Saturday, April 30, 2011

American History and Embassies

On Sunday, April 24th, I met up with my cousin and we drove over to Anacostia to visit Frederick Douglass' home, Ceder Hill. The magnificent house has been preserved in great condition and contains about 80% original items. The house also has a gorgeous view of Washington below, and from the front porch, one can see the Washinton Monument and all of Capitol Hill. After Douglass' death, his second wife and his children fought over the house, due to a lack of witnesses to his will. The house ended up in a public auction, where the wife borrowed enough money from friends in order to buy the house back. She donated it later to the National Parks Service in order to keep Douglass' memory alive.  Frederick Douglass was a boss though - he taught himself to read and play the violin, he was fluent in several languages, loved reading Shakespeare, climbed the Egyptian Pyramids at age 70, was Minister to Haiti, and was a marshal of DC.  He was also a promoter of women's rights, abolition, anti-discrimination and anti-lynching.  He had an extensive library and there were always famous guests visiting the Cedar Hill home including Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, and Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, just to name a few.

After the tour, my cousin and I headed to the opposite end and over to Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, Maryland, to eat a big lunch at another branch of Kabob Bazaar.  After a nice, long lunch, we went to drive back down Massachusetts Avenue to see all of the embassies. Right next to the Turkish embassy (which has a huge statue of Ataturk in the courtyard), there is a really impressive building.  We thought it was an embassy for a Middle Eastern country, but it turned out to be a mosque.  I asked someone if we could look around outside, since we didn't have any hijab, and as we were looking around, someone else asked us if we wanted to look around inside.  I told him that we'd love to but don't have any headscarves on us.  He said that it was no problem and took us to the front office where another person lent us scarves to wear.  The inside was phenomenal.  There were beautiful tiles everywhere and it was just like being inside a Spanish Alcázar.  The tiles on the walls were a gift from the Turkish government in 1969.  We also met a Jewish woman who was visiting the mosque - she said that it was Passover week and she's tired of eating matza balls so she thought she'd see what a mosque was like.

On Monday, April 25, I went to Dupont Circle to meet up with a friend from Spain for lunch.  We grabbed burritos at this really good burrito stand and then went to the circle by the fountain to eat.  It was a beautiful day but I had to work on my essay to get it edited to publish in a journal so we walked back to Johns Hopkins SAIS building and he snuck me into the library so I could use the computers there.  I was so out of school and paper writing mode that it took me over two hours to make a few minor corrections.  I even ended up running into another person I knew in the SAIS library.

After I finished making the changes and emailed the paper along, I went back to the metro and rode out to Arlington National Cemetery.  The cemetery is huge - just gravestones after gravestones.  The grounds are beautiful and the whole place is just quiet and peaceful, which is fitting I suppose since all of those buried there experienced the exact opposite while fighting.  The juxtaposition of such a beautiful, calm place filled with hill after hill of veterans' gravestones really makes visiting the cemetery a deeply emotional experience.  On some of the gravestones, people have placed small stones and rocks which I learned marked the gravestones of Jewish soldiers.  I saw Robert E. Lee's house (it was empty inside due to extensive restorations), the Kennedy's graves (JFK, RFK, and Ted), the eternal flame, and made it to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in time to see the changing of the guard.

The tomb has the remains of a randomly selected unknown soldier from France (WWII) and the Pacific theatre (WWII), the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  In the 1980s, the remains were exhumed from the Vietnam soldier's tomb and taken to Walter Reid's pathology lab.  The soldier was identified and his body was move to Missouri according to his family's wishes.  The Vietnam tomb is empty now, but still serves as a reminder.

On April 26, my last day in DC for the spring, I slept in and went back to my organization to eat lunch with the entire office.  The office treated us to a really nice intern appreciation lunch at the nearby District Grill on K and 12th streets, inside the Sheredon Inn hotel.  From lunch, we all walked back to the office and I did a mini exit interview with the COO - I'd never done an exit interview before.  It went really well and I got a good evaluation.  I'm going to miss working with this office a lot.

After saying goodbye to everyone in the office, I went to 14 & U streets to the African American Civil War memorial and museum.  The neighborhood there is sort of like DC's version of New York City's Harlem and there is a lot of really cool history there.  The memorial has the names of 209,145 black soldiers that served in the Union army/military during the Civil War.  All the names are from actual service records in the National Archives.  The names for the Navy is harder to find than the Army because the Navy was already integrated at the time.  The names on the memorial also include over 7,000 Latino surnames.  The museum itself is pretty small but I arrived in time to sit in the museum curator delivering an excellent lecture on African American involvement during the Civil War.  Although African Americans comprised only 1% of the total U.S. population at the time, black soldiers comprised 10% of the Union Army and about 25% of the Union Navy.  The curator also let everyone hold a 151 year old musket that had been donated by a descendant of a black Union soldier.  The musket was a lot heavier than it looked and a soldier at the time was expected to load and fire it three times in one minute during combat.

After the museum, I walked back down U Street past Bohemian Tavern which used to be frequented by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington.  There is even a Duke Ellington mural on a building across the street.  I walked all the way over to Malcolm X (Meridian) Park which is one of the prettiest parks that I have been to in DC.  There are so many trees and the row houses surrounding the park along the hill are also really cool.  There is a large tiered waterfall straight down the middle of the park and I spent a fair amount of time just wandering around the park.

After a while, I wandered back down U Street to the infamous Ben's Chili Bowl for a chili cheeseburger and fries.  Ben's Chili Bowl is a black-owned diner that has been around since the 1950s and the only people that are allowed to eat there for free are Bill Cosby and the Obama family.  It reminds me a lot of Yesterdog with the food, decor, and neighborhood.  The food is amazing as well.  From U Street, I went to George Washington University's campus for my last Farsi class of the spring.  After class, I packed everything up, called my cab, and am now ready to go.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April Adventures

Since the last post, April took off with a flying start and was a very busy, final month in DC. One of my friends from New York City came down to DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Luckily, there were still enough blossoms outside. We spent the weekend seeing all the different memorials and went to Tidal Basin area twice to see the blossoms. There was also a kite festival taking place on the National Mall by the Washington Monument.

On the final day that we went to Tidal Basin, we stopped by the Jefferson memorial. We happened to be there at the right time on the one not-rainy day that weekend, and there was a group setting up for a wedding. There were two guys with guitars under trees outside waiting for it to start. Because the bride and groom are not supposed to see each other that day until they are at the altar, the wedding party had set a privacy screen and a tiny plastic chair outside for the bride to stay behind until the wedding started.

On Tuesday, April 12, our Farsi conversation class decided to go to the E Street Cinema to catch one of the Iranian films playing in the Film Festival that month. We ended up seeing "Dog Sweat." It was a pretty interesting and well-made film. And definitely better than sitting in a classroom.

That Saturday, the weather was raining again, so I went to the one place that I knew was guaranteed to have good weather - the Botanical Gardens. The rooms there are very cool, especially the Jungle Exhibit. The jungle room has a tropical rain forest in it, and there is a catwalk up above so that you can walk around the perimeter of the exhibit at the canopy level and look down. From the Gardens, I went to walk around the Capitol Building and spent a bit of time in the Library of Congress. Now that I've got my nifty LOC library card, I was able to get inside the Thomas Jefferson main reading room through underground tunnels and get into the room's alcoves. It's pretty much the closest thing to a Beauty and the Beast library that I've seen in real life. I want it.

On Sunday, April 17, I met my cousin and we drove to the National Arboretum. It is so beautiful and there are very nice trails for walking, biking, and driving. There is a bonsai tree museum part that has trees from the late 1800s. There is also what looks like a temple sitting on the grassy hill. Those columns are actually from the portico of the Capitol Building that was taken down in 1958 in order to make the expansions on the building. The reflecting pool in front of the columns in the National Arboretum is made of marble taken from the old wall of the Senate wing of the Capitol Building when renovations were being made.After spending some time both walking and driving around the National Arboretum, we made our way over to Annapolis, Maryland. We crossed the 5 mile long Bay Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay to get a view of the water and then turned around and headed straight into downtown Annapolis. Our first stop was a quaint ice cream shop downtown by the marina and Naval Academy. We walked around the marina area for a little bit and found a statue of Alex Haley, author of Roots.
We then walked into the US Naval Academy (USNA) and strolled around the campus. We walked around past the really nice houses that are homes to the families of the Deans of the USNA. Past this area, the USNA has a gorgeous chapel and a huge courtyard that has a statue of the figurehead of the USS Delaware.
The USS Delaware was one of the first ships that the US Navy built. It was scuttled by Union troops during the Civil War to prevent the Confederate Army from using it. When the Union soldiers returned to the wreckage, they found that the ship's wooden figurehead had survived completely intact. The bronze cast statue of the figurehead is now a good luck symbol for students come exam time.On our way out of Annapolis, we passed St. Johns College. It was originally named King William's School, founded in 1696 in the Maryland colony, and officially chartered in 1784. It is obvious that the area surrounding this school is pretty old itself by the architectural styles of the houses and the narrow streets. We also passed the Maryland state capitol building, which apparently is pretty cool. If I get a chance to go back to Annapolis, then I will have to make sure to visit these places.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Last Spring Days in the District

interior of the Old Post Office
With my internship coming to an end, I spent the last few weeks catching up on things I wanted to see and taking family to some sites. When some relatives came to visit in the last week of April, our first stop was the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. We went up the bell tower and saw the bells (made to be in tune to the bells at Westminster Abby) and went to the top for a 360 degree view of the city. After the Post Office, we walked over to Archives to look at the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. From here, we went to Good Stuff Eatery over in Eastern Market by the Hill for lunch. Our next stop was a tour through a congressional office of Capitol Hill.
The tour kicked off with a stop to the Capitol Visitors Center (CVC) where there is a replica of the statue above the rotunda. The statue dominates the interior of the CVC. After the video, we went through the tunnels connecting all of Capitol Hill and right past the underground shuttle that the representatives use to get to the floors for voting when they are in session. The Capitol Building was also home to the first location of the US Supreme Court before it moved to the present location. We also made stops at the old House and Senate floors before being granted passes to the present galleries.
There are statues throughout the hallways of the Capitol Building. Each state chooses two statues. The area in the rotunda is reserved for statues of presidents, with the exception of one unfinished statue depicting the unfinished struggle for women's rights and another of Martin Luther King, Jr. There are also several paintings and a mural in the rotunda. The paintings along the lower level were all made by the same artist who painted himself into every historical scene as either a man looking in the opposite direction of every other character or with his face on a woman's body. The mural going around the upper level of the rotunda appears as if it is 3D but in fact is just a flat painting. Approximately 70% of it was painted by an elderly artist, until he slipped on scaffolding and was hanging by his arms for 15 minutes before being rescued. Two other artists completed the mural.
Our next stop was over to Johnny's Half Shell restaurant for dinner. After some delicious seafood, we cabbed it over to the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials. My younger cousins were especially impressed with the Lincoln Memorial, dramatically reading the Gettysburg Address over and over.
The next day, we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as well as the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. We spent most of the day looking at the outer space, 1950s passenger plane, ocean, dinosaur, and weather exhibits. After a break from the museums, we went to Adams Morgan for dinner at Lebanese Taverna. We all enjoyed the delicious mezze dishes (sort of like tapas - basically, platters of food for everyone to share) along with a fantastic dessert. I will definitely be going there again.
On my relatives' last day in DC, we went to Ford's Theatre, the theatere where Abraham Lincoln was shot. Despite being closed for years and converted into an office building after the assasination, the theatre is now operated by the National Parks Service and has been fully restored. It still puts on plays in honor of Lincoln's appreciation of theatre and the arts. Peterson House, across the street from the theatre and the place where Lincoln died, is currently being rennovated so it was closed when we visited. After the theatre tour, we walked over to the Museum of American History to see the original Star Spangled Banner and several other exhibits.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kicking Off April

To kick off April, I met up with some friends and we took a mini-roadtrip out to Reston, VA, to visit Jackson's Restaurant, while another friend was working. The restaurant's food and drinks were amazing. After spending a while in Jackson's eating and waiting for our friend to finish his shift, we walked around Reston until we arrived at another local restaurant - Clyde's.

On Saturday, I took a trip to the Library of Congress to get my library card. Library cards are required in order to access different reading rooms in the Library of Congress' various buildings, including the main reading room in the Thomas Jefferson building. Since it was raining pretty heavily, I got some research done on ancient computers in the law reading room in the James Madison building (aw yeah, James Madison!).

After spending some time at the Library of Congress, I met my cousin at Union Station and we headed over into Eastern Market neighborhood for a quick dinner. We went to Good Stuff Eatery, a fun burger restaurant with fresh, cheap food and two burgers named after the Obamas. The restaurant also features weekday lunchtime specials of a burger, fries, and drink for $10. The food was some real good stuff and it is located right next to Capitol Hill.

We then went to Gallaudet University, federally established in 1864 for deaf and hard of hearing students. We had tickets to the University's annual dance show featuring the Gallaudet Dance Company. The dancers were from very diverse backgrounds and skill levels, but the show was amazing from beginning to end. Although the dancers spent a year preparing the numbers, they made the performances seem so smooth and effortless. After the show was over, we went to Dubliner Pub by Union Station, a small pub with pretty decent food and guitar music.

Sunday was Sizdah Bedar, so in keeping with tradition, I returned to the nearest park with running water - the Titanic memorial by the Potomac riverfront and tossed the plate of sabzeh into the river. The water wasn't really moving that day, so hopefully the sprouts have gotten somewhere by now.

Afterward, I headed over the National Aquarium, hoping to see some cool exhibits. The aquarium was really small, but it did have a fair collection of species considering the size. A few of the exhibits included freshwater fish that have been featured on Animal Planet's show, River Monsters with Jeremy Wade, specifically the Gar and American Snakehead fish. On my list of places to see (now that the weather is getting nicer) are the Smithsonian National Zoo and the Cherry Blossom festival.

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