Art, History, and the legacy of Wealth


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Published: November 15th 2008
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Baltimore was only a pit-stop on the way to my real destination: Washington DC.
I haven't been to Washington in over a decade and am eager to get back.
I spent my first day in what is arguably the city's most culturally diverse neighborhood, Dupont Circle.
Its named for the Circle itself, a giant traffic rotary that is a nightmare to drive.
The rotary in turn is named for an US Navy Admiral during the Civil War, who is distantly related to the family that started the eponymous chemical company.




DuPont Circle






Back at the turn of the 19th century, this was THE neighborhood to live in DC.
Newly minted industrialists built huge mansions to showcase their wealth, and the surrounding area was filled with Victorian brownstones.
Ultimately, the residents moved to areas further northwest, and the mansions were taken over by embassies, private clubs, and think tanks.
The whole area, in fact, is known as embassy row.
The neighborhood these days has the wealthy, funky, intellectual, heavily international vibe of a college town, without the actual college.
Its the sort of place where the newspaper boxes are plastered with signs to work on the Obama presidential campaign (and not a John McCain sign in sight).
It also has the best ethnic restaurants in DC.

I stayed at the DuPont at the Circle, a Bed and Breakfast located three blocks from the Circle itself.
Chain motels get boring after a while, so I try to mix in more unique lodgings when I travel.
The inn itself is a renovated brownstone filled with antiques.
The information card has a note that almost everything is original, and guests need to take care not to damage anything.
The walls of the common areas are covered with art.
In many ways, it feels like visiting your grandparents’ house, if they travelled often and had good taste.
That being said, the guest services are strictly 21st century, with a flat screen TV in the room, free WIFI, and a jetted tub in the bathroom.
The room is a little small, but I don't mind this since I live in a small apartment anyway,
One other downside is that it is located across an alley from a popular restaurant that stays open late.
If you come in summer and are sensitive to noise, get a room at the front of the building.



Phillips Collection






Other than soaking up the neighborhood, my other goal today was the Phillips Collection.
It began as the personal art collection of industrialist Duncan Phillips.
Back when he started buying art, contemporary art, especially American contemporary art, was considered to be trash, and few people would buy it.
Duncan Phillips loved it, and bought quite a bit.
He started exhibiting it in his Washington mansion.
Eventually, in 1921, he opened the collection to the public as a memorial to his father and brother.
The Phillips calls itself America’s first modern art museum because the opening preceded the Museum of Modern Art by eight years.

Visiting the museum is both enlightening and frustrating.
Duncan Phillips considered art's emotional effect on the viewer to be its most important quality.
The pieces are arranged to showcase and contrast how different artists accomplished this.
If you are used to the mainly historic (movements, individual artists) way most museums are organized, its a very different experience, and disorientating until you get used to it.
The frustration comes from the museum's relatively small size.
Only a small portion of the holdings are on view at any one time.
As a result, every artist, even
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The former Anderson mansion, now home to the society of decedents of colonial army officers.
the most significant, has only a few works on show.
Many have only a single work.
It feels much like getting a table at the city's best restaurant, and only being able to order appetizers.

One of the Phillips's highlights is the free chamber music concerts.
The one when I was there featured work by living composers, for saxophone and piano.
As someone who only though of the saxophone as a jazz instrument, it was quite the experience.






French Treat









Dinner that night was at the Bistrot du Coin.
Many French restraunts in the US attempt to create French dining at its very best, with prices to match.
You feel like this is where a Frenchman would go for a special occasion, instead of where they would eat regularly.
Bistrot du Coin is definitely the sort of place where a Frenchman would eat regularly, and they had the expats dining to prove it.
Needless to say, the food was highly flavorful and delicious, and surprisingly light on the wallet.
If you are in DC and looking for something other than the usual food experience, I can recommend this place whole-heartedly.


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