Last week began with a visit to the Pentagon and ended with a stack of famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Here's what kept me busy:
The Pentagon: On Monday, I toured one of the world's largest and most powerful office buildings. About 23,000 military and civilian employees work at the Pentagon, the headquarters for the United States Department of Defense. My tour only covered one mile of the five-sided building where workers send approximately 1,000,000 e-mails and make around 200,000 phone calls daily.
As part of the tour, I stood in the very corridor where the hijacked Boeing 757 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. I glanced at the names of Medal of Honor recipients in the nearby September 11 Memorial Chapel. I learned about the four branches of the military (Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps) which, much to my embarrassment, I could barely name before visiting the Pentagon. I was surprised to find the Pentagon decorated primarily with quilts. These patched works of art, gifts from U.S. and foreign citizens to commemorate the lives lost on September 11, gave the massive military institution an oddly homey feel.
The National Press Club Book Fair: When I arrived to work on Tuesday, a co-worker from the National Whistleblowers Center asked if I wanted to help pass out informational brochures at the National Press club's 31st Annual Book Fair and Author's Night. My co-worker told me that Bunnatine Greenhouse, a well-known whistleblower who refused to support corrupt Halliburton no-bid contracts in Iraq, was scheduled to help promote a book on American whistleblowers at the event.
After meeting and shaking hands with "Bunny," I perused the tables of books at the fair. In the center of the room, surrounded by Secret Service, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sat signing copies of his book, Making your Case: The Art of Persuading Justices.
Although he is extremely conservative and outspoken in court, Justice Scalia was unexpectedly personable as he signed my copy of his book. I used the opportunity to tell him how much I loved hearing oral argument at the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia said that oral argument was his favorite part of the job. He asked me which case I attended. When he finished writing, he smiled and said that he liked the name "Elena." Apparently, a girl in line asked Justice Scalia when he would cross over to the liberal side. He merely replied, "Don't hold your breath."
"The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue": The National Whistleblowers Center hosted a seminar on Friday to train attorneys on whistleblower protections in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The Act, a response to recalls of toys with lead paint and other hazards, protects whistleblowers and inspectors in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer goods who report products that violate safety regulations. I helped set up tables, registered participating attorneys, and listened to all of the panel discussions on the new legislation.
The seminar was located in the Taft Room of the Willard InterContinental Hotel. Just a few blocks away from the White House, the Willard is known in D.C. as "The Grand Dame of American Hotles" and as "The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue." Chandeliers, red carpeting, and marble adorned the lobby of the Willard. A few feet away from the entrance, the elite drank tea and ate petit fours while a man in a tuxedo played classical piano music.
The National Museum of American History: After a two-year closure for renovations, The Smithsonian National Museum of American History opened on Friday. My friends and I went to the museum, but changed our minds after seeing the large lines waiting to view the exhibits.
I refused to leave, however, without seeing the ruby red slippers that Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland was only 16 when she wore the size 5 sequined slippers. My kind of shoe, the ruby red slippers were made with felt soles for dance sequences. Originally silver in Frank Baum's novel, film directors changed the shoe color to red so that Dorothy's slippers would stand out against the yellow brick road.
There's no place like home, but Washington D.C. is a close second.
Library of Congress: During my tour of the Library of Congress, I learned that the library was established in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill ordering government to move from Philadelphia to Washington. The bill provided for a reference library for Congress that was housed in the new Capitol. In 1814, however, British troops set fire to the Capitol and pillaged the library. Thomas Jefferson came to the rescue and offered his personal library as a replacement. An exhibited entitled, "Thomas Jefferson's Library" featured the 6, 487 books that Jefferson provided to replace the congressional library. More than 2,000 of these books actually belonged to Jefferson and were once placed on his shelves.
The Library of Congress is ornately decorated with marble staircases, quotes about the importance of books, mosaics, and presidential busts. From the second floor, visitors can look into the reading room. A perfect vellum copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of three, is displayed on the first floor.
The Eastern Market: Washingtonians flock to the Eastern Market on Saturday mornings to buy crafts and "Blue Buck" pancakes. Strangers cram next to each other at a single, narrow table and eat their syrupy breakfasts. After waiting in line for at least a half-hour, I sampled a stack of three blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Delicious!