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Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

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Fossils and diamonds - USA Day five or so
Drawing of a trike
(Wriiting this offline on the Amtrak train to New York. So it won't have clever links or what have you till I get online and maybe edit it!)

Wednesday, I made it to yet another of the Smithsonian's - Washington Mall must have more museum space than the whole of Australia...

The Natural History museum is the place the keep all the fossils and other "natural" items - jems and the like. I'm actually being fairly ruthless with the museums here, and dismissing whole areas out of hand. The natural history museum had lots of stuff one can't see in Oz, such as piles of dinosaur and trilobite fossils, unique diamonds and the like. It also had rooms and rooms of stuffed animals, which I have no real interest in. Although I was slightly amused by the display of stuffed Australian animals, and listening to an American try and pronounce "Marsupial".

The galleries of fossils were great, kind of tracing the history of life from the earliest single celled thingies through trilobites and on to dinosaurs. It was great watching evolution at work - hope some of them creationists pop in there and see how awesome nature really is on its own. There was a whole section on the evolution of horses, some great megafauna fossils, and various naturally mummified bison.

There was also a rather interesting section dedicated to some digging they've done around the first settlement in Jamestown(?) Virginia. They'd dug up a whole lot of graves of the early settlers and lots of related artefacts. I thought it a bit odd that they didn't seem to have any concerns digging up graves only 400 years old - recently enough that there could theoretically be living relatives. Although give that the death rate in the colony seemed to run about 30% a year, and it didn't last very long, I'm guessing not a lot of those buried went on to have descendants! And it did sound like a nearby river was in the process of washing the site away.

They also had some random things like a display of living insects and the odd spider. I imagine they must occasionally feed one to the other... There were some Australian stick insects, and for some reason every time I see something from "home" i get all excited!

One of the main things I'd come to see was a particular diamond. A largish blue diamond with a long and complicated history including being owned by Louis the 14th, being stolen during the French revolution, etc. etc. It's called the Hope diamond after a bloke who owned it in the early eighteen hundreds. I read a rather melodramatic book about it that I picked up at random from a bookshop in Geelong, and it peaked my interest - a blue stone with some history. It's also the only thing mentioned by name on the map for this Smithsonian. So I went and looked at it. It is indeed blue and rather sparkly in the way diamonds are, and somewhat smaller than I expected - every though it has a whole room devoted to it!

After all that, I was a bit over looking at things in glass cases, and decided to go do something a little less mentally taxing. I was hunting for an unlocked cell phone, since the spare Nokia I brought with me doesn't work here... Which I was assured it would! The nearest Best Buy I could find was out a bit east of the city centre. Now, Washington has some dodgy areas, so being the cautious tourist that I am I looked up the suburb in question - Columbia Heights - on the Wikipedia before I hopped on the Green Line out there. It looked OK. But then I re-read it on the once I was on the train, and realised I was heading into an area that could be scary. The population mix was noted as being "5.8% white", so I was going to stick out like a sore thumb! I put on my mean aviator sunglasses and my headphones and tried to look what I knew what I was doing.

(Random bit of technology helpfulness. Laura who I was staying with saw me mention Columbia Heights on Twitter, and sent me a SMS telling me to be careful!)

So, my trip to Columbia Heights consisted of.... Getting off the train, taking the escalator up to ground level, crossing a street, and going into a Mall! Scary stuff! And then a bit later doing the reverse. Best Buy wasn't much to look at - a bit like office works with basically the same things at basically the same prices. And of course they didn't have any unlocked cell phones left. So if any of you are trying to contact me on my Australian number, you won't get through!

Afterwards Laura told me that it's like the scariest part of Washington, although it has been moving up in the world. I said hey I was just in the subway station.... where apparently there have been two murders in the last couple of months! Hooray. But I survived. I've not travelled much but I am relatively sensible.