©Copyright 2004 by Dr. Strange. All Rights Reserved
The day was as grey as a bureaucrat’s soul. Fat Tuesday, the last day of Madi Gras, the pre-lent pagan hold-over of a festival in Latin countries, and in neo-classical Protestant Washington, the dark heart of the Empire, it was cold, rainy, grim and without the slightest glimmer of hope, cheer, colour or festivities. In the Washington of the New Pax Americana, it is always Ash Wednesday…
A small group of intrepid esotericists were in search of the original secret of the District of Columbia’s design; think of it as a recon in depth into the new heart of darkness. We were looking for the center of the original District’s tilted square pattern, 10 miles on each side for a total of 100 square miles. What we found was more than a little curious, even for grim and grey official Washington.
In the summer of 1790, the government of the new country approved George Washington’s plan for a capital city on the Potomac. Washington, with friend and fellow Mason Pierre L’Enfant, had chosen an area around what was called Jenkins’ Hill and the Tiber River, mostly swampland with a low rise along the sluggish tidal creek, as the core of the new city. The entire area stretched ten miles on each side, divided between Virginia and Maryland, but only the central portion was planned as a city. L’Enfant’s original plans still exist, and they show a very careful, and esoteric, use of geometry and the alignment of long avenues toward prominent landscape points, much like Versailles or the Renaissance reworking of Rome.
We decided to begin our quest, logically enough, at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, located at the one-mile stone in Alexandria. This 23 story Masonic ziggurat is home to many of Washington’s papers and artefacts, particularly those relating to his Masonic activities. It also houses a replica of the original Alexandria 22 Lodge, where Washington was the Master Mason during that era. It seemed logical that if anyone would know about the esoteric design, these folks would.
However the tour guides in charge had a very scripted rap, and they all denied that were any such thing as a conscious “esoteric” design to the District of Columbia. Those circles are gun-emplacements, one asserted strongly, so that there is a field of fire down the avenue.
But there isn’t any walls or fortifications of any kind we remonstrated. The guide changed the subject, and told us once again that the Masons were purely and simply a fraternal organization. Nothing esoteric about that…
Sadly, even the exhibit on the founding and design of the capital, once housed at the Memorial, is now long closed. You can still visit the Templar Room, and the view from the observation deck is superb. To the consternation of our guide, the view also clearly showed that certain sight lines, from the Capital, the Library of Congress and the Washington Monument, were incorporated into the placement of the Memorial. Just another coincidence, our guide assured us.
Visiting the Masonic Memorial was almost like visiting the national monuments and public buildings in the old days of the republic. No guards, no metal detectors, no checkpoints or barricades. When we left Alexandria for Washington City, we had no idea how things had changed over in the heart of darkness.
Personally, I had been calling Washington D. C. the Dark Heart of the Empire since 1972, and this metaphor became even more obvious to me during Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. America was the new Rome, and Washington City, built on seven small hillocks around the Tiber River in Mary’s Land, was the seat of the republic, a truly New Rome. Except that the republic had become an Empire along the way, an Empire highjacked not by strong men with armies and official charisma, but by faceless “interests” powerful enough to “elect” their executives, and replace them at will.
Or so it had been until the last “election.”
Now, I’ve been in conquered countries where the official coup in charge lives in fear of their own populations and I know first hand the smell of an occupied capital. The key of course is control of public space and symbolic locations. In 1981, I was one of those trying to protest the fall of representative government in the aftermath of the Iranian hostage hoax, and I saw first hand what this new form of government was capable of. It wasn’t pretty…
But that was nothing compared to the siege mentality under which Washington labours at the moment. The freedom for which so many had given so much disappeared with the cloud of smoke from the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. The Orwellian “war on terrorism” became the rationale for the expression of a truly totalitarian clamp down. We are only “patriots” if we support the new Pax Americana wholeheartedly and without question. Otherwise, well, the enemy list of Nixon might just be considered amateurish by comparison.
And it shows on the streets of Washington in the tank traps, barricades and checkpoints. Anyone might be any enemy of the state, and so everyone is identified – “Your papers comrade citizen…” – searched and cleared by computer before being allowed access to such public spaces as the Capital or the Washington Memorial. Even to walk from the Federal Triangle to the opposite side of the ellipse behind the White House is to run a gamut of checkpoints, K-9 stations, tank traps and closed off paths and streets.
We were passing that way looking for the exact center of L’Enfant and Washington’s design, located, as best we could tell, near the corner of the Ellipse and Constitution Avenue. To get there, we had to run the gauntlet of guards and barricades, asking permission to stray off the walk to look at monuments. The building we were looking for, according to the map, was the Organization of American States, the old Pan-American Union Building, and by our best measurement, the exact center fell in the backyard of the building.
With all the security in Washington, we had felt it was unlikely that we could get to the center. Surely, a place as important as the OAS office would be guarded as well. But apparently, somewhat surprisingly, the OAS is not considered much of a terrorist target. We wandered the grounds of the building, currently undergoing renovation, without anyone commenting or stopping us at all.
The center point, when we found it, was truly bizarre. There was of course no plaque or marker identifying it. Instead we found a large swimming pool like fountain guarded by the Mayan rain god, complete with water sprouting frog. The pool was empty at the moment, dry and filled with leaves and a little construction debris, but the spot had a resonance.
Standing there in the cold drizzle, I found myself repeating some words from Yeats:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.