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Just Exploring the National Library of Medicine

In June, I spent two days at the National Institute of Health's Library of Medicine, where a librarian friend who’s encouraging me to look into librarianship introduced me to her co-workers in various departments. Here are some things I learned about the library.

There’s a daily tour at 1:30. I was the only one it. On the lower level, a set of dioramas shows the collection’s movement from downtown D.C. to Maryland. The collection lived in Ford’s Theater between 1866 and 1887. Today, it’s on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, where it moved in 1962. The building’s Cold War design includes a collapsible ceiling that would allow the roof to come down and seal the collection. This is terrifying. Let’s not dwell on it. 

The library offers extensive online resources, including Turning the Pages, an online look at 13 rare items from the collection. I’ve flipped through all of Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal at least twice, and Hanaoka Seishu’s Surgical Casebook is a gruesome diversion. 

In the library’s History of Medicine division, they have a Nobel Prize on display. This department also organizes exhibits of their archives. They’re currently showing a selection of pictures of nurses, part of a collection of 2,588 postcards assembled by an RN and donated to the library. You can see it here

During my behind-the-scenes wandering, I got to visit the library’s conservation lab, where I met a woman preparing to restitch the binding on a book whose pages she had finished washing. Various librarians talked about Rare Book School, which offers classes mainly in Charlottesville. Who else wants to go to Rare Book School? 

My NLM visit succeeded in getting me to think more about pursuing librarianship (while introducing me to the term “librarianship”), and I’m grateful to my friend and her colleagues who took the time to speak with me. You don’t have to be a maybe-librarian to visit the National Library of Medicine. It’s open to the public, and anyone can get a library card. Or you can skip the Metro ride and security checks and explore the resources from home.  

A Visit to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum

As the vice-president, you probably expect to be invited to White House dinners honoring international visitors. Yet on the suggested guest list for the Kennedys’ 1962 dinner for André Malraux, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, the First Lady had to pencil in the “LB Johnsons.” Perhaps whoever assembled the list took the Johnsons’ presence as a given?

 
 

We visited the JFK Museum and Library at the end of May, our second presidential library (LBJ was our first). The Malraux dinner guest list draft and the seating chart were two of my favorite exhibits. Under the “Theater” section, the guests are deemed “not avant garde enough.” At least two guests have “Who is he?” written next to their names. Because we have an amazing tool that Mrs. Kennedy did not, we can find out quickly who Justin O’Brien was. Google turns up a Columbia French professor who translated the Nobel prize-winning French author André Gide and wrote his biography. He seems like a good candidate for a state dinner, especially if they were looking for more French-speakers to attend, as the notes suggest.

I would look at a whole book of notes on guest lists for state dinners. 

It’s always interesting to see the gifts presented to the President and First Lady by other leaders. When was the last time you got a gold and diamond purse as a gift? Morocco’s King Hassan gave this one to Mrs. Kennedy. The president of Pakistan gave her a horse. 

 
 

The LBJ museum collection is more expansive, but JFK’s presidential term was so much shorter. Happily, there was no animatronic JFK. There was, however, a video of the president playing with a goat.  

So that’s two presidential libraries down, and 11 to go. Have you visited any? Which was your favorite? 

Just Exploring (Getting Lost in) Rock Creek Park

When we were preparing to leave Louisville last year, I wrote about the things I would miss most. The first thing on that list was Cherokee Park

Last weekend, we returned to Louisville to pack up our apartment for D.C. I planned to pack running shoes for a final trail run in Cherokee, then left them out, realizing that 1) I probably wouldn’t have time to run and 2) if I did, I would be tired and achey, making packing more difficult. 

I was right, there was no time for running or walking in the park, so I settled for a quick drive through with a stop at the top of Baringer Hill. As soon as we drove underneath the green archway leading into the park, my eyes started leaking. That park gave me so much solace in my time in Louisville, and I missed it and will continue to miss it. I needed this one final visit and view. 

 No dogs on Dog Hill today.

No dogs on Dog Hill today.

If you read last year’s post, you’ll recall that the first time I ran in Cherokee Park, I got so lost I had to call home for a ride. Going on these exploratory runs is becoming a habit. I did it once in St. Louis and kept running until I found my way home. The most extreme was Louisville. It never happened in Cambridge because I try to run on unpaved paths, and the most convenient one I found was along the Charles. Can’t get confused going up and down a river. 

Smartphones make getting truly lost nearly impossible, but I managed to confuse myself on my inaugural Washington, D.C. run. We’re staying near Rock Creek Park, so yesterday I walked to the Melvin C. Hazen trail and started running. When I got tired, I looked at my phone to find my way out of the park. I went the wrong way before I decided to stop running and start using the map to get home.  It took me about 45 minutes of walking through Chevy Chase and Forest Hills before I got home again. 

 Crossing creeks makes a run more interesting. 

Crossing creeks makes a run more interesting. 

After the first time I got really confused running in St. Louis, I decided this was a great way to learn a new neighborhood. I fully plan to confuse myself in Rock Creek Park again. Our new home will about a five minute walk from the park, on the other side of the creek. I’m happy to be close to a park again and look forward to learning it as well as I did Cherokee. 

Update to the Boston To Do List

Our time in Boston is quickly coming to an end, which means I have very little time left to get through this list. I keep thinking of more things I want to do, but I’ve accepted that this list will go unfinished. 

Here’s what I’ve accomplished from the original list.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -

Look at this courtyard. This alone is worth the visit. In fact, I spent most of my time here and in the ground floor rooms around it. My favorite thing besides the courtyard was the Spanish cloister. The hall is lined with 2000 painted tiles that Gardner’s artist friend, Dodge Macknight, brought her from Mexico. Gardner installed the tiles herself.

Peabody Museum - I visited on a whim one afternoon and learned about Harvard’s Native American history. The college’s 1650 founding charter states it will educate "English & Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge: and godliness.” The first brick building on campus was the Harvard Indian College. Only five or six names of Native American students who attended the college are certain; only Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck graduated, and he died of tuberculosis a year later. His classmate, Joel Iacoomes, was to be valedictorian that year, but died before graduation. In 2011, Harvard awarded him a posthumous degree. 

 Sonic Arboretum

Sonic Arboretum

Institute of Contemporary Art - we went on the last day of the “When the Stars Began to Fall: Imagination and the American South” and the “Sonic Arboretum” exhibits. I went for the Stars exhibit, but I loved the Arboretum, which was a room full of these horn speakers playing an Andrew Bird composition. Also fun: the hallway overlooking the harbor and the living room-sized elevator. 

Whale-watching - I audited a marine biology class this semester, and as the year-end field trip, we went whale-watching. Last semester, I went on a field trip to a chocolate factory, and now, whale-watching. Field trips are really cool at Harvard. 

We saw one Sei whale. Apparently they are a rare sight.

Christian Science Plaza - I still have some exploring to do here, but we did go on the Mapparium tour. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s really bizarre and wonderful. The tour takes you into the three-story, stained glass globe of the world as it was in 1935. There’s a light show, which means various parts of the globe light up as you hear “welcome” in different languages. This sounds cheesy, and it is a little bit, but it’s still presented in a way that made me a little teary-eyed.

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - I almost gave up on this when we went to look for it. It’s described as “easy to miss.” That is true. If you’re looking for this plaque, it’s in the low, stone wall near the entrance of the park, in between Puopolo and Langone Parks. If you’re looking at the bocce pits with your back to the street, it’s on the right. 

So that’s about six things out of twenty on the list.

But I've also done things that weren’t on the list, like biking to Walden Pond and swimming in it again, even though it was breath-takingly cold; ringing the bells in the Lowell House bell tower (“houses” are where the students live, but you would never call these accommodations “dorms”); handling Ansel Adams prints in one of the libraries; and spending an hour in a Harvard art museum study room with my favorite images, Andre Kertesz’s “Chez Mondrian.” And then there are new things I’ve learned about that should go on the list, like visiting Spot Pond in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, or the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, or taking a ferry to one of the Harbor Islands. 

We have visitors this weekend, which usually means more sight-seeing… and maybe tackling a few more of these “To-Dos.” For those with Boston experience, I welcome any suggestions on the one thing we have to do before we leave. 

On Serendipitous Travel Moments, or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

For one of the classes I’m auditing this semester, I’ve been reading Henry Brooks Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and though he worked as private secretary to his ambassador father, wrote, and taught at Harvard, in reading his autobiography, you get the sense that he never really did anything.  He did marry, and his wife, Marian (“Clover”) committed suicide by drinking photo developing chemicals. You don’t learn about this in his book, because he doesn’t mention Clover or her death at all. 

Although Adams didn’t talk about his wife’s death, he commissioned a statue in her memory (Atlas Obscura has a great post about the memorial). Today, you can visit the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C. We spent a few days in Washington over our spring break. I thought about looking for the statue, but spent the time visiting museums and friends instead.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

 Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

A few years ago, I arrived in San Francisco for a work trip on the last day of the Garry Winogrand exhibition at SFMoMA. I dropped my bags at a friend’s and ran over there for the last few hours of the show. What I didn’t realize (because again, no planning) was that it was also the last day the art museum would be open for the next three years, so admission was free and there were activities (like hat making) happening around the building. I saw the Winogrand, and as the museum closed, watched a dance performance in the lobby.

I love incidents like this. I could have planned for either of them (we know I need to work on my planning). But if I figure out where the thing is, how to get to the thing, and if the thing will be open, that seems like enough planning ahead. I like going out to see what I can find — or what will find me. 

I want to be a Mardi Grasdian

Many years ago, in junior high in Dallas, my history teacher asked why a classmate was absent.

“She’s at Mardi Gras,” another student said.

“Well, that’s not an excused absence.”

“Uh, yeah it is,” the student said. “It’s for religious reasons! She’s… Mardi Grasdian."

I didn’t understand Mardi Gras before I lived in New Orleans. The king cakes I’d tried were unimpressive, and the rest of it had a “Girls Gone Wild” feel. It didn’t help that my only pre-New Orleans Mardi Gras experience was during my freshmen year at college in St. Louis (home of the second biggest Mardi Gras in the U.S.), where it was freezing and I saw breasts. Yes, those are my two take-aways. There was also a parade.

And then, in 2006, I moved to New Orleans to work with the St. Bernard Project and had my first New Orleans Mardi Gras. As the (volunteer) volunteer coordinator, I had a second job waiting tables. The restaurant was on Bourbon Street, and everyone worked the five days leading up to Fat Tuesday. When New Orleans journalist Chris Rose says, "Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge,” that is true, unless you’re working in the French Quarter with the tourists (you should read that column in full. Also, to get a sense of the mess of Katrina, you should read Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic. I’ve just finally bought it.) 

Drunks and rowdiness and waiting tables and all, I still loved it. I loved it because it was more than one parade on one day. It was a whole new world of my 60-year-old landlady-housemate and her costume trunk; it was Mardi Gras decorations popping up weeks before that big Tuesday, on pristine houses in the Garden District and on FEMA trailers in St. Bernard; it was learning about krewes and Mardi Gras ladders and Zulu coconuts and buying lots of king cakes because actually, they are delicious. Just read the Chris Rose column. That’s about it. 

I would like to go back and do Mardi Gras properly. I would also like to go to everyone else’s Mardi Gras/Carnaval/Fasnacht/Fasching. I have been missing Mardi Gras since 2008 and trying to create some Mardi Gras spirit wherever I am. Last year, we stumbled on a parade in Galveston, Texas, which was a pleasant surprise. We also went to a crawfish boil at Selena’s in Louisville. 

 Mardi Gras parade in Galveston, TX

Mardi Gras parade in Galveston, TX

This year, to brighten up the New England winterscape, I made my first king cake and listened to a Spotify Mardi Gras playlist. (This is the recipe I used.) Today, like every year, I am wearing my Mardi Gras-colored tie of beads. These are sad substitutes — there’s not even a baby in the cake. Yet as an aspiring Mardi Grasdian, the least I can do is remind you that it’s not just any Tuesday.

Happy Mardi Gras, friends. Keep your shirts on. They throw the beads anyway.

The Boston To Do List

I work better with deadlines and best when the deadline is near. We are now into the second part of the Nieman year, and while it’s too soon to say the end is near, it’s getting nearer. To make sure I see more of Boston while we live here, I’ve put together my Boston To Do List. Most of the destinations came from paging through Maria T. Olia’s “Little Black Book of Boston."

Museums (there are many)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - When we moved, this was a top recommendation. I’ve saved museums for winter... so now.

 Chihuly at the MFA

Chihuly at the MFA

Peabody Museum - I walked by this museum nearly every day last semester, but I have yet to visit it.

Harvard Semitic Museum - ditto

Museum of African American History 

Institute of Contemporary Art 

Gordon Parks exhibition at the MFA - I’ve been to the MFA twice. At $25, it’s pricy, but your ticket is good for a second visit in the next 10 days. It’s free after 4 pm on Wednesdays and stays open until 9:45.

JFK Presidential Library and Museum - After visiting the LBJ library last year, we would now like to visit every presidential library. Their main exhibition halls are under renovation until mid-March, so I’ll wait until spring.

Robert Klein Gallery 

Paul Revere House 

Ship-related Activities (and actual ships)

Boston Tea Party ship and museum 

USS Constitution

Whale watching - after the seasickness on the boat to Provincetown, I’m concerned about how this will go. I figure I’ll take some Dramamine and ask someone to wake me up if there are whales. 

Libraries and churches

Boston Public Library -  It’s supposedly beautiful and I see there’s an exhibition on maps from imaginary literary landscapes opening today. 

Trinity Church and Old South Church - these are both at Copley Square by the library and were recommended in the guide book, so I figure I’ll just pop in and take a look. 

Christian Science Plaza, Mother Church, and the Mary Baker Eddy Library - the plaza looks lovely (maybe better in spring and summer), the church has one of the largest pipe organs in the world (13290 pipes), and there's a three-story stained glass globe (there’s a Groupon for it right now)

Boston athenaeum and skin book - Thanks to recent visitors, I’ve learned that the Boston athenaeum has a book about the highwayman James Allen, which is bound in his own skin (officially titled "Narrative of the life of James Allen : alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison”). This is weird and horrifying and I want to see it.

Things Outside

Mount Auburn Cemetery - I’ve been twice already, but it’s a huge, lovely garden cemetery. I want to see it in all seasons. 

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - the now-defunct Louisville theater group Le Petomane taught me about the Great Molasses Flood, but I didn’t realize it took place in Boston until the guide book told me about the plaque. If you’ve never heard of the Great Molasses Flood, check out this recent Boston Globe story 

The Bunker Hill Monument - We’ve walked around the grounds at night, but I’d love to see the view from the top. You can climb the monument’s 294 steps for free. 

Fairsted (Frederick Law Olmsted’s home & office) - Because he is responsible for Cherokee Park in Louisville, I love Olmsted, without knowing much about the man or his life. Now I can visit his home and learn more. 

Back Bay Fens - Another Olmsted project. It’s looking a little rough at the moment, so I’ll wait until spring for this one, as well. 

And finally, I would like to visit the Massachusetts State House, but I didn’t have a category for it. There is a wooden cod suspended from the ceiling in the House of Representatives, symbolizing the importance of the fishing industry. It is called the Sacred Cod. I must see this sacred fish. 

Have I overlooked one of your favorite Boston-area destinations? Tell me about it!