Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Blog twenty-five: my little piece of D.C.

Sunset over the Jefferson Monument, D.C.

So I’m in Cumberland, MD – on my way to Chicago on the over-night AmTrak. I’ve had a whirlwind few days in DC and my first few days of flying solo now Cáit has gone back to Notts. It’s been strange not having her here as we are, as a couple, whilst fiercely individualistic and independent, very close and sometime live very much in each other’s pockets. I think when we were in New York I was a bit preoccupied with work and the enormity of the trip and should have spent more time enjoying the short time we had put aside to try and be together whilst I’m here but I’m much better at these things in theory than ever in practice, however our last full day in NYC was super special when I tried to disengage scholar-brain more.

In my last blog I left off on my bus from NYC to DC and now I’m on my next transport leg. When I arrived in DC I headed straight to the apartment of Cáit’s family friend Mary, who lives just over the Potomac in Arlington, VA. After quickly settling in I caught the Metro a few stops to Arlington Cemetery to pay my respects to the men of the 82nd Airborne’s 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment who, in 1943-44 were stationed at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, before their dropping into occupied France as part of the D-Day landings. It was very special and incredibly moving to be at such a venerated place in the national psyche as Arlington and to make a connection that had impacted so many people across the world, but also in microcosm so many ordinary Americans transplanted to West Nottingham and the people they met there. The 508th got on like a house on fire with the locals, according to the sources I’ve read, and were especially popular with the women working at Players. The 508th memorial, a plaque and some fir trees, is in the shadow of the Tombs of the Unknowns, which are under 24-hour ceremonial guard – carried out by the 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard. I watched their step-perfect changing of the guard with all its pomp and solemnity as the sun started to set.

D.C. FDR memorial in the Tidal Basin.

On Saturday, after a free coffee at Commonwealth Joe in Mary’s neighbourhood who were celebrating their birthday, I spent much of the day criss-crossing up the Mall from the Capitol, to the courts, to the White House, to the Washington monument, Lincoln memorial and war memorials. I had a stop off in the Smithsonian Museum of History – getting a glimpse of Lincoln’s top hat, a tree stump scarred by musket balls and cannon at the Bloody Angle, the original flag which inspired the Star-Spangled Banner after the War of 1812, one of the original copies of the Brown decision, Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Indiana Jones’ hat and whip. It was an amazing array of America and its cultural artefacts and culture. I was disappointed by the First Ladies’ gallery which reduced much of their contributions to frocks and crockery. I’d hope Eleanor’s response would have been a stern letter to the curators on UN headed note paper. I also completed my FDR memorials tour with the Archives Stone (the monument he requested on a scrap of grass outside the archives building which is a block of white stone no larger than a desk and is markedly similar to the grave stone in the Springwood garden) plus the larger traverse-through memorial in the tidal basin, which fittingly includes tributes to Eleanor, his policies in the New Deal and, popularly based on where folks were queuing up for photos, Fala the dog! In the evening Mary and I had dinner at her apartment and then watched the end of the Patriots-Falcons game.

Today (Monday), was another hot day (the weather has been scorching whilst I’ve been here, but I’m looking forward to jumpers weather and 12 degrees in Chicago!) but humid and I had my big bag today ahead of my train. Even so, I went to the Library of Congress (closed Sundays) and saw the small sections open to the public, including the famous reading room from the viewing gallery. I didn’t have time to hang around for the tour, which I believe would have taken me into the library and its halls of books, as I had to get off to my next appointment, but I did see a Guttenberg bible, which was pretty cool.

Brandon likes his hat, 826 DC.

 After the LoC, I headed to 826 DC and their store-front Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Co. I was met by their store manager Caroline and we had a great chat about how the store runs, the items that sell really well and how kooky you can be with things. She had some really great advice on having a strong clear concept for the store and being as upfront as you can be with people about “what the store is” whilst keeping the wonderful elements that make it so, well, magical! Areesha, their Development Director, then took me for coffee and we talked business plans, funding structures and evidencing and impact recording – all things I need to think about much more than my wibbly-wobbly “wouldn’t it be nice if…” kinda way! Then I spoke with Brandon, who has just moved to DC to work at 826 from Iowa City so got some literary links and food recommendations from him, which was really cool, plus he got super excited by the Robin Hood hat. From there it was to Union Station and my travelling bed seat for the night.

The AmTrak is kind of amazing – there’s a “viewing car” with wiggly seats and chargers so I sat, with my new friend Jesse, and watched the sun go down over Maryland and West Virginia. The coffee’s pretty good on-board and big pack of crisps will see me through for snacking. Next stop: Chicago tomorrow morning!

My new route...

Post-Script: having spoken to people in the US, especially Tina who we stayed with in Brooklyn, Houston is looking like I shouldn’t visit as the area is still reeling from the hurricane which ripped through the city. Also, for route planning this has made a few decisions for me and I’ve resolved to get from Memphis to Albuquerque using the route: Memphis – Dallas – Oklahoma City – Albuquerque, which whist long will get me into some bits of the States I’d love to see and experience plus, put me into contact with some new and exciting literacy organisations. Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma won’t know what hit it!