Tuesday, July 17, 2007

DC Update

Well, going into my fourth week in Washington, I've finally done all the really "touristy" things, with the exception of the Jefferson Memorial. I may go see that in a few weeks, but it's further away from the subway stops than other attractions and as hot as the weather has been, I'm not in the mood to walk. This Friday, I'll get to tour Congress and will have the opportunity to stay and watch the action. I'm not sure if they'll have anything interesting to debate, as the war debate is really going to get heated tonight, but here's hoping. I did the White House tour last week, but it was a slight letdown. They only let you go into four rooms (the ones named after colors), and you don't get to see the Oval Office or the West Wing or anything like that. I would have liked to see the press room, which was just renovated and re-opened a week or so ago. We did get to see the "East Room," which is a ballroom (smaller than I'd have expected) with amazing crystal chandeliers. It's very unfortunate that you're not allowed to take photos, because the only way to get close enough to the house to take a decent photo is to go on the tour. Otherwise, you're just shooting through a fence and it's hard to get a good close-up. My digital camera broke, so until I get a paycheck that I feel is big enough to warrant spending money on a new camera (a few weeks from now), it's an old-fashioned disposable for me. It's funny. I remember being a kid when those things came out, thinking they were so cool, and now they seem so out-dated.

On the White House tour, you get to see portraits of many (but not nearly all) of the presidents, as well as some photos taken at various points in history. My favorites were a photo of LBJ with his dog on his lap and they're both howling at the ceiling (weird, but I liked to see a light-hearted photo), and the portrait of Millard Fillmore.

This past weekend, I went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. It wasn't exactly a "fun" experience, but it's absolutely fascinating. Everyone on earth should see it. When you go in, they give you an "identification card" (based on your gender) that is a little booklet about the size of a passport. It tells you the story of one person who lived during the Holocaust. Both my roommate, who went with me, and I got women who had survived the camps and survived. I'm not sure if the rest contained only names of survivors or of people who were killed. Anyway, it gave the person's name, age and story about what happened to them.

The design of the building is really interesting. You start out on an elevator, which like the rest of the building is concrete with wire mesh over the walls and watch a short video of an American talking about what it was like to find the camps. Then you come out to photos that were taken by the first troops to liberate the camps. The rest of the floor deals with the rise of Nazism and Hitler's rise to power.

The next floor down discusses anti-semitism and the events leading up to the Holocaust. Then you go down one more floor to find artifacts, videos and photos of the camps themselves. I thought the most moving part was the piles and piles of shoes and other belongings taken from the prisoners. Those things really remind you that you're talking about real people. I went expecting to see grotesque photos everywhere, but it's pretty tasteful. There are videos of the really disturbing visual images of the camps, but they're enclosed behind cement barriers so you have to make the choice to see them. At one point, you walk through one of the train cars used to transport people (they also have actual doors from gas chambers and from buildings in ghettos) and go listen to recordings of survivors talking about the campus.

The last part of the exhibit deals with the liberation of the camps and the aftermath. There are videos of survivors talking about their experiences and what happened after they left the camps (including those who were taken on "death marches." It's really interesting.

The entire thing was of course very sad, but incredibly fascinating. I really do think everyone should see it.

Sunday, I made a trek to the Whole Foods in a desperate search for fresh produce. One of the things I really dislike about where I live is the lack of a grocery store anywhere nearby. The small, 7-11 sized store near my house has virtually no produce, and while you can get groceries delivered, the produce sucks. I had food delivered once and things were rotten. I've been to a Trader Joe's once or twice, but they don't have much either. It took me three hours to get to Whole Foods and back on the subway, and the food was VERY expensive, but after I ate the produce, it was worth it. They have some delicious stuff. I've got to figure out a better way to buy groceries. Paying for a taxi is kind of out of the question, but I know there must be something that's close to a subway stop so I don't hurt myself carrying heavy bags to and from the train.

I plan to lock myself in the house this weekend until I've finished the new Harry Potter. It'll be a week off from tourism, but it will be nice to relax.

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