The city of Washington presents more striking contrasts than most towns. Take a ride with me around the city for a few hours. Walk into the Mayflower Hotel with me, and be jostled by a delegate of the American Historical Association Convention, or the more provincial delegate from a national convention of undertakers who thinks that "the new Supreme Court Building would make a swell funeral parlor."
* * *
Having finally eased one's self out of the Hotel via the inimitable revolving doors, ride up Connecticut Avenue to Restaurant Pierre's on the second floor of a "cute little building." Here one may partake of hors d'oeuvre, sip an Old-Fashioned, feel embarrassed when a mannikin displaying her wares is taken for somebody else displaying her wares. Feel provincial, as one listens to a sparkling conversation in French between two First Secretaries of embassies--or perhaps "they're only military attaches." Point out to your friend that "that new stylists hats looks like George Washington's at Valley Forge" and that you're "sure you saw that woman's picture in the society columns of the Star."
* * *
Step outside and watch Sir Ronald Lindsay go by in his Packard, making you think that you're on the "inside."
You decide to ride through the streets of old Georgetown, and you are astounded at the change in appearance. You note handsome old houses, through which you can walk on the payment of a small sum. You note the narrow streets, the slower pace, the rusty iron gates, the old warehouses on the river-front. You journey out Conduit Road along the old canal, and you are haunted with the scenes of your history books. If you're an extrovert you may think of what the Industrial Revolution really meant.
If you retrace your steps and cross over into the Old Dominion, you will immediately note the squalor and poor-ness of the land. And, if you are a "nice, bright young man," you will realize what slavery meant to the South, and what the North's victory meant. You are astounded to find yourself sympathizing with the South, and thinking of Karl Marx's phrase, "the expropriation of the expropriators."
* * *
You may find time to journey through Lee's home in Arlington. You should be interested in the home, and oppressed with the whiteness and quiet of the ampitheatre, of the Unknown Soldier, farther up the road. If you journey around to the front and to the tomb, a strange feeling will come over you that makes you want to block the path of the guarding soldier in order to see whether he will walk around you or pass unseen right through your body.
You pass back over the new bridge, ride around the Lincoln Memorial, peer into the eyes of the Lincoln statue, and think it a bit too cold for his nature.
* * *
You decide to have dinner at the Willard in the crystal room. Here you are really in the halls of history. Gone is the romance and the glory and the prominent personages. You journey through Peacock Alley, pass women from the West who think they are in style; and take a seat in the middle of the Alley. Your interest is aroused by three old codgers (probably ex-Congressmen) talking very loudly--perhaps all are a bit deal--on an adjacent couch. You hear them, as I have sigh and reminisce of the days of Ariemus Ward and James Whitcomb Riley and Uncle Joe Cannon. You hear them curse the speed of the modern generation; you hear them chastise the youth for no longer reading Dickens; you hear them boasting about their remarkable powers of endurance even at the age of 81 and 79 and 73. They mention philosophers, and one of them recalls the day when "the name Spinoza didn't mean any more to me than a mouthwash." At this you laugh out loud; they stare at you sternly, and you hastily depart. You realize, as you leave, that Rome DID fall.