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.