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Letter 19 (page 2)

Out and about elsewhere

Lan and her cousin took a cruise from New York to St Johns, Newfoundland (Canada) and back again stopping at Halifax, Boston and Martha's Vineyard along the way. Very pleasant but no pictures to show you.

Late last year I visited Australia but this time, on my own.Note 3 Since I had no need to visit Adelaide where Lan has family, I took a trip to Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Echuca and Canberra to see my extended family and to be a tourist in myown country. It was wonderful! In particular, visiting my uncle John was long overdue as I had not seen him and his family since my father's death almost 10 years before. There was a drought at the time of my visit and when I visited Nicole in Ballarat (where my mother grew up), I was alarmed to see that Lake Wendouree had virtually no water in it.

Despite widespread belief to the contrary, the hot, humid summer here did not make Washington D.C. a "hardship posting" for foreign diplomats in the days before air conditioning. However, it certainly saps the motivation of tourists wanting see the sights—as my mother discovered when she came to visit in mid-August. Outdoor attractions were largely out of the question, at least initially.

As some of you are aware, we lived in Washington DC in 1969-1971 and my mother has stayed in contact with our neighbor from that time. Having come this far, she took a plane, bus and ferry to visit Diane at her holiday house at Martha's Vineyard, an island not too far from Boston and then spent a weekend heroically trying to see all of Boston.

There are so many things to see around Washington (so long as you like art galleries, monuments, museums and large public buildings) so my mother had plenty to keep her busy while we were at work during the day and on the weekends we went to attractions that required a car.

One of those was University of Virginia at Charlottesville. It is hard to see why it was built here given that the nearest port, Richmond, is 70 miles/115 km away and that roads in early 1800s were dreadful—until you realize it was designed by former-President Thomas Jefferson whose estate is just a few miles away.

However the highlight of my mother's time with us was the 3-day expedition we made to Toronto and Niagara Falls!Note 4.

Out and about around here

Although America is the center of global consumerism, the National Mall is actually not a shopping center but a park forming the heart of Washington and is sometimes called “America's Front Lawn”. Washington's most-recognized attractions are clustered around it including the Smithsonian museums, monuments for Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, three wars, the US Capitol and the White House.Note 5.

The great advantage of living here is that we can see things in manageable doses and since they keep changing it, we've made several visits to the National Galley of Art where the most amazing exhibition was one on Afghan treasures.Note 6. Another visit was sparked by reading article in the Washington Post about Raphael's Alba Madonna.Note 7 To my own surprise, I've taken a much greater interest in art but only after seeing two brilliant BBC series on art history.Note 8

America's only national park devoted to aquatic plants is just a few miles from downtown, is amazing&mash;and hardly anyone knows about it. We were thrilled to share this gem with my cousins Neville & Diana and later with my mother.

The Amish people live by choice without most modern conveniences but they have a strong tradition of quilting, something in which Lan has an interest. There is a museum a few hours away in Lancaster, Pennsylvania which was well worth a visit. The building housed a bank that collapsed in the Depression and remained vacant for 50 years! The first task for renovators was to clear 2ft/60cm of pigeon droppings!

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  1. See all the photos of my 2007 trip to Australia.
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  2. See my mother's Flickr photoset.
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  3. Learn more about the National Mall.
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  4. Treasures of the National Museum of Afghanistan.
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  5. Read the fascinating story of the Alba Madonna.
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  6. BBC documentaries on art history: How Art Changed the World and Simon Schama's Power of Art (both available through Netflix).
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