Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Lovely large snowflakes are gently falling outside my window. It is peaceful and beautiful. . . wherever you are, I hope your day has also been filled with peace and beauty.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Have you finished your Christmas shopping?

Where To Go?

The other week the New York Times published an interactive list of 53 Places to Go In 2008.

The first two places listed are Laos and Lisbon, both of which have been on my own list for several years now. (Unfortunately, I probably won’t get to either of them this year.)

Tunisa, another place I’ve been contemplating, is next on the list .

Death Valley is also on the list, for the same reason I’m considering it for a spring get-away this year – it might be a good year for flowers.

Prague was on my list for June as the end point of a trip through southern Germany, but I think that is off because we just can’t afford to squeeze Europe in between other expensive destinations like Hawaii and Alaska.

Malawi is a place I hadn’t known much about until recently, but seeing images from there at the African architecture show in DC has made me really interested in traveling there. However, Nambia has been on my list for a really long time and will likely be the next place we go in Africa – unless, of course, I decide I can’t resist the allure of Mozambique and Mt Kilimanjaro, which could be arranged to allow a stop in Zanzibar (not included on the Times’ list, but certainly high on mine).

The Northwest Passage, is almost, but not quite a possibility for this year – we ARE still planning to do some sort of an Alaskan trip, I just don’t think we can make the timing or finances work to do a Northwest Passage trip. Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage seem more likely.

Actually, I’d like to visit almost every place listed – the exceptions being spots like Miami Beach (been there, done that, and didn’t find it interesting enough for a return trip), Courchevel (Up-scale skiing? No, I don’t think so.) Puetro Vallarta, Munich, Play Blanca in Panama (although I’d like to go to lots of other places in Panama), Detroit, Vegas, and a couple others that just don’t seem like a good use of my precious vacation time. There are actually nine places listed that I’d chuck off the list entirely (along with a few others I’d visit for reasons other than those highlighted), so no one can accuse me of being COMPLETELY indiscriminant in my travel choices!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Next Year?

My sister-in-law is in Santa Fe for Christmas this year. That is something I have always wanted to do myself, but lately I have been thinking more about Puerto Rico as a Christmas get-away – we could go before Christmas, spend some time enjoying nature and then celebrate Christmas itself in Old San Juan.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The World is Actually a Very Small Place

Last night I sent an email to Dr. Assaad in Cairo. This morning I turned on my computer to find a response from him, written at the airport in Paris, directing me to another individual in Cairo - who also responded within hours. While not as mind-boggling as the occasional exchanges with Warren in Fiji that actually shoot back from the future, I still find the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, almost instantaneously, just short of miraculous.

In a short span of time, the world has become a much smaller and far more intimate place.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Spinning History

I am spending part of today editing and putting the links in my upcoming posts on our trip to DC. In the process of looking up those links, I stumbled on an incredibly cynical effort to spin history.

The website for the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR) has a page on Constitution Hall, the facility that DAR refused to make available for a performance by Marian Anderson back in the late 30’s, as alluded to in a previous post. However, if you go to this page on the DAR website today, you will find a link to the Marian Anderson postage stamp dedication ceremony which was held in that facility a few years ago.

Yes, you read that correctly. The official dedication of a postage stamp honoring the African American singer Marian Anderson – a singer who was famously denied use of Constitution Hall because of her race – was held in that very hall. Furthermore, the comments made by the president of DAR on that occasion seem to indicate that, over all, it was for the best that racism prevailed at that time because it lead to change later:
. . . . It is most fitting that we gather in Memorial Continental Hall at Constitution Hall, the place which historically represents a sad chapter in our country’s history and in the history of DAR. We deeply regret that Marian Anderson was not given the opportunity to perform her 1939 Easter concert in Constitution Hall but recognize that in the positive sense the event was a pivotal point in the struggle for racial equality.

Ms. Anderson’s legendary concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial will always be remembered as a milestone in the Civil Rights movement. The beauty of her voice, amplified by her courage and grace, brought attention to the eloquence of the many voices urging our nation to overcome prejudice and intolerance. It sparked change not only in America but also in the DAR.. . .
And here I have always thought we’d have been better off as a nation if there had been no racism and, thus, no need for a civil rights movement!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving from D.C.!

DC Details

DC Lodging
A seasonal on-line special brought us to the Hotel Washington, an interesting historic structure located next door to the fabulous (and fabulously expensive) Willard InterContenental. The spacious lobby at the Hotel Washington features a lovely inlay floor, but our room itself was small, dark, and in need of updating. In addition, the piles of laundry that remained in the hallway until Monday was a bit disconcerting. On the other hand, the room seemed clean, the free wireless internet worked, and, for the low price we paid, we couldn't really expect a view.

Apparently the Hotel Washington will soon be undergoing much-needed renovations. I suspect that when they are finished I will not be able to afford to stay again and I'll be returning to my usual DC hotel, the Harrington. (The Harrington has a fabulous location at a reasonable cost, but that's about it.)

Dining
For a town that serves an international power cliental, I've always found the dining options pretty pedestrian. I don't know if that is still true or not since we mostly ended up at old favorites - all of which are (surprisingly in a business that changes so fast) still thriving.

On our first night out we met a colleague (Brian) who happened to be in town at the same time and had dinner at Jaleo. We began with a mix of tapas and then split the lovely seafood paella. The restaurant was loud and energetic, as always, but I love this place. Just skip the oddly flat sangria.

Many of the Smithsonian museums have cafeterias, but the one at the National Museum of the American Indian has multiple stations featuring traditional-style foods from a variety of native cultures. While you can get fry bread, you can also get golden beet soup with crab. Just remember that this is still a cafeteria, so the quality varies considerably as to both ingredients and how the dish "holds" under heat lamps. For example, although lovely in concept, the blueberry and corn fritters were both light on blueberries and corn and didn't hold very well. The beet soup, on the other hand, was lovely.

Lane is not a big breakfast fan, so we usually end up starting the day at the somehow always convenient Corner Bakery. I think this used to be called the News Café (it is located in the National Press Club building ) and serve wonderful flaky croissants. As the Corner Bakery (a regional chain), the menu seems similar, with bakery items, full breakfasts, soup, salads, and sandwiches, but the quality has diminished some. The pictures of various media stars (mostly of the past) are still on the walls and media types do still stop in, as evidenced by the number of heavy duty cameras and sound equipment being dragged about. It's not a bad place to grab a quick bite, it just isn't as good as I remember.

We had intended to spend our second evening treating a young friend to a fine dinner in the district, but instead met her in Alexandria, Virginia. Unsure of where to eat (and without a decent map of Old Town), we ended up at Geranio. We were pleased with both the meal and the experience - eating delicious Italian food in a comfortable room with a cheery and warm fireplace. It was perfect for a cold night!

Teaism has a lot more than just tea (although they do have a lot of amazing teas) and makes the perfect spot for a quick breakfast or lunch. (The inevitable line moves quickly.) Despite how busy it always seems to be, the quiet Japanese-inspired interior is an oasis of calm. Lane isn't as fond of this place as I am - the seaweed in his turkey sandwich was just too weird, but the food is fresh, light, and wholesome. I love it. (Lane loves the shop next door where they sell their tea, along with lovely imported ceramics.)

Our dinner plans the next night took a bit of a turn as well, and we ended up heading out to Silver Spring, Maryland, to meet friends at their house (Thanks, Ron and Andi!) for Moroccan take-out. Awesome Moroccan take-out from Taste of Morocco. Everything was great, but the pastillas (seasoned meat layered with crispy phyllo dough, topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar) were a revelation. Wow. I wish they would open one of these here.

Perhaps my favorite restaurant in the DC area is the fabulous Café Atlantico. Since the night before Thanksgiving was pretty quiet, we actually had a quiet dinner in this usually hopping spot. We also had the opportunity to chat with the waiter, so we knew how everything was prepared - and at Café Atlantico, a lot of thought goes into the preparation! The cotton candy mojitos are not only fun, but also perfectly balanced. The crispy rice is both crisp and chewy. . . everything was both interesting and delicious. While everything we had was great, the highlight was the tuna and coconut ceviche with avocado. We split a generous serving as an appetizer, but next time I might just order two of them and call it dinner. . .

The online Washingtonian restaurant guide seems to be THE place to check for restaurant news and reviews. In addition, I like DC Foodies (although it is not comprehensive). Of course, TripAdvisor is always an option, but I found it less useful here, probably because it doesn't cater specifically to foodies and DC is a common family destination (with the posted reviews reflecting that reality). With the exception of the Corner Bakery and the American Indian museum's cafeteria, none of the places reviewed above are family dining spots.

Getting Around
There is no need for a car in DC, just hop on the subway. It couldn't be easier or cheaper. If you are traveling any distance and plan to ride more than three times in a day, a day pass (valid after 9:30 a.m.) can save money and hassle.

Cabs to National Airport (for those not wanting to drag their luggage on the subway) may cost more than quoted because there is an extra fee for each additional passenger, for using the trunk, for letting the cabbie put your luggage in the trunk, and so on. It wasn't exorbitant, but it was unexpected.

Often it costs more to fly into National (which is badly in need of updating), but the convenience and ability to get into the city cheaply can make it more cost effective than flying into the less accessible and more distant Dulles airport.

Skip the Turkey, Do the Museums Instead!

Previous post: Evening in DC

Thanksgiving day: A gorgeous morning, with blue skies and lots of sunshine. A perfect fall day!

Although we are fortunate that the Smithsonian museums are open even today, none open before 10. This leaves us plenty of time to walk to the mall and through the garden behind the Castle until the rest of the museums open their doors.

It is so lovely out here that I hate to actually go inside, but the National Museum of African Art has a Tuareg exhibit that I am eager to see, so off we go, into the depths of the museum world.

What an amazing exhibit! Several rooms are filled with elegant jewelry, metal, and leatherwork, along with plenty of cultural information about these intriguing nomads of the Sahara.

At the Bead Museum the curator had talked about the fact that governments have been trying to get the Taureg to abandon their nomadic ways and settle down - a story familiar to nomadic peoples the world over. The jewelry for sale there actually came from a man who kept moving farther and farther out to avoid life in a city, yet he somehow managed to get to the United States to sell his work. Talk about moving between worlds! The exhibit here is really focused on how the Tuareg are - mostly successfully - continuing their traditions in a rapidly changing world. Much of the modern pieces come from a husband and wife jewelry and leather-working pair who are very successfully bringing their traditional arts to the larger world. It is a gorgeous exhibit.

We also walk into an exhibit showcasing a collection built by a couple who started off with just two pieces, perhaps purchased on a whim, and then went on to build a simply stunning collection. Wow.

Our time here is quickly coming to an end, so we decide to head over to the Freer and Sackler Galleries to see the Asian ceramics.

Along the way we come across an exhibit of Japanese paintings from the Edo period. They are elegant and lovely. Definitely worth a detour.

And then it is time to head back to the hotel, off to the airport, and homeward.

It is 70 degrees and sunny. I wish I could just stay here in this fascinating city.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Evening in DC

Previous post: Historic Preservation?

Oh how I wish I had brought my tripod!

The weather forecast predicted cold and damp weather, so I decided not to bring a tripod - I wasn't going to want to hang around in the cold taking pictures. Now, here it is, nearly 70. . . . oh well, it is a lovely evening anyway.

We begin with dinner at Café Atlantico. This is one of my favorite places and, since the night before Thanksgiving is a slow night, we enjoy both a fabulous dinner and an opportunity to learn more about our food from our well-informed waiter.

The air is almost balmy when we leave the restaurant - it feels like a spring evening - so we take a leisurely walk through the mall.

The skating rink is already in place for the season and it is tempting to join them as they languidly circle under the golden lights. But what I really wish is that I had my tripod! It would be a beautiful night to take pictures . . . and the results I'm getting without it are less than stellar.

You'll just have to take my word for it when I say that it is a picture perfect evening!


Historic Preservation?

Previous Post: Of Books and Building

DC must require the preservation of historic facades because there are places all over where a huge modern building has been built around an older structure. While this does preserve the old facade for future generations, the context is lost.

Still, it is better than just knocking them down. The preserved facades are really tombstones that force us to remember this place has a history - we are not the first in this place, nor will we be the last. Even solid-seeming buildings are ephemeral in the time-span of the universe.


As it turns out, these particular facades have been incorporated into the Keck Center at the National Academy of Science, a building easily identified by the large modern sculpture perched above the entrance.

Unfortunately, we are discovering this spot late in the afternoon - we had planned to try to find it because the gift shop has "stuffed animals" in the shape of various viruses. Brian brought the black death and the common cold back to our office last time he was here. (I'm assuming these are a tie-in to the current infectious disease exhibit.) They were cool, so I was hoping to see what else they have. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Next post: Evening in DC

Of Books and Buildings

Previous post: The Bead Museum
After spending the morning with aunt C, we are again off to see a bit more of the city.

We start at the Library of Congress.

For the past few days we have been debating whether it is really the National Archives I remember so fondly or whether I am actually thinking of the Library of Congress. Lane is convinced it is the latter. This is the test.

As we step through security I am convinced it was the Archives I remember.

Not that the Library of Congress isn't interesting. There aren't a lot of exhibits up right now, but the main building is really lovely, from the skylight high above our heads to the inlay floors beneath our feet.
From the Library of Congress we make a quick hop over to the National Building Museum.

The museum is housed in the old Pension Bureau building, a lumbering brick pile with a frieze of civil war units marching around the building. (The Pension Bureau being the administrator of the veteran's pension program after the civil war.) It is a great structure.

The museum itself focuses on architecture and construction (including construction materials), with a bit of land use and urban design thrown in for good measure. It is probably the closest thing to a general "land use planning" museum there is in the U.S., so I consider this "my" museum and try to get here whenever we are in town.

Now we have fit it into our rather tight schedule because it has an exhibit on traditional African architecture. The places featured in the exhibit are all fascinating. Now I want to see them all for myself! There are just too many things to see in the world - I'll never get to them all no matter how hard I try, but at least shows like this give me a peek.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Bead Museum

Previous Post: Free Speech

The day is moving along and we still would like to make a couple of stops before we head out to the suburbs to visit Aunt C, so after a quick lunch at Teaism (another DC favorite of mine), we visit the Bead Museum.

Yes, the Bead Museum.

When we had mentioned to Aunt C that this was one of the places we were planning to visit, she had been perplexed: "A BEAD museum? I can't say I've ever given beads much thought."

Well, as some of you know, I've given beads a fair amount of thought. I've always been fascinated by the variety and versatility of beads and, over time, I've come to appreciate the fact that beads and other forms of ornamentation say a lot about a culture and its values. Beads have been valued from prehistory through this day . . . surely they are worth some consideration.

Free Speech

Previous post: Shopping at the Department of the Interior

By the time we leave the craft shop, the museums have opened up for the day and a couple of protesters have set up outside the White House.

They seem to simultaneously prove that anyone can have their say (no matter how incomprehensible their message may be) and that generally no one is very interested in listening.


Next Post: The Bead Museum

Shopping at the Department of the Interior

Previous post: American Indian Art & Culture

We have previously sought out the Indian Craft Shop at the Department of the Interior, having heard that it has a lovely selection of goodies for sale. Of course, we never actually had an address and could never quite figure out where the place is. This time we are determined to find it.

We know it is inside the Department of the Interior's building, but there are no signs outside to indicate there is a gift shop (or a museum, for that matter) within. Like all of these federal agency monster buildings from the 30's, the entrance is designed to look serious and a little forbidding - it indicates that only those who need to enter to conduct business should do so.

http://www.doi.gov/interiormuseum/images/bldg.png

But the shop HAS to be inside here somewhere, so we enter.

I expect to see a sign for the shop once we get inside, but there is none.

Instead, we find an empty lobby with the usual government-building security screening post. I tell the woman at the desk that we are looking for the Indian Craft shop. In answer, she wordlessly pulls out a couple of "Visitor" tags and hands us the sign-in sheet. I guess that means it is here somewhere. Only after we have signed in does she provide direction.

Still, this doesn't look very promising. We are definitely in an office building, but, sure enough, down the hall and too the left a small sign marks the entrance to the Indian Craft Shop. The sign looks as if it was installed when the building was constructed. Time seems to move slowly here.

We open the door to a treasure chest of goodies. Immediately in front of the door is a glass display case, the nearest end of which holds jewelry, including an exquisite-looking pair of earrings. I give them a second quick glance as we walk into the shop. I'll be back to look at those again. I think they might need to go home with me.

A quick look around tells me they have a lot of great pottery (and a good selection of books), but the jewelry is calling out to me. Back at the long glass case, I start at the end farthest from the earrings I had noticed on the way in. I joke with the clerk as I ask her to pull out a bracelet inlayed with Navajo blanket designs, telling her I know it is too expensive because I have an eye for expensive pieces, but that I'd like to see it anyway. The bracelet by Tommy Jackson is lovely, but it is also quite expensive. Luckily it is sized for a man and Lane reminds me that he doesn't wear jewelry. Nothing more to think about.

http://www.indiancraftsales.com/Merchant/TJBR018_lg.jpg

I look at a few more pieces and then decide to just cut to the chase - I want to see the earrings I noticed on the way in.

When she sets the earrings in front of me, I realize they will also be very expense, as they are made up of beautiful micro inlay done by Carl and Irene Clark - artists whose work I have admired for a very long time.

On no. . . I REALLY want them. They are so beautiful!

Next Post: Free Speech

Monday, November 19, 2007

American Indian Art & Culture

Previous Post: On the Mall
We are in the city to visit Lane's elderly aunt. She is great to visit, as her mind is still pretty sharp with her quick wit is definitely still intact.

Our visit takes up the bulk of the day, leaving time for just one museum visit. We choose the National Museum of the American Indian, a relatively new museum that I have not had a chance to visit before, so I am eager to see what they have on display.

Smithsonian Institution

The museum itself has a large open ceremonial space on the main floor, with three lovely boats. The galleries themselves on the upper floors.

And what galleries they are! There is an almost overwhelming exhibit tracing the impact of colonialism on native peoples and then individual exhibits on various tribes (from both North and South America). I like the fact that each tribal exhibit includes a poster with information on the tribal members who put together the exhibit. It seems to reinforce the exhibit's theme that American natives are real people and that they are still here.

The exhibit I most want to see, called Identity by Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native Women's Dresses, was turns out to be simply amazing. There is a whole room filled with gorgeously designed and decorated dresses, most old and made of carefully worked deer hide.

Like UBC's Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, some of the exhibition space includes pull-out drawers filled with additional items. Unlike UBC's museum, the Smithsonian has ensured that the drawers are well-lit and that documentation can be easily accessed. It is all neatly organized and very user-friendly.

Actually, the whole museum is pretty user-friendly, with wonderful videos that provide additional information. I could spend days here just watching the videos.

It is a fabulous museum.

I'm adding it to my must-do-whenever-I-am-in-DC list!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On the Mall

The sun is shining when we land in DC, so we get out on the mall as fast as we can.

Perhaps today would have been a good day to go up into the Washington Monument, but we haven't arranged for tickets, so we continue on.

The World War II Memorial hadn't yet been constructed the last time I was here. Now it sits at the base of the Washington Monument, filling the space where once there was only an elegant reflection of the older monument. This seems an odd location. Actually, the monument itself seems odd - I can't figure out what it reminds me of, but Lane identifies it right away: Its design reflects that of a WWI memorial.

We walk around, rather than through, this massive period piece and end up at the stairs below the Lincoln Memorial. We skip that memorial as well and instead head toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

As we approach the elegant black wall, I wonder how a monument so simple and unobtrusive can engender such strong reactions.

And at first it doesn't. It seems like just another stop on the tourist trail. Has the monument lost it's power after repeated visits? Did I not recall it correctly?

However, as we walk along, a few names carved into the dark stone lead to a few more. . . and then more and more, a seemingly unending list. A loss too great to really understand.

At various points small gifts, pictures, and letters have been left by those who remember.

Everyone needs to remember.


It's unfortunate that the creators of so many other memorials on the mall couldn't figure out how to induce the emotional understanding that this simple memorial does. Maya found an unexpectedly perfect form for humanizing the cost of war. Perhaps the Korean War Veterans Memorial, with it's dead-looking soldiers perpetually slogging forward, is the only other one on the mall that even comes close.

Of course, one can always head out to Arlington and wander through the endless rows of white crosses. That is sure to get one thinking about the reality of war - especially when remembering that there are other cemeteries like this in France, England, Russia, all over the world. It is a blunt reminder that, even if you "win," war isn't something to celebrate. War is the result of failure. Sometimes it may be necessary, but it is never desirable or good.

Our route back to the hotel treats us to glimpses of some of the city's most famous sights.

We also pass the headquarters of the Daughters of the Revolution. DAR is sort of a family joke in our household, as someone in Lane's family at one time began the membership process, but a lack of interest combined with the organization's racist history prevented anyone from ever completing the process. The daughters do have a handsome building though, with carefully detailed features.

Around the corner, behind Constitution Hall, chicken and ribs are being barbecued on a large grill parked at the edge of the street. A group of African American men of varying ages cook the meat, guard the entrance to the hall, and generally just hang out. As we pass by, I think how far we have come since the day DAR refused to allow Marian Anderson to perform in this very hall and I wonder what show is taking place tonight that drew this group. Later I find out that it is Smokey Robinson.

Change is slow, but the world does move forward and maybe, just maybe, people can at least learn to tolerate one another - even if they can't actually learn to love each other.

Positive Coach Experiences

Today I did something I've never done before: I tried NWA's snack box. It was actually pretty good, for what it is. I think they've changed it since it first came out, since I recall the original as containing almost nothing I would eat. (Not that I'm a nutrition freak, but I'm not found of most chips or other fried snack foods.) Now it has a lot of dried fruit mixed in with cheese food, crackers, and cookies and, at five bucks, it was more than adequate to tide us over until we could check into the hotel in DC.

Actually, the whole flight experience was pretty good, with short lines and an empty enough plane for us to get a row to ourselves. It was a relatively pleasant flight.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hawaiian Nightmares

As I've mentioned before, I'm trying to plan a trip to Hawaii this January.

This seems like it should be easy - I have a little over two weeks and there are only a handful of small islands, all of which are major tourist destinations. A few guidebooks, some advice from friends, and I should be set. Right?

Not exactly.

I feel like I'm planning a vacation to a third world country (lots of roads where you aren't supposed to take a rental car, no indication of when - or if - closed roads will reopen, changes in regulations - or enforcement thereof - that appear to have wiped out half the lodging options I was considering, and so on), but at four times the cost of traveling to most other places. Ugh.

Fortunately, I have a friend in Hawaii and several friends here who have visited recently. They have been able to give me some good advice and plenty of encouragement. I also purchased a set of really thorough guidebooks, so planning IS moving alone.

It's just not a very fun trip to plan.

I hope Alaska is easier.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

DC On My Mind

A few weeks ago we were talking to a well-traveled friend-of-a-friend. He had been all over the world, but had never been to Washington DC.

I was a little incredulous: How can someone travel all over the world without ever visiting their own national capitol - and why would anyone want to?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, since we will be traveling there soon, so here - for those of you foolish enough to believe that DC is a miserable city fit only for politicians, lobbyists, and families with young children - are a few of the sites in D.C. that I think every American should see.

The National Mall at night: Despite the sunny, blue-sky scenes you see in the pictures, I like the mall best at night when the darkness focuses your experience, making it more intimate. Two sites in particular MUST be seen at night to really be appreciated:
  • The Lincoln Memorial is just another pile of carved marble during the day, but climb the stairs and enter the monument at night when it is bathed in a golden light. It seems somehow to come to life. As you read the familiar quotes inscribed on the walls, stop and listen to the voices of those around you as they recite those words aloud. The understanding of and sympathy for the human condition reflected in those words belies a wisdom far beyond that usually available to mere humans. . . there is hope.
  • The FDR Memorial almost seems designed for night-time viewing, when its "rooms" can only be seen one at a time. The effect is to sequentially experience one of our nation's periods of greatest challenge and change one event at a time. Ostensibly a celebration of the accomplishments of our 32nd president, it is more a monument to the strength and resiliency of the American people.

The National Mall during the day: A night-time visit won't quite cover it, so plan to spend some time.
  • Return to the Lincoln Memorial. Once again climb the marble stairs, but this time turn your back on Lincoln and instead look down on the mall as he might. Beyond the monument, the mall stretches out past the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument and beyond to the Capitol dome. This is, indeed, the "nation's living room," the place where we come together as a nation to celebrate and mourn, rejoice and hope, protest and pray. It is where Marian Anderson sang and Martin Luther King, Jr. told the world about his dream.
  • The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is nestled out of sight behind a slight rise. It is a quiet, sacred space that takes whatever expectations, clichés, or political baggage you may have and cuts through them, leaving you with a profound sense of sadness and loss. It doesn't matter whether you supported the war, opposed the war, or (like me) really don't know much about the war, as you watch the wall rise with addition of the names of the soldiers killed in each year, all you feel is the horrible pain of an entire nation.

The National Archives: "The what?" you ask. The National Archives is where America's "documentation" is stored. That sounds boring, but this enticing building hosts both a changing selection of fun and informational exhibits and a permanent display of our country's uber documents - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These are it, THE basis for everything else in town. Sure you can read them online, but every American should actually see them. . . and then spend some time thinking about the men who wrote them and the meaning of it all.


The United States Capitol: Ok, I have to confess I haven't been back here since the new security measures kicked in and I'm sure it is not as fun to tour now, but, really, there is something about actually being here that makes it worth the trouble. My favorite spot: the Old Senate Chamber where Daniel Webster and the other great orators of the 19th century shaped our nation.


The White House: Despite the current occupant and the need to arrange a tour far in advance, the White House has too much history to skip. You've heard of all these rooms and really should see them for yourself. By the way, after you do, will you let me know if the magnificent collection of contemporary crafts assembled by the Clintons is still on display?


The National Museum of American History: In this city devoted to politics, the Museum of American History reminds visitors that politics is just one element of the culture that makes this country what it is. It houses an amazing conglomeration of the stuff that symbolizes (for better or worse) who we are as a people. From Kermit to Einstein's pipe to the turbines originally used in the Niagara Falls power station, it's all here. . . or will be, once the renovation is complete next year.



The Great Falls of the Potomac may be the area's best-kept secret. Here you can discover a Potomac River that would look familiar to George Washington - a river that is wild and seemingly untamable. As you watch the surging water you'll think you have been teleported to Alaska, however, these falls are conveniently located about 10 minutes from the rental car return at Dulles airport.


Of course, I don't ever have time to do all these things on every visit and I haven't actually visited the White House since I was a child (poor planning during the Clinton years and a desire to deny reality since have kept me away).

Of course, there are many other sites I enjoy too. In a city packed with museums, galleries, and monuments, there is always more to see and never enough time to see it all.