When we visited Washington DC, we had the privilege of seeing the National Gallery of Art. Ever since Lafayette, some connection between America and France, however tenuous, has existed. One of the strongest bonds between the two countries is the American love of French art. When we think of French art today, we instantly imagine the Impressionists. Our National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, however, houses one of the finest collections of 15th to 18th century French art in the world, thanks in part to the benefactors who saw something of America in those French artworks. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century documents the rich and varied collection of artworks and shows how this French connection tells us as much about American history as it does about French history. The painting above, of Diane Poitiers topless, is one of the masterpieces of the collection. A replica hangs in the Château de Chenonceau and is a reminder of the beautiful mistress of Henry II of France, Diane de Poitiers. I would call this portrait the “Mona Lisa” of France.
The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. Behind the creation of the American republic was another republic, which made the Constitution thinkable. This was the Republic of Letters, an information system powered by the pen and the printing press, a realm of knowledge open to anyone who could read and write, a community of writers and readers without boundaries, police, or inequality of any kind, except that of talent. Like other men of the Enlightenment, the Founding Fathers believed that free access to knowledge was a crucial condition for a flourishing republic, and that the American republic would flourish if its citizens exercised their citizenship in the Republic of Letters. The original library was housed in the then new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library. Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science.” His library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States and formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress.
When we visited Washington DC, we had a chance to eat at Founding Fathers Restaurant. This is a very popular restaurant, usually packed, they cancel your reservation if you are more than 15 minutes late. It is a virtual institution in Washington DC for Sunday brunch. The American family farmer is truly at the heart of Founding Farmers because the restaurant is owned by genuine, hardworking, American family farmers. The Founding Farmers name represents a combination of ideas: it is a celebration of the land and the American family farmer; it is a nod to the founding fathers of our country, many of whom owned and farmed land that surrounds Washington, DC and it is a place where true, sustainably farmed, grown and harvested American foods are brought to the diners. They are a 3-star Certified Green Restaurant™ and were one of the first to earn this distinction in DC, as well as being the first LEED Gold Certified restaurant in the city. They have an intensive composting and recycling program and take conservation very seriously.
When we were in Washington DC, we were fortunate to see the Corcoran Gallery before it is absorbed into the Smithsonian, and even more fortunate to see a special exhibition of the life progression of the metal sculptor, Albert Paley. Albert Paley, an active artist for close to 50 years at his studio in Rochester, New York, is the first metal sculptor to receive the coveted Institute Honors awarded by the American Institute of Architects, the AIA’s highest award to a non-architect. “The allure of Paley’s art comes through its intrinsic sense of integration of art and architecture,” as one noted architect stated. Paley, Distinguished Professor, holds an Endowed Chair at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology. What is cool about this exhibition is that it covers all aspects of his career, starting with suitably monumental jewelry and tables to his more recent monumental works. Furthermore, Paley’s creative process is represented throughout the exhibition by drawings, maquettes, and photographs. He continually pushes the boundaries of what is thought to be possible with iron and steel. Moreover, when you examine the pieces in person, the craftsmanship shows a mastery of metal that is almost incomprehensible. We visit a lot of museums and this was really one of the most thought provoking and exciting exhibitions we have been to in a very long while.
When I was in Washington DC I had the good fortune to catch a cab with a driver from Ghana. We began to talk and he directed me to the only Ghanaian restaurant in the city, Appioo. This restaurant is not for the faint hearted, it is in a basement in a sketchy part of town, filled with mid-century formica furniture. That said, they have a fully stocked bar with a great bartender/waiter and two very modern large screen televisions. It is a little intimidating at first but once you settle in, it is more than comfortable. Ghanaian cuisine is the cuisine of the Ghanaian people. Ghanaian main dishes are organized around a starchy staple food, with which goes a sauce or soup containing a protein source. The diners were friendly and very attuned to the nuances of Ghanaian cuisine. I learned a great deal from my fellow diners and really enjoyed my meal at Appioo.