Sunday, January 4, 2009

"I found Rome made of brick; I have left it for you in marble." - Caesar Augustus, 14AD

A magnificent day, indeed, we have for our visit to Washington DC. Upon arriving at the Union Station, the first impression one receives is that of enormity. The stylised architecture of the station’s main foyer, with barrel vaulted ceilings and caryatid sentinels maintaining their frozen vigils, speaks of an age which suggests a welcome on a grand scale.

Such is the nature of Washington DC, gleaming in its reflected whiteness, born through a glorious morning.

We exit Union Station via Massachusetts’s Avenue, to be greeted by the imposing commemorative statuary to Christopher Columbus, then across Columbus Circuit, which takes us onto the National Mall. This is the precinct which guides the visitor on a reflective tour of this nation’s capital.

Walking slowly along the incline that is Delaware Avenue, we glimpse the first view Capitol Hill affords us. However to our left is a vista of marble, Hellenistic in style, which is the variety of government buildings. The Russell Building; Senate Office; Supreme Court; Libraries of Congress (Jefferson and Madison buildings) and others.

Capitol Hill is a commanding, though astonishing edifice, with an imposing forecourt, ushered by a broad plaza.
Elaborate architecture is the structure’s signature, with a composite of Georgian and Hellenistic styles. One is reminded of the ramifications of 911, with the ever present representation of Federal police. Michael and I ventured onto one of the daises, located in the forecourt, whereby we were duly ordered off the platform!
The panorama provides an amazing spectacle from Capitol Hill towards the Washington Monument, which is dwarfed in distance through the span of the National Mall.

We press on with our promenade from Capitol Hill, along Jefferson Drive towards the parade of Smithsonian museums. Yet, we pause at the commemorative statue of General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union forces during the American Civil War.
In reflection, DC is punctuated throughout with references to the Constitution and contemplation on the Independence and Civil wars. Possibly, to remind Americans what defines them as a nation?

Our first stop is the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, truly a cathedral for those who have an interest in aero-space and astronomy. We enter the museum, after passing through the familiar security checks, and are welcomed by an array of aeronautical and astronomic exhibits. However, food and drink beckon prior to investigating this domain. McDonald’s has the monopoly in the museum - so “Chew ‘n Spew” it is! It’s quite sugary, our fare; however, it’s time to explore this institution. Maria suggests Michael and I should go our own way, and we meet at 14:30 in the main foyer.
In short, the museum visually documents the history of aviation and space flight, from the Wright Brothers through to Gemini lunar expeditions. The living dioramas are a wonder to experience, which are found in separate areas or those exhibits which are free-standing or suspended from the high ceiling. However, time being at a premium, Michael and I were unable to view the exhibits concerning astronomy. Albeit, what we had witnessed was more than admirable substitute!

I am on a “high” as we leave the museum, and proceed onto Jefferson Drive towards our next stop. At this juncture, Maria has decided to take a “Red Bus Tour” of DC, and suggests Michael and I proceed on foot and rendezvous with her at the White House. In concord, we say our farewell to Maria and proceed upon our own walking tour.

Our next visit is the Hirshhom Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden, and is also part of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum focuses primarily on the post-World War 2 period, with emphasis on art created within the last thirty years. The sculpture garden includes works by August Rodin, Alexander Calder and Claes Oldenburg.

Ever mindful of the time, Michael and I resist the temptation to enter the other museums which beckon. So we must press on towards the obelisk, which is the Washington Memorial.

The Memorial is an amazing sight, set on a hill commanding the northward view of the Capitol and that of the Lincoln Memorial. The obelisk towers overall, and to effectively photograph the monolith, I lay on my back to take advantage of its position. I draw many a stare and unintentionally create a trend for other visitors to photograph the memorial!

The sun is setting and the shadows lengthen as we proceed onto the Lincoln Memorial. On route to visit “Abe”, we stop to admire the National World War II Memorial. We come to accept that commemorative sites in DC are far from being small, and the WW2 memorial is no exception. The monument is circular with pillars, set on the circumference, representing every state in the Union. At the east and west radii are towers, and each accommodating the American eagle. Behind the cenotaph, a wall displays a gold star for each of the fallen. This site commands silent contemplation.

Finally, we arrive at the Lincoln Memorial which is crawling with humanity. The shrine is accessible by two sets of stairs positioned at an acute incline. I have no doubt, the stairs have been positioned so to encourage visitors to enter the sanctorum in silence? However the memorial is humbling, not just by the dimension of the sculpture of Lincoln but more by the replication of his Gettysburg Address incised into the walls of the shrine.

The northern vista provided from the memorial entrance is stunning. You view across the Pool of Reflection, on towards the Washington Memorial and beyond to Capitol Hill.
We continue our quest towards the White House, after a visit to the Vietnam War Veteran’s Memorial. Here, all talk and idle chatter ceases as pilgrims offer individual silent contemplations.

Upon reaching Constitution Avenue, we proceed towards the White House. Evidence of the pending Presidential inauguration ceremony on 20th January is everywhere. Security, barriers, banks of stadium seating, construction of a protective podium and not omitting the ubiquitous “Obama” paraphernalia on sale.

We finally rendezvous with Maria at the Union Station, after a slight re-route in plans. All is well and we’ve had a full and enlightening day.
Now, it’s time dinner and the return journey to the Big Apple.

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