Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Foliage

We had a bit of snow over the weekend, super early by Washington standards but fortunately not enough to stick around for long.  The inconvenience was minor: no schedules to be rearranged around school closures or delays, and with no place really we had to be, it was a good time to stay home, nap, watch movies, and enjoy grilled cheese and soup.

The sun is back out again, reminding us of the glory of an East Coast fall.   Recently I had occasion to drive out towards the Blue Ridge where fall colors really rule.  But though I had my camera with me, rainy skies and pressing appointments kept me from taking any pictures.  Still the reds and yellows around my neighborhood are quite lovely, a sight I missed during my Paris years where the leaves seem to go straight from green to brown to gone.

P.S.  Happy Halloween to all you ghosts and ghouls.

Friday, October 28, 2011

DC vs. Paris: Part IV

My blogging has been somewhat erratic lately as I try to adjust to being a fulltime member of the paid labor force after a four-year hiatus.   (And since I actually got a real bona fide paycheck this week, I can say that with pride.)  In fact, the going to work part feels very natural, the right thing to do as part of my DC life.  The tricky part is figuring out how to balance out all the other aspects of my life around my work schedule.  I've still got two kids to take care of (even though they mostly pretend like they don't need me), a husband to pay attention to, and a household to look after.  Then there's exercise, reading, and what else?  Oh yes, blogging.

With that aside, I return to the series, DC vs. Paris, and bring you these pendant images of mailboxes:
The sad truth is one rarely gets any "real" mail anymore.  I scarcely go to the mail box myself except to mail a bill or an official form or the occasional birthday card.  And the mail that comes in through the slot in my front door is a sad collection of catalogs, bank statements, and real estate flyers.  The weekly letters I used to get from home?  Gone with the wind like my parents.  Fortunately, I have stacks and stacks of those letters stashed away, ones written to me at camp, at college, and while living my adult life away from my home.  When I pull them out, my dad's typewritten notes and my mom's lovely penmanship on her light blue stationery can make me smile or bring me to tears.  And when is the last time an e-mail did that?

So maybe I should sit down and write a letter:  to my sister, my college roommate, my friends in France.  Sounds like a good idea.  But maybe another time.  Right now?  I have to go to work.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunday Morning

If only that shoe could talk.  It must have been one hell of a Saturday night.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cathedral Cataclysm

For those of you who scoffed at the earthquake that rocked the East Coast back in August, let me give you a little reality check. The Washington Monument is still closed. The National Cathedral, despite having hosted a high profile memorial service on September 11th, is also out of bounds to visitors with plans to reopen sometime in November. We're not talking Haiti here or even San Francisco. Much of the damage is only visible to the experts. But damage to the cathedral's Gothic pinnacles is (or I should say was because the repair work has progressed considerably since I took these pictures in early October) very much in evidence.

Although the technology is 21st century, I can't help conjuring up Ken Follett's Pillars of Earth with its vivid descriptions of how early Gothic cathedrals were built, the experimentation, and the tragedies that happened along the way.  I'm pretty sure that today's engineers have a better understanding of structural physics as well as more sophisticated technology to keep everything in place while the stone masons do their thing.  And yet, tinkering with a massive hunk of stone is not for the faint of heart.  Nor for the faint of pocket.  The repair bills are in the multi millions. 

Want to know more?  Check out this fascinating Washington Post feature on the damage and techniques for repair.  Really interesting even if you're not an engineer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

DC vs. Paris: Part III

I spotted this sign the weekend we returned to Washington after four years of dodging the poop-mined sidewalks of Paris, a blot if there ever was one on the otherwise beautiful City of Light.

Now, just to give the French their due, there are signs and public education campaigns galore to persuade and shame dog owners into the act of poop scooping. I give you Exhibit A (which translates as "I love my neighborhood. I pick up."):

Sigh. None of it works. Parisians seem simply programmed to ignore the admonitions. Are Americans truly more community minded or simply unable to withstand the social stigma of getting caught letting their dogs do their business in public? If you know of any doctoral students in sociology in need of a thesis topic, point them my way.

Monday, October 17, 2011


With Halloween just two weeks away, America's children are giddy with the excitement about costumes and candy.  (Although let's face it, the costumes are fun but it's really about the candy.)   My kids are old enough that they have to manage their own get ups (and actually one is past the point of trick or treating altogether), a welcome relief from the days when they changed their minds almost hourly, well often enough that I would have to set a deadline beyond which there would be no more runs to the thrift store and dime store, when the glue gun and sewing machine would be off limits.

Meanwhile in the supermarket, it's all candy all the time. Regrettably, I have already eaten more than my fair share of candy corn.

And in the neighborhoods, the displays get ever more elaborate as the years go by.  It used to be that there might be one house on the block that went all out Halloween night by creating a spook house; otherwise, a pumpkin on the front steps pretty much signaled your holiday spirit.  But these days, folks are going all out from the cutesy harvest figures to some genuinely scary stuff.

It all starts out fairly tame.

Even Frankenstein here seems more adorably goofy than frightening.

Still more whimsical than scary.

But then things take a darker turn.

And finally one that would really scare the bejeezus out of some four year old princess or firefighter:

Trick or treat?  At your own peril.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, DC Style

The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, which has spread across the country, can be found in its DC version at Freedom Plaza, a blocklong stretch of stone on Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, NW.  Although it's not far from the White House and has clear sight lines to the U.S. Capitol, the site itself is in a kind of no-man's land.  On the one hand, it's opposite the District Building, DC's city hall but the protestors' grievances don't seem to be the kind that the mayor or city council could do much about.

I'm sympathetic to the protestors' concerns about corporate greed, the growing gap between rich and poor, and a national public policy process that seems to favor slogans over thoughtful decisionmaking.  On the other hand, my impression is that their messages seem to garbled to really be heard.  What's really need is a unified message followed by unified action only that's not what a grassroots run protest is likely to generate.

Last I read, the protestors were in negotiation with the U.S. Park Service (which has jurisdiction over the parcel of land -- like many other parcels in this federal city) about the terms of their continued stay.   I wish them good weather and continued courage in exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.  And that's what democracy is all about.

Friday, October 14, 2011

DC vs. Paris: Part II

People gripe plenty about public transportation in both DC and Paris.  The trains are too crowded, they're running too slow, the announcements are inaudible, they fall to pieces at the least change in the weather.  Whatever.  Despite all the problems, I can't imagine myself without it.  I'm just not cut out to live in the suburbs and spend hours in my car, much of the time stuck in traffic. 

The Metro system in DC only dates to the late 1970s (some to the 1980s) and it is built deep underground with crazy long escalators and Washingtonians, impatient sorts that we are, rarely just ride all the way down or up. (A hint to you tourists:  ride on the right, walk on the left.)

By contrast, the Parisian Metro, much of it dating to the turn of the 20th century, lies just beneath the streets.  There are always stairs, rarely escalators, a sore spot for the disabled, the stroller set, and anyone with a suitcase.

Different?  Not so much.  When I arrived at my destination this week, lugging a rolling suitcase with books and files destined for my new office, what did I confront but a broken escalator.  It was Paris all over again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Little Memorial to a Big Man

Americans aren't known for being understated thus it is all the more remarkable that one of our nation's greatest presidents (and truly one of the great leaders in global history), Franklin D. Roosevelt asked that any monument to him be no larger than his desk.  Specifically in September 1941, he instructed Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter:

If any memorial is erected to me, I know exactly what I should like it to be. I should like it consist of a block about the size of this (putting his hand on his desk) and placed in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives building.  I don't care what it is made of, whether limestone or granite or whatnot, but I want it plain without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, "in memory of ___________."

FDR's friends and relatives made good on his wishes some 20 years after his death.   But the American people couldn't leave well enough alone, particularly as the National Mall began to fill up with other symbols and places to commemorate both ordinary Americans and national leaders.  The FDR Memorial, dedicated in 1997, now occupies some 7.5 acres of West Potomac Park, just off the Tidal Basin, and perhaps a bit of a hike for the average tourist.  While I like the new version (and hope to blog more about it at some point), happily the original memorial remains in place by the Archives just as FDR imagined.

Monday, October 10, 2011

DC vs. Paris: Part I in a Series

If you've never happened upon the blog Paris versus New York, you definitely need to check it out.  It gets major points for its clever juxtapositions and for the stylish graphics.  Since my own artistic abilities never got much past the crayon and paste stage, I've decided to borrow the concept with a decidely less sophisticated approach.

Today's post is the first in a series of images that reflect the differences between DC and Paris.  I'm not choosing sides, just showing the myriad little snippets of life that make my life past and present so different.  Fortunately, I've got a large unused trove of pictures snapped on the streets of Paris and the streets of DC beckoning to be captured.

So without further ado, I bring you DC:

And Paris:

Cupcakes have taken DC by storm with specialized bakeries popping up all over town, often sporting lines out the door.  Most carry a pretty hefty price tag.  Not so, these beauties which I found in the bakery case in one of the many vendors at Eastern Market.  Carrot cake has always been my favorite.  But I have a weakness for those French fruit tarts as well.  Decisions, decisions.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wine for the Teetotaler

What would I do without the supermarket?  At home and away, I can always find something amusing.  Today's feature is an array of premium grape juices; if you can't read the labels, the purple is merlot and the red is cabernet.  I could have taken pictures of the chardonnay and syrah as well but I think you get the picture.  Top billing is for antioxidant properties, secondary billing for the snob factor.  I can hear the French clucking all the way from here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deal or No Deal

I couldn't resist snapping a photo (albeit one slightly out of focus) of this ridiculous sign in the supermarket.  If it's normally $2.99, how is getting two for $6 a deal?  You actually pay for the privilege, it seems to me.

The forecast for the rest of the week is amazing; we will finally be getting the weather we normally get in September, last month getting kudos only for sogginess.  (Apparently mold spores were up 75 percent.)  As I have little on my plate for the next few days, I plan to be out and about, poking around Washington neighborhoods for tidbits to share here.  Since I will be starting a full time job next week, I'm hoping to stock up enough photos and stories to keep this blog going while I adjust to my new schedule.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Apples for the New Year

Thursday marked Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a season in which you are supposed to reflect on your behavior over the past year and rejoice with family and friends over apples and honey.   It's a time of year in which I feel connected with my people and my past, remembering the Rosh Hashanahs of my childhood.  But what to do after synagogue in the morning?  It's a bit of quandary, particularly for those of us who don't have a large contingent of relatives close by.   You can't very well send the kids back to school but somehow sitting around the house doing nothing special nothing special.

This year I took a page from the book of friend whose new family tradition for Rosh Hashanah is to go apple picking.  There are a handful of orchards within an hour's drive of our home in DC and on a fine September afternoon, it really was just the ticket.  In addition to a bucket full of apples, perfect for dipping in honey and delicious for dessert in the form of apple crisp, we also scored the last of the season's tomatoes.  There were pumpkins and gourds aplenty including some varieties I'd never seen before although I'll wait a few weeks before buying my Halloween pumpkin or decorative gourds for our Thanksgiving table.  And until then, I wish you all a sweet new year.