meridian hill park

joan of arc in meridian hill park; photo by salem pearce

I took the day off from work today and decided to take photos en route to my massage appointment at Mint (yeah, my life is tough, I know). Since “Mint Dupont” is actually in Adams Morgan, I choose Meridian Hill Park, where I’ve only been once before, and that was really early in the morning during boot camp. Under those conditions, it was hard to appreciate the design and flora.

I find Meridian Hill Park a little wacky. First of all, the park reminds me of both of Morningside Park in New York and of the gardens around the Villa Borghese in Rome. I’m not wrong about the latter: Apparently the architect meant to design a “grand urban park modeled on parks found in European capitals.”

Secondly, its name is rather abstruse. The National Park Service website explains that John Porter built a mansion on the hill and so named it “because it was on the exact longitude of the original District of Columbia milestone marker.” This line is apparently one of the “Washington meridians” — but three pages into Wikipedia, and I still don’t really know what those are, except that there are markers for them all over the district.

Next, its nickname is Malcolm X Park . . . for no reason. That’s just what people call it. And the statues are no help: They consist of a U.S. president, an Italian poet, a French warrior, and a bare-breasted representation of “Serenity” — the whitest statue in the world.

Finally, the building material, concrete aggregrate, experimental (and groundbreaking?) for the early 20th century, doesn’t really stand the test of time. The material is now employed almost exclusively for utilitarian, not decorative, projects. Basically, it looks like design by sidewalk.

With all of those caveats, I do find the park charming and relaxing — despite the disturbing number of people running stairs there in the middle of a summer day. It’s certainly an under-appreciated part of D.C.


Last night I woke up from a dream that left me almost too scared to move. My husband was in the guest bed in the other room (he spends some nights there so as not to disturb me, an extremely light sleeper, when he knows it will take some time for him to fall asleep). And the cats weren’t in my line of vision. I fumbled for my iPhone to read my e-mail or my Facebook and Twitter feeds, desperate for something else to think about, to replace the images seared in my mind’s eye.

As in real life, I was called to the hospital to serve as an advocate for a sexual assault survivor. Her boyfriend had accompanied her on the trip to the emergency room. But a routine rape exam turned hellish when it became clear that he was the perpetrator. And he wasn’t yet done hurting her. He came after her with a surgeon’s scalpel, which she managed to use to cut a huge gash in his palm. She got away, leaving him to hunt me in a huge green operating room. When he found me, he lunged for me — but I jammed the scalpel into his stomach, twisting it as he fell on me. I could feel the blade slide through his soft belly before I woke up in a sweat.

The word “nightmare” always makes me think of the horse of Selene’s chariot from the east pediment of the Parthenon. (Part of the Elgin marbles, it now stands on display at the British Museum.) The animal is supposed to have pulled the moon across the sky all night and then into the sea. Its flaring nostrils, bulging eyes, and drooping jaw make it seem as seem as exhausted — and scared — as I feel after a bad dream. It is, in many ways, a literal “night mare.”

I have these vivid, horrifying dreams with fair regularity, and on the days following them, like today, I walk around in a fog, not sure if the waking world is more real than the one I left. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t feel as real. On these days, I find it helpful to try to immerse myself in yet another world — often a book or a TV show. They ease the transition back into what I know, rationally, to be the real world. Today it was The Other Wes Moore, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

On days like this, I am grateful to the chroniclers of other worlds.