TRAVEL HERE: CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS WITH #43
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum has been high on my to do list – ever since it opened, but I’ve been kinda of busy. With all of my Christmas shopping done, the Sunday before Christmas turned out to be a perfect time to visit. Well almost perfect.
It was COLD last Sunday. I bundled up, but I had on a skirt and heels from church. A pair of pantyhose was the only thing protecting my legs from the arctic air. BRRRRRR. We did get to park right across the street from the library, but I was still pretty frosty.
And then there was the line. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to death Dallas has an attraction like Dubya’s library, but I thought everyone would be out shopping. Not so!
Anyway, though long, the line moved pretty fast. Almost before I could say “No Child Left Behind,” we were standing in front of the security station. They didn’t make me take off my shoes, but my bracelet and belt set off the alarm. (Now boarding at Gate 43!)
Once past security, purchasing tickets was a snap. I’d downloaded the library app to my smartphone, so I passed up the audio tour. Come to find out, that was a mistake. I never got the phone to tell me anything. Perhaps I needed earphones. I’ll do some research before I visit again. I was not very well prepared this time.
Truth be told, however, I don’t know what I would have done with more information. I’m just not ready for this millennium. I live in a constant state of information overload. Sitting at home watching an episode of Dancing with the Stars is challenging, because so many tidbits flash in my face. I have a hard time deciding whether it’s a twitter post or an advertisement. There are so many feeds squeezed on the screen that I can’t figure out what’s up. That’s how I felt at the Library.
Waiting to enter the library, there’s a cool video presentation. All kinds of people and places are presented in an inventive way. I recognized some of the people and scenes, but others left me wondering what exactly they had to do with the 43rd president.
Then we gained access to the permanent exhibits on the north side of the museum. Just inside the entrance, snippets of George W. Bush’s life are presented in multi-media. I was engrossed, trying to take it all in, but Mr. Bill was antsy. He’d already had to wait in too many lines and he didn’t want to miss the five minute film that was about to begin. I wasn’t ready, but I like being married, so we know what I did.
After the film, I returned to where I’d been, but I’d lost my front row vantage point and no one was going to let me in. I gave up, because I’ll be back, and headed into the “No Child Left Behind” section. This is the heartbeat of the Bush family. Before the day was over, I heard them mention their devotion to education a number of times. This particular area is very kid friendly, with a kid-sized benches inside a faux school bus and a cozy reading nook. I love the idea of No Child Left Behind, but I can’t say that I’m enamored with the application of the initiative and there were no kids with me, so we moved on.
Next was the 9/11 section, beginning with bent girders from the Twin Towers. Poignant memories of that day still haunt me, but this is where I figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to take it all in on this first visit. Every wall in the place, from somewhere about my knees to far above my head, is plastered with information and it comes in a variety of formats. Some of its video, other is print, still more is artifacts. In addition, just about kid level, are all kinds of hands-on things to do. Kinetic is not my primary learning mode, but I appreciated that they really did have something for everyone.
There’s the obligatory Oval Office, several of Laura’s dresses and many of the things you’re used to seeing in a presidential museum. (You’ll notice I said “Laura.” That’s how the staff refers to them, “George and Laura.” It made me feel very cozy with the Bushes.) I always enjoy these personal touches and get a kick out of seeing tables set for formal dinners. What I love best is the international stuff. I could have spent a day just on the memorabilia and photographs from their hosting and visiting of international people and places.
Sort of center stage is an area called Decision Point – like his book. It’s sort of an interactive game you play with a room full of people. Each member of the audience sits at a screen and then a video at the front of the room leads you through one of the issues in Bush’s presidency. First everyone votes on what subject they want to consider and my group chose Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction. That had not been my vote. Therein lies the problem with a simple majority.
The concept is good, but I didn’t feel as if enough time had passed for it to really be meaningful. In a couple of decades, this game may leave the biggest impact on visitors, but for me, it was merely a reiteration of things I already knew. After all, not only did I live through it just a few years ago, my husband served as an interpreter in Iraq and I’ve read Mr. Bush’s book. If you have been or visit someday, tell me what you think.
Video is a big part of the museum. Several short films allow George, Laura and the family to tell their own story in their own words. One video is narrated by the twins. It highlights Camp David and Prairie Chapel Ranch. The final video is George and Laura, sharing their visions for the future and thanking you for taking the time to come to the library. Laura’s a big part of the museum, too, but not oppressively so. I call the presidential museum in Simi Valley, the Nancy Reagan Library, for reasons that are immediately obvious when you visit it.
We took a little break before we saw the rest of the museum. There are two food outlets. One is Cafe 43. Next time, I’m going to include it on my agenda, but we’d already had lunch when we arrived. So we found the snack bar, a small food spot just off the central patio. We shared a delicious yogurt parfait, but they have everything from soda to sandwiches. I can imagine on a warmer day it would be pleasant to linger on the patio soaking in the Texas sun. Instead we huddled together next to the counter because there are no tables inside and shivered every time someone entered the room.
Next was the gifts. There are big picture windows around the walls of the area where the tickets are sold. In each are gifts from dignitaries to the President and First Lady. Actually my favorite piece was a necklace given to Condoleezza Rice. I’m not sure what the rules are concerning these gifts, but when I worked for the government you weren’t allowed to accept any. Good thing I’m not Condi. They’d have had a hard time ripping that necklace out of my grungy paws. Another favorite was a small gold clutch, but they decorated it with CZ’s instead of diamonds. (Come on guys, Laura was married to the leader of the free world.)
Finally we entered the temporary galleries and Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree! The special exhibition area was given over to the 2001 White House Christmas theme of Home for the Holidays. If you are a lover of Christmas, like me, hurry over there now, because this exhibit ends on January 5th. The tree was well worth the price of admission, all by itself and we’d already enjoyed so much. But there’s more. They had scale models of different presidents’ homes and I enjoyed comparing those I’d seen with those I haven’t visited – yet.
I confess, I didn’t even know they had a Christmas related-exhibit at the museum, but now I’ve subscribed to their blog, so I shouldn’t be missing anything else. You shouldn’t miss anything either. This is a must-see, wherever you are, but if you live in Texas you have no excuse. Get yourself to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum! Oh yeah – and Happy New Year!