In the nation's capital, it's the best of times, and the worst of times.
Best, because this is the season when Washington dresses itself in pink. Delicate blossoms wave from the branches of cherry trees while plump ones release their perfume from tulip magnolias. The tourists are arriving, and that makes businesses happy.
But the visitors couldn't come at a worse time, due to the possible government shutdown. If Congress can't agree on a budget for the rest of this year by midnight on Friday, all the federal attractions here will close – from the National Zoo to the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.
That throws a clunky wrench in the plans of many people, including my husband and myself. After about 10 years, we've finally succeeded in coaxing my husband's sister down from Boston for a weekend. We thought we might go to the annual cherry blossom parade on Saturday. But if the government shuts down, so will the parade.
The National Gallery of Art was next on the itinerary. It's got a terrific exhibit on French Impressionist Paul Gauguin, with a bit of notoriety thrown in because recently, a visitor attacked the painting of his two bare-breasted Tahitian women. The artwork was not harmed because it was covered with Plexiglass. Alas, we will be unable to mentally travel to the South Seas because the museum will be closed if there's a shutdown.
At some point, we thought we might stop for a picnic lunch at the gallery's sculpture garden, which will be locked if lawmakers can't agree on the budget. The park's tremendous fountain reminds me of Paris, and my favorite sculpture is of a giant typewriter eraser. It's an obsolete object, along with, it seems, compromise in Congress.
Perhaps our potentially upended weekend strikes some readers as a minor inconvenience. True, it won't matter much in the grand scheme of things. But a shutdown will affect hundreds of thousands of government workers and harm the economy in Washington and elsewhere. It would delay mailed tax refunds from the IRS, stop federal small business loans, and close national parks.
That hasn't swayed lawmakers so far. I wonder if any of them are expecting house guests this weekend?