Sunday, June 7, 2015

Jon's America V (Washington, DC)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my family’s visit to the USA, beginning with our romp through NYC. Watching my family squabble over who ordered what overpriced pastries they’d ordered at the Time Warner Center, a sharply dressed businesswoman remarked that we were “the cutest thing ever”, and it was in that spirit that we descended to DC. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the rest of the trip (we did all the DC tourist stuff imaginable, you get the idea), I shall offer a few insights into this city that I gleaned through this hosting experience:

  • The tour boat from Georgetown to Alexandria is excellent, and comes complete with an incredibly cheesy recorded commentary on the sights to be seen around you – its relentlessly positive note and swelling music struck a jarring tone with my typically cynical British family. “Did you know that the President doesn’t have just one jet, but TWO?” burbled the disembodied voice of federal largess as we cruised past Reagan. We imagined how a group of British people would react to the idea of David Cameron getting two private planes, and the subsequent outraged tutting (equivalent to a small riot in British terms) that would follow a similarly chirpy announcement. Still, a stand-out moment was early on, as we chugged past the Watergate Center, and our enthusiastic hostess fell mysteriously silent…

  • The concept of a free zoo is mind-blowing! We happen to live five minutes’ walk away from the National Zoo, and I think I’d gotten entitled regarding its presence in my life – of course I should be able to stroll through a free zoo at any time the fancy strikes me and go talk to the friendly bison, that’s a basic right. Anyway, everyone was incredibly impressed with Bao Bao the baby panda and, just as importantly, Bao Bao Mission Control. If you’ve been, you’ll know what I’m talking about – banks upon banks of screens showing every conceivable angle of the enclosure, and stern faced “researchers” monitoring and recording every last cute thing, for science! There are major NASA missions that get less support. The zoo also provided my sister with the opportunity to try Dippin’ Dots for the first, and now most probably the last, time. Mum had originally attempted to get them while on a quest for gelato at the Nats’ stadium, and I had to stop her from purchasing the lumpy frozen remnants of an industrial accident before she experienced a profound case of culture shock from which she may have never recovered.
  • On an unseasonably hot day, starting at the Jefferson Memorial and attempting to walk down the length of the Mall to the Capitol Building, whilst trying to see everything on the way, is as a classic example of commendable ambition and terrible planning. We made it as far as the White House before my family decided they’d got the general idea of DC (don’t worry, they did end up walking around the Capitol Building eventually).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, DC comes across as a fantastic place to live. I had been a little concerned that, after the glitz and excitement of NYC, my adopted city might pale in comparison. But that wasn’t the case; my family loved the greenery, the relaxed yet cosmopolitan atmosphere, the restaurants and the neighborhoods we passed through – not just the touristy areas, but the living, breathing city that most of us actually experience every day. The fact that everything was half the price of New York didn’t hurt either. Sure, DC’s got its problems – WMATA makes Transport for London looks like a shining bastion of competence – but, seeing the city through my family’s eyes, I was glad to call this place home.

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