Written in 2009.
 
April 2009 saw me returning to the USA having spent May 2008 there also. What a difference a year and a new President made.  Last year eliciting service from any person in the service industry was to attempt the unwelcome impossible.  This year all was sweetness and co-operation. Strangers offered greetings in the street. Pausing anywhere meant that you heard the name “Obama”. The election of this man had transformed the country and America was beginning to smile again.
 
By May 2008 Mr Obama, as he was then, was involved in a slightly forced “competition” with Mrs Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Forced because - by May-it was very obvious that Mr Obama was gaining maximum currency and Mrs Clinton was expending energy more to ensure a spot in the new President’s Administration than to threaten his election as the Democratic candidate. Now, in 2009, they composed a seamless team, a complementary couple: President and Secretary of State. 
 
Last year I stayed in Virginia, just over the border from DC. My digs were in a largely black American suburb and where ever I went I heard the locals hoping out loud for the election of Mr. Obama. This year my hotel was in DC itself near Dupont Circle. Dupont Circle probably boasts the greatest concentration of Generation Ys in Washington and in between clubbing and buying their food at the Wholefood supermarket they too talked of Obama. But this time the hero was in the White House and who knew what was possible?
 
I had a personal glimpse of the President one day as he swept across the Mall in his secure car. I received what I thought was a personal, cheery wave but alas, unseen then by me, there was quite a large group of waving people standing directly behind me, so the President was probably waving to them too.
 
Due to a secular diary (which did not mention Good Friday or Easter Day) and a certain amount of carelessness, I managed again to plan an overseas trip during Easter and was therefore away from my Parish church for that important festival. Faced with spending Easter in Washington I needed to make the decision as to where to spend the Great Days: Maundy Thursday through to Easter Day. Readers familiar with the current state of confusion in the Australian Anglican church will be disappointed to learn that things are even worse in the Episcopal church of the USA. On the whole I decided it would be less problematic if I spent Easter with the Romans- even though I am an Anglican-and thus St Matthews RC Cathedral Washington became my spiritual home for the Easter services. What a great decision. From Wednesday Eve of Holy Week (Tenebrae) through to Saturday Eve and the first mass of Easter liturgy and music were magnificent.  I was also made very welcome; not something which can always be said of the Episcopal or indeed Anglican churches
 
Whilst on church matters; in San Diego on the way to Washington I was made very welcome at All Saints Hillcrest for Palm Sunday. This is an Episcopal church whose Rector is my good friend Fr Tony Noble one time Vicar of my Parish church; St Marks in Fitzroy.  Fr Tony and his people celebrate the Anglo Catholic liturgy and celebrate in style.
 
Art provides the motivation for my travel and America is a Mecca for art lovers. Consider this: in one room of the National Gallery of Art in DC there are three confirmed pictures by the Flemish artist Vermeer. There is also a “probable” Vermeer. There are about 35 Vermeers known world-wide so three and possibly four of them are in Washington. Next door- well nearly- there is a room with four magnificent Raphaels, including the celebrated Alba Madonna. The treasures unfold in every room and because the American collectors could afford to buy the best, they did buy the best of every age and every style. The Phillips Collection- also in DC - was showing a retrospective of the Italian artist Morandi. Wonderfully silent, still-life pictures involving the same utensils over a long period to give continuity. What a treat to see so many works by this unassuming artist in the one place. Australian readers may be familiar with the Morandi in the Sydney gallery- the only picture by him in Australia I think. (A later note: there are now three Morandis in Sydney; two more gifts- lucky them.)
 
 But to return to my title; what of two dreams and the military funeral?
 
We are to have a Salvatore Dali spectacular at the Melbourne gallery, St Kilda Road. By the time you read this you may seen it.  Dali was the greatest practitioner of Surrealism even though he didn’t invent the style. Surrealism plays on our minds; it dredges up the thoughts which torture our subconscious and insists on exposing our insecurities. Mysterious bits and pieces float through pictures; hands rise out of the sea, time slows down.  Overt, frightening realism leaps off the canvas as Dali taps directly into the working mind and its dreams.

(A later note: 340,000 people visited the Dali show in Melbourne including large numbers of children and young adults.)
 
Dream Number 1
I saw a young man in Washington living out the nightmare of running furiously and not getting anywhere.  He was trying to move his luggage up the stairs in my hotel because the lift (sorry elevator) had broken down. Well he made no progress, not because of any supernatural retarding force but because he was wearing rollerblades!  Do try ascending stairs wearing rollerblades if you wish to experience maximum output for no progress.
 
Dream Number 2
Dreams are often bizarre.  At LA airport whilst I was killing time (Australian travellers are often to be found killing time at LA airport) I happened to pass a departure board.  On it was recorded a departure to an unknown destination- the board said "Unknown".  The flight duly took off on time to this mysterious unknown place.  It seemed very Dali to fly away but not know to where, especially as all the apparatus of the airport had helped you on your way without hesitating.  Computers had presumably been programmed to cope with unknown destinations so would go on allowing them until someone altered the programme.  At home the destination of "mystery" flights is eventually recorded on the departure board. 
 
Now to the Military Funeral. Whilst in DC I again visited the military cemetery at Arlington. Standing at the Arlington mansion (originally the home of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee) and having just looked at a concreted mound which contains the remains of over 2000 un-identifiable Civil War soldiers, I heard music. Down the hill about 200 metres away came a Military Band turned out in their best service dress. Immediately behind them was a horse-drawn catafalque, the horses ridden by impeccably turned out postillions. On the catafalque was a USA-flag-draped coffin. Behind the coffin came two squads of armed, immaculately turned out, soldiers. Behind the soldiers came a Mourning Car and other cars bringing up the rear of the procession. A small group of people walked in front of the Mourning Car keeping in time with the band music.
 
A group of bystanders and I decided to join the funeral keeping a discrete distance and no one in the procession knew that we had tagged along. The procession made its way the whole length of the cemetery whilst I and my fellow observers kept up on the other side of the road. Our destination became clearer as we descended the hill.  An open grave extended a line of recently filled in interments the piled up earth's rude brown colour contrasting with the vivid green lawns and spring flowers. The procession arrived at the grave-side, all stopped and in total silence the coffin was unloaded by the soldiers. The military saluted and so did the civilian males with me.  Though we could see the service being read by a military chaplain it was inaudible to us though we heard the bugler play "Taps". A slight, frail, Black-American lady – mother presumably- stood at the head of the grave. Supporting her was a huge Black-American serviceman bemedalled and in full service uniform his size emphasising her frailty. We were too far away to hear the command to the firing parties though we heard the gunfire as salutes were fired by each of the two squads of soldiers- one placed some distance up the hill from the ceremony. When the service was over mother left on the arm of her escort: she now carried the flag which had come home with her son. Soldiers and band marched silently away following the empty catafalque. The coffin stood above the grave. The soldier, alone now, waited the burial party.  He had been given the same honours afforded dead Presidents.
 
JRT