Thursday, January 10, 2013
Easing one's mind
I'm wondering if the stress of having to constantly study Mandarin Chinese is starting to take a toll on me. Progress is slower than I'd like, and the frustration over the facts that I still can't make out what my teachers are saying to me and my inability to put my English-composed thoughts into coherent Chinese sentences would be leading to severe hair loss, were it not already too late. Despite all the effort and all the studying, I'm not much confident that I'll be able to pass the final exam in April (which should've been at the beginning of February, but that's another ego-deflating story).
Which I why I look forward to the bi-weekly "Admin Days", those free afternoons where we're supposed to take care of various administrative matters. If there's nothing to see to, then ideally we have more time to go to the language lab or get ahead on the homework. For me, however, these times are a welcome opportunity to get away from FSI, the 老师 (nothing personal) and the language, and do something for myself. In the past, I used this time to visit the Holocaust and Spy museums. Today, it was the turn of The Phillips Collection in the Dupont Circle/Embassy Row area of Washington, D.C. to receive my patronage (lucky it).
For those of you who don't know (and I didn't before moving to this area), The Phillips Collection is "America's first museum of modern art". Founded by Duncan Phillips in 1921, eight years before MOMA opened in New York, the museum serves to showcase Phillips' extensive and diverse collection. There are 2400 works of art in total, though not all of them are on display, so the collection is rotated. Furthermore, the arrangement is rather loose, meaning one room might have some Picassos, while next door is some photography, and further on a video representation. In short, you have to pay attention. The Phillips Collection is most noted for its French Impressionism and other 19th-century European works, but you can also see late 19th/early 20th-century American art, as well as more modern pieces. If you visit on a weekday and there are no special exhibitions (as was the case today), admission is by donation (free, if you're a miserly tightwad). And non-flash photography is allowed for the permanent collection, so what follows are a few pics of my therapeutic visit this afternoon:
The Phillips Collection is housed in a beautiful brownstone building
The Rothko Room has Abstract Expressionist paintings from the 1950's by Mark Rothko
The museum's most famous painting is probably Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party
Naked Nixon, a sculpture by the famous political cartoonist Pat Oliphant
One nice thing about housing an art collection in a beautiful old home is seeing the pieces displayed around the many fireplaces.
The Terrace by Pierre Bonnard
Dancers at the Bar (I can't remember the French), by Degas...of course
My favorite: Van Gogh's Road Menders
A scene I wish I could replicate in my own (future) home: A Matisse (Studio, Quai St-Michel), framed by a couple of Picassos: Bullfight on the left, and Reclining Figure on the right.
After my visit to The Phillips Collection, it was still relatively early in the afternoon, so I walked over to the nearby Anderson House (across the road from the Indian embassy and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi). The winter residence of former ambassador to Belgium and Japan Larz Anderson, it's a beautiful mansion now under the management of the Society of the Cincinnati, which sounds like a sinister Dan Brown-type of order, but is actually an old patriotic organization established in 1783. Free tours of the house are offered (donations welcome), and I was able to join one halfway-through:
The building was erected between 1902 and 1905. A statue of George Washington, first president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, stands out front.
Photography was permitted, but getting good pictures wasn't easy due to the dark interiors...and my poor skills.
A samurai sword 刀 presented to Larz Anderson by the Emperor Taishō 大正天皇 (Yoshihito 嘉仁) of Japan. Although he served there for only ten weeks, Anderson amassed an impressive collection of Japanese objets d'art.
Anderson's ambassadorial uniform. Yes, American diplomats wore formal uniforms when the occasion dictated, though the practice was thankfully ended by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The ballroom has some Japanese screen paintings on its walls. Chamber-music recitals are frequently held here.
A typically ornate dining room. Anderson had a thing for collecting European tapestries, as they can found hanging all over the house. Unbelievably, Anderson and his wife only stayed in the mansion one month out of every year (November).
From one of the bedrooms (which can be reserved by Society members) there is a great view across the street to the exclusive Cosmos Club, the Beaux-Arts style of its home dating back to 1901.
The garden has shrunk in size over the years, but a graceful Buddha still watches over a quiet pool in the back.