Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Washington D.C. - Getting away from the crowds

Washington Monument from the Enid Haupt Garden
When you visit Washington D.C. it can feel like you are drowning in tourists. Crowds are everywhere, especially at the major sites. So where can you go to get away from the crowds, but still enjoy some of the cultural and historic benefits of visiting this city. Here are a few of my favorite places.

Enid A. Haupt Garden

The Amazing Ms. D in the Haupt Garden
Behind the Smithsonian Castle is the Enid A. Haupt Garden. This lovely green space has shaded seating areas and tended flower beds. Most of all it seems to never be crowded. Most of the tourists are focused on The Mall, so even if they pass through the garden, it is while they are on their way somewhere else. This makes this an excellent space to escape, and find someplace quiet.

The garden is named for Enid Annenberg Haupt, who made her money from publishing such magazines as TV GUIDE and Seventeen. She has given money to many projects including The Conservatory at the NY Botanical Garden and the gardens at The Cloisters in NYC.

The centerpiece of the garden is parterre measuring 144 ft by 66 ft.This area of low growing plants is given a new design every six months or so.

The garden has two other sections on either side of the parterre with brick walkways and cast-iron benches

But to me there the most interesting aspect of the garden is that it is a rooftop garden. That's right. The garden sits on the roof of two of my favorite D.C. museums. - The National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery


The National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art opened originally in 1964 in a townhouse near the capital that was formally owned by Frederick Douglas. It became part of the Smithsonian in 1979 and moved to its current home in 1987. I love this place. It is small enough to see in just a couple of hours, and extensive enough to always have something new when I visit. This past visit there was a exhibit of photographs by the court photographer of the Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, an interpretation of Dante's Divine Comedy by several African artists, and an exhibit grouping traditional African art with contemporary artists from Africa and the United States.

See, this museum goes way beyond historical art and features exhibits of modern contemporary artists, many of whom are not seen anywhere else in the United States.

Bottle, Bamum People, Cameroon

Contact, Nandipha Mntambo, Swaziland
 Opposite the National Museum of African Art is the Arthur M Sackler Gallery. The Sackler Gallery, along with the Freer Gallery behind it, represent the Smithsonian's Asian collection.

These museums are also small enough that that a visit of a few hours will let you see all three.


Politics and Prose Bookstore

If you are a regular reader, you know that I fan of independent bookstores, and Politics and Prose Bookstore is a wonderful place to visit.This is the go-to independent bookstore in D.C. They seem to have events almost every day, and their collect is huge. This is a must see for bibliophiles.

We went to attend a reading sponsored by the Kimbilio Retreat in honor of the publication of  the book BALM by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. We returned the next day to just buy books, as we did not have enough time at the event to truly explore everything that Politics and Prose has to offer.


Busboys and Poets Cafe

Looking for a place to have lunch or coffee. How about a place to engage in dialog about race relations, or the middle east. Well Busboys and Poets Cafe is the place to find all of this and more. Named after the experience of Langston Hughes, who was working as a busboy at a Washington D.C. hotel before he became a published poet.

This cafe has set out to be center of discussion and activity around many causes that affect poor, working class people, people of color and the LGBT community. Stop in for a coffee, stay for mind opening interactions.

So don't get overwhelmed by the crowds at the large memorials and museums. Look for some of the places that the crowds don't get to. They offer a wonderful chance to see something new, expand your mind and enjoy the day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Real New York Part 10 - The Conservancy Gardens

A recent trip to El Museo del Barrio in Spanish Harlem gave me the excuse to visit a tiny gem in Central Park that is under utilized and under appreciated - The Conservancy Garden.

The Conservancy Garden is a 6 acre formal garden. The entrance is on 5th Ave between 104th and 105th street. The main entrance to the garden is through the Vanderbilt Gate which came from the Vanderbilt Mansion.

Looking at the Vanderbilt Gate.
 You enter into an Italianate garden with a wide lawn, shaded paths on either side and fountain at its western end. Above the fountain is a trellised passage with benches that look out towards 5th Ave.

The center of the garden

This is a really nice place to sit and rest.

Either someone left an umbrella or this is an art installation
On the southern side of the garden (left as you enter) is a formal English garden. This area has several semicircular flower beds and is centered around a lily pond. There is a fountain of two youths in the pond that was inspired by the main characters of "The Secret Garden." This lovely fountain was sculpted by Bessie Potter Vonnoh.

In the English Garden

reflections in the lily pond

Mary and Dickon
Craggy Trees

Be careful - the tree gnome is watching

 The northern part of the garden is in a French style. At its center is wonder fountain  - Three Dancing Maidens by Walter Shott. This lovely sculpture catches young women in joyful action.

One of the things that I really like about the Conservancy Gardens is that it is a really great place to come and relax. It has many nooks and crannies to sit, relax and maybe read a book.

As I said in an earlier post - Central Park is one of my favorite places. It is place to come whatever mood you are in. And it is full of surprises if you take the time to explore.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Real NY Part 9 - DANCEAFRICA

Every year on Memorial Day weekend the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn hosts a festival of African and African American culture - DanceAfrica. Starting as a 1 day festival in 1977, today DanceAfrica is a 3 day festival of  dance, film and music with a wonderful market place.

DanceAfrica takes place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). BAM was founded in 1861 about a mile away in  the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. It was Brooklyn's home to classical performances until 1903 when it burned down. In 1908 BAM reopened at it's current location, next to the Atlantic Ave. LIRR station on Lafayette Ave in Fort Greene. And it is a cultural icon in NYC.

One thing that BAM prides itself on is its presentation of performances by a wide range of cultural performers. The offerings tend to go to the avantgarde. I saw a production of Hamlet staged by Ingmar Bergman in Swedish. It was amazing. BAM is home to operas that the MET won't touch, theater that would never make it to Broadway and movie festivals that highlight indie films.

BAM sits next to what will always be the Williamsburg Savings Bank building to me. An icon in Downtown Brooklyn, the tower can be seen for miles:

BAM sits in the Fort Greene neighborhood. In the 1970's and 80's this neighborhood was a tough one. But since then it has seen some major changes. Besides BAM holding on at one end of the neighborhood, another cultural icon opened shop several blocks away:

In 2004 Spike Lee moved his headquarters for 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks to the neighborhood. By that time the growing African-American professional class had started to move in and fix up Fort Greene. 

As I said above, DanceAfrica is now a 3 day festival. Its dance program usually consists of The Restoration Dance Theater Company, who host the festival every year, an invited company from the North-East U.S. and a Foreign company. I have seen several African companies, but also a troop called Peru Negro. This year the guest company was Balé Foclórico de Bahía. I had seen this company when I visited Salvador Brazil and they were even better this time.

For me, the best part of DanceAfrica is people watching. Folks come out dressed to impress and they are eye-catching:

The Amazing Ms. D

The Amazing Ms. D and our Daughter the Doctor