Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Washington, D.C. 30.12.01: Urban Decay and Hope Amidst the Ruins

I feel I always write tripe when I travel. Partly the result of never sitting down to write until I’m too exhausted to think. Also because I fall into chronicle format.

To wit: today we spent most all day in the National Archives. Steve had great success doing research: found the ship’s list of his immigrant ancestor Anton Kuld. I was happy to be able to help him. I had less success myself—mainly because I prepared too little for this visit.

After that, we returned to our hotel. We read last night in a local paper that the Radisson at Rhode Island on McPherson Square has a $59/night special for the holidays, so we moved to that hotel, as that is the same price we were paying at our sleazy hotel in Chinatown.

Then we went to Dupont Circle, a few blocks away, and did some desultory book shopping, and afterwards walked up 18th St., where we had noticed (in the phonebook) there are many restaurants. We ate at a Malay restaurant partly because it looked good (and was), and partly because, not knowing the neighborhood and it growing dark, we became a little apprehensive about walking around without any clear destination.

Always in the back of my mind is the alarming homicide rate of the city. Men panhandling everywhere, some minatory as they ask for money. Across from where we ate was a liquor store lot full of men waiting, lounging, talking. More and more our cities are like some third-world country inhabited by a few epicene wealthy, their camp followers, and the destitute. We camp followers look out the cozy windows of our cozy restaurants at the strange world of the poor—as if we’re watching reels of a slow-motion revolutionary documentary.

Steve said during dinner that’s it’s a shame our cities are decaying. I’m not so sure. For one thing, there are also signs of vitality amidst the decay—the confluence of ethnic groups and the gay community, for instance, new artistic movements, a healthy sensuality expressed in concern for food and for the aesthetic.

Maybe urban vitality has to find its away around heterosexist males and their death grip on everything. “Real men” continue to feel nothing. They relegate feeling to women or “inferior” races or children. Consequently, they don’t take in much happening around them. The senses themselves make us receptors, and thus feminine, in the minds of “real men.” Men control, and so bypass and choke feeling.

I see hope that a patriarchal society is gradually, slowly disintegrating, and the new visibility of gay people speaks to me of this hope. We drove after supper to 18th and Columbia, where all sorts of new restaurants and boutiques have sprung up, and it all seemed not tawdry or self-indulgent, but alive in an interesting and promising way.

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