Monday, April 13, 2009

sometimes you just want a popsicle

First two days in DC were spent wandering around and burning off extra fat I've acquired from long hours of (paid) sloth behind a computer. Plus after spending a day on a plane, I wanted some fresh air. I'm staying in the U Street Corridor, and seeing as how I'm a big believer in seeing things other than the main tourist attractions, walked down 16th Street until I ran into the White House. It's a white house with a fence and nice green lawn - and lots of not-so-Secret Service hanging around outside in Secret Service Vans and wearing Secret Service wind-breakers (it was raining). There were a handful of lackluster protesters for various causes across the street, but overall there wasn't a whole lot going on, so I skirted around it and made the mistake of walking around to the front, which has a really narrow sidewalk in front, or maybe it just seems really narrow when full of tourists. After jamming my way through I made a beeline for the Tidal Basin, but the cherry blossom bomb had mostly fizzled by then. The rain was keeping the hordes away, but it and the wind had blown down most of the blossoms. A few were still hanging on, and the ground was an expanse of pink polka dots.

Moving back in time, I stopped at the memorial monuments to FDR, Jefferson, and Washington, by which time it had cleared up. I hung out for a rest at the base of the Washington monument, watching the illusion of the tower swaying against the sky. I couldn't look for too long. I don't like heights, and that goes both ways. Looking up at tall buildings makes my insides do funny things. Kind of like bits of me go off balance to compensate for the vertigo, but they all do it in different ways.
Heading down the Mall to the Capitol Building, I stopped at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. I'm not a huge fan of sculpture, especially modern, abstract sculpture - I just don't get it. If someone wants to explain it to me, I'll listen and try to understand. It's not so much that I don't like it - I just don't understand what makes it valuable as a piece of art, and I can't appreciate it as a connoisseur or art history major would. But I can appreciate publicly displayed art, no matter what the form, so the garden as a whole I found quite nice. I suppose the one cheesy sculpture, if you want to call it that, is Yoko Ono's Wishing Tree. Which is a live, very branchy little bush with scraps of paper skewered on the branches, upon which people have scrawled wishes. I read a few that were still hanging on, the others having blown off and littered the garden (it's okay, it's Art). Lots were sappy wishes for world peace, healthy children, prosperity, and happy, dull relationships, so I was pleased to find one utterly selfish wish, no doubt posted by some cranky kid.

Took a break on the steps of the Capitol, walked to the back (or the front? there's a statue representing freedom on top of the dome, and her back is to the Mall), circled around the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, by which point it was dark and most of the tourists had presumably staggered back to their hotels, exhausted by an excess of American history and bickering with one another (I like eavesdropping on the bickering). I rambled back home along Pennsylvania Avenue and up 13th or 14th, catching part of a fireworks show over the Potomac while standing on 7th Street. No idea what the occasion was, and I could only see the ones that shot over a building which was in the way, but it was still a good show. Stopped at a Whole Foods to pick up a dinner of crusty bread, nice cheese, an assortment of olives, and red grapes. I could happily eat some variation of that for dinner every day of the week. Vacation from work is also a vacation from cooking; I like to cook, but rarely want to spend the time it takes to make a meal. I prefer food to appear in front of me, ready to eat. And if that doesn't happen, something simple and delicious is the next best thing. By the time I got home it was after ten. I thought about doing some reading to plan the next day, but after eating, all I did was fall asleep.

Which meant Easter Sunday wasn't too well thought out. Sort of still on California time, I dragged myself out of bed past nine in the morning. Two steps out the bedroom and Gatsby flies over to my shoulder. I didn't really realize until now that birds make a lot of noise when flying. Gatsby approaching is heralded by a fluteyflutteringwhirry noise, and then you don't really feel him land because, well, he's as light as a little bird. It's more like you sense his presence. My host Antonia make me coffee - it's that appearing food thing I like so much!

I walked to the beaux arts Union Station down Massachusetts Avenue. DC is a very airy town. Lots of the buildings are low, the streets are quite wide, and the sidewalks are really roomy. And maybe because it was Sunday, and Easter to boot, there was almost no one around. For some reason I rather enjoy deserted neighborhoods full of imposing structures. After kicking up my heels in Union Station, I headed to the Eastern Market for a drastic change in scenery - large, institutional structures and ugly modern condos replaced by rowhouses. The neighborhood was equally attractive for exactly the opposite reasons. The Eastern Market was a bust - the Market itself burned a couple of years ago, and the temporary location was closed, maybe because it was Easter, and I wasn't interested in any of the other vendors, except the crepe cart, which was doing brisk business. The pretzel guy next at the stand next door must be seething in bitterness and large salt crystals all day. After a cursory wander about the neighborhood, I hopped the Metro to Smithsonian, and walked down the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. I didn't realize that a tribute concert to Marian Anderson's 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert was happening, and showed up just as Denyce Graves took the podium to belt out a few tunes. Talk about serendipitous timing. There was also a guy walking a ginger tabby on a leash, but my timing there wasn't so good - I missed the picture because I was fumbling with my camera.

After listening to Denyce, I toured the four war memorials in proximity to Lincoln - the Vietnam War Memorial, Women's Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and DC WWI Memorial. So, I don't know anyone who died in a war, either personally or via any degree of separation, and I hardly know anyone who has served in the armed forces. I don't have any personal connection to these events and monuments. I can only appreciate them as memorial to the event itself, and as a commentary on war in general. I didn't like the Korean War Memorial at all. I found it garish and ugly. War is garish and ugly, but I don't think that was the point. Maybe I'm just spoiled by all those Berninis and Michelangelos I saw in Italy, but I thought the sculptures were amateurish, and the whole thing just far too literal. Same goes for the Vietnam Women's Memorial, but on this day it was set off by the presence of several lilies bearing Happy Easter wishes to several women from one Doc Spresser. The Vietnam Memorial, on the other hand, while literal in quite another sense of the word, I liked. It's simple and elegant, quietly making a poignant statement, and is a lot smaller than I for some reason thought it would be. The DC WWI Memorial is a Doric temple buried in the trees, and almost no one goes there. Dedicated in 1931, the inscription refers only to The World War, since only one had happened by that point.

Today - it's time to hit the Smithsonian.

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