DC En Couleur

The need to craft words about the city falls away, for once you walk its wide open boulevards, there is no escaping the aura of power that envelopes it. Tangibly at that. Classic row houses lined up on broad, leafy avenues, impressive buildings of embassies and trade unions, grand hotels and saloons, followed by resplendent federal buildings and museums with their decided partiality for classical architecture, the many Ionic column, the mythological figures carved upon the facades… oh, but our senses were awash with these visions of grandeur. And all this, the conception of a Frenchman who in the late 1700s came upon a rolling landscape of hills and plantations, forests and marshes, at the confluence of two rivers. Together with the first president of the United States, Pierre Charles L’Enfant laid out an architectural groundwork for the city, imparting it with unequivocal majesty, but died without receiving payment and recognition.

It’s been a long-drawn-out two hundred years and more, Monsieur L’Enfant, but maybe, just maybe, you would strut its streets with pleasure, pronouncing it Ç’est Magnifique, even as you cock an eyebrow at the girl who walks past you with her mane of flaming brilliance and air of nonchalance.

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Again, in colour. Do you prefer the monochromatic version of it more?
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Colour, in DC

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The Commissary
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Samuel Hahnemann Monument. In memory of the German physician who founded the branch of alternative medicine called Homeopathy. 
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The Omani cultural center in DC
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Old Catholic churches

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The White House
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Trump and his admirers. Seen outside The White House.

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High-wheel bicycle for men. The Columbia Light Roadster, 1886. Spotted at The National Museum of American History.
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Apple Macintosh. The first box that arrived with flair in 1984 for the sum of $2,500. What a long way we have come!

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First Lady Caroline Harrison’s modest velvet-satin evening gown in burgundy and grey
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A New York dressmaker fashioned this gold damask and cream satin gown for Lucy Hayes, the first First Lady to boast of a college degree.
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First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s state dinner dress by Oleg Cassini in yellow silk, with an overlay of crepe chiffon, and her costume pearl necklace.
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Another Oleg Cassini grey brocade silk ensemble for Jackie Kennedy

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Curious stranger

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Capitol Hill

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Library of Congress

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Shots from within the Library

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Minerva at the Library of Congress
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Feeling fizzy at Fiola Mare
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Lusciously grilled octopus, branzino, langoustine and lobster
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Raviolo Carbonara with black truffles and Beech mushrooms
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The National Monument
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Granite and marble come together in this imperial memorial to Thomas Jefferson

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National Monument through the columns of Jefferson Memorial

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Twilight on the Potomac

One Sizzling Day in Washington DC

If only there were two Tuesdays in a week, I would have been here more often banging on about my thoughts. But we steal what moments we can from life, and here I am,  words fuelled by the mellow gorgeousness of a red wine spreading itself slowly but surely through my senses (written last night). Enough has happened in the last few weeks. In reverse, my in-laws left yesterday, we did a random day trip or two into the American countryside, walked around the city with our noses in the air, primed for the scent of good food, earned myself a second-degree burn while baking eggs (I mean the ignominy of it, it was not even a big beautiful cake), ran almost everyday in the early hours of the morning, met new people at dinners and lunches (more than we usually do, recluses that we are), played hours and hours of poker with the in-laws, lost more than I should have.

Then, we were in Washington DC for a scant day and a half. Adi’s parents were staying at his maternal uncle’s, so we sneaked in a day at a neat hotel downtown, The Darcy, which we booked using our stash of hotel points.

Now it was hot. So hot. Our faces started melting as soon as we finished breakfast in a large coffeehouse-cum-bar called The Commissary and headed towards The White House, a few minutes away from the hotel. Trump loitered with a large black umbrella outside The White House, and there were people standing outside with placards about his immigration policies. But it was rather underwhelming. The famous official residence of the president. At least, going by our experiences of just swinging by it. You need to book ahead for a tour.

We inched towards the Washington Monument instead, passing by grand buildings with plenty of classical colonnades and carvings of gods and goddesses. All along we were struck by this niggling sense of déjà vu. A summer’s day of moving desultorily about Vienna two summers ago, walking across the vast grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace which seemed to reflect heat, and subsequently dissolving into a stupor back in the delicious air conditioning of the hotel room.

In the shadow of the tall obelisk, the sun beating down mercilessly above our heads, we scuttled to a museum where we sniggered at modern inventions such as the first Macintosh 128K. It looked the part of an antiquated box. There were the costumes of the  first ladies to arrest the attention too. You will see photos of them by and by.

Outside in the sultry embrace of the sun, we gawped at the Smithsonian Castle. An elaborate concoction with its towers and turrets of red sandstone, wondering at the incongruity of it all. The nationality of the man who had founded it. John Smithson was a British subject. But most importantly, he was a great traveller, chemist and mineralogist. He studied studied everything that incited his curiosity. Count in the dynamics behind the nature of electricity,  a lady’s tear, volcanoes, better ways of brewing coffee, and the discovery of a mineral that was named Smithsonite for him. But what percolated to this traveller as she drank of the fountains of knowledge installed through this man’s vast donations to a place he had never visited, is the legacy of his philosophy. Smithson believed that knowledge has the power to bring man greatness and happiness.

When we could take take the heat no more, we dragged ourselves to Capitol Hill, and then the Library of Congress, gawped more at its lavish interiors of frieze, murals and high dome; in between, realising that my newly acquired watch had slipped off my wrists at some point during our walks about the city. Yet exhaustion had done a bang-up number on us. All we could think of was the hotel room, where we proceeded to collapse on the bed in an unsightly heap.

Such were our experiences in DC, but it was redeemed by a whirl through it during the evening when its lit-up beauty did us in. The reflection of the obelisk in the Potomac as a man fished in the river and the statuesque memorial to Mr. Jefferson. Ah, it was one of those moments during our travels when everything acquired a shimmering aura, as of the liquid mercury I swirled with fascination during Chemistry lab classes in high school.

It was an oddly satisfying day, even though we had missed most of the museums and to-do things on my list. We knew the city needed time and this knowledge set us free to mark the finale with an exorbitant but sumptuous seafood repast at an Italian restaurant on the Potomac. It was a strange evening that, at Fiola Mare. We tend to gravitate towards intimate places where people don’t carry the mantle of pretension. Inside this fine-dining restaurant’s darkly lit bar, I found women with smoky black eyes and men with silver hair and craggy faces cast flinty stares around them. It was almost as if they wore masks. It might as well have been the reflections of an evening of sparkling wine. Who knows, but we culled a few stories of the rich and famous who are patrons of Fiola Mare. The Ukrainian girl who served us was chatty. She talked about many things. About life in a city far, far away from her small hometown near Kiev, the difficulty of her mother ever visiting her because of visa restrictions, the professional highs of serving Michelle Obama ‘just the other day’, the busy charm of NYC, and the like. Conversations — randomly chanced upon — are often the best souvenirs of any holiday.

So from this briefest of city explorations, I present to you D.C. in its black and white avataar. There will be another post with more photos as well — since you know I am not a woman of few words or photos.

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Four men at a bus stop. In the humidity of that August Saturday, the sight of the old man with his shock of chalk-white hair, suited up for the day, made me smile.
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The Commissary


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One hungry soul at The Commissary
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The Nat Geo Museum
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Nineteenth-century Greek Revival Episcopal churches in Lafayette Square. St. John’s Episcopal Church.
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The White House. In the forefront is the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the first bronze statue cast in the country.
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Museums along the National Mall
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National Museum of African American History and Culture
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National Museum of American History
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The Star-Spangled Banner inside the National Museum of American History
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Classically sculpted George Washington as a leader during war and peace, at the National Museum of American History.
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National Museum of Natural History

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Capitol Hill
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It’s not too bad, eh?
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Because I like different angles on a place

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The Library of Congress
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Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress
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Modish Fiola Mare, in Georgetown.
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Platter of gorgeously grilled seafood
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An evening by the Potomac

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Jefferson Memorial

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Jefferson Memorial
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Thomas Jefferson

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Oh But This Summer of Fiery Sunsets and Fireflies

Every evening as the sun sets in a riot of colours upon the mighty Hudson, and I saunter along the river, I find myself revelling in the wonder of nature. Adi comes with once in a while. Together we spot so many pinpricks of yellow and orange in the twilight hour. The park is swarming with fireflies and it is difficult not to feel as gleeful as a child. The chubby squirrels of winter have procreated in the last few months it seems. Their tiny summer offsprings have the run of the park, their thin tailed bodies priming up for the harsher months with nature’s nutty offerings.

Meanwhile I have not fallen off the face of the blogging world quite yet. I shall hold on as long as I can — like a tenacious camel. Why camel though, you might ask here. I have no idea. Maybe because I am a child of the desert.

The season is speeding away even as we find ourselves tiding over some hot and humid days. The in-laws are visiting us and there is not enough hours in a day to slip in updates here. But they are in Washington DC for a few days, and we shall head there for the weekend, so here I am wondering if there are any recommendations you have for Adi and I.

Below are some shots from Central Park from one of our wanderings through it on a sweltering day when a sea lion we saw, slumped over a rock in a desultory fashion. I think we would have perched ourselves just so in a pool, if we had one. During our gander in the park, we watched tiny turtles swim in the mossy green waters of a pond, which is what remains of the 19th century Croton Aqueduct. As it happens, I am in the midst of a tome on the history of New York City during the Civil War. It talks of the great stretch of green today in Central Park adjoining the Turtle Pond, once a part of the aqueduct that transformed life for the multitudes of miserable residents of the city in the 1800s. You see, they had to rely on brackish water for their daily needs or pay vendors two cents a pail for ‘tea water’ (which was basically water drawn from wells up the island). Naturally New Yorkers considered it wiser to consume distilled and fermented liquor day and night than live off the filthy water that the city dispensed for the public.

Now, before I take off on the joys of discovering the city through this book, which is always a hazard when I start writing, I shall leave you with a cheery hello and a fond note on the benches of Central Park with their various plaques. If I could, I would spend a day just photographing the words they feature, because I simply adore them.