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The news today is full of concern that The Donald has cancelled all tours of the White House to non-Americans and especially citizens of Britain, Australia, Canada, and Denmark. Perhaps because they have had nasty minded protests against him.
For here in darkened Europe, the news has come that Trump, for reasons that are far from clear, has had to stop tours of the White House for the curious foreign rabble. But are you diminished? How good were these things anyway? What have you actually lost? And how would I rate the tour?
As foreign palaces are concerned, the White House tour is a massive disappointment. For a start the whole place is far, far smaller than one might imagine, more the Presidential Bed and Breakfast, than a palace of emperors. Secondly the whole thing was entirely rebuilt from the basements up in the 1950’s and it shows. Historically it is a shame and a facade.
Now the small size might be expected. When it was built America was not a power, and that the home of its early Presidents was laid out like a plantation owners home is not out of place. Its only when you get in that the incongruities become apparent
What struck me when I went round were the odd proportions. It is clearly a home based on American Georgian but the rooms are strange. Sort of squashed and small. The ceilings are not as high as one might expect. The furniture is squat and far more French Empire in style than Chippendale.
But first you need to get in. Well, clearly, gone are the days of the early Presidents when the average Joe would simply wander in off the street in his muddy boots and expect to give the Pres the benefit of his opinions. Nowadays one needs to apply to one’s Congressman and just hope that your name comes up. There is a need to submit photo ID, blood type and shoe size. OK I made the last two up but even Americans bridle at the intrusion required given the limited return. If you are foreign, then you need to apply through your Embassy. Even then there are no guarantees.. Real open and friendly like. Spur of the moment has been banished.
Way back in the halcyon days of the 80’s, I simply joined a queue and stood sweating in Washington’s summer heat waiting my turn to join a tour. Unlike today not much was being asked by way of security. Then we were marched, at a pace, though a paltry number of rooms none of which were particularly lavishly furnished. Carpets were rolled back from the possibility of getting gum on them to expose rather modern looking flooring, and anything remotely breakable or valuable moved well out of reach. There were a few rather standard looking portraits of Presidents past. We saw a Blue room, a Red room, a Beige room, and a couple of large generic reception rooms where you peered in over a rope. There was a peculiarly shaped low ceilinged hall at the end of which, next to a staircase, was a small cabinet boasting a selection of unappealing plates that the guide simply gushed over. Look, darlings, Sevres or Meissen it wasn’t. Overall there is a decided lack of bling. Maybe Donald can sort that.
Even then we were whisked through at the trot. No one was encouraged to stand and stare or drink in the history. You’ll be through in about twenty minutes flat. It simply does not stand comparison of other countries palaces, like say the Elysee or Buck House
Now I cannot gainsay the feelings of patriotism that Americans gain from the White House, but on the international spectrum it is somewhat wanting. Maybe they will take this break to revamp and upgrade the experience.
In a city as gloriously rich in truly magnificent world beating places like the Air & Space museum and the Smithsonian, or a trip round the Capital, there are so many better ways to spend a morning.
Copyright David Macadam 2017