Monday, February 5, 2024

Washington DC Day 3- May 16, 2023

Loquacious Legislature

This morning we began to get into the groove of things. Rosa and I went down to have breakfast together. As a pleasant surprise there actually was oatmeal in the bin labeled “oatmeal.” There was some turkey sausage too, which was a welcome addition for each of our crappy genetics. We brought food up to Anabelle and both went back to bed for a bit.
 
The three of us arose a bit later. Anabelle ate, and we were ready for the tour of the home of the Legislative Branch of our government. Feeling that, after two days, we had an understanding of the lay of the land and our hotel’s relationship to it, we set off for the Capitol Building.
 
After walking three blocks in the wrong direction, we adjusted course, and correctly set off for the Capitol Building.
 
We angled onto Pennsylvania Avenue again at the World War One Memorial and took that street all the way down this time. We stopped for a quick look at the Navy Monument, which was more of a Plaza/ Water Park than a structure of any kind. Across the way was the Mellon Fountain. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with melons, but that was a mystery for another time.
 
Speaking of things we would learn about later, we also passed the Canadian embassy, festooned with a great many of that country’s flags. Sadly, there was no sign of a Circlevision movie. Maybe there was a Food and Wine festival here too?
 
The Capitol and its grounds were enormous, and we had to walk all the way around them to reach the visitor’s entrance. As we passed the giant President Grant statue from afar Anabelle regaled us with tales of how he, and John Quincy Adams were known for skinny dipping in the Capitol Pool and Potomac. Ah, the wonders of history.
 
We went through the heavy security and into the statue filled lobby area that served as the visitor’s center. From here I called Rolando, the congressional aide who arranged the tour. When he asked me to describe what we were wearing, I listed Rosa’s shiny flower shirt, Anabelle’s Sam Eagle “You are all weirdos” shirt, and my multi-colored shoes and dragon and tiger shirt.
 
“So…you’ll be easy to spot?” Was his reply.
 
While waiting for him, we noticed a tunnel to the Library of Congress with a QR code to schedule a visit at its entrance. It would have been wonderful to know when we were setting up the trip that these two were directly connected. We likely would have planned a pass through on this day, and not a separate hike to “East Jezus Washington” on a different day.
(Spoilers- that we ended up cancelling.)
 
Rolando found us with little effort as predicted and gave us our tickets. We mentioned that everything that was sent us as we booked today’s event indicated no photographs AT ALL were allowed in the any part of the Capitol. This seemed to be contradicted by every human being we saw in the building with us. Rolando had no idea why this was, and pointed out that if the guide didn’t let us take pictures in the Rotunda, to call him when the tour was done, and he’d bring us back in. Therefore, before we began, we took a couple of photos of the statues in the area, including the one of “Freedom” which was a duplicate of the one on the dome…but much easier to see.
 
Before the tour was a history and patriotism filled film. There were no animatronics or “Golden Dream” song, but it was effective and informative. (It is highly likely this one was more informative due to the fact that we didn’t sleep through it.) Afterwards, we were sorted into five groups. We were part of the “Everyone else not here for their Middle School class trip.”
This was definitely the group to be in.
 
Danny was our tour guide and he let us know we were fortunate that it was early in the day. The reason for this is between Two and Three in the afternoon, the batteries in the headsets he handed out so we could hear him start to die. When he reached us, he complimented my four-color Chuck Taylors leading Anabelle to look at me, shake her head, and proclaim:
“We can’t go anywhere with you.”
 
The tour started down in the “Crypt.” This was originally supposed to be over a tomb for George Washington. However, the building wasn’t finished when George died, and Virginia was adamant his remains remained with them. In fact, they were so adamant, they wrote a law preventing his remains from being moved… ever.
Therefore, the actual tomb is now used for furniture storage, because in addition to being a symbol of Freedom and Democracy, the Capitol is a MASSIVE office building, with all the space issues one would expect. There was also a bunch more statues down there. Danny explained that every state has two statues in the building. Originally, they were all supposed to be in a single room.
However, that was:
A) Crowded.
B) A safety hazard
C) Insane.
Therefore, they were spread throughout the building.
 
In the center of the floor of that crypt room was the keystone. Danny informed us it used to be mentioned as being good luck to step on. After years of wear, it now formed a divot that was easy to trip over, had sawhorses around it, and was mentioned as bad luck to step on. Danny did point out that when his back was turned, he had no control over where people were stepping.
 
The next stop was inside the Capitol dome, which was not only impressive, but also a huge relief to see everything intact and the building functioning normally after watching the disgustingness of January 6th. The normality returned to such a level that a confused guy delivering a large congressional bag of Qdoba food passed by our little group.
 
Danny let us know that the painting in the top of the dome was called the Apotheosis of George Washington. Yes, it literally is a painting of our first president being brought into the heavens and attaining godhood. Danny also correctly pointed out, 
“Washington would have absolutely hated this.”
 
Our guide pointed out the famous paintings around the room, noted how most of them appear in school history textbooks and asked if anything was noticed about them. One brave young lad finally raised his hand,
“They’re all only white people.”
 
Bingo!

Danny let us know that many states had swapped out some statues to get a bit more diversity in the headquarters of the “Great American Melting Pot” as well as other artistic decisions taking that important notion into account.
 
Exiting the dome, we passed the Speaker’s office and entered what originally was where the House of Representatives met. Following that time, this location gained its name of the Statuary. Yes, this was the planned location of the “All of the Statues” room, until good sense (or the ability to walk through it and also not having the floor collapse) prevailed. There was still a quite a crowd in there.

Anabelle let us know that this was the room where Aaron Burr passed a law banning food because he was mad at Thomas Jefferson constantly eating macaroni while working. Once again, reality was weirder than any comment I could come up with.
 
Back where we started, Danny taught us a bit about the Freedom statue. It originally was supposed to have “a Smurf hat.” This was not an early licensing deal, but rather that hat was a symbol of freed slaves from Ancient Rome. (Neo Classic sculptors never tired of the Greco-Roman stuff.) Guess which states had a problem with that? (Here’s a hint, it’s the ones that have people who want to fly the flag and build statues of the group who went to war against this country to prevent anyone from being able to wear those hats.) Therefore, the hat was changed to a bird sittin’ on her head. The name of the original person who designed it was lost (actually thrown out) of the writings in the Capitol because he tried to quit before it was done thanks to the Civil War. It was finished by a freed slave who took over the project.
Probably should have gone with the Smurf Hat, eh?
 
Notice how I have cleverly enticed readers to research on their own by not adding any names of those responsible for the Freedom Statue. To the untrained eye, this may look simply like me being too lazy to look them up. 

Rolando came through for us big time, not only getting us into a tour group without any middle schoolers, but also getting us tickets to the House Gallery while it was in session. These were listed as unavailable when we set everything up, and we hadn’t requested them.
 
DC Flashback- I know on my Eighth Grade trip we had a tour of the Capitol and maybe the White House. I know I did both with my family on early trips. I also know my family and I are primarily museum people and focused on the Smithsonian almost exclusively on the later trips. Therefore, I have no memory of the government building tours of my youth to make any comparisons.
 
To go into the gallery, we had to leave all bags, phones, and pretty much everything else behind in a security box. There was even a second check right before we entered. This was where I forgot I had a short phone charger cable in my pocket and needed a separate tiny locker just for me.
 
There were varying levels of interest in our family. Rosa was mesmerized and thrilled to be where the government happens, including when they went on recess. Throughout the whole visit, she was excitedly taking everything in. This was one of many moments where being in Washington generated a lot of interest in history and government.
 
Since there was a recess for a chunk of the time we were there, and it was difficult to understand what was being said, Anabelle was bored out of her mind most of the time.
 
I was somewhere in the middle. Overall, I thought it was interesting. There were a few lulls in the interestingness, but they were worth if for what we saw.
 
When we entered there was a short debate. The representative on the left side of the Gallery was pointing out it was disgusting that those across the aisle wanted to remove the Capitol Police department from being honored in an upcoming ceremony specifically to honor police. This was particularly true after the sacrifices they made to protect the people in the chamber (which included the person he was debating with) on January 6th.
 
Then the person on the right spouted a bunch of crime statistics that were not supported by any references, and none of them were Washington DC.
 
In other words, both sides were not the same.
 
They voted.
(I think on whether to have a vote on the current state of the thing…it was hard to hear.)
The representative spouting unsupported crime statistics voted “Yay,” while everyone else in the room voted, “Nay.”  Two old ladies in the gallery with us, who didn’t seem to understand how voting worked were incensed because, “She said ‘yay’, so it should have passed.”
 
Yes, worrying about our country is the correct response.
 
While they were on recess, a woman in the gallery with us clearly understood how almost everything worked in this chamber. She was explaining things to someone she was with, and other folks started asking her questions. I learned a great deal.
 
Another woman in the gallery who clearly did not understand how a great many things worked asked her, “Is that the original picture of George Washington?”
 
The knowledgeable woman was unable to answer, because sometimes, there really are stupid questions. (Some probing revealed the word “photo” was involved in the original question, and I gave up listening after that.)
 
A representative (??) Grandfather brought his grandkids through the chamber for a tour and introduced them around.
 
While sitting there, I realized I was wearing a Justice Society of America t-shirt… ironic considering they were fictionally disbanded in that very room by the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Anabelle accurately maintained wearing her Sam The American Eagle Shirt in there stating “You are all weirdos,” was appropriate on many levels.
 
We hung around a little longer to watch some proceedings we couldn’t really hear. The main desk rose up which was pretty cool. While a new vote went on electronically, there was a little table with colored cards on it. We theorized they were for paper ballot voting. However, we also veered into a discussion of what a credenza was, meaning our relevant discussion was cut short.
 
When we had enough democracy for the day, we exited and collected our stuff. Rolando was coming down the stairs at the same time, meaning we got to thank him again, and find out how he started working with Representative Sherril, and for how long.
 
The gift shop made me sad. This country has reached the point of such division that all the souvenir shirts, hats, stickers…everything really, came in red or blue. There were no unified ones.
 
Instead of wandering back out into the Mall within the depths of Crazy Hungryland, a rare burst of reason hit our family and we ate in the Capitol Cafeteria. My roast beef sandwich and Anabelle’s Black Bean burger kept us both on the sane side. Rosa got a tour by one of the chefs and joined us in nourished sanity with gluten free pulled chicken and a cute white chocolate Capitol dome filled with cream and berries.
 
At a nearby table, four inhumanly skinny women shared a salad. We endeavored to eat enough and then mentally project some calories into them before they faded away.
 
Anabelle had a strawberry cupcake. She tried to tear it in half and make a sandwich, “Duff Style.” Unfortunately, it was filled with jam. The results were, and I quote, “A tragedy.”
 
We emerged to the front of the Capitol Building, which is not the side the Mall is on. This is not obvious since it is a gazillion times easier to manage crowds on the Mall side, therefore that’s where they do everything.
 
We found a stranger to take a photo of all of us in front of the building. This woman was a hoot. She made various jokes about unsavory activities and various drink concoctions with her friend. When her friend mentioned getting a DUI, she took several steps away. 
“I cannot associate with criminals.”
 
When we tried to leave, a woman on a bike (with a bell on it, just like every other bike in our nation’s capital) almost ran over Anabelle when she stopped at the cross walk for the red light. (The bell was only used at what was almost the moment of impact.) Then she yelled at Anabelle because she was far more hoot-less than the other woman we just met.
 
We waved at the Library of Congress, already wondering if we would cancel our planned visit.
(Spoilers- We did.)
 
Rosa walked up a few steps of the Supreme Court because, “Hey! Supreme court!”
 
Then we headed back around the Capitol and back into the Mall to find another museum. The original plan was to hit part of the National Gallery and finish it another day. Our trend with Art Museums continued, however.
 
Rosa and Anabelle love the decorative furniture in the MET. We entered near that selection here and it worked as an excellent starting point since there was an Abigail Adams portrait.
 
We briefly passed through the early European Art Section in the other part of the floor we entered on.
Or as Anabelle referred to it, “The Snoozefest Period.” Needless to say, we went upstairs fairly quickly.
 

In the later European art period, we started with some fantastic paintings of arrangements. My favorite was “Still Life With Dunkin’ Donuts.” This may have not been the actual title.

The section contained many paintings featuring death, beds, and grapes. (Once again, my stellar note taking is evident.)
 

The impressionists’ section is where our family really thrives. Anabelle was thrilled walking into a Monet room and seeing the Woman With A Parasol. (I am capitalizing instead of italicizing because I am unsure if this is a title or description. As always, I am very informative.) The mood shift was impressive:
“OOH! I love this painting”
*Looks two frames down*
“Oh look, another one of the freakin’ water lilies.”
 
I was on the other side of the room by a Cezanne painting of fruit singing “The Father of Modern Cubism” song. (I was singing, not the fruit. It’s an art museum, not a Muppet sketch.)
 
Nearby Rosa got excited with the Van Goghs as there was the one of the house that was seen in the Doctor Who episode. His work is truly amazing, but you do have to take the time to look at it. It is always frustrating to me watching people “buzz through” museums, photographing paintings without stopping to really take them in. Sorry, speedy, you’re not going to get the impact of Van Gogh’s amazing colors and brushwork on the three-inch image you snapped while running through at a sprint.
 
A mystery was solved in this area, when we saw someone using the easel in the room. We thought they were there just for show. The woman doing an outstanding job copying a Gaugin corrected our foolish thoughts.
 
There was a painting that reminded me of Salome that we always see, and Dad and I were impressed by, at the MET. Thanks to a google image search I can safely say, I was totally wrong and the two had nothing in common. I saw Favorite of the Emir by Jean-Joseph Bendamin-Constant. Salome was painted by Henri Regnault. Hooray for technology.
(Spoilers- No one else cares…
That’s probably not that big of a spoiler.)
 
Speaking of the MET, one of the main reasons we came to this gallery was to see the outstanding American art section including an impressive series by Thomas “The Oxbow” Cole.
 


That whole wing was closed, with only a few samples in hallways.
Alas.
 
After a quick stop in the gift shop, we reached the end of operating hours with some disappointment in an art museum- again.
 
Walking up to where we needed to catch the bus (by Ford’s Theater and not a gazillion blocks East of the Capitol) we passed the original FDR memorial. At one point during his presidency, he stated that if a memorial was made to him, it must be only the size of “this desk.” Therefore, before they built the really swanky one over by the Tidal Basin, he had a tombstone looking thing on a lawn.
 
We needed a place to eat. Right across from the night tour pickup point (And Lincoln’s Waffle House, which was not in the running) was a Hard Rock CafĂ©. Given multiple disasters other times we visited this chain, we figured, statistically, we were due for a good encounter.
 
(Spoilers- We were not.)
 
There was painfully loud, live, acoustic music playing. When I pointed out he was playing good songs, we all had to agree that we wished he weren’t. Research before entering indicated that they had an extensive Gluten Free menu. What research did not indicate, was that they cooked all the items on this menu where they cooked everything else. Therefore, it was only “Gluten Sensitive” and not Free at all.
 
Rosa got a milkshake instead. The whipped cream, which she asked them to leave off, was broken. The milkshake itself was chocolate milk with some lumps in it.
 
It went back for a new one which was relatively thin but mixed properly. The not asked for whipped cream was also back but in better shape. Anabelle did admit her Macaroni and Cheese with chicken was “fire.”  My salmon was pretty good too. The green beans had a really weird first bite flavor but then stabilized.
 
While having fun in here we decided to cancel the Library of Congress visit to have more time in the “ugly art” museums.
 
There was some cool rock and roll memorabilia there. (“Yawn” says Anabelle) We sat near Black Flag stuff, and there was an Elton John costume on the way to the (not Elton) John.
 
Upstairs there was a Shakira thing and a John Lee Hooker guitar that I couldn’t get near without standing on someone else’s table. The stained-glass window of Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis as the holy trinity of Rock N Roll was a nice touch.

We were early for the tour and hung around in the cheesy souvenir shop for a while. The ticket told us to go up to the desk, but not before a half hour prior to the tour.
 
Therefore, we were kind of upset when they sent us outside to the long line that had already formed by the bus at that point.
 
We did luck out, though, and got a teacher with twenty years of experience for our driver. “Mr. History” was an amazing guide. Embarrassingly, it took me two full days to figure out his voice reminded me of Jean Shepard. At the start he mentioned we had left a little early, giving us extra time at a few stops. I’m pretty sure we left on time, and he was just giving us extra time, which added to his awesomeness.
 
We knew the National Gallery wasn’t part of the Smithsonian but learned why. It was a gift from Andrew Mellon. Anabelle pointed out that she thought the fountain was enough. To be honest, it was pretty snazzy.
 
Mr. History was incredibly informative and also entertaining. A list of other cool stuff we learned follows:
 
There are 160 embassies in Washington DC, Canada and Mexico are the only ones on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, neither are the closest to the White House. In the spirit of “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” Russia has that location.
 
He pointed out the Court that if we understood its role we wouldn’t like, because it could grant the right to spy on private citizens. Taking notes in a dark and moving bus is hard, I forget the name.
 
Rosa noticed a statue by the Capitol we didn’t see when we had walked there. She seriously contemplated leaping out for a picture. Travelling with us is always fun.
 
The Capitol and White House are both made of sandstone, chosen for the price and look at the time. This is why both buildings need refurbishment so often, sandstone tends to erode.
 
On our way back around the mall we passed the Voice of America radio station. Yes, our country has its own propaganda broadcast to reach around the world.
 
Next to the Air and Space Museum Mr. History was gushing about all of the amazing and historical items in there. The fact that I remembered many from previous trips, but knew they were in closed off sections when we went yesterday should have raised a flag about other museum information we got on this tour.
 
As we passed the cylindrical structure of the Hirschhorn Museum Mr. History asked if we knew what non-representational art was. The man behind Anabelle, who would become her sworn enemy, said, “Crap.” Anabelle shot him a look and his wife elbowed him and gave a more polite answer. Mr. History gave a more accurate description followed by, “That building is full of it.” He also mentioned spending “a week there one day,” and Anabelle’s sworn enemy chimed in with “More like a year.” When he asked if anyone planned to go there. Rosa and I raised our hands, but Anabelle yelled, “YES!” She also took great satisfaction in overhearing her sworn enemy’s wife talking like she was going to force him to visit there.
 
Every department of government we passed, Mr. History gave us a description of what they did, and then cheered for them and honked his horn. We learned the ugly architecture style of many of those buildings was called, “American Brutal.”
 
As we passed the Eisenhower Memorial, Mr. History gave us a detailed lesson about Ike being impressed by Germany’s use of the autobahns as military supply lines, and how that inspired him to create the Interstate Highway system.
 
We reached the Washington Monument while he spoke about how it is the largest free-standing stone structure, and that it was, “Only held together with spit… Let’s get out of here!”
 
Before the stop near the FDR and Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King memorials, he told us detailed and impressive histories of both men. This included a spot-on impression of FDR that came out of nowhere. Mr. History gave us the details behind the famous “I Have A Dream” speech, including the fact that there is no pre-existing script for it. What Dr. King had written down was starting to lose the audience, and a poet (whose name I also forget) yelled to him to “Tell them about the dream!” leading to the speech everyone knows. That unused, original script was given to someone from Villanova. (V’s up! Or something.)
 
While these two memorials were impressive at night, we were all extremely glad we hit them in the daytime on our own. Besides the important fact that we had much more time to really take them in the day we arrived, there was also the gnat problem. A swarm of small flying insects filled the entire space of the FDR Memorial and threatened to devour us completely.
 
On the way to the next stop, Mr. History gave us a huge amount of information about Abe Lincoln, including how the short list of books he read over and over again as a child included the complete works of Shakespeare. This led him, probably without knowing what it was called, to write his speeches in Iambic Pentameter. We also learned about his father leaving Abe and his sibling alone to walk a heck of a distance (multiple states) to propose marriage to a woman he hadn’t seen in years after Abe’s mother died. That stepmother was responsible for Lincoln’s education and making him the man he became. When we got out of the bus at the Lincoln Memorial, I pointed out to Mr. History that he reminded me of the amount of passion for the material my favorite teachers always had, and that he must have had a positive effect on many kids. Like all great teachers, he made us want to read more about many of the topics he covered.
He thanked me, and said he liked my Superhero shirt, adding that Lincoln and Reverend Doctor King were superheroes.
Then Anabelle sighed and said, “We can’t take you anywhere.”
 
We started at the Korean War memorial which is always hauntingly impressive at night. The Vietnam Memorial is much harder to see in the dark. That was only one reason why we planned an on-foot return to this area later in the week.
 
On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, we passed a saxophone player busking the area and playing “Careless Whisper.” Anabelle danced along and pointed out, “The Lincoln Memorial Soundtrack is a banger.”
We climbed the steps to see the Lincoln Memorial at night. In the dark we could just barely make out the marker for the location of the “I Have A Dream” speech, and the unidentifiable stain on it. (Eeew.)

Seeing that structure at night adds a more mythical appearance to it.
At least it did until Anabelle took a selfie titled, “Kisses for Abe Lincoln.”  
Seeing Anabelle’s beloved Washington Monument lit up and highlighted in the reflecting pool was also a bonus of an evening visit.
 
Then it was time for a surprise. Kim’s family had booked this tour because it was the only one that went to the Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima.) However, when I booked it, that stop had been replaced with the World War II memorial. That’s next to the Washington Monument and we knew we were passing it frequently. However, I remembered how impressive everything looked at night, and really didn’t want to wander around in the dark, meaning we booked it anyway. Not only did we get a fantastic tour guide, but they reset the tour right before we got there, meaning we were all driven over to Arlington, Virginia.
 
On this longer stretch in the bus, Mr. History provided us with detailed information about World War Two in the Pacific. This included a section about the brutal island warfare, and the edict from Japan to cause as many casualties as possible which led to the US development of the Atomic Bomb.
“Of course, Dad answered ‘The Manhattan Project’ when he asked. We really can’t take him anywhere.”- Anabelle

He provided us so much detail about the time, the battle, what led up to it, what the aftermath was and also information about Robert E. Lee’s land used to build Arlington that he had to drive around the statue multiple times.
 
No one complained.
 
We took some time around the hugely impressive statue to take it in before returning to the bus. There’s something about that memorial that really carries the weight of what it represents.

On the way back, the information flow continued. Mr. History parked the bus on a bridge and pointed out landmarks of DC that delineated the size of Iwo Jima, with the Washington Monument about the height of Mount Suribachi. In that space, fifty thousand Americans and Japanese were killed in a little over a month.
The scale of history is terrifying sometimes. 


We could also see the Watergate hotel as we crossed the Potomac.
 

After a lifetime of hearing Tom Lehrer’s “Send the Marines” song, I finally learned what OAS was. The Organization of American States, the first ever group of nations, like the League of Nations or UN (though the name changed a couple of times).
It’s made of North, Central and South American countries. It turned out we walked by it the first day we were here, which we didn’t figure out until we walked by it later on.
 
Watergate was in the distance, but we also passed right next to the Willard Hotel, a location with a grander history. Martin Luther King stayed there before his speech, and it went back to Grant meeting with Lobbyists in the Lobby (hence the name) and Abe Lincoln meeting with Julia Ward Howe who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
 
Mr. History sang that one. Anabelle joined in.
 
We thanked him extensively as we exited. On the way home we passed Harry’s, a nifty looking bar and grill we probably should have tried. This was both because of the menu and them having a Peruvian flag flying outside.
 
Entertainment continued in our own lobby. There was a clearly inebriated young woman, wobbling near a group of paramedics and police officers along with the upstairs bartender, who looked like he was standing at attention.
 
Anabelle’s “I’m in college” perspective was that the woman had passed out drunk, they called the paramedics, and she woke up mostly fine, but confused.
 
Back at the room we desperately needed to shower off the three phased tourism day. While Rosa followed Anabelle’s lead, and I confirmed we had everything we needed for the next day, Anabelle was extremely helpful by standing near me and repeating. “Wooo, what stinks?”
 
Ooh, I lost a toenail! Clearly, we were at or near Disney levels of walking.
 
Following the previous night’s example, we watched the Science entries of School House Rock.
 
Rosa was the first to pass out this evening, with the two of us not far behind.
 
21500 steps
9.1 miles

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