A beautiful day in Newark. I’m at the airport, ticket in hand, skies are clear, air is calm, hotel in San Jose booked. Now to just enjoy the day.
Well, it isn’t Costa Rica but at least I have a place to stay for the night. I’ll head out tomorrow morning, stay another night in San Jose and try again on Wed.
On Sunday we visited the Newseum.
This is a museum dedicated to the press and reporters. The displays are very good representations of historic events going back over 200 years. They have an archive of hundreds of newspapers which are displayed in the lobby. You can see the front pages on their website.
The twin tower 9/11 display was very good. They have the remains of the spire with the front pages from the next day mounted on a wall behind.
There was a strong emphasis on the bravery and sacrifice of reporters. William Biggart was a photojournalist who lived a few blocks from the World Trade Centre. When he heard the commotion he grabbed his camera and headed to the site. He took several pictures but was killed when one of the towers collapsed. His gear was recovered including some exposed film.
One of the permanent exhibits includes all of the Pulitzer prize photographs. You can see these images on the website. They are fantastic but they sometimes take a terrible toll on the photographer. One photographer was haunted by what he saw and the fact that he didn’t intervene to save the life of a child. He committed suicide some years later.
After the Newseum we went to the Museum of Natural History.
There is a second Air and Space Museum in Virginia. This is a much larger building and is able to accommodate larger displays such as the Space Shuttle Enterprise.
They also have a BlackBird.
This was very difficult to photograph.
The most controversial plane on display is the Enola Gay.
This is the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The yellow rocket below is the Loon missile, an American version of the German V1.
My family was subjected to the V1 during the second world war. They didn’t do as much damage as the larger V2 rockets but the psychological effect was terrifying. They are essentially flying bombs with just enough fuel to reach a major population center. Londoners would hear them droning overhead and then suddenly go silent. Then there would be a wait until the crash and explosion. During the wait people would wonder, “should I run? Will I be running into the bomb?”.
The space section included a Univac Computer.
It is funny how the iconic symbols of the space age are so antiquated.
At the American History Museum there was a film about the early spy satellites. Unlike today, the first satellites used film which had to be retrieved. This was done by ejecting a capsule which re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and was caught mid-air by an airplane. Below is a picture of the capsule.
There were lots of strange experimental aircraft on display. My favourite is the airphibian, a plane/car combination. After landing you just detach the car from the wings and drive away.
The flying platform was also very odd. This is a military craft that is operated by a single soldier who stands in the central tower. The soldier holds a rifle and is able to fire and maneuver the craft by leaning in the direction of travel.
The plaque said a larger model was also constructed but was too powerful to be controllable by a single occupant. This is probably a euphemistic way of saying many test pilots were injured. There was an unstated sense in many of the experimental crafts that test pilots risked their lives determining which design worked. Even the successful designs looked dangerous. Some planes only ever had a single pilot since the level of skill required was too high for general aviators.
Yesterday, we visited the National Mall in Washington. The reason this area looks so cohesive is that it was planned rather than just coming together organically.
Along the perimeter are several Smithsonian museums. We visited Air and Space and American History. The Smithsonian institutions are excellent. The collections are large and contain some very significant pieces. We saw the training modules for the lunar lander and Skylab. A predator drone was on display along with several other unmanned aircraft. There was lots of good information about WWII Pacific naval battles.
The American Museum documented African slavery and emancipation. There was a very good live performance with an actor trying to explain why four black men sitting at a lunch counter was an act of protest. The original Washington monument was also on display. Everyone knows today’s icon obelisk. But the original monument showed Washington as a God seated on a throne.
The biggest line up was to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers. For us, no place is home, so we skipped the shoes and continued down the yellow brick road.
The heat and humidity finally hit us so we boarded a double-decker tour bus. This took us around the mall and out towards the tidal basin. We disembarked at the Lincoln memorial. This is probably the most impressive sight on the tour. Lincoln sits on a throne, looking out from his temple directly at the Washington monument and beyond as if keeping his eye on the government.
Unlike Arthur, there is no myth of his return but I did notice a certain tension in the fingers of his right hand as if he might rise at any moment.
From the Lincoln memorial we walk back through the Vietnam memorial.
This wall of granite lists all casualties grouped by the year they died. While unorthodox, the impact is very strong and conveys the scope of the tragedy and the stillness of death much more than the traditional heroic statue. The abstract nature and lack of heroic overtones has led to much criticism. A veteran’s organization has commissioned a more traditional statue which is housed a short distance from the original monument.
Walking further we came to the White House. It was smaller than I expected and there was only one lone protester who might have just been a homeless person with political views and a magic marker. We discuss dropping by to say hi to our friendly southern neighbour but later realized he was visiting us up in Huntsville at the G8 summit.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Washington but I was impressed. There is a stately grandeur to the city and its architecture. The US is a country under stress; debt, war, political divisions have knocked it back on its heels. There was no hint of this in Washington public spaces: no cracks in the facade showing the underlying tension, no strident boosterism revealing an underlying insecurity. This was the capital city of an empire who appeared implacable amid its troubles.
On Wednesday, we visited our friend Karen and her boyfriend Richard in Irvington, New York. It is a picturesque town on the Hudson not far from New York City. They have a lovely house a short walk from the train station. This is a good alternative to suburban living. A short train ride takes you into the city but you live in a small place with a real center. Having grown up in Scarborough (see Wayne’s World for an accurate portrayal) this seems very civilized.
We had dinner, watched the sunset and discussed American politics. We met Karen on a sailing trip in the Caribbean and became fast friends. On that trip we spent a magical day in St Barts with Karen and our shipmate Susie. If you’re reading this SusieQ, we miss you.
Karen also has a small dog named Max. At first Trixie and Max were at bit unsure of each other.
However, they soon became friends.
|June 24, 2010||to||June 28, 2010|
|June 23, 2010||to||June 24, 2010|
We arrived in Old Orchard Beach yesterday. This is the summer holiday destination of Carol’s childhood. When we checked into the motel they gave us two keys for adjoining rooms. We briefly thought that this was some local bylaw regarding people of opposite sex with different last names. We look in both rooms and decided they simply made a mistake. When we returned the key to the larger room I joked that I would be happy to have the larger of the two. The fellow at the desk started to say it was more expensive when his partner came skipping out of the back office. She wanted to know what we did for a living. When Carol said she was a student teacher we were told there was a special on for student teachers and that we could have the larger room for the same price. Apparently, all of the owners are retired teachers and they were quite delighted to give us a deal. In fact they gave us a series of keys to rooms we might like. After looking at a couple we selected a room with a kitchenette and balcony.
I’m sitting on the balcony now, enjoying the cool morning air, fresh coffee and free WiFi. Today is a lazy day of hanging out on the beach: a welcome change from camping.