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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thing 108: The White House Gardens and Grounds

The White House!

The thing I love about this blog, other than having done 108 new and unique-to-DC things, is the people I have met and the free stuff I’ve gotten. DC Sarah, who found me way back when, is now a staple in my life. And I’m such a big deal I got this book for free. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to come out of the shadows and enrich my life with your company, or free stuff.

And so it came to pass that a loyal reader contacted me out of the blue and invited me and five Under the President's balconyfriends to the White House.

Yes, please.

Three times a year, this reader told me, they open the White House grounds to the public. Anyone can go, tickets are free and first come first serve. But through her work, she is able to bring up to six guests, no waiting in line, no tickets needed.

And so we found ourselves last Sunday, on the very same lawn that the Pope just visited. We got right up against the East Wing, under the balcony of the President’s bedroom. We gazed out, across the South Lawn, across the ellipse to the Washington and Jefferson memorials (Mason, sorry, you aren’t tall enough to compete).

The view across the South Lawn at the White HouseWe circled the South Lawn and listened to the Navy band play. We spied the presidential The White House Tennis Court: White-soled shoes only!swimming pool through the bushes, passed the tennis court and the putting green. We walked on the runners track that Clinton had installed around the lawn. And just when we thought the presidency was just about a sweet home and abundand leisure activities, we were able to see the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office from the outside.

Of course, Sam and I were able to recognize the layout of the West Wing from our tour in December. We are getting to be experts.

The Cabinet Room

The Oval Office
We waited in line to see the Children’s Garden, which Mrs. Johnson had installed – a quiet, The building of an empire: Jebby Bushreflective area with a fish pool and the hand prints of all the presidential grandchildren. Seeing all those Bush grandkids (Barbara and Jenna are in there, as the grandkids of Bush the elder) it really starts to dawn on you – they’re not growing a dynasty, they’re creating an empire!

Truly, it was an honor and a privilege to see the White House from so close, and walk the garden paths that such powerful and important people have walked before us. I want to thank our patron, who suggested it and allowed us to cut the queue, and I want to encourage all of you to give me suggestions of other places to try out…and if you can throw in some free passes, all the better!

But where the heck is the White House? Let me see that map.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thing 107: The George Mason Memorial

George Mason MemorialPoor George Mason. The forgotten founding father. Oh sure, he has a university in his name, but where oh where is his memorial? Lincoln sits stately in his marble palace. George Washington’s phallus towers over the skyline. Jefferson keeps watch over the Tidal Basin beneath his dome. Rappers lament their lack of “Benjamins, baby,” an homage to Franklin’s perch on the $100 bill.

Don’t fret, Mason lovers! Six years ago, your man Georgie got his due, with a small memorial tucked away near the Jefferson along the banks of the Tidal Basin. We stumbled upon it last weekend when were returning from a picnic beneath the blossoms.

George Mason Memorial
It is a small and peaceful place. A small reflecting pool surrounded by flowers. Words from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was used as the blueprint for the Bill of Rights, are carved into the marble walls. A large bronze statue shows Mason in contemplative relaxation. He sits under an awning, his cane resting on the bench, legs casually crossed, looking out into the distance with a finger holding the place in his book. He’s about twice the size of a real person, dressed in knickers and a cravat, looking like a person who is about to found a nation.

George Mason Memorial

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thing 106: The Eden Center

The Eden Center: Ramen

As we sat in the dark karaoke bar, neon lighting dancing across the walls, Jenny leaned over and shouted into my ear "I feel like we've boarded a place, and landed in Saigon. It feels like we've travelled. And we are in a strip mall in Virginia."

The Eden Center
The wonder of the Eden Center -- the tiny strip mall in Falls Church comprised entirely of Vietnamese business -- is how completey unique it is within such a completely non-descript setting. The same tan brick exterior, the same row of shops, the same glowing orange signs above each business, except these signs say "Hong Viet" and "Huang Que" and inside the shops are eastern delicacies that I'd never dreamed of.

I spent a Saturday evening their recently, first perusing the aisles of a Vietnamese grocery and buying all manner of dried kobu, dried fungus, rice noodles, jasmine tea and something called spicy fried gluten. Each shelf held a wealth of products that I had to keep myself from buying, intrigued and simultaneously lost, having no experience in how to cook most everything I encountered.

The Eden Center: Fish in a Jar
Then we moved on to dinner, at the famous "Huong Que" or Four Sister Restaurant. This establishment has a wall full of accolades, all manner of restaurant critics who ostensibly know better than I do what "authentic" is calling the place authentic. It certainly is delicious, although nearly impossible to decide on what to eat with an epic menu that encompasses 200+ dishes of every conceivable combination. Clay pots and pho, rice crepes and rice noodles, fish and pork and chicken abounds and it is hard to narrow it down. The clay pot spare ribs were really tasty, as was the lemon grass chicken and the shredded pork spring rolls, but I am in a hurry to go back and see what else stands out from the long and exciting menu.

The Eden Center: Four Sisters
Finally, after dinner we wanted another drink before heading back to the western world, and strolled down to the corner of the strip mall that advertised karaoke and drinks. Wow. Just, wow. A live band of drums, synthesizer and bass backed up Vietnamese pop karaoke, as steadily more Vietnamese people of all ages streamed in to eat, drink, dance and sing. Our waitress really wanted us to sing some "American" songs, but in the end we were too intimidated by the truly soulful and party hopping Vietnamese version of LaBamba we were treated to, to try anything ourselves.

And even after a very full evening of shopping, eating and drinking, there is still so much more to see and eat. There are bakeries and delis that we poked our head into that sell huge, pillowy dumplings with BBQ pork, and round gelatinous rice cakes filled with something that I need to find out about. There are still other restaurants, and a karaoke bar called XXX. I will be back, soon, for another round of eating and exotic ingredients. So much cheaper than a plane ticket to Saigon.

See what I made with my Vietnamese ingredients! Join me over at the Cork & Knife.

Coming up:
Urban Dare.