Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Washington, DC

I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath for another blog update. Unfortunately we couldn't get free internet on our last night in Washington, DC and last night I was much too tired to turn on the computer, let alone write my blog. We have been very, very busy. This first post is about Washington.

We woke up pretty early for our full day in Washington. We decided that we would take the Metro over to a stop near the White House and then circle the White House and head to the Lincoln Memorial. Following that, we'd walk along the National Mall to the Capitol. We ended up stopping at the Smithsonian because we were hot and tired but went back after a rest and finished the tour as planned. We have lots of photos but none of them have been posted yet, of course :) We think one of the conditions of free internet here is that we don't download or upload a lot of stuff.

The Metro is Washington, DC's subway system. It appears to be quite comprehensive and covers parts of Virginia and Baltimore as well. To ride it you have to figure out your fare in advance based on where you're going from the station and what time of day you're traveling and get yourself a farecard from the machines. It looks like if you're traveling after 9:30am most destinations are $1.35 which is very cheap. Machines read your farecard when you enter and leave the Metro and deduct the appropriate fare from it when you leave. We had actually miscalculated our fare needs and got farecards with $0.45 more than required, so we gave them to someone purchasing a farecard at our last stop. You can't get money back from a farecard, but you can add more money to it.

The White House is heavily guarded, as expected. You can only view it from behind an iron fence that is some regulated distance away from the building itself. I expect that we were videoed and possibly recorded during our sight-seeing there as well. Sigh. Armed police were everywhere; the police presence was very, very high there. Really, there isn't much to see there; it's the White House as seen from the street.

We made our way around and got to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I found it very moving but it lists all of those names. There are so many of them.... and all of them were killed fighting the Vietnam war. They died for no good reason. Here the dead are personalized. They're not just abstract crosses or included in some faceless, nameless monument. The names of the dead are all there. I was deeply touched by this even though I didn't know any of these people. Most of the people there also appeared to be deeply moved by the memorial. They spoke in hushed tones about the people they knew or the events surrounding the Vietnam War. The Vietnam war can be especially hard to think about because the Iraq war is quite similar to it.

After that we went to the Lincoln Memorial. I felt a sense of deep reverence as we climbed the steps to it. There are lots and lots of them as you've seen on tv or in movies. When we got to the top I almost felt like I should have kneeled before Lincoln's statue. The eyes in the statue seem to follow you as you move around. We read the declarations on each side of the memorial and I felt that even though the dead from the Civil War were not named, it was powerful enough to make you think about war and its consequences. The words there were written after the Civil war when the country was torn in two, brother against brother, and so many died.

We took a break to eat lunch after this. I needed one because I had been very affected by both memorials and I didn't want to encounter the next two (the National World War II Memorial and Washington Memorial) without giving myself time to even out. It turns out that I needn't have bothered.

While the first two memorials deeply affected me and others around me in showing the human toll of war, the WWII memorial is a tribute to American might. It doesn't celebrate or revere the dead; it instead describes how the US fought back against Pearl Harbor and won because of its strength and, well, might. This memorial has big pillars for each state (plus a couple of territories) around a pool with fountains. You can't see the whole thing in one view. It is big and white and kind of epitomizes the conspicuous consumption after the war as well as its own victory in WWII - it comes across as almost arrogant. Looking at the monument you'd never know any other countries were involved in WWII.

The Washington Memorial is little more than a phallic symbol that apparently represents George Washington. It looks nice in the reflecting pool.

The only Smithsonian building we stopped at was the Information Castle. I'd hoped to see some of the museums but we were just too tired and by the time we resumed our tour, the museums had all closed.

It was much nicer in the evening after we had rested. There wasn't that much that we wanted to see. We ended up taking a few photographs, but our main destinations were the Capitol and the Supreme Court. We saw both of those buildings and were happy :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In high school, my American sister-in-law was taught that Pearl Harbour was the beginning of WWII. How's that for arrogant and tragic?