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Monday, October 12, 2009

Upcoming: 3rd Annual Birthday Scavenger Hunt!

Apologies again for the blog silence - there has been ever so much going on. Some good, some bad, but the one I want to share with you all is that the Boyfriend is now the Husband! We got married on October 3rd, and in true DC365 form, it was DC-centric and very special to us both. We had the ceremony and a luncheon for our families at The Willard, the cake was from (where else?) Baked & Wired, and afterwards we got beers at Stoney's and ended the night at Amsterdam Falafel. All told, a wonderful and memorable day.

And now I can focus on planning the next big event...the 3rd Annual Birthday Scavenger Hunt!

Mark your calendars now: Oct. 31, Halloween, at noon, we will be starting at the fountain in Dupont Circle for another round of photographic, DC-themed, eating and drinking, costumed madness! This year we're opening it up to, well, everyone, so don't be shy!! Bring your friends, your metro day pass and your running shoes, and get ready to WIN!

(Or at least have some good, clean fun!)

This year, I'm implementing an admission "fee," two cans of food to play, all of which will go to So Others Might Eat as we enter the holiday season. Also, since Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, costumes aren't required, but they are highly encouraged -- there will be a real points benefit to coming in costume, so plan on it.

Otherwise, the rules are the same as last year and the year before. You'll get a list of people/places/things/foods/drinks that are all worth various points, and you'll have to strategize which ones you want to go after. Teams can be of two to ten people, and you can come with your own team, or get assigned to one upon arrival. You can use your feet, metro or the bus only, no bicycles, cars or taxis. The hunt ends at 4pm with prizes and cake, plenty of time for you to get ready for your regularly planned Halloween parties.

The hunt is appropriate for all ages, but if you did feel like starting the party early, there is an optional "bar crawl" version of the hunt that you could easily pursue, and still be competitive.

You can read all about the 1st annual hunt and the 2nd annual, or see the pictures from the 2007 hunt or 2008 hunt, all of which will give you a good idea of what to expect.

Leave questions in the comments, otherwise, see you soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thing 158: Ft. Reno

It turns out, I am really terrible at blogging in August. I've never been particularly good at it, looking back over the last two years, but it seems that this August has been especially hard for me to get it together. Blame it on my entirely new life, or just blame it on humidity and general laziness, but it is time to stop thinking about blogging and start putting fingers to keyboard. Let's go!

It with great embarrassment that I report to you that I went to my first Ft. Reno outdoor concert three weeks ago and have been sitting on the experience since then. So selfish of me! Because it was a really fun experience!!

How have I avoided Ft. Reno until now, you wonder? Well, I'm not really sure. Part of it is that I thought it was really hard to get to. And part of it was that I was pretty sure my jeans weren't skinny enough. But I'm happy to report back that Ft. Reno is but two blocks from the Tenley Town metro, and also that, while heavy on the hipster crowd, its actually just a really welcoming, happy, communal neighborhood event.

I attended Ft. Reno's final concert of the summer back on July 30th, when Grendel Babies, Casper Bangs, and Title Tracks performed. The bands were...fine. I don't know, the music wasn't really my taste (I lean more towards Mos Def), but people seemed to really enjoy it. Title Tracks in particular seemed to have a devoted following who made an impromptu dance floor in front of the stage during the set. And even if the music wasn't really my cup of tea, I can certainly appreciate any venue that focuses on local talent and lets local bands to their thing.

But for me, the fun was really in the atmosphere -- the setting and the people and the night sky and the company. Just as Screen on the Green has almost nothing to do with what movie is being shown and everything to do with sweating on the mall and drinking boxed wine, atmosphere is everything at Ft. Reno. This is clearly a place for neighbors to come out of their stuffy homes on a summer night and mingle in the open air. Families brought their children and babies, couples brought their dogs, everyone sat out on blankets and shared food and watched the sky darken behind the Fort's turrets. I was invited by some Fort Reno regulars, and we enjoyed the night air while sharing olives and cheese and off-brand Oreos.

I will definitely go back (I am simply a sucker for a picnic, though this is no secret), and am looking forward to adding the annual concert series into my summer rotation next year.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quick Hit: Shout Out in the Washington Post!

So, pretty much everything in my life is changing right now (all great things though!), and I've been busy trying to make order out of chaos. Which is why you haven't heard a word about my fun trip to Ft. Reno, my amazing baseball game tickets, the baby gorilla at the zoo, or stuffing myself chock full of pupusas and chicharonnes. It's coming -- I promise!

In the meantime, enjoy this great write up of adventure racing and Urban Dare featured in the Washington Post, with a nice shout out to this here blog, as well as a sweet little interview of me and friend of the blog GFD:

The key word in Keefe's slogan is, of course, the "can." Just ask Francoise Galleto, 27, and David Brown, 26, two Washingtonians whose first Urban Dare in 2007 didn't turn out quite as they'd hoped: They finished sweaty, sore and sunburned after 4 1/2 hours. "The day after, I went back to the gym. It was a wake-up call," Galleto says.

They already had the smarts part down. After all, Galleto bills her blog (at as "an exploration of DC's restaurants, bars, tourist traps, and the places only the locals know about." She organizes an annual birthday scavenger hunt. And as Brown notes, "We're both nerds."

After two years of training, which included running the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, they entered the Urban Dare event again this spring with a very different result: Conditioned for sprinting and armed with sunscreen, they came in first, finishing in just over two hours.

Two years ago: my fabulous dinner at Kaz Sushi Bistro.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thing 55: Fringe, Revisited

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Fringe makes DC a better place to live and visit.

My Fabulous Sex Life makes Fringe a better festival.

Yes, we are in the last throws of the Capital Fringe Festival but there is still time to see some excellent theater, and I'd like to recommend that you see the final performance of My Fabulous Sex Life, starring Brent Stansell. If you can beg, borrow or steal a ticket to the sold out show.

Full disclosure: Brent Stansell, whose fabulous sex life is center stage, is a very dear friend of mine. We've known each other nine years, and God help me but I was actually witness to one of the stories he tells during the performance. But I'm fairly certain that my relationship to Brent is not clouding my judgement that this show is brave, funny, well-paced, and at times heart-breakingly poignant. Which are all the elements of a proper Fringe show.

Brent spends the evening revealing the most intimate details of his fabulous (and sometimes not fabulous) sex life. Guided through the show by slides that set the scene or announce the theme, Brent tells us about the sex parties, glory holes, online sites and forgettable encounters he's had in the pursuit of sexual gratification and connection. Sometimes those two pursuits overlap, and sometimes they decidedly don't, but Brent soldiers forward, stripping away the stigma that comes with sex for sex' sake, but also exposing his own vulnerabilities and loneliness.

I'm so very proud of you Brent, for being so brave.

I'll also put out another recommendation for It's Not Easy Being Green, starring another dear friend of mine, Ms. Mary C. Davis.

But even if you assume I am biased and untrustworthy, I do hope that you go out and see something before Fringe closes. There are too many wonderful, unexpected and exciting shows going on not to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Screen on the Green: The Complete Schedule

Sorry I've disappeared for a bit (getting engaged is incredibly hard work, as it turns out!), but I had to let you all know the latest Screen on the Green news. Ladies and gentleman, for your summer viewing pleasure, I present to you the complete Screen on the Green schedule:

July 20th: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Sony/Columbia)

Watch the skies! Richard Dreyfuss embarks on an obsessive quest for answers after witnessing a low-flying UFO. Legendary French director Francois Truffaut plays a scientist seeking communication with the (friendly?) aliens. Stephen Spielberg takes us from Mexico to Mongolia, from India to Indiana to show that we earthlings are not alone. The majestic musical score was Oscar-nominated, but double nominee John Williams lost to himself for “Star Wars.” Pre CGI, “Encounters” is movie magic of the first kind. 132 Min. (1977)

July 27th: Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Bros.)
Sonny (Al Pacino) sets out to rob a Brooklyn bank to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change operation. The job doesn’t go as planned. Based on a true-life story, the screenplay won an Oscar and a Writer’s Guild award though reportedly much was improvised. No matter, “Dog” is great stuff. Director Sidney Lumet gets the New York flavor just right and Pacino is simply stupendous. Memorable support comes from Chris Sarandon and the late John Cazale. All together now…”At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!” 125 Min. (1975)
August 3rd: On the Waterfront (Sony/Columbia)
Powerful, man-vs-union-racketeers drama set on the New Jersey docks remains a contenda. Winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Elia Kazan). Marlon Brando was named Best Actor after being shut out the 3 previous years. Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor. All lost. A very pregnant Eva Marie Saint, however, picked up an Oscar for her effort. 108 Min. (1954)
August 10th: Rebel Without A Cause (Warner Bros.)
Landmark tale of teen angst is still disturbing today. Natalie Wood and James Dean star as the tragic lovers, while Sal Mineo provides sensitive support as the outcast, Plato. Direction by Nicholas Ray takes full advantage of the wide screen canvas. 111 Min. (1955)
All films begin at sunset and are located on the Mall between 4th and 7th St. Metro: L'Enfant Plaza or Archives. Getting your dancing shoes on, and your picnic spreads ready.

Related: Thing 58: Screen on the Green, Save Screen on the Green, Top 10 DC Things To Do Summer 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thing 115, Revisited: Hillwood Estate Movies and Picnic

The Hillwood Estate One in Ten old movie evening resumed again last Friday, this time showing one of my absolute favorites: How To Marry A Millionaire. Everything I remembered about Hillwood outdoor movies was true: lush lawn, gorgeous grounds, fabulous movies and elaborate picnic setups.

This year, Kate and I brought our A games, after setting up a pretty pathetic picnic last year. This year, after some pretty intensive planning, I think we did pretty well:

A crisp white cloth, assorted crudites and dips, homemade pita, homemade shortbread cookies, sparkling wine. Even candles, china and real silverware. The judges were impressed. Wouldn't you be?
But not only was our spread a looker, but so were we! We were inspired by Marilyn and Lauren and their fabulous outfits and tried to snag our own millionaires.

And for our trouble, we got an honorable mention! Our prize was a goody bag with some Hillwood-themed items, and two free passes to tour the house and grounds! So we will be back to spend some quality time immersed in Marjorie Merriweather Post's impeccable taste and largesse.

Thanks Hillwood!

(If you're hot to buy some of those silver interlocking containers, they're called tiffins and you can find them here.)

One year ago: Squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese in tomato sauce from Oyamel.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thing 157: The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

"This fossilized snake in the marble is over 400 million years old -- sorry if there are any Creationists on the tour," our guide, Claude told us. Which seemed like a kind of a weird thing to say, because on a tour of a monastery, at the foot of a statue of Mary, Mother of God, it seems safe to say there will be one or two Creationists around. Does the Pope know there's a 400 million year old fossil in this church? And if so, what does he make of it, exactly?

That was but one of many of the bizarro moments from my tour of the Franciscan Monastery. You may recall that I only recently learned that this place existed when I toured Brookland earlier this month. I was so taken with the place that I immediately set up a return trip, complete with picnic, to spend some more time on the grounds and have a chance to tour the church and catacombs.

We had a picnic of a half dozen people, and we ended up setting up across the street, in a large patch of shady grass, so as not to disturb the people that might be there for more sacred purposes. On Sundays, there are tours of the church at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, and I hopped on the 3pm tour.

The church is stunning -- gold leaf and stained glass and marble, an elaborate enameled covering over the dais, ornate statues and wood carvings. It reminded me of when I was traveling in Prague by myself, just sort of trapsing through the city and ducking my head into random churches, when I poke into one of them and everything was shiny and golden and elaborate. The unexpectedness of the beauty of this church, tucked away in Northeast DC, is really awesome (as in, inspiring awe).

Our tour guide, Claude, swept into the waiting area and abruptly began the tour. Short and rather stout, with a short, greying beard, Claude was dressed like a British Colonial guard in India circa 1880, head to toe in white with a red sash. He was very knowledgeable and good natured, but quite abrupt, and had the straight-ahead, rehearsed mannerism of someone who has given this tour, many, many times.

He took us through the church, explaining that this is a replica of a the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre in the Holy Land, complete with replica tomb and replica...catacombs. That's right, the catacombs I was so looking forward to were...fakes. Basically, we went underground, through a dark tunnel with indentations that, if these really were catacombs, would have had dead bodies in them.

After the tour, I spent some time in the rose garden and walking through the cloisters, taking in the bright and shiny mosaics of scenes from Jesus' life. Everything was blooming and the grounds were bathed in sunshine. It was a really pleasant afternoon, and if you haven't visited yet, I really encourage you too. But don't expect any real catacombs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top 10 DC Things To Do This Summer 2009

By now, I'm sure you've heard the news and if not, let me be the first to tell you: Screen on the Green is back, baby! The outdoor movies will screen in their usual spot every Monday from July 20 - August 1o, starting with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The truth? I've known for awhile; and since it's no secret what my #1 summer activity is year after year, I've been holding my Top Ten list until it was made official.

So, without further ado...the DC365 Top Ten Things To Do This Summer in DC, 2009 edition!

10. Hillwood Estate outdoor movies: There were only two of these wonderful events scheduled for this year, and there's only one left, so what are you waiting for? Get your ticket! A nice, lush lawn, candelabra, cake stands, quality movies, wall-to-wall gays and free bug spray. Trust me, you want this.

9. Go on a bike ride: My bike tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk inspired me -- there are tons of trails in the area to get your cycle on and enjoy the summer sun. If you have a bike, consider joining the Washington Area Bicycle Association. If you don't have a bike, fork over the $40 and join Smartbikes for a year. I'm a member, and I'm a big fan. You can take a bike from any of the eight current docking stations and return it to any docking station within three hours. And, the program got $3 million in stimulus money to expand, so there will even more stations in the coming year.

8. Mr. Yogato: When you're sweating and salty, the very best thing for that is a cup of original tangy with fresh blueberries and strawberries. If you're really salty and sweaty, you can attempt the 30-day challenge: eat at Yogato every day for 30 days and you get a flavor named after you! If you prefer variety, you can also check out tangysweet, Larry's Homemade, Dolcezza and Pitango.

7. Pick Peaches: The Boyfriend and I had a blast picking apples at Stribling Orchard, and this year we plan to go back out to the country to pick as many peaches as we can load into our bags. You can pick peaches at Stribling, or you can join Farmfoody, which is like Facebook for farmers, to get bulletins on whose peaches are ripe and when. A summer full of peach cobbler, peach ice cream, and peach pie? Yes, please.

6. Cantina Marina: This bar is like Spring Break, all summer long. Right on the water, open and breezy, and with copious frozen margaritas at your disposal, you'll think you're back in college in Cancun. It is a great place to while away a lazy afternoon in the sunshine and summer breeze. Beware, on Nats game days and Friday and Saturday nights it can be quite crowded. If you're looking for an alternate roof deck or patio, check out the Helix Hotel bar, Marvin or the Beacon Martini Sky Bar.

5. A Nationals Game: I know the Nats suck, but come on -- sitting in the sunshine with an $7 Miller Lite, a Ben's Chili dog and some peanuts, watching the Nats lose? Doesn't get much better than that.

4. Wolftrap: I do love the Wolftrap, with it's lawn seating and liberal alcohol policy. Check out their schedule for upcoming acts. Why did this beloved summertime activity drop to #4 this year? With all the rain we've been having, the risks are high that you'll be stuck on the lawn in the middle of a downpour, which is not fun at all.

3. The Uptown: Harry Potter VI comes out this summer, and you will find me in line at the Uptown. This is still the best venue to see the the loud and flashy summer action movies with it's enormous screen and old timey balcony (!) seating. The Uptown is full of memories and experiences, I can sum it up better than I did when it was Thing 49.

2. Go on a picnic: I'm really trying to expand my picnic repertoire this year, and I always welcome more suggestions. Although the cherry blossoms are gone, the Tidal Basin and Haines Point remain excellent picnic locations, but there is also Malcolm X Park, the Franciscan Monastery, Gravelly Point, Poplar Point, Pierce Mill, Logan Circle, and on and on. Bring a cooler filled with cold, refreshing beverages, some dips in a tiffin, and kek with a chole in it, and you've got yourself a perfect summer afternoon.

1. Screen on The Green: See you for some box wine, dancing and sweating at Close Encounters of the Third Kind!! And many thanks to the saviours of this event: HBO, Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall!

Want more ideas? Check out my 2008 Top Ten list and my 2007 Top Five.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thing 156: Artomatic

When I was a sophomore in college, I met a local boy who was an artist and into graphic novels. We kinda liked each other and he asked me out on a date. He came to pick me up from Foggy Bottom, and I asked him where we were going. "The waterfront," he replied. "We're going to see an art show."

Looking back, my narrow knowledge of DC at the time was downright shameful, but I was so confused when we got on the Metro to go to the Georgetown waterfront, and even more confused when we transferred to the green line. When we emerged, there didn't appear to be any water in sight, only a Safeway, a parking lot, and a rather large, abandoned-looking office building.

You've guessed it -- the waterfront was of course the Southwest waterfront, and the art show was Artomatic. It all felt very glamorous and exciting to be in an exotic part of the city and seeing an alternative, indy art show that sure had some weird stuff. Sadly, the boy and I never made it to date two, and I barely stepped foot in Southwest after that.

It took eight years for Artomatic to come back to the waterfront, and it took me that long to pay it a return visit. On Saturday, I strolled down the waterfront, now the home of the stadium and a neighborhood I frequent (the Boyfriend has lived in the littlest quadrant nearly a year), to a shiny new office building that has been taken over for the month of June by all manner of artists and performers.

If you haven't yet been to Artomatic, I'm not sure what you're waiting for. I guarantee: You will find something in this art show that you love, if only because of the sheer magnitude of works of art available to see. The show is nine full floors, of which we only made it through three, and as it was we saw gorgeous, thought-provoking, silly, ugly, weird, scary and peaceful works. Sculpture, oil, watercolor, installation, tin foil, greeting card, photography and marshmallow pieces. You will find something you cannot live without, and something you'd wish you'd never seen, before you leave.

I am primarily attracted to photography, and really loved Tony DeFilippo's photos of the District, as well as Jim Darling's portraits and stories in his 100 Strangers project. I also love abstract art with bright colors and repeating patterns, and was completely drawn in by Joel Church's pieces. I enjoyed Ginny Kinsey's block prints, with their messy outlines and unique point of view, and I still don't know what to make of Bunny Noir, but I really enjoyed it.

And that was from one third of the entire thing -- before my brain shut off and my stomach started growling. Think of all the fabulous things I've missed in the other six floors! And the live performances that happen through the day, each day!

Artomatic continues through July 5. Don't make the mistake I did by waiting eight years between visits.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thing 155: The Notorious Scandals of Dupont Circle

The final tour I took over WalkingTown DC weekend was the Notorious Scandals of Dupont Circle tour. I was not the only person to have this idea. Over 200 people showed up for this tour which was...too many. Although the tour was still fun, it lost a good deal of its charm by virtue of having to do battle with other people in order to get close enough to hear our guide. Even with that obstacle though, I learned the following things:
  • In the late 1910s, an anarchist attempted to blow up a member of the Cabinet by strapping explosives to his body and then ringing the doorbell. Unfortunately, on his way up to the house to ring the door bell, the young man tripped on the sidewalk and blew himself up -- and what a powerful explosion it was! Paul, our guide, read us the newspaper account, which was mighty gruesome, including that the man's spinal column flew across the street, broke an upstairs window, and landed by the bed of a student trying to take a nap!
  • The Hope Diamond belonged to a woman who lived in Dupont Circle (the house that is now the Indonesian embassy, in fact) -- her family was so rich that seemed to have just bought it on a lark, and there are pictures of her swimming in it, and accounts that she would attach it to her dog's collar before taking him out for a stroll.

  • And speaking of diamonds, that lady from the Titanic movie? Rose? Based on a DC resident. She was way ahead of her time, writing and lecturing on how women should be their own people and make their own living. She lived on New Hampshire Avenue, and was coming back from Europe aboard the Titanic. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, she found a lifeboat that was being captained by a very inept male crew member -- she and another woman took it over and steered them towards rescue.

  • DC also has its own "Schindler" who saved a bunch of Jews during the war, but didn't get a movie made about him so isn't as famous. And of course, I didn't take notes during this tour, so I am unable to bring his name to light even now. But, if I recall, he saved 60,000 German Jews by getting them US visas in a hurry.

  • We stopped along the block of Q Street between 17th & 18th, right in front of a man's house who was just sitting on his front stoop, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper. Suddenly, 200 people swarm around his house, as our guide announces to us that this block is famous for murder and mayhem. In fact, in front of this particular house, a man was killed with nothing but a slingshot. Nice relaxing Sunday for that home owner, I imagine.

  • DC had its very own slasher -- like Jack the Ripper. This person would break into people's homes, and slash his victims ruthlessly. This went on on and off for six years until he was finally apprehended. How could this go on so long? His victims were sofas, and other pieces of furniture, and so he was pretty low on the police's priority list.

  • Dupont Circle originally had a statue of Admiral Dupont in the center of it -- just as Logan or Thomas or Scott circles have statues of Logan or Thomas or Scott. Except apparently, Admiral Dupont was a pretty terrible admiral. His statue was mocked when it stood in the circle, and eventually, his family took it down and moved it to the family estate, and commissioned the now-beloved fountain to stand in its place.

Our tour was led by Paul Williams of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, who literally wrote the book on Dupont Circle. He was as surprised as the rest of us by the sheer turnout for the tour, but stayed in good spirits and projected his voice just as much as he could. And he clearly took delight in all the scandals and murder that he told us about, as did the 200 of us listening, and the odd homeowner who might have learned a little something new about his home that day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thing 154: Walking Tour of Brookland

Continuing with my recap of WalkingTown DC free walking tour weekend, I got off at the Brookland/CUA metro stop for a walking tour through the Brookland neighborhood. This was the second time getting off at that metro stop in the entire ten years I've lived here, and the first time was to go to a craft fair at Catholic University. So I was really going into this tour without any idea of what I might learn or see or find.

What I found is a highly residential, very diverse, suburban feeling neighborhood, with a mix of houses going back to the early 1900s up to modern architecture. Our guide, Ed, had lived in the neighborhood for seventeen years and was proud to show us the homes of any resident, past or president, who had even a tenuous claim to fame.

We started out tour by seeing the original Brooks mansion, which lent Brookland its name once the property was divided and sold. In the 1840s, the Queen family had built their daughter and her new husband, Mr. Brooks, a mansion on a hill, sitting on a hundred or so acres. In the 1880s, the land was partitioned and sold. Because it was not sold to a developer but rather sold as individual lots, there's no uniform look to the neighborhood -- everyone built whatever kind of house they wanted to. In addition, because the lots were sold individually, it was a more hospitable neighborhood for African Americans, and the neighborhood has a rich history of prominent African Americans as residents.

The neighborhood also has a rich Catholic history. Not only is Catholic University right across the train tracks, but there are numerous Catholic schools and churches in the neighborhood. In addition, there is a Franciscan monastery up the hill that is truly stunning.

Ed led us up the hill (past a park that used to be a Civil Was fort, but now apparently has really excellent sledding terrain in the winter) and once we'd entered the monastery, gave us ten minutes to explore on our own. The monastery is completely breathtaking.

Inside city limits, tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood, is a huge monastery, with a gorgeous rose garden, fountains, cloisters lined with vibrant mosaics, and the "Ave Maria" in every language of the world. That's all I had a chance to see in ten minutes, but I already have plans to go back and spend an afternoon there, so I will report back shortly on what else there is there. Ed said there were catacombs, which I'm looking forward to. But the fraction that I did see completely blew me away, and made the trip out to Brookland well worth it.

I do have a major remaining question about Brookland -- aside from frolicking through the monastery and gardening in your enormous corner lot, what is there to do there? We passed through their commercial strip, but it looked mostly like chains or takeout counters. What am I missing? If you have a favorite bar, restaurant, museum or activity in Brookland, leave it in the comments. I am intrigued by the neighborhood, but not sure what else might be there.

Two years ago: The smoky goodness that is Rocklands BBQ.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thing 153: Walking Tour of Historic Logan Circle

I live in Logan Circle. I shop there, I eat there, I've worked there -- in other words, it's my home base. Which is why I'm so embarrassed that I knew virtually nothing of the history of the neighborhood! Did you know that General Logan started Memorial Day? Or that Logan Circle was originally called Iowa Circle? And that the Iowa Circle neighborhood was called "Hell's Bottom" in the late 1800s because it was that bad? Or that Mary McLeod Bethune used to live in the neighborhood? Next to a museum for confederate soldiers?

I learned so much on this tour.
We started the tour in Logan Circle itself, with our tour guide Tim, a small and good-humored man with the faintest of mohawks. He started by explaining to us how Iowa Circle fit into L'Enfant's grand plan for the capital, as one of the points of a triangle between Logan Circle, Dupont Circle and the White House. The circle was planned to be residential, and is now the only remaining purely residential circle in the whole city.

Almost from the get go, Iowa Circle was not a great neighborhood (hence the Hell's Bottom nickname), but then in 1968 it was pretty much burned to ground or otherwise destroyed in the riots following MLK Jr's assassination. After that, it's been on a slow but steady rebuild, that was greatly accelerated once Whole Foods opened up on P Street.

We walked from Logan Circle to Naylor Court, to learn a bit about residential alley life after the Civil War, and then contrasted that by looking at the SoLo Piazza building at the corner of 13th & N, as an example of the newer architecture in the neighborhood.

We learned that the Washington Plaza Hotel was designed by the same man who designed the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami (and now that he mentioned it, I do see a strong resemblance), and across the street we learned about the rival Lutheran churches, as well as the history of the N Street Village.
Perhaps most interesting was just up the street from there, where the Mary McLeod Bethune House has been converted into a historic museum that gives tours! (It's on the list now, so keep an eye out for an upcoming Thing.) Apparently, when Mary McLeod Bethune was in DC, she lived in my neighborhood, out of the top floors of house on Vermont Ave, and on the bottom floor were the meeting places of the National Council of Negro Women. Then someone else on the tour group piped in that the enormous house two doors down from Mary McLeod Bethune's had been a rest home for Confederate veterans, and then was converted into a museum of Confederate history, which flew the Confederate flag! They must have made for uneasy neighbors.

We went down to the retail heart of Logan, P Street between 14th & 15th, where we got a peak at the original Shepard Fairey Obama portrait, and then stopped on 14th Street to talk about the Studio Theater, and the old Automobile Row of the 1950s. Have you ever wondered why so many buildings along 14th Street (like Posto, for example) have those enormous, open, first floors? They were automobile showrooms in the 1950s, and the buildings have all been deemed historic buildings since then, so they can't be redeveloped into less awkward spaces.

The tour ended back in Logan Circle, with the career of General Logan himself. General Logan was a staunch anti-abolitionist, until his experience fighting alongside black Union troops changed his mind and he became a strong advocate for civil rights. After the war, he was elected the Senator for Illinois, and had a townhouse actually on Iowa Circle, which would later be named for him. When he was re-elected to the Senate, several thousand black DC residents gathered in the circle to congratulate him, and he invited every single one of them into his home so he could have the honor of shaking their hand. Apparently, it took well into the night.

This is a brief (well, I tried to keep it brief) overview of the tour -- if you're interested in learning more about the neighborhood, I highly recommend taking the tour when WalkingTown DC comes back around next fall, or get in touch with the Logan Circle Community Association.

Coming up, I tour Brookland, and am way impressed by a neighborhood I knew nothing about!

Related: Bike tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk, Before There Was Harlem..., and North by Northwest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Thing 152: Bike Tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk

If any of you out there are following my Twitter feed, you'll know I spent pretty much my entire weekend on one tour or another. Yes, it was the semiannual WalkingTown DC, which gives locals and tourists alike the opportunity to participate in over a hundred free walking and bike tours. This event is held in the spring and in the fall, and organized by Cultural Tourism DC, and I urge all of you to take advantage of this opportunity!

I started my WalkingTown weekend at 9am on Saturday morning at the entrance to the Southwest fish market, bike in tow. I was there for the bike tour of the Anacostia Riverwalk, along with about twenty other early birds. This tour is put on by the DC Department of Transportation (or DDoT, or "d.") and was actually led by the head of DDoT, Gabe Klein. Allow me a moment to geek out, but how cool is that? If you read this website, you'll remember that Gabe Klein was a bold and progressive choice for the job, having come off of a four year stint as regional VP of ZipCar, and as an advocate for transportation that might not necessarily begin and end with the personal car. And now here he was, in bike shorts and bright yellow biking shirt, ready to give the twenty of us his own guided tour of the Anacostia waterfront.

After giving us an introduction and an overview of the plan to rebuild the Southwest Waterfront area, we cycled in a pack down to the Titanic Memorial, and then east to the Nats Stadium. At the stadium, Klein, with help from three other DDoT employees, talked about the transportation issues surrounding the building of the stadium, and also the colossal engineering project that was the lowering of the South Capitol Street Bridge.

We continued on to the new USDoT, which stands next to the Navy Yard, and they spoke about the grand plan to connect the stadium all the way through the Navy Yard and beyond with new bike trails, hopefully easing some of the commuting congestion for the 20,000 expected new federal workers in the area. Klein mentioned that he's also looking at remaking the bridges, adding extra bus lines down M Street, and hopefully extending the upcoming street car system into the area, along with encouraging mixed-used developments so that people can live, work and play all within walking distance.

After this stop, I get a little hazy, geographically speaking, on where we went next. I know that we rode along a trail that took us next to a boat house where there were crew races:

And then over some railroad tracks and around and behind RFK Stadium, to what I think was Benning Road, where there was a farmers' market. We took a ten minute pause here to use restrooms and refuel, as needed.

From there, we crossed the Anacostia to its east bank, and then rode for several miles along the river, past a roller skating rink, past playgrounds and picnics and people fishing, seeing the crew races and the Navy Yard and the Stadium from an angle that I've never seen before. We met up again at Poplar Point, where one of the DDoT employees talked about the huge mixed-use development they envision some years into the future, with plenty of park land and new housing, retail and work space, all a few steps from the Anacostia Metro Station.

And from there, we went over the South Capitol Street bridge, and back to the fish market. In all, the ride took three hours, I saw parts of DC I've never seen before (and frankly, I'm not sure I can find again), and got an inside look at the vision behind a lot of the development projects that will shape the future of DC.

From there, I had to zip back home to shower and eat before heading to the next tour...Historic Logan Circle.

Related: Before There Was Harlem and North by Northwest

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thing 151: Amsterdam Falafel

"Hey Fancy, what's a...fall-off...fluff...falafel?" This question was lobbed over the cubicle wall of my office on Monday, an innocent enough question (and let's just ignore for a moment that my work nickname is Fancy).

I sprung to my feet and darted over to my coworker, eyes wide in disbelief. "What's a falafel?! Grab your wallet, we're going on a field trip right now."

Well, the field trip had to wait until the next day due to such intrusions as appointments and conference calls, but the next day at lunch time, we piled into a coworker's car and road tripped from Capitol Hill to 18th St, in Adams Morgan, for some Amsterdam Falafel.
I figured, if you've never had falafel before -- fried patties made of chick peas -- then you should sample the very best falafel available for your first try. And as far as I'm concerned, Amsterdam has the very best falafel in DC (I had an ex-boyfriend who said it was the best falafel in North America, a claim I can neither endorse nor deny).

What makes Amsterdam so good? Well, for one thing, they specialize. There are three items on their menu: falafel, fries and brownies. That's it. You can decide if you want a small or regular falafel sandwich, on white or wheat pita, but that's about it. However, if you require options in your life, look no further than the enormous toppings bar to the left of the register. Just as M'Dawg had toppings galore, Amsterdam provides you with a couple dozen options for topping your falafels, all of them tantalizing and delicious.

The only advice I gave to my falafel novices was not to go too crazy at the toppings bar. It's an easy mistake to make -- a little of this, a little of that, and then suddenly you have 12 different flavors, not all of which are going to taste all that when smushed together.
For me? I favor tahini, baba ganoush and cucumber salad. Lyz went with cucumbers, red cabbage slaw and tatziki. Kristi opted for hummus and dark, caramelized roasted eggplant. And just look at these happy first timers!

Amsterdam also makes exceptional fries, and provides "garlic creme" (aka garlic mayonnaise, but I normally don't like mayonnaise, and I love this "creme" stuff) for dipping. They are twice fried and deliciously crispy and salty.

The falafel newbie was happy and full, and already plotting what her next topping combination would be.
Nearby: Peyote Cafe or the Duplex Diner

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thing 150: Politics and Prose

"We're going to have a reading tonight," Colson Whitehead told those assembled. "It will be fun, edifying, and very, very post-black." He gives the final two words grave emphasis. The audience laughs knowingly, because they all read the New York Times Review of Books religiously.

Welcome to nerd paradise. I am right at home.

Politics and Prose is indeed a paradise for bookworms and intellectuals, an oasis in the dry landscape of chain bookstores. This is among the last of the feisty breed known as the independent bookstore, and one of the reasons they stay relevant is by hosting really excellent authors of both fiction and non, on a regular basis. They also have a great, great selection of books (hard for me to not buy everything I lay my eyes on) and a cafe downstairs. I can't speak personally for the coffee or food, but the coffee in the audience smelled amazing, which is a good sign.

I was excited to be there to see Colson Whitehead, and author I much admire, in particular for his first book, The Intuitionist, which I still think about when I'm in an elevator. In a rather slim novel he spun an alternate reality in which elevator inspectors formed a brotherhood, an exclusive clique, and the two competing schools of inspection were at constant odds. It sounds convoluted, even silly, but the end product was a rich and beautiful metaphor for race in America.

Now he read from Sag Harbor, his newest book, and what he calls "autobiographical" (not quite an autobiography, and certainly not a memoir. As he told us in answer to a question I asked "It would be so easy to write a proposal if I was in a plane crash and had to eat the other people I was stranded with...So, when something real happens in my life, I'll write a memoir, but until then, I have to rely on other things."). Dressed in skinny, skinny hipster jeans, a vest and a tie, and long, thin dreadlocks, Whitehead kept us rapt and laughing, alternating between his strong, poetic prose, and his side comments that kept us laughing, especially his "VISUAL AID."

If you caught his piece of short fiction in the New Yorker, that was a chapter excerpted from the book. It's about a group of black teenage boys, who vacation on Long Island during the summer, spending the weeks by themselves while their parents are working in the city. They get into various shenanigans. That's about it. "You may have heard in some reviews," he told us, impishly, "there's not a lot of plot. Not a lot happens. Just like in Ulysses, by James Joyce. Except my book is shorter, so there's that."

He read two sections from the book, one about the glory and progress of frozen foods, the other about the haircuts his main character received from his father. What I was most struck by, which had escaped me when I read The Intuitionist, or Apex Hides the Hurt, or his short fiction, is that Colson Whitehead writes poetry. His words are forceful, each individually chosen for meaning, layers, sound, tone and cadence. When he reads, he reads with the crescendo of a poetry slammer, each line building and then abruptly fading away. Having written it himself, he is uniquely aware of the invisible line breaks, the ones that had to be sacrificed so his novel could be "fiction" and not "poetry." This is what's lost when reading is done silently, and to oneself. The beauty of the book reading is to hear the words spoken out loud, and learn something about the book, and the author in the process.

Related: Tony Bourdain reads from No Reservations and All Aunt Hagar's Children by DC's own Edward P. Jones

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Save Screen on the Green!

This is about the saddest thing I've ever heard.  Screen on the Green has been cancelled this summer?!

I've never made a secret of how much I love SotG.  Like, with a passion that burns in the heavens above.  Not having it this summer will make that long, sweaty month of August just about unbearable.

Please email HBO and let them know you want SotG back.  Talking points to help get your message across:

**How much you love SotG, what it means to you and why it's important to have in DC.
**How the HBO dance provides tremendous brand recognition and loyalty with their esteemed company.
**If you're an HBO subscriber, you might think about cancelling your membership.  If you're not a subscriber, you might want to make it clear that you're loathe to consider a subscription now.
**If it's money they're worried about, and you actually would contribute, suggest they put up voluntary donation jars at each screening to help recoup some costs.

Also, if you want to email any other organization that might be able to pick up the slack (I'm looking at you, Turner Classics), then do so.  I'll bet a TCM dance will be just as silly and fun as any old HBO dance.

Also, by all means, use the comments to express your support and share SotG memories.  We are in a period of mourning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thing 149: Meridian Hill Park

Well, that was exciting! I upload a quick picture of our gorgeous first lady and mention how much I love having the Obamas in this great city of ours, and next thing I know, I've scooped the Washington Post, DCist, USA Today and Politico. So, if there are any new readers to the blog, I'd like to say, Welcome! You can read a little bit more about what this blog is all about here and here.

How amazing was the weather this weekend? It was perfect picnic weather, and we all know how much I love a picnic. This time, we headed towards Meridian Hill Park, aka Malcolm X Park, a park that I realize I have spent entirely too little time in.
Meridian Hill Park is a perfect place to spend an afternoon. It's spacious (12 acres), and tiered, so it's easy enough to stake out a corner for yourself that feels quiet if you're feeling quiet. Or you can throw yourself into the myriad activities if you're looking for a more communal experience. Acrobatics,
tight rope walking, hula hooping, dog walking, sun bathing and of course, an amazing drum circle.

In addition to the lively drum circle and excellent array of dogs to coo over, Meridian Hill Park boasts a thirteen basin cascade fountain, overflowing from one basin into the next and dramatically cascading down. At least, I presume this is what happens, for the fountain was empty yesterday, but was lined in bright yellow daffodils and was nevertheless quite pleasant to look at.

It also home to the only equestrian statue in DC that depicts a woman riding the horse -- Joan of Arc rides proudly on the terrace above the fountain; a gift from "ladies of France in exile in New York."

As for our group, we stuck to usual picnic activities like eating cinnamon swirl bundt cake, joking in the sunshine and playing Uno. We whiled away the afternoon nibbling on potato salad and an huge sandwich, playing skips and reverses, as the drum circle beats drifted down to us.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thing AWESOME: See Michelle Obama

I just came back from a visit to the West Coast, and everyone I talked to would say "so, how's Washington these days?" and I would answer "well, we have some pretty hot neighbors, that's for sure."

I'm not back one day when the Michelle Obama took the neighbor thing one step further, by eating lunch at Good Stuff Eatery, across the street from my office.  So what did I do?  Joined in the growing crowd, whipped out my camera, and waited for the First Lady to exit the building.

She whizzed past us, waving and smiling, in a kicky little ponytail and grey capri pants, as the crowd shouted "We love you!"  (This is, for the record, the most celebrity-esque scrum I've been in.  This is the Lindsey Lohan of Washington).

I do really love and admire how the Obamas are making this city their home, and taking part in the life and culture this city has to offer.  They are some pretty hot neighbors.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thing 27: Urban Dare Revisited, Dominated and Won

You didn't think I trained for the ten miler just to run a ten miler, did you?  Oh no, it was all training leading up to Urban Dare 2009.  And guess what?  It was worth it, because we won.

Let's backup a bit here.  Urban Dare is a scavenger hunt/amazing race activity that GFD and I did two years ago, and totally failed miserably.  You can read about the entire pathetic experience here, but in sum, it took us over four hours and we technically never completed the race.  We vowed to do better the next time.

Then I went to Seattle and missed Urban Dare 2008.

Which bring us to last Saturday, a sunny and clear day perfect for the race.  I was in literally the best shape I've ever been in my life, having taken to the gym the day after Urban Dare 2007, and having kept it up pretty regularly, for the most part.  GFD and I also had a system this year, basically a solution to all the amateur mistakes that we had made two years ago.  I was wearing spandex and sunscreen.  We were ready.

The starting point this year was at McFadden's, where we all congregated to get our t-shirts and do some trash talking.  Then out to Washington Circle, where, like two years ago, we were released for the race depending on whether we go the correct answer to a multiple choice question.  This year, neither David nor I had any idea what the answer was (Treaty of Ghent?), but were already standing in the "B" quadrant so we just hung out there.  And we were right!  We ran to grab our clue sheet, and then got to work.  

I don't want to divulge too much of our patent-pending, 100% effective strategy, but we solved all the clues before we left.

Then we were off.  Our first stop was to run about a half mile straight north, to take our picture was "the gentle giant that defeated the British empire through peaceful means," the Gandhi statue west of Dupont Circle:

Then we ran to just south of Dupont Circle, to take our picture with the statue of the "only U.S. poet to he honored with a commemorative sculpted bust in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey in London."  Our picture with Longfellow:

Then over to the Jefferson Hotel (which is currently under construction), which was "the hotel where Dick Morris got in trouble for sucking a call girl's toes."

We look pretty judgemental about toe sucking, don't we?  

Then it was a couple block north to Scott Circle, "the memorial to the person create homeopathic medicine," where we had to do a dare.  We had to hop on one foot twice around the statue, shouting "yellow" and "purple" as we went.

Next stop, the statue of Samuel Gompers who "founded the American Federation of Labor and served as its president for over 30 years."  This was another dare -- we had to throw beanbags until we got one in each of three holes.  David rocked this one and we were back off and running in no time. 

Further down Mass Ave (and yes, we jogged this whole time), and we took our picture with "the memorial to all victims of communism":
Then up to Union Station for our "bubble dare". This was pretty gross. I had to retrieve a piece of bubble gum from a pile a whipped cream without using my hands, and then blow a bubble.  See how sweaty I am this point? Imagine running three miles, being salty and sweaty, and then diving into a pile of whipped cream.  I was sticky and pretty gross at this point.

Then we took a bathroom break.  That's right, we were so confident that we nonchalantly took a pause to visit the restroom and the water fountain.  Then, back to running. 

Next up, we hit the memorial to those that had been in Japanese internment camps in WWII.  This dare was similar to the one we did two years ago, so we knew how it worked.  We got our word, "mendicant," and then had to add up it's point value based on the value of the letters as they were scattered around the memorial.  This year, no homeless man blocking our view, and we finished this dare in no time.

Down Pennsylvania Avenue now to the memorial to General Mead, who "commanded the Union forces at Gettysburg":

Then a few more blocks down Penn Ave to the memorial for General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was the failed Democratic presidential nominee in 1880.  Here we had to do a wheelbarrow dare, so David got on his hands while I held his feet and walked him once around a set of cones.

Here is were, by a small stroke of luck, I almost fainted.  Ok, so I may have the endurance to do ten miles, but by this time it was 1:30pm and it was HOT outside.  I was thirsty.  I started to see spots and probably should sit down.  I crouched while David bought a bottle of water from a street vendor, and then the 36 bus was coming right then, so we hopped on, hoping to get a bit of air conditioning and a small rest.

Our next stop was the Treasury Building, and the 36 bus goes all the way down Penn and stops on 15th Street next to the Treasury, so what the heck, right?  David was afraid it might slow us down, so we kept an eye on other Urban Darers as they were running down Penn Ave and wouldn't you know it but we ended up passing the team that ultimately came in second!  That bus was our lucky break.

We hopped out at the Treasury and got our picture with "Genius of Finance" Gallatin:
Then we got our second lucky break, the 5:00 Bonus photo.  "Get your picture with the memorial where a topless woman is handing a sword up to her hero," for which we could get 5:00 knocked off our final time.  We had a hunch it might be in Lafayette Park, and we were debating whether or not to run around and try to find it, or just pack it in and go back to McFadden's when we looked up and the statue was right in front of us:

Then we ran the eight blocks down Penn to McFadden's, where, much to our utter amazement, we were informed that we had actually come in first place. See how amazed I am?! I still can't quite believe that we went from being miserable failures at this thing to winning a Super Dare three-day cruise in the Bahamas for free!!

Plus, it gave me lots of fodder for my annual birthday scavenger hunt.

Two years ago:  Our first pathetic attempt at Urban Dare.