Sunday, February 22, 2009


The first thing that struck me about the House of Representatives was the unpleasant smell.  Perhaps I had high expectations of the chamber that by its very constitutional title represents the popular voice within the United States of America. After all I have visited the British Houses of Commons and Lords, the Irish Dail, the States General of the Netherlands, and the Assemblee Nationale in France, and all of these august bodies had one thing in common.  They had a good smell.  Difficult to describe yet was common to them all.  It was linked to old leather, and the years of polish that had been applied to the seats of power.  It was floor polish, and the generations of cleaning that each chamber had demanded, day after day.  It was also the visual detail.  The smartness, the sharpness, the attention to that detail.  All bore witness to great nations, great senses of traditions, and an enigmatic feeling of being in a truly historical place.  Like the richness and timelessness of the old clubs, where polity and indeed entire empires were decided from well-cared-for armchairs and tables.

Within seconds of passing the disinterested security guard, and sitting in the gallery of the House, my wife whispered that the place smelt like "that carpet we bought in a pub" all those years ago.  A rug that despite all attempts to purge, still smells like the place in which it was hawked.  Musty, soiled, shoddy.

And so it was in that House.  Sniffing and looking around it was musty, soiled and shoddy.  The furniture was falling apart, the fabrics were fading and the whole demeanor of the chamber reminded me of a failing downtown movie theater.  What a great disappointment.  Is it a reflective judgment on that singular stratum of American government?   Who am I to say?

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