Thursday, September 16, 2010

Washington and Back Again

Back of the Capitol
Originally uploaded by suzipaw
I feel like I gave the Texas visit a bit of short shrift, blog-wise. So many details I had wanted to share (and frankly put down for my own remembering later) went by the busy-life wayside. From your perspective, Dear Reader, perhaps that was a Good Thing.
So that may also be the case with my Washington DC recap. But I have three more days off from work, so then again maybe not. So you may want to skip ahead. Oh wait, I'm not blogging much lately, so there's nothing to skip ahead to. Yet. At least this is turning into a long-ish post, which I hope makes up for my silence a little.

It was hectic for me preparing for the trip, but all was accomplished of course. There is no other alternative when deadlines are involved, is there? It has to be. One big help--some friends very kindly transported Rex to his grandparents for dogsitting duties, freeing up most of the day I had taken off from work just to schlep him up the coast.

We had a night flight from SFO and landed at Dulles around 7:00 a.m., well before the first bus was scheduled to leave for Washington. I haven't done a red-eye for ages. On the plus side, the drive down was clear sailing and SFO felt a lot more mellow in the evening vs. the morning. But by the time we arrived at IAD, we were so grateful to not be on the plane anymore--it was not a comfortable flight, particularly for M who is a rather large person. I dozed on the plane but neither of us slept, so the pause at Dulles turned out to be a good transition to the other coast.

We arrived at the hotel, the historic Henley Park Hotel, around 9:30 a.m., and of course they didn't have a room ready for us. So we checked our bags and just started walking. We headed to Union Station, which is a lovely building. We had a bite to eat there, which staved off the grumpiness that was threatening to devour our marital harmony, then walked to the Capitol building and down along the Mall to the National Archive where we took in the Bill of Rights, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and other historic documents. Pen, paper, ink, and signatures were once amazing tools. I'm glad I'm of the generation that experienced the transition to digital. Though the younger generations may not care, I'm grateful for the unique perspective.

We got back to the hotel around 1:00 p.m., collapsed into our tiny but pleasant room, watched TV, napped for a few hours. I insisted we get out of the room for dinner, and so we did, enjoying a very pleasant middle Eastern meal of small plates at Zaytinya. I never would have paired apricots, sweet potatoes, and pine nuts into a little fried ball, but there it is--new experiences are the reasons to travel after all. I had a glass of retsina of course, and did indeed have that sense memory of my trip to Greece lo these many moons ago. After dinner we headed to the Washington Monument and sat there for quite some time, observing the tides of tourists washing up at the foot of the Monument, ebbing down to the Reflecting Pool as the sun set and air cooled. An extra glass of wine, a bath, and a couple of melatonin tablets ensured that I had a great night's sleep--with the drapes pulled tight, we spent a good 12 hours in the Land of Nod that night.

We were off to a mellow start the next day, transitioning to the conference hotel. Tuning in to the US Open was a bit of a distraction, but we love watching tennis on TV and don't get to often, so that was a small slice of the time off. We were also a bit ache-y after our long trek the day before, so M made the very sensible suggestion to buy tickets for one of the bus tours. By the time we finished a late lunch in DuPont Circle to see the Luncheon of the Boating Party painting at the Phillips Collection, we realized that we wouldn't see much more that day. But continuing on, it was a pleasant ride past the National Cathedral and into Georgetown, where we debarked the bus and embarked on a small craft for a short cruise up the Potomac.

Back on the bus, we decided to hop off at Arlington Cemetery, a place I'd never explored before. M urged us up to the Tomb of the Unknown quickly as the top of the hour was approaching and as the bell chimed 6:00, we arrived to a large crowd gathered as the changing of the guard ceremony was beginning. A wreath-laying ceremony followed, which was interesting and moving. I was close enough to hear the tall, intimidating, mirrored sunglasses-wearing member of the honor guard murmur to the middle-schoolers (including the most decorated Boy Scout I've every seen) who were saucer-eyed and petrified until he broke character and teased them a bit. After the ceremonies, we wandered through the trails between headstones, saw the simple resting places of Kennedys Robert and Edward near the more moving but still simple graves of JFK, Jackie O, and their deceased offspring. I was almost surprised seeing Jackie's marker there--those Camelot years were relatively short and she had such an amazing life after JFK was assassinated; yet that is her (relatively) eternal association. Since we spent more time at Arlington than we planned, we missed the last tour bus, but luckily a Metro stop was very conveniently located. A quick dinner at a brewpub near the hotel and another bath and then bed for me.

While I worked during the next couple of days, M prowled the Federal City and I confess to being jealous of the fun he was having while I toiled five levels below the street. He was too tired to sight-see with me the first evening of the conference, so I wandered out on my own. With no goal in mind, I ended up having an extremely pleasant visit to the nearly empty (but for the mouthy sullen tweens accompanying their exasperated parents as they tried to enjoy the botanical delights) Enid A. Haupt garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. The sculpture garden near the Hirshhorn was also sparsely populated. I'm not one much for modern outdoor sculpture, but I enjoyed it. I did appreciate overhearing one woman describing an artist's piece to her companion--the title referenced Iowa or Idaho and she pointed out how one part looked like a plow, another part a stalk of wheat…I think I would benefit from guides or tours for exhibits like that. I'm also not much of a Yoko Ono fan, but she had a "piece" there too--she asked for people to write wishes on small tags and then tie them to a low-growing tree. According to the literature, she'll gather up the tags later and create another piece with the results. It took me quite a while to come up with something, and as I was tying my wish to a branch, I noticed a tag that had fallen off--"Wish you were here"--my wish for M--so I tied that wish back on the tree. I wonder how many wishing for you's that tree dangles like paper icicles.

On the way back to the hotel, I paused on a side street to watch flock after flock of nondescript black birds descend on the row of trees lining the block. It started small, but built rhythmically, the chatter of the birds growing louder and louder, accompanying the darkening, thickening clouds of beaks, feathers, claws swooping in from afar in gravity defying choreography, a swift thunderhead transformed into a silent swarm winging down the street, then along a rooftop, slinging back along a building's bank of windows and finally separating to alight. One of the pleasures of being a country bumpkin is the ability to stop and gape without fear of ridicule; as I observed this ritual dumbfounded, a security guard strolled up and we began chatting. She said she'd been working there for nine years and the birds had been coming backing at the same time of day and time of year since she'd been there. She also brought me back to the prose of reality by letting me know that the building maintenance folks across the way had to power-wash the sidewalks every day during "bird season."

On our final day, we got going in enough time to take one last brief tour around the lower part of the Mall. After a quick breeze by the White House, through the American Craft Museum, and then the WWII Memorial, where I hope to spend more time one of these days, we went on to the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials. The latter is a very different experience from Arlington, though it serves a parallel purpose by naming the dead. We spent quite a bit of time there, looking for the name of the father of M's best friend--he was erroneously listed as KIA and his name is on the Wall, but he's not actually…dead. (Not surprisingly, this was apparently difficult news for him to digest. The listing on the Wall part, not they being alive part.) Since the reference books have been updated and corrected, we weren't able to locate his name, but it was a reason to really pause to absorb the many, too many, names etched in the black stone.

Though our flight home was uneventful, as we were landing, the pilot mentioned a fire in San Bruno, a community very near the airport on the way into SF proper. We didn't have any details about it in flight, but driving home we saw a terrible glow in the hills above the highway. We listened to the radio all the way home, and the gas line break, as we learned was the cause, seemed horrific--street asphalt boiling, fire spreading, heat radiating out like an oven along streets and whooshing down a canyon. A very sobering end to our trip.

We were home a day and a night, then drove up the coast to pick up the mutt. We had a great overnight with Mom. We admired the many stars we don't see here with all of the light pollution. We ate well, particularly of chocolate cake. We did not talk on the phone to anyone nor look at computers nor stare at any digital devices. OK, except for a little TV. What a relief! In addition to the much-missed mutt, I brought home some amazing tomatoes and more pleasant memories. It made it all the more difficult to return to the realities of work!

Some random thoughts/recollections:

The security fear/precautions in Washington has actually beautified the city in some ways--concrete barriers to buildings are disguised as planters and bloomed with strappy leaves and purple spiked flowers.

While I don't consider myself a very patriotic person in the rigid popular definition of the word, I felt like flags were my creative inspiration on this trip and I enjoyed photographing them. Not very original, I know.

This was a very nice trip gastronomically as well. In addition to Zaytinya and the good hotel restaurant, I dined at Proof and Michel Richard's Central. Even the meals at the conference were exceptional (for large scale meals). Good food always improves a journey, I find.

Though I wanted to just be spending time with M and not working while we were in Washington, the bright side of having him with me was being released from the constant missing of him that I normally experience while I'm away. Opening the hotel room door after a long day and finding him happily occupied watching TV and smiling up at me as I came though the door was one of the best sight-seeing experiences of my trip.

We had perfect weather throughout the trip. I had been worried that Hurricane Earl was going to delay our flight, but instead it scrubbed the humidity and heat away. I suspect that had something to do with M's several comments about how living in Washington would be pretty excellent.


At 3:42 PM, September 18, 2010, Blogger Kamala! said...

Great post, Suz! Also Happy B-day-not sure if I posted that anywhere. I agree about being happy to have grown up in the switch-over tothe digital age.Although I'm a lousy typist, and spent many long hours with white out, I appreciate having to have written stuff out long hand. Where does that phrase come from, "long hand"? Guess I'll just go on-line and find out.


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