In previous trips Jeff has embarked upon, he oft finds the days begin to follow thematic lines, whether intentional or not. Today was exactly that type of day–from the first moment we should have known we were in for a good one.
Why is that? Well, as we pull out of the parking garage we were greeted by a tall man in black suit with curly white ear piece who forced us to stop in the middle of the road. Ali quips that someone important must be coming and, as if on cue, two black government vehicles roar up in front of us and more secret service begin pouring out of the SUVs. At this point, the security man takes a look at our license plate and begins to wave us through, probably assuming us Canadians are no real threat. As we begin to pull past the caravan, we assume it’s likely some politican we’ve never heard of when none other than Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, steps out of the SUV and walks into the building beside our hotel. Our encounter was brief, but magical. Nancy was surprisingly short but dressed in full regalia, looking exactly how she does on TV despite the fact there were no cameras around and she was clearly going to a relatively unimportant meeting. Still, it’s cool to say that we almost ran over Nancy Pelosi. Now we just gotta find that Obama guy.
Pulling away, slightly star struck and regretting we didn’t roll down the window and beg for a picture (or a job…), we headed off to the U Street Corridor for some fancy hipster shopping and antique gazing. Unfortunately, hipsters do not wake up before noon on Monday, apparently, and basically everything was closed (or inaccessible). With our morning agenda cut short, we decided to head directly to the African American Civil War Museum to kill time before dinner. Although it appeared to be a very cool exhibit, much of it was under construction and not open to the public. Arg. We did have our second moment of “basking in stardom” though when we realized the man working the door was an extra in the movie Glory. They even had his costume on display in the museum. We shoulda got his autograph…
Walking back to the car, we were feeling a bit peckish and decided to grab a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel to pick up our things for this afternoon. Finding a small diner offering cheap cheeseburgers, we figured we found the perfect place to eat fast before running back to the National Mall for our 2pm appointment with the Holocaust Museum. Little did we know that moments before entering said establishment, the lone waitress had just begun an epic screaming match with her boyfriend, who just happens to also be the lone cook of this fine eatery. While this might not seem like such a big deal, we’re sure they are nothing but professionals, moments after ordering our food the cook decided to storm out, leaving the waitress with a diner full of people and no one to cook them food. To compound the problem, the waitress didn’t have the heart to tell us she was flying solo, meaning we didn’t learn all of this until about an hour later when our food finally arrived–apparently she was cooking the food herself in between taking orders. Suffice to say, lunch was a bit of an unmitigated disaster, as we were in the diner for over an hour and a half and Ali never did get her food. It was definitely something to behold though, with this nice little domestic dispute unfolding before us. It was like having an extremely intimate soap opera to watch while eating our food.
With lunch behind us and camera in hand we set off for the Holocaust Museum. Now we want to preface this next little bit with a brief statement that, on the whole, it was an interesting experience and potentially valuable experience. Having said that, given the amount of hype going into the experience, being told things like how this exhibit would rattle us to the bone and leave us sobbing and reborn from the ashes of 1940s Germany, it’s of little surprise that it didn’t exactly live up to expectations. So, here are but two young Canadians opinions on why the Holocaust Museum leaves much to be desired…
First: accessibility. Yes, the museum was fully wheelchair accessible, with lots of ramps and elevators, the physical design of the exhibit involved a lot of extremely narrow corridors where people inevitably got bottle-necked looking at display cases. The result was that Jeff was often left stuck between rooms as people pushed and shoved their way ahead of him, leaving no room for his wheelchair to get through. Granted, he could have just ran them all down with his 400lbs of intolerance crushing machinery, but that just seems to contradict the spirit of the museum. Further, people constantly said “Oh excuse me” and then stood directly in front of Jeff, leaving him unable to see over 80% of the exhibit. We appreciate that it’s not the museums fault that people are jerks, but they seriously should have thought the space out a bit better to filter people from display case to display case that doesn’t provide the opportunity for people to constantly be jumping ahead/standing in front of you. Maybe this was just a bad day with a set of people who felt particularly self important, but we’re pretty sure this is a common occurrence. For the sheer frustration of it all, and the fact the museum probably took us 2 hours longer than everyone else because of this, we would recommend people in wheelchairs give this site a pass.
Beyond accessibility, though, we had other theoretical/academic concerns with the exhibit. First and foremost, the museum attempts to stand as a monument to not just the Holocaust, but genocide in general, yet is extremely focused on the Jewish experience in the Holocaust and extremely selective when discussing other genocide in the world. For example, there is only 1 display case dedicated to the extermination of people with disabilities by the Nazis, despite the fact it was the killing of PWDs that was a crucial stepping stone to selling the idea that some deserve to live and some don’t. Further, political dissidents, homosexuals and Roma were also killed in the Nazi concentration camps, yet most of these groups received by the briefest of mention. Another curious exclusion from the exhibit was the fact that America did little to stop the genocide from occurring, refusing to allow Jewish refugees into the country as they fled the Nazis and only getting involved in WW2 after they were attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbour. Again, to be fair to the museum, they did mention that America sat idly by as things went to hell, and yes America knew it was happening before soldiers discovered the camps, these were facts often glossed over or minimized. Equally disturbing was the number of youth wearing “Youth Zionist Club” gear wandering around an exhibit with mention of Rwanda and Darfur but not a peep on Palestine.
Are we trying to say what is happening in Palestine at the hands of Israel is the same as what happened to the Jews in the holocaust? No, but you cannot deny the parallels of how Israel has treated those living in Palestine. Hell, they even had a quote from a Holocaust survivor saying how this should never happen again, while this same survivor recently made an innuendo that perhaps the Palestinian people should be exterminated. Apologies for glossing over things or saying things that have already been said, but maybe if the people of Palestine and Israel actually talked to each other, heard each other, and realized they were marching down an all too familiar path once again they would be willing to start moving forward together…
Insert John Lennon quote here.
Strangely, one of the best parts of the exhibit was a section entitled “Daniel’s Story,” which was basically geared toward teaching kids about the Holocaust. What made this so effective is that it actually told a story, following the personal experience of a fictional boy who lived through the Holocaust, circa Anne Frank’s diary. Although simplified and sanitized for youth, it had a much stronger impact because you actually felt yourself pulled into the history rather than being propaganda’d at. We should note though, at the end of Daniel’s story they let kids write notes that were posted about their thoughts on the exhibit and, although we don’t have photos to stand witness, we suspect some of the kids didn’t quite get the point of the exhibit. Our two favourites were “Good job surviving Daniel” and “If you could see the world today, Daniel, you’d really like it.”
Kids say the darndest things.
Don’t want to beat this into the dirt, but to clarify, we don’t want to come off as anti-Semetic here or like some wacko Holocaust deniers or something, it was just frustrating to see this type of simplicity in a Monument that attempts to be the source on atrocity in our world. Our suggestion? Research the Holocaust (and genocide generally) the old fashion way–read some books on your own and see the horror in the facts. And horror is perhaps the only way to describe what happened.
After the frustration that was the Holocaust Museum, we decided to head off in a different direction and take in the fluff of the Air and Space Museum to round out the day. It was nice looking at all the old planes and snap some photos of the space ships. Despite being nearly as busy as the Holocaust Museum, it was manageable to get around and see stuff, despite being about two feet below everyone sitting in an electric wheelchair. One of the most enjoyable moments was where we least expected it–a tiny exhibit in the back corner focused on NASA-themed art.
Note, this exhibit was funded and put on by NASA. Yes. Art about NASA, paid for and selected by NASA. You can probably imagine where this is going. If you’re not humming the “America, F*** Yeah” song, you’re doing it wrong. Trust us on this one, this is not to be missed. It’s (unintentionally) hilarious.
With that, Jeff’s batteries were grinding down and Clara’s feet were pretty sore so we decided to call it an early night. Back to the hotel to bum around and eat some absurdly over-sized junk food, we spent the rest of the eve plotting our last two days in Washington.
Also, parting note for tonight–everything in this damn country is super-sized. We know that sounds cliche and we always hear it in Canada that everything is bigger, greasier and fattier here, but it really is true. Not only are things bigger, it’s impossible to get smaller portions without ordering off the kids menu. People wonder why obesity is a problem in America? Really? It’s because you can buy a jug of coke cheaper than water, chocolate bars are bigger than your face, and the idea of walking across the street without the assistance of a car or bus is absolutely preposterous. If America wants to know why they’re obese, they need to look only at the absurd quantity of crappy food they eat and their allergy to physical activity.
There we said it…