Washington DC. What can be said that hasn’t already been written a million times? Grandiose and magnificent buildings, great museums, huge public spaces, wonderful public transportation, enough to make any American proud to be an American (a feeling I’ve been missing for the last 6 years). Honestly, I felt that feeling several times over the last several days and it was as surprising as running into an old lover unexpectedly - tinged with pleasure, slightly embarrassing, but rooted deeply and securely in my heart of hearts. I love our country, I love Washington, and this visit only deepened that relationship. Of course we flipped the bird surreptitiously in our pockets as we walked past the White House (Homeland Security is always watching), but otherwise I felt the joy of loving my country again. Amazing! Travel can help with that too. We stayed in the Georgetown University Conference Center, which was a fabulous choice of places. We walked miles, and ate great food, and were stunned by art and architecture and the vibrant electricity of the city.
Last night we were royally entertained by old friends from 20 years ago at UCSC, a lovely family who cooked us a yummy Persian meal. It was great to renew that friendship after so many years. Hamid was always one of my favorite students. In all the years I worked at the university he had a special place in my heart, and that hasn’t changed!
Today we drove by back roads across Pennsylvania (my favorite way to travel – I avoid freeways). Somehow everything struck me as funny. The first thing was a pit stop at a very rural McDonalds where an older woman sat smoking in a booth. Her white hair was coiled in rolls across her forehead, row upon row, like little sausages. Beneath that, she wore rosy pink eye shadow, lots of it, under her deeply penciled, steeply arched eyebrows – think St. Louis arch in deep brown. Their shape bore no relationship to her head or her eyes, but were a construction purely of her own desire. Face was powdered a chalky white. Back of her hair looked as if she had run out of white coloring – it was a mix of many colors, not a pretty sight. She was as close to a Diane Arbus photograph as I’ve ever seen in the flesh. I longed to photograph her myself, but couldn’t think of a polite way to ask. We moved on.
Next were a series of places we passed: “Johnny’s Motel – Private Showers and Free TV” (as opposed to group showers??); ‘’Exotic Dancers Here Every Friday’’ (next to a falling-down building out in the woods, surrounded by abandoned and crumbling cabins; “Shy Beaver Boat Center”; “Snake Springs” (a town where goats were grazing freely along the roadside). “Clearance Sale on Display Homes” next to a row of dismal trailers rotting haphazardly along the roadside; “For Rent – Tower for Release” (on a peeling-paint billboard, topped by something that looked like angel wings); Hoke-E-Geez (a business of unknown content). Roadside sign: “For Sale: Fresh Fur Pelts, Home-Grown Beef, Ginseng”. We were mystified by the sheer number of houses that had a huge metal five-pointed star on the front of the house (perhaps 2-3 feet in diameter). A little internet research seems to point to them being Amish symbols for good luck and health. They were everywhere.We saw beautiful stone houses and log cabins from the 1700’s. We rode along lovely rivers, through forested meadows, trying to imagine what this countryside would look like in summer when the leaves were on the trees. We saw birds nests in all the bare branches, and a couple of times spotted eagles soaring way above the Allegheny mountains.Tonight we are in Pittsburgh, an elegant town by all accounts. Here they have opera, ballet, symphony, theater, art, and rivers of steel. We will be here until Monday and will explore it all!