With Freedom And Prosperity For All

Capitol Hill, crookedly seen from the Mall. No metaphor intended.

The first thing we did in Washington, D.C. was fuel up on Starbucks. Then hop onto a double-decker bus. It was a chilly day for Californians, and the trees that arch over D.C. streets came close to whipping us in the face. We felt however that we were on the verge of something big. We laughed, and kept going.

The bus ticket allowed us to get on the bus, and off, and on again, so by the time we came to the Lincoln Memorial, we’d admired prep school boys playing lacrosse, eaten several large burritos, and purchased artisanal soaps and perfume.

I was by then the conceptual equivalent of drunk. I’m not very political, usually, but in D.C. one feels the Founding Fathers’ ideas,  like alcohol in one’s veins or celery on one’s teeth. Visceral. Our country’s tagline is, ‘With Liberty And Justice For All.’ We have to make our own meaning. I was struck, instead, by Freedom, Prosperity, and the Architecture of Language. Writ large.

Here’s my thinking. The United States were launched when a group of men decided they didn’t want to be taxed if they couldn’t vote. I suppose it’s possible the Founders mostly wanted to keep their stuff. Prosperity comes first. However, I was convinced in Washington that the notion of Freedom, however derived, stays with us. That it matters, in all its new meanings.

And I was astonished by the role of language in architecting our history. Yes, it is possible for the geeks among us to be intoxicated by documents.

Freedom, prosperity, language.


Does our capacity to engage in armed conflict determine our freedom?

The Vietnam War Memorial, names carved in of all who died there. Trees, only reflected.

If you stand still in front of the Vietnam War Memorial, noting the temperature of the air, the trees without leaves, the color of people’s down jackets, you remember that fighting is terrifying and young men have to walk a long way with wet feet. No matter your definition of patriotism. Memory is  to be honored.

I myself worry more about freedom constrained by our own biases than by foreign powers.

If we use our kindest eyes to understand each other, we see that our desire to make meaning out of diversity leads us to bias. The human mind wants to group people with similar characteristics together. But bias is our enemy. Bias causes us to wear away at Freedom until it degrades into the right to Prosperity. The idea of freedom is better than that. And so, if you don’t mind a brief soapbox, should we be.

The Lincoln Memorial in early spring

The bus let our group out down by the water. We walked up the hill, the boys shoving each other. A form of recreation. I went inside to see Lincoln’s statue, and quickly came out again. I sat on the landing, on the steps, halfway up.

It was impossible not to sit, and look out across the Mall, and think.

A family, mother, father, boys, two girls in hair ribbons, ran up the stairs. The children were bouncing, speaking Spanish, laughing. The sky was thin, blue, long. A father tried to corral his two teens for a photo at the marked spot where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. The teens bitched and moaned and pushed each other. “Calm down you two,” said the dad. Someone down below blew a soap bubble and it floated very slowly up.

The cherry trees  would not bloom for another few weeks. But I felt almost tropical with happiness. Lush, in all senses of the word. We wandered up the Mall, towards the Washington Monument, and then in and out of museums.


Washington’s museums provide a free market. For ideas. An extravagance of thought.

The Washington Monument, seen through trees as we walked up from the Lincoln Memorial

Literally, inasmuch as most museums are free, figuratively in that you can enter one at any point, following a stray thought or a lifelong passion. Prosperity at its best. We saw the First Ladies’ dresses, Julia Child’s cast iron pans, and flight simulators. Which make me throw up, so I sat on a bench at the Air and Space Museum, thinking. There’s all kinds of freedom in this world.

The First Ladies’ dresses, in the National Museum of American History. Walkable from the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

Mineral examples of prosperity abound. The Hope Diamond is hideous right now. Excuse me, Mr. Winston? Expensive does not mitigate ugly.

The Hope Diamond. Yes, it’s blue. And set in the style I most abhor, i.e. Modern Without Provenance

But this was gorgeous. And sparkly beyond reason.

Tanzanite, at the National Museum of Natural History

We ate at a food court. Some had tacos. others pancakes, others chicken tenders. The museums and the food courts satisfy similar impulses towards abundance.  There’s room, you know, for both knowledge and appetite.

Architected By Words

The next day we made our way up to the Library of Congress. What a gorgeous, over-the-top building. And manageable, sizewise, as a tourist.

The ceiling is painted with last names of the greats. Here you see Dante, Milton, and someone else who I’ve forgotten as the euphoria retreats. I wrote my senior thesis at Princeton on epic poetry. One more moment when I felt connected to the early thinkers of America. Of course, the names are all men except for Sappho. Women in those days served, at the political level, largely to decorate. Generally, our breasts had to participate, clothed or unclothed.

The Library of Congress and a statue lighting its way

We saw an exhibition of documents related to the founding of America. Here’s another thing. If you’ve ever worked in an organization, public sector or private, you have to respect the process required to produce the United States. And I don’t mean our commerce, or the military, although they’re both impressive. America’s early documents astonish. Writing by committee is well-nigh impossible, but my goodness what a team of like-minded people can produce.

Personally, I was heartened that a talker like Gouverneur Morris could have had such an impact amongst the fighters, and the counters of money, and the sellers, and the choppers of trees. At least back in the day.

He wrote this.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

More perfect. How great is that? Not perfect. Just more perfect. Think of the hope in more perfect.

The Library of Congress. An exhibition of the Constitution, including drafts with phrases crossed out.

Which brings us to political infrastructure. Washington D.C. illuminates, like nowhere else, the three-legged stool of American politics, in all its white marble glory. The Congress, in the Capitol, the Supreme Court, in the, um, Supreme Court, and the President, in the White House. The city is intoxicating precisely because the architecture represents so clearly the founding ideas.

That said, I feel badly for Capitol Hill today. Their teams have gotten so big and so polarized. I imagine it’s like managing established companies in times of slow growth, Everyone wants to be heard, and there’s more fear of losing than hope of winning. I admire any with the stamina to stick it out. They should, however, pay attention to language. Expand the meanings of terms, cease to subvert them for political gain.

The Capitol, stormy skies and all. Where what we built in America is currently on its knees, begging to be heard. For better or worse.

We visited the Supreme Court too. Again, structurally brilliant and dependent on language. The Supreme Court may be polarized but it cannot be bought. The good names of most Justices are too valuable. Here prosperity is paid in reputation. Talk about market incentive for justice.

They even save seats for us.

The chambers of the Supreme Court. Did you know you can actually hear oral arguments when court is in session?

And then, of course, the White House. It’s smaller than the Capitol Building. My friend, whose parents are British, said, “This is not a palace.” It is not. It’s a big white house. Really big. But not a palace. We chose government without king, and we meant it.

The White House

Time to go home.


As I stood in line at Dulles, waiting to get on the airplane, a very tall, distinguished older man talked to me a little bit. I didn’t recognize him. Once we were seated, he in my row but several seats away, I saw someone stop and bend over to say, “Senator. So good to see you. Thank you for (mumble), hope to have you again (mumble).”

I asked the flight attendant who it was. “Senator Simpson.” Republican from Wyoming, Senate Majority Whip, supporter of LGBT and  abortion rights. 79 years old and didn’t even nap on the plane ride.

When I had picked up my suitcase from the baggage claim, and turned, head down, to leave the airport, I almost bumped into the Senator’s belly. As I said, he’s tall. Imagine that during this entire exchange I’m smiling, almost bobbing my head in a curtsy, but interrupting repeatedly. I so badly want to tell him what I’ve just been through that I’m blurting out facts in a rush. Much as I want to tell you now.

LPC: Oh, Senator, I am sorry I didn’t recognize you.
Simpson: *laughs* I could have been king, you wouldn’t have recognized me.
LPC: Sir, I just got back from my first trip to D.C. could I tell you a brief story?
Simpson: *clearly practiced at this but deeply polite* Of course.
LPC: Well, I have an ancestor who signed the Declaration of Independence (incoherent stuttering) Gouverneur Morris.
Simpson: Oh, Gouverneur Morris…
LPC:  And I’m a lifelong Democrat, and I was so impressed by Washington.
Simpson:*pulls out answer #153 of lifelong politician* Oh yes, it’s very…
LPC:  The thing is sir, as a lifelong Democrat, I just wanted to thank you. It’s you. People like you. Who serve. And it’s so much work, and I wanted to thank you.
Simpson: *surprised. authentic.* Thank you. That is much appreciated.

And off I went to find my RAV4 in long-term parking. Changed by the experience. I just can’t help having hope.

*In fact Gouverneur Morris didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence. His half-brother Lewis, did. If I’m going to get drunk on history, family and otherwise, best to have my facts straight.

Images: me, via ShakeIt on the iPhone

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  • What a wonderful capstone to your trip to have this encounter with a Senator. I have yet to visit Washington, DC and yet most people who visit as an adult tell me of this experience of values being embodied in the documents, the statuary, the architecture. One day I will visit.

  • thank you lisa. beautiful words and beautiful images.


  • I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit. The wonderful thing about D.C. is that it is so…immense, you can go time and time again and see new things. Go back – and visit the Holocaust Museum. You will NEVER be the same.

  • Wonderful post…your feelings shine through the words. I grew up in Middleburg, VA, now just 45 minutes outside DC. When I was a child (before living in CA)it was quite a journey to go into the Capitol. I was fortunate to attend a private, well-resourced school in my town and starting in fourth grade we made several field trips to DC each year. National Gallery (endowed by our neighbor Paul, husband of Bunny Mellon), Mount Vernon, Smithsonian, White House, Congress, monuments galore. I still love it all.

    Most moving to me as an adult is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I guess it’s because it was “my war” so-to-speak, that I can weep just thinking of the power of the place. Seems odd to say I love everything about it, but I do. Though mostly traditional in my personal design taste, this post-modern gash in the heart of our country’s ground of origin speaks to me with so many layers of meaning. Mostly, it speaks truth to power from a time when so many were just waking up to the reality of corrupt, untrustworthy leaders obsessed with personal power. But somehow, the memorial rises above cynicism to respect and hope for a “more perfect union” despite the mostly glacial pace of progress.

  • Excellent photo blog post! The architecture is just beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how our forbearers had purpose in mind but yet such magnificence.

  • Lisa,
    Loved your memoirs of Washington. I grew up an hour away and now live two hours away, but the city never gets old. I felt the cold as I was reading… My husband and I were there last month in the freezing, blustery cold to see the Capitol Steps perform and eat out at a couple of the great restaurants in the area.
    And I was highly entertained by your interaction with Senator Simpson. What an amazing person, who definitely has his heart in the right place. Or why else would he still be so passionate?
    Have a great sunny day back out West!

  • Thank you sharing your patriotic wisdom. There is much to ponder in this beautifully written post. What I see as the essence of many of our current problems is stated by this one of your thoughts. “I myself worry more about freedom constrained by our own biases than by foreign powers.”

  • Thank you for your post. If you have not yet been to Philadelphia, please go – Independence Hall literally brought me to tears. And may I insert one small correction? Your picture in the Supreme Court is in the courtroom; the chambers are the judges’ private offices.

  • Thank you. I really enjoyed reading this. I’m glad, but not surprised, of course, that you found so much on which to reflect.

    Sadly, with regard to political rhetoric, these Yeats lines have been running through my mind frequently these past few years–“The best lack all intensity, while the worst/Are full of passionate conviction.”

    You remind us that there are a lot of genuinely good public servants, in both parties, who are sincerely interested in doing the right thing. It’s a comforting thought.

  • This is a gorgeous post. I am sure Senator Simpson was very pleased by your words. Even when living in D.C., I was always very humbled by a walk through the monuments. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

  • Lisa, thank you for this beautiful reflection. I know what you mean about the architecture representing the founding ideas. It is intoxicating. I think that’s part of the reason the Vietnam Memorial is so moving. It’s architecture contrasts, as did the war experience itself in creating a negative space against those ideas. Or so it seemed, for so many. The memorial honors memory without glossing over sacrfice.

    I am not a Republican either but Senator Simpson is one of my favorite senators. I am happy you thanked him, happy for you but happy for me too. I want people like him to know that there are people like us.

    It saddens me that we have veered so far off the track envisioned by those like-minded founders. Like you, I can’t help having hope.

  • Hopeful. I love hopeful.

  • such a fabulous recap and tribute to d.c.!

  • I hearted you long ago for being classy, witty, yet humble. I hearted you again when you wrote about your adventures in India, a country I lived in for five years and still think of fondly. You just got hearted again – big time1 – for being a lifelong Democrat, like me, who embraces everyone who serves, no matter their affiliation:)
    Could you possibly rock more? I’m sure you’ll find ways to!

  • What a lovely bouquet you handed the Senator! The grandeur, effort, power and poetry in DC are all present in your words.

    When I read ‘architect” as a verb, I respond to it like fingernail on blackboard. Yet “to pen” sounds fine. Weird, huh? There’s another bias.

  • Love this post!!!!! So happy you saw the 1st ladies’ frocks and the Hope diamond and that superior tanzanite. You are living the dream. So sad that the USA started with all these high ideals then ended up with something so different. Off to bake me some bread xx

  • What a lovely story! I could visit again and again. Have not been to the Smithsonian or Library of Congress. Many yrs ago toured the White House. We did the bus too..I was in DC the day Bush v Gore was heard at the Supreme Court, a part of the rally on the steps…we had lunch where Congressmen eat..Rayburn? and we said hello to Sen Orin Hatch…they are all so bigger than life…power can corrupt but that was nice you said thank you…bc even w all the perks, some are trying to do good.
    Many fought and died for our freedoms that some take forgranted…Let’s hope Americans remember their sacrifice.
    Cool you are related to Gov Morris..i have been to both Drumthwacket NJ Gov mansion) and Morven (the orig gov mansion)in NJ…I love History!
    Glad you wrote about your trip.

  • You make me regret not visiting DC when I was in the States in Dec. But thought it would be too chilly for my 3 year old. Oh well, next time, I hope!

    I am not American, or planning to live in the States. But it is one of the few countries in the world that I identify with, values-wise.my country fought for freedom from the same master first violently then peacefully so I know. I really get this post.

    Probably your best to date. And so, thank you.

  • Loved your pictures of DC. The first lady’s section of the Museum of American History is one of my favorites. I don’t like what they have done to the Hope Diamond. It was so breathtaking the last time that I saw it. I think it is cool that you are descended from Gouvenour Morris. His wife, Anne Cary Randolph, was a cousin to one of my ancestors. Senator Simpson is one of my favorites also.

  • Thank you for sharing your time and experiences! I’ve not been to D.C. in a number of years- so in many ways,it was was like walking down memory lane. My family visits always included trips to D.C., back in the day. I treasure all of those memories. Thank you for keeping them alive.

    I appreciate your writing and your blog.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this post. But if I comment on all of it, I could write a book. So I’ll be brief.

    I used to sneak into a class Senator Simpson taught at the K-school many years ago. He is hilarious, friendly, and just an all-around terrific person.

    There is a really interesting article about his childhood friendship with Secy. Norm Mineta. They became friends when Sen. Simpson’s boy scout troop went to visit the boy scout troop at a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming during World War II.

    Here’s the story:

  • A visit to DC always reminds of how far we have strayed from the intent of our founding fathers and how they must be rolling in their graves. A professional elected political class in the legislative brnach, a bloated bureaucracy, an executive branch that has been running amuck since 1933 and lastly the foolish notion that we are a democracy and not a republic.

  • Sounds like you had a wonderful and very full trip. Your words and pictures are both lovely as usual.

  • A beautiful, moving story. Your observations about division and the negative impact it has on the meaning of freedom is something we all need to think about.

  • This was lovely, from big-picture thinking to the small soap bubble floating upwards. I’ve been to DC many times, and have never failed to feel the thrill of being RIGHT THERE, in the place where it all happens. I hope I never lose that. Your moment with Alan Simpson was quite moving—thank you for thanking him. The perfect gesture.

  • I knew that mind of yours would twirl and cogitate and end up framing everything jussst right. If you are not familiar with Maira Kalman’s dead-serious-yet-wildly-whimsical blog for the NYT “And the Pursuit of Happiness,” let me introduce you. An exploration of American democracy, the blog series ran for a year, one post per month. Here’s the first of the series, when you get to the end scroll [past the comments] to the bottom for the other 11.


  • Wow thank you for sharing this wonderful trip with us. My husband and I have been wanting to go to Washington D.C. for several years so this has really made me to go ahead and plan a trip there. Great photos.

  • This was just lovely. I really enjoyed it, it brought back memories of my teen family trip to DC. Haha, I did not know that you studied poetry. Me too. Useful, isn’t it?

    xo Mary Jo

  • Thank yous are always appreciated, I would think, regardless of which side of the fence one resides. Serving is a great sacrifice and we should all be thanful for those souls who decide to risk the comfortable zone for something bigger.

  • Beautiful, beautiful post. I live in Washington, DC so I was very much able to “travel with you” on this journey, taking in all of its sights, sounds, and ideas. Thanks for sharing! This is truly phenomenal!

  • Hi Lisa
    Thank you for sharing your images and thoughts with us today.

    They are, as always, food for thought and a reason to reflect for just a few moments today.

    Take care

    SSG xxx

    Sydney Shop Girl blog

  • 1. On young men walking with wet feet: author of my nearly-favorite book in life, Peter Straub (the book is Mystery), wrote three books (the Blue Rose trilogy, of which Mystery is the middle novel, but a fine, fine thing on its own) where the Vietnam War and fighters therein figured. Straub never served in Vietnam, but talked about friends who did in various interviews. He noted that one friend says he still cannot walk across an open field.

    2. I have a Declaration of Independence signer great-great-everhowmanygreats-grandfather.

  • Dear Lisa, You are one of the most interesting women that I have never met! I am an Australian public servant (one who serves the Government of the day) when she is working and it is too easy to be cynical about politics and politicians. Making good policy is hard. Yet, there are those I admire on both sides of our politics simply because they do try to rise above the pettiness and self-interest to do good. We need in every country good people to serve and to aspire to meet the ideals that were expressed in that wondrous document. I was thinking that Japan with so much to do needs this more than most and more than ever before. I always feel better after visiting your blog. May you have a lovely cup of tea with a good friend who makes you laugh until you have stitches. love Lindaxxx

  • Great post! Apparently, we were almost at DC at the same time. That is so very cool!

    Let’s compare notes! :-)


  • Terri – I am sure you will like it. Anyone who thinks and talks for a living kind of has to like D.C., in my opinion.

    Janet – Oh. Thank you very much.

    Jan – I dread the Holocaust Museum, having gone through a time of reading a lot of Holocaust Literature. But I will steel myself for the next trip. It’s never to be forgotten.

    Ann – Thank you. How wonderful to have a set of childhood memories tied to everything there. I think the Vietnam Memorial is one of the most perfect pieces of public art I’ve ever seen. At least ‘more perfect.’

    Pamela – It is magnificent, but still fairly rural, really, compared to other capitols I’ve seen.

  • Jo-De – Thank you. It was cold – we’re just not used to it. And I felt as though Senator Simpson really was a gift from the universe. Very Californian, I know:).

    Susan – Thank you. I am glad to be able to be a patriot, in my own way. Bias may not be our fault, originally, but we need to work to remove it wherever we can.

    MJ – Thank you. I haven’t been to Philadelphia, but I will go some day. And thank you for the correction. Yikes:).

    Staircase Witch – That poem is very apt here, I agree. And it’s the people who believe what they believe and use straightforward words that I most respect.

    Glitterista – He was very adorable, really. Very genuine. Thank you for the kind words.

  • Susan – It is the tension between the glossy stone, and the grass growing so close. Creates such a direct meaning. Oddly, so does just bumping into a tall Wyoming Republican, in an airport, and shaking hands.

    Town and Country – Yes. Me too. Thank you.

    belle on heels – Thank you!

    Lillian – Oh what a terribly nice thing to say. It can be difficult, this. Trying to think through so much so carefully, to know what to say, to give what matters its due. So I really do appreciate your words very very much.

    Duchesse – We woo woo Californians say the universe was speaking. And oddly ‘architect’ as a verb is one of those that don’t bother me:). Unlike, for example, impact. Probably from working with software ‘architects.’

  • FF – Thank you! There were even more sparklies. Maybe I’ll post one more photo before I’m done:).

    Jennifer – Thank you very much. I’m glad you told me your story here.

    AN – You can take your bigger children next time. And thank you very much for saying it was probably my best post to date, since it was one of the most difficult to write up.

    Anon – What is the K-School? I’m not at all surprised to hear the Senator was so terrific. I read about his friendship with Mineta, again, not surprised. I’m very glad you enjoyed what I wrote.

    Pink Martinis – Thank you oh talented one.

  • John – Thank you very much. It wasn’t rational thought, if you know what I mean, just one of those ideas that appears to synthesize itself.

    Susan Champlin – Thank you very much. And I owe anything to my mom, right? “A simple thank you will suffice.”

    Flo – Ah. I was hoping you’d say hello here. Thank you for the link. My children went together to Obama’s Inauguration. I did not know Jefferson changed it from the pursuit to property to the pursuit of happiness. So much in those words. California really couldn’t exist without that thought thread, now could it?

    Alicia – Thank you! I am sure you will have a wonderful, wonderful time.

    Mary Jo – Thank you. Useful, well, sometimes:).

  • Bella – I couldn’t agree with you.

    Jessica – Thank you very much. I hope you love living there. I know we all get used to the familiar, and I know it can be so much fun to see our homes through new eyes and new enthusiasm. I certainly do it with California.

    SSG – Thank you!

    Stephanie – I will order those books. Thank you. And I absolute love the thought of our grandfathers’ meeting, and discussing, and laughing.

    Linda – Oh my goodness. Well thank you very much. I am very happy that you work as a public servant. The more warm, intelligent people with a sense of humor who serve in governments, the better. Right? Right? ‘Making good policy is hard.’ My sisters both work to improve public policy, in their ways, so I hear you. And again thank you. And any time you find yourself in California, I will have tea for you.

    Robin – So fun! Your photos are very nice. Thank you for sharing.

  • Loved this post! Your trip mirrored so much of our recent trip to DC. And when my 13 year old said to me that you cannot help but feel the history in the stones, in the bricks of the buildings as you walked, well, my heart was happy. And I completely agree about the Hope Diamond. The setting did nothing for me, and however modern, I found it sort of dated too. Only temporary though. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    8:57 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. How nice to have your son say that. I love it when kids give us signs that it’s all sinking in.

  • Oh dear, I talk in jargon and abbreviations all day and clearly live in a bit of a bubble.

    K-school = Kennedy School of Govt (and Policy?) at Harvard

    Proof reading is my friend. I went for chatty and ended up sounding like a complete out-of-touch snob. Sorry, everyone.

    8:58 am
    Lisa said...

    Oh, not at all like a snob. Just like someone with a particular, compelling experience. And as I fell asleep last night, in all seriousness, I had one of those stray, unasked for thoughts in which it occurred to me, “I bet Anon meant the Kennedy School:).”

  • What a wonderful post! The pictures are superb and the narrative revealing. I was touched by your airport conversation with the Senator.

  • I love this post. As someone who, hippie in her youth, came late to patriotism and recognition of the great gifts this country has to offer, I thank you for bringing this post to us, in language crafted as well as any I’ve seen in blog posts anywhere.

  • Your conversation with the Senator made me cry.

    1:50 pm
    Louise said...

    I suppose I should clarify that: made me cry with deep happiness and pride. With patriotism. I’m a little embarrassed.

  • I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip! I love my little political town, and it’s cherry blossoms.

    8:16 am
    Lisa said...

    Someday I will see the cherry trees.

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  1. […] My impressions of the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Washington Monument, are here. An abridged version? The Lincoln Memorial, with its plaque for Martin Luther King’s “I […]