So the last two weekends, I’ve been attending E Street Cinema’s Miyazaki film festival. Every Saturday and Sunday, they show two films from Japan’s Studio Ghibli: a more adult-themed one at 10:30, and a family-friendly showing at 1:30. They change the films every weekend. Last weekend was Nausicaa: Wind in the Valley and then My Neighbor Totoro. This week’s fare was Porco Rosso and Spirited Away. I have now seen enough Miyazaki that I’m picking up on themes on my own, rather than just listening to what my friends say. I can see his take on environmental themes. We’re not here to save the planet, we are here to work with the planet. Also (this might be more of a Japanese trope than a Miyazaki-specific trope), the films are a lot slower than I’m used to seeing in American animation. In Spirited Away, for example, we watched Chihiro walk onto a train, find a seat, sit down in the seat, arrange herself, ensure her friends were comfortable, look at No Face, look next to her, then point at the empty space next to her, then we saw No Face’s reaction, then we watched No Face cross to the seat, then sit down, then we had a moment of them sit silently on the train as it moved.
There were a lot of scenes like that, scenes which didn’t advance the plot or develop the characters, yet they held weight and meaning anyway. Not everything that we do every day develops our personalities or our life goals. Chihiro and No Face getting onto the train; Chihiro and Lin eating rice cakes and looking out over the newly-developed ocean; Porco doing loop-de-loops while flying to Milan; Signor Piccolo blowing the roof off of his shed while testing the plane engine; 90% of Nausicaa: Wind in the Valley. These moments do nothing for the story, and yet they felt important. Life is a stretch of quiet moments. We saw our characters go through their loud moments and their quiet moments. It felt important.
Walking out of those movies and blinking in the bright sunlight beaming down on E Street, that same contemplation still swimming over me, I realized that it was a gorgeous day and that I had absolutely nothing to do. No one needed me to be anywhere. I had nothing due. The parking lot charged me a flat fee; I paid $10 whether I was there two hours or ten. Nothing was stopping me from just being in DC.
So I walked to the Sculpture Garden and watched a security guard chase some kids off of a sculpture. Then I walked to the Mall.
Once I was at the Mall, I realized that I had been to the Mall a billion times, so I decided to go to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. I don’t know if I had ever been to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial before, but if I had, I don’t remember it. So it seemed worth going to, even though I was on 12th Street and had already walked a half-mile just to get to the Mall. So I walked a mile to the Jefferson Memorial.
People were flying kites and riding bikes and going for jogs. Tourists were taking photos. The carousel in front of the Air and Space museum was in full swing. The Washington Memorial had shed about 75% of its scaffolding. I sat down on the grass and tried to get a picture of my finger “touching” the top of the Washington Memorial. The lighting was terrible. I sighed. It all felt like it did in Europe, when I had napped all over the city. I would, regularly, arrive an hour or two ahead of my Rome to Augustus class, find a comfy-looking spot of granite or marble, and nap. I take an odd pride in my ability to nap on public spaces.
I didn’t feel much like napping, but I did lay out my coat, tuck my purse under my arm, and close my eyes. I just wanted to feel the sun on my skin for a bit. Just listen to the sound of the city. I could hear the wind; I could hear cars. I could hear scratching nearby. It sounded like feet running near my head. I figured it was just a kid running around and ignored it. The sun shone through my eyelids. I wondered if everything would be blue when I opened my eyes.
Someone whispered in my ear.
I screamed and sat up. The whisperer was already running away; some white dude in a green-on-white shirt, laughing hysterically. If this were a Miyazaki film, I would have had something angry but funny to say. But I didn’t. I just lay back down and closed my eyes again. But the spell had been broken. Lying on the ground was stupid. I got up, put my jacket back on, tucked my purse over my shoulder, and walked on.
Boy Scouts discussed ways to measure the length of the Washington Memorial’s shadow. I tried to get another picture of my finger touching the top of the Washington Memorial. Too blurry. I headed for the Potomac River, and the Jefferson Memorial.
I walked along the river. I fell in behind a gay couple discussing couches. They didn’t know what size was right for their living room. Above us were the Japanese Cherry Trees, not yet in blossom. The couple walked off farther down Ohio Street as I turned towards the Jefferson Memorial. Everything seemed to happening way too fast, so I sat down by the river and watched the paddleboats paddle.
I knew why some parts of the river registered as blue; that was the part of the river that was reflecting the sky. But where did the green come from? There are many mysteries in life. Dissatisfied with my inability to reason why the river looked green, I got up and headed for the Memorial.
I looked at the famous Stairs leading up the Memorial thought, hah. I could nap the hell out of those stairs. I didn’t, though. But I could have. I was also delighted by all the people taking pictures of each other. For some reason, one of my favorite things to look at is people taking pictures. Also several people seemed to realize that the normal pose, standing and smiling on the steps, is super boring to look at, so I watched as several different groups had their members pose in odd ways just to jazz up the vacation photos a bit.
After a moment I realized that I was staring, so I went inside, feeling a bit like a sheep.
Everyone was taking a picture of the statue, but I gawked at the ceiling and the floor. It was exactly like the dome of the Pantheon. Exactly like it. The more I studied the building, the more I realized how much the Memorial resembled the Pantheon. The ceiling was exactly like the Pantheon, except that the Pantheon has a hole in the middle of its roof (on purpose). I looked at the floor. The layout of the white marble was exactly like the layout of the Pantheon’s marble flooring, except ours was all white while the Pantheon’s was a variety of beautiful colors. I looked around; there was seating on the edges instead of random votives, and open views split apart by columns rather than random shrines. But the layout was remarkably similar to the Pantheon. I looked back at the main stairwell. Indeed, exactly where the ancients would have made their sacrifices, that was where there were extra fancy steps and a gigantic marble block.
No wonder I felt like I could nap on it. I had totally napped on its cousin in Rome.
I didn’t nap on it. I discovered that the columns were incredibly comfortable for resting against, though. I sat behind the statue, where most tourists didn’t go. The tourists that I did see were in a mood like me. They weren’t chatty. They weren’t filling itineraries or taking pictures. They were looking at the road beyond, at the river, at the nearby trees, at airplanes taking off from Reagan National Airport. We sat in contemplation together. Watching. Waiting. Admiring the quiet moment for what it was. Quiet.