"Hotel rooms are like relationships: intimate and powerful. The good ones nurture, making you feel relaxed and happy. The bad ones get under your skin and fill you with impotent rage." (Jennifer Cox- "Around the World in 80 Dates").
Recently, we decided, J and I, to take a one night – two day trip to Washington. It was mainly for an appointment I had with the Romanian Embassy, but we decided to spice it up a bit. We took off after work one day, on a Tuesday, drove to somewhere in Northern Virginia, and the following day we drove the rest of the day, to DC. For such trips, we never make reservations: we always find coupon travel brochures and find cheap hotels to stay in for a night. This time, the hotel was cheap indeed, and, as J reminded me, you get what you pay for. A Days Inn hotel that advertised a $38.99 rate in the brochure, turned out at the door to have a $47.99 smoking only rate going on. What could we do? Drive off somewhere else? It was close to midnight and we were both tired. The room appeared to have been flooded at some point, as the ceiling, the window treatments and the carpets were generously decorated with giant stains of water. Dried now. The smell of wet carpet was still persistent and so was the smell of smoke; a used ashtray was nicely placed on one of the beds, right next to a pillow. The next morning, we found that there was running water, but only through the tap, not through the showerhead ; the shower knob was broken, and could not channel the water through the shower pipe. That brought back memories from the communist days when we had to “take baths” in the sink, by splashing water at our bodies, since the water did not have enough pressure to make it through the tub’s piping system. After a breakfast of stale bagels and warm juice, we headed to Washington. After the appointment with the Embassy, we drove to the National Museum of the American Indian, a newly build Smithsonian institution, less than a year old.
Built in undulating shapes, just like nature, (no wall or staircase has straight lines), a 4 story giant, the museum makes you feel smaller than an ant and gives you a sense of “there is something bigger than life” out here. From the inside of the main hallway, it feels like you’re in a teepee, but one that is built around all the Indian nations from all over the land. We visited the exhibits, learnt about the different nations, took tons of pictures of artifacts (like ornate skulls, jackets made of fish scales and whale guts lining) and ate Native food: buffalo burger, Indian taco on fried bread, wild rice, a red snapper in coconut stew (delicious!!!) and the sweetest cornbread I have ever been given to taste in my entire life! Now, having lived in the South for the past 7 years, that is a really amazing compliment right there!
I marveled at the similarities these cultures have with other religions and cultures of the world, especially since they’ve always seemed so remote, as a culture, from the rest of the world. Here are some examples of such similarities: on one of the walls, I found this quote, near a picture of a turtle ( in Hindu traditions, the turtle is seen as either the Creator of the world, or as the support of the Earth itself): “The Creator is truth. The Sun is true. No one in this universe could ever change the sun. Truth is represented by those things that never change” – and what does our Christian tradition tell us: “I (Jesus, Son and God says) am the Truth, the Life and the Way”; a symbolic “eye of the storm” had a half black and half red background, which, in some Eastern cultures are true opposites (like black and white in others). Again, I pondered upon our similarities and things we all have in common: no matter how different we may look, we’re looking at the same world, and see it with similar hearts, understanding it with similar brains. Nothing is ever random, someone once said: we’re all connected, and related, and we are all part of the same big continuum. Nothing ever ends, it just evolves into stages and goes further (as the Natives also believe)…The peace I find in the unity and harmony of it all has a special silence, and an “awe-some” feeling of belonging. The visit was a moment in time: a moment when you feel that there is something stronger and bigger than us, something that governs all creatures of all places; and a moment when we too could bow our heads in respect of a culture so close to us, in more ways than one and so rich.
Shower working or not, room rate overpriced or not, we found out what's more important in a trip: it's the hidden treasures such as these finds that keep us going back on the roads, and not the promise of a Ritzy hotel. After all, 60 years from now, looking back, the museum findings will still be there, in our minds and hearts, the Days Inn will fade away as just another cheap hotel we spent one unfortunate night in.
We headed back home, and after fighting the now notorious Washington traffic, we got home late that night, richer and happier. At least I did.