Washington Transformed Into A Winter Wonderland

by Tanya Thomas on  December 21, 2009 at 8:42 AM Lifestyle News
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The US capital isn't used to ice, snow and severe cold. So this year, enterprising spirits had two million tons of ice shipped in from Ohio and 40 ice sculptors from China to create a winter wonderland.

The end result is called "Ice" and it sits in a large white tent on the banks of the Potomac River.

And like many things in the United States, it's yet another Chinese import; 40 ice sculptors were brought over from the northeastern city of Harbin, home to arguably the world's best-known ice sculpture competition, to work 40 days to put the show together.

On Friday, master carver Guo Bai Wei was giving a very literal meaning to the phrase "chiseled features," as he patched up the nose of a shepherd in the nativity scene.

"I need to add more detail," Guo said through an interpreter, although to the untrained eye the intricate ice sculptures did not look to be in need of more detail.

In one room, the Chinese artisans have recreated scaled-down versions of well-known US landmarks -- the Washington Monument, the US Capitol, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and the White House.

Over an ice bridge, visitors enter a Victorian Christmas scene before passing into a room housing blue, yellow and white penguins, some sporting knit caps and scarves.

Further on is Santa's workshop, featuring big ice-block presents with colorful bows and frozen conveyor belts with ice toys alongside the real thing.

The colored ice is created by adding food coloring to water.

Ice as clear as glass is made by de-ionizing the water before it is frozen.

In a room in the middle of "Ice," children and adults swish down ice slides, the long blue parkas every visitor is supplied with protecting their bottoms from the chill.

But the piece de resistance of "Ice" is the nativity scene.

Awe-struck "Oh my Gods" spring from the mouths of grown-ups after rounding a corner where a towering angel heralds there is something big in store.

Around the ice wall, Joseph and Mary watch over baby Jesus as the three kings bring gifts and shepherds tend their sheep -- all intricately carved out of ice blocks.

"When I first got here and I saw those ice blocks sitting there, I got the urge to work on them and turn them into beautiful statues for you guys to enjoy," Guo said as he gave a final hack to the shepherd's nostril before starting to chisel away at the hairline.

"I'm in awe of everything," said Sherill Parker, who had traveled from Richmond, Virginia, the state on the south side of the Potomac.

"It makes me feel like a kid again," added the 40-something Parker.

Washington's Ice exhibit is not a first for the United States.

The Gaylord hotel group has held similar shows in Texas, Tennessee and Florida -- all warm southern states.

The attraction is kept at nine degrees Fahrenheit (around minus 12 Celsius), the ideal temperature to keep the ice from becoming brittle or coated with frost.

Although visitors can spend as long as they like among the sculptures, most leave after 20 minutes or so.

"It's cold," said eight-year-old Michael Thompson, casting one last look at the nativity scene before he exited.

"But it's really fun, and this is my favorite because it looks so real," he said as Guo dusted off the now-chiseled shepherd with a broom.

As for those who shipped in 5,000 blocks of ice to make the winter wonderland, Mother Nature took a stab at trumping them, sending a major snowstorm barreling down on Washington that forecasters say will dump up to 20 inches (half a meter) of snow on the city Saturday and Sunday.

Source: AFP

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