Friday, November 25, 2011

Washington DC

Ok. I know. I went to Washington DC over 2 weeks ago and haven't written a word about it. So here's what I did:

The Holocaust Museum
The Smithsonian Castle
The Lincoln Memorial
The WWII Memorial
The Portrait Gallery
The National Art Museum
The Air and Space Museum
A lovely Thai restaurant
A lovely Sushi restaurant
A movie: The Tower Heist
A double decker bus tour of everything, just driving past....
Spent many hours on buses and subways
Watched a man sleeping on a bench in the National Mall.
Had an ice cream cone, pumpkin flavor, yummy.
Witnessed a 4 car accident.

On Monday I got a late start, didn't know the bus and rail schedules and ended up in DC after lunch. So I bought a ticket for the double decker bus and we headed out, over the river, south to Arlington. On the way, the bus was stopped at a light and WHAM WHAM WHAM, three cars were hit by a speeding driver whose own car spun twice and ended up on the median. One of the cars was pushed into the bus two lanes over and mashed its front end. I'm not clear what happened as I was just sitting on the upper level enjoying a few seconds of no wind lashing my face, taking photos of an imposing sculpture on top of a low building. In a few minutes a police car showed up, then fire engines, then an ambulance. After a long wait we were allowed to back up and ease through the car mess all over the road and go on with our tour.

It was a canned audio tour, and not that informative. The afternoon was waning. It stopped in front of the Holocaust museum so I got off and went there. It's huge, new, somber and enlightening. And it answered for me, finally, the long burning question of how did a nation of perfectly normal people get so warped, mentally and emotionally, that the Holocaust could actually happen. The museum has a certain flow, and following the flow, you are taken to a time before WWI, then through Germany's defeat in that war, to its struggle during the world wide depression, to Hitler's slow rise to power and then instantaneous dissolution of democracy in favor of a dictatorship. By then, so many rights of the common people had been eroded, and the police/military were so powerful the people could do very little to rise up against that machine. And there were many who ardently supported it, it fit into their own ideas of being a world power. The rest of the world refused to accept Jews wanting out of Germany, so Hitler solved his "problem" in the most hideous fashion. When the story is presented in that plodding and gradual way, you can see how it could happen. I think my answers were found.

The museum closed as I was only about half way through. I know the rest of the story, the part I needed to hear was the beginning, the reasons. And it was sobering because I can see echos of it in our own country. Now that Habeas Corpus was tossed out, we no longer have the right to know why we are being arrested. Hmmm. And the Magna Carta has been more or less done away so you cannot protect your home from the police who want to enter for reason but without a warrant, your property can be taken at any time by the government for any reason it wishes as the "public good"  in condemnation proceedings no longer needs to be proven, and on and on. Are we marching toward a time when, for the "good of the country" martial law will be enacted? And how would we fight that? We have the most powerful army in the world. I'm a pretty middle of the road person when it comes to politics, and I'm glad our founding fathers made gun ownership a right. However, if the majority of gun owners back a dictatorship, we'll be in worse trouble than the Germans ever were. At this point in time, I don't see many gun owners out there protesting the gradual erosion of our rights, with the exception of those pertaining to gun ownership.

Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, and Yeager's plane.
Over the next two days I went to the Air and Space Museum and saw all the Firsts. The first machine to fly made by the Wright Brothers. (Funny how NC gets ALL the credit when the Wright Brothers lived, experimented, and worked in Ohio.) Chuck Yeager's plane, the first to break the sound barrier; Charles Lindburgh's Spirit of St. Louis - the first to fly over the Atlantic; and the first plane, SpaceShipOne, to fly into space and return, entirely under its own power; were all displayed together in a huge hall. The first human powered machine to actually fly, the Gossamer Condor, occupies a wall in the same hall. Wonderful displays of other firsts, like the first manned space capsule, the moon lander, etc, each had it's special spot. That museum alone took up the better part of a day. With aching feet I went to a movie and got an ice cream cone for dinner. I know, shoulda coulda had something more nutritious, but what are vacations for anyway?

Lincoln Memorial Mess
Really enjoyed the Lincoln Memorial. They're tearing up the reflecting pond and replacing all the pipes and the concrete 'floor' and it's quite a mess. I spoke briefly with one of the workers in Spanish. He said it would be finished in 6 months, in time for the influx of tourists next summer. Inside the building, a docent was giving a little talk. There were hundreds of school children in large groups posing on the steps but inside it was relatively quiet. He told about the architect, the contest that was held to pick a designer, a sculptor, etc. Very interesting stuff. The monument opened in 1922, almost 70 years after Lincoln's death. Around the exterior are the names of all US states, though a few had to be added after the fact.

I had wanted to save the Vietnam Memorial till last. But alas I didn't get there. There is so much more to see. I will need to find a way to rent a place near DC at some point in retirement, and go every few days in order to see it all, and I would want to see it all. The portrait gallery alone would take at least three full days to do it justice. And I never got over to the Natural History Museum or any of the other 'biggies'. It was too mind boggling. So I went on down the road, to Washington's house,  Mount Vernon, on the Potomac.

That tour led me down a path I never expected to travel. Virginia is the home state of 9 presidents. So I went on a tour of Colonial and Presidential homes, and other historic parks. More to follow.....

WWII Memorial

A family's private statement at the WWII memorial.

Restaurant inside Union Station.