Friday, December 14, 2007

December 3, 2007 - Washington, D.C.

Washington is a great place to play tourist with a car. Parking is prohibited along most major thoroughfares during the morning and afternoon rush hours; so, by the time we rolled our lazy bums out of bed and made our way downtown, there were plenty of places to park our car. The first item on our agenda was lunch with one of my former co-workers. Brad met us at Rasika, an Indian restaurant. We all agreed that the fried spinach appetizer was absolutely amazing. Brad inadvertently reminded me how glad I was not to be employed by whipping out his Blackberry several times during lunch. In fact, the only time I've missed my job this past year was while trying on shoes at Nordstrom with my mom just after Thanksgiving. As I stared down at the beautiful coral snakeskin open-toe sling backs, I suddenly longed for the desk job that allowed me to wear such ridiculous shoes.

After lunch, we headed over to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The exhibits begin on the fourth floor, so we made our way over to the elevators, where we each received an identification card assigning each of us the identity of one of the European Jews, gypsies, Czechs, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, communists, political dissidents, homosexuals, Freemasons, or Jehovah's Witnesses who lived during the holocaust. Although the museum was clearly uncrowded, the docent insisted that we and two other adults crowd into an elevator along with a giggling pack of high school students. The crowding seemed unnecessary, until the doors opened and we realized that the gray, steel-clad elevator was designed to look like a gas chamber and that the crowding was intentional, as it was meant to recreate the experience of entering a gas chamber. As the doors closed, the students fell silent. Over the next two hours, as we moved through the museum and mingled with the students, we noticed that they never regained their jocularity.

The HMM puts the museum visitor right inside the experience, rather than allowing him or her to stand at some remove and simply view exhibits. At one point the path through the exhibits winds through a boxcar once used to transport European Jews to ghettos and concentration camps. At another it passes under the sign "arbeit macht frei," which once hung over the gates of Auschwitz. At yet another, the visitor finds himself or herself standing inside a portion of a bunkhouse from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The whole experience is profoundly personal.

At 4pm we had to move our car, so it was off to the Tidal Basin to check out the FDR Monument.
Continuing the mid-century theme, we trekked over to the World War II Monument, which looks like something that would have been erected in Vichy France. Totally disappointed, we headed off to that standard-bearer of monuments - the Lincoln Memorial. Inspired and uplifted by this neoclassical classic, we headed back to the car by way of the Vietnam Memorial, which, like the HMM, connects the visitor with the individuals who experienced the conflict, making the memorial that much more moving.

We were to meet our friends Jar and Cara for dinner at Marvin, a new restaurant in their neighborhood, so we made our way over there. The streets in D.C. are numbered and lettered, but occasionally the grid is interrupted by monuments, universities and parks. After finding our way to Shaw from the Tidal Basin, without the help of a local map, we figured that we were ready to send in that application to be contestants on The Amazing Race. We had great fun catching up with Jar and Cara over fried chicken and waffles at Marvin, and over eggnog back at their place. On the way back to our bed at Eryn and Graham's place in Foxhall Village, we managed to wind up in Virginia - and decided to hold off on sending in that Amazing Race application.

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