We started with the Washington Monument and then moved on to see the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, which is one of my absolute favourites. I think the sculpture of King is wonderful in and of itself but I also love the symbolism of passing through the “mountain of despair” to see the “stone of hope” from which the figure of MLK is emerging. I would love to see it in cherry blossom season some time.
From there, we circled back to see Mr Pict’s favourite memorial: the Korean War Veterans Memorial. It proved a little tricky to locate and access in the dark because much of that area is hoarded of for construction of horse stables and an expansion of the memorial itself. It is a very evocative memorial, with the expressive faces on the slightly larger than life figures and the way they are placed within the juniper bushes.
Of course, no trip to the National Mall is complete without a pop in to see Abraham Lincoln. I cannot help but think of that scene from ‘The Simpsons’ where the statue of Thomas Jefferson complains to Lisa that nobody ever thinks to visit him as they all head to see Lincoln instead. We actually had planned to trek out to the Jefferson Memorial on this trip but it was too dark by the time we arrived in the city centre to walk all the way out to the other end of the tidal basin so, yes, we neglected Jefferson yet again. It is definitely better to visit the Lincoln Memorial at night because it can feel a bit too like being a herring in a barrel during the day.
Incidentally, this Spring break trip was the first time the boys and I had used mass transit since before the pandemic. It, therefore, felt like part of the vacation to them to be travelling on the metro. They especially loved how steep the escalators were and enjoyed challenging themselves to run up the steps as fast as possible.
After so many hours spent in Arlington National Cemetery, we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant meal. Mr Pict and I had fond memories of eating in a Southern food restaurant in Alexandria, called Southside 851, so we headed there. When we ate there in 2002, it was the first time I had had fried green tomatoes and I absolutely loved them. We, therefore, ordered those as a shared starter. They were just as delicious as I remembered them. The other courses we ate were flavoursome and good quality but far too greasy for our palates. Still, the calories had been well-earned and our full bellies set us up for an evening exploring some of the monuments and memorials of Washington DC at night.
We started at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial because I remembered being impressed by how it looked at night and because my kids had never visited it at any time of day at all. I have to confess, however, that I was disappointed this time. The lighting appeared weaker than I recalled, with some of the statues so poorly lit that they were almost obscured by the darkness, and definitely much less dramatic. Between the dim lighting and the hordes of school groups clambering all over everything, my kids were distinctly unimpressed by what is actually a very striking memorial full of historical references and symbolism. What was most aggravating, however, was that none of the water features were in action. These obviously have aesthetic and sensory appeal but they also symbolise various aspects of FDR’s presidency so there absence undermined the impact of the whole memorial. I actually felt annoyed that this was my kids’ first introduction to this memorial.
A statue that was definitely as striking by night as it was by day was the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. This was my first time viewing it in the dark and the lighting was just spot on. It’s an incredible melding of portraiture, symbolism, and messaging, and really very moving.
Our group split up after that with Mr Pict taking some of the boys to the Lincoln Memorial (our 13 year old’s favourite) while I took our youngest son and the grandparents back to the car. Once we were all back together again, we decided to visit one last memorial. It has been over a quarter of a century since I last visited the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial and I had never seen it at night so I thought this was a good opportunity to show it to the kids, given they are familiar with the iconic photograph from which it takes its inspiration. I think it is a memorial that really needs to be seen by daylight as too much of the detail is lost when it is not as well lit.
Yesterday was my first ever Martin Luther King Day, which is a fairly recent addition to the calendar of holidays, as I have never visited America at this time of year before. I am not going to blog about the legacy of Dr King or his importance to American and world history because that is not the nature of this blog. Suffice to say, however, that he and people like him are inspirational. That then is the essence of Martin Luther King Day. It is about taking that inspiration and those lessons of doing something to make your community better and using your time, skills and resources to make a difference. Of course, this is not necessarily bound in the context of the Civil Rights movement but is interpreted more widely so that it has become a day for volunteering. I have volunteered in different capacities and at different levels of dedication since my teenage years so the concept of this holiday appealed to me.
For our day of service, the kids and I headed to the Elementary School they attend as the school’s counsellor had organised a range of volunteering activities. We could do things as varied as bag up breakfast items, write letters to service men and women, sort out donated coats or weed the school’s grounds. In the end, given the spread of ages of my children, we decided to go and organise, clean and box up donated toys. The kids did a great job of getting stuck in and helping out and as a whole group we powered through the task in no time at all. I was especially pleased when m 8 year old told me how much he enjoyed the feeling of doing something to help others.
I really like this holiday and perhaps next year we will be in a position to get even more involved in volunteering in our community, perhaps even engaging longer term in a project if we can manage the logistics.
As an aside, on the way home my four year old asked me if what we had just done was “musketeering”. Cute.