January 18, 2009
Saturday night, we all sat around and strategized about how best to get to the Lincoln Memorial the next day. Steven wanted to experience those “crush conditions” the Metro text alerts kept warning about. Allen and I debated bus stops. Brandi and I shook our heads every time the word Metro came up. We finally decided on two buses, one to Ballston and the next to Farrugut Square, and we went upstairs to lay out our layers for the next day.
Sunday morning, we went outside to catch the bus to Ballston, but we determined quickly that we had missed it (probably because I was still putting on two pairs of socks and my boots at the last minute).
It was every bit as cold as we expected it to be as we traipsed out to the Lincoln Memorial. The wait for security to search us was short, and we circled the Reflecting Pool until we found a spot just in front of one of the JumboTrons along the water. A reporter from Kansas City ambled past and asked Allen if he thought that Obama was the Antichrist. We shivered and huddled close together until the concert started, and when it did, it was a blur of ant-sized people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, singing and talking. We joked to each other, “I saw Steve Carell!” We couldn’t see any features of anyone. The Obamas were ants with two mini-ants sitting nearby. The whole concert was a long trail of ants. We froze, and we had a great time.
January 17, 2009
When we saw the first state trooper on the side of the railroad tracks, we thought it was a little strange. Shortly after that, we saw a second one and started to think about it. By the time we saw the third state trooper, the pieces fell in place.
“Maybe it’s for Obama’s train.” I said.
Right on cue, a short Amtrak train ambled past, patriotic valances draped over the end of the caboose. Allen and I whooped.
Moments later, we passed the Wilmington train station, where a small crowd was filing over a pedestrian bridge, leaving Obama’s whistle stop where he’d picked up Biden. We had only been a few minutes behind seeing both families.
We were on the road to Philadelphia, not to follow Lincoln’s journey to Washington like Obama, but to pick up Steven and Brandi from the airport there, so that they too could join the inaugural festivities in DC. Passing Obama’s train was a fitting start to the long weekend.
A few hours after our celebrity train sighting, we huddled outside in the freezing Philadelphia air theorizing about the weekend – the crowds, crush conditions in the Metro, how we’d dress ourselves to be better prepared for the weather – and waiting in line to tour Independence Hall. After only about half an hour in line, we all had plans about exactly how many layers of clothing we were going to need to put on for the concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.
The tour of Independence Hall was interesting, with 85% of the original structure still intact and the opportunity to go upstairs, which apparently isn’t always available. After the tour we crossed the street to the Liberty Bell. At each security checkpoint, we had to open our coats, and Steven fumbled with his buttons. (“Move to the side, sir!”)
I hadn’t been to Philadelphia since I was about 7 and my dad was stationed there. So while I know I’d been to the Liberty Bell as a child, it was still all new to me. I was fascinated to learn that the name Liberty Bell actually came from abolitionists, who held it up as a symbol for their cause. I took a picture of Allen “knocking” on the bell.
After the Liberty Bell, we bid adieu to Philadelphia and started our drive home. Once we were on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, we decided to do an informal survey of inaugural visitors by spotting license plates from all over the country. We saw at least 25 different states represented in that last hour of our drive!
For dinner, we went to Mei’s Asian Bistro, which was nearly empty, and enjoyed the calm before the storm of Inauguration.
July 13, 2008
Allen and I are wrapping up a long weekend in Greenwich and Long Island for a family visit (my mom’s side) and a wedding, respectively. And I’ve been told that certain family members keep checking my blog every morning to see if I have updated it. So here’s a little update: pictures! Of those family members.
Hi Uncle Scott!
I’m having a good time – no time to blog!
July 6, 2008
The time since we touched ground in the U.S. sped by – five days we’ve been back! July 1 was our marathon house hunt, and we continued it on July 2. We saw fewer houses on Wednesday, and then we called a time-out until next week. There are some very promising places in Arlington, and some very, very disappointing ones as well. Not at all disappointing, however, was the delicious lunch we had at Stray Cat with Maria on Tuesday!
We also started sorting through the basement. There are obviously items that have been in boxes for a year, but what about the stuff that has been boxed up since we bought the house two years ago? And the stuff that we stored at the condo before that? We have things we haven’t seen for years. So we attacked the basement Clean Sweep-style. As we go through each box, we sort items into the Keep, Sell, or Toss piles. We added a fourth pile called Donate. Sell gets anything that it’s worth our time to try to sell, Donate gets the rest, unless something’s in really bad condition, in which case it ends up in Toss. So far our Donate and Keep piles and our pile of newly emptied boxes are about the same size. We took a load to the Salvation Army today, with 6-7 bags and boxes of clothing and shoes. We’ve actually made huge progress in the few days we’ve devoted to the project. Fortunately, Allen’s boss gave him Tuesday – Thursday off (with travel on Monday obviously, and the July 4th holiday on Friday), so neither of us has to go through the tedious sorting process alone.
Thursday we took a midday break to check out the Cardinal’s Nest, which opened a few months before we moved to Paris. We expected more of a cafe (read: smaller portions), but ended up stuffed. That was a bad thing because we had plans to meet Shari for dinner at Mandalay on Thursday. She’s the first friend we saw since returning – and other friends, you’ll have to forgive us, as we really wanted to get a lot done while Allen was off work and before I start my grad school class. We were determined to have the Thursday Special at Mandalay, and this was the only Thursday in July that we’d be able to manage it. So Shari wins! (Haha, not a contest.) Other than those two meals, we spent the rest of the day in the basement.
Friday was Independence Day! So we spent the majority of the day shackled down in the basement again. Are you getting tired of hearing that? We’re getting tired of doing it! But we left for Steph and Ryan’s house in the late afternoon to spend the 4th with them and to hang out with our 21-month-old niece. They outdid themselves with the cooking, making pasta salad from scratch, corn and black bean salsa/salad, and grilled salmon, hot dogs, and hamburgers. Yum! But did I mention the grilled CORN? Hallelujah, it must be America for there is CORN, GLORIOUS CORN! Okay, I loved French food, and I wouldn’t say no if you offered it to me right now, but wow, I enjoy an ear of fresh corn grilled to perfection. I also enjoy my adorable niece, who unpacked and repacked my purse about seven times, and who insisted on several rounds of Ring around the Rosie with Aunt Lauren and Tonton Allen. (And Ripley. She commanded him, “Ripley, fall down!” I have video evidence.) We ended the night watching Vantage Point, which turned out to be pretty interesting.
That brings us up to today. Allen and I had lunch with his boss John in Old Town Alexandria. It’s been so long since I’ve been there, and I was falling in love with the adorable townhouses again. Allen and I will have to make more of an effort to go there often. John sent us back with a homecoming present – six bottles of wine!
I’ll skip the boring parts where we - you guessed it – worked on the basement and did a few other things. Jenna is staying with us this month, and she got home around 7 pm. It was our first night to actually talk to her (she’s been with us since Wednesday, and I’ve talked to her a few minutes each day, but I didn’t actually see her in the light until Friday!), and we forced her to go grocery shopping with us. She had a huge grease stain on her pants and smelled of barbeque from working on the Mall all day at a barbeque place (at the Folklife Festival), and she still managed to pick up a guy in the line at the grocery store. But she spurned his advances. (And – is anyone from my old school reading this? – we ran into Tavon and his mother! I about died.) When we got home, I cooked dinner with Allen’s help (particularly cleaning – I love our kitchen teamwork since it means I don’t have to wash dishes!), and we had a spinach and artichoke ring (thank you, Pampered Chef!), and I made a crust for an ice cream pie (to be constructed – and eaten – tomorrow) and prepared the ingredients for cinnamon muffins in the morning. I knew I missed baking, but I didn’t realize how much! (This could be dangerous.) And speaking of that, it’s time to go to bed, so I can get up early and make those muffins! As Jack would say (hi! we miss you!), “Bonne nuitee!”
June 1, 2008
As usual, I’ll try to distract you from the lack of actual writing on my blog with fancy! shiny! pictures! You can see all our pictures from Montpellier (with a running commentary, of course) here. In the next few days, I’ll be trying to get up some stories from our Montpellier reunion 2008! But fortunately for me, Elizabeth is coming up for her last visit to Paris while we’re still here, so her arrival on Tuesday may mean that I need to venture back into the great outdoors, instead of putting my feet up and blogging. Isn’t life an adventure!
May 9, 2008
As usual, I’m behind with some goings-on. I’d like to share some pictures from the last days of Sarah’s visit, April 22 and 23. Fortunately I had hardly any work to do, so I got to bum around with her the entire time.
We began with the Jardin des Plantes, or Paris’ botanical gardens, which I hadn’t visited since 2001 when our tour bus dropped us off for a 15 minute look. My favorite part was the Jardin Alpin, a sunken garden with narrow paths and plantings everywhere. It was an intimate change from the well-planned and perfectly-laid gardens elsewhere in Paris. Entering the garden by passing through a tunnel added to the feeling that you’d discovered this gorgeous place.
It even had a little pond with goldfish.
Exiting the back of the Jardin des Plantes we skirted the Mosquee de Paris.
Then we wandered Rue Mouffetard, which feels medieval for its narrowness (and pedestrian-only designation in places).
We walked together to my tutoring (passing Allee du Seminaire, shown below).
Afterwards I ran into Sarah on the metro at Duroc! What a strange coincidence. We rounded out the night by having a drink with Antoine and Typhaine and strolling past Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame after dark.
The next day Sarah and I walked all over Haussmann’s creation. We tried to lunch at a Cameroonian restaurant (Sarah spent two years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon), but it was closed. We walked back from the far 11th to the Promenade Plantee, which was flowering beautifully (but the sky wasn’t playing along for photos). Then we searched for lunch elsewhere – at Rue de Rosiers, where everything was closed for Passover, at Marriage Freres where we got skittish about the price of a cup of tea, and finally at an Asian traiteur where we munched on roulades de printemps. In between we took a quick look at the ensignes (old signs that would hang over shops) and the Art Nouveau jewelry shop at Musee Carnavalet.
Next, we hopped on the metro and headed to the Champs-Elysees, home of another Laduree – and oh, the Arc de Triomphe and stuff. Whatever, back to the macarons. We admired the gorgeous lily-of-the-valley boxes for May.
And we gorged on macarons.
We also purchased what we liked to call “chocolate spaghetti” but which is actually a Mont Blanc. We held onto it for later. Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower, and the weather was suddenly clear and beautiful for perfect Parisian pictures.
After our little photo shoot (I think I said to Sarah, “After you’ve satisfied yourself with the Eiffel Tower” and then we were both like, “Ummmm…” Okay, who am I kidding – we laughed like American tourists.), we took the RER home and picked up Allen for dinner. We were concerned, however, that we hadn’t had enough desserts in one day. Oh no, that wasn’t it. We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get Berthillon after dinner, and it was Sarah’s last day. So we stopped for ice cream first. Sadly, Berthillon itself was closed (school holidays), so our choices were slightly more limited. I got pineapple and caramel.
Then we climbed the hill towards the Pantheon, and more importantly L’Ecurie. We ate our ridiculously cheap (17 euros for entree, plat, dessert, plus a free glass of sangria with the menu and free glass of cognac with the bill) three course dinner in the dank (and intimate!) cellars of L’Ecurie, including another dessert of course. (Sadly, the chocolate mousse was not as good as the creme caramel, which they hadn’t made enough of that day.) The cognac burned us up inside, but we were pretty glad for that trou. (A digestif is sometimes called a trou, which means hole, because it burns right through what’s already in your stomach, and you can eat more! Or not feel fit to burst.) Why were we so glad? We still had the chocolate spaghetti from Laduree at home!
Sadly, the chocolate spaghetti was a horrible disappointment. As Allen and Sarah will attest, I was really hoping it would be chewy. Instead it was…I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m terrible at identifying tastes. But it was a little soggy and mushy. The only redeeming portion was the meringue underneath. We threw away a good part of the most expensive pastry I’ve ever paid for half of. Boo. And boo too that we said goodbye to Sarah in the morning. We’ll always have Paris…
April 24, 2008
Five years and some months ago, I applied for a job with an educational research firm in the District of Columbia, hoping to put my linguistics minor to use. One of the questions from my interview was: Where do you see yourself in five years?
This might be a question I need to revisit, just for fun. Or for direction. But right now I’d just like to say that I never thought that the answer to that question would be: In Paris, with three of my coworkers from that job. Regina, Cate, and Sarah arrived on Monday, and that very night we went out to the Italian place (where else?). I remember a lot of chatter, topped off with tiramisu and panna cotta.
Tuesday (April 15) started well too, with some City Walking around the Marais. I left Regina and Cate to it while I went to tutoring (and Sarah was meeting with a French girl who took her to the Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche). Then we all met at the funicular at Sacre Coeur at 8 pm. Allen and I walked up to their small group, passing tourist after tourist trapped by Africans with friendship bracelets. Yet our friends remained unmolested. Sarah explained: one of the Africans had come up to her, and she told him, “I already did it.” That is the most awesome thing I’d ever heard. (It reminds me of Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail: “We’ve already got one!”) The guy challenged her, asking what it was. She responded nonchalantly, “You make a bracelet.” Snap!
We wandered down towards the Moulin Rouge, glad we were passing the seedier side of town while it was still light. (Hallelujah for it still being light at eight pm!) Then we went to dinner at Chez Toinette, where I had a lovely rack of lamb and our equally lovely guests treated us to our meal. (Sarah, Regina, Cate, you are as lovely as a rack of lamb.)
And that is just about when my week came to a screeching halt. I felt a little tickle in my throat and figured it was the wine. Then I tossed and turned all night with a fever. The next morning I rose early and went to babysit Noah. I told the parents how sorry I was that I had a fever and that I could leave if they wanted, but that I’d only developed it overnight and couldn’t let them know in advance. That was okay; Noah had a fever too. (Note: I do not believe it is a coincidence that Noah and I both got a fever the same night. I’d babysat him the Thursday and Friday previous.) Noah and I spent the morning on the couch starting blandly at Blue’s Clues. He was burning, and I was freezing. Then we both took a nap. My throat was killing me, but I had no white spots to betray strep. Finally, I went home, cancelled my babysitting/tutoring with Rafaela for later that day, and passed out with my fever.
That night, Regina and Cate came over and watched some TV with us. I stayed on the bed in a heap. (Sarah had gone to Luxembourg and Germany for the weekend.) The fever persisted, and I had another sleepless night. In the morning, the white spots had developed. The strep had announced itself.
April 13, 2008
On the last day of my brother’s visit – Sunday, March 23 – he and his friends had hit all the major attractions, so we turned to City Walks for entertainment. They narrowed the choices to two, and we decided we could do both. Then, in my usual overachieving spirit, I shuffled through the box and found another walk that was “on the way” (though really it was about a twenty-block round-trip detour). I took a quick poll: how far did we want to walk that day? Dave and Alan immediately voted for “around ten miles.” We were off.
But before we really took off, we needed fuel. Alan, Dave, and Megan hadn’t yet tried Berthillon ice cream. We swung by and came away with a quarter of the flavors Berthillon offers. Though I was disappointed (frankly, dismayed) that they did not have my beloved pear sorbet on the menu (or a new crush, turron ice cream), I was nonetheless pleased with my choices of praline aux pignons (pecan ice cream with pine nuts) and caramel gingembre (caramel ginger). Megan tasted an interesting raspberry sorbet made with rose water. Allen played it safe with classics coffee and raspberry. Dave and Alan were the bravest. Alan opted for caramel au beurre sale along with marrons glaces au rhum (candied chesnuts and rum). Dave chose agenaise, a mix of prunes and armagnac liquor, both specialities of the Agenaise region. When the French put alcohol in something you can taste it, as Alan and Dave learned.
With ice cream for lunch, we were fueled and ready to go. We set off on foot towards Palais Royal, my little detour. First we threaded our way through Galerie Vivienne, but since it was a Sunday the shops were all closed. Still, it was quiet and picturesque.
From Gallerie Vivienne, we found some back entrance to Palais Royal, which I never would have suspected without explicit City Walk directions. We paused for a quick photoshoot, in which Alan, Megan, and Dave took pictures of each other jumping. I think this is an ultimate thing. The trick, according to Dave, is to kick your legs up into the air so that it looks like you got maximum air. Allen and I declined to try it.
Exiting Palais Royal, we followed Rue de Rivoli down to Place de la Concorde and took a right on Rue Royale towards La Madeleine. It was time for macarons. (Of course we were going to Laduree!) We ordered a box of 15, each with three flavors to munch on, and then an amazing thing happened – we did not eat them immediately that very minute. Then I exercised severe restraint to not bring them up because Dave was on to me not being a very patient person when it comes to eating anything within reach immediately this very minute. (Oh look! A gaufre au miel! Nom nom nom nom…) But we soon reached the square Louis XVI, where some other wise person suggested eating our macarons. Hallelujah! Afterwards, Megan stomped on the box. It seemed like the right thing to do, she said. As long as there were no macarons in it, I was happy to let the box go to whatever fate awaited it, even stomping. Then, because we hadn’t done enough walking yet, we headed back to the metro and Bois de Boulogne.
From the metro La Muette, reaching Bois de Boulogne took at least twenty minutes. It involved a stop at one of the free toilet contraptions. Allen and I did not use it, but our touristing friends were more brave. Then onward! When we finally reached Bois de Boulogne, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I was thinking there would be more bois, like in Bois de Vincennes. But I suspect we were only at the periphery, so it didn’t exactly look like a nature walk. We did a circuit of the two lakes – the smaller Lac Superieur and the larger Lac Inferieur. (Who names these things?) The Lac Inferieur had a charming island with a little gazebo on one end. You can take a rowboat or ferry from the shore to the island and eat at a little restaurant there. But it was cold, and we’d been walking a long time, so we sat at a little snack bar instead with all the dogs, and we munched on warm French fries.
On the way back around the lake, we resisted Alan and Dave’s pleas to stop and throw a disk. Fortunately Megan was on our side, or Allen and I would have been revealed (like it’s a secret) for the lazy people that we are. We returned to the metro and went to dinner at our favorite Italian place, L’Epicerie Fuxia. (And to think that Alan and guests almost didn’t make it to the restaurant where we take all our guests, just so we can have an excuse to go there more often!) Once we’d filled our rumbling tummies with hot fresh Italian food (and some tiramisu and caramel panna cotta to boot), we returned to Ile Saint Louis, where we sent a contingent back to Berthillon. (Actually, we’d been debating our Berthillon purchase for hours, finally choosing a half liter of cherry sorbet and a half liter of caramel au beurre sale. And because I was panicked from not having seen pear on the a la carte scoop menu, I had to ask for and buy a half liter of pear sorbet as well. Then we sat in the apartment watching Flight of the Conchords and eating Berthillon to the point of sickness. Let no one say we don’t know how to treat our guests, particularly on their last night in Paris.
April 12, 2008
Allen always has a laugh when I go shopping with friends, particularly Catherine S., because when we come back from our shopping excursion I’ve got several bags in hand, and my shopping partner has a smaller bag from Bath & Body Works or something.
Shopping with Alan, Megan, and Dave on Saturday, March 22 was no exception. I force-marched them down Boulevard Saint-Germain to Mabillon, where we ducked into the Marche Saint-Germain. I found a long t-shirt at Mexx for 50% off and snapped it up. I decided I’d return there when I had some euros to burn (which seems now that it won’t be soon as my job situation is changing a little). Nobody else had much luck at the Marche Saint-Germain though, so we weren’t there long before we trudged on towards Rue de Rennes.
At Texto on Rue de Rennes, Megan didn’t find shoes as she hoped, but she did pick up some leggings. I, on the other hand, had more luck (again). I found a pair of dorky might-be-cute or might-be-ugly pair that I decided were quite stylish. They were 40 euros, so I debated if I wanted to spend $60 on them because I was using my American credit card this day. I gave in, thinking I’d slow my shopping the rest of the day if I got them. But when I got up to the front of the store, he rang them up as 20 euros and then gave me 20% off. So the shoes were just 16 euros, or $24. Totally worth it!
Alan saw a couple of pairs of shoes he liked in Etam, but they didn’t have his size in brown for either of them. Everyone’s strength was waning as it was past lunch time, but Megan and I stopped in Promod for a minute (where I found a graphic-print dress) before we all headed to Place du 18 Juin to find a bench and eat lunch. I bought a crepe as big as my head, with half a jar of Nutella and an entire banana in it. The crepe unfortunately got the better of me as I neared the end, and I ended up blowing snot out of my nose because I was laughing and trying to swallow a huge mouthful at the same time. Huge disaster. (Thank you for sharing, as we’d say at school.) Fortunately, my brother was holding a napkin, and there was more shopping to distract us from my nasal overload.
The guys hadn’t had as much opportunity to shop, so we went to Celio next. I think Dave came out empty-handed, but after trying on a lot of argyle sweaters, Alan ended up with a striped sweater and a red t-shirt (both deemed cool enough to wear under his suit jacket, since he’d forgotten to bring a regular coat). Megan later found a pair of flats at our last stop before she and the guys headed back to the apartment for a nap and preparation to go to the Moulin Rouge that night. I, on the other hand, had to babysit in a couple of hours, so I stayed at Montparnasse to shop a little more, but I didn’t end up making any other purchases.
April 11, 2008
All week I have been neglecting my brother. Well, not really neglecting him, since he does have an entourage. But kind of neglecting him. Alan, Megan, and Dave bought four-day museum passes. Having just run riot through Paris museums, and because there were three of them on this adventure, I didn’t make an effort to jump in as tour guide. (I did give them a Paris scavenger hunt to keep them sharp though!) Through some bad timing (mostly my own) on Tuesday, March 18, I only had a quick rendez-vous with them in the gardens of the Musee Rodin (unfortunately missing their journey through the sewers of Paris, as I ate lunch with Mimi instead). Then Wednesday, I couldn’t accompany them to Versailles because of work in the morning and afternoon. And Thursday, I tried to go to Saint Chapelle with them, but it and the Conciergerie were both closed because of either a strike or Easter preparations or a strike about Easter preparations. So I had breakfast with them and then stood in line at Notre Dame with them for about an hour in the freezing wind. (Did I mention that my brother forgot his jacket? He wore his suit jacket all week.)
So now it’s Friday, March 21, and I’m continuing to neglect him. But today it’s okay because he presented Megan with the big surprise: a proper follow-the-clues scavenger hunt throughout Paris. A series of about ten clues brought them around town with designated restaurants for lunch and dinner. (Lunch at Le Polidor turned out fabulously, while dinner at Cafe la Poste was a little stickier. The owners were having a private party but let Alan and Megan eat anyway – in a standing room only reception situation, where they were the only two sitting and being served dinner.) But they followed all the clues with minimal cheating, exploring the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.
Meanwhile, Allen and I sat around tapping our feet for a bit before we had the brilliant idea of going out to dinner ourselves. And since it was Good Friday, we needed the meatiest place possible for two lost carnivorous souls – L’Ecurie. L’Ecurie has a 17 euro dinner menu – in case you misunderstand me, that’s a 17 euro three course dinner menu. Unheard of. But as if that weren’t enough, the server also brings free sangria with the menus and free cognac with the bill. We each had a tomato salad (whole sliced tomato, typical French salad dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard), a bavette (flank steak) with frites, and creme caramel. We added a demi-pichet of sangria, thinking it would provide us about one more cup each, but it was two to three more cups each, and we were pleased. Everything was simple and satisfying, and Allen managed not to bump his head on the way out.
Then on the way home, we walked past some foreigners (perhaps German), speaking in accented English.
“You don’t say, “Do you have a lighter, OR?” The first one said, angrily, inhaling on his cigarette. His two minions laughed and repeated the phrase in mockery.
The first guy, pushed on by their laughter, suggested an alternative, ”Do you have a lighter or WHAT?” One of his friends said vehemently, ”Or DON’Tchu?”
“Yeah! Do you have a lighter or DON’Tchu?” The guys agreed that this was the best way to ask for a light. I couldn’t stop laughing almost all the way home. I almost wish that I smoked so I could have a reason to voice this moronic phrase.
But I’ll just say it anyway, in completely inappropriate contexts, and laugh and laugh. Do you have a problem with that or DON’Tchu?