By Lee Foster
Some of the best non-partisan news coming out of Washington, D.C., each late March-early April involves the blossoming of the 3,000-plus cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. 2012 marks the 100th year celebration of the cherry tree addition to the Washington, D.C., setting.
As if to parallel this surge in nature, there always seems to be a renewal in Washington’s memorials, attractions, hotels, restaurants, and theatres to delight a visitor.
Renewal of the Cherry Trees
Although Washington is a congenial place to visit at any time of the year, the late March-early April time of cherry blossom flowering is a special time. It is at this time that the heavy burdens of governance give way to the non-political joy of the flowering of Washington’s famous cherry trees.
The cherry blossoms are best experienced during a leisurely walk around the Tidal Basin, where views of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument are fringed with cherry blossom tree frames. The weather can be sunny and warm or windy and chilly, so come prepared with comfortable walking shoes and adequate protection against possible cold, wind, and rain.
The pleasure of a walk around the Tidal Basin is that your perspective and the light change with each passing hour.
The cherry trees are a gift from Japan, beginning in 1912, commemorating the 1854 Treaty of Peace and Amity, officially establishing formal relations between the two nations. An alert travel writer with an eye for beauty, Eliza Scidmore, saw the blossoming cherry trees in Japan as a joyful springtime event. Eliza envisioned Washington with a similar springtime enhancement. She persuaded the wife of President Taft that this would be a good idea. A newly reclaimed area, the Tidal Basin, built to protect Washington, D.C., from Potomac River floods, was selected as the primary site for the trees.
Aside from a leisurely walk around the Tidal Basin, it is fun to view the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on Constitution Avenue. Military honor guards from the various service branches and high school marching bands from around the country are the two main categories of parade entrants. A patriotic heart will be stirred when viewing the various military honor guards that kick off the parade. From the south side of Constitution Avenue, you can observe the military honor guards with the White House in the distance. As a slice of Americana, the parade has few equals. A high school marching band from Ohio might be followed by a Christian Academy band from the South, then a similar high school entry from New Mexico or Hawaii.
After the parade, a Japanese street festival, known as Sakura Matsuri, takes place on Freedom Square, near the White House. Aside from plenty of Japanese food, washed down with Sapporo beer, there is an afternoon of performances, ranging from taiko drumming to martial arts displays.
Everyone in Washington seems to have their spirits uplifted by the Cherry Blossom Festival. Restaurants get into the theme with cherry food and drink options, such as a cherry martini or a cherry turnover dessert.
Washington, D.C.’s Tourism Renewal
Washington is such a diverse and dynamic tourism destination that a visitor will find new enrichments available each spring.
The latest blockbuster new attraction is the new (2011) Martin Luther King Memorial. The MLK Memorial is on a four-acre site along the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and on a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Sculptor Lei Yixin was charged with capturing the likeness, essence, and spirit of Dr. King. The centerpiece of the Memorial is the “Stone of Hope,” featuring a 30-foot stone sculpture of Dr. King. The Memorial is conceived as an engaging landscape experience to convey four recurring themes of Dr. King’s life–democracy, justice, hope, and love. Natural elements such as a crescent-shaped stone wall are inscribed with excerpts from King’s sermons and public addresses. America’s potential for freedom, opportunity and justice is the overall theme that suffuses the grounds.
Another major addition in recent years is the National World War II Memorial on the central axis of the Mall. This evocative and dignified memorial honors the 16 million Americans who fought, the 400,000 who died, and the millions who supported the war at home. WW II was a defining event of the 20th century. A simple statement at the memorial tells the story, “Americans came to liberate, not to conquer, to restore freedom and to end tyranny.” The WWII Memorial was hurried to completion because about a thousand of these aging veterans were dying each day.
The newest major non-memorial entity near the Mall is the Newseum, at 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, on the north side of the Mall. The Newseum is dedicated to the art of newsgathering and to a better understanding of the role of the media in our lives. Full details are at www.newseum.org. Because of the angle of the building, afternoon light falls advantageously on the façade of the Newseum and lights the exhibits inside.
One memorable image-of-images is the Journalists Memorial, which honors, with their displayed portrait photos, 1,800 journalists who have died in their newsgathering pursuits. One exhibit shows an armor-plated truck used by Time photographers in Iraq until it was ripped apart by a mortar round and riddled with bullets. The photographers survived. You could easily spend a half day here. Artifacts to see include a segment of the Berlin Wall and the 9-11 exhibit, featuring a recovered TV transmission tower from the North Tower. The 9-11 exhibit also contains the poignant images of a news photographer, Bill Biggart, who raced toward the second tower and photographed it until the collapse of the tower killed him. His camera was found and his photos survived.
The restaurant scene in Washington continues to mature, with chefs and owners creating their own signature American culinary offerings.
Bistro Bis may be the place to indulge in chunky, ample crabcake “held together by an angel’s whisper,” implying that additional ingredients beyond crab in a crabcake are seldom an improvement.
Zola, a lively restaurant inspired by the adjacent Spy Museum, is the place to investigate tuna tartar, followed by roast lamb, washed down by one of their numerous, good-value wines-by-the-glass.
Rosa Mexicano offers tableside preparation of guacamole, perhaps followed by the grilled shrimp in lime.
DC Coast is housed in an airy art deco treasure, a former bank. The spinach salad, followed by the fillet of duck breast, gets high acclaim.
The Tabard Inn is a cozy, dark-wood inn and restaurant with an appealing Sunday Brunch menu featuring items such as smoked trout and salmon.
If you are fortunate enough to have a place to cook for yourself in Washington, D.C., be sure to go to Maine Avenue and see the immense seafood market. There you can get Chesapeake Bay blue crab, which turn red when steam cooked. Fillet or even whole fish are available, from red snapper to rockfish. The entire fresh seafood panorama of the east coast fisheries is apparent, which is a feast for the eyes. You can find cooked shrimp and crab in the market as a tasty snack.
The theatre scene in Washington will surprise a visitor with its range. Typical of several exciting venues is Arena Stage, which presents provocative plays.
Visitors come to Washington, D.C., each April both for the natural renewal of the cherry blossoms and the cultural renewal of the capital’s tourism scene. The pleasure of visiting Washington in April appears to be at least one thing about which Democrats and Republicans are in agreement.
Washington, D.C.: If You Go
The overall tourism information site for Washington, D.C., is at www.washington.org. A Visitors Center at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW has maps and brochures.