|Of the 7 VSA Festivals I’ve attended, this one will be the easiest, less stressed and event packed. The most exciting part is that Matt will be joining us. At 12 years old and his first time in Washington DC he will gain experiences to last a lifetime. I’m bringing my power wheelchair and will have more flexibility than ever.
Tuesday June 8
Frontier Airlines has a hub in Denver and even though we get up at 3:00 am we are rested enough to start our day. I’m nervous about the handlers but the first 4 rows have extra legroom and the armrests come up so my transfer is a breeze and we make our connections and get our bags. Reagan Airport is a beehive of tourists, diplomats, businessmen and workers and we weave our way towards the lift that gets me to the subway platform. It’s hot by the time we get to street level but don’t mind so much since Seattle’s been socked in with crummy weather for weeks.
The Grand Hyatt is barely 2 blocks away and just minutes from the National Mall. I had researched nearby cheap eateries and get directions to Accadiana, a Southern cuisine spot with outside dining. The twilight is darkening and we both know how beautiful the monuments are illuminated so head off towards the Mall and get our bearings once more. I had thought of going all the way to the Lincoln Memorial but Anne’s knees are giving her problems and the World War II Memorial, with its fountains and pools is appropriately reflective of that conflict.
We absorb the solemn atmosphere and will save another visit here with Matt and share the other wars and heroes of our nation’s highs and lows. We linger for some time but our inner clock is ahead 3 hours and is catching up with us. We return to the hotel and see our old friend Sonya from Guatemala who has a troupe of 16 dancers with her. We will need to be at the Cannon Building for a congressional reception tomorrow morning so hit the sack but sleep doesn’t come.
Wednesday June 9
We’ll see how far we can get on caffeine today and load up on coffee at the hotel Starbuck’s before catching the subway at Metro Center for the short hop to Union Station.
While there we tour a collection of kid’s art that VSA has put together and check a couple shops for postcards and a pin. By the time we get past security and to the reception room the hall is full of delegates and we spy Elaine Dobbs, VSA Director from Montana and enjoy a brief chat. Anne grabs a few snacks from the buffet and I recognize Michael Heizer, Kennedy Center Director who had just been to Seattle. A trio of musicians play and then are followed by speeches from Patrick Kennedy, Sen. Tom Harkin and speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Jean Kennedy Smith takes to the podium and welcomes us with enthusiasm and gratitude. Later, I’m able to meet with her privately and give her one of my new pins. Judy Woodruff is the emcee and recognizes many lawmakers who come by to show their support. I visit with fellow Washington State Delegate Jesse Higman and later introduce him to William Kennedy Smith. He is receiving the kind of media blitz that I did years ago with the cover of Kaleidoscope Magazine and a local television interview.
Anne then splits to pick up Matt at the airport while I excuse myself and dash over to the National Gallery’s East Wing for a tour of their permanent collection. Most of the works I’ve seen several times before so examine my favorites and omitting others entirely. From there I take the underground concourse to the other side and search out the Vermeers first but they’ve been re-installed elsewhere. Instead, I have enough time to tour the Chester Dale collection of impressionists and a terrific special show of German drawings including a sweet Bodmer. I then head back towards the concourse and our planned rendezvous at the cafeteria. They’re barely 10 minutes late and we’re all hungry for lunch so grab something from the buffet and a table and discuss our options. I can tell Matt is excited but is still pretty quiet and will let us decide our course.
I first give Matt a studied tour of the Chester Dale collection and then we exit to go to the Air and Space Museum where we join throngs that are occupying all the galleries. We touch the moonstone and Matt rides one of the simulators and then we all see the planetarium show Journey to the Stars, an incredible voyage through the Milky Way and beyond. It’s time to head over to the National Gallery’s Sculpture Park for lemonade on the patio and hide one of my pins under the dispenser for guides at one end of the park. We continue to the American History Museum where we enjoy a special exhibit of First Ladies Inaugural Gowns and are surprised that Michele Obama has such big feet. Then we make sure that Matt gets to see the Star Spangled Banner that inspired Francis Scott Key. From here we walk to the Washington Monument but it is closed for the day.
Thursday June 10
We know that Reeves, an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet is nearby and so once we’re up and out we head over to the address we have but it’s no longer there. No matter. Within a couple blocks I spy a Corner Bakery. We’ve never been disappointed in the quality, price or demeanor of the employees and each one of us orders the Anaheim scramble that fills us up to fortify our morning. It’s another hot one and we have a hike ahead of us to get to the Lincoln Memorial. We walk along the reflecting pool and then arrive at the Vietnam Memorial where a large school group is conducting a wreath laying ceremony. There are massive crowds already this morning when we ascend the lift to the Lincoln Memorial Chamber but can move around easily and this is a time when my wheelchair is worth it so that people see me and get out of the way. Anne takes many splendid shots with her camera. The Korean War Memorial flanks the other side of the Mall and we pay our respects before continuing down towards the WW II Memorial.
Anne rests her wearied feet that are already developing blisters in the shade while Matt and I see the memorial. A large band is playing at the East end. They’re from Hawaii and do some terrific island versions of classic tunes. We try to keep to the shade while making our way to the Washington Monument. We had bought an umbrella for a shower that had come through yesterday but am now glad to have it for a welcome relief of the sun. Most visitors to the monument are obliged to get timed tickets early in the morning but I’m able to convince the security detail that my chair gives me special privileges and we are duly escorted through. It’s a fantastic view but I’m unable see over the windows and there doesn’t appear to be an attendant with the periscope I had used on previous visits. No matter. This is more for Matt’s benefit and I’m glad to let him take in the sights from this awesome perch.
I had never seen the Department of Printing & Engraving and it is close by so we descend the edifice and make our way over and come upon the Holocaust Museum. I know that Matt is unaware of the tremendous suffering endured by the Jewish people and insist that we enter. Anne would rather skip it, as it is very sad and depressing. The tickets are free but timed and we won’t be able to tour the exhibits for quite awhile. However, there is a short exhibit of Daniel’s Story that gives us a sanitized version as seen through the eyes of a young boy about Matt’s age. We exit for the next block and get into the Printing and Engraving department just as a tour is getting under way. It’s pretty fascinating how blasé the workers are while handling tens of thousands of dollars. The whole operation is so mechanized that there really aren’t that many people needed to do the work. We get a couple souvenirs and then head back the way we came.
We cross the Mall again and make a reservation for 2:30 on the terrace of the Hotel Washington. While waiting we have lunch at the same corner bakery and then come back for very expensive drinks with the most amazing view in town. The hotel is under new management and it has changed a lot. It’s much more spacious and the view is still magnificent but the wait staff is abrupt and the prices are exorbitant. Anne wants to go back to the hotel for our name badges in case we need them in order to see the performance at the Kennedy Center so Matt and I head over to the Natural History Museum and see dinosaurs, the entire geology section, including the Hope Diamond and as many other displays as possible before our rendezvous with Anne. When she reunites with us we go through several more displays including a special exhibit on human forensics.
We catch the Federal Triangle subway and get off at Foggy Bottom for the short walk to the Kennedy Center where Dale Chihuly’s brilliant red poles decorate the reflecting pool out front. Thanks to my wheelchair we are allowed up front for a terrific performance by Forro No Escuro, a Brazilian musical group. They are all blind and do spirited classic tunes and reggae standards and the appreciative crowd is on its feet by the end. One of my paintings is on display along with hundreds of others in a special postcard exhibition and though I can’t locate it amongst the many displayed, I am able to access it on a nearby computer kiosk.
Friday June 11
We cross the Mall to the International Gallery to see the exhibit, Revealing Culture. It is a wonderful exhibition with challenging work beside easily accessible work. Jesse’s work is accompanied by the table he manipulates to create his work and a high-tech video presentation describing his technique. Just down the hall is the Discovery Theater where our friend Sonya is presenting her dancing troupe along with an East Coast dance group of deaf performers. It’s a great performance and Sonya gives us each a native bracelet that Matt puts on his wrist immediately.
From there we tour the Whistler’s and his famous Peacock Room at the Freer Museum before returning to the Air and Space Museum to see an incredible IMAX presentation of the Hubble Telescope. We grab a hot dog and drinks and find a sweet spot to eat in the garden of the Hirshorn Museum. We cross the Mall one more time to see the old masters at the National Gallery of Art. I first take Matt to see the Leonardo portrait of Ginevera and explain the meaning on the back. We spend most time with the Dutch painters and watch a copyist doing Rembrandt’s self portrait. The French and Spanish works are mostly portraits or allegorical so we stick with the stories told by Vermeer, Steen, Hals and a special show of Avercamp’s snow scenes. We finish with the American school and Matt finds out about Whistler again and Eakins, Homer and Sargent.
I wanted to make sure that we saw the National Archives this time so crossed Pennsylvania Avenue and got right in. the long lines were to be expected but we did see the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Abolishment of Slavery, Louisiana Purchase etc.. The introductory film was quite informative and the gift shop had some unique items but I only get a pencil. We flip a coin for our dinner option and enjoy a pitcher of sangria with our pizza before dressing up and heading over to the Kennedy Center for our Diane Schuur concert. She ran through some of her favorite tunes with her small combo and then took to the piano herself for the last few numbers. The evening is quite pleasant and the illumination of Chihuly’s glass installation is spectacular. Anne hasn’t had to walk too far and Matt has another full day of history and culture.
Saturday June 12
We decide on a different spot for breakfast and settle on breakfast burritos at Cosi’s, kitty corner from the Hard Rock Café and Ford’s Theater. I get a guitar pin and then we head towards the Spy Museum. I was to leave them and tour the collection next door at the American Art Museum but after setting a rendezvous time and going to the museum I find out that the art museum doesn’t open until 11:30. I return to the Spy Museum and talk my way in to connect with them but can’t locate them so I check out some of their displays and then wait outside until they emerge. We rearrange our schedule so that they can finish their tour of the Spy Museum and will meet me in another hour. I’m finally admitted and examine the outstanding masterpieces especially the works of Dewing, Ryder and Inness.
When we reunite, I am happy to show them the highlights and then we all take in the portrait gallery where I recognize a portrait of Caesar Chavez by my friend Alfredo Arreguin. We have lunch nearby at the same Chipotle where we escaped the freezing cold during our last trip here for the inauguration. From here we have a half hour walk in the hot sun to the Capital Building and are able to get right in and enjoy an informative film before meeting with our guide who gives us each a digital headset and then describes the figures in the rotunda and Statuary Hall before returning downstairs to the crypt where George Washington was supposed to be buried. His will stipulated that he was to be interred at Mt. Vernon instead so his crypt here is empty but still marks the exact center of the building.
It had been my intention to show Matt the collection of native art at the American Indian Museum but Anne isn’t interested. The botanical garden is closer so we enter and are blown away by the beautiful specimens but it’s quite warm and humid and not that different from outside so we don’t stay too long. We pick up some ice cream from a street vendor and make our way to the nearby metro stop towards the hotel and prepare for the closing ceremonies at the Kennedy Center. Once at the hotel we discover that shuttle buses are taking delegates to the Center and catch a ride. Once there we find the outdoor stage and get a few chairs in the VIP section near where Jean Kennedy Smith is sitting. An amazing blind guitarist entertains us and then an improv dance troupe gets everyone up and moving.
Henry Butler from New Orleans who culminates his set with a rousing rendition of Professor Longhair’s funky music closes the show. We pass on the expensive junk food and catch a shuttle back to the hotel and the walk back to Accadianna for appetizers. We at first want to eat outside but feel a few sprinkles so head inside. Unfortunately, Matt leaves his backpack on the chair and we’re unable to locate it later. It had his disposable camera and festival badge in it and we’re all bummed that it was lost but it could’ve been a lot worse. We have had a fantastic time together and will look forward to recalling the events over the next years and it has been a blast to reconnect with VSA and have even more stirring memories with them.
Sunday June 13
We don’t have time to take in any more sites and are up early and all head off to the airport. Matt’s plane leaves first and we enjoy a brief breakfast and find an appropriate gift for Janie to replace the pin he had gotten her that had been lost along with his pack. Our own flight is delayed but we’ve plenty of time to change in Denver and we are both pleased with the service on Frontier Airlines and wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them again. We are glad to have left our van at the airport and have rarely been so glad to return to the cool, gray skies of Seattle. Happily, there are no catastrophes awaiting our return and we are relieved, relaxed and refreshed and prepared to catch up with our lives. We are thankful to have contributed to Matt’s education and given him a peek at the richness of our country’s heritage.