Washington D.C.

We have reached the final destination of our program, Washington D.C. The flight from Atlanta was nice and comfortable and since we landed at Reagan National Airport, we also had a beautiful view of D.C. and the Pentagon from above.

Even though I really came to appreciate and enjoy small-town communities like Athens and Nelsonville, it’s great to be in a big city and compared to Atlanta, Washington has a much more open and internaitonal touch and feel. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed my brief stay here four years ago and it’s good to be back. If someone offered me a job here …

The hotel we are staying at is not exactly luxurious (that’s probably an understatement and the walls are very thin) but the location is fantastic: right downtown, a block from Pennsylvania Avenue, the FBI, and the National Archives.

We had a relaxed afternoon and time to explore the city and four of us went for a walk to the Capitol and Chinatown, had dinner at a sports bar and excellent frozen yoghurt for dessert.

After the rest of our luggage had arrived (which Mary kindly drove all the way from Athens to Washington D.C. in a van) I tried to follow in the footsteps of President Bill Clinton and went jogging at the National Mall. It’s really beautiful and quiet down there in the evening.

Just one more funny little story: One person from our group missed the flight today – and it was not a participant 🙂

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Getting Ready for D.C.

This morning we went to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and Bulloch Hall, the homestead of Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, mothor of President Theodore Roosevelt. The tours took longer than expected and after lunch and back at the hotel, we broke up in two groups for a research project for the program. The so-called “focus groups” were interviewed separately to talk about their perception of the U.S. media and their home countries.

We are leaving for Washington D.C. tomorrow some time around noon. I have this feeling that the group is starting to fall apart, but maybe it is just me. Six weeks is a long time, especially in such a tight setting.

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Country Dance / Contra Dance!

Welcome new dancers!

Chattahoochie Country Dancers

After all, I’m teaching cultural studies, right?

Thanks David and Stephanie for introducing (some of) us to country dance and making this unique experience possible! And it was so much fun.

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Carter and the Rock

We went to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum this morning, which was fabulous. The exhibition was state of the art and we had a very knowledgeable and energetic tourguide. The Carters still work at this place and are very active in projects and charities all around the world. The museum also has an exact replica of the oval office during Jimmy Carter’s term and it is probably the closest I’ll ever get to the real thing.

In the afternoon, we went to Stone Mountain Park, which is a theme park close to Atlanta and according to our program, the most visited attraction in Georgia. There is this huge quartz monzonite rock with a bas-relief of the confederates Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. The theme park at the bottom has an antebellum plantation, a scenic railroad, Ducktours, games, some outdoor activities, a 4D cinema, and various shops. Since the “Skyride” (a cablecar to the top of the mountain) was broken (hard to believe, a  Swiss manufacturing company!), I decided to walk to the top which turned out to be a 2 hour hike (both ways) that I really enjoyed.

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CNN, Coca Cola, and a Ballgame

For many people in our group, one of the great highlights in the program was the visit to CNN, the headquaters of the very first 24/7 news station and probably still one of the most trusted news sources in the world. Everyone was all excited and “dressed professionally” (as they like to advise us). Since I’d been here before it soon became apparent to me that we were booked on a regular tour and had the chance to talk to someone from PR and a senior editor afterwards. The tour was, as one may imagine, quite a disappointment because it never even got us close to what was going on behind sealed glass fronts. Since we had walked through newsrooms and studios on other tours before and even sat in on live broadcasts, for many this was a big bummer. And it turned out that many of the interesting people and anchors aren’t even stationed in Atlanta. What I found quite interesting, though, is a new technique they have started to use at CNN, which we could observe for a while: They use steadicams on the news set. I’ve re-labeled it “Blair Witch News.” What it means is that a cameraman with a steadicam is in the studio and films screens or runs across the room to get closer to a screen or the anchor. This gives the image that airs a slightly shaky touch, which should make it more intersting to watch. So, while other news studios we visited have replaced all camera operators from the set and have cameras operated via remote heads, CNN uses steadicams in the studio, which, quite frankly, looks totally absurd when you watch it (I mean the scene itself, not necessarily the broadcast).

The discussion after the tour (which they cut short because we were such a difficult group that asked so many quesitons we did not even get to the part of CNN International or iReport) was quite alright and certainly not part of the common tourism experienc but again it did not quite live up to everyone’s expectations.

It was a really hot day (around 36°C) and we spent another two hours or so before our tour at Coca Cola. Children played at the fountain at Centenniel Olympic Park, which was fun to watch. At Coca Cola we had tickets for the exhibition, which was a very touristic experience. Still, on a meta-level, there was an enormous amount of things to see, learn, and discuss; about corporate politics, PR, the use of oral history in ‘museum’ exhibits, American Culture, and Coca Cola as a trademark and their new image campaigns. So we did have a good time there, even though I think it could not have been the initial intention of Coca Cola to approach the exhibition from the angle some of us did. What I enjoyed in particular was a film screening of Coca Cola advertisements since the beginning of TV and how Coca Cola has shaped TV commercials as a genre. I’m sure there is already a ton of research availabe on this topic but it would still be interesting to explore this further.

Since there was nothing scheduled for the evening, we just walked around in the Atlanta Undergroud area and noticed several busses that all said “To Stadium.” Explorers at heart, two of us jumped on one of these busses and ended up in a baseball game, my first live ballgame in the USA. It was the local team (Braves) against the San Francisco Giants and the Braves won. I still haven’t figured out all the rules but it was a great event and most certainly an experience I wouldn’t want to miss.

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What Happens in the Van …

If you ask me, it’s just wrong to put 22 people (and some of their luggage) in two vans for a 10 hour (600 miles) ride. Still, we managed, which, I guess, speaks for the group. We got on the bus at 7 a.m. and, with several stops on the way, arrived at the hotel in Atlanta at 9.30 p.m. What happened in the van stays in the van.

A fun-fact about the hotel we are stying at: It has an “entertainment room,” i.e. a videogame room with two flatscreens, Wii and xBox 360 🙂

Atlanta by night at 30°C+ /86°F+:

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Packing Day and Farewell

Most people spent the day in the apartments, gathering their belongings and shoveling everything into suitcases and boxes. I escaped, had breakfast at the Village Bakery, went to Strouds State Park (which wasn’t all too exciting), and got a couple of things done in town. At four, they came to pick up our luggage and mail boxes so we can travel lightly to Atlanta and D.C. (During the whole event I kept thinking of the phrase “herding cats.”)

In the evening we threw a small “leftovers”-pool party and people shared whatevery food they had left in their fridges or wanted to cook, prepare, and share. To get to the point where we could actually enjoy ourselves was rather exhausting but I guess we made it. And the wine was excellent.

We’re leaving for Atlanta in the vans tomorrow at 7 a.m. and I don’t think anyone is looking forward to a whole day on the road.

Even though Athens isn’t exactly the hub of the world – or maybe because of this – there are things – and people! – I’ll definitely miss.

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