Saturday, December 5, 2009

Maryland, Day Two

Whew. Today was busy, and I am wiped out. I don't know how much detail I will go into (knowing me, more than is necessary.) Today I took the Metro into Washington, DC - Our Nation's Capital. My goal was to do things that I had never done before or couldn't enjoy as thoroughly with kids there. I am that stereotypical person who never visits the places in her own backyard, but will travel thousands of miles to see some other state/country's monuments. Today I plan to rectify that a little bit.

First up was the Library of Congress. First established over 200 years ago, the Library of Congress (or LOC for short) was started with 700 books and 3 maps, procured from England at a cost of $5,000. These books were lost in the fire of 1814, when England invaded America and set fire to the Capitol building. The next installment of books came from Thomas Jefferson who sold his collection of 6,000 books to Congress for something like $24,000. Some of these books were lost in another fire, causing someone to finally decide to put their books in a new, fireproof building. Or at least fire-resistant. Whatever.

The LOC is a gorgeous building. The entry hall was ornate and the ceiling looked like it belonged in a cathedral. I didn't see too many books, to tell you the truth. The books are in closed stacks, only available to researchers, and mostly in other buildings. This building was more like a book museum - it was a richly decorated building built for the express purpose of housing knowledge. The Library of Congress is less a library and more of a shrine - a place to worship not just knowledge but also the book itself, the very paper and ink and binding.

As you can imagine, I loved it. I desperately wanted to be one of those librarians who are privileged enough to walk along the 650 miles of bookshelves and find the exact right book some researcher needs. Maybe I need to consider librarian as a future profession.

When I was done with the tour of the LOC, I headed across the street to the Capitol building for a tour. I love tours, by the way. It's the best way to see the highlights of an attraction while getting peppered with random facts along the way. Tour guide is another profession I would just love. This tour was slightly less interesting to me, but the building itself was nice. Rotunda, nice, Statuary Hall, nice. We didn't get to see the actual House or Senate chambers, though, so I kind of thought, what's the point?

It turns out that I didn't need a tour to see the chambers - Senate was in session today, rare for a Saturday, so I was able to go up to the gallery and sit and watch the Senate debate health care reform. I have to say, it was so much more interesting in person than it is on CSPAN. I've read a lot on the topic so it was interesting to watch the senators themselves argue for and against parts of the health care bill instead of reading political commentators' interpretation of what they said. I had a few observations:

-The room was almost completely empty. There were about 7-8 democrats in their seats (although I can't be sure they were all senators, and not aides or something) and the republicans would only pop in when it was their turn to speak. What's that all about? Can't they be bothered to sit in their chairs the whole time? What's the point of debating when there's no one there listening?

-Even though no one was there, they must have been listening to some extent, because John Kerry made a point (on a giant blue placard, no less) comparing the democrats' plan to cut medicare costs to something that John McCain said in his campaign. Five minutes later, McCain came in, placardless, and when Kerry's time was up, McCain stood and made a rebuttal. So they are somewhere listening, apparently.

-The senators get their facts from Both Kerry and McCain referred to that website as proof that some point they wanted to make was true. That's kind of cool, although I hope that isn't secretly owned by a secret cabal consisting of GM, Aetna, the AARP, the Teamsters, and Microsoft. Let's hope they stay impartial - the senators are counting on it.

-Neither side seems willing to actually compromise. Both seem to think that the best offense is a good defense, so neither side is open to admitting that their plan has weaknesses. The democrats that I heard today were 10000% convinced that their plan was so perfect, so correct it might as well have been written in stone by the finger of God. The republicans kept saying, "No, it's not, no it's not, no it's not." They practically had their fingers in their ears saying "Nanny nanny boo boo, I'm not listening!" How on earth do they expect to come to an agreement that both parties think is best if neither side is open to collaboration? I truly believe that compromise isn't an option - the democrats would rather beat the republicans than come up with a plan that the people want, and the republicans would rather lose completely so that when the democrats health plan starts costing seriously more money than they expected, they can say, "See? We told you so!" This is not the way to make a good decision.

-The senators need a lesson from a good marriage counselor. We've got a Venus and Mars situation here, two groups of people that are from completely different planets. They sounded like a couple having an argument where by the end, they aren't even arguing about the topic anymore, they're just arguing to argue. They are bouncing from topic to topic, and I am starting to believe that they can't even agree on what they are fighting about anymore.

Sorry to get all jaded and cynical and political in the middle of a vacation blog. I probably should have expected it, given that I was going to DC and all. The political ideal that the Capitol building was created to house is sound, but I think politicians have lost their focus, which is to make the best decisions for the people they represent. You want to know why we have such abysmal voter turnout? It's not that we don't care - it's that we feel like what we care about doesn't matter, at least not as much as what the lobbyist or the donors or the special interest groups care about. I know it's hard to make "out of many, one", but I think we need to try something else, because this isn't working for a lot of us.

Well. Ahem. So sorry about that tangent. I loved watching the senate debate, though - it was eye-opening and fascinating and, yes, a little irritating, but being there live made me feel like I was a part of it. One of the senators kept turning around and addressing the gallery, as if he realized that we, ultimately, did have some say in this. I loved watching the procedural stuff - a motion to have something included in the record, objections, ceding the floor, "Madame President" - I ate that stuff up. It was one of the highlights of my day.

I left after about an hour of watching because by then it was 2:30 and I was starving. That was one of the things I couldn't have done with kids, not only because they would have been too loud, but also because they couldn't put a meal off for 3 hours without some serious repercussions. I made the long, long trek to the Smithsonian from the Capitol building (okay, maybe it was 3 blocks, but it was so windy my umbrella kept turning inside out, and I needed the umbrella to keep off the rain/snow situation) and had a late lunch at the Museum of Native American Art, or something like that. The docent at the LOC recommended it.

I walked across the Mall to the National Gallery of Art. I spent an hour or so wandering around, looking at paintings. I like landscapes much better than portraits, I learned. When I realized that I was barely looking at the paintings anymore, I realized I had reached my cultural input maximum for the day and decided it was time to head home. I accidentally walked all the way around the outside of the building which put me near the wrong Metro stop. I ended up taking the green line to the red line to the orange line, when the other stop would have been orange all the way. But I figured it out, all on my own, and didn't look any less confused than other people there. In fact, I practiced my jaded, I'm-a-local,-none-of-this-impresses-me look to great effect on the Metro.

I got back to my car, eventually, and after a short detour through Cheverly (incidentally, the town where I was born, thank you very much) made it home in one piece. One tired piece, I should say. My legs are throbbing. But that is the sign of a successful day of tourism. If I came home and my legs were just fine I'd have to call the day only subpar. I'd accuse myself of not appropriately carpe-ing my diem. And I certainly wouldn't want that to happen.

Tomorrow I head back to the burg, Eldersburg that is.

Ooh, look, pictures!

This building behind all the trees is the Library of Congress. At the top is the Flame of Knowledge. So cool.
All around the inside of the main hall are these great quotes about books and learning. This one says, "Ignorance is the curse of God - Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven."
The ceilings were just stunning. The docent called them Italian Renaissance style.
I wish this camera had a wide-angle lens so I could have gotten more in this picture. There's no way to capture the majesty of this room. Oh, wait, yes there is!Behold the entrance hall of the LOC, courtesy of some website where I grabbed this. I love the internet.

The view of the Washington Monument, waaaaay off in the distance. Okay, so it wasn't that far, but did I mention how freaking cold it was?

Two views of the capitol building, one from the Mall-side, one from the Library side.
This is the frieze that runs along the inside of the Capitol rotunda. The original artist who painted these scenes (there are 16 that depict different times in history) miscalculated how much room it would take, leaving him with several feet of blank space. It wasn't filled in until the 1950's.

This is the painting on the ceiling of the dome - the Apotheosis of Washington. Dan Brown talks about it in his new book, but the book was too boring for me to remember what he said about it. Maybe if the book had been more scandalous...


Anonymous said...

That is so cool that you saw Kerry and Mcain today! They are like... B list celebrities!
Loved the phrase "carping my diem"!


hdknowles said...

Love your description of the LOC - spot on.

Nice that you got to see the inner workings of our Senate (the lack of other senators in the room is normal - I always find it interesting how these sessions are shown on CPAN - no one is ever there, but you'd never know it from the camera angle). Despite that, it is exciting to see it in person.

I hope your lunch was good. I haven't been to that museum yet, but the reviews on the food there have always been really good. Maybe I'll take a day off from work and visit that museum.

Glad you were able to visit our fine Nation's Capitol during our first snowstorm of the season. I'm sure Eldersburg got more snow than we did in Hyattsville, but it was very pretty when it was falling.

rachel said...

Okay, that picture of the LOC entrance makes me really want to just go and stand there, taking it all in. I am glad you are having fun. I like your descriptions and analogies of the politicians - like children, or people who need marriage counseling. That is great!
Oh, and it is FREEZING here too - so don't feel like you are missing any great weather here :).