Sunday, January 01, 2006

California Writer Goes to Washington D.C.

I just returned from a one-week trip to Washington D.C. where I did some sightseeing and went to the Modern Language Association Convention, the largest convention of higher education teachers in language. During Christmas dinner at my friend's mother's home I met an engineer and an architect: the engineer had helped create the Washingotn D.C. subway in the 1970s and 1980s while the architect had worked for years on historic preservation of older buildings in the city. The engineer said that visionaries created this subway Well, the visionaries did a fine job as the subway was excellent: it was clean; full of riders of all ethnicities and classes; and moved passengers quickly around the city. I wish Los Angeles had such a good subway system: we need visionaries to enlarge LA's small subway to make it more like D.C.'s subway.

Also, the architect and his fellow historical preservationists also seemed to be doing a good job. As I walked and bused mainly along Connecticut Avenue from northwest D.C. to the National Mall, I was impressed by the main fine looking mutli-story older dark brick buildings--from two-store family homes in northwest to three to eight-story apartment buildings and hotels more toward downtown. In the Kalorama section of Dupont Circle the two-, three- and four-story brick buildings were quite beautiful in their dark muted browns, maroons, blues. From the bus I saw many restuarants of different ethnicities ranging to Cajun to Indian to sushi to French to Italien: D.C. has a lively international food culture.

On the National Mall I particulary enjoyed visiting the new National Musuem of the American Indian where in the atreium in the lobby my friend Anne and I heard a trio of Peruvian Indians play music from Peru. Then we went to the see the exhibits of Native American cosmologies on the 4th floor, learning about cosmologies of the Mapeche Indians in Chile; the Maya in Guatemala; the Huppa in Northern California; and others. We had lunch in the fine cafeteria, eating the 5-dish sampler of Native foods: Buffalo roasted meat of Plains Indians; salmon from Pacific Northwest tribes; a cooked tomato dish as tomatoes were first cultivated by Mexican Indians; wild rice and watercress salad as wild rice is a staple of Chippewa in Northern Michican; and mashed potatoes as Inca first cultivated potatoes.

The next day I visited the National Gallery of Art, stood in the wonderful room ful of Rembrandt paintings; was entralled by the Manet and Degas works; walked through room full of Audubon drawings of birds; saw a wonderful selection of paintings by United States artists from the 1790s through the mid-20th century. The National Gallery of Art has a far richer collection of painting than the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art. Of course, many other musuems lined the National Mall--but I didn't have time to go see these other musuems. Again, I thought another group of visionaries had created these terrific musuems that ringed the National Mall. One would need a week to visit the rich collections in the many wonderful musuems of Washington D.C.

Of course, the city has its problems. Recently with the rise of prices for renting apartments as well as for buying houses, the city has like so many others a lack of afforable housing. One professor who works at a D.C. college told me that D.C. public school teachers, bus drivers, or police officers no long can afford to buy a house in the city where they work. Also, the architect I met said he owns a house in the Capital Hill district right south of the Capitol but that district of modest small worker houses is being gentrified and has skyrocketing home prices for even very small homes--15' across, long, and two-story. I was told that throughout most of the city where people of color live the schools as well as the health care systems needs to be improved. So D.C.'s problems--lack of affordable housing; schools and health care need investment--are the nation's problems.

Well, the people of D.C. has had visionaries who created their wonderful subway system and the great musuems, so hopefully more visionaries will emerge to create better housing, schools, and health care.

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