In brighter news than the below, today is Marjorie Merriweather Post's birthday;
here's the foyer of her modest little home, Hillwood, on my last visit. You know
it's kind of an iffy day when thinking about Marie Antoinette cheers you up...
This is a peculiar time in Our Nation's Capital, unsettled and tetchy. The weather, after a long stretch of late June last week, turned dank and lowsome, and the trains, as you might have read, have been misbehaving. And, as you may also have noted, the politics aren't helping.
Yesterday, my usual early-morning Metro simply gave up the ghost at Arlington Cemetery - "offloaded," as the elegant local term goes, onto the too-narrow platform. The crowd - and who can blame them at the cheerful hour of 6:45, in the newly returned daylight-savings darkness? - was not happy. Knowing that multiple stations downtown had closed, I decided to take advantage of my new-found fondness for exercise and walked the two or so miles across Memorial Bridge, past Abe Lincoln's modest little marker, across the Mall, and eventually on to the offices of Golden Handcuffs Consulting Amalgamated International. It was chilly yesterday, and the dark waters of the Potomac were grayer than the sky and my mood combined.
Trudging through the slowly waking city, I thought of the book I'd just finished, one full of many (to put it mildly) much greater inconveniences of transport and horrors far worse. The Past is Myself is the story of Christabel Bielenberg, an upper-middle class British woman who found herself living in Nazi Germany. As with a book I've raved about before, Marie Vassilchitkov's Berlin Diaries, Bielenberg's memoir takes one with shocking directness into the heart of that dark time and place, the experiences of one thoughtful and cultured woman telling the story of a slowly unraveling optimism, a growing unease, and eventually the grinding years of fear and hardship before and during the inevitable war. Bielenberg and her idealistic German husband actively chose to stay as other friends left, believing along with a few others that the best way to defeat the Brownshirts was through logic and common sense, from inside. By the time they knew just how lost their cause was, there was no way out.
Now, there's a vast and incomparable gap between a cold, damp day in Washington, having to walk the better part of the way to work following a temporary bother, and taking a shuddering tram through Berlin as the bombs fall all around. The latter is something that Bielenberg experienced in the very last weeks of the war, when she left a safe refuge where she was living with her children, venturing right into the falling heart of the collapsing Reich as the Russians approached, to try and free her husband from Ravensbruck. Amazingly, in time, she succeeded, in part by marching into Gestapo headquarters and, with the foolhardy courage of the desperate and more than a touch of patrician asperity, shaming the functionary handling his case.
No, we're in a very different place. For now. Just as I was starting the book, though, at the end of last month, the reliably excellent Self Styled Siren found herself thinking of Bielenberg and American politics right now. She quotes from a scene early in the book, in 1932, when the Bielenbergs, on a lark, go to see what it's like at one of those Nazi rallies they kept hearing about. "You may think that Germans are political idiots, Chris," says the sensible and intellectual Herr Bielenberg, "and you may be right, but of one thing I can assure you, they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown."
Whatever ailed the trains yesterday is, it seems, far worse than we knew yesterday, and the transit authority has taken the unprecedented step of closing the system entirely tomorrow, for at least a day and possibly longer. I can only imagine at the moment how I'll get to work - the buses will doubtless be swamped, Uber unobtainable.
I hope that whatever it is that ails this puzzling country of ours can be fixed as relatively simply as the vexing subway cables that keep catching fire. At the moment, I'm none too sure of either. And I don't think Christabel would be, as well.