March on Washington

The pull of a Saigon exhibit in D.C. coupled with an anti-war protest was too great to resist. Off we went!

Best Western Capitol Skyline Hotel

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Ishtar on March 10, 2007

It was difficult to get a hotel in these parts when we drove down to DC. Everything appeared to be booked, but it seemed that we were lucky to have been able to get a room at all.

This particular hotel is outside the main hub of activities, but within a few minutes from anything that is worth seeing. We had been to DC many times before, and had stayed either in Georgetown, or Virginia. This was a new experience. The area surrounding the Best Western looked a bit neglected, and the only game in town is McDonald's. That may explain the reason you can rent a microwave, and a small refrigerator at the rate of $10/day for each.

The accommodations were comfortable, but the walls a bit too thin for sanity. It seemed that our next-door neighbors enjoyed entertaining, and time had little or no relevance in the matter. Two double beds, cable television, a writing desk with a reproduction of the US presidents towering over it, a single cup coffee maker with Styrofoam cups! Bring your own tea if you want. Two telephones, free wireless Internet access, and garage parking. The list continues with hair dryer, iron with ironing board, free local calls, and a temperature control system that could not be tamed. You have a choice between swelter or freeze. The in room safe is available for valuables, though we never used it.

They indicated that the hotel had undergone renovation, and I would probably agree that, at least, the lobby was on the receiving end of most of that effort. It is impressive in its "presidential" colors of blue and gold, and colonial furniture including Chippendale settees. See photo. The fireplace, in my judgment, should have had a roaring fire since the temperatures outside were cruel at times.

One of the nice touches is the complimentary shuttles which takes you to key points of the capital; one of them was the Mall, where the anti-war protest was taking place. It’s usually best to leave the car parked and either take a shuttle or a taxi. Parking in DC is very difficult, no matter what the day, especially Sunday. Here’s a useful link that gauges the distance for you from the hotel to the various points of interest.

I also enjoyed having breakfast at the Skyline Diner on the main floor; it’s not a very healthy breakfast, but they do offer oatmeal which is very tasty and necessary when it’s cold. The service is sluggish, though by all accounts, it was not busy at all. On the first day, we met some of our co-marchers, and they were arriving by the bus load.

In fact, our shuttle driver, a very kind woman, went around a couple of times to ensure that we would not be too far from our destination, given the cold weather. That is something I remember.

Capitol Skyline Hotel
10 I St Sw
Washington, United States, 20024
(202) 488-7500

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ishtar on March 14, 2007

What a feast for the eyes the museum presented that day! There was also a very special treat in store for me, of which I was completely unaware until we got into the elevator. It was then that I noticed that on the second floor, a special exhibition had been staged celebrating women in the Book Arts, a medium that is extremely close to my heart and my profession. Though the museum has these items in its permanent collection, this was the first time it had devoted time and space to the specific subject matter.

The building itself is quite a model of Renaissance Revival architecture, and the interior exudes lavish sophistication with pinkish marble flooring and marble staircases. The chandeliers in the Great Hall on the mezzanine floor are fit for a king’s ballroom. On the same level, is the Mezzanine Café, and the Exhibition Gallery, which highlights the best from twenty years of collecting.

The ground floor includes a video room, an education gallery with the museum’s tenth anniversary print collection, the visitor information desk and the museum shop, which is small, but full of wonderful surprises. Unusual gifts and cards await you, together with some reproductions of the artists featured at the NMWA.

The third floor presents highlights from the NMWA’s twenty years of collecting as well. On the fourth floor is the Library and Research Center, which was closed when we were there. (Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, from 10am to 5pm). It features Women and Books: illustrators, designers, writers with selections from the Library and Research Center Collection.

We spent most of our time on the second floor that is reserved for special exhibitions. "The Book as Art" did not disappoint; it was an amazing journey of different galleries, embracing women who fashioned books into political statements, ethnic personalities, personal angst - works from women all over the globe united through their common expression through art. This special exhibition closed on February 4, 2007. One did not have to be in the business of art, or specialty art books to understand and appreciate the messages that were being sent though the art works.

While the majority of the art displayed took the form of a book, but not in a conventional sense, as you can see from the photos, there were also some paintings, prints and installations on the same floor, including a self-portrait of the late Frida Kahlo , which she dedicated to Leon Trotsky. Some of the surprises included costumes of Julie Taymor and very suggestive prints by renowned Judy Chicago , creator of the very controversial "Dinner Party".

Admission is $8.00 per person and free to members. The museum also makes available its Great Hall and Mezzanine for special events, and if they call for catering, there is a kitchen adjacent to the Hall. A must see in D.C.

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C., United States, 20005
(800) 222-7270

S. Dillon Ripley Center

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ishtar on May 11, 2007

Never let it be said that when there's a will, mountains cannot move. One of the main reasons for this jaunt to D.C. was to see an exhibit on Viet Nam, and that's about all the information we had. As we walked around the Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian, we asked several staff people about this exhibit, and all we managed to get were blank stares.

It was getting quite cold and overcast, and parking was atrocious; we headed for the main building, called the Smithsonian Castle, which should be the starting point of any visit to this incredible compendium of displays. Yes, we got our answer, and we were thrilled! Except, it entailed some more walking to something called the "Ripley" . At first sight, it’s hard to tell if you are going into a museum or a fancy newspaper kiosk in Paris. Where the hell is the building? Go inside, and you’ll see the elevator going down. Yes, it’s all underground, and it even has halls which connect to the Sackler Gallery and the Museum of African Art .

As we arrived, it was not obvious that anything was going on, Viet Nam-wise or otherwise. As we began to walk, a gigantic road sign greeted us on the left with the words "Little Saigon". Please bear in mind that we had been to Viet Nam twice, and we both had a tremendous appreciation of the culture. Seeing this exhibit felt like closing an open-ended loop. Everything we saw was familiar, and yet we learned even more than we thought we could.

The lay out: both sides of the corridor contain a history of the South Viet Namese plight after 1975. Maps designate various camps, which provided temporary housing; sound bytes written by those that escaped, revealing their hopes, fears, despair. Off the wall displays included their national dish, pho, that we know and love so much. A typical refugee shelter is recreated with notes. Menus of area restaurants stand proud; testimonial videos are heard.

Toward the end of the exhibit are the life size images of famous Viet Namese Americans; the only one I recognized was Joy Chen, since I used to watch her on CNN. Below, I’ve copied the writing on the walls for you:

"We came to America not for material gain, but for freedom"

"We can never go back to our happy homes of the past…We can only go forward to build a new beginning."

"Our boat was made of bamboo and with 30 others, we sailed out to sea. Some of us died of thirst, some of starvation. "

"Throughout the green tent city, the sound of weeping was my refugee camp lullaby. "

"Of all my titles, I am most proud of being Vietnamese American. "

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Washington, D.C., United States, 2002
(202) 633-1000

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