So today I used the metro in DC for the very first time. I’m telling you this because a, my friend has lived here for two years and still haven’t used in and b, using public transportation always make me feel like I’m independent and a part of the city I’m visiting. I even used it in morning rush hour, so I stood with the commuting people and tried my best to blend in and look like I knew what I was doing.
All went well, except I didn’t really understand how I bought the metro card. And then my credit card didn’t work. And I had no idea which station to get off at. But you know. An independent woman about town.
I’ve googled this a bit more, and now I’m fascinated by the passive aggressive background of the Arlington Cemetary.
So until the Civil war the majority of the military personnel who died in battle close to DC was buried either at the United States Soldiers’ Cemetary in DC or the Alexandria Cemetary in Alexandria, Virginia. But at the end of 1863 they were both full. So the Congress passed legislation authorazing the purchase of more land for a new cemetary, and the military’s eye fell on Arlington House.
Arlington House was built in the beginning of the 19th century by George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and adopted son of George Washington. He bought the land in 1802 and began the construction of Arlington House, named after the village in England where he was from. At his death, the estate passed to his daughter Mary Anna, and Mary Anna was married to Robert E. Lee.
When Virginia seceded from the union, Robert E. Lee took command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For a while the militia occupied the high ground of Arlington, but this left the capital of the Union in an untenable position. Mary Anna was sure that federal soldiers would soon recapture Arlington House. So she buried the family treasures in the garden and left for her sister in Fairfax County, Virginia.
And recapture it the federal army did, and the war continued, and more soldiers died, and the army was given the task of finding suitable land for a new cemetary. The arguments in favor of Arlington were several: it had a view of District of Columbia, was aesthetically pleasing, and placed on high grounds, which reduced the risk of flooding unearthing the buried bodies. And perhaps most importantly: it would deny Robert E. Lee the use of his home after the end of the war.
What better way to honor the fallen soldiers than to passive aggressively bury them in the backyard of your enemy?
If I had set out to plan a monument over the relentless suffering and inherent meaninglessness of war, I could not have devised a better way to show it than the endless rows of exactly similar small white gravestones of Arlington Cemetaries.
The first thought that enter your head is the sheer scale of the madness: almost half a million people are buried here. The second thought, how the wars never end. They just begin a new section, spreading from the Civil war to the First World War to the Second World War to Korea and Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq, adding new white tombstones as time pass by. The third: how anonymous the soldiers honoured here feels. And yet I think people come to Arlington Cemetary and think instead of the greatness of the military, which is perhaps most crazy of all.
While I walked underneath the oak trees, looking out over more small white tombstones, reading the name of a private or a sergeant every now and then, I wondered what it would be like to be buried here, one of a half a million people, being for ever defined by the war that killed you. On the other hand, at least you’d rest among people who knew exactly what you went through, instead of being for ever surrounded by clueless civlians.
I have always been moved by the monuments for the Unknown Soldier. During the First World War, British Reverend David Railton saw a simple grave on the western front, marked only by a rough cross with the pencil-written “An Unknown British Soldier”. The idea of a monument for the tens of thousands of soldiers who died unidentified spread across the world. In the Uk, “The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior” was created at Westminister Abbey, and in France “La Tombe du soldat inconnu” was placed at the Arc de Triomphe.
And in the US, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resides at the Arlington Cemetary. The inscription: Known but to God.
So, the place where I would write if I lived in DC: Busboys and poets. It also sailed straight to the top of my Favourite bookshops in DC-list.
I love how political everyone is in DC. Yes, yes, I know, it seems obvious, but I don’t mean political in the sense of “I work for a federal agency” or even “On the Hill”. I mean political as in “the revolution and resistance is being plotted as we speak”. This is especially true at Busboys and poets.
The first books you see when you enter the combined bookshop/poetry scene/café/restaurant/bar is: Fascism – A Warning, by Madeleine Albright, Fear (of course), What Truth Sounds Like – RFK, James Baldwin and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson, White Rage by Carol Anderson and Choke Hold – Policing Black Men by Paul Butler. No comments needed.
The staff wears t-shirts with different words on the back, such as Tribe or Pride and very cool people constantly walks in and out through the door. The food was amazing (I guess that’s an important part of plotting the revolution), and after an hour there I’m suddenly convinced that the world might be allright in the end.
My favourite thing about traveling is to sit around and imagine what life would be like living here. As a writer, this obviously comes natural to me, and I’m never bothered by the realistic or practical side of it. I’m not even neccessarily interested in what my own life would be like. I might spend a few minutes thinking about great place to write at (Busboys and poets) or where I would buy my morning coffee and so on, but in general I prefer to think about what it would be like to be one of any of the strangers I see passing by on the street.
My friend lives in this apartment block where all the apartments consists mainly of tall glass windows and overlooks a sort of courtyard below, so I begin and end each day with a cigarette on the balcony, looking into other people’s lives. It’s like having your very own dollhouse. With real people. If I had lived here I would probably never get any work done. I’d just sit there drinking coffee and staring at people.
Imaginary life in DC fascinates me. First of all, I’m pretty sure it would be temporary. People move here for work from all over the country and all over the world. Secondly, they work. They all look smart and professional and effective, even when you see them out for a drink at the end of the day. People are lawyers or analysts for any of the many federal governments or work for initiatives for racial justice, and they are all liberals. Apparently a man even started his own dating app for Trump supporters because he was tired of women just getting up and leaving the date when he told them he worked for Trump. DC is a sort of nerdy political version of Sex and the city where everyone is beautiful and single and out about town, but where everyone talks about the recent development in the Mueller investigation instead of their dating problem. Or go on a date and make small talk about the latest disturbing changes in immigration policy. I never see any children. I’m sure a lot of people working in DC have families, but maybe they’re hidden away in the suburbs?
At the moment the dollhouse is all dark and quiet, and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s Sunday and people are still asleep, or because regardless of the weekend people have already gone to the office. DC feels like the kind of city where work never sleeps.