The fourteenth day of the trip started fairly late it must be said. Traveling from NYC on a bus with an intense stop in Phily had worn us out a little. Phily doesn't get a fair mention in this blog due to time constraints but the talk with author Thomas Hine was so interesting and engaging that it was actually hard work to conduct. There I was sitting face to face with a seasoned journalist and writer, who was I? I just tried to me, asked questions, contributed to the conversation and did my best not to seem like an idiot and in this I think I did well. To put this in physical terms it was like trying to keep up with a seasoned marathon runner. It could be done but there was only one person who was going to feel the pain the next day. And DC was that next day.
I had sat down to have some breakfast, Muesli, or a kind of this anyway, when an English lad called Andrew came along and began to talk to me. He was dressed up in a formal shirt and jeans, very English I thought as I looked at him. He was a nice guy though, working in the Labour Party back home so I knew that I was talkign to someone here with a bit of intelligence. The problem was that I wasn't quite fully awake as he talked while putting some peanut butter on the toast that had just popped frmo the toaster. I thought, looking at the peanut butter, that it had come from Safeway where I walked earlier to get the Muesli. When I was there I was quite suprised by the amount of people who were shopping on this Sunday morning after the July 4 fireworks. It was packed full unlike the corner store I went to earlier before reaching Safeway. The corner store was fairly barricaded, a feature of the community businesses it seemed, and hadn't any real selection of cereal. I really watnede Muesli and had stopped myself buying some in Boston so there was no way I was having breakfast without bits of what looked to be rabbit poo but were actually raisans, in my cereal. Safeway it was then but getting in there was hard, I couldn't find the door. Walking around the massive shopping centre walls I came upon it and also came upon those crowds I talked about earlier.
After a little while I began to tune in to Andrew to the point where we both hit on the same thought. He was traveling alone, clearly not with a girl of any kind because surely no girl would allow him out in that long sleeved shirt. We talked and came upon the idea that perhaps he should come out with Donal and I to see the sights. An extra body would do no harm and he was affable and talkative so it made sense and withing the day we walked the National Mall seeing the outside of the Captiol Building and a lot of memorials that night.
The thing about DC is normally, well apparently anyway, the humidity that exists there in summer. On this Sunday we were lucky for the heat wasn't unbearable as we walked but it was getting late in the day so....actually that's not a bad reason for staying in bed, it was a strategic decision, not a tiredness issue after all. Any jury would agree I'm sure, even in the US Supreme Court, a building's steps of whom I climbed after losing the two lads at the Capitol Building. That's what happens when you bring a camera though, you want to get better shots, see different angles and make the most of your time and I tried to,k even if that meant a million dollar text to Donal's Irish phone number to meet back up with them after I losing them completely. It turned out I had been gone for an hour but in DC it is easy to lose yourself in thought as you wonder about the buildings, what they really stand for, what freedom really is and whether this place is one of contradictions, the centre of an empire with unfmailiar clothes or simply a place which history decicded would be built in a European style, to rival those Europeans.
After catching back up with the lads, we went to eat in Quizznos Sub. Well ,they did. I choose not to do so, as I wasn't in the mood and didn't fancy going there in the first place but I wasn't about to winge for I wasn't starving. A thing about travel is that the apple cart can be very easy to upset and ruin things between two people although it's different with groups I suppose. With two, the balance is easy to unfurl and with no real reason to complain, I didn't. Besides, even if I was hungry, what was coming up next would more than distract me from it.
Having walked a lot of the National Mall, the long corridor containing the Captiol Building, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial etc, it would have been a shame to have missed out on the chance to finish it off, at night, and so we walked along it, curious as to where the crowds of people were for it was a Sunday night and as we walked we felt as if the whole city belonged to us and us only. Had the police erected barriers to prevent people from seeing us walking around? I have discussed rules and regulations here before so anything is possible. Our first port of call was the Washington Monument, a staggering tower dedicated to the man who is revered over here as the first Presdident, great leader and all around good guy. The name should give it away. Looking up at this tower, having seen it so many times before on other media was something quite special and while I have no allegiance it to it, it made an impression. The whole Mall is meant to really for it is the heart of America's freedom rheteoric and what a heart! Needless to say there were plenty of American flags fluttering in the wind around the monument and at this point I took off to see if I could see the White House, which I did but only from afar as the Police presence was obviously quite large and I didn't know my way around the rear section where you get closer to the most powerful home in the world. At this stage it was dark, the moon had risen and was clear in a night sky of dark navy blue and I wound my way through sidewalks, seeing the Organisation of American States building, a place where many important decisions had been made but which seemed to have little significance for most walking by. So much so in fact that I easily laid the camera on the ground to allow it take a steady 4 second shot of the building.
The task in hand now, as the clock ticked by, was to find the two lads who I said I would meet by the Lincoln Memorial, a sight to behold at night. I walked through parkway seeing it in the distance and knowing that if only I hopped the little chain along he side of the path I could cut through and get there a lot quicker. This would certainly have been done at home but not here in DC. This place is hallowed ground, it is like one massive church of liberty where American cicitzens come to worship and pay their respects. I was certain that walking through the grass would not only bring me some funny looks but also a police man wondering if I had escaped from a mental insitution. That was fair enough really, I couldn't simply make up my own rules here, I wouldn't appreciate it if Americans back home decided to walk across...well, Turners Cross.
I finally reached the Lincoln Memorial as it passed ten o clock. The view from there down the reflecting pool that, well, reflects the Washington Monument, was something to behold but glory is not always as true and noble as it can be. Walking down to the nearby Vietnam War Memorial I was thrown into an area of darkness, slant light, poorly formed reflections and thouands of names, 58,261 in total. I walked along the wall, walking down into the ground to it's centre and then back up as I exited what I can only describe as a wound in the ground. A nescessary wound to remember those people who fought in a war that personally I think was pointless and based on lies and false theories. Upon walking up I saw a man, not dressed like anyone else at the wall, asking people if they needed help looking up a person. Some didn't acknowledge him, it was as if they didn;t want this man, who was a veteran of this war, to remind them that this war was real. Here was living proof and to the right of him was symbolic proof etched in a wall. I contemplated turning back so as not to engage with him, I couldn't see him properly and didn't know what to say and for that doubt I still feel a little bad. Who was I to judge him? My feet took me by him where I answered him that I didn't need help with the wall but that I appreciated his asking. How could I not acknowledge this guy? He was here of his own accord, perhaps gaining some solace from being around people that, etched in the wall, he may once have served alongside. This man had probably seen things that I never want to see, experiences that none of us can ever be prepared for and people, few as they were, ignored him. I was glad then when one group did indeed ask him some questions. Being honest, I wanted to ask him what it was like out there but what was he suppossed to answer with? He was a man, not a talking exhibit and I thought it was best then to listen to what he was being asked by others as igonarant as that in itself sounds. One thing stood out for me - 35 sets of brothers were killed in that war. Having a brother myself this was something that took me aback. How can one possibly explain that to a mother and father?
I finally climed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a temple like structure modelled on Zeus temple in Greece. You can't help but be amazed, it is outstandingly well made, lit and although it has no press button machines to "learn more about Lincoln" it didn't need them. It seems to me that in America everything has to be bigger, better, or extended to again and again. The Lincoln Memorial stood simply without need for any of this and was better off for it.
And I must say, I was better off for having Muesli supper when we got home to the hostel.