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Entries in Library of Congress (9)

Tuesday
Mar032009

Obama Sighting?

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that Michelle Obama was scheduled to appear at the Library of Congress for a Read Across America event sponsored by the National Education Association. Sadly, they had to cancel due to the snow.

So much for "flinty Chicago toughness", eh Mr. President? Funny, I managed to get my kid to school.

I hope they reschedule. All kidding aside, the Obamas are regularly out and about in Washington, so the chance for your average tourist to see the President have gone up from "negligible" to "slim".

Monday
Mar022009

Library of Congress for kids?

I've long felt that the Library of Congress is Washington, DC's best American history museum, although the recently improved National Museum of American History is coming on strong. The main building, named after Thomas Jefferson, is an incredible example of Italian Renaissance architecture and has some of the best crafted exhibits in Washington, blending the historical artifacts and interpretation with the interactive displays that are apparently required by law now. And their temporary Lincoln exhibit is top notch; even I like it. But as Amanda M asked, how is it for kids?

Well, like the lawyers say, it depends. Ok, that's a cop out, so let's hit a brief selection of highlights if you happen with your young ones.

First off, even if the kids are too young to get much out of the exhibits per se, the building itself is fun to explore. The Great Hall is breathtaking and even young children can enjoy trying to spot hidden details in the ornate designs. The tunnels between the Capitol Visitor's Center, Jefferson Building, and the other library buildings help feed a sense of adventure. While entirely open to the public, it feels like you're getting away with something as you go underground from one building to the next. It's like a big game of Clue. Also, I recommend the courtyards if you need to relax on nice days. For young kids; who have been told to pay attention, stop fidgeting, and not touch anything; it's nice to let them run around a bit. You have to go down to the cellar level to get to them and it takes a bit of exploring to find the entrance, but another great thing about the Library of Congress is that the staff is almost, if not quite universally, friendly and helpful.

Which touches upon the Library of Congress's greatest strength; the people who work there. Yeah, everyone always says that, but it's kind of true here. Unlike just about all the other museums, monuments, displays, etc. in Washington, the exhibits here are secondary to the Library's primary mission. Which, perversely, may actually make them more customer friendly than the rest. The docents you take the tour with, the folks walking the halls, and the people having lunch in the cafeteria are all librarians and those who support librarians. They're proud of what they do and are looking to show it off a bit. They're not burned out and tired of dealing with tourists. Show a little interest and you could be in for a ride.

WARNING: The above may backfire with docent led tours and kids. I've had a docent explain where every single bit of stone in the Great Hall came from. Kids, particular younger ones, may not find this fascinating.

A particularly kid friendly touch is the passport system; part of the Library's excellent web presence at MyLOC.gov. While I often rail against "infotainment", the interactive displays throughout the exhibit halls do an excellent job of enhancing the experience, not substituting for it. My four year old is just starting to get a handle on it, and the middle school tours enjoy it. Heck, I find it useful myself. Basically, as you go in, you get a free "passport" and you can put them in most of the touchscreen displays. When you get home, register it, and it remembers what displays you looked at and can bring up more info on them. If you're from out of town, a lot of things you may have done on your visit to DC can blend together; this is a great way to follow through on your visit and stay engaged.

Depending on when you're coming, the LoC has a lot of kid-friendly events, so check their calender. I even understand Michelle Obama is to be there today.

Last, but certainly not least, for parents of young kids is the high quality of the bathrooms in the Jefferson Building. I imagine the only people laughing now are those who have never taken a child out of the house during potty training. In a city where I am often dashing from bathroom to bathroom, the Library of Congress is an oasis. There's also lots of quiet nooks and crannies if you're looking for a quiet place to nurse a child.

Tuesday
Feb242009

So, where do we eat? - On the Hill


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In our previous installment of "So, where do we eat?", I was able to provide a fairly inclusive look at all the food options on the Mall; the good, the bad, and the ugly. This time around, it's going to be a little different. Capitol Hill, the neighborhood/cult that I belong to, has a variety of dining options and I'm not Zagats. So to bound the problem a bit, I'm shooting to provide a little insight for lunch and light dinner options in the area of the Capitol Building extending down Pennsylvania Ave, SE. Specifically, I'm aiming at the guy who's just finished being probed by the Capitol Police, herded like sheep by some guide who's already given the same talk a half dozen times today, and now has two kids trying to explain that yes, dad, they're really hungry now.

His first step might be the Capitol Visitors Center, and hey, it's not a bad option. The food's fine and the prices, while not great, aren't quite the rip-off of the Smithsonian's. We're talking $7 for a cheeseburger here. So if your feet are killing you and the lines aren't too long, enjoy. Open Monday - Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.

But if he could pull it together, I'd say keep walking. Without even going outside, another option awaits. Find the tunnel to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, go through it, and continue on to the tunnel to the Madison Building. Or he could just go outside and walk to the modern looking white stone building across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Jefferson Building. Either way, take the elevator to the sixth floor and head to their cafeteria. It's a bit cheaper and the view of DC to the south is spectacular. And you will get a chance to see some real live Librarians in action. On the off chance they engage you in conversation, run with it. You will learn more about 16th Century Japanese woodblock printing (or whatever) than you ever knew existed. It's even more fun than it sounds, trust me. They're open M-F 8:30 - 10:30 am and 12:30 - 3:00 pm.

If a government cafeteria, no matter how scintillating the conversation, isn't your cup of tea, than continue down Pennsylvania Ave. For those of you with your trusty Red Ryder with a compass in the stock, that would be heading southeast. Which your friendly Capitol Police officer will be happy to tell you as he questions you about bringing a BB gun that close to the Capitol. There are several dining establishments in the vicinity. These may not be the best, but they strike my fancy.

First, I would mention Pete's Diner, just down 2nd Street at 212. Great diner with a weird yet pleasing mix of traditional diner food and Asian cuisine. It's good, it's quick, and the seating is so tight you're guaranteed to make a new friend. The staff, even as busy as they are, are unfailingly friendly. Surprisingly for a diner, Pete's has a great selection of vegetarian options; one of the best on the Hill.

A block or so down Penn, you will see line of stylishly dressed Hill staffers lined up outside a place known simply as Good Stuff Eatery. You may also see a guy who hasn't shaved in a couple of days trying to eat a burger, read a newspaper, answer his four year old daughter's question, and drink his beer; all without noticing that he's dripped Old Bay mayonnaise into his one year old's hair as she is strapped to his chest. Feel free to say hi. Good Stuff has excellent burgers, good fries with four different types of mayo to dip them in, and truly inventive shakes. A little hint: don't order all three. I have to limit myself to any two when I'm there. And unlike the Visitor's Center, this $7 dollar burger is worth it. Fans of Top Chef might recognize the owner/chef, but I'm afraid I'm not up on my TV to talk about it too much.

And while there are several other options here, if you're looking to sit down at a place with a little ambiance, I recommend Hawk and Dove. Not so much for the food, which is standard bar fare, but because it's a classic DC institution. It's one of the best place to observe one of Washington's timeless traditions: the Running of the Interns. While interns inhabit the Hill year round, the warmer months will bring them out by the hundreds. While I too will quickly tire of them, especially when they fail to follow the rules, I do enjoy a earnest faced young intern chatting up some friends with a discussion of his "Member". And no, he's not being dirty. Anyway, the place is one of the great dive bars in the city and is a lot of fun.

Feel free to continue your journey down Pennsylvania Ave towards Eastern Market but I shall leave you here. Perhaps another time we can discuss the options around the Market; they warrant their own post. For now, we will leave it at that.

As I said above, this wasn't going to be comprehensive but if you feel there's something worth mentioning here, leave it in the comments or send it to me at tim.krepp@dclikealocal.com

Saturday
Feb142009

All Lincoln, All The Time

Ok, I admire President Lincoln as much as the next guy, and even more so if the next guy hails from south of the Rapahonnock. He's one of those rare historical figures where the mythology undersells what he accomplished. His Memorial is a fitting counterweight to the Capitol on our National Mall. And certainly, no President better supports the Great Man theory of history.

But isn't it all getting to be a little much? Yeah, yeah, I know it's the bicentennial of his birth. I know there is more than a casual overlap between Lincoln's life story and our new President's. I'm sure those of us in the DC area have noticed the phenomenon; maybe our friends from Illinois can back us up here. Is it possible that we give the man who was arguably our greatest President too much attention?

It all started innocuously enough. Ford's Theater closed down a few years ago for a long awaited restoration, to reopen on the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin's fascinating look at Lincoln's political machinations during his Presidency, came out around that time. Then, the National Trust for Historic Preservation restored the Lincoln Cottage at the Soldier's Home in NE DC. Ok, these seemed to be, and were, positive developments. The Cottage, in particular, is a welcome addition, very well done, and truly adds something to our awareness of President Lincoln.

But it all went off the rails at some point. For me, it was when I attended a meeting about the re-opening of Ford's Theater and saw that DC's greatest little museum was becoming our latest infotainment center; a 1865 version of the Spy Museum. I'll have more on that later, but for know it just kind of got me noticing what was going on around here. Every new museum exhibit, every new symposium, every new lecture was about Lincoln.

Some of these look cool. Certainly, the National Museum of American History is a natural venue for a retrospective of Lincoln's life. And the Library of Congress, continues it's track record of being, in my opinion, the best American History Museum in Washington with it's exhibit that includes the contents of Lincoln's pockets the night he was assassinated. And I was terribly moved to see the Gettysburg Address on display when the American History Museum re-opened. But Lincoln Stamp Collecting? Random Lincoln Art? And this one really takes the cake (for a look at some craziness near you check it out here). Nothing wrong with any of this individually, but in total it's a bit overwhelming. Even the Economist is noting the trend.

So, all in all, President Lincoln, I ask you not to leave us in peace, but in moderation. It's all just too much. Maybe you could nudge your wife to visit some curators, writers, and lecturers from beyond the grave and let them know that Lincoln has been done. On the off chance they find a new angle, it's going to be lost in the shuffle. And hey, we got some other history to look at here as well.

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