Monday, April 6, 2009

On the Mall: DC/Baltimore scenes Part II

"The Mall" certainly has different meanings since the post WWII rise of suburbia and the development of indoor shopping centers known as "malls." But the National Mall, that 3 mile stretch of public space between the Lincoln Memorial and the U. S. Capitol building, lined by the Smithsonian and other museums, is a unique and wonderful place, packed with history and culture. This last trip was our first time to DC in over a decade, and I kept looking down the Mall, trying to envision it packed with over a million people. It's where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, and where, just a few months ago, Barack Obama was inaugurated. Given the right inclination and outlook, the Mall can be a goose-bumpy kind of place (yes, even for those of us who would be labeled "pinko" in another era). The satellite photo on the left was taken on January 20, 2009, the day that the Constitutionally-mandated transition of power from Bush to Obama occurred.

Our Mall trip focused on the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the East wing of the National Gallery of Art. After getting off the Metro at the Smithsonian station, we strolled past the Smithsonian "castle," to discover this lovely garden beside it. These rain-splattered pansies added a splash of color to the gray, overcast day. Then on past the Air & Space Museum, with its throngs of kids flowing in and out of school buses, to the NMAI.

The NMAI is an amazing place, starting with the architecture. Landscaped to reflect the native lands pre-contact with Europeans, the building itself was designed in consultation with members of the Blackfoot, Cherokee/Choctaw, Diné/Oneida and Hopi nations. Every detail of the museum had significant input from Native Americans, and many exhibits includes specific references to the individuals who consulted from various Nations. Ongoing, active citation of the exhibit sources. A nice touch that provides some sense of authenticity.

The main area of the interior is more than four stories tall, and resembles a giant kiva with light coming from the sky:

"Our Universes" is a permanent exhibit describing the cosmologies and philosophies of eight native tribes. The exhibit doors feature this raven eating the sun:

As well as this description of the moon. Note the specific citation:

After several mesmerizing hours in the NMAI, we walked across the Mall to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Our first stop was the cafe for a snack, which is located on the concourse below street level that links the East and West Wings of the Gallery, and is joined by a long moving walkway. Covering the walkway is Multiverse, a moving light display by artist Leo Villareal. Featuring 41,000 LED nodes that pulsate and move in a series of patterns, it's an amazing work of computer-generated light art. (Macophiles take note: it's run by a small Mini Mac)

Finally, upstairs to see the permanent exhibits. Here's Barrie in the main room, gazing up at the Calder mobile:

Sattelite photo source: Popular Science

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