A Drum-Major Misquote

On this MLK Day, there was finally a place in the District where you could pay your respects to the fallen civil rights hero.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Statue

King’s thirty-foot granite statue now stands prominently on the Tidal Basin, in sight of monuments and memorials to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt.

It was unveiled last fall, in a ceremony postponed because of the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

But that wasn’t the only storm to hit the memorial – there was also a firestorm of criticism over a monumental misquote carved on the north side of King’s statue.

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Fixing America’s Front Yard

My tours of D.C. usually begin at the place that all visitors, both international and domestic, have ultimately come to Washington to see – the White House.

But when we arrive, many of my groups actually don’t recognize one of the most famous buildings in the world. They’re surprised and a little disappointed when I point out the President’s house.

White House - North Side
The White House’s north side, seen from Lafayette Park

“It doesn’t look the way I remember it,” or “It looks smaller than it does on TV,” are the two most common responses I hear.

That’s because I take my groups through Lafayette Park to the north side of the White House. This is technically the front entrance. With its portico and circular driveway, the north side faces the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 16th Street, giving the residence its famous address.

It’s the back, or south side, that most people recognize from movies and postcards. It has the curved façade and Truman balcony, and opens onto the President’s back yard.

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Floodgate

It’s often said that Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp – usually in August, when the humidity in the District is unbearable. While that’s not entirely true, the Georgetown waterfront certainly looks like one right now.

The Potomac River flooded after a weekend of heavy rains, and by Monday the river had risen up to 12 feet.

Normally floodwalls are raised to protect Washington Harbour, the restaurant and office complex on the waterfront. The modern floodwalls were part of the original construction, and have been used successfully dozens of times since they were built in 1986.

But this time, a section of the wall wasn’t raised early enough. Muddy water gushed into the Harbour complex, which is conveniently shaped like a crescent bowl.

Washington Harbour Flooding
Washington Harbour flooding (Photo: Alex Greenlee, DCist)

A week later on Earth Day, the Harbour is still closed as a clean-up crew deals with the effects of Mother Nature.

Of course, this all got me thinking about historic floods in the District.

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Lincoln Cottage Conversation with James Swanson

Yesterday – on the anniversary of the day that Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre – I found myself back at the Lincoln Cottage for my first Cottage Conversation.

The Lincoln Cottage - 4.14.11
President Lincoln’s Cottage

It’s a fantastic lecture series held upstairs in the historic home where Lincoln and his family regularly stayed during the Civil War, taking refuge from the heat and stress of the city.

As the evening’s speaker pointed out, Lincoln’s last stay at the cottage was on April 13, a peaceful day before that fateful trip to Ford’s the next night.

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An April Fool at the National Gallery

Last week , there was another incident involving bare breasts and protests at a District museum – and it wasn’t a nurse-in at the Smithsonian.

Gauguin - Two Tahitian Women - National Gallery of Art
Two Tahitian Women, Paul Gauguin, 1899 (Courtesy of National Gallery of Art)

On April 1st, a woman attacked a famous painting by Paul Gauguin – “Two Tahitian Women” – on display at the National Gallery of Art.

It was no April Fool’s prank – more like  a crazed rant. The woman allegedly tried to pull the painting off the wall, shouting “This is evil.”

She was still pounding on the plexiglas protecting the painting when she was tackled by a tourist and detained by security.

Her reasoning, released in court documents this week:

“I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children…I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.”

Okay, nothing reasonable there.

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The Capital of Macaroni

Historical trends come and go in the District, and food trends are no exception.

After a history of culinary neglect, Washington is now considered to be a foodie haven, with new restaurants, star chefs, and now food trucks coming to the city in droves.

Top-Chef-DC-Poster
Season 7 of Top Chef was set in the District.

It’s currently home to two Top Chef stars – recent All-Star runner-up Mike Isabella, who is opening his Italian restaurant Graffiato in Chinatown, and Spike Mendelsohn, who helms a burger joint (Good Stuff Eatery) and pizza place (We, the Pizza) next door to each other on Capitol Hill.

The District even hosted a season of Top Chef, just a block away from where I live.

But for a town that used to be known only for its steakhouses and formal French restaurants, D.C. has had to import much of its food culture from other cities.

Recent food fads like upscale burgers and cupcakes (not served together, luckily) have their origins in nearby New York.

Right now, macaroni and cheese is having a resurgence of popularity in the

District, as evidenced by the success of the gourmet food truck CapMacDC.

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Taxation Without Representation in the District

There was a great op-ed in the New York Times today explaining the historical peculiarities of why the District doesn’t have a vote in Congress – effectively creating taxation without representation in the nation’s capital.

DC Vote License Plate

The occasion for the op-ed is the 50th anniversary today of the ratification of the 23rd amendment, which finally gave residents of D.C. the right to vote in presidential elections. (Yes, it took a Constitutional amendment!)

It seems strange that a city so consumed with politics – and with a population greater than the state of Wyoming – didn’t get the opportunity to vote for president until the election of 1964.

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