Conventional wisdom says that when Washington starts to make you sick, when "talking heads" get on your nerves, it's best to head for the nearest Caribbean island, ski resort or town from whence you came. I agree, but until those tax refunds come in, consider a visit to the Mall.
Are your kids interested in art, music, dance, sculpture (anything?) Just put them on a subway car or make them walk to the Mall. With hundreds of weekend lectures and seminars, they can become experts in the arts before the school year ends. We're talking really good deals on Monet, Rembrandt, Manet, Van Gogh. How can you refuse?
The museums and art galleries are fantastic, but many places -- such as the fabulous Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery, are still the secret purview of a few art aficionados. Although the city's tourist board says that attendance is up along the Mall, they are talking about visitors -- and during this time of year, when most of them are gone, a Sunday afternoon and evening reveals sparsely populated galleries and exhibit rooms.
Check this out: The Smithsonian has 13 museums and a National Zoo. We're talking about the largest museum complex in the world, with seven wonderful buildings housing everything from dinosaurs to space capsules and moon rocks right between the Washington Monument and the Capitol with an eighth one, the new Center for African, Near Eastern and Asian Cultures scheduled to open next year.
People come from all over the world to visit the National Air and Space Museum and watch those incredible movies about the joys of flying and the workings of the universe projected on five-story high movie screens. Yet, there are kids in this city who know nothing about it. To be sure, the Smithsonian has an Anacostia Neighborhood Museum. But it just doesn't compare with the Mall.
The Mall is a mile and a half of culture, so much in fact that some folk never get beyond the East and West Wings of the National Gallery of Art, and that's okay. The Degas and Calder exhibits can occupy a full day, to say nothing of studying the buildings themselves.
Of course, half the fun is walking the Mall. That's what it was made for, anyway. With domes, temples, towers and obelisks arranged in carefully planned sight lines, visitors sense the order that went into planning the city, if not the order that keeps it going.
A real favorite is the Museum of Natural History, with more than 81 million objects in its research collection, including dinosaurs, African bush elephants and the Hope Diamond. Then there is American History Museum, kind of hokey, but the stuff that tourists eat up, such as old trains and figures of the first ladies garbed in their inaugural gowns.
But don't miss the Museum of African Art, where the rich artistic heritage of Africa is laid out through sculpture, musical instruments and textiles. This museum is now located at 318 A St. SE but will be moved to the Mall next year.There is also the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Arts and Industries Building, not to mention the Smithsonian Castle itself.
So what are you waiting for?
Here is a place with a magnificence that even the New York art and museum scene cannot duplicate -- and it's free! Tourists and hobos know this, and now is a good time for local folk to discover it, too, before David Stockman and the OMB find out and start charging to peek at paintings.
As a federal city, Washington was planned to be one big tourist attraction. But for residents not to venture out and see what the city has to offer is worse than living in Orlando and never going to Disney World. Folk here are famous for complaining about having nothing to do, no place to go and not enough money to do it, but the Mall proves that the finest things in life are truly free. All you have to do is check it out.