Sunday, October 08, 2006

DC, 19.09: the Library of Congress and the White House

The Library of Congress and the White House are places where you get in by appointment. The easiest way to get the tickets is writing to your elected representative's office. You can get into the Library of Congress on your own too, but then you are not gonna have a guy with a beard show you all the interesting details of the building and tell about their history.

The Library (the Jefferson building) is very beautiful and the guy with a beard is telling all the kinds of interesting things about it. At some point in some corner he points at writings on the ceiling and says that these express universal human values for all times and peoples. I find it amusing because they clearly express the values of European Enlightenment, which are in no way universal.

(And yes, I do prefer the Western values to any others and would consider it good if they were universal - but this is no reason to claim that they actually are.)

In any case I am very pleased with the library - both the main building and the collection are quite worthy of the National Library of the world's only superpower. The organization, well, reminds you of the fact that it is owned by the Federal government, but could be worse.

Any person who has an ID can get a library card and read books in the building, but only members of Congress can check books out of the building. We are told not to get the cards as souvenirs, only if we want to read something.

During our stay in DC we see Marine One all the time (it's like Air Force One but belongs to the Marine Corps and not the Air Force). I think any Marine Corps craft that is carrying the President is called Marine One, but the normal physical instance of Marine One is a big Sikorsky helicopter. I have no idea why presidential planes belong to the Air Force and helicopters to the Marine Corps, but in any case the First Helicopter seems to shake so much that the president is probably using the First Barf Bag all the time.

Our tickets to the White House are at 12, but they let us in earler. The security is much like in the library, except that you have to show an ID. A sleepy security guy takes our passports somewhere, comes back with them and clearly cannot remember whom he took them from. We wave to him, get them back and go through security. My belt seems to ring everywhere, and then I have to take it off, and then my pants are falling down. Annoying.

The White House tour is self-guided and they show you only a small part of it, of course. Feels like a small historical museum. Interesting but not very impressive.

We have lunch in a place called Ebbitt Grill right near the White house. It's overcrowded and mentioned in our guidebook, and such places are usually overrated, but this one is excellent. They don't have a place in a non-smoking section and convince us to sit in the smoking section claiming that nobody smokes, and indeed nobody does.

We decide to check out the nearest supermarket, which in on 11th street about 8 blocks to the north of our hotel. Around the 1000-block the neighborhood starts becoming vibrant and multicultural (in fact sleepy and Black), not in a ghetto-scary way though. The supermarket, when we find it, hint more at a Hispanic neighborhood and is rather poor. Benka says she has never seen such a poor supermarket in a Western country, but that's because she has never shopped in Hispanic food stores in Boston.

Later in the day we check out the modern art part of the Art Gallery. Its a lot less impressive than the older part, mostly because it has fewer paintings. They are getting ready for some big party right after the closing. I am considering stealing a glass of wine just for the thrill of it, but don't.

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