From Castles to Chilli – An Emerging American Affection


It’s time for me to make a confession; I’ve always had ‘issues’ with America. I’ve been here twice before and never really liked it.  The first time I was appalled by the poverty, the noise and the lack of manners that seemed to proliferate.  The second time I was yelled at by a ticket woman and got to watch a bit of t.v., where I was told that if I thought I was healthy, I was probably deranged.  You can imagine then, my trepidation when I saddled up for another slice of American pie.

This time I landed in Washington DC, which felt like a different country altogether. Perhaps because it’s not a very big city, DC’s population is about 600 000 and most of them are public servants; but whatever the reason, DC is friendly.  People smile there and hold doors open for you.  They welcome you to their establishment and seem to mean it when they say ‘have a nice day’.

It didn’t start well.  After seventeen hours of flight, I landed in a room with no hot water.  Well, that’s not entirely true. There was hot water sometimes, just not the times I wanted a bath.  I wanted a bath right after a seventeen hour flight, when I felt grimy and smelled faintly of pre-packaged food and other people’s sick bags.  I settled for a tepid shower.

But the next morning I walked through Arlington Cemetary where the U.S servicemen and their families are buried.  It’s a beautiful peaceful place.  People who live in Arlington use it for a walking/jogging track.  Somehow, while working up a sweat, they also manage to smile, wave and wish you a ‘good morning’.  I was most impressed.

My walk continued across the Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, where Honest Abe sat, surrounded by his own words for all eternity.  I don’t know if this is a fate I would wish to share.  A little walk beyond him, stands the Washington monument.  A giant, well-lit phallic symbol, but an interesting and thoughtful place to sit nonetheless.

I wasn't lying, it really is a castle.

On that walk, I met a very nice woman who wanted to tell me all about her city.  When we arrived together at the Smithsonian’s Castle of information, she discovered some new things about her own town and made sure to collect brochures for us as well.  That doesn’t happen everywhere.  For those less inclined to walk, there are happy peddy cab people willing to take you all around the centre of DC, but you probably won’t meet as many ‘friendlies’ this way.

The Smithsonian would take weeks to see properly and I only had two days.  My family and I began with the newest of the museums added to the Smithsonian collection, The Museum of the American Indian.  That’s right, a single museum that enables you to discover all American Indian cultures and to explore their various similarities and differences.  At the bottom of the museum, there’s a great cafe called Mitisam where foods from various regions are available for tasting.  The salmon with wild rice salad was a welcome surprise.

Belly’s full, we attacked the Natural History Museum.  Yes the dinosaurs thrilled my eleven-year-old daughter but they’re not as engaging as those who reside the Museum of Natural History in New York.  My favourite part of this museum, was the mineral,

Chilli and jug drinks at Red Hot and Blue on Wilson Blvd, DC

rock and crystal display where visitors can view the Hope Diamond, learn about all your best loved gems, develop some new favourites and line up with buddhist monks to touch a piece of rock from Mars.  I was a very happy nerd indeed.

The American History museum was more of a fly-by than an actual visit.  I saw Abe Lincoln’s hat, the First Lady’s dresses and Julia Child’s kitchen.  I’ll let you guess which I enjoyed most.

That night we sought food because exploring, learning and walking, all require energy.  We landed at Red Hot and Blue, a ‘joint’ that sold delicious chilli, fabulous ribs and drinks by the jug.  That’s right, home-made lemonade, delivered in a jug, with a straw.  Oh happy day!

Filled up with sugar and ideas, we walked back to our hotel completely unmolested by beggars or swaggering teens.  Truly, day one was grand from beginning to end.  Thus begins the emergence of my new affection for America.


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