Dan and Lu's Travels
Themba dropped us off at the Metro station near his office this morning and we got the underground into DC. We went first to Federal Triangle stop which is downtown; you exit onto Pennsylvania Avenue - which is George W. Bush's street. All the architecture is Roman and Greek inspired, very classical and imposing. Very different from any place we've been to on this trip. It was a gorgeous hot, sunny day so all the buildings looked impressive and gleaming white against the blue sky. We had a look in the visitor's centre for the White House and encountered the first of many high security checks - it was like boarding a plane! We walked up Pennsylvania Av and saw the White House across the south lawn. You can't get very close but it was cool to see. Then we followed the circular path round the Ellipse and onto 17th Street until we got to the new WWII memorial. This stands between and in line with the Washington Monument, which stands tall and thin immediately south of the White House. To the west of the WWII memorial is the reflecting pool which stretches down through Constitution Gardens to the Lincoln Memorial, which we walked down to. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and looking down toward the Washington one mirrored in the pool is lovely. That image has been in so many movies and is iconic. You know you're in Washington DC. The Lincoln Memorial is actually quite moving. It's beautiful. It sounds almost ridiculous when you describe it - a huge seated statue of Lincoln housed inside a Greek temple style building, all white marble and self important, the walls inside have inscirptions of his speeches. The government website describes it as one of the most profound symbols of American democracy. It all sounds like a load of typical American pride and pomposity but this feels real. You can understand where it all comes from and what is good about this country; this man was determined that everyone be equal and free and he was and still is an inspiration. You just wonder what he would think of the US now and how its being run...... Underneath the building there is a film playing on repeat about his beliefs and career and what effect it has had on American history, right up to the present day. It also shows footage of all the demostrations that have taken place at this site, iconic ones, like Martin Luther King's speech in the '60s to Vietnam demos and more recent ones about the Iraq war to more domestic issues. We then walked along to the Vietnam Veterans memorial, which was designed by a 21 year old student in the early '80s, she won a national competition. Known as 'The Wall' it is made of very shiny black granite and kind of sinks into the ground, so from afar you can't really see it but as you get closer there is a path which takes you below ground level (in the open air) so your focus is completely on the wall. It is simple, just a list of US non civilian casualties of the Vietnam War. There are 58,253 names. The shiny surface means you are reflected in the memorial as you are looking at it, which is quite disturbing in a way, but effective in creating a response. We walked back through Constitution Gardens and up to the Wshington Memorial, which is the tallest structure in DC, surrounded by a circular arrangement of US flags. The down onto The National Mall which has many of the Smithsonian museums. All these museums in DC are free which I think is fantastic, there's a museum for everything you can think of too! We went to the National Archives after lunch which the LP said has all the blockbuster originals. It does! We saw the originals drafts and copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights among others, and one of only 4 remaining copies of the 1297 Magna Carta. The other exhibits in there were very good too - oral and written histories of famous American events and worldwide events witnessed by Americans. There is video, sound, photographic footage and diaries and letters. One section had examples of letters written to various US presidents by children, on many diffrent subjects, some serious and some not so. My favourite was one from 3 kids in Tennessee in the '50s asking President Eisenhower not to shave Elvis' hair off when he joined the army!!!! It's a fantastic museum. I noticed a few discarded banners from recent demos on the floor around the mall and federal triangle, which was good to see. This is the first place in America that feels political - and it should, being the capital - but it does feel active and that people here care what's going on in the rest of the world.....