Happy Friday from Washington DC!
It’s been a strange and somewhat tumultuous week in the nation’s capital, but I’ve finally sat myself down to chronicle our triumphs and woes! We arrived Saturday evening after two flights—neither of which saw us seated next to one another, a state of affairs I didn’t particularly enjoy, but James may have, seeing as he got a rest from my shenanigans!—and a lamentable lack of delicious airport snacks. I was hanging out for some Cinnabon, having promised to illicitly introduce Zac and Lauren to their tasty treats, but we didn’t see any… still, I have high hopes for the return journey!
Despite being a self-confessed hermit, I found it thrilling to wander through the DC streets after depositing our bags in our rooms. There is a certain thrum of life in the air here which is incredibly refreshing after the oft-dull and deserted streets of Lawton. Life filters over your skin with the evening breeze and rustles the trees overhead, leaving you a little heady with the restless and irresistible energy of humanity: it’s everywhere here, and it’s both inescapable and exciting. Just to be able to walk down leafy streets of an afternoon is a certain kind of delight that you can’t appreciate until the option is completely untenable, let alone the vast array of culinary and cultural options so readily available on your doorstep! We made it down to the White House and feasted on some delicious Thai at ‘Thai Tanic’ (a name which absolutely cracked me up) and were feeling generally pretty good about ourselves and the upcoming week by the time we went to bed.
Needless to say, we woke up Sunday morning with a keen hunger to explore! We’d earlier decided that our Washington DC trip provided a brilliant opportunity to try and tick some more states off our seemingly-endless list, and with that goal in mind, we hopped on a bus towards Union Station. So far, so good. Sadly, we had forgotten the curious tendency of the US to occasionally seem to completely cease to function on a Sunday, and virtually everything in Union Station was closed when we arrived. We purchased our tickets for a pretty ghastly sum and then, not to be deterred, we went in search of breakfast. We later discovered that had we turned right instead of left, we could have taken our pick from a vast array of delicious pastries… but as it was, we gobbled down some truly subpar breakfast crepes instead. Waiting around in train stations—or anywhere really—is not really a very enjoyable thing to do, and by the time the train arrived, we were pretty keen to get the whole business over and done with! Once we were settled in the ‘quiet car’ and ensconced in our books it all seemed to look up a little, and though the time dragged a bit, we finally arrived in Delaware!
Wilmington, Delaware, was (at least in vicinity of the train station) somewhat like a ghost town. We’d hoped to stop somewhere for a beverage and maybe a pastry, but there were few options nearby and they all seemed to be shut. Instead, we contented ourselves with wandering around the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park (which was very pretty!) and taking some photos as proof of another state done and dusted!
Cursory perhaps, but we’re on a limited time window to hit all fifty states, and we’ve accepted the fact that some of those states will be little more than a flying visit. That being said, we did find time to stroll a little and stand on a bridge… Which we quickly discovered was moveable when a deafening air horn blared right next to our heads!
It was only when we were standing on the platform ready for our return trip—with planned hop off in Baltimore to tick off Maryland as well—that further inspection of our tickets revealed that perhaps our plans were not going quite as planned. A trip to the ticket office confirmed our fears: despite requesting a return ticket that morning, the sizeable amount of money we’d paid in DC had only bought us Washington-Wilmington one way. Needless to say, we were pretty unhappy about the whole business, especially since it necessitate shelling out some more cash for our return tickets and feeling incredibly frustrated that it hadn’t been made clearer to us that morning! We were pretty dispirited and frustrated upon our return to DC, which wasn’t helped by the inclement weather which had descended over the city. We took the Metro down to The International Spy Museum for a bit of a pick-me-up… Only to see that the line for tickets stretched around the block. Neither of us were feeling particularly strong enough for that nonsense, so we found some pizza for lunch and then, the deluge having eased, ventured out into the streets again.
We probably spent an hour or more wandering aimlessly in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), and posing inappropriately—but oh-so artistically!—with various pieces of artwork. I’d highly recommend the SAAM to anyone visiting DC: there are a vast range of different exhibits and an incredible span of different artistic forms and periods. We had a lot of fun! It was incredibly gratifying to me to encounter some more of Albert Bierstadt’s intricate and stunningly beautiful oil paintings (I previously wrote an ekphrastic poem called The Storm on Bierstadt’s ‘The Storm in the Mountains’). As per usual, photographs fail to capture the brilliance and luminosity of these works, which seem to portray something more than what mere mortal eyes can perceive. I was left somewhat dumbstruck by Bierstadt’s ‘Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California’ and if you’ve never seen any of his work, I highly recommend him! We also saw some starkly rendered and altogether fascinating paintings by Donald Sultan, which use industrial materials to depict various natural disasters.
That night we traipsed down the street for dinner and some serious book-browsing (featuring some pretty incredible restraint on both our parts: neither of us bought a book) and dinner at Busboys and Poets. Thank you Carrie for the suggestion! I found an incredible book of Alexander Pushkin prose that has definitely been added to my never-ending ‘to read’ list… And quite possibly we’ll go back and buy it before we leave.
Monday started with lacing on the walking shoes—it probably wasn’t a good sign that our very uncomfortable bed was already telling on me as we left the hotel—and heading down the street towards The Holocaust Museum.
As is often and inevitably the case, there were a lot of things to ponder while wandering through the various exhibits and it also provided—especially in light of Emmanuel Macron’s recent open invitation to American scientists to travel to France if they want to work with the French scientific community—a fascinating point of comparison for contemporary global politics.
Afterwards, we began the massive DC memorial loop, which is a long way to walk. A looooooooong way, especially after waking up so sore in the hips and lower back that morning! But it was brilliant to have a chance to see so many crucial historical American landmarks: plus, on the walk to the FDR memorial, we saw a whole bunch of ducks out on the ridiculously swollen lake! There was one fluffy little duckie out on his lonesome… But since he didn’t come when I called and James didn’t appear as keen as I was, I resisted the urge to ‘rescue’ him and take him home. Not far down the track we strolled past his mum and his siblings paddling around near the shore [DISCLAIMER: I have a baby animal problem. I can’t help wanting to be their friend].
Anyway, for your ease of perusal, the loop can be summed up in the following list:
#1 Thomas Jefferson Memorial
#2 Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
#3 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
#4 Korean War Veterans Memorial
#5 Abraham Lincoln Memorial
#6 Vietnam Veterans Memorial
#7 Washington Monument
It was brutally hot (I got a bit sunburnt), and we finally stopped for lunch in the afternoon at The Elephant & Castle for some fish and chips and a rest for aching feet. We managed to get some more steps out of poor, tired Pascoe feet and checked out the Smithsonian National Museum of American History… Which maybe wasn’t the best idea, because I was feeling pretty saturated with American history at that point! I did really enjoy the chance to find out some information about differing First Ladies, however, especially seeing as they had different dresses for each First Lady on display, but with sore feet, couldn’t drag ourselves around to see much more. On the stroll back towards the hotel, we stopped in at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens to see some strange modern and postmodern art pieces that didn’t real call to either of us. James got gently scolded but the security guards for playing around on the escalator though, so that provided some comic relief. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that James is definitely not always the responsible one out of the two of us!
In case you thought we were done—by God, I really wanted to be by this stage!—we then dropped into the Air and Space Museum to marvel at the technological advancement of the RQ7B Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (or UAV, the joke being that the Australian Army has them and I used to work with them) and to learn about the Wright Brothers. It was really cool to find out a bit more about them both as individuals and inventors! It was off to ‘The Pig’ for dinner that night, which wasn’t cheap, but included a lot of good pork and some excellent dessert!
Tuesday started off pretty well, and ended somewhat less auspiciously. We had a leisurely start, strolling out of the hotel in search of breakfast, though I was feeling less than positive about our prospects considering my recent breakfast disappointments. It was a cool, drizzly kind of day, just right for some strolling and exploring (though honestly, I wasn’t keen to walk too far after the efforts of the previous day!) and we found a beautiful little French cafe in which to eat some pastries. I even got the chance to use a little bit of French, which is always exciting! We somehow found our way into a bookstore afterwards for some casual browsing before going to the National Geographic museum. It was a bit disappointing to find that the museum was far smaller than we might have expected, but we got to learn some pretty cool facts about sharks (apparently Tiger Sharks are the garbage guts of the ocean and one once, purportedly, ate a suit of armour!) and I got to pose with a bear, so it wasn’t all a loss!
Chocolate Chocolate was calling our name and conveniently close by, so we purchased ourselves some fancy gourmet chocolate before (you guessed it), finding our way into another bookstore! (Yes… we have a book problem).
From there… finally onto the International Spy Museum! If you’re a parent, or someone who just loves spies, this is an incredibly fun place to spend some time: I assumed my spy persona of Greta Schmidt (33 years old, born in Bornstedt and heading to London for a meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society) and set about getting my spy on. We practiced disguises, learnt about dead drops, though about codes and safe places for exchanges as well as suspicious appearances and behaviours.
It was incredible fun, and left me dying to watch some James Bond movies and apply for spy school (wherever that may be, I assume they keep it all relatively hush hush). The Pigeon Room allowed me to practice my pigeon calls [not the actual purpose of the pigeon room] and I’m fairly confident in my ability to now signal to my fellow spies that danger is near, or that our pigeon allies have deserted us in our hour of need and we must now wage war upon them.
Having walked so far the previous day, I wasn’t keen on getting too many more kms on my feet, and we got the Metro back to near the hotel (and saw Colonel Sanders’ doppelgänger on the metro!). That was when we unwittingly made perhaps our worst decision of the entire trip. With little to no idea of what we might want to stop and have for lunch, we decided to duck into Bolt Burgers for some takeaway to eat in the hotel room. We both got some pretty delicious milkshakes, and lounged on the bed watching Netflix on my laptop as we ate. So far, so good. We had drinks with all of the other Australians in DC for work at about 6pm, so dressed up and headed downstairs. On a sidebar to the general tragedy which, even now, was unfolding in our near future, it was a bit of a revelation for me to be in the situation in which I found myself that evening. Since I discharged just under 12 months ago, I’ve spent very little time around Australian Army personnel; I haven’t felt the lack of that interaction or that community very much, but I damn well did on Tuesday night. I ended up feeling as though by virtue of being a ‘spouse’ and not an ADF member, I was irrelevant… and it was kind of depressing.
Anyway, at around 8pm, James motioned to me that we might cut away and go find some dinner before he vanished to the bathroom while I was saying some farewells… And that was the end of that carefree chapter of our lives: he’d gotten food poisoning from our poorly-selected lunch choice.
We were awake until about midnight with a concerned phone call to Dr Dad and a casual rainy trip to the pharmacy thrown in, and were a pretty sorry sight! So I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that Wednesday, following on from the messy events of the night before, was a bit of a quiet day. Though he valiantly took himself along to a few of the work briefs in the morning, James was back in an hour or so, and laid up all day, mostly sleeping and thankfully far less ill than Tuesday night. I felt at a bit of a loss for what to do, but having myself had a bit of a sleepless night, motivation for exploring or anything else was fairly low. I opened my laptop and after about thirty seconds of looking at my novel, felt too weak to continue editing it; instead, after some halfhearted training and stretching, I ventured forth alone for some healing supplies and lunch. And on my journey, I got told I looked like Rhonda Rousey, so that was a bit of a win for the day (full credit to my Lululemon tights, they are the business).
Yesterday was the staff ride to the Fredericksburg Battlefields in Virginia: though there was a tad too much standing up and time in the scorching sun for my tastes, it was really a pretty awesome opportunity to learn some more about the US and the Civil War. Our tour guide Pete was incredibly knowledgeable and well-versed in both Confederate and Union history, motivations, tactics and politics, which allowed him to provide some wonderful context and information that we might not otherwise have gotten. For instance, we found out that the Battle of Fredericksburg not only witnessed the first amphibious assault in US military history, but also the first instances of urban warfare. The use of differing tactics with both the infantry and the artillery on either side is especially interesting. We had the opportunity to see a musket firing demonstration and a dry-fire run of the firing of an Artillery piece (in which James did a stellar job of commanding the troops!).
The area also possesses an absolutely immense cemetery (the Fredericksburg National Cemetery) which contains the remains of over 15 000 soldiers, many of whom died in large numbers during the battle of Fredericksburg and were buried in mass graves without any identification, or records of their burial spot. Every Memorial Day, the parks service holds a thoughtful and solemn service there to remember those who died, including 15 000 candles for the inhabitants of the cemetery. If you’re in Virginia and have any interest in history (military, Civil War or otherwise), I would definitely recommend checking these sites out.
We head back to Lawton tomorrow and are hoping for a truly delightful (and food-poisoning free!) dinner tonight to see us out of the capital and back to the fairly mundane menus available in ol’ Oklahoma. Like I said, it’s been a bit of a topsy-turvy week with both the very good and the really pretty awful, so perhaps a return to the staid routine of daily Oklahoman life will be welcome!
Have a great weekend and see you all next week.