Sunday, May 11, 2008

DC: Mall, Monuments and Memorials

So the last time I was in Washington DC, it was the Johnson Administration (Lyndon, not Andrew, so keep the smart-alec remarks to yourselves). And the city has changed since then, in that all the buildings are now shorter than they were when I was eight. The Lovely Bride got us a hotel in the Embassy District among the upper letters of the alphabet, and we took the Metro to the mall and walked. A lot.

We did the ever-popular Lincoln and orbitted the queues lines up for the Washington. The Viet Nam memorial, the "Wall" was beautiful and wistful now that all the trees have come in, the depressed pathway cutting off all the street noise. It was also the most packed, a living memorial of school groups and vets and people searching for names. The last is becoming a smaller group over time - the LB and I are 50 and we missed the closing moments of that war.

The Korean War memorial across the way, picks up some of the reflective motifs of the earlier-built Viet Nam, with the reflective wall, this one not filled with names, but with faces. It overlooks a field of ponchoed troops on patrol, silver ghosts moving through the far-off battlefield. It was much less populated, and as a result, more reflective.

The WWII memorial, situated at the feet of the Washington, was grand and expressive, concentrating on the contribution of the states to the larger effort. Open, dramatic, and solid, it was a more triumphant commemoration than either of the walls. It was here that we saw our only protest on the Mall - a group of Filipino WWII Vets seeking their government benefits and pensions.

We also found the Grant memorial, mostly forgotten though it is situated between the Capitol building and the mall itself. At least it is hidden in plain sight, as opposed to the Garfield Memorial (The president, not the cat), which dominates one of the traffic triangles to one side.

We took the long walk around the (overflowing) tidal pool to the Jefferson, a beautiful memorial in my mind in that it is a low dome from a distance, but once you arive it is filled with sweeping, vertical space for the Statue and the man's words. We continued around to find a true gem in the FDR memorial, a series of stone enclaves tracking FDR's terms. The use of stone, water, and bronzes we amazingly effective to make FDR the most humanized of the men honored. His initial bronze was life-sized and shows him in his chair, and at the end has the Yalta-shawled president, larger-than-life, with Fala at his feet worn shiny from the hands. I was impressed deeply by how moving the monument was.

The other thing that dominated the mall was people playing games. We have old pictures of sheep grazing in front of Grant's White House. Now the mall is filled with kickball and fastpitch softball teams from every department and company. That may be the best memorial to modern America, a living one that is always moving, always active.

More later,