Friday, April 27, 2012

On the Road: The Family Passions

Photo via District of Columbia

Our Girl and I typically spend our April break in Washington, DC visiting my parents.  It's a great time of year to be in the city.  The mad rush to see cherry blossoms is over but the dogwoods and other flowering trees are in bloom and the long, muggy summer is still a ways off.  It's generally a good time to escape from Vermont, too, though this year's early spring here has been very pleasant.  Of course, as I sit here now for my reflections on our trip, it's a dreadfully grey day and there is, in fact, some light snow coming down.  Zheesh!

Our DC trips have evolved over the years.  Early on, I was eager to show my daughter as much as possible in what time we had.  But as the novelty of zoos and museums have worn off, she's usually pretty content to have smaller adventures with Grandma around the Kalorama neighborhood where my parents live.  However, there is so much to share in that great city and while it wasn't really planned as such, this particular trip became an occasion for my parents and even for me to share with Our Girl aspects of Washington that have long been important to each of us. 


Music in general and singing in particular have been lifelong passions of my father's.  He has been a member of the Choral Arts Society of Washington (CASW) basically since we moved to the DC area in 1976.  Growing up, the annual Christmas concert at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony was a very important family event.  My own love for choral music didn't emerge until college but the seeds were surely planted early.  Our Girl had yet to attend one of Grandpa's concerts when my father asked during our visit in December if we'd like to come to the Brahms Requiem performance when we came in April.  I was a little worried about Our Girl's ability to sit through it so I stalled on a decision.  But he kept asking so once our travel plans were finalized, I figured it was worth trying.  Our Girl was a bit apprehensive but once assured she could bring a book just in case, she agreed.

Photo via WBRI

It didn't occur to me until we arrived in DC why this particular performance was so important to my father.  While I knew the group had just hired a new conductor for the fall, I did not grasp that the Requiem concert would be the final Kennedy Center performance for Norman Scribner, the founding conductor of the CASW, the man who had built the organization over 47 years.  Scribner has been an important person in my father's life for 36 of those 47 - and, I suppose, my own vicariously.  The Brahms Requiem is Scribner's favorite piece and thus an appropriate send off.  The performance was about as close to perfect as you'll ever hear, capped by the most sincere and richly deserved standing ovation I've ever witnessed.  Chorus, orchestra and soloists all deferred tribute to the man of the hour.  There was not a dry eye in the house.  Our Girl even made it through without a book.


For the past several years, my mother has served as a docent at the Freer Gallery, one of two Smithsonian museums devoted mostly to Asian art.  The museum has become every bit as important to my mother as singing is to my father, if not more so.  The Freer and neighboring Sackler are currently exhibiting a rare and wonderful treat: the complete collection of Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji!  I've been in love with Hokusai's woodblock prints since childhood and his Great Wave off Kanagawa, the most famous of the 36 Views collection, is most certainly my favorite work of art in the whole world.

Image via Random knowledge

There are actually 46 prints in total and it was quite exciting to see them all together in one place.  After our visit on Monday, we also took a quick peek into the African Art Museum next door.  With that excursion, I have now been to all of the museums on the National Mall during my lifetime.


I've been saving one of my personal DC favorites for when I thought Our Girl would be ready for it.  Until recently, she has been very uneasy in movie theaters but as many who've followed my blog already know, we've managed to see quite a lot of films over the past several months.  As such, I felt it was time for her to see To Fly, the Air and Space Museum's original IMAX film, screened every day since the museum opened in 1976.  For me, To Fly never gets old.  I am not ashamed to admit that I am afraid of heights and To Fly allows me to test the limits of that fear without even getting up from my seat.  At one moment, you are riding along in a car when suddenly the Earth drops out from under you.  At another, you are practically poured out onto the New York skyline.  Our Girl got scared and clutched my arm a couple of times and I must admit to some jumpiness of my own.  But we both survived.

Image via MacGillvray Freeman Films

Afterwards, we went upstairs to take in a planetarium show, too.  She had been to a planetarium before.  There's one at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  But not surprisingly, the Smithsonian is in a different league.  They do a basic night sky show once a day but they also have what are essentially movies projected on the ceiling.  We saw Infinity Express, narrated by Laurence Fishburne.


For the most part, Our Girl was eager to do "whatever Grandma wants to do" but she did express an interest in visiting the Natural History Museum - my own childhood preference, too.  The museum has been transformed in recent decades and now only barely resembles what I remember from my youth.  The big elephant still dominates the atrium and the dinosaur bones and the Hope Diamond still draw crowds but there's plenty new to explore.  If anything, I find the museum a bit overwhelming.  It vies with Air and Space for the title of world's most visited and the crowds can certainly be oppressive.  We had a good wander, though, beginning in the sea exhibit, then heading to the mammals through human origins.  The human origins exhibit was new to all of us and very impressive.


Washington is a great city for restaurants and my parents are always very generous in sharing their favorite spots.  After the concert on Sunday, we went to Mourayo, a Greek restaurant near Dupont Circle.  I had the grilled lamb chops which were absolutely divine.  My Wife is a big lamb fan and I was sad she wasn't with us for it but I'll have a good recommendation for when we're all there together.  They don't have a children's menu per se but they came up with a great bowl of pasta for Our Girl.  Between that and the ample supply of wonderful bread, she was a happy camper.

On Tuesday, my parents took us to Pizzeria Paradiso, also near the Circle.  Our Girl and I split a 12-inch paradiso pie with prosciutto on half - delicious.  They have an outstanding beer selection, too.

On Wednesday, on our way back from Natural History, we stopped at FroZenYo, one of my mother's favorites.  I had cake batter yogurt with whipped cream and gummy bears.  I also got to finish Our Girl's mint chocolate chip, one of the fringe benefits of fatherhood.

Final Thoughts

I love the Smithsonian but it is draining, especially for a kid.  I'm very glad to have made the trips downtown this visit but for future adventures, I think I'd like to invest more of our time in exploring the Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan areas near my parents.  There's plenty to see, including the Phillips Collection and Textile Museum.  I've never been to either.  I enjoy our DC trips, but it's always good to come home, too, even if it's snowing in late April.

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  1. I've never had the pleasure of going to D.C., so it was fun to travel there via your post. I love Requiem, and it would have been a thrill to hear it live.

  2. This was an extremely lovely post. I was about to write 'Squid' but for some reason, this seemed like a post which deserved acknowledgment of your real name, if that makes sense.

    Guess, we'll have to settle for,

    'This was an extremely lovely post, Scooter.'

    Particularly appreciated the Great Wave off Kanagawa.