Sunday, June 24, 2007

What's Up?...From the Most Powerful City in the World

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Welcome back to your one and only virtual location to experience DC vicariously through me.

It has been pretty exciting around here recently, especially since the days leading up to the annual Folklife Festival are winding down. This year is one of the biggest festivals in a long time in terms of the number of participants. The cultures represented for the 2007 Festival are from the Mekong River area, Northern Ireland, and the historic Roots of Virginia. I'm super excited that I ended up coming to work during this festival. I've always been allured by the sounds of the erhu or Chinese Violin. And if you've ever ridden in my car or listened to my radio show on the exquisite KSCL 91.3 FM, then you know that I really enjoy bluegrass, folk, and other types of old-time music. Coming from Tennessee, I have a special appreciation for the traditional music of Appalachia. Appalachian culture is also very prevalent in Virginia, and the people who migrated to this area often brought with them the heritage and culture of Celtic tradition. These people came from the British Isles, so the Northern Ireland and Historic Virginia components of the 2007 Festival should be a blast for anyone enjoying that type of music. If you're in the area next week, here's a sample of the type of music you might hear.

But enough of the history lesson. Chummin' around DC has just been great. I've been here for 2 weeks, and I still feel like I've hardly seen anything! I usually work 10-2ish, and I use the rest of the time to explore what the capital has to offer.

My day starts off with a commute via the Virginia Railway Express. It's a tad on the long side, but I get to read/sleep so no biggy. The train drops me off right by my building, located just South of the National Mall.

Capital Gallery

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It's a really nice building, recently renovated with a couple shops and restaurants downstairs. I also recently discovered that there is a penthouse roof, and since then, me and some other interns have went up there for lunch with a great view of the Potomac, the Capital, and the Washington Monument (a shot from up there guaranteed for next blog!). In fact, if you click and zoom in on that pic you can see four people scoping out the view.

Work is, well, work. We do things like go through stacks and stacks of music magazines looking for mentions of Folkways releases and artists (e.g. Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Lucinda Williams), look up addresses for libraries and potential customers in New Zealand, Switzerland, Turkey, Finland and the rest of the world, label and shrink wrap CD's with a glorified hairdryer (which is really neat for the first 10 minutes and then awful for the next 2 hours), and all sorts of other things. But the best part is the laid back atmosphere that everyone has, from the interns all the way up to the Center director, Richard Kurin. Whether we're doing fun stuff or not so fun stuff, we can always grab a CD from the huuuuge collection and listen while we work. One day we listened to a CD called Por Por, which is a new release from Ghana where everything is played on instruments made from old car parts! Another time we played a Paul Robeson recording, who I had just learned about in my 20th Century US History course with Dr. Shepherd.

But the real fun comes when I leave work and wander about the city. Somedays its fun to just sit under a tree and read, other times you wanna go see it all...these latter days usually don't happen in conjunction with the blisteringly hot days. So far I've only seen about 1/4 of the National Gallery of Art, and that took me two days.

National Gallery of Art rotunda

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The collection is huge, and the building has two indoor gardens that are really nice to sit and relax in. I saw lots of neat paintings, including some by Raphael and the only Da Vinci in the United States. However, this one, called The Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, was the most striking.

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I thought it was weird to have a crucifix hanging in the room where Jesus was born. I looked it up later but could only find something saying that it was a foreshadowing of the infant's fate, which was what I figured anyways. Still, it shows that even if you thought you've seen every Madonna and nativity painting out there, some have different little things to make them unique.

I recently started going through the National Museum of Natural History. It is also humongous, and its even worse because instead of just pictures, it's full of complex diaramas and diagrams explaining all the artifacts and exhibits. That makes it super interesting and at the same time super long to go through. That is if you actually want to learn everything. Most of the patrons here, however, are twelve and under and are thus satisfied by going "AHHHHHHH!!" when they see the skeletons of the T-Rex and the triceratops.

Allosaurus Fragilis Late Jurassic (150-140 million years ago), found in Colorado

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This dude could eat this other lame guy, who only ate grass like a cow:

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Of course, it's important to remember why all of these museums exist and are free. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the Smithsonian's mission is the 'increase and diffusion of knowledge' and that is the standard that all of the museums and centers, even mine, which deals with folk music, are held to. It all started with this guy, James Smithson...

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...who had his money bequethed to the United States to set up an institution to carry out that goal. Thanks to him, I have a job ;)

So that's what my daily life has been like so far. Evenings are all about eating, relaxing with the dog and family (not my own, the host family) and going to sleep to start all over again. Some new dogs were in the house this weekend, about 15 of em! And they were all water dogs. They were here doing water training, which is something their owners make them do I guess to justify spending hundred's of dollars on the dog in the first place. They did all sorts of crazy things like...jump in the water, swim, and bring back a buoy. I just learned that buoy can be a hard word to look up and spell. Here's a shot of Piper's bud Lulu. She's sportin a lion cut, the traditional clip used for PWD's in show.

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OKAAAAAY, I guess that'll be all for now. Here's a little video that explains what the Folklife Festival is all about. If you watch the whole thing, you will see a secret on how to get a full ride to Centenary...I'm not kidding, watch it!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An Adventure Begins!

Hello world (read: bored high school students looking at this web site because their mom told them to and all others who are reading specifically because they love me).

As you may or may not know, I am in the early stages of a summer internship with the Smithsonian in D.C. Centenary College of Louisiana has been generous enough to A) pay me money to write about all of my amazing (and not so great) experiences and, more importantly, B) publish it on the web so that all of you can read and decide if a place like Centenary might be for you. So waita go lil' Cent. But enough introduction.

I got to Virginia, where I'm staying with a family of three, on Thursday. I gotta say it's a great place to be. They are all really nice, have a beautiful house in an upscale country club, and, best of all, they aren't making me pay a dime. Although they warned me that the commute might be difficult, I went ahead and decided to stay here.

Friday I did a practice run of getting into DC. It was relatively painless and didn't feel as long as it actually took. The best part is the train drops me off right by the building I'll be working in. Specifically, I'm working with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, which is a division of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The office is just south of the Mall: here's a link to a google map of exactly where I work. You can't really tell it from there, but the building, Capital Gallery, is one of the nicest in the area.

On Friday I met John Smith, head of International Sales & Marketing, who is my on-paper supervisor. We basically chatted about what's coming up and he introduced me to some other people I would be working with. The entire office was really laid back; many people wore t-shirts or shorts, and everyone was friendly and approachable. Since a couple of people had expressed feelings that I should wear nice clothes to work but I told them that I would probably be fine, I felt a little vindicated after seeing one intern in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Here's to hoping I never have to grow up and wear a shirt and tie!

I don't know much of what I'll be doing, but everything John Smith (I know, what a name) talked about sounded fun. One thing that is going to be really cool is working with the annual Folklife Festival, which is a huge deal every summer when they bring in all sorts of musicians, craftsmen, and storytellers from different cultures around the world. This year there are three groups: the Mekong River valley in Southeast Asia, Northern Ireland, and historic Virginia (it's the 400th anniversary of Jamestown this year). John said something I would need to do here would be documenting stages, recording performances and taking notes on it all. Being a Centenary DJ with a special interest in Americana music, this is going to be a blast. The music from Northern Ireland should be especially cool, because one of my favorite genres, Bluegrass, traces its roots back to Celtic folk music.

Needless to say, as a history major who would really like to be a teacher or professor, but also has a passion for music and a secret desire to work with it as a fun job, this whole experience is going to be great because it will show me some different options for a career. One person that works there is an ethnomusicologist - how cool is that!

Anyways, I think that's enough for one day. I'll have a lot more once everything gets going here. I didn't take my camera to DC, but I do have a picture of the view from my bedroom here at Casa Melson.

(you can click both of these pics to get a fullsize image)

room with a view - click to enlarge

And here is a pic of the family dog, Old Salt Sandpiper by the Sea, aka Sandpiper, aka Sandpipe, aka Piper, aka Pipe, hanging out on my bed while I type this blog. She is a Portuguese Water Dog. If you look close there is a hat and glasses, but I'm not sure who those belong to...

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Okay kids, keep enjoying the summer, because it's going to be gone before ya know it. Holler!