Friday, 12 November 2010

The Homecoming - Part Two

I WAS awoken from my slumber in the basement early on the Saturday morning in Washington DC by the most unusual sound of children whose accents were an amalgamation of American and Irish.

It was a little after 7am and I had gone to sleep only four hours later, due to still being on Vancouver time. Nonetheless I was happy to have been woken so early as it would afford me a few hours to take in the American capital before going to the airport. The children in question were the daughter and son of my gracious hosts. Two more charming kids you won't find, already on their way to being trilingual due to their Spanish language school and Gaelgoir mother.

They were kind enough to lend me a bike and a map of all the attractions worth visiting in Washington for someone with an extremely limited amount of time. Their home was only a few minutes cycle from all of the Washington landmarks which are for the most part within close proximity to each other.

First stop was the imposing but beautiful US Capitol which forms the centrepiece of a group of similarly grandiose buildings that included the US Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Congressional Office buildings. Sadly, I could only cycle past lines of visitors waiting to go on a tour of the magnificent building.

From there, I proceeded down along the National Mall towards the Washington monument. Along the way I ran into crowds of tens of thousands, all on their way to the 'Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear' organised by political satirists and faux ideological opponents, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Part comedy event but also a gathering of those in favour of reasoned discussion, as opposed to the extreme and highly vocal stereotypes so often associated with American politics, this was something for which I wish I could have hung around.

As I cycled past on my bike, Cheryl Crow was singing to the huge crowd - later estimated to be over 200,00 people - and while she wouldn't be my cup of tea, the idea of the event and the fun that was being had was certainly up my alley. Many carried signs indicating whether they were members of 'Team Sanity' or 'Team Fear', some were dressed up in ridiculous outfits. True to the event's ethos, everywhere you turned, calm and reasoned conversations seemed to be taking place regarding how the US was being run and where it was headed. And in keeping with the rushed nature of my morning, I had to move on all too soon.

In contrast to the celebratory feel of the rally, the memorials to America's many wartime efforts were very sombre but beautiful in their own way. Most chilling among the memorials was the one dedicated to those who fought in the Vietnam war which consisted of a long black wall bearing the names of soldiers lost in the conflict.

Even though America has entered and is still partaking in another futile war in much more recent times, for many the memory of Vietnam is still very fresh. Evidence of this could be found in visitors tracing names from the wall on to pieces of paper while others placed newspaper clippings carrying news of their former loved ones underneath their name.

For me, the Lincoln Memorial was the most impressive feature of my bike tour around DC. The walk up to the majestic building along the long, iconic reflecting pool brought back TV memories of Obama's inauguration celebrations, Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech, and of course Forest Gump jumping in the water after recognising Jenny at the peace rally.

I am sure I have seen the Lincoln Memorial many times on the big and small screen but as I stood in front of the statue itself the only previous occasion on which I could recall seeing it was while watching The Simpsons. Unlike Lisa I didn't go up and ask Lincoln for advice on anything (there were too many tourists around) but I was transfixed by the workmanship of the statue and the temple in which it sits. Alongside Lincoln are two of his best known speeches, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, which are chiseled into the inner walls.

Now for the part where I truly expose myself for the idiot that I am. As I was cycling back past the Washington Monument towards a few of the city's museums, I noticed a bunch of lads around my age playing a game of soccer. I took stock of their ability while rolling slowly past, and conceded to myself that even though they were American they were still probably all better than myself at the game.

Then I pulled on the breaks. While watching the kick-around, I had caught sight of something big and white in the background, a house, a white house, The White House if you want to get into specifics. Shockingly for someone who still loosely describes themselves as a journalist, I had almost cycled past one of the most famous political landmarks in the world.

Well, wouldn't you know it, I've been struck down by laziness again. This two-parter is becoming a three parter folks. Hear my tale of an encounter with Barack in a few days time. So long.

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