The Epic Weird Squirrel Adventure: Libraries and Fake Supreme Courts


Oh, look!  Minerva has come down to bestow some knowledge upon you, frail mortal!  Try to look happy about it.  The Latin inscription says: “Not unwilling, Minerva raises a monument more lasting than bronze.”  It’s from Ars Poetica by Horace.  If this doesn’t convince you of the hubris of Congress, nothing will.

In Which Brooke is Continually Frustrated at the Cool Things She’s Can’t Photograph

Yes, I realize I have a problem.  Pfffft- what’s the point of visiting the main reading room of the Library of Congress if you can’t pop a million flash bulbs at it?

[scuffs foot in dust] At least the entryway was spectacular enough to merit a few zillion snapshots.



I’m serious, if you didn’t think Congress was a wee bit full of itself, geez.  This isn’t even the library — it’s the LOBBY!   Just how many frescoes does one lobby need?  

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The LIC is insane.  And very important, at least from a librarianship perspective.  Those of you who fear that the U.S. is in decline, rest assured that we still rule the global roost when it comes to library cataloging.

[Below: Jeffrey and Eleanor slump exhaustedly on a bench whilst nymphs prance in their midst]


Is it just me, or does the below image look like Apollo is giving someone a pie?  Surely it is a Pie of Wisdom.


I, for one, was quite taken with the quotes about books and reading tucked here and there under the windows.  Yes, I took the time to look up the sources for you, YOU’RE WELCOME.

Sir Francis Bacon

— Francis Bacon


I was ready to guess Shakespeare on this one, but no: Milton.

Philip Sydney

— Philip Sydney, from his epic poem, “Noble Thoughts Are My Homies.”

Thomas Carlyle

— Thomas Carlyle.  Amen to that, bro.  That, and maybe a collection of YouTube videos.

Other points of interest: we saw a handwritten draft of the Gettysburg Address, penned by Abe himself, and the original collection of books that Thomas Jefferson donated to Congress for start up the library.  It included his copy of Utopia.  Nice, right?

I love these funny faces that were tucked into the decorative painting.


The Supreme Court

. . . was covered head-to-toe in scaffolding in an effort to clean up the exterior.  Fortunately, the powers that be were courteous enough to print a giant picture  of the building on the scaffolding, so photo-grubbing tourists like me wouldn’t be forced to take a shot of a big plastic-covered box.  Cold comfort.


Inside was . . . nobody!  Just the lingering aura of constitutional justice, thank you very much.


Plus another pretty ceiling.  I really have a problem.


The National Gallery

This was one of my favorite places to go when I was a teenager.  Back then, I used to daydream about growing up, having a family, and bringing my own children to the museum.  Some dreams do come true.


I will admit that the nostalgia factor was up pretty high.  We didn’t have time to swing by my hometown to show the kids my old home, so this was the next best thing.

Here’s my tip about taking photos in galleries: you can generally get away with it if nobody’s looking and you don’t use a flash.  Especially in the Louvre, it’s like Parisians have just given up on policing cameras.  Except when you use a flash.  Then people shake their fingers and say “Noooo le flash!”

True story.


Jeff & George


Ella & Tom


Kathryn & Sargent (not pictured: Kathryn.  She really loved this portrait)


Ella & Ophelia — I mainly took a picture of this one because Brian and I saw this exact same painting when we went to London as newlyweds.  Why do I love Pre-Raphaelite art so much??


General Monet Exhaustion (Brian and I have been known to fall asleep in the presence of Monet, back in our wild youthful days before we had children)


We enjoyed this museum so much that we decided to return the following morning; Eleanor patiently went through an entire traveling Albrecht Durer exhibit, with me describing and asking her questions about all the paintings and engravings.  New discovery: Eleanor is really good with art museums.  I need to take her to more of ’em.

I am including the following image pretty much because it depicts my favorite part of Dante’s Inferno.  What, you didn’t know there was a steamy reading-a-book-together scene in L’Inferno?  Hie thee to the library, lest Minerva strike thee with a curse!  Or takes a whack at you with her scroll!




Crazy space-saga walkway!


Pyramids!  (Take thatLouvre!)



Underground waterfall!  Dude, I love that waterfall.  So good to see it again.


ANNNNND . . . .

The First Weird Squirrel

It was an albino squirrel, hanging out behind the National Gallery.  The stuff of legends.



ALBINO.  SQUIRREL.  With red eyes and everything!  If I ever become an evil overlord, I’m definitely going to get an albino squirrel.  It can perch on my shoulder and I shall nourish it with the despair of my enemies.  [rubs hands together]


Coming Up: Mega Museum Blitz, Featuring Alligator Stew

The Epic Weird Squirrel Adventure: Senatorial Subway


The sainted Kathryn knows her way around a travel itinerary.  The most brilliant of her many ideas: arranging a private tour of the U.S. Capitol building with the office of Orrin Hatch.  (Why Orrin Hatch?  As Kathryn put it, “there’s no way I want to be in debt to Mike Lee for a favor.”)  A lovely intern named Stephanie showed us around — just us, no big group of 50+ people.  And we got to see a lot of extra places that the usual tour groups don’t go.  Like, for instance, the tunnel and mini-subway that connects the senate office buildings with the Capitol.

P1070538 P1070540 Yes, I felt like a big cheesy tourist taking photos of everything, Stephanie admitted that she did the exact same thing when she first arrived in D.C.  She even pointed out this cool skylight as a neat photo opportunity:


Big Statues

Both the visitor’s center and the Capitol proper have these giant statues tucked into odd corners.  Apparently each state was asked to contribute two statues of a hero or well-known figure from that state.  Such as King Kamehamehah from Hawai’i (“Hawaiians say that this is a life-sized statue,” said Stephanie):


The kids loved Helen Keller.  I really need to watch The Miracle Worker with them:


And while I have no strong feelings about Ronald Reagan, I will say it’s pretty awesome that the pillar his statue rests on includes a layer of stonework from the Berlin Wall.

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The Crypt

This white star on the floor represents the “crypt” of the building.  Apparently they originally planned to entomb George Washington here, but Washington wouldn’t hear of it.  Who can blame him?  No matter how much I love my job, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be buried there.


I did love the dome above the crypt.  (You will notice a lot of photos of architectural details in these travel posts.  I love me some decorated ceiling.)


Thomas Jefferson recommended that a lot of the pillars in the Capitol be topped with symbols representing the U.S.A.’s agricultural values.  Hence, the “corncob capitals” and “tobacco capitals.”


The stone floors of the crypt also have interesting footprints on them, and nobody really knows why.  There are even these cat’s paw-prints.  Stephanie told us that there’s a story about a ghost cat who wanders the halls of the Capitol. My kids weren’t buying it.


Rooms That Are Famous for What They Used to Be

Such as . . .the Old Supreme Court chamber, where the Dred Scott case was decided.  The clock on the wall is famously set 5 minutes fast because one of the old-timey justices liked it that way to try and hurry people along with their business.  Time management was still in its infancy back then, you know.

P1070558 And this is the beautiful room that used to be the House of Representatives, and is now called the Statuary.


It’s lovely, but unfortunately the vaulted ceilings made for a strong echo effect that made congressional debate impossible.


You hear stories about 19th-century congressmen beating each other up with canes on the House floor, I can’t help but imagine that the frustrating echoy air somehow contributed.  I’ll readily admit that it would drive me nuts.


YES YES MORE DOME PICTURES.  I love domes!  Heaven help me if I ever to go to Italy . . .


Painted Hallways


Amazing, right?  These frescoes were painted by an Italian immigrant named Constantino Brumidi, and they are all over the place.  It was Brumidi’s idea to paint them (he took a tour and was found the blank walls irresistible).  I had no idea the hallways of the U.S. Capitol were so ornate, and I couldn’t get enough of ’em.

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Obviously, not all of the frescoes were done by Brumidi, such as this one of the first moon landing . . .


. . . and this one of the Challenger astronauts.


The floors were covered with mosaic tile.  The temptation to sock-skate was high.

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I loved this tiny shield detail.


The Rotunda

(You will note that Jeffrey is right at the side of Stephanie the Intern in the photo below.  He is asking her a constant barrage of questions about the building.  That’s how he was for the entire tour.  I tell you, give that boy a tour guide and he’s happy for life.)


Brumidi painted most of this, too, including the famous “Apotheosis of George Washington,” in the tip-top center of the dome.  Considering how anti-monarchial Washington was, I wonder what he’d think of that.  Geez Louise, 19th-century Americans!  What is it with you guys and the almost literal Washington-worship?


Washington is seated at about 7:00, with a pink robe in his lap.  It gets chilly up there in that dome.


A long mural circles the dome, chronicling U.S. history.  Brumidi wasn’t able to finish the mural before he died in the 1880s — actually, Brumidi gave up on it after falling off of some scaffolding — which is why the mural continues on up to the Wright Brothers’ plane at Kitty Hawk, when a 20th-century artist was hired to finish the job.  The maiden with the shield in the middle of this photo represents History.  Just to the right is Christopher Columbus.


What We Couldn’t Photograph

This will be a recurring theme on this trip — too often, the most interesting things we saw were in places that prohibited photography.  In the case of the Capitol, that included our brief sit-ins in galleries of the House and Senate. There was nothing of interest happening in the House — although we were pleased to discover that the seals of all 50 states are inscribed on the House ceiling.  Cameos of famous lawmakers throughout history are pictured on the walls.  (Like Hammurabi.  Can’t beat a good Hammurabi reference.)

However, we were able to be present in the Senate for the opening of the afternoon session.  Did you know they start with a prayer?  And the Pledge of Allegiance?  After the opening, we were pleased to see Harry Reid take the floor and give a passionate albeit soft-spoken speech about the damaging effects of sequestration.  There were only two other senators there to hear it, but senate records are public, and we were tickled to read quotes from Reid’s speech in the Washington Post the next morning.  Oooooo, civic pride!

Tomorrow: Walls Are More Fun With Quotes