Thursday, November 26, 2009

Capitol collection

Did you see the White House?

That was the first question I encountered as I stepped into amchi Mumbai.

Fact is, not really. It was but a fleeting glimpse I had of the Presidential Mansion, the Capitol, or the many memorials and monuments that dot Washington DC. Nor did I fall for the ‘land and water tour on boat with wheels' offered by DC Ducks or dig into Angus T-bone steak at Fran O'Brien's Steak House.

What I did do was load up on munchies and Snapple and make a beeline for the museums. Washington has more museums than can be covered in one visit, but it is their sheer variety that excited.

And the added bonus? Most are free!

Amazing architecture

What struck me as I alighted at Union Station was the sheer immenseness and grandeur of the buildings around me. This was true of the museums too –— so it was a double treat. I admired the architectural magnificence and the wonders held within.

What made the visits so much simpler was that a large chunk of the city's museums are on either side of the National Mall, a 3.25 km walkable expanse. And I was there at the dot of 10 each morning to see all that I could see…

National Air and Space Museum: Humungous is the word for it. Up, down, strung high from the ceiling and in every nook… from Leonardo da Vinci's flying apparatus, the Wright Flyer to space probes and every airborne vehicle in-between, historic and unique aircraft, legendary heroes and their machines, this museum has it all. It's the largest collection of its kind in the world. For further excitement there is always the IMAX experience.

The Sculpture Garden at Hirshorn Museum.

Hirshorn Museum: Its Sculpture Garden is unique, scattered with large-scale sculptures of Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and others dating from the 1880s to the 1960s. I sit in tranquility and dwell upon some amazing pieces. The museum, with its roving exhibits, is a great place to catch up on some brilliant and way-out creativity, and among its permanent collection are artworks from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Freer and Sackler Galleries: They're repositories of an extensive array of Asian art. I gaze on some of the most fabulous bronzes and miniatures from India; and an array of Buddhist paintings, earthenware and temple sculpture from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. It opens up the world of Iranian ceramics, and Korean, Chinese and Japanese stoneware. On always are a couple of novel and relevant thematic displays.

The National Gallery of Art: It has the most wonderful collection of European art from the 13th century through the 19th century with its famous Ginevra de' Benci — a 1474 Leonardo da Vinci piece. Photographs, decorative arts, architecture, prints… one can spend days here. At the sculpture gallery is Degas' path-breaking Petite Danseuse de Quatorze — the only one he deigned to exhibit, Renoir's Maternity and Gauguin's Père Paillard & Thérèse.

The Natural History Museum: Along with its mind-boggling fossil collection, it is home to one of the largest plant fossils. Among the dinosaurs here I meet a tyrannosaurus and a pterodactyl; discover the fascinating world of meteorites and let butterflies from around the world flitter around me. Unusual is the gems and minerals section where one can glimpse the famous Hope diamond and trace its fascinating trail from Golconda in India to the US.

International Spy Museum: For the undercover agent in all of us. From the moment I enter with a codename it's an unforgettable hands-on experience, with all the excitement and drama, and the incredible tools that make this near-invisible profession such a thrill. Interactive displays, nail-biting tales, lives of famous spies, an hour-long spy adventure… Plus there's great gadgetry to indulge in and take home from the museum store.

American Art Museum: It's all about indigenous creativity, and what a vast repertoire it is. The landscapes of the Hudson River School, Georgia O'Keeffe's powerful abstract representations, impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam, Martin Puryear — master of modernism, and traditional crafts. There's colonial portraiture, Latino art, African-American art, folk art.

And George Catlin's Indian Gallery gives an insightful peek into the lives of American Indians.

And more: The Holocaust Museum, Museum of African Art, Textile Museum, National Geographic Society, American History Museum.

It needs another visit. Then maybe, just maybe, I'll take on the DC Ducks too.

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