She raises one eyebrow. “Why would you want to go to such a place?”
I explain. She sighs. She is weary. She understands my weariness. We are mutually weary.
“Well, I don’t know,” she says finally. “You might try the Ice Age.”
‘That’s what I came here to see’
But the Ice Age is bustling. It’s all bustling, everywhere except a small basement exhibit called “Birds of the District of Columbia.” (But who among us, really, wants to look at those birds?)
Away, away, in search of peace, in search of things we have not seen, in search of places to rest our eyes.
On the walk, the sounds of a hundred half-coherent tourist conversations:
“And then the door closed on her. It just closed. And she got beheaded and other people had, like, limbs cut off.”
“But I told her, don’t blame me if you get a headache. You got to take an Aleve with a Diet Coke first thing in the morning.”
“If you love this museum so much, why don’t you marry it?”
“I saw it. That’s what I came here to see, and I saw it.”
Now we are in the National Museum of American History, upstairs in the first ladies exhibit, where the inauguration gowns of American presidential wives are displayed in long glass cases. What the woman was so excited to see is Jacqueline Kennedy’s dress. This dress is her puffy shirt.
Another woman, with steel-wool curls, circles the glass case that contains Michelle Obama’s dress from the 2009 inauguration. She gives the gown a frank, appraising look, and then calls over her friend.
“Ginny. Ginny. Look at this dress. I don’t think her butt can be as big as people say it is.”
Leave your guests. Leave them. Let them roam and discover and be filled with awe.
You, take the elevator or the escalator back downstairs.
Walk into the exhibit hall called “Lighting a Revolution.” This exhibit hall contains many types of steam engines. Walk past them. Walk past the Skinner Unaflow engine, the Westinghouse compound engine, the Porter-Allen high-speed steam engine. Walk to the Matthias Baldwin engine. It is against a brick wall. Walk behind the brick wall. On the other side of the brick wall is a bench. In front of the bench is nothing but the other side of the brick wall.
It is quiet back here, and uninterrupted, and the air feels three or four degrees cooler than it does in the rest of the exhibit, whether because the lighting is dim or because you have removed yourself from the stickiness of the crowds, from their grimy coating of sunscreen and Mall dust. You can sit on the bench and stare at the wall, and the voices echoing from beyond it (“Sometimes I do this thing with cheese where I mix the blue cheese with port wine cheese and, like, the cream cheese”) will roll together until they sound like nothing, until they sound like white noise, until they sound like clattering seagulls at the beach, which is where you would rather be instead of where you are. Which is at the Museum of American History.
Know of an undiscovered gem of an exhibit? A novel way to experience D.C. or one of its most popular tourist destinations? Tell us about how you cope with tourism fatigue here. We’’ll post your comments online and publish the best of them in print.