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Let There Be Light

From dark and cavernous to room for everybody.

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When he lived in Washington, D.C. in the late 1990s, Adam Goodheart often visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in the Patent Office Building, which has just undergone a massive renovation. "I remember how dark and cavernous it felt," says Goodheart, who wrote our cover story ("Back to the Future," p. 40). "But looking at it now, it's like night into day—literally, because they've let so much light into the building and just brightened everything and opened everything up." Goodheart says he approached writing the story "as if the building had a life of its own, ups and downs in much the way that a person does. I looked for moments from that history. For example, the roast pheasants falling to the floor and being stepped on at Lincoln's second inaugural ball, or the architect of the building, Robert Mills, being called an idiot by the workmen. Those little details brought the story alive for me." And for us.

Venice-based Erla Zwingle was not exactly ecstatic about covering the fiesta in Pamplona, Spain ("Pamplona: No Bull," p. 88). "I thought it was going to be total chaos," she says, "and in fact I was really dreading it." But she discovered a quieter side of the notoriously raucous goings-on: "By the time the sun comes up, the drunk and crazy people are comatose. So if you're a day person, you can escape all that." As for Ernest Hemingway, who popularized the fiesta in a 1926 novel, she says his ghost didn’t materialize. "I didn't end up in The Sun Also Rises, but I didn't end up in Lord of the Flies either, which is what I was anticipating. Since I wasn't going to drink and dance in the street, I wasn't sure where I was going to end up in the mix. But there was room for me too. There was room for little old grannies. There was room for everybody. It was great!"

With this issue we introduce "My Kind of Town," a department presenting distinguished American writers telling us about the town or city in which they grew up or now live. Our debut offering, appropriately enough given the department's title, is by the eminent oral historian Studs Terkel, who recalls his arrival in Chicago, a city with which he is practically synonymous, a scant 85 years ago.

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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