My Washington: Christopher Hitchens

by Editorial

1. The Folger Shakespeare Library

A treasure house of Bardolatry that has an almost unrivaled collection of First Folios as well as a little gem of a theater where I’ve given readings from W.H. Auden and done an on-stage interview with Martin Amis.

2. The Jefferson Room at the Library of Congress

It’s the near-perfect atmosphere in which to begin research for a book (and the wonderful assistants will sometimes provide you with a reserved desk). Its original catalogue was designed by our third, possibly greatest, and certainly most literate president.

The Jefferson Room at the Library of Congress

The Jefferson Room at the Library of Congress

3. Eastern Market

I took it personally when Eastern Market burned down a few years ago and am so happy now that I can go back and buy meat and fish (shad roe when in season) from its old-style stalls. Wonderful on a sunny Saturday.

4. Lincoln Park

A splendid place to take small children, centered on a fine statue of “Honest Abe” issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The liberated slave is not a generic figure, but was modeled on Archer Alexander, who had been assisted in winning his freedom by T.S. Eliot’s ancestors in Missouri.

5. The National Gallery of Art

I never miss the Auguste Saint-Gaudens relief of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, a replica of the one that stands on Boston Common. When I take visitors there, I bring along Robert Lowell’s poem “For the Union Dead,” and read the words that evoke the original memorial’s dedication.

6. National Airport

On an ever-attractive crescent, the old terminal at National Airport is still used for some flights. It reminds me of flying days in the 1930s. I refuse to say “Reagan Airport” by the way: when I first moved here it was “Washington National Airport” which meant that, thanks very much, it already was named for a perfectly good president.

Washington National Airport

National Airport

7. British Ambassador’s Residence

Built by Sir Edwin Lutyens (the architect of New Delhi), it’s the nicest private house in the city and the place where I’ve had the most consistently enjoyable political dinners. Its grace and its garden make up for the hideousness of the adjoining embassy, which looks like a biscuit factory in Slough and which the British should apologize for and then tear down.

8. The Willard Hotel

After the magnificent solidity and grandeur of the lobby, it’s good to have a stiff drink in the Round Robin Bar of the hotel where Julia Ward Howe finally found some printable words for the tune of “John Brown’s Body.”

The Round Robin Bar at the Williard Hotel

The Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel

9. The Jefferson Memorial

There’s been some careful editing of the incised inscriptions on this F.D.R.-era masterpiece, but its rotunda is a tremendous place for reflection. I have the same birthday as T.J. and managed to have my American citizenship ceremony held here, so I feel committed to the place and concerned about its current subsiding state.

10. Rock Creek Cemetery

Another place for reflection (Gore Vidal has already put his own gravestone there, next to that of his longtime companion Howard Auster) and another chance to see the work of Saint-Gaudens in the haunting memorial to Clover Adams, quite possibly poisoned by her husband Henry.

11. Favorite Restaurant: Café Milano

One is always supposed to pick something ethnic and funky, which is why I choose Café Milano in Georgetown. After all, it is ethnic and somewhere you could take a real Milanese without embarrassment. I once accidentally sat down in the lap of the Archbishop of Canterbury during a Sunday brunch there, which I hope you will agree is funky enough for anybody.

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