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The National Mall is the name given to the park right in Washington, DC which contains the four major presidential memorials - the George Washington Monument, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial - as well as two war memorials - the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and the Korean War Veteran's Memorial. It also houses the Washington Monument and the Reflecting pool.

As far as natural resources, there are 2,000 American elms on the Mall and 3,000 Japanese cherry trees on the Tidal Basin. There is also a few gardens, one of then by the Reflecting pool called the "Constitution Gardens" as well as several other gardens, house over 170 flower beds with thousands of tulips, pansies, and annuals, along with with 35 ornamental pools and fountains.

These natural resources, as well as the historic monuments and memorials, makes Washington DC a great tourist area, one of the most heavily visited and photographed places in the world.

The national mall grounds include the White House grounds area (which is also known as President's Park) and the grounds of the United States Capitol building, and is literally like a strip that starts from the Capitol building all the way to the Lincoln memorial building.

The National Mall serves as "America's Common" where many people have come to meet to excercise their democratic rights, most notably the First Amendment rights of "freedom of expression" by holding rallies, demonstrations, and vigils on the National Mall. Some historic events that took place in the National Mall are Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial and many Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and 1970s. The first major Earth Day celebration was held at the Washington Monument grounds in 1971, the Million Man March was on the National Mall grounds in 1995, and the Promise Keepers rally was also on the National mall in 1997.

As a foreign visitor from a very distant planet, one thing struck me on the National Mall: the place was sacred. It was not like London, Paris or other Western capitals where official power resides in buildings that are beautiful and nothing more. Here, the spiritual and the temporal were deeply intertwined. The National Mall looked like the Angkor Wat of the American Civil Religion.

The National Mall in Washington D.C. hosts on its borders the American political institutions: the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court, and in its heart memorials to the most important American presidents. The Mall is also surrounded by cultural landmarks: the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress, and others.

The memorials are built in such a way as to give you spiritual feelings. Washington Monument is a gigantic Egyptian obelisk. The Lincoln Memorial architecture imitates Greek temples. The Jefferson Memorial looks like the Pantheon in Rome. The source of inspiration for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial could have been Stonehenge or some other primitive sanctuary. The memorials want the visitor to be impressed (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln) or to meditate (Roosevelt). In all of them you can read the President's sayings in letters as large as "Tu es Petrus" in San Peter's Vatican City basilica. These words, once controversial, are now almost as sacred as the Bible.

The relative position of the memorials is also very significant. In the middle stands the obelisk of Washington, who lead the nation to independence, founded the Union and became the first President. From there, you can see at a glance the Capitol and the White House, which are the most important political decision centers in the world, in the same way as you can see the decision centers of the world's economy from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Behind Washington stands Lincoln, who saved the Union by turning a free association of States into a united nation. On Washington's side, there's Jefferson, his ally, his successor as President, but also a philosopher; hence his retired and quiet position away from the center of the Mall. Then, in the middle of the trees, the Memorial of Roosevelt portrays him as a sapient man. Here is a simplified map:


                   White House
                        |
                        |                                    Supreme Court
    Lincoln----------Washington----------------------Capitol /
          \             |
         Roosevelt---Jefferson

The visitor is supposed to walk from one place to another. Long distances lead him to spend a whole day on the site and give him plenty of time to think about what he has just seen and what the next building on his route means. Perspectives have been carefully studied, in the spirit of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French engineer who planned Washington D.C.: the Capitol and the Washington obelisk stand on small hills above ponds that reflect their image. No skyscraper from the outside can divert the visitor's attention from the memorials or the institutions.

Furthermore, very few touristic shops or hot dog stands spoil the Mall. Ouroboros tells me that T-shirt vendors are allowed if they purport to a political issue, so most shirts (in small lettering) note: Statehood for D.C. Nothing trivial is allowed here. Streets are rare, long distances suppress noise and crowds. More importantly, money is absent from the site. Entrance to most of the monuments is free. While museums are very expensive in New York, here you pay nothing to visit the National Gallery, one of the best museums in the country.

It seems that Washington D.C is what America is about. But New York is what America really is.

While on the national mall with a friend of mine, we asked a park ranger what the penalty for swimming in the reflecting pool was. He said that no one must ever break the reflection of the Washington Monument. Then he pointed to the top of the monument. "See those things at the top?" He said. "Those aren't windows. Those are eyes. What did you think happened to Washington's body when he died? Where do you think they got the monument? You dare not wake up Washington. He will vaporize you with his laser-beam eyes."

Well, I couldn't believe that, so we asked another park ranger, and he said, "Laser beams? Hardly. The monument is the spike on the helmet of a giant robotic George Washington, buried below the national mall, and if you break the reflection in the pool, he rises out of the ground, grabs you, and throws you into Chesapeake Bay."

But neither of these men had ever actually seen anyone swim in the pool, or even wade in it, so I could not believe them. 

So I jumped into the pool.

It wasn't very deep at all. No sense wasting water on a pool that nobody's supposed to swim in. I splashed around for a bit.

Everyone just stood there, and stared. Nobody said a word. A few people crossed themselves. Ah, but what did they know?

The heavens darkened.

The wind began to blow. Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. I heard a huge thumping from behind me. I turned. There was the statue of old Abe himself, towering over me. I turned to the Washington monument. It had vanished. There was an angular, stone effigy of George Washington that stood before me.  I looked to my right. There was the statue of Jefferson glaring down at me. I looked to my left. The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. was there with is arms akimbo.

None of them moved.

"Gee," I said, "All I did was wade in the reflecting pool. Is that as disrespectful as what those bozos in Congress are doing?"

 As one, they turned their heads towards the capitol. Then they turned back to me. As one, they said, "THE SEAL IS BROKEN. YOU HAVE UNLEASHED US. WHAT IS YOUR BIDDING, CITIZEN?"

"Oh, uh..." I hadn't thought they would do anything besides stomp me. "I would like you to figure out how to fix this country," I said. An unselfish request. Nothing wrong with that.

"GET SOME MORE SLAVES TO DO THE SCUTWORK," said Jefferson. "WE NEED TO BUILD A STRONG ECONOMY WITH MINIMUM EXPENSE."

"EXCUSE ME?" said Lincoln and King in unison. "DID WE GET SHOT FOR NOTHING?"

"I LIKE THAT YOU STIRRED UP TROUBLE," said Jefferson, "BUT WE NEED A STRONG ECONOMY."

"STIRRED UP TROUBLE?" said Lincoln. "STIRRED UP NOTHING! IT WAS YOUR PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH WHO DECIDED TO SECEDE, AND ALL I DID WAS GET ELECTED!"

"YOU WANTED TO END SLAVERY!"

"I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT WAS AN EVIL!"

"A NECESSARY EVIL —"

"AND THEN YOU DIDN'T FREE ANY OF YOUR SLAVES WHEN YOU DIED, MR. DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND."

"YOU WOULD HAVE CHANGED YOUR MIND WHEN YOU GOT OLD IF YOU HADN'T BEEN SHOT!" said Jefferson.

"I WOULD HAVE STAYED MY OWN COURSE!" said Lincoln. "I WANTED SEGREGATION! I KNEW BLACKS AND WHITES WOULD NEVER GET ALONG —"

"EXCUSE ME?" said King. "WHAT ARE THESE WORDS I HEAR FROM THE GREAT EMANCIPATOR? DID YOU WANT MY PEOPLE TO BE FREE OR NOT?"

"SEGREGATION WOULD HAVE WORKED IF IT HAD BEEN IMPLEMENTED!" said Lincoln. "BLACK COMMUNITIES RULING THEMSELVES. ISN'T THAT THE FREEDOM YOU WANTED AND NEVER GOT?"

"WE TRIED THAT," said King, "AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED IN CHICAGO! AND TULSA! AND LOS ANGELES! THE WHITE MAN WAS NEVER GOING TO LET US RULE OURSELVES UNLESS WE DEMANDED IT THROUGH THE FORCE OF LAW!"

"MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE GONE TO LIBERIA!" said Lincoln. 

"THIS IS MY COUNTRY AS WELL AS YOURS, AND I'M NOT LEAVING!" said King. "I'M NOT GOING TO BE SHOVED OUT OF THE WAY, NOT THIS TIME —"

"YOU SEE WHY YOU HAVE TO KEEP THE SLAVES SERVILE?" said Jefferson. "IF YOU GIVE THEM AN INCH, THEY TAKE A MILE!"

"YOU STOLE THE MILES FROM MY PEOPLE!" said King. "YOU STOLE OUR BODIES AND CRUSHED OUR SOULS!"

"LIKE I SAID, SLAVERY IS A NECESSARY EVIL —"

"OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE," said Washington, "THIS SORT OF BICKERING IS WHY I ONLY RAN FOR RE-ELECTION ONCE IN THE FIRST PLACE! ISN'T THERE ANYTHING WE CAN AGREE UPON?"

"WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO," said Lincoln, "IF JEFFERSON HERE IS WILLING TO APOLOGIZE FOR BEING A DAMN HYPOCRITE."

"HOW ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO MAKE MONEY IN VIRGINIA?" said Jefferson. "HOW ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO BE ANYBODY IF I DIDN'T HAVE SLAVES? HOW ELSE WAS NEW ENGLAND SUPPOSED TO MAKE MONEY WITHOUT THE SLAVE TRADE? IT WAS ALL MOLLASSES TO RUM AND SLAVES, AND WE MADE MONEY HAND OVER FIST!"

"AND YOUR FELLOW SOUTHERNERS CONTINUED TO SHUT OUT THE FREE WHITE WORKING MAN," said Lincoln, "FOR FIFTY YEARS LONGER THAN THEY SHOULD HAVE —"

"THERE YOU GO AGAIN," said King. "NO WONDER RECONSTRUCTION WAS A BUST. YOU DIDN'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THE FREE BLACK WORKING MAN."

"I WOULD HAVE DONE BETTER THAN THE CLOWNS WHO SUCCEDED ME —"

"BY FORCING SEGREGATION? DON'T GIVE ME THAT —"

"THE SUN'S COMING OUT," said Washington. "BACK TO YOUR PLACES."

I looked up. The sun was beginning to peek through the clouds once more.

I heard a woosh, and looked around. The statues had gone. The Washington Monument was in its place once more.

Everybody around me coughed and shuffled a bit, looking around in confusion. Then, by ones and twos, they returned to their business.

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