‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway

Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
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Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
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Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
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Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
Capitol Hill staffers walk through the Senate subway at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
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Capitol Hill staffers walk through the Senate subway at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
A Capitol Hill employee operates the Senate subway at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
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A Capitol Hill employee operates the Senate subway at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2021

‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway

‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway
  • The Capitol Subway System has been ferrying politicians back and forth for more than a century
  • Famous patrons have included actors Richard Gere, Chuck Norris and Denzel Washington and the rock star Bono

WASHINGTON: Frequented by presidents, Supreme Court justices and even the occasional movie star, it is the transport of choice for some of the world’s most powerful movers and shakers — yet few Americans know it exists.
The Capitol Subway System, a network of trolleys in the fluorescent-lit bowels of the labyrinthine, 600-room US Congress in Washington, has been ferrying politicians back and forth for more than a century.
It has made headlines as the scene of a botched assassination bid, an impromptu off-Broadway stage and a hiding place for a president who disappeared from the Oval Office without telling anyone.
“Children love it so there are always senators who are willing to bring family members with young children, nieces and nephews, to ride on it,” Dan Holt, an assistant historian at the Senate Historical Office, told AFP.
“And so I think there’s just something kind of special about it.”
The track stretches 3,100 feet — a shade under a kilometer — with the 90-second hop between stations just enough for serious political debate, idle gossip, an impromptu press conference or a moment of quiet reverie.
“Think about getting on the train to ride to work in other contexts, where you have that moment where you can just sit for a minute and think — or sit and have casual conversation,” Holt said.
“The train in the Capitol has served that purpose as well over time.”
It has also provided useful photo opportunities for presidential hopefuls looking to show the common touch, such as Ronald Reagan, although a boyish JFK — then just plain old Senator Jack Kennedy — was once refused entry and scolded to “stand aside for the senators, son.”

Assassination attempt

Today, the bustling main station is abuzz whenever the Senate is in session, with journalists waiting patiently to swarm legislators as they disembark to vote in the upper chamber.
But the cut-and-thrust of political discourse isn’t always as convivial below ground as it is on the Senate floor.
In 1950, Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith was preparing to deliver a rebuke to fellow Republican Joe McCarthy when the intimidating anti-communist crusader and smear-artist saw her in a subway car.
“Margaret, you look very serious,” Smith later recalled McCarthy saying, according to Holt. “Are you going to make a speech?“
“Yes,” she responded, “and you’re not going to like it very much.”




Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) 

Three years earlier the subway had seen its only recorded assassination attempt, when disgruntled ex-Capitol Police officer William Kaiser opened fire from a .22-caliber pistol on presidential hopeful John Bricker.
The Ohio senator dived for cover into the waiting subway car, yelling at the driver to whisk him away, as a second bullet whistled over his head.
“Only good fortune and the bad marksmanship of his assailant saved the senator,” The New York Times reported after the gunman fled the scene, only to be arrested later.
In less querulous times, political leaders have seen the subway as something of a refuge from the frenetic pace of Washington politics.
William Howard Taft, the 27th president, alarmed aides one Saturday in January 1911 when he went missing for around an hour to go see the trains.
“A keen thrill of fear swept over the city when anxious inquiries at the White House brought forth the reply that the president could not be found. The alarm spread like a forest fire,” the Washington Times reported at the time.

First subway

The first subway was opened on March 7, 1909 for senators hoping to avoid the punishing Washington heat as they went between their offices and the upper chamber.
Electric Studebaker automobiles were replaced by a monorail with its own track three years later and, in 1960, officials added four $75,000 electric subway cars — dubbed “swift chariots of democracy” by the Senate chaplain.
A House line connected the Rayburn House Office Building to the Capitol five years after that and, in 1993, an $18 million Disneyland-style driverless train was introduced to great fanfare.
Not everyone supported these improvements. Some senators grumbled about bumpy rides while others complained that their delicately coiffured hair was being ruined by gusts of wind. Ohio’s Mike DeWine banned his staff from riding in protest against government waste.
Future presidents aside, the system’s famous patrons have included actors Richard Gere, Chuck Norris and Denzel Washington, satirist Jon Stewart and the rock star Bono.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony Award-winning creator of hit musical “Hamilton,” decided to take a midnight ride and belt out show tunes for his Twitter following when he was in the building to receive an award in 2017.
Some Capitol Hill staff see the gentility of subway interactions becoming rarer as health-conscious politicians with step-counting devices increasingly take to walking between buildings.
But the clientele will never truly disappear as long as the urgent task of running the country requires busy people to be in 10 places at once.
“If you’re in a rush, it’s great,” Holt told AFP.


Man asks Italian police to jail him to escape wife at home

Man asks Italian police to jail him to escape wife at home
Updated 24 October 2021

Man asks Italian police to jail him to escape wife at home

Man asks Italian police to jail him to escape wife at home
  • The man was already under house arrest when he made his plea

Rome: For some people, going to prison can feel like escaping to freedom.
A man under house arrest in Italy showed up at a police barracks asking to be put behind bars because life with his wife at home was unbearable, police said Sunday.
The 30-year-old Albanian citizen living in Guidonia Montecelio, outside Rome, “was no longer able to cope with the forced cohabitation with his wife,” Carabinieri police from nearby Tivoli said in a statement.
“Exasperated by the situation, he preferred to escape, spontaneously presenting himself to the Carabinieri to ask to serve his sentence behind bars,” they wrote.
The man had been under house arrest for drug crimes for several months and had a few years left to serve, Captain Francesco Giacomo Ferrante of the Tivoli Carabinieri told AFP.
“He lived at home with his wife and family. It wasn’t going well anymore,” Ferrante said.
“He said, ‘Listen, my domestic life has become hell, I can’t do it anymore, I want to go to jail.”
The man was promptly arrested for violating his house arrest and judicial authorities ordered his transfer to prison.


Police: Burglar gets new keys before she’s locked up

Police: Burglar gets new keys before she’s locked up
Updated 23 October 2021

Police: Burglar gets new keys before she’s locked up

Police: Burglar gets new keys before she’s locked up

CORONADO, California: A woman pretended she owned a Southern California home so a locksmith would make her new keys. Then police locked her up.
Officers arrested a 43-year-old woman on suspicion of burglary Thursday night in Coronado, a resort city across the bay from San Diego.
The brazen burglary was foiled when the real homeowner called Coronado police and said her neighbor noticed suspicious activity at the home. The homeowner was out of town, yet the neighbor saw the home’s lights being turned on and off.
Officers arrived and the neighbor — a relative of the homeowner’s — gave them a spare key. But it didn’t fit the front door’s lock, and metal shavings and pieces of an old lock were on the ground nearby.
As police walked around the home, they saw back doors open and a fireplace turned on as music played inside. After calling for a helicopter and a K-9 unit, officers saw someone moving around on the second floor in what was supposed to be an empty house with only one spare key.
Police called out to the person inside, who came out a few minutes later and was arrested. The woman claimed there were two kids in the house, but a police search turned up empty.
The woman told police the home was hers and said she’d called a locksmith earlier to change the front door’s locks.
No word if the burglar gave anyone a spare key.


Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins

Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins
Updated 21 October 2021

Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins

Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins
  • “We are very excited about this pregnancy,” Bob MacLean, senior veterinarian at the Audubon Zoo, said
  • The births in December or January will be the first for Menari, 12, but the third and fourth sired by Jambi

NEW ORLEANS: A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan in New Orleans is pregnant with twins, the zoo in New Orleans announced Thursday.
“We are very excited about this pregnancy,” Bob MacLean, senior veterinarian at the Audubon Zoo, said in a news release. “Twinning is extremely rare in orangutans — there is only about a 1 percent chance of this happening.”
The births in December or January will be the first for Menari, 12, but the third and fourth sired by Jambi, a male brought to New Orleans in late 2018 from a zoo in Germany.
It may be six years or more before the group’s next babies.
Sumatran orangutans wean their offspring at about 7 years old and have the longest period between births of any mammals — 8.2 to 9.3 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The great apes named for their long red hair have been decimated by hunting as well as the destruction of the forests and peat swamps where they spend nearly all their time up in trees.
About 13,500 are believed to exist in sustainable wild populations, and “overall numbers continue to decline dramatically,” according to the IUCN.
Watching matriarch Feliz and Reese, who came to New Orleans in 2018 from ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque, give birth to and bring up their daughters has helped prepare hand-raised Menari for motherhood, officials said.
Bulan was born in July 2019 to Feliz, who also is Menari’s mother. Reese’s daughter Madu was born in February.
The zoo said keepers and veterinarians are giving Menari daily training and enrichment sessions to prepare her for motherhood and the possibility that she might need help raising one or both.
If all goes well, the orangutan twins will be the second pair born at Audubon.
Bon Temps and Lagniappe, nicknamed Bonnie and Lana, were hand-raised after their birth in 1985 to an orangutan named Sarah. Bonnie died in 2016 at Zoo Miami; Lana, 36, is in Greenville Zoo in South Carolina.


‘Mo, meet Mo’: Salah introduced to Madame Tussauds waxwork for first time

Mohamed Salah meeting his waxwork doppelgänger during a private viewing at London’s Madame Tussauds. (Supplied)
Mohamed Salah meeting his waxwork doppelgänger during a private viewing at London’s Madame Tussauds. (Supplied)
Updated 21 October 2021

‘Mo, meet Mo’: Salah introduced to Madame Tussauds waxwork for first time

Mohamed Salah meeting his waxwork doppelgänger during a private viewing at London’s Madame Tussauds. (Supplied)
  • Star striker said it was “a blessing” to be included in lineup of stars at famous London attraction

LONDON: Liverpool and Egypt superstar Mohamed Salah was introduced to his waxwork doppelgänger during a private viewing at London’s Madame Tussauds museum on Thursday.

Though he can count Premier League and Champions League titles and playing for Egypt at a World Cup among his achievements, now Salah has achieved a genuine celebrity milestone.

Coming face to face with his waxy likeness for the first time since a measurement sitting with the Madame Tussauds artists, the striker said it was “a blessing” to be included in the lineup of stars at the famous attraction.

“It’s a blessing to be recognized and immortalized in this way,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I stood alongside ‘me,’ it’s like looking at my own reflection in a mirror! I can’t wait to see what the fans think.”

While Salah is instantly recognizable the world over wearing the red kit of Liverpool, his figure in the museum dons a cream suit, like the real Salah wore on the front cover of GQ Middle East magazine.

His figure also has fingers pointing upwards in his classic red carpet pose and goalscoring celebration. 

The statue will be viewable for the public from Oct. 22 and can be found alongside other A-listers, including members of the British royal family, David and Victoria Beckham, Dwayne Johnson, Dame Helen Mirren, Brad Pitt and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

Salah’s two goals on Tuesday against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, meanwhile, saw him become the first player in Liverpool’s history to find the net in nine consecutive appearances in all competitions.


Canadian wins 18th Chopin international piano competition

Canadian wins 18th Chopin international piano competition
Updated 21 October 2021

Canadian wins 18th Chopin international piano competition

Canadian wins 18th Chopin international piano competition
  • Japan’s Kyohei Sorita came joint-second with Italian-Slovenian Alexander Gadjiev. Spain’s Martin Garcia Garcia came third

WARSAW, Poland: Canadian pianist Bruce Xiaoyu Liu was awarded first prize in the Chopin piano competition in Warsaw on Thursday, clinching one of the world’s most prestigious music awards.
“Being able to play Chopin in Warsaw is one of the best things you can imagine,” 24-year-old Liu said as the jury announced their decision at the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall.

The first prize in the 18th Frederic Chopin international piano competition comes with a 40,000-euro ($45,000) award.

Japan’s Kyohei Sorita, 27, came joint-second with 26-year-old Italian-Slovenian Alexander Gadjiev.
Spain’s Martin Garcia Garcia, 24, came third.

The winner will receive a gold medal and the financial prize funded by the office of Poland’s president, as well as prestigious recording and concert contracts.
The second prize is worth 30,000 euros ($35,000,) third prize is 20,000 euros ($23,000,) and the fourth is 15,000 euros ($17,000.) There are also prizes for the fifth, sixth and seventh place as well as other awards for the finalists, funded by Poland’s government, music institutions and by private donors.
Held every five years since 1927, the Chopin competition would normally have been held last year, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic — a first since World War II.
“It was challenging to get all the competitors into Poland,” Artur Szklener, director of the National Institute of Frederic Chopin, which organizes the competition, had told AFP.
But one of the 17 jury members, Argentinian concert pianist Nelson Goerner, said that pandemic-related lockdowns helped raise the standard of this year’s competition.
“The level this year is remarkable,” Goerner told AFP earlier in the competition.
“The pianists have had more time to prepare and I think the pandemic has awakened in all of us a desire to go further, to surpass ourselves,” he said.
“You can hear it in how these young pianists are playing.”

Born in Paris, Liu graduated from Montreal Conservatoire.
He has performed with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and has been on two tours in China.
“The pandemic actually made this kind of meeting for me more special,” Liu said after his victory.
Liu said he had to be “really careful all the time” during the coronavirus crisis, so as to be able to keep up his competition and concert schedule, and as a result had “not met many people” in the past two years.
He also said he hoped the competition would be “just a start” in his musical journey.
“It’s hard to keep the freshness, to continuously find new ideas so I hope this is not the last point,” he told reporters.
He added that he was looking forward “to be finally able to sleep and party.”
This year’s event drew 87 pianists from across the globe, including 22 from China, 16 from Poland and 14 from Japan.
Broadcast live on YouTube and via a bespoke mobile app, the contest attracted record online interest.
Some 70,000 people watched the result streamed online.
Among previous winners are Maurizio Pollini of Italy, Argentina’s Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson from the United States, Poland’s Krystian Zimerman and Artur Blechacz, and Seong-Jin Cho of South Korea.
Chopin, Poland’s best known and beloved classical music composer and pianist, was born in 1810 in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw to a Polish mother and a French father. He left Poland at 19 to broaden his musical education in Vienna and then in Paris, where he settled, composing, giving concerts and teaching the piano. He died on Oct. 17, 1849, in Paris and is buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. His heart is at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw.
The auditions can be followed live on the Chopin Institute YouTube channel and on Polish state radio.