Down 20th street to Constitution, I pass security guards at various checkpoints, though I've never taken the time to identify the specific buildings they guard. Eventually, after the stop-and-go rhythms of walk signals and traffic lights, I reach the footpaths. They are paved in concrete, in asphalt, in cobblestones, in sand. They twist and wind around each other, ordered in their disorder. Most days I choose a light concrete path and let it lead me to the white stone temple where Lincoln sits, enthroned and mildly menacing to us, poor tiny mortals gazing up at him. I've wondered, many times, what it is we worship in that temple; for we worship something, some vague American thing.
Rarely, in fact only once have a taken that first right turn onto another footpath sloping gently into disaster. On that path thick black stones rise slowly higher as I pass, first to my knees, then my shoulder until finally they tower over me, reflecting my image back to me through a haze of dead men's names. I feel strange there, guilty. It is not my war. I cannot reconcile with it, claim it, comprehend it. The other war memorials here are kinder to me. They splay out easily, telling me their tales of honor won and wrong defeated. They do not mix tragedy with victory. They do not bury me in dead men's names.
Washington's is as unambiguous as they come. I do not go too close to that memorial, of course. I am not welcome there, not really. I am American, yes, and a patriot too. But there is something uniquely unwelcoming to me, as a woman, about the towering phallic symbol.
On the way back, walking north again toward Pennsylvania Avenue, I pass Isabella Reina. She is surprisingly short, and almost crudely shaped in iron turned all shades of blue and green. Perhaps because her placard is in Spanish, perhaps because she stands just off the beaten path, or perhaps because she is a woman among so many men, I find I like her best of all.