Friday, October 24, 2014

Here's Looking at You

So today I did what no self-respecting native Washingtonian would do: went to the top of the Washington Monument.

It all started on October first when I read about Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez- Gerada's monumental portrait "Out of Many, One" being constructed just west of the reflecting pool.

The catch? It's intended to be seen from a bird's eye view, namely from the top of the Washington Monument. And while tickets to the memorial to George are free, they're limited and go fast. Let's just say I wasted little time between reading about the piece and ordering the first available tickets.

Then all I needed was another art lover to join me on a day trip to see it. That was the easy part.

Lunch at the 2400 Diner in Fredericksburg (where the neon says "Air conditioned" and "Good food" in the window) and traffic put us on the mall five minutes after our 3:30 tour time, but we only had to wait a few more minutes at the windy base of the monument before being included in the next group to go up.

The Park Service ranger who accompanied us up in the elevator had clearly been on the job for too long. An automaton who made no eye contact and spoke in a monotone, he was nonetheless full of information about the construction and accomplishment of building the world's tallest building at the time (still the tallest stone structure in the world).

At the top, we went window to window, beginning with the view of the portrait next to the Reflecting Pool. The man's face is a composite of photographs the artist took of people in Washington, so it resembles no particular ethnicity and every ethnicity. And it kind of looks at you, even from 555 feet below.

Yesterday's rain had left a few puddles on and near the portrait and three-plus weeks of weather had begun the gradual erosion of it, all part of the design. It's expected to be gone entirely in another week.

One thing this native Washingtonian hadn't realized was that you are no longer allowed to take the steps up and down the monument. Oh, they let you take a few steps down to the museum located at 490 feet, but then you have to take the elevator the rest of the way. Disappointing.

When I asked a ranger why this was, he explained that too many people had touched and vandalized the stone plaques (donated by states, countries, organizations and individuals) that line the interior of the monument.

Apparently the collective we can't have nice things because we don't treat them right. The consolation was that on the elevator ride down, Mr. Monotone stopped the elevator and turned off the lights at certain points to show us some of the plaques including one with its griffins broken off by badly behaving visitors. Sigh.

Back on terra firma, we decide to make the most of our prime parking space and take in some other sites, namely the Martin Luther King memorial, which I'd read plenty about but never seen. As impressive as the huge stone image of MLK is, I was moved most by the series of quotes etched on the walls around it.

From there it only made sense to go look at Rodriguez-Gerarda's work from the ground, cutting through the D.C. War Memorial's stone edifice on the way to the portrait. Truly, it was unrecognizable from street level.

Oh, we could see the dark lines and the white spots, but as intended, the eye couldn't read it as a whole from down there. I felt very fortunate to have scored the tickets to access the view and see it as the artist intended before all that sand and soil becomes part of the earth again.

Mission accomplished.

To celebrate, we walked a little over a mile to the subterranean Bottom Line (hearing such '80s gems as 38 Special's "Caught Up In You"...little girl?) for a celebratory drink before walking back to reclaim the car, face the traffic and head to Alexandria for dinner.

Our destination was the casual little brother of Restaurant Eve, Eamonns, which billed itself as a Dublin chipper with the slogan "Thanks be to cod." Our handsome server asked if we wanted table service and we took him up on his offer.

Wine choices were limited to one red and one white and arrived swimming in the bottom of beer glasses, but the cod was fresh, the chips were hand cut, the slaw not overly sweet and the wings nicely crisped, a fine meal on a rustic wooden table with a view of the hustle and bustle of King Street.

Just as satisfying was the music which came from an iPod on high, so high that when a great song came on and both our server and I wanted to know what it was, he had to stand on a bench, craning to try and read the device stationed up near the ceiling, no doubt to keep lesser beings from skipping songs or changing the playlist.

We were rewarded to learn it was Phoenix band Caterwaul's "The Sheep's a Wolf" from 1989, surprising those of us who would have liked just such a  female-fronted band in 1989 but had never heard of them.

Sign on the door of the women's room: "Street girls bringing in sailors must pay in advance for rooms." Duly noted, as were the superb black and white photographs of a Dublin bar and bridge hanging inside.

When our server came over to check on us, asking if we needed anything, I couldn't think of anything except a table dance, but he gestured to the people sitting at the table as the only reason he couldn't. I like a server with  good attitude.

By the time we were finished, the small restaurant had filled up with people waiting for food and to-go orders (or perhaps one of the various fried candy bars on the menu), so we set out in search of dessert elsewhere.

After a stroll past endless antique shops, high end clothing stores and home furnishing meccas, we settled on Union Street Public House, noisy with a boisterous crowd and far too many screens showing Thursday night football.

When the bartender delivered Junior's famous tuxedo cake ("with a chocolate ice cream chaser," he joked), he said it had been very popular tonight; he'd already served four of the devil's food cake layered with cheesecake and ganache behemoths.

Nobody needs all this, I told him. He looked affronted. "I do! And you do!" he corrected me. So maybe he was right, even if I couldn't half finish it all.

That's the thing about need. Some would make a case that I really didn't need a trip to Washington to see "Out of Many, One."

Oh, but I did. Even natives need to see their city from on high sometimes.

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