Friday, June 29, 2018

Day 2, Part 2 -- SCOTUS

Grandsons John Riley and Silas
That's the U.S. Capitol in the background.

And the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is across the street in front of them. This is an area known as Capital Hill, and it was a pretty uphill trek from the Metro's Capitol South Station. Nothing like my Green Mountain at home though.

The thing about Washington, D.C. is that wherever you look, there is something beautiful and/or amazing to see just from the street. Our walk to SCOTUS took us past the Library of Congress's Thomas Jefferson Building. As a writer, this is a big deal for me.

                             Thomas Jefferson Building,              King Neptune and his court,   
                        one of three Library of Congress                     at the base was                   
                             buildings on Capital Hill                sculpted by Roland Hinton Perry           

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. And, no, I didn't get to go inside. I didn't go inside the Capitol, either. We just didn't have time. One week is not enough to see everything I want to see in D.C. Guess I'll have to take another History Vacation. "Don't throw me into that briar patch!" she cries.

So many things in D.C. seem so big to me. Now, I live at the foothills to the Rocky Mountains. Believe me, I understand "big." But all this human-made big takes my breath away. The sculptures at the base of the Library of Congress, the Capitol Dome, the portico and columns of the Supreme Court building.

This is the Great Hall in the Supreme Court Building. It runs from the giant sized bronze front doors to the court room. The door there in the back opens into the court room. The court room itself is not huge. It's a good two stories tall, and lushly appointed with classical friezes depicting powerful men, patrons who administer the law and portion out justice. The women figures seem to be supplicants rather than patrons. Beautiful, but a little testosterone driven for my tastes. Of course, this building was completed in 1935 barely 15 years after the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women in the United States the right to vote.

And marble and bronze and more marble everywhere!
        Behind these bronze doors is an elevator                               This is the entry to
        complete with an actual human elevator                                 the women's room
        operator. I remember from my childhood                               on the third floor.
        when all the elevators had human operators!

We had lunch in the cafeteria there. My
barbecue ribs were excellent, and       
I know from good ribs, because         
   my husband makes the best.                    

After lunch we caught the last lecture in the courtroom. It wasn't long, but the young woman giving it was personable and knowledgeable. There were many young people in the audience. Along with some adults in attendance, they asked perceptive questions. 

It seems that finishing the 8th Grade bestows on American students a school trip to Washington D.C. The city was awash with them. Very fitting, now that I think about it. John Riley just finished the 8th Grade, too.

We left the Supreme Court under threatening skies. Little did I know just how threatened our Supreme Court would soon become. Justice Kennedy, I don't begrudge you your well earned retirement. I just wish you had waited at least until after the mid-term elections.

Back at the hotel John and I left the boys watching TV. They don't have regular TV at home, so it was a draw for them. Cartoons, cartoons, cartoons.

John and I went out for dessert. Remember that Irish pub we saw the evening before in the square "within walking distance" from the hotel. Sine Irish Pub and Restaurant, to be exact. He had a Guinness Brownie and I, Bailey's Cheesecake. Each topped with enough whipped cream to sink a ship or my diet.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Day 2 -- Arlington National Cemetery


In Washington, D.C., street art is everywhere. These mosaics were on the wall of a highway underpass which is around the corner from the Crystal City Metro Station. You can't tell from my photos but many of the tiny tiles were mirrors and sparkled beautifully. Note the bicycles. It's common for locals to ride their bikes to the subway station then take the subway to within walking distance of their destination.
Grandson John Riley at "our" subway stop

We each got 7-Day Metro passes. That way we could get on any time we wanted at any station and go wherever the subway went.

The boys soon learned escalator etiquette. You stand as far to the right as possible, so the locals can run past you down to or up from the trains.

Keeping in mind that I have a fear of heights and those escalators are multi-stories high -- the first time I was in D.C., I stood as far to the right as possible, clinging white-knuckled, to the railing. Praying silently, "Don't touch me. Don't touch me." as men and women in office attire carrying various and sundry bags and brief cases hurried past me. I just knew if one of them bumped me I wouldn't stop rolling until I hit the bottom.

I asked the boys what they would most like to see. "The Lincoln Memorial," John Riley answered without hesitation. And John said the Supreme Court. Silas, the nine-year-old, wanted to swim in the hotel swimming pool and go to an escape room. Well, nine is almost old enough for a history vacation.

Arlington Cemetery is the third subway stop from the Crystal City Station, so we got off there that second day.

Arlington National Cemetery is today a 624-acre United States military cemetery. In 1864 at the height of the Civil War, the property was owned by Mary Anna Custis Lee, great-granddaughter of Martha and George Washington and wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Mrs. Lee sent an agent, to pay the $92.07 in property taxes (equal to $1,400 today) due on the property in a timely manner. The government turned her agent away and refused to accept the tendered payment because she had not come in person. Now, if your husband was the head of a rebel army, would you present yourself to his enemies?

Then in May 1864, a call went out for eligible sites for the establishment for a large new national military cemetery. Arlington Estate, now forfeit due to failure to pay the property taxes, was deemed the most suitable property in the D.C. area. It was high and free from floods (which might unearth graves); it had a view of the District of Columbia; and it was aesthetically pleasing. Also, rendering the home forever after unavailable to Robert E. Lee, the leader of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America, was a valuable political consideration.

Even with all the people visiting it, the cemetery is peaceful and quiet. This city of the dead is full of life, wildlife. I loved hearing Mockingbirds with their many varied songs and Robins whistling. We have Robins in Colorado, but not Mockingbirds.

     A Momma White Tailed Deer                     A Robin sits atop a headstone.   
                   had parked her fawn in the shade    
                 of a headstone in a quiet area not far 
                    from President Kennedy's grave.                                                            

I was intrigued to see headstones for World War I veterans identifying their places of origin from all over the world. The National Park Service estimates that about 500,000 immigrants from 46 nations served in America’s armed forces during World War I. And they were eligible for a fast track to naturalization by virtue of their military service.

I recently saw The Notorious RBG, the documentary about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She reminds me of my grandmother -- a tiny woman with a will of iron. And always a lady.  If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it.

I was hoping to find a Notorious RBG t-shirt for my souvenir from this D.C. trip. But it was not to be. We did happen onto her beloved husband Martin's grave.

I got tired walking so I headed back to the Visitors Center. I always have whatever book I'm reading with me so I can entertain myself while others of my party trudge on.

One thing about resting in D.C. you meet the nicest people from all over the world. When I first sat down to read, a child sat down next to me. I purposely did not "notice" him. I find that young children are like many young animals, they are more comfortable making first contact. So we sat side by side for a bit until he told me that he likes chocolate chip cookies. That he would give me one but they were in a bag his mother had. I asked how old he was. That's always a good ice-breaker. "Six," he told me in his most grown-up manner. 

I met his two older brothers -- the middle one was probably 11 or 12 and the oldest about the same age as John Riley. People that age are less inclined to chit-chat with some unknown adult. Then his mother came over to visit. The family is from South Africa, the Free State which is in the central part of the nation. Then I met his father, who is here helping build a new chemical plant in Louisiana.

They moved on and I got to visit with a woman originally from South Carolina, but she's lived in the D.C. area for almost 30 years. She recommended we visit the Spy Museum, telling me that her grandchildren loved it.

While I visited in the Visitors Center, the boys explored the cemetery. They were particularly looking for Audie Murphy's grave. He's from their hometown in Texas. Audie Murphy, perhaps better known as an actor back in the '50s was one of  the most decorated combat soldiers in World War II. He received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism.

Not only did they find Audie Murphy's grave, but they saw former President Bill Clinton. He, of course, drew a crowd so they couldn't get close enough to talk to him, but they did get to see him.

Leaving Arlington, we reboarded the Metro and headed for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A History Vacation -- Day One

Dome on the United States Capitol

Day One of a History Vacation:

Five years ago I went with the girls (my daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter) on a History Vacation to Washington D.C. The granddaughter was 12 and old enough to enjoy and benefit from a vacation that focused on museums and monuments.

My grandsons are now 14 and 9, so it was time for them and their father, my son, to go on their own History Vacation. In June, I flew from Denver and they from Dallas for a week in our beautiful Capital City.

Washington is definitely a walking city. There are so many people from out of town and what little  parking there is is pricey, so driving is not only fiscally disheartening, it is emotionally daunting. I can't imagine trying to navigate an unfamiliar town in heavy traffic where most of the other drivers are also trying to navigate an unfamiliar town in heavy traffic. With the Metro, D.C.'s subway system readily available at reasonable cost, there is no need to drive there. It is safe and clean and there are always people ready to help you find your way.

We stayed in a hotel in Crystal City which is just outside D.C. on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The hotel shuttle runs from the airport to the hotel every ten or fifteen minutes and is free.

Crystal City must be the hotel and apartment capital of the world. Look out any window or down any street and mostly all you'll see is another hotel or apartment building. There is one large shopping mall with little malls and parks scattered about.

My son John is most adept at using his smart phone. He pulled up multiple options for our dinner that evening -- within walking distance, say 15 to 20 minutes. We settled on Nando's Peri Peri. I tend to avoid chain restaurants but Nando's was identified as serving Spicy Afro-Portuguese food. I'd never eaten African or Portuguese food. Well, I had Ethiopian on the previous History Vacation. Which by-the-bye, I enjoyed thoroughly.

We passed the large shopping mall on our walk to dinner. We never ventured inside it. I'm not a shopper by nature and it's hard enough to get me into a mall in Denver much less in D.C. where there are so many other places to spend my time. Places not available at home.

My son John and his son Silas, the nine-year-old, enjoying Peri Peri chicken meals.

According to Wikipedia, Nando's is an "international casual dining restaurant chain originating in South Africa. Founded in 1987, Nando's operates about 1,000 outlets in 30 countries." I can testify that the food at the Nando's in Crystal City is good and reasonably priced. And the people who work there are courteous and friendly.

Outdoor seating for diners is available in the middle of the small square of shops. If you look closely, just beyond the people eating, there are people participating in an outdoor yoga class. The yoga folk also have a shop on the square for rainy day classes, indoors.

There is a bakery, an Irish pub, a Lebanese Taverna, a Zen Bistro and Wine Bar, etc. It's a totally perfect place if you're hungry and looking for someplace to relax after a long day. And travel makes for a long day for me.

The weather was beautiful, mid-60s with golden evening light reflecting off the upper stories of the buildings around us. We ate and strolled around the area before returning to our hotel.

What we call a Convenience Store. Although its
location was "convenient" to our hotel,
its hours were not. It was only open
until 5 in the afternoon.

This sign was just around the corner from our hotel so not only did it give me a chuckle every time I saw it, but I knew where to turn to get back to our home away from home.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Wheel of Time

My memory from 6 years ago today on Facebook: "A Memory of Light. This title will be released on January 8, 2013. So says Amazon. Hooray. Guess I won't have to let the air out of Brandon Sanderson's tires after all."

Before Wheel of Time, I proclaimed to all and sundry that I didn't read fantasies. Or series. As far as I was concerned, no one would ever be able to meet the standard set by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. 

And then, and then.... My daughter Grace and I were driving north on I-35 at 70 mph, listening to NPR as was my want. It was September 2007. Grace graduated high school a few months before and would turn 18 that October. Suddenly she started screaming and pounding the dashboard. Got my attention, I'll tell you.

When I got us stopped and tried to find out what was going on, it turns out she was listening to NPR's news more closely than I. They had just announced that Robert Jordan died. 

Grace was furious! He died leaving his Wheel of Time series unfinished. She had read them all up through the eleventh one released two years before. We're not talking graphic novels here. We're talking page counts from the shortest at 334 pages for the first book up to 987 pages for the longest. The prologues exceed 50 pages. And writers are constantly dissuaded from including ANY prologue at all.

She'd been trying to persuade me to read them for ages. I'd read the Harry Potter series (also fantasy, also a series) mostly to humor the child Grace. (At least in the beginning. I must confess I'm a Harry Potter fan now.) But that day I was really glad I hadn't started reading WoT yet. And then I didn't have to because the writer died and it would never be finished.

Hah! and double Hah!

Jordan had planned one more book. He knew he was terminally ill and he made preparations -- He said, "I'm getting out notes, so if the worst actually happens, someone could finish A Memory of Light and have it end the way I want it to end."

What did Robert Jordan's widow do? She chose a writer to "finish" the series. Brandon Sanderson. The announcement was made in December, 2007, less than three months after his death.

So I started reading, assured that the series would be completed. And I read. And I read. And I read. I  immersed myself in Jordan's world. Its three young heroes. Its strong women. Its righteously good characters and its scary, powerful bad characters.

More than a year later Tor Books, the publisher, announced that the last book would be split into three volumes. Sanderson cited timing and continuity reasons for the change in plans. Three more books! That would be a total of 14 for a person who does not read series. Intolerable. Plus, I read a couple of Sanderson's books. They were acceptable, yes, but could he carry Wheel of Time?

Nine months later the first volume completed by Sanderson, The Gathering Storm, was released. YES! It was good. It was faithful to Jordan's life's work. WoT was in good hands. Then a year later, the next in the series Towers of Midnight was released. And I was pleased. If anything, I liked Sanderson's WoT volumes even better than Jordan's. 

A year came and went and the only word from Tor was that the final book A Memory of Light, wasn't ready. There were rumors. The internet was filled with speculation and hope and despair and frustration. 

The next year I went to a writing conference and pitched my book to a Tor editor. Then I asked when A Memory of Light would be released. She said she wasn't the editor on it and that nobody knew when it would be released. It was still being edited. Only half joking, I threatened to find out where Sanderson lived and let the air out of his car's tires. She sympathized with me.

Then six years ago today, Amazon announced that A Memory of Light would be released the following January -- six more months to wait!

Was it worth the wait? Yes, it was. I've since reread the series through twice more and periodically pick up this volume or that to read again.

These days, I sometimes need to be reassured that Good will triumph over Evil. It may just take a little longer than we had hoped.