19 August 2013

The End

I'm now back home in England. The journey home largely consisted of stress, boredom and watching films on those built in plane tv screens (Lincoln, Moulin Rouge! and The Life of Pi if anyone's interested...) with one entertaining incident.

Me: during the flight *tries and fails to turn off overhead light by twisting the base around and round*

Some random person (sitting next to me): "Are you ok?"

Me: "just trying to turn this stubborn light off"...

Random guy: "that's the aircon. The light is operated by a button in front of you, the one with a lightbulb on it"

Me: "oh yeah. Makes sense." *leans over to turn off light*

Randomer: *sees my hoodie* "wait, you go to Oxford? How many Oxford students does it take to turn off a lightbulb? HAHA-

Me: "evidently more than one". *turns out light* (I had had 6. Hours. Sleep. In nearly 2 days)

You have to love the British sense of humour.

So there you have it, 6 and a half weeks later and I'm right back where I started, physically. However, there's a couple of things that I'd like to reflect on to conclude;

Some numbers -
  • No. of museums visited - 15 (Air and Space, National History, Natural History and various Smithsonians, the Freer and Sackler and National Art galleries, NYC Metropolitan museum of art etc.)
  • No. of other free attractions - 14 (Jazz in the park, Screen on the Green, Kennedy perfoming arts show, National Archives, Botanic gardens etc.)
  • No. of students helped/ taught through the summer camps - over 100
  • No. of states properly visited - 3 (Virginia, Maryland, New York - D.C isn't its own state)
  • No. of states driven through/ stopped in - 6 (Virginia, Maryland, and then Delaware and New Jersey on the way to New York)
  • Approx. no. of Metro trains caught - at least 50
  • Approx. no. of Fro-yos, cupcakes and donuts - too embarrassing to total...

I met Americans from Alabama, California, Illinois, Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Maryland, Louisana, Texas, New York and Minnesota. Not to mention everyone's favourite Canadian! (You know who you are!)

It was truly an incredible experience. From arriving into a blur of 4th of July parades, and leaving in a crazy rush from my apartment, with the help of a couple of friends, I feel as though I understand a lot more about the American way of life than Walmart and Baseball (though they are a part of it!)

As a museum intern, a tourist, and a Brit surrounded by (mainly) Americans, I was able to witness the similarities and differences between American and British culture, from a variety of perspectives. The general cheerfulness of Americans, and their undaunted determination was a noticeable feature of most Americans, and of their national mindset. I hope in turn that I was able to represent something of Britain, even if this only amounts to correcting randomers on their historical knowledge...if all else fails then I hope that my accent provided some entertainment ("wait, how do you say "aluminium"? or "say something in an American accent. Just try it.") at least I know the woman behind the till in the local Safeway appreciated it.

Thank you to the people who basically made my time in the U.S. Wherever you are in the world, it's who you're with that makes a good experience great, and a great experience memorable.

Week 6, part three, going aboard a U.S Navy destroyer and making glow stick lanterns - OR, How I finished my internship.

Display ship Barry
Seeing as the boys were taken on board the Barry last week, me and some of the other interns had the opportunity to look inside this week, with the girls. The ship was a US Navy destroyer, and from 1954 to 1982 Barry toured the Caribbean, Atlantic and Mediterranean. The ship played a part in both the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's far narrower below deck than you'd think, for a ship of such a large size. I don't usually get claustrophobic, but I did feel conscious of how little space there was as climbed through hatches and up again via small steps. If I felt like that at 5'2, what must it have been like for taller sailors? I suppose they had more pressing matters to adjust to, like other ships firing on them. It didn't help that we were also with around twenty 8-12 year olds, and so every time a tiny 8 year old climbs down a set of metal stairs you're wondering theoretically how quickly you could move in such an enclosed space to catch them.
That being said, being able to say that I've been onboard a US retired destroyer ship is very cool. (Well actually, it was boiling on the top deck but much cooler below...) The fact that at several points in its life hundreds of men lived and worked on that ship is incredible, it's like physically standing on a piece of history, or rather, a vessel which made history wherever it went.
Just found this, the Barry has its own Wikipedia page! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Barry_(DD-933

Adding liquid glow sticks into empty water bottles to make glow stick lanterns!

As an almost complete juxtaposition to the previous week, Girls' camp (Women Make History camp) actually left us with enough space to breath and the ability to think. Though the girls were talkative, they were generally more responsive than the boys and did not embody the whole "I'm going to start a fight every 5 minutes" mentality. Of course, only a minority of the boys did this, but they were a loud and persistent minority.

Anyway, the point is, the girls were able to have a lot more fun. Seeing as they covered more lesson material, and completed all of their craft activities on time, they were able to have a mini-disco at the end of the day. This was made possible by turning off all of the lights in the gallery that we were working in, and using the "water effects" lighting (literally, there were lights for the permanent Cold War exhibit which gave the effect of being underwater). Who would have thought that the middle of a Cold War exhibit, with replica submarine hull nearby, could make such a good dance party backdrop.

I've never seen lanterns made with glow sticks before, but now the sight of 50 or 60 blurry shapes, dancing to Taylor Swift/ One Direction, and clutching illuminated water bottles is burned into my mind. If this is all sounding slightly bizarre, then welcome to summer camp at the museum!

It's amazing what you can make children (and interns) do if promised a glow stick dance party. Regardless, I think the kids at both summer camps had a great time. Whether they were earning points for their "battalion" (complete with self-made banners), cheering when their egg survived its parachute-drop, or generally going mental when it came to collecting prizes at the end of the week. The prize collecting (or rather,  prize purchasing using paper money earned during the camp) involved me and the other interns "banking" a system of paper money, called "Bunny bucks" and trying to solve monetary disputes between 9 year olds...

This is the US Navy's own official article on the camps - http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=75994

From sitting and eating lunch in the park (whilst the children scared us silly by climbing on and over old model cannons and submarine sails, never mind trees...) to attempting to explain to confused visitors what exactly was going on in the museum, these camps were the highlight of my time at the Navy Yard. Weeks of preparing folders for the students, lesson plans, activity instructions and craft material were finally realised, and I have my supervisors as well as the other interns to thank for that. A few interns had to leave before the camps started, or part way through (to those of you that missed Girls' camp - it was awesome) but all of us got to see the fulfilment of their individual and collaboration projects.

18 August 2013

Week 6, part two, classical Indian dance at the Kennedy Centre and Georgetown waterfront

The outline of Georgetown University, founded 1789. It's the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the United States. 
 Throughout my time in D.C I've returned to the Georgetown waterfront. I've seen it from all angles now, from a kayak in the middle of the Potomac river, walking over the bridge from Rosslyn, walking down from Georgetown itself, and as a passenger in cars driving towards Virginia. I think I can honestly say that it's one of my favourite parts of the city.
The Kennedy Center
Unknown to many, the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts gives free performances everyday on its Millennium Stage (6pm Eastern Time), and these performances are then broadcast live over the internet. The idea, similar to that of the Shakespeare Folger library, is that the arts should be accessible to everyone. By their own admission; "these performances of music, theater, and dance feature emerging and established artists from the Washington area. across the nation, and around the world".
We were able to watch a performance by the Kalanidhi Dance company. The company is based in D.C, but draws heavily from classical Indian dance, namely the Kuchipudi style (an ancient type of dance focusing on "fleeting emotions, fluidity and religious devotions") . I've never seen Indian dance before aside from films, in which dances sequences were usually Slumdog millionaire style, and performed at the end of a film. In reality you notice the detail and complexity, every finger and toe of every dancer seems to have its own routine, combined with all the other body parts to give an impression of continuous motion. This is then multiplied up as every dancer seeks to be in sync with the others, or working to temporarily define their own solo role within a sequence.
Luckily as well as purely expressive dance, there was a narrative to accompany the routines, outlined beforehand. This helped to explain a lot of the context to someone as ignorant as me concerning Hinduism. I can now say that I know several scenes from the life of Lord Krishna, especially his defeat of Kaliya (a giant poisonous river snake) and the dancer portraying the snake was incredible!)  
View towards Rosslyn, northern Virginia

So there you have it, where else can you; watch Indian classical dance, watch the sun set over the cityscape, and walk through an entire hall of flags (see http://www.kennedy-center.org/about/virtual_tour/hall_of_nations.html for a virtual tour) on a casual wednesday evening?

16 August 2013

Week 6, part one, Shakespeare, cupcakes and Tootsie

Witches' cauldron scene from Macbeth
 It may seem strange that one of the largest collections of original Shakespearean material is found on a corner of Capitol Hill, but I encourage anyone who has not already visited the Shakespeare Folger Library to do so. It is a library, research and educational outreach centre which grew from the private collection of Henry and Emily Folger.

Like all smaller tourists attractions (although the library serves mainly as an academic research centre) the staff are well informed and extremely happy to receive visitors, whom they love showing around and talking to (especially genuinely interested university students) as opposed to some of the larger institutions in D.C, where I expect the staff are sick of the sight of people by the end of the working day. The staff were keen to show us everything and answer any questions we had, including a great question from my friend, who asked about the production of Othello in the U.S during the time of the Jim Crow laws.

As well as a performance area designed to look like an Elizabethan theatre, there is also a Great hall for exhibitions (currently under renovation) which houses exhibits, as well as the wooden "Founder's Room" and various pieces of art relating to Shakespeare's works. There was an original print showing the layout of the city of London from the river Thames during Shakespeare's time, which I'm sure I've seen re-printed in numerous places.

Interestingly, most of the people we saw visiting the place were also British. The building contains some great items, including an original handwritten letter from Elizabeth I to James VI (when he was still King of Scotland but not of England, in 1603 he ruled over both England and Scotland in a personal union, though each was still treated as a separate sovereign state). There is also a first folio of Shakespeare's plays which contains the list of players who were in his company. Having studied Shakespeare throughout school, and watching performances at the Globe (London) and Stratford-upon-Avon, seeing a list of a handful of individuals who first brought these plays (possibly the most famous in the world?) to life is just incredible.

The temporary exhibition was also very moving. It was a copy of the "Robben Island Shakespeare", a book snuck inside the notorious prison during the time of Nelson Mandela's incarceration. It was covered in Diwali cards and smuggled in by an inmate who pretended it was his "Bible". It was actually a copy of Shakespeare's plays, which was circulated amongst the prisoners, and in which they signed passages which they most identified with. Mandela chose this passage;

Caesar: Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

- from Julius Caesar, Act II Scene II.

He signed his name by it on the 16th of December, 1977.

Exterior of the Shakespeare Folger Library
 The architecture of the building deserves a post of its own. The building at first resembles the white marble of the Supreme Court and the Capitol buildings, but on closer inspection the windows are distinctly art-deco, 1920s style. Here neo-classical and Greco Deco (bas-relief scenes from Shakespeare's plays, marble, engravings of pillars) meet streamline moderne. Currently, work is underway to restore some of the windows to align with the architect's original intentions. In my honest opinion, I am less convinced than most Americans that the building truly bears resemblance to Tudor style, but then again, I do spend a lot of time in Oxford, and come from England, so it's probably unfair to compare a 20th century imitation to the actual thing. Plus, I really liked the fact that (unlike in typical classical architectural design) the bas-reliefs were at the bottom of the facade rather than the top of building, so that they could be more easily seen by passing people and children.

In less intellectual news....I made cupcakes! I'm counting it as an experiment in culturally- relevant cooking...only American student accomodation would have a muffin-tray in the kitchen, but not a decent tin opener. America has its priorities.

Screen on the Green is another one of the best D.C traditions. We returned to watch Tootsie, which none of us had seen before, because we loved the atmosphere of the last film we saw on the Mall. Yes, it's crowded and you have to get there over an hour early to get a seat, but it's free, and even more engaging than a cinema experience (though the Rocky Horror Show we saw last week may be an exception to that) especially when everyone reacts to on-screen events. I'm going to miss the spontaneous dancing which occurs traditionally before the Looney Tunes cartoon which precedes each film...

15 August 2013

Week 5, part five, U-street and Ben's Chili Bowl

Iconic street view
The claim to be a "Washington Landmark" is no exaggeration. Ben's Chili Bowl is featured in every D.C guidebook, and is as much of a staple of the D.C food scene as Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and the various Frozen Yoghurt chains. Even my sister half way around the world reminded me that I had to eat here before I left the U.S.
I'm happy to report that despite its fame, Ben's Chili Bowl was still full of locals, as well as tourists, and has remained true to its modest origins (e.g., they only accept cash).The place retains its American Diner-with-plastic-booths feel, despite the photos of Barack Obama and other celebrities who have eaten there, and helped to earn its landmark status.
There is a sign behind the counter of "people who eat free". The first person on the list is Bill Cosby  (famous African American comedian, actor, author, turned educator and activist) next is the "Obama/ family". No one else is on the list.

Side mural

Ben's Chili Bowl is a D.C legand as it is a true survivor of the city's turbulent history. It began in the late 1950s, before the Civil Rights Act, and survived the race riots after the assination of Martin Luther King Jr., during which most of the U-Street area of D.C was burnt to the ground. Then, in the 1980s, this down-to-earth diner survived the building of the modern Metro system, at a time when the drawn-out construction process caused other business to flee the area.

I had a bowl of their famous Chili, served with (as ever) Saltine-crackers, and a cherry "shake" (milkshake). I know I should be more excited about the chili, but to be honest, I'm still excited about the milkshake, I've never had a cherry flavoured one before!

The entire U-Street corridor is also pretty lively in the evenings. After dinner we headed to a place called "Busboys and poets", which was a bookshop, combined with a restaurant, and which also appeared to host a lot of local entertainment events, from poetry readings and meet-the-author sessions, to stand up comedy nights. Here I tried my second interesting drink of the night, Pomade. It was like cloudy lemonade, but with pomegranate juice, which turned it an awesome pink colour!

Some of the literature I've read describes U-Street as D.C's version of Harlem (see NYC post). Having experienced both recently, I can't help but think that U-Street seemed to have a lot more of the immediately obvious kind of attractions, for tourists at least. (Feels strange to refer to myself as a tourist after 6 weeks, maybe "temporary resident" is a better term? Or "short-term resident"?) Maybe locals would see it differently. Besides, Harlem does have the Harlem Shake, and i-HOP (International House of Pancakes!)

More info on the history of Ben's Chili Bowl; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben's_Chili_Bowl

13 August 2013

Week 5, part four, "Home", Georgetown, and the Rocky Horror picture show

I took pride in cleaning te apartment and actually opening the blinds/ turning on some lamps as soon as my roomates moved out....I've even used the lamps as replacement roomates. They're quieter, brighter and actually provide light & warmth.
With all of my roomates stuff removed, I discovered something incredible. There is actually space to move in this apartment. (Plus...I found $5 in change!)
I returned to Eastern Market once again this weekend! What am I going to do without my fresh, local grapes and cherries, and more to the point - my Pennsylvania peaches? Fruit will never be the same again.
The Amish are really very good at farming. The food I get here is the same price as the supermarkets at home, but the taste is amazing, and has genuinely made me buy an excess of fruit...when I say an excess, I'm still talking around the 5-a-day level, but for me that's an achievement. I normally only manage 3 or 4.

Before I get too carried away with congratulating myself on my fruit and vegetable intake, I also have a confession. I think I am addicted to Fro-yo (frozen yoghurt, it's like soft ice cream). It comes in all flavours. It has so many toppings. Fruit, chocolate, cookie dough pieces, hot fudge sauce. You serve yourself as much as you want, then add stuff on top, and then pay by weight. I really hope this never catches on in England, or any attempt I make to live a healthly life could be endangered.
We also returned to Georgetown! Georgetown genuinely has the best cupcake shops in D.C (we're fast becoming experts on this...) especially "Baked & Wired".
Something weird happened in Georgetown (sounds like a film title...) first, I was in a bookshop with some friends when I picked up a travel guide for the British Isles (always fun) and was annoyed to find that the University of Cambridge was featured as a major attraction, for the age of the institution and the architecture of the city, but Oxford was not, only "Oxfordshire" was mentioned. When I decided to voice my opinion on the matter, loudly and sarcastically ("haha, it describes Cambridge as "the seat of academia" in Britain, I mean seriously...") to my friend who is also at Oxford, a guy our own age turned around from a nearby bookshelf.

My first thought was "oh, he might actually go to Cambridge. This is awkward." However to my amazement he said, "oh, do you go to Oxford then? I'm at Magdalen, where are you at?" I was so surprised that I didn't say anything for a moment, by which time one of my friends (who is at Magdalen and in his year) stands up and greets him. Turns out that they were old tutorial partners. Weird.

Anyway, we were now over this and headed to a cupcake shop, which was less crowded than "D.C cupcakes" (see previous Georgetown post) and finally sat down with our food. The wall had napkins on which people had drawn on, and written messages, and then pinned them up. We decided to write one saying "Oxford loves Baked & Wired!" and then draw our college crests on it. (People had put up places from across the world)

As we put our napkin on the wall, two girls who were sitting at a breakfast bar in front of us stopped their conversation and said, "wait, do you go to Oxford?" We then discover that one of the girls graduated this year, from my own college.

On the one hand the chances of 2 Oxford students meeting 2 other Oxford students in seperate places, in a corner of D.C seems strange. The more I think about it though, Georgetown kind of is the "Oxford of D.C", if you know what I mean. Georgetown is upmarket, academic, "historic", and full of bookshops. Perhaps it's not so much a coincidence that Oxford students in D.C tend to head to Georgetown (and to book/ cupcake shops), though it is insane that we happened to be in the same place at the same time as other Oxford students, twice in one afternoon.

No explanation needed.
I went to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Show at the E-Street cinema in Downtown. I feel as though this event itself deserves some kind of landmark recognition, because let me tell you, it was like participating in a cult. There were props, there were actors running around during the film, there were "regulars" (who watched the same screenings at least once a month, and knew th dialogue, as well as the songs, off by heart). I love the way in which throwing giant playing cards, or making audience members participate in acting out the on-screen drama was not seen as particularly  extraordinary. Nor was encouraging people to dance in the aisles during the Timewarp routine. For someone who had never seen the film before, I feel as if I'll never be able to think of it again without the accompanying sarcastic commentary of the person sitting behind me. That being said, I wouldn't have had it any other way, it way another one of those "only in America" experiences. 
The place where Lincoln was shot!
Since the film began at midnight, by the time we left it was pretty late, which provided an excellent opportunity to photograph landmarks without other people getting in the way. Walking through Downtown D.C at 3am was eery,  but oddly rewarding at the same time, as if we had somehow earned the right to see what most people, even residents, usually miss.

12 August 2013

Week 5, part three STEM camp and other things I've learnt from work...

View from the docks at the Navy Yard. Across the river is Anacostia, and visible is "Barry", a life size display ship.

Blurry photo, but this was made for me by my friends at work. It reads "This is called a Button". Americans/ Canadians refer to badges (what British people call badges) as "buttons", although they also refer to "British" buttons as buttons too. Although I would argue that what distinguishes a badge and button is that a button holds together material, a badge is pinned onto it, they say that a true "badge" is usually something official, like a police badge.

So this week was STEM (focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and "Math") camp at the museum. It was also "Sharkweek", a popular American television event in which the Discovery channel shows programmes solely related to sharks, shark attacks and what would happen in the event of a "shark apocalypse". Since I didn't watch much of Sharkweek (which has also featured in the wider world, e.g. I was in a cupcake shop which made reference to it in its advertising...) except for a Youtube clip (at my co-workers' collective insistence) I'll talk about the camp instead.
The Navy Museum's summer camps are split by gender, so the first week is STEM focused for the boys, the next week (this week) also includes STEM elements, but has more History in it, for the girls. Hence, we often refer to the STEM camp as "boys' camp" and Girls Make History camp as "girls' camp". This is not me saying girls cannot participate in STEM, it's just that girls aged 8-12 can get through more lesson material, generally, than boys aged 8-12, so we have more time to include some historical context for the girls' camp. The boys usually only did one sit-down lesson a day, and even that pushed the concentration capability of some. Most of the boys, like the girls in the next camp, come from the surrounding area (D.C, Virginia, Maryland, Prince George's County) and are either part of the public (state) school system or are home-schooled.

Most used phrases of last week;


"No, you cannot hit him with your car".

"Don't touch that". "No, seriously, don't touch that."

5 minutes later

"Oh, you got Superglue on your hands?"

Naturally, some of the boys were more interested in the activities than others. They were put in "battalion" groups and had their own flags and everything. We also had a point system to try and encourage good behaviour. However, when a group got into minus numbers, we would try and help them out, because that's just depressing to tally up.

One of the activities involved building cardboard rockets to be launched outside (after an accompanying lesson concerning mass and acceleration etc.). We couldn't launch the rockets in the grounds of the Navy Yard because apparently there are anti-ballistic systems on the roof of the main building which would literally explode if anything flew over them. You read correctly, the United States navy systems just can't handle cardboard rockets. Although we all agreed that this would be great to watch happen, I don't think that department of Defense/ Pentagon would be too impressed if a security alert was issued over a handful of children's science projects.

Therefore, we walked out of the yard (or rather, waited around with 30 hyperactive boys whilst security hesitated to let us, a group of interns, teachers and children, through a gate which led off-site...) and into a nearby park. What could possibly go wrong.

Well, within seconds of launching the first rocket we realised that they went higher than anticipated (nice job boys!) and as everyone looked skyward to watch the rocket return, it began to make a beeline for the huddle of kids. Naturally, they all turned and ran, besides one boy with glasses who literally watched the rocket hit him in the face. He wasn't hurt, I should add, for his glasses took the blow and the lens fell out. I think he was just slightly dazed. In a seperate incident, he also ran into a gun (a mounted cannon we have in the museum) during "recess", and was accidently hit in the face again, this time by a plastic snake (I kid you not). I really hope he didn't go home and tell his parents all of this...

After moving everyone to a safer distance, us interns could relax a bit and one of my friends showed me the Chinese character 坐 - zuò ("to sit"). This is cool because it looks like two people sitting on a bench. She's Chinese/ American, and insists that even native speakers have to study Chinese characters their whole life, as there are so many, and without regular use, they can be easily forgotten!

At the end of work, once "boys' camp" was finished, we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. This is, according to the American interns, the epitome of America. There were games machines, stools instead of chairs, more tv screens than people (well, almost) showing every kind of American sport (American football, Baseball, Golf, even online Poker). There were also plently of "wings" (Chicken) served in cardboard boxes, battered, and coated in different sauces. The amount of grease involved was unreal, and led to me (to the amusement of everyone else in the restaurant) using a knife and fork. In addition, refills of drinks were brought to the table even if you had a full glass of something right next to it - until you physically told them to stop.

My experience so far of American cuisine has been pretty comprehensive. My friends at work even brought me Chicken & Waffle flavour "chips" (crisps). I wasn't massively keen on those.

A clip from a tv show which often ends up being discussed between us at work, as presenting a very interesting side to modern American family life; it's from a show called "Here comes Honey Boo-boo"