Monday, April 26, 2010

The Smithsonian & Bidens' house...

Wow! Here I am with our Vice President, Mr. Joe Biden!

The Smithsonian Castle

Well, it was no kind of normal day in the neighborhood. Got to DC yesterday and came to the Mariott, where all of the Teachers of the Year are staying. Stopped over for a nice dinner at Joe's cousin, John Ryan, in Baltimore on the way. Home cooked food and good cheer went a long way.

The Marriott is in the middle of town, blocks from the White House. When we checked in, we got a nice bag from target with a big surprise - a flip video! What a great gift!

This morning, we all had a buffet breakfast with the Teachers of the Year and families. Eggs, croissant, jam, fruit - it was festive and great to see everyone. A bus pulled up at the hotel around nine o'clock and took us off to the Smithsonian Castle.

The Smithsonian Castle looked like a reddish royal residence, stuck in the middle of a modern city. Once inside, we entered a long room with round tables and neatly placed glass goblets of orange juice, mugs of coffee & cloth napkins. At our table was a representative from the Smithsonian who told us that our group would visit the "Art of Gamon" exhibit. We were asked to write down three words that came to mind when we thought of "museums."

Our guide took us to the Renwick Gallery where we were immediately struck with a make-shift chair at the entrance, fashioned of rough-hewn wooden planks. We learned that the art in this exhibit had come from the Japanese Americans who were gathered in internment camps in the dusty deserts of our western US during World War II, at the same time as many of their sons were fighting in the war.

These Japanese Americans were given two weeks to dissolve their businesses and gather what they could in a suitcase to live in the inhospitable camps. Lost behind the barbed wire, they found shells or cloth or discarded wood to create delicate birds or baskets or furniture or paintings on the backs of cardboard left behind from packages. Children created baseball teams and women made sandals out of old pieces of wood so they could navigate the mud in the unpaved streets.

We learned about the entire process that is needed to put an exhibit like this together - the lighting people, the many shades of white on the walls, the way the objects are selected to tell the truest story possible. Whole teams of people in the museum do this for two years and then they all get together to look for consensus on how best to create an exhibit which achieves shared goals. Every word, every thread, every ray of light is organized.

The Smithsonian folks bussed us back to the Smithsonian Castle to a nice lunch and they told us how to become Smithsonian Ambassadors. This would mean that we represent the museum to our colleagues in education. The resources are inspiring, but what most impressed me was the way the activities were so carefully designed with real people in mind.

After the museum, we headed over to the Navy base. This is where the Vice President lives with his family. First, we went to an observatory and library where original editions of Kepler, Copernicus and Newton were there to see! Are you kidding???? I was floored. This was the most extensive library of astronomy in the country!

Right away, we boarded the bus and went a little ways to a large white house with a giant porch. This looked like a house that someone really lived in and sure enough, it was the Bidens' home.

Once inside and up the stairs, you enter into a living room with a dining room to the left and a living room to the right. Everything was light and airy with lovely paintings on the walls and lots of homey family pictures clustered together on the mahogany piano: Joe and Jill dancing, The children. In a back room is a plastic enclosed GI Joe from Barack, given to Joe Biden saying he is unbeatable. Great stuff.

There were tea sandwiches and lemonade and the constant in and out of waiters and waitresses refreshing the silver trays. We all clustered around and took pictures of everything.

All of a sudden, Dr. Jill Biden came in and spoke, telling us that this was her favorite event. She took lots of time with each of us to find out what we teach and where we came from.

After a while, people started to really eat the food. Of particular note were the tiny scones and clotted cream with strawberry. They were hot, moist and just sweet enough.

I noticed that everyone was clustering again into the lobby and I heard a familiar voice. It was Joe Biden who told us that Jill especially wanted him to clear his calendar to visit us. He had other state matters to attend to that he was able to put off till tomorrow. He spoke of memorable teachers and ways that we change the world. One by one, he chatted with us and told us anecdotes about his experiences in our states. Joe Biden was sincere, hospitable and charming. He made everyone feel like they had known him all their lives. It was as if he was a trusted neighbor.

Joe Biden suggested that we all go out to the ample porch to chat and take a few more pictures. He laughed out loud with us and seemed sincerely interested in our thoughts. When it was time to go he said,

"I'll walk you out." Joe Biden strolled down the driveway with us and he led us personally to the bus. I climbed into the first bus, but soon realized that it was the wrong bus.

"Oh," he said, "I'll walk you over," Without a moment's hesitation, Mr. Biden, continued his amiable chat while he walked us over to bus number two. He climbed right on the bus with us and thanked us for coming and giving us a little wave. Mary Pinkerston, Teacher of the Year from Delaware jumped up and gave him a hug and he kissed her cheek.

She touched it as we drove away. "I won't wash that," she said.

I cannot remember such a day in my life. Did this really happen?

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