by David Koon
David Koon checked in late last night from Washington, where he's joined the M.K. King Commission chartered bus caravan of Arkansans attending President Obama's second inauguration. Brian Chilson was on hand, too, for the photo above.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — There's a real psychological disorder I heard about a few years back called the Florence Syndrome. It's called the Florence Syndrome because it only afflicts tourists visiting Florence, Italy — specifically those who are subjected to oodles and gobs of the world's great art treasures stashed there. After awhile, the impact of all those sculptures and paintings and soaring domes is just too much, and sufferers keel over: dizziness, fainting, confusion, hallucinations, the woiks.
While that seemed a little nuts to me back when I first heard about it. now that I have seen the Washington Monument, I get it. The first time I glimpsed the tip of that noble spire over the trees, I swear I goddamn near cried, and not just because I'd been squatting over a big-block diesel engine in the back of a bus for the past 20 hours in order to get here.
It's hard to explain why. I've been trying all day, writing in my head, and still haven't explained it to myself to my own satisfaction. Growing up a kid from nowhere who never really went much of anywhere, it's easy to make yourself believe that Washington D.C. isn't a real place — that it's in the same neighborhood as Narnia, or Asgard... maybe just some paper mache and whitewash set on a Hollywood backlot, built strictly so that the aliens in sci-fi movies could have some cool stuff to blow up real good. As I grew to a man's mind and became a student of history, this town grew real but even more mythic: the crossroads through which the freight of nearly every great American moment in the past two hundred years has been trucked, at least in part.
Still, I never lost that childish thought, I guess: You can't REALLY visit the temple on the back of the $5 bill, or the mansion on the back of the $20, can you? And so, when Brian Chilson pointed, I turned, and saw the tip of the Washington Monument through the trees, and goddamn near cried — had to swallow the sudden, unexpected lump in my throat to keep from making a surprised fool of myself in front of strangers.
Tonight, Dear Reader, Country Mouse will lay down my head in the city where Lincoln wooed the better angels of our nature, where he freed a people, where he held a cleaved nation together and where he died. Tomorrow, I will wake up in the city where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream — where John F. Kennedy asked us to ask not, and where he lies in the grave. On the way to the Mall, we will pass the gray bulk of the Pentagon, where a jetliner bore a hole some years back. A thousand-thousand other American moments, all focused here through a limestone lens. And then I and my traveling companions will see history done again before dusk. I expect that I'll have to swallow that same lump in my throat a few times before it's all over.