Monday, July 26, 2010

July 23, 2010: Washington - A New Story, The National Cathedral, First Sighting of Boy Scouts, The Library

My friend Jenn sent me a new 'story' for review (it is, of course, a full-length novel of 300 pages, rather than a story). And I've discovered that I can print for free at the business center in our apartment building - so I've got 75 pages so far that I can carry around and edit during my travels - a perfect solution for portable reading material (most of the books in the library system are hard cover, and just a bit too heavy to tote about).

After a morning spent at home, I made it to the National Cathedral just in time for the Behind the Scenes tour at 1:30 - although the 20-minute walk nearly did me in - it just isn't possible to walk briskly when it's 37 degrees Celsius. As it was I took the subway one stop up to Cleveland Park to make the walk as short as possible - it would probably only be about 35 minutes to walk directly from our apartment. Ridiculous to take the subway to shave off only 15 minutes, but every bit helps.

And I'm definitely glad that I did make it in time - the tour gave great access to otherwise locked upper levels, attic-type storage, the narrow balcony directly in front of the rose window, and the opportunity to stand out on the roof. Our tour guide was great too - a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable woman who's clearly a pro - she knew how to keep things hopping along. An hour and a half flew by in no time - I was sorry to see it end, and I'm tempted to go back for another visit (perhaps when it's cooler, so that I can explore the outside in comfort).

As an architectural achievement the cathedral is a marvel: the sixth-largest cathedral in the world, constructed with genuine Gothic methods (all hand-carved stone, no steel framework supporting any portion of the soaring ceiling). It was started in 1907 and not finished until 1990. Unlike some other churches I've visited which have had a long history of construction (I'm thinking of St John the Divine in New York, and Montreal's St Joseph's Oratory) it was as impressive on the inside as the outside - it's such a let-down when amazing buildings have stark, dismal interiors.

At one point in the tour our guide mentioned that she was glad we had saved her from the Boy Scouts - there was a group of them off on another tour. I didn't quite grasp the significance of this first sighting of the scouts until the end of the weekend...

Visiting the cathedral made me want to re-read Ken Follett's 'Pillars of the Earth', an historical novel about the building of a cathedral. But I just re-read it about a year ago, and it really isn't that great a novel to re-read again so soon, so I stopped in at the Cleveland Park library branch and picked up the sequel, 'World Without End'. This is a book I definitely won't be carrying around on transit - it's huge. My order for Connie Willis' 'Lincoln's Dreams' was also in. I've read it once, but it seemed worth a re-read - one of the characters in it is having dreams about the Civil War, that seem to be so detailed that she must be channeling the dreams of an actual participant in the war. My recent visit to the American History Museum's Lincoln exhibit sparked my desire to re-read this one.

Photos: interior of the Cathedral; a view from directly in front of the rose window; attic storage; a statue under wraps; a model of the Cathedral; the spiral staircase to ascend the bell tower; on the roof; close-up of a grotesque

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