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Monday, April 30, 2007

Thing 29: The Testicle Festival

Yes, you read that right. I spent Saturday night at DC's 4th Annual Testicle Festival.

Testicle Festival: The Flyer
A friend sent me the listing for this about a month ago. I'm pretty sure he meant it as a joke, but how on earth does a person not go to the Testicle Festival?! The name alone is priceless! Plus, I had just read Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour, in which he raves about the deliciousness of roasted lamb testicles. That made me both curious and brave to try these so-called "rocky mountain oysters," of which I could indulge in unlimited quantities at the Festival. Also, $15 for unlimited beers and bourbon seemed like a good deal. And finally, the tag line of the event is "The Original Sack Lunch." Clearly, I had to go.

The event was held at the American Legion in Arlington, not far from the Boyfriend's house. I managed to drag him along as my date, even though we were both tired and perfectly content watching the Nats game. He had to work all day Sunday and was really reluctant -- for some reason the offer of unlimited, deep fried testes wasn't appealing to him, but I promised to pay his way and to leave in an hour, which convinced him to accompany me.

Testicle Festival: The Scene
When we arrived at the Legion, the parking lot was full, as was most of the street parking in the adjoining neighborhood. Once we paid our entrance fee, we entered into a large room packed with about 200 people in their early 20s, animatedly drinking beers and dancing to the live country band. The delicious smell of deep fried grease permeated the room; it smelled the way I might expect a bash at KFC or Wings 'N' Things to smell. The Festival was sponsored by the Montana State Society, a fact reflected in the very height of the attendees. The average height of these corn fed, Big Sky dwellers was about 5'10", a fact not lost on shorties like me and the Boyfriend. The gents were clad in a lot of plaid and denim, with the occasional cowboy hat. The women were all stunning and dressed in their best club-gear.

The Testicle Festival BuffetThe Boyfriend and I made our way to the bar, which was just a couple people opening Miller Lite, Bud Lite and Coors Lite cans as quickly as possible for distribution, and one girl being run ragged pouring bourbon for the thirsty crowd. There was no line to speak of, just a crowd reaching out for drinks. Our thirsts properly quenched, we headed to the buffet. By buffet, I mean a table with a plastic bucket of cheesy poufs, two giant bowls of pretzels, and an empty tray with deep fried crumbs that had held the main attraction. Freshly fried batches of testicles emerged from the kitchen every ten minutes or so, only to be wolfed down by hungry Festival attendees. We waited for a fresh batch.

Hot and fresh from the fryer, a new batch of testicles arrived. The Boyfriend refused to partake, but my moment of reckoning had arrived. I grabbed an "oyster," dipped it in BBQ sauce, and went for it. How was it? I will defer to the photo essay as taken by the Boyfriend:

Eating a testicle phase I: apprehension.

Eating a testicle phase II: enjoyment

Eating a testicle phase III: realization
Eating a testicle phase IV: Self-loathing

There were four distinct phases to eating this delicacy, as captured in those photos. 1. Apprehension: "I am about to eat a cow testicle." 2. Enjoyment: "Hey, this tastes like a deep fried chicken nugget! This isn't bad!" 3. Realization: "It's kind of chewy...because dear God, I'm eating a cow testicle!" 4. Self-loathing: "I can't believe I just ate that." The biggest problem being that the consistency is chewy enough that you have time to realize what you're eating. Otherwise it would just taste deep fried, and deep fried is a flavor I generally enjoy.

My mission unfortunately complete, we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the party. The music, the Wil Gravatt Band, was really good and a lot of fun. A local DC honky tonk band, they kept the crowd dancing and the mood just right. The crowd consisted mostly of Hill staffers, although not entirely -- I ran into seven people I knew during the hour and half we stayed, none of them staffers.

As midnight drew near, the Boyfriend and I decided to leave the testicle and bourbon-fueled revelry because he had a very long day at work the next day. I will say, I am glad we went. The experience was well worth my $15.

Side Note: Hurry back, Eastern Market. You will be dearly missed until your return.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Movie: All The President's Men

An occasional series on books and movies about DC:

May I begin by saying that I could look at Robert Redford, with his side burns and high-waisted trousers, all day long? Can I just get that out of the way, and then we can take for granted from here on out that he is easy on the eyes? Great.

All The President's Men is the ultimate movie for those who love DC. In addition to being about our city's industry -- politics (corrupt politics no less!) -- it incorporates the beauty and majesty of the city into the movie, essentially making DC another character. We see the view of the Lincoln Memorial from the rooftop cafe of the Kennedy Center, the Capitol dome reflected in the glass door of the Library of Congress, the beauty of the illuminated White House back when the street in front of the building was still open for traffic.

Of course there is the Watergate itself, the actual building that has caused every subsequent White House scandal, imagined or real, to be suffixed with "-gate". When I was in college, I would do my grocery shopping at the Watergate, and the Howard Johnson's across the street that the lookout used had already been converted into a GW dorm. I pass the Washington Post offices every morning on my way to the metro. The Library of Congress is only a few blocks from my office. Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee are institutions in this town. Which is all to say that this movie and the story it tells are fully integrated into my life, as a Washingtonian.

For more details on the sights and significance of this movie, I recommend taking Sarah's tour of Movie Sights in Washington, from Washington Walks. Yes, this is Sarah of Thing 18 and Thing 28 fame. She knows things like that it cost $90,000 to film that stunning shot in the Library of Congress reading room that pans up and up and up to the ceiling.

In the meantime, add All The President's Men to your Netflix queue and enjoy this story of investigative reporters bringing the President down. Or just enjoy Robert Redford and those sideburns. You'll be pretty pleased, either way.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thing 28: Historic Hotels II

It seems only appropriate that for Sarah's bachelorette party, we would visit some historic hotels. After all, Thing 18 was her suggestion.

So as Sarah bids farewell to single-ness, her sister and best friend organized an excursion to two bars in historic DC hotels, and what better way to travel than by limo?

When we initially got in the limo, amid the photographs and champagne and the trying out of all the various buttons and switches, our chauffeur had been instructed to simply drive us around DC for the first half hour for a view of the sights. The tint of the windows in our luxurious vehicle added a deeper hue to the color of the white marble monuments and the grey-purple night sky. We passed the Capitol dome, the Washington, the Lincoln, the Jefferson, the World War II memorial with its dancing fountains and the Lincoln lit behind it...everything looked so beautiful in luminous white and tinted gray. Also, it's fab to see people peer at your limo and try and guess if anyone famous is in there.

Our first historic hotel bar was the Town & Country at the Mayflower Hotel, on Connecticut Avenue. The Mayflower was built in 1925 by the same developer who brought us Brookland. At its opening, it was nicknamed the "Grande Dame of Washington" for its luxury and elaborate trimmings. At the time, the hotel contained more gold trim than any other building in Washington, save the Library of Congress. Over the years, the hotel has figured into presidential history -- FDR composed his "nothing to fear but fear itself" inaugural address as a guest at the Mayflower, and his successor, Harry Truman, lived at the hotel for 90 days as the White House underwent renovations.

The Mayflower's bar, the Town & Country, is famous for its crowd of Washington's powerful and elite, but also for its bartender of 30 years, Sam. Sam is famous for his perfect mixing of 101 kinds of martinis, and entertaining patrons with his magic tricks. Unfortunately, Sam wasn't there for our visit, but we went ahead and ordered his signature cocktail, the Sam I Am.

The Town & Country is dimly lit, with rich wood furniture and many quiet corners for discussing state secrets. Our Sam I Ams were delicious, a mix of gin, amaretto and cranberry juice, that tasted reminiscent of an orange julius. GFD was there, and he ordered a Peppar Martini. Garnished with a single chili, the cocktail had just enough heat to leave the lips with a pleasant tingle.

The clientele and the bartenders were all exceedingly nice, happy to wish Sarah well and buy her drinks. We drank our martinis and then headed back to the limo for our second destination: the Round Robin bar at the Willard Hotel.

The Willard, located on Pennsylvania Ave (across the street from Pershing Square, where GFD and I had started our day what now felt like a lifetime ago), was founded in 1850 when Henry Willard bought the property. The hotel is nicknamed the "residence of presidents," hosting every president since Franklin Pierce at an event, as an overnight guest, or in the cases of Lincoln and Coolidge, as an extended stay resident. Delegates met at the Willard in 1861 as part of a Peace Conference in an attempt to avoid a civil war. Wilson formulated his League of Nations during meetings at the hotel. Martin Luther King, Jr. composed his "I have a dream" speech in his room at the Willard in the days before the March on Washington.

But the Willard is most famous for its lobby. Legend has it the term "to lobby" started there, when those seeking favors of President Ulysses S. Grant would approach him as he relaxed in the lobby of the Willard. And what a lobby it is. Everything is exquisite and over the top. Marble floors, golden accented ceilings, hanging lights that allow for the proper level of warm light and cool shadow. Beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers adorn the tables and live palms sit in Chinese cloisonne pots. The walls are all a pale yellow with turquoise trim and white accents.

The Round Robin bar is small, with a circular bar in the center of the room, and a handful of tables lining the dark green papered walls. Ink-drawn portraits of the bar's more famous regulars hang on the walls -- Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain. The specialty drink is the mint julep, that signature drink of southern gentility, which we all ordered. A pint's worth of mint, bourbon and ice is what we all received, and if the champagne and the Sam I Am hadn't put us in a celebratory mood already, well a pint of bourbon would have done the trick all on its own.

We installed ourselves into a nook of the historic lobby and drank our tremendous drinks, talked and joked and laughed. We made speeches, toasted Sarah, even sang a little.

And then, at 12:30, before our limo turned back into a pumpkin, we set our now-empty pints down and left the ornate and beautiful historic space in time for the limo to carry us home.

Thing 27: Urban Dare DC

I spent my Saturday on a mad dash across the city solving clues, performing dares and yelling at the Boyfriend, in an Amazing Race-type activity known as Urban Dare. Apparently, some guy goes around the country organizing scavenger/treasure hunt races, and Saturday he came to DC, in time for the best day of spring weather yet.

Who else to do this with than GFD, whose knowledge of obscure DC sights and trivia rivals only my own? In addition, I had the Boyfriend stationed at his house in front of the computer, so we could call him with help solving the clues and looking up bus schedules (phoning a friend with access to the Internet is both allowed and encouraged).

GFD and I arrived at Pershing Square, on 14th and Pennsylvania for the start of the race. Clad in shorts and sneakers, with one digital camera, two cell phones, a treo, a laminated map of the city and a wax pencil for easy marking up and wiping off, and a protein-heavy breakfast, we felt ready. We were in it to win it.

At noon, the race began. The organizers handed out sheets with 12 clues or tasks, corresponding to each checkpoint or photo that we had to accomplish. The start of the race is staggered to avoid a mad crush at the beginning. They stagger the start by asking a multiple choice question at the beginning. Depending on your answer, A, B, C or D, you move to a different quadrant as demarcated in the square, and then the correct answer is allowed to go first. The question in our case was a geographic one: “In what modern country is the ancient Nubian city of Kerma located?” GFD’s eyes got really big and I knew he knew the answer even before the choices had been revealed – D, Sudan. We moved into that square and when it was confirmed that we were correct, we were off.

Before we could leave the square, we had to find a tennis ball with the last two digits of our team number written on it. One hundred or so tennis balls lay strewn around the east side of the square, and there was a scramble to locate your team’s ball. Once we finally found ours, we ran to the outskirts of the square, took out our map, called the Boyfriend and started barking clues at him. “Moai statue, bicycle parts, World War II, CALL US BACK!” and we were off and running towards the Mall.

We decided to head towards the first clue we knew right off the bat, and we would solve others on our way there. “In the view of two sculpture gardens” read the clue, and we knew immediately we had to go to the Mall, where the National Gallery's sculpture garden is across the way from that at the Hirshhorn's. We jogged over to the Mall, and sure enough, there were the telltale light blue Urban Dare tee shirts, indicating our check point. For the dare at this location, our team had to navigate a short course as a ‘wheel barrow.’ GFD go on his hands, while I held his legs, and steered him around four cones and back. The Urban Dare staffer stamped our ‘passport’ and then we were free to go to the next checkpoint.

I did not want to leave the Mall unless we were sure there were no other checkpoints in the vicinity. We called the Boyfriend back, seeing if he had any progress on those clues we couldn’t figure out. Not much progress. Rather than waste time, we started jogging towards the World War II Memorial, where “Dirty Harry made two movies about this last year.” We arrived at the memorial, and there was nothing. We encountered another blue-shirted team and asked them if they had found the checkpoint there. They hadn’t either. “They couldn’t possibly expect us to go to the Iwo Jima, could they?” said one of the members from the other team. David and I looked at each other. Yes, yes they would. We would have to go to Virginia. And we were off and running to the Ellipse to take a picture at the Zero Milestone.

After the picture at the Ellipse, we headed down Pennsylvania Ave to the Edward Murrow Park at 19th and Penn, where we had to play a game of “hide and seek.” An Urban Dare staffer gave us a slip of paper with a word on it (ours was ‘discombobulate’), and we had to find the numeric value for the word. Each letter had a numeric value, and the values were hidden around the park, little slips of paper taped to benches or trees or stuck to small posts sticking out of the ground.

We added up our letters with only one small set back – a homeless man was sitting on a bench and covering the letter M’s value. Once our word’s value had been approved and our passport stamped, we raced west to the GW campus to take our picture with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the Western, according to a very random and unclear meridian marker at the corner of H and 24th, NW. Then we ran the two blocks to the Foggy Bottom metro, to ride the line one stop to Rosslyn.

While waiting for the train, we had our map out and were both frantically making calls, trying to figure out a couple of the remaining clues. By luck or divine intervention, we sat next to a young man who, upon overhearing our phone calls, mentioned that the “confectioner’s shop named for the Big Hurt or a Supreme Court Justice” was probably Thomas Sweet’s in Georgetown. Of course! And while he was at it, could he solve any of the other clues? “Two consecutive quarters of negative growth probably refers to Recessions. It’s a small bar in the basement of the Quincy Hotel, next to Mackey’s, on L Street.” We thanked him profusely for his help as the train pulled in to the station.

Under the river one stop and we rushed off the train, eager to leave behind the other teams that were in our car. GFD made me walk up the entire escalator at Rosslyn (no small feat, for those who know how long it is), and then we ran the couple blocks from the metro to an art installation called the “Bike Oasis,” the answer to one of the clues solved by the Boyfriend, thanks to Google.

Then we headed over to the Iwo Jima Memorial, where our dare consisted of dropping and giving the staffers 20, and then making up our own “I don’t know but I’ve been told” chant. As our passport was being stamped, an airplane flew over head – one of the tasks was to get our team’s picture with an actual airplane flying in the background (no paper, no models). We scrambled to get our camera turned on in time, and the staffer took our picture with a very tiny dot of a plane in the sky behind us.

From Rosslyn, we crossed the Key Bridge (GFD wanted to run, I was done with running at this point). Once in Georgetown, we hustled down M Street and up Wisconsin to Thomas Sweet’s chocolate and ice cream shop. The line was out the door on such a sunny afternoon, but the Urban Dare staffers waved us over and brought us into the shop. Our dare was to eat a chocolate-covered pecan candy, which we wolfed down (despite it being incredibly sweet and my dislike of pecans), got our passport stamped, and then ran out the door to catch the 32 bus across town. One was just passing us, and we ran after it and caught it at its next stop. We sat down and enjoyed our brief period of rest.

At this point, we felt pretty good. We’d figured out all the clues, we knew where it was we had left to go. It had been about three hours up until now, and we felt confident that we could finish in three and a half – perhaps not fast enough to win, but a very respectable finish nonetheless. We would take the bus to 7th and Pennsylvania, run up 7th to the National Portrait Gallery and take our picture in front of the statue of Daguerre, inventor of the daguerrotype. Then we’d hop on the red line two stops to Farragut North, go to Recessions and perform the dare (which was to hit a bullseye throwing darts), and then on the Chilean embassy at 18th and Massachusetts to get our picture with one of those big head statues from Easter Island. Then straight down Mass to Dupont Circle and the finish line, at Buffalo Billiards.

And our plan worked beautifully, until we got to the Chilean embassy and there were no statues there at all, Moai or any other kind.

The task had been problematic from the start. “Take a picture in front of an authentic Moai statue.” It seemed simple enough, except that when the Boyfriend googled it, the only one he pulled up was located clear up north on the American University campus. That was so far off of the course of everything else, that we just didn’t believe that that could be the only one. Upon further research, the Boyfriend found that the statue had been given to AU by the Chilean embassy. Aha! We guessed that another statue might be located at the embassy at 18th and Mass. Before going all the way over there though, we decided to have someone scope it out, to make sure we were right. We called all our friends who live in the area, finally one of them picked up and agreed to swing by the place and see. About ten minutes later, he called back. “I have it on good authority that there is an Easter Island statue in front of the embassy.” Yes! Which is how we found ourselves in front of the decidedly statue-free Chilean embassy.

I called my friend: “WHERE IS THIS STATUE YOU PROMISED?!” He explained that by “good authority,” he had asked some guy on the street who had assured him there were several Easter Island heads in front of the embassy. I hung up on my friend.

We called the Boyfriend back, who hit up Google one more time, and said that there might be a statue at the Natural History Museum, but he couldn’t be sure. David and I looked at each other, dejected, exhausted, defeated. We had been at this for more than four hours at this point. There was no way we would win. There was no way we’d come in the top ten. There was no way we’d come in the top anything.

We discussed whether we should retrace our steps to the Natural History Museum, or even make our way north to AU. It was all just too much and we were so tired. We posed for a photo in front of a random statue at the embassy of Zimbabwe, and headed to the finish line at Buffalo Billiards.

At Buffalo Billiards we had to complete one last dare, to score a three at shuffleboard, and then we were free to drink a beer. All told, we had spent four and a half hours running frantically around, we were sunburnt, sweaty, with a crust of salt on our foreheads, our legs completely stiff. We drank several waters and a beer, scarfed down a plate of nachos, and hobbled back to our respective homes.

And we can’t wait to do it again next year!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thing 26: The National Building Museum

I thought I was going to the National Building Museum for an exhibit on greenhouses. You know, like, the architecture of greenhouses…maybe why they grow things so well? It sounded kind of lame, actually. It turns out that the exhibit is on green houses, as in, building environmentally responsible houses with renewable resources. And that the National Building Museum is anything but lame.

The National Building Museum impresses immediately upon entry.Before seeing any exhibits at all, the building itself is a beautiful example of fine architecture and engineering. Upon entering the Great Hall, I was struck by the beauty of the wide and tall space. It is ornately decorated with golden columns, patterned windows, repeating archways, carved marble busts and a large fountain spraying water twenty feet into the air in the center of the open room. The exhibits are tucked into rooms off to the sides of the building, preserving the awesome beauty of the Great Hall. The museum is frequently rented out for stately parties and weddings, including Nancy Pelosi’s party earlier this year, which she threw to celebrate the Democrats’ retaking Congress.

As the Boyfriend, his roommate and I waited for our Some of the windows which literally tower over visitors.two other friends to show up with their young son, we spent the time constructing a large arch out of 21 padded red blocks. The arch (think the arch in St. Louis) is seven feet tall, and takes a bit of planning ahead to place the bases in the right spots, as well as at least one tall person to hold everything up until the key block is put into place. The Boyfriend and I are short, but luckily his roommate is tall and our arch was tall and sturdy. Then comes the fun of destroying it.

By then our other two friends had arrived. They have a young son not yet two years old, and this is a perfect museum for young children. In addition to the fountain to watch, the green house exhibit encourages touching, and there is a playing and learning area designed for young children called the “building zone.”

LED lights, countertops made from paper, and recycled wood.We started by going to the green house exhibit. The exhibit begins with a life-sized model home designed with recycled materials and using renewable energy and energy efficiency techniques. The chairs in the living room are made of recycled seat belts, the kitchen counters are a dense, matte black, and made of what turns out to be recycled paper. LED lights hang from the kitchen ceiling. Handsome recycled glass tiles line the bathroom floor.

Conservation hints are posted throughout the house, explaining easy ways to save water or energy. “Scrape, don’t rinse” it says above the sink, explaining that gallons of water are wasted when you rinse your plates before putting them in the dish washer. The same effect can be achieved by scraping your plates without running water.

After the sample house, we entered the portion of the exhibit showing real life examples of green houses from around the world. Housing developments, from the very expensive to the low-income variety, from around the world are profiled for their use of light and windows, solar panels, heating and cooling systems and land use.

The Colorado Court Affordable Housing Development in Santa Monica. One of ideas so simply brilliant you wonder why you didn't think of it.My favorite was the Colorado Court Affordable Housing development in Santa Monica. It’s a low income housing project that incorporates bright blue solar panels into the fa├žade in a visually pleasing manner. In addition to the aesthetics, the solar panels fulfill nearly all of the building’s electricity needs, thereby reducing the utility bills for the low income residents. It’s a beautiful, brilliant and logical way to incorporate green principles into affordable housing. I don’t know why this hasn’t caught on everywhere.

After learning about green houses (much more interesting than greenhouses), we crossed the Great Hall to spend the next hour in the “Washington: City and Symbol” exhibit. Now, just from the premise of this blog you can probably tell that I am an absolute geek about all things historic, geographic and aesthetic relating to DC. This exhibit is my equivalent of a candy store.

The first room describes the history of the city planning and all the monuments. In includes two full scale models of the National Mall – one before the land was reclaimed for national purposes and one after. The architects of the Capitol, the Jefferson Monument, the Washington Monument and the White House are profiled, their motivations and inspirations explained.

The following rooms show DC’s changing architectural landscapes. Historic shopping corridors, the architecture of the row houses on Capitol Hill, the construction of the “Federal Triangle.” How Union Station came to be – as they were transforming the Mall into a public space for the nation, they had to move the Union Pacific and B & O Railroad hubs, forming one ‘union’ station for the two.

The exhibit describes the history of segregation in public schools and department stores, and explains how the historically black shopping hubs began to decline after segregation was abolished and African Americans could shop on F Street with Whites. (No mention is made of how the historically Black shopping corridors were destroyed during the riots of ’68 and are only just now bouncing back, which I found an odd omission).

I learned that there used to be a covered market, like Eastern Market but much larger, called the Central Market, where the National Archives stand today. The market was torn down by an act of Congress during World War I while they were building the Federal Triangle, and the Archives went up in its place. The architecture of the original building was beautiful, all red brick and ornate spires, and I’m a little sad that it had to be destroyed, even if the building now houses our most important national documents.

5:00 came way too quickly, and suddenly there was a staff member telling us that the museum was closing and that we would have to leave. I wasn’t nearly done with the DC exhibit, and there was still an exhibit about rebuilding the Globe Theater in England and an exhibit of paintings and photography of cityscapes and sky lines that I really wanted to see! The National Building Museum deserves a full afternoon -- if not a whole day -- to really appreciate. I intend on going back and learning more as soon as I can.

Side Note: Some weather we're having! The wind was strong enough on Monday it actually ripped this street sign from its metal pole!

DC street signs have a way of ending up in the oddest places.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thing 25: The Bead Museum

It's a...bead.The Bead Museum does some serious multi-tasking. It encompasses a permanent exhibit, two temporary exhibits, a library, a gift shop and an ode to TV theme songs -- all in one room.

Located on 7th Street between Gallery Place and the Navy Memorial, the Bead Museum is a small storefront in a larger office building, around the corner from the Olsson's bookstore. The word 'museum' conjures the image of a large space, perhaps a series of galleries, perhaps a tour guide or a docent, maybe even a security guard. But walk into the bead museum and there is definitely only one room. And one guy sitting behind a jewelry case reading a magazine. And that

My three friends and I burst into the museum, seeking respite from the cold, almost-rainy Saturday afternoon. We are the only ones there. We get our bearings, readjusting our preconceived notion of a museum to this one-room reality. Almost immediately, we notice that the theme from Beverly Hills 90210 is playing.

We start to our left and learn about beads as religious iconography. A glass panel shows off examples of rosary beads from Christianity. The Judaism panel displays silver necklaces with stars of David and the five-fingered palm, known as a chamza, Religious iconographythat wards off the evil eye. I notice the theme from The Simpsons is now playing.

I continue to work my way around the room, admiring Islamic prayer beads, Hindu beads, and anamist beads. Now, suddenly, I am in the library. Bookshelves line one wall, packed full of books about, well, beads. Who knew you could write so many books about beads? If you have any sort of curiosity about the history, significance or techniques of beads, head over to the Bead Museum's library. I imagine it is a pretty comprehensive collection on the subject.

After the library, you arrive at the permanent exhibit: a world bead time line. At this point, the theme from Night Court is playing. The time line starts out at 10,000 BCE and progresses around one wall of the room until the present day, with examples of beads from the different eras from all around the world -- South America, South Asia, China, Europe...small and large, glass and clay, all colors, all patterns, representing people or animals or just ornamental.

The bead has quite a timeline associated it...
Finally, to the theme from Growing Pains, we have come full circle and are in the store section of the museum. The jewelry in the case -- a collection of really beautiful necklaces, earrings and bracelets -- is all beaded, of course. Big beads and little beads are all available, from the very affordable to the more expensive. I was eyeing a necklace of light blue beads and silver and it was only $40, which is pretty reasonable. In the end I passed on it though, and crossed the room to look at the Shakespeare exhibit.

As part of DC's Shakespeare in Washington festival, the Bead Museum features three cases in the middle of the room with beaded jewelry, costumes and props that are inspired by Shakespeare's plays. You can see the necklace that Queen Gertrude might have worn in Hamlet, the beaded hat that Henry VIII made famous, and Desdemona's strawberry handkerchief. As far as we could tell, these pieces had been designed specifically for the museum and have not appeared on the stage anywhere.

The museum took us about half an hour to see in its entirety, and then we headed next door to Olsson's for some coffee and some book browsing. I'm glad I went though -- the idea behind this blog is to go out of my way to find the treasures of DC, and this is definitely not something I would normally have sought out. But the museum's unique and narrow mission, its tiny setting and its very strange choice of soundtrack make this a fun and different place to visit.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thing 24: Trusty's

I strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue early Thursday evening, leaving work and heading Southeast towards the Anacostia. Past 8th Street and Eastern Market, watching the houses get a little smaller and a little shabbier, past the local shops and corner bodegas, past parents strolling with their children on bicycles. Around 12th Street I crossed the street and started strolling on the wide median that was covered in new, bright green grass and lined with trees blooming small pink and white buds. The air was fresh and cool from the afternoon's April shower. I continued under this blooming canopy down past Potomac Ave and then another block until I reached Trusty's. It's just a small storefront, with four small tables on the sidewalk and a large orange sign announcing "Trusty's" and "Full Service."

Brought to you by the people who own the Pourhouse, Trusty's Full Serve Bar is a small neighborhood joint designed to invoke a service station. A large road map of the United States lines the wall in front of the bar and vintage license plates and road signs fill the walls. The bar itself consists of one room, with a couple tall tables in the front window, a bar lined with stools, and about ten larger tables in the back. Trusty's supports the Nationals...obviously.A large chalkboard on the back wall wishes luck to the Nats in large letters and decorated with pastel fireworks. TVs on the walls broadcast the Nats. Located walking distance from RFK, this bar roots for the home team and serves game day drink specials before, after and during Nats games.

But the best part, oh the very best part, is that each table in the back area is stacked high with games! Connect Four, Parcheesi, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, chess, cards, Jenga, backgammon, Jeopardy. They're all there and they're all free, yours to choose and play at your leisure.

Games, games, games!
I went there on Thursday, with GFL and the Boyfriend. We ordered beers, which arrived in mason jars, and looked over the brief menu. The "kitchen" consists of a deep fryer and a small griddle, each about a foot and a half across, and both located behind the bar. The two guys working that night do everything -- serve the drinks, fry the food and clear the tables. The menu reflects the limited cooking space. Sausages and hot dogs, burgers and grilled cheese, nachos and chili are about the only choices. My party each orders a hot dog or sausage and they come to our table greasy and delicious, with a heap of potato chips.

Trusty's kitchen is, well...there it is.
And now it's time to get down to business. Or rather, get down to playing. It's game time.

Mmmm...half smoke.We start with Chutes and Ladders, which is much preachier than I remember it being. GFL gets caught up in the initial series of chutes, and stays towards the bottom of the board for the majority of the game. The Boyfriend starts out hot on my heels, but a couple of chutes at the end trip him up Chutes. I emerge the triumphant winner.

Tired of getting lectured at about eating too many apples or pulling the cat's tail, we put away Chutes and Ladders and break out the Parcheesi.Parcheesi Trouble is, none of us know how to play. But I used to play when I was seven, so how hard could it be? GFL reads us the rules and we begin to muddle along, moving our elephants and camels slowly across the brightly colored board. About midway through, when it is taking forever, I remember that GFL had said something about moving 20 extra spaces each time you land on and "kill" an opponent's piece. Ah ha! Once we begin employing this rule, the game moves at a more rapid clip.

This also led to one of the funnier incidents of the night. Hoping to win a bonus and move ahead, GFL says, "I really need to kill someone soon!" The uniformed police officer sitting at the bar turns to us and says "I didn't hear that." GFL immediately starts back-tracking, "I mean, I, um, I really need to kill someone in the game. This game...right here...Parcheesi...oh dear." The Boyfriend and I are in stitches.

I won Parcheesi too, by the way.

While we are playing our games, a random man with a laptop sits in a corner and plays some tunes. He wasn't really a DJ, or a least didn't look it and didn't seem to be taking requests. He appeared to be just some guy from the neighborhood, selecting Tribe Called Quest, Ben Folds, Green Day and Bon Jovi from his personal I-tunes play list, whenever he felt like it. GFL, who lives in the neighborhood and frequents the place, assures me that there is always some guy with a laptop playing tunes. Not always that same guy, but always some guy. We then go back to singing along to Ben Folds.

GFL demonstrates her Jenga skills. Sort of.Finally, we order one last beer and break out the Jenga. The Jenga set has already been abused by various drunken parties over the course of its history - the pieces are written on with everything from 'yo mama' jokes to chemical formulas to very dirty commands. I decidedly lose at Jenga, knocking over the tower into GFL's lap.

Trusty's is working hard to be a place for the neighborhood, from its cheap eats to its low frills setting, support for the home team and friendly setting. Thursdays they offer a 15% discount to people from the neighborhood, but it's not all that expensive to start with (the three of us drank and ate well for $40). To the naysayers who think they absolutely cannot travel that far, I say that it is one block from the Potomac Ave metro stop -- closer than a trip to RFK stadium. Trusty's is a great place to relax with a jar of beer, a board game, and some friendly people from the neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thing 23: Pasta Mia Anna Maria's

I like to break Passover by gorging on Italian food. As far as I’m concerned, Italians have the monopoly on all the best carbs – pasta, pizza, garlic bread, and tiramisu – and after eight days without, all I want is a big ol’ plate of spaghetti and a rich, buttery hunk of aromatic garlic bread.

Umm...why are we standing outside Pasta Mia? Why have we been standing here for an hour?This year, I chose Pasta Mia as my place of choice for my Italian feast. I’d never been, and people keep telling me how wonderful it is, so I figured that it was a perfect place to break Passover. “It’s so worth the wait!” people tell me.

Well, I can’t tell you if it is or not. We arrived at 8:15, and after 45 minutes of waiting outside – not even making it to the indoor waiting foyer, my party and I gave up. At that point it was 9pm, the Boyfriend was cranky from not having eaten, I was cranky because I was wasting precious grain-eating moments, and GFD could only attest that the food was “fine” and was waiting just to humor me. Am I willing to wait over an hour for a plate of spaghetti? Apparently not.

So, we bailed, and ate mediocre Italian food at Anna Maria’s on Connecticut Avenue. Anna Maria’s is an institution in its own right. It’s been around for over forty years, and was well known in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a late night stop for celebrities such as Bob Hope or Muhammad Ali. As proof, the walls are lined with signed photographs from the likes of Dom Delouise, Tiger Woods and LL Cool J. The restaurant is quiet and cozy, not at all crowded (no line!) and the service is good enough. If only the food were good. Sadly, it is woefully under-seasoned and nothing special.

The Wall o' Stars at Anna Maria's
We ordered garlic bread to start since we were all hungry and cranky at this point. It arrived buttery and crisp, and loaded with garlic and parsley. A promising start, for sure. On the other hand, I was just happy it wasn’t matzo. We wolfed it down while we waited for our main meals.

I stuck to the basics – spaghetti with meat balls. The Boyfriend ordered meat lasagna, GFD Spaghetti...ordered linguini with calamari, and his boyfriend ordered meat ravioli. It was all…fine. Just, fine. Nothing that I couldn’t have made at home and some of it considerably worse than what I could have made. Everything needed salt. The best part of the Boyfriend’s lasagna was the sausage that was inexplicably served as a side. GFD’s linguini was bland. We ordered tiramisu and cannoli for dessert. The cannoli was wonderful, like a crunchy, cream filled donut, the taste of sweet fried dough lingering on the tongue. ...and cannoli.The tiramisu, like most everything else, was just OK.

LL Cool J, next time you come to town, let me show you around. We will eat at much better places, you and I.

So my question to the masses is this: should we have waited for Pasta Mia? I’m sure the food would have been better, but is a plate of spaghetti worth an hour or more of waiting? I will attempt a return visit if people can convince me it’s worth it. Are there any other Italian joints I should put on my list? In a city that does Thai, Ethiopian and Indian so well, where can a girl go for good fettuccini or veal saltimbocca?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Thing 22: Pasha Lounge

I got the bat call at midnight. Three nearly simultaneous text messages: "Come to Pasha Lounge!" I was on the couch finishing up a movie and thought, why not? I'd been sleeping off Thing 21 for most of the day, and I was ready to do some dancing. So I threw on some jeans and heels and hit the town.

Nearing the VIP Room at Pasha Lounge.Pasha Lounge is located at 22nd and P Street, the after hours club associated with the new Moroccan restaurant, Marrakesh Palace. I paid a $10 cover at the door, walked up a set of narrow stairs, and walked into thumping bhangra beats with Jay-Z's distinctive voice rapping over it. The room was going crazy -- the crowd was overwhelmingly well-dressed, mid-twenty-somethings of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. They were dancing mostly in small groups of men or women, swaying hips and rolling wrists, cheering each other on.

The decor at Pasha is modern and angular -- lots of mirrors and lots of mosaic tile. Sofas are spare and angular, with a couple of dark corners away from the dance floor where you can, ahem, lounge andOne of Pasha Lounge's sheesha corners. smoke a sheesha. Most of the club is taken up by dance floor, and people aren't shy about joining in. The music on that particular Saturday was a mix of old and new pop music top 40, remixed with hip hop, bhangra, Egyptian, Turkish and raggaeton beats. A huge disco ball twinkles over the dancers, and apparently there was some serious fog machine, but I missed it. Drinks aren't cheap, but I was taking it easy after Thing 21 so I nursed a vodka soda for the couple of hours that we stayed.

Nearing the VIP Room at Pasha Lounge.After meeting up with my friends, we decide to hit the VIP lounge on the second floor of the club. A bouncer stood guard next to the staircase and we were not on the list. Just then, an older man in a full suit walked by, shaking hands all the way. One of our friends whispered a few unknown words to what turned out to be the owner of the place and next thing we knew we were breezing past the bouncer and into the VIP lounge. The VIP floor had the same mirrors, mosaics and low, angular couches as the unwashed masses get -- it is just thankfully less crowded and sweaty. Here my friends and I can spread out and truly flail...I mean dance. We can also watch the commoners busting their moves from over the railing, or dance directly above them as one section of the VIP lounge has a clear floor. I do not advise this for girls wearing skirts.

We danced and sweat and danced some more, moving from VIP to commoners and back again. Finally, the friends thought it might be time for pizza and bed, and we headed back out into the unseasonably cold night. I have to say, I'm so glad I answered the bat call. I found a fun, diverse club where dancing is more important than going home with someone at the end of the night, and where they understand the value of well-placed disco ball and a well-timed smoke machine.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Introducing...the Top 100!

Here's a chance for you to give me some feedback, and for me to start an authoritative list of some of the best things to do in DC--vote in the poll to the right!

Every few posts, I'll present you with options of what you think should go on my new Top 100 list, which will appear to the right of the page, near where the poll currently is. Although I'll be adding my own entries, I'll be asking for your help along the way. So, tell me which "Thing" should be the inaugural entry!


Thing 1: Wonderland Trivia
Thing 4: The Wizards Game
Thing 12: Georgia Brown's
Thing 16: The Textile Museum
Thing 20: Cherry Blossom Picnic

The poll will close on Sunday, April 15 (one week), when I'll announce the winner.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Thing 21: 18th Street Lounge

18th Street Lounge's fully stocked bar.Where do you go for a casual get together? You want your friends to be able to come and go as need be, you want them to be comfortable and you want to hear them when they talk. You also might enjoy dressing up and wearing heals (or at least, not sneakers). Maybe a dive just won't do...

Or maybe you just want to party in Teddy Roosevelt's mansion.

18th Street Lounge has you covered.

Which is where I found myself on Friday night to celebrate the Roommate's birthday. Full disclosure: I may have had one too many celebratory glasses of champagne to have done a good job of journalistic observance, so bear with me.

First, you have to find the place. There's no sign. It's just an unmarked doorway next to the Mattress Discounters on 18th Street, in Dupont. Once you've knocked at Candie's Hardware, Mattress Discounters and the Daily Grill and then finally stumbled upon the doorway for ESL, then you have to get past the bouncers. We had a guest list for the Roommate's birthday, but apparently if you are a guy and you are not dressed particularly well, or come without a lady on each arm, the bouncer discriminates at will as to whether or not you can get in. Thankfully, between the guest list and the fact that all the Roommate's friends are beautiful and stylish people, everyone got in with minimal issues.

Once inside, you go up the stairs and it feels laid back and luxurious -- very clearly a converted mansion. The rooms have high ceilings and the spaces aren't crowded. Sofas and coffee tables are placed in corners of the room to facilitate lounging, beautiful chandeliers hang from the ceiling and expensive fresh flower arrangements adorn the bar and the corners of the lounge. A roaring fireplace adds to the feeling of a living room. The windows look out onto the 18th Street/Connecticut Avenue intersection, and you can see the lines across the street for 1223 and Play.

ESL is known for its DJs; it used to be owned by Thievery Corporation, and the place has a record label associated with it. When we first got there, there was a nice mellow mix of reggae and hip hop. The drinks were on the expensive side. Then again, I was the happy drunk buying everyone's drinks, so I guess my tab was bound to add up.

Later in the evening they opened the large room off of the main room. The room had high white walls and a long bar on one side of the room, with the same ornate chandeliers and mirrors and sofas as the smaller lounge had. At no point was the bar particularly crowded, or ever too loud, or too frantic. A chill place, tucked away on a busy strip, that feels like a house party thrown by a very rich friend. Or at least, from what I can remember.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Thing 20: Cherry Blossom Picnic

The cherry blossoms are in bloom, marking the official start of tourist season! For the next five months, surly teenagers will look bored in front of museums, families in matching T-shirts will stand on the left of the metro escalators, and bus loads of school children will descend on mall food courts with $5 food vouchers.

I was once a tourist too, I keep reminding myself when I get the urge to yell at one of these well meaning people when they stop abruptly at the top of the escalator to have a look around. I, too, did not know the unspoken etiquette of navigating the streets and public transportation of DC. So I try to be patient.

DC residents have a love/hate thing going with tourists. We love their dollars, and their big, excited eyes when they see the Capitol or the White House remind us of all the good things we have that we take for granted. On the other hand, they stand on the left. This irritates natives to no end. They also speak loudly on the train, get excited about the Pentagon City mall (it's a mall...they're everywhere), and seriously, what is with those matching shirts?

All this to say: Tourists, you are welcome in my city. Just so long as I don't have to mingle.

Which is why my favorite way to enjoy the cherry blossoms is to picnic beneath them, thereby avoiding the majority of the crowds as they stroll around the Tidal Basin. I've found that strolling among them only aggravates me. They keep stopping in the middle of the narrow path to take pictures, and the rest of us must wait patiently on the sidelines to keep their frame clear. This is fine the first couple times, but if you are walking the perimeter of the Tidal Basin, you must do this dozens of times and it gets old.

I much prefer bringing a picnic and staking out a spot beneath the trees. The tourists are still there, but they're several feet away, and they're no longer getting in my way as I enjoy the beauty of the tiny white flowers bursting everywhere alongside the water. This year, GFD and another friend of mine who recently moved to the District (enjoying her new status as Not A Tourist) headed down to the Tidal Basin on Sunday afternoon. It was supposed to rain on Sunday, and though it was overcast and a bit chilly we decided to at least attempt a picnic in the hopes that the weather would hold.

My friend picked up sandwiches from Subway, I brought a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie, and GFD brought big beers.

We put our blanket out on the strip of grass between the Jefferson Memorial and the little bridge, under the blooming trees. The Tidal Basin path was only about four feet away and from our vantage point we were able to enjoy the scene while munching our sandwiches and covertly drinking our napkin-wrapped beers. If you are a dog lover, you will be in heaven. Every breed, size and color of dog was being walked around the Tidal Basin. A miniature shitzu, three identical golden retrievers, boxers and schnauzers and even a wolfhound I recognized from the St. Patrick's Day parade last month (he was still wearing his green neckerchief). If you prefer to watch people, this is a good place to be, too. A young child walks behind his family saying in an even tone "ow...ow...ow..." while his family walks on, willfully ignoring him. A bridal party walks down the way, the bride in a lovely ivory dress with truly ugly, bulky, chartreuse shoes. A very old woman, lines of a life well-lived cut deeply into her cheeks, being pushed in a wheel chair by a teenager, presumably her grandchild. A look of utter happiness and contentment graces her wrinkly face.

I'd brought chess and a deck of cards, and after our meal we played a few hands of Texas hold 'em for pennies. I taught my friend how to play chess. We lay back and looked up at the tiny delicate blossoms over head, enjoying the temperate weather.

After about four hours of a perfect, lazy Sunday picnic, we packed up the supplies and headed back for our homes. Tourists still flocked around the cherry blossoms, posing for pictures beneath the boughs and standing in line for ice creams. As for my friends and me, we have the luxury of going back next weekend, and the weekend after that, if the blossoms hold. We'll be here next year and the year after for them, too. We headed home.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Thing 19: Peyote Cafe

Karaoke stars gather at Peyote Cafe in Adams MorganWanna go out in Adams Morgan without running into the usual frat boys, fabulously well dressed people, or inappropriately un-dressed people? Wanna go to a place that doesn't care who you are, what you look like, how old you are or what you're wearing, just so long as you know the words to "Sweet Caroline"? Do you love to karaoke, or at least love to sing along with those who do? Go go go to Peyote Cafe.

Peyote is easy to miss. It's located in the basement level of the bar-a-palooza that houses Roxanne's and that unclear rooftop bar. Although marked by a fairly large sign, the sign is below eye-level when walking up 18th Street, so you really need to be looking for it already. Once inside, it's just a small basement room, with one bar that takes up nearly an entire wall and a banquette lining the other wall. There are no tables and no stage for singing, those karaoke-ing are right there among the sweaty masses, wielding their microphone.

I was at Peyote on Friday night to celebrate a friend's birthday. Once again, I was impressed with the diversity of people there, especially for an Adams Morgan bar. Black, White, college age, young professional and downright old people, really hot and really not people, skinny, fat, well-dressed, sloppy, punks and preppies -- all of them belting out 'Nsync and ABBA with not a hint of self-consciousness.

If it's crowded and you want to sing, expect to come up with $5 or $10 with which to "tip"(bribe?) the emcee. My friends are karaoke pros -- they know how to rile the crowd into a frenzy of singing and toasting and dancing with their masterful rendition of "Piano Man." "Raise your glasses!" they command, and everyone in the bar raises their glasses high and joins along with the chorus. "Sing us a song, you're the piano man. Sing us a song tonight..." The applause is long and loud after they finish the song.

A short time afterwards, my friend is called back up for another crowd pleaser. He sings "Take On Me," the 80s hit by A-HA, complete with most excellent 80s dance moves during the musical interlude. We all join in with our best falsettos, "I'll be gone...In a day or twooooooooooooo."

One last word about karaoke at Peyote. If you go and you are singing, please please please no slow songs. I don't care how good you are at belting out that power ballad. It is guaranteed to slow the party down and no one will like you.

Karaoke stars at Peyote Cafe in Adams Morgan