(james benedict brown) on the road

Washington, DC

Posted in Uncategorized by James Benedict Brown on 27 May, 2006

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Needless to say, BMM and I were very happy bunnies to have made it to Vienna, VA, in time for last night’s ‘Prairie Home Companion Show’. Our evening was followed by a live broadcast the next night – you can listen to the show at the Prairie Home Companion website here, and listen to most of the music, bad jokes and sound effect enhanced stories that we heard the night before. But the PHC was not the only reason to drive all this way. We also had a day out in Washington DC to enjoy.

The Hospitality Club once again saved us from sleeping in the car. We stayed with two wonderful hosts who not only put us up, but put us up in a $1.5 million mansion.. a king size double bed, en-suite jacuzzi bath and double shower awaited us, and we slept very well indeed.

A fast metro ride took us into the city, and up into the stifling heat of the only major American city built on a bog. It wasn’t just hot, it was humid, and the heavy moist air slowed every step we took. We skirted around the Smithsonian, and walked along the mall between the Capitol and the Memorial column. Monday is Memorial Day, and this weekend thousands of people are in town for the long weekend. I would have liked to take advantage of some more of the wondeful museums that are dotted around the Mall, but free entry and a holiday weekend meant that they were heaving. We enjoyed a hot dog sitting on the grass outside the Museum of American History, watching families gambol past. By about two o’clock, the first family arguments were beginning to emerge, as hot, sweaty and tired mothers explained for the third time why Junior couldn’t have another ice cream and why they had to keep walking because daddy wanted to go to the Air and Space Museum and daddy always gets his way.

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Having eaten and without toddlers to drag, we were able to scamper along towards the White House, where hundreds of tourists were taking turns to peer through black metal fences that enclose the strikingly small heart of the empire. We walked around to the other side, and BMM was able to more or less acurately pin point the axis of evil… A small crowd of heart hearted protestors were in attendance: most tourists were too fired up with vitriolic patriotism on this weekend of rememberance to give them any time. I wondered what it was that so many thousands of American soldiers died and continue to die for if these exponents of the right to free speech only get harangued by their fellow citizens for highlighting the wrongs of an administration.

Our day was not completely art-less… near-by a small outpost of the Smithsonian Museum was showing a selection of paintings and objects made by the famous artists Grant Wood. Sketches, paintings and even a modified door from the painter’s studio were exhibited. Most visitors were crowded around the most famous painting in the exhibition – the instantly recognisable ‘American Gothic’. I was impressed to listen in on a very well informed security guard who was talking to some other guests about the piece, and explaining its importance in the artist’s career.

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We crossed through the quiet streets of downtown and headed towards Chinatown to eat fried noodles in a small restaurant. Unfortunately for the propriators, the waitress who served us spent more time telling people who came in from waiting outside for buses that the toilets were for the use of customers only. A shame because the food was good, and came in sufficient quantities for us to box up the remnants of our meal and to take it with us. We finished the day with a rapid tour of an excellent sustainable architecture exhibition at the National Building Centre, before going back to our green suburb by metro from Union Station. Just before going inside, we diverted our paths a few hundred metres to catch a glimpse of the Capitol building down a thick avenue of trees.

The elegant railway terminus was not a stop on my month long rail trip, so it was very nice to see inside the grand concourse that is covered by a beautiful coffered ceiling. One of the daily services from Florida was showing up on the screen as running almost twelve hours late. For once, I did not mind not being on a train. Our day in the capital of the USA came to an end very quickly. Drained by the heat, humidity and holiday weekend crowds, it was time to retreat. Tomorrow, we would return north…

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