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Washington diary

By Nickunj Malik - Nov 21,2018 - Last updated at Nov 21,2018

As luck would have it, I find myself in Washington DC this week. I have visited Washington in summer (too hot), in winter (too cold), and in spring (still cold). But I have not been to the US capital during, what the Americans call, their fall season. In the rest of the world, this time of the year is also referred to as autumn — a slight cooling in temperatures before the onset of severe winter.

I read about the spectacular foliage colour change that occurs every year in North America throughout this period, but I have never seen it. The trees and the plants — in fact the entire flora of the region — bursts into brilliance. It is a sight I am eager to witness. So, without much prompting, I pack my bags for the fifteen-hour long haul flight, to the other side of the globe.

While flying any airline, the upper deck is the one to book, if you are granted a choice. The elbow space, the side lockers, the footstool angle, everything is better placed there. British Airways flies nonstop from Heathrow where the transit lounges veer from the north to the south side, with an underground shuttle plying in between. The Galleries (a collective name for all six of them) is easy to locate but the services they offer, like shoulder, neck or head massage, are fully booked out. Therefore, unless you have an extended stopover or do not mind missing your connecting flight, one has to simply skip this bit of luxury. 

Landing in Washington after being airborne for many hours is very unsettling. It is broad daylight outside the airport terminal building and soon, despite the autumn weather, I peel off my travel jacket and ask for the car air conditioning to be switched on.

As I am driven towards downtown I crane my head to look at the historical landmarks. The midterm elections have just taken place and there is a strong whiff of politics in the air. The local newspapers are full of opinion pieces but the average Americans are tight-lipped about their party allegiance. Everybody seems to be in a combative mood and an untrusting approach is adopted by all.

Driving from the suburbs to Washington DC takes twenty to sixty minutes, depending on the time of the day. During office hours, it can be a harrowing experience with cars lining back to back. One morning, caught in such a situation, I look out of the window and am enthralled by the radiance of the autumn foliage. The phenomenon that I had read about, and was so keen on observing, is right here, spread all around me. The shades of the leaves, in glowing reds, bright oranges, striking yellows, and in some special cases, all three simultaneously, casts an instant spell. The time-consuming traffic rush becomes insignificant as the beauty of the landscape takes my breath away. 

Thanksgiving weekend brings the entire country to a standstill as families reunite to celebrate the tradition of eating stuffed and roasted turkey. The US president, as is customary, pardons one bird (some say this year he spared two of them) following a ceremony that dates back to the 1940s. 

“Come home for dinner,” my aunt invites me on Thanksgiving.

“But that cuisine is alien to me,” I protest.

“What would you like to do?” she asks.

“Behave like the president,” I say.

“Move to the White House?” she questions.

“Pardon another turkey,” I answer.

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