Friday, March 31, 2017

A Day for Memorial Monuments in Washington DC--And a Slap-Up Tapas Dinner

Saturday, Mar 18, 2017: Washington
A Day for Memorials:

As it turned out, the weather improved considerably today. The deep freeze, in which we seemed to have been stuck, lifted, much to our relief, for we had ear-marked this day to explore the outdoor memorial monuments scattered around the Mall and the Reflecting Pool. It would involve a great deal of walking and, indeed, by the end of the day, we had walked 7.5 miles. Yes, I do have a pedometer app called Moves attached to my phone and that is how I know exactly how much I walk each day. (My daily average is 4 miles while my record is 25 miles on a single day.)

Marian set us off on a way with a substantial breakfast that included bagels and croissants with butter and preserves as well as good coffee. She dropped us off at the metro station from where we boarded a train to the Smithsonian stop. We emerged on the Mall itself. It was the first time we were setting foot on this broad green expanse which was recently so much in the news as the debates raged on regarding the real crowd size for Trump’s inauguration which took place on it.

Viewing the Washington Monument:
We took a series of pictures of the Capitol in the background on one side and the tall obelisk of the Washington Monument on the other. It is no longer possible to climb up to the top of it—security restrictions are rife. Across the street we saw the Museum of African-American History and Culture, the newest addition on the Mall. Unfortunately, it is so impossible to get tickets to enter it as demand is overwhelming. Despite the fact that we awoke at 6.30 am on two consecutive days to get tickets online, we were unsuccessful. We have simply decided to wait for another occasion.

The Jefferson Memorial:
From the Washington Monument, we walked for quite a distance until we arrived on the banks of the Tidal Basin across which is my favorite monument in the city—the Jefferson Memorial. This Neo-Classical Rotunda, modelled entirely on the architectural drawings of Italy’s Andrea Palladio, is a recreation of Jefferson’s beloved home, Monticello (which we visited a few years ago). Since both Llew and I have been inside this lovely place, we avoided the long walk to actually get inside it and instead skirted the Tidal Basin. In doing so, we walked under the famed cherry trees for which Washington is renowned and which give the city a spectacular appearance in the spring. Hundreds of cherry trees were gifted to the United States by Japan as a symbol of friendship—ironically just before the onset of World War II. We had arrived in the city just shy of the blooming weekend—for the arrival of the blossoms is greeted in Washington, just as it is in Kyoto, Japan, with exhilaration. We arrived at the spot where the first two trees were planted (marked by a plaque and a Japanese stone lantern) and too pictures.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Monument:
Our next monument of discovery was the Dr. Marin Luther King Memorial which is a new addition to the cityscape, having been installed long after we were last in the capital as tourists. It is an immensely interesting piece of work: A towering sculpture of a very stern-looking Dr. King emerging out of a massive piece of granite. The bottom quarter of the sculpture is left unfinished. The piece of marble containing the sculpture seems to have detached itself from a larger stone block at the back—indeed, Dr. King’s portion of the sculpture seems to have stepped forward to dominate the spot. He stands solemnly with his hands folded on his chest. The following words are engraved on the side: “Out of the Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope.”  I thought that the entire conception of this monument was ingenious. All around the location, there are quotes from the various speeches of Dr. King. They evoke quite vividly the huge struggle for civil rights in this country through the turbulence of the 1960s.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Monument:
On foot we continued as we made our way to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Monument on another side of the Reflecting Pool. I was especially keen to get there as we had seen Lawrence Halperin’s designs for the venue at the National Building Museum, a couple of days ago. What we found was a vast plot of land devoted to recounting the achievements of four Presidential terms in office enjoyed by this one individual. (There has since been an amendment to the Constitution that permits no more than two terms). As you walk through each term represented by an individual ‘room’ created by delineating rocks, you are presented with a sculpture denoting the salient historical feature of that period. There are the long bread lines of the Great Depression, for instance. There is also a sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt, his loyal companion, who played one of the most effective roles of First Lady in the 20th century. As you move through each ‘room’, you are completely impressed by the glorious achievements of this man.

At the very end of the monument, you come upon a massive bronze sculpture that has weathered to a green verdigris patina. FDR is seated in a chair wearing a vast cape around him to hide his wheelchair. A few feet away sits his dog, a Scots terrier. As was well-known, FDR was physically handicapped (having suffered from polio which made it impossible for him to walk). He was, therefore, always confined to a wheel chair. The disabled in America were deeply offended by the fact that the sculpture hid his disability and they insisted on the installation of a second sculpture that would portray him on the wheelchair he designed himself. Hence, while the original sculpture is to be found at the end of the monument in front of cascades of cooling water, the one in which he is depicted on his wheel chair is right at the beginning of the monument. Inside, in the gift shop, the visitor can see one of the actual wheelchairs that FDR used and which he designed and fashioned himself using a wooden kitchen chair. We found the entire visit deeply moving for we have visited FDR’s home at Hyde Park on the Hudson and were quite familiar with his stupendous achievements during World War II, his New Deal that give us Medicare and Social Security payments during our retirement and his Fireside Chats.

Lunch at a Local Kiosk:
            Being that our day was steeped in Americana, it was about time we stopped and filled our bellies with the typical great American meal: cheese-chilli dogs with fries and sodas. And that was exactly what we found in one of the kiosks run by the National Park Service on the Mall. We found ourselves seats in the sun and took a much-needed rest as we enjoyed our very tasty but very casual meal. Lunch done, in the shadow of the Neo-Classical Lincoln Memorial, we got up and continued our exploration.

More Memorials to Peruse:
The Korean War Memorial:

            The Korean War Memorial was very close to the lunch kiosk and it was there that we went next. In a most interesting composition, a couple of dozen Americans are seen knee-deep in tall vegetation, draped in the long, loose rain ponchos that they wore while in Korea fighting the least-known of the American wars. They are seen trooping towards the American flag in a curving single file. The entire vignette is deeply engaging. Alongside them, there is a black granite wall that has been engraved with the faces of Americans who served in Korea. Since it was a coalition war, fought with the assistance of UN troops, the names of the many countries that participated in this war, are also engraved on low stone markers. Overall, a most moving portrayal of courage in the face of danger.

The Lincoln Memorial Monument:
            Right across the street stood the marble edifice of the Lincoln Memorial—so that was our next stop. It sits high on a hill overlooking, in arresting symmetry, the Reflecting Pool that stretches in front with the Washington Monument at the other end of it. This time, we did climb the stairs to enter the monument and to take in Daniel Chester French’s magnificent sculpture of the seated Lincoln (a Marquette is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) as well as the engraving of the entire Gettysburg Address. The interior of the monument was simply swarming with people--indeed, it was the most crowded of the memorial monuments. It was also about 2.30 pm by the time we arrived there. The day had warmed considerably and it was very pleasant to be out in the sunshine that seemed to have sneaked into the city after a particularly frigid week. Needless to say, we took a number of pictures before we carried on.

The Vietnam War Memorial:
            The next memorial we saw was the Vietnam War Memorial—both of us had seen this before on previous visits to the city. The rather stark monument was designed by a young architecture student, then at Yale, named Maya Lin. She won the competition for a monument that would comprise a black granite wall that would be engraved with the names of the thousands of Americans who perished in that most notorious of recent wars. On past occasions, we have found mementoes of the visits made by war veterans in honor of their lost comrades. This time, there was not much to be seen. But again, there were hordes of people everywhere. Not far away, is a newer monument that recalls the role played by women in the Vietnam War—non-combative in those days, but nevertheless, deeply significant.
The World War II Memorial Monument:
            And finally, we arrived after a nice walk alongside the Reflecting Pool, at the new World War II Memorial Monument that is the newest addition to the Mall. It is composed around another pool with fountains that play constantly. Tall granite columns rise up, each representing one of the American states. They are crowned by wreaths and carry the name of the state. There is also a Wall of Gold stars, one star for each thousand soldiers that died. There are friezes designed and created by Ray Kelsey that encircle one side of the monument (we had seen the Marquettes of these at the National Building Museum). Overall, we were left feeling deeply subdued by the amount of American blood that has been spilled through the dreadful wars that checker the country’s very short history.

And by this time in our rambles, it was just past 4.00 pm. We had been almost entirely on our feet since 10.00 am and had already walked about 7 miles. We were more than ready to return to McLean and when we received a text from Marian telling us that she was headed for the 5.00 pm Mass at her church, we decided to try and get there in time to join her as we would be on the road, the following (Sunday) morning and would probably not be able to get to Mass.

Mass in McLean:

            Marian’s church is one of those modern amphitheatrical affairs with the altar in the center of a pit that offers views from every part. It was quite packed for a Saturday evening and the congregation was composed mainly of Filipinos and South Asians. It is these communities that seem to keep Roman Catholicism alive and worshipping around the world! It was a good mass with a very traditional bent—far more formal that our masses in Connecticut.

            As soon as it was done, Marian drove us home to her house. We stayed long enough to enjoy bowls of tasty ice-cream provided by her daughter Anjali who works for Coldstone Creamery and who is entitled to a tub of ice-cream every so often. It was our last chance to chat with Marian and Anjali before we said goodbye to them, piled our overnighters into our own car and made our way to our next port of call—Reston, Virginia—for we were switching home again for the last night of our visit.

Arrival at Reston:

            Reston is the residence of my cousin’s daughter Carol, her husband Ajit and their kids, Nick and Dia. We had spent two nights with them quite recently en route to and back from Charlotte, North Carolina, and since they thought our time with them was too brief, they insisted we return. However, this entire week they were busy with a professional move—Ajit is an orthodontic surgeon and Carol is his Office Manager. The moving of the premises of their own family-run business (with Ajit’s sister Mala, who is also an orthodontist) had consumed their week, but they were keen that we spend at least our last night in the area with them. We were delighted to do so as we really do enjoy their company tremendously.

            We arrived in Reston at 7.00 pm to an uproarious welcome from their dog, Duke, who is the friendliest fellow you ever did see! He greeted us like old friends and it was only after he had calmed down and we had a chance to chinwag for a while that the Brittos suggested dinner outside. We were ravenous and quite ready to leave in two cars. We would follow them as they took us back into downtown Washington DC for they had made a reservation at Jaleo’s, a very high-end restaurant whose chef Jose Andres, has developed a sterling reputation as one of America’s most note-worthy, at the moment.

Dinner at Jaleo’s on our Last Night in Washington DC:

            Ajit and Carol are foodies—so we found eager partners in crime as we sat ourselves down to enjoy the very interesting tapas-based menu on offer. But first, drinks. At Ajit’s suggestion, we ordered a pitcher of sangria for the table. It was surprisingly bracing and refreshing at the same time with citrus fruit floating in it.

            As for the meal, in a word, wow! Going slow and pausing between orders, we had a variety of tapas items that went down a treat—from chorizo sausage with mashed potato and cider sauce to salmon, from bacon-rapped dates to Spanish omlette, from a Brussels sprouts salad to garlic shrimp (which was awesome)—between the six of us, we tasted about nine of the tapas dishes and each one was better than the other. For dessert, we chose to share the Basque cake which was served with cinnamon ice-cream—a real palate-cleanser, after what had been an astounding meal. It was the most unexpected and truly ritzy end to our meal for the space was huge, the décor modern, the service impeccable and the company exuberant (just as we expected). It was a fantastic way to catch up with the Brittos and their kids and we had a truly grand evening: the crowning glory to what had been an incredibly exciting week in Washington. We thanked out relatives profusely for their generosity for they insisted on treating us and made us promise that we would return again soon to partake of a meal at the famed Little Inn in Washington, which all of us had wanted to try at some time or the other.
       Until tomorrow, see ya...


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