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Monday, March 14, 2016

Just a bit too early...

After one of the strangest winters I've personally experienced (higher-than-normal temperatures, followed by one of the biggest snowstorms in local records, followed again by record high temps), spring is definitely almost here in the Washington, D.C. area. And nothing better serves as a harbinger of the season in this area than the cherry blossom 桜, that overused cliche describing all things Japanese, and the blooming flowers that turn the Tidal Basin into an explosion of pink-and-white brilliance for one brief, glorious period every late March or early April. This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to run from March 20 to April 17. Meanwhile, the National Park Service is predicting the peak bloom for between the 18th and the 23rd of March. For my wife, however, those dates are too far away. For one thing, she and my daughter will be in Taiwan during Amber's spring break from school, visiting family before our planned departure for Lithuania later this spring, and she's afraid that she'll miss the best of the show in D.C. For another, there are cherry trees in our area that are already blooming:

And so it came to pass yesterday (Saturday) that we drove to the Tidal Basin to see if the flowers had started blossoming there. The answer was no, they haven't. The lack of people and traffic, not to mention the number of empty parking spaces, were the first indicator that we were too early. The lack of flowers on the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin was the second. It seems that the cherry trees in our neighborhood are of a different variety than Washington's celebrated Yoshino cherry ソメイヨシノ (染井吉野), which explains why they've been quicker out the gate when it comes time to bloom. Such is the fleeting nature of existence:

Nevertheless, sakura or not, it was still a nice, leisurely walk around the Tidal Basin, as we made our past the Jefferson Memorial. A continuous stream of airplanes flew overhead on their way into Reagan National Airport:

The Somei-Yoshino flowers may not have been ready yesterday, but it wasn't all gray on Saturday:

George Mason is a local hero, with schools, streets and a university in these parts named after him. Outside of Virginia, the father of the Bill of Rights tends to be overlooked when people think about Founding Fathers. Relatively few of the many visitors to the Jefferson Memorial make their way over to the nearby memorial to Mason, where the "reluctant statesman" sits looking up from reading the works of Plato, with books by Locke and Rousseau lying next to him:

Speaking of Jefferson, glimpses of his bronze statue standing under the dome could be had as we walked along the water:

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial has its detractors, namely over its depiction (or lack thereof) of the 32nd president's disability. He is shown seated in an ordinary chair, and it was only after advocates complained that casters were added to the back, thus making it a "symbolic wheelchair":

The memorial is a series of open plazas, with some of FDR's famous (and not-so-well known) quotes engraved on many of the walls:

The last of the memorials dotted around the Tidal Basin is the one dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., which has seen its share of controversy

As we completed our loop, reminders of from where the cherry blossoms originated:

One of the great things about Washington, D.C. is that you never get tired of its many landmarks, no matter how many times you may have seen them (even when you were too early for the cherry blossoms). However, one monument that Pamela hadn't yet seen is the Iwo Jima Memorial. So after completing our walk around the Tidal Basin (and before having lunch), we made the short drive across the Potomac and past the Pentagon to show her the Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi 擂鉢山. Having grown up and been educated in Taiwan, it shouldn't have been surprising that my wife has never seen the iconic 1945 photograph by Joe Rosenthal:

The rest of our weekend has been spent doing things mundane (visiting a crowded outlet shopping mall in one of D.C.'s Virginian suburbs) and routine (my daughter has a class on reading and writing traditional Chinese characters every Sunday afternoon at...wait for it...George Mason High School). As for the lack of Yoshino cherry blossoms, none of us were disappointed. The girls are planning to visit Alishan 阿里山, Taiwan's premier sakura spot, while I might venture down to the Tidal Basin again if I have a free weekday afternoon. Even if I don't make it to see D.C.'s blossoms, I already have a lot of 花見 memories and recollections from when I lived in Japan. And that is something that tsars and tsarinas trying to teach me Russian can never take away from me.

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