Category Archives: District of Columbia

Raise a glass to the dead

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Congressional CemeteryWe raise a glass to the dead on various occasions to commemorate their lives – wakes, anniversaries, days of remembrance. But have you ever had a chance to toast somebody at a cemetery in a tasteful, respectful, and memorable way? I never thought I would until a few weeks ago when I did just that at Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery. I’ll tell you how in a moment…

Not many visitors coming to the nation’s capital even realize that this place exists since it’s been overshadowed by its larger, newer, and more famous relative, Arlington Cemetery. Yet Congressional Cemetery, stretched on the green banks of the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington (1801 E Street SE), is equally special. Founded in 1807, the cemetery is the final resting place for 65,000 individuals including prominent politicians, local businessmen, veterans of every American war, and other notable and ordinary Washingtonians. Probably the two most famous residents are John Philip Sousa, a composer and conductor known for patriotic military marches, and the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover. Many early members of the U.S. Congress who died in office are buried here for a very practical reason – it was not possible to transport bodies over long distances before the era of refrigeration. To honor those whose remains were moved, the Congress commissioned cenotaphs, or “empty tomb” monuments, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect of the Capitol building. Read the rest of this entry

Cherry blossoms’ blissful craze

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cherry blossomsIt’s this time of the year again! The time when thousands flock to Washington DC’s Tidal Basin with their blankets, picnic baskets, strollers, and yes – above all cameras – to enjoy the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms. They just peaked last Thursday after about a week of delay due to unseasonably chilly winter. Today the blossoms were on display in their full glory. But the window for viewing is closing! More and more petals are falling down and even the slightest breeze causes a “snowstorm” – the last of the season 🙂

In case you’re wondering, yes, it was crowded. Especially spots that offered iconic cherry-blossom-framed angles of Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, FDR Memorial, the Capitol, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial were popular to put it mildly. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes! I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! Spring in DC is not complete without the cherry blossom experience. A saukra-themed poem is obligatory as well. I like this one, very appropriate today:

“The first day of spring
are those snowflakes or petals
twirling in the wind?”
— Amy Liedtke Loy
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Blagden Alley Progression

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Blagden Alley

Blagden Alley

Tucked away between 9th, 10th, N, and O streets in Northwest Washington, DC Blagden Alley may not be easy to find but it’s worth the search. Blagden Alley-Naylor Court is a historic district and one of the few remaining intact examples of Washington’s characteristic alley dwellings. Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor (now Naylor) were two 19th-century property owners. The former also ran a lumberyard and the latter was a grocer.

Cultural Tourism DC further explains the history of Washington’s old allies:

“Alley dwellings were small houses situated on alleys behind large homes that faced the main streets. They often shared the alleys with workshops, stables, and other accessory buildings. During the Civil War’s severe housing shortages, alley housing was one of the few options available to poor and working-class residents. Interracial in the beginning, alley dwellings were predominantly African American by the turn of the 20th century.” Read the rest of this entry

Celebrating the gift of trees

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cherry blossomsLast year around this time I pulled together the best of my cherry blossom shots from past seasons. It’s time to augment the collection with fresh images of these delicate and ephemeral blossoms that I never get tired of. Spring is finally here in Washington after a long wait, and with it the blossoms are in full force. So are the throngs of visitors but I tried my best to crop them out and fill the whole frame with white, pink, and blue. This poem captures the mood of today well…

“Shining spring day
Falling cherry blossoms with my calm mind”
~ Kino Tomonari

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Let it snow…

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snowAs someone who grew up in Poland, I’m no stranger to snow. LOTS of snow. But in DC a significant snowfall that sticks is a rare occurrence. A dusting now and then, sometimes an inch or two of accumulation that lasts a few days, maybe just one or two big snowstorms during the season – or none at all. As the Northeast is being pounded with a serious blizzard, we have been spared this time. But even though it’s a dry and sunny day here, watching dramatic images from up north makes me think of snow-covered Washington. This is a collection of photos from different years and different snowstorms, including the mother of them all – February 2010 “snowmaggedon.” Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry

Best of cherry blossoms

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Japanese cherry blossoms were planted around Washington’s Tidal Basin in 1912 as a gift of friendship between the two nations. Actually, the initial batch of 2,000 trees arrived two years earlier but became infested with pests and had to be destroyed – fortunately the second attempt was successful. Ever since every spring cherry blossoms draw crowds of enthusiasts and photographers to DC, myself included. Each year they also inspire dozens of haiku writers to capture the special moments courtesy of the delicate blossoms. I have to say given what’s going on in here this one (submitted to the Washington Post by dmor) is my favorite:

“Beautiful flowers
Pretty and ephemeral as
Bipartisanship”

This year the timing and the weather didn’t quite work out for the optimal peak blooming viewing of the cherry blossoms – at least for me. So instead of trying to scramble for miserable shots of half-fallen blooms, I hereby present my best of collection from the last few years. Following in the footsteps of past generations… Read the rest of this entry

Presidents’ Day at the Library of Congress

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Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress (source: http://www.loc.gov)

I’ve been to the Library of Congress many times before and always loved it. The Library was created back in 1800 when the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington, which makes it the oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S. It was initially housed in various parts of the Capitol and not until 1897 did it gain its own separate space known today as the Jefferson Building.

The Great Hall welcomes visitors with two grand marble staircases on each side with larger-than-life female figure holding a torch of electric light, and colorful mosaics devoted to the disciplines such as Theology and Law. This light-filled, soaring space really dazzles with unique works created by nearly 50 American painters and sculptors. And just beyond the point where you pass under the grand “Library of Congress” sign above a tall archway resides a true gem of the Library: Gutenberg Bible. It is one of only three complete copies printed on treated calfskin, or vellum, that survived to this day (the other two are in Paris and London). Read the rest of this entry

Streetcars of yore and of tomorrow

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New DC streetcar (image source: http://dc.gov)

As a European I have a special fondness for streetcars. Yes, they can be noisy and a bit slow but they get you where you need to go and all that Old World charm makes me love them! But they are not as easy to find on this side of the Atlantic. American cities used to have streetcars aplenty but due to a variety of factors – not the least of them being the determination of Big Oil and Big Auto to put everybody behind the wheel of a car – few survived various so-called urban redevelopment plans and suburban sprawl. For one, January 28, 1962 marked the end of the century of streetcars in Washington, DC (literally: the first line started operating in 1862). It makes this year a round 50th anniversary of a streetcar-less city. Read the rest of this entry

Out of the mountain of despair: MLK Memorial

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MLK Memorial

This has been on my to-do list for a while, so it only seemed fitting to finally visit Martin Luther King Jr’s Memorial on this sunny but chilly Monday (off). I’ve seen the Memorial from a distance before while driving by but never up close. It opened to the public last August but the official dedication ceremony was delayed until October due to Hurricane Irene. Many visitors have already been there since then. Obviously today it was an especially popular destination with whole families out and about despite the frigid temperature. The visitors span the demographic gamut: kids in colorful hats, couples strolling hand in hand, even a grandma with a walker. Everybody – including me – snapping lots of pictures.

The Memorial sits on the westen edge of the Tidal Basin along the axis linking the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. It consists of the three main elements. First, symbolic Mountain of Despair, a massive boulder with a passageway carved right through it, forms the main gate to the Memorial. The centerpiece of the Memorial, a Stone of Hope, rises a few feet beyond that gate, with a monumental relief of Martin Luther King carved as emerging from the far side of the granite mass. On both sides, a two-winged inscription wall shows excerpts from King’s sermons and speeches. Read the rest of this entry

O Christmas tree

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Capitol Christmas tree

Pretty much everybody knows about the National Christmas Tree – a magnificently decorated conifer in front of the White House lit in a crowd-pleasing ceremony. The tradition started in 1923 and is still going strong. But fewer people realize that there is another great location in Washington to enjoy holiday spirit with a beautiful tree as the backdrop: the Capitol. This year the Capitol Christmas Tree is a gorgeous Sierra white fir, 118 years old and 63 feet tall at harvest, that traveled more than 4,500 miles during its three-week tour en route to DC from California’s Stanislaus National Forest. Providing a Capitol Tree has become the proud task of one of the National Forests since 1970.

I skipped the lighting ceremony (mostly because John Boehner as Speaker of the House was doing the honors =) but took a walk there on Christmas evening. The sight was wonderful indeed! The tree is really massive – equivalent to about 6-story tall building – but surprisingly slender and perfectly symmetrical. 10,000 LED lights light up the night and the citizens of California prepared 5,000 ornaments that adorn the evergreen branches. For the most part they are beautiful, thoughtful, and touching although some made me wonder: a rubber chicken? Lakers t-shirt? Well, the theme was “California Shines” but still… Read the rest of this entry