Friday, March 14, 2014

City Treasures

of the mid-March week: the sun comes out, the wind dies down, and the inner city resident has a free afternoon thinking to join the two-hour long Drawing Workshop at the National Gallery of Art, free for first comers. (offered monthly, several days at a time, through May, in the West Building, East Garden Court).
It was Friday in tourist season (spring break, etc.) the museum was alive with visitors. Alas, I arrived too late to sign, all 35 spaces had been taken earlier. They would become part of a class on "Point of View: Cezanne's Landscapes" using two kinds of charcoal, a chamois cloth, and large sheets of paper, under the instruction of a museum staffer and a practicing artist. The session began with an earnest lecture  on Cezanne in the busy noise-impacted gallery while participants adjusted to the portable stools supplied by the gallery, juggling drawing boards on their knees. Then artist Dan  did a brief illustration of how to look at the shadings of light in a typical quite visible and beautiful landscape - modulated planes, mostly pastels, a concentrated assembly of houses in Provence.  Next, the impromptu class of avid art aspirants - a mix of ages, mainly female - had 20 minutes to try to recreate on paper what they saw.
I grew tired of watching  - shunned by numbers, forced to standby position - and wandered off into the sunshine, finding myself stopped on Constitution Avenue by a Presidential motorcade making its way from Capitol Hill to the White House in  full regalia, ambulance included. All traffic in downtown Washington was arrested for at least one half hour though I hear not a single protesting horn; we natives may not be amused but we certainly are conditioned. And the procession, at least for visitors, is spectacular , with the gaggle of police cycles fore and aft the shrouded funereal black vehicles,  flags flying. It almost seems as though the Marine Band - 'the President's own"! - should be regular accompaniment on this ritual drive.
Headed down F Street, thinking to buy a pound of coffee beans from MS Swing's emporium a ways over at 17th and G NW, I duck into another local venue - one that tourists often miss. It is Fahrney's ( famous pen shop, marked by an outsized green fountain pen suspended over the street. Within are some of the most exotic - and expensive - hand toys  anywhere. It's almost pornographic, so enticing the tools. I eyed celebrity-named versions of the MontBlanc (blue cartridges available for lawyers' needs when signing original documents, etc.) now 30 percent off its $900 price. What would Jonathan Swift say - the namesake on one of the sleek black and silver models? And with matching cuff links, a bit more. I settled instead for an slim $18 stylus ballpoint in purple, buying a second one in white (both useful when handling smartphones with greasy fingers) that the obliging clerk volunteered to wrap in either green striped or red paper. "It's a birthday present," I had mentioned. Back came a handsome package encased in a mountain of carefully arranged twirling ribbon. It slipped neatly into a green-on-white bag - "Fahrney's Pens: The Write Place Since 1929," noticeably bereft of the usual web site marker.
 Swing's was in full motion as usual: customers chatting over cups of various sizes at plain chairs and tables, the smell of fresh roasted coffee drawing people in like a drug. The pastry isn't much; besides good caffeine, the lure most days is Loraine, longtime employee dressed handsomely in glinting jewelry and TV-ready makeup. Such bliss, this sense of belonging in the bureaucratic kingdom and, then, the shock, a necessary one:
In front of the White House, outside the gates, two women with microphones call out   the names of all the Syrians killed to date in that country's ongoing civil war.
The world is always with us in this town.

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