June 2011 Newsletter

I realized that I possess only the narrowest comprehension of this city. It is a realm in which I need to get from place to place, usually without appreciating anything in between. As I journeyed with my parents on a tour of the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress and sought to lead them around the monuments, the deficiencies in my typical approach to Washington, D.C. became clear. I frequently research and write papers in the Library of Congress’s main reading room, but it wasn’t until touring it with my mother (an artist), that I noticed the intricate symbolism embedded in its walls, floor, and ceiling. Although I ride the metro and walk the streets near the White House and the National Mall, I was embarrassed not to possess the first clue as to how to get to either of these landmarks.

I’ve alwDC Townhouseays viewed tourism as a species of voyeurism—as people leaving their own, perhaps modest, little place for someplace important or exotic. In truth, many tourists often do not endeavor to participate in the places to which they flock. They merely view their destination as something to consume. Their experiences tend not to revolve around local color or regional history, but around the massive visitor centers and gift shops. Also troublesome, however, is my ostrich approach to locales. In treating the place I live in as an object of utility that facilitates my travel from one task to the next, I also approach my place as a consumer with her head in the sand.

I can’t help but think that my mother’s wonder-filled approach contains some element missing in the journey of the tourist and the utilitarian. She is a woman attuned to the history, art, and intricacy of any place she visits, because her habit has long been to search for these attributes in the place she calls home. At the end of her visit, I gave her the option of visiting the National Gallery of Art, or a local folk art gallery. She, of course, chose the latter. While there, she made friends with a fellow clay artist, exchanging tips and learning something new to practice when she returned home. I’m still not entirely certain of the proper relationship between tourism and place, but after my weekend as a tourist of my city, I’m endeavoring to experience D.C. as more than a series of metro stops.

~ Rachel Blum Spencer


from Les Regrets of Joachim du Bellay, sonnet 38

Lucky: the man who measures out his days

among his equals—simple, honest, free,

not gripped by cramping fears or jealousies,

ruling a farmstead kingdom peaceably.

The miseries of grasping for a place

do not obsess him. His feelings are unbound,

yet his desire, placid and passionless,

stops at the fence that guards his plot of ground.

Nor does he trouble his heart with any grand

affairs, but sets his hope on what is sure,

serving himself as master, court, and king:

Not wasting his substance in a foreign land.

Not risking his life in someone else’s war.

Not wanting more. Not lacking anything. ~Translation by Maryann Corbett

A Joke from the Bar Jester:

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