Monday, May 05, 2008

Death and Espionage

Today, my adventures began in a graveyard.

Well, okay, that's not technically true. My day actually began on Abigail's couch, to the dulcet tones of a lawnmower-and-woodchipper duet which, judging by the volume, was being performed in the room next door. Such, I suppose, is the price of living in a well-maintained suburb, and also of sleeping until ten.

Since today was a workday, Abigail had to go to her job as a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (apparently, our nation has standards. Who knew?) So I had a day on my own, to explore as I saw fit. Since I kind of OD'd on museums yesterday, I decided to make today a little more outdoorsy. Hence, the graveyard.

And by that I mean, of course, Arlington National Cemetery. It's a big cemetery, with lots of graves, a surprising number of which are for the wives and children of the military men (and some women)(but they don't have wives) buried there. It has its own metro stop, which has to be somewhat unusual, if not unique, and is also convenient. I spent a while wandering around, just looking at the tombstones, because it seemed like the thing to do, and made all the required stops-- JFK, RFK, Taft, L'Enfent, etc-- though I may have missed a few. Robert E. Lee's house sits at the high point, with an excellent view of the city (the property was his until the government decided to relieve him of it for the good of the Union), so I stopped there to have a look around. Unfortunately, they are mid-renovation on the structure and had removed all the furniture, and since there's only so much excitement that can be derived from period flooring I didn't spend much time there. Which turns out to have been fortunate, since it got me to the Tomb of the Unknowns just in time to see the changing of the guard, an activity that manages to be at the same time intensely dignified, quite moving, and utterly silly.

All that, plus the late start, took me into the early afternoon. I hadn't eaten lunch yet, but there weren't exactly a lot of options in the area and it wasn't that long since breakfast, so I decided to table (ha!) that issue while I got on with my sightseeing. I crossed back into Washington on a bridge that I'm sure has a name, and I believe was the sight of something historic, but I'm afraid I can't be bothered to look either up. Sorry. Anyway, whatever it was, it got me back to the general vicinity of the Mall, identifiable by its 555-foot obelisk and protective covering of tourists.

I realize that I am also a tourist, that there is no other word for what I am doing here and everyone can tell, even if I do try to take my map out as little as possible, but I just can't bring myself to accept it as my identity. But, the matching t-shirts. The pleated shorts and lumpy sneakers. God help me, the fanny packs. Must these be my people? Yes, as long as I carry a guidebook and a map in my purse, and still get lost trying to find the Jefferson Memorial, despite the fact that it's a honking giant Greek temple, they must.

So, resigned to my fate, I made my way off to see the White House, or at least as much as you can see of it in these security-conscious times. It looks exactly like you think it looks, which I suppose is comforting. I couldn't see the snipers, though.

And fortunately, a lot of people, snipers included, work in the White House area, and they all need to eat, so I finally made my way to lunch at an old-timey grill type place (the Old Ebbitt Grill, to be exact), where they do a fine hamburger. Then I made my way across the city, stopping a couple of times to confirm that no, as far as shopping goes, DC is no New York, to the Spy Museum, which I had wanted to go to because hey, spies are cool.

After two days of free admission everywhere, it was a bit jarring to suddenly have to cough up eighteen dollars for a museum, and at first I wasn't sure it was such a good deal. The first few exhibits were deeply cheesy, drawing a lot more on the Hollywood concept of espionage than reality, with lots of breathless descriptions of suave agents and elaborate disguises. But they did have a lot of cool (real) gadgets on display, and the rest of the museum turned out to be a fascinating and thorough history of the practice (pigeon-mounted cameras: who knew?). So fascinating, in fact, that I kind of lost track of the time, and ended up getting back to the apartment about an hour after I said I would, leaving Abigail to wonder if I had been eaten by wild dogs and if she should just go and get dinner by herself. Which would have been too bad, what with it being her birthday and all.

Fortunately, I did make it back, and we went out for some very respectable tex-mex at a place that, for Cinco de Mayo, had a band playing the worst cover of "Margaritaville" (that classic Mexican tune) that I have ever heard. Fortunately, the people at the bar were very drunk, so they seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps that was my problem.

Also, my feet hurt.

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