|Washington Monument through the Cherry Trees|
Many European national capitals can give you a history over-doze. Yet Washington DC is less because of its heritage and more for being the capital of the World’s only super-power. The fact that US is relatively a recent empire is deeply embedded in the city which sadly has little heritage.
Jefferson memorial is inspired by the Romans, Lincoln’s memorial by the Greeks, Whitehouse and the Capital Hill are imbibed in the European flavor. The House of Representatives is adorned by fiascos, murals and sculptures of Greek and Roman gods. Washington has no high rise, because legally no building can be taller then the Washington Monument because Thomas Jefferson wanted an “American Paris”. Washington monument-the tallest stone structure on Earth is a white colored symbol, pointing to heavens. It overlooks a water body called the Reflection Pool. The city pays tributes to its former Presidents and wars of the last century. Did USA go on wars to add gravity to its history?
The White House is small. The most powerful man on the planet has a small house because the founders didn’t want him to have a kingly palace- a profound thought. Though one can see the American surge for security on its roof, with huge men, telescopes and cameras, you can walk fairly close to it. Unless you try to climb the railings, no police man guns you down.
Inside the House of Representatives, there were long lines. In the visitor’s gallery we could see below us, four hundred plus chatty members in a huge hall. In the centre was the speaker’s seat on which the deputy speaker was currently chairing and voting was in session. The number of votes, in favor or against the bill was shown and updated on a huge screen. Moving in the hall was a familiar figure in a crimson dress. Later, we confirmed it was the celebrated first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
|Our group outside the House of Representative|
Ever wonder what a 21 feet tall Einstein would be like? Albert Einstein memorial is the answer. Einstein was made of many burgundy studs, each representing the relative position and size of the celestial bodies in the sky on his birthday. Hopefully, it is to honor him services to science and not for securing the US atomic bomb. What made me happy was that Einstein had been creative, self-assured and unusual (perhaps crazy), Einstein might free our people fearful of deviation, pacified by convention. My childhood fancy of playing in Einstein’s lap became real, although I doubt it made me any better in physics.
|Albert Einstein Memorial beckons you to sit in his lap|
In the Jefferson Memorial was the 19 m tall President Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of USA made of black stone. The statue instilled fear due to the height, almost left me with a yearning. In a country where no Government has completed its tenure, martial law dictators become Presidents; and few earn a tribute in history.
The Vietnam memorial is widely considered a stirring memorial in USA. It is a jade tinted wall, with the name of all the American soldiers who died or went missing, during the Vietnam War. The wall though poignant is ironic. All those Fifty Eight Thousand plus names were once youngsters, energetic, hopeful in prospects but now reduced to an engraving on the wall through a foreign policy blunder. The Indian granite was chosen for the wall owing to its reflective quality. The names represent the past and the images reflected are the future. The reflection depicts the new war in a land across the ocean, distant enough to make the suffering invisible but near enough to transfer the dead names to maintain record. An existence wiped out but the name preserved. Does the wall reveal why it all happened? Placed on high stools near the wall are record files for public view confirming several soldiers were adolescents. How many more walls and names are expected? How many more futures in graves? Plus, where is the wall for the departed Vietnamese?
The Three Soldiers’ statue is part of the Vietnam memorial, representing the Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, unified in war. Can you trace a trauma, illness or a suicide note in their features? No. They are tough combatants, narrating a tale of heroism, not war wounds and crippling. Do they understand their mission? The bronze faces are adolescent but the task is enormous. There was an innocent readiness in their visage, exhaustion in their arms and alienation in their eyes, which looked away. Are they looking towards the Whitehouse waiting for it to recover its foreign policy? Since bronze they are perpetually in a ready-to-wage war position, frozen in time like the war itself- a war which is an eternal blot on the face of history.
Lincoln memorial is where a larger than life, six meters tall white and over-powering Lincoln greets you with deep-set eyes, a pointed stony-nose and a grim, brooding look as if over-viewing the century. He has an authoritative gaze, more like an emperor than a democratic President. Not the charming boy he was in Springfield, Illinois, his birthplace. The sculptor didn’t know that the height of the statue was insignificant to Lincoln’s half inch signature on the Emancipation Proclamation. He was the true American dream, not an elite ivy-league grad but the son of uneducated farmers, mostly living in poverty and eventually taking the leap no President had taken by banning slavery.
In front of the Lincoln Memorial is the spot where Martin Luther King gave his historical speech in 1963, the sum total of the American Dream. Engraved on the ground are the words “I have a Dream.” Stand by it and have a picture taken. Feet and the American dream. It became almost emblematic- the place for the American dream is the feet now?
These days we are living the ultimate materialization of Luther’s vision- a black running for the presidency. Although King might be amazed at this accomplishment of his nation, he might be disillusioned by the level of impartiality apparent, the separate black neighborhoods, the increasing black inmates, crimes, drop-outs and poverty rates.
|Martin Luther King giving the "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington DC|
Do you know Mr. King that one-third of the US army busy in Iraq is black? So is more than 50% of USA’s male prisoner population. “All men are created equal”? Not in the capitalist economies, Mr. King, where some are created below the poverty line. The “unalienable rights” you talked of are dissolved in a Caribbean island prison by your Government. 1.4 million Black voters have been disenfranchised due to felony charges- the vote you fought for, lost to crime. And the future black President is threatening to bomb a nation called Pakistan to rid it of its mischief mongers? Kindly send him a copy of your “I have a Dream” speech.
|The spot where Martin Luther King gave his famed speech|
On the spot he delivered his speech you can see the Washington monument. This place was the memento of the actual power of the World- the people, their solidarity and ideological dedication. Reminder of the day when two hundred thousand people marched to attain equality, their power to protest together, brought a change more profound and permanent then a warhead or superpower. This is where civilization and hope for mankind was manifested. This is the true American legacy.
|The group of new foreign friends I discovered in DC|
This piece was first published in The News on Sunday under the headline " Capital of the Planet".