Tuesday, 22 April 2008


D.C. grows on you once you give in to Americana. Yesterday when I arrived from Denver via Chicago, I was met by heavy rain accompanied later by thunder. As the imperfect seals in my shoes proved unequal to the deluge, I squidged joylessly through one of the greatest collections of Western art: Picasso's blue period gave me no pleasure; Rodin's "The Thinker" was uninspiring; not even the early 19th century Romantics could lift the malaise.
Huddling under an umbrella and trudging from shelter to street. A long bus ride to the hostel. Crumpled newspaper to draw the moisture from my shoes. An Italian guy and French girl making out in my dorm room. A long sleep in a good bed.
Today I expected more of the same, but for some reason it was different. The Washington Monument, the reflecting pool, the Lincoln Memorial, iconic all. But then a view of the White House lawn with minimal security, and a hot dog and Coke from the Good Humor truck in the park. Things had begun to turn, and so I took another run at the National Gallery of Art, and it came alive the way it was meant to. Ingres and Gainsborough and Martin and da Vinci and Monet, with light and colour and tiny brushstrokes and delicately overpowering vistas.

D.C. is a contrivance, an awkward competition of gargantuan frontages. Like other centres of indoctrination (Disneyland, et al) it is always full of children, and is artificially pristine. Smoking is never seen; cleaners prowl the promenades; police are omnipresent. The licence plates say Maryland, West Virginia, New York; I saw just one DC plate. The only clue I got that this city is the murder capital of the OECD were the bizarre junkies in the men's bathroom at Union Station. They huffed and skeeved and argued and blew raspberries and traded clothes. The station complex is an Arcadian wonderland with winding staircases and vaulted ceilings, which made the po-faced toleration of the bathroom circus by security all the more strange.

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