Day 2: I want a lipstick pistol!
October 25, 2009 § 1 Comment
After a pleasant brunch at home, my sister C. and I ventured out into DC for a day out on the town. Our first stop was the International Spy Museum near Gallery Place/Chinatown. This past summer, some cousins stayed with us and gave us rave reviews of the Spy Museum after spending an afternoon there. It had been on my list of things to do in DC since its opening in 2005, so when we were trying to figure out what to do on our day out, that was my first suggestion.
The International Spy Museum is the first in the United States to be entirely devoted to the history of international espionage, and this is certainly its most unique feature. Different sections of the museum are devoted to different spy organizations, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the KGB. Contrary to my fears that most of the “museum” would be about fictional heroes, in reality very few of the exhibits were about James Bond, Spy vs. Spy, or Emma Peel.
When you first enter the museum, you take an elevator to the second floor, where you are ushered into a large room by black-suited and silent museum staff. In this room, you choose your identity from amongst twenty or so options, and memorize the name and biography of your cover. Throughout the museum experience, you will be confronted by museum staff at random and interrogated to see if you can keep your cool and not blow your cover, so it is important that you remember all the details.
After an educational video about what it means to be a spy, you continue on into a “training room” which teaches you observation tactics, and from there you enter the museum itself. The walls are lined with glass cases filled with awesome artifacts, from cameras hidden in buttons, to microfilm and (my personal favorite) a lipstick pistol. In my opinion, however, the best part of the museum was the next exhibit, which was all about the history of spies and spy organizations. As you meander through rooms designed to look historic – a 17th cent. library, a women’s dressing room during the Civil War – you learn about Civil War spies, Benjamin Franklin’s role in espionage, ninjas, the prophet Daniel, and the Code of Hammurabi amongst other things.
Although I certainly enjoyed the majority of the museum, the very end was a letdown. You move through a fantastic exhibit on the Berlin Wall and the Cold War, only to be confronted by a techno-room filled with televisions, computer screens, and LED tickers that appears to have no other role but to give you a headache. I suppose nothing can be entirely perfect. All things considered, the museum was well worth the high admission price.
C.’s friend T. met us halfway through the museum, and both inspired and accompanied us to our next stop, the National Portrait Gallery. Across the street from the International Spy Museum stands the Portrait Gallery, which houses as part of its permanent collections early American portraiture dating from the 1600s to the 1900s and a gallery of Presidential portraits. Also, for those interested in the Lincoln Bicentennial, the ballroom on the second floor was the location of President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball, and has a special display to remember that momentous occasion.
But I think all three of us would agree that one item in that Gallery is not to be missed: the visitors’ comments books located in each exhibition hall. We stood there for long periods of time and simply leafed through the books, laughing and offering a running monologue on the different notes left by visitors. Some comments were stiff and formal; others obviously written by more mischievous hands. All were extremely entertaining.
At this point, T. invited my sister and I to come to his grandparents’ house near Forest Glen for dinner. I had never been to Forest Glen, and did not expect it to be a part of my “100 Days in DC”. Thankfully, I was mistaken. It turns out that the metro station at Forest Glen is second deepest in the world at twenty stories below the surface. It is reachable only via six high-speed elevators. I felt a little claustrophobic and honestly could not exit the station fast enough.
We finished off the night with an absolutely delightful dinner with T.’s family and relaxing post-dinner conversation as we went through a slideshow of photographs from T.’s trip to France earlier this year. (Thank you so much, T.!) It was a lovely day out on the town – neither C. nor I could have asked for more.