In the past couple of days we have been making the acquaintance of Washington D.C. like proper history buffs. As a California native, being in this city feels like living inside of a PBS documentary or an elementary school history book. I see all around me signs of this country's origins and almost can not believe what I see, until I realize I can literally touch things that our founding fathers touched- they are real! This is the bronze foot of Ronald Reagan! But then the guards yell at me and tell me to step away from whatever priceless national heirloom I have just desecrated. Alas.
But the history still surrounds you on all sides. We toured the Capitol building with a Congressional intern, and he pointed out original columns* that had survived the torching of the capital by the British in the War of 1812. We stood in the Old Supreme Court Room, where judges made such horrible historic decisions as Plessy v Ferguson and Dred Scott and the Missouri Compromise. We visited the American Art Museum, housed in the building where Abraham Lincoln's inaugural ball was held. We visited the National Cathedral, which took 83 years** to build, and made me seriously question our nation's dedication to the idea of the separation of church and state. You get my point.
Encountering so much history, and so many historic figures, must only be possible here. I wonder if children that grow up in the Washington area have a higher level of knowledge about U.S. history, or if it's something you take for granted when every day on your way to school you pass the place where the Constitution was written. I should start hanging around outside of elementary schools and quizzing eleven year olds on historic trivia to find out.***
In the midst of all of the sightseeing I was also able to meet with a representative from the National Association of Rail Passengers, a group that focuses on advocacy and organizing for the poor downtrodden train riders of the U.S. I got to hash out a few details with him about the pros and cons of the Amtrak system, and we brainstormed about what was wrong with the general populace and their lack of enthusiasm for this fine mode of transit. I will enlighten you with more details about the astoundingly high fiscal and environmental efficiency of our railroads at a later time.
In the Smithsonian's American Art Museum we saw a fabulous exhibit of over 40 years of Norman Rockwell's beloved paintings. He documented virtually every innocent and beautiful aspect of American culture from World War I to the sixties, and I am proud to report that there were two train paintings included in the exhibit. One was called "Good Boy (little orphan at the train)" and depicted a story where nuns took orphan children on a tour of the country looking for homes for them after their orphanage burned down. The other was "Little Girl Observing Lovers on a Train," which I think is pretty self-explanatory. They were both sweet subjects that told a story and, as the trains were central yet not necessarily self aware in the paintings, visually prove the indispensable nature of trains in American society during the beginning of the 20th century.
But after two full days of focusing on the period from the late 1700s to the first half of the 1900s, I needed a change. I needed to get a feel for something really old, even by Washingtonian standards. I needed to visit Colonial Williamsburg.
*A theme in the architecture of the building is stately and Romanesque, but with poignant and sometimes oddly placed details showcasing Americana. For instance, the columns were topped with stalks of corn, and floral details on many ceilings were cotton and tobacco blossoms.
**Theodore Roosevelt oversaw its groundbreaking on September 29th, 1907, and George H.W. Bush oversaw it's completion on September 29th, 1990. It is a fantastic and impressive building, but I am at a loss as to why the U.S. felt it needed an enormous Episcopalian church in order to be complete.
***No, I should not.
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