If only there were two Tuesdays in a week, I would have been here more often banging on about my thoughts. But we steal what moments we can from life, and here I am, words fuelled by the mellow gorgeousness of a red wine spreading itself slowly but surely through my senses (written last night). Enough has happened in the last few weeks. In reverse, my in-laws left yesterday, we did a random day trip or two into the American countryside, walked around the city with our noses in the air, primed for the scent of good food, earned myself a second-degree burn while baking eggs (I mean the ignominy of it, it was not even a big beautiful cake), ran almost everyday in the early hours of the morning, met new people at dinners and lunches (more than we usually do, recluses that we are), played hours and hours of poker with the in-laws, lost more than I should have.
Then, we were in Washington DC for a scant day and a half. Adi’s parents were staying at his maternal uncle’s, so we sneaked in a day at a neat hotel downtown, The Darcy, which we booked using our stash of hotel points.
Now it was hot. So hot. Our faces started melting as soon as we finished breakfast in a large coffeehouse-cum-bar called The Commissary and headed towards The White House, a few minutes away from the hotel. Trump loitered with a large black umbrella outside The White House, and there were people standing outside with placards about his immigration policies. But it was rather underwhelming. The famous official residence of the president. At least, going by our experiences of just swinging by it. You need to book ahead for a tour.
We inched towards the Washington Monument instead, passing by grand buildings with plenty of classical colonnades and carvings of gods and goddesses. All along we were struck by this niggling sense of déjà vu. A summer’s day of moving desultorily about Vienna two summers ago, walking across the vast grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace which seemed to reflect heat, and subsequently dissolving into a stupor back in the delicious air conditioning of the hotel room.
In the shadow of the tall obelisk, the sun beating down mercilessly above our heads, we scuttled to a museum where we sniggered at modern inventions such as the first Macintosh 128K. It looked the part of an antiquated box. There were the costumes of the first ladies to arrest the attention too. You will see photos of them by and by.
Outside in the sultry embrace of the sun, we gawped at the Smithsonian Castle. An elaborate concoction with its towers and turrets of red sandstone, wondering at the incongruity of it all. The nationality of the man who had founded it. John Smithson was a British subject. But most importantly, he was a great traveller, chemist and mineralogist. He studied studied everything that incited his curiosity. Count in the dynamics behind the nature of electricity, a lady’s tear, volcanoes, better ways of brewing coffee, and the discovery of a mineral that was named Smithsonite for him. But what percolated to this traveller as she drank of the fountains of knowledge installed through this man’s vast donations to a place he had never visited, is the legacy of his philosophy. Smithson believed that knowledge has the power to bring man greatness and happiness.
When we could take take the heat no more, we dragged ourselves to Capitol Hill, and then the Library of Congress, gawped more at its lavish interiors of frieze, murals and high dome; in between, realising that my newly acquired watch had slipped off my wrists at some point during our walks about the city. Yet exhaustion had done a bang-up number on us. All we could think of was the hotel room, where we proceeded to collapse on the bed in an unsightly heap.
Such were our experiences in DC, but it was redeemed by a whirl through it during the evening when its lit-up beauty did us in. The reflection of the obelisk in the Potomac as a man fished in the river and the statuesque memorial to Mr. Jefferson. Ah, it was one of those moments during our travels when everything acquired a shimmering aura, as of the liquid mercury I swirled with fascination during Chemistry lab classes in high school.
It was an oddly satisfying day, even though we had missed most of the museums and to-do things on my list. We knew the city needed time and this knowledge set us free to mark the finale with an exorbitant but sumptuous seafood repast at an Italian restaurant on the Potomac. It was a strange evening that, at Fiola Mare. We tend to gravitate towards intimate places where people don’t carry the mantle of pretension. Inside this fine-dining restaurant’s darkly lit bar, I found women with smoky black eyes and men with silver hair and craggy faces cast flinty stares around them. It was almost as if they wore masks. It might as well have been the reflections of an evening of sparkling wine. Who knows, but we culled a few stories of the rich and famous who are patrons of Fiola Mare. The Ukrainian girl who served us was chatty. She talked about many things. About life in a city far, far away from her small hometown near Kiev, the difficulty of her mother ever visiting her because of visa restrictions, the professional highs of serving Michelle Obama ‘just the other day’, the busy charm of NYC, and the like. Conversations — randomly chanced upon — are often the best souvenirs of any holiday.
So from this briefest of city explorations, I present to you D.C. in its black and white avataar. There will be another post with more photos as well — since you know I am not a woman of few words or photos.