DC: Dysfunction Junction


It was uber hot in Washington during my last visit.

It always is in August.

Some were less affected by the heat than others.

Speaking of being affected by the heat,
in this case, the Republican blowhard obstructionists,

Wish Obama would take a page from FDR’s
playbook and introduce his own bold ideas,
project that can-do spirit and American optimism
and basically, grow a pair

preferably a bronze pair

Friday morning when I headed out for breakfast
it didn’t seem like such a fateful decision at the time.

Looking forward to my favorite DC treat,
the tea-smoked salmon and eggs at Teaism.

On the other hand, for the third morning in a row, I bypassed the made-to-order breakfast at my B&B…  Why?  Because at the time I had no idea the French innkeeper was a prodigy in the kitchen.  He was helpful, eager to please, impeccably polite, that much was clear.  But an accomplished cook as well?  Not likely!

In any case, once I arrived at Teaism,
I was distracted by a limbless Venus
propped in a garden across the street.

Next door, a woman was heading up the steps.
The man who opened the door for her
briefly watched me shooting an inert statue,
before beckoning and cheerily inquiring,
“Would you like to see some art?”

“Of course!”  I replied instinctively,
even as my grumbling stomach disagreed.

That’s how I met the mysterious Mr. Rappaport,
his faithful, furry companion, Petra…
and his loyal, less furry coterie of assistants.

. . .

If my stomach hadn’t led me to Teaism that morning,
I would have missed that evening’s wine-soaked soiree. . .

. . .

Earlier that week, before my encounter with Mr. R,
M and I enjoyed a gothically medieval time in Cathedral Hill. . .

After our meeting in HQ, we were very fortunate to catch a ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour of the National Cathedral.   Later that month, the cathedral would suffer significant damage when a 5.8 earthquake struck, toppling 3 of 4 spires from its central tower.

Known as the “Gloria in Excelsis” tower, it is (was?) the highest elevated point of Washington, DC.

And apologies to the structural engineers in advance, but honestly, punsters were handed a major boon when it was reported the cathedral’s east end had suffered major cracks in its flying buttresses.

Seriously, for the highly immature, some things are beyond resistance…

Although this event happened nearly 3 weeks after our visit, props to the red-ruffed lemurs at the National Zoo, who sounded the earliest-known quake warnings.  Zookeepers reported the lemurs began “alarm calling” 15 minutes before the quake hit.  Someone needs to hire these fuzzy geologists as consultants – stat!

Before the area’s geo-shakedown, stone structures inspired; in the quake’s aftermath, unsettling structural anxiety.

Oh to achieve such calm, such focus, such meditative silence,
such chiseled, statuesque, stone-faced absorption.

Perchance to even dream of attaining so zen-like a state.

Translation:  Yah, like that’s ever gonna happen!

The Airport’s domed ceilings have a bit of the cathedral…

But the airport doesn’t have the National Cathedral’s 200+ stained-glass windows that compete to thrill the most jaded, vanquish the deepest apathy, and harness the mysterious power of minerals.

Perhaps I overstate their properties.  However, consider the Ode to Space window…

Embedded in the center of this
magnificent artwork is a piece of moon rock
retrieved by the intrepid crew of Apollo 11.

Over one hundred gargoyles adorn the exterior of the gothic structure.  And of all creatures, Darth Vader glares down from the northwest tower.  I always puzzled over how he made it past the crass culture censor detectors.

Turns out Darth was added in the 1980’s after some architects ran a contest asking children to choose a grotesque for the tower.   After I found that out, I was just grateful Papa Smurf wasn’t chiseled up there.

Sometimes I think Luke Skywalker’s father detracts from the spiritual splendor of the site.  I’ve since learned that Darth is technically a grotesque, because he’s only decorative, whereas gargoyles are practical, doubling as a building’s guttering system.  As excess water is drained through pipes in gargoyle’s mouths, rainwater bounces from their heads, noses, or other protruding parts, protecting the Cathedral’s stone walls.

Still, it makes you wonder, who might be next on the grotesque roster?  He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named??  Hmmmmm

M and I were seriously chuffed to be escorted
through the hidden corners of the Cathedral,
gazing up close and personal at gargoyles and glass,
viewing the vaulting from lofty vantages,
discovering new panoramas of the city from spire heights…

It’s impossible not to stare slack-jawed
when viewing the windows in person.
(assuming slack-jawedness is not one’s natural mien)

At the start of our “Behind the Scenes” tour,
M and I noticed a little group at church center
gathering for a separate tour,
the infamous “Gargoyle Tea Party.”

With its limited tour dates,
it’s notoriously difficult to book.

The look of yearning on M’s face, so poignant,
her dreams of high tea so ruthlessly dashed…

inspired an SLP,
that is, a Seriously Lame Poem.

How longingly did M look back to see
if anyone from the Gargoyle Tea Party
would invitingly say, Come join us please!
We have a spot reserved for you, my Dear…

  Of course nothing like that remotely occurred
as M gazed back wistfully, ceremonially stirred.

Thanks to carved-in-stone schedules making us tardy
we’ll continue to miss the Gargoyle Tea Party. . .

It’s a cryin’ shame !

Maybe next time, M

Meanwhile, across town, in another neighborhood . . .

It may be “the People’s House” but it’s owned by the National Park Service,
which is technically owned by citizens too, but either way,
citizens are no longer allowed to waltz in and bother the president
as they often did in Lincoln’s day.

During our stay in the District,
the US took a symbolic sucker punch in the GDP
after the credit rating downgrade by S & P.

In the Portrait Gallery, a brooding Tom Jefferson

History tells us he strongly objected to Alexander Hamilton’s
proposal to create a centralized, national bank . . .

Hamilton thought banks were vital to America’s future,
and for a strong economy, a country needs lending,
and lending means banks, and isn’t it better, he argued,
to have American banks doing the lending
rather than those scuzzy Brits or other foreign banks??

He had a point.   Up to a point.

Hamilton obviously won the debate over Jefferson
and became the architect of the  First Bank of the US.

Also, in another historic first, few know that
Hamilton was the first recipient of an overdraft notice.

Skeptical Jefferson believed the bank would put
too much power in the hands of the bank’s owners,
essentially holding one over on the government.

Imagine that  !!

Jefferson didn’t trust any bankers,
viewing them all as swindlers, basically,
not the most circumspective view, but still…

After the sub-prime mortgage debacle that almost
brought this country’s economy to its knees,
Jefferson’s views seem more prescient,
even though Hamilton’s practicality
made perfect sense and he accurately
predicted how America would develop…

Ever notice how economists rarely run for office?

* * *

A novel proposal:
(future shock?)

“Money and Soul opens up new methods of looking at,
thinking about, and using money.  It points to a future
where our ideas about money will be greatly expanded;
a future with different kinds of money—
used for different social purposes—in circulation.”

* * *

A few months ago Sari sent me a text:

“Ya know what’s kinda funny….
Terrorists tried to ruin us with 9/11….
however if they would have waited
we would have just ruined ourselves
through greed…”

And a minute later, she added,

“…they must be laughing.”

* * *

From the mouths of babes

* * *

And from a resident, who inadvertently nails the disconnect in DC’s bubble,

“I know that millions are struggling to make ends meet,
though we hardly see it in Washington DC.”

In Java House, I couldn’t help thinking
we’ve come to prefer connecting electronically
while slurping sustainable coffees, and interacting
with our juice-draining devices.

M and I navigated the Newseum on her extra day in town, an overwhelming 250,000 square-foot corporate-funded institution dedicated to the history of journalism even as it ambiguously reflects the steady demise of print journalism.

In one of many well-laid exhibits,
the Newseum examines the emotional events
surrounding the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall.

Washington Post photographer Carol Guzy
captured a family “Fleeing Kosovo”
found in the exhibit on Pulitzer-prize photos.

The Newseum’s photos are arguably
the best part of the museum.

Along with the fun (and real)
botched headlines embedded in restroom tiles

Abe takes a mystical spin

Studying Edward Hopper

M reading a call-box

In the Portrait Gallery, a close-up of Cleopatra’s sandals

Would she have advice for these contemporary times
an era that views her as ancient world’s Jezebel,
envisioning her dying glamorously
encased in a throne of stone
a temptress who was compelled
to drink the poison
rather than return to Rome
against her will…

How bad must the pizzas and calzones have been?

Once again, apologies to both Cleopatra and Rome,
and you, innocent reader

“Love and art are greater than money and food.
I used to believe that.  But I’m always hungry.”

When Friday morning rolled around, I was touring Mr. R’s home previewing his art and learning about that evening’s upcoming festivities.  Dupont Circle’s galleries throw their doors open on the first Friday of every month for late-night art-viewing.  Luring a mix of artists and collectors, the curious and uninitiated and the just plain strays, I suspected the evening would have an interesting cocktail of guests….

Just how interesting, I hadn’t reckoned…

Mr. R’s “humble chapeau” across from Teaism.
iPhone Photo by  Bill Katzenstein

The Psychic’s Venus across from Teaism,
next door to Mr. Rappaport,
3 doors from the Chad Embassy,
a stone’s throw from Connecticut Ave.

Like a kid in a candy shop, the personable Mr. R.,
enthusiastic horse lover /race horse breeder,
looked up the results of his last winning thoroughbred
and re-played the exciting race online…

It was, as Miley notes,  “prehtty coool.”

Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Rappaport
magnanimously made an offer I couldn’t refuse –
Come back to snap informal photos of friends and visitors
during that evening’s Friday Art Crawl.

Mr. R struck me as an amalgam of characters in some smokey film noir,
if it was filled with passionate art collectors/ wheeler-dealers, former Israeli soldiers,
horse breeders, and the occasional financier.  Swirling about such an interesting protagonist
would be your savory and unsavory characters, the slightly shady sort,
the spoiled rich man’s son who becomes more deranged as the night wears on,
as well as the wildly envious, frankly, the most dubious of all.

During my sometimes awkward photographic assignment,
I had the pleasure of taking the liberty of  psychoanalyzing certain peeps.

Fun!  And just slightly risky….

That’s how I met Bill, the shy, unassuming Architectural Photog
who admitted to moonlighting as a part-time consultant at the World Bank.
And Navy, one of Mr. R’s friendly assistants, a talented artist in his own right,
and a host of other fun, polite and usually respectful visitors.

Speaking of the less than respectful, if not downright snarky and art-envious. . .

The first photo subject of the night held his arm up dramatically moments after this shot, declaring huffily, “No pictures, please!”

Which was odd cause when I ran into him later that evening at another gallery, he greeted me like a long-lost friend, cozying up and  throwing his head back and laughing when I assured him I would delete his pic.  Oh no worries, he said, stroking my arm like it was a pet llama, assuring me he had only reacted so because he was (voice lowering dramatically) an undercover investigator…

Fueled by a civilizing stream of alcohol, variations in his story appeared.  He must have been implementing some super ingenious dyslexic plan consisting of blowing his secret cover over and over again…    Pretty wily!

Pass the merlot.

That evening, guests came from near and far to peer at Mr. Rappaport’s eclectic collection.

A couple of people mused on
the figure in the foreground who appears
to be skating through tumultuous history.

“Is that skater Ach-My-Dinner-Jacket ?” they wondered.

Only the artist knows for sure…
Cause apparently it’s gauche to ask

Once again, Mr. Twain’s advice reminds one,
“Better to keep your mouth shut and appear ignorant
than open it and remove any doubt…”

 Bill, the talented architectural photog,
pulled out his Jules-Verne inspired film camera
and just cause he could, set up a 15-second exposure shot
of Mr. Rappaport’s second floor living room…

Possibly to psych me out.  Which worked.

Viewing Mr. R’s phenomenal collection
means visitors are invited to ascend three flights.

A fan of Joan Miro

 Friends pointed out their favorites

Visiting artists snuck in

Patrick was instrumental in keeping wine, water and guests flowing

 A waif wandered in

A small visitor had his pick of transforming toys

In the kitchen, Mr. R and Navy discuss art with visitors.
Or maybe they were discussing the merits of owning 37 race horses,
lovingly tended by one overwhelmed personal stableman.

Or perhaps they’re discussing some fascinating new artist
Mr. R supports by showcasing their work in his archival home.

 Soft-spoken Sigay contemplates
the haunting maternal gaze that touched his soul.

Well, his soul and his pocketbook!

Yard sculpture in the hood

Foot sculpture down the street

The next day. . .

Guess who pulled up at the Market
with a pair of smiles or what?

Once again, not a question, just rhetorical,
but why are all the best ones furry, gay or taken,
not necessarily in that order?

At the Museum of Natural History
capturing an Evolutionary Arc moment !

In the 1830’s, after witnessing the US government
pass the Indian Removal Act, forcing Southeast Indians
to resettle west of the Mississippi,
George Catlin journeyed West five times
to paint the Northern Plains tribes in their natural habitat.

Admiring the Natives for living in harmony with nature,
and witnessing the devastation through land-driven corruption,
Catlin wanted to record the tribes’ rapidly disappearing way of life.

And so he did, marvelously.

The  National Gallery showcases 350 of Catlin’s
Indian paintings in a wonderfully staged solarium.

As noted earlier, unbeknownst to me, Jonathan, the inexplicably-named Frenchman who co-runs the inn at the American Guest House with Alexis, his no-nonsense American counterpart, whipped up breakfast specials with the aplomb of Jacques Pequin and the youthful charm of Jamie Oliver.  If Jamie was French and embarrassingly helpful and Jacques Pepin was, well, looked like Jonathan.

“My mother told me that no one would want to marry me if I didn’t learn to cook,” he admitted to his guests at the breakfast table.

One evening, in a girls’ late-night conversation with Alexis, she described Jonathan as “not gay, just French.”

Jonathan flits back and forth in the breakfast room

After belatedly discovering Jonathan’s cooking skills on my last morning at the American Guest House, my thoughts ranged from “Quel domage!” to ” Trop mal!” to “Tsk tsk” to a bit of the unprintable.   After all that, my one and only breakfast experience consisted of asking for scrambled eggs…wondering if this kid could even scramble les oeufs.  Upon receiving my modest request, Jonathan went as giddy as an overeager schoolboy and whipped up an airy concoction with a dusting of some dark spice I believe the French refer to as “le pepper” and finishing with a jaunty sprig of parsley on top, which I believe they call “le parsley.”

Coincidentally, there was a French couple sharing the table with me that morning.  They were in the States for the first time visiting their daughter.  Between me and them, it was clearly a crap shoot as to who would adopt Jonathan first.

At Eastern Market,
possible love among the peaches.

*       *       *

After roaming my favorite outdoor market,
it was time to say goodbye to the awesome innkeepers at the B&B
and time to say hello to the national airport.

The first leg of my return journey home is brought to you by
“Psych-Yourself-Out Head Games.”

It all started when our pilot announced he’d been flying in circles around St. Louis for the last hour because Chicago airspace wasn’t safe to land in.  The sudden reality that you and your fellow passengers are being propelled by thousands of gallons of rapidly-depleting jet fuel, “flying” through thin air under some delusional, barking mad scientific principle, runs through you in less time than it takes to yell “Uncle!”  A prickly cold shudder followed and my mind went off to the races, thinking of all the stuff people sneak on to avoid excess baggage fees, which further made me worry about how many passengers had eaten before boarding, and then actually just how much they might have eaten, I kid you not, and whether those seats that double as flotation devices had any parachute capabilities.

Which further had me yearning for the complimentary non-stop alcoholic beverage services being sloshed around in first class. . .

*     *     *

Which further makes me realize just how inappropriate and stupidly frivolous this anecdote is considering the unimaginable terror the passengers of those four hijacked planes underwent on 9/11 ten years ago tomorrow.  And the phenomenal amount of things we take for granted every day.

Flight 93 Memorial
Image by Mary Kokoska

Image by Dan Deluliis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s