Washington DC Training
Trip Start Mar 30, 2009
54Trip End Ongoing
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The 7 new guys in my section, Facility Managers, got our list of available posts - Conakry, Guinea; Capetown, South Africa; Gaborone, Botswana; Rabat, Morocco; Tunis; Madrid; Sofia, Bulgaria. Chengdu, China was initially on our list (I had been lobbying for that one), but it got replaced by Sofia. Bulgarian does not quite have the universal appeal that Mandarin does - 7 million speakers vs. 800 million.
We prioritize our preferences, then the State Department makes the final assignments. We find out next week where we go. Then about 3 months of training, or so, and off to the embassy. I'm thinking Morocco, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Madrid, ... Each post has its own pay incentive, cost allowance and services, as well as the local culture and travel opportunities. State Department tries to level the incentives for places like West Africa, including outright bonus incentives for under-staffed posts.
In the meantime, the Cherry Blossom season has come and is rapdily turning into Spring. This year broke new attendance records. Speculation is that the economy is keeping people closer to home. The place was packed last weekend.
Washington's streets and public spaces may be the best in the world for comfort. Many wide boulevards with not much traffic, plenty of pedestrian paths and interests. The City was certainly the most aggressive urban design of America's first century. In 1789, Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton convinced themselves that it was time for a national capitol and, more or less, appointed themselves to the task. Congress officially honored Washington with the final selection of the site. They picked a Frenchman as engineer, Pierre L'Enfant, who had fought for the States in the Revolutionary War, eventually as one of Washington's chief military engineers. Jefferson wrote the rules for selection of the site and development of a plan. In a situation that was certainly first and last, L'Enfant envisioned a city grander than Jefferson's own concept.
10 square miles of rectangular streets crossed with public boulevards at angles to create intersections of parks, plazas, monument sites and extended vistas. L'Enfant selected the locations for the Capitol, President's house, major parks and monuments. He sketched plans for the first public buildings, but Jefferson and Washington both thought the Capitol too modest and the President's House too bloated. By 1792, L'Enfant had pissed everyone off and Washington canned him, turning the job over to engineer Andrew Ellicot who finished the design of the Capitol.
L'Enfant went on to a contentious and gradually disgraceful career, dying in poverty in Maryland. But the French are persistent - in 1909, with the support of the French ambassador, L'Enfant was eventually recognized and honored. His remains were exhumed, laid in state in the Capitol (he and Rosa Parks are the only private citizens to do so) and he was then re-buried in Arlington National Cemetery under a monument that looks, more or less, like a dining table.
The plan itself has been regarded as a visionary success. 200 years later, under circumstances unimaginable at L'Enfant's time, the city is vibrant with transport, grandeur, access, function and beauty. The City was able to accommodate 2-3 million people for Obama's inauguration, approximately the population of the entire country in 1790 when L'Enfant devised his plan.
The last blog won a spot on a Travelpod story about popular travel destinations. They used it as the Washington DC feature: