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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

In and out of the cold

My daughter shows off the card she made for students at an elementary school in Haiti. Amber's school recently organized a drive for school supplies to be sent to the Caribbean island nation.

It was 21°F (-6°C) this morning as my wife took my daughter and me to the East Falls Church subway station. Too cold, really, to go outside. But we'd already spent too much of this three-day holiday weekend indoors - heavy rain on Friday evening meant it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to go hiking on Saturday as I'd originally planned, while yesterday we had snow flurries from mid-morning to mid-afternoon (not to mention Amber's weekly Mandarin class). Today may have been bitterly cold, but it was also sunny and so the two of us (Pamela sensibly choosing to stay indoors) headed into Washington to spend the day there.

This being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the logical place to have visited would've been the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park, southeast of the National Mall. But to get there would've meant a 20-minute walk in the frigid air from the nearest Metro stop (Smithsonian), so my daughter opted instead to check out the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, which was a much more bearable seven-minute stroll from L'Enfant Plaza:

I wish it could be said that the museum ranks up there with the other Smithsonian showpieces on the National Mall, but it doesn't. The building is huge, but makes poor use of the possible exhibition space. The exhibits within don't present a linear history of Native Americans, and although we are told there are 565 tribes recognized by the federal government, visitors are only introduced to a small handful of them. I'm not sure what my daughter took away from the displays - she seems to have learned a lot more at her elementary school about the tribes who live in Virginia. Still, there were some interesting presentations, such as the fourth-floor exhibit on the history of the numerous treaties negotiated between Native Americans and the federal government (virtually all of which were broken in some form or other by the latter):

A Northern Tsitsistas (Cheyenne) depiction of the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn (c. 1890):

Amber enjoyed the activities center on the third floor. She was able to explore various aspects of American Indian life, including those related to igloos, kayaks, snowshoes and...skateboards:

The same floor has an exhibit on the Inca (Inka) road system. Here my daughter poses in front of a copy of a rope bridge

For me, the most fascinating exhibition was a small one on the Kingdom of Hawaii and the events leading up to its annexation by the U.S. in 1898, described as the first act in American empire building. The displays are refreshingly frank, especially considering they're presented in a publicly-funded museum:

There were decent views from some of the museum's windows, including the National Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art...:

...and the Capitol and the United States Botanic Garden:

The National Museum of the American Indian is "best known" for its cafeteria, which is hands down the best eatery out of all of the dining options at the various Smithsonian museums. The dishes are organized by regional themes:

I went with the Indian Frybread Taco (with buffalo meat) for lunch, washed down with an alcoholic root beer:

Still, it's a poor reflection on a museum when its cafe gets higher marks than what it has on display. The National Museum of the Native American isn't bad, but it could've been done so much better; the indoor atrium, while impressive, is unnecessary, and uses up space that should've been devoted to more exhibitions. The original inhabitants of this continent deserve better:

It was an uncomfortable walk back to the subway station, as the wind was blowing directly into our faces, making Amber wish we had ski masks. The cold temperatures are set to continue for the remainder of this week, with snow a possibility for next weekend. The frigid conditions are no doubt good preparation for what we'll be facing next winter in the Baltic republic of Lithuania.


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