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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Life in Washington, DC

I undoubtedly should have kept up with this while I was actually living there, but life is busy sometimes and even though I have no truly valid excuse we will just leave it at that. Just a few comments on DC before the immediacy of my memoirs has faded. The city per se is nice, maybe a bit too small, with only a few neighborhoods really being enjoyable to explore (as in not too quiet and residential). What is amazing are the cultural options available at no charge. Most of the museums are free and some of them house big-screen movie theatres which show older films (kostenlos aber nicht umsonst sozusagen - sorry). I saw John Ford's The Searchers recently for example and it's a thrill to see such a film on a big screen and listen to an entertaining discussion about it afterwards. There are a couple (as in not many, but at least some do exist) decent blues bars. I believe there a variety of classy Jazz spots, but I am not so much into those so I wouldn't know.

The one (negative) thing that struck and that I will try to lay out in some detail here, is the race question. I have written about this extensively (well, whatever that may mean - check my labels if you care to know) and quite contradictorily at times, reflecting where I was living, what I was doing there and with whom I was interacting. In DC what astonished me (surprised me again I should maybe say) was the clear-cut segregation between African-Americans, Hispanics and whites in the city. Some bars around U Street or in Adams Morgan populated by the young, studious and (soon-to-be) successful manage to attract a more mixed crowd. These people are not only the exception though, they constitute a small elite of post-racial Americans.

The house that I lived in was relatively far up in the North, towards the Maryland state line. As American cities go, the grid system, offered us two parallel routes toward the mall, downtown or any other relevant destination. Leaving the house you would turn right and walk two blocks to Georgia Avenue where you could take a bus going South, or you would turn left and after half a block take one of the 50s going in the same direction on 14th Street. Per se there is nothing peculiar to this kind of harmless public transportation system. Remember this is the US, buses are full during the day, move slow and on the weekend and late at night, get ready to wait.

This not the point though. Rather, the depressing fact was that when taking the bus down Georgia I (seriously) think I not once saw a white guy on the bus. Nor even anyone looking as if he (or she) were a Latino(a). No one ever bothered us (except a few annoying, but friendly drunks), but how does it reflect on a society that whole areas of one city (none other than the nation's capital!) can be as segregated? Going down 14th (except during rush hour with everyone going to work), the same thing in reverse. Hispanics dominating the bus, the sidewalk and stores. In this case of course a language barrier even prevented me from knowing what people around me were talking about.

And that's that really. Is there anything else to say? As I already pointed out, some young, successful types hang out in interracial groups. Mostly, while drinking too expensive beers and looking hip in bars and clubs dominated by (sorry) bad music. That is not the point though. Large parts of the population, and every one who is poor keep, to themselves. The melting pot most likely always was a myth, but in DC it is just astonishing how interaction simply does not take place. Maybe the young professionals cited above are leading the way towards a better, more beautiful, postracial America. But maybe they (and their President) are only an aberration of an unalterable truth. The United States is and always has been a segregated country. With different ethnic groups living side by side but not mingling or truly interacting.

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