“This theme can be played in a very sad, minor key, by training the lens on realities that seem to sink the Washington myths. The once-grand town houses now boarded up. The vaguely seedy cornices on rundown local buildings, which do for Washington architecture what bad teeth once did for the idea of English aristocracy. A picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., that apostle of hope, caged behind a security grate.
“But on balance, it’s a happy thing, this wealth of common human dailiness, this life force, bursting through the abstractions and idealizations, the symbolism and the rhetoric. Here’s Washington for you: fresh-faced teenagers trying to look tough, hard hats with ropy muscles and plenty of work, flower gardens and bow ties and quiet acts of generosity.
“Every time we Washingtonians drive over the Potomac bridges, or up I-295, or along New York Avenue or East Capitol Street — each time we catch sight again of the dome, the temples, the obelisk — we are reminded that we live inside a very famous photograph. Billions of people around the planet have seen our spot in the world.
“But only we really know it, because for us, Washington is not an idea, nor even simply a place. It’s home.”