Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dispatches from DC #05

14 November 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

One of the things I miss most about Pretoria is the weather, which, as previously noted, is darn near perfect all the time. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the Washington, DC area. Since the entire enterprise was built on a swamp, so the summer climate here ranges from simply awful to God-awful. Winters are more of a crapshoot. Last year saw record snowfalls, but a winter without a single snowflake is just a likely.

To be fair, however, there are brief passages in the spring and autumn when the Washington skies are blue, the winds moderate, and the temperature ideal. Such has been the case for the past few days, and there is simply no excuse for not taking a nice, long walk to check out the fall foliage and a few of the ubiquitous memorials.

Emerging from the Metro Smithsonian Station, A.J. and I decided to stroll around the Tidal Basin, a man-made reservoir lined with Japanese cherry trees and featuring the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (dedicated in 1943), a neoclassical construction and one of my personal favourites. Simple and elegant in design, Jefferson's words are carved large in the walls, words that seem temporarily out of favour, words like "enlightened," "progress," and "justice." It is a beautiful place.

Continuing around the water, we came upon the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (1997), which was new to both of us. Constructed of blocks of red granite and featuring a series of open-air "rooms" and much moving water, the atmosphere seems more contemplative than other such places (except, I think, for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) - "The Wall" - which is much more personal). On this day, the contrast between the stone and the color of autumn leaves enhanced the quietude of the experience. If you should come here, go to this place.

There is always construction in the National Mall area and we walked passed the expansive site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, due to open in 2011. From there, we made our way to the National World War II Memorial (2004), located on the Mall's central axis running from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial (1922) to the west to the George Washington Monument (1884) to the east. Comprised of a huge plaza and fountain surrounded by stone pillars, this is memorial architecture most conventional. Which is fine, of course: Big war, big memorial.

So that was our day. Unfortunately, we missed out on the Korean War Veterans Memorial (1995), which, I have been told, is particularly striking at night. No worries, as we will no doubt be making more of these trips between now and two autumns hence in 2012. And for all the snarky things I have to say about America's capital (which happen to be true, by the way), there is much here of great worth and much of it is absolutely free. If you have never been, you should come; after all, you paid for it.

But try to avoid the summer.



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