Washington DC. The U.S. capital city! The home of the Wizards, Commanders, and Nationals…and politics! Lots of politics! Boring, exciting, dangerous, and exhausting politics…wheeling and dealing…jockeying…schmoozing…and scandalizing. But also- more monuments, museums, and memorials than you can shake a stick at!
The Capitol Building…the home of the U.S. legislative branch (Congressional senators and representatives )…the site of the inaugural address every four years (on the west lawn— since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in)…and ground zero for the January 6 attacks! William Thornton designed the Capitol. Thomas Crawford added the feather-helmeted Lady Freedom on top of its dome. Constantino Brumidi colored its interior with a fresco known as the “Apotheosis of Washington.” The construction of Thomas U. Walter’s iconic dome (which mirrors St. Paul’s in London and the Pantheon in Paris) gave hope to Civil War-era soldiers in D.C.
The senate meets in the north wing and the house of representatives in the south wing. When the flags fly above, Congress is in session. John Lewis, Mark Warner, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Charles Sumter, Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Webster, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi, Samuel Rayburn, Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Adams, Hillary Clinton, John C. Calhoun, and thousands of others have graced its halls, chambers, and podiums over the centuries!
Catapult yourself two miles west along the National Mall to Henry Bacon’s Abraham Lincoln Memorial…the white Greek Doric Temple where Dr. King spoke of the Dream he had for society. It’s also where Marian Anderson sang beautiful tunes, and where Forrest Gump convened with the love of his life (fictional). Lincoln’s only surviving son- Robert Todd- was at the opening ceremony for his father’s memorial in 1922. Lincoln sits in his giant throne-of-a-seat (28 blocks of Tennessee marble) with his Second Inaugural Address to one side and his Emancipation Proclamation to the other. 36 columns support the temple, and 48 state names encircle its frieze.
Flanking the north end of the National Mall’s north-south axis is the one and only White House. Irish architect, designer, and wheelwright James Hoban drew it up in the likeness of Dublin’s Leinster House. The builders laid the cornerstone in 1792 and constructed it with Aquia Creek sandstone. They whitewashed it with limestone to prevent cracking and breaking. The “Executive Mansion,” later nicknamed the “White House” in 1909 when Theodore Roosevelt signed letters with that moniker, has been the home to every U.S. president since John Adams (George Washington stayed in Philadelphia). It has served as the primary metonym for the U.S. executive branch.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyoncé, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, James Fenimore Cooper, Elvis Presley, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Sudeikis, Queen Elizabeth II, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Michael Jackson, Frederick Douglass, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, and countless other celebrities, musicians, scientists, diplomats, presidents, athletes, heads of state, and more have visited it! The aliens blew it up in “Independence Day” and President Bartley resided in it in “The West Wing.”
Lisa Simpson pleads with the namesake of the memorial within eyesight of the White House’s Truman Balcony- the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. John Russell Pope’s marble masterpiece- modeled on the Pantheon in Rome and Jefferson’s own Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia- opened in 1943. Rudolph Evans’ granite statue of the First U.S. Secretary of State, Second U.S. Vice President, Third U.S. President, Louisiana Purchase initiator, Declaration of Independence author, University of Virginia founder, architect, farmer, inventor, violinist, bibliophile, Francophile, lawyer, foodie, and half-abolitionist/half-slave-owner towers inside the memorial’s immense dome! The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is situated on the Tidal Basin (designed to mitigate tides flowing in via the Potomac River). The Tidal Basin is home to the yearly Cherry Blossom Festival (and a failed escape venue for one drunk 1970s-era congressman- Wilbur Mills).
There are undoubtedly many more gems- the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Korean War and Vietnam Veterans War Memorials, The U.S. Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy Memorials, the Pentagon, Ford’s Theater, Washington National Cathedral, Arlington National Cemetery, and so on. Each as vital, unique, serious and significant in its own way as the last. But certainly the top spot goes to the landmark that anchors them all…the one that anchors the entire city, nation, globe, and intergalactic coalition of living organisms…the Washington Monument!
The Washington Monument is an Egyptian obelisk (four-sided pyramid on a shaft). Robert Mills was the architect. Constructed at a 10:1 geometric ratio, the 555 ft 5 1/8-inch monument (comprised of over 36,000 stones) is the tallest free-stranding masonry structure in the world! The builders sourced out the stones from quarries in Maryland and New England. Construction began in 1848. They finished up the monument in 1884. Due to a financial shortage, construction halted in 1854 and resumed years later (hence, a color change in the stones). The anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party destroyed a memorial stone Pope Pius IX gave to Washington. A 5.8 earthquake left cracks in the Washington Monument in 2011. Tom Holland scaled the the monument’s apex as “Spider-Man” (which an aluminum capstone was placed atop in the late 19th century).
Washington D.C. New York. Chicago. Boston. Philadelphia. London. Paris. Rome. The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. King, Lincoln, Kennedy, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Caesar, Dante, Homer, Milton, and Napoleon. The sheer, rational, religious, symbolic, and mathematical precision with which the human doings and undergoings pour through the latticework of western civilization is haunting! Take a look at Europe’s various cathedrals- Chartres, Cologne, St. Mark’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Peter’s, and the Milanese Dome. All that architectural perfection. The precise configuration of naves, chapels, apses, spires, and flying buttresses…all the steeples aiming as high to the sky as they can. All the straight lines and rectangles…the even corners…the predictable…the systematic…the measurable…Newton and Bacon… the patriarchal, billiard-ball framework of thought. Compare that to circles and squiggly lines…spirals and swirls…fertile fields and meadows.
Nowadays, the war of ideas clashes loudly, with a vociferous fury! For all notions of the light, the known, the predictable, and the rational, the dark, the unknown, the unpredictable, and the emotional respectively counter them. The Yin-Yang. Marduk and Tiamat. Order and chaos. The masculine and the feminine.
Alas, that is where the fiery crux of modern discourse lies- the notion of dichotomies. “Non-binary” is a term that is integral to the understanding of gender identity. The question though isn’t one of ethics…but truth. To what extent is the concept of “binary” objectively valid? To the extent that its reality is consistent with a natural construct and not a social one. There are two biological sexes whether we want there to be two or not (and they exist regardless of what moral position society warrants us to take or not take). Are there only two genders? “Fluidity”- another significant term in the realm of gender identity- comes to mind when asking that question.
To what extent is one “masculine” or “feminine”? Is it even appropriate to specifically assign masculinity or femininity certain traits? The “masculine” and the “feminine” roughly and respectively map onto the roles of parents across time. It’s a wide spectrum between the two, but there’s nothing outside of it. Still, it isn’t a value statement to compare one to the other.
One isn’t necessarily better or worse. Rationality and systematic thinking are usually associated with the masculine, and intuition, emotion, and feeling with the feminine. But each has their place, and they diffuse widely across the general population. Men weep at beautiful things and swell with emotional experiences that defy explanation just as often as women appeal to precise order and rationality. Moms can provide and dads can nurture. When one isn’t there in the picture (as a result of death, abandonment, or any other reason), they often have to wear both hats!
And the “patriarchy”…”smash the patriarchy” we’ve all heard. It’s a popular idea but not a very well fleshed out one. Smash the patriarchy that violates, oppresses, and tyrannizes. Support the patriarchy that encourages and builds, and have enough judiciousness to properly distinguish between the two!
I oscillate quite fluidly (if you will) between what we traditionally consider the masculine and the feminine. Sublime aesthetic experiences frequently move me to tears, and with my mom I’ll gush over the cute, helpless, and dependent (my niece and nephews, dogs, cats, horses, bunnies). With my father, I’ll discuss architecture, history, and philosophy. But…he’s my dad. When something emotionally complex gets me down, I’ll speak with him about that as well, and he’ll sincerely listen!
When I research and give tours to people in the nation’s capital…I suppose you could say I appeal to a certain traditionally “masculine” method. There’s a way I zero in on dates and facts and measurements and numbers and locations. There’s also a way I assess the significance between Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and Dr. King….as well as the significance behind why every monument and memorial is situated where it is! But the stories…the crowds…reading the crowds…all provide a certain je ne sais quoi that none of the straight, linear, geometric arrangements of the city can encroach upon. The Founding Fathers of America were enlightenment-era men, and yet poetically romantic sentiments still captured their souls! Just read Alexander Hamilton’s famous “hurricane” poem!
So let’s give it up for all the pops out there who not only protect and provide, but nurture and intuit. The dads who not only encourage their children but empathize with them and encourage them to feel what they feel, and express what they feel. And…the ones who encourage them to try to understand why it is they feel what they feel. That full integration of energies is a wonderful thing!
And…with that…Happy Father’s Day 2023!!