Sunday 21 July 2013

Girth, Golf & Grilled Steaks

White House courtesy

We walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, strangely devoid of traffic.  The closer we got to our destination, the louder the voices grew.  A man with a megaphone shouted:  "No, no, hypocrisy!"  The crowd echoed:  "No, no, hypocrisy!"  The leader added:  "Yes, yes, democracy!" The crowd responded:  'Yes, yes, democracy!"  It is a scene that is repeated almost every day on Pennsylvania Avenue.  While the players change, the message is the same. 

Suffragettes protesting courtesy

As the crowd continued to shout, we turned our attention to the black fence, the green expanse of lawn, the trees, shrubs and flowers, and the White House.  So this is it.  This is the house where President Obama lives.  Our tour guide Natasha informed us that the President was indeed in the Oval Office judging by the position of the American flag flying out front.  We watched the guard stand straight as an arrow outside of the Oval Office.

We Canadian tourists pulled out our cameras and delicately tried to position them between the bars of the fence and snap a photo.  This would be the closest we would get.  Ever since someone tried to kill the President and his family a couple of years ago, the White House is closed to visitors.  As we gazed at the Executive Mansion, we counted three floors.  However, our guide explained that it actually has six floors (ground, state, third, fourth, two basements).  

Truman balcony courtesy

We learned that George Washington never lived in the White House since it wasn't built until 1800.  We learned that the British burned it down in 1814 (War of 1812) and that it was repainted white to hide the charred walls.  We learned how Abraham Lincoln met Frederick Douglass within its walls and promised him that slavery would be abolished, a decision which would cost him his life.  We learned that William H. Taft, who called the residence "the most depressing House", got his 325-pound frame stuck in the bathtub.   

William H. Taft courtesy

We also learned that Harry S Truman, a native of Missouri, added a balcony.  How Dwight D. Eisenhower used to hit golf balls off of the balcony in a game of "Hit the Secret Service Man".  (In fact, the Oval Office floor was pockmarked from his golf cleats.)  How Jacqueline Kennedy had the Executive Mansion restored and redecorated (see my blog post "George Washington Didn't Sleep Here" dated February 15, 2013).  And how Lyndon B. Johnson used the balcony to grill steaks on.  

Photo of President Eisenhower golfing courtesy

We lingered outside the black fence for a little longer.  Then it was time to say goodbye to the White House, to say goodbye to the President, to say goodbye to the protesters.  As we made our way down the street, their voices faded.  But the spirit of democracy is as strong as ever.  

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