Musical Micropause: Y

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Neil Young: Rockin In The Free World (1989)
How do you pick one Neil Young song? Do you choose acoustic Neil or noisy Neil? There’s a world between “See The Sky About To Rain” and “Cortex The Killer”, but both would be contenders for me. “Rockin In The Free World” has arguably become the fist-pumping highlight of his electric shows; it’s Neil’s “Born To Run”. I hope he doesn’t get tired of playing it any time soon.

 

Thom Yorke: Harrowdown Hill (2006)
Harrowdown Hill was Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s first solo single, from his CD “The Eraser”. Yorke has confirmed that the song refers to the suspicious death of David Kelly, a British scientist. Kelly had engaged in off-the-record discussions with BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan about the British government’s dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was identified publicly as Gilligan’s source and appeared on 15 July 2003 before a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee.  Two days later, Kelly was found dead on Harrowdown Hill.


Yeasayer: Fingers Never Bleed (2012)
Yeasayer were one the bands on my must-see list for Laneway 2013 in Auckland, and they didn’t disappoint. “Fingers Never Bleed” is from their 2012 CD, “Fragrant World”, initially made available to fans via an internet scavenger hunt. The band would send clues via their twitter stream three weeks prior to the official release. In an interview with fastcocreate.com, lead vocalist Chris Keating described the band as “still a niche kind of band, even if I’m not sure what that niche is.”


Weird Al Yankovic: Bob (2003)
I was all set to find the clip for Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise“, when I came across “Bob” – Al’s tribute to Bob Dylan and the power of the palindrome. Ideally this would be written in palindromes too, but I’ll have to leave that to Al. Dammit, I’m mad! Weird Al’s video is based on Dylan’s original film clip for Subterranean Homesick Blues, released in 1965, and generally regarded as one of the first promotional music videos. Al managed to squeeze one final palindrome into the song’s title.

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Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center: September 2014

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – remember the name!

Who doesn’t like a good waffle? These have become a key part of the daily routine for my boys, and Sam is more than happy to share his new skills on the waffle maker with anyone looking slightly nervous. Most people make their way around Sam, make their waffles, and move on, but one small boy is looking slightly bewildered. He hesitates in front of the machine for slightly too long and Sam pounces on his opportunity to demonstrate Waffles for Dummies. Whether it be via a redemption of air miles or a Christmas present, I’m seeing a waffle maker in my future.

Waffles – fit for a President

As we’re heading out today, I meet two of our neighbours in the Hotel. I knew the Hotel allowed dogs, but I’m surprised to see two terriers exiting just as we do. I hadn’t heard so much as a muffled woof, and usually there’s a sign on the door warning guests of the canines inside. They’re either very well trained, or they appreciate a full night’s sleep. And I thought that only happened in France!

The goal today is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but requiring too much space for central Washington DC. If you have your own car, it’s an easy 40 minute drive to the Center in Chantilly, Virginia. If you don’t, it requires a bit more patience and a lot more time, but it’s well worth the effort.

We first need to take the metro to the end of the silver line (Wiehle-Reston East). That’s a 45 minute trip. My boys are old hands at the metro now. Our only incident was during a rush-hour crush when the boys were already safely inside, but the doors slammed shut on me, threatening to send the boys on without me. We’ve been careful to avoid rush-hours since then.

At the end of the silver line, an official helps us top up our tickets for a further 45 minute bus ride to Udvar-Hazy. Thought is given to finding the Gents (or bathrooms as they are called in these parts – although don’t go expecting a quiet soak), but they either don’t exist or are very well hidden. Fortunately the wait for the next bus isn’t too long.

Through this trip, I’ve tried to share my time evenly between my boys, and today I’m sitting next to Dom. You never quite know where a conversation with my boys is going to lead, and Dom’s area of questioning today is the weaponry used during the New Zealand Wars of 1845 to 1872. I didn’t see this coming – he is only eight. I should know more about this aspect of New Zealand history, so my answers aren’t too precise. I don’t think he can tell that I’m bluffing some of this.

IMG_6121Udvar-Hazy is enormous. There are two hangars; one is the length of three football fields, and both hangars are about ten storeys high. Aircraft are everywhere, all at different angles – they sit on the ground, they hang from the ceiling. Past foes now rest together. There are currently around 160 aircraft on display, with the intention of passing 200. When I ask where the additions are going to go, I’m told that they can “shuffle them around a bit”. I bet these guys are great at packing car boots too.

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SR-71A Blackbird

I’m not really a plane buff, but there are four must-sees for me here. The first is the SR-71A Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet propelled aircraft. Operational from 1964 to 1998, a total of 32 aircraft were built with none lost to enemy action. The data they collected is now provided by satellites. The last flight by this Blackbird was to set the speed record for flying from the West Coast: Los Angeles to Washington in one hour, four minutes. It was then turned over to the Smithsonian.

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Space Shuttle Discovery

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Gemini VII

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Mercury – Freedom 7 II

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Behind the Blackbird is the Space wing, and pride of place is held by the Space Shuttle Discovery. This craft spent 365 days in space, over 39 missions, carrying a total crew of 251. It is preserved at the Center as intact as possible after completing the 133rd Space Shuttle mission in 2011. There are many other space displays in this wing as well. The boys and I could spend a long time here.

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Enola Gay

IMG_5665 It’s not easy to match a Space Shuttle in terms of historical significance, but the next plane on my list might just do that. Piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, the Enola Gay is a  Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber and was named after the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. On 6 August 1945, its crew released the first nuclear bomb over Hiroshima killing an estimated 100,000. A second bombing followed over Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II a few days later. One of the guides here gives us a very interesting speech on the plane’s background and its involvement in both bombings.

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Air France Concorde

IMG_0408My top four is completed by Concorde, the world’s first supersonic airliner. Operational from 1976 to 2003, only 14 Concordes were ever used for passenger flights, seven by British Airways, seven by Air France. The Concorde here is a donation from Air France and was used to fly from Paris to New York, Washington DC and Rio de Janeiro. At over 60 metres in length, it is without doubt the hardest plane to photograph in the Center.

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There’s so much more to the Udvar-Hazy Center than these four craft. The website lists 3762 other objects, and I’m sure the more trained eye would select other objects for their top four.

IMG_0393 IMG_5629IMG_5633A highlight for the boys is the chance to take the controls on a Cessna, fortunately without breaking anything. I suspect the instructor thinks the boys aren’t listening, so I ask the boys to repeat everything back to him, which they do. I might have pilots on my hands. The Center has a very comprehensive gift shop, and after lunch we stock up on souvenirs. They have an excellent supply of fridge magnets here.

On our bus trip back to the metro, Sam and I have another look at our guidebook for Washington DC. We’ve done quite a bit over the last week, and don’t seem to have missed anything too major.  This is the boys’ first taste of the United States and they’ve had new experiences every day. That’s what it’s all about.

Next stop…Orlando!

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Musical Micropause: X

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XTC: Making Plans For Nigel (1979)
It’s generally a sign that a single has been a major success in the UK if it manages to find its way to New Zealand airwaves, and this was particularly true in the late seventies. MTV was still a few years away, but I remember seeing the video for “Making Plans For Nigel” on a weekly music show. Formed in 1972, XTC started life as a glam-rock band, before becoming caught up in the New Wave. Their years as a successful live act were numbered though, as lead singer Andy Partridge suffered from major stage-fright, reducing XTC to a studio-only band from 1982 until they called it a day in 2006.

 

The XX: VCR (2009)
The XX’s self-titled debut CD was released to universal praise in August 2009, and when they appeared on a small public square for Auckland’s Laneway festival in February 2010, they looked like they were still getting used to the idea of global acclaim. They were soon playing larger venues, having performed at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits by the end of 2010.


X: Arms For Hostages (1993)
X started with great promise, with their debut album being produced by Ray Manzarek, and their second album being named “Album Of The Year” by Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and others. I discovered X from a KCRW “Rare on Air” compilation from 1994, where they performed an acoustic version of “Arms for Hostages”, from their final album, 1993’s “Hey Zeus!”.


Xela: Afraid Of Monsters (2002)
I also found Xela through a compilation, this time an mix of electronica from Mojo. Xela’s mother refers to him as John Twells (I assume), and “Afraid Of Monsters” is the opening track from his 2003 debut “For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights”. This is where my knowledge of Xela ends, but I read that he has an obsession with horror soundtracks. Sounds like fun; I’ll be looking for more.

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I need my Space! Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington DC: September 2014

National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

I confess to being a maker of lists. While some people count sheep, I might be working out my top ten bands that I have yet to see, or my top ten unvisited destinations in Europe. Barcelona is still leading, but Istanbul is challenging. Washington has been heading my “cities yet to visit in the US” for several years, and in the sub-list of attractions that Washington has to offer, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is right at the top.

Yesterday’s exertions have taken their toll on Mum. We wandered from Washington State University and the Watergate complex, around the Potomac, visiting a string of monuments and memorials, before finally heading home. It was a beautiful walk, but as we reached the hotel, I realised that Mum was now smiling because the end was in sight. As soon as we arrive at the Air and Space Museum today, Mum knows that she’s not up for this, and we get her a taxi back to the Hotel.

So today is just me and my boys, and the Air and Space Museum isn’t such a bad place for a Dad’s day out.

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Air and Space Museum Guide, along with official bookmark to the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rover Exploration Program

The initial impression is like seeing a famous monument for the first time. It doesn’t matter how many time you’ve seen photos of the Apollo modules; it’s not until they’re at touching distance that they become real. It’s almost as if you need proof. Now they exist.`

I find myself quickly reverting to the ten-year old kid who would constantly have books on Space out of the local library, and who would cut pieces of cardboard and paper into the shape of Saturn to write his own guide to the Solar System. The Solar System had a lot fewer moons in those days. Fortunately, Sam is just as hooked as I was. If I don’t recognize something in the museum, it’s quickest to ask him, and he’s generally right. Dominic’s getting into this too. He may be two years younger than Sam, but he’s old enough to know that he doesn’t have a choice. Our first half hour is spent bouncing from exhibit to exhibit, spending barely enough time to take a photo, before being distracted by something equally as fascinating.

We pause for breath, plan our day and decide to start with a space documentary at the Einstein Planetarium. We’ve seen many similar movies at our local planetarium in Auckland, but this is on an entirely different scale. One aspect it does share with its poorer New Zealand cousin is its ability to put me to sleep soon after the movie starts. This is no reflection on the quality of the show; those seats are just so comfortable. Through the movie my head is constantly gently dropping before suddenly jerking back up. My kids just shake their head – they’re not angry, just disappointed. But I can recommend the movie – well, I enjoyed the opening and closing credits.

It’s time to tackle the museum again. This time our circuit of the two floors is much more orderly – we even read some of the signs. Everything of major and minor significance is here. And if it isn’t here, there’s usually a good excuse – like it’s on Mars or some other inconvenient location. In that case, there’s a test version or other replica. We’re surrounded by the history of space exploration, starting with Ptolemy’s Model of an Earth-centred universe and many historic artifacts, through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, to moon rock you can touch, and replicas of Skylab, the Hubble Telescope, and Mars rovers. I could list many more, but these guys do it so much better.

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Friendship 7, Mercury Program. In 1962 Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth aboard this craft.

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Columbia – brought back Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins safely back to Earth and 1969 lunar landing.

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Yuri Gagarin’s test suit in preparation for his journey aboard Vostok 1 in 1961, to become the first man in space.

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Test version of Lunar Module, 1969 Apollo program

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So why is my head blue and the kids’ heads are yellow?

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Telescopes – old school style

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Hubble Telescope replica

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Moon rock

IMG_5569 For the record, the moon is very smooth, but that could be more due to the millions of fingers that have rubbed this sliver of moon rock 70215 since it was loaned by NASA to the National Air and Space Museum in 1976. Despite all that handling, it’s not looking a day over 3.7 billion years old.

Being eight and ten year old boys, Dom and Sam are impressed by many exhibits, but don’t see what the fuss is all about with others. The Spirit of St Louis in the central hall is just like theirs, except this one is bigger and not made of Lego. They’re in agreement about the importance of trying the simulators though, and just in case we experience a bumpy flight, I suggest we do this before lunch.

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Simulators! They even work upside-down.

Our instructor mentions how to spin the plane, which sounds like fun. Dom and I take the first turn, and I soon accidentally send us spinning. Dom isn’t thrilled, and he can be heard all over the museum yelling “Put it back Dad!! I’m having a heart attack!!! Dad!! You are the worst simulator pilot ever!!” To be fair to Dom, we do spend quite a bit of time in the plane hanging upside down, but he may not get too many chances to do that in a plane. He’s very relieved when the door slides open, and we’re greeted by many onlookers curious to see what I was doing to my son.

When Sam takes his turn, he takes the pilot’s seat, and it’s smooth sailing all the way. Where’s the fun in that?

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Space food version of a toasted sandwich

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Space version of crackers and cheese. Not impressed.

Dom isn’t impressed by what passed for Astronaut food during the Apollo program, but that reminds us that we need to eat. We check out lunch choices and find that the options that aren’t McDonalds are all full, so we head off in the opposite direction looking for golden arches. What we find in the courtyard outside is a small caravan with the McDonalds logo attached, with a few tables under umbrellas. There’s also a grassy area with trees and bushes, separated from the courtyard by a long wall at just the right height for boys to sit on. Most importantly, it comes with fresh air, and it’s a beautiful day. We’re trying to resist the fast-food temptation on this trip, but today seems a worthy exception.

We take our place sitting on the wall, and we soon notice a rustling in the bushes behind us. A very huge and very well fed rat scampers out of the bushes, looks at me, my kids, and our lunch and swiftly retreats. I’m not sure whether he’s sick of McDonalds and is hoping for something different. A shriek comes from the bushes followed by more rustling. Either our rat is having an argument with his neighbour, or he’s not taking at all well the idea of McDonalds for lunch yet again, Once more he scurries out, eyes us up, and darts back into the bush. More shrieking. This animal definitely has anger management issues. I’ve never seen my kids interact with rats. They’re not afraid, so I feel the need to remind them to keep their distance, and that I bought those fries for them, not our furry friend.

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Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, flown from New York to Paris, May 1927. Good choice.

The Real Wright Brothers' Flyer

The Real Wright Brothers’ Flyer

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Amelia Earhart display

Amelia Earhart display

Of course, an Air and Space Museum would only be half a museum if it didn’t also have exhibits on the Air side of things, so that is our priority for our afternoon session. This is equally impressive with comprehensive exhibits on the Wright Brothers and their Flyer, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, along with more recent endeavours. I can see people taking a very close look at engines, nodding approvingly, and talking a language that I know is English, but I don’t recognise the words. I don’t really speak the language of engines – but I know people who do, and that’s what counts.

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Space pen! Any time, any angle.

From previous travels, I’ve learned that heavy pictorial books aren’t great souvenirs unless they are bought on the last day of the trip. Of course we can’t leave the museum without some souvenirs, so we quickly purchase a set of space chess, (ie chess where you can’t recognize what the pieces are, because everything is a rocket, and nothing resembles a bishop or a rook), t-shirts (which are useful because they extend the supply of clean shirts) a space pen (for those annoying moments when your only option is to write when hanging upside-down – maybe in a simulator!), a thin and light guide book, and the obligatory fridge magnet. For some reason the boys are also given a lot of marbles by the check-out assistant, but they seem to like them. An unexpected souvenir of the Air and Space Museum. (They later change their mind and give these all away to anyone who will take them).

And with that, the top line of my list of “must do’s” in Washington now has a metaphoric tick next to it. We’ve had all day at the museum but the boys and I have loved it. A new adventure must now take its rightful place at the bottom of the top five – but ideally one without rats this time.

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Official Air and Space Museum Fridge Magnet

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Musical Micropause: W

Alphabet W

White Stripes: You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl) (2000)
I wish I’d seen these guys live, but hopefully I’ll see Jack White one day. This song seems to contain all the elements of a classic White Stripes song: slightly ragged but full of hooks, no unnecessary flourishes, a quirky sense of humour, and over too soon.

 

Waterboys: When You go Away (1988)
When Record Executives received the follow-up to the Waterboys’ international breakthrough “Whole Of The Moon”, they probably weren’t expecting an album rooted in Irish and Scottish folk music. “Fisherman’s Blues” signalled that Mike Scott’s “Big Music” was no more, but the scaled back sound resulted in the Waterboys’ best selling album.


World Party: Sweet Soul Dream (1967)
Karl Wallinger was one of the Waterboys during their “Big Music” era. As lead Waterboy Mike Scott wrote, “Having Karl [Wallinger] in the studio was like having a one-man orchestra around.” Wallinger’s departure from the Waterboys after the success of “This Is The Sea” allowed him to pursue his own music, forming World Party. “Sweet Soul Dream” is from his second album “Goodby Jumbo”, rated by Q as their best album of 1990.


Wilco: I’m The Man Who Loves You (2002)
The turmoil around Wilco’s fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was documented in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Changes in record producer, band personnel and record label all made this a difficult birth, but the resulting album became their most successful release. “I’m The Man Who Loves You” has become a concert favourite, and is now Wilco’s second most frequently played song.

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Natural History and Many Memorials – Washington DC: September 2014

National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC

Day Three:  Our first stop at Washington’s Museum of Natural History has been booked well in advance. Not far behind my mum’s wish to take her kids to Disneyland has been her visit to the Gems and Minerals section of this museum, and in particular, the chance to see the Hope Diamond. This branch of the Smithsonian Institution is the size of 18 football fields and houses over 1000 employees, but this stone the size of a pigeon’s egg is arguably the Museum’s premier exhibit.

The Hope Diamond, valued at US$220 million!

The Hope Diamond, valued at US$200 – US$250 million!

In the mid-17th century, French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier brought from India to Paris a large uncut diamond, which by the end of the century was sold to King Louis XIV of France. The stone was then cut and passed through the French royal family until 1792 when during the French Revolution it was stolen as part of a theft of the royal crown jewels. It is believed that the stone was taken to London, and cut into two pieces, the larger piece becoming the Hope Diamond. Although there is no record of ownership in the Royal Archives, the diamond is suspected to have been purchased by King George IV of the United Kingdom, before being acquired by a London banker named Thomas Hope. Now known as the Hope Diamond, the stone eventually passed to New York diamond merchant Harry Winston, who donated the diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958, sending it to the museum by US Post wrapped in brown paper. It was insured via registered mail for $145.29; it is now valued at US$200-US$250 million.

It’s interesting to hear the number of young girls excitedly squealing “Mommy, diamonds!” The taste for jewellery is clearly already entrenched. My boys are impressed, and upon hearing the value of the diamond, Dominic declares that he’d like to be a miner. I suspect he sees this as a way of cutting out the middle man, when he finds his own Hope Diamond. Their focus on the diamond doesn’t last too long – after one photo, they’re distracted by the size, colours and angles of the extensive crystal collection, ranging from Apophyllite to Zoisite.

Crocoite crystals

Crocoite crystals

Fluorite

Fluorite crystals

Fossil Ammonite

Fossil Ammonite

The Geology section is also very comprehensive with many interactive exhibits – the boys touch a piece of Mars, see fossils, search for New Zealand within displays on volcanos and earthquakes around the globe, hear radioactivity emitting from zircon, and try out the magnetic strength of Magnetite.

T-Rex, coming soon to a Museum of Natural History near you

T-Rex, coming soon to a Museum of Natural History near you

I’m slightly surprised to find that the boys less impressed by the next set of rooms. I had assumed that halls full of whale, shark and manatee skeletons would be a highlight. They are more intrigued by the genuine T-Rex skull – part of a display still under construction. Similarly, the Egyptian section, with wrapped and unwrapped mummies, doesn’t get the boys rushing around with cameras snapping.

Rosita the tarantula, about to have the crickets over for lunch

Rosita the tarantula, about to have the crickets over for lunch

We’re all getting a bit peckish now, but before we find our own meals, we get to watch a more permanent guest of the museum enjoy her lunch. Rosita the Tarantula seemingly never tires of crickets, and the boys enjoy a front row seat.

We’re soon justifying another quick, easy and unhealthy lunch, and I introduce the boys to Ghiradelli chocolate. I know this is going to be a winner, and the boys look as happy as a Tarantula chewing a cricket leg.

Angler Fish - Neno version

Angler Fish – Nemo version

Angler Fish - reality

Angler Fish – reality

After lunch, Mum decides she wants another look at the Gems, while the boys and I head for the Ocean Hall. We soon see a couple of Giant Squids, one a lot more giant than the other, but both very impressive. We also see an Angler Fish, which my boys and I all recognize immediately from Finding Nemo. It looks smaller and more friendly in person. But for me, the highlight of this section is the Coelacanth.

Coelacanth - back from the dead

Coelacanth – back from the dead

There are only two species of coelacanth, the West Indian Ocean coelacanth and the Indonesian coelacanth, and both are threatened, making this the most endangered order of animals in the world. But it isn’t the rarity that makes this fish special.

I remember from my childhood seeing a photo of the coelacanth, and reading how they were thought to have been extinct for 66 million years, until one was caught off the coast of West Africa in 1938. They are still critically endangered, but have been found in the Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, and South Africa. Fortunately for the coelacanth, they hold no value for fisherman as they reportedly taste terrible, but they are still threatened by commercial deep-sea trawling.

This museum really does have something for everyone, and one day goes nowhere near doing it justice. Sadly that’s all we have, but I intend to get back here one day.

Foggy Where?

Foggy Where?

Day Four – Our metro destination this morning is Foggy Bottom. There has to be an interesting story behind that name – and apparently this area by the Potomac River is believed to have been susceptible to concentrations of fog and industrial smoke. Foggy Bottom is home to many Federal agencies, so surely there a few jokes about the appropriateness of the name. There’s no sign of fog today, as we walk past embassies, George Washington University, and the Kennedy Arts Center, towards the buildings that I want to see – 700 New Hampshire Ave, also known as the Watergate Complex.

Watergate Complex

Watergate Complex

I had only ever heard or read references to the Watergate Hotel, but as well as the Hotel, the Watergate complex also includes contains an office building and three apartment buildings. Built in 1967, the trademark curves were intended to complement the planned Kennedy Arts Center (which later changed its design) and a proposed expressway. It looks exactly as I recall it from news footage following the 1974 scandal that lead to Nixon’s resignation.

IMG_0141While we’re trying to fit the façade of the building on our cameras, a series of helicopters seem to swoop on the hotel. There’s an open area between the buildings, and they feel so close, it’s almost as if they are flying among the buildings. They soon pass, but for an instant it feel as if something dramatic is about to happen. Is history repeating itself? No it isn’t, and we head off in search of the Lincoln Memorial.

Tom Bradley Memorial Bridge - to Arlington

Tom Bradley Memorial Bridge – to Arlington

It’s a beautiful day, and joggers and cyclists are constantly competing for the pavement as we wind our way around the Potomac. We can see Georgetown along the river to our right, while planes are constantly taking off from Arlington, now opposite us on the other side of the river. I find out later this is Ronald Reagan airport.

The team - towards Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument

The team – towards Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

We reach the Lincoln memorial in front of the Reflecting Pool, and the boys get a quick lesson on Lincoln’s place in history. Following Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, proposals for a fitting monument saw a series of rejections, from the initial bill passed by Congress in 1867 until acceptance in 1910. The memorial was opened in 1922, in the presence of Lincoln’s then 79-year old son Robert Lincoln. The site has also become famous for being the location of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech to 250,000 people, as part of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”, one of the largest rallies for civil rights in US history. A 22-year old Bob Dylan also played that day.

Uninvited lunch guest

Uninvited lunch guest

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Korean War Memorial

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Korean War Memorial

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Roosevelt Memorial

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Roosevelt Memorial

After unintentionally sharing our lunch with squirrels, we move on via the impressive Korean War Memorial to the Roosevelt Memorial. This is quite a contrast, and seem a tad underwhelming. I can’t help but wonder who is responsible for these memorials. If a memorial is proposed during the term of a President from an opposition party, how would that impact the grandeur of the monument? Maybe it’s more a question of how tight the coffers are. The design competition for the Roosevelt memorial was won in 1974 by Lawrence Halpin, but for over two decades Congress failed to find the funds. Halpin’s design was finally opened by President Clinton in 1997. Criticism had been voiced about Roosevelt’s depiction in a wheelchair, with concerns that Roosevelt was being made a hero because of his disability. The memorial also includes braille for blind visitors, but unhelpfully mounted eight feet above the ground.

We unfortunately miss the path to the Martin Luther King memorial, only spotting it across the Tidal Basin when we reach the Jefferson Memorial. They definitely knew how to build monuments in those days.

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Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson was clearly a busy man – the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the 3rd US President, he also found time to double the size of the United States, be fluent in French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish, and following the death of his wife, he appears to have fathered six children with his slave, Sally Hemmings.

As with the other Memorials, this too had its detractors. In 1925 the site was initially proposed as a Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt but Congress did not fund this. President Franklin Roosevelt was a fan of Jefferson, so proposed a memorial to him, with more success. The building was opened in 1943, but due to wartime shortages in bronze, the statue could not be completed until 1947.

It’s been a long, hot and tiring day, and our feet need a rest. Despite all that, the boys are enjoying themselves, and seem to be taking in the significance of these grand buildings and their imposing statues. Washington is living up to all my expectations. Tomorrow – the National Air and Space Museum awaits.

Just keep walking....

Just keep walking….

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Musical Micropause: V

V-Letter-V

Townes Van Zandt: No Place To Fall – Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1973)
I’d come across the name of Townes Van Zandt in many interviews and articles, with one quote attributed to Steve Earle getting my attention: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”  Townes’ supposed reply was “I’ve met Bob Dylan and his bodyguards, and I don’t think Steve could get anywhere near his coffee table.”
I was given a bunch of CD vouchers on leaving a job in Dublin (they knew me too well) and I was happy to take a punt on Steve Earle’s recommendation. I had no idea where to start with Townes, but a live album would hopefully double as a “Best Of”.  It was a lucky choice, and this is probably my favourite live album by anyone.  There are so many great songs to choose from here – Pancho and Lefty (covered many times by Dylan), If I Needed You, For The Sake Of The Song, Tecumseh Valley….and he tells jokes too.


Suzanne Vega: The Queen and the Soldier (1985)
It took me a while to cross paths with this song, but I finally discovered it on a trip to London in 1997.  I think I drove my friends slightly mad with the frequent repeat plays. It was also the trip where I discovered the qualities of a Gin and Tonic, so it was a successful few days. I had no idea that it had been a fan favourite for so long, and I still hope to hear Suzanne play it live one day.  I was chuffed to receive replies from Suzanne to a couple of tweets, but so far my campaign to get her to New Zealand again has been unsuccessful. I’m not giving up!


Velvet Underground: Venus in Furs (1967)
If I could travel to one time and place, it would be to see these guys assaulting the senses of New Yorkers in 1967. Not too many seem to have been listening at the time, but the Velvets have now received their recognition.  While the Beatles were hanging out in Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, the Velvets were capturing a sick and dirty lifestyle on the streets of  New York.  Their uniqueness owes as much to John Cale’s grating viola as to Lou Reed’s lyrics, and when Cale left the band after two albums, the Velvets were the poorer for it.


Velvet Underground: I’ll Be Your Mirror (1967)
Lou Reed’s songs always seemed personal, but fortunately they weren’t always about the darker side of New York life.  He gave this gentle song to Nico to sing on the Velvets’ debut. This was the first song I ever heard Lou Reed play – not a bad way to start a show.

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