Heading off shortly, north to find Gettysburg to see 18 acres of graves, that cemetery Lincoln dedicated with 272 magical words. Wondering how that will feel. I’ve had peculiar experiences and emotions visiting ‘must see places’. I remember visiting Niagara Falls – and wanting to leave after 10 minutes, only because I thought it inappropriate to say so after only five. I walked Hemingway’s cemetery for hours and spent a long while at his grave – a powerful experience I’ll never forget or regret.
I find ‘touristing’ in this historically rich maze of power and place making, where modern meets colonial, where north meets south, where history and politics, race and economics, landscape and landmarks are like a 200 square mile patch of power and powerful overwhelming powerlessness – I’ve read about, seen film about and never ‘walked about’ …
Not to say I haven’t experienced Canadian history – both colourful and sad, but there is so much more of it here. I find people friendly, but in a scripted way – like clerks asking if I found everything I was looking for, or fast-food staff asking if I want fries with that and everyone wishing me a nice day. Then I turn on the TV, I’m here at the epicentre of the media/politics fault lines, CIA up the road on my left, the Pentagon down the road on my right – and across the river the pomp of it all … for rubbernecking tourists to see and deep beneath it all, so much history to walk by, walk through, and touch.
I know where I am going, and why, but have no idea how I will feel.
written / published from Arlington, VA
morning walk: 24C/75F (cooled off again by thunderstorms last night) – a longer walk today in a different direction, just far enough to see something new but not so far I can’t easily find my way back; density is a contrast, lots of old brick apartment buildings and homes – and new newer ones designed to fit in, lots of dog walkers …
Mark, Here are a few suggestions as you enjoy the city, from a frequent former business visitor:
- Unless they have recently tightened protocol, it is not well known that you can freely walk the halls of the House and Senate office buildings (on the right and left of the Capitol building), where all of the Representatives and Senators have their offices marked with flags and their State Seal. You can also go down into the tunnels that link the buildings to the Capitol - they use these to scurry over for votes - and you can grab a bite in the same downstairs cafes that they use.
- As you've already noticed, virtually everything you visit in DC is free!
- A quick stop in the lobby of the Willard (grand old hotel on Pennsylvania Ave, the closest one to the White House) is worth it to drink in history - the term "lobbyist" originated there, as a derisive reference to the clamouring hordes of special interest people who waited in the lobby and the bar for the politicians who lived there (there were many) to come down. The most famous resident was Abraham Lincoln, who stayed there for 6 weeks while the WH was being renovated, and his pencil - written bill for the stay is still on display under glass.
- A lunch or supper at the Old Ebbitt Grill is worth it. The place opened in 1856! and is soaked in history and beautiful woodwork. I think it's on 15th Ave or St, quite close to the WH.