We left the charming, perfectly sized Halifax airport and flew south to begin the American portion of our North American tour. And really, if you are going to visit “America”, what better place to start than in Washington, D.C.? It gets blown up in all the movies, it’s on the money… face it, New York may be a cultural and economic hub but Washington still has a gravitational pull regarding the image of America. And yes, we’re both very aware of how politically fraught that sentiment can be, but here’s the thing – one end of American politics wants to lay claim to the trappings of the United States, but we don’t actually have to let them have it all. This isn’t a “them” and “us” idea – in fact, we repudiate the notion. No one side of politics should own American symbolism, it’s up to all of us to decide what they mean. And an easy way to take hold of these ideas is to visit the Capitol and make our own relationship with them.
Let’s step back a minute. It would be a lie to say that we decided to go to Washington out of a sense of renewing patriotism. Truth is, we have some close friends that are a military family, and one of them has been stationed in the D.C. area for awhile now. They have 3 kids all under 10, and it makes us sad that at least one of them has no idea who we are, and the middle one “probably” doesn’t either. Small daggers to the heart when you babysat them as wee bairns, but anyway. When we started to plan our “grand tour of North America” they were one of the first pins that we dropped on the map. So, yeah, D.C. was an easy choice but honestly, if they were stationed in Lexington, Kentucky our next stop would have been in the bluegrass state.
The first funny thing about the trip to D.C., though, was arriving at our hotel. Keep in mind, we’ve been living in Europe for almost two years (with a couple of emergency visits back tossed in). We come in to Reagan airport and catch the shuttle to our hotel. When it pulls up, we see… well, we aren’t sure what we see, not at first anyway. Walking in the doors ahead of us is a cluster of people in various wild costumes. John recognizes a couple of them as niche Star Wars characters, but they aren’t all science fiction. Come to find out, there’s an anime convention going on at the hotel that weekend! John said it felt like a deleted scene from David Byrne’s “True Stories”, with this weird only-in-America vibe going on while we’re going about some totally normal business. Nice kids, in any case.
The next day our friends picked us up and we got to spend a nice chunk of time catching up with the whole clan. As two people who have never had children, it was a lot of energy being in a household with 3 kids bouncing around. Honestly, we don’t understand how actual, full-time parents manage it, and from the looks we sometimes get from our parent friends we’re not sure that they do, either. 😀 But it was all good natured and it’s never boring having a child give you a tour of their room. Odd life-intersection: they have a Brazilian au pair helping out in the house who, like young people all over the world, could not have been less interested that there was some minor cultural cross-over going on that day. “Boa tarde!” we said to absolutely no response, and that was that. She stayed with the kids that evening while the adults skedaddled to Lyon Hall, which was a very nice restaurant that also served as a reminder that we weren’t paying Portugal prices any longer; yikes!
The next day we divided our forces; John was really keen to go to the National Gallery, and while the original plan had been for everyone to meet up the parents called an audible and decided that all 3 kids would have been too, too much to handle. So, dad and the eldest daughter met John. Which was a fine team-up, except that Lisa is a big fan of Alexander Calder and a huge piece of his work was hanging in the West(?) Hall of the Gallery; that’s the picture at the top. Still, there was plenty to entertain, including evil dolphins! (If you aren’t a long-time dedicated reader of this blog: before photos (or curiosity I guess) artists only had the stories of sailors to go by for what dolphins look like, and the result was a traditional of monstrosities like the one pictured below.)
John used to be surprised that there were outstanding collections of Western art in the United States since almost all of it was produced outside of the United States – and a fair amount before there really was a United States to speak of. Then it dawned on him (Lisa was gracious enough to let him figure it out on his own) that there were buckets of rich dudes in the United States just like everywhere else, and why wouldn’t they flex on their pals by owning fancy collections. Fast forward a couple centuries and the bequests to the National Gallery are on par with many of the best of Europe. The collection reminds us of the gallery of the same name in London – it isn’t the largest collection (at least on display at any one time) but they’re able to put on a heck of a show.
Now, these are the same friends that we traveled with through Scotland, and apparently at some point during that trip we must have had the classic “what is different about eating in Europe?” conversation. That’s because for dinner that night they laid on (homemade all) fried chicken, biscuits, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob. It was a heck of a feast, and an incredibly thoughtful one as well. Nourished in both our spirits and our bellies, we bid farewell and scooted back to our hotel. The next stage of the trip would be a drive south and we wanted to get an early start. So, off to early bed we went!