Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More American Than Apple Pie

The grass was my favorite thing, along with the Capitol over to the left.

I hope you all had a great Memorial Day, or, if you're not from the US, some kind of bank holiday that involves sleeping in and over indulging in food. I spent my Memorial Day at the ballpark for my first ever baseball game, as the Phillies took on the Washington Nationals. And by "took on" I mean "whooped." In fact, it was my first ever real sporting event of any kind, to be honest. I can hear your gasp from over here. I've just never really been that into sports, or baseball in particular. It's okay though, because I really like pie.

Nationals' pitcher Livan Hernendez, who, unlike the relief pitchers, did not walk every player, losing the game.

Until yesterday, my knowledge of baseball was almost entirely sartorial: baseball caps, cleats, uh, protective gear, that kind of thing. I was scantly aware of the practice of tobacco spitting. I knew the phrases "home run," "three strikes, you're out," and "bottom of the ninth." In other words, I once watched Major League.

I am told that this guy, Halladay, the pitcher for the Phillies, is dreamy, but my camera was all out of focus, so I couldn't get a good picture of him for my friend. I did get this kinda dorky one though.

So you might be wondering what a complete novice, baseball virgin, raised-under-a-rock person, such as myself, thought about my first day at the park. My overwhelming impression was: So! Much! America!

The Presidents' Race, a feature of Nats games, in which Teddy always loses.
I'm sure part of it had to do with the fact that it was Memorial Day, and the Washington Nationals, after all, but there was bunting, military families on the jumbotron, and the National Anthem, and God Bless America, AND Toby Keith. But before I get comments or emails that I'm an un-American, bleeding-heart liberal, east coast intellectual, etc., let me just say, I am not.... that first thing. But I approached the game as I do everything, really, with a great deal of skepticism and an analytical eye. And sometimes, the amalgamation of America, God, baseball, country music, and Miller Lite just seems really very performative.

Dramatic picture of this guy running for second.

But despite all the skepticism that thickly coats my skin--unlike the low-grade SPF I was wearing--I have to admit, I...enjoyed the game. I kind of got into it. I clapped and cheered when the Nats scored. I, however, did not boo (unlike many in the stadium) when the Phillies scored. For one reason, my sometimes concert-buddy and now baseball-buddy is from Philly, and, had I booed, she would have bludgeoned me with her far-superior cheesesteaks. Plus, it seems mean-spirited to boo when the other team does well. I'm glad no one shows up at my job and boos whenever I write a good paper or insults my mother when I get rejected from another publication.

Right field. ('Cause I know the difference.)

So, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed when my team was winning. I enjoyed it when my friend's team won. I enjoyed my hot dog, and the Presidents' Race, and tearing up at the Memorial Day Musical Montage, and being on the Jumbotron. And even the sunburn. But not the Toby Keith.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

(Not So) Daily (Cathedral) Photo

A few years ago, my mother, as often happens with mothers of young women, was struggling to understand who I was. What motivated me? Why was I so different? So different. Why, in God's name, would I want to move half-way around the world to spend months in a country that didn't even speak the same language? I inherited a lot from my mother, and wanderlust was part of that, but she didn't understand the move part--why so far, why so long, why France of all places. It was, after all, early 2002 when I broke the news to her that I'd be studying in France for a semester, and she couldn't imagine why I'd want to leave the country at all. (France had not yet been vilified in American media.)

For Mother's Day that year I bought her a copy of one of my favorite books, Without Reservations, by Alice Steinbach, the travel memoirs of Baltimore journalist who travels the world trying to remember who she was before she was a(n ex)wife and mother. It sounds a little clichéd now, after so many of these books have flooded the shelves, but it really struck a chord with me in my early 20s when I thought that my truest self must be wondering around somewhere lost in the labyrinth of Paris. Before I gave it to her, I went through the book with a stack of Post-its, leaving comments and stories (sometimes many Post-its long) throughout the book.

My mother loved the book, and she finally understood why I craved something so far away. One of her favorite passages recounts Steinbach's visits to Sainte-Chappelle, where she goes to "stand in the light," broken into colors by the walls of nearly-solid stained glass. I don't think it had ever crossed my mother's mind to visit Europe; it was something so different from anything she had ever imagined being possible for her. But her imagination was enlivened by that book, and the fact that I had those possibilities made her immensely proud. What she didn't know was that one of my sisters was already planning to fly them both over to meet me in Paris when my semester was done.

Nearly a year later, my mother was standing in Sainte-Chappelle, so far away from everything she had ever known in rural Mississippi. As her eyes reddened, watered, and spilled over, she whispered, "I'm standing in the light." That was one of the most sacred moments in my life, and I probably hadn't thought of it in years, until I saw the light of the rose window breaking into color and falling across the columns of the National Cathedral.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Views from the Top

Now you can see the view from the top of the National Cathedral without having to climb to the 333 steps. This shot shows the buildings of Rosslyn in the foreground, the Air Force Memorial in the middle distance, and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Live in Glass and Live in Stone

I'm straight back from a trip down South, where internet can be a bit sketchy, preventing frequent updates. If you're interested in what's been going on sense my last post, you can check out a few shots from Mississippi and Louisiana. But right before I went away, I climbed to the top of the National Cathedral. As promised before, there will be a few more shots coming up. If you'd like a soundtrack with the pictures, I'd suggest Age of the Cathedrals/Le temp des cathédrals from Notre Dame de Paris for Bruno Pelletier's soaring vocals and a particularly appropriate line: "For man just has to climb up where the stars are and live beyond life, live in glass and live in stone."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Light and Shadow in the National Cathedral

Yesterday, I went with a buddy of mine (Hey, buddy!) to climb to the top of the National Cathedral. I took a million and a half pictures, so you're likely to see a few more in the days ahead, especially since I won't actually be in DC much for the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Kennedy Center, from the Bank of the Potomac

On nice days any old excuse will do to get together with friends and just wonder around the city. Last weekend we made it to almost every square inch of Georgetown before walking down to the Waterfront and along the bank of the river. This may not be the most spectacular photo I've ever taken, but it's a nice reminder of good times with great friends and the ease of a few moments in the shade.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

PAUL Comes to DC

Americans always sound pretentious when we say things like "one of my favorite places in Paris," but please bear with me. One of my favorite places in Paris is Rue de Buci. It's charming and unapologetically touristy, sitting right in the middle of the warren of St. Germaine streets. Practically every other shop is a boulangerie-patisserie. One of my favorites is Le Bonbonniere, which is so tiny it could fit in my DC bedroom, but it has the feel of a neighborhood shop where families stop in on Sunday mornings to pick out their charlotte or tarte tatin for the evening. Right down the street is Carton, which has some of the best bread in Paris--a thin, crunchy layer on the outside with a soft, chewy center. For some reason, I always tended to walk in just as the owner was riding up on his motorcycle and pulling off his helmet. He'd inevitably tease by asking complicated questions, knowing full well that I couldn't speak French and had only mastered the art of asking for une demi baguette, s'il vous plait. Then there's PAUL (always written like that), which some Parisians will tell you is the fast-food equivalent of patisseries. Stand in line, order your pain au chocolats, and move on. Be fast. Be efficient. Don't stumble over vocabulary or mumble to disguise your terrible accent. They'll just answer you in English anyway. Still, for a young American university student, PAUL was the best. Brisk, yes, but much more comfortable and affordable than the salon de thé at Ladureé, which was a once-on-my-student's-budget kind of experience.

Years and years and years later (though once again an American university student--How does this keep happening?), I still have a soft spot for PAUL. I crave their cappuccino and tiny herb-infused chocolates. When I heard they were coming to DC, I put it in my calendar. Finally, they opened yesterday to much fanfare and even a red carpet in the morning. By the afternoon, there weren't many pastries to choose from and those that were on offer weren't very French. I just want a real mille-feuille. Is that too much to ask? Also, I'd like to see a huge pyramid of pastel-colored macarons. I don't like them; I just want to look at them. Snobby, pretentious, sickening "This is nothing like PAUL on my favorite street in Paris" aside, the pastry, called a 3 Chocolat something or other was delicious, as was the mocha. And, I'll go back when they're up on their feet a little better, at least to buy some bread. At least they won't tease my French.

Monday, May 2, 2011

We Now Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Wow, it's been a really busy few weeks. Thanks, everyone, for your patience. I have a lot going on this summer, and there will be intermittent posts throughout at least part of May while I'm down south visiting the family.

But first, enjoy this shot of the NPR headquarters with literal and metaphorical black clouds looming above. When I was a kid, I didn't listen to NPR that much--I thought it was stuffy with all that classical music and serious news all the time. But I often set my radio alarm for NPR so that there was no chance of being awakened by boot-scootin', which was my only other option for radio in southern Mississippi. I remember one morning when the first words I heard were "the mating habits of the aboriginal dung beetles." That solidified by belief that NPR was just boring.

As I got older (and lazier), I'd leave the radio on for a few minutes while I fumbled around the room, waking up. The older I got, the longer the radio stayed on. Suddenly, I realized I was actually enjoying Wagner. I liked being informed about world events before I even had breakfast. I had never planted anything, but I knew I wanted perennials someday, if only because I liked the word, and I could totally change my own oil if I had to. NPR offered something for everyone--and still does. Now you can get everything from quiz shows to movie reviews to grown men discussing comic books. And it's been fun to watch NPR's popular image evolve from pipes and elbow patches to something much hipper. It's not just the realm of the cultural elite, but it provides valuable information, entertainment, and public services. NPR is a national treasure, and it deserves to be protected.

My two personal favorites are actually online (like the rest of my life): The Tiny Desk Concerts, where I find a lot of great new music, and Pop Culture Happy Hour, a hilarious weekly podcast conversation that has improved my life in every way. Really.