Monday, November 3, 2008

Home-town tourists!

We put Chuck and Sandy on the plane back to North Carolina yesterday, and now real life has resumed where we left it Thursday, but with a difference. We're feeling refreshed, and as I predicted, healthfully distant from concerns that had been just too much with us for too long. It's amazing how a little vacation, even if it's just being a tourist in your own home town, can give a some perspective to things.

The Pompeii exhibit was all one could hope for, crammed with paintings and sculptures, true antiquities--not reproductions--that have never been brought together in one place before, much less left Italy. It's a transporting experience to be able to reach out and literally touch some carved piece of marble that you've seen pictured in countless history books. (No, I didn't really touch anything. But I ciuld have!) And, at least here in DC, it's free! (Well, not really. We've all paid for it with our federal income taxes. But about the free exhibits in the Smithsonian museums in DC I've always said: if this is socialism, I'll take it!)

On Saturday we did what we jaded locals consider one of the most trite things you can do: visited Mount Vernon, George Washington's grand plantation house south of town on the Potomac. It's one of those historical treasures we take completely for granted because of its proximity (a mere 15 miles from our front door) and the ubiquitous references to it in the local landscape, with roads, neighborhoods, and every sort of commercial enterprise named after it. The last time Steve had been there was in 1976, on the occasion of a family visit. I couldn't even remember the last time I was there. Well, things have changed.

We were there literally all day and enjoyed every minute of it. For a mere $13 you get a guided tour of most of the rooms in the mansion, which have been restored with period furniture and paint to the comfortable opulence George and Martha experienced daily (except for the times when George wasn't off fighting wars or running the country). Additionally, you are free to sit on the grand veranda on the back of the house, which looks out on the beautiful river panorama, and roam the grounds at will. You see how the place was run, the wash-house, the smoke-house, the horse barn and paddock, and the little house next to the main one where the house slaves lived. Since George was the 4th generation Washington to live at the house, there was already a family crypt, which was decrepit even in his day. When he died in 1799, he was buried there, but he stipulated in his will that a new family burial ground should be prepared and that he should be moved there when it was completed. You see both burial grounds. We happened to be there to catch the chanving of the Marine guards at his grave.

And then there is the pièce de résistance: a George Washington museum, completed only 2 years ago. It represents state-of-the-art curatorship, giving a viewer-friendly overview of the conditions leading up to the Revolution, including the battle in the French and Indian War in which Washington distinguished himself for the first time as a field commander. There are three short films about various aspects of his life in small theaters that give you a welcome chance to rest your bones after all the walking you've been doing, and there are eerily life-like reproductions of Washington himself at various ages. You even see his famous false teeth (no, they weren't made of wood) and a video showing how they were made.

We parked the car at 11 AM and didn't pull out until 4:30. The day was beautiful and warm; the hours flew by, and we settled in for the ride back home grateful for a day well spent. If you plan on a trip to DC, there are worse things you could do than visiting Mount Vernon. It is admittedly off the beaten track if you're only planning on seeing the sights on The Mall, but if you have a bit of extra time, the day's excursion is well worth the effort.

And now we forge ahead.....

1 comment:

Linda (SE PA) said...

Hi Ralph,

Sounds like you a great "staycation"... word coined over the summer for staying local for vacation - save gas etc.

Actually, I've always enjoyed visiting local sites. While not exactly local, we took a ride over to NJ two weeks ago to the Howell Farm's Living Museum for a real hayride (work horses and wagon). Much fun - beautiful colors and the price was right - free!

Thanks for sharing - always fun to hear what you are up to.