April 6th, 2010

get critical

Poem for Tuesday, National Arboretum and Masonic Temple

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This is apparently destined to be our Spring Break of Chaos -- on Monday it came in the form of broken air conditioners in both our vehicles, on the first really hot day of the year. We have no idea when the A/C broke in the old van, since it hasn't been on yet this season, but it was working in the newer one on Sunday -- that one is now being repaired, while the old one will need to go in as soon as we get that one back. Sigh. At least my neck is mostly better -- still a bit red and itchy, but much less so than two days ago.

We went downtown to the National Arboretum in the late morning, bringing a picnic which we ate at one of the tables by the koi pond surrounding the visitor center. Since I'm supposed to avoid the sun for the week, we didn't walk up the sunny path to the National Capitol Columns but instead went to the mostly indoor Bonsai & Penjing Museum, then drove around to see the flowering cherry trees. It was beautiful and not at all crowded, unlike peak azalea season (they're only just starting to bud now).

Then we drove through the District to the Scottish Rite Freemasonry Supreme Council Temple, site of the climax of The Lost Symbol. It's an amazing building, designed by John Russell Pope, who also designed the Jefferson Memorial and National Archives. Everyone on our tour was there after having read Dan Brown, which was fine with our tour guide, a third degree mason who said their visitors have increased 400% and nearly everyone said they had a favorable impression of the Masons after reading the novel.

Some of the highlights of the tour are the Temple Room with its skylight (no helicopter, and a smaller altar than I was expecting, covered with religious works from around the world), the Robert Burns Library and much larger Reading Room -- the first public library in DC -- the Pillars of Charity which is actually a mausoleum for Sovereign Grand Commanders Albert Pike and John Henry Cowles, and the George Washington Memorial Banquet Hall, which has paintings of Washington being sworn in on a Bible -- a tradition adopted from the Masons at his request -- and laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol wearing his Masonic regalia.

It's all very impressive, though one can't help noticing amidst the tributes to Masonic charities how much money has been poured into this structure. It's possible that I'm particularly peevish on this point because although the Masons have opened their membership to admit anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, etc., they sputter about tradition when asked why women aren't allowed to join -- and it's obvious when looking at the paintings of famous Masons on the walls (presidents, congressmen, astronauts, movie stars) that power and wealth are exchanged in this boys-only club, even if Brown is all wrong about their possible descent from the Knights Templar.

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Paul made homemade deep-dish pizza for dinner, partly to test our new bread maker's capacity for making pizza dough and partly because he discovered that it was National Deep Dish Pizza Day -- at least, that's what The Washington Post said and Pizzeria Uno strongly agreed. We watched the sad outcome of the excellent Butler-Duke game, and now I am left to ponder whether I would have preferred a totally one-sided Butler triumph to a game that came down to the last shot with Duke winning...um, that would be a yes. Now all boys are still awake waiting to see robotics hero Dean Kamen on The Colbert Report.