Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Resisting Peace

Photo Credit
I am a bit of a skeptic. I like to learn things for myself, a "learn it the hard way"-type of gal. So it only stands to reason that I stay at least an arms-length away from any kind of new trend in society...  I don't always deliberately boycott these things; I just lack the intrigue to try them. For instance, I only started watching "Sex and the City" after it was off the air. I only became interested in reading the "Da Vinci Code" after the movie was out and the TV stations had found something else to talk about. I still haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, and I can't remember which of these movies I have seen...

This has also been the case for me regarding yoga. All I remember about the yoga trend when it first came out is Madonna talking about the wonders it had done for her 50+ year old body. (Everything I said above about fads is tripled when applied to celebrity-endorsed ones.) So for years, many years, I have resisted the thought of even stepping into a yoga studio.

Besides, I thought, I am the type of person who listens to techno music and goes for a run to release stress. How could I ever benefit from breathing exercises and poses? It wasn't for me. I was sure of it.

And then the last three years happened- when life has felt more out of my control than I have ever thought it could feel, especially being the control freak that I am. In every area of my life, I found myself repeating, "There is a reason for this," "Everything has its purpose and time," "Che sara sara" and every other saying, advice and/or mantra that more eloquently expresses: "What the hell is happening???"

I still went for runs during this phase, a necessary physical and mental exercise for me, and it certainly relieves the anxiety that seems to boil and get bottled up  from sitting down for eight hours of the day. However, running hasn't done much for me feeling like, "The mess is OK."

This probably isn't how yoga is traditionally advertised either, but the more I talked to my friends about their own love affairs with the practice, the more I got that sense. Yoga makes you focus on the present and makes you at peace with whatever is going on in your life. So for me, that equates to learning to live at peace amid the chaos, as opposed to trying to fix it, which has been my strategy for the last 31 years.

So I put prejudices and judgements aside. I gritted my teeth and put on the yoga pants that I had begrudgingly bought awhile back (as all sportswear has somehow been labelled "Yoga-wear"), and I held my tongue as I told people where I was heading that night. And then I stepped into a dimly lit, but beautiful studio with high, ornate ceilings, wooden floors and bay windows.

Stroga Studio. Photo Credit: Welcome DC

As it turns out,Yoga wasn't about sitting crossed legged like a lotus and breathing. It was constant movement, pushing your body to explore different positions and testing your own strength, flexibility, posture and endurance. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I had shaped myself into positions I still don't quite understand. I was melting into a river of sweat, the likes of which I only see after an hour + run, and I realized that for 75 blissful minutes, my world stopped. My only concern had been the form of my body. And at the end of that one hour timeout, I suppose, like any vacation, I did feel... peaceful. Who knew?

I guess Madonna was right.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Outfields for Operas and Trucks for Food: My week in D.C.

I thought I'd take a little break from postcards to get back to talking about the city I am living in and my, perhaps overly ambitious, list of 365 things to do in D.C.

This week, I have done quite well in exploring unchartered venues. My week of new adventures began with an $11 (!?!?!) imperial stout, a cask ale if you will, at Churchkey. Cask ales are unfiltered, unpasteurized beers and are served closer to room temperature. This old school way of making beer is still quite popular in Britain and is starting to make its way to the U.S.

Imperial Stout (foreground); its friends (background)

I also went to the Nationals Baseball Stadium for the first time, but not for the obvious reason. Instead, I went for "Opera in the Outfield," a simulcast of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. As bizarre a combination as opera and baseball is and as weird as it was to stand up for the national anthem before the first Act and to have t-shirts flung out to the crowd during intermission, I did enjoy being outside, sitting in the grass, on the beautiful day that it was, all the while listening to Italian opera. (did anyone else notice that I am not doing so well in the "For Sport" category of my list?)

Not your typical sight at a Baseball Stadium

A couple nights ago, I ventured to Cleveland Park's Cacao for a Parisian macaron. To my grave disappointment both the lavender and the pistachio macarons were out, so I got a banana and an Ecuadorian chocolate one-  which as a combination somewhat made up for the lack of my first two choices.
Going out for cereal

For the first time in my life, I went out for cereal, and to do this, I went to the appropriately named The Cereal Bowl. I actually couldn't bring myself to purchase plain, cold cereal (I have that at home every day). So I bought frozen yogurt with cereal topping, really just an excuse to have Lucky Charms. (I am WAY too old to buy a box of that now, at least without the excuse of giving it to my child or something). However, I will say that a serious oversight in their fairly sizable array of cereals is the omission of Count Chocula cereal. (That cereal I WOULD buy at the store, no matter my age... if I didn't care about things like my "health.")

My Illy
Although it would have made sense, I did not get coffee along with my cereal, but the next day, I did go to the Illy Caffe at the corner of New Hampshire and M streets. Illy always draws me to it, like a cartoon led by its nose following visible aroma waves. My coffee sensor led me here on Wednesday, and I was pleasantly pleased by the cappuccino. It is terribly hard to recreate Italian cappuccini outside of Italy- even the water plays into making coffee taste like it does there and not like it does here. However, the Illy cappuccino (at about half the price of Starbucks to boot!) was lovely all the same. I was also amused by the "qua" and "la" prices, a bit like the al banco v. alla tavola prices in Italy. Except, interestingly, Qua (here/for here) is less expensive than La (there/to go) whereas to sit with your cappuccino in a Roman bar will cost you more than to take it, essentially as a shot, at the bar (i.e. their version of "to-go").

R.F.D was another spot that I crossed off my list this week. I can't say that I am a fan of this place, but I did find a tasty hefeweizen there, which I think was of the Harpoon variety. I would perhaps venture back there to try Founder's Breakfast Stout though which, had I known it was on the menu, I would have had in the first place.

And today, I took a brave lunge into DC mega-craze, the food truck phenomenon. It has perplexed me that this trend has had such a following; there are maps, blog posts, twitter discussions etc. all centered on where, when and what food trucks would materialize in any given area of the city. Really? Are these not glorified hot dog stands with day-old food and questionable sanitary records? Well in fact, no (at least I hope not on the sanitary front). These are elaborate meals with side dishes, sauces and other flairs that are a far cry from a boiled piece of meat on two slabs of bread. I happened to go to a Korean food truck (Yellow Vendor Bulgogi Truck) and had the only vegetarian option offered, Bibimbap, which was really quite good, especially the kimchee! I intend to go on about kimchee in another post though, so i will leave it at that for now...
Bibimbap from the Yellow Food Truck

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Postcard from Jessica in Santa Monica!

Why visit Santa Monica?
As Jessica writes, you can see gorgeous sunsets at any time of the year. With an average of 310 days of sunshine a year, Santa Monica has beautiful days as well as dusks. Santa Monica is located in western Los Angeles county in the southern part of California. It has a Mediterranean type climate with low temperatures hovering around 63 degrees F (17C) in January and high temperatures usually no more than the mid-80s (around 30C) in the summer. So it is not surprising that Santa Monica is known for its beaches.

Along those lines, it is interesting to note that Santa Monica is home to the Original "Muscle Beach." Since the 1930s, the beach just south of Santa Monica Pier has offered workout areas that became popular in the bodybuilding world. Many famous bodybuilders, and actors alike, trained on the workout equipment found at this beach. The workout craze that hit the nation was said to have started here, attributing Muscle Beach as the "Birthplace of the Physical Fitness Boom of the Twentieth Century." Although this area still offers workout and gymnastic equipment, the weightlifting and bodybuilding competitions moved to Venice, California (i.e. Muscle Beach Venice).

Santa Monica is also famous for its Pier, the site of an arcade, an aquarium, street performers and a multitude of rides like the Carousel and a nine-story Ferris Wheel, which incidentally is solar-powered (the only one in the world).

So if you always pictured California as a place for sun and fun, it sounds like Santa Monica with its 310 days of sunshine and its amusement park pier is what you are looking for!

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, September 20, 2010

A Postcard from me to all of you!

I thought it was only fair to follow my own lead. Therefore, since I had asked all of you to send me a postcard from the city in which you are living or from where you originate, I thought I should do the same.

And to prove that it is my intention is to highlight ANY city (not just the exotic ones), my postcard is not from the international and glamorous cities that I have lived in, such as Rome, Paris, Leipzig or Frankfurt; it is not even from the very cool domestic cities I have lived in like Chicago or Atlanta. In fact, I can't even claim Baltimore as my own as I have technically always lived in the suburbs... So here is my postcard of super hip, world famous, the-next-Hollywood: Lutherville, Maryland- all 7.4 square miles of it!

I have to say that in the 31 years before this project, I have not cared (nor been forced) to research the history of this town. So I didn't really know where to look, but I should have known that, these days, all things large and small have web pages. So from, I found the following, somewhat interesting pieces of information:

Lutherville was purchased in 1852 by two ministers, and it was originally intended as the spot for a seminary. The subsequent town that sprung up was named after Martin Luther (makes sense), the founder of the Lutheran church.  As of the last census, Lutherville had a population of 15,814. (Well, perhaps 15,813 as I no longer live there).

Yet, in spite of our tiny numbers, we have had an impressive list of locally and nationally famous people inhabit it. John Waters, the film director of "Hairspray" and other movies, grew up in Lutherville. Astronaut/physicist, Samuel Durrance, who flew aboard two NASA Space Shuttle missions lived in Lutherville, as did Johnny Unitas, football player on Baltimore's former football team, The Colts, and several Orioles Baseball players, such as Raphael Palmeiro, Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer.
Not so shabby for a town of 15,000.

Our demographics are a bit slanted with 90% of the town being white. The average family size of Lutherville is 2.86, and, upsettingly, the median income of men in this town is $17,000 higher than that of females.

One thing that I have always found genuinely interesting (I am being serious here) about Lutherville is that there is an Octagon-shaped house in the historic part of town. Apparently, the mid-19th century saw a surge of "exotic" architecture, including octagonal houses. Orson Squire Fowler, the one who popularized octagonal houses in the day, extolled the virtues of this type of structure, stating that it was the "pathway to healthier living." I didn't find anything explaining why this particular house was shaped as an octagon and whether it was linked to a desire for a healthy life, but I did find out that the local postmaster lived there... I don't think the two facts are related.

So in sum: Martin Luther, the 19th century "feng shui" and NASA astronauts were all connected to my little town, and I never knew it.

Intrigued about what town might hold? Find out and Send me a postcard!

N.B. Anything unique to your city will do: a weird billboard, an exceptionally large tree, a special food (like berger cookies in Baltimore), a particularly good local beer etc. Creative postcards welcome!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Postcard from Cory at the Maryland State Fair!

What is a State Fair, and why should I go to one?
State Fairs have a long history in the United States. Tied to its agricultural roots, it was a place to show off one's prize crops and livestock. The earliest fair in the U.S. dates to 1841 in Syracuse, NY. Maryland's own State Fair history began in Lutherville, MD in 1878. However, the Maryland State Fair has had a volatile past and has almost died out multiple times due to various obstacles- such as a train tracks laid down on the grounds where it was held, competition from other fairs, the war effort and a near sale of the grounds by the majority stockholder.

Oxen competition, home arts, farm and garden products, and livestock shows used to be the primary attractions of this fair, a tradition that the current fair has maintained with its flower and crop competitions and its livestock area, where you can milk cows and witness the birth of animals (such as pigs as seen in the postcard above). Horse races were also part of the State Fair tradition, but in that day in age, carreir pigeons would transport the results to interested parties in Baltimore and Alexandria.

Food concessions have also evolved from sandwiches made by the farmers’ wives to hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, cotton candy and other modern fair-type foods.

Over half a million visitors attend the Maryland State Fair every year. Like drive-in theaters, State Fairs mark a part of the United States's tradition and culture.

Want to visit? The Maryland State Fair generally takes place at the end of August/beginning September, in the 11 days before Labor Day with the last day on Labor Day Monday.

To see what State Fairs were like back in the day, visit Time: A Brief History of State Fairs.

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!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Postcard from Sudan!

About Sudan
If you have read about Sudan in the news in recent times, it has not likely been in the tourism section of the newspaper. However, this country, the largest in Africa, is home to 41.1 million people and thousands of aid workers. Sudan is situated just south of Egypt and along the banks of Red Sea and the Nile.

The picture above is of the Blue Nile just outside of Sudan's capital city, Khartoum. Khartoum is the meeting point for the Blue Nile and the White Nile, two tributaries to the River Nile. The Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia and flows 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) to Khartoum, where it joins with the White Nile to form the River Nile, a north flowing river and Egypt's lifeline since ancient times.

The White Nile is called as such from the whitish clay suspended in its waters making it have a greenish color. Whereas the Blue Nile is so-called because the water is indeed bluer or blacker than the White Nile. There are various explanations for the cause for this blue-black color: owing either to high currents or to the blackish sediment that the water carries. This picture from BBC says more than words can.

At the moment, it is not really the right time to visit Sudan as a tourist, but like any place, you can find immense beauty when you open your eyes to it.

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!)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Postcard from Mexico City!

About Mexico City
Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Americas, and it is in the top 5 largest cities in the world. It is the capital, largest city and financial center of Mexico. Though not as densely populated as Shanghai or Mumbai, Mexico City is generally within the top 25 most densely populated cities in the world.

As Santiago points out, this massive urbanization has taken a toll on nature and wildlife in the area. As Wikipedia puts it:

Urbanization has had a serious negative effect on the city's environment. Pollution, dwindling water supply and poor air quality have been some of the city's largest problems improved in recent years by regulating the circulation and renovating the vehicle park. Many factors such as industrial growth and a demographic boom (from 3 million in 1950 to some 20 million in the metropolitan area today) have contributed to this situation. More than 3.5 million vehicles are now in the city streets.

However, Mexico is still home to many diverse species and wildlife, with 30% of its territory covered in forests. Monarch butterflies migrate south from Canada and the United States every year, and organizations like the World Wildlife Fund are ensuring that they, and other native species like the Puma and black bear, maintain their habitat despite population growth and urban sprawl.

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.


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