Washington DC

So this is now my 2nd night in Washington. I’m currently sat in the only open bar that I can see, and that just happens to be the bar attached to my hotel. Right outside the window is a series of firetrucks. Lights flashing, sirens occasionally blaring. I’m wondering if my my hotel is on fire. I mean I think I unplugged everything, but those USB rechargable batteries seem a little dodgy.

This hotel itself is lovely, its a real old fashioned place. The tour guide told me that it is one of the oldest established hotels in Washington. To get to the capital building, I simply walk out of the door and turn right. Once passed the tree outside, you have a complete view of the building. To get there is a short walk.

The hoteliers call themselves Irish and the pub could have come straight out of the book entitled ‘How Americans View Ireland’. I’m sitting with my back to a wall, so I’m pretty sure they won’t read this and kill me. Joking aside it is a very nice pub. They have a singer in at the moment. He is currently singing of the homeland. He’s undoubtably got some talent, but Irish dirges aren’t exactly lifting the mood.

I’m not quite sure how I’ve ended up here. I walk through the hotel lobby in my shorts and sandals and everyone else has suits on. I’m also at least twenty years younger then the other partons I have seen. It is far too posh for the likes of me. It amuses me to see the puzzlement when this (comparatively) scruffy fella sits down in the lobby to use the internet and pulls out a laptop thats cost far more then the gear they are using. You can almost see the clockwork going in their head…. ‘how’?!?. When they ask where I work and I reply banking, the eyeballs almost spin in their heads. It’s quite a shock to them. I don’t really want to ruin the illusion by pointing out that 70% of Guernsey work in the banks, and that I’d rather spend my money on a computer I will get major use out of, and not a suit.

How posh is this hotel? Well the bedstead is the same height as a normal bed. However, with mattress the bed well over my waist height. Its not an exaggeration to say over four foot. I have to jump to get in it.

I was a little mortified today. We got in last night and I’m traveling light. A rucksack and a suitcase that can fit in the overhead locker on an Aurigny. As I’ve been here four days now I’d run out of clothes. So I did what every good traveller does when the hotel laundry charges $8 for a pair of socks to be laundered – I washed everything in the sink. My bathroom had every available hanging spot covered with clothes hanging off them. I went out to the museums today and when I go back every single item is on a separate coat hanger on the shower rail. That includes underwear and individual socks! Still, at least I have clean clothes for the next few days.

I’ve loved my stay in Washington. I think long term I may get bored compared with a city like New York or London. But to visit it has been wonderful. Last night I went for a walk to the Capitol, this was at 11pm at night. I was in no danger. Policemen are as common at this airport as they are at Gatwick. I spent two hours wondering around, taking a great many photos. I’m so glad that I did it as I almost didn’t. I’d been so tired that again I considering another night at the hotel. Instead I walked and now have memories that I will remember for a great long time, and some photos that I can be proud of.

The highlight of last night came at an unexpected time.

I was sat on the steps near the Capitol. This was where Matin Luther King delivered his speech. Somewhat less dramatic, it was where Forrest Gump gave his speech that no-one heard. The rain was drizzling, but it was still very still and warm. In the distance, I could see the Washington Monument shimmering in the reflecting pool. There was practically no-one else around, just a couple of people taking photographs. Otherwise everything was still. I took out my headphones and started up the new album by Imogen Heap – Ellipse. It may sound strange to say this, but it seemed the perfect moment to listen to it. Imogen Heap is exceptionally connected with her fans. She has basically shared every experience in creating the new album via blogs, Youtube and Twitter. She stages impromptu concerts online, just jamming and singing on the piano. I have 29 followers on Twitter, Imogen Heap is one of them. I started planning this trip a long time ago and it has seemed as that as I have planned this trip, Imogen has created her album. The album itself was even released on the first day that I left Guernsey. I’d waited for a time to listen to the album, to not be doing anything else as I was doing so. Sitting down listing to the end results of someone’s labour, whilst I was enjoying my own seemed the perfect moment. So, I sat in the rain and listened to this album looking out on a place that has so much history connected to it. To anyone reading this, it may sound strange, but it was a perfect moment, and I don’t have too many of those in my recollection.

I arrived in Washington late afternoon on Saturday and went straight into a tour of the city. Prior to arriving I was expecting pandaemonium. The last of the three Kennedy clan had passed away and a state funeral was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Former Presidents had already announced their intention to attend. I was honestly expecting the city to be crawling with Secret Service, and the route of the funeral procession to be lined with those wishing to pay their last respects. Instead I found a city that is far, far less active then New York. In terms of the number of people in a location, Guernsey’s High Street on a Thursday lunchtime is far busier. Their were indeed mourners lining the streets, but far fewer then expected. In the end the only consequence of the funeral was that we were unable to visit Arlington Cemetery.

Our first stop was the big one – the White House. The contract between visiting the White House and Downing Street is stark. There was no visible security other then a rather portly cop, and he was there primarly to turn away traffic. Outside were protestors. One a woman dressed as an angel, who I watched her carefully arrange her banner, and her tape recorder. She tried many times to herald the coming of a New World Order with a horn that she raised to her lips. Most attempts resulted with a rather wet flatulence sound. This was her big moment, and any impact was ruined as she had neglected to practice blowing her horn. Eventually the call of the New Order sounded out along Washington. Unfortunately, the sound was not the thundering of the Valkyries, come to claim Obama as their own. Instead the call of the New World order is one of a horny bull, attempting to rut a resisting cow – punctuated by the frustrated wailings of an Angel screaming Obama….. Obama… I know you can hear me at the top of her lungs. Far more poignant, was the second protest. Or as I discovered talking to the organiser something that was not a protest at all, but simply a plea. The man was from Sri Lanka, and he was there with fellow Sri Lankans, pleading for America to intervene in atrocities that are occurring in a refugee camp in his country. The man was too upset to fully explain. But from what I learnt, he has documented hundreds of cases of abuse, violence and rape in this camp. They had a banner displaying images of many of these cases, a very powerful image. A woman with him was reciting a plea from a prepared script. I asked why they were making this plea at the White House, and why not do the same at the UN? He explained to me that they were only a small part of a synchronised plea and that they had people reading the same script at many countries throughout the world, including the UN headquarters. I was told that I was the only person that had shown any interest in why they were there. Everyone else avoided them, and would just walk thought then as though they did not exist. NOTE TO SELF UPDATE WITH WEBSITE ADDRESS HERE

As I said the contrast was stark with the UK. In between my last two visits with to Downing Street, they have brought in legislation preventing protest in group form without prior notice. The have also erected concrete barriers around Westminster and there are numerous reports of tourist and photographers harassed and moved on by Police misusing terrorism laws, to such an extent that the Met has issued guidance on how to treat photographers and reminded its own force that photography is not a criminal act. This in a country that prides itself in its courage under adversity. A country that still talks of the blitz spirt, and lived through a concerted bombing campaign by the IRA. Most Londoners, admittedly a small enough number to make a fair judgement, that I have spoken to talk of this as an over-reaction. That is actually shows weakness, rather then strength. What I cannot understand is why Britain has taken this action, whilst I was able o stand at the gates of the Presidents residence as three groups of protestors surrounded me. How could I walk quite literally up the steps of the seat of government and not once be asked what my intensions are.

The contrast is also stark with New York. How strange that I have to be x-rayed at the Rockefella Center, but I can walk unmolested at the seat of Government in the early hours of the morning.

Moving on we drove passed the embassies, and up to the gates of Arlington. Then we stopped at what I has always expected to be one of the highlights of the tour – The Lincoln Memorial. What an impressive sight it is. Crowds sit on the steps outside, and the noise is akin to an airport with people talking creating that constant buzzing drone, with just the occasional snippet of conversation audible. But once at the top of the steps, where Lincoln sits, the noise falls to a reverential hush. The only conversation inside seems to consist of instructions for friends and partners to stand a little to the left or right so the photographer can snap a shot to show they were there. As for myself, well of course I took my own photos and for the first time in America felt some disbelief of where I was.

We then moved onto the Jefferson Memorial. Being out of the way, this only had a couple of visitors. Quite strange really considering how revered the man is. Whenever I hear an American talk of history it is rarely Lincoln or Washington that I hear praised. No the current flavour seems to be Jefferson, and that seems to be down to one quote from the man. One that Westminster and its barriers and cameras would do well to remember.

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

Then it was time to check into my rather posh hotel.

Today, I hit the museums. The National Air and Space first. I saw the actual capsule from Apollo 11. Now incased in a plastic prison, but still mind blowing to stand next to. You can clearly see the scorching on the heat shield from re-entry. The capsule is huge compared to the Gemini capsule aboard the USS intrepid, but small when you consider the years of development and money it took to increase rockets to the point that they could deliver that payload. Even in the forecourt of a museum surrounded by people pressing their faces against the plastic and declaring it ‘old’ it gave me chills to be see in the flesh a vehicle that forty years ago visited another celestial body and returned. To me despite seeing all the other monuments and statues, this one small capsule is the symbol of history that should be celebrated. America fought so hard to beat the Soviets to the Moon. Neil Armstrong stepping out of the lander and taking his famous first step is possibly the most well known event in history. It has certainly been called the pinnicle of human achievement thus far by a great many respected figures. Yet in Washington, the capital of a country known for its celebration of its achievements, the one universally respected accomplishment that they alone achieved has no plaque or statue. Instead it is left to a machine encased in plastic, a machine mostly ignored by people in a hurry to get into the museum to reflect the first time that mankind made its presence felt outside of Earth.

I moved onto the National Archive. The Freedom from America, sorry – Declaration of Independence is on display. Seeing this document did not fill me with the sense of history that I anticipated. Instead my feeling was one of shock. How could this document be in such a state. It has practically faded to nothing. Throughout the archive there are older documents in a far better state of preservation this is. It was explained to me that previously the document was preserved in exactly the wrong conditions for that kind of document. It was previously kept as one would keep a papyrus scroll and over the years this damaged the Declaration. I have to say that I really did like the way that the most important documents in American history are reserved. They are kept in glass cases in the Rotunda of the building, surrounded by two paintings. It is very elegant and understated – the first time I have seen this during my visit. I do not mean that as a negative. America is proud of her achievements, and shows it. I make the comparison with the Stock Exchange with its grotesque giant flag disfiguring an otherwise beautiful building. It would have been so easy to present the documents on which this nation was founded in the same way. Flags and bunting on the wall, a piped version of the national anthem reverberating around the walls. Instead the documents are presented are left to to the talking for themselves.

So my time in Washington now draws to a close. Tomorrow I take my second rail journey, going to Chicago. This time it is an overnight train and so I will be out of contact for a day. So there will be no updates in that time. However, this gives me plenty of time to edit photographs ready to upload when I next have an internet connection. I’ll update this entry with photos as well.

I’d just like to thank everyone for their e-mails and messages.

Next update will be from Chicago.

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