The National Mall

(“From Beyond the South:” I, 2)

This is a farewell piece, since from the next one onwards, I will be writing physically “From Beyond the South,” rather than from Maryland. Hence, take it as homage to a country that received me so well, that I have learned to respect and to cherish. This time, I would like to take you all with me in a virtual tour through my favorite place in Washington, DC: the National Mall.

There is absolutely nothing in the Mall that I dislike: the open space, the monuments and the museums, the water and the gardens, the government… Well, maybe the government, but I digress. What I want to do is showing you why I have the Mall as a timeless place; as a crossroad between the past, the future and the present of the United States of America.

First, the Mall is about the Past. Everything in the Mall says “Learn from Us” — both the good and the bad lessons. The Mall was built in such a way that the American government is immersed in History. It tells the Americans that they cannot ignore History.

Imagine we are, now, at the Mall, and walk with me from the Capitol Hill to the George Washington’s obelisk. We can see the Mall engulfed by the Smithsonian and its art galleries, sculptural gardens and museums. Its presence shows that the United States do not exist in a vacuum, by themselves. They exist as part of the Cosmos, and of the History of mankind.

Let’s keep moving westward, from the obelisk to the Lincoln Memorial. We see a series of monuments on important periods of the American History. After George Washington, after Independence, the universal History becomes the history of the United States. Finally, at the end of the Mall, we reach the reflecting pool; a mirror showing the Mall back to itself. The reflecting pool is History — a mirror reflecting our own selves back to us; because History is about who we are.

Second, the Mall is about the Future. The Mall does not only look back, but also points forward. It gives purpose and direction to the United States: death and immortality. It says that the paths of Christians and non-Christians are one and the same.

Let’s go back to the George Washington memorial, and I show you. Two axis meet here: one, we just walked it, from the Capitol to Lincoln; and, another, smaller, from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial. The Mall is designed as a cross — a Christian symbol of death and immortality. Still, realize that the obelisk is closer to Lincoln than to the Capitol, which makes the Cross to be pointing westward, to the sunset. Every day, the sun crosses over the Mall and sets behind the Lincoln Memorial, in the West — a non-Christian symbol of death and immortality.

Finally, we are standing at the core of the Mall. We are with George Washington, the military leader of the American Revolution, the president of the Constitutional Convention and the first American president. He is the man through him the Country was made and united. Washington points to the sky. The Heavens, a symbol of death and immortality, embraces us all. History and Politics are about the journey, not the end — which is beyond time and space.

Third, the Mall is about the Present. The Mall is the home of the American Government. It tells Americans how everyday Politics must be done. It tells how Americans must relate to each other and to their institutions.

Let’s go South, to the Jefferson Memorial. Here, the image of Jefferson stands, gigantic, staring at the White House — where a regular man, like you and me, holds office as president. Jefferson believed in the supremacy of Congress, in the sovereignty of the States, and in Democracy. He is there keeping the presidency in its proper place. He is saying: “I am bigger than you, because I am smaller than the American people!”

Now, let’s move to the Lincoln Memorial. Different than Jefferson, Lincoln was a very powerful president, who preserved the Union by force. His image is also humongous, but he is not standing. He is seated, looking to the Capitol, that is, to the States and to the People. He is there telling us the costs of faction: “Preserve the Union! Don’t make me stand again!”

Then, we finish our tour at the Mall’s ultimate contrast: George Washington. In the Mall, he is the most important and the less important of the presidents. He is there, at the core, as the unifying element of the Mall. Still, he is body-less and faceless. He is both present and absent. He is him, anyone and everyone. George Washington is Politics — impersonal, egalitarian and embracive; mankind’s ultimate freedom, and inescapable duty. Politics is not about anyone specifically, but about everybody — a balance between past, present and future.

I hope that you are able to share with me the timelessness of the National Mall, a place about past, present and future; about History, Politics, and Transcendence. The Mall is about balance — balance between humility and power; freedom and duty; the Union, the States and the People; the country and the rest of the world. The Mall is the United States of America.

Paulo Sanchotene

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