Washington is a befitting capital of the No.1 superpower, that sometimes believes itself to be the latest successor of the Roman Empire. The association with the Roman Empire was conscious and constant in the steady development of US as a ‘super-power’. This is what Wiki writes right at the start of its brief history on making of Washington- “Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the capital in 1790s, and Thomas Jefferson insisted that the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”. Capitol comes from Latin and is associated with the Roman temple to Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.”
Washington is a beautiful city, in a grand way. Its beauty lies in scale, harmony and dignity. The calm Potomac river, and the marble monuments that overlook it, gives a constancy and stability to the place. The city seems to reassure the visitor that the world order is in secure hands, and that there is no cause for panic. A traveler can be forgiven if he forgets, for a while, the poverty in which much of the rest of the world lives in. The placard holding protestors in front of the White House look so out of place and benign, that you laugh with them, rather than rage at the injustices of the world.
The White House, at the first sight, looks smaller that what one normally imagines – but looks are deceptive. Generally all marble buildings have this feel of lightness – and since the White House is well proportioned, it looks smaller than it really is. That is good in a sense, for again, speaking in terms of imperial and democratic need of the US, a benign and friendly icon is indeed a better idea than an imposing and threatening symbol of power.
Somehow I did not get a ‘democratic’ feel in the city – maybe because the idea of democracy for us Indians is ‘crowds, rallies, striving for rights and street-smart politicians’, and none of that was visible in Washington. Instead, the local papers were full of stories of power broking, party negotiations and lobbying. It would seem that Americans leave the day-to-day business of politics to their politicians and worry about the politics of business only. It is therefore no surprise that New York, in sharp contrast, looks very much a peoples’ city.
It came as a surprise to me that almost half the Americans have not visited Washington. (Surprised because it is an extremely beautiful city.) To an international tourist, however, I would heartily recommend a visit to the ‘Capitol’. It is not only beautiful (though expensive), it also lives up to all the Hollywood hype around it. In fact it does more – it comes close to reinventing Rome, the recurring European dream of a ‘world capital’.