15 July 2013

There and Back Again (pt. 1)

You may, dear reader, find yourself wondering what, exactly, it was that precipitated and ultimately culminated in my decision to take an impromptu three-week hiatus from my life at sea, or more accurately as it has sadly come to pass, my life at anchor. Verily, I grant that to leave one's wife and three small, furry children behind and embark upon a whirlwind tour of the east coast of the U.S. is worthy of a raised eyebrow, but pray, let us, to all possible extent dispense with the howsos, wherefores and other such idle speculations; I aver that the inclusion here of those sundry causes and details will add nothing to the recounting of my adventures thereat. The delight and wonderment I experienced during my travels which I will here, however inadequately, attempt to recapture and relay to you shall prove a sufficient recompense for your time. Put otherwise, I took a powder, period, end of backstory.

Sailing (which I recently heard described as the most expensive way to travel fourth class) has ruined me for making travel plans. So when Jane asked me, and a few days later my friend Whitney asked me, and then a day or so after that Jane again asked me what I was going to do with my time, I could say only that I didn't know. All I knew when I landed in Ft. Lauderdale was that I was going to visit my friend, I had never been to Epcot, I had a wicked oyster jones going and I'd be damned if I was going to miss a chance to see some live theater. and of course, there is my abiding commitment to go to at least one museum in every city I visit. (I made an exception for Kissimmee because, well, firstly, it is Kissimmee, and secondly, in my view, Epcot counts as the equivalent of at least one museum.) I had some wants and three weeks to fill them; the wheres, I felt quite sure, would dawn on me in due course.

And so they did. Being a logical sort, as I believe myself to be, I decided to head right for the motherlodes: For museums, the Smithsonian; for oysters, Boston; for theater, New York, in that order, two days per city. To the better versed in geography than I was this must seem like an odd itinerary. What can I say? So, New York is south of Boston; I get that now.

Living Languages
My two days in D.C., which is to say my two day plan for the Smithsonian, was delightfully derailed by its annual Folklife Festival. Though I'd never been to one before and knew nothing about it until serendipitously stumbling upon it, the Festival, it seems, is the Smithsonian's annual celebration of people and their cultures. This year, as perhaps in all years, it highlighted three topics: Hungarian Culture, African American adornment, and my fav, One World, Many Voices. From their webpage:

The Festival program highlights language diversity as a vital part of our human heritage. Cultural experts from communities around the world join us to demonstrate how their ancestral tongues embody cultural knowledge, identity, values, technologies, and arts.

Through performances, craft demonstrations, interactive discussion sessions, community celebrations, and hands-on educational activities, highly skilled musicians, storytellers, singers, dancers, craftspeople, language educators, and other cultural practitioners are coming together on the National Mall to share their artistry, knowledge, and traditions; to discuss the meaning and value of their languages to their cultural heritage and ways of life; and to address the challenges they face in maintaining the vitality of their languages in today’s world.

Garifuna musicians

Russian musicians

Not long ago, you may have seen it, Mental Floss published a list of 38 Wonderful Words We Could Use in English. Somewhere between asking Garifuna scholar Ruben Reyes to translate "more JOY everywhere!" for me for our website and listening to a talk given by a Putumayan poet, it hit me: What if tomorrow, the last speaker of Scottish died without leaving a trace of his language behind. The world might lose what is indicated by "tartle: the nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can't quite remember." Or, what about the Georgian word, shemomedjamo which describes what happens when you're already really full but your meal is so delicious you just can't stop eating. "I accidentally ate the whole thing," they say. If Portuguese disappeared and Galician went with it, we might lose what the word "saudade" so precisely describes: "a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves." And these reminded of something National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis points out:“Language is an old-growth forest of the mind.” Which, in turn, reminded me of something I remember him saying during a TED Talk:

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit.
Can you read it?
Ha! Not bad for Day One. Day two (a Monday; the Festival would not reopen until the following Thursday), was spent at the museum proper...oh, right, The National Museum of Modern Art and National Portrait Gallery. As befitting the thrust of the previous day's activities, I first visited  the museum's permanent collection of Folk Art, which, I thought, bore and interesting resemblance to Western European art prior to and during the Renaissance with regard to its preoccupation with Christian motifs.

Is he doing what I think he's doing?

Wait just a gall durn minit! They didn't have cell phones back then.

It's a governor. Don't know what it did then;
don't know what it does now.

This model for an improved prosthetic
had a leg up on the competition

What if you lose your house key?

Models for early American patents was next. Early on, so the story goes, patent clerks couldn't envision the final product from descriptions and drawings alone; they needed to see an actual (though not necessarily full-scale) model in order to determine whether or not to award a patent. Consequently, a whole industry grew up around patent pending model making. Thus an unintentional art form was born.

On the Portrait Gallery side, I made a trip to the hall of presidents. Having recently read Dolores Kearns Goodwin's book, A Team of Rivals, I was especially interested to see the section on Lincoln. I did, however, discover that Lyndon Baines Johnson was the first American president born in the Twentieth Century. And I heard this snippet from a famous presidential speech:

We had a bad banking situation. Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people's funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was of course not true in the vast majority of our banks but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity and to put them into a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all. It was the Government's job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible -- and the job is being performed. 
Any guesses?

Behind that, there was an exhibit of the winners and some of the other entries in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Though portraiture has never been a favorite subject area of mine, owing, I presume, to my affinity for cubes, I was very much moved, not only by the depictions themselves--some self-portraits; far more not--but by the plethora of media used. Film on glitter screens, string and brads, a weaving, accompanied the more traditional, charcoals, paints, and inks. First place went to a 2010 five minute and fifty second video with sound by Bo Gehring titled "Jessica Wickham" after the portrait's subject. Its exquisite beauty needs no help from me. See for yourself.

The strangest thing happened to me while I was viewing this exhibit, something I've never experienced before. I had a definite sense that I'd seen some of these portraits before somewhere. I was sure of it. I even knew what the artist's statement that accompanied them said before I got close enough to read it. More than that, I could vaguely remember what their display location looked like when I'd seen them previously and where they were in physical relation to one another. It was such a bizarre feeling that I even asked the guard if she knew whether they had been exhibited somewhere before the Smithsonian. She didn't of course. I wonder if it's possible to visit too many museums.

No museum visit is complete (for me, that is) without at least a swing by its modern art collection.
Everything I love in one installation: The U.S., bright colors and TV! Genius!!

To look at her is to see her whole life encapsulated in one instant.

There was certainly more to see, I mean it is America's National Museum campus. I'd like to be able to say that I've visited every single one sometime before I'm D&G. But I had a very important date in Annapolis: The first ever Mofi Writers' Conference, hosted by fellow Monkey's Fist organizers Dan N' Jaye. The "conference" was, in truth, an improptu (see, it's that aversion to planning thing again) get together of some Mofi folk who happened to be around. There is nothing quite like "meeting" people you "know" for the first time; it's weird and not weird at the same time. We had a really good time talking about matters both marinerly and not. Dan and Jaye brought snacks, Suzanne, brought a not-so-red velvet cake (beets just can't compete with red dye #24 it seems), John, our new best Mofi friend, brought noshes as well and, yes, there was even Monkey's Fist IPA. All there wasn't, of course, was the reason for our very collective existence: she was watching Hombre de Acero at Albrook Mall in Panama City and she was deeply, sorely, missed, but we "sailored" on without her as best we could and drank a toast, or many, in her honor.

Later, back at my hotel in College Park, I had just one thing left to do after a very long day: find and book a room in the Boston area so I'd have somewhere to live the following night.

Next Stop: Boston, MA

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