To plan a visit to DC and hit the major spots Fodor’s or lonely planet offers more information . The following are my impressions over a period of years.
I have been to DC couple of times by now. In 1998 we were dropping off a friend to the university of Maryland and stopped at the world bank to pick up another friend and drove by the usual places - the sheer curiosity to see capitol hill ( by twilight ) and the white house. In 2002 I took classes at the Washington DC campus of Syracuse university. In 2007 we marched to capitol hill and in 2008 I was one of the few who represented north east petitioning to the congressman and the senators ( aka their legislative aides).
This was the first time we were real tourists – tourists with a purpose – to see the city of power and why everybody wanted to have a piece of it in time. On a student’s budget we wanted to find “free parking" and hence drove to Hill wood museum, which once belonged to Mrs. Post the daughter of the Cereal magnate C.W.Post. The largest collection of Russian artifacts outside Russia( that were being thrown out after the czar was ousted was bought by Mrs.post in rubles. The china, the kink knacks, the vases ( there cannot be enough gold in Russian artifacts of the czar ) was displayed splendidly in many of the outhouses and the main home itself, which also had housed the French collections. Anybody who likes intricate carvings and too much of gold and intricate designs and all that goes with the royalty’s taste of pomp, glitz and bling in every object this is the place to be, though all of this made me feel dizzy.
Our next stop was the National Cathedral . Fortunately there were no security checks here and the place was open for all visitors. Made in the gothic style and standing Tall (looked like 20 plus feet ceiling to me ( i guessed badly) it is 301 feet according to washington.com) it emitted rays of power and oozed “ Majestic and bombastic”. Just the place where powerful people and presidents would attend. Towards the evening a very kind looking old priest came in and said the evening prayers with 20 or so visitors on this new years eve. Since it was a cold breezy evening we postponed to explore the outsides on our next visit. I have seen architectures that would catch every eye, but this one did not command such attention, but demanded every bit. The capital of the US was true in its every sense – Every other building had “national” on it or something related to it.
it was January 1st and when we drove into the city we enjoyed the privilege of empty roads with pedestrians or dog walkers. And park we could, anywhere we liked! Dressed head to toe with only eyes visible to see we walked towards the mall ( the essence of the US shopping – only this time – the art galleries, aquarium, natural history museum, and the Smithsonian were all along this square.) There were many tourists like us but this was so much unlike the DC that I had seen before – Crowded, dressed in black, poker faced men and women going to work in the government offices , consulates , non-government and international organizations which the city is known for.
The cold wind was kissing us and a cup of coffee was also scarcely available !( 99 percent of shops are closed on the 1st of Jan) Another tourist whom we met mentioned how he had to book the tickets to visit the white house almost 3 months in advance through his state senator. DC was a ghost town except for some visitors who was around the mall. I was even surprised that the confusing DuPont circle also wore a deserted look. - a place that I have got lost many times on my way to attend classes . I heard a 20 year old yelling out on her phone, “ I have nothing to do in this god**** town!"( Actually there is so much that one can and see and do on a working day) The buildings looked all the same” was another comment that I heard many tourists say. Some new buildings had steel and glass. B-O-R-I-N-G is the architecture of many new buildings. it would be difficult to win a guessing game to identify the buildings except for the few monuments, the capitol hill or the white house, but the old neighborhood of the capitol with run down houses was colorful and warm. Just like the most of America cities the official part of the town, looked homogenized.
The buzy , bustling town in George town was more expensive than the SOHO of New York. My initial impression of the people of Washington including the many diplomats that make their temporary home here was that they all wore a poker faced look, trying to look powerful and all knowing ( Read: The black Swan to know more) Every country consulate was trying to hog a bigger and better mansion than the others! Every policy analyst and lobbyist trying to get as close to the congress man. It was power play at work. Wit, cooperation, coalition , intelligence, charisma - all of these and many more were in action when the people in power and those who wanted a slice of the power pie played.
Politics was a business in this city. And the players of this sport played it at every game irrespective of the number of players. DC was a complex composition. Add components like manipulation, lie, cheat, and deceit, subtract the nervousness, increase or decrease the number of players, you have a new game, but the sport remains the same . And once you get a steady hand in the game you are the power - lock, stock and barrel. Only now the formula will have to be more accurate. You need it all to stay in power and weld it with every kind of flexibility to Stay put. However the ultimate game of governance will only get going when the animosities of the players are reduced to as much as zero, and business be taken care of.
My visit to this city will always refresh – not for the place but for the people who live here and work here and call it their home. of those senators and the congress men and their legislative aides who want to bring governance. They started with an idealism that bought them to this business to bring forth difference in the lives of the citizens who elected them to bring about welfare that would reform their lives. During the ride some loose it and some abuse it and very few become a pragmatic idealist. But if they completely loose themselves and misuse them the people can throw them out,thank goodness to a democratic way of finding this lion of the jungle.
We saw President-elect Obama banners at book stalls, shop windows and even the freer gallery. “Presidents come and go but the problems of poverty, war, disaster, racial discrimination, health care, education have continued to remain in varying proportions.” A man who once looked at politics with cynicism, but have waded through deep waters including initial indifference of empty halls of meeting him when he first ran for senate a few years ago now will take office in a few days. Only time and people will be the true judge of How he will conduct the business of politics, the biggest sport played in this city.
P.S : Georg has left an interesting piece of info in the comment section. Thanks Georg.