Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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Sensory Overload - USA Day Four
Krazy Kat
(As usual, lots of pictures here on Flickr.)

Tuesday, I headed back into Washington on the always-reliable Metro. I'd got the hang of it by now, so I was listening to my MP3s like I was on the Epping line. Also had more of an idea of the layout of Washington, at least the centre. In fact it only really took me a couple of hours to orient myself.

I got off the train at Chinatown, and walked through it briefly - didn't think much of it, some passable looking Chinese restaurants, not much else. Certainly nothing to compare to Little Bourke Street. I was actually looking for an unlocked cell phone to pop my Aussie SIM card into, to no avail... I brought a Nokia with me (along with my iphone) which I was assured would work here... but nooooooooo...

So I walked in a long arc down to Congress, chewing on some Crackerjacks I got in a store near Chinatown. Crackerjacks are basically pop corn covered in caramel, as far as I can tell. Not that exotic!

Couldn't tell if I was at the back of the Congress building, I think it's one of those two-sided affairs. There was a statue on top of the dome which did appear to be facing the other way... But I couldn't be bothered actually wandering around the other side!

I walked over to the Air and Space museum, which is close by. This was when the sensory overload kicked in... Over the info desk hangs Burt Rutan's Voyager which flew around the world non-stop without refuelling.

And then in the lobby there was Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module. And the Bell X-1, first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound. And the Spirit of St Louis, Space Ship One, also made by Burt Rutan, an X-15 and a Mercury and Gemini space capsules! And this was just in the lobby... There may well have been other aircraft of some historical significance there, I can't remember.

The rest of the place was slightly less dripping with history - although I did like Howard Hughes' record breaking plane. The Wright Brother's flyer is there too, clearly identified as THE Wright flyer in a number of insistent labels. It doesn't look 106 years old because they replace the cloth covering it in the 1980's.

I actually really liked the Wright brother's bicycle they had there, wanted to pop it out of the case and take it for a spin. Look at those handlebars!

After I discovered the cafe at this museum has been taken over by McDonalds, I found a place nearby to have some unexciting lunch.

Then I went for a walk over to 15th Street, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Which is relatively new as far as I can tell.

It was very moving indeed. Damn, that sounds like such a cliched thing to say. I've read a lot of Primo Levi and a lot about the second world war, but it was very interesting to see some real artefacts and pictures from the era. One thing that struck me as particularly grotesque was a set of glass eyes, or irises at least, mounted in a folding case. Officials would use it to compare the eyes of people with "racially acceptable" eye colors, in order to classify if they were sufficiently Aryan. If you failed, off to the camps with you...

There were also pictures from some of the mining camps, from which no-one survived. There are no eye witnesses at all from them. The average survival time was three months or so.

I was also intimidated by an actual cattle car with which they had moved undesirables out to the camps. I had to force myself to walk through it. You can go around it if you can't cope. They used to jam something like 100 people into them for trips to the camps!

It struck me (again) what an industrial process it really was - the Nazi's really did turn mass slaughter into an industrial process. These things were basically death factories, with teams of workers and machines for shifting bodies etc. etc. It's actually really quite hard to get one's head around!

I was also impressed that other victims of the genocide, other than the Jews, were recorded. There was several sections dedicated to Gypsies (Roma) and homosexuals who were also interned and gassed. And the final part of the museum was an appeal to prevent these things happening again, specifically mentioning Dafar and Rwanda and indeed Cambodia. All genocides which have happened since...

Overall, the best museum I've ever been to. Drag yourself there if you're ever in DC.

After that I needed a bit of a break! I walked down to the waterfront on what I think is called the Tidal Pond. Across the water from the Jefferson Memorial (they like their memorials in this town...)


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