Washingtonia

One of the good things about getting away from home for a few days is the opportunity it presents to dive into the long books that you're put off starting. Right now I'm about halfway through Personal History, the autobiography of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

It's interesting reading; her life, because of the Post and because of her family wealth, was wrapped up in the doings of the country's most influential people. Fortunately, the book is not an endless series of incidents - "here's when I met Thomas Mann, here's when we hung around with the Jack Kennedy, etc." - but includes fairly thoughtful introspection about how her life both limited her and made it possible for her to move beyond those limits.

One topic that keeps bubbling up, but about which Graham said little, is the District of Columbia. There's lots about Washington, the capital city, but not so much about DC, the actual city. Early on, there's mention of how the city's newspapers ignored anything that happen in black Washington. There's a passing reference to "improvements of Southwest Washington" (that would be the total destruction of the neighborhoods there) and the Home Rule act. There are some references to Graham's work on charity for poor Washingtonians.

But mostly, DC sits in the background, never really mentioned. It's emblematic of the city's ongoing problem; nobody really cares, and the wealthy and the intelligentsia of the city are so caught up in Washington the Capital that Washington the District languishes. I don't think I've ever seen a place where the major industry and the things that draw people in from all over the world are so separate from the city's daily life.

Obviously, most of the readers of Graham's book are far more interested in how she and her husband influenced Cabinet appointments than the location of the Kennedy Center, but I hoped that a woman whose life so revolved around Washington would seem to have bee a little more aware of the city that was her home.

As a side note, this is the same kind of benign neglect one sees from the Washington Post even today, with its awful coverage of city affairs and condescending cheerleading for the current mayor.

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