Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Reggie Roadtrip: Baltimore and Washington, Part II

Well, Dear Reader, it is now time for me to share with you the second installment in my series on Reggie's roadtrip this summer to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Herewith, I do so.

After reluctantly checking out of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Baltimore we loaded up the family buggy with our luggage and dear Pompey, and hit the road for our next stop: the Nation's Capitol.

As readers of this blog may well remember, I grew up in Washington, D.C., and so—coincidentally—did Boy.  Thus we both looked forward to our trip to that fair city as a pleasant meander down memory lane.

The sign for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway
Image courtesy of AARoads

One of the joys (and sometimes the misery) of a driving roadtrip is the time one spends in one's car driving to one's destinations.  Fortunately we experienced the happier side of that equation on our journey to Washington via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a lovely tree-lined roadway that opened in 1954 and today blessedly retains much of its period, bucolic appeal.  The parkway is managed by the National Park Service, and is a much-preferred route between the two cities to the mind-numbingly pedestrian, congested, and ever-under-construction I-95 highway alternative.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of cpexecutive.com

Upon our arrival in Washington, D.C., we checked into the city's swell Four Seasons Hotel.  Located in the heart of Georgetown on M Street along the B&O Canal, the Four Seasons is our preferred hostelry when visiting the Nation's Capitol for the reasons I have enumerated elsewhere when discussing the merits of this luxurious hotel chain.

The bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

One of our reasons for visiting Washington was to meet up with our esteemed fellow-blogger Maxminimus.  This was a reunion of sorts, as we had spent a most pleasant evening in his company in Manhattan but a year earlier, and we looked forward to spending another evening in his amusing and thought-provoking company during our visit to Washington, D.C.

Mr. Maxminimus Himself, taken in Mecca
(aka the Belgian Shoe Store in Manhattan)
Image courtesy of Maxminimus

We met up with the fellow-Belgians appreciating Maxminimus for pre-dinner cocktails at the bar at the Four Seasons, but decided to bypass the hotel's extremely-expensive, thronged-to-the-gills Bourbon Steak restaurant that evening, as the prospect of spending $54 for a New York strip steak (and that's a-la-carte—sides would have been extra) seemed a bit, uh, pricey for the three of us.  Instead, based on Maxie's considered and excellent advice, we stepped across M Street to dine in one of Georgetown's most-venerated restaurant landmarks, La Chaumière, where we had a delightfully yummy, boozy dinner that Maxminimus very generously hosted us to.  Thank you, sir!

The cozy main dining room at La Chaumière Restaurant
Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

La Chaumière is the type of French restaurant my parents went to in the 1960s when out for a "romantic" (i.e., children-free) night together.  It is a classic, old-school French bistro known for homey, traditional cooking of the escargot/frogs legs/coq-au-vin school favored by the "Bon appétit!" generation.  Channeling that era during our lively and most-amusing dinner conversation, Maxminimus encouraged us to visit the installation of Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian's recently-renamed Museum of American History (which I shall always remember as the Museum of History and Technology, which is what it was known as when I was a boy).  Maxie informed us that Mrs. Childs' kitchen was a "must visit" site, and a place that we would cherish the memory of having made a pilgrimage to for many years to come (and would kick ourselves for bypassing if we hadn't).

But before we were able to follow through on Maxie's advice and visit the Museum of American History we had a number of other places to visit and people to see first.  Stop number one for this writer was the extremely comfortable bed at the Four Seasons Hotel where I spent the rest of the evening sleeping off my most-delicious and well-lubricated dinner at La Chaumière.

The next morning, moving a bit slowly I must admit (do I notice a theme here?), we spent several sweet hours visiting old and dear friends of my long-departed parents.  We shared many happy memories with them of when the two couples cemented their friendships in the 1950s and 1960s, and we caught up on what had happened to many of the cast of characters in our respective families in the intervening years.  It is a visit, Dear Reader, that I will treasure for the rest of my days.

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., ca. 1941
Image courtesy of same

Afterwards, Boy and I made a bee-line to the National Gallery of Art, where we spent the rest of the day revelling in the museum's supremely handsome West Wing and admiring its astonishing collection of art.  The National Gallery of Art (along with much of its contents) was a gift to the Nation by the immensely philanthropic Mellon family, and is one of the world's most astounding examples of human generosity, ever.

A view of the National Gallery of Art's breathtakingly beautiful rotunda
Image courtesy of interours.com

The West Wing of the National Gallery of Art was designed by John Russell Pope (1874-1937), who also designed the nearby Jefferson Memorial and the National Archive, and also the Baltimore Museum of Art about which I wrote in the first installment in this series.  The museum's construction was paid for in its entirety by Andrew Mellon (1855-1937), who also donated the nucleus of the museum's art collection.  It opened its doors to the public in 1941.  The National Gallery was further and generously expanded less than forty years later by Paul Mellon (1907-1999), Andrew Mellon's son, who single-handedly paid for the construction of the museum's modernist East Wing, designed by I.M. Pei (b. 1917).

One of the superbly-proportioned halls at the National Gallery of Art
Image courtesy of APS

Unlike many of the world's greatest art museums, where the original architecture has been compromised over the years by multiple expansions and renovations, the National Gallery's West Wing remains true to the design of its brilliant architect.  In my view, it is one of the greatest monuments of modern classical architecture in the world.  Its modernist East Wing, while not as successful a design as the West Wing in my opinion, is nonetheless brilliant in its architectural bravura.

One of the handsome, art-filled galleries at the National Gallery of Art
Image courtesy of Virtual Tourist

Neither of the two buildings—unlike so many art galleries and museums today—attempt to compete with the art that hangs upon their walls.  Rather they complement it with architectural integrity and context.  All is understatement, all is refinement, all is appropriate.

The cover of the catalog for the Bellows exhibition
at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

One of our primary reasons for visiting the National Gallery was to take in the landmark exhibition of the works of George Bellows (1882-1925), on display through October 8th.  An artist of stupendous talent and prodigious output in his all-too-short life, Bellows is best known for his paintings of boxers in the ring and the teeming street life of New York City in the first decades of the twentieth century.  The show at the National Gallery, one of the most extensive I've seen for a single artist in many years, brings together scores of paintings from every sphere of Bellows' enormous and talented output, including landscapes, people of fashion at play, and gritty paintings of the horrors of WWI.

It is a breath-taking, jaw-dropping show, Dear Reader, and I highly recommend that you make every effort to see it before it closes in October.

After the intellectual and visual intensity of the Bellows show, we enjoyed a gentler change of pace by revisiting a number of our favorite paintings in the National Gallery's collection, including Gilbert Stuart's masterpiece, The Skater:

The Skater (Portrait of William Grant)
Gilbert Stuart, 1782
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Another stop was to admire John Singleton Copley's wonderfully dramatic Watson and the Shark:

Watson and the Shark
John Singleton Copley, 1778
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Of course we had to visit Edward Savage's The Washington Family, as we not only collect Washingtonia but we have an engraving done after this very painting hanging at Darlington House.  I'm always surprised that Savage's painting of the Washingtons is life-sized.  It is enormous!

The Washington Family
Edward Savage, 1789-1796
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

One of the (many) treasures of the National Gallery's collection is the Voyage of Life four-part series painted by Thomas Cole.  Immensely popular when painted in the late 1830s/early 1840s, over half a million visitors paid to see the series when it toured the country shortly after it was completed.

The Voyage of Life—Youth
Thomas Cole, 1842
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Not all of my favorite paintings at the National Gallery were painted in the eighteenth century, Dear Reader.  One of the jewels of the collection is Right and Left, by Winslow Homer, and was one of the last paintings the artist painted, in 1909:

Right and Left
Winslow Homer, 1909
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

I love this painting of the two ducks careening over the roiling ocean below.  Homer brilliantly captured their movement with the accuracy of a high speed camera, frozen in mid-air.

Afterwards we headed back to the Four Seasons to give Pompey a much-needed walk and to plot where to have dinner on our final night in Washington.  By this point in our trip we were satiated with expensive hotel and restaurant dinners, and craved an uncomplicated, straightforward meal.  The concierge at the Four Seasons recommended we dine at a recently-opened Mexican restaurant, El Centro DF, located in the city's trendy 14th Street/Logan Circle neighborhood.

El Centro DF Restaurant on 14th Street in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

"What?" I wondered, "How on Earth can that neighborhood now be trendy?"  For I recalled that area as being nothing but burned out rubble, destroyed during the race riots that gripped the city in 1968 after Martin Luther King's assassination.  14th Street was the epicenter of the rioting, and over 1,200 buildings in the area were burned during the mayhem.

14th Street laid to waste after the 1968 riots
Image courtesy of ReadysetDC

Well, much has changed since then and today 14th Street is no longer the bombed out, desolated wasteland I remembered it as being for many years subsequent to the riots.  No, today it is a thriving neighborhood of restaurants, condos, and stores catering to hipsters and twenty-somethings.  My how times have changed . . . and for the better!

14th Street as it appears today
Image courtesy of RealtyTrac.com

And much of the same thing can be said for Washington, D.C. today, Dear Reader, since I last lived there back when I was a college student.  The entire city appears to be a cleaner and much-better-cared-for place today than it was when I remember it.  It has always certainly been a lovely city, mind you, but it is now an even more beautiful one and a truly fitting location for what our Nation's Capitol really should be: a City Beautiful of broad boulevards, stately monuments, magestic federal buildings, leafy parks, and handsome neighborhoods.

Next: In the third and final installment of this series Reggie and Boy visit the Museum of American History and take their leave of the Nation's Capitol.


  1. I envy you your visit to the Bellows show. I remember seeing his iconic 'Stag at Sharkey's' each time I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

    I am glad to hear how the Washington is coming back. My impression from news stories was that outside the government and tourist areas, it was pretty desolate.
    --Road to Parnassus

  2. So funny to see you write about my neighborhoods! I had lived on 14th street for the past 7 years and watched it grow into what it is today. Sadly it has become too crowded and I moved to YOUR old neighborhood last month, Cleveland Park.
    La Chaumiere is great (I'm having lunch there tomorrow as it is near my office). Ddid you know the yellow wood sided house located right behind the restaurant is where Julia Child lived in while in DC and owned for years afterwards (called out a few times in her autobiography which I just finished). Hope you got to see that too.
    El Centro is pretty good but tends to be overly crowded, as does everything on 14th street. Let me know next time you're in town and I'd love to give you some advice on restaurants to check out!

  3. I enjoyed this entry very much as I always look forward to the Washington-Baltimore Parkway when traveling between my home and my mother's in North Carolina. It grants me great relief to exit 95 (or 795 whatever it is there) and head northward on my way ... feeling almost home! I also was astonished at the coincidence of your viewing of The Voyage of Life - Youth by Thomas Cole 1842 as my mother and I were perusing a Hudson Valley Artist coffee table book at The Children's Museum in Poughkeepsie NY while my son played on a rainy day this past week. We were both taken with all the paintings of his series The Voyage of Life and maybe a trip soon to the National Gallery of Art in D.C. is in order soon!

  4. I have a great many fond childhood memories of the History and Technology and the National Gallery as well as many other museums in Washington. I spent an unusual amount of time there. I agree that both the West and East wing are a lesson in understatement and remember the excitement when the East wing opened.
    I am always amazed and pleased to see the care going into the revitalization of neighborhoods that were once "off limits" to me.

  5. FABULOUS!You make the reader feel as if he is with you every step of the way!I adore how YOU write!I have never been to Maryland or DC and I have to say it has never been on my radar but now...........perhaps I should wander a bit due EAST!But first EUROPE shall host me as I have a trip planned for the end of next month!I need to soak up a few Chateauxs and Villas!Just to get re~energized.
    I look forward to PART THREE!

  6. Hello.....I enjoyed your article on Washington, D.C. I noted that you are interested in George Washington. I would like to recommend a book to you, if you do not have it. It is "Dining with the Washingtons".............Historic Receipes. Entertaining, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon.....I do not see a publication date. It was published by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Mount Vernon, Virginia......Distributed by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The photography is wonderful. I enjoy your blog very much. Washington, D.C.

  7. Thank you, Reggie Darling, for a most wonderful travelogue!

  8. That bar looks so inviting you'd have to prise me off the seat! but seriously that Stuart painting is incredible,all those greys and that handsome man. Actually so is the Homer all greys but with handsome ducks. I know Stuart is a v. important American artist but only recall more formal portraits.

    I can't help of thinking of Burr by G.Vidal everytime I see George Washington ..not very flattering comments in that novel.

  9. Brother Dear: A most enjoyable post! I wish I had been along on your visit to what I have always thought of as our Home Town. A quick note on the Winslow Homer masterpiece. I believe the title, Right and Left, refers to the barrels of a double-barreled shotgun and the moment immortalized by Mr. Homer is that in which the two ducks were blasted from the sky. I like to imagine that he ate them for dinner, after carefully removing the lead birdshot that brought them down. Respectfully yours, Frecky

    1. Well they are falling, Like the way you always add a touch of reality Frecky.

  10. Love these vicarious trips and find them very inspiring, but what music do the three of you listen to in the car? My nine year old spends days worrying about which CDs we should take when we go away.


  11. Next time you're in Washington visit Tudor Place Historic House and Garden, built for Martha Washington's granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and lived in by her family for six generations. The last owner turned the house (contents and all) over to the foundation that he endowed and that now runs the place as a museum house with regular tours. There's a nice collection of things that the Martha Custis Peter bought at Martha Washington's estate sale in 1802--the largest collection of Mt. Vernon items outside of the Washington estate itself. They also have a print of the Savage painting you mentioned, which, as a Tudor Place docent, I should know whether is from Mt. Vernon or not, but I'm ashamed to say I can't recall off hand. Come during President's Day month and you'll get to see Washington's presidential china on the dining room table. There are also over five acres of lovely gardens.

    1. Hello Anon 4:15 -- Thank you for your comment. I have visited Tudor Place three or four times over the years, and find it a lovely and very special place. It, along with the Octagon House owned by the AIA, are two of my favorite houses that are open to the public in Washington, D.C. I would have visited Tudor Place on this roadtrip, but unfortunately our time in the Nation's Capitol was quite compressed, so I had to skip it this time. Another house on my list to see in the District is the recently-restored Lincoln cottage. Thanks, Reggie

  12. Hi Reggie, It's your Tudor Place friend again. Glad you've seen Tudor. I live near Lincoln's Cottage. It's sparsely furnished (as it was in Lincoln's day--he only took the furniture he needed) and is very much about his ideology rather than careful presentation of a Victorian historic house. On another note, the Tudor Place architect also designed Woodlawn Plantation (near Mt. Vernon) for Mrs. Peter's sister, who married George Washington's nephew. It's open to the public, too, along with a Frank Lloyd Wright house on the property.

  13. I had a great time. My only regret is that all of our lives are so busy, blessed and full, that we only get to have these middle aged men debaucheries once a year or so. That's code for eating, drinking and going to bed by 10:30. I'll be in Gotham in a few weeks. Y'all are taking me to dinner.

    1. That's a deal, Maxie! Name the date, we'll pick the place, and we'll gladly pick up the tab, too. We are on!!

  14. The article is very superb!.Nice too.The images are very natural and realistic.


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