Revenge of the Money Changers
Rain, rain, go away! So much for fine June days here in the nation’s capital. We had a couple of storms this week that were absolute snorkers. Doesn’t the god of weather know this is DC? We don’t actually do disasters, we fund them.
But the week ended on a euphoric note with a spectacular Friday: blue sky with scudding white clouds, a brisk wind and the birds a warbling.
I was touring with a group of pleasant and smart eighth-graders on a day that started at Washington’s Mount Vernon and ended at the Washington Cathedral. The Mansion House was at its best framed by the sky above and the bowling green below. You can understand why His Excellency always pined for home.
We left Mt. Vernon en route to our cathedral experience aptly enough on a motor coach where the word “angel” figured prominently in the title of the company. This apparent coincidence became prescient as our bus driver texted away on a smartphone coming northbound on the George Washington Parkway in the left lane of a four lane highway with no middle barrier. I’d like to see angels one day but Friday did seem a bit soon to me.
God was on our side, though, as we arrived safely at DC’s church-of-note and debarked for our tour after parking in a half-empty bus garage. On the plaza level we were met by a sneaker-wearing sort of walmart/cathedral greeter who implored us to spit out our gum one moment while informing us he was a “foremost authority” on the cathedral in the next one. I heard nothing from him that proved his assertion though perhaps I am just jealous as I am an authority of the hindmost sort.
Groups like mine, arriving by bus, make a $175 “donation” to see the cathedral and you MUST have a reservation. I wonder if you can get a reservation if you don’t make the “donation”? (One can park and worship for a mere $50.) The 300-foot tall tower exterior is festooned in dark scaffolding and the interior is draped with dark netting perhaps to remind us (again) that the cathedral was damaged by the 2011 earthquake. (And money is required to fix it.) This reminds me of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode where Larry David’s mother passes away and he suddenly realizes it is a great excuse for all sorts of things. I believe the cynical expression is “working it.”
The docent-led tour progressed through the stunning main level of the church. This time of year the docents do the nave level and hand the group back to guides who are expected to take them on a tour of the crypt level. The crypt is found by descending a set of worn steps which pass by a statue of a pious and kneeling Abe Lincoln and which ends at the ubiquitous (and cavernous) gift shop. (One can now skip the steps as a gift shop has been installed on the nave level thus allowing the hard core shopper to slip away from the communion rail for a wee peek at this week’s specials.)
The crypt level of the cathedral has several beautiful chapels (Bethlehem and St. Joseph’s). On arrival there I was met by a docent. I explained that I had a group and would be showing them these two areas. She quickly informed me I would be doing no such thing. This time of year, she announced, “It’s one or the other.” The irony was priceless, (perhaps the only thing so at the Cathedral). As Bethlehem chapel depicts the birth of Christ and St. Joseph’s his death, I was being forced to choose between the two, a sort of Judas with a guide badge.
I chose death. Let’s be honest, that’s where the drama is and besides, the art is better in that chapel and as if that alone were not enough, it is where the great Helen Keller is interred. It wasn’t even a close call.
Still, for $175 you would think the kids could view both the birth and death of Christ but I suppose Jesus Christ really is a superstar and can demand top pay.
We skipped the gift shop on the way out.