Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mr. Clanton Goes to Washington, Part Deaux

(Washington, D.C.)

“Why don’t American’s appreciate more what they’ve got?”

This was a question posed to me by an Asian couple sitting next to me on the flight to Washington this weekend. Vu and Tina Le escaped from Vietnam as Saigon fell when they were kids. Vu’s father was killed by the Communists, they told me, because he was an intelligent, successful man.
Commies don't like folks like that.

The Le's came to America on separate paths, but driven by a common thirst for freedom. There's alot of that going around.

Vu and Tina later met in the States, married 16-years ago, and this weekend were traveling to the capitol of their adopted country to see the cherry blossoms in bloom.

We talked on the flight about their lives here, and how they contrast with the lives of their relatives still in Vietnam. And we agreed that you cannot truly appreciate the bountifulness of America unless you’ve come here from someplace else, or travel out of the country and are able to compare our way of life with those in other places.

“Why do (Anglo) American’s want to turn their skin dark?”

Another question posed by Vu and Tina.
She’s a skin care consultant in a salon in the upscale northwest neighborhoods of Houston. She can’t believe what some white people go through to darken their skin.

I told her it was vanity. We’re given role models for style and good looks by Madison Avenue and Hollywood. Whatever plays well, American’s adopt from a tube or a tanning bed.

Tina has nearly flawless skin, and Vu has a great head of hair, just now turning salt-and-pepper. You notice things like that, right off the bat when you're sitting hip to hip and elbow to elbow with strangers. I was glad I'd trimmed my nose hairs before leaving the house. You just never know who you're going to be sitting next to.

Vu was curious about my “do,” which requires a Number-3 guard on an electric trimmer once every three weeks--whether it needs it or not. I told him to not worry about his hair turning silver, just so long as it doesn’t turn loose. Besides, he’s got an in-house specialist who can add color anytime.

This morning on the hotel elevator a guy jumped on and sighed, “this is not going to be a good day.” I asked why, and he said, “I woke up.” I couldn’t help but remember back to the conversation I had with Vu and Tina about how unappreciative we can sometimes be. This guy was bent because he had to face another day. From where I’ve been recently, every day is a gift. It’s all about perspective.

Washington is full of different perspectives.
Everyone has one, and they all want theirs to be The Official View. I thought about snapping a few images of some of the bumper stickers I’ve seen up here, but this is a family blog.

Tonight I took the train to the National Mall.
Not to shop, but to shoot.
I wanted night shots of the Washington Monument, the War Memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Depending upon where you stand and look, Washington has some awesome visual perspectives with monuments juxtaposed with one another.

The city is truly a photographer’s paradise. (In my next life I want to come back as a photographer for National Geographic.)

And Washington seems to never sleep.
There were tourists thronging the Lincoln Memorial. The World War Two Memorial was crowded with students; the Korean and Vietnam Memorials were less populated. Their meanings are more solemn. At all three memorials, the black and white flag of POW/MIA flies below the stars and stripes.

I noticed a particularly poignant, physical perspective at the Vietnam War Memorial. After snapping a few shots of the three soldiers (without a flash), I walked around to the wall containing the dead and missing from that conflict—the only war America lost.

Reaching the center of the giant, broad “V” gouged into the earth, I looked west and found the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial, wherein is enshrined the memory of a man who preserved the Union in another awful war.

Gazing along the opposite wall of the Memorial, I saw reflected in those hand-carved names the gleaming Washington Monument, a symbol of freedom to all Americans.

And I thought about the war dead, and the price they paid.

I thought about the Le’s and how they suffered the loss of family members in their country’s war, and had to leave the homes.

And I thought about that idiot in the elevator this morning, who really doesn’t have a clue.

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