In the fall of 1967, I arrived at Pranakorn Teachers College, near Bangkok, Thailand – a 21-year-old Peace Corps volunteer teaching English.
Chomsri, a 16 year old student at the school, lived with me for the next three years. She and I quickly became friends, traveling all over Southeast Asia in crowded buses with no doors, sleeper trains, rot-tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorcycle taxis that spewed black smoke. ), ferries and non-air-conditioned taxis.
A few years ago, Chomsri invited me to meet her in Washington DC – a city I never tire of exploring on foot or by subway. We arrived on day one of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, just as pink blossoms were emerging around the tidal pool between the mall and the Potomac River.
“What would you like to see and do?” Chomsri asked as the cab turned onto M Street and headed for Georgetown.
“I love this city,” I said. “I will be your guide if you are ready to walk.”
Washington is a wonderful city for anyone with good walking shoes and keen to explore. In the 1990s, Kit and I ran summer walking tours around town for a decade, while training geography teachers from across the country at the National Geographic Society.
Additionally, during the two years he and I worked in Washington before moving to Missouri, we walked daily from our Adams-Morgan Brownstone near the National Zoo to the company’s headquarters at 17th and M Street – a walk that took 30 mins in the morning but We often took the whole evening after work as we strolled through the tree lined streets dotted with an overwhelming array of restaurants and outdoor cafes serving all kinds of cuisine of the planet.
After living in Missouri for so long, I was happy to find that my mind map of Washington was still clear. At 9 am on our first day back in the capital, Chomsri and I were walking through residential streets and ceremonial avenues towards the mall. The WWII Memorial – located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial – was our first stop.
There in the WWII register – a database of the names of Americans participating in the war effort in uniform and on the home front – I looked at photos of my father and grandfather. maternity as well as summaries of their military service during the war.
After a period of reflection, we strolled through the Tidal Basin lined with historic Japanese cherry trees – including 100 of the original trees planted in 1912. This walk included the Roosevelt Memorial, where FDR’s three-term presidency is illustrated by quotes from each carved administration. granite on the labyrinth of walls of the memorial. After a visit to the Jefferson Memorial, we headed to the American Indian Museum completed in 2004 near the Capitol building. Don’t miss their splendid cafeteria offering regional Native American cuisine from across the Western Hemisphere.
Our final destination was a pilgrimage to the American History Museum to visit Julia Child’s Kitchen, donated in its entirety by Julia and Paul Child’s home in Boston. There, the two choreographies 119 half-hour cooking programs titled “The French Chef,” broadcast on Boston’s WGBH educational television station from 1963. Blending improvisation with skills learned at the Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Paris after WWII, Julia demystifies the art of French cuisine for the American public.
A TV clip of contagious 6ft 2in Julia Child explaining how to scratch a “toe-my-toe” – by dipping it in boiling water, holding it over a gas flame or zapping with a blowtorch – delights gourmets. and the fast foodies who flock to the exhibition.
Our late afternoon stroll from the mall to Georgetown took us past the White House, where forsythias were blooming on the front lawn, through Lafayette Park, and up 16th Street to Hubbard Hall, where Alexander Graham Bell and other founders of the National Geographic Society first met in 1888.
Dinner that night was at Asia Nora – a miraculous fusion of French technique, locally grown ingredients, and touches of Thai, Chinese, Japanese and American flavors. Imagine “Crispy Amish Chicken Breast with Jalapeño-Cilantro Emulsion, Fragrant Jasmine Rice, Bangkok Coleslaw and Roasted Peanuts” followed by “Panna Cotta with Lemongrass and Passion Fruit Coulis.” It was a meal that Mrs. Child would have deemed “simply divine”.
Like the delicious menu at Nora Pouillon’s creative organic restaurant, our second day in Washington was filled with delicious encounters – sidewalk carpet vendors from Afghanistan, French and British Impressionist art at the Phillips Gallery, and Eggs Benedict with asparagus and crab cakes at the Afterwords Café in the Kramer Bookstore near Dupont Circle.
Our post-brunch walk took us down Connecticut Avenue, over the Duke Ellington Bridge, and finally into my old Adams-Morgan neighborhood. There, amid ethnic cafes and shops, we stopped for a libation at a funky local establishment where drinks are always half price for redheads.
“What a capital idea!” I said. And with that, we toasted our almost four-decade friendship and took a cab back to our hotel.
Cathy Salter is a geographer and columnist who lives with her husband, Kit, in southern Boone County at a place they call Boomerang Creek.