Thursday, 25 September 2014

Mister Palazzo Goes To Washington - America Part 7

There was a moment when I was visiting Rome and walked into the ancient forum. Less than a sense of history, in the sense of "this is the way people lived then", I caught a powerful feeling of the man who had walked into this building, sat down and made the world what it is today. I had the same feeling at the Coliseum, a structure that above all others has shaped the way we see the world in term of real life and entertainment. So basically, you do have the Romans to thank for the Kardhashians.

It is a cliche to compare America to the Roman empire, but that doesn't mean that it is not an accurate depiction. Moreover, Washington DC as a city structure reminds me far more of large European cities than it does of other American cities. If you want to see the modern world as it put one hand in front of the other and pushed itself out of the mud, there is a walk you can take around Washington DC. If Virginia had the pioneering spirit, this city is what happened after the land was tamed.

The European influence is interesting, and I guess unavoidable. The city builders of the 18th and 19th century have a tremendous boner for classical architecture. It seems the height of intellectual and cultural advance is an ionic column.

After visiting the outside of the White House, I am at first shocked at how close the gates are to the front door (the movies make it look so far away) and then amused at how European the architecture of the leader of a people so proud to break away from Europe is. We see the roads closing to allow cars to pass into the building, as helicopters whizz around the river, a sense that Washington DC is not based around some stately home granted token power, but a city functioning fully to keep the cogs turning. If Virginia is perhaps the heart of America, then Washington DC is definitely the brain.

The White House is the full stop in our day's journey, by which point we have weary feet and educated minds. We start our day in the heat, grateful for the air conditioning prevalent in every building. A brief highlighted tour of the Guggenheim art museum and Air & Space museum. How about that, a brief tour of some of the world's greatest breakthroughs and milestones.

The National Mall is indescribable. A stretch from Congress to the Lincoln Memorial, punctuated by the Washington monument and the reflecting pool. John's mother later tells us it gives her chills whenever she visits Washington DC, and I get exactly what she means.

There are memorials for practically everyone, and they are all beautiful. We visit the Jefferson Memorial, a Pantheon tribute by the river overshadowed by the more popular Lincoln memorial but possibly more beautiful. President Franklin Roosevelt had all the trees cut down between the White House and the Jefferson Memorial so he could look at it every night. How could you not? All of America's ideals and reasons for existing encapsulated in under one dome. There are large stone enravings on the wall, underneath those are stone benches, where I sit and John takes a photo. It is possibly my favourite photo of myself, beneath the powerful words commanding "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

Onwards to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, a pretty and expansive series of walls and statues showing a man who lived through the Depression and led America through a world war. There is even a statue dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt, with rays of sunshine bursting through the branches overhead, the memorial feels entirely utopian.

The next memorial is dedicated to Martin Luther King, one of my childhood heroes, and it feels entirely fitting to see some highlights of his powerful words carved into rock while a statue of Dr. King appears to be carved out of a stone and pushed forwards, propelling him towards the bright future he bestowed upon everyone.

The Vietnam memorial is sombre, a long row of names on black marble. I even find a couple of Pizarros, with a phonebook sized guide helping to identify loved ones. To attach a life to each of those names, with the endless possibilites that are cut short by bullets and bombs. To delve further into that thought would be paralysing.

The Einstein memorial is infinitely more joyous, a burst of constellations at his feet, the smallest dot depicting Earth's place in our vast universe. It is a warm tribute to discovery and intelligence.

The Lincoln Memorial is busy and chaotic, as with most popular attractions there is little respect placed to the intention of the memorial by its visitors. There are signs calling for respect and silence, but they are ignored. Children are screaming, people are taking selfies by the oversized seat of the President.

We find a quiet-ish spot on the steps and look out to Congress, where we started the day. These steps, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech. Looking out onto the National Mall where thousands of people flooded to hear him speak and change the world. Overlooked by the President who abolished slavery. Chills, there is no other way to describe it.

- Jonathan Pizarro.

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