Saturday, July 30, 2016

The View From My Window #23: Vermont

Don't let the the cactus in the foreground fool you, those rolling hills in the background are located in the Green Mountain State of Vermont near Mount Mansfield. I'm here for a wedding and the wedding venue on top of a hill has amazing views as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Free Stamps From The Postal Museum

When Laura and I started making lists of what to see during our time in Washington, she laughed when she came upon "The Postal Museum." "That's one museum I think I will skip," I remember her saying. But my interest was peaked and last week I got a chance to visit it (along with Union Station which is located right across the street). 

While it doesn't compare to the Smithsonian's other museums, it is a time capsule of how the Post Service has changed since our nation's founding. The museum location itself was Washington's main post office from 1914 until 1986. The building architecture is the Beaux-Arts style which was popular in the United States from 1880 until about 1920.

One of the neat things about the museum is that in one of the rooms where you can design your stamp, you can also dig through a big pile of stamps and take home six to jump start your stamp collection.

Here are my six stamps (including two foreign stamps.) We begin with two presidents, Woodrow Wilson (the only political scientists to ever be President) and Abraham Lincoln (who lost every public election he took part in before being elected president). The 4-cent Lincoln stamp was issued in 1954 and the Wilson $1 stamp produced in 1938 .

I also picked up two space-related stamps, one honoring Project Mercury and the other featuring Skylab. The Project Mercury stamp was issued in 1962 and has John Glenn's space capsule as it orbits the Earth for the first time. The Skylab 10-cent stamp is from 1974 and was produced in honor of the first anniversary of Skylab's launch.

My two foreign stamps include one from East Germany and one from Israel. As you might expect from a communist country, the stamp is in honor of a worker. The bright red Israeli stamp features Nahal Baraq Canyon located in the southern district of Israel.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Visiting the Watergate and the Deep Throat Parking Garage

Last week I wrote about visiting the Library of Congress to try to replicate a famous scene from All the President's Men and this week I'm on the road again to visit a few more spots made famous by the movie and the Watergate saga.

We start at the Watergate Hotel and business complex which recently celebrated its 50th birthday. This view of the famously circular buildings is from the Kennedy Center which sits next next door. Back in June 1972, five men broke into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate and a little more than two years later President Richard Nixon would resign over the coverup. 

The building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and so it will remain mostly the same because of its historical significance. The same isn't true for the next spot on my Watergate tour. 

In the parking garage under this Rosslyn, Virginia office building, Bob Woodward met his government informant that helped him uncover the conspiracy around the Watergate burglary. Unfortunately, the building and the garage will soon be demolished for new buildings. The decision was made back in 2014 but the building couldn't be changed before 2017, so I was able to get a chance to take a look at the famous parking garage.

Woodward met Mark Felt who was the Deputy Director of the FBI and served as deep background on what was happening inside the federal government as the scandal was building.

They met in the shadows of spot D32 which was occupied by a Ford truck when I visited. I have to imagine that at the time there was nowhere near the lighting level that there is today and I do know that Felt was able to exit out the side door that is now covered by a metal fence on the right .

Here are some shots from the All the President's Men film of Robert Redford meeting Deep Throat who was played by Hal Holbrook. It appears in the film that the parking garage they used isn't attached to a larger building as it is in reality. 

The parking garage was much more deserted and darker but even with the fluorescent lights in the parking garage today, it was still a creepy place and I was glad to get out of there as quickly as possible.

And here is Deep Throat in the shadows, a scene that has inspired political thrillers for decades.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Use My Camera Classic: Uncle Remus and the Song of the South

**In this series of posts, I revisit interesting locations and sites that I never got around to posting about when I originally visited them.**

Eatonton, GA July 2015

One of Georgia's most famous native sons was Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus anthologies of stories featuring the character of Brer Rabbit which were incredibly popular at the turn of the 20th century. 

Harris was from Eatonton, GA which is about 50 miles south of Athens, Georgia and from driving around the small town, they clearly are proud to be the birthplace of Harris.

The collection of fables and stories attributed to Uncle Remus included philosophical stories which were a combination of original ideas by Harris and folklore and traditional stories attributed to African-American culture. His style of telling the story in Uncle Remus' voice would later be famously seen in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Modern criticism of Harris' work is that he took many of the stories from slaves and newly freed African-Americans without attributing the sources. Interestingly, another author born in the very same town of Eatonton is Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. It is hard to imagine two authors more different yet covering similar topics of race in the South. Walker wrote an essay on her thoughts on Chandler's work entitled "Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine" and I think you can understand her opinion by the title alone.

Eatonton also boasts an Uncle Remus Museum a little ways from the downtown.

It features a period cabin reminiscent of something Uncle Remus would have occupied at the time of Chandler's work.

The Uncle Remus tales were brought to the silver screen in Disney's Song of the South. The film is a combination of animation and real actors interacting and it is famous for the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." Because of the subject matter, Disney has stopped releasing the film and it is not for sale currently. 

Although the movie is out of print as far as Disney is concerned, the complete film is currently up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I'm sure it will be taken down as soon as Disney notices that it has been posted so see what all the hubbub is about while you can.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Supreme Court With Eight Chairs

When the Supreme Court isn't in session (they wrapped up for this term a few weeks ago) you are able to take hourly tours of the chamber where the Supreme Court holds their hearings. You aren't able to take a photograph inside the room during the tour but you can take photos of the room from immediately outside of it.

With the death of Antonin Scalia and Senate's failure to move on President's Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, the Court currently only has eight justices and so if you visit now you have the rare view of only eight chairs sitting behind the bench. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Scariest 10 Seconds In Washington

The Scariest 10 Seconds In Washington from Matt Flaten on Vimeo.

This is Trump's new hotel being built on Pennsylvania Avenue. The size of sign has been controversial around Washington as it seems like it is way too big based on city advertising laws. The city says they can't do anything about it because the sign sits on federal land as it sits on the Old Post Office Pavilion where the hotel is being built.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Doing My Best To Recreate All The President's Men

While the exterior of the Library of Congress isn't one of Washington's most memorable building, the inside is certainly the most beautiful library you'll ever find in the United States. The library is the oldest federal institution, dating back to 1800, and currently the collection has more than 23,000,000 books.

As a tourist visiting without a reader card, you'll be hard pressed to see any of the Library's huge collection, but in one area you can ascend a set of stars to see one of the famous circular reading rooms.

The reading rooms gained pop culture fame with a notable scene in the Oscar-winning film All The President's Men. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) go to the reading room to sort through receipts after being told to "follow the money" by their informant Deep Throat.

The camera pulls back to reveal the whole room from above and simultaneously shows the small nature of the two reporters researching the Watergate story and demonstrating the size and scope of the American government.

Here's the brief All The President's Men clip that features the Library.

The iconic scene was featured in the Simpsons in one of the series' best episodes, Sideshow Bob Roberts. Lisa is researching the election results from the Springfield mayoral election and the camera pulls back in a similar fashion to reveal that Springfield Library's reading room rivals that of the Library of Congress. 

Thinking about it, I believe I saw the Simpsons episode well before All the President's Men and so it was probably years before I really understood this joke.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Oldest Structure In Washington DC

Let's celebrate July 4th with a building that was standing long before we declared our independence from England. The oldest unchanged structure in Washington DC is this stone home located surprisingly in the middle of the Georgetown shopping district. It was built in 1765 and has been logically dubbed the Old Stone House. It was originally a one-story home built by the Layton family who only lived in the house for three years before selling it to Cassandra Chew who expanded the home to a second floor and a separate kitchen area. 

But how was it that this little house was spared the wrecking ball as every other building around it was replaced or updated? This was due to the stories surrounding the home that say that George Washington and Washington DC's original city planner Pierre L'Enfant held meetings at the house when they were planning the layout of the capital's city streets. After the National Park Service purchased the home in the 1950's, they attempted to verify the historic claims but could find no evidence that showed that those meetings ever took place in the house after all.

The house is now a part of the Rock Creek Park National Historic District so bring your National Parks passport to get it stamped! 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Scarlett's New Frenemy

By far the most difficult aspect of our move to Washington has been the changes our dog Scarlett has had with our new place. We went from a suburban townhome next to a middle school with a huge green space to an apartment building with people and other dogs around every turn. The first week was pretty difficult as she is very excitable and interested in everything that is going on in the apartment building (people leaving, people talking in the hallway, a dog going for a walk, a toilet flushing, someone moving furniture, someone breathing, etc...)

Thankfully, she has mellowed out a lot except that in the building across from us a black-and-white cat has decided its favorite place to sit is in the opposite window. It took about a day but Scarlett finally noticed the cat sitting there and the two have shared many an afternoon locked in a staring contest, imagining what would happen if they could get at each other. I'm predicting Scarlett to leave with quite a few scratches.  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Five Questions For Washington DC

Here are five questions I have for Washington DC after being here for a few weeks.

What is behind his gate at the National Cathedral?

What's in this door-size safe at Woodrow Wilson's house? 

What goes on in the back of this truck?

How is this still a thing that is made?

 What's at the top of the Supreme Court's spiral staircase?

Friday, July 1, 2016

The View From the Top of the National Cathedral

People say that the view from Washington Monument is the best in Washington DC, followed by the view from the National Cathedral. While I haven't been up to the top of the Washington Monument, I did take the elevator to the top of the Cathedral. It is a 360 degree view of the city and here is the view of the Capitol, the Monument, and Federal Triangle.

At about 90 degrees from the Capitol view you can see the flying buttresses and the portion of the Cathedral that was damaged in an earthquake in 2011. The building was severely damaged and the church did not have earthquake insurance which has led to a state of continual reconstruction as they attempt to raise the nearly $25 million dollars they need to fix the structure. 

A view slightly to the right of the view of the Washington Monument shows the Russian embassy which we live on the opposite side of. We are roughly behind the buildings that the red arrow is pointing to on the right hand side.