Miss Helen goes shopping

misshelen

A very interesting way of spelling my name, almost a little Chinese?

So I have already shared with you (and basically every local I met) my enthusiam for the American supermarkets. My love for consumerism does not end there of course – on Valentine’s Day I took to the clothes stores!

Emily had given me some tips and I had also done my research. The shopping tour might actually have done most for my sense of orientation in DC, with Macy’s being my true north. But it was not Macy’s or Nordstrom nor Forever 21 or Loft that captured my heart. It was Dressbarn, a shop I just passed by on the way to another one.

Gallery of unbought dresses

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Emily’s reaction my my disclosure of the price tag of the blue dress (middle)

Dressbarn is described as an old ladies store, essentially a tantbutik. Apparently I cannot escape my own inner style compass because even in Sweden, I always end up at what my friends call the old ladies store. I walked into Dressbarn at 6:33 p.m. (closing time 7 p.m.) and because they had so many dresses I loved, I had to come back the next day. By then, I apparently had risen in their esteem because I was now adressed with my name. “Miss Helen, let me take those to your fitting room”, the sweet shop assistant said every time I accumulated another six dressed on my arm.

I could really have maxed out my credit card. Instead, being a sensible (then) 28-year-old, I joined all their clubs to get 30 percent off and only picked three dresses. So frugal!

The American Quote Book

Helen jaywalking. Emily: “Now look at you! Assimilating so well!”

Actually, more walking in Washington

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In a nutshell

 

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Texting or praying? In the largest Catholic Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese of DC

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Such poor boxes!

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At the wonderful Renwick Gallery. This is all carved from one piece.

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Visiting Emily’s office was really fun! They all have mirrors to see who’s coming in (if you are not seated facing the door). Also, Emily won the 2017 chili cooking competitio at her office.

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Georgetown

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“Die Korrespondenten der ARD – für Sie aus aller Welt!”

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The city’s administration planting cauliflower-like flowers as decoration seems to be the latest trend in DC and Philadelphia

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Well, that’s reassuring.

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I haven’t figured out if this was for changing babies, assisting the elderly or something else.

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The museum stores held many patriotic children’s books.

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View from the Library of Congress which is an impressive palace of books

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President Roosevelt writing memos to his cook

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bike

If you want to take your bike on the bus, you don’t put it inside, instead you put it bike rack kind of thing at the front of the bus

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The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned Janet Echelman to create an artwork to transform the Renwick Gallery’s iconic Grand Salon. Echelman created a soft, voluminous net sculpture that surges through the air of the hundred-foot length Grand Salon, intersecting with its historic cove ceiling. The complex form is composed of many layers of twines, knotted together in vibrant hues that interplay with colored light and “shadow drawings” on the walls. A carefully choreographed lighting program subtly changes the experience of sculpture with every perspective. Visitors find themselves transported into a dreamlike state, gazing skyward at an ethereal choreography of undulating color.

A 4,000 square-foot textile floor echoes the organic topography of the aerial form in monochromatic hues, providing a playful contrast to the vibrant hues of the sculpture’s 51 miles of twine above.

The work’s title is 1.8 Renwick, which refers to the length of time measured in microseconds that the earth’s day was shortened as a result of a physical event, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan with devastating effects. The forms in the sculpture and carpet were inspired by data sets of the Tsunami wave heights across the Pacific Ocean. The artwork reminds us of our complex interdependencies with larger cycles of time and matter. Its physical presence is a manifestation of interconnectedness – when any one element in the sculpture moves, every other element is affected.

(http://www.echelman.com/project/smithsonian)

Walking in Washington

Before I leave the capital for Phildelphia, let me share with you some of my photographic impressions.

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The weather has been puzzling. The day before I arrived, it was +20 degrees, when I arrived it was below zero, as this photo shows. The next day is was +10.

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This is the Newseum. Every morning, 800 newspapers from around the world email their front page to the museum which then selects some to put up in front of their building. So cool!

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Very American photo including a school bus.

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Things I did not know

DC is a black city with the majority of inhabitants being of African American descent.

My bank does charge for using my credit card here. I can only take out cash free of charge. Um, so convienent, not.

Jackie Kennedy was such an annoying person?! We went to see the movie last week and then researched some more about her and just hearing her talk made us go crazy.

DC citizens have no full voting rights in the U.S., this literally means they do not have representation in the Senate or the House of Representatives which is why many people have license plates saying “Taxation without representation” in protest. It’s just another phenomenon in US politics that I don’t understand. See first point, hony soit qui mal y pense.

A People’s Journey

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While its history and present holds a lot of tragedy and drama, I also, or maybe therefore, think the US is an extremely intruiging country and culture. The immense diversity never ceases to enthrall me, so many cultural expressions, beliefs and identities that still all unite in one huge, huge country. When I went to school, we were studying the US a lot, manifest destiny and the American dream were our daily conversation topics, but still it feels that I never fully grasp all there is to the Land of Liberty.

Going to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture was thus an excellent way to add to my knowledge and understanding. It was at the same time an overwhelming exhibition that is hard to recount, with three chronological floors packed with information, and three thematic floors full of facts.

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The entire museum goes in an almost solemn brown and gold theme and its architecture is simply beautiful. The first thing I learned was that Portugal was a major player in slave trade, something I definitely had no idea about. It doesn’t seem like the Portuguese are very keen on discussing their role, but they transported nearly 6 million African captives to the Americas, only England outperformed them. The stories of the trip are heart-breaking, on some ships 350 out of 700 passengers died and many killed themselves by jumping into the Ocean.

It is impossible to deny that the bigger part of the museum is somewhat depressing. It tells the story of mothers who kill their children to spare them a live in slavery and of a new nation establishing a serious paradox with its Declaration of Independence that declared all men equal, but not quite all. The museum takes you all through the Civil War, mentions famous activists and – I find this worth mentioning as it sadly is not yet something you can take for granted in museum work – highlights in particular the women who were part of the movement. It continues in great detail about segregation and integration, sit-ins and the Civil Rights Movement, accompanied by many poignant quotes on the walls. When the chronological third floor ends with Obama, it’s hard not to be affected by what the museum calls A People’s Journey.

The three thematic floors were about sports and music, media and military, theater and travel. Because it took me so long to get through the lower part, I only had limited time to see those floors but I did learn about the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute, it kind of occured to me that Oprah Winfrey is black (I guess I don’t think of her primarily as a person of color) and I realized how heavily influenced music was by African Americans.

Not only is this collection enormous and well-displayed, it is also entirely free of charge. The museum is a Smithsonian museum and I actually had to look up who this awesome Smithson person was who has really blessed the American people despite never having set foot on US soil himself. He was a British scientist who left all his wealth to his nephew, stipulating that it be used “”to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” The Smithsonian Institution was created and is today running nineteen museums, nine research centers, and a zoo. And you get to visit all of them for free!

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Nobody seems concered about plastic waste.

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Outside the museum

 

I love the supermarket

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At Target (love Target!), you can buy empty pretty egg cartons. Because…well, there probably is a demand.

In Europe, we kind of think of the US as the place where you can find and buy anything. My co-workers were actually very surprised to hear I did not travel with a half-empty suitcase. Despite my having done shopping many times at Kroger back in the day, I was still, or again, extremely amazed by going to the store with Emily. Generally, I like going to supermarkets abroad because it’s so interesting to see what is sold, how it’s presented and what advertisement techniques there are. But America is really Consumer Heaven, and I have to admit I do like to buy things.

I must have seemed a bit like a person that left the Soviet Union for the first time in her life as I marveled at the selection in the dairy display case, just disappeared for some minutes into the stationery aisle and requested we have to go look at the bread section. But I mean really who wouldn’t be flabbergasted at the fact that you can buy a card specifically tailored to someone who has lost their son and who is religious? (In Germany, you just buy a sympathy card and have to adapt it yourself inside with your message.) Who wouldn’t be stunned to find that you can buy nine different designs of muffin paper cups? I wish I could stay here for eight weeks to familiarize myself with these cultural supermarket differences because I am so fascinated by them.

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Sunday Picture Parade

“It’s such a typical Sunday!” Emily commented on our schedule yesterday. Because my phone decided 8:30 a.m. was the right time to wake me (wth?), we had time to do almost an entire hour of Yoga with Adriene together before heading to church. Then we took a walk in the park, cooked Sunday dinner and facetimed with our fiancee. Eh, her fiancee.

So relaxing!

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Emily in front of her house. I love her house!

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People bring up politics all the time and they are not happy. This is also reflected in the many posters and statements in the windows, on shirts and tote bags.

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The awesomely colorful street!

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In Meridian Hill Park, they put up statues of all kinds of people including Dante and Joan of Arc. Her sword is very popular and regularily stolen which is why she is currently unarmed.

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We also watched Melodifestivalen during which I identified 5 out of 7 dialects correctly. It’s only Gothenburgian that I always get wrong.

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Emily wondered how many Swedish consulates there are in the US and so we found out the NC consul is called “Mr Day and Night” (which is supernobility from Sweden)

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We turned the living room into a morning yoga studio!

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Saturday night we went to a bar where one of Emily’s friends was having a good bye party. On the way back, we passed lots of nice houses. Obama lives close to this neighborhood!

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Germany is often called a forest of signs but I think the U.S. deserve that title. Not only are there loads of street signs, they are also very elaborate. It seems that signage without text is not a thing here, instead they spell out everything.

Helen in Wonderland

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Ja ja jag bjuder väl på den här

Hello from the other side! I have been admitted to the States! I actually made it through border control at record speed, 43 minutes after landing I was out at the Freedom Shrine waiting for Emily. (Yes, Freedom Shrine. God Bless and everything.)

I will admit that I was not very comfortable going through border control. Partly because I never have to do that. Literally the last time was 12 years ago and also in this country. Because I never travel outside of the EU so I just walk into Belgium, Sweden and Portugal like I own the place. In America, it’s more like I walk in trying my best to come across as the perfect daughter in law. After endless hours on the plane, not to mention the ticket price, it would not be fun to be send back. Not that I there is any reason to send me back but in Europe, people always retell these stories of people giving border officers a strange look, pissing them off so much that they were refused entry.

Different from 12 years ago, there are now self-border-control-machines (and wifi and tinder and whatsapp didn’t exist back then either). I chose the German language one because I wanted to err on the side of caution and be 100 % sure I would not get anything wrong. Unfortunately the translation was kind of odd so the English version would definitely be easier to handle. At the end, they make you take a photo of yourself which is printed on a slip of paper you have to hand to the officer. You only get one try to take the photo. When I saw mine coming out of the printer, I was like, “Oh geez, I look like a criminal on drugs. Now I know why everyone reapplied their make up before landing!” I am very thankful the officer let me in despite that photo.

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So in the arrival area there were literally at least five signs saying this. “We will treat you with respect and dignity when you go through border control”. Eh, why do you even have to say that? Non EU readers, are there these signs in Europe as well when you enter?

It only took Emily and me three times as long to get home as usual. The train stopped for like an hour because something broke down. Emily called it “a real DC commuter experience”. I didn’t mind because after being so bored on the plane, I finally had great company. At her house, I am now familiarzing myself with how everything works. It’s Wonderland for me. It’s actually foreign, an experience I don’t have often. I’ve been texting Emily all morning (yes, it’s morning here, I am still so amazed by time difference. It’s great, I won 6 hours last night!).”How do I open the window? Is the tap water drinkable? Your fridge keeps beeping. How do I get the shower to work?” I am very fascinated.

Emily also did me a huge favor. This morning while I was still slumbering in my guest bed (amazing bed! the best bed! terrific bed!), she got me a ticket to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s so popular that if you don’t get a ticket at 6 a.m., you won’t get in at all because the queues are immense. So that’s where I am going now, in splendid sunshine and zero degrees.