Sunday, December 16, 2012

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Hall of Human Origins

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is a world class museum sitting on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  It opened at it's current location on March 17, 1910, and displays discoveries and exhibitions celebrating the natural world.  I took these pictures (above and below) on a stark  and cols December evening.

After a 15 million dollar donation by David H. Koch, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins opened on the 100th Anniversary of the museum on March 17, 2012, and has become a very popular exhibit for visitors from around the world.  I have been to the exhibit several times and learn something new each time.   The exhibit explores millions of years of human evolution based on archaeological evidence, fossils and displays lifelike models of our earliest human ancestors.  The above picture show early homo species as they looked and displayed at the height each stood when they were alive.  Kids love this part of the exhibit. 

The Neanderthals (above ) appeared in Europe between 600.000 - 350.000 years ago and died out around 30.000 years ago.  

Homo floresiensis (below) remains were discovered in 2003 on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Partial skeletons of nine individuals have been recovered, including one complete cranium.  This is the homo species which has become known as the Hobbit, or Flo, because they only stood around 3 feet tall when fully grown.  It is believed they died out as recently as 13.000 years ago. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmastime in Washington, D.C.

For the first time I visited Washington, D.C. at night during the Christmas season and got the pictures I'd hoped to take for several years.  Above is the United States Capitol with the Capitol Christmas Tree at night, reflected in water on the National Mall. 

The outside of Union Station at night. 

The National Christmas Tree and smaller state trees outside the White House grounds.  The White House is visible in the distance.  

Each year the Norwegian Embassy erects a tree at Union Station to honor and memorialize the friendship between the United States and Norway, and in thanks for the help rendered to Norway during World War II. 

The Capitol Tree for 2012 made a 5000 mile trip from Colorado. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The National Gallery of Art

As I get older I appreciate more and more being able to view incredible works of art in museums that allow me to get so close I could touch the paintings if I wanted to.  I can get so close as to actually smell the paint Vincent Van Gogh used to make the paintings in the picture above.  To me, it seems pointless to visit a museum where I can't get up close to the works.  Why?  Today I can see most works in world class museums online, but it doesn't provide the feeling one gets when they view an original on display, where I can see how it was viewed by the painter and the difference in style and location intended by the artist.  

Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci lived a few hundred years apart.  Both are considered master painters and are known throughout the world, even today, but their style could not be further apart. In Da Vinci's Ginerva de' Benci, 1474, (above, center, the only Da Vinci work in the Western Hemisphere) you can barely see the brush strokes of the artist, and the result is lifelike, with smooth, realistic tones.  Van Gogh used lots of paint and strong aggressive brush strokes with greens and yellows and blues to paint humans ...and it worked.  

Above are three paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn, in the Dutch Masters gallery.  In the center is The Mill, 1645.

Above is your humble blogger discussing an Italian painting with my son.  I should mention the National Gallery of Art is FREE to visit every day of the year except Christmas, when all the Smithsonian museums are closed.  

A Girl with a Watering Can, by French artist Aguste Renoir.

A month prior to this visit, the National Gallery had a special exhibit of a few hundred works by American artist George Bellows, famous for his paintings of early 20th century boxing matches and  turn of the century scenes in New York City.  The National Gallery houses two of his more famous paintings permanently (above and below). 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chinatown, New York City

Walking in Little Italy in New York is one thing, but to cross Canal Street and move south is walking into another world entirely.  They speak a different language.  If it weren't for some visual cues reminding me I am still in the United States, I would swear I wasn't.  Although we didn't speak the language and we didn't look like we belonged here,  we didn't once feel unwelcome or at risk.  Not once!

A colorful shop in Chinatown.

The picture of the man arranging fresh fish on ice could have been taken in in markets in San Francisco or Seattle, but his was a store front along a bustling street in New York, and part of a much larger ethnic neighborhood. 

Four young boys walk down Mulberry street, across from Columbus Park. 
Produce in carts and bins lined the street as my son and I walked around on a Sunday morning. 

After pizza in Little Italy my son and I walked south on Mulberry Street and chanced upon Columbus Park in Chinatown.  We heard the tin sounding clang of symbols and high pitch sing of an old woman as we entered the park to see several hundred oriental people who all seemed to be 60 or older socializing in some kind of community event.  I don't know if this was normal or a weekly gathering, but, but I decided to linger and take in the scene before I started taking pictures.   There were old women playing cards near a statue of some Chinese patriarch (above), and groups of old men talking and laughing while smoking filter-less cigarettes, all while people from the community played what seemed to be traditional songs.  

No one made a fuss about our presence, yet we were not ignored either.  This was not an event put on for tourists;  I could count on two hand people in the park who looked like my son or I, and not once did I hear English spoken in the park.  I felt strangely privileged to be at this place with my son, and reminded him to be still and take it in.   He was out of our zone in this exotic park, but not uncomfortable. I wanted to stay and linger awhile longer but we only had two days and so much to see. We moved on.

The buildings in the above picture are on Mott Street.  I learned later a scene from The Godfather had been filmed there.  I would go back to Chinatown, and encourage anyone to visit, just to walk the street and feel the rhythm of this incredible section of Manhattan.  It's like you're in another world. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Little Italy, New York City

Who hasn't seen a reference to New York's Little Italy in a movie or heard a reference in a song?  This trip to the city allowed me to check off several things from my bucket list, or places I wanted to see before I die.   I remember seeing scenes from The Godfather Trilogy and hearing Billy Joel sing about being the Big Man on Mulberry Street and how he "made an impression on somebody north of Hester and south of Grand."

Little Italy was smaller than I expected, and seems to largely caters to tourist with its restaurants and pastry shops (my son tried his first cannoli here, after we ate pizza), although I can only speak for mid-day on a Saturday.   Waiters at all the cafes and restaurants were men, dressed in the traditional black slacks and white shirt as you expect to see in Europe around the Mediterranean,  and I heard several of them speaking Italian to tourists from Italy. 

The Empire State Building seen looking up Mulberry Street and I imagine it makes for an incredible view after the sun sets and the lights come on.  

All the buildings in Little Italy have these old iron fire escapes.  This one was also adored with colorful Italian flags.

A colorful building on Hester Street in Little Italy. 

I've been to Italy once, only driving south on my way to the Istria Peninsula in the former Yugoslavia, so I can't say this area of New York is an "authentic Italian experience."  What I can tell you is that it is an authentic New York City experience, and that was good enough for me.  I would love to come back when they close off the street and hold a local Italian festival.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge

I've always wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It's a landmark I've seen in movies and television shows since I was a child.  Finally, on this trip to New York my son and I were able to fulfill my wish.  I've been on some famous bridges before, all of them unique.  This one didn't disappoint.  

Walking just a little northeast of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Lower Manhattan you can look out across the East River into Brooklyn (below) and the Brooklyn Bridge (above).  On this afternoon the sun was moving in and out of an overcast sky, making for some very dramatic lighting 

You can enter the bridge walking platform near the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan.  Much of the bridge is under re-construction and some of the view is obstructed until you near the center, then it opens up to a breathtaking panorama of the skyscrapers New York City is famous for.  

Shirts being sold in the middle of the bridge with Lower Manhattan in the distance.  Aside from buying something on the bridge, the walk and the view are absolutely FREE. 

The view of Midtown Manhattan (above) from the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Empire State Building towering above the rest of them.  As the bridge is open to pedestrians 24 hours a day, I wanted to walk across the bridge at night but didn't get the chance.  One day.  

Times Square, New York City: Lights and Hustlers

I'm not sure anything can prepare you for the assault on most of the five senses when you walk into New York City's Times Square.  It has to be experienced.  Even at mid morning the lights are flashing and the entire square moves as if alive while food cards operated by Egyptian men start to fill the air with lamb, beef and chicken; smells that will forever remind me of New York City. 

To take it all in you have to get an elevated view.  If you walk up the steps at Duffy Square you see an opera taking place before you, played out in over a hundred languages.  There are two parts to it: night and day

 Your humble blogger at Times Square

The New York Police Department is ever present in Times Square with parked cars, foot and horse patrols and, I assume, plain clothes officers blending into the crowd, as well as cameras everywhere.  They even have a small sub-station lit with neon signs.  

Along with Batman, Spiderman (doing flips in traffic) and every muppet except Big Bird, these two stood over a subway grate and took pictures with tourists for a few bucks each.  

I noticed an Aeropostle store overlooking the square and decided to try to get a better view.  It's the only way to get a sense of just how many people come here each night. 

A little store to buy something to drink or a small souvenir near the Time Square NYPD substation.