Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Snapshots From Washington (2)


*COUGH* 97 flipping degrees!!! *COUGH*

I feel lucky to be alive....

Mind you - it was only 89 degrees in Dallas today according to my friends at CNN or Fox or whatever channel it was I had on while I had my shower... am now a tad worried I'll feel the chill when I get there... I may even need a sweater... mind you it might also mean that I look slightly less darned puffy when I get there! Less puffy would be good if I'm about to do the whole Glamorous Author bit!

Anyway - let's do Monday shall we?
So running on the theory that an early start might grab me a degree or two less I headed out with nice flow-y WHITE clothing on and bought myself a bit of a pretzel for breakfast so I could eat on the go... Washington seems to wake up later than New York btw... In New York you can have coffee and breakfast at hours when the majority of people are maybe only thinking about getting up or are hitting the snooze button for the second time on their alarms... In Washington it tends to wake slower and by degrees so that for the first hour I got to wander around with my pretzel with very few folks around me...

Off on the bus I went - first one of the day too and this driver was MUCH slower for picture taking so I got to take some pics that I missed yesterday in Dupont Circle and Georgetown... I loved Georgetown even more second time round - it's kinda like a different town inside Washington in the same way Greenwich Village is like a different town inside New York - and it had dozens of really cute little houses and streets and shops - so it was a perfect place for a heroine to live I felt. I'd put mine in one of the nice cool leafy streets within walking distance of the little stores and coffee shops and tarot card readers... hey - maybe I'd MAKE HER a tarot card reader...hmmm... see how my mind works???

From Georgetown to Arlington National Cemetary - which I reckoned if I could do before lunch then I might be able to cool down later with the air con in the Holocost Museum. And I'm glad I did - and that I took the time to just wander rather than taking yet another pre-paid tour... Yes it was hotter than heck and getting hotter - but I had the usual creams and hat and even a hand held fan and some iced water with me so I reckoned I was ready to explore.
And what surprised me wasn't the fact that it stretches out as far as the eye can see or that there's that certain calmness to the place, what caught me again was the little things - like the number of people who leave stones on top of the white headstones to show their love or the little white headstones for wives. I hadn't realized that wives could be buried there too - and there was something both very military and very touching about how every one read 'Wife of '. As if even in death they were claiming their man, you know? I kinda liked that.

I wandered in the general direction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - and found the JFK Memorial along the way. There is a distinct sense of respect and serenity there. And rightly so. And I loved that Jackie is there and that they had carved in stone around the memorial some of JFK's greatest quotes. With any luck in Dallas I'll get to round the trip off with a visit to where he was assasinated and the museum in the Book Depository...

The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier, for those of you that might not know, is guarded by a marine every day. And lemme tell ya gals - by the time I hit there it was noon and the sun was blazing down on that marble all around him - and his uniform is DARK and it would TAKE A MARINE to be able to keep to that duty in those temperatures. It's basically like guard duty on the surface of the sun. So I watched the change over of the guard but that was as much as I could stand out of the shade for. Newfound respect for the Marine's I tell ya!!! And that was as much as I could take in the heat again I'm afraid so back to the air con on the bus for me and off to the Holocost Museum...
Which if you get a chance to go to - GO!!! They reckon you should give it at least a couple of hours... I was there three... and would have stayed more if my leg hadn't been up like a bap again by then. Now they don't allow any cameras in the main exhibit so I don't have any pics barring the front of the building. But I'm kinda glad about the camera rule - cos you don't really want anything to take away from it, you know?
They give you a little ID Card as you go in with the name and the story of someone from that time (I got a twelve year old French girl who was gassed at Aushwitz) and starting on the top floor you are told about the build up to the war, how Hitler came to power, the history of anti-semitism, how books were burned and ethnicity was decided and how you were graded. It was truly dreadful. And then on the second floor you were taken through life in the camps with a model of Aushwitz that was horrifying, a room where you could hear survivors tell their stories of the camps, videos of some of the experiments conducted on prisoners which was worse than horrific and they even had one of the train *carriages* that carried people to the camps, flagstones beneath your feet from one of the camps and shoes - so so many shoes and belongings. I think it's all of those shoes that really brings it home - in all sizes from childrens up - and nearly everyone who came round the corner and realized what they were seeing gasped. On the bottom floor you are shown the liberation of the camps and told stories of the people who risked their lives to hide or smuggle jews out of the varying countries. And then at the very very end there's a small auditorium where on the screen you can listen and watch as survivors tell their stories.
I managed to make it through the whole exhibition alternatively choked and angry and horrified - but it was that screen and those people at the end that did me in and yet I couldn't seem to leave. The clincher was a woman who had told her story all the way through to the death marches, telling how she believes she survived because her Pappa made her wear ski-boots in June when they were taken from their homes. Ski boots in June she had asked? And he had insisted she wore them. Those boots then took her all the way through the camps and was the difference between life and death on the death marches. They were marched from February to the end of the war. And she told of when the Americans found them. Suddenly we jumped to the American soldier who had found her and they jumped back and forth - both telling their side of the same meeting. He had walked to her and asked her in German and English which language she spoke. She said German. After so long in camps and treated like an animal she automatically said to him she was Jewish - thinking he would treat her differently - he in a choked voice replied 'So am I'. And he then escorted her back to the others, treated her with respect, opened a door for her, was surprised when - as he looked in horror at the sight of the conditions the other women were in - she then quoted german poetry at him. And she couldn't believe that he was so respectful and considerate after all she'd been through. It was the first time she'd been treated like a human being...

I could feel myself starting to go at that point. And then it came, the one thing guaranteed to make me leave the place in tears...

He married her.

Out of all that came love. How amazing is that??? And that decades later they could tell the story of how they met to their children and their grandchildren and to us. It was the most beautiful thing.

Yup, another memory to take home from this trip. And one I had to tell you about cos I knew you guys would *get* why I felt it so much. So now I'm about ready to jet off to Dallas to meet my friends and editors and discuss love and romance and books for a week... *sigh* I just don't know the trip can get any better...

3 comments:

Natasha said...

Man's inhumanity to man is almost unbelievable isn't it. And then there's the flipside. Incredible acts of courage and great love. That was a beautiful love story.

Michelle Styles said...

Okay, officially sobbing my eyes out at the story.

Enjoy Dallas.

I know what DC's heat is like in the summer and don't envy you. Last year, my daughter said when we arrived in DC -- it is hotter and steamier outside than the steam room in the Blue Lagoon spa Iceland...

Biddy said...

I am joining the sobbing Michelle... what a story.

Have fun in Dallas, I wich I could be there :-)