I skipped the sides, and I had no time to walk it all the way back over to the Capitol, currently being renovated….
It’s just too big. And it’s meant to be. All in white, in that white-marble-column style that evokes Rome and ancient Greece, the Mall is nothing less than Imperial.
This is the NEW ROME.
Ok, when the US designed its capital, and especially the National Mall which was planned in the early 1850, no one could foresee that, by the second half of the 20th century, the world would indeed be run from here. But they planned it that way, just in case… It speaks of a will to impress, to show off its mission.
I only had an afternoon, and I only scratched the surface.
I started at the White House, having a glimpse at all the tourists with selfie-sticks and reading a few of the always present protester’s signs. But I skipped visiting the inside.
I was actually not even thinking it could be visited at all. With all the post 9/11 paranoia, the controls on airports and endless questions at immigration, the thought that the White House would be open to visitors didn’t even occur to me. I was actually surprised I could walk up as far as I did.
I would have had to arrange a tour in advance and contact my embassy, the site says… nothing I could be bothered with on the only sunny day in DC.
It was funny though to stand in in the very place I had seen countless times on TV, when reporters with serious faces reported ‘live from the White House’ on some political decision, earthquake or scandal.
As often, I am somewhat surprised to see that the iconic places I know from TV or Hollywood movies actually do exist. It’s probably that the image in my mind is so surreal, that I rather feel like I fell into a movie set than think I am actually there.
Off to the Monument, an obelisk built to commemorate George Washington. Made of marble and others, it is both the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk, standing 169 meters tall.
It was surrounded by a circle of fluttering American flags, with great views over to the Capitol, its dome in renovation, and to the Lincoln Memorial, and over across the Potomac to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
Again, you can visit it, but you have to prearrange, or, alternatively, stand in line one or two hours prior to opening for the few available day passes. None of which I had done, so the aerial view of DC and the Mall will have to wait for another time!
I walked downhill towards the river, crossing the Memorial of World war II with its two wings, both honoring the Atlantic and Pacific ‘theater’ as they call it, respectively.
Along the long ‘reflecting pond’, which, from the Lincoln Memorial, gives a beautiful reflection of the Obelisk with the Capitol in the back. Beautifully planned and executed. Unfortunately, the wind made the reflection of the Obelisk a bit blurry. But I got the idea.
I spent more time at the Lincoln Memorial, this massive, column-clad structure that houses the marble statue of Abraham Lincoln, looking out through the columns and over the country he once saved, re-united, devastated (in the South) and freed.
Sitting there in his chair, he evokes a benign grandfather, watching over his people with good-will, but always with an expression of determination, as if he knew his children needed to be watched.
I should have come back at night, as some friends suggested. For the visuals, I am sure the whole structure and statue is even more stunning lit up at night… but also maybe because there would have been fewer people around and the atmosphere a bit more quiet.
Where to head now? I could have walked all the way back and further on to the Capitol. My friend Renato had given me passes from his Congress representative to pass as a citizen and get one of the tours… However, I was already knackered, and would not have been able to take in much more.
Arlington, the national cemetery however seemed to be a closer walk, just across the bridge spanning the Potomac river, and so decided to walk over there.
Nice side effect: The cemetery lies in Virginia, and as I am actually visiting something, Virginia will count at state #21 on my mission to visit all 50.
It had a nice, serene atmosphere, and even though it was a warm day, I could grasp a hint of autumn in the air. Nice on a cemetery with all those graves, and the first leaves falling.
I just strolled around and walked up to the JFK grave site, where he and Jacquie O. found their final resting place (there, not so serene, tons of tourists, of course.)