Because I Like Cemeteries

For the State Department Round Up this week "Small Bits" has asked for submissions of our favorite pictures.  This picture is of a cemetery on the Mount of Olives that overlooks Jerusalem. If you look close you can see little birds flying over the graves.  There are many "end of days" prophecies in Judaism and Christianity regarding these cemeteries - I'm not sure about Islam.   I started researching some of them, but then it occurred to me that I could harness the power of the internet and crowd source it.  So feel free to enlighten all of us if you know the Mount of Olives prophecies from any religion.   


On Touching Stuff

I read this today on National Geographic's "Intelligent Travel Blog"regarding the top 10 archeological discoveries of 2010:

"The magazine also listed their threatened sites of the year, which include prehistoric Native American geoglyphs in southeast California, and the neolithic rock art in Egypt's Cave of the Swimmers. The rock art, which was popularized in the film The English Patient, is being "admired to death by tourists who feel compelled to touch the 10,000-year-old paintings," the magazine reports. But Egypt's council on antiquities is working on an outreach effort aiming to educate drivers who transport tourists to these sites. Their hope is that the drivers will encourage good behavior and teach tourists how to behave appropriately when viewing the art."

This touched on a pet peeve of mine and at this juncture of good will and holiday hope, I'd like to snark about it for a minute or two.  Isn't that what people keep blogs for anyway?

It's summer 2008.  Max and I are getting pretty good at the get-on-the-bus-get-off-the-bus migration that constitutes an inordinate amount of time on our Jordan study abroad program's detour in Egypt.  We have just uniformly shuffled off the bus in front of The Pyramids in the Giza Necropolis.  The Great Pyramid of Giza, or Pyramid of Cheops, specifically is the oldest of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the world.  It is enormous and mysterious and marvelous.

Along with a pack of students we wind our way through grimy teethed Egyptians trying to relieve us of as many Egyptian Pounds as they think we'll be tricked into giving away.

"I was in that picture you just took.  Bakshish (tips)" they say with hands extended and smiles which quickly turn into grimaces if you refuse.  It's tricky to get to the Great Pyramid's entrance without getting harassed or fleeced (and most endure a combination of both) but we do finally arrive at a dusty booth where a woman sells tickets through a small slit in a dirty window.

"No cameras inside.  No cameras" she says, "You can leave them here."  And she points to a woven basket full of expensive cameras.

Dutifully I drop my camera in the bucket and hope that I will see it again in 40 minutes when the tour is finished.  A group of us descend into the Pyramid and at first I'm groovin, Egypt style.  Its' amazing, really, I'm going to walk deep into the heart of an Ancient Pyramid!  But then the floor slopes into a sharp decline and I have to bend over at the waist to fit, the ancient stones scraping the sides of my shoulders.  I start to feel claustrophobic and the only thing I can think of to stop me from turning around and making everyone get out so I can breath again is singing church hymns.  A bit of an odd juxtaposition, Christian worship music in the heart of a burial temple for a polytheistic pharaoh, but if it works, it works.  And it does.  When we stand up straight at the end of a cramped tunnel and find ourselves in an actual burial chamber I am awestruck.  In April of 2008 I wrote in my journal

"Everything has been stripped in the burial room except for a giant stone box that the sarcophagus used to be in.  They had one small light backlighting the stone box and it was absolutely beautiful.  Despite the 120 + muggy temperature inside (and all of it 4000 year old air)  it was such a surreal experience.  Knowing that this was the final resting place for one of the pharaohs, but more than that, knowing the sacred processes that when on in this room and how important it was to the Ancient Egyptians.  It had the stillness of a regular cemetery, but the religious implications of a temple in some ways.  Amazing."

But my much enjoyed orientalist awe is interrupted by the click, click, clicking of little cameras and obnoxious flashes illuminating the chamber with garish light.  Several of the students had decided that their experiences were so much more important that the rest of ours, and CERTAINLY more than those yet to visit the pyramid, that they snuck their camera in and ran around from corner to corner touching things, trying to climb up the walls, and taking pictures.  I could have died.

So here's my beef.  When people say "Don't take pictures" "Don't Touch"  - they mean it.  These artifacts are remarkable and irreplaceable shrines to our history and our planet.  If you think that your experience is more important than anyone else's and you just have to touch something - it's not and you shouldn't.  Consider this a big fat digital tsk tsk.  

Anthony Bourdain, Food and Travel Writer, frequently edits the "The Best American Travel Writing" series.  In the 2008 edition he said something like "Travel writers ultimately destroy the things they love."  They write about an off the beaten path Mom and Pop restaurant and the next year it is swarming with customers - it's charm given way to sweaty tourist in Hawaiian shirts.  A tucked away meadow becomes trampled after being written about for its solitude and beauty.  It's a reality of travel.  But people, for Heaven's sake, if an official says "Don't Touch"  - don't touch it.  If they tell you not to take pictures of the Sistene Chapel - don't do if.  If someone says "Do not remove anything from this sight"- don't do it.  And even if they don't say that - don't do it.*  

If travel is about what you can  post on your facebook profile the next day or what you can say you've touched or have displayed on your mantle - you are missing the spirit of the thing entirely.  So please, for all of you touchers and takers out there - ease up.  I want my kids to be able to see the amazing things of the world decades from now, and it will be a shame if we gobble up all the treasures in our traveler's greed and carelessness.  

*As a photographer I am certainly not advocating that you put your camera on the shelf.  Just don't take pictures inside 10,000 year old caves when someone tells you not to.  Ok?  



Merry Christmas

Consider this an early Christmas Present.

Fillipo was one of my favorite/most horrible students at English Camp in Italy this summer.  He has no front teeth.  Now just imagine him wolfing down bowl after bowl of spaghetti with the hair-netted lunch ladies pinching his cheeks - red sauce from ear to ear.


Rick Steves on My Birthday?

After a good sleep in, a documentary about an Afghan American Idol, a nice long read,  a fine dinner out, and a renaissance Christmas performance by the Tallis Scholars, we came home to find a Rick Steves Marathon on our local public radio station.

Could this be the best birthday ever?


The National Cathedral

Just because of how things worked out, I experienced the big cities of Europe and the Middle east before I visited them in my own country.  I pretty much went straight from my little town in Utah to the Middle East - stopping on the East Coast only to switch planes and take a pre-Atlantic potty brake.  It has been really fascinating to encounter my own "National" things with something to compare them to - a perspective about how other countries perceive their national identity and how they translate that into their buildings or parks.

Jordan, for example, doesn't really embrace the idea of the "public park".   I recall a stroll through what was basically a manicured gravel pit with benches one Sunday after church.  Israel's national library has the goal of obtaining all things Jewish and/or Hebrew throughout time and the world.  If that doesn't speak to Israel's national Identity of sanctuary for and steward over all things Jewish, I don't what would.

The first time I went to the National Mall with Max and walked through its green grass I was struck with such pride in the way American architects and public officials have conceptualized our national spaces.  The mall is green, it's open, and people wander over it freely*.  All people have equal access to it, and it speaks to the nature found in the area - replete with forest service protected wildlife.  (Squirrels)  The buildings are beautiful, but not gaudy; grand but not unapproachable.

Anyway, Max and I have been able to see several public performances at the National Cathedral.  It's a stunning building that at once says "old world craftsmanship" and "new world values".  I don't know a lot about building construction, but evidently, it was built in such a way as to adhere to all of the traditional masonic rules and practices - real old school.  It is the 6th largest cathedral in the world and the 2nd largest in America.

The melding of old and new can be seen in the stained glass windows.  The nave is filled with beautiful, very colorful, stained glass windows  - like traditional late Gothic churches.  BUT instead of religious images alone, the stained glass windows also depict scenes from American life and history.  There are windows depicting farmers, the industrial revolution, and my favorite, a window depicting the space program with a REAL MOON ROCK at its center.  This website has some beautiful pictures of the windows.

The boss stones (decorative sculpture knobs at the intersection of ceiling ribs or walls) have traditional things like flowers, but there is also one of Alaskan Inuits with a dogsled and another of a fisherman.  Somewhere there is a gargoyle fashioned after Darth Vader, but I have yet to spot it.

The church is officially Episcopalian and funded entirely by donations - nobody need get their Church and State panties in a twist.  Below you'll notice the state flag of Arizona.  Inside the cathedral they fly the flag of every state in the union.  Each week they pray for one of the states at Sunday Services.  On the 51st week they pray for the district and on the 52nd they pray for the nation.  Isn't that a sweet thing?     

It's a lovely building.  

 *If you want to think about American public spaces and their relationship to American values check out Ken Burn's National Parks series.  I'm really not a sierra club kinda gal, but he touches on some fascinating aspects of our national character by exploring our public parks history.  Very dear.


Manuscripts Awesomeness

warning: The nerd factor of this post is about 8/10.  If you don't really care about making books...skip this post.  

In this, the second to last semester of Grad School, I am taking a Medieval Manuscripts Class.  I know, it's totally awesome.  We basically study the construction, design, history, and context of manuscripts from the 6th century through the late middle ages.  It's like I've died and gone to heaven and someone is giving me school credit for it.

When Max and I were in New York I insisted that we go to the New York Public Library- twice actually.  I didn't know if they had any exhibits going on, but I thought it was worth a shot.  When we got pas security I looked up to find a sign that read

"Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam.  Scriptorium This Way"

What?  A scriptorium?  (The scriptorium is the room where monk scribes copied manuscripts and did the illumination and decoration)  Turns out we had stumbled into an exhibit on the "founding religious manuscripts of the three Abrahamic faiths" complete with scriptorium.  I spent most of my time in the scriptorium watching videos about making ink and parchment and doing medieval calligraphy.  This little backlit table below was set up so people could trace calligraphy from the various languages involved in the exhibit.

These other pictures help illustrate the book making process.  The first pictures are bottles of pigment that were traditionally mixed with egg white (called tempera) or gum arabic to produce flowing inks and paints.  It looks awesome, but somehow I doubt that 6th century monks had hot pink ink.  They did have a surprising amount of colors at their disposal, but I don't think hot pink was one of them.  The color pigments come from things that occur in nature - trees, rocks, dirt, plants, rust, special kinds of fungus, etc.  There is a long soaking and grinding and sifting process that takes place before you get to this stage.   
This is a piece of parchment as it stretches on a frame.  But let's back up.  In preparation for my final on Wednesday, I'll just give you some of the juicy bookmaking details.  Parchment was used for "books" after things like clay, wax, or stone tablets.  You make parchment, which comes from the skin of an animal, by soaking the skin in a solution of lye, sometimes alum, sometimes oakgall (little knots on trees left over from insects) - there are a variety of things.  This helps the hair fall off.  Then you scrape the skin with a sharp knife, soak it again, scrape it again and then stretch it out to dry on a frame.  While on the frame you scrape it again, making sure to remove all of the hair.  Lastly, there is a kind of polishing done on the parchment by rubbing pumice or the flat side of knife over the skin.  It was also common to treat the parchment with something that would help ink stay put on the skin later in the bookmaking process.  By the end the very thin skin is folded, cut, marked and text is copied onto it.  
They also had a display about paper.  Paper is made by separating the fibers of an existing thing, a plant or a tree, or natural fibers like the ones below, by soaking it in water, beating the pulp to break fibers apart, running the sludge through a screen and then leaving the newly formed fibers to dry and bind into a new sheet of paper.  There was a little egg shaped burnisher made out of a rock that we could try and burnish the paper with to give it a better look.  Very hard stuff.  

Wow.  I've really nerded up the place.  I'll leave the other mysteries of bookbinding for another day.  But if you want to learn more about the exhibit and watch the awesome videos, you can follow the library's link.  NewYork Public Library: Three Faiths


Nothin' a Pair of Sweatpants Can't Fix

When I was in college my dear friend, who was also my roomate, and I wore sweat pants most days.  I'm pretty sure we wore regular clothes to school (....) but for some reason the weekend and any time away from school was spent in sweatpants.  There were several pairs in rotation between us - one a cut off pair left over from High School Powder Puff with something like "Juniors Rock" written across the tush, a giant pair I think I stole from my little brother, a baggy construction orange number that my roommate contributed (and wore the most) and a black pair of wide leg pants, torn and dirty from dragging over the ground.  Which, come to think of it, must mean that this particular pair was worn many times outside of our apartment.  Whatever.  I fondly think of the 2003-2004 school year as "The Year of the Sweats".

I've have been feeling a bit under the weather lately, and what longing I've experience for the vast sweat pant collection of my college days!  Not to worry.  Today I woke up feeling just as cruddy as I had for the past few days and so I hopped on the internet and order a few new pairs of sweat pants.  Fancy ones.


But what does one do when wearing said sweatpants?  Read.  That's what.  I have read a few fantastic books lately so I thought I'd pass them along.
When I told Max I was reading a book about immigrant factory girls in China he groaned a little.  I have a penchant for sad books about world events.  It's just my bag.  HOWEVER, this book was anything but sad (ok, a little).  It is largely about the mass migration of young, rural, Chinese girls to the industrial factories of South East China.  But more than that, it's about the values of modern China that these girls represent - exchanging centuries of history and the idea of familial legacy for financial increase and fierce self-reliance.  The Author, Leslie T. Change, at once explores China's changing landscape from past to present, rural to urban, tradition to instability, and also her family's own history as they endured the cultural revolution.  It is one part biography, one part narrative, and two parts cultural analysis of Modern China - a place I knew next to nothing about.  It's a big 'un, but fabulous through and through.  Probably one of the best books I've read in the past 5 years or so.

  The subtitle of this book reads "a girlhood caught in revolutionary Iran".  And that's pretty much what it's about.  The daughter of a poet and poet herself,  Hakakian's book is a thoughtful and beautiful narrative of her experiences in Iran during a very tumultuous time.

And last the best of all the game.  If you don't know Nancy Pearl, you should.  She is a librarian and world class readers advisory guru.  (For all of you non-nerds out there - that is the action of advising readers, like at a library, what books they might enjoy reading based on their stated preferences).  She has several books that give wonderful suggestions about what books people with certain interests might like.  "Book Lust" and "Book Crush" are the title of some of her books.  She even has little action figure.    

On a most purposeful trip to Barnes and Nobles a few weeks ago to pick up a map, this book sneaked into my bag and I have since given it a place of honor on my nightstand.  Basically, she breaks down book recommendations by country or region of the world with a few chapters about mode of transportation and miscellaneous travel writing.  I can hardly wait to read all the books she has recommended!  Last week I said "hmmm, where do I want to travel?  What place do I want to learn more about?"  And turned to a section about Spain, but in the end I settled on a book about Afghanistan - a place I don't really want to travel, but would love to learn more about.  It's like a portkey!...Harry Potter fans? Anyone?   

Anyway, the full title is "Book Lust To Go: Recommended reading for travelers, vagabonds, and dreamers."  If you like traveling, or would like to travel or even just care about the world - get it!

And on that last note, I will end this post on topic that is rather sad for me.  People read for all sorts of reasons, but certainly one of the largest reasons has to be to learn stuff, right?  To learn about history, the world, the human body, human relationships etc.  For date night this week Max and I had a quick bite and then went to Barnes and Noble where we were each going to pick out just one book.  What possibility!  I was feeling like learning something about the world, so I headed to the current event section. Much to my still present dismay, the "current event" section had been overcome by political hackery written by each and every political hack that ever learned to write.  I would say 80% of the books were about President Obama ruining the country, or Republicans ruining the country, or why the crap I think is better and more patriotic than the crap that that other guy says.  I was down right furious. 

And I hear you say "but it's Washington.  Duh."  But no!  Shouldn't this be the place where people want to actually learn stuff?  Where they want to be informed about the world and its history, not imbibe in some ninny's sis boom ba "My book might get me elected to something" extravaganza?

Anyway.  I found a lovely book after all my foot stomping and I've made my peace.


Stuff We Ate and Stuff We Saw

Our main purpose for going to New York was to see a few Broadway shows.  But how could we pass up these tiny cupcakes that were being sold out of a "shop" the size of my closet?  Fitting, really. 
After the tiny cupcakes we saw a new musical called Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson whose tag line is "History Just Got All Sexypants!"  For real.  It's is a musical about the life of Andrew Jackson.  I know, not thrilling right off the bat, but Jackson is portrayed as the in your face, emotional king of populism as it was practiced in the 1800's....with hilarious and spot on commentary about the way it is practiced in 2010.  The Artistic Director had this to say about his interpretation of the show:

[Bloody, bloody] is using the immensely pleasurable tools of Populism to critique that most dangerous of American political phenomena.  I think it is entertainment appropriate for our time.  It may be about our seventh president, but it tackles that ebullient, sentimental, no-nonsense, self-pitying, anti-intellectual, rowdy energy that is at the core of our national identity - with a precision that speaks totally to our moment.  This is who we are, and if it's horrifying, it can also be a lot of fun.  What a contradiction.  America.    

We had, as they say, a rollicking good time.  The costumes and set design were this awesome mix of Victorian England, 19th century Frontier, and one dash Trailer Park 1991.  The theater (below) was unreal.  Don't pay too much attention to the stuffed horse hanging upside down in the middle of the theater.
 We also saw an experimental movement piece that knocked our socks off.  It was a bit like an organized dance party and we had to move around the theater space throughout the show.  At one point a giant clear tarp filled with water was lowered above the audience, and people swam around in it.  Wild.

More on the Museum of Modern Art in the near future.  I'll just say that we saw someone marginally famous AND drank these amazingly overpriced and undersized hot chocolates at the Museum cafe.  It was all we could afford :)   
oohh, along with a report about the Museum of Modern art I will reveal the NYC public library exhibit that set my little librarian heart a flutter. 


Our bus smelled like paint thinner.  I'll just say it.  Not that I'm complaining about a 17 dollar bus ride to NY, but let's just say I'm glad I almost always wear a scarf so that on this particular occasion I could cover my mouth and nose to protect my unborn children from what was certainly an unsafe level of paint thinner on board the bus.  (Is there really a "safe" level of paint thinner to have floating around in an enclosed space?)  Our bus was a bit late, so most of the ride from DC to NYC was in the dark - but no matter - I'm the podcast queen.  I found a podcast called "The Bowery Boys: New York City History" and, in the spirit of Halloween, we listened to New York ghost stories as the windows of our bus slowly fogged up from all of the heavy breathing and paint thinner smell induced coughing.  It was almost as scary as the drive through Baltimore :)

We arrived at about 1:30 AM at Penn Station in NY and the place was hopping.   So much so that in the subway you really couldn't tell weather it was night or day - except for the ridiculous "club" stilettos I saw on many a teenage girl.  Oh no they didn't.  They were a little too reminiscent of Marilyn Manson for me.  We stayed in Brooklyn and loved it.  (Another airbnb success.)  We didn't spend a lot of time in Brooklyn, but traveling to and from Manhattan on the subway we got at least a little glimpse of life in the boroughs.
We spent most of the first day seeing shows (we'll visit that later) and walking from place to place singing theme songs from television or movies that had occurred there with the occasional broadway tune as the fancy struck us.  A little 30 Rock at Rockafeller Plaza, some Ghostbusters at the New York Public library, and why not a few lines from The Producers?  Max knows them all.
"If there's something strange/In your neighborhood..."

The New York Public library had an exhibit that held unspeakable joy for me, but I'll have to get to that and the shows and the food and the MoMA and the crazy people another day.  It has taken me 5 days to recover from our tiny weekend and I still only have steam for this much tonight.

Au revoir for now.      



Ichabod, Ichabod Crane

I know that we are not quite in the land of Ichabod Crane and his Sleepy Hollow, but this past weekend felt awesomely reminiscent.  Max and I had a few friends in town and we took a "Haunted tour of Alexandria" led either by either an enthusiastic young man in colonial garb or a disenfranchised Tea Party patriot - sometimes it's hard to tell around here :)  But either way, the tour wound its way through old town Alexandria and left us in a cemetery where many of the gravestones had been stolen during the civil war to provide a steady base for clunky, off-kilter 19th century cannons.

The next day we drove through Alexandria on the way to Mt. Vernon and saw Mr. Headless Horseman himself!
We rented a car for the weekend because I saw a weekend deal from a rental company that advertised "9.99 per day Fri-Sun".  What a steal! Having rented a car before I thought this will probably not include insurance and that will be the kick in the pants.  But when I totaled everything up my bill said "$22".  I even called and asked if my total was $22.

"Yes Ma'am"

Sounds too go to be true doesn't it?  Well, it was and when mr. mr. handed me my contract he said

"Now, do you have your own insurance or will you be purchasing insurance from us for XX a day?"

Ah ha!  If I had car insurance don't you think I'd have...a car?  In their defense I never said "Hello, do I have to pay additional for insurance?"  Because truly, I wanted it to be $22 dollars for the weekend.  It was my own fault.

But I got right down to turning that frown upside down and called Max on my way to the Falls Church Farmer's Market to say "Pack a lunch - we are going to Mt. Vernon!"

Max calls it 'getting my coupon's worth', and that is essentially what it is.  If I'm paying for it, I'm going to wring out every last bit of value.  And we certainly did.

Mt. Vernon was the home of Martha and General George Washington.  It's located on the banks of the Potamac and on this mid October Saturday it was stunning.  A note about something awesome: The walls in Mt. Vernon are CRAZY colors.  Mostly really vivid blues and greens.  You can see a pic of one room here and another one here.  These images are not exaggerated.  I didn't know anything about the history of wall paint in the 18th and 19th centuries, but don't you want to research it now?
The spoils of the Farmer's Market.  The perfect treat for a fall road trip.  


Do You Have A History of Fainting?

Why, yes I do.  I am a needle passer outer.  I'm actually at my wits end.  I get so worked up and terrified whenever I have to give blood or, get this, get a little tiny shot, that I usually pass out during or shortly after the procedure is finished.

I'm a  grown up.

My last blood draw went pretty well and I only almost passed out twice. The comforting, yet strong Sylvia helped me through it and I pulled myself back from the brink. Yesterday I went to the hospital to get something done and I had to sign a waiver that said I wasn't allergic to any IV something or another.  I hadn't anticipated getting an IV, which I have never had, and proceeded to freak out. While I paced the hospital room looking at objects on the table that appeared to be IV related materials I almost lost it.

It's not that I think I'll die and it's not really about the pain.  Most needle encounters don't really hurt.  There's something about the idea of my insides being prodded and sucked out and displaced by a diversity of viscous fluids that gives me the hebity jebities.  I imagined myself laying on what looked to be an operating table under a bright light, tears streaming out of one eye and down my cheek with my head turned to the side in defeat.  Or, and much worse, I imagined myself having a melt down mid-procedure and thrashing my IV'd hand around in the air yelling for them to take it out*.

I'm a grown up.

I keep analyzing the situation to determine what the pay-off might be and thus replace it with something less lame.   

Am I looking for attention?  Is this about control?  Space and mobility?  Is it a Freudian plea to revisit the overly swift potty training of my youth?  

I don't know the answer.  So, I would like to open a forum on facing your fears.  Feel free, and please, offer any suggestions that have worked to help you get over irrational fears.  It can be related to needles and blood** or any of the many phobias that contribute to our respective and general madness.

What do you do?

* I didn't actually have to have an IV after all.  My day will come, but it wasn't yesterday

**It's not just blood drawing that does it - open wounds, gashes and anything that has been stitched up or taped together makes me have to take a seat, although they have never caused me to pass out.  It's not the blood though, because I am pretty much pro at cutting my fingers with the sharp objects involved in cooking or bookbinding...


Girl in the Boys Club

If you know me, you know that I like to cook and bake and make stuff and in certain circumstances even, gasp, clean.  I like being a wifey and a homemaker.  But every once in a while my feminist self says "But don't think I just stay in the kitchen all day.  And I have ideas.  In fact, I'm a graduate student.  An almost finished one."

French class seems to have brought my sassy feminist self face to face with my Becky Home-Ecky self (to steal an awesome phrase from Jill Pearlman).  I'm the only girl in my class and I'm the only "spouse".  Don't get me wrong, the men in my class are super nice and always make me feel welcome.  In fact, I couldn't have picked a better group of folks to learn French with.  But, I'm still the only sista and as such have to represent.

After the weekend our teacher usually asks us what we did.  As it turns out, one of my favorite weekend activities is to cook all the fun things I didn't have time for during the week.  That's pretty much been my answer the last few Mondays.

Me: "Je Cuisine le Poulet Morocain"(I cook the Moroccan Chicken)
Teacher: "You like to cook, don't you?"
Me: "Oui."

So, while I'm professing my love of baking and all things homemakey,  I'm also trying to be fierce and in French.  And you know what?  It's kind of an awesome place to be.  I'm glad that I like to cook and study.  I'm glad that I enjoy making homemade egg noodles while conjugating irregular verbs in my head.  So without further ado, here are the fruits of my labor including the famous east coast blue crab which are not blue and I did not really cook - but ate with much pleasure:

Moroccan Chicken Stuffed with Dates and Saffron Rice
Moroccan Cous Cous - see a theme?
Kirmizi Mercimek Çorbasi (Turkish Soup) - Sounds Crazy, Makes Easy
Egg Noodles
Ze Little Crabbies


So 17.5 bucks is cheap, right?

That's what I thought about bus tickets to New York.  17.5 bucks each way.  Sign me up!  Max has Columbus day off and we had this great idea to go to New York for the weekend on one of the cheap China Town buses.  So, I bought the tickets on Monday during an extra long break between French classes and the planning began.

...but it was brought to a frustrating halt when I realized that ALL of the decently priced hotels in NY were booked and that even the not so decently priced hotels were booked also.  I usually plan months or at least several weeks in advance, so, note of hindsight to myself: It was your fault.  But really!?  145 is a steal for a crazy carpeted room with a shared bathroom?  I feel a bit snobby even saying this (so do your best Carlteton Banks impersonation) but it is hard to get a good room in that city!  (Really, nobody remembers Carleton Banks from Fresh Prince?  "Its not unusual to be loved by anyone..."  anyone?) 

No worries, Airbnb to the rescue.  I have used this option before and had a really great experience.  People basically sign up on this website to offer their guest rooms as an often cheaper and usually more personalized lodging option than a hotel and the website regulates the whole thing to ward off skeevies.  We stayed in a lovely apartment in Rome for a fraction of the local hotel price back in June and I hoped that airbnb could do it again this time.  Last night was a little frustrating as it appeared that all of the rooms listed "available" in NYC were just a tease and had been scooped up before I could get to them.  But this morning proved more hopeful.  I found a little place in Brooklyn where the proprietor, get this, works in the theater!  We are going to NY almost exclusively to 1) See Shows and 2) See Art.  A close third is to buy paper.  She offered to help us maneuver the plethora of theater options out there and give us the low down on which are good and which are not so good.

Hooray for social networking.   


Like it Stinks, Joker Face, Chicken Bum

Remember that "Friends" Episode where phoebe tries to teach Joey to play the guitar and she refers to the chords by the things they make her hand look like?  "Iceberg"  and "Bear Claw" are B sharp and A respectively because, well, that's what her hands look like when she plays them.

My French textbook has become a similar exercise in association.  In my attempt to learn the different sounds and corresponding shape my mouth needs to make in order to produce those sounds, I have reverted to marking up my text with all manner of bizarre associations.  But at least I'm consistent.

"Like it Stinks" is always the sound like at the end of the word "Bleu"

"Joker Face" is the nasal vowel like in the indefinite pronoun "un" because that is the face you have to make to get it right.

"Chicken Bum" is the really ou-y u of "tu"

Chicken Bum?  When our proffeseur taught us to differentiate the French u from the English u (too) he said, and I quote

"I know ziz iz not vehry nice, but zyou 'ave to make your lips like a chicken's bum.  Like a circle all the way around."

And they say the French are unapproachable!


La Porte

After our study abroad in Jordan the summer of 2008, Max and I backpacked through Europe for a few weeks.  We started in Greece and then moved to Italy and lastly France.  By the time we got to Italy we had studied enough from our "Pocket Italian" and started recognizing enough similarities between our Spanish and Portuguese, respectively, that we did pretty well linguistically.

When we walked out of the Charles Du Gaulle Airport in Paris we felt pretty confident about our ability to piece together enough French to get around.  It's a romance language, right?  But in truth, French isn't so much like Portuguese or Spanish are to Italian.  It didn't just "come to us" in moments of dire need like I thought it would, and we spent a lot of time making grand hand gestures and pointing at things.

French class at FSI has begun for me and Max and for me, at least, it's been a bit like that week in France.  I have appreciated my Spanish training to the extent that I understand formal and informal and the general concept of conjugating the verb "to be", but my pronunciation...is not awesome.  I do have to say; however, that my teachers are fabulous and I am really enjoying class so far.  Max and I are in the same class (ahh, I know) and we study French for about 5 hours a day each day.  It's intense.  One of our teachers is from France and the other from Congo.  The one from Congo is especially cheerful and energetic.  It's like he really thinks I can do this or something - a pretty good quality to have in a language teacher.

Several people have pegged Max for a ringer in our class because he picks up accents so well.

"You've taken French before, right?"
(yeah right)

It's all that singing I tell you.  Parents: teach your children to sing if you want them to pick up languages.  I really think it has been the single greatest factor in him learning languages so well.  French is almost tonal in its crazy vowel scheme, and I've been practicing "La Porte" (The Door) all weekend to get it just right.  But it sounds like just another "Fa" or "La" to Max.

During our two hour lunch break we usually sit under the trees at FSI and practice together.  It's kind of awesome.   


The Main Event

 Yesterday The 5 of us (Max, Myself, His Sister, and His Parents) braved the sweltering humididity and took the metro to the Main State office in Foggy Bottom to see Max sworn in as a foreign service officer.  The ceremony was perfectly meaningful and perfectly short.  Way to go my sweet Max.  I can't recall being so proud. 

 We looked down at the translation devices and noticed that they are all of Max's languages (save Portuguese).  It seemed perfectly predicting of our impending French-ification. 
Here's a pic from flag day.  Can you see the glee on our faces?


Parlez-vous Francais?

Again, thanks for all the kind words.  It means a lot.  The Foreign Service, for spouses, often means a lot of loneliness.  It's nice to know I have some internet friends out there who have my  back.  (I even know some of you in real life!)

But moving on to the matter at hand: French.  Remember I mentioned the crazy amazing benefits for spouses in the Foreign Service?  Well, for me, that will mean a 5 month intensive training course in French and North African Studies!  I know, shut the door, right?  Providing there is still room in the class next week I will get to go to work with Max everyday and we'll learn French together.  I'm SUPER excited, but also a little nervous.  With that kind of time and intensity there really isn't a reason why I shouldn't become an excellent French speaker...that's a lot of pressure. 

I imagine it will be like the days when we were back in college at the same time.  We'll pack our lunch the night before and try to be the responsible one in the morning who doesn't let the other sleep in past the third snooze alarm.

Bonjour Français!   



Casablanca, Morocco

The morning started with a breakfast of cold pizza.  Of Champions, I know.  I was getting so anxious about the Flag Day Ceremony that I couldn't really work on homework or do anything of a substantial nature.  So I painted my nails and watched project runway re-runs.

The ceremony itself is one of the most exciting and nerve wracking things I've ever been through.  Much worse than a job interview or a performance.  I started out pretty calm, but as the flags and names were ticked off and still no Max, I got more and more anxious.  So anxious, in fact, that the nice mother next to me shared some of her baby's star banana puffs to calm me down.  My cold pizza stomach growled a little and she was generous enough to offer a nibble.   

It was a strange feeling to see some of the flags come and go.  There were a few places I had become convinced we were going and when someone elses name was called I felt a little bit like I'd been dumped.

"But I loved you Nepal.  I researched you and watched discovery channel videos about your mountains.  How could you abandon me like this?  He'll never love you like I would have."

But still, the flags came and went.  There are 92 people in Max's class and he was called at #90.  I know, really.  But I have to say the wait was WELL worth it.  Casablanca was one of our top choices, but we didn't really think we had a shot.  We kind of put it on the High list and forgot about it because, well, it's awesome.  When Max turned around with his flag and walked back up the steps to his seat he had the biggest case of grinny winnys I'd ever seen.  Like a wee boy.  It was so great.

On a career level, this post is amazing for Max.  It will fulfill a few entry level requirements he has to meet in his first or second tour, including an Arabic speaking post.  In fact, because he already speaks Arabic they will teach him French! Here's a list of other awesome things about Morocco on more personal level:

- The temperature sits around 70 degrees YEAR ROUND with a low of 45 degrees in January and
   a high of 80 degrees in August.

- Did I mention it's on the coast?  Beachy McBeach.

- Mountains AND Deserts AND Forests AND Beaches. 

- Clean, safe, abundance of produce available
   (*relative to other Middle Eastern countries of course) 

- Not as conservative or restrictive to women as other Middle Eastern countries.
  Hello short sleeves!

- Travel.  Not only is travel within Morocco amazing (with efficient trains and taxis) but it has also become a destination for several European budget airlines.  We are talking $80 flights to London, Paris and Spain.  Now that's rocking the Casbah - which I'm sure I'll say a lot from now on.

- Moroccan Leather!  I've just started learning how to do leather bindings - I think we're headed to the right place.

- There is an AmidEast there - that's where I taught English in Jerusalem.   

I have to stop because my head is spinning a little.  We made it home from Flag Day sweaty, starving, and elated.  I made up a little meat and cheese plate, as is want in circumstances of celebration, and we toasted our vanilla cokes to North Africa.

Another thing that I'll say now and often in the future.  Friends: Visit us.  I feel like Morocco will be such an accessible way to experience this region of the world and we would love to host you.  So, don't be shy.  We leave DC late May of 2011 and we will be in Morocco for two years.  Our Casbah is your Casbah.

ps - Thanks for all the well wishing.  You guys are great! 


Of All The Gin Joints

I'm sure glad I walked into the State Department's!
More Later



I've found several distractions this week that have been pretty successful in keeping my mind off the big day.  The big F day.  Some of the distractions have been

- The National Museum of the American Indians (fabulous by the by - I'll post details later)
- The Sackler and Freer Galleries (Art and Statues from the Far East and South East Asia)
- Banana Republic the likes of which you think you'd find in a govermenty-fashiony place.  Oh boy.
- Wonderfully depressing documentaries about the Middle East
- A new place to do bookbinding in Maryland
- An internship at the public library across the street
- My new kitchen aid food processor.  I. Can't. Believe. It.  
- A renewed netflix subscription.  Ahhh.  (Like Shakespeare?  Canadian masterpiece "Slings and Arrows" will knock your socks off.  Don't like Shakespeare?  It still will)

I also started school yesterday.  No, I'm not too old for that yet.  My program is a Masters of Library and Information Science with San Jose State University in California and its 100% online.  Being to the Middle East and back twice over the past years has made choosing an online program one of the smartest things I've ever done.  I have 2 semesters left and I feel a little bit like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride (which I didn't know was a comedy until later in life - it crushed me). 

"Is very strange. I have been in the (library school) business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

But, it's not quite over and truthfully, when it is, things will just be getting started for me.  The Foreign Service has crazy amazing resources for spouses including continual training, scholarships for further education, and a lot of work opportunities.  They have libraries too!  Crazy Amazing, by the way, is actually what my Spouse Briefing handbook says across the top with heart dotted I's "Crazy Amazing Benefits for Spouses".

So, I've almost kept myself too distracted to think about tomorrow.  Almost.  



Why DC Is Rad

We saw this
In the shadows of this
Which was accompanied by these.  
(The 1812 Overture features real live cannons towards the end.  It's pretty awesome)


Bid List Submitted

It's a strange feeling, like a giant load has been lifted from our shoulders but that a different, perhaps even larger load has been placed squarely upon them.  Max and I submitted our bid list tonight.  As we do with most big things of an internet submission nature, we pushed the send button together with our respective index fingers.  Aahhhh, isn't that precious?  I know.  We did it for Grad School and each step of the Foreign Service labyrinth and things turned out pretty well on both accounts.  If ever there was a time to worship the Gods of superstition, I figure this is it.

I can't really spill about specific countries, but I think it's safe to follow suit of a friend of mine and tell you our preferences in a round about way.  We get three.  Max's CDO (Career Development Officer) will look at these preferences, our bid list rankings and "The Needs of the Service" of course, and make a decision based on those things.  Be warned, our preferences aren't juicy demands - they are almost as flexible as you can get in terms of where they put us on the map.  But isn't that fun?

1) We want to stay together, with any children who might enter into the family.  Not an announcement, just a precaution.  Excessive restrictions on my movement about the city and my ability to interact with locals/culture/nature/history are what we are trying to avoid.  BUT we also want to go somewhere with a high enough differential (money they pay you extra if a post is remote/lacks basic goods and services - that kind of thing) to be eligible for student loan repayment.  We have been students for a long time and we've been blessed to travel quite a bit for school...that's expensive.  We are willing to put in some time in the boonies for a little bit of gov'ment student loan repayment.

2) Max wants to either fulfill his entry level duty as a consulate officer or work specifically with his area of interest. 

3) Max wants to either practice Arabic, Hebrew, Portuguese, or Spanish or learn something new.

Our bids are all over the place geographically and each one holds an entirely different possible reality.  It's all at once thrilling and mind melting.

In related news, I'm going to sign up to take the same consulate training course that the Officers take.  If there is room, I can be trained to fill any openings that the embassy can't fill by regular officers.  Isn't that rad?  I'd probably be just as happy making books in my studio, but it's nice to know I could do interesting work at post if I wanted.

Will keep you posted....about our post.  Flag day is next Friday so light a candle for us!


The Mall

The Jefferson Memorial
The Library of Congress
The Washington Monument

The Capital Building
The Ulysses S. Grant Monument 

DC Over the Potamac