Sunday, October 9, 2011

Orchids at the Arboretum ~ Bonsai ~ Maple Walnut Cake

An unplanned trip to the National Arboretum yesterday led me to the National Capital Orchid Society's annual show happening this weekend in the Arboretum's Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Multiple gorgeous specimens in artful settings fill the museum's International Pavilion, which luckily is well-designed to allow visitors to walk along and view exhibits like this one. Some visitors were training serious photographic equipment on the flowers, but will their photographs capture the singular odor of orchids that filled the pavilion's air? Not a connoisseur myself, I was stunned nevertheless by the many varieties and noticed Cattleyas in colors I haven't seen before. (In art galleries and books, you might come across Hudson School painter Martin Johnson Heade's series of wild Cattleyas with humingbirds in South America.) A favorite of mine in the present exhibit is a "Coos Bay" variety of a Brassia species: I couldn't help thinking that this flower, so gorgeous and bizarre at the same time, might have been the inspiration for the aliens in Roland Emmerich's movie, "Independence Day".

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Yesterday was one of those "make lemonade when life gives you lemons" kind of days for me. When I set out from home, I was headed for the National Mall in DC. No particular exhibit in the art galleries was in mind -- just a general exploration of a favorite place I have not seen for a while. Well, I was stymied again by Metro's progress. I'd checked the DC Metro site before leaving home, but the full significance of delays and detours on my intended route didn't sink in until I saw the signs posted on fare card machines at the Greenbelt station. (We understand that the track work is necessary after some serious problems in recent years.) Not in the mood for a longer trip and potential hassles, I decided to head for the National Arboretum, which was also due for a visit from me. The weather is so nice this weekend, after our long spell of rain and overcast skies, that whether I was wandering around the Mall or the Arboretum didn't really matter. It turned out that the Arboretum's roads near the main center are undergoing some progress, too, but signs and friendly guides on the optional roads made for easy navigation.

Once I park near the main center -- that is, the area of the Visitor's Center, the bonsai complex and the Capital Columns overlooking the huge central meadow -- I can cover a lot of Arboretum territory on foot before having to return to the car to tour other garden areas. I took in the orchid exhibit described above, as well as the permanent bonsai and penjing exhibit, and noticed developments around the Columns and nearby Fern Valley. We have a huge bonsai and penjing collection here, and it rewards repeated visits. Besides the Japanese and Chinese sections, there is a North American section and a greenhouse with tropical specimens. (Oh, my! There's a large white pine bonsai donated by the Japanese Imperial Family that was begun in the late 18th century.)

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Continuing with the lemons-to-lemonade theme: My aborted Mall visit necessitated finding something to eat before I proceeded to the Arboretum. That led to fast food on US 1 in Beltsville, but while there I spotted Raulin's Bakery in a plaza just north of the Beltway. F. puskini appreciates the art of baking as much as any other art. Here in Howard County, for example, we have Touche Touchet in Columbia and Bonaparte at Savage Mill. I remembered buying from Raulin's some years ago and decided to visit while in the neighborhood. Among other items, I came away with a lovely maple walnut cake, Bundt-type. I'd had this item before and was happy to see it still available. There's still plenty of it today. Come on over, or I'll have to take it to the office!

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Another reality of touring our nation's capital: I missed it, fortunately, but there was an incident at the Air and Space Museum yesterday afternoon.