Sunday, March 13, 2011

Song of the Evening Star

Like a portent of death, twilight shrouds the earth
And envelops the valley in its sable robe;
The soul, that yearns for those heights,
Dreads to take its dark and awful flight.

There you shine, o fairest of the stars,
And shed your gentle light from afar;
Your friendly beam penetrates the twilight gloom
And points the way out from the valley.

O my fair evening star,
I always gladly greeted thee:
From a heart that never betrayed its faith,
Greet her when she passes,
When she soars above this earthly valley
To become a blessed angel in Heaven

Richard Wagner - "O du mein holder Abendstern" from Tannhauser

I shed a tear, which is no surpise considering the emotional roller coaster I've been on the last few weeks so just about anything sad or sentimental or poignant has me weeping. But isn't the text just lovely? And just listen to the orchestration. Astounding that someone as hefty (vocally and physically) as Bryn Terfel can bring such a delicate balance to it. I might like to play this at my funeral.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Class Act

"Thanks, Chelsea. I appreciate everything you do for me and you are a real pleasure to work with and have around. Sometimes it is OK to cry."

That's my boss comforting me after she learned her services will no longer be needed after June 31st. She remained composed as I sat in front of her and cried. *CRIED* And before she left work at 7:00PM on a Friday, she popped her head in to say, "You're going to be OK," hinting that I will still have a job come affiliation time.

And that is reason number 758 bazillion why I love my boss. And since my boss says it's OK to cry, I think I'll put on a movie, crawl into bed and do so.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Wish You (a very belated) Christmas

I'm not a huge fan of the Christmas jingle We Wish You A Merry Christmas. It just never quite did it for me like O Holy Night or Neil Diamond's rockin' version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It seemed so pedestrian and somewhat juvenile. The song always reminded me of grade school Christmas pageants and being yelled at by the music teacher to politely "wish" not "wishhhhhhh" or "wooosssshhhh" a Merry Christmas.

It takes a Finnish operatic singer to pump some juice into those notes and I actually kinda like the song. I dare you, play the YouTube clip and stick around long enough to hear the stratospheric notes of Karita Mattila that just climb ever higher. The arrangement is also beautifully orchestrated - it makes this song feel like a big deal, not just a cast-aside Christmas jingle.

A feeble attempt.. resurrect this thing. I make no promises.

Photo (c) PJ Taylor

Friday, May 21, 2010

To see, or not to see. That's not even a question.

The Washington National Opera is presenting its final performance of the 2009/10 season. I very enthusiastically present the Top Ten Reasons to get thee to the KC for Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet:

10) The entrance of the chorus and its genius placement in the opening scene is stunning. The voices literally surround you.

9) Despite the wobble, Sam Ramey still has a stage presence to be reckoned with. The wobble seems to fit in with the characterization of Claudius that it becomes unnoticeable after a bit.

8) This is one of the few (maybe even the only) operas featuring a saxophone. In addition, the orchestra as a whole sounded in tip-top shape. Major shout out to the horns and brass section for some excellent work.

7) The women’s costumes are beautiful and fit well into the stage concept. I loved the black overcoat over bright red dress that Gertrude wore at Ophelie’s gravesite

6) It’s Shakespeare + French grand opera. That to me is a winning combination.

5) American baritone Michael Chioldi is damn good looking as Hamlet. Bonus points: he’s not a whiny tenor. Triple extra bonus points for a solid interpretation.

4) The confrontation scene between Hamlet and Gertrude is intense stagecraft at its best. Both characters give such emotional depth with solid vocal drama. It’s probably one of the most intense scenes I’ve experienced since Act III Scene II from the Met’s Otello in 2008, which says a lot because that scene in Otello is my favorite operatic scene ever!

3) Betsy Bishop sings the hell out of Gertrude! That’s all you need to know about that. Except for this point - if it weren’t for the mad scene, Bishop would’ve been the star of the show for me.

2) Elizabeth Futral is crazy good in Ophelie’s mad scene, which, without giving anything away, is staged brilliantly!

And the number one reason to see Washington National Opera’s production of Thomas’ Hamlet (drum roll please……)

1) Setting aside my bias for Ariadne and discounting Gotterdammerung, which wasn’t technically a fully staged production, Hamlet is the most vocally and stylistically exciting production WNO has staged since last season’s Peter Grimes. The production is smart, edgy, fresh, fierce, enthralling and intense! Enough adjectives for you? The entire cast was vocally and dramatically excellent and thoroughly involved in the forward movement of the drama.

If you’re in DC, get over to the Kennedy Center to see this opera. Despite earlier casting woes, WNO has pulled together a solid group of singers. Don’t ask yourself “to see or not to see.” Do yourself a favor and just go. You might see me back for a round two viewing. for ticket info
Photos courtesy K. Cooper for WNO

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lett's See DC (and NY): One Last Hurrah

I brought my Mom back to DC with me after Christmas. We spent a few days gallivanting around the Nation's Capital before a quick trip to the Big Apple. I coaxed Mom into writing up her experience, and what you will get is a six part mini-series of the Mother Fish Out of Water. And let me tell you what, she was out of water! At some point along the series, I'll add my own brief recap of the events – you know two sides to every story. Part six of my Mom's six part mini-series of her trip to Washington, DC and NYC ends with our last day in New York and her last day in DC. What a journey!

Chelsea made plans to meet her opera buddies Sarah, Kari and Sally for brunch Saturday morning at a restaurant not far from our hotel. After showering and re-packing, Sam and Daryl decided to start back home to Connecticut. We parted ways in front of the hotel. Chelsea and I started walking to meet up with her friends. It was very cold and windy. Confetti left from New Year's Eve swirled high amongst the skyscrapers.

We joined Sarah, Kari and Sally. We enjoyed a great meal with great friends. I was made to feel so welcome. Sorry-I can't remember the name of the restaurant (I think it was Pigalle) nor what I ate. We didn't have much time to linger, so after warm good-byes, we headed back out into the cold. We wanted to ride the Staten Island Ferry and had to be back at Penn Station by 4:30 to catch the bus back to DC. On the way to the subway we came upon a street vendor selling scarves. Perfect gifts to take home! It was hard to choose from the variety of colors and patterns. We packed away our purchases and descended to the subway. We rode to the end of Manhattan then walked to the terminal to catch the ferry. It was foggy/misty so the view of the Statue of Liberty was not clear, but still awesome to see. We docked and boarded a different ferry for the ride back to Manhattan. I was given a different perspective approaching the city from the water. We exited the ferry and I bought a couple of magnets and shot glasses to take home (small and lightweight are key deciding factors). We got back on the subway to return to Penn Station. We decided we would only have time to see Macy's on the way back. We exited the subway and walked the few blocks to Macy's. We oohed and ahhed over the decorated windows and went inside to use the facilities. The store was jam-packed. After waiting in line for the restroom we left the store for the bus stop.

What little sun there had been was no longer shining down into the canyons of the city and it was very cold. We arrived at our bus stop only to be informed our bus had been cancelled. We would be first on the bus scheduled an hour later. Cold and knowing it would be hours before we arrived home, we went inside Penn Station to grab a bowl of soup. Our waitress was kind to serve us so quickly. Fortified, we went back out to the bus stop to wait. It arrived; we boarded and were soon on our way back to DC. It was dark so I wasn't able to watch the landscape. As tired as I was, I still wasn't able to sleep. I played my Game Boy off and on, which helped pass the time. We arrived in DC near 10 pm and thankfully Chelsea decided we would take a cab home. We exited the cab at the end of her block and trudged home. It was pretty hard to climb the stairs of the Harry Potter house.

Sunday: My last few hours here. My flight was at 2:40 pm so I needed to be at the airport by 1 pm. Chelsea had planned for us to have crepes in Eastern Market but it was too cold and windy for the vendor to set up. She knew of a restaurant in that neighborhood that served breakfast, so we went there. We gathered my suitcase and backpack and started out on the last leg of my trip.

On our walk to the restaurant, Chelsea asked me to name the "top five" moments of my trip. My answers: 1) The opera and meeting Renee Fleming, 2) spending the week with Chelsea, 3),meeting her East coast "families,” 4) Arlington National Cemetery, and 5) the Botanic Garden. Not an easy task.

We arrived at the Restaurant and ordered. I had a spinach and feta cheese omelet. So good. And then, time to go. On the way to the metro, Chelsea took me by a house that has been turned into a book store. I went in and did a quick walk-through. Oh my gosh-there are books everywhere. It seems chaotic but the owner can tell you where everything is.

Back outside, we headed to the metro to deposit me at Reagan Airport. Chelsea got me checked in and walked with me as far as allowed. We hugged and both started to cry. (That is a lie! I had something in my eye… yeah, that’s the ticket…) I'm now crying as I write this. I miss her so much! Maybe that's why I put off writing this part. I had plenty of time before take-off so purchased shot glasses for Kevin then settled in to wait for my flight. At last it was time to board. I found my seat and got comfortable. I watched the landscape through watery eyes. I cried pretty much all the way to Atlanta.
~ Susan

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lett's see DC (and NY): My Little Town Blues are Melting Away

I brought my Mom back to DC with me after Christmas. We spent a few days gallivanting around the Nation's Capital before a quick trip to the Big Apple. I coaxed Mom into writing up her experience, and what you will get is a six part mini-series of the Mother Fish Out of Water. And let me tell you what, she was out of water! At some point along the series, I'll add my own brief recap of the events – you know two sides to every story. Part five of my Mom's six part mini-series of her trip to Washington, DC and NYC continues with our trip to New York City for speed sightseeing and an opera at the Met. This small town Mom has come a long way!

Ouch! My feet hurt! It didn't seem the blister pads wee doing their job. Rejuvenated by a shower and coffee, I prepared for the primary goal of my visit. The night before, I condensed into my backpack everything presumably necessary for a frenetic sight-seeing trip to New York City with a side of opera at the Met. We ate breakfast, added last night's left-overs and apples to our backpacks, and departed the warm house. Chelsea carried a compact umbrella and entrusted me with the community umbrella. It was very cold but not so bad once we got moving. We rode the Metro to where we would catch a bus for our ride to New York. We settled in, my anticipation growing. I probably should have tried to nap, but who knows if or when I will ever do something like this again? I watched the landscape looking for landmarks and place names I would recognize. It was so cool to see this for myself, to have my own perspective.

Chelsea and I ran through a list of sites to see, trying to prioritize for our time constraints. I knew we wouldn’t be able to see very many places. Top of the list was the Harley Davidson store to obtain the requisite souvenir t-shirt for John. Chelsea located one and upon arriving at Penn Station, we disembarked the bus and located a subway station where we could catch a train to whisk us to said HD shop. Chelsea's proficiency with the subway system and self-confidence put me somewhat at ease, though flashes in my mind of The Out of Towners occasionally gave me pause. We made it to the Harley shop and purchased shirts for John and me (not matching, though).

Needing to refuel and warm up, we found a Starbucks. We got hot drinks to have with the left-over quesadilla and apples. The quesadilla is still yummy. After eating, we shouldered our backpacks and headed back out into the masses of people. It was New Year's Day, for Pete's sake! Why weren't they all at home watching the Rose Parade? A few blocks later, I realized I left the umbrella at Starbucks. Since it was a community umbrella to begin with, it was serving its purpose. The next person to find it would hopefully pass on their good fortune of having been blessed with an umbrella.

We rode the subway back to the Time's Square area. We were to meet Sam (a college roommate of Chelsea's) and her mom, Daryl, there to make our way to our hotel. Chelsea and I wandered around. I liked the Target ads based on the Twelve Days of Christmas. The streets seemed pretty free of trash and confetti from the night before. I can't even imagine being among the crowd that amasses in Time Square for New Year's Eve. I was pretty overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all – the tall buildings, the number of people, and the busy-ness of everything. Sam and Daryl met us after doing some shopping. We walked to the hotel and checked in. We had a few minutes to rest, and then changed for dinner and the opera. My clothes didn't appear too wrinkled after being stuffed in the backpack all day. I wanted to make a good impression on Renee, after all! Biggest challenge? Putting on real shoes with my blisters! Thank goodness they were flats and we didn't have much walking tonight.

We found a little restaurant close to the hotel. I had an open-faced roast beef sandwich with spinach and Boursin cheese. Delicious. Bundled against the cold we walked a block or so to catch a cab to take us to the Metropolitan Opera. We climbed into the cab (not the Cash Cab) and were on our way. Though outwardly calm, I was getting very excited. Never, in all my day-dreaming, have I imagined doing anything like this. I think I need to expand the boundaries of my day-dreams.

Side story-Exactly 50 years ago my mom and her sister took a trip to New York City. They both left young families (5 kids for my mom, 3 kids for my aunt) in the charge of our Dads and various grandparents. Mom and Aunt Patty rode the train from Winslow, AZ to Battle Creek, MI, to meet their cousin Carolyn. They then rode the train to New York for a few days of sight-seeing. My mom's memories of what they saw are pretty vague, but she knows they had a good time. Heck, any amount of time away from that many kids is a good time!

Sam and Chelsea

Daryl and Susan

We arrived at the Met with me in total awe. The building is so beautiful and grand. We went inside and were met with even more splendor. The chandeliers in the expansive lobby were spectacular. It was hard to take it all in. We located our level and were directed to our seats. Chelsea showed me how the streaming translation worked on the back of the seat in front of me. I was nervous about liking the performance. I didn't want to disappoint her. After a few minutes the lights dimmed and a hush settled throughout the theatre. The music started, the curtain rose and we were underway. Though a little distracting to keep looking down at the seat for the translation, I was able to follow the performance with very little trouble.

Quickly, it seemed, Act I ended. I made it through not wanting to run from the theatre with my ears covered. A short intermission and we returned to our seats, ready for Act II. (HAHAHA that’s funny – the Met has never been known for short intermissions, but I suppose the excitement of it all made it seem to Mom that it was a quick intermission.) This portion dragged a little for me, but I didn't fall asleep. Again, I was surprised at how quickly the time passed. Another intermission and we wandered to the gift shop. Chelsea, Sam and I were admiring some ornaments made from chandeliers retired from the opera house. They were made of Swarovski crystals and so, so sparkly. One would make a fabulous addition to any Christmas tree. Sadly, they were definitely out of my price range. Back to our seats and Act III. This portion was quick-paced, funny and bitter-sweet. Before I knew it, the performance was over. Pretty amazing.

Chelsea's friend, Sarah, arranged a back-stage pass for us to meet Renee Fleming after the opera. Thank you, Sarah! We made our way downstairs, through hallways and corridors to finally arrive at the dressing rooms. We joined others waiting in line. Our turn came at last. Chelsea introduced us all. We expressed our appreciation for a stellar performance and she agreed to a picture with us. I was so honored to meet her. She seems most gracious and appreciative of her fans. She has a very powerful voice for such a petite person. I totally enjoyed the performance even though I'm not as passionate about it as Chelsea. It's a very impressive art form and I do appreciate that. We meandered back through the hallways and found our way outside. A short walk and we were able to hail a cab to take us back to the hotel. Rats – still not the Cash Cab. We arrived at our hotel and our previous plans for a nightcap quickly dissolved as exhaustion kicked in. Well, for me anyway. I think the others may have deferred to me. Hey, it was a long day. (I think we were all happy to hit those comfy beds at the Marriott.)

~ Susan

Renee Fleming, Chelsea, Daryl, Susan, Sam
I love how my mom and Renee color coordinated – they’re just cool like that.

Mom's first opera at the Met was Richard Strauss' der Rosenkavalier, an almost five-hour marathon of music, starring Renee Fleming as the Marschalin and Susan Graham as Octavian.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Life Begins at 8:40

SarahB – the knower of all things Broadway related in and out of New York City. It’s like she’s my enabler, always encouraging me to step out of my opera boundaries to explore the music that comprises America’s songbook. After alerting me to the Millennium Stage concert with Kate Baldwin, she told me about another free opportunity to see Kate and several other Broadway stars at the Library of Congress. As soon as I read the email from her I called the LoC to reserve two tickets. Easy as pie!

On Monday, March 22, Dustin and I made the short little trek from our Capitol Hill homes to the Library of Congress for Life Begins at 8:40. The foyer was jam packed with people. Aside from the five-year old girl accompanying her father, Dustin and I were the youngest there by at least 20 years. It was that kind of a crowd. We piled into the Coolidge Auditorium situated in the northwestern part of the building. It was a pretty cool theatre.

Sidebar on the Coolidge Auditorium: Named for Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the 511 seat theatre was built with financial backing from Mrs. Coolidge in 1925. She was a notable patron in the history of American music. In addition to her contribution to the theatre, Mrs. Coolidge set up the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation to help the Library promote and advance chamber music through commissions, public concerts, and festivals. In a letter dated February 4, 1925, she stated that the ultimate aim was:

to make possible, through the Library of Congress, the composition and performance of music in ways which might otherwise be considered too unique or too expensive to be ordinarily undertaken. Not this alone, of course, nor with a view to extravagance for its own sake; but as an occasional possibility of giving precedence to considerations of quality over those of quantity; to artistic rather than to economic values; and to opportunity over.

So that’s what we were here to see. A piece of music that hadn’t been heard in its entirety in 75 years and probably would not have been ushered out had it not been for Mrs. Coolidge and her foundation. Did I mention the tickets were free? Again, goes with the aim of the foundation – rolling out stuff for artistic rather than economic values. God bless you Mrs. Coolidge!

Life Begins at 8:40 is a revue with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg. It opened in 1943 and ran for 237 performances. The cast that has assembled this time around for the concert will reassemble sometime this week to record the work. Both will include a large amount of unpublished and unrecorded material. In addition to Mrs. Coolidge being posthumously generous, thanks must be given to The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust for making this whole shindig and subsequent recording possible. Muchos Gracias!

So Life Begins at 8:40... It was awesome! I was slightly unfamiliar with the work, because you know, it hadn’t been performed in 75 years. But it was just the right amount of upbeat, catchy and fun. The stellar cast was comprised of some of Broadway’s brightest stars – David Glenn Armstrong, Kate Baldwin!!, Philip Chaffin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Aaron Gandy, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker, Brad Oscar, Faith Prince!!!, Graham Rowat!!, and Jessica Stone.

I came for the dynamic married duo of Kate and Graham and stayed for the magnetic stage presence of Faith. The entire cast was really just spot on and brought charm and energy to the 20 or so songs.

Graham came out after the men and women’s chorus looking pretty dapper in his suit. One by one the eight other men and women joined him in singing the show’s opening number “Life Begins (At Exactly 8:40 or Thereabouts).” And then out came Faith Prince all sassy and with stage presence to spare and a voice just so awesomely awesome! My attention was completely caught and I sat intently as the remaining 2 ½ hours unfolded.

There is not one gripe that I can think of in regards to the performers. The only thing that I had a problem with was the miking. It favored the orchestra over the singers so I had a difficult time hearing most of the singers throughout the performance. For some reason I was waiting to be impressed by Rebecca Luker, but just wasn’t. Brad Oscar was absolutely hilarious in his solo turn in “Things!” where he conducted himself and the orchestra. Christopher Fitzgerald and Jessica Stone played very well off of each other in several songs. Faith Prince was truly stunning and very comedic in the several numbers that she turned out. I tell you what, she owns that stage when she’s on it. And hers was one of the few voices that I didn’t have to strain to hear over the bad miking situation. Kate Baldwin is just fun to watch on stage and I seriously love her voice.

Dustin and I left the theatre humming tunes from the show. I wanted to stick around to try and catch up with Kate and Graham. They’ve been super generous – she signing a CD gifted to me from the wonderful SarahB, and he offering to snag some tickets to the show for me – and I wanted to give them my thanks. Dustin and I stood in the foyer for several minutes as the old folks, and chorus and orchestra members filed out. Then out came the rest of the cast.

Talking to Kate is like talking to a good buddy. She’s super nice and so unpretentious. It was like catching up with old friends. Dustin and I told her how much we enjoyed the show. We chit-chatted a bit and gave some tourist advice to the couple who had a few hours to kill the next day before heading back to NYC. We suggested several of the hotspots, but Graham seemed to be set on sleeping in. I think Kate’s next venture is taking her across the pond, but hopefully she and Graham will be doing something nearby that I can check out.

On our way out the door, we walked past Faith Prince. I had a vague idea of who she was – I used to watch Spin City. I meant to just throw out a quick “you were fabulous,” and walk on by, but we ended up talking to Faith for a few minutes. I guess when you tell a fifty-something-year old that they look and sound awesome, especially when they’re on stage with a bunch of youngsters, they really appreciate the comment. Faith pulled me in for a hug and told Dustin and me that we made her night. Dustin asked where she got her shoes. You know, when you get a chance to talk to a Tony winner, the important things to ask are about shopping secrets and shoe fashions. After a few more “you’re awesomes” and “loved your voice” and a quick snap of the camera, Dustin and I were off.

Lucky us, the CD for this quirky, entertaining revue should be out sometime this summer and I can sing along to this once forgotten music and relive the fun from last week’s performance.

Full song list with some of my favorites in bold:
Overture - The Orchestra
Life Begins (At Exactly 8:40 or Thereabouts) - Graham & The Company
Spring Fever - Kate & Girls
You’re a Builder-Upper - Christopher, Jessica & Ensemble
My Paramount-Publix-Roxy Rose - Graham, Faith & Boys
Shoein’ the Mare - Montego & Ensemble
Quartet Erotica - Brad, Christopher, Graham & Philip
Fun to Be Fooled - Kate & Philip
C’est la Vie Prologue - Rebecca & Ensemble
C’est la Vie - Faith, Brad & Christopher
What Can You Say in a Love Song? - Rebecca, Philip & The Company

Entr’ Acte - The Orchestra
Let’s Take a walk Around the Block - Graham, Jessica & Ensemble
Things! - Brad
I Knew Him When - Montego, Kate, Philip & Ensemble
All the Elks and Masons - Christopher, Jessica & Ensemble
A Weekend Cruise - Kate, Graham & Brad
It Was Long Ago - Rebecca & Girls
I’m Not Myself - Christopher
I Couldn’t Hold My Man - Faith
Life Begins at City Hall - The Entire Company

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Told ya so, told ya so, told ya, told ya, told ya so!*

Eschenbach is the bald dude to Fleming's left. Photo courtesy of my good buddy Of the Kosmos.

I just knew it! As soon as I heard that Christoph Eschenbach was taking the helm of the National Symphony Orchestra, I just knew that we'd be getting more Renee Fleming here in the District.

I was right! Eschenbach opens his inaugural season with the NSO on September 25th with Renee Fleming at his side. He'll be leading her in Strauss' Four Last Songs as well as piano prodigy Lang Lang in Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1.

I'm glad to be seeing the Diva on my home turf again. It'll also be great to revisit Fleming in the Four Last Songs. My first Renee Fleming concert was September 2007 in Denver, CO, and she sang the Four Last Songs. But I was too new (to opera and classical music) and too excited about the whole affair to really understand their awesomeness and how amazingly gifted an interpreter Fleming is in this particular song cycle.

Eschenbach and Fleming have a pretty deep history together. He conducted her on her first Four Last Songs recording as well as the Strauss Heroines album. I believe Eschenbach also conducted Fleming when she made her Houston Grand Opera debut as the Contessa in le Nozze di Figaro way back in 1988. So as soon as I heard that maestro was moving in at the Kennedy Center, I just knew he was going to be bringing my Diva of choice right along with him. And I couldn't be happier!

In the meantime, I've gathered a group of six to see Eschenbach work his magic on Verdi's Requiem on March 12th. Bring it, maestro! Bring it!

A quick note about the dress that Fleming is wearing in the picture above - that's the same dress she wore when I saw her in Denver. And now you know.

P.S. I had another genius moment like this back in the fall. WNO still had to cast a 2nd Amelia in Verdi's Un ballo, and returning from lunch one day, I turned to my intern buddy and said, "you know, Amelia is listed in Iréne Theorin's rep." And guess who is singing Amelia come September. Yeah, I called it.

*Will and Grace reference, anyone?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lett's see DC: John Hancocks and Margaritas

I brought my Mom back to DC with me after Christmas. We spent a few days gallivanting around the Nation's Capital before a quick trip to the Big Apple. I coaxed Mom into writing up her experience, and what you will get is a six(?) part mini-series of the Mother Fish Out of Water. And let me tell you what, she was out of water! At some point along the series, I'll add my own brief recap of the events - you know, two sides to every story. Part four of my Mom's six(?) part mini-series of her trip to Washington, DC and NYC continues with her second full day in the Nation's Capital and her first New Year's spent away from my Dad in 31 years. THIRTY ONE YEARS!

Chelsea is up earlier than me (hard to believe, I know). Though I missed meeting Tara and Melissa, their absence allowed me to impose on the morning schedule without too much disruption (both Tara and Melissa were still on Christmas/New Year’s vacation, which was perfect because I slept in Tara’s bed so Mom could sleep on mine). Laura was on her way out before us. We had breakfast, packed a lunch, and headed to the Metro. Today's mission: museums and such. We were hoping to visit the National Archives, Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, and the Botanic Garden. Our first stop was the National Archives. We arrived before opening and already a line awaited us. Upon entering we were directed to a theater where we viewed an introductory film about the museum (the old film they used to show about preserving the documents was way better – thumbs down to the Archives on this switch). Afterward, we made our way to the rotunda where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Bill of Rights are housed. Wow! Most amazing to see the original records of our democracy! In the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery was an exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the National Archives entitled "Big!" Some of the things on display were the 13 foot scroll of the Articles of Confederation, an enormous map of the Gettysburg battlefield, the first printing of the Declaration of Independence, the 1941 tally of votes in the House of Representatives (388 to 1) to declare war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the gigantic shoe (size 22) owned by Shaquille O'neal (and President Taft’s ginormous bathtub that could literally hold four adult men). Incredible! We roamed the gift shop and then headed northwest on Pennsylvania Avenue to the Old Post Office.

We entered the building and rode the elevator to the observation deck in the bell tower. Although not as tall as the Washington Monument, the view is very impressive and even better – not as crowded. It was pretty clear at the time so we could see quite far over the DC area. Yup – it was pretty cold up there. We rode the elevator back down to the main level where there was an eating area. We found a table and broke out our lunch – PB&J sandwiches and apples. Fortified and rested (yeah right!) we headed for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. On the way we walked by the Internal Revenue Service building. (Do you see that? That’s my Mom’s subliminal attempt to get me to do my taxes. Clever!)

We arrived at the American History Museum in attack mode. We had plans to meet Chelsea's friends Janelle and Dustin for dinner and the day was already half gone. Some of the most memorable exhibits we visited were:
First Ladies at the Smithsonian – the role of the nation’s First Ladies with some of their gowns. We liked Laura Bush's sparkly red gown.
The Price of Freedom; Americans at War – a history of the U.S. Military from colonial times to present
Popular Culture Selections – Dorothy's ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, Archie Bunker's chair, a Dumbo from the ride at Disneyland
Also we saw the original Star-Spangled Banner, The American Presidents, and Julia Child's kitchen. So much to take in. We checked the time and realized we would have to skip the Air and Space Museum but would be able to take in the Botanic Gardens. We bundled up and put our feet in gear to get back to Capitol Hill.

We entered the Victorian-style glass building of the Botanic Garden, greeted by warmth! Even though it was pretty crowded inside it was an oasis to me. It seemed calming, a muffled noise buffered by all the plants and flowers. Throughout the main building were models of historic buildings of the National Mall and Capitol Hill. Acrylic-based foam is used to construct the frame but the architectural details are created with sand-based grout and dried plant materials. All the monuments are here in miniature - from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. Awesome! In the East Gallery was a magical village made from plants and natural materials with trains running throughout. Among this creation was Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's home, Peter Pumpkins house, "American Gothic" homestead, Santa's North Pole, and Captain Hook's pirate ship. Amazing! I could have spent hours in there.

Reluctantly, we left the Botanic Garden to begin the trek home. We were on the west side of the Capitol, so we were able to get a closer look at the National Christmas Tree. How cool that it's from Arizona! The Hill really is on a hill and the first part of the walk home is uphill, REALLY UPHILL, at the three quarter mark of a very long day. We made it home to freshen up for dinner out with Janelle and Dustin. The blister on my right heel was bigger and now my left heel had a small one. Oh well. Janelle arrived so we headed back out to meet Dustin on the way to the restaurant in Eastern Market – a Puerto Rican eatery (Banana Café). It was sprinkling, but margaritas were a good incentive to keep moving. Dinner was soooo good with margaritas, chips and salsa, and a Puerto Rican quesadilla (picadillo and plantains). Yummy!! Great company and party hats. What would New Year's Eve be without party hats? Bellies full and moods lifted we stepped back out in the rain for our walk home. On the way we stopped at a CVS for, you guessed it, blister pads. Pushing on, Dustin left us first and when we arrived home, Janelle continued on her way.

Laura was home when we got there. We visited for a while before she went out for a New Year's Eve party. She had on a really cute red dress, which was so festive! We wished her Happy New Year as she left in the rain. We turned in before midnight. In the morning we had an early bus to catch. Opera in the Big Apple!
~ Susan