WickedEye's Quotient

7/02/2007 at 06:46

Things I Saw and Did In Washington, D.C.- by S. Rebeiro

S. Rebeiro

A Capitol Guard who, when I grinned at her in the pouring rain (in which neither of us had an umbrella), started singing “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”, while her partner pointed out that my backpack was open and, when I asked him to please zip it for me, looked startled, then zipped it and helped me adjust the straps. Who says Feds don’t have a sense of humor?

Benjamin Franklin’s bust on the Library of Congress, which sits in its central niche, directly over the front doors, in preference to Jefferson’s and Adams’. I like the way those people think.

The Union Station Starbucks people kindly giving me their internet code for 5 minutes so I could shoot off an email to someone I’d been desperately trying to reach. This despite its being 8:30 am, and the line of people waiting for their morning Starbucks fix stretching out the door for half a block down the station.

The images of Hammurabi, Napoleon, Augustus and Justinian, among other famous lawgivers, on the Supreme Court frieze- gorgeous. I’ve seen many a classical and Neoclassical frieze in my time, but this is hands-down my favorite.

The only image in any government building of Justice with her eyes wide open and sword raised, facing Inspiration eye to eye, on the SCOTUS frieze opposite to where the justices sit. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from their two figures, and admit unabashedly to having had tears in my eyes.

Discussion with an 11-year-old boy (Jeff or Jess?) on the relative aesthetics (his phrase, not mine) of the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. When I asked him about the Supreme Court Building and the White House he very seriously replied that the White House looked like an enlarged plantation house (which cracked me up, because it does) and that he hadn’t yet seen the Supreme Court building and he’d have to let me know.

Looking at poor Salmon P. Chase, the only justice ever (and in my opinion, through no fault of his own) to be impeached, standing in the Supreme Court hallway opposite Roger Taney- the judge who upheld the Dred Scott decision. They believe in keeping their skeletons in one place, I suppose.

The half-siblings Athena and Apollo, goddess of wisdom and god of truth, referred to as “allegorical figures” by the guide when they clearly bore the sigils of each Greek deity: owl and sun. I suppose we can’t be havin’ with any of that heathen nonsense in front of the highest court in the land.

Subway attendant laughing at me as I desperately patted my pockets for my railway pass so I could get out of the station, then holding open the gate through which I crept humbly while he shook his heavily dreadlocked head and shouted after me in a heavy Jamaican accent, “You wanna be more careful down here, little girl!”

Rodin’s sculpture of Mahler, which stands in the National Gallery, august and gravely handsome. I’ve never seen any representation of Mahler which showed this kind of gravity and passion, and I wondered for the first time just how well he and Rodin had known each other.

A stony-faced Capitol cop who, when I asked if I would get in trouble for jaywalking on a red light on a dead end, replied that yes, he was gonna take me in- before grinning and waving me on.

The statue of Grant standing on the first level of the Mall below the Capitol which, if you stand any closer than the far side of the reflecting pool, dominates the sky and completely blocks the main dome of the U.S. Capitol. It makes me wonder; the architects and monumentaires who planned it are too skilful for the effect to have been other than planned that way. Why? Did they wish us to reflect on what the Capitol would have symbolized without Grant’s contributions to the Civil War?

A little boy of 3-4 years old “quack”ing hopefully at the ducks on the reflecting pond in the Mall for several minutes before growing frustrated and shouting “Quack, darn it!” at the blissfully oblivious anatidaens.

16th-century sculpture of “A Young Man of the Zorzi Family” by Vittorini, also in the National Gallery, which made me understand for the first time the power of a profile. In full-face it is an ordinary if skilful rendering of a young man of ordinary charm and appeal which in profile becomes the kind of breathtaking beauty which sinks ships, commands armies, and burns towers.

The sculpture of a “Girl Reading”, also in the National Gallery, by Pietro Magni, which is quite simply the most lifelike, skilful, and nuanced rendering of a human in marble that I have ever seen.

The site of John Adams’ desk in the old House Chambers in the Capitol. I stood at that spot while Bill, Congressional staffer and tour guide extraordinaire, walked more than a hundred feet away and, through the Babelian uproar of the room, talked in a quiet, normal tone to me. I heard every word he said, perfectly; the acoustics of the “whisper spot” are extraordinary. It’s speculated that Adams picked the spot for his desk for that very reason: he pretended to nap and eavesdropped on what was happening on the other side of the aisle.

Washington’s crypt (not his tomb; he does not lie there) in the exact center of the Capitol and the city. The soft marble has been worn down at least four inches by hundreds of years of reverent feet; it is surrounded by pillars of impure native limestone, the most that the builders could at that time afford, which are slowly turning from white to red as the iron in them rusts.

The catafalque on which lay the bodies of Presidents from Lincoln to Reagan. Massive and simple, draped in black velvet, it reposes in a grim, iron-gated, institutional-yellow-paint-over-brick niche barely large enough to hold it in a corner of a small forgotten stairway in the Capitol. Rosa Parks, incidentally, was to have lain on it also- but it was too big for her tiny body. They had to build one just for her.

More reflections later.

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