My beautiful trip to DC

Last weekend, I traveled to Washington, DC, one of my favourite cities in the world. It was a bit of a working vacation for me, since I have been going quite hard, with research and teaching.

I arrived on Saturday morning, flying on Jetblue out of Buffalo. It was a funny flight, because I was a little tired, after waking up at 4am and driving out to Niagara International Airport – so i fell asleep in my seat and dropped my BlackBerry. The person beside me, being a bit of wit, I think, picked it up and took a picture of me to wake me up. Haha. Here’s the picture:

Well, I finally got to Dulles International Airport and took a cab into the city. The drive was so very beautiful – DC still had its Autumn leaves and the weather was a bit chill, but warm enough for sweaters. I arrive at the Fairmont Washington DC, which is in Georgetown and was happy to see that they had granted my request for a room with a view. I almost always stay with Fairmont – if I can – because I find that their attention to detail, their personal knowledge of me as a frequent visitor, and the warmth and intimacy of their hotels is very reassuring. This despite the fact that they are often historic properties: grand châteaux with glorious lobbies populated with many overstuffed chairs.

Once arrived and checked in, I asked the concierge to define “a very long and exhausting walk for me” that would take up most of the afternoon. After a brief conversation about what I would like to see, he gave me a map and highlighted several places that I should stop. He also said that I could do without my coat – I would warm up with the walk.

I ended up putting on a shirt and tie with a cashmere sweater underneath my suit jacket over dark blue jeans – it was more than warm enough and reasonably stylish. I think embarked on a walk that took me through Georgetown, along the Potomac River over to the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln was there, stately as always, yet always giving me a vague feeling that he was restless, staring anxiously over the republic he preserved and started to heal before being assassinated. As usual, he was surrounded by people lounging around, chatting and snapping pics – everyone from kids on field trips with tired teachers, to hipsters with their funny plastic glasses, to businessmen and Asian tourists.

Here’s a picture of the crowd:

People lounging at Lincoln's feet.

And a picture of Lincoln’s statue:

Lincoln, looking a little restless as he watches over his Republic.

After that I walked the Mall over to the White House and then took a cab back to Georgetown where I had dinner at my favourite place in DC: Martin’s Tavern. I had New Brunswick stew and then New England-style shrimp as well as a nice Guinness, one of very few beers I really like. A pleasant dinner finished, replete with the warmth of the pub, I walked back to my hotel and had a last little 20 year-old tawny port from Taylor Fladgate that I love so much, while listening to some live piano in the hotel lounge. A very pleasant day.

Sunday was far less solitary. I woke up early, did a little work on laptop, took a swim in the pool, went for a gloriously sunny run along the Potomac through the crisp morning air, went to Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and then took a cab to Alexandria, Virginia to have lunch with my host at Georgetown University, Dr Mima Dedaic and her family.

We spent a lovely afternoon of warm conversation over a vegetarian lunch in their elegant home and then went for a walk around historic Alexandria with her daughter. It was a long walk along the river and through the lovely historic streets of downtown. Beautiful boutiques, artisanal shops, newspaper vendors: a splendid walk that was rewarded by a coffee and croissant at La Madeleine, a bustling little bakery of the Main Street, whose delicious smells of coffee and chocolate and savoury pastry wafted out onto the patio, animating our conversation and making think of a second coffee or dessert. How hard it was to resist! Truly, I spent a magical day in Alexandria, came as an acquaintance and feel as though I left as a family friend – what could be better?

Monday was a more serious day. I spent the morning at the Newseum, which sits beside the Canadian Embassy. I love this place because it manages, by its architecture and its expertly curated exhibits, to capture the world of journalism, news and current affairs. When you enter, you walk by the day’s frontpages:

Newseum's Frontpages exhibit.
New Orleans Frontpages Exhibit - Top fl of Newseum.

In the atrium, there is a giant screen and a real-life Bell newschopper, which gives you a real sense of the size of the news-gathering endeavour:

Newseum Atrium

One of the more moving exhibits concerns 9-11. They even have a piece of twisted metal from one of the buildings on display, which makes a dramatic contrast to the incredibly tall wall of frontpages displayed behind it:

9-11 Exhibit at the Newseum

Another inspiring and moving exhibit was their recreation of Tim Russert’s office. He was a beacon for journalistic integrity and the most popular of the Sunday morning current affairs talk show hosts:

Tim Russert's office exhibit at the Newseum.

After my day at the Newseum, I went back to the Fairmont to find my suit and shirt pressed, got dressed and went over to Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology Program to give a booktalk with my friend and editor, Mima Dedaic. This was a bit of a funny situation, because the book we were launching is called South Slavic Discourse Particles, published in the very famous international series called Pragmatics and Beyond by John Benjamins in Amsterdam. I have written on Macedonian, which is one of my native languages, several times, but it was funny to present on that topic in a communications department and not a linguistics one! The talk went splendidly well, and the audience received it with praise and interest. In the wine and cheese after, however, and even in the questions, the discussion turned to how I apply the theory of pragmatics to study political communication. It was a diverse crowd of grad students, faculty and friends from the Hill.

Giving a talk with Dr Mima Dedaic at Georgetown Communication Culture and Technology Program.

After the talk, we went for dinner and talked about the huge potential for future collaboration, since we both do cognitive linguistics, discourse analysis and political communication! What a great discovery. There is no greater pleasure for an academic than discovering an intellectual kindred spirit.

I cabbed it back to my hotel, and couldn’t resist a final, celebratory port as the pianist filled the air with emotional contemporary classical music. It was beautiful.

I left the next morning early and, through a connection at JFK at New York, was back in time for my class and my special guest speaker, but that will be the subject of my next blog!

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