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June 24, 2002
Washington D.C.: musings (Russell)

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At a familiar address in Washington D.C. (Joss' shirt is from East Berlin; Cameron's is from Tanzania)

When we originally planned our one-year trip around the world, our intention was to concentrate on the places across the ocean, and save the U.S.A. for future adventures.  However, we had left the entire second half of our trip unstructured; and as the time grew nearer we changed our minds and decided to see a few key American cities before returning to California.  One decision we had to make was where to land on the east coast after departing London -- our choices were New York City or Washington D.C.  And after exposing Cameron and Joss to so many foreign capitals, we decided it was also important for them to see our own.

Most of the large foreign cities that we have seen are located where they are because the sites are attractive: a nice river or climate becomes a desired settling spot, which becomes a desired town, which becomes a desired city, which becomes a capital.  Washington D.C. is different: it was built on a swamp and has one of the worst climates in America.  Its location was chosen entirely as a compromise between the northern and southern colonies; the north and south each donated land to establish a capital that does not lie within any state -- hence its designation of "District of Columbia" (and Washington D.C. is actually smaller than it used to be -- years later in a snit, Virginia took back all of the land that it had donated).

So we have gone from an extreme of cold wind and rain everyday to hot and atrociously humid 95° F weather.  We packed our jackets away once more, and unpacked our visors, bandanas, and short pants.  We also put away our passports -- we won't be needing them anymore.  We will not get the reverse culture shock that we had once expected by going directly from Europe to Cupertino, California -- instead, we will ease ourselves back into the American way of life gradually, as we work our way from the east coast to the west.

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Coping with the heat:
Cameron invents a new hat to shield him from the sun
Joss uses his bandana in a unique way

We adjusted easily to cars on the right side of the road.  The thing that most struck us was the sudden proliferation of news: USA Today with four sections instead of two, hotel televisions with 24-hour news on multiple channels, and rows of newspaper stands with readable headlines (on Sunday, Cameron was thrilled to see a whole section of Sunday funnies again).  We were also struck by how dark it is at this lower latitude.  In the United Kingdom, the sun would rise before 5:00 AM and still be up after 10:00 PM (it was very difficult for any of us to get a good night's sleep).  On June 21st in Washington D.C. -- the summer solstice and longest day of the year -- the sun rose at 5:43 AM and set at 8:47 PM.

We are staying for six nights at the Washington Suites, a small hotel on the western side of the capital (near Georgetown, George Washington University, and Foggy Bottom, for those who know the area).  It is a nine-block hike to the nearest landmark -- the White House -- but the Foggy Bottom metro station is only two blocks away.  We are in a one-room suite, with the adults in a double bed in the bedroom, and the boys on a sofa bed in the living room.  There is a full kitchen complete with dishwasher -- advantageous, because neither our hot pot nor our electric burner will work in U.S. outlets (we have plug adapters, but we haven't yet bothered to pick up a voltage transformer -- Europe operates at 220/240 volts, while America operates at 110/120 volts).

A small Asian-run market a block a way does booming business, as it is the only market anywhere around.  We split our meals between home-cooked food bought from this market (including our first macaroni and cheese in ages), cafés in the various museums, and takeout pizza (Papa John's, of course).  Fortunately our breakfasts were all taken care of; the Washington Suites includes complimentary continental breakfast in its small dining room (Joss favored Raisin Bran, while Cameron discovered apple & cinnamon muffins).

As we browsed through the "Where Washington" magazine in our room to plan our excursions, we saw that there was a Stephen Sondheim festival going on at the nearby John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  We were all excited to go and see "Sunday in the Park with George" -- Sondheim's profound musical play about the nature of art (it would provide excellent closure to our art studies) -- until we walked down to the box office and saw that everything was sold out.  We toyed with the idea of Russell waiting in a standby line for two hours on June 22nd, until we realized that he thought it was important to Gail while Gail thought it was important to him.  So we scrapped the play, and instead took the boys to see Spider-Man at the Union Station cinema.  (We were amazed at the Washington D.C. movie audience -- people were chatting with each other tthroughout the movie, and talking back to the characters on the screen.)

The rest of our week here was spent on excursions to the various museums and monuments.  Because our time was scattered over so many days, we will talk about these adventures in separate letters.

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Enjoying our nation's capital:
Gail meets one of the natives
Russell takes a break during a hot and exhausting day of touring

 

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