25 November, 2010

D.C. i didn't see

Where were we? Oh, yeah. I stepped off the plane in Dulles with only a laptop and half a plan. Thankfully, my friend Efe replied within minutes. Despite having four overdue papers on his agenda, he offered couch space for the night.

On the way, i figured i'd check out a little of the District - after all, having lived in Ankara and visited Tbilisi, Reykjavik, and Copenhagen it made sense to get a taste of my own nation's capital. The problem is that Dulles is a long way from the capital. It was after eleven when i got off the metro, and exhausted and hungry decided to forego the usual sights in favor of a neighborhood where i knew i'd find restaurants - Chinatown.

L'Enfant Plaza metro station

Thus it is that i have only fleeting impressions of Washington D.C., impressions not of grand monuments or museums but of the flavor of city life. It struck me as a coldly concrete town, where like New York the public architecture - of subways and such - made the individual feel small and perhaps even oppressed by its cavernous spaces. "Gaurdian Angel" security volunteers roamed the subways, and i found myself connecting with "1984" in rather disturbing ways. When, after midnight, i caught up with Efe and his roommate, they told me my impressions weren't far from daily reality. People here are overscheduled and impersonal, they said, agreeing with my observations that D.C. has none of the panache of New York to temper impersonal bustle; suggesting that corporate and government IDs were worn as status symbols. Yeah, i got clearance.

The oddest of threads in a traveler's life are the people you can count on meeting in a different city every time. I'd met Efe in Boston; we met a second time over coffee in Istanbul. This time he had a bottle of sweet-tea-flavored vodka, which he found disgusting, and which we proceeded to drain. It was a treat to reconnect with Turkish culture through his company, until i dizzily climbed into a cab around 5 AM. The driver, a fellow from Tunisia, was listening to recited suras - and thus we launched into a discussion of Islam and its role in history and dispersal around the globe.

As i waited in the terminal at Reagan airport, my face was falling into breakfast. I sleepwalked onto the plane and discovered that there's a perk to getting the wing seat. With two empty seats beside mine, i lay across all three; Phoenix was just a nap away.