An Eternal Tourist in Washington DC

I’d spent most of the morning travelling to DC and by the time I set off after brunch it was already noon.  I had a lot of touring to do in one afternoon so you’ll have to forgive me if most of what I did see was traditional tourist sites.  Oh, by the way, “travelling” is spelt with two elles in UK English!

If you look at Washington, DC on a map, it looks deceptively small and it looks as if you’ll be able to navigate all of the most important sites on foot with relative ease.  I mean, look! This was taken right in the middle and you can see the Capitol a the other end!

Freedom Plaza
Freedom Plaza

Well, I can confirm that it can be done but that I would never choose to walk it all in one day again nor would I do so in 33°c heat.  My day trip to DC was one of the most amazing, rewarding days of my life but it was also one of the hottest, longest and most tiring!

Willard InterContinental

Willard InterContinental Pershing Park
The Willard InterContinental Hotel // Pershing Park

I walked across Western Plaza which was renamed Freedom Plaza in honour of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Willard InterContinental is where he wrote his famous “I Have A Dream” speech which he delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  I can’t begin to describe the feeling I felt in looking at the hotel and thinking, “there walked a man who was taken from us far too early”.  You can read or listen to his “I Have A Dream” speech here.  The beautiful Pershing Park is adjacent to Freedom Plaza and across the road from the Willard InterContinental.

I continued up E Street NW to the White House. 

The White House

Isn’t it pretty?  I must say, it felt a little bit surreal standing there.  You’re pretty far away and it would almost feel like it were on television if it weren’t for the security agents all over the place!

Washington Monument // National World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the distance

I took several photos of the Washington Monument.  I couldn’t stop!!  In fact, I took so many more photos than I actually landed up keeping because they got repetitive even for me!  The second photo above was taken from the foot of the Washington Monument.  I can’t begin to express how hard it was to walk up there in the searing heat and how hot it was.  Seriously! I am an African who seeks hot and sunny weather but I don’t know if I’ve been that affected by heat before!

The fountain at the National World War II Memorial

Naturally the fountain at the National World War II Memorial proved too much for me to resist.  We weren’t actually allowed to swim in it but I came pretty close as I sat at the edge and submerged my legs. 

National World War II Memorial

Flagpole at the National World War II MemorialFlagpole at the National World War II Memorial
Americans came to liberate, not to conquer; to restore freedom and to end tyranny

I really love war memorials and this has to be the most beautiful, the most well designed memorial I have ever seen.  The southern side of the memorial is dedicated to American forces in the Pacific theater and the northern side is dedicated to those in the Atlantic theater.

The Pacific Side The Pacific side
Under the arch on the Pacific side

The states involved in Pacific theater

Finally, I managed to tear myself away from the memorial and I made my way towards the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial as seen over the Reflecting Pool

I could sit and stare at my photos of the reflecting pool for hours and hours.  It really was a beautiful place.

Where I Work: Autumn arrives

If I had to pick out my absolute worst habit, I would have to say that it is neglecting to take lunch breaks.  I get into work around 9am and work straight through until 5pm before running off to catch the train.  I’m terrible!  The last time I took a lunch break was in August and before that I think it was May when I had lunch at Joes!   

One of the biggest differences between England and South Africa is that we have four seasons here.  In Johannesburg, we had 9 months of scorching hot summer and 12 long weeks of ice cold nights and dry, hot days (that is winter!)  All Jo’burgers complain bitterly about the winter and we take for granted the fact that there are more dry, warm, sunny days then the whole of the English summer!

So, combining my rare lunch break and noticing the seasonal changes, I thought I’d post some of the photos I’ve taken on my Nokia N70 over the past 6 months.  All of these photos are taken in the recently renamed St George’s Churchyard Gardens in SE1.  You can read a bit more about the history of the gardens here.

Spring / early summer

This was taken on the 1st of May this year.  Spring was in full bloom and all the beautiful shades of green were starting to emerge.  I love that heady, balmy early summer feeling in England.  We didn’t get that in Jo’burg – it was freezing one day and then summer arrived the next. 

Late Summer

This was my third straight summer in England and in my opinion, it has been the warmest, nicest summer so far.  The first summer in 2007 was alternatively freezing and boiling (as in freezing all the time except when I was on crowded trains) and last year was pretty miserable.

This photo was taken on the 18th of August.  I’d managed to tear myself away from the office and made it about twenty minutes before running back inside!  (I’m shaking my head ruefully right now).

My building is the ivy covered building in the background.  A year after I first posted about the gardens, we are still waiting for Southwark Council to cut back the ivy!!!


Taken today.  The leaves are turning orange, red and brown and falling to the ground and autumn is definitely here!  Despite the fact that it is nearly the end of October, I was sitting there today with a sleeveless shirt and a lightweight mac on! 

I managed to sit for a whole half an hour in the gardens today.  I’m reading a really good book (Marked) and I simply had to read as much as I could!


It has been a long and glorious summer and hopefully I’ll have enough sunny memories to last me through the winter.  I got really bad winter blues the past two years (last year it was exacerbated by having flu for two months) so I am coming out fighting this year!!  Every time I feel blue I can look back on these pictures and start planning my trip to Europe next summer. 

Next Summer

We were planning a road trip around Italy but now I am toying with driving from Dartford (in England), taking a ferry to France and then driving to Portugal.  Sheila from A Postcard a Day posted some gorgeous postcards from Portugal lately and I follow an awesome Portuguese photo blog Photo PT.  Going to Italy is still one of my biggest dreams but going to Portugal next year might just work better.  And the biggest reason for going to Portugal?  I could get to meet one of my best blogging friends Blue Kermit.

New York day 6: Day Trip to DC

On the Friday morning I woke up at Officially Too Early© Hour and by 6.30am I was standing at Penn Station bus station waiting to catch a coach to Washington DC.  I was tired and my inner body clock was mutinous, claiming to officially not know whether I was coming or going.

The New Jersey Turnpike

While so much of my trip to the States remains crystal clear in my mind, that morning certainly doesn’t and everything I had tried to cram into 7 days was finally catching up on me.  Good thing I had no idea what was lying ahead of me then!  The only thing I remember about the coach ride to Washington DC was how awesome the New Jersey Turnpike was, that there was no one sitting next to me or in the rows before or after me and that it took 4.5 hours.  Oh, and we rode through New Jersey and Maryland to get there and I might even have touched Pennsylvania and Delaware too but it was all a bit of a haze!

7.08am Friday 26 June 2009

Think I’m on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Wow.  What a system.  I’d heard of 9-lane highways before but wow.  That’s just one direction.  On way to DC.

Listening to Tracy Chapman, Angie Aparo and Cat Stevens.  Major iPod FAIL – no Albert Hammond.  That’s impossible.  I’m sure I had him on CD.

Oh, and packed a long-sleeved shirt today for warmth.  Thank goodness.  No umbrella though.  We’ll see how that pans out.

As you can see, I’m just the queen of eloquence and witty repartee when I'm tired.

The bus arrived in Washington DC sometime at 11.15am.  I made my way down 10th Street NW to the Washington Welcome Center where a nice lady gave me a brochure for a sightseeing tour which doubled as a free map.  I then went into the diner next door and had a big old American breakfast and then I felt human again and ready to tackle the day!

New York day 5: The Museum of Modern Art


It may have taken me a short while to find myself in The Met but the minute I set foot in The Museum of Modern Art, I was in heaven!  I walked through the doors and immediately found myself surrounded by pieces of art that I have known and admired for my whole life.

Art is extremely subjective of course and I am sure that not everyone will be impressed by seeing the pieces that I found to be outstanding. 

I have always found a strange connection to abstract art or perhaps that should be “lack of connection”?  I love everything to do with the Sixties too and in my mind that extends from the Doors to Velvet Underground to Andy Warhol to Pop Art.  I love Pop Art and was in raptures the first time I visited the Tate Liverpool and saw Warhol’s Marilyns.  My absolute favourite has to be surrealism though and Dali’s works have been my favourite for many, many years.  On to the art then… (click the photos for larger images).

Painting and Sculpture II

Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein, 1953 // Campbell's Soup Cans, Andy Warhol, 1962

Even as I try to diligently type up this blog post, I find myself staring at the Drowning Girl.  I really love this piece!

Equivalent V, Carl Andre, 1966-1969 // Untitled, Robert Ryman, 1965 and 1961

I swear, I am not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence by including Equivalent V!  I studied the Philosophy of Art module as part of my Philosophy II course at university and I had to write an essay on whether or not this was a work of art.  Given the excruciating pain of writing that paper, I just had to pay homage to the actual piece itself.  The Robert Ryman pieces also take me back to my philosophy days and those never ending arguments about nothing being real and whether art is more than the sum of its materials.

Once I had done my time in the abstract department, I turned the corner and fell in love…

 Flag, Jasper Johns, 1954 - 1955

“While this image is something "the mind already knows," Johns acknowledged, its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection”.

It should be no surprise that I fell in love with this piece.  I knew of it of course but seeing it during my crazy week in New York, while I was falling in love with a city and a country, put it in a whole different perspective for me.  In any event, no photograph could adequately convey the texture and surface of Flag as it is made with strips of newspaper dating from 1955 and 1956.  It was a sight to behold!

 No. 16 (Red, Brown and Black), Mark Rothko, 1958

"We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth." – Rothko and Gottlieb, manifesto reaction to New York Times, 1942

My best friend Heather loves Mark Rothko and it was lovely to see his work

One: Number 31,1950, Jackson Pollock, 1950 // Agony, Arshile Gorky, 1947 & Man Looking at Woman, Adolph Gottlieb, 1949

 Dive Bomber and Tank, José Clemente Orozco, 1940

This was my biggest surprise of the day because of the sheer size of it and what it depicted.  Commissioned by the museum, Orozco painted it in front of the viewing public and claimed that it had no political significance.

“I simply paint the life that is going on at the present—what we are and what the world is at this moment. That is what modern art is.” - Orozco

Dive Bomber and Tank consists of six panels which are intended to be arranged in any order and its overall size is a whopping 9 by 18 feet (2.75 by 5.5 metres in English!)

If I was impressed by what I had seen so far, it was nothing compared to my glee on reaching the upper level.

Painting and Sculpture I

The Migration Series, Jacob Lawrence, 1940-41 // Hirondelle Amour, Joan Miró, 1933-34

DSCF2848 The Menaced Assassin, René Magritte, 1927

"I immediately like this upper section more. The paintings remind me of Orwell, then Kafka and Sartre.  Magritte’s paintings in particular are… soothing.  They make me want to escape into an absurd Sartrean novel”.

Seated Bather, Pablo Picasso, 1930 // The Empire of Light II, René Magritte, 1950

Dance (I), Henri Matisse, 1909 // The Enigma of Day, Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

I'm sure they've used The Enigma of Day on the cover of an edition of Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife before because that is precisely how I expected that alternative world to look.

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Seeing The Starry Night in person was an absolutely amazing experience.  I stood really close to it for the longest time and just traced the brush strokes and whirls with my eyes.  It is a fabulous work of art.

I and the Village, Marc Chagall, 1911 // The Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, 1897

The Sleeping Gypsy is one of my favourite pieces of art.  It reminds me of the strange world I lived in when I was four years old as an expat in Nigeria.  I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember!

DSCF2859 Project 90, Song Dong, 2009

And suddenly it was time to go home! The museum was only open until 6.30pm and so I began to make my way outside through the Lillie P. Bliss Garden Plaza. 



The Museum of Modern Art (or MoMA) was definitely one of the best places I visited in new York and I would absolutely go again.  Considering how awesome the rest of New York is, that is saying something!

It has been the most amazing day but I had a massive day planned for the next day and so I headed back to the apartment and willed myself to fall asleep in preparation for waking up at 5am the next morning.

Click here to read all posts from my trip to New York or click on the label below.

New York day 5: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

After the brief interlude in Central Park I made my way over to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I’d tried to go through there on the Monday but it had been closed.

When I first got into “The Met”, I was quite overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do with myself.  There was just so much to see and so many iconic and important pieces of art and I must have flitted about aimlessly for at least half and hour.  I wafted through The Pictures Generation (1974 - 1984) exhibit and an area with Rodin sculptures before doing a u-turn and briefly looking at an exhibition of art from Afghanistan.  I just couldn’t settle down though.

Rodin's Adam, The Thinker, Eve and The Martyr

Model as MuseI then wondered into the stunning exhibition The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion.  This was a fabulous tour through fashion photography and the modelling world since the 1960’s. 

The exhibit featured photographs, magazine covers and stories of the designers and the models and was complete with actual dresses starting with the geometric shapes of the 60’s mini dresses right up to the fashions of the last couple of years.

It was fascinating to walk through the exhibit and see the iconic rise of the mass fashion and supermodels.  It was quite sad that no photography was permitted.

The last stop in my tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art was the phenomenal exhibit Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective.  I wasn’t really familiar with Francis Bacon before I went into this exhibit and it made such a great impression on me.  Once again, we weren’t allowed to take photographs but I wrote pages and pages in my notebook about what I saw.  I’ll try my best to describe my experience with images of my favourite pieces of his work taken from the internet. 

Francis Bacon was born in 1909  and hence the centenary retrospective.  His first major piece was the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. 

Head VI
Head VI, 1949 [source]

Study after Vélázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X
Study after Vélázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953 [source]

He had several images that appeared to be caged and apparently he was trying to portray the corrupting influence of power. 

Man in Blue IV
Man in Blue IV, 1954 [source]

He did a series of “Man in Blue” painting which were quite impressive in their message and the feeling of dread that they conveyed.  They represented the cold war anxiety and the threat that Bacon experienced at a personal level due to his affair with Peter Lacy. 

Three studies for a crucifixion
Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962 [source]

This piece made me stop in my tracks and stare for quite a while.

“Absolutely disturbing and essentially powerful.  Reminds me of the imagery of [the film] The Cell.  It was no doubt influenced by Francis Bacon. 

I wonder if he saw death?  Because he imagines it close to photos I’ve seen of gunshot victims.  I could never have imagined the actual damage of those – what an imagination!” (from my notebook)

Triptych 1976
Triptych, 1976 [source]

His paintings following the suicide of his lover George Dyer in 1971 were really powerful.  In these paintings, he exorcised his grief and guilt.  His guilt was evident in the holes and the emptiness.  He was painting a man that was withering and destroying himself. 

The central figure is surrounded by vultures and alludes to the Ancient Greek legend of Prometheus, a figure whose liver was perpetually plucked out each day by an eagle only to have it grow back again. 

Having dealt with the suicide of a friends some years back,  identified so strongly with these paintings and with his process.  The idea of Prometheus was especially disturbing as I remembered waking up each day only to live through what had happened again until I finally came to accept it. Such is the power of this art that it took me right back to that time.

Francis Bacon's studio [source]

Towards the end of the exhibit there was an entire wall imprinted with a photograph of Francis Bacon’s studio.  My poor, ordered, near-obsessive mind struggled for ages to comprehend such absolute mayhem and then I remembered my rather peculiar method of writing essays at university! I used to do all my reading and then write random, inspired paragraphs on little scraps of paper.  Then I’d sit in the middle of my bedroom floor and arrange the scraps of paper in a circle around me in a structured order.  I would then type out the essay, write an introduction and conclusion and finally, I’d consult my reading material and randomly slot in the required two references per paragraph.  This crazy performance was unfortunately perpetuated by really high marks and praise from my lecturers.

Jet of Water
Jet of Water, 1988 [source]

After the oppression of the previous section relating to George Dyer’s suicide, I found the final part of the exhibit to be surprisingly open and liberated even though a lot of his work was motivated by the death of those around him.  This was the section on Francis Bacon’s final decade from 1981 to 1991. 

It is a pity that it took me so long to post about this (bad blogger!) because both the “Model as Muse” and the Francis bacon exhibits ended in August.  They were excellent exhibits though and as you can see, they left a lasting impression on me!  Perhaps next time I undertake a big tour, I will post about the temporary exhibits first.