been to botanical gardens in two states and the District of Columbia. I’m not sure what that’s about. The U.S. Botanic Gardens were, as you’d expect, filled with a lot of things green and growing. Kind of like the Domes on steroids, for you Milwaukee people.

U.S. Capitol (Sorta)
I’d hoped to tour the Capitol today, but the next available tour wasn’t for over an hour, so I just got a few pictures and watched the protestors. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Library of Congress
Since the Capitol tour wasn’t working out, I walked over to the Library of Congress. It’s both a library and museum-y. And it’s free. So let’s face it: I could tour it every day. The Library is ridiculously packed with paintings and mosaics and freakishly beautiful architecture. It also has one of only three remaining Gutenberg Bibles, and the only one on display IN THE WORLD. And, as my tour guide kept repeating, it was built for $6.5 million. (I wanted to ring a bell every time she said it, David Letterman style.)

Tomorrow I hope to hear an argument at the Supreme Court, but they don’t allow cameras even in the building, so I’m not sure how well that’ll coincide with other things I want to do and take pictures of. My hotel’s really too remote to return to in the middle of the day.

October 21, 2007

October 21, 2007

Washington, Day 2

I realized today that I’ve not yet set foot in the actual District of Columbia. So this should really be labeled “Virginia, Day 2.” Note that in the record.

I like to do the bus tour of Arlington every time I come out here. It’s a very solemn place, yes, but also very historical and very important. And I’m all over that, if not the solemnity so much.

Buying a Tourmobile ticket saves you a TON of walking. And, since I’d already walked 40 minutes to the train station that morning, I decided I deserved to be a little lazy. First stop: the Kennedy graves. I’d seen these before, so I took the time to find some of the less popular (but still cool) headstones, like Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Rehnquist.

Second stop: the Tomb of the Unknowns. I didn’t make it for the changing of the guard, but I did get to see some veterans place a wreath.

Also in this area, the mast of the U.S.S. Maine, the sinking of which started the Spanish-American War. (Hence all that “Remember the Maine!” stuff. They’re not referring to the state.)

Final stop: Arlington House. If you didn’t know, the land that’s now a cemetery used to belong to the family of Robert E. Lee’s wife. After the Civil War, the Union took the property over for income taxes owed. (It was some ridiculously pitiable amount, like $150 or something.) Out of spite, they turned it into a cemetery. Luckily, the Lee mansion, Arlington House, still stands. And the view from the backyard is one of my favorites in the entire D.C. area.

So it’s not just graves. Though there are certainly a lot of those.

Pentagon City
I had lunch at the Pentagon City mall. For those of you from the Milwaukee area, it’s a lot like Mayfair. For those of you not from the Milwaukee area, it’s a lot like [insert name of mall that thinks it’s cooler than it is]. Example: they had a Brookstone, but it was tiny. It was, like, a Brookstone Jr. Following my grand tradition of trying new and local foods, I ate at…a Subway. Huh.

Old Town Alexandria
Spending the afternoon wandering the streets of Old Town reminded me once again that I was born two centuries too late. Because I cannot get enough colonial architecture. In this town, even the Starbucks is really old.

I toured quite a few old buildings (and passed even more), but my favorite places were probably Carlyle House and Christ Church.

Carlyle House (it’s getting a new roof, hence the scaffolding) was one of the first buildings in Alexandria. I’m a sucker for old houses, so I loved touring the parlors and the bedrooms and the studies. And as some sort of Halloweeny thing, the house was set up as if the owner had just died. There was a “person” under the sheets in the master bed and everything. (This is also why there’s black bunting around the front door.)

Christ Church
Christ Church has counted among its members George Washington AND Robert E. Lee. Every President is invited to attend Christ Church on the Sunday nearest Washington’s birthday (according to the guide, Bush hasn’t yet). I saw Lee’s pew and sat where Winston Churchill sat on the National Day of Prayer in 1942. Winston freaking Churchill!

Tomorrow: National Museum of the American Indian (new to me), the National Gallery of Art (an old favorite—I could live in the Monet rooms), and however many little museums I can squeeze in before collapsing.