The last days in New York were over­cast then rainy, but we walked the Brooklyn Bridge and I spent a bunch of time in MOMA and the Met. I didn’t make it to the Gug­gen­heim because it was closed on Thursday when I tried.

Still, the Georgia O’Keeffes at the Met were divine, espe­cially her Black Iris which ‘makes vision drunk’, I loved Yves Tanguy’s future cities and body­scapes and land­scapes, good old Cy Twombly whose soft canvases always make me smile, Georges Braque, the Still Life with a pair of Ban­der­illas right next to Picasso’s Still Life with a bottle of Rum, both 1911 and both the same palette. And some new names: John Cedarquist’s clever Little Wave sculp­ture, a trompe l’oeuil take on mar­keting and the over­used Japanese wave and Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, espe­cially Untitled (phar­macy) – little glass bottles filled with sand and shells and other mementos, some­thing I think I might do with the glass bottles we have from Doug’s mother’s estate. And Calder mobiles hanging gently in the still­ness of the gal­lery.

MOMA had an exhib­i­tion cel­eb­rating 50 years of Hel­vetica, which was fant­astic. Yes, I’m a typo­graphy geek. Deal with it.

And I voted at the Aus­tralian Con­su­late, an odd exper­i­ence, these familiar card­board voting booths in the middle of New York. But I’ve played my part now, duti­fully numbered 1–68 below the line for the Senate and 1–8 in my seat for the Lower House. For those voting back home on Sat­urday, let’s get Lying Johnny out. And check the AEC’s site for pref­er­ence flows. Let’s give the Greens the bal­ance of power in the Upper House and make the major parties do some­thing mean­ingful for the people for a change.

We also checked out the speak­easy my cousin David told me about: you go into Crif Dog, a greasy spoon on St Marks and go into the phone booth inside; you lift the receiver and shortly after the wall of the phone booth opens to reveal a cosy bar with excel­lent cock­tails, a jack­alope mounted on the wall and a 15mm scale battle with fairies and trees taking place under flexi­glass beneath the floor.

We went to see Beowulf 3D with Matt on our last night and it was ter­rific but not exactly the story of Beowulf. It was clev­erly done, almost an attempt to say “this is the real story… we know the tale you’ve heard, but, you know, tales change…” This night was also the start of a bunch of mis­haps for me that I won’t go into. Mis­haps = grumpy Ro.

The next day was bright and sunny and per­fect, so of course we had to spend it in the car get­ting to DC. Grumble.

By sunset, we were just in time to hit traffic and miss seeing the Lin­coln Memorial against a stun­ning sky, but we did get out into a freezing night and see him lit up. It was sobering: this is Lin­coln, and reading the Gettys­burg address on the wall was hum­bling. But I was aware, reading on the other wall, of the lan­guage of “insur­gents” that is not so far from today. I was also aware of the chal­lenges we face trying to main­tain a world of equality and freedoms when one country cannot even do so. I think this ties very strongly into my fas­cin­a­tion with uto­pias and how and why they fail.

I also stood on the spot engraved “I have a dream” where Martin Luther King stood to give his address to the March on Wash­ington. Looking out onto the reflecting pool, tears in my eyes, it’s an incred­ible thing to look at how far this country has come with Barack Obama run­ning for Pres­ident and how far it has yet to go with the state of the mostly black home­less people in DC and the pro­por­tions of black men in the prison system.

We’d planned to spend the next day ensconced together in the various Smith­so­nians – although one day would never be enough – but Doug saw the clear blue sky and decided he needed to go chase images, so I was left to wander the museums alone. I spent a little while in the Museum of the Amer­ican Indian and then through the 150 objects in the Treas­ures of Amer­ican His­tory that are being housed in the Air and Space Museum while the Amer­ican His­tory Museum is being ren­ov­ated. Finally Doug joined me for a little of the Nat­ural His­tory Museum – oh my, some of the crys­tals in there are gor­geous! – but we’ve agreed that DC is def­in­itely a do-over place and this was just a recon­nais­sance mis­sion.

This is already long enough and I want to go into more detail about the Amer­ican Indian Museum and the concept of iden­tity and lan­guage, and my various reflec­tions of the Amer­ican His­tory treas­ures, but I want to say one last thing for now.

There’s a new museum opening next year in DC, to be called the New­seum. It will be a museum of the media, of the his­tory of news­pa­pers with inter­active pho­to­graphy and broad­cast spaces and more. On the side of the building is a six-story high wall, engraved with the first amend­ment of the US Con­sti­tu­tion. If you haven’t read it recently, it makes for inter­esting reading.

Con­gress shall make no law respecting an estab­lish­ment of reli­gion, or pro­hib­iting the free exer­cise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peace­ably to assemble, and to peti­tion the gov­ern­ment for a redress of griev­ances.

An inter­esting col­lec­tion of rights. That speech and the press and protest should be inter­twined. That freedom of reli­gion should be so prom­inent and right now be so near to erosion. I have a dream, indeed. But I’m afraid my dreams are but tattered shreds now and reading the words of the dreamers before me brings tears to my eyes.

I have a new (or per­haps the same old) inter­locutor arguing for “Ang­lo­centric excep­tion­alism”. I’ve spent a bit of today in the car thinking about the various ways in which I dis­agree with this person but I think I’m too tired to write a full reply just now. I cer­tainly know I dis­agree that believing in human rights neces­sarily means I reject Der­rida and Fou­cault. Baudril­lard, maybe. The other two, not so much.