austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I'll take you to a place where there is no door

We probably didn't get to sleep soon enough Saturday night, but then, the hotel might have made it easier by having breakfast run to a civlized hour, such as dusk. bunny_hugger's friend and her friend had to check out by noon, too, though, so that implied getting up in time for breakfast on that schedule.

Although bunny_hugger's friend was ready for breakfast, her friend's friend was not. She'd remembered she needed to have a paper ready for a conference later that week and decided she needed the hours of the morning to work on that rather than to eat. This seemed worse to me than missing breakfast, but it wasn't my choice and I note I'm not on any kind of tenure track. We would talk a great deal about the academic life, from our varied perspectives, with a lot of really funny shop talk that probably wouldn't translate much.

We also tried gently talking bunny_hugger into the sitcom Community, set at a community college; last season particularly one of the indelible characters was Senor Chang, a not just unqualified but deeply crazy Spanish instructor who could almost serve as the voice of every moment of frustration every teacher has ever had. (``I can't do that? That's crazy? DO YOU KNOW ME?'' is a typical moment of derangement.) Chang has a different role this season and other professors with not quite so strong a craziness have taken over since then, and the series itself is complicated and weird in rather wonderful ways, but I was hoping we weren't building the series up too much.

After breakfast --- where I got, I estimate, 44 cups of tea in my continuing effort to re-hydrate --- bunny_hugger and I prepared to set out for the day, including not leaving the ``Do Not Disturb'' tag on the door handle. We'd left it accidentally on for Saturday and the housekeepers left us a little note to the effect of, did we really mean that, thank you?

Having spent the whole day of Saturday in the Mall between Smithsonian museums we figured to spend Sunday going down to the Smithsonian. The first goal was the Castle. When bunny_hugger was in Washington in 1998 the Castle had a rare carousel figure near the entrance, and I couldn't remember seeing it when I visited in June. We didn't find it there, so we went looking around the Castle --- which is now mostly an information center to get to the rest of the museums --- for likely spots where it might have gone.

I've mentioned how I get distracted by minor or trivial items when given the chance at museums or anywhere else. Now, paired with bunny_hugger, we ... got distracted by some superficially trivial items. For example, they have a sample of leftover cable from the 1858 trans-Atlantic telegraph, alongside a certificate of authenticity signed by proto-department-store magnate Cyrus Field. Field was a busy man, though: how much of his time could he have spent signing certificates of authenticity? We tried reading the certificate very carefully, trying to figure whether it was applicable to the entire cable or just the fifty-cent piece on display; it seemed to be the latter. Was it a mass-printed certificate showing not a whole lot of anything? But if it were mass-printed why was it in script? Stamped? There's never a docent around when you really need one.

After satisfying ourselves that we couldn't learn that, and looking over the children's room (now the wheelchair-friendly entrance, it happens), we set out for ultimately the Museum of American History, one of the two alternate nuseums likely to have carousel figures.

Which is not to say we didn't stop at the carousel on the mall for a ride first. This is a mostly genuinely antique item, although at least one figure's been replaced (with a rather large sea dragon instead of the horses occupying the rest), and the painting is ... let's say not the original work. Indeed, bunny_hugger pointed out, much of the original painting for carousels is completely lost; the carvers are starting to be recognized for their craft, but the painters were no less important to making them the kind of art they are.

We did have a ride, and got stickers commemorating the ride. We also got to walk around a bit before the next ride start as the operator noticed our efforts to take pictures of every interesting detail about it. We also watched a pack of teenagers discover the carousel and have a great time of their own. They did this by riding two to a horse, or standing on two horses, or leaning dangerously far back, all the sorts of things which would get one kicked out of an amusement park. I'm guessing the attendant figured there's not really much he can do when a horde of teens gets moving as one.

At the Museum of American History the most obvious discovery was that the Fort McHenry flag was missing. Totally gone. Really. I was shocked. It turns out they had taken it down for desperately needed preservation, like, a decade ago. Well, I hadn't been back since. The flag doesn't hang in the front hall anymore; it's instead laid relatively flat in a very dark room guarded by signs asking people to take no photographs and people who take that to mean ``well, could we cut down on the flash photographs a little, please?'' which was almost obeyed.

They had some nice bits about the history of the flag, including a display of how it's been displayed, panels about how much was cut away for souvenirs over the 19th century, and a plastic replica on which one can feel what parts of the flag still exist and just how big one of the stars is. It's also really clear looking at it in just what awful shape the flag was before renovation; it barely looks like it can sustain being laid pretty flat in the dark. Also, apparently in this renovation round, they took out the < arrow on one of the white stripes which I never noticed was there until I saw how they removed it.

We wandered around the museum, taking informed delight in things like the display of American Homes Through The Ages, or taking slightly more amused delight in the display of musical instruments which, it must be noted, had fewer tubas than does Okemos, Michigan. The Dumbo from the Disneyland ride was interesting, but we wanted more explanation of how it got there.

We'd figured a likely spot for the carousel animals would be under American Pop Culture, but that wing --- partly under renovation --- didn't even get close. Oh, they had the Ruby Slippers, and a Peanuts strip and animation cel, a Kermit The Frog, Archie Bunker's chair, Fonzie's jacket and whatnot, but all that actually fits into a small room maybe the size of my office. The lone Dumbo might have had more space than all that had.

Clearly we were missing something, but what and where? We were able to find not just rats but bunnies in The Doll House; couldn't we find everything we wanted?

Trivia: The Manufacture Royale des Glaces de Miroir --- the Royal Mirror Manufactory --- kept the monopoly on mirror manufacture granted by French King Louis XIV for 125 years. Source: The Essence Of Style: How The French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and glmour, Joan DeJean.

Currently Reading: The Study Of American Folklore: An Introduction, Jan Harold Brunvand.


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