John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey
the_gneech

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Sakura!

My whole life I've been hearing every spring about the Washington Cherry Blossom Festival, and have never actually taken part in it. So this year, inspired in part by Japan Window, laurie_robey and I decided to go on down and check it out. Yesterday was the last day of the festival, the predicted peak day for the blossoms, and a gorgeous day all at once, so we picked the right day for it! It also happened to be the 18th anniversary of our first date (holy crap!).

The story behind the D.C. cherry trees, in a nutshell, is that in 1912, the people of Japan gave the U.S. a shipment of 3,000 cherry trees as a gesture of friendship. In Japanese culture, the flowering cherry tree is an important symbol of growth, change, and the fleetingness of life (which is why all these anime shows and Kurasawa movies are littered with with falling cherry blossom petals, and why half of the girls are named "Sakura" or "cherry blossom" -- but I digress). Of course, there's also the tale of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree when he was a boy and then fessing up to it and taking his punishment like a good soldier, which may be what made the idea of a gift of cherry trees particularly appealing. [1]

Anyway, we hopped on the Metro and rode on down to the Mall -- and we weren't the only ones! For Sunday morning at 10:00, the Metro was packed, and the Mall was even moreso! We started with the short walk down Independence Ave. to the Washington Monument and the Tidal Basin (no, Mr. Street-Hawker, I don't want to buy a map to help the homeless, nor do I want a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses, thank you). I pity any poor fool who was trying to drive down there -- and there were plenty of such fools -- because the huge crush of pedestrians made trying to navigate with a car an exercise in frustration.

The Tidal Basin was, of course, lovely. ^.^ It's a large artificial lake just off of the Potomac, ringed with masses of cherry trees, with a variety of open fields and walkways, crammed full of tourists and locals having picnics, taking photos, and generally being out in it. There were a large number of Japanese tourists in particular (which makes sense I guess), including one college-age fella who spoke very good English (with a slight but noticeable accent), who asked me to take his photo for him. We also got buzzed by a Secret Service helicopter that came in low across the basin. There was a lot of speculation as to whether it might have the President or some other V.I.P. in it ... although my own theory was that it was just a pilot who was out on "give the tourists a thrill" duty.

At the Jefferson Memorial, I stopped to do a quickie sketch, as part of my ongoing attempts to learn to draw decent scenery. I'd never been to it, despite TJ being my favorite of the Founders, so I was glad to finally get to see it on such a nice day. As we went to go check out the Memorial proper, I spotted about twenty folks in gi uniforms near a stage platform.

"Hey!" I said to Laurie, "there's martial artists over there! Let's go check 'em out!" Turns out it was a demonstration of Okinawan Karate (to tie in with the whole Japanese theme) by a New York school. (There was something terribly amusing about hearing the leader say things like "We are gonna do a bit of tradishunal Okinawa-Te fer yas!") We sat on the steps and watched about twenty minutes of the exhibition; it was pretty basic stuff, mostly just going through the forms, and rather frustrating to watch because people kept making a point of standing right in front of us and talking every time something interesting was going to happen.

After we finished checking out the memorial (which was very cool, if you're an American Revolution grognard and a Jefferson fan, but there's not a whole lot to actually say about it), we were both getting quite hungry and a little sun-drunk, so we headed back over to the Mall and into the Smithsonian Natural History museum for lunch. They had expanded since the last time I was there, mostly to make space for more gift shops apparently. There was a whole new annex, in which large sections of the original outside wall of the museum was left as three-story interior walls. It was kinda nifty to be outside, and inside at the same time.

The museum is another of those things that's cool but there's not a lot to say about -- it's got bones and mummies and rocks and tarantulas and giant crickets in it, y'know? I did succumb to the allure of the gift shop and picked up a new t-shirt; Laurie almost bought a teddy bear in a very cute little pink satin kimono (to commemorate the Cherry Blossom Festival), but decided that she'd be happier with a photo. :)

At this point, it was 4:00 in the afternoon and we were both pretty well funned out, so we made our way back across the Mall, past the P.E.T.A. groupies (le sigh) and the Scientology Groupies (le sigh again) to the Metro station, only to find a bunch of cops telling people, "Exit only! Exit only! Use the Independence Avenue entrance to the Metro Station."

Er. Okay. Traffic control, maybe?

So down a block we trundled, only to find a huge mob. 0.o Not in the station, mind you, but on the sidewalk and spilling out onto the street, of people crushing in, trying to get out of the way of the dozens of honking cars that were sitting on Independence Avenue unable to go anywhere. I had visions of every "crowd disaster" incident I've ever heard about, and Laurie was on the same wavelength. All it would take would be for one person to trip, or some car not to stop fast enough, or some elderly tourist to have a heart attack on the escalator, to make Something Very Bad happen.

So we got the heck out of there and walked five blocks up the line to the L'Enfant Plaza station, where we quite easily found an empty seat at the front of the train that we could just grab and claim for the ride back to Vienna. The first stop from there, of course, was Smithsonian, where some of that huge mass of people managed to squeeze on, but not that many, because the doors only open for about thirty seconds. Maybe that was part of the Japanese motif too -- welcome to the Tokyo commuter train! 0.o

The ride home was pleasant enough; I spent it helping a cute little blue-eyed toddler practice her tongue-sticking-out technique. There was a weird little bump at the Dunn Loring station -- it felt to me like the brakes didn't quite catch. But whatever it was only caused a little delay, and then we were back. Feeling expansive, we finished off our day at Red Lobster (mmm, snow crab legs *drool*) ... and then home for a few hours of sitting around groaning about our sore feet.

On the whole, it was a very nice day. :)

We took lots of photos, and I have that sketch to scan still; we'll probably post that stuff later this week.

-The Gneech

[1] Note: The story is fiction, made up by a parson named Mason Locke Weems and published in a less-than-accurate biography just after Washington died, designed to make ol' George out to be the Saintliest, Most Piousest World Leader Evar. What it actually did was make him seem like a terrible bore, but I digress again.
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