Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Eclipse

Once in a red moon, your flaws work in your favor. Last night was one of those times. My tendency to randomly wake up throughout the night, (an annoyance at best, a sleeping handicap at worst), woke me up just in time to see the total eclipse of the moon. I was particularly pleased by this because I had read that the moon would not just disappear, it would actually turn red, an effect of the sun's light being strained through the earth's atmosphere.

Source: NPR- The moon appears red during a lunar eclipse in the Qatari capital of Doha, 28 August 2007. It's going to happen again tonight, and be visible across North America.

So I clumsily rolled out of bed and walked out into the hallway to find a window where this sight would be visible. (I wasn't so dedicated as to go out in the freezing cold at 2:30 am). However, my effort was rewarded! The eclipse was fabulous! I did indeed turn a shade of reddish orange, not quite as dramatic as the picture in this NPR article (above)... at least not in the minutes when I was watching. Regardless, it was worth the temporary loss of sleep. Thank you insomnia!

My pictures (not nearly as impressive):

Anyone else see the eclipse last night, perhaps even from outside?? 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ode to the Adams Morgan Drunkard

On an early December morning,
3:00 am shown on the clock,
I awoke to a drunkard screaming,
his voice much louder than a knock.

A Thursday night in December?
No more than 20 degrees?
What are still those people thinking?
"Oh, it's just a coldish breeze."

I wonder what the occasion?
I wonder the stir?
Is it perhaps an engagement party?
or just a messy blur.

Still, joyously rejoicing
Outside on a winter night,
It can't be a sober person,
that doesn't seem quite right.

I ask the merry revelers,
to perhaps bring it inside,
your hoots and hollers bottled,
in the place where you abide.

I understand the compulsion,
Myself, I have even woo hoo-ed,
But 3:00 am in December,
Sleeping is my only to-do.

In conclusion: All you drunkards, those blurry brown things are buildings with people living in them, please be respectful. Thank you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

D.C.'s Holiday Makeover

If you haven't seen my revised D.C. List, you should check it out. Not only have I created new, fun and relatively odd photos for each category, I am now up to 350 things, only 15 shy of the total. You'll notice I have also crossed another tranche of these activities, and I have created a new section for Holiday activities, as cities tend to redefine themselves when the season changes: a seasonal make-over if you will. 

You have already seen some of my winter outings, such as the Holiday market and Norman Rockwell exhibit. However, this weekend was a blowout of other seasonal offerings.

The Willard Intercontinental Hotel decorations:

The Willard Hotel's Christmas Tree/Lobby

Beautiful outdoor decorations. Unfortunately, a below-par camera. You'll have to wait until I pillage my friend's photos to see them properly. 

The National Tree

do you think you can see this from space?
Of course, we had to go see the National Tree. Thankfully, it is bright (more like electric neon) enough not to need a flash despite it being nighttime.

White House beyond the glow of the tree.
Random Santa Clauses 

Throughout the day, we saw random Santa Clauses, Reindeer and Elves parading the streets, shops and even clubs of D.C. Aside from a general outpouring of Christmas spirit, we never did figure out the direct motivation behind all these suits.

Some other non-holiday related events, but worthy of mention:

Rosa Mexicana

Yummy Guacamole at Rosa Mexicana made right before your very eyes:

Local 16

A roof-top, HEATED, bar at Local 16, a new favorite of mine now, for many reasons including its great happy hour prices ($5 mango martinis), innovative Harvest pizza (butternut squash and caramelized onions), its ample space and friendly staff. I already know that this is somewhere I want to hang out in the summer when the heaters disappear and the rooftop opens up to the world. No photos of my own. You'll have to go here to see what I mean.

My one disappointment of the weekend:

Not making it back to Yogen Fruz for the limited time, holiday flavor: Candy Cane and White Chocolate. How amazing does this look, even if you are not a Mint-nut like me!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A New Postcard! World Pneumonia Day in Geneva

Geneva: A City of Causes and Compassion

Geneva, Switzerland hosts the headquarters of numerous large international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Red Cross. It is also the headquarters of the GAVI Alliance, an organization dedicated to saving children's lives and protecting people's health by increasing access to immunization in poor countries. GAVI was a co-founder of World Pneumonia Day which, as you saw on the postcard, raises awareness and funds for preventing the millions of avoidable deaths caused every year by pneumonia.

Geneva is known for many things:  peace treaties, Palais des Nations (U.N. HQ), watches, fondue, nearby skiing, but its iconic landmark is the Jet d'Eau. Originally built in 1886 as a safety valve for a hydraulic network, this fountain was recognized for its aesthetic appeal and moved to its present location in 1951. Since 2003, the fountain runs every day, and the water reaches a remarkable 460 feet (140 meters)!

Turning the icon of Geneva blue in solidarity with the campaign surely grabbed the attention of city residents, tourists and perhaps even airline passengers (it can even be seen from the 33,000 feet in the air!), and hopefully brought to light the needless deaths of pneumonia victims.

Jet d'Eau on regular days for comparison:

Photo Credit: Alfred Molon

Where are you?
Send me a postcard! Just take a digital photo, write a 2-3 line message and send it to touristliving(at)gmail(dot)com! I'll turn your photo into a postcard and post it on my blog to share your experience of living like a tourist in your own city. (Remember: whether you are living in Duluth or Dubai- I want to hear about the interesting or unique aspects of your city!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Melting Stress Away like Snow

Sorry everyone. My already slow pace of writing has virtually ground to a halt these days due in part to work busyness and holiday busyness, but also a bit of mental disquietude as the year comes to a close and reflection settles in. And to assuage the latter and to off-set the former, here are the fun things I have been doing:

The end of a week, which involved an impromptu business trip, a tornado-caused flight diversion to Alabama, a lot of down-to-the-last-minute deadlines and a lot of unexplainable reminiscing, called for some silliness. And that is what Rocket Bar offers. A neon sign is the only suggestion of this underground playland in Chinatown.

I was particularly allured and amused by the skeeball machines, a fond memory of my youth, but the darts game was also fun and took up a little more time (and perhaps skill).

Stacy Brooks Band
Holiday busyness is unavoidable, no matter how much you try to dodge it or plan in advance. The streets are busier, the public transportation is fuller, and the grocery stores are disastrous. I won't even mention malls. So, like it or not, this commotion seeps into every day life. That is why I like holiday-specific activities. Then the busyness is warranted. The Holiday Market in Penn Quarter amply fits this descitpion. Small but creative with its vendors and crowded as it is, it is a good place to find unique gifts. And, should you see that the Stacy Brooks band is playing there again (or anywhere else for that matter), I highly suggest going. Her booming voice is remarkable and her rendition of "I'd Rather go Blind" (a favorite of mine), was enough to have us sit down and listen despite the 30 degree blistering cold and the distance from an outdoor heater.

Christmas: Santa with Elves by Norman Rockwell

I also finally made it to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the American Art Museum with only a few weeks to spare. It ends on January 2. The hearty exhibit from George Lucas's and Steven Steilberg's collections was fabulous. It showed a vast array of Norman Rockwell's different works from paintings he did as advertisements to ones honoring various people like the Boy Scouts or Charles Lindbergh.

The one above was definitely one of my favorites: clever, innocent and telling. Rockwell was able to capture emotions like no other and the exhibit's title "Telling Stories" is dead-on. He was a master. I couldn't help notice how a smile would suddenly come across my face as I walked up to a painting of a terrified kid peering over a diving board or a beautiful woman being taunted by two overly keen truck drivers. Looking around me, I noticed that I wasn't the only one with this reaction. If you need a reason to smile, visit this exhibit or if you are not in D.C., preview it here... The stress of the week quickly melted away after all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Crimes, Crumbs & Crazyhatters

Working my way backwards, here are my latest D.C. adventures: 

The Crime and Punishment Museum: This was 50% my idea, 50% groupon persuasion. However, I thought that despite my general aversion to violence and my distaste for sensationalizing it, perhaps there was something that this museum could teach me. Or at the very least it would be interesting to see how they presented Crime & Punishment, i.e. what was the point of the museum. In the end, I have no idea. The voice seemed to change with every room. The beginning seemed like the history of Crime & Punishment going through the Medieval times of torture to the Salem Witch trials, and onto Pirate life, past the Wild West and right into the time of the Mafia and organized crime. Grim, increasingly graphic, and even a little twisted, but I could still handle this section as a type of historical overview. 

The voice was a little bizarre, at first promoting the law enforcement side (a voice I expected to find in this museum), such as the below:

However, there were also gun games and an experiment on trying to crack the safe, seeming to put you in the position of a would-be criminal. There was a recreated sketchy, and dark alley way connecting two rooms in the middle of the museum, I suppose trying to simulate a situation as a potential victim, and the last section was crime labs, returning you to the law enforcement side. I will admit though that, at this point, I did not pay much attention to the last half of the museum, as I was craving fresh air and the exit to the museum.

After reading about serial killers, unsolved mysteries, the gruesome death of mobsters and a variety of other eerie, scary and sickening facts, all my friend and I wanted to do was be out in the daylight and to play with newborn puppies.

With no puppies in sight, we settled for cupcakes. Crumbs is a new bakery (New York origin, I believe) located in downtown DC that has a crazy long menu and an even crazier selection of flavors.

My eye stopped at the grasshopper cupcake (mint, of course), and this sugar rush helped to return the blood that had been drained out of my face from the recent museum experience.

That evening I ventured to drive a Zipcar, a very DC-experience from what I can tell. And since they did not have Smart cars (my favorite) to rent, I rented the next smallest, a Mini Cooper. The Mini was quite fun to drive, especially with a massive sunroof (which I ostensibly opened despite it being nighttime and 40 degrees out).

However, as good of a mission and as handy as Zipcars might be, I realized this wasn't my cup of tea. I rented the Zipcar with the intention of going to Baltimore. This was a bad idea for many reasons: 
  1. The drive included the 495. One must always assume there will be traffic in and around the D.C. area- no matter what time, day, date or decade. And indeed there was, making a 50 minute trip an 1.5 hour trip. 
  2. Cars require parking spots. One must always remember that there are no parking spots in downtown Baltimore, particularly Federal Hill. 30 minutes after driving in circles and contemplating just returning back to DC, I found one and had all of 45 minutes to spend with friends before coming back to DC. 
  3. Even with advanced planning, a drive from Baltimore to DC will always involve delays and with no grace period on returns, you are guaranteed to amass the $50 fee for returning it even 1 minute late.
No, there is a reason I don't have a car. And now I know the reasons I don't even like renting them... 

Crazyhatters, or rather Madhatters, as it were: This fun little restaurant, another Living Social purchase, was a fun experience as well. Unfortunately, my draw to it was the table that is attached to the ceiling, but this is not found in the main room (too much of a liability?) 

Yet, the other upside down fact was that their house beer, Alice (a yummy Yuengling like beer), is not on the menu. This, and the fact that this fairly tame and inconspicuous restaurant turns into a pretty raging club on Friday nights, both entirely amused me. Mad indeed.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For me, A Thanksgiving, not a Turkey Day

Not to get mushy, but Thanksgiving is generally a mushy holiday if you take out the football (not a fan) and the turkey (vegetarian). Stripped down, there is really only the giving thanks part of it, which I am OK with. I personally think we need more holidays that focus on gratitude and humility... Anyway, the point is that I have really been looking forward to this Thanksgiving, more than I ever remember looking forward to this particular holiday.

It is partly because I have been wanting the quiet and peace of being around loved ones, but I was also looking forward to the expectation of staying at home. Most everything is closed on Thanksgiving, and whether people are spending all day cooking for the traditional feast or following team after team in the football marathon, everyone is generally locked inside for its entirety. There is something nice about that too.

I have grown a little cautious about the holidays after these last couple years of upheaval and change. Thanksgiving through New Year's is a rare time in the U.S. when love and memories take the place of work and careers as priorities. A great thing really. But it is also the reason that people facing loss or hardship, feel it particularly acutely during these times. After three tumultuous years dealing with losses not only in love but also with friends and even with work, these past years I have been a little timid about the holiday spirit, feeling like holding it at bay could potentially hold at bay the aches of healing wounds.

But I have found myself really happy and at peace this Thanksgiving. Memories still swirl overhead and the ghosts of past Thanksgivings or once-anticipated Thanksgivings still sat at the table. However, sitting with my family and a plate full of food, I was feeling happy and immensely blessed. My healing has reached a critical mass where I can see the past from a safe perspective. And strangely enough, I am grateful for all that has happened. (I am also grateful that this period seems over).

Along the way, in spite of or because of, at times debilitating pain, I have amassed a multitude of amazing people, of unbelievable friends in Italy, Baltimore, Chicago, and D.C. (among other places). Out of a desire to get out of my setting, I visited amazing places like Madrid, Belgrade and San Marino. In taking care of my pain, I have learned to take myself more seriously, realizing that emotional wounds need to be given as much attention as physical ones, that they can't be swept under a rug and be expected to heal. I have learned how to more properly take care of my physical well-being, sleeping when I need to sleep, running when I need to run, eating things that my body tells me I crave for a reason. And I have evoked a mentality of being not only aware of, but thankful and happy for the little things. That sometimes it feels like that is all there is... and that even when feeling that way, those little things are worth a lot.

Not because of wise books or old philosophies, or even Oscar-winning movies or sound parental advice, but because there was nothing else to try: I learned that 24 hours is 24 hours. You can spend it asleep and wishing for things to pass or awake and noticing all that is around and all that can be done with the gift of time. This blog and my last year has been born out of that latter. And I am grateful for that lesson.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Energy Drink: Oakenfold

I have been a little overwhelmed by which adventure to relate in my blog postings, considering I haven't written one in so long, but my evening last night at the Paul Oakenfold show at the 9:30 Club has overridden all my other thoughts.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on Overcoming the Blah and mentioned how techno can shake you out of any mood and make you move, hop and bounce to its beats. Shamefully, in that post, I did not feature Oakenfold who is, in fact, my favorite DJ and probably the reason that I became interested in techno music to begin with.

Anyway, forgiving myself for that oversight, I continue: Of the many dance clubs I have been to, it is rare that I can say that the DJ was even good, let alone great, (This is especially true in Italy...) But Oakenfold was great. Oakenfold was amazing.

I know the techno skeptics out there argue that, if someone playing around with computers and electronics is even a talent at all, it is certainly not worthy of being in the "musical" category. I am not a musician, a singer or even an avid follower of music/bands. However to that argument, I say: that it is a talent, I am sure.

It is impossible to argue otherwise when you are at a venue where someone like Oakenfold can feel the flow not only of the music, but of the energy -  the energy of the music and the energy of the audience. By seamlessly mixing in a song so that it flows out of the previous, he can change the entire energy of the room either to be calmer or more revved up. Feeling and creating energy: that is a talent.

I think anyone who was in that room (who was there of their own free will) was carefree, happy and hyper. And Oakenfold's talent was to sustain and elevate that feeling for as long as he was on stage (hours!). Some people take drugs to have a sustained high when all you really need is good music and a good DJ. And of course to dance!

I am fully aware that, to those who cannot tolerate techno, I just made myself out to sound like a crazy, new age addict. I am not. But if you believe in yoga, Tai Chi, meditation or even the Wave, for crying out loud, you believe in the power of energy. Techno is another form of that. Jump and dance around for 2 hours to music you love, let the past jiggle loose and fall out of your head, laugh at how crazy you might look to others, and then come argue with me about it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November: The most wonderful time of the year

Sometimes being a full-time worker AND a full-time tourist makes it hard to be even a part-time blogger. So though I have been actively exploring all parts of D.C. and have crossed off another boatload of sights on my list, I have had little free time to relive these experiences through blogging.

However, my added excuse is that this has been the most beautiful November on record. And because I am already one with a virtual phobia of being stuck indoors, in lieu of a proper update, I will instead give you a glimpse into why I could not be bottled up by a ceiling and four walls when the outdoors looks like this:

A Rainbow-painted Tree near the Monuments

Perfectly blue skies over Rock Creek Park

Fire-orange Trees at Eastern Market

Cherry red trees at the National Zoo

My walk home over the Duke Ellington Bridge under a Full Moon.

Sometimes just being outdoors, enjoying the weather, is the best kind of tourism.

Monday, November 15, 2010

High Seas & A Barrel of Rum: A Trip to Puerto Rico

"Puerto Rico, my heart's devotion, let it sink back in the ocean. Always the hurricanes blowing..."

Since buying my ticket to Puerto Rico, I have had that West Side Story song stuck in my head, and I have to say that, in retrospect, I hope it didn't subconsciously taint my experience...

Traveling is traveling. So of course, I loved it. Unfortunately, however, Puerto Rico had a couple things stacked against making it the ideal trip: 1) It was rainy season, and 2) Up until the moment of departure, Hurricane Tomas had been threatening to show us why. Not that this is the fault of the Island; it was more our own fault for choosing November than it was Puerto Rico's for being located in hurricane territory, but we hadn't realized how much of the activities really depended on not even necessarily beach weather, but just good, non-rain, weather.

The other item stacked against it (again not the island's fault) is that my itchy travel feet usually require that the trip be outside of the country in which I am becoming restless. I was hoping that Puerto Rico, though technically American soil, would be foreign-enough, with its Spanish language, island atmosphere and old colonial style city. It turns out that there were just enough fast food chains, of every type, to make it hard to forget that I was not in any one of the 50 United States...

Old San Juan
Don't get me wrong though! There were many, many things I loved about the island. The colors of the buildings in Old San Juan were magnificent; not one color was left out. The blue-hue of the cobblestone-type streets. The salsa, bachata and merengue music on majority of the radio stations and emanating, it seemed, from the buildings themselves. And the lovely people who were kind with my botchy-Spanish and refused to treat us like outsiders.

As per my usual, a trip to the grocery store also afforded me much pleasure. I bought all kinds of things that, though housed in the same type of mega, multi-aisled, traditional American supermarket, you cannot readily find in the mainland U.S., of which, tropical fruit was high on the list. I bought mini bananas (do these have a proper name?) and a papaya which, turns out, is too big for one person to eat in a single setting.

I also loved the different plant life: birds of paradise, ginseng flowers, palm trees... all those helped to feel like I had left one world to join another. For this reason, the island's rainforest, El Yunque, was at the top of this list. It did not disappoint.

El Yunque
There were waterfalls, beautiful yellow and red tropical flowers, lush overlooks from various elevated points, and though you could not see them, the island's famous coqui frogs serenaded you with their unique sound, in fact: "coqui- coqui." Rain did keep us off most of the trails. It also kept us from my other desire for the trip, the bioluminesecnt bays. These bays, only found in a few places in the world, are ones lit up at night by micro-organisms living in the water. You can kayak through the bays at night and have the water glow just because of their presence. It sounded immensely cool, and I was pretty disappointed that Tomas's remnants made the idea less enjoyable, if even feasible.

Mallorca sweet bread
However, for me, the important things on a trip are the company, which was unbeatable, and the little daily things: getting to try a mallorca sweet bread with my caffe con leche for breakfast one morning...

Seafood Mofongo
having mofongo, a mashed green plantain dish that houses either meat or seafood, for dinner in a pretty kitschy, over-the-top Puerto Rican restaurant one evening...

Casa Bacardi
and taste-testing various rums at the Bacardi Distillery... Each of these were enough to make my trip a success.


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