Friday, November 21, 2008

1600 Pennsylvania

Bill Bryson talked about DC in his book The Lost Continent, explaining how you walk through the city thinking it's fine and all, but then you bump into some building that houses, say, the World Bank, and you get a somewhat startling reminder of how enormously important the city and the organizations in it are. I totally agree. I remember being several months into my internship and walking out of the front of the building to find the National Symphony Orchestra rehearsing on the Capitol lawn, and just having the whole enormity of DC hitting me at once. I sat for a while listening to the NSO, then turned around and just stared at the Capitol, thinking nothing but " there." While I'd always had an affinity for the city, it was that moment that I fell completely, stupidly, irresponsibly in love with it.

Bryson's commentary gets right to the heart of it all, but misses one small, important cannot escape America in DC, either. Around every corner, there is some small piece of history, be it a street named for an obscure patriot or a hidden memorial. We all know about the big ones...the Lincoln, the Washington, Vietnam, WWII, Korea, the Jefferson...but it's the small quiet ones that always floored me. The Jefferson is my favorite major memorial, and I used to go to study and relax there, but I also adored the World War I Memorial down on the Mall. When I worked at the Department of Commerce, I used to walk down to this one for lunch. It's practically hidden, but I think it's somehow so eloquent - simple, classic, beautiful - and I can't really think of any better way to remember all those who gave their lives to us all in their stand against the darkest forms of human evil. The World War II Memorial is spectacular, for sure, but to me, this one is exactly as history must inform us all. We cannot let our struggles dominate our worldview but instead remember their lessons and allow them to teach us how to move forward and remind us that we must always be vigilant.

For me, DC will always be a city for all of us Americans...the immigrants, the people born in Pennsylvania, the people born in Los Angeles, the people who don't know how they wound up where they are...there is room there for everyone. One of my favorite memories of downtown DC is walking through the display of state trees after the Pageant of Peace with my friends, looking at all the trees and talking about the ornaments and chatting with people so casually about their respective state trees and why they were there and what they were doing and what the holiday and the city and the country meant to them. I've walked through that display many times, sometimes That's why, when I saw this fantastic display of 1600 Pensylvania Avenues on Ironic Sans via 24 Free Dinners, I just about lost my shit, because it shows so well the insane disparity between types of people and neighborhoods and life in America. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the President's's also smaller than you expect, visible from a completely ordinary sidewalk that people walk on to get to work and the Metro and the museums. As it turns out, it's also a whole lot of totally ordinary American homes and business. Check it out.

West Mifflin, PA
Terre Haute, IN
Savannah, GA
Prospect Park, PA
Oreland, PA
Los Angeles, CA
Glendora, CA
Des Moines, IA (Doesn't this one just make you want to move in? So pretty!)
Dallas, TX
Croydon, PA
Colton, CA
Brooklyn, NY
Bremerton, WA (where C is from!)

Baltimore, MD

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