As the plane starts to descend, it gets closer and closer to the water. It feels like we will land in the river, but after a scary and bumpy landing, the plane’s wheels touch down on the landing strip. And I’m here, in the Nation’s Capital, Washington D.C.
I did not know that DC has a river. It is huge. It is much much bigger than the Sacramento River. The Potomac River, and it’s one of the biggest in the country.
We pass through the White House. It appears bigger and more impressive in movies than it actually is. I learn that it was built by slaves.
A very tall monument catches my attention. Amazed, I ask, “What is that?” “It is the George Washington Monument.” “Can I go to the top?” I ask again. “Yes you can.”
Three days later, I am waiting in line to go up. It’s freezing. The worst thing is the wind. I have to fight it to keep it from carrying me away. The wait is long. A local resident tells me that despite the weather, this is a good time to visit DC because there are fewer visitors. She said that during the spring and summer, the museums are crowded, which makes it harder to appreciate them fully.
Finally a group of eight of us enter the elevator to go up. The George Washington Monument is the tallest building in the city. It’s even taller than the Eiffel tower in Paris. When I was going up, I noticed that I did not feel claustrophobic as I did when I was going up the Eiffel Tower. The elevator is much bigger, and I can breathe. At the top, the view is amazing. You can see the city in all of its magnitude: The Potomac, the DC airport, the White House, the Capitol hill… I learn that the construction of the Monument took over 30 years.
There are many museums to see and not a lot of vacation days. I don’t know why I picked the Holocaust museum. Perhaps it is because some anti-immigrants in America remind me of the Nazi movement. I write that in the visitors’ book.
I like the fact that DC is very cosmopolitan. You can see people from around the world, which enriches a city. However, some people complain that life here is all about work.
I fell in love with the old historic buildings made out of bricks. I like old structures and architecture. Outside of DC, in Virginia, all the houses look similar —like doll houses. I used to have a doll house when I was a little girl. Now I am here looking at real doll houses: two story high squares. Some of the old houses look creepy — like a witch will fly out any minute. Along the freeway, the trees look like dried-up poles; they have no leaves, and they’re covered with snow.
I went to the Arlington National Cemetery where all the people who have died in the US wars are buried. It’s giant. I saw white horses carrying a carriage with a coffin covered with an American flag. I saw the graves of President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, which made me sad. A few feet away, stood the grave of Senator Edward Kennedy, who died last year. I lost my ear muffs in the cemetery.
My favorite place was George Washington’s house in Mount Vernon, Virginia. The house itself isn’t too big, but every room has its own fire place. I imagine that was the only way to survive the severe winter. From the porch at the back of the house, there was a beautiful view of the Potomac River. In the laundry room, I couldn’t help but think of all the hard work that slaves had to do in order to maintain such a big farm. They had to carry tons of water on their shoulders and wash clothes by hand.
My head and throat are starting to hurt. The freezing weather has taken its toll on me: I got a cold. It is time to come back to California.
As I sneeze on my flight, I suddenly feel very grateful that I got to visit the Nation’s Capital. It is indeed a historic city that every American should visit to truly understand America’s history and to appreciate this country.
Editor: Maria Ginsbourg
Araceli Martínez Ortega is a Mexican journalist who has lived in California in the last nine years. This collaboration is about her personal journey through Las Americas and wherever she goes.