One of the best things about having out of town guests is their thirst to see what you have at your constant disposal and seldom see…I know I’ve been trying to remedy this trend for myself, but it still happens. I live near enough to Washington D.C. to be able to go there any time, without all of the inconvenience of actually living there, which effectively puts it out of reach for me much of the time. I go there for specific events – gallery openings, museum shows, and the like, but tend to avoid the “tourist” attractions because I don’t allow myself the time to take them for what they are…attractions.
So having people come to visit from the west coast who have never been out this way and don’t necessarily expect to come again is a good thing. They want to see it all, and as a good host, I want to show them everything. So I am in the position of taking the time to see what they see.
This trip started in Silver Spring which was just the most reasonable way to collect my friends and their luggage for their stay on the Eastern Shore. I was able to leave the car at their hotel so we could take the Metro into the city – Washington D.C. is one of the most congested cities in the country for driving, and parking is a regular nightmare. The Metro, however, has stops just far enough out of town that it is a good option. The Metro is a foreign concept for people from the Olympic Peninsula, so the adventure started there. It was a grey and lowering day, humid, warm, and threatening. I was just glad to see that with
100% humidity we didn’t also have bright sunlight to bring the heat way up – it turned out to be perfect weather for so much walking in town.
We arrived at Union Station, which truly is a beautiful introduction. First opened in 1907, the station was declared a National Treasure in 1981, and reopened following a complete restoration in 1988. We were able there to get on a tourist trolley that would take us around the city, depositing us at the various monuments and locations that we wanted to see in the course of our visit. We started at the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin.
From Jefferson, we went to see Lincoln. There is a reason people come from all over the world to visit this shrine. The man honored here may have been just a man, but his life, and his death helped to articulate the goals of the country – “four score and seven years” after Jefferson’s generation sacrificed to create the nation – Lincoln’s generation on all sides forged in battle a nation that has not been rivaled. OK, you spend a day reading the great speeches and try not to wax a little old fashioned in tone 🙂
In a sort of natural progression, we left the Lincoln Monument and went to Arlington Cemetery. Once the home of General Lee, the cemetery is vast and sobering. I forget how many graves are already there, but the fact that some 5000 burials take place there every year certainly gives you pause. We visited John Kennedy’s grave, buried there with Jacqueline – the Camelot of my youth on a spot that looks over to the city – which at that moment was illuminated by a ray of sun – and all that came to mind was President Reagan’s farewell address to the nation in which he referred to the USA as “that shining city upon a hill.” It was awesome. What was somewhat odd though, was that a big saucer magnolia was in bloom there – not something I am used to seeing in September. It was beautiful.
Arlington was a good place to begin the rest of our trip, back to the Lincoln Memorial where we could walk through the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and ultimately to the WWII Memorial.
I have been to The Wall many times, but the Korean War and the WWII are new to me – places I have long wanted to visit. I cry every time I go to The Wall, and the Korean War Memorial and certainly the WWII Memorial affected me no less. The weather actually enhanced the Korean Memorial – the patrol of stainless steel soldiers coming through the mist was an effect that brought everything I’d heard about the conflict into high relief.
The World War II Memorial, grand in scope and so nearly too late in coming, perhaps was the highlight of my day…I watched children with their parents sitting near the fountains, and aged veterans having their picture taken and middle aged people like me wandering around reading the names of the states – it is simple and powerful enough that I think all of those generations could feel how this nation shapes itself around the events of that war, more perhaps than any since the American Revolution. We think of ourselves based on who we were then. People see us differently, maybe, but we still see our young people storming the beaches of countries they couldn’t find on a map to give them the kind of freedom we know. Life is actually more complicated, we all understand, still, it is the American with the Hershey bar that we think we see when we see our own kids sign up for military duty. But I digress (surprise!) The WWII Memorial was perhaps the one sight in the city that I most wanted to see. I’m so grateful to my grandparents and their generation, and it is high time the nation recognized what they gave us too.