Seven Quick Takes: Things I Saw On Vacation

7_quick_takes_sm1We don’t vacate much here, and when we do we try keep it to driveable locations where there’s something to do. The beach vacation is simply a mystery to me. I don’t understand the appeal of flying somewhere to sit on a beach and work on my melanoma. I don’t even like beaches. These criteria make DC/Virginia our go-to region for a little light family frolic.

— 1 —

Mount Vernon

I’m in the middle of listening to the Audible version of Ron Chernow’s epic, 1000-page George Washington: A Life, and already consider it the best biography I’ve ever read. The writing is wonderful, the research is strong, the insights into Washington’s character are always illuminating, and Chernow is obviously admiring while also being scrupulously balanced in his judgments of the flaws in the great man’s character. It’s also thoroughly depressing how far we’ve fallen from Washington to the Current Occupant.

Prompted by this, I’m visiting Washington sites in my area. I had not been to Mount Vernon in 25 years, and it really is worth the trip. The exhibits (one devoted to the telling the life of Washington and one with artifacts) are quite good, the house and grounds are kept in meticulous conditions, and the whole experience makes for a pleasant afternoon.

My kids watched the National Treasure movies, so we opted for the National Treasure Tour, which got us into the basement where scenes in the second movie took place. I’m not sure I’d recommend the tour, since it’s a little long and overly detailed about movie production, but it’s the only way you can see under the house. This astonishing giant head is at the entrance to the museum, and a picture can’t really capture the effect of the optical illusion. The head appears to turn to stare at you no matter where you view it from. My son said it should be installed in the Oval Office to glare disapprovingly at his successors and remind them how much better our presidents used to be.

2014-08-28 16.35.54

George is very disappointed in you.

— 2 —

The International Spy Museum

I didn’t quite know what to expect from this, but it’s a good museum that tells the story of espionage in both fact and fiction. There are a lot of interactive exhibits, so I imagine the experience would be a lot less appealing on a crowded day. We went in the morning late in summer (after DC area kids had already gone back to school), so there were few people there and we enjoyed it. Afterwards, we went around the corner and popped into Ford Theater, which my kids had never seen. More giant president heads were inside.

Honestly, the museum could just exist for this display and it would be worth it.

Honestly, the museum could just exist for this display and it would be worth it.

— 3 —

The American Shakespeare Center

I’d been wanting to visit this reconstruction of Shakespeare’s “city” theater, Blackfriars, for years, but never had a chance. My wife got tickets for us to see Macbeth and A Comedy of Errors for my birthday.  The theater is the only reproduction of Blackfriars in the world, and uses original staging techniques: no sets, only house lights, rapid pacing, people seated on the stage on “gallants stools,” and some audience interaction (more for the comedy than the tragedy).

The anachronistic elements were minimal: prior to the show some actors performed acoustic versions of modern songs. The acting was uniformly excellent and the entire experience crackles with the kind of vivacity only possible in small venues. I can’t recommend it strongly enough. It was just entertaining, and you were able to leave behind the weight and pretension of feeling like I Am Watching Shakespeare Now and just enjoy a piece of popular entertainment. blackfriars-stage

— 4 —

National Zoo

Hot. Damn hot. And no capybaras, although we did see a baby panda in a tree and this tiny version of Gamera. It’s a good zoo and we always enjoy it, but really: MOR CAPYS!

Gamera is friend to all children!

Gamera is friend to all children!

— 5 —

Hard Times Cafe

Best chilis ever? I’m willing to make that case.

— 6 —


My wife caught a large catfish with a child’s small Snoopy fishing pole.

The rest of us, equipped with real poles, were catching things like this: 2014-09-01 17.03.25

— 7 —

This and This


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