Why would you spend all day in a cemetery?

Vacation 2016 08_ Arlington

Lucia said she never thought we’d spend the entire day at Arlington National Cemetery. And still not be able to take it in. The cemetery was her highlight. It was mine too. It’s hard to explain.

There was something about that place that caused you to linger and ponder. It’s been two months since visiting, and we still talk about it. It was the highlight of the D.C. trip.

Maybe it was similar to the Vietnam Memorial, as well as all the other memorials for death. Though the Vietnam Memorial was staggering in a condensed, succinct way, Arlington was staggering in a grand and immense way.

There were a lot of names that were recognizable. Presidents, old battle heroes, congressmen, judges, and people who found fame in other ways like inventors and movie stars. The Vietnam Memorial was profound through anonymity while Arlington had that but it also had notoriety.

You’re standing in a field of omnipresent crosses that represent souls who gave their lives for a cause that seems mostly forgotten in our day. North, south, east, and west were crosses. Row upon row. Thousands upon thousands. And for all those who died and were buried on foreign soil or whose names are lost to all but God, there is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It represents the branches of our military and is guarded night and day, every day of the year.

We happened to be at the Tomb of the Unknown for three events. It was a wonderful trifecta. Every thirty minutes during the summer the guards are changed. It’s about a ten-minute process. We saw that at least three times, I think.

The Prime Minister of India also showed up to lay a wreath on the tomb. That took over an hour from prep to finish. There were scores of photographers and videographers. Our military was there, about 150 men and women I suppose. Flags, brass, horns, and ceremony. It was good to see. Of course, it made international news, especially in India.

Later there was the exchanging of the “normal” wreath at the tomb, which they do five to six times a day during the summer. Your group could sign up to do this. There were four kids from a school that was part of the ceremony. That was really cool. They walked down with the guards to where the soldiers were marching and the wreath was located and replaced the old with a new one.

Vacation 2016 09_ Arlington

There was a huge amphitheater attached to the tomb area (on the backside) that holds about 5000 people. It was filled on Memorial Day, so said a gentleman I was talking to.

They are lots of directions and information that lets you see the graves of famous people. The most popular one is the grave of JFK where they have the “eternal flame”. Jackie’s body is there, as well as two infant children. His area was large with a flat, open space for gathering, resting or taking pics of D.C.

Down below, on the side of the hill, are the graves of Bobby and Teddy. Interestingly, their markers are super small, probably as small as any markers in the cemetery. Further up the hill is the mansion of the folks who owned the acreage of the current cemetery. There was a lot of history and a tour. We took the tour. Robert E. Lee was part of this family.

We were some of the last people to leave Arlington. By the time we walked to our van, they had closed. Lucia and I would like to have stayed longer. There was a lot to see and lot to think about. Sobering and impressive are the first two words that come to mind. There is something about the sacrifice of life that stirs the soul, and this is a soul-stirring place.

You can buy a trolley ticket and ride around the cemetery, getting off at popular points, staying as long as you want to, and getting on the next trolley that comes back to the designated spots. They cycle through the grounds throughout the day.

Though the walking was horrible for my sciatica, it was good for the exercise. There was one point where we took the most direct route to the Unknown and was rerouted because of the high security due to the Prime Minister. We got close to the Tomb area but had to go back around because of the heightened security. If we had arrived at that point two minutes earlier, we could have passed. Oh well. More walking. More exercise.

The weather was fine. It was hot but not unbearable. There were plenty of trees and water stops to refill our bottles.

A memorable day.



Vacation 2016 07_ Smithsonian

The Smithsonian museums were fabulous. You need a week (ten days for us) to take in them all. There is so much to see. We went to the American History, Natural History, and the Air and Space Museums.

We also saw the Holocaust Museum as well, though we did not stay there long. It was later in the day and there was a humongous load of children there. In fact, there were children everywhere.

I think the east coast schools decided to take field trips to D.C. the first week of June. That may also explain the global disrespect I spoke about in the earlier blogs. The kids weren’t a problem; there were just a lot of them.

There were some things we wanted to see like Dorothy’s slippers and the original flag from which the Star Spangled Banner was written. The Hope Diamond was also a must see, which we saw. Then there was Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, the one he wore the night he was shot, they said.

There were all kinds of things in the American History Museum. Lucia spent a lot of time in Julia Child’s original kitchen, which was moved to the museum. I saw Ray Charles’ sequined jacket, which was cool. There were thousands of memorabilia like that.

One of the ironic moments was a case dedicated to Muhammad Ali, which they put beside a case for the bigoted Archie Bunker and his wife Edith from the All in the Family ’70s TV show. I’m not sure anyone got the irony but it was humorous to me. We were there just a few days after Ali’s passing so he was on people’s minds. They’re going to give him his own room in a year or two.

The air-and-space was nice but the children were not as interested in that. They got to see Amelia Earhart’s plane, which was nice. I think there was so much to see and it was a tiring process that to take it all in required more stamina than any of us had.

If you stayed two weeks and went into the city every other day, you could probably absorb and enjoy it.

One of my highlights was talking to a security guard. She was an older lady, who had been at the museum since the Nixon administration, though she was vague on that. She said she had seen a lot of presidents and other public figures.

She said the president had a parking spaces at all the museums, and I’d never know where they were. He comes in after hours, but if he decided to come in during the day, they would run everyone out.

She said it’s not unusual for a famous person to pay to have a private party in one of the museums, or if they just wanted to see it, they could make a donation and have the museum of their choice all their own.

On one of the days we were there, the security came running through ordering everyone out. It was around 5PM. I think there was a famous person coming through. There were no heightened security measures. It all seemed normal except she was yelling pretty loud, asking us to leave.

The guard I was talking to did say the Obama girls like to come in during the day while the crowds were there. They put on sunglasses and come in with a host of security. She went on to say that the girls try to have some kind of normal life, which is impossible to do. Being with the crowd helps, though only a little bit. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be them. That has to be a hard life.

I hope to go back some day. I think next time, D.C. will have to be the only place we go. So much to take in.

The D.C. monuments

Vacation 2016 06_ The D.C. monuments

Washington turned out to be our most interesting and reflective visit. I did not anticipate this. We had our eye on NYC for many reasons and were not let down at all by NYC but D.C. was more interesting. We settled into an Extended Stay in Fairfax, which was about thirty minutes from The Washington Monument (the center of the tourist area).

We stayed at several Extended Stay facilities or Hawthrone Suites, which were less expensive than hotels. It also allowed us to buy and prepare our own food because of the in-room kitchen accommodations. There were few occasions where we ate out. This was intentional due to the cost of eating out. One of the rare exceptions was Lombardi’s Pizza in Little Italy in NYC. Lombardi’s is the oldest pizza place in the country. We had to do that.

We brought bins of food, Chex-mix, and powders for water and so forth. Lucia had ordered several boxes of Lenny and Larry’s protein cookies. I think I was chocolate-chipped-out by the end of the trip. We had a lot of Lenny and Larry. They are good and filling and a great travel idea.

After a grocery store visit, settling in, getting my make-shift studio up and running, we were set for the next four days.

On Sunday we surveyed the scene by visiting the White House (in front of it for a pic), the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. This was a great opportunity to teach the kids a few things about America History. They got to stand on the cemented footprints of MLK at the Lincoln Memorial.

I took them down to the Vietnam Memorial, which is off to the right of the Lincoln Memorial if you’re facing Lincoln. One of the cool things about the tourist district is you can walk to so much of it. We found an off-the-beaten-path all-day parking place that was $15 per day. We parked there three times.

There was a lady doing a Periscope Live event at the Vietnam Memorial where she was explaining it to folks who “follow” her. I talked to her for a while, trying to learn what she was doing. She is in the airline business, which allows her to travel all over America. When she is in a town, she will visit a place and let others peek in through her Periscope app. I really liked that idea, so I started doing it with Facebook Live.

The Vietnam Memorial was as sobering this time as it was twenty-four years ago when I first saw it. It is hard to take in. I visited it twice on this trip. The second time we stopped by after dark. We brought a watermelon and sat on the grass, without a knife, tearing into the melon. That was different but good. And, BTW, Haydn did an amazing job carrying that big melon from the van to the park area near the memorial.

I went down to the “Vietnam” wall and sat, staring at the names. I just wanted to take it in. I wanted to enter into the narrative as much as one can. I was only a child during this time in our history. That kind of sacrifice, which is at the heart of the Christian religion is a powerful display that is full of meaning, which is hard to articulate.

My family knew something was going on inside me so they did not interrupt. I was glad for that. I really did not want to talk. I just wanted to think about what I was looking at and talk to the LORD. That was the night we went to the Korean Was Memorial, which is on the opposite side of the Lincoln Memorial.

While we were sitting at the Lincoln Memorial waiting for the girls to find a restroom, I was telling Haydn that they have seen some of the most famous architectural designs in our country. Not knowing what the most popular ones are, I Googled it and we noticed that we had seen eight out of the top ten, and one of the remaining two was the St. Pete/Paul Cathedral in D.C.

We saw that one that night. The last remaining one is the Chrysler Building in Chicago. Maybe we’ll see it someday.

The Korean War Memorial is where I met the fellow who was talking about all the rude young people. That memorial was interesting, though there was hardly anyone at it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was too late in the evening. Maybe it’s even more distant in our minds than the other wars.

(BTW, the restrooms underneath the Lincoln Memorial stunk to high heaven. I wrapped my face with a yowie to keep from gagging. The marble (or whatever they were made of) floors were sopping wet. I was not sure what kind of water it was. And the air was thicker than thick. Lucia and the girls decided a porta potty would be better, which is saying a lot. They rarely use those things.)