Seeing Ramona, Bucky, and some other things, too

In July I arranged a whirlwind trip to DC and New York so that I could do some research for my dissertation. Of course, I made these plans before Tom’s stepdad died–otherwise I would never have planned to take three trips in less than four weeks. But with a non-refundable plane ticket and hotel rooms already paid for (thanks, Priceline!), I couldn’t afford to postpone the trip. Also, I came down with a cold just before, so I was really dreading going. But I did and I’ll save you the suspense–it was completely worth it!

I left Wednesday morning (I flew Virgin America, by the way. Very early-Jet Blue…) and arrived in DC late afternoon. After a ridiculously long Super Shuttle ride, I checked into my hotel (another Hyatt Regency) on Capitol Hill. I walked to Union Station, grabbed a bite to eat and then went back to my room to crash out.

Thursday was the big day. Or so I thought. I had arranged with a librarian at The Library of Congress to see the only extant reel of a 1916 version of Ramona. Because my appointment was at 2pm I had the morning to be a tourist, so I went to visit the Supreme Court.

It, like much of DC at the moment, was under construction. But I was still excited to go in because even though they’re out of session during the summer, they open the courtroom to the public and hold a lecture in there every half hour. But, of course, frustration was the name of the game that day.

Too bad the modernization project had nothing to do with the actual people sitting on the court right now. Nonetheless, I walked around, amazed at how much sparkle there was in the building.

And did you know there are two self-supporting spiral staircases in the building?

Anyway, the building is quite beautiful and they have some interesting exhibits about the justices, so it was still a positive experience, even if I didn’t see the main event.

After lunch at a yummy local cafe, I went to the LOC to obtain my reader card, the headed upstairs to the Motion Picture Archives. They led me to the area where I was to watch the film, set it up for me and left me to enjoy my film. I was so excited. And then…. imagine my dismay when I realized that it was the wrong film–they pulled the 1910 version of Ramona, I needed the 1916 version. I told the librarian the problem and she went to get Josie, the person I had been in contact with.

I knew there was going to be some difficulty in seeing the film because they are stored off-site two hours away. It was after 2pm and I was scheduled to be on a bus to New York at 8:30am. I began to feel totally dismayed, but the staff there bent over backwards for me and I eventually did see what I went there for. First they offered to send the film to me, which seems crazy, right? Although that would have been better than nothing, I hated to think I came all the way and not see what I had come for. So Mike (Josie’s boss, I think) arranged to personally pick up the film and bring it in early the next morning. Then they got me cleared to come into the library before it opened at 7:30am. I knew I wouldn’t make my 8:30 bus to NY, so I changed that reservation to 11:30, to allow myself enough time to view the reel. I left the LOC a little bummed but somewhat comforted that the staff there was so incredibly nice.

After I left the LOC, I decided to check out the National Botanic Garden and Conservatory, which is really beautiful. While strolling through the medicinal plants section, I came across this cinnamon tree.

I was excited because I’ve never seen one before. I immediately sniffed a leaf, but smelled nothing. I looked around to make sure no one was watching me and then scraped the thick part of the stem with my fingernail. It smelled unmistakably like cinnamon!! That just tickled me and was definitely the highlight of my day. There were other cool things there, too, but I especially appreciated the multimedia display on flowers and scents.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but these are metal sculptures with screens in the center of the flowers. Very cool. There was also an olfactory exhibit with all sorts of different plants to sniff.

I’m not sure what creosote is, but I can tell you that it smells disgusting. They also had on display some globes made out of various materials–this one was made out of seeds.

I like that it doesn’t attempt to be an authentic representation of the earth. Plus, it’s really pretty. And, finally, I love coleus so I was very happy to see it used so well and displayed so prominently.

After touring the conservatory and gardens, I was pretty beat, so I headed back to my hotel to get ready for the next day.

On Friday, I checked out of the hotel at 7:00am and was at the LOC by 7:30. Both Josie and Mike personally met me outside and took me upstairs where they had already set up the reel. I was sooooo excited!! It was only a 12 minute reel but I took my time with it. I watched it all the way through the first time, and then I watched it again stopping it at least once every scene to take a picture of the screen. I won’t bore you with the hundreds of pictures I took, but here’s one from the last scene, when Felipe is dreaming of taking Ramona to Mexico.

It was definitely worth the wait and frustration and would only have been better if the entire film existed. Oh well, you can only work with the materials that exist.

I realized as I was finishing up that I might be able to make the earlier bus to New York. So after I finished I hopped into a cab to get to the bus stop on time. And yes, I was able to get the 9:30 bus to New York! The only drawback was that I hadn’t enough time to grab something to eat so I had four hours of hunger to look forward to. However, it went by pretty quickly–the bus had free wifi and they showed The Devil Wears Prada.

The bus arrived near on 34th St. near Penn Station by 1:30. I got off the bus and started walking towards my hotel on 45th and Madison. I was immediately struck by how crowded the streets were and was surprised that I didn’t remember how crowded NYC was. I picked up a salad at Pret a Manger (the same place I used to get lunch when I worked at Random Walk), walked through Bryant Park and got to my hotel, tired, hot and hungry.

Once rested, fed and cleaned up, I walked to Grand Central, which was right next to my hotel, and caught an uptown train to get to The Whitney where I was to meet my friend, Peter, and take in the Buckminster Fuller exhibit. Peter, who I haven’t seen in years so I was incredibly happy to see him, informed me right away that Uncle Bucky was a close friend of his grandfather and that Uncle Bucky had also studied under his great-grandfather. I informed Peter that I knew his daughter, Allegra; she’s a professor emeritus at UCLA and has lectured in the course I TA’d. With our personal connections to Uncle Bucky established, we felt ready to take in the exhibit. I might write about him a little bit in my dissertation, which is why I wanted to see the exhibit. Peter and I both agreed that while his work is very interesting and thought provoking, it doesn’t necessarily make it exhibit-worthy. Still, it was a fun afternoon.

After, we took the bus all the way down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square so that we could hang out at the bar we used to always frequent. Or that I used to frequent–Peter still goes there regularly. It was very cool to visit the old hangout and have a night much like I used to have when I lived there. And catching up with Peter was lots of fun, too, of course. Also, he mentioned that he is thinking of moving out of the city. He says that since the dollar has tanked, the city has been inundated with tourist–so much more than usual that the streets are way more crowded than they used to be. That made me feel better about my reaction to the crowded streets when I first got off the bus that afternoon.

The next morning, I checked out of my hotel and made my way to the Upper West Side to have brunch with Cat at Le Monde. Cat was a stage manager on some of the shows I did with 3-Legged Dog and we became friends, though neither of us have been very good about staying in touch. Still, it was great to catch up with her and eat at a restaurant that I used to eat at often when I lived there. Sadly, I had to leave much too soon. I caught the bus to LaGuardia and was soon on my way back home.

Though I was only gone a few days–it felt like I was gone a long time because I had accomplished and seen so much. But I was very glad to be home and am happy that I don’t have to get on a plane until November.

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