Via Media

Via Media

This Summer in the City

So, although my three oldest children have been to DC in recent years on their own visits to Grandfather and Hilary, this was our first, the enjoyment of which was greatly facilitated by extra hands to handle Joseph, who could probably run from one quadrant to the next without taking a breath – unless it was to complain.

Friday, we met with Dr. Jem Sullivan, adjunct faculty at the Domincan House of Studies and a docent at the National Gallery – she gave us a lovely, informative tour of a good baker’s dozen (plus some) of the more significant medieval and Renaissance pieces in the collection, an experience greatly enhanced by my father’s decision, upon observing Joseph’s energy for about five minutes, to give him lunch, put him on the train and go across the river. Later, Michael to the Nationals game, the experience of which he described as "hot."


Saturday, we went to the National Archives, which I’d never seen on any of my visits – it wasn’t terribly crowded. It was startling to see how faded the Declaration and Constitution were – especially the former. Then to the Natural History Museum, for the boy’s sake. (Michael went back to the National Gallery). What a busy, busy place! Atlhough the DC museum certainly has an impressive collection, I have to say, I’m a little fonder of the Field in Chicago – it’s just more spacious, a little more relaxed, even when it’s crowded.

By that time it was after lunchtime, and it was so, so hot, so it was time to Metro it back down under the river and back to Rosslyn, where we parked Joseph and Katie for pool time, and went off, intending to check out how well the Basilica was publicizing us – quite well, we discovered, with huge signs in place, and to go to the JP2 Cultural Center. Well, the latter didn’t happen, because we decided to try to catch a tour of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. Good we did because, even though there was a 4 o’clock tour scheduled, and even though we got there before that, we just caught the indoor, ending part of the previous tour, and we’re pretty sure the brother announced that at that point, he was done for the day.


In case you don’t know about this place – go to the link and take a look. It’s hidden on this side street off of CUA (as are many religious establishments, of course), and it’s this beautiful church and gardens built for the purpose of training Franciscans to give tours of the sites in the Holy Land of which they held custody – so it’s full of all of these small-scale versions of things like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden of Gethsemane, and so on. The covered walks around the garden have plaques with the Hail Mary in every language you can think of. the gardens were featured in a recent issue of Southern Living.


Michael said that the time he was there before, the Franciscan guide was quite dramatic, with a strong "You are there" tone. Ours – wasn’t. Although he was, indeed, enjoyable. Older, rather than younger, with decades of service in the Middle East behind him, he hailed originally from Chicago, and punctuated the end of most of his sentences with a, "yah?" and almost seemed as if he was chewing gum, but I’m sure he..wasn’t.

By then it was time to go back for dinner, and Michael’s night with the boys while Dad and HIlary took Katie and I to the production of Hairspray currently running at the Kennedy Center. One of those movies that, of course, no one expected to like, but that, for and through its quirkiness, is charming in a John Waters kind of way. Sort of. We enjoyed the production quite a lot – energetic, colorful, rather brilliantly staged, I thought. And why does Edna Turnbull being played by a man in drag work so well? Why? It does, though. Don’t argue with me. Especially winning are Edna’s ritual, puzzled, response to the hateful taunts of the blonde mother-daughter team: "I don’t much cay-uh for them." I mean, Fort Wayne theater gives us their all, but it was nice to see a thoroughly glittery, imaginative production of something again!


Next morning was Monument Morning, since Mass would not be til noon. World War II, Korea, Vietname, Lincoln, and Arlington Cemetery. Quick impressions:

I appreciated all of the memorials – all struck me as fitting. From the car, the WWII memorial didn’t seem like much, but walking up to it and through it changed that first impression. It’s dignified, quiet, strong and communicates the immensity of the task and the resolve required to perservere. It also communicates, not so much national glory reflected in victory,  but a sense of resigned, sad, realism about what sometimes must be done and sacrificed for freedom.

I was actually startled by the number of tourists pouring through Arlington at 10 am on a Sunday morning. It makes sense, though. Nothing else is open, so if you’ve got a tour, might as well take them to the cemetery. I was startled by how much I had to explain to Katie about who JFK was and why his assasination had the impact it did. I wondered where JFKjr’s body was, but then came home to read that his remains had been buried at sea. The simplicity of Robert’s grave is surprising – just a simple white cross with a plaque.


And then to the Shrine (well, a shower first, you’ll be glad to know), where Mass was such a wonderful snapshot of what it means to be Catholic` – a deeply and thoroughly diverse crowd – excellent music, a combination of some Latin and very good English-language pieces for congregational singing, simple, straightforward and accessible.

Back today in one shot – about 10 hours door-to-door, with two meal stops. A good trip, and now…to work!

Comments read comments(19)
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Michael Liccione

posted August 9, 2005 at 1:02 am

When I taught philosophy at CUA (1989-90), I alternated between attending daily Mass in the BSIM crypt and at the Dominican House of Studies across Michigan Ave. I loved both: the former for the reasons you cite; the latter because it was so…well, Dominican. From all I hear, little is changed.
Thank God all the clerical bureaucrats surrounding those sites—the USCCB and numerous provincial HQs for religious are within waling distance—have the good sense to leave them mostly alone.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 1:39 am

Query about JFKjr: “The Department of Defense said that Capt. Louis Iasiello and Cmdr. William Petruska, U.S. Navy Catholic chaplains, and a civilian Catholic priest, will officiate” at the burial at sea (scattering, really, I think) of the cremated remains.
With all that clerical participation, perhaps I’m mistaken but I thought cremated remains had to be buried if possible, according to Catholic teaching.
Anyone know?

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John J. Simmins

posted August 9, 2005 at 7:45 am

I’m sorry I missed you Sunday. Couldn’t find a sitter. I had an armfull of books for you to sign. I had never been to the Basilica until about 3 weeks ago. It is absolutely breath-taking; a must see in DC! Each chapel is more breath-taking than the last.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 9:05 am

I’m sorry you didn’t get to Dr. Dremos. Next time?

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posted August 9, 2005 at 10:03 am

I think “Catholic DC” is little-known outside the city. The Basilica, the Franciscan monastery, CUA, and many other great Catholic churches await the intrepid visitor. Now that I’m in LA now, which in all fairness has some beautiful churches [minus that wierd cathedral] and the Missions, I miss all the Catholic places in DC. If you plan to visit DC, do make time away from the Mall and the other, albeit important places, to take some time and see these wonderful examples of our faith.

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Stephen Joseph

posted August 9, 2005 at 10:09 am

We just visited DC with the kids. The highlight was Mass at Holy Rosary Church at Judiciary Square. This is an old Italian parish. The church is completely renovated and is just gorgeous. Mass was dignified – one priest and one altar boy. The congregation was full of mostly middle aged to older Italian-Americans who used to live in the neighborhood but now drive in every Sunday for Mass. Next door is an Italian cultural center. They were having a festival that day. It was amazing to hear people speaking in Italian to each other and then turn to us and speak English with a Southern accent. They were very friendly and interested in where we were from (Chicago), despite the fact that we’re of German-Irish descent and not Italian. We were amazed at the vibrancy of the parish. I highly recommend it if in D.C.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 10:24 am

Both my Catholic parents were cremated, and the priest said nothing about what we did with the remains, other than to remark that cremation was no longer contrary to the church’s teaching. I always thought burial at sea — or cremains-scattering at sea — was a beautiful gesture, much more so than internment in a mausoleum or even the earth. There’s more solace and suggestion of eternity in the waves, but that’s just me. YMMV.

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Pat Gonzalez

posted August 9, 2005 at 10:25 am

Amy, you brought back memories of my own brief wkend in DC back in 1994. At that time, I was studying library technology, and the main destination of the visit was the Library of Congress and the Canadian Embassy. In between, we managed to squeeze in the National Gallery and Arlington (we were only there from Fri. to Sun. AM, after an all-night trip from Montreal). As a lifelong fan of JFK, I was moved to tears visiting his grave and that of Robert. Before boarding the bus back home, made a very brief visit to the outside of Ford’s Theater — our hotel was nearby. After reading your post, I really want to go back and visit all the sites we missed, especially the Lincoln Memorial and the area around CUA. I hope that visit will coincide with a return visit of your own! Glad everything went well for you and family, and hope your next visit will be a bit less hectic!

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posted August 9, 2005 at 11:14 am

How do you manage to cram so much into your visits without getting exhausted? It would take me a week to do everything you did!
I’ve been to Mass at the National Shrine on many visits to DC and always appreciate it. Last time there was Mass in an unusual rite going on in one of the crypt chapels. I thought it might be Coptic, and asked someone who said it was not, but I don’t remember what it was.
Breakfast at the restaurant in the basement of the Shrine is always on the itinerary if possible.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 12:07 pm

RFK’s grave got to me, far more than his brother’s when I first went to Arlington in high school. And it’s his death that makes me want to cry about the lost opportunities. (I’m too young to actually remember either.)
My favorite thing in the national archives was seeing the printed draft of the Constitution that George Washington used during the Convention, complete with cross outs and notes in the margins. (The one specific one I remember: the 3/5 compromise referred to “white people” and “other people” in the draft; this is replaces with “free people” and “other people” in handwriting, which is how it was written into the final document.) A reminder that these were not demigods, but flawed men who made some immoral compromises that broke some of the promises in the Declaration and Constitution–and yet those promises were made sincerely, and made so beautifully, that when we eventually decided that we would rather make them come true rather than admit they were lies.
The Jefferson’s my favorite of the memorials, especially during Cherry Tree season. The World War 2 isn’t what it might be, but I prefer it to the other two most recent, the Korean War and FDR ones. There were lots of things I found myself wanting to change, but in the end seeing the vets sitting by the fountain smiling with their grandkids overrode it all.
And I always forget that the Smithsonian’s free.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 12:24 pm

We’re local. I have not trekked up to CUA area except for a pilgrimage at the Shrine acouple of years ago. It is beautiful; and took a trip to the JP2 center this spring with 2 toddlers in tow. The Smithsonian museums are great–yes, and free. I really like the Spy Museum, which is private and costs about $10 or so per person. My hauband & I went in the first year it was open, between parking, entry and lunch, we spent about $100 for the afternoon there!
Maybe I’ll load the boys into the stroller & onto the Metro and spend a day at CUA looking about.

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Al DelG

posted August 9, 2005 at 12:45 pm

Sorry I had to miss you Amy, but I’m glad you enjoyed D.C. As a native Washingtonian I know I sometimes take my city for granted, but it really is a remarkable place to live. The incredible (and free!) museums, cultural opportunities and diversity as well as the many sites of religious interest. Holy Rosary, as Stephen observed, is a wonderful parish; I attended Italian classes at the Casa Italiana cultural center some years ago and my experiences at mass there had at least some role in my religious reawakening.
Carrie, you may have seen a Ge’ez liturgy, which is Ethiopian coptic. I came across one once at the Shrine’s Ruthenian Byzantine chapel and was absolutely mesmerized by its beauty.

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Thomas Hart

posted August 9, 2005 at 1:08 pm

I lived in the DC area up until 2002, and worked there until 2004. My favorite DC church is St. Dominics at 7th and D SW, by the L’Enfant Metro stop. It’s more or less the last stop for old Dominicans.
Other places that you should see in DC: The Hirshorn Museum sculpture garden on 7th and Independence, but there are only about 5 paintings worth seeing inside; the NGA Sculpture garden; the NGA East Building, especially the Miro tapestry and the Calder mobile; the Corcoran Gallery on 17th; the Phillips Gallery in the Dupont Circle area; the Freer Gallery on 12th and Independence; the Sackler Gallery, adjoining the Freer; the Starbucks on 7th near DOJ, we just missed Janet Reno there one day; and the Zoo, but don’t pay too much attention to the pandas, they seldom do anything fun. The zoo has a mock rainforest set up near one end, and it’s a fun visit. Also check out the aquarium at the Commerce Department.
As to the 3/5 of a man thing, most people seem to think that it represents a power grab by the Southern states and an attempt to gain greater influence. Think about it for a minute though. The South would have liked to have all the slaves, who couldn’t vote, counted on a 1 for 1 basis because states, such as Virginia, which was the most populous state at the time, would have greater representation in the lower house. That would effectively have given the slaveowners a greater voice in the government. By limiting the counting of slaves to 3/5 the voice of the slaveowners was decreased, and there was a corresponding increase in the power and influence of the non-slaveowning classes. Nor should it be forgotten that slavery was not exclusively below the Mason-Dixon line. Delaware was a slaveowning state, and because it choose not to secede was exempt from the much later Emancipation Proclamation, as were other states that were slaveowning but non-secesh.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 2:33 pm

Well, the point is that it was a compromise, right? The South (or rather, states with high slave populations) wanted them counted but denied all rights, the North (or rather, states with low slave populations) didn’t want them counted, so they split the difference. If you’re already accepting the existence of slavery as given, the least immoral thing is not to include them for apportionment. But the whole thing just shows that Garrison wasn’t wrong to say that the Constitution was a compromise with slavery–it’s just, that wasn’t ALL that it was. Something doesn’t have to be perfect, can be flawed in huge ways, and still be worthwile and a force for good. That’s what I found inspiring.

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Thomas Hart

posted August 9, 2005 at 5:07 pm

The problem is that you’re looking at slavery with 21st century eyes. Slavery itself is not condemned by either Judaism or Christianity. (See Genesis for Jacob, Rachel, and Laban, or Philemon, and various passages of Paul’s epistles.) Also slavery as practiced in Greece was different from that in Rome and was different from that practiced in the American South. Our perception of slavery in the South is colored by the slave narratives and by novels such as Uncle Tom”s Cabin. Interestingly enough though there were cases, which you can find in Shelby Foote’s history of the unpleasantness between the North and the South, of blacks and slaves fighting against the Yankee forces.
The winners of that unpleasantness are writing the histories, and have shaped our perceptions of the issue, so if you really want to get a sense of what slavery was like you’re going to have to go back to the original documents found in plantation diaries and other sources. As it is I doubt if there’s a true narrative (in the lit-crit sense) of slavery to be found on either side.
It might also be worth remembering that when we hear “Servant” in the Gospel that the real rendering is most probably “Slave.”
As an aside let me say that even though was active in SDS during the 60s I still retained enough sympathy for Greco-Roman civilization to remark sotto voce to another member that slavery as in Greece did not seem to be all that bad.

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posted August 9, 2005 at 7:29 pm

And, of course, you wrote 5 articles, conducted 12 interviews, and completed at least two more books during that same time period, right?

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Thomas Hart

posted August 9, 2005 at 8:16 pm

Not on the War of Northern Aggression.

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bruce cole

posted August 10, 2005 at 8:00 am

You mean the War of the Rebellion. A lot of people disliked slavery in the 18th and 19th century AND there was absolutely no chance in hell that Lincloln would ever invade the “South” – the Edmund Ruffins of this world damn well knew that and took a chance anyway. The United States came close to this “civil war” many times before it finally happened. The fault lines were always the same. If there had been no slavery in “the South” or rather if slavery there had taken the same course it had in “the North”, why on earth would there have been, could there have been a war? Yes, slavery is why that war eventually happened, and the condition that blacks in the free states led harsh existences and that slavery extension was a bogus issue, etc., etc. just makes that all the more blatent.

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Thomas Hart

posted August 10, 2005 at 12:53 pm

I didn’t say that slavery wasn’t a cause of the late unpleasantness. What I said is that slavery is not necessarily immoral, and that it is not condemned in the Bible. While I have little Latin and less Greek, I’m reasonably sure that if you look into the words translated as “handmaid,” “servant,” and so on that you’ll find they have connotations, at the very least, of slavery.
A sarcastic message deserves a sarcastic reply. I made no claims of authority. I merely questioned the authority of the narrative that sees the Constitution as a disastrous compromise on the slavery issue. There are any number of things that everybody knows as just so that are actually contrary to fact:
1. There were signs that said “No Irish Need Apply.” In fact there were none. See this article for more information:
2. American Indians were gentlemanly Deists of the 18th century model. See The Golden Bough for evidence to the contrary.
3. The Tet Offensive was a military disaster for the U.S. In fact the VC were denied all of their military objectives. It was a PR disaster due to the likes of Cronkite, Rather, Jennings, et. al.
4. Goddess worship is a benign thing. In fact it is linked to genital mutilation (castration), and other barbaric practices and demanded a great deal of blood.
5. Gandhi is a great-souled guy. In fact he was disruptive during WW II, and by his insistence on agitating for Indian independence during that period imperiled the British war effort.
My position is simply that if everybody knows something, then it is probably wrong, and to insist that people do their homework.

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