Haley Goes to Washington - Day Two

On our only full day in D.C., we made a relatively late start to the day, grabbing breakfast at a cost-effective little cafe near the hotel and across from the Arlington County District Court, and frequented by a sizable number of policemen from the police station housed therein. It wasn't particularly memorable, as far as breakfasts go, and we were soon on the way to visit the Washington Monument, which Abel had spotted from his taxi the night before, and therefore wanted to see in person. We didn't actually go up in the Monument, as I had done that on my first trip to D.C. over a decade ago, and experienced what I believe was my first panic attack, induced by acrophobia.

Still, we enjoyed taking a gander at the imposing structure, and Katie regaled us with a story about how the Washington Monument came to be two different colors. Evidently, Congress did not appropriate sufficient funds, and the project ran out of money when the monument was a mere third of its proposed height. It struggled forward for a number of years, was further delayed by the outbreak of the Civil War, and was not completed until the 1880s, when the original stone was no longer available.

How trite is this picture? I couldn't resist though.

From the Washington Monument, we progressed to one of my requested tourist destinations, the new National World War II Memorial, which was conveniently located nearby. Completed in 2004, the Memorial is the newest addition to the Mall, and its construction was not without controversy. With war veterans passing on at an ever increasing rate in the 1990s, Congress was eager to facilitate construction on a memorial for the war. After all, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial had been completed a mere six years following the end of that conflict. Therefore, Congress removed many of the approval process requirements for the project, leading many architectural critics to malign its vainglorious and trite iconography.

The view from the Washington Monument towards the Lincoln Memorial, with the World War II Memorial. The construction of the World War II Memorial was also controversial because it obscured the previous, uninterrupted vista.

The monument consists of 56 columns, bearing the names of the 48 states, two territories, and six U.S. protectorates who were involved in the war effort. Two towers represent the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, and each has a fountain inscribed with the names of each theater's main battles. All things considered, I did think the architecture was a little reminiscent of the grandiose structures favored by fascist dictators, but I consider that more appropriate to the time period than some sort of abstract contemporary design. Not to make generalizations about the so-called "Greatest Generation," but I sense they would probably appreciate having a memorial designed in a traditional style to which they can easily relate. Besides, cheesy as the Memorial was, I still found myself overwhelmed with emotion as I thought about how many lives were affected by the war. What more can you hope for from any memorial?

My favorite part of the World War II Memorial was the bronze frieze lining the entrance, which depicts the ways in which different Americans served during the war, both on the battlefield, and on the home front. This one could have been Paw-Paw, who was a mechanic with the Flying Tigers in China.

The memorial is inscribed with many quotes about the war, but this one was my favorite.

Abel and I in front of the Pacific section of the memorial. We both have grandfathers who fought in that theater.

These 4,048 stars represent America's sacrifice during the war. Each star stands for 100 American lives that were lost.

Because the World War II Memorial rests in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Abel decided he wanted to to see it up close as well, so we slogged along the edge of the Reflecting Pool. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until we were quickly overcome by the aroma of stagnant water and goose feces, which turned the ground into a veritable mine field. The experience was less than pleasant, to say the least.

I don't really have much to say about the Lincoln Memorial, since I've seen it before, and I'm rather Lincoln-ed out at the moment, because we are currently in the "Year of Lincoln" at work. We've revamped our "Lincoln Treasures" exhibit, brought in a full slate of Lincoln speakers, and are preparing to open our feature exhibit, "Lincoln Transformed" later this summer. Suffice it to say, Lincoln has lost his luster in my eyes.

Tripod photo time! Abel, Katie, and I in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Soon, however, it was time to move on to my second requested visit of the day, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Also relatively new, the FDR Memorial was completed in 1997. Its style is a marked departure from the other presidential memorials in Washington, as it is far more personal and down-to earth. Somehow, I think the originator of the "Fireside Chats" would have approved. Instead of a single imposing structure, the memorial consists of a series of rooms adorned with statues, symbolic water elements, and quotations representing different eras from FDR's four terms in office.

This statue represents Americans waiting in bread lines during the Great Depression.

FDR is pretty much the reason why I am a liberal today. This quote exemplifies why he is my favorite president.

The main sculpture of FDR includes his beloved dog Fala, and is the only presidential monument in Washington to include a pet. Elsewhere in the memorial is a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, the only statue of a First Lady included in a presidential memorial.

Katie and I with FDR's famous Four Freedoms.

All in all, I rather liked the FDR Memorial. I enjoyed its modern sensibility, and all the open, green spaces made for a nice place to pause and contemplate all the tremendous changes in our country that Roosevelt oversaw. I thought the use of water was quite clever as well: a single large waterfall represented the crash of the stock market, a series of organized cascades represented the construction of dams and hydroelectric power under the Tennessee Valley Authority, a chaotic collection of haphazard waterfalls and rapids represented the calamity of World War II, and a series of small waterfalls falling into a single basin represented global collaboration in the post-war era. And, I loved all the quotes. Roosevelt has my vote for most eloquent American president of the past 150 years, and it makes me happy that Obama is trying to bring eloquence back in our day in age.

When we'd finished at the FDR Memorial, Katie's energy was starting to fade, and everyone was craving lunch, so we made a valiant effort to find a taxi, when instead, we spotted the Jefferson Memorial nearby. Since none of the three of us had seen it before, we decided to make a quick visit, figuring that it would be a popular enough site to be able to find a cab there.

Katie and Abel at the Jefferson Memorial.

Jefferson, with the immortal words he penned for the Declaration of Independence.

I particularly liked this more obscure quote from Jefferson. These words should serve as a reminder that in no way whatsoever was our country founded to be a Christian nation, but rather, one of religious tolerance and a firm separation of church and state.

I've only recently begun to appreciate Jefferson among the Founding Fathers. I'd always felt a certain affinity for John Adams, the devoted patriot who never gained the acclaim and admiration of our nation, yet who was just as important to the creation of our country as Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin. Yet, a few months ago, I stumbled upon a quote from Thomas Jefferson on the topic of religion, and it really stuck with me. I really appreciate his views on the necessity of separating religion from governance, and I think it's a lesson that many contemporary politicians could do well to take to heart.

At the monument, we decided that burgers sounded good for lunch, and given our president's prediliction for burger runs, we decided to try out Ray's Hell Burger, site of Obama's first burger outing. As predicted, we were able to secure a cab from the Jefferson Memorial in short order, but unfortunately, 411 could not locate a listing for the restaurant to give the driver the address. Abel's Japanese iPhone was operating less-than-favorably outside of its home country, so I ended up calling Mom and asking her to Google it for us. As it turned out, the restaurant was only a couple blocks from our hotel, and we had no idea.

Obama's visit had conferred an incredible amount of noteriety on the hole-in-the-wall joint, which didn't even have a sign. The only way to locate it, short of its alleged street address, was the huge line of people snaking out the door and down the block. We may have been starving, but we were also intrepid, and we waited it out for about 45 minutes.

Ray's Hell Burger -- if it's good enough for Obama, it's good enough for me. Who am I to argue with the leader of the free world?

As it turns out, a number of local and national publications have conferred "Best Burger in D.C" status upon the venue, and the menu boasted a variety of high-brow toppings. Foie gras, four year cave aged cheddar cheese, imported brie, and roasted bone marrow were all on offer, but I opted for the more conventional toppings of American cheese and bacon. The meat, ground in-house from the scraps leftover at the restaurant's sister institution, Ray's The Steaks, was loosely hand-packed and very juicy. The only thing lacking, in my opinion, was some sort of seasoning on the beef -- it was bewilderingly bland in spite of being perfectly cooked. Perhaps some salt would have been in order? Nevertheless, I was glad to say that I had eaten where Obama ate, and I felt a little closer to his spirit having been there.

After lunch, Katie was still tired, and deservedly so, after all the exertions of the day, so we decided to retire to the hotel, where Katie could enjoy some television. Abel and I had no excuse, but soon, all three of us were enjoying an afternoon nap. Our lunch had been so filling that we felt little motivation to seek out dinner, and we passed the time with a television airing of Independence Day and chatter until we realized that it was far too late to go out for food. 

Instead, we ended up using Abel's computer to locate Piola, an upscale pizza place that was willing to deliver to the hotel, and soon, a sausage pizza and a classic pizza margarhita were on the way. The pizzas were cooked in a wood-burning oven, and were perfectly acceptable, although my heart still belongs to Chicago deep-dish. After eating, we finished up our movie and walked Katie back to her apartment, thereby bringing our big day to a rather anticlimactic end, which was just fine by me.

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