Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Weekend Part 2: Moments of Grace

Most honeysuckle plants are blooming this week, which means this is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The smell of honeysuckle gives me the God feeling. You know - that deep longing for something you can't put your finger on. It's kind of like nostalgia, kind of like love, kind of like anticipation, but not really any of those things.

C.S. Lewis (and probably many people before him) used to say that that feeling proved the existence of God, because why would we spend all this time longing for something so vague and esoteric if we weren't designed to have a relationship with the divine?

I have no idea if he's right, but I do know that I feel that feeling whenever I smell honeysuckle. I also feel it at Gravelly Point park, where I took Matt for the first time this weekend. It's been more than 10 years since my dad took me there for the first time.

In some ways, Gravelly Point is very, very wrong. It's a public park on the end of the runway of DC's most important airport, where senators and congressmen and dignitaries fly in and out every day. Planes fly so low overhead that they're sometimes no more than 100 feet from you - easy weapons range. The park is accessible at all times of day and night. It's just one of many reasons National Airport is a disaster waiting to happen.

But it's also one of the best places in the country to sit and think about just how amazing air travel is. Watching these 200-ton pieces of metal take to the sky with hundreds of people on board, seeing the pilots make their initial giddy turns as the landing gear retracts, hearing the roar of the engines at close range, you can't help but think: I live in a time of miracles.

If you go anywhere near Gravelly Point's half dozen horribly-maintained port o' johns, the God feeling is somewhat diminished. Ick. All I can say is: if you bring a picnic, try not to drink too much. But go to this place if you can.

Another place that gives me the God feeling: a good cemetery. Any good cemetery. And I found a new one today: Holy Rood in Georgetown.

That's the Washington Monument in the distance.

And the National Cathedral.

I can't believe how long it took me to walk up to this place. I'd passed it for years and years--I think I first noticed it when I was 12--but always in a car on my way down to Georgetown. I assumed it was the churchyard for the Christian Science church a little up the way. I assumed it wouldn't be very big.

I was driving back to Arlington from the festival at St. Sophia's today and impulsively pulled over and got out and walked up the hill. What I saw took my breath away.

This is the best cemetery in Washington by far. It's as wild and green as the prettiest cemeteries in England--it actually looks a lot like Holywell in Oxford--and it's huge, full of tangled ancient yew trees and flocks of grackels and cracked tombstones, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ninety percent of the names are Irish, so I'm guessing it was Catholic, but no one really comes to pay their respects anymore. It was utterly quiet when I was there; I couldn't believe I was still in Georgetown. One of the most familiar streets in the whole city was suddenly alien to me.

You can see the whole sweep of Washington here, from the monuments to Mount St. Alban. Seriously, if you're a cemetery geek like me, it will make you want to cry. Especially when you come home and read the Wikipedia entry on it and discover that it's now owned by Georgetown University, which wants to raze it and redevelop ASAP! @#$*&#$.

Go see it while you still can.

I'm Back!

Like the mercury in a May thermometer, my mercurial commitment to this blog is once again HOT! And how. I crammed in adventures this weekend like a fat kid cramming Nutter Butters. Here they are in no particular order.

AN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY REENACTMENT FAIR.

When I was 8 or 9, my mother brought me and my sister to the Claude Moore Colonial Farm Market Fair, a thrice-yearly festival at the DC area's low-budget alternative to Colonial Williamsburg. This was at the height of my home herb-growing craze--I had convinced myself that the lavender plant I had in a pot on the back porch was a solid first step on the career path to medieval enchantress--and so words could hardly express my glee at what I found when I got there: a $1 make-your-own-sachet stand, complete with big tubs of dried herbs and a real mortar and pestle.

Oh, sure, there was a blacksmith forge and a woodworking stand and an 18th-century playground with a rope swing and one of those hoop and stick contraptions. But I didn't care. I only had eyes for the sachets. And...the food, the food. Sausage on a big fire and cheese and bread and root beer. If this was what colonial life was like, I thought, count me in. I demanded we go back and back to that market festival something like half a dozen times. And then I forgot about it and 15 years passed.

...Until today! Neil and I went back, and I got a little choked up when I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing, had changed in the intervening years.

Still the same sausage.

Same people who've waited all year to whip out the period costume.


Same funny signs with s's that look like f's.

Same...freaking...sachet stand.

And there was so much more. Claude Moore Colonial Farm operates year-round for the delectation of elementary school students from every corner of a 5-mile radius, and so we made sure to check out the regular exhibitions as well: the orchard*, cattle herd**, farmhouse***, and freshwater spring****. (*: actually just a weed-choked field full of stumps. **: actually just one bull. ***: temporarily closed to the public. ****: stagnant.) Neil fell off a log. I harassed a goose. It was a good day.

And it wasn't over yet! Mid-May is festival season in DC, and no good nomofomist could possibly stop at just one. So we headed over to...


St. Sophia's Greek festivals are a well-known commodity in DC. If you live here, chances are you've been to one and know the score: phenomenal gyros. Live bouzouki music. People selling Orthodox icons. A stand where you can get 3-liter canisters of EVOO and tubs of balsamic vinegar the size of frat house beer kegs. (Hmm. That gives me an idea.)

DC's Greek community was proudly showing off its culture. I loved to see the twinkle in people's eyes as they danced in a circle in front of the band or pronounced "tzatziki" the right way as they ladled it onto my plate. But after a day of sausage and cheese and gyros I couldn't really do anything but appreciate it with my eyes while slumped at a picnic table. Basically all Neil and I did here was wait in line for food and then eat it.

The Claude Moore Colonial Farm Market Fair costs $5 for admission, but most food and activities are either free or less than $2 when you get in. Nothing was really free at St. Sophia's except admission, but the food was great. May in DC is the best.

FUN FACT: the Claude Moore Colonial Farm is located directly behind the George Bush Center for Intelligence, i.e. the headquarters of the CIA. Neil thinks they built it here so no one would live on the outskirts of the property. Coincidence...or COLONIAL CONSPIRACY??