Swan Bench

April 29, 2006
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Footsore tourists can rest on this elegant swan bench in the Victorian garden surrounding the Smithsonian Castle. The Castle, completed in 1855, was the Smithsonian’s first building. It now houses administrative offices and the Visitor Center. Today, the Smithsonian has 18 museums, including two in New York. The Washington museums are open every day of the year except Dec. 25, and there is no admission charge.

Arlington National Cemetery

April 26, 2006
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This is the cloister surrounding the Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Three major services are held in the Amphitheater: at Easter (at sunrise), on Memorial Day, and on Veterans Day. The Amphitheater is built of marble from Vermont. More than 300,000 people are buried on the 200 acres of Arlington Cemetery, including veterans of wars from the Revolutionary War through the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. The most famous grave is that of President John F. Kennedy, on which burns an eternal flame.

Meanwhile, here at Fort Flamingo

April 24, 2006
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The pink plastic flamingo, reigning American lawn ornament of the fifties and spurned as tasteless and tacky in the sixties, is now a kind of retro chic joke. About four years ago, a pair mysteriously took up residence in the flowerbed outside the building where I work, and equally mysteriously grew into a flock over the years—which wouldn’t be noteworthy, except that I work on a military base.

No one knew for sure who put the flamingos there, but my department (a bunch of mostly civilian writers, artists, and photographers) felt proprietary towards them. Like us, they didn’t really fit into the military environment. When they disappeared sometime between lunch and mid-afternoon one day last week, we were outraged. It turned out that someone more important than we are decided they looked faded and tatty and brought down the tone of the neighborhood, and he removed them. He did have a point, but his timing was especially cruel since they’d laid colored plastic eggs for Easter.

So we had a whip-round to collect money for a new pair, which arrived today. Small brass plaques were engraved and affixed (how useful it is to have access to engraving equipment) announcing their ownership and asking that they not be fed or taken from their natural habitat; and this afternoon, once most people had left for the day, a colleague and I released them into the wild (well, the flowerbed), where they were settling nicely when I left for home.

We may be a bunch of wimpy, artsy types, but just don’t mess with our flamingos!

P.S. (May 1): For a beautiful photograph of the real thing, check out today’s post at San Diego Daily Photo.


April 23, 2006
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Sunny today after a day of rain yesterday. We’re on Capitol Hill, looking up at the underside of the iron steps that lead up to the front door of a house.

Best of both worlds

April 21, 2006
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Washington is a city that abounds with parks, open spaces, and bike trails. You don’t even have to go outside the city to find something close to wilderness. Within sight of the Washington Monument is Roosevelt Island in the Potomac, with 88 acres of hiking trails. And from the balcony of my apartment in Alexandria, VA., I can watch ducks and geese on the stream and see people walking along the footpath in a quite extensive park. I feel as if I am in the middle of the countryside, yet I’m a matter of yards off a busy thoroughfare.

Spring Planting

April 19, 2006
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Garden centers like this one are now full of flowers, and little ad hoc nurseries are sprouting in car parks.

Light and Shadow

April 16, 2006
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Happy Easter. Here I am back at my favorite building enjoying the interplay of the Calder mobile, the building’s structure, and the light and shadow.