Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 23, 2008.

Yesterday the day started early for me as I had to get Allyson to the train station by 0430. Big Al was taking the train back to New York so she could be at work by 0900. I accompanied her to Union Station and was back in my bunk by 0500 with my mission accomplished.

We took the Metro up to Catholic University and met Ashlee after her last class of the day. We wanted to see the campus and especially wanted to see the Basilica. I’m not really sure, but I’d be very surprised to find out that it wasn’t the largest church in North America.

We got there in time to take a walking tour with a very knowledgeable tour guide. He had been an altar boy at the second mass served in the building and his love affair with the building actually bordered on being creepy. Yeah, he was a little weird.

Evidently the building was started in the twenties. Construction was halted because of the Great Depression and World War II. Once it was finished in the fifties it seems to have received some really great gifts from various Catholic Orders around the world. For example the tall bell tower was a gift of the Knights of Columbus. The smallest bell weighs 21 pounds while the largest weighs in at over 7000 pounds.

There are dozens of altars, shrines and alcoves which have all been donated to the church by various religious orders. There are some of the finest mosaics in the world in this building. The two most striking features of the building for me were wall treatments at either end of the main room.

Over the doors at the rear was a one piece hand carved scene. The piece of stone was 17 feet tall by over 60 feet wide and after being carved it still weighed in at 38 tons.

Dominating the front of the church over the altar is a mosaic of Jesus. The thing is freaking massive. Jesus’s face, not counting his hair is over 7 feet across. It’s a different type of Jesus as well. Jesus’s face always looks blank to me whenever I see an artists rendering. This one looks pissed. Impressive just doesn’t cover it.

There was one mosaic that they call a polished mosaic. As each individual piece of colored stone is put into place its polished until its completely flush with it neighbor. The dust removed in the polishing process is saved and mixed into the grout for that tile. Using this technique the tiles seem to blend seamlessly and look more like a painting than a mosaic. The artwork in this building rivals any museum we’ve seen anywhere.

Today, Christy and I decided to take the bikes out and do a little riding around the mall. We ended up at the Museum of Natural History, where they have a butterfly conservatory inside the building.

It was a fiberglass pod like structure with pressurized airlocks at either end.

Once inside there were over 1000 butterflies, everywhere. They were on the floor, walls, vegetation and the ceiling. They were even on the visitors. It was pretty cool. The tiny circle in this picture is the butterflies tongue, curled up waiting to dip into a flower for some nectar.

After the butterfly room we decided to take a guided tour of the museum. We’ve taken several of the tours at the Museum of Art but never here at the Museum of Natural History. It turned out to be yet another really great tour. Even though we had been to this building on several occasions we found ourselves being guided through one new experience after another.

To finish off the day we rode our bikes up to the capitol Building to set ourselves up to take the Capitol tour on Thursday.

When we got back to the boat we were treated to an example of yuppie calisthenics gone wild. It’s the new “stay in Shape” rage; Hawaiian war canoes. We’ve seen them in several cities along the way but here in DC it seems to be a little bit over the top. Anywhere from 12 to 20 paddlers stroke their brains out while some “motivator” stands in the stern and screams at them like a lunatic.

One final picture for the day. Is it modern art? It could be. In reality it was just the men’s room door at a Mexican restaurant that we had lunch in.

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