|A great boy at the feet of a great man.|
Where to start? I may have been to DC as a kid, but, if I was, I remembered nothing. First, the city itself...
Weird. Not bad, at all (despite a few run-ins with drugged-up street people in Chinatown) -- just weird. I was pretty shocked by how un-historical the city felt, for on thing. This may seem like a ridiculous statement, but I think the Greek and Roman architecture, everywhere, makes the city feel timeless -- which might well have been the aim of the planners; the duration of the Republic and all that. This same end is achieved in the paintings in places like the National Archives and in the Capitol; the ones that show the Founding Fathers in neoclassical/Romantic settings that echo paintings of the Greek heroes and philosophers congregating and conversing in their animated groups, all in the act of debating or of feverishly passing paper documents around... It all works to elevate the city to the perceived level of Democratic Mecca, which, I suppose, is not a bad idea.
But Washington DC feels somehow slightly cold to me. I read, on a placard somewhere in the Museum of American History, that George Washington, in trying to find his niche as president, had humbly asked only to be called "Mr. President" (some had suggested he be the emperor, to give you perspective) and that he had decided, as president, not shake people's hands, but to bow formally, when he met them, in order to maintain some separation and to not seem either too aristocratic or too egalitarian. And the city that bears his name feels the same way; it doesn't really shake your hand; it bows a not-unfriendly bow; it welcomes you but it asks, politely, that you not put your feet up on the coffee table.
Some months ago, I fell deeply and immediately in love with Boston. With DC left feeling intellectually stimulated, culturally fulfilled and accomplished, but not in love.
At the Korean War Memorial, I felt my usual spiritual schism: two separate but strong feelings running in parallel: a deep pride in the men who fought and did what they believed in and a deep revulsion for the heinousness of war; especially of a war that achieved absolutely nothing and in which the soldiers were poorly equipped and inadequately supported by their government. Yet, there the men were, in the memorial, in rain gear and helmets, walking in formation and carrying their battered, poorly-functioning World War II reissued rifles, moving in formation through the dense vegetation. The lump in my throat was there in pride, but the anger threatened to push it out to the embarrassment of my family...
|The staggering Korean War Memorial.|
Thomas Jefferson has always been one of my favorite historical and philosophical figures and his monument could not have been more perfectly imagined. Looking back out over the city, the Tidal Basin sparkling between his statue and the White House, the water undulating as if to represent the silver thoughts of democracy that Jefferson was so instrumental in promoting; as if the city had emerged from his rippling and twinkling ideals like Atlantis reborn, it was hard not to feel patriotic, in the real sense. It was cool, up there, as well, under and on the marble, the breeze blowing through and making the monument an oasis from the ninety degree heat and giving it the feel of a place of sanity, sheltering us under the column-lifted dome from the barrage of modern noise. I could have sat there for days.
At any rate, we came home back pretty tired, as if traveling through portals: from one stone-columned city into a stone-columned train station at Union Station and exiting through another stone-columned portal at Philadelphia's dramatic Thirtieth Street Station and then into a car and back into the tree-lined suburbs of home -- a home that would not be possible without human sacrifice and without that which occurs in those lofty Greco-Roman buildings in DC. None of that means, however, that I accept the absolute need for war or that every war is a battle for freedom or that I believe, wholesale, that America is a perfect place. Thomas Jefferson would surely scowl down upon me if I did. Blind patriots are fools.
|The Union Station Portal|
|The Thirtieth Street Station Portal...and home.|