Capitol Days

If the inflight map is to believed, we’re crossing the the state line out of Kansas now, westbound. Thirty eight thousand feet, somewhere near midnight on the way back to California.

This week, it was Washington, DC. See our old friends Gregor and Terry out in McLean VA (next door to the CIA other agencies known for their sense of irony), and meet with a few NGOs to learn a little bit about advocacy.

If you’re not busy being scalded or shredded by politics or national intrigue, it’s hard not to like Washington. There’s a weighty, spacious beauty about it, and a sense of purpose, even in the chaos, that flows predictably, like the muddy Potomac.

And the museums – in the interstitial moments between our meetings, I made it to the National Gallery three times (Air and Space twice). When I push open the heavy padded door here, there’s something different than I feel crossing the threshold of the Met in New York. Even through the Met’s stone walls, the pressure and pace of the city outside permeates the corridors, where Art (with a capital ‘A’) is being Appreciated (ibid) because it’s Beautiful and Important.

But here, the prim, aging docent meets my eyes with the smile of a stranger in an outdoor cafe, as if half expecting to recognize me as an old friend. She welcomes us to the museum with no more sense of territory or possession than you’d feel while remarking on a spell of particularly beautiful weather.

We make our way up to the French impressionists to visit Van Gogh, Mrs. Monet (and Jacques!) and, tucked away in Gallery 93, my favorite Corot.

But the Gallery closes at 5:00. It’s a beautiful not-quite-spring afternoon, and there’s still some sun left, so I turn left at the bottom of the steps on my way to the Capitol itself. Can’t resist the “big dome” picture.

Anyhow – lemme tell you about the highlight of my week: real live celebrities. No, not carpetbagging politicians or movie stars on their way for a photo op-ed on the cause du jour, but folks whose voices we know and trust in the way our parents did Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley.

I’m talking about NPR. We got to spend the whole afternoon there, meeting with Guy Raz, Jamie Taranay, Michele Norris. Coming out of an elevator we got to meet Nina Totenberg – for real! – who was kind enough to pause from her efforts on behalf of democracy to chat and wish us a pleasant visit. We got to sit in the booth, behind the glass, to watch and listen while Robert Siegel, Alice Thomas, and Michele read All Things Considered, live, out to a waiting nation. We got to talk with them afterwards, four giddy NPR groupies barely restraining ourselves from some embarrasing sort of “Can you sign my arm?”-like atrocity. My knees were knocking like a schoolgirl.

Anyhow, it was a good week. But damn am I going to be tired tomorrow.

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