Last weekend I went to DC for a little Christmas visit. It was quite cold but not the dank, wrap around your bones and inhale your marrow kind of way that it is here in Victoria. The city was decked out for Christmas like any good American city would be at this time of year and it made me think back to my years in San Diego when I was simply awestruck at the level to which Americans will go to celebrate Christmas. I find it one of the charming qualities of Americans, this unadulterated exuberance for holidays.
On the Saturday we decided to take our cheap rental car (Mr. W. confirmed it was the same model as an old school cop car) and meander into Virginia. It was sunny and crisp and beautiful and we stopped in at Great Falls National Park. Now, I am a huge fan of national parks because of the rich storytelling that goes on and this particular park was situated beside the historic Potomac river which falls dramatically over a series of jutting rocks with an intense velocity.
The Patowmack Canal was a project that George Washington managed with true business acumen; he saw how Virginia and Maryland and Ohio could collectively benefit from trade on the river and the somewhat daunting obstacle of the Falls was overcome by building a canal with a series of locks alongside the river whereby trade and travellers could navigate this part of the turbulent waterway quite safely. It took 17 years to build, and was mostly done on the back of indentured servants and local slaves.
Washington, a true entrepreneur, asserted that “The way is easy and dictated by our clearest interest. It is to open a wide door, and make a smooth way for the produce of that Country to pass to our Markets ….” (Retrieved from http://www.nps.gov/grfa/historyculture/canal.htm, Dec 2010) I love the American pioneer spirit! There was a few historic houses we visited as well, which just looked so picturesque with their wreath and simple shutters. I’m really mad for the shutters on the east coast I have to say.
After getting a bit chilled, we headed back onto the highway (where people know how to merge at high speeds by the way), and made our way to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (when you give gobs of dough you get to add your crazy name onto whatever you like) near Washington Dulles International Airport. This place just made your jaw drop when you walked in. The hangar is 2 1/2 football fields long and 10 stories high! With planes, rockets, and missiles of all shapes and sizes hanging mid-flight like airborne ballerinas delicately frozen in time.
We spoke with an aviation historian about the infamous Enola Gay aircraft that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. I love talking to men of this generation, in no small part because my own father was a World War II pilot, but also because there’s something of the old school about them in their manners and way of storytelling I adore. It was an honour to hear him tell us about the history of the aircraft.
The next day we did not rush about on a plane, a train or automobile as is our habit when together it would seem, but rather took it easy and wandered out late in the afternoon to Georgetown. Georgetown predates Washington or the District of Columbia and when you walk through the streets there you are enveloped in history. Situated along the Potomac, it was bustling with Christmas shoppers, choraliers, and Christmas concerts, horses with bells, and all things seasonal. Even the horses had sparkles on their hooves!
We thought to stay home on Sunday night and went shopping at a Safeway to have dinner in. When you live 3,000 miles apart, an ordinary thing like shopping has its strange charms. After my last visit, I asserted that heaven was a room at the Plaza. I would argue (with myself apparently) that heaven can also be found in the frozen dessert aisle, deciding what kind of deliciousness to share.
Going home via a subway, an amtrak, and four airports was something akin to time travel, whereupon one is yanked from a bucolic field of meadows to a squat Milwaukee bar where an amaranthine ticker tape of flight numbers, delays, and passenger names, is being announced into your brain while you must nurse a warm Guinness to please make the shock of this more bearable. But really, a small price to pay for buying a slice of heaven in the dessert aisle.