I was very impressed with our capital–the majestic buildings and monuments built of solid marble, their thoughtful placement one from another, the broadness of the streets and the beautiful trees that line them, and the conspicuous lack of skyscrapers all result in a very pleasant experience for the unsuspecting traveler. Add to that a wealth of free museums, healthy restaurants, an excellent Whole Foods Market and an International Hostel and you have the makings of a very enjoyable sojourn for this somewhat weary pilgrim. Best of all I made the acquaintance of some second cousins I didn’t even know that I had.
My first full day here I took advantage of a walking tour of the monuments hosted by the Hostelling International Washington D.C. hostel. Led by a delightful young college student named Emma, we walked from the hostel to the “mall” where the monuments and the White House sit in all their glory.
It was raining lightly and we would have gotten quite wet if not for the umbrella provided by the Hostel. Other travelers in our small group were a woman from Ireland who had a particular interest in seeing the Capitol building and a Turkish German Muslim woman who had just spent three months working in an amusement park in Dallas, Texas. She is studying English in Istanbul with the intention of teaching it as a second language. Her English was very good.
Bäsra and I went to the Capitol Building together after the tour was over, a long walk from the Lincoln Memorial at one end of the mall
to the other end. Unfortunately I couldn’t enter the Capitol because I had a pocket knife in my bag. Instead I proceeded to walk around the city, taking in the sights and having a delicious salad at “sweet greens,” a chain restaurant that features delicious, fast salads made to order. They do not accept cash (!) which would not normally be a problem except for the fact that my debit card had just been invalidated. It had been used fraudulently to the tune of $500.00 in less than a hour. I had to scramble to get my HSA bank to allow me to use those funds until I return, on the 21st of this month, to Monterey.
A good friend from Carmel recommended that I go to the Newseum, which I did. There I learned about the Berlin Wall and the media’s role in its eventual destruction. If it wasn’t for radio broadcasts, television and leaflets, the East Germans may not have had the will to resist their government. It made me shudder to think that a similar wall between the United States and Mexico may be in our near future. Though it would be to keep a people out of a country rather than to keep them in, it is still a disagreeable attempt at control. Surely there must be a more diplomatic way to address the economic and cultural differences between our neighboring countries.
My next visit was to the American Holocaust Museum. Did you know that there are those who deny the fact that the Holocaust even happened? I beg anyone who has even the shadow of a doubt that it did happen to go to this museum. The evidence is much, much more than adequate to prove it.
Genocide was a reality not only in Nazi Germany but also in Cambodia, and is even now in Syria. It’s happening at this time in Mexico not by the government but by the drug cartels. And it happens in more subtle ways by the slow, insidious monopolization of resources by corporations. Mankind is capable of the systematic murder of its own kind, a fact that this museum chronicles for anyone brave enough to witness it.
The Holocaust Museum left me with these questions: In what way am I an accomplice to the marginalization of any people, animals and/or the environment? Do I collude with an oppressive regime knowingly or unknowingly? Am I concerned primarily with myself, my little plans and designs, and my well being? Am I casting a blind eye to the sins of myself or my country?
A visit to the National Gallery of Art was a more pleasant experience. I recognized several famous paintings by European masters such as Vincent Van Gogh
Edgar Degas and others.
This painting of a Moroccan harem by Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant was unfamiliar, but impressive
as was this one by Claude Monet:
This and many other museums in Washington are free and one could spend days exploring them.
My eldest brother John Emerson is a genealogist, and when I told him that I was in Washington he said that we had a second cousin living there. None of us had ever met her or her siblings but he suggested that I might try contacting her. I did, and she graciously invited me to join her and her family for dinner in their home in the historic Georgetown District, which was a short bike ride from the hostel where I was staying.
(Washington has many bike docking stations all over the city which you can rent; I took advantage of this fantastic infrastructure quite happily.)
What a delightful experience this was! There really is nothing better when one is traveling than to be welcomed into a private home, and my cousin Therese Droste and her family were especially kind. I enjoyed meeting each of them.
Therese and I shared family stories and discovered that we were born in the same year and share an interest in health. Her children are twins and just nine years old.
They have a beautiful home in the Federal style complete with antiques from that period.
My last day in the Washington area was spent visiting my friend Bonnie from Monterey who let me know she would be visiting her daughter in Annapolis. She invited me to join them for the day and again I was delighted to be welcomed into a warm and lovely home.
Bonnie is a remarkable, vibrant woman who has a degree in Environmental Studies and who works as a docent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and at a Prairie Reserve in Indiana. I’m grateful that she stays in touch. She is an inspiration.
From Washington I took a bus to Philadelphia where I have been visiting another good friend from the Monterey Peninsula, Pamela. I will write more about this visit once I am on the train headed back to California, which will be in just two days! I have decided to head home rather than cross the Atlantic at this time. I’m ready for a place to call home for a while.