David, a dear friend of very long standing, wrote me a while back to say he would be in Washington DC during September in order to spend time with his infant grandchild. Should I happen to be in the area, he would love to see me (after many decades). At first this struck me as a delightful if somewhat frivolous option, but I assured him I would keep it in mind. As I mused on this invitation, I reflected that it could also be helpful to meet in person with my Georgetown boss and then I could also take advantage of the opportunity to catch up with a pen friend who I hadn’t seen in some time as well. So with the somewhat zany concept of of three short-but-wonderful visits in two days, I booked tickets for our nation’s capital.
In the meantime, David managed to secure access for us to visit the White House. If you’ve never done this, or if it’s been a while, let me assure you it’s no easy task, requiring levels of bureaucracy and online clearance. Since David and I had toured DC umteen years ago as part of a group of 16-year-old speech contest winners, it seemed a perfect “ribbon on the bow” experience, connecting us both with our ambitious past and our fully realized present.
On the early am ride down from Portland to Washington Reagan, I managed to sit on the left side of the plane which turned into the “right” side of the plane from a viewing perspective and shot this view of the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool bathed in the rising sunlight:
After a lovely long chewy breakfast at the Old Ebbitt Grill, one of my favorite hangouts from my days living there in the 1980s, David and I headed over the the White House visitor center to ground ourselves in what we would be seeing as well as to escape from the heat and humidity. If you’ve not been there, I highly recommend it. Filling the space that used to serve as the Patent Office, it’s a wonderful resource for learning about the site AND it hosts a much more extensive gift shop than the tiny kiosk that operates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There’s a lovely video featuring Barak and Michelle who welcome you personally but ask that you not feed the dog if he begs for treats.
Then it was time to face the music and the security gauntlet to get into the White House. The fact that we were visiting *the day before 9/11* probably didn’t make it any easier. Let me warn you now. You are allowed to bring 1.) your wallet 2.) a cell phone 3.) a non-metal-pointed umbrella and 4.) any necessary medical supplies into the venue *and nothing else.* Oh, and there are no storage options. For that, head over to Union Station and pay highly inflated fees for the privilege of leaving your bag for a few hours. Ah, the big city.
Back at Security Central. First, rangers let you into the park (the area around the WH). Then you stand in one long hot line and have your “boarding pass” and ID checked. Then you stand in another long hot line and have your “boarding pass” and ID checked again. Then you stand in yet another long hot line and finally enter a small room to wait on a mat while a large ferocious dog on the other side of a low wall checks you out. Then and only then do you walk into the WH itself, a little shaken by the sight of all those automatic rifles strapped across the chests of all those very buff and unsmiling security personnel.
But once inside, things become very lovely and gracious. My pictures will be in reverse order of how I saw the WH, because we went through it basically backwards and I want to share it forwards. Here’s the front entrance:
Originally built in 1800 and rebuilt between 1815-1817 due to the destruction of the War of 1812, the White House has been altered and adapted over the years for many reasons and by many presidents. Amazingly, it retains the same look and feel as it did in its early days. One has the sense of a thoughtful and historic integrity in everything one sees throughout the building.
In through the door seen above, one arrives in a spaciously large foyer featuring a lovely harpsichord and a picture of Bill:
Down the hall to your left, if you followed the red carpet above, you would find yourself in the East Room, the scene of big dinners, receptions, and concerts over the centuries. Here both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy lay in state, and it’s also where the famous picture of Washington by Gilbert Stuart hangs as seen over the guide’s right shoulder:
Heading out of this room to the upper right, one finds oneself in the first of the “color” rooms , all of which have also been used for entertaining, albeit on a smaller scale. The first one in line is the Green Room:
This was Thomas Jefferson’s preferred room for official dinners – smaller and more intimate than the bigger room you’ll see later hence its transition into a parlor only. Next up is the Blue Room:
Used frequent for receptions these days, this was also the favorite of James Madison. (The flowers in all the rooms were most lovely and fragrant.) By turning around 180 degrees, I was able to snap this picture out the window, out and over to the Washington and Jefferson Memorials:
Finally, the most dramatic of the color rooms, the Red Room. My favorite of the three, it was also used as a parlor, most often by the president’s wives and their guests:
Here’s a shot of the formal dining room which seats 130 at a time. I can see why some of the smaller rooms might be more appealing:
And, just so you know I was really there, here’s a shot of me once we had exited the building and were still buzzing a bit from the experience:
…and, while it’s not the White House, I couldn’t leave this post without sharing one of the most endearing things I saw during my brief-but-wonderful weekend. It appears that a San Francisco Bay Area organization had sent a group of World War II veterans and members of their family to Washington for a few days to see the town and a number of the monuments (many built since the war) as a way of showing appreciation for their service. The group of vets (not their family members) ranged in age from 89 to 98. They had been entertained at stops along their visits by all manner of different groups of of musicians and performers, but I was lucky enough to see the last group, this of dancers doing their best to shuffle a little soft shoe to the tune of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B:”
…and so on that note, back I flew to Portland, Maine, feeling as true blue as I ever do. God bless us everyone.