Wednesday, March 2, 2011


In the dead of night, a moon beam flickers on my window, but I trap it with my eyes wide shut. It was 5:45am on the Washington D.C. bound train. My hunger grumbles and the trains grumbles were hand in hand, as we scraped along the rusty tracks and crept out of the tunnel into the city. We had gone through: New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Delaware and Maryland on our way to Union Station in D.C. I had asked the conductor of what route we were due to take, and in his rough demeanor he mumbled the states- and at that heavy hour, I was not in the least bit surprised he was cranky.
For once I wasn't subjected to TSA scrutiny and x-ray machines, so my trip was comfortable and stress free- and the wonderful part of being on a train was that I was able to glean from the glossy landscapes that the sun made ever so radiant. 
Between the industry and nature in equal measure, my quick yet thorough scans of each state just furthered my love for this country's geographical range- like in most countries I suppose, but there is something about the U.S.A that strikes a chord, a chord that quivers my heartstrings.                                   

And just short of an hour......

 .......the morning stood straight


The gulfs between these states slowly widened in both proximity and topography: houses are thrown into the landscapes after bare batches of unassuming land- these types of land occupy for most of the journey till the final destination: Washington D.C. Union Station.

For a country that has only been alive for just over a couple hundred years, Washington D.C. is the staple for this nation's existence. I wish I had covered the thick of the city in greater detail, but my limited time span only permitted for the fundamentals- good enough though.

Although I met my cousin in D.C, I actually stayed in Reston, Virginia- a kind of 2 in 1 experience if you will. Now that my travel bug has properly plagued me, I am determined to cover 1/5 of this country. And even if D.C. does not count as a state, it is still a part of the country- and a prominent portion too; for those who may attach the 'capital' identity to New York (like I did a couple of years ago), the capital of the U.S.A. is Washington D.C. at this point in history. The title has been given to a number of states along the time line: Philadelphia reigned at the time of the Revolution, thereafter New York held the government seat for a short period of time. D.C. was founded as the capital on July 16th 1790, and is overseen by the federal government, thus is not a state, but a federal district- District of Columbia.

A long vertical stretch of land dominates the downtown D.C. area. A long strip of iconic features are tightly framed by Constitution and Independence Avenue. These parallel avenues carry the bulk of traffic during the daily commutes, but with the Washington Monument soaring up into the sky, and the Capitol boasting its prominence, among other visuals, the ribbon of features mark the capital's stature.

Washington Monument: Commemorates George Washington
The Capitol: Where Rules And Laws Are Discussed At Length

Besides these punctuations of stature, there are clusters of memorials and museums that permeate the central grounds of downtown D.C. I mean, there are too many museums to comprehend in general let alone in 3 days- so I picked the 'Smithsonian National Museum of American History' on a Sunday afternoon- during Presidents weekend. Scores and scores of people swelled the rooms and made the experience difficult to enjoy at times, but the knowledge of things were in abundance to an overwhelming degree.

I can only share with you, the most prized (for me at least) sections of the museum, that I can appreciate.Starting from the low level of the ground floor was an exhibition dedicated to 'Julia Child's Kitchen'. I wish I was more of a cook, I really do- but the dorm life doesn't allow for a culinary goddess.

Julia Child had invited America to go beyond the processed, packaged convenience food of the 50s/60s and return to the heartbeat of cooking: the kitchen. As part of shaking off the postwar austerity, she reconnected friends and family through the art of cooking: food became her medium in doing so.
The kitchen is tailored to Julia's life- a life beyond the pots and pans. She was a wife, cook, t.v. star and master teacher. Her influence on modern American culinary and cultural history has made her a household name that remains ever present.

I love modes of transport. I love the development of travel, and 'American On The Move' caters for my fascination. 'America On The Move' chronicles the vehicles in time from 1800s to the present day.

As a prelude to the exhibition, is a stunning, killer looking car that is 'modestly' parked in the entrance.
Tucker 48' Sedan
What a beaut. Preston Tucker's automobile was promoted as the 'first completely new car in fifty years' because it sports a unique style as well as novel engineering. The unprecedented safety features included a central headlight that turned with the front wheels and collision protection provided by a pop out windshield, padded dashboard and 'safety chamber' for the front passenger. Tucker's styling gave the car a futuristic appearance and an impression of power and speed. Only 51 cars were made, until production was folded due to financial problems.

But, back to the basics now: railroads.
Santa Cruz, California: 1876
This steam locomotive named Jupiter was made in Philadelphia in 1876, but had a short life of 7 years as it was built for a narrow gauge track, and thus became obsolete when the line switched to a standard gauge track (56 1/2 inches compared to 36 inches between rails)...

Heavy Duty Lifting
Delivering goods: Watsonville, California
Cream Of The Crop
Railroads changed agriculture for the better, farmers were able to grow crops for markets near and far, as the railroad connected farms to a wider commercial world.

Fares, Please!
By 1888, Washington converted horse to cable allowing commuters to travel in electric streetcar systems to work. And with this invention, sparked the trend to live further from the city center as the commute was feasible.

Let me transport you way ahead of time from the 1800s to the 1950s where automobiles were born prior to, but were in full use in this epoch. As new suburbs were prospering, the rising car ownership made it easier for business and middle-working class residents to flee to the tranquility of the suburbs and leave behind the fiscal crises of the city. But the influx of cars brought on a wave of the dreaded 'traffic jam' that has yet to and will never cease to end. 
And from here on after, transport has become a mechanism for carrying out 'life'- without it we are stuck. 

Moving on upwards, to the first floor, I mounted a shallow ramp in the heart of the museum into the 'Star-Spangled Banner Gallery' - The National Anthem and Flag

I was not allowed to capture and shots, but the flag was originally designed by Mary Pickersgill with 15 stars and 15 stripes- the flag is tattered from flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the Battle of Baltimore in 1812.  But has been painstakingly conserved from the time it was brought to the Smithsonian in 1907 as a loan and in 1912 became a permanent gift. As you go into the exhibition, your eyes dilate in the dimming light and you see the original 30-by-34 foot icon with a ghostly displayed National Anthem in floating in the background. The National Anthem was created by Francis Scott Key, who observed the flying flag in Baltimore and thus spurred her to write the lyrics of poem, which would then become the National Anthem.

It began to be suffocating in the museum, so we cut our experience short and headed to another museum, but this one was private so was less heaving with people. 'The International Spy Museum' is an extremely interactive hotbed of gadgets, codes and secrets: no photography was allowed, so I apologize for the lack of visual evidence of my visit. It was a fun break from the hard core information at the other sites. 

And for a real break, we ventured into the 'Smithsonian American Art Museum' where the cacophony of the former was reduced to white noise.

Here is a collection of some of the artwork.
Katherine Hepburn
And Her Accolades
Depths of Grand Interiors
We barely spent 20 minutes here, we had to be elsewhere, but just the design of the museum allowed for a peaceful ponder at impressive statements in art history. There was a certain 'airy' ness about the rooms, they were full to the brim with artwork yet seemed vacant and vast.
Time in Art
 In between these history lessons, I got to bask in suburban glory at the end of each day in Virginia. Most D.C. commuters originate from Virginia or from neighboring Maryland
Road To Repose

Uncle Jeff and Aunt Kathy
There are a stack of things to sink your teeth into in D.C. and Virginia too- prepare your mind to serve as a sponge for all the dates, people and places. Dotted around the city, are memorials to honor the former Presidents: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is laid out in a beautifully conceptual way. The entire memorial spreads across a vast, uncovered plot of land and focuses on numerous statues, quotes, and waterfalls- being that it's winter I wasn't able to enjoy a beautiful sheet of water though. The memorial is more accurately described as a long, meandering path, bordered by walls made of red South Dakota granite. The memorial is organized chronologically in accordance to FDR's four terms.I highly recommend this memorial, for it stands out from the crowd with its innovative display: whether it be fragments of rock or statues of FDR, each holds true to a message during his power.
Me and FDR
Washington is a fascinating pot of this country's background- and even if I bypassed too many museums to grasp, I still paid visit to my bud: OB