Washington D.C., Day Three

DAY THREE: 7:00am Start.

Rested from a deep and dreamless sleep in which nothing significant occurred, we awoke to a pleasant, but overcast, day. Honestly, it just felt like Seattle. We made our way out and walked up again to the little coffee shop we like so much. I should probably say that I may have been exaggerating when I inferred that it was a pirate coffee shop yesterday. I mean, he may have a business license and stuff, and I saw him run a credit card, which would be difficult if he were "off the grid," as it were. Let's just say it's a locals only spot that we stumbled across gladly.

We had our coffee, muffin and fruit cup and strolled over the Library of Congress to complete our interrupted tour of yesterday. Sadly, when we got there, the line was long and not moving at all. We decided that we had too much to do, so my current viewing of Gutenberg bibles remains at 2. Now, some of you may understand why I find it so important to see the Gutenberg bibles, and some of you may not. The 42-line bible (as it is known) is the first example of set-type printing. Gutenberg is attributed with inventing not only the idea of moveable type, but also with the alchemical metal mixture (lead, tin and antimony in correct proportion) that was soft enough to be poured and melted at low temperature, but strong enough to be impressed on a sheet of paper multiple times while retaining its shape. Then, he invented the press from a modified grape press. He basically combined three or four inventions that individually may have been as significant as the light bulb or the automobile, and combined them into one process that forever changed the landscape of intellectualism. Like Martin Luther taking God to the every person, his invention brought knowledge and learning out of the privileged towers of the rich and into the hands of anyone who wanted to access it.

So magnificent and precise was his work that the exact mixture of metals he used to make his original type is still used in lead type to this day. His press design was altered, but versions of his design were still made in England until the late 19th Century. Printers ink today bears remarkable resemblance to the ones he mixed. And then, to that we add the fact that the Gutenberg bible is one of the most beautiful books ever produced. Just because he could make precise copies does not mean that he skimped. Half were printed on vellum. Some still had illuminated initials beside the set type. Some were multiple colors.

The paper copies today, if produced new, would fetch handsome sums. Tom Phillips Dante's Inferno, slightly lesser in scope, but probably not in labor retailed for 20,000 pounds sterling in the 80's. That's an expensive book, but think about a bible made entirely by hand on vellum, as all manuscripts were done before paper was handily brought to Europe in this same period and the press was invented. In today's retail pricing (as is the case with a monk who undertook such a feat) they would be somewhere around a million dollars in labor and materials. From a $1,000,000 to $35,000 or so is a significant drop. And the prices dropped as printing spread.

But I say that our boy G was attributed with the inventions because very little is factually known about him. Tales abound, but facts are few. We do know that he had loans from a gentlemen named Fust, and that Gutenberg was deeply in debt to him to finance his operation. Gutenberg was overdue with his product, and Fust took advantage of the lapse to seize Johann's property and product upon the completion of the bible, but before Gutenberg had a chance to announce them to the world.

Fust, seemingly in cahoots with Gutenberg's primary pressman who continued to work with him (and who can safely be attributed with the quality of the work), took a cartload of the books and rode them from Mainz, Germany into Paris where he started to sell them. The church, however, put a quick stop to this and brought Fust before a tribunal. They accused him of witchcraft for NOBODY could produce so many perfect copies of a book without the devil's assistance. Fust, in a tight spot (can't get rich if you're hanged or burned for witchcraft), produced his method, however, and the church backed down and he allowed him to sell his books, netting him a tidy sum. But his legend remains. You may have heard of it -- a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for great wealth, power or technology. From Fust came Faust.

So, as you can see, I kind of have a thing for the Gutenberg bibles, and it is my solemn duty to see all 7 or eight that are accessible in the world. Not this trip, though. I guess we'll have to come again.

Okay--back to DC--We made our way to the capitol Metro station and rode the rails to the Smithsonian station on the mall. First stop, Natural History Museum, where we walked through evolutionary time and saw many nice dioramas and the Hope Diamond. If a gold medallion is bling bling, then the hope is bling bling bling bling bling bling bling bling.

From there we walked down the mall to the National Gallery where we walked about 15 miles underground through a maze of hallways and bookstores before finding a single painting. When we did find them, it was all impressionists all the time. We strolled through galleries of Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet. Oh, there's a Seurat. Look, there's another brilliant Frenchie. Okay, look. I'm officially sick of impressionists. Yes, I know, I understand the purpose. I understand the talent. I appreciate the beauty. My god, though, these painters put out so much product that any museum in the world is nearly full to bursting. After visiting the National Gallery in London, and seeing many shows, I'm no longer excited by the idea of seeing impressionists in the flesh (erm, canvas).

So, we walked over the East Gallery. Lichtenstein! Warhol! Close! Picasso! Now we're talking. Gimmee some modern, man. Modern ROCKS MY WORLD. We actually bought the audio tour for a large, impressive retrospective of Romare Bearden narrated partly by the Marsalis brothers. His work was incredible, vibrant. Collage and paper cut, photostat and even music composition. Largely dealing the African American experience and culture, he was essentially a jazz painter, but a narrative one as opposed to an abstract one. He was playing melodies you could follow.

We had a tremendously good lunch in the gallery cafe (I recommend it over the others, if you're in the neighborhood) and then walked the 15 miles back through the underground passages to the street.

We walked to the National Archives, but a bored looking long line turned us away. We were wanting to pay homage to the relics of democracy--I'm sure they shuffle people past regularly, but again the lines made us stop.

Here's a good place to insert a comment or two about timing. If you're considering a trip to Washington (as I think everybody should do now that I have) I want to give some advice. Don't go in the middle of the Summer. Not that I hear it's hot and humid, but the crowds are massive. Also, go during the middle of the week. While things were busy on Thursday, on Friday they were packed with tourists and tons of school tour groups. The difference was really startling, after really having no troubles getting into anything on Thursday. You'll have a much better time sans throng.

So, we decided to go the Spy Museum. Not an official state-sponsered museum, you have to pay to get in, and it's a Disney-esque (Christine says EMP-esque) experience in that they obviously spent a lot of money on the design of it. It is on two floors of an older building, but it's a really fun, if not overwhelming, experience. Come early and expect to move slowly through. I would go in the morning and give it 4 hours or so if you want to see everything. And if you're not interested in Spies, fictional and real, then stay away. Go to the zoo instead.

We rode the Metro back to our hotel to relax a bit and rest our barking dogs before dinner. We kicked it on the bed and turned on the television to find out the (at that time vaguely reports-just-coming-in) airline that we were flying just found box cutters hidden in the bathroom. Two murders happened near Capitol Hill (actually, they were further out, but at the time the reporting was unclear), and that the investigative reporters are going to shock it to you how your entire identity can be stolen by electronic hotel keys. Like the ones we had!

Well, good news all around deserves to be well fed. So, after slapping the television off button, and rolling our eyes at the despondent despair thrown at us wrapped in slick 3 dimensional shiny golden graphics, we walked out the revolving door of our hotel (which moved automatically too slowly for comfortable walking, but fast enough that you always thought it was going to clip your butt on the way out).

Around the corner from where we were staying is the Hotel George. It's extremely modern, with abstract art in all of the rooms. In the lobby is the upscale Bisto Bis, and Christine and I decided to dine there Friday night. Sat next to somebody who looked oddly familiar (a Norman Mailer look) and on the other side two young radio (we think NPR) reporters on a bet--she lost and had to buy for him. It had something to do with baseball, but frankly it felt a little first datish. We ate phenomenal food--I had the PORK ROTI "CHOUCROUTE GARNI" -- a chop with braised belly and sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes. Christine had the RISOTTO "FORESTIERE" , with chanterelles, wild mushrooms, butternut squash, pistachios and sage. The setting was quite nice, modern woodwork interior without the Asian influence you see in most Seattle restaurants. Obviously a place (so the advertising says) favored by politicians, reporters and the like. We had stopped in earlier to make reservations, and the guy at the front desk had asked for our phone number. I started to give him my cell phone "It's 206..." he interrupted excitedly "You're from Seattle?!?" Turns out he was too. Been on the East Coast two years, in DC for two weeks. He was psyched to see some homies. We bumped hands and made the Sea Town gang symbols, thus showing our bond for our turf and those who understand it. I'd like to think that this connection got us a better table. Yes. That's what I'd like to think.

Afterward, we watched a bit of TV, ordered a movie but had to get a refund after it started in the middle (just what the heck does "ON DEMAND" mean then anyway?). That should tell you what kind of movie we ordered. If it were a certain kind, it wouldn't have mattered where it started, so our morality is intact. For the fanatics among you (and you know who you are) it was "28 DAYS LATER" that we didn't watch. After the mom next door chastised her kids and told them they had BETTER be quiet or she'll have to come back in there, we dropped off to a relatively quiet sleep. Our last night in the king sized bed.

Tomorrow's episode we'll wrap up and ask the important questions: what would we have done differently? Would we stay where we did again? Would we eat the same again? How could Washington be more exciting? These and other thrilling questions, in tomorrow's episode, the very last, of the journey journal.

Oh, and by the way. If you didn't know, I'm finishing this journal from home (although the bulk of this was written on the East Coast). I have gotten a few complaints that it wasn't done daily, and to you I say I was living, man. LIVING so that I could give you something good to read whenever the heck it gets posted.

Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: October 18, 2003 06:52 PM
Post a comment
If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. We thank you in advance.