April 26, 2007
Once we got back from NYC, Roman and I stepped right back into the usual schedule at home, work and school. I think both of us have been struggling to get used to it. Things have been really a little slow at work- all property lawyers have been, I think, because house sales are down. Some lawyers have been laying off staff. We’ve had a couple of closings for Jeff Schwarz, though not as many as normal, and people have been walking in with stuff regularly. So Radeanna and I have work, but we aren’t slammed. Usually that’s good for me to do other stuff- Town of Franklinville, for instance, where we had the monthly planning board meeting Tuesday night. Or the American Textile History Museum stuff, which could be a full time job if I just had the time- either raising money or doing research and oral history interviews, etc. I heard from the family and most of my friends for my birthday last Friday; Roman bought me an incense burner shaped like a dragon, which is cool.
I went to the Randolph County Democratic party convention last Saturday morning and got elected Chairman. That’s one Democratic party job I’ve never done– when I was Mayor I always had an excuse that I was too busy. But Alan Pugh and the Republicans have accused me of being one of the most prominent Democrats in the county for the last year, so at least now they’ll be right.
I borrowed a bush hog from Henry Bowers and mowed around the house last Saturday. It’s a small-size Allis Chalmers tractor and a 44″ bush hog, and it did great work. Mr. Matthews has moved to an assisted living center, after living in my apartment for more than 15 years. He used to mow and trim weeds. I’ve bought half a dozen weed eaters over the years, I think, but couldn’t find any Saturday when I looked. Mr. Matthews used to keep them up, but cheap weed eaters usually don’t last more than one or two seasons. So I went down to Joe and Mary Deitz’s place and bought a commercial Mamyama (sp?) , which does a great job. It helps a lot doing yard work to have good equipment.
Roman is having spring fever. Yesterday and Tuesday was the district track meet, their last track meet. Last Saturday was his last meeting with the other exchange students; two of them are leaving in just two weeks. Roman is here until June 19, but is really tired of school (like every other American high school student, I’d wager). May 15th is the Eastern Randolph prom, and we’ve gone to Big Deal to order his tuxedo ($99). He’s in denial about the cost of flowers, dinner and transportation. In fact he’s having second thoughts about the prom all together, as he doesn’t like how big a deal it is here in America. In Russia, he says, kids go to dances with several partners, or no partners, and it’s all good. Not here. I have to get the citation for his blog; even though it’s in Russian, it would be interesting to see. He writes regularly for his family and friends at home, and his mother has chided him for criticizing President Bush and the American government. That could be dangerous, she says. I guess I’ve encouraged him to be a liberal Democrat! He told her, in this country, they have Free Speech! Yes, we do; but when he goes home to Russia I’ve already told him he probably needs to use a gmail or yahoo account, as I seem to be regularly blocked from emailing to his mail.ru account- some kind of censorship?
Who can tell- it’s too easy, and usually too true, that it could be computer quirks. I’ve had nothing but frustration this week trying to upgrade software to work with the Windows Vista on my new office computer. I wish I’d never agreed to get Vista- it creates incompatibility with just about everything. Windows XP was a stable reliable dream compared to Vista. Stay away!
April 20, 2007
Saturday was our first day that promised relatively good weather; the only question was, whether to wear coats. We took them, and then ended up carrying them for a good part of the afternoon, after the sun came out and warmed everything up. It was literally the lull before the storm on Sunday– 24 hours later the nor’easter would be flooding New York.
Again we took the train into Penn Station and walked directly to the Empire State Building to check the line– already around the block. So, plan B: the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan. We stopped at a Starbucks for coffee (there is a Starbucks on every block- sometimes more than one) and Roman ducked into a Walgreens to buy one of the good international phone cards we can no longer find at home. We walked down 5th Avenue to Madison Square, going through Korea Town on the way (we never did get to Chinatown or Greenwich Village, alas, but I took a good look at the new Robert A.M. Stern apartment building near the ESB ) and caught the Lexington Ave. subway down to the City Hall station. The approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge begin right at City Hall park , where we walked out on the pedestrian boardwalk. For some reason, Roman’s fear of heights was worse on the bridge than it would be later at the ESB, but once we got to the first stone pier, he was more interested in the view than the distance down to the water. The towers of lower Manhattan are pretty impressive from the bridge , as is the view out towards the Verrazano Narrows bridge and up the East River. We walked all the way to Brooklyn and back, then swung around Nassau and Fulton toward South Street Seaport. The Strand Bookstore Annex was on the way, so we checked it out. “18 Miles of Bookshelves” is their motto, and even the Annex (the HQ store is in Greenwich Village) is an impressive book store. By the time Roman pulled me out the door, it was lunch time. We found a local eatery off the beaten path to the seaport and I had a turkey pannini (really good bread) and Roman had his first Reuben (corned beef and Russian dressing. We’re not sure what made it Russian…)
The guidebooks I’d been reading don’t think much of the South Street Seaport- – too commercial, too fake… but the tourists evidently don’t read those guidebooks, because the place was absolutely packed. There were stores and restaurants, ferries and ‘water taxis’, bands playing, jugglers, mimes– something going on everywhere, and busloads of people. It’s a surprisingly short walk from the docks to the tip of Manhattan: past the end of Wall Street, past the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, to Battery Park. Where we found more people, hanging out, playing frisbie, and lots of artists selling crafts and art. In the center of the park is the golden globe that used to stand in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The pieces were pulled out of the rubble after the buildings fell on it; they put it back together and made it the centerpiece of the temporary 9/11 memorial at the Battery.
Walking from there up Broadway to Hanover Square is the bronze Bull sculpture in the center of the financial district. Roman and I watched amazed for several minutes as several groups of high school or college students used the Bull for photo ops; the surprise was how many of the girls wanted pictures of themselves rubbing, kissing, or somehow fondling the bull’s balls. That’s a scrapbook picture for the 21st century girl, I guess. The centerpiece of their Facebook or MySpace page, maybe? Wow.
We turned down Wall Street (blocked not by concrete Jersey barriers but by big bronze blocks– the sculptural equivalent of Jersey barriers, maybe). Federal Hall is on one side, where George Washington took his first presidential oath of office; on the other side is the New York Stock Exchange. Only tourists there on a Saturday, of course. We looped around on Pearl Street and Stone Street, one of the oldest parts of Manhattan, part of what was originally settled by the Dutch, in fact. That’s where Fraunces Tavern is , a revolutionary war site, and other early buildings (part of the few that haven’t been torn down for skyscraper offices). The loop took us back to Broadway, past the bull and his admirers again, and on up past Trinity Church (where Alexander Hamilton is buried) to the edge of Ground Zero.
When we were there in December 2001, it was all still a huge mess. David Griffin from Greensboro was running the clean-up, and took Lori and I to the edge of the Red Zone to look into the pit, still smoking and stinking. Now it’s just another construction site. On the fringes there is the old Police Memorial, now with 9/11 names, and a new Firemen Memorial. The temporary PATH station (another set of New Jersey trains) is in operation at the very bottom; the new Freedom Tower is erecting steel in the northwest corner, and an elevated steel walkway rings the 4-acre block, connecting into the World Financial Center so that tours can walk completely around the site and end in the Winter Garden, where there’s a food court and high end shops. An exhibit there shows the model and plan for the future 9/11 memorial and skyscraper city… but the sense of tragedy only lingers on the south side, where the old Deutsche Bank building is finally being demolished, now that they’ve given up on fixing the 9/11 damage,
We caught the subway at the old WTC stop to get back to the Empire State Building– neither of us was capable of walking that far at that point. Good news– when we arrived, there was no outside line at all, for the first time. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was an hour’s worth of line inside on the second floor. A line to go through security, a line to buy tickets (at least I had the internet tickets), then a line to wait for the elevator to the 80th floor; then a line to wait for the elevator to the observation deck on the 86th floor. All in all, we waited about an hour and a half to get there; was it worth the wait? Roman said yes; especially since we waited in line so long that the sun was going down as we stepped out on the deck . We stayed out there for about 45 minutes, watching the city lights come on, and night settle. I liked the insight into the building itself- the zeppelin mooring mast, especially. When the colored lights came on, it was time to go. We grabbed some pizza in Penn Station (Roman had to have some New York pizza by the slice- and it was good. Maybe anything would have been good at the end of that day). The trip back to Linden didn’t seem to take long, and the bus back to the hotel was waiting for us. Elizabeth and Max picked us up Sunday morning, and we slogged back home through the monsoon.
I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all.
April 19, 2007
Since the hotel was a Hampton Inn, we got breakfast Friday morning before we set out. This was not as new and nice as the Williamsburg HI, but it was good. Roman has decided that any accommodations with “Inn” in the name is a guarantee of comfort and quality. He thinks that “hotel” is something like the one where we stayed at the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce retreat—ten or 15 stories tall, and more formal. I said it’s not quite so cut-and-dried, but that in general, he’s probably correct.
The weather outside looked grey and rain-swept, but the weather channel was calling for the rain to stop and the chance of sun. Later the rain did stop, but the cold wind never let up- that was the worst problem in New York. I’ve been coughing and having hoarseness issues since the snow in DC—but I tried without much success to nip it this week, so it’s probably less of a cold and more of an allergic reaction to the seasonal pollen. The more it rained and the farther north we went, the better I felt for a while, so that’s probably it.
Elizabeth used to commute into the city from New Jersey and Connecticut, so she set the example on the train this morning. We bought tickets at a machine in Linden, but it turned out to be easy to buy tickets the old fashioned way- from the conductor on the train. And the whole commute turned out to be painless. Linden is just two stops from the Newark Airport, which is just 4 stops from Penn Station. It took only about half an hour to get into the city. All three of these trips, hard as it has been to get from home to the destination, have reminded me in the best possible ways of the value of public transportation. The buses in Williamsburg, the Metro in DC, the trains and subways in New York all functioned perfectly to transport large numbers of people into and out of core areas which aren’t much bigger than Asheboro/ Franklinville. Commuting was not only more convenient than driving, it was generally the most stress-free part of each trip.
Walking was the down side, only because I see how little I’ve practiced it the last few years. But for people living in the city, walking is the healthy aspect of urban life. Roman commented that there were very few fat people in Washington or New York, except for obvious tourists. He was right- we see more big people at dinner in a steak house than we saw in a whole day in NYC. Walking must keep people exercised. And we started hoofing it right off the train in Penn Station, getting up to the corner of 33rd and 7th Ave. and finding ourselves in the middle of school bus loads of kids arriving to see the circus in Madison Square Garden. We walked east to start at the Empire State Building, but the line was already around the building- we’ll check back later. So, north on Broadway to Times Square. We used the walk to get Roman used to the surroundings: the traffic, the noise, the crowds, not to mention the tall buildings. We continued walking all the way north to Central Park (taking a look at Carnegie Hall on the way). Roman wanted immediately to see the Plaza Hotel, since Home Alone II was his entire inspiration as “a child” (what- last year?) to visit America. We held that off, though– inspecting the buggy rides, buying pretzels and hot dogs from a vendor in the park at the carosel, enjoying the sun peaking through the clouds. We walked up Poet’s Walk toward Bethesda Fountain, bought peanuts, and discovered that someone had rented the Fountain Plaza for what appeared to be a wedding reception. A First Class, High Quality wedding reception. A guess enough money can rent anything in Central Park!
We trended toward the Loeb Boathouse (where Greg and Lori and Eric and I had lunch when we were in the city after 9/11), and ran into our first Mime. I explained to Roman the concept of Miming for Money; we probably saw a dozen more before the trip was over. Leaving the Park at Fifth Avenue, just north of the Frick Museum (I haven’t been there since college- and they’ve recently renovated- but this isn’t really a museum trip), Roman noticed that there were more cabs than cars in New York. Yep, we’re not in North Carolina anymore. From there we walked south to the Plaza, so Roman could take Home Alone pictures (the hotel is being renovated— they’ll keep some rooms as a hotel, but more than half the floors are being turned into high-dollar condos—the Penthouse was sold to a Russian Oligarch (says the Times) for $52 million!
Walking down Fifth Avenue, we had to make a ladies’ pit stop, so what better place than Bergdorff-Goodman? The toilets are in the basement, behind the perfume counter- VERY expensive perfume, too. Elizabeth stopped to talk to the girls walking around in the expensive designer clothes—living mannequins. Elizabeth says she used to have the same job in a department store in Scotland. (I think haute couture dresses must look considerably different on the average rich lady than they do on the skinny 20-somethings who model them).
Walking on: we finally see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so I know Rockefeller Center is not far away. We veer east at 50th and find 30 Rock and the ice skating rink, with one hefty woman in purple swooping around center ice, bowing to the crowd and applauding herself like she is Peggy Fleming or Michele Kwan. We see the Today studio (all quiet at 1PM) and the street where the onlookers gather each morning. Across the street from there we choose the Channel 4 Irish Bar for lunch (Channel 4 being the local NBC affiliate). The food was good there- Roman decided he liked Shepherd’s Pie, since it’s covered with mashed potatoes. I had Chicken Pie, and Elizabeth had salmon with wasabi mayo- yum! They make their own ice cream there, too.
The east to Park Avenue and down to Grand Central Station for coffee. GCS has been beautifully renovated- the stars in the ceiling really shine, and the food court downstairs is extremely impressive. The line for the women’s WC, though, was ridiculous. Leaving there, walking east on 42nd Street past the Chrysler Building, all the way to the United Nations. A line and lots of security to get inside (sad- Jac and I went there 40 years ago- was it with a church tour? – and there was no security to speak of. That’s where we bought Dad a carved European chess set.) We spent some time looking for the Russian flag, and finally found it so Roman could have a photo op. Then we walked west on 42 to the Public Library, so I could show Roman the reading room- newly renovated and beautiful, but so strange without card catalogs- only computers now.
Then down Fifth Avenue to the ESB, only to find the line even worse than before. A passing lady showed us why—33rd Street was closed, and the tours were temporarily stopped, because someone had jumped out of the building, committing suicide! The spots they were cleaning up with chemicals on the street didn’t look big enough for a whole body- and the next day, I read why on the internet. The jumper was a 30-something lawyer, who jumped out of his office on the 69th floor. He mostly landed on a setback on the 30th floor, but a leg and miscellaneous pieces fell all the way to the street.
Elizabeth and Max needed to get on the road for Connecticut, so we hiked back to Penn Station and made the 6:30 train back to Linden. They got on the road, Roman got on my laptop to write his blog, and I took shower! Later we had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and I showed him what Sangria is. Then to bed, exhausted, as is becoming our custom.
April 19, 2007
Our longest trip had to fit into the last five days of Roman’s spring break.
Elizabeth Mitchell and Maxine Wright were driving to Connecticut to see friends, so we tagged along to New Jersey with them. We met them just after midnight Wednesday (so, actually, early Thursday morning), and started the long drive. (I was willing to drive, anyway, but as it turned out, they did all the driving. Nice! I’d already done my share, back and forth to Williamsburg and Washington, so I was ready to just enjoy the trip for a change. Between the rain (buckets, bringing speed down to 50 at times) and a tractor-trailer wreck on 95 between Baltimore and Delaware, which had us parked on the highway for an hour between 7 and 8 AM, we finally got to the Hampton Inn in Linden, NJ, about 12:15 (it was nice, just 4 years old).
Once we unloaded our stuff we headed directly to Liberty State Park, just one exit away on the NJ Turnpike. That a little hard to find, but turned out to be a renovated railroad yard where the ferries from New York used to dock and unload people to catch the trains west (before there were tunnels under the Hudson, and before Pennsylvania Station). We caught a ferry there that went to Ellis Island, not far off the Jersey shore; after a short stop there we went on to the Statue of Liberty, where my internet tour reservation was for 12:45-3:30. It was a great thrill for Roman to see New York from the water, even though the rain and the fog was cutting visibility down to the point where we could barely see the Empire State Building– at times it looked like the top half had just been erased by clouds.
With the temperature in the 30s, and the wind blowing hard, and snow flurries blowing up occasionally, I’m sure the tourism was down. But the security lines at the Statue of Liberty were still long. In fact, it turned out to have the strictest security of the entire city—“Take off your belts!” “Remove your shoes!” “Put all cell phones, cameras, wallets and change in the tray!” “Step into the booth!” Everything was x-rayed, scanned, sniffed for explosives, and eyeballed. But we finally all made it into the base of the statue, listened to the guide, looked through the exhibits, and started the climb up the stairs.
Before 9/11 it was still possible to climb all the way into the crown, but the statue itself is closed now. The best anyone can do is to take the 14 or 15 flights of steps up to the top of the base, and look through glass into th e structural framework of the statue.
Then we could go outside on the observation deck at the foot of the statue, where we had a much better view of the city since the wind had picked up enough to blow much of the fog away. (Here’s where Roman first tested his fear of heights!)
It was too late for a tour of Ellis Island, so before we left we grabbed a snack in the SOL cafeteria. The trip back to New Jersey on the ferry got VERY cold, so we were glad to go back to the hotel for some rest. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant Elizabeth knew in nearby Rahway—Linden, Rahway and Elizabeth, New Jersey are all grouped just south of the Newark airport, connected by the railroad into the city. That’s where we planned to head Friday morning.
April 11, 2007
At least the day was sunny, and it had arguably warmed up a few degrees, but the wind hadn’t died down, and that continued to challenge us on our hike. It wasn’t far to the White House visitor’s center, but when we got there we discovered they’d just closed at 4:00. So we moved on to try to enter the White House grounds at the Treasury building side. But everything there is now closed off with concrete Jersey barriers, and as we walked around Alexander Hamilton and the Treasury block to Andrew Jackson and Lafayette Park we found that Pennsylvania Avenue is closed in front of the White House from the Treasury to the Old Executive Office Building. It’s now a rather wide pedestrian mall, which I guess is handy for those occasional protest marches, but looked rather stark even with 40 or 50 people standing in front of the mansion, taking pictures. We did the obligatory shots of Roman at the gate, etc., and explained to Roman that this Portico side was the real “front” of the White House- he thought the south balcony side was the “front”. The President was at Camp David, to return Monday for the Easter Egg Hunt. We continued walking around the White House grounds, around the OEB and the Winder Building across the street, which was Lincoln’s War Office, and down to the Corcoran Gallery corner, which was the first open entrance to the Ellipse. There we could walk across to look at the South Front of the White House, and the yard all decorated with tables and tents and stuff for the Easter Egg hunt. There were some people with young kids wandering around the South Lawn… I wondered how much money one had to donate or how good a Republican one had to be to get invited to the Easter Egg Hunt?
Walking to the Washington Monument (or “that tall thing,” Roman kept saying- he’d never seen a picture of the obelisk), we passed a lot of empty tents, part of the Cherry Blossom Festival, it seemed, not having much business in the cold. The WM was doing a big business– big lines, so we didn’t try to get in. We walked around the circle to the new World War II memorial, which is directly in line between the WM and the Lincoln Memorial, at the opposite end of the reflecting pool from the LM. It’s pretty nice, built in the traditional DC Roman Empire style, it could date to the 1890s, and matches up to the distant LM pretty well.
It has nothing like the symbolic power of the Vietnam Memorial, where we walked next, nor the weirdness of the Korean Memorial on the far side of the pool. All of the inscribed names on the black granite generate a lot of emotional power as the walkway descends and the panes get bigger and bigger and rise up above your head. (I looked up cousin Ronnie Trogdon’s name in the phone directory-size index books they keep there, and his name is on panel 22 East, line 108). The most touching thing we saw were plastic folders with photos and newspaper clippings of all the soldiers who died on April 7th- that day, whichever year, where-ever in Vietnam. Each one of them ended with a phrase like, “Forever 20 years old.” Roman was surprised at how young they all were, and how there were more names of people who died in Vietnam (58,000) than Russians who died in Afghanistan (about 14,000).
The Lincoln Memorial is right across the street, once open to traffic but now closed with more Jersey barriers. It was getting colder and you see that Roman sometimes now forgets to take his wool hat off for the picture. (It wasn’t cool to wear the hat, but it was warm.) The usual crowd was climbing those steps and taking photos– the first set of monumental steps which were actually open to people I’d seen all day. At least there is no security check and no x-ray machine to get in to see Abe, who is as calm and grandfatherly as always. I was describing to Roman the “I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, and how it took place right on those steps (right where the platform for some local fundamentalist church’s Easter Sunrise Service was being erected). Luckily there was a movie of it playing in the basement of the memorial, and we saw part of that.
We saw the Korean War memorial on the way to FDR. It’s a lot more impressive at night: there are pinhole spotlights that shine only on the faces of the soldier sculptures; and the laser holographs etched on the granite wall behind them jump out in a weird blue light. It’s eerie.
The Franklin Roosevelt Memorial is close on the map but pretty far away in reality; across two busy streets and a football field, with no evidence path or sidewalk to show the way. We just hiked across country, and found it right at the entrance to the Tidal Basin park, with more empty tents that would have catered to Blossom Festival people. I’d never seen the FDR memorial; have read about it, and knew it was a rocky landscape with fountain/ waterfall features. It turns out to be beautiful, dark rough stone with inscriptions and occasional bronze plaques or statues. It fits in well with the pedestrian paths of the Tidal Basin. We were there with what seemed to be a bus load of younger teenagers, though, and they needed supervision in a major way. But at least rock and bronze is pretty-much kid-proof.
More walking around the Tidal Basin and we finally got to the Jefferson Memorial. I’ve driven past it many times, but this was the first time I’ve been inside. On the way we met another bus of Russian tourists, and I finally talked to one couple (Roman didn’t want to talk to any old Russians). They were a retired couple of teachers from the Ukraine, who came to the US 18 years ago and live in New York. They’d never know there were student exchange programs with Russia, so they were impressed. “Who would have ever thought that would happen?” he said. The Jeff Memorial was evidently the Headquarters of the Cherry Blossom People, who were generally having a bad day. The last weekend of the festival is this weekend, so I hope they have better weather. (Right now, it’s looking grey and cold and rainy…)
TJ was the end of our tour, but not the end of our hike, as we had to get back to the subway. The nearest Metro stop was Smithsonian, behind the Castle, so we walked north past the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Holocaust Memorial, turned east past the Department of Agriculture, and eventually found the escalator. We got back to Kieran’s apartment about 7:00, and were thankful to be home. Roman set right to work on HIS blog (I’d link to it, but it’s in Russian), and Greg and I went out to shop for Sunday breakfast. Roman didn’t want to eat out, so Greg and I had Chinese at the nearby Yenching, which turns out to be the place where Kennedy aides met with Soviet embassy people during the Cuban Missile Crisis and where Henry Kissinger arranged Nixon’s trip to China. So we even ended at a historic spot.
We thought about going back to the Archives Sunday morning, or to the art museums, but we were tired out. So we slept late, and came on home early.
Tomorrow Roman and I head off to New York City with Elizabeth Mitchell and Maxine Wright, who are going on to visit friends in Connecticut. I wouldn’t have booked all this travel into 3 consecutive weekends, except that’s pretty much the time made available by the county school year. I guess most parents don’t take kids on many trips like this, but I’d think it was more educational than a lot of what goes on in high school. This year with Roman has at least shown me first hand what school age parents go through. It’s not easy!
April 10, 2007
When I woke up Saturday morning, the first thing I saw was that the bushes outside were covered in snow! Until the day we left, the weather had been spring-like in the South, and the blooming Tidal Basin cherry trees were on the news. Roman of course has been missing snow all year- but when I woke him up, he was unhappy with THIS snow. His friends from Orenburg, Kristina and Roman, both got to spend warm days in Washington, and he brought snow! We contemplated the unfairness of it all during breakfast at Starbucks, and sat at an outside table just to encourage the sun to warm things up.
The wind, however, was the problem, not lack of sun. By the time we emerged from the Metro at Union Station, it was really breezy, and the walk around the Capital was pretty brisk. The new underground visitor’s center is nowhere near ready, and the entire East front of the Capital is fenced off. We got close, and walked past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress to the temporary Visitor’s Tent on the House side, where I found that visiting the Capitol is now like visiting the White House– wait forever in line without any guarantee, or get a note from your Congressman and make an appointment. I felt sad for the loss of access to the terraces and walkways around the building- my last trip, in June 2001, it was still possible to walk into the ground floor of the building, visit the gift shop, look at the crypt and old Supreme Court chamber, whether on a tour or not. Since 9/11, though, all that access has vanished. The West front terrace was packed with tourists taking photos, and here we eaves-dropped on a Russian tour group- our first of several.
From there we went to the new Museum of the American Indian, facing the Botanical Garden across the mall from the National Gallery. It’s made of western sandstone, very different in color and texture from the marble and limestone of all the other government buildings. (Roman said of Washington, “It’s like being in ancient Rome- they’ve used up all the marble in the world.”) The Indian museum was interesting, but the exhibits on the 3rd and 4th were self-guided and confusing. I liked the one on the Eastern Cherokees, which had info I didn’t know. The museum shop was really nice, too, and Roman bought presents to take home to his Mother and Sister.
“Next door” on the Mall is the Air and Space Museum, and that’s where we were blown next. That was the first place we had to wait in line to enter, while they searched bags and x-rayed, etc. The temperature when we started was about 26, and the wind was blowing at least 15 miles and hour- all the flags were snapping on the poles, and the wind does whip up and down the Mall. It was 10:30 or later by the time we got into Air and Space, and it was packed. The spring break high school tours were there in force, particularly since the Museum of American History is closed for renovations, and for some reason the Smithsonian management decided to put the “Treasures of American History” substitute exhibit in the corner gallery of the second floor of Air and Space. So there was a line to get into that, as well as lines for the observatory and the Imax theater. Chaos. We we bypassed by avoiding all of those things. Roman was really interested in the space exhibits, which included quite a lot of Russian space history, too. There’s a whole gallery devoted to the Wright Brothers, now, so the “Flyer” doesn’t hand from the ceiling any more. But plenty of other stuff does, and it’s still very impressive. There is a new branch of the museum now, out at Dulles airport, where the really big planes are- the space shuttle, the Enola Gay, the Concorde. A bus runs out there from the mall, so anybody could spend the day just on air and space. Another day, another time.
Outside there we got lunch from a Smithsonian kiosk- $18 for hot dogs and cokes, not such a good deal. But we were too hungry to back-track to the food court at Union Station, or forge on ahead to the food court at the Post Office Tower. From there we walked across the mall to the Archives building, and found the Mother of All Lines. Again, things are not as they once were, when we could walk right up the monumental staircase and into the rotunda to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They have renovated, and now have security checkpoints, and if you don’t make an internet reservation the best you can do is stand in line. And the guard told us that it was probably about an hour and a half to wait. Since my master plan was to get down the length of the Mall, all the way to the Jefferson Memorial by day’s end, we couldn’t afford to wait. So we trudged on down Pennsylvania Avenue, which has really been upgraded since that summer 25 years ago I lived in Washington and researched in the Archives. That area was a squalid dive back then, and now it’s known as “Penn Quarter,” and has lots of bars and restaurants. All that happened, I think, when they built the Verizon Center basketball arena there, in the 90s. So we decided to skip the Archives, and trudge onward to Ford’s Theater. To another line, just to get into the basement museum, since there was a Saturday matinee of the current show playing at the theater. The little museum hasn’t changed, but is still impressive because of all the original stuff there- the clothes Lincoln was wearing, the blood-stained pillow, the hoods that the conspirators wore when they were hanged. It was macabre and historical enough that Roman and Greg both loved it. Sadly, the Peterson house across the street (where Lincoln died) is closed indefinitely, and it looks terribly run-down. The guide says the Park Service has had trouble finding the money to renovate, which is a scandal, I think.
We walked on up Pennsylvania, past the FBI building (now closed to the public, another 9/11 change), and I guided my troupe into the basement food court of the Post Office Tower, to sit and recover. Sadly, there is a security checkpoint here, too, with metal detectors, and the space that used to have half a dozen entrances and exits to the outside court yards, now has just one. The PO Tower is the headquarters of the National Endowments, so there was a really good guitarist playing on the stage, that Roman liked. We got coffee and cannolis, and planned the rest of the day.
So, we’re about halfway through the day. More Later …
April 10, 2007
Left last Thursday night and got back last night after Roman’s Whirlwind Tour of Washington, D.C.
We spent Thursday night in Raleigh at Greg Murray’s house, as he gamely agreed to be the Third Wheel on our trip. He helped with the driving (no small contribution, as I discovered on the trip to Williamsburg), but even more important, he arranged for us all to stay at his brother Kieran’s apartment off Connecticut Ave. in northern DC (a couple of blocks from the National Cathedral). We got on the road about 8:30 and made good time; even after lunch on the road we made it to Kieran’s by 1:30. We had coffee with him in a nearby place (not a Starbucks, but there was one across the street, and one apparently on every other street corner in DC). Then we took him to National Airport, where he met his girlfriend Kristen. Since they were flying to her home in Iowa so he could Meet Her Parents, she is apparently a little more than mere ‘girlfriend.’ We rendezvous’d with her, got them off to their plane, and then went hunting for Arlington Cemetary, which seemed like a good late afternoon starting point for sight-seeing, as it is on the same side of the Potomac as the airport.
I found a parking spot very near the Marine Corps monument (Iwo Jima memorial), and then we walked into the cemetery from the north. As I told Roman and Greg, I hadn’t been back there since our family trip of Easter, 1964, when we went there to see President Kennedy’s grave. They’ve recently built a big new visitor’s center, but that’s the only major change. We climbed to the top of the hill first to Arlington House, since Greg professed not to believe that it was Robert E. Lee’s residence before the Civil War. Then we climbed up and down to the next hill on the South, where we saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and the Changing of the Guard. Very impressive. Roman says the Russian unknown soldier is buried in the Kremlin wall, and they also have a changing of the Guard. Near that was the Battleship Maine memorial, and two memorials for the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles.
While we were there we heard Taps coming from Fort Myer, so we walked back to see JFK and JBK on the way out. The permanent landscaping is nice- rough stone blocks, with thyme or something growing in the cracks- but I still remember the way it was originally, with the eternal flame burning on top of a mound of christmas fir tree branches inside a white picket fence, with the hats of the serviceman honor guard ringing the grave. It’s nice now, with his speeches engraved on the walls, and the view toward the Capitol is very impressive. But there were dozens of people there, and while it was somber, it wasn’t at all intimate. For that, the RFK grave is much more impressive– just his simple marble footstone, with a white wooden cross in the grass. It’s tucked away to the south side of the JFK grave, and is virtually hidden. I was the only one there for several minutes, until a tour bus of Italians came.
When we finally got back to the car, Roman was worried that we might be late for our dinner appointment at 7PM. His friend from Orenburg, Kristina, and her host family, had spent all week in DC and were meeting us for their last night in town. We had agreed to meet at the Russia House (http://www.russiahouselounge.com/), which I’d found on the internet and Roman decided was the best place to introduce us to Russian cuisine. I got lost on the way back to Kieran’s (just to add to Roman’s anxiety), and even though we took showers and upgraded clothes, we still made it on time because the restaurant turned out to be within a mile of the apartment- just two Metro stops down the Red Line subway. The Cleveland Park station is right beside Kieran’s, and the Restaurant is near the Dupont Circle stop. We arrived and were greeted warmly by Kristina (Roman appeared to be greeted VERY warmly). Her host mother is Lisa, a single mother of two daughters in Indianapolis. We had a great evening with them, talking and taking pictures. Roman and Kristina insisted that Lisa, Greg and I start dinner with shots of vodka in the Russian way (Roman picked out Gzehlka, which he said was very good, and it was). Along with the vodka the waiter brought a little glass of pickles, and Roman said that after we chugged the vodka shot, we must ‘smell the cucumber with all your might!” We laughed, but that is evidently the closest many Russians get to having vegetables with dinner!
After that we all tried out dinner “numbers” of the Russian beer, Baltika (number 4, that I had, is their Dark Lager; Greg went with #5, their Golden Lager; and Lisa had #9, the “Extra Lager”, with the 8.0 alcohol content. Roman and I had borscht soup, and there were perogis as an appetizer. I got Beef Stroganov, which was great; Roman got Pelmini, his favorite food, which look very much like stuffed raviolis; Lisa got Chicken Kiev and Greg got a pork chop dish. Everyone tried the chocolate mousse and creme brulee for dessert, and we all had a great time. We had to pry Roman and Kristina apart, as we went our separate ways on the subway.
By the time we got home, we were all exhausted. My plan was to start early Saturday, at the Capitol. More later.
April 2, 2007
Roman and I were in southeastern Virginia all weekend, and got back last night. I am moving slow and sore this morning; all the walking in Williamsburg showed me that I’m out of shape, no matter how many stationary bike miles I ride each week.
The county schools had a work day Friday, so we could leave for a long weekend. But it soon became apparent that virtually EVERY high school on the eastern seaboard must have had spring break over this past weekend. There was bus after bus after bus pulling up at the CW visitor’s center, or the hotel, or just about every place we went. I wonder if the same thing will be true next weekend in Washington, DC, and am afraid it will be. The main reason we’re going there next Friday is so Roman can meet his hometown friend Kristina there on her last day in DC.
Colonial Williamsburg was much the same as when I lived there in 1977, but Williamsburg itself has grown all over the farms and pastures that used to surround it. I drove into town the old way, from 85 at McKinney across to the Surrey ferry, so Roman could experience the ferry across the James. Both the state and the National Park Service visitor’s centers at Jamestown have been rebuilt just for the 400th anniversary in May, and we stopped first at the state center to see the exhibits, look at the recreated fort and Indian village, and tour the new ship reconstructions. I knew the old ships, built in 1957, had been rebuilt in the 80s but I was surprised that all three were rebuilt for the 400th– the last one just arrived in February. They all have engines and can be sailed. One went to England, one made a New England tour.
Everything was new and spiffed up for the 400th- Queen Elizabeth is coming back- she was there in 1957. The actual site of Jamestowne has a new archaeology museum, since they’ve actually found the fort that people had said for 100 years had been washed away by the river. (Maybe now they’ll actually find the Lost Colony fort at Manteo. It’s interesting how BOTH Fort Raleigh and Jamestown had civil war fort built on top or around them. I guess what was a good defensive location ca. 1600 was still one ca. 1860.)
We went all over the restored area, and did the major tours. The new Folkart Collection display is entered from the basement of the Hospital of 1770, which was actually being used as an outside set for an HBO movie on John Adams. It was supposed to be winter, and they had sprayed everything with fake snow. CW has very elaborate lantern tours at night, now, too. We followed a couple around Friday night, but Saturday we were too tired to go back. Nine hours walking makes for a long day. Luckily the Hampton Inn had a nice hot tub, not to mention gym equipment that we tried out.
I bought the CW Independence Pass, which is an annual pass much like the one offered by Biltmore House. It was only $10 more than the original ticket, and I figured I might make time to go back some time this year. I also bought a NPS multi-site membership at Jamestown, since I expect I can use it in DC next week.
Sunday morning we got the tour of the Capitol (the only major building we couldn’t get into Saturday) and then drove on down to Newport News to the Mariner’s Museum. I don’t know when we went there as a family- 40 years ago? I remember it vaguely, especially the 30-foot long half model of the Queen Mary. Well, that’s still there back in the original museum hall, with ship models in glass cases. But 80% of the museum is new, a $30 million reconstruction that revamped everything to house the artifacts recovered from the Monitor wreck. And that is a VERY impressive museum. They’ve got several movies to explain the sinking, the battle, etc. And they’ve recreated the casement of the Merrimack/ Virginia as well as several different recreations of the monitor. Very impressive is the full-size metal reconstruction of the exterior of the Monitor, which was done by the Newport News shipyard just as they build a modern naval ship. The conservation lab is as big as an aircraft hanger, with vats where the salvaged turrent and guns and steam engine of the Monitor are soaking to remove the salt. That may take 25 years, so they’ve made wood and plastic replicas to hold the place of the turrent and etc. until the real things are ready. It was fascinating.
The worst part was the drive– it takes almost as long to get there as it takes to go all the way to DC. Better to go when we have more than 3 days, I guess. But Roman just has 2 and a half months left, so we’ve got to do as much as we can.