Washington D.C., Day Two

DAY TWO: 7:00am Start.

After waking in our modern hotel with a king-sized bed, we cleaned up and made our way into a crisp but clear Fall day. It was perfect weather--not too cold, but clear and beautiful. We walked over by the Capitol, past the underground parking garage with police looking under every car with mirrors on posts. Being from Seattle, we imagined that coffee would flow here like water. Actually, once in Seattle when I was working in a restaurant I convinced a waitress that Seattle had redone their water lines and leased the old ones to a coffee company that offered a subscription service to local dining establishments sending fresh, piping hot coffee always on tap. I had her going for a few weeks until she demanded the name of the company so that she could call and verify this service. I claimed ignorance. She opened the phone book and found the Seattle Coffee Company. "Oh yeah, that's them" I said. She called, and asked the bewildered receptionist if they were the company that piped the coffee throughout the old Seattle water mains.

Anyway, the story here being that we couldn't find coffee. We poked around the Supreme Court, and walked by the Library of Congress before heading down 2nd street where we heard that there was a cafe. The angry smoking woman on the steps of the Supreme Court wasn't much of a help--she told us to go to Union Station--a mile away. My invented story is that she was about to argue her case, but these damn tourists blew her meditative smoking time, and her appeal before the supremes was embarrassingly lacking.

We doggedly kept on walking in search of a cafe that the Rough Guide says was where it wasn't, passing a man holding a Seattle's Best Coffee cup--we were on the right track. Then, we saw a woman coming out of a non-descript red-brick building holding another red (but not SBC) coffee cup. We poked our head in to find a little espresso house. In between bustling, important people in conservative suits and African cabbies, the young owner told us how he came over from Africa to go to culinary school and was paying off his loans by working in restaraunt kitchens, but he hated it. Mean bosses and disrespectful work turned him off. So, he had decided to return to Africa, but when he realized that after paying off his loans he had amassed wicked credit he changed his plans and opened this little cafe. "No signs, no advertising. It's all word of mouth." We ate a great fresh fruit cup and delicious muffins, pleased that we stumbled across this pirate coffee shop.

From there, it was to the Library of Congress, where we marveled at the breathtaking architecture and interiors. We were searching out the Gutenberg bible, so that I could increase my lifetime viewing to three copies (the Bieneke at Yale, the British Library, and now here), but while in a gallery of various Americana (including a life mask of Abe Lincoln, who had a HUGE head) a shrill whooooooping alarm went off. We moved our ways to the doors, while the staff did either nothing or looked tremendously annoyed. They passively scooted us out onto the front sidewalk, and we decided to come back tomorrow since we didn't know what was happening. Maybe we'll find out when we go back.

We walked around the Capitol, which is very difficult to access now. You need passes to even really get on the stairs, so we skirted it deciding to skip the tour this time and walked around the building to the front. Drug sniffing dogs everywhere, a very high police presence, but such is life in our times in a high-profile place such as this.

We decided to walk down the mall, and made our ways past some of the smaller monuments to the Botanical Gardens. In front was a politician, who at first we thought was John Edwards, the presidential hopeful, but then we saw Jennifer Dunn standing next to him (she didn't have any firearms apparent, but she could have had a shoulder holster) and we realized that this was no Democrat. They were standing at a podium in front of some firetrucks artfully arranged with the capitol dome in the background for the cameras. Since we didn't care about his stump speech we went into the lovely and humid gardens for a nice stroll through, getting steamed with misters.

We headed down the mall a bit past the under-construction Native American Museum, and in front of the capitol reflecting pool were four large tee-pees. We went to go check it out, and talked to a nice man who told us that a parade was happening from the Washington Monument to the tee-pees where there was to be a ceremony to celebrate the unveiling of a statue of Sacejewea in the capitol building. One of only a few statues of women, it will represent North Dakota. Every state chooses two citizens to memorilize and represent the state. North Dakota, he pointed out, gets three "because she has her baby on her back."

From there we went to the Air and Space museum where we had lunch. After having to run to the hotel to deal with some unexpected banking (doesn't that sound important? Actually, we reserved our rooms on our debit card and they set aside more money then we expected), we returned to Air and Space to see all the jets and space craft. I found it very thrilling, and Christine was impressed too, but probably a little less then me. So many jets, so little time.

We made our way down the mall afterwards, and walked up to touch the Washington Monument. It's funny, here, in that almost everywhere you go you see a view that you've seen thousands of times on television, or postcards, or history books. This view of the Capitol down some street, or that view of the monument. The sights of these things are so ingrained in our sense of America that our mediated vision of them becomes our vision of them. To see them first hand, though, is something very different. Walking thorugh the LOC I had to remind myself that this was no faux-front like an ornate theater. This was real marble and gold leaf.

The Washington Monument was similar, the amazing obelisk. It's just so different to see them in person. Very awe inspiring. Very reverential. Very big. Really big, man. I mean BIG. Anyway, we skipped the ride to the top (wait was too long) and made our way around all of the security fencing (a contruction worker told us they are doing work, although we couldn't see anything, a cabbie said that they did it for security. It's the west lawn of the monument and has a clear shot at the White House, but I think the contruction view is probably more true, the visitors center is woefully old) and made our way past the WWII memorial currently under construction, and to the Lincoln Memorial.

A sign invokes quiet, and asks people to respect others right to be reverent, but it was (as one might expect) pretty darn crowded. Again, one of those things you've seen a million times, but have never really seen it until you've seen it in person. I mean, can we talk about Greek architecture for a moment? The Greek Temple is a really odd beast. Don't get me wrong, I love them, but here's the deal: they weren't designed to really "house" anything other than an altar. So, you might have this huge columned platform that was largely open air. Nobody lived there, there was no relics, no centralized theme other than the structure of the building and the friezes (which should tell you who the temple was for, if you know the stories), but they were not, really, functional buildings. They were large works of sculpture. That idea is very incongruous with today's views of architecture, especially views of architecture for houses of worship which are very functional buildings. They are offices, sometimes homes, often multi-use during the week. A greek temple is just a greek temple, it is simple in use, complex and magnificent in form. This then, the Lincoln Memorial, is the only modern (ish, built in 1914) Greek temple that I can think of. Surely, it is filtered through the mood of the day, but climbing its marble steps it's easy to feel that you are both stepping through time to meet Lincoln head on in his larger-then-life embodiment, but also stepping through time to meet a platform of singular purpose: a temple. Add to that the 20th century immediate history of the memorial, and it well invokes the reverence the makers intended.

A short walk from the Lincoln Memorial is the Viet Nam memorial, which is quite moving on many levels. First, the sheer mass of names in one place is hard to fathom. Second, the names are chronological rather then alphabetical, so that the first casualty and last casualty are very close to the ground, but as you you walk along the middle of the wall is quite high. Walking down the path you get the feeling that you are descending into the middle of something grave, and I felt a pressure on my shoulders that didn't lift until we were walking up the other side and I could see the deaths slowly growing fewer. Thirdly, unlike the other momuments which are largely symbolic, this memorial has living people grieving. For me, not knowing anybody who died in Viet Nam first hand, these people gasping for breath, reaching out to touch a name, laying a wreath or flag down, or simply looking through the books to find the location of the name made all the more real the names I was randomly reading. Finally, the granite is so polished that it nearly is a mirror, and you see the mourners reflected in the names they are mourning; you see the monuments reflected in the monuments. It's easy to see why Maya Lin became so famous for this work.

We were ready for a break now. We cabbed it back to the hotel, and after relaxing a bit braved the metro to visit Bruce and Bonnie Reed, where we had a lovely dinner with them. Back home late, we dropped off and made it back out early for another day....

But of course, that is another day, and although day three is not as eventful or doesn't have as many photos, I may get around to writing it later. This concludes day two.

Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: October 17, 2003 06:45 PM
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