On the way to visit my sister in North Carolina, I stopped in Washington DC to spend a few days soaking up the various Smithsonians...a treat I'd never had the opportunity to enjoy before. I found DC to be an odd, oddly inspiring, and oddly unsettling place. As I walked around the downtown and Capitol districts, I was often struck by the granduer of the architecture and monuments around me: at each turn an iconic view; the façades of several buildings etched with the founding principals of the nation. The White House The Washington Monument
The Capitol Building Though beautiful and awe-inspiring, the effect of being surrounded by these structures was disquieting. As the outward symbols of the nation's wealth and power, they seemed to stand in almost belligerent contrast to America's current economic crisis, its vast numbers of disenfranchised and homeless citizens, its ailing environment and its inability (or unwillingness) to implement foreign policies that rise above schoolyard bully tactics. The result was that I couldn’t help but mark the difference between what America intended to be and what it has become. I wondered if this is what it felt like to walk around Ancient Roman in its declining years – to be awe-struck by the sight of the Colosseum and other symbols of the Empire's former glory - while sensing that the whole thing was hurtling towards its own demise. However, unlike the monuments, the people of DC were wonderfully warm. On my way to the museum one day, I was stopped by an Obama supporter and asked for a donation. I had just bought myself a cup of coffee and shoved the change - one dollar - back into my pocket, when he approached asking me if I could spare a dollar to help out the campaign. I answered (excitedly), "Guess what I have in my pocket?!!!" He took a step back and (momentarily) looked concerned. (It only occurred to me later that in this land of powerful gun lobbies, the question 'guess what I have in my pocket?' could easily be taken as a threat!) I quickly (and triumphantly) added, "A dollar!" and handed it over. He broke into huge smile and said, "Come 'ere. Give me a hug". He handed me an Obama/Biden 08 sticker, planted a big kiss on my cheek and we hugged, laughing.
The one highlight for me amongst all of the monuments was the Temple of My Beloved - otherwise known as the Lincoln Memorial. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a man with a visionary outlook, and Lincoln has always been a favourite of mine, but his memorial seemed much more dignified: quieter and less prideful, boasting and glory-driven than the others (which sometimes seem as if their only purpose is to dominate the surrounding landscape). I was also struck by its location: oddly separated from the other monuments, it’s as if Lincoln – as the moral conscience of a nation – is the perennial outsider, preferring not to be associated with the more ostentatious displays of wealth and power. It seemed to me that the Lincoln Memorial sits quietly to the perifery as a reminder of what the nation could stand for if only it remembered who it was.