Sunday, 6 September 2009

Whizzing through the colonies

Having soon shelved our ambitious plans of travel to Alaska and Nova Scotia, due to excessive work and tiredness, the parents and I resized our holiday schedule to a rather more modest set of 3 long weekends where I only took the Friday off, which is a half day anyway so it's not as bad. In said long weekends we aimed for place within our reach, namely NYC, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, which also happen to be among the original colonies, but that has nothing to do with it - geographical proximity was our main concern.

You've all heard me rave about how much I love NYC more than enough. And every time I go I fall in love all over again. I can't see the dirtiness, or the chaos - I just see amazing architecture, and electrifying energy running through everything, and it makes it the perfect antidote to Princeton suburbanness. I felt quietly smug when my parents had to admit that it was a lot nicer than they remembered it from 20 years ago, and really enjoyed their time there. I am overcome by the urge to live there for a while - it just makes me so happy to be there.

We did all sorts of things - saw West Side Story on Broadway, which is one of my favourite musicals, and it was great; had the chance to spend some proper quality time with both my cousins, which my parents also greatly appreciated; went to the newly-opened High Line, which is a park on a disused elevated train line downtown, and has amazing views out onto the water (yes, even if it is 'only' NJ), and glorious sunsets; went to the Met which had an exhibit on Afghan artifacts with some truly stunning objects - you can see some of them here, my personal favourite was the folding crown, for easy transport :-) . Genius.

Another weekend saw us in Washington DC, which is about a 3hr drive from here. I'd been once before - when I was 12 and my cousin was graduating from Georgetown - but I didn't remember much. Two things stand out there, in my opinion - the amazing museums and the amazingly monumental public architecture. We only managed two museums, and opted for 'local' ones, ie things we would be less likely to find, say, in Europe - so the American History and the American Indian museums. And despite spending many, many hours in each, we still had to operate selectively and miss out some of the things on show.

The most interesting thing of them, I think - and this goes with the observations on the monumentalism of the public architecture - is this underlying current of trying to fashion some sort of History for the country, making sure everything is recorded and possibly glorified and triumphantly displayed.

I guess I can sort of understand the big monuments - most capital cities tend to go in for this kind of thing, after all - though it is a bit overwhelming to walk down the Mall or similar and be assaulted by memorial after memorial, giant white column after giant white column. But in the museum, the careful display of Chelsea Clinton's ballet shoes, or Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch, or some random president's pyjamas - that I find harder to get my head around. It's like there is a need to make up for the missing centuries of History, and so everything has to be clawed back and used to fashion some.

I'm not trying to be critical - there is no judgement involved, just slight puzzlement. After all, it is true that this country took in a vast amount of people, and tried to get everyone settled somehow, and that is astounding. And I guess it's not much different from the ancient Romans et al coming up with suitably awe-inspiring stories of who founded what and how special they were. But it's oddly fascinating to see it applied in the relatively recent past.

Other than that, the DC weekend was also marked by the very pleasant reunion with a family we were friends with in Germany, and hadn't seen since we'd left - and we'd managed to track each other down again via FB :-) It was really nice to see them again after 17 years (!!) and try and catch up on everything that had happened in between. We also dropped by in Baltimore to see another family friend, and so got a a glimpse of the city's waterfront, which is very pretty.

Finally, we spent two days in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania to see the countryside and the Amish way of life. That, too, was fascinating in its way. We didn't go on any 'guided tours' but we did drive around the countryside loads and went to various museums and bookshops and obviously saw a lot of Amish people around and tried to get a sense of what everyday life is like. I have to say I have mixed feelings about it all, but I think it may be inappropriate to vent my doubts in public, so I'll keep them to myself, and you can ask me about it if you really want to know more.

And with that, ends the account of my 'summer holidays', though Nick and I have a couple of weekends away planned while he's here, so there is plenty to look forward to!

1 comment:

Rob Jubb said...

The Afghan things are lovely, and much more hellenic than you expect; you forget that there were post-Alexandrian Greek regimes in central Asia. But still, I would have liked tales of the less-than-fully-rational behaviour, if only for old times' sake.