Washington wanderings

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I thought I had a day of non stop meetings with no chance to see anything much in Washington, but then two meetings got compressed into one and I found myself with two hours in the middle of the day. As my afternoon meeting was at the corner of Constitution and 2nd, I jumped in a taxi and headed to the other end of the Mall.

I really like the Lincoln Memorial. It is an odd memorial in that it commemorates a war, a man and an idea. Well, several ideas. It is kind of grandiose and even a tad ugly, but still manages to to inspire thought and reflection and even emotion.

Then a visit to one of my all-time favourite memorials – the Vietnam War memorial. It is fascinating that this caused so much controversy when being built but now is so loved. It works in its simple elegance – it is hard to pass by that wall of names without emotion, without reflection on the terrible toll of wars. I think it is difficult to understate the power of the idea of listing the names in date order which lets one see the unfolding story of death.

Having mentioned it in my thesis, I was really pleased to have a chance to see the World War II memorial, an addition to the Mall since my last visit to Washington. Boy is it an aesthetic abomination on a grandiose scale – trying to do too much and incorporate too many things, torn between the literal and the figurative. With so much happening it is difficult for it to convey the simple ideas of remembrance and gratitude. Also, it is just ugly in parts.

Aspects of it have merit, but together it is overwhelming and scattered in meaning. But while there I did see another side of the memorialising of war. I was there the week before Memorial Day, and the Mall was filled with World War II veterans (handily identified as such by their baseball caps) visiting the various memorials, mostly pushed about by volunteers. It was rather amazing to watch all these school kids just come up to them and say “thank you”. I knew US attitudes to servicemen and women were different to ours, but this was something else altogether. At the World War II memorial, high school students were asking veterans to have their photos taken together.

It was then on past the Washington Monument, which I love in all its phallic glory, I could actually see it from my hotel room as well which reminded me where I was. It also is surrounded by that ring of flags – and US flags are something I love to photograph.

It was rather hot walking down the Mall, especially in work clothes and stockings and slightly heeled shoes. But I was delighted when I spotted this spectacular sculpture in the garden at the Art Museum.

It was enough to make me cross the road and wander through the scupltures.

It was then time to visit Ulysses at the end of the Mall – looking back  towards Lincoln at the other end. Again this style of memorial focuses on the individual and I guess encapsulates the “Great Man” period of history – that history is made by individuals. Though the side sculptures indicate that maybe there were some others involved as well.

Which only left the view of the Capitol. I didn’t go any closer because my meeting was in a building right there at the end of the Mall, but it is a magnificent structure. I like that this design of Washington is so reminiscent of Paris, with the monument strewn boulevards with a view of great buildings from either end. I actually rather like it as a form of urban design, even if cogniscent of the fact that the construction of such, in Paris at any rate, meant the bulldozering of people’s homes and communities and lives.

So that was how I spent a spare two hours in Washington!

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