After all of that madness the day before, I don’t think I can be blamed for sleeping in a bit later. I regretted it somewhat, as I was hurried throughout the day making sure I saw everything I wanted to see, but there were no troubles at all; in fact it was another good day. Not as good a day as the one before, clearly, but will another day every live up to that one of childhood heroes and future kings? Probably not. I’ll be happy to have happier days, but if that was the pinnacle, I accept it.
Years ago, I read Le Mariage and then Le Divorce. Maybe the other way around. I can’t remember. They were odd and wonderful novels that I enjoyed rather more than I can explain. I’ve always been fond of a book without much of a real plot, after all; that’s surely why I enjoy those books about a detective agency in Botswana. Anyway, in one of the books, one of the characters was married to an eccentric film director who had a collection of rare documents. One of his treasured pieces was a bit of a Gutenberg Bible. Ever since, I have had an inexplicable desire to see one. I adore books and history, but that’s not reason enough. I’ve never been one for reason, so I suppose I shouldn’t psychoanalyze myself quite so much. Anyway, to cut a long story short, there is a Gutenberg Bible in the Library of Congress.
To my surprise, the Library of Congress was just outside my front door. It was literally five minutes away, and it is an absolutely stunning building, surely the loveliest in Washington. I didn’t see one that charmed me more. It felt like being back in Europe.
The line to get in was quite short, but it was easily the most uncomfortable line I’ve ever been in, and I’m including the time I was on a freezing London street in February with the voice actress who portrays Piglet in Germany while waiting to see Eddie Izzard. That was a weird night. Anyway, standing behind me was the creepiest man I’ve ever encountered. He didn’t look like a creepy old man, but he surely was.
“Oh, I see you went to Hooters,” he giggled, talking to the pre-teen ahead of me. I was nervous immediately.
“Yeah,” the boy muttered in response. “My mom took me.”
The creepy man laughed, “You’ve got a cool mom, a really cool mom.”
The cool mom in question and I exchanged horrified glances. We were soon at the door, and because I’m a gentleman, I held it open for him. He grabbed my hand on the door, held on to it as he thanked me, and then said, “My, my, those are certainly some shoes. I’ve never seen anything quite like them.”
I was wearing my shoes covered in spiked studs. They are subtly violent, I think, but still quite cool.
I just nodded. I didn’t know what to say. I was deeply uncomfortable.
“I say,” he continued, smiling, “if you ever get into a tight spot, you could just kick your way out.”
“I haven’t had a chance to try them out…yet.” I replied, and he was soon finished trying to molest me. It was so awkward.
It took two seconds to find the Bible once I was through the security check, and it was wonderful to finally see something I’ve so long desired to see. I think, now that I’m thinking about it, that I am so fascinated by it because the book has one of the first ever fonts. I’ve always loved fonts. I recently deleted about two thousand of them off my laptop. I had an addiction.
Upstairs you can see the remnants of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library that he sold to found the Library of Congress. Many of the tomes in the original collection were burnt in a fire — the common enemy of antiquity — but what remains is interesting and varied and I wished that I spoke Latin as I looked over the spines. Thankfully, he had quite a collection of French books, too, so I didn’t feel too ignorant.
As I was exiting, I noticed what looked like an Egyptian pot in another room, so of course I scuttled in there. They weren’t Egyptian at all, it turns out, but rather ancient Mayan.
I was captivated. I know ashamedly little about that culture, but I think that is a common flaw amongst those of us interested in history. So much information is dedicated to Egypt and China and Greece that we forget about the remarkable cultures of the Americas. I was transfixed by the art and how similar it was to Egyptian mythology in depiction. Of course it wasn’t the same at all, but it had the same feeling. Got me thinking. It was a wonderful exhibit, and it’s a real shame that we don’t see more Mayan and Aztec art. Where is it all? I know that there is much less of it because it comes from jungle areas, but it still seems so strange to me that I’m so very unfamiliar with it. I’ll remedy that soon enough, I’m sure.
From the Library of Congress, I made a lengthy and unnecessary trip to the Octagon House. If you’re going, this can easily be skipped, but I’ve long been curious about it.
For many years now, I’ve had an interest in Hans Holzer. He was one of the first famous paranormal researchers in modern history. He wrote prolifically and quite beautifully about his work. One of the books I have had a section all about an investigation of the Octagon House, so I simply had to go.
You needn’t if you ever find yourself in Washington DC, though. Well, don’t make a trip out of your way for it. The building is absolutely lovely, the rooms are pleasant, and there are rarely any other tourists, but it’s not that interesting.
I probably spent twenty minutes looking at the various rooms and hoping for a ghost in the rather creepy basement, but no luck.
I was on a quick time table, as I’ve mentioned, so I skedaddled back down Pennsylvania Avenue (after a quick stop for a rather good egg salad sandwich at Breadline on delicious olive bread) to the National Archives. The lines were blessedly short and in a few minutes I was in the Rotunda viewing the founding documents of our country. Everybody has seen the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and all that in facsimile, but it’s quite something to see the actual paper where everybody signed. Surprisingly, these documents are hardly legible anymore. I was rather stunned by how faded the ink is.
On one of the lower levels is an original copy of the Magna Carta, and it is much clearer. The ink still looks fresh! This made me curious as it’s a much older document, but I was too busy to spend much time on mysteries of fading ink.
The National Botanical Garden was my next stop and I wish that I had visited much earlier as it’s such a beautiful and peaceful place.
There are a number of rooms devoted to different types of plants: desert, medicinal, orchids, and then the large room in the center is a massive jungle with an elevated walkway where you can saunter through the palm fronds. It’s absolutely spectacular, and I had the best time. Palm trees always do that to me.
I had just a couple hours before the Smithsonian museums were scheduled to close, so I begrudgingly headed to the modern wings of the National Gallery of Art. When I was nearly there, I happily discovered that further down is a museum dedicated to Eastern art, so I literally sprinted there. I don’t run, but readers, I loathe modern art with such a passion.
The Freer and Sackler Galleries are strange. I enjoyed my time there tremendously, truly, but it was such an odd and disjointed museum. After walking past some lovely Japanese scrolls, I bumped into a pharaonic bust.
Good old Egypt, I smiled, curious as to what this mustachioed ruler (a rather rare depiction — the Egyptians were not fans of hair…anywhere) was doing in the middle of the wings on Japanese screens. I never did find out.
I walked and I wandered and I hurried away from one of my fellow tourists. I have never heard such a load breather in all my life. Every inhalation she took, I swear she was going to bust her lungs open. It is certainly odd to be so annoyed by somebody else breathing, but good lord Beyoncé, you could hear her from fifteen yards away.
There were staircases that went down and down and down and down and suddenly I was in the bowels of Washington DC in the most interesting display about a man named Wendell Phillips. The wall outside the entrance was covered with this huge quote and I was immediately fascinated:
Herein lies the story of a dream, which like many dreams occasionally achieved nightmarish qualities…I warn all others to whom romance, adventure, science, travel and the lure of the unknown beckon that the fulfillment of their dreams may also bring up on them the torture of split lips, swollen tongues, frozen fingers, dysentery, fever, heartbreak and monotony beyond compare.
What a marvelous statement! I have many interests in life, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, but being an adventurer is certainly one of them. I had the best time last summer in Egypt exploring someplace so new and exotic. That trip had the feeling of one of those wonderful Gilded Age escapes filled with danger and adventure. I’m hooked on it, surely as I love travel so very much.
You’ll notice that Wendell and I both like to rock a turban. Distant cousins?
The exhibit showed items from a misguided expedition in the 1950s which took place in modern Yemen. I was enchanted and sure, once again, that I was born at the wrong time. I doubt this Wendell fellow and I are related, but I intend to find out. We have the same surname, after all!
Now all the museums were closed for the day, but I still had a few hours of daylight left, so I headed out to see the Jefferson Memorial. This was not as easy a feat as I had imagined. You have to cross a very busy highway in a seedy spot of town to get to the Basin. I wasn’t the only confused one, and I was latched onto by a group of Japanese teenagers since I was the only one who had a working phone. This was odd, I thought, but when they asked for help, I gave it so that I could use one of the only phrases in Japanese that I know, “GANBARIMASU!” It means something like “I will do my best,” and they all lost their shit. Good time.
We soon found the memorial, and I left my flock to explore the area. It’s the best of all the memorials, I think, and feels rather like entering ancient Greece.
The view was particularly spectacular, and I regretted that I wasn’t there a few weeks later when all the cherry trees were scheduled to be festooned with blossoms. I’ve always wanted to see a cherry blossom festival, but the one I have my heart set on takes place in Kyoto, Japan. Someday it’ll happen. Japan has been on my mind often.
My body was wrecked with exhaustion. Over the past three days I walked an average of fifteen or more miles a day and at this late stage, I was feeling it, but I still had a lengthy walk back to the Capitol since I wanted to see the Ford Theatre and I needed to find a post office or a mailbox. Infuriatingly, I couldn’t find one anywhere, so I just popped in the fanciest hotel I could find — the beautiful Willard — and sent off a few things.
Back in the apartment, I packed and readied myself to head home the next day, thoroughly satisfied with my days in the nation’s capitol. It was truly a fabulous time.
The journey home was smooth and the plane rides were surprisingly comfortable. Nobody sat next to me on the first and I had my own row on the second. I also met a woman with the most amazing glasses. One lens was circular and the other was a square. She was charming and reminded me of Iris Apfel. If you don’t know who that is, shame on you:
So, I can heartily recommend you visit DC if you love art or politics or history, but not if you’re looking for food. The restaurant scene is lame and the bakeries are absolutely pathetic. Because of this, I could simply never live there. I need quality pastries or I’m a monster.