Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Washington, DC - Signing of the Federal Residence Act July 6, 1790

"Washington was a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm," said President Kennedy.

James works a lot with International Students. He likes to pose this riddle to them: I was born in the United States, but not in a state. Where was I born? Some will guess Guam, or Puerto Rico, or perhaps an international military base, and eventually one will figure it out: Washington, D.C. Although our Virginia post claims him as a Virginian (his family did live there when he was born) he is actually among a very elite set of people who were born in the Nation's capital. Look at those cute little feet!


Since we both grew up near Washington, going there for us was "just another field trip." We never had to fundraise to go there, nor was it a big deal to vacation there. Indeed, what kind of a vacation would that be?! And so it was that we realized, with some chagrin, several years ago, that our daughter had never really been to the land of her father's birth. We drove through it at least once a year on our way to visit James' grandmother, and each time we would dutifully point out the Washington monument. We eventually remedied this with a bus tour in 2007. We saw all the monuments, (even the ones James and I had not seen before) and visited the museum of Natural History, the Holocaust museum, and the Hirshhorn musuem of Modern and Contemporary Art. We had the opportunity to visit this last one again a few weeks ago, along with the Air and Space Museum. All of these are part of the Smithsonian Institution, and all are free of charge - always - thanks to the gift from British scientist James Smithson in 1826. 

Community Garden across the street from Air and Space museum, downtown Washington, D.C.

So, why did I pick July 6 to celebrate Washington, D.C.? I actually had to do a little research today to remind myself! I remember thinking I could have picked other dates, but as it turns out July 6, 1790 was the date that Federal Residence Act was signed, which selected the Potomac River as the nation's capital in "ten years time" the capital would remain in Philadelphia until then. One thought I had for a date to celebrate was March 29. On that date, in 1961, that Washingtonians finally got the right to vote for President as the 23rd amendment was  ratified.

1791 plan for the nation's capital

Horror in the Wind
Back in 1987 newlywed couple Pam and James, afraid that a televangelist named Pat Robertson might become president of the United States, contemplated packing up all their belongings and taking a U-Haul to Canada. The spoof, Horror in the Wind, which featured President (Pat) Robertson, was a manifestation of those fears. A pair of scientists, who are cheating with each other's wives, are looking for a formula to keep rats from mating. In his endeavor to win his "war on sex" President Robertson offers the duo a grant of $20 million to instead create an abstinence formula, which he says he will offer to parents to give their children. They are also to create an antidote to administer once said offspring enter into "a Christian marriage". After the entire nation is sprayed with the new drug it is discovered that what it actually does is change sexual orientation: gays are now straight, and vice versa. With the president enjoying his new vice-presidential partner and his approval rating at whopping 90% he withdraws all funding to create the antidote. The scientists, who are now lovers, nevertheless continue to try to formulate the antidote. The film is quite funny, it does make one wonder to what extent some would go instill their beliefs on others, though. For a more scholarly view of some of the themes this movie explores I recommend Marty Klein's book America's War on Sex: the Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty

Is My Armor Straight?
Well, I couldn't resist this one when I read the subtitle: "A Year in the Life of a University President". Not only was this a "year of" book, it is about college during the 1983-1984 academic year - when I was a sophomore at the University of Maryland - a time of leg warmers, Jane Fonda, Michael Jackson, and the Pretenders all of which are referenced in the book. The University in the case of this book is American University and the President is Richard Berendzen. This book is a real who's who of Washington from the time period. It was kind of fun to read this knowing now what happened to that up and coming congressman from Tennessee (aka Al Gore). And at the dawn of the computer age Berendzen wonders if people really will have social lives online, or shop without leaving their homes. I did have a hard time stomaching all the praise lavished upon then President Reagan in this work, however.

Since I work in a college now I could see that even 26 years later, some battles are universal. While I felt for Berendzen in some cases for the tough decisions he had to make, I could also sense my own tension growing as I recognized similar issues facing our college to which I am squarely on the opposite side of the fence.

As a President of an international University Berendzen is often called upon to talk about the state of education in the United States. Since he is a physicist and astonomer I was never quite sure what his qualification with regard to K-12 education was.

The best thing about this book was that there were too many mentions of the library to count!

The index is next to useless though. The only entries are people's names. While it is true that the whole book was about name dropping, a few other references would have been in order. At one point I wanted to re-read a passage about foreign language education, and found the index to be of no use in this regard.

Georgia Brown French Toast
"Washington is a big brunch town" so says this National Geographic article (with recipes), so James took the challenge and made the Georgia Brown French Toast. A heroic feat given Bridgewater's triple digit outside temperature, and our un-air conditioned home. This biscuit-based french toast though, with triple sec in the batter, was exceptional. We probably won't make it again until temperatures cool again, though. It does seem to be a feast for a "special occasion" so I have declared it our new Christmas morning meal. We also had some blueberry wine to go with this, one of the Virginia wines we picked up on our recent travels.

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