Journalism and jets have carried me to some of the world’s great capitals. Most of those cities, like New Delhi, Paris, London, Prague, Mexico City, Rome, Brussels and Berlin, were in full flower hundreds, even thousands of years before the very idea for our nation — let alone its capital — was planted.
And yet, with the possible of exception of Paris, none of these great cities is more beautiful in early spring than Washington, D.C. No capital I know mixes the rock solid tonnage of limestone and granite with the delicate lightness of daffodils and cherry blossoms than Washington.
Yes, I know: Washington, unlike most other capitals, is a single-purpose city, government. As such, however, its grandest buildings aren’t castles and cathedrals but big shouldered public spaces that we, not kings or cardinals, own and enjoy.
It’s a city that’s easy to enjoy. Armed with nothing more than a good pair of shoes and two-minute tutorial on how to use its underground, the Metro, nearly every museum and site in Washington is accessible and free.
The National Mall, for instance, is lined with world-leading art, history and science museums. No other national capital can equal these collections, their access or cost — zero.
Few citizens or commuters speak of Washington’s charm because most who live and work there speak of little else but politics. They eat, drink and sleep politics and then wake up the next day and do it all over again.
That’s why, to me, anyway, Washington is a forever-young town. Politics demand 30-hour workdays and fierce loyalties, abilities found mostly in the under-35 crowd, not in fogies 40 or older. That youth makes the city now move at a brisk clip, not a mosey like it once did three decades or so ago.
Back then I harbored a near-consuming ambition to work in Washington. A dozen trips to the city over the succeeding decades, and now a daughter’s living and working there, have convinced me, though, I wouldn’t have survived the move from flat Illinois to Capitol Hill. Too many people, too much hustle, too much talking. But it is a grand place to visit.
During a quick (driving, of course) trip to Washington over the Easter holiday the lovely Catherine, or I, or both, enjoyed a luncheon lecture at Brookings Institution, dropped a knee at the National Cathedral, visited Julia Child’s kitchen in the National Museum of American History, saw North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad walk a poodle down Eighth Street S.E, attended a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Kennedy Center, ate a street vendor hotdog under a tree on the Mall, hiked to and from the Tidal Basin to see the famous cherry blossoms and every morning walked to the Dunkin’ Donuts at Eighth and Pennsylvania for coffee, artery-clogging pastries and a Washington Post, which were then slowly consumed on the back stoop of daughter Gracie’s elegantly-tired, century-old, rented townhouse.
And that list fails to note an afternoon visit to the outstanding (free, also) museum in Navy Yard where the eagle-eyed Catherine spotted a poster-size enlargement of a 1944 photograph of her father watching planes being launched from the U.S.S. Yorktown in the south Pacific. Pretty cool, eh?
In fact, Washington in the spring is completely cool. The white Capitol dome seems to float between the Mall’s green grass and a sky scrubbed blue by winter. Magnolia trees appear as exclamation marks of pink hope and dogwoods carry white whispers of warmer days ahead. And I love it all.
If Paris, as Ernest Hemingway once noted, is “a moveable feast,” then the first week of April in Washington, D.C. is a fine first course.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
2010 ag comm