Sunday, October 28, 2012

I went to Washington: The Cathedral

Riding a bus is different from riding the subway in just one way: You can see things out of the windows.

The Washington buses, anyhow, differed in very little else. You use the plastic credit-card-looking SmartCard to pay your fare, same as the subways, and you sit in seats that are surprisingly clean and comfy. My entire experience with public transportation came in New York, New York, and San José, Costa Rica, so it would have taken very little cleanness (or comfiness) to surprise me.

Oh, and you pull the little rope to tell the driver to stop. Otherwise he might not let you off where you want to go. The subway just stops everywhere.

My first experience with a municipal bus system this side of the Río Grande came early Sunday morning, when I went to the National Cathedral. No direct route existed via subway, so with a little nervousness I took a subway to the nearest stop for the bus route that would take me direct to the Cathedral’s gate.

The Washington metro website has this handy-dandy trip planner that lets you plug in a destination and arrival time and will suggest various routes to get you there (and maybe early). Armed with that information, plus some general tips for noobs to the Washington bus system, I left my third-floor guest bedroom and headed for the subway, and ultimately a bus stop.

It was only a few minutes after I got to the bus stop that the big blue-and-white bus rumbled itself to a stop next to me, stooping to allow me and my bus-stop companions, all of whom spoke Spanish, inside its warm, dry self.

The next 20 minutes, give or take a few, drew cross-street after cross-street across my field of vision. They were filled mainly with ethnic convenience stores and residential neighborhoods. I could tell I was close when I started seeing the tips of some Gothic edifice above the trees and houses nearer my street.

Offloading myself at my destined stop (according to the metro’s website directions), I walked a few paces, around puddles formed from the morning’s perpetual drizzle, until mounting the steps of this gigantic Episcopal church where a 10 a.m. service would be held in its St. Joseph Chapel – the crypt. No joke.

The crypt chapel was beautiful in its own right, but served only to highlight the superlative beauty of the sanctuary, through which I passed going to and from the 10 a.m. service. I was just able to catch the cathedral’s choir filling the sanctuary with music, from the back, at the beginning of the 11 a.m. service in the main spot (as I was on my way out from the 10 a.m. one downstairs). Heavenly.

I’m not entirely sure I grasp the meaning of “beatified,” but I think it applies to the feeling I have seeing really splendid architecture. And this was indeed splendorous. I probably got more Christian encouragement from the buttresses and stained glass than I did from the interactive sermon.

I went to Washington: The Newseum

It appears to be a cardinal rule among journalists that if you visit Washington, your primary side trip must be to the Newseum.

Thanks to a generous fellow conference-goer, I did make that side trip, and without paying the $23 (including tax) for the two-day entrance ticket.

I spent approximately two hours there, which was definitely not enough to absorb the entirety of the exhibits. But I got to see some pretty nifty stuff. (The Sheldon T-shirt was in the gift shop… I couldn’t resist.)

The Berlin Wall exhibit impressed me the most – mainly because that Wall came down just as my generation was being born. I got to touch a small segment of the wall. (Don’t worry, the placard next to that brick said Please Touch.) The 9/11 and Holocaust exhibits were also moving, but in a different manner; they were memorials, while the Wall exhibit felt imbued with more hope. It was the end of the Communist era in the West; we still live in the terrorist era, a time filled with the same single-minded devotion to a wrong cause that spurred Europe’s ethnic cleansers.


Next stop after the Newseum was a meandering trek down the National Mall to see the Washington Monument and look from there down to the Lincoln Memorial. I’d never seen the Mall with leaves on the trees, not in person anyway.

I made it back to a subway station by way of the White House and a large gift shop, where I bought a T-shirt depicting the familiar map of Washington’s subway lines, in full color. (Such a “me” shirt! I couldn’t believe I’d found the perfect recuerdo!)

Is sightseeing alone as fun for everybody as I found it to be? I don’t know. But it sure was convenient, except that I’d love to have had my sister along to narrate the funny historical anecdotes only she would have recalled as we passed landmark after famous landmark.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I went to Washington: The portrait gallery

I had told one of the editors-in-residence that I wanted to hit an art gallery down the street. He thought you had to pay for it, and anyway the National Portrait Gallery was a better bet if I was there for the art plus the history. I went ahead and tweaked my (admittedly loosely-planned) itinerary.

Can you identify any of the following people’s historical importance without squinting at the information plaque next to each portrait?

I only got through the first floor (or maybe half the first floor!) of the three floors’ worth of exhibits, but I think that covered the highlights.

It was my first venture into any part of the Smithsonian Institution. I was impressed. Also, I had a nice little chat with one of the gallery’s security guards, who expressed his approbation of my photographic method: Stand gazing at a portrait, slowly taking in the historical facts imparted in its accompanying placard, before photographing it. But what else can a person do when faced with a portrait of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, Scotland and Wales?

P.S. Thank you, Congress, for deciding that people could take pictures in the Smithsonian museums. (Or pass along my thanks to whomever it was that did permit such things.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I went to Washington: The conference

So, the whole purpose of this trip to D.C. was a worthy one: I was invited to attend a journalism conference, all expenses paid. And not only that, it was a conference for Christian journalists to meet other Christian journalists and editors and hear from some big shots (or semi-big-shots) about what it’s like for them to be a Christian in this oh-so-secular profession.

Yep, all expenses paid. And I could never have attended otherwise, with accommodations such as these:

That was the DuPont Circle Hotel that I stayed in, just about three metro stops from all things Washington (including the Mall, the Archives, and the Smithsonian). Pretty sure the room I had, with a king-size bed and window looking down into the (incredibly quiet) courtyard area, was going for like $270 a night. They even gave me a little shower cap and four (4!) different small bottles (bottlettes?) of HBA items. (HBA meaning “health and beauty accessories.” Pretty sure my dad invented the term. It’s a lot shorter than, say, “cosmetic products.”)

I didn’t spend much conscious time in that posh room. The conference schedule was pretty full, what with several two-hour sessions of informal storytime and Q&A with some fairly well-known journalists. (I can name-drop now, but I don’t really care.)

Pretty sure that as a result of that conference – maybe because the speakers included no fewer than two former presidential speechwriters – my vocabulary and syntax jumped into the postdoctoral range, only less obtuse. I talked my cousin’s ear off on the way home from the airport that Sunday night without so much as an “um.”

Unfortunately (in hindsight), I don’t have any pictures of the conference speakers, the other attendees, or of myself at the conference, partly because I was too interested in asking everybody there what they thought about different things. One guy there, now editor of an arts magazine in the SanFran area, had once spent a week on assignment with one of the self-appointed border militia groups along California’s border with Mexico. They weren’t nearly as kooky as they appear in news stories, he said; he compared them to local VFW or Kiwanis, except that their hobby is guns. They collect them, like farm guys collect Chevys or Fords, but they hardly use them.

And one writer there (an attendee like me, not a speaker) was from Nova Scotia. I didn’t get around to asking him if he knew anything about a mine disaster in Springhill. (Cue the ballad….)

This was undoubtedly the most enjoyable and most edifying conference I’ve attended in my life. The speakers were admirable, frank and generous with their time. And we all, being fearless journalists, took full advantage of the hour-long Q&A opportunities with each one. I decided that Claudia Anderson, managing editor of the Weekly Standard conservative newsmagazine, is going to be the principal role model for my writing persona. (By which I mean, she was both down-to-earth and had a brilliant way with words.)

It probably helped that my first exposure to Anderson’s writing was a) a book review b) about a book called “The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After” which c) revealed her intimate familiarity with every bit of Austen’s work as well as d) her approbation of the more traditional modes of male-female relationships.

I’ve been a little more cognizant of how my writing could improve after returning from the conference. Mainly from advice I received from two current journalists during a couple editorial appointments. Not that I’ve applied any of that here, on the blog. (Perhaps I don’t take the blogging seriously enough. I just tell myself it’s more like a batting cage than an at-bat. I can whack at and miss as many balls as I please so long as it helps me get better in the writing I’m actually paid to do.)

OK, enough about the conference. I’ll regale you next with stories from my sightseeing adventures!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I went to Washington: A preview

DSCF2686Washington, D.C. Not Washington State. That’s a lot farther away from rural Indiana.

Anyhow, I spent Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon in our nation’s great capital, and just now uploaded 170 photos to Facebook. So if you’re my Facebook friend you can see pix! However, if you’re not, I will have a few up on my blog in the next several days. I’ll also write up some stories for your entertainment (or edification!) as I get the time. Maybe Monday.

In the meantime, here’s some historical eye candy. I’ll try to get a bit more posted with the stories and observations I brought home. I was there for a journalism conference, I should explain, but managed to stay an extra day in order to have much more sightseeing time.