Friday, June 29, 2007

Washington round-up. . .

Just some bits and pieces of recommendations if you are heading to Washington D.C. anytime soon. I was recently there for the American Library Association conference and could easily have spent a week just going to the museums alone.

Hotels/Shopping: Washington has a great metro system that is fairly cheap and very easy to use, so if you visit the city try and get a hotel around Dupont Circle. It's only a half hour walk to downtown but the area is teaming with all my vices - bookshops, shoe shops, tea shops, Thai restaurants, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and lots of coffee outlets. Definately check out Kramerbooks, a great independent bookstore that also has a restaurant/bar in the back. And here's a strange similarity to Sasktoon - both cities have statues of Gandhi. Here's Washington's version on Massachusetts Ave just west of Dupont Circle.

Art galleries/Museums: Oh, there are so many and most of them are free which is great for dipping into. Given my limited free time, I was powerwalking through the National Gallery of Art, The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian American Art Museum and just missed the last tour of the Library of Congress. One of my favourite visits was to the Phillips Collection, America's first museum of modern art and housed in the 19th century home of the collector. I love seeing art in a domestic setting with paintings over fireplaces and in little nooks and crannies. In particular I really liked the paintings of Canadian born Maurice Prendergast and it was interesting to see some of the work of Rockwell Kent (who redesigned the Modern Library colophon, illustrated their edition of Moby Dick and was the subject of Canadian novelist Michael Winter's The Big Why.)

Restaurants: Thai food is my favourite and I had a terrific meal at Thaiphoon, located a few blocks north of Dupont Circle. It blends traditional Thai food with a bit of a modern twist. I highly recommend the honey ginger duck with mushrooms and scallions on a bed of steamed spinach. Add some steamed rice and ask for a side order of peanut sauce. Yum! For excellent lattes and breakfast pastries, Washington has several Corner Bakery Cafes. I first discovered this chain in Chicago when I used to attend Book Expos and though their selection has diminished over the years, they are still a great place to take a book and indulge in a caffeine fix.
Theatre: Check out Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre company. They have a great theater space right downtown with a tiny bookstore and cafe that is open on production nights. I saw Sarah Ruhl's new play Deadman's Cellphone which is having its world premiere and I loved it - witty lines, profound observations on contemporary life and beautiful and unexpected staging moments. At intermission I immediately went to buy the play and also a collection of her previous work. One of these, The Clean House will be part of Toronto's Canstage line-up this fall/winter. It was great to wander around the foyer of the theatre and look at posters of past seasons - this company has put on a number of plays by Canadians - Ann-Marie Macdonald, Daniel MacIvor and Jason Sherman just to name a few. Made me very proud.

And Julie Andrews: She's been an idol of mine ever since I was a kid so it was a bit of a thrill to attend a talk by her at ALA. It started with a video montage of various film and theatre clips which was extremely enjoyable to watch since I'm such a fan of her work, but I couldn't help feeling it was a bit out of place at a librarian conference. Especially since it was almost thirty minutes long (about ten minutes longer than her subsequent talk) and it made it hard to take her seriously when she voiced her irritation at often being dismissed as simply a celebrity author. Still, her latest children's book looks like fun. The Great American Mousical follows the adventures of a group of mice living beneath a theatre as they plan to stage their own show. Julie will be the chair for American Library Week in 2008.

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