It is my favorite time of the year for more reasons than one. Winter is exiting while the long awaited spring is just setting in. I finally get to see some consistent sunlight and warmth, the days are getting longer, there are flowers and new leaves blooming, people are finally putting away their winter clothes, and there is definitely more activity around. I have been so sick of the winter the last four months, the gloom and the grey, the trees bereft of leaves, the travails of wearing multiple layers of clothing, caps and mittens and woolen socks, and it getting dark past 4 pm.
So, while spring was beginning to make its presence felt, I had the opportunity of visiting Washington D.C., for a work-related trip last month. Coincidentally, it was also the start of the internationally renowned National Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. As the history goes, Japan gifted the cherry trees to the U.S. about 100 years ago, as a mark of continued friendship. The first festival started in 1935. You can read the rest of the history here.
I had heard a lot about this festival, one of the bigger events on the eastern coast of the U.S., and now I had an opportunity to see it for myself. But, as luck would have it, the festival didn’t start until the next day, the trees were not fully in bloom, and it turned out to be an extremely cold and rainy day. I was hoping for some warmth and sunshine, since photography is mainly what I had in mind. To make it worse, it was a Friday, and traffic was horrible. While wat is no more than a 10-minute drive, it took me an hour to get there. Anyone who has driven in D.C. will vouch for the traffic snarls, the one ways, and the challenge it is driving through the touristy roads and finding parking along the mall area. Time was at a premium, since I would not get good pictures after sunset. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it.
I have no pictures of the festival, since it wasn’t to start until the following day. However, I spent the next 3 hours taking a solitary walk along the Tidal Basin from the West-Potomac Park. Parking and driving apart, I love the city of Washington D.C., the culture, the sense of awe it inspires, the history, and the architecture it brings with it. To think of all the important decisions made in the important buildings here that influence world events leaves me in awe. Yes, to the age old debate, I love D.C. as a city way more than I even like New York City, but let us not digress here. D.C. to me looks more like a European city, which is not surprising given that Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the French architect, had designed and planned the city modeled on European cities. As you walk through the streets of D.C., you will sense the history, the signs of European architecture, and the culture that is so very typical of D.C. Once again, I could go on and on about how this city has impressed me over the years, but I will leave that for a different travel post.
The best thing about this walk along the Tidal Basin was that the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial were clearly visible from the walk. I used these two structures as my primary photographic subjects while I walked around the river basin trying to take pictures. It was freezing, there was not enough sunlight, and I was afraid this would drastically alter the quality of pictures I got. I was disappointed because I was early and the festival wasn’t to start until the following day. However I realized that it was also good in a way, since this meant lesser people, lesser commotion, and I could ensure I focused on the cherry trees, my primary reason for going there, without having too many people or distractions come in my picture. As I walked in the cold, I met other photographers, armed with huge cameras, even huger lenses, and stands, intently taking pictures. People were independently doing what they wanted (take pictures, that is), without much social interaction. I went around taking some pictures with my camera that looked like a toy compared to what the other photographers used. Occasionally I stopped by, making small talk with some of those photographers, asking what mode they shot their pictures in, or how did they do their post-processing. Soon I reached a point where my hands had frozen, my eyes had started to water, and my nose had no sensation. It was time to head back. I took a cab back to my hotel, and there it was, my 3 hour stint with the much acclaimed Cherry Blossom Festival, without the festival of course, and with half blossomed cherry trees.
If you are interested in architecture, photography, cities, quietly observing other people, or just getting a feel of something you have heard of but never visited, and of course you are in the area during late March, I would recommend you attend this festival, or just take a walk around the tidal basin admiring the blend of nature with architecture.
Spring has sprung indeed.