And Abide Quietly in Your Home

This week’s post is about keeping women indoors. Its title comes from the Koran (33:33). Because it is addressed to the wives of the Prophet, some feel the verse should not be used to justify restrictions on Muslim women in general, which they oppose. But I have a more concrete example for you: Lady Baltimore.

Weighing in at 2,750 pounds, with a worn face and two prosthetic arms, she is still simply marble-ous. Antonio Capellano, said to be a student of Canova, created the statue for Maximilian Godefroy’s Battle Monument, commemorating the repulsion of the British by forces under Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland Militia 200 years ago this September.

Our heroine was hoisted up in 1822 and the monument soon became the symbol of Baltimore, depicted on the city’s official seal (as shown on my Calvert Yellow recycling bin). You may have noticed that this is the big year for the Star-Spangled Banner, the lyrics of which were written by Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key as he proudly hailed the flag at the twilight’s last gleaming o’er the ramparts of Fort McHenry, and so on.

Brought indoors last fall, Lady B. now abides quietly at the Maryland Historical Society. A cement replica presides over her former traffic island (look both ways). Meanwhile, abiding quietly at the Acropolis Museum in Athens are five of the six caryatids from the Erechtheion porch, which went on display last June after extensive cleaning and conservation (one pedestal has been left empty for the sixth, who remains in captivity at the British Museum).

There is some question as to whether the caryatids represent priestesses of Artemis, who danced with baskets on their heads, or the women of Caryae, enslaved by the Athenians because the town sided with the Persians. Be that as it may, my point is that outside is one thing and inside another.

To see the original Lady Baltimore will cost you nine dollars; to see the original caryatids, five euros (you can try to cheer up the one in the British Museum for nothing, but they’re asking 16 pounds 50 for the BP exhibition: Ming, opening 18 September). As those of you who read my first post (“It’s Free!”) know, I’m in favor of charging admission. But what we have here is the distinction between a destination and an attraction.

A destination is a place with a name connected to images in the minds of prospective visitors: Baltimore, Fort McHenry, Athens, the Acropolis. A destination is free to occupy, 24-7 (these days the Acropolis is an exception, but the term would apply to the neighborhoods around it, such as Plaka and Monastiraki), and more than the sum of the attractions it contains.

An attraction is a gated experience: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the Maryland Historical Society, the Acropolis Museum, the British Museum.

Let’s visit some other marble women and a marble man. In the center of D.C.’s Dupont Circle is a fountain, erected in 1920 as a monument to Rear Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont (1803-1865). The du Pont family wasn’t satisfied with Launt Thompson’s statue, installed in 1884, so they shipped it to Wilmington in 1917 and hired architect Henry Bacon and sculptor Daniel Chester French, co-creators of the Lincoln Memorial, to hammer out something more memorable.

In fact, it’s a masterpiece. Water spills at three points from a huge shallow bowl. Around the bowl’s cylindrical base are figures, eight feet tall, representing the arts of navigation: Sea, a gowned female with an agitated gull on her shoulder; Sky, a nude female with billowing hair, a globe pressed to her breast; and Wind, a nude male grasping a conch, his head in profile, his privates concealed by a sail.

I lived near Dupont Circle from 2006 to 2008, but I never heard anyone call it the Fruit Loop. It’s greatest gay days were past, though it is still home to the Capital Pride Parade and the High Heel Race. Lambda Rising, the historic bookstore with branches in Baltimore, Rehoboth Beach, and Norfolk, closed for good in 2010. The new century has been hard on all bookstores, but Lambda Rising also faced Acceptance Rising (good) and Rents Rising (mixed).

Back then, District Hardware, also a bike shop, and The Third Day garden store were attached to the Blaine Mansion (John Fraser, 1881). Now in those renovated spaces are Pizza Paradiso, a local chain that originated in Dupont in 1991 (so I really can’t knock em, though personally I’m an Alberto’s guy), and Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ, KFC, CVS, pas de différence). The Patterson Mansion (Stanford White, 1903), home of the Washington Club since 1951, is being converted into luxury studio apartments. I doubt they will have Murphy beds like mine did.

However, it is still possible to look past the gentry and the millennials to appreciate the beauty of the architecture, the landscaping, and the fountain, and engage in people-watching the equal of New York’s.

As you sit by the fountain or on the circle of benches, humans from all over the country and the world (and their dogs) cross the Circle—where Connecticut Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, P Street, and 19th Street intersect—on 50 different routes. It’s a fashion show of power suits, designer dresses, saris, dashikis, headscarves, spandex, sleeve tattoos, T-shirts, and rags.

You could spend an entire day and night there (not unknown), watching joggers, commuters, lunchers, activists, panhandlers, and clubbers—both Cosmos Club members and, at places like Kabin, their wild grandchildren.

It’s a true destination, complete with major hotels, an express bus connection to New York, and a Sunday farmer’s market. But what about the attractions it contains?

First and foremost, there’s the Phillips Collection, which calls itself “America’s first museum of modern art.” In 1921, Jones and Laughlin Steel heir Duncan Phillips opened a public gallery in his home. The mansion—about two blocks from the Circle and one block from the Metro stop (north exit)—became a museum after his family moved out in 1930.

In addition to the permanent collection (great) and special exhibitions (some of the best), the Phillips has presented a Sunday chamber music series in the mansion’s small and gorgeous music room for nearly 75 years. For the hip younger set (Forbes recently named Washington, D.C., America’s Coolest City. Don’t make me laugh.), there’s Phillips After 5 on the first Thursday of the month. If you’re free on September 4, we can “Celebrate the art of slowing down. Sip cocktails, savor local pickled delicacies and learn about the brining craft.”

(Does this sound like I’m brown-nosing the Phillips? Well, I find their pricing ridiculously complex and their email blasts inane. Is that better?)

The Phillips Collection and eight other museums are members of the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium, but some are a ways from Dupont and the most prominent after the Phillips, the Textile Museum, is moving to George Washington University this fall (its S Street building, two connected mansions, was listed at $22 million, but no one seems to have snapped it up yet). The consortium holds a Museum Walk Weekend in June. There are also a good number of art galleries in the neighborhood, which stay open late on the first Friday of the month.

The last movie theater closed in January of 2008, the DC Improv comedy club is a short walk down Connecticut Avenue, and the Keegan Theatre (“Powerful productions of classic and modern plays and musicals, offered to the community at affordable, neighborhood prices.”), founded in 1996, is raising $4 million to renovate its Church Street building.

But though I lived in the vicinity, I never heard of the Keegan Theatre until I did some Googling today. A destination is not a theme park, but to a certain extent it needs to think like one, planning, marketing, building infrastructure, and providing services like a single entity.

This “desti-traction” approach, and the drawbacks of what’s been called bunker or fortress tourism, are next week’s topics. Until then, get out of the house!


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