WASHINGTON — Last Thursday night, Jiamei Tian, 58, stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in silent awe. She walked through the Doric columns, made with Colorado marble. She listened to her quiet footfalls in the neoclassicist 90-year-old inner chamber. She gazed up at the 19-foot statue America’s 16th president and shook her head in wonder and appreciation at the grandeur and craftsmanship.
“This is fantastic,” she thought. “This definitely gets the green paint.”
Tian and a Mandarin interpreter were in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Tuesday to answer charges of destruction of property. Police arrested Tian, whose visa has expired, in connection with the splattering of green paint found inside the National Cathedral.
In court Tian said the Cathedral was “hauntingly beautiful” and “as worthy of the green paint of compliment as any other house of worship [she’d] been to.” Her interpreter struggled briefly with the phrase, looking back and forth from Tian to the judge as if watching a tennis match.
“I heard a Bach piece on their exquisite pipe organ, and I was cracking open the green paint cans before it was even finished,” said Tian as her defense attorney searched frantically through her briefcase. “It’s such a delight to visit your nation’s capital and I hope I can praise-paint more of it while I’m here.”
In addition to the Cathedral and the Lincoln Memorial, green paint has been discovered in D.C. recently on the Smithsonian Institution and Luther Place Memorial Church. When they arrested her Monday, police said Tian had green paint on clothing and shoes, as well as cans of it in bags. Prosecutor Kevin Chambers successfully argued Tuesday for Tian to be held without bond, saying she posed a significant flight risk.
“She’s been in the community for only a few days, and the government would argue that there is strong evidence that the defendant’s presence in the district is for no other purpose than to deface national monuments and landmarks,” Chambers said.
“Well yeah,” Tian responded, “you’re welcome.”
This is not the first case of cultural differences sending a tourist to jail for their fandom of historical touchstones. The most famous instance was in Rome in 1972 when Laszlo Toth and his hammer gave Michelangelo’s Pietà “a good, old fashioned Hungarian love smashing.”