In search of our good friends “Abraham, Martin and John….” (if you listen to Marvin Gaye).
It was very much a return visit, almost a homecoming, as we drove into Washington yesterday. It may have been a few years for me, but it is a city with which I became quite familiar. We lost no time in wandering off to the Capitol Building, enjoying the afternoon sun, and from there we ambled along to Chinatown. We found it hilarious that in the middle of a Chinese area we came across the most incredible pizza ‘bar’ selling pizzas of every flavour, staffed by Italians, Americans and an Egyptian! It was so good that half the Washington Police Dept. were enjoying the food, so who were we to doubt their judgment?
Yesterday was just a quiet introduction to the main event and we set off bright and early for a 3 hour Segway Tour. Carolyn and I have segwayed in Tenerife and Cyprus, as well as the UK, but she had done Washington before. It was great to see all the familiar sights and we did hop off at several places to explore in more detail. That included a quick run up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to catch up with Abraham. We looked at the place where Martin (Luther King) delivered his “I have a dream” speech and caught up with John (F. Kennedy) at the JFK Center for Performing Arts. Such a great way to see a city.
Then it was walking time after a quick break for refreshment. We were somewhere in Foggy Bottoms and wanted to get to the Museum of African American History and Culture. This was the recommendation of a British lady we met in Philadelphia but quite a walk! One of the exhibits featured the development of black music through the ages across a number of musical genres. On arrival we discovered we should have applied for tickets on line at 6.30 am (first come, first served). The delightful security attendant was charmed by our accents, the fact that we were only in Washington for a few more hours and proceeded to help Carolyn find a link, no matter how tenuous, to the military. Would the police connection work? Carolyn had the poor lady in the palm of her hand and we were in!
It was a wonderful Museum, one of the newer Smithsonians, and the music element did not disappoint. From the jazz artists, such as Dizzy Gallespie to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, onto Chuck Berry, James Brown, through rap, hip hop and all stations to the very latest black musical stars. The cultural exhibits were equally good, even down to the political acceptability of the Afro hairstyle!
Time for a quick cuppa and a sticky bun before the long walk back to hotel. (Whose grand idea was that?). We did wander through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Fabulously simple exhibits but, sadly, the huge fountain at its heart was having a day off!
Having passed by the White House a few times during the day, how apt that White House Down is now showing on our vast hotel TV! We did look out for the President today but he didn’t give us a wave from the balcony.
Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌
Needless to say, Kath has covered most of the day. So, what of my contribution?
In 2009, I came to Washington DC for the first time. It was following the MBA graduation of my son who had received his Degree from none other than Oprah Winfrey at Duke University. A proud day all round. We then drove from Raleigh/Durham to Washington DC. My one aspiration for the trip was to stand where Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. had stood in 1963 when he extolled, “I have a dream…” I did stand there but then decided to join my son on a Segway trip round Washington’s notable sites. A memorable experience no less significant when I fell off my Segway outside the Capitol building prompting a very large American armed guard to ask, “You ok, ma’am?!” I quickly replied that I was but failed to report my bleeding knees to him (or my son!). Needless to say, the fall was down to my disobedience of basic instructions of Segway riding – do not reverse and try to turn! I learned my lesson as I’ve Segwayed in many places across Europe, and again today, without similar accident!
2009 and today…
I love Segway riding!
This visit would include another trip to the steps where the Dream speech was made but we wanted to do more. The Segway Trip lived up to expectations despite covering a different route. The White House, Blair House, Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument were also on the agenda. A bonus was the U.S. Navy’s rifle display team who decided that two old British broads were worthy of posing for photos and, also, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. My interest was, obviously, Music and the museum did not disappoint. Running through history of, particularly, popular music, I felt reminded – were I to need it – how significant black artists and their culture have been. They broke down social as well as cultural barriers through their music.
Blues (in New York), Jazz (in Philadelphia) and the Delta Blues we will pick up later in our trip, all were founded in Black gospel. The exhibits of video of choirs, memorabilia of rock ‘n’ roll deities and music of artists who have enriched my teen years and later were evidenced throughout the fourth floor. I searched for reference to Booker T whose band were the house band for Stax records and the first multi-racial group. I found the mention, eventually, and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and Steve Cropper appeared to be the only non-Black musicians referenced. Interestingly, for me, Kath and I were in a tiny minority of Caucasians in the museum. Did we feel isolated? Not really. Was that because we had the benefit of institutionalised privilege? Probably, I concluded.
I’m not quite sure how some/most of these artists on the bill counted as Rock and Roll Nat King Cole?! Duke Ellington?! Dinah Washington?! Wot?! Great artists but not Rock and Roll by my definition.
Our visit had started with a hiccup – our allocated room was given to someone else, the car parking was $48 per day (we moved!), the coffee was cold and bitter and the rooftop pool was out of action. However, we will overcome! The compensation, responding to my obvious displeasure, was a letter of apology, a bottle of champagne, eight chocolate covered juicy strawberries. It helped sugar the pill.
Tomorrow, we head for the Blue Ridge Mountains with more than a single eye on the weather. Re-routing of our Road Trip now seems likely but our inconvenience is nothing compared to the suffering of thousands following the hurricane and its effects. Our thoughts are with them.