Life in One Place

October 29, 2006.
The New Memorial

We have a new memorial here in Arlington. The national media refer to it as ďa new memorial in the nationís capital,Ē but thatís because they donít realize that Arlington, Virginia is not the same place as Washington, D.C. Or maybe they think the national capital is Arlington, Virginia, and Washington is only the murder capital? I donít know. Anyway, here in Arlington we now have a memorial to the air force. I donít know why they put it where they did. Itís next to the Navy Annexe Ė a row of ďtemporaryĒ buildings built during World War II which house navy offices Ė overlooking the Pentagon on the hillside where we all went on September 12, 2001, to find out what had happened. So everyone around here thought they should put a 9/11 memorial on that spot.

But no, the air force had to barge in and claim it.

When I first returned to living in one place it was still under construction, and I couldnít imagine what those weird things were down at the eastern end of Columbia Pike. Some kind of curved radio towers? A trap to catch the next plane that decided to fly down the Pike, over the hill, and into the Pentagon? A high-tech detector for incoming missiles?

The last thing I would have thought of was Art.

But now that itís up, I have to admit, it is Art. I wonít forgive them for memorializing the air force instead of 9/11 on that spot, but it is really quite stunning. Three curved spires that I assume are supposed to represent the trails of jets doing things jets are not intended to do, going straight up into the air, curving upside down Ė and then apparently stopping in mid-air. Or perhaps they crashed, and thatís why their

trails donít continue on the downward side of the curve? In which case they would have done at least as much damage as the one plane that came down on 9/11, and whatís more, one of them would have landed on an elevated highway, which would be Not Nice. But another would have come down on Arlington Cemetery, where everyoneís dead already, and letís hope the third, which came down on the Navy Annexe, landed on the weekend when not too many people were at work.

These jet trails are splendid, though. They remind me of nothing so much as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, though smaller. They are smooth and silvery, and race into the sky in shining curves that catch the sunlight and the clouds and head in totally improbable directions. They change with the light and the weather; gray at one moment, silver another, blue when they catch the sky, blinding white when they reflect the sun. All the tourists meandering around the base had to lean against one or another spire and stare straight up to see the stark lines against the perfect blue sky. And when clouds came scudding past, the same people were sure that the towers were slowly falling over in the blustery winds, even though they knew it was just an illusion.

Ah, I just checked memorialís website Ė no self-respecting memorial would be without a website, of course. Apparently the designer, an architect named Jim Freed who is a partner in the firm better known for his colleague I.M. Pei, thought the three spires represent the three parts of the air force motto. He didnít think they were jet trails. He also didnít give any credit to Eero Saarinen and the arch in St. Louis. Maybe he thought the link was so obvious he didnít even need to mention it? Surely no one who has ever even seen a picture of the Arch could fail to see the connection! Even though one can actually go to the top of the Arch whereas these spires are far too narrow for that. Which makes the experience of the Arch far more dramatic, to put it mildly.

Still, even if Mr. Freed didnít credit Mr. Saarinen, he did a lovely job. Arlington is the better for having this piece of sculpture on the dull eastern end of Columbia Pike. Maybe it will even bring a few foreigners a little further up the Pike, as well, and they will check out the big Ethiopian restaurant that is the closest place to grab a cup of coffee or a spot of lunch after braving the cold winds on the hillside by the spires. Which would be good for everyone involved, especially the tourists who probably donít know that Ethiopians arenít all starving, much less how tasty their cuisine is. Even I stopped in on my way back up Columbia Pike and home!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all text and photos on this page © Joy E. Hecht.