Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gray Skies, No Problem: Drinking Coffee at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.




On Labor Day, there was a gray canopy hanging over Washington, D.C. And though the day was utterly devoid of that bright September sun that we all love so much, the steel grey of the sky above was beautiful. Our goal that day was to go to the newly constructed, recently opened MLK Memorial. For some reason, we were giddy with excitement. Perhaps for ourselves, perhaps for our children, perhaps for all of the people who will come from all over the world to see this memorial in the future. For that reason, the gray sky seemed even more beautiful. Even more beautiful was the shades-of-gray contrast between the sky and the monumental grey-stone monument/memorial of Martin Luther King, Jr. rising out of the earth like a gray rocket of hope. We were stunned by the scale.

The memorial is the work of Master sculptor, Lei Yixin. It is 28.5 feet tall and positioned between Independence Avenue and West Basin Drive. One enters the memorial through a stone archway aptly named the “ Mountain of Despair” and then confronts the “Stone of Hope.” One must walk around the “Stone of Hope” to see the imposing, thoughtful image of the dignified MLK—who was 39 years old when he died.

After leaving the site of the memorial and meandering along the paths of downtown Washington, we headed towards the Museum of Air and Space, where we marveled over the Spirit of St. Louis, facebooked photos of the Wright Brothers full-room exhibit, and purchased a “future astronaut” sippy cup at a deep discount—and where I started to crave a cup of coffee.

Where's the Coffee?

There was no coffee available at the Museum of Air and Space or the Hirschhorn Museum next door. We moved through the sculpture garden, becoming temporarily transfixed by the sculpture of a figure flying backwards off a horse. Finally, we walked into the National Gallery of Art and headed straight for the cafeteria.

Full disclosure: I’ve had a lot of coffee from the NGA cafeteria in my lifetime. I grew up in the D.C. area and remember using the Iwo Jima memorial as a playground as a little girl and going to school in Falls Church and secretly drinking coffee in the mornings. The coffee at NGA is not Starbucks coffee. It doesn’t have to be. It’s good. The cashiers are exceedingly polite and kind. On that day, I got trail mix and coffee in one of those standard-issue off-white ceramic mugs---a standard that I’ve grown to love over the years. The brew was hot and dark, bold, but not bitter. I devoured it with a dollop of skim milk. Two cups later and I was exhilarated!

As we viewed the work of the great masters, I noted with particular joy a painting by Georges Braque. So glad I had the energy to get excited once again about collage art. Thank you, coffee!

Post-script: I usually have an annual coffee-drinking party at my house in honor of MLK’s birthday each January. Last year, we took a break, as I was expecting another child. However, I am not pregnant and don’t plan to be in January. So, if you’ve been invited in the past, look for your invite!