For someone who self-identifies as politically inert, I have spent time and energy in Washington, D.C.
I won’t bore anyone with the meetings or the classes on the budget process, but I will tell you what I saw and what I like.
When Ronald Reagan lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, an enormous line of mourners snaked through the night to pay respects. The National Mall was lit with fairy globes, and at some points along the line, children slept unattended. A gentleman and his son wore black tie, walking between people in sandals and mantilla-ed women carrying Bibles. It was a night out of time.
A friend gave me a tour of the Old Executive Building (my favorite edifice in DC), including ghost stories such as the suicide who dented a brass banister on the way down… the dent is still there, as is arguably the spirit. Can you believe that in the 1880s both the Department of State and what would become the Department of Defense fit beneath this set of mansard roofs? I propose we downsize the DoD until it can return to the OEB. Doubtlessly my retirement would also be downsized, so maybe I had better keep quiet.
My visit to the OEB was nicely timed, so we watched George W. and Laura Bush cross the South Lawn to Marine One. We observed from a large room with windows that started at about five feet up the wall. My friend said, “you can go up to the window to get a better look,” and as my head appeared in the window, a counter-sniper popped up in the windows of the Treasury putting binoculars on me. I must have looked innocuous, as the Secret Service didn’t shoot me. It’s always a good day when you aren’t shot.
In January 2009, I attended the Commander in Chief’s Ball at President Obama’s Inauguration (someone had extra tickets). The Building Museum did a very nice job.
I recommend the Army Navy Club for dinner; elegant dining, and a wonderful library. There are little pieces of an older and more elegant DC here and there.
But my most memorable DC experience was not elegant at all. A coworker had a side business renting buildings in Southeast. Among other misadventures, such as adding an entire second story without a building permit and describing an attempted carjacking as “kids playing pranks,” he rented a campaign headquarters to Marion Berry in that politician’s apres-prison run for Ward Eight. He was a bit behind in rent (as in, he hadn’t paid the $7,000/month in four months), and he and my coworker were going at each other.
Serendipitously or not, I visited Oregon and discovered the eponymous Marionberry jam. I gave the coworker a jar, he passed it on to his recalcitrant tenant, and apparently this healed the rift. I don’t know if Berry ever paid the rent, but he did send along an autographed T-shirt of his comeback campaign in return for the jam, so I have that going for me.
But let me proceed to the recommendations. This is a wonderful area to visit, and everyone knows that, so hit it on a weekday during the fall or early spring.
If you visit April-ish, brave the crowded basin for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The trees were given by Japan in 1912, and though some wanted them destroyed in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, thankfully they remain (actually their descendants remain, as cherries don’t live that long). There are blossoms on the branches, carpeting the lawns … and when the wind blows, they infuse the air as well, so that the whole world is motile and delicate pink blossoms.
DC rhymes with FREE: it provides a budget tourist with many options. First and foremost, the entire Smithsonian. I like the National Portrait Gallery; the National Gallery of Art, which offers ice skating in the Sculpture Garden during the winter; and the Renwick Gallery, which is not on the mall and focuses on crafts rather than beaux arts. The stacked-Lifesaver Hirshhorn has a poignant Brancusi that to me symbolizes the the stunned 20th century.
A word of caution: the most popular Smithsonian Museums are Air and Space, Natural History, and American History: don’t attempt those on the weekends, especially in the summer. And don’t forget the new ones! The National Museum of the American Indian is a collection of living cultures rather than a catalog of a time that has passed. If you get to African American History and Culture … tell me how it is! Haven’t yet had the pleasure.
If you do visit in summer, check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival: from the Silk Road to a literal circus. The National Mall is good for a run, walk … or a solemn viewing of the War Memorials. You can feel Korea’s bitter winter while you remember this forgotten war. WWI visually represents the death of the 19th century, which it was: a quiet cupola among the trees. The Vietnam Wall makes the dead darkly visible; you descend from a trickle of names to a nine-foot-deep valley, then turn the corner and ascend. On the 20th anniversary in 2004, I volunteered to read ten names, so that all could be read in order. It took days to go through the 58,195 names. The person in front of me ended by saying, “he was my husband, whom I love to this day,” and the one behind me said, “he died in my arms.” I went there to honor my uncle, who came home, and it impressed upon me the importance of not taking our loved ones for granted. Ever.
On with the review… not free but worth the price: the Newseum, on Constitution by the Canadian Embassy, our closest friends. You can hit the Spy Museum (more fun than content, but fun) and the small Chinatown at one stop. The Navy Yard hosts the National Museum of the US Navy. DAR Constitution Hall has a museum, and for free you can eyeball the Canal Keeper’s House.
Where to eat: I started this paragraph and then realized that no place I used to visit seems to be extant. Brickskeller, though sleazy and completely pathological about its claim to 1,000 beers, was at least fun. The French restaurants in Georgetown are probably now owned by Starbucks. I used to like the Old Tooth for its food court, but it has come under new management, and I don’t know what it’s like these days. So get some Palm fries, I guess.
I will leave you with the picture of this staircase. Anyone remember the movie? There will be a prize for correct answers!
Corey is not quite an international woman of mystery but is hard at work becoming a regional person of interest. Previously both a Classics Major and an Army Major, she is currently travelling where the road will take her and leaving digital footprints at www.greensunjourney.com. Upcoming reports may include improving trails in Muir Woods, diving from a liveaboard in the Bahamas, flying military Space-A across the Pacific Ocean, and taking a month long cruise to Antarctica on a refitted Russian research ship. You may also check out some older writing at https://coreyschultz.contently.com/ or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.