I visit DC on Day 2 of the National Book Fair. Tents, crowds and long lines spill over the flattened grass of the Mall. In each tent presides a writer, installed behind a microphone. The books are pricey. It isn't what I imagined it would be, and find that the best parts of the day surround the fair: the Botanic Gardens, the sculpture gardens with fountains, the reflecting pool by the Capitol, the Holocaust Museum, beautiful Union Station, and beyond the Washington Monument the World War II Memorial where the water mirrors stars and powerful quotes are inscribed in stone.
I think of two people I know who, more often than not, are humored by others. I also think of how much they know, and how they sometimes reveal a surprising hidden talent or unsuspected well of knowledge.
At the US Botanic Garden you know you've arrived at the orchid room because nearly everyone has a camera out with the zoom on. People hover before each flower and curl their bodies towards it; they purse their lips in concentration and tilt their heads, making minute adjustments to their cameras.
During services the shofar sounds quietly mournful, pitiful even, except for the longest notes, which are sure and strong and seem to have no end.
The trees fold the cool air around us, and the air has lost its city smell. We stand by the water tossing in pieces of bread to symbolize the casting away of our sins. The water simmers and churns with hungry fish that slide open-mouthed against each other. Soon a turtle joins in, bobbing among the fish like a gray balloon.
Teenagers from DC wander through the Holocaust Museum unsupervised. They're quiet and respectful. They light memorial candles in silence and pause before names and passages of text.
A mass evacuation from Union Station; apparently there's a fire in some part of the building. The first thing people do when they get outside is take out their cell phones, either to snap photos or to inform someone that they'll be delayed. A pearly pink sunset follows, as the fire engines scream their arrival and lights flash. I get the feeling that, even as they're frustrated or anxious, most people are enjoying this turn of events to some extent; it's not a catastrophe, and it makes for an interesting story to dramatize at work or at home the next day. Even muttering about the delay brings a kind of pleasure.