Wednesday, September 16, 2015

USA! USA! USA!

AND NOW.. the last installment of the D.C. adventure:  The Big Buildings.

THE WHITE HOUSE:  My fondest wish for this trip was to get a White House tour.  I contacted my Congressman's office in late June because that was the soonest we knew we were traveling to the East Coast.  As it turns out, I was far too late to get inside the White House.  Applications are taken 6-8 months ahead of a visit to D.C. in the summer.  So, we stood outside and took pictures through the fences.  My heart pounded like I was sighting a rock star.  I am a political junkie and most especially for presidential politics and most especially I have deep regard for this president, Barack Obama.  Our hotel was close to the White House so we ended up walking past it frequently.  One day we watched a heated and rather scarily escalating protest outside the gates between people from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  Security forces moved the tourists out of the area but before we shuffled  along a safe distance away, I felt a sense of pride for our Constitution which affords the right to gather and engage in free speech, no matter who you are or what you have to say.  This was also in great evidence at nearly every public monument we visited where Christians with bullhorns took to their "pulpits" to preach to passersby at high decibel levels.  I may not agree with their religion, but I was happy they could do it.



THE SUPREME COURT:  Tears welled in my eyes as I approached the stairs to the iconic Supreme Court building.   I don't know why my emotions were so raw.  I do know I am a sucker for pomp, circumstance, history, and tradition.  I guess because the Supreme Court, in theory, is above the political fray, it holds a place of esteem in my mind as the branch of government we can count on to get it right.  (But not always....Bush did not win that election and Citizen's United is a blow to our democracy.)  Sitting in the chambers of the court -- rather a modest room -- moved me deeply.  The tour guide was full of inside information, historical facts, and an obvious love for the Court.  I bought a pocket Constitution in the gift shop.


THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS:  Oh, I do love a library!  This is a big, beautiful one.  The
building itself is awe-inspiring.  It epitomizes all the architectural wonders of our capital city.  Stone, marble, sculpture, relief, stained glass, murals, wood, soaring ceilings, wide swooping staircases...and a collection from Thomas Jefferson's personal library on display.

THE CAPITOL:   Our consolation prize for not getting into the White House was a private guided tour of the Capitol building by an intern from our Congressman's office.  She is a fine young woman, who aspires to a job with the State Department.  (I'd advise her to lose the sorority girl "vocal fry" speech and the habit of ending every statement with a question mark?)   We found the Capitol building to be confusing, noisy, hard to navigate, requiring lots of backtracking and winding down long and institutional looking corridors, emerging into big beautiful rooms, then ducking again into the abyss of confusion.  The rotunda is encased in scaffolding for restoration, both inside and out.  So we didn't see that.  Maybe that is the centering feature of the place, and with it being hammered upon, entropy and chaos have ensued.  I don't know.  I did leave wondering if the anger, partisanship, animosity, back-biting, and ineffectual lack of meaningful legislation is the cause or the effect of the building's chaotic nature.  I wouldn't want to work there either.

Everywhere we went, on every street, stood huge government buildings we hear about but never really visualize -- The FBI, The Treasury Department, The State Department, Health & Human Services, Department of Agriculture, all the Smithsonian Institute buildings -- even a National Botanical Garden which I'd never heard of and it's fabulous!  I felt like a backwoods girl in her first visit to the "big city".  I told you I'm a sucker for this stuff.  I'd like to have the marble concession (so beautiful!) as well as the security contract for government buildings.  We were searched at every entrance to every building; all had barricades of some type surrounding them; often gates, dogs, and armed guards were in evidence and sirens wailed 24/7 as police, fire, and ambulance sped to some disaster or another.  Big city.  Big city trying to protect itself.  It made me sad.

Opinion:  In my first D.C. post I posed the question:  Can a die-hard Liberal Democrat actually succumb to feelings of patriotism?  This is a no-brainer.  Questioning our leaders and the policies they enact is the mark of a Democracy.  But one would think that any criticism of the Conservative status quo these days is tantamount to treason.  I, for one, am a patriotic optimist.  I believe that progressive ideas, compassion for others, reason, intellect, and emotionally literate people of integrity will win the day -- regardless of party affiliation.  Walking around Washington D.C. I was filled with pride and hoped desperately that the virulent contentiousness of the past couple of decades will subside soon so we can all embrace this Grand Experiment in democracy with humility and hope.  This country is mine too.  And I love it.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM. I MEAN DAYS..AND DAYS...

Washington D.C. has a large number of impressive museums.   We spent hours and hours touring them on our trip earlier this month.  We ambitiously thought we'd sail through two or so a day.  We were wrong.

Who designs modern museums anyway?  These are not dusty old repositories of used up things anymore; they are works of architectural and design excellence.   In my last post I mentioned that I felt I had inhabited different worlds in D.C.  These museums were part of the reason why.  Entering each one meant entering a universe of multi-sensory experiences.

Ford's Theater:  After milling around in the bright street level lobby/bookstore we were led down a flight of narrow winding stairs to another world -- the world of Lincoln's Washington during the Civil War years leading up to his assassination.  The museum was set up as a an old cobblestone street with "storefront" displays and artifacts of the time.  Then we were invited to climb two narrow winding staircases to the Theater itself where we took seats in the balcony to hear an historian describe the night Lincoln was shot.  We looked across the theater to the very box where Lincoln and his party had sat.  History came alive.  Across the street we visited the Petersen House where the wounded Lincoln was carried and died the next day.  That museum continued on with experiential displays of the manhunt which ensued and finally a depiction of the hanging of John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices.

The National Gallery of Art:  I remember 30-plus years ago spending 3 days in a row at the National Gallery -- my Art History Minor studies still fresh in my mind.  This time, as I wandered through the galleries for about four hours, I found myself awed again.... and impatient.  I think Hub was proving a point -- I always say we do the things HE wants to do, but rarely do we go to a poetry reading or an art gallery.  He insisted that we see each and every painting and sculpture in each room of the gallery.  I tired before he did.  HaHa, funny Hub.  (The outdoor sculpture garden renewed my energy after we exited the indoor works.)

The National Museum of American History:  Wow!  We never made it to Air & Space Museum because we ended up spending seven hours inside this one!  The exhibits were divided into themed rooms and each was a world into itself.   Two highlights:

Next Stop: Oak Park Avenue  In the American on the Move exhibit there was a full scale display of a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)"el" station, with an actual elevated train car we could enter and sit in.  Immediately we were back in Oak Park and Chicago where we lived, went to school, and worked as young marrieds from 1973-80.  So many memories flooded back and we delighted in reminiscing about our twice daily commutes into the city from our little apartment and first house in Oak Park (western suburb just adjacent to the Chicago city line) -- the time I was groped, of course; the time my friend Sara fell asleep, her head resting on a stranger's shoulder next to her; the time a friend working at the Medical Center filled a giant balloon with nitrous oxide and I transported it home in a crowded el car to a party for recreational use.  (A looooonnnnngggg time ago!)

Oh Say Can You See?  In another display (sponsored by Ralph Lauren, for some reason!) was a dramatic display of the actual Star-Spangled Banner -- the flag which had flown over the burning capitol in 1814 inspiring Frances Scott Key to write the poem we know so well (set to the popular 1700's tune of a song celebrating drinking and sex -- also very American.)  The flag, spread out flat on an angled floor panel, was displayed in a darkened room with stark spotlights and a star-lit ceiling.  The places where it had been cut during one point in history and portions of it given away as souvenirs was evident.  But the majesty was still there.  Hearing the story told, reading of the very real fear the people of that time felt, worried that their fledgling nation would not survive the British attempt to wrest control yet again, I felt myself filled with the same sense of relief and resolve they must have felt.  I wept with patriotic pride standing there listening to the familiar melody, so challenging to sing, and the words I've ridiculed for their glorification of war.  In that moment, in that context I was so moved.  I got it.  I just don't get what it has to do with sporting events.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:  I didn't want to go.  Hub has been there twice before, both visits cut short by tight scheduling.  He wanted to go spend more time.  He said it was difficult but worth the discomfort; it was important.  He was right.  About the difficulty.  And the importance. Talk about entering a different world.  It was extremely crowded, but everyone moved through the museum in hushed silence as the crowd of museum-goers moved together through the dark times of Hitler's rise to prominence.  We watched emerge his rapid, unquenchable thirst for ultimate power, fueled by his belief in a "master race" and his subjugation of the Jewish people -- and many others he deemed inferior.  It was stunning in it's stark depiction of the concentration camps, the ignorance and willful denial of the world's citizens, the incomprehensible cruelty of those who carried out the "extermination" plan and the abject horror and hopelessness of those caught in the Nazi net.  At one point I had to leave the gallery to compose myself -- tears streaming from my eyes.  But I came back; I faced what was there to see, to contemplate.  The very last display was of current events -- recent examples of genocide from Pol Pot in Cambodia to the current crisis in Syria. It was a call to action.

Smithsonian Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden:  We had to be outside.  We had to find beauty and whimsy after such an emotional immersion.  At the Hirshorn we found it.


National Museum of the American Indian:  By now we were seeing a common theme.  History is
the story of people rising to power, acquiring land, subjugating or eliminating the peoples and cultures of those who had come before, and then eventually losing it all to greed and a new wave of conquest.  Our little "Angel", our step-granddaughter is Native Choctaw and Caucasian/Cherokee on her birthfather's side of her heritage.   I read of the people on the Trail of Tears and wept for the loss of their homelands.  Yet,  the beauty and resilience of Native cultures is inspirational.   This museum has the unique Mitsitam Cafe, composed of five food stations featuring cuisine of the Native people of the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, the Great Plains, and Meso America.  What a delight to sample a variety of dishes prepared with traditional ingredients, cooked with traditional methods.  A cafeteria feast of culture.

This is a long post, huh?  Imagine how sore your feet would be if you were me actually spending hours and hours in these museums!  I did it for you; you're welcome.  Until you get to D.C. yourself, I encourage you to Google each of these museums for lots of information I didn't provide and to fact check what I said.  I could have it all wrong; my memory isn't super sharp sometimes.  What is true, however, is how grateful I am to live in a country that provides access to these national treasures free of charge to its citizens.  We are so blessed.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS

Washington DC seems like a million miles away, instead of a mere 2764.5.  I'm home now, sitting in my favorite chair watching the the faint hints of pink fade to darkness in a dusky sky, the Cascade Mountains etched in blue on the horizon.  Yep.  A million miles in my mind and nearly 3000 in reality, I am definitely in a different world than I was a few days ago.

Different worlds.  I thought about that quite a lot during our trip to the nation's capital.  We purposely decided to do the whole DC "tourist thing".  I had not been there for 34 years, which when I figured that out stunned me greatly.  Where does the time go?  Hub had been there a couple of times without me, once taking Son-One along when he was in college -- a Political Science major.  How could you not?  But this trip for me was one long-delayed by distance, child-rearing, job responsibilities and competing travel priorities.  I started to get insistent that I go before Obama is out of the White House.  I am such a supporter of his that I felt a pull to be there when he was.  I figured he and Michelle had been waiting for me to stop by long enough!

We already had a plan to visit my brother and his family in Jacksonville, FL and Savanna, GA.   A
jaunt up the eastern seaboard seemed in order.  Landing at Reagan Int'l. and cabbing into downtown DC, catching glimpses of the Washington Monument, reminded me of the awe with which I view that city.  It became even more so the next day.

We had the good fortune to be able to stay at the Mayflower Hotel, a gorgeous building on the National Historic Register, situated in the heart of the business district and within walking distance of just about everything we wanted to see and do.  Of course, when I say "walking distance" that is a subjective determination.  To Hub, nearly everything is within walking distance.  He'd just returned a couple of weeks prior from a Mt. Rainier camping trip where he'd hiked 12 mile mountain tail loops over rough terrain.  A mere city sidewalk was nothing to him.  As for me, I had been told the Metro is a fine way to get around.  But walk I did.  I gave that new FitBit quite a workout!

Day 1 saw me rack up 8.6 walking miles as we visited nearly every monument and memorial on the
National Mall:  Washington, Lincoln, MLK, FDR, Jefferson, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam War.  At each one we took the obligatory photos and read all the inspiring quotes and descriptions.  I felt I was in a living history book, recalling being taught of the feats of these great leaders, of the battles of these great wars.   The monuments are enormous, the settings breathtaking, the artistry of the marble and sculpture inspiring.  Yet, the pattern I saw clearly was the history of our country told through the lens of war and the strength of the men who fought in them.  I began to look for any hint of women in the history of country.

At the Vietnam Memorial, just across from the stark black wall of names inscribed there, is the Vietnam Women's Memorial, a bronze sculpture depicting three women,  one of whom is tending a wounded soldier.  The sculpture was created by New Mexico artist Glenna Goodacre. This is the first memorial ever erected honoring the sacrifice of women serving in war, the project spearheaded by former Army nurse,  Diane Carlson Evans.  While I was moved by the iconic wall of names, tears came to my eyes when I stood at the the Vietnam Women's Memorial, drawn to the detailed faces sculpted in bronze of a young man in agony and woman ministering to him with great compassion.  All of the old evening news segments from the 60's came to me, where we watched the horror of war unfold in our living rooms a world away.

By the time we walked a dirt path skirting the Tidal Basin, heading to the Jefferson Memorial, I had developed a blister, was beet red in the face from the 93-degree heat and humidity, my sundress sticking to me and just about "monument-ed" out for the day.  But also grateful for the opportunity to explore these historical monuments, remembering classroom history and feeling a renewed sense of pride and connection to my country.

Could a diehard Liberal Democrat, our ilk so often reviled for not being unquestioningly pro-American, actually have a hint of patriotism springing up in her heart?  A question to ponder.

At least that's the view from here....©