The Chilean poet who became his own pen name

Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto wasn’t the first writer to use a pen name. But, not many make it their legal name. The Chilean poet who became a diplomat and politician named himself after Czech poet Jan Neruda in becoming Pablo Neruda.

Neruda won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature for his poetry that spanned from historical to political to erotic. He read poetry to 100,000 people in a Sao Paulo, Brazil stadium.

After Chilean president Gonzalez Videla issued a warrant for Neruda, he fled to Argentina in 1948 and didn’t return until 1971. He died in 1973, his procession another political move as thousands took the streets in defiance of Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet.

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Wordless Wednesday: Jefferson Memorial

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Something different to visit for locals and tourists alike

It’s a common question from both tourists and friends – what’s something different to see in town?

It’s a question I find as wide open as the ocean and as difficult to cross.

A few questions come first by me. Inside or out? Walking long or short? Artsy or not?

I don’t live downtown so I don’t know the best corner coffee shop, small bookstore or boutique with the coolest things. I specialize in big monuments and great stories of the city stretching from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery.

But it’s a question that bugs me because I should know the answer. For now, here’s one I recently recommended: The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery of the Donald W. Reynolds Center.

If you like paintings and artwork, this is the place. Personally, I was never into it until my kids were in college and we visited art museums in Philadelphia (yes, I ran the steps and saw the Rocky statue) and Chicago plus the ones in Washington. Suddenly, I could see why people sit and stare at the paintings.

I like the massive ones that dominate a wall. Makes you feel like you can walk into them. Seeing the work of real famous painters like Leonardo Di Vince, Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s work is pretty cool, too.

These two buildings are connected by a really cool dome to create an atrium where you can also grab a bite to eat. One side contains portraits. Right now there’s a section of every president. The other side has a wide range of paintings and sculptures.

The museum is free and open until 7 p.m. You can spend 30 minutes or half a day. It’s one block from Verizon Center at 8th and F Sts. N.W.

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Russian markers in Rock Creek Cemetery

Russian graves

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Wordless Wednesday: Light of a courthouse

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My declaration of war: End the madness

Dear Politicians – we don’t need yours thoughts and prayers and excuses because they accomplish nothing. When someone walked into Sandy Hook Elementary and slaughtered children or even shot politicians on a baseball field and yet nothing was done, then I guess there’s really no hope of Congress making an impact.

Politicians – We need your guts. We need you to stop taking NRA money and finding excuses knowing America will simply move on soon enough to the next tragedy. Las Vegas and 56 deaths seem forever ago now and it was just a few weeks.

If I had the answer I would gladly give it to stop this madness. But, we all know we need to change the Second Amendment. I don’t want to take guns away from people who love to hunt. I know gun ownership is one reason why foreign armies will never invade the U.S. for fear of a guerilla war by citizens.

But from now on, I will no longer vote, donate or support any politician who takes money from the NRA and doesn’t vote for tighter gun controls like, oh I don’t know, not letting mentally ill people own them.

If you don’t like my thoughts, know I’m not open to debate. I’ve drawn the line, seen too many people die. I’ve had a family member shot to death over nothing. I no longer care about finding middle ground. It’s time to make Congress work for us and find new politicians.

May God bless America because we’ve never needed it more.

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George & Martha Washington with grandkids at Mount Vernon

GW family

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The Maine Lobsterman along the waterfront

There are no lobsters in Washington aside the ones in restaurants. Plenty of crabs from nearby Maryland, but the seven-foot statue on Sixth and Water Sts. SW along the waterfront shows a Maine waterman “pegging” lobsters by tying their claws.

Sculptor Victor Kahill modeled the bronze sculpture atop a Maine granite boulder after a real waterman – H. Elroy Johnson, who died in 1973 just one year after being used for the statue. Three copies were made and the one at the Maine State Museum and Library was transferred to Washington in 1983.

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Church of the Epiphany

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Dolley Madison and the Haunted Porch?

Gentleman departing the nearby Washington Club tipped their caps to the woman softly rocking on the porch of the corner home – Dolley Madison.

Some 168 years later, the late First Lady supposed is still found some nights rocking on the porch. That is, when she’s not haunting the nearby Octagon House where she and President James Madison lived while the White House was rebuilt after its burning in 1814 as part of the War of 1812 with England.

OK, I’ve never seen Dolley, but I mention her regularly to groups when walking past. (Oddly, young people nowadays have never heard of Dolley Madison cupcakes. What are they teaching in schools nowadays?)

Dolley lived the final two years at the home on H. St. N.W. in poverty after a son squandered the last of her money following the death of the president in 1837. Dolley was well known for saving some White House objects like the painting of George Washington before British troops arrived. The official term “First Lady” came during her tenure after she sometimes served so earlier for President Thomas Jefferson, a widower. During James Madison’s 1809-17 tenure, Dolley was known for “The Charm Offensive” when getting both political parties to meet at informal White House parties to air differences away from Capitol Hill.

Dolley died in 1849 at age 81 with all of Washington turning out for her funeral while the nation mourned. She was first buried in Congressional Cemetery before later buried at Montpelier, Va.

But sometimes, she’s still on that porch. Let me know if you see her.

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The Cursed Lincoln?

Robert Todd LincolnRobert Todd Lincoln fascinates me.

The only son of Abraham Lincoln (please tell me you know who he is) to live past 18 was called “The Cursed Lincoln.” Really? His father was assassinated and Robert’s the one who was cursed?

Robert wanted to attend the play at Ford’s Theatre with his father that ill-fated night, but Abe asked his son to take little brother Tad to a new play called “Aladdin” opening down the street. He always felt guilty over not being able to protect his father.

However, Robert did see President James Garfield (my cousin) murdered in Washington in 1881. In 1901, Robert was near President William McKinley when assassinated in Buffalo, though Lincoln didn’t see the shot.

Robert Todd LincolnAfterwards, Lincoln refused to be near another president until the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication in 1922 where both President Warren Harding and former President William Howard Taft were nearby. Harding died during his presidency, though.

I also love the story of Robert nearly dying on a train platform months before his father’s death. Robert fell between a train and the platform where he could have been crushed when someone suddenly grabbed his collar and pulled him to safety.

That savior was Edwin Booth – brother of his father’s assassin John Wilkes Booth (another of my cousins.)

Of course, Robert had quite the life. He was present at Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Robert served as Secretary of War under Garfield, minister to the Court of St. James, president of the Pullman Palace Car Company and a noted astronomer.

Robert died in 1926 at age 82 and later buried at Arlington National Cemetery with wife Mary Harlan, daughter of Iowa Sen. James Harlan. The couple and their son Jack are buried in a sarcophagus amid a small grove of trees not far from Taft (another cousin.) I’ve walked past it a half dozen times before using the new GPS app by Arlington.

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Wordless Wednesday: DuPont Circle art

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Finding my mentor in Arlington National Cemetery

Walking through Arlington National Cemetery touches many emotions, but rarely does it feel personal. The names on stones are of those we’ve never met and seldom heard.

As the years pass, I know more people who are buried on General Robert E. Lee’s old plantation. My Aunt Butts and Uncle Charlie were buried there in 2014. Working on my family tree led me to a grand uncle buried near the back wall in 1945.

A teacher who may have been my favorite and provided lasting lessons was buried at Arlington recently. David Pennington acted like the West Virginia rinky-dinks that he called us in ninth grade at Eugene Burroughs Junior High in Accokeek, Md. where I grew up. He pretended to be a country boy who was a simple man that actually knew a whole lot. He made learning fun and sometimes terrifying, like the time he asked me following my report on Russia if prostitution was legal there. I didn’t know what the word meant and was tormented by classmates for a few minutes. You don’t forget things like that.

More importantly, I haven’t forgotten the list of 46 most-used prepositions he made us memorize and pledge never to end a sentence with. Just kidding there. You can’t end a sentence with a preposition like with. It’s a common error, but Mr. Pennington didn’t want us to act like West Virginia rinky-dinks.

Words like in, near and beside indicating location are prepositions. So are about, besides and after that have a relationship between the noun/pronoun and other parts of the sentence.

As a newspaper reporter/columnist for nearly 40 years, Mr. Pennington saved me from making many dumb mistakes by memorizing that list. I still remember those sweltering and freezing days in his temporary classroom that unlike today’s modern ones were really just metal boxes with no air conditioning or heat. It was Spartan and I think Mr. Pennington liked it that way.

Mr. Pennington’s remains are in court 9, N30, column 13, niche 1 where many permanent markers like his aren’t yet completed. It’s near Sections 60/61 that include recent deaths in the Middle East. It’s a long walk down the cemetery near the Pentagon and took me back to 1975 that was truly one of my wonder years.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Pennington. Your list of prepositions lives on with your students. I’ll try not to act like a rinky-dink, too.

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Meridian Hill Park needs some love

I’ve driven past Meridian Hill Park many times, but finally decided on a warm Sunday afternoon to walk into it.

What a disappointment.

Meridian Hill Park needs a lot of love. The kind that only comes through lots of cash. Nearly all the grass is dead in the upper areas of the 12-acre park completed in 1940. The statue of Joan of Arc is missing its sword. But the real bummer is no water in the cascading 13 basins of the Italianate marble fountain. It’s usually breath taking. Now it’s gasping for life.

Not that the park is abandoned. There were plenty of young people enjoying the park. Three different bridal parties posed for photos. There’s plenty of life around Meridian Hill. It just needs a pulse of a lifeline for revitalization.

Even the James Buchanan Memorial, the only local site dedicated to our only bachelor U.S. president, needs some cleaning. Oddly, Buchanan’s presence is why the park wasn’t renamed Malcolm X park years ago despite many locals still calling it so. Seems a presidential memorial site can’t be named for anyone else.

Given Meridian Hill Park was once a seedy area decades ago, it’s present state is a major improvement. But, there are still miles to go in its recovery.

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Wordless Wednesday: Bull at Mount Vernon

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Gold thieves — beware the griffins

Plenty of treasure hunters come to Washington looking for riches, but the guardians are always there to protect our gold.

Two Acacia Griffins protect the Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Building at 51 Louisiana Ave. N.W. in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The limestone sculptures by Edmond Romulus Amateis are 5 ½ feet wide, 4 ½ feet wide and 9 feet deep. The pair were placed by the main entranceway in 1936.

Griffins were fabled protectors of gold in Scythia, which was north of Greece. Seems the Arimaspians were always unsuccessfully trying to steal the gold only to be stopped by the griffins. Their image was used throughout medieval Europe as protectors.

These two statues have a female on the left and a male on the right holding eggs in their paws. The word acacia is traced to an ancient tree that symbolizes immortality.

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On vacation: Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

One thing I love about traveling is seeing places I’ve long heard about and never expected to see. But in my annual bucket list of travels, I recently found myself walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a warm fall afternoon.

It was crowded, but nobody offered to sell it. There was a wedding on the pedestrian path. A worker cut off locks on a pole by a sign saying $100 fine for locks. Bikes whizzed by on the left and traffic underneath as we slowly walked slightly uphill after starting from the Manhattan side.

By midpoint, the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines rose around us. After 40 minutes of steady walking, we were on a Brooklyn pier staring at the big buildings before us like mountains with snowcaps. Instead of walking bad, though, we took the ferry.

So now I’ve crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn off my list (along with Harlem later.) Not a bad day and a good workout. Maybe next time I’ll go to Staten Island on the free ferry.

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Wordless Wednesday: Roof work at Mount Vernon

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Secret White House entrance is no secret

Is something a secret if everyone that cared to know about it since 1941 indeed knows about it?

Visitors often asked about whether there are secret tunnels from the White House. They’re thinking of the 1993 movie “Dave” where a lookalike subbed for a president in a coma and slipped in and out of the White House.

Well, I don’t know about the one from the film, but there’s a passage that runs to an alley seen from H. St. across Lafayette Park. It has a gate and guardhouse protecting the alley so good luck trying to access the tunnel.

Supposedly, the tunnel was built in the 1941 that includes the Treasury Annex that may have been an equal reason for an underground passage to protect currency runners. World War II saw officials worried over FDR being vulnerable to aerial bombings. That a Congressman complained of its costs during a hearing made the tunnel public knowledge.

So, it’s no secret, but let’s just say not trying to see it is common knowledge.

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Handscaping U.S. Capitol grounds was visionary

Give Frederick Law Olmsted credit — he didn’t miss a thing.

When landscaping the U.S. Capitol grounds in 1874, Olmstead wanted to create things that were both aesthetic and functional. The walls were low so the public could see over them. Lanterns like the one shown above lit the grounds at night. The fountains now even have meters to lower the water pressure in heavy winds. Modern architects now call this type of landscaping as handscaping.

This photo is on the west side by the Peace Monument where many tour groups meet their bus. It’s a typical corner of the wall with a good look at the lantern.

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