Sunday, July 22, 2012

Magnetic Fields -- "Washington, D.C." (1999)

Washington, D.C.
It's the greatest place to be!
It's not the cherries everywhere in bloom
It's not the way they put folks on the moon
It's not the spectacles and pageantry,
The thousand things you've got to see

(If Washington's not the greatest place to be because of all those things, then why is it the greatest place to be?  Don't worry -- we'll answer that question eventually.)

I moved to Washington, DC, after I graduated from law school in 1977, and I've never really left.

I worked in San Francisco in the early 1980s, but that was only a temporary assignment -- a "TDY," as the government calls it.  And I had a job in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, but commuted back to my home in suburban Washington on weekends.

Every day, I take the subway downtown to my office -- which is situated almost halfway between the White House and the Capitol -- and every evening, I take it back to my home in the 'burbs.  I'm rarely in DC on the weekend.  (There were all those years of my kids' basketball and baseball and soccer games, with chores and errands and movies and bike rides squeezed in.)

Tonight was an exception to the usual rule -- and perhaps a preview of the empty-nest years to come, which will begin in just over a year when my youngest child heads off to college.

I left my office at 7 pm and walked exactly 1.7 miles (or so says Mapquest) to the apartment on Capitol Hill that my older son and his girlfriend rented when they got their graduate degrees a couple of months ago.  (He got a law degree, she got an MBA.)  

It was a hot and steamy July evening, and I was shvitzed in the pits at the end of my journey.  Here's the route I took:

Here's my office building.  It's a former department store (the downtown flagship of the local Hecht's chain, which is now part of Macy's) that was converted to office space a decade or so ago:

Here's what the building looked like in 1925:

Marshall Park -- named in honor of former Chief Justice John Marshall -- is just a couple of blocks from my office.  Here's a statue of the old Chief Justice himself (who  was a fervent opponent of the individual mandate) that stands in that park:

And here's a neighboring sculpture of two chess players:

Marshall Park is surrounded by both federal and D.C. courthouses.  South of the courthouses are the Canadian Embassy and the National Gallery of Art.  The U.S. Capitol is a few blocks further east:

There's a very interesting group of sculptures just west of the Capitol.  The centerpiece of that group is an impressive equestrian statue of Ulysses S. Grant, who was a hard drinker and a harder fighter:

On each side of the Grant statue's pedestal, there are reliefs depicting Union infantrymen:

North of the Grant statue is a group of cavalrymen:

South of Grant is a group of artillerymen:

I walked along the southern border of the Capitol grounds, passing a statue of President Garfield:

After passing the Library of Congress and a couple of House of Representatives office buildings, I came to St. Peter's Catholic Church, which stands directly across the street from the apartment where my son and his girlfriend live:

(I understand that St. Peter's usually has plenty of seats available for Sunday services.  That seems to be true of all the churches that are located close to the Capitol.)

Here's their circa 1850 building -- they have the top floor:

This door ornament -- a jackass holding an American flag -- was apparently left behind by the previous tenant of the ground floor apartment, a Democratic ex-congressman who lost his seat in 2010:

We strolled a couple of blocks to a local Tex-Mex restaurant, Tortilla Coast, and had dinner:

Tortilla Coast is next door to Bullfeathers, an aptly-named Capitol Hill watering hole:

Washington doesn't inspire nearly as many songs as New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or San Francisco, but it has inspired a few, including this song by Magnetic Fields -- an indie pop group whose music is just as precious and twee as it can be.

(By the way, the Magnetic Fields are named after the 1920 novel, Les Champs magnétiques, by André Breton, the founder of literary Surrealism.  Well . . . isn't that special?)

"Washington, D.C." can be found on the 69 Love Songs album, which the Magnetic Fields released in 1999.  That album does consist of exactly 69 love songs.  (That may sound like you're getting a lot for your money, but many of the songs are quite short -- several are less than one minute long.)

The group's frontman, Stephen Merritt, has said that "69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love.  It's an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love."  (Doh!)

The singer of "Washington, D.C." loves the city, but it's not the history, or the grand public buildings and monuments, or the Smithsonian museums, or the cherry trees that attracts her to our nation's capital.  "It's my baby's kiss that keeps me coming back," she sings.  

On the whole, that's a much healthier reason to love a city than the fact that it's the most powerful city in the world and has a whole bunch of tourist attractions -- don't you think?

Here's "Washington, D.C.":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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