A [Not At All] Brief Tour of Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park: Part the Second

Welcome back, virtual tourists! Where we last left off we were going to leave the lower, fountain-filled portion of the park to ascend to the upper, statue/grass-filled portion of the park. But in my haste to escape the steely yet incompetent glare of Statue President James Buchanan I neglected to point out the other statue in the lower portion, that of the famed Italian poet and circle enthusiast, Dante Alighieri:

While you can’t see it in this picture, surrounding the statue are a several benches, where people can sit and soak of up some of Dante’s sweet poem juices and find inspiration for their own work (like this). Also, legend has it that when the moon is full and Venus is hidden beneath the horizon, if you sit quietly on one of these benches and listen closely, you can hear Dante, faintly whispering into the wind his sage advice to students of his work: “read the cliff notes.”

Moving on now to the upper portion of the park, you’ll notice a distinctly different look and feel to this than the lower half. Look around, soak in the environment. Remind you of anything? Maybe that park you spent your weekends at during study abroad semester in Paris where you met that really cute mime? Or perhaps that park you spent the night in during your study abroad semester in London when you go so drunk you took the chunnel instead of the tube? Exactly. Or to use the appropriate language, exactamente.

Why did they design the park to have two distinct halves, you ask? Allow me to answer that with another question: why does a dog lick its own ass? Answer: because it can. 

Wait, sorry, that’s not right at all. See, the dual design of the park was born out of the Franco-Italian fusion movement that swept through the architectural world in the early 20th century. It was a brief, tumultuous marriage of two distinct architectural styles that ended fairly soon its consummation, but lasted just long enough to leave us with gems such as Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park, and even some culinary crossover projects, such as the marinara-filled croissant. That’s why you have, in the lower half, the Italian-style of cascading water and villa-like feel, while in the upper half you have the French-style, vast lawn surrounded by trees design, as well as the weekly drum circle that always closes with a stirring, bongo-infused rendition of “La Marseillaise.”

With that in mind, let’s move on to one of the more prominent parts of the park: the statue of Joan of Arc. In the picture below you can see her riding on a horse with sword in hand, staring fiercely into the sky, probably thinking, “I know we’re outnumbered, but with God at my side, what’s the worst that could happen?”:

A few interesting things to note about this statue. First, it’s the only female equestrian statue in all of Washington, DC. While it was originally erected in 1922, it did not earn this honor until 1978, when a poorly-designed Amelia Earhart memorial was torn down when, under growing public outrage, its architect admitted he had trouble with the whole plane thing and figured a horse was just as good. Second, the sword that Joan of Arc is holding is super sharp and tetanus shots hurt like hell, so be really careful if you climb on top of this thing. Actually, it’s probably best if you just control your whole weird female Christian martyr reenactment fantasy and just admire it from a distance.

One last interesting thing to note about this statue before we move on: parallel to Ms. Arc, at the outer edges of the park, are two fountains of curious architectural design:

Notice anything interesting about the shape of this fountain? Perhaps a certain concavity that bears striking resemblance to a feature of the female anatomy? Is it any coincidence that such a symbolic design flanks the only female equestrian statue in DC? Perhaps. Does me noticing this mean that I seriously need to start dating again? Probably. Should we move on before I dig myself any deeper into this hole? Definitely.

Moving past the statue of Joan of Arc and surrounding fountains, you’ll see the massive kind-of-great lawn that forms the bulk of the upper half of the park:

Why do I say “kind of” great instead of full-on, Tony the Tiger great? I submit as evidence, Exhibit A:

First, with regards to the sign on the bottom left: that’s what she said!
Second, with regard to the sign on top, no team sports?! What is this, the tiny town from Footloose? Do I need to get Kevin Bacon to teach you all a lesson about outlawing forms of recreation and self-expression? (Seriously, I can deliver: a know a guy who knows a guy who knows this girl who knows a guy who knows him). Thankfully the fun police are rarely out in force and team sports abound on the kind-of-great-lawn, but I suppose if they even came and told people to stop, people could just say they weren’t actually playing with a team, per se, but were playing for individual accolades and/or health reasons. Or that the other people on their so-called “team” just sort of happen to be there. If it really came down to it, you could pack your ball up and go home, and come back with a frisbee and play catch with yourself. That’d be kind of sad, actually. In that case I think a boomerang would be a better option. Though who the hell owns boomerang? Not the kind of people I want in my park, that’s for damn sure. So on second thought, stand firm, team sport participants! Continue your civil disobedience lest our park be overrun with those death crescents and all the ills that accompany them!

Sorry, bit of a tangent there. Where were we? Ah yes, the kind-of-great lawn. As you can also see from the sign, this portion of the park also features “grass growing” which is a huge plus. There’s also some dirt patches spread here and there where that sign’s directive has no jurisdiction, which I wouldn’t exactly call a plus or a minus, but one sign can only do so much.

Next up, surrounding the grass you’ll find many on these:

This is a tree. Or to be more scientifically accurate, a giant plant. Trees can be used for many things. Children often climb them for fun, companies fell them and sell them for commerce, and philosophers debate their audible properties in the hypothetical case of one falling in the absence of anyone within listening distance (point of clarification: this absence of persons refers to tree’s surrounding population, not the philosopher’s likely audience, though the point would still stand). In this park people generally use them as a means of shade during hot days, as a back rest when reading or people watching, or a gluten-free source of seasoning for picnics.

We’ve been going for a while now, so who needs a bathroom break?

Although the park website says the facility is closed for repairs, you’ll notice from this picture that this facility is indeed open for business (double entendre bonus points!). Be thankful for the fine folks at Park Services for that, because the interim solutions were either: 1) hold it, 2) several port-a-potties at the north end of the park, or 3) tree (see above). For my money I’d opt for options 1 or 3, but there are reports of people who choose option 2 and lived to tell the tale.

We’re nearing the end of our tour now, so let’s end on a high note and finish with the final statue of the park:

Can you make out what it is? Any guesses? Nope, not lazy Venus de Milo. No, not exhausted State of Liberty either. Sorry couldn’t quite make out that last one, can you repeat it? Eew! Definitely not that! Seriously, how do you even get that from that? Ok, just go sit alone over there. No, not in the shade. The shade is too good for you. You’ll sit right there in the open sun and like it.

Apologies for the distraction. Anyway, the statue is called “Serenity” and it’s dedicated to the memory of Lt. Commander William Henry Scheutze, who died in 1902. An interesting thing to note which unfortunately you can’t see from this picture is that Serenity actually has no nose. Is this, combined with the missing bottom portion of her left arm, a message from the sculptor about the impossibility of true serenity in the face of human sensory overload? Close but you’re way off.

According to renowned expert Wikipedia, the nose was actually first reported missing in 1960. The entry goes on to say “This sculpture was surveyed in 1993 for its condition and it was described as needing treatment,” treatment here translating to “its f—ing nose back.” There’s no further information on how the nose was lost though. Did lightning strike the park, bringing all the statues to life, prompting Joan of Arc to jealously lop off the nose of her more attractive female park cohabitant? Did President Buchanan, in one final act of futility, mistake her nose for a marshmallow? Did Serenity herself tear her nose off to get Dante to stop reciting his crappy poetry to her? Maybe its evidence of an incomplete game of “got your nose” stopped short by another lightning strike?

Either way, it’s one the parks’ many features that continues to draw tourists and local residents alike within its boundaries where they can enjoy the architectural wonders and historical mysteries teeming within this glorious park.

That and the drum circle. That f—ing drum circle.

Written with undeniable verve by friend of DC Style Is Real, Ryan White.  Read more from Ryan here and here.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. jkc says:

    fantastic review, Ryan. equal parts witty, engaging and informative. A+

  2. Ryan White says:

    Thank you very much, JKC! suggestions welcome for future virtual tours in DC as well!

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