part time local

Being back in Washington, DC is always a tumultuous treat. I never spend enough time here to make it feel like home, but – unlike NYC – DC doesn’t change very quickly. So, I can go back to the spots I remember fondly and discover new ones at my leisure. Over the past few months, I have made a real effort to get out and about. The metro still sucks, but here are the highlights of journey.

I’ve discovered the Torpedo Factory with its art classes, studios and seminars. Just a few weeks ago, I went to see a talk by Sheldon Scott and discovered lots of interesting pieces by novice and seasoned artists.

 

My husband also got me to go to the CapitalOne Arena (formerly, the Verizon Center) to check out the Washington Wizards at their game against the Cavs. Let me be clear, the seats are uncomfortable, the other fans are kinda obnoxious, and I still don’t understand why cheerleaders still exist, but… it was a fun experience.

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I also revisited the Holocaust Memorial Museum for the first time since 8th grade. It was much less depressing than I remembered  as a kid and much more informative than I expected. I highly recommend that everyone take the time to check it out. It only takes about 2-3 hours to get through the permanent exhibit. The temporary ones tend to be about modern day slavery, which is also important to be aware of.

 

And though I’ve found myself being an architecture and design buff in other cities I’ve visited, I never considered walking tours in the nation’s capital.  The DC Design Tour of Georgetown was very cool and, frankly, took me to a part of town that I rarely visit.

All in all, living in the DC area has been a breath of fresh air. There are sidewalks and tap water! Even better, there are interesting tours, historical sites, museums, art talks, and apparently big events worth catching. I’m soaking it all up while I can!

musicamondays MUSICMONDAYS (43)

Welcome to the 43rd installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Chiwoniso was born in Washington state in the US to Zimbabwean parents and eventually her family returned to Zim. As the daughter of musicians it only made sense that she’d develop a career in the same vein. Unfortunately, it was cut short at a very young age, but her music lives.

 

Eat Your Heart Out!

 

IMG_1323One of the highlights of traveling home is, and has always been, gorging on grub, as my travels took me to, through, and around restaurants I loved. So, here’s a brief culinary summary of my 2 week visit home. Hope you all enjoy – visually – my gastronomical exploits…

It all started on the South African Airways plane. My veggie food was pretty yummy, but these mini Tangueray bottles took the entire ride over the top. I have to say that gin & tonic on a plane pairs well with the entire ride.

Then in the great state of New Jersey, an amazing medley of home cooked meals, American processed treats, awesome restaurants and food gluttony occurred. I’m sure, for those of you who live in the U.S. full time, Chips Ahoy cookies with M&Ms in them is nothing to write home about. But, when you live in Africa… I think you get the point. In short, as per below, you can see that I partook in South African wine, Mexican Fish Tacos and beer (only right to honor what should be a world holiday – Cinco de Mayo) at 2 different establishments (the Above Restaurant in South Orange and Red Cadillac in Union), and the best pizza in the whole damn state! There were also (unphotographed) home cooked meals of fried fish, cornbread, collard greens and sweet potato pie made by my grandma, and spaghetti and salmon made my mom. The thought of them will keep me homesick for months.

 

Then, the travels went north(ish) to New York City – the city so bad they named it twice. I popped into the city for a dinner that consisted solely of Key Lime Pie from Bubba Gump Shrimp, but then I had a morning meet up with a professor and mentor that I love dearly. We ended up heading over to the City Kitchen in Midtown, where I had a pancake breakfast at Whitman’s (sadly with Kraft syrup instead of God’s gift to breakfast – Grade A Maple) and fought off the impulse to try every variety of donut produced by Dough. It was tough to resist hibiscus donuts, but my thighs thanked me. And, I had a home cooked Jewish breakfast of bagels with lox and egg frittata with family friends, as well as a boozy brunch at yet another Mexican restaurant, Agave (unphotographed).

Last but not least I headed south to our nation’s capital. With so much political stankness in the air, it was great to find something apolitical to enjoy in the DMV.

I had lunch with a friend at Founding Farmers near Farragut West, where we proceeded to spend $22 a glass on King Estate Pinot Noir from Oregon, which the Vivino app says costs about $24.80 per bottle.  Yea, total rip off. But the food was decent and the restaurant is well located… its greatest highlight.

There was an entire ice cream experiment at Cold Stone Creamery, which ended with my stomach and my tongue rejoicing in perfect harmony. And  I had yet another delicious order of fish tacos at District Taco in Dunn Loring – yummy. Oh, a regular trip fave, was Ginger Salmon at a Vietnamese restaurant in Pentagon City, Saigon Saigon. My stomach is growling just thinking about all these yummy reunions, as well as two trips to Red Lobster with friends (unphotographed) and frequent visits to Starbucks for coffee drinks with non-dairy milk – oh, so rare here on the continent.

All told, while I love the food, what I miss most about being home is the people. These delish meals were a backdrop to meet ups, family gatherings, mentoring and catch up sessions that were long overdue. In just 2 weeks, I ate fish tacos at three different places and not a single loved one judged me for it. That’s what foodie reunions are all about!

 

From LA to L.A. in 30 days

From this blog you might get the impression that I am a world traveler. This is only partially true. I am often on planes traveling to obscure corners of the world and griping about the lack of vegetarian food along way. But, the map of my travels would show that I’ve done the bulk of my globe trotting around the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, there are huge swaths of my own country that I haven’t seen. Every election year, I’m dumbfounded by just what’s going on in the middle of the country. I completed Buzzfeed’s ‘What city should you actually live in’ poll and I got Portland. I had to google where Portland was. Sad, but true.

I’ll have you know, though, that I do not take lightly gaps in my travel portfolio. So, I spent the last month visiting friends and family in the United States. Only the United States. No going a’foreign for me! In that four weeks, I covered from sea to shining sea, literally. Most of these cities I had been to before, but that’s beside the point. Making the deliberate choice to stay within the confines of the 48 contiguous was huge for me. And since it had been years since I’d traveled to some of these destinations, it was like discovering them all over again.  You’ll remember my last trip to New Orleans was over two years ago. And though I’m a frequent visitor in New York City, I fail to blog-scrutinize it as if it were a ‘destination.’  Well gone are the days when I undervalue all things domestic. I’m going to hit you with the highlights of my month of American couchsurfing.

Newark (2014)Destination 1: Newark, NJ, Last visit: October 2012, Highlight: Family time! Down side: Chris Christie’s political career imploded. Sights worth seeing: Newark Museum

 

Destination 2: New York City, NY, Last visit: October 2012, Highlight: Having post-birthday celebrations with CharlieDown side: Didn’t get to make it to Harlem. Sights worth seeing: The Whitney

IMG_0091Destination 3: Washington, DCLast visit: October 2012, Highlight: Brunch! Down side: Most of my friends who like to party have moved. Sights worth seeing: Rock Creek Park

 

 

Destination 4: New Orleans, LALast visit: July 2011, Highlight: Reunion with Alyson & Chlovah! Down side: It was friggin’ freezing. Sights worth seeing: Antique Bookstores

DSCF3001Destination 5: Los Angeles, CALast visit: December 2008, Highlight: A day at Matador beach in Malibu with Leah! Down side: I’m convinced that most people in L.A. are delusional. Sights worth seeing: Cirque de Soleil

 

Destination 6: Arlington, VA, Last visit: October 2012, Highlight: I have my own apartment and my dog is here too! Down side: I live with my co-workers. Think: bad episode of “Real World – Federal Employees” Sights worth seeing: Pentagon Row

Too Close for Kenya

Flor da Kangra, Dharmsala, India 2013The terror attacks in Kenya have weighed heavy on my heart. So much so that it’s taken til  now and with great deliberation to even discuss my disdain for the entire affair. My peripheral intersection with the events in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall have left me grieving — perhaps for a sense of youthful immortality that has, apparently, died a quiet death.

Like 9/11, Nairobi’s attacks affected me around the edges in a way that some might say have shaped me. When those four planes headed West ward they departed from both a town I’m from and a town I was residing in at the time. Only years later when I moved to New York for almost 7 years would I associate those events with those towers. My fears, at the time, weren’t for people in the WTC, but for people possibly on those planes. Had my aunt Trudy traveled for work that week? Wasn’t a friend’s parent traveling from Logan? Such were my thoughts then and thankfully my people weren’t on those planes. I wasn’t touched – some might say – because they weren’t touched. Yet, sealed in that close call somewhere was the feeling that if it could happen so close to home and spare me and mine, perhaps this would always be the case.

Kenya undid all of that. For the reality is that as the events unfolded, I quickly thought “Of course, I don’t know anyone in Nairobi.” The same way I’d thought, “I don’t know anyone in Libya,” “in Syria,” “in Afghanistan”… But I did know someone in Kenya. I knew someone in Nairobi. I knew someone in Westgate Mall. In fact, I knew two someones – one who lived and one who died.

The irony that these two people would be my two people, in the same place at the same terrible time, is haunting. They’ve been part of an interwoven story in my life that’s left me speechless and afflicted with writer’s block since the realization dawned on me.

She hosted me at Barnard on prospective weekend. In deciding if I’d chose Barnard over Hopkins, over UNC, over… I’d slept on her floor and tried to live her life and be one of her friends. In deciding to choose the college, I chose her shadow – taking courses she had taken, being similarly disappointed with the administration’s ‘color blind’ shenanigans, sharing a suite with her my junior year. The cake may have been that, but the icing and the irony is that she went to Ghana in 2004. On an otherwise unprecedented trip led by British novelist Caryl Phillips, she and a cohort of Barnard women made the reverse transatlantic journey. From what I hear it was chocked full of white girl guilt trips and Black girl breakdowns. Soon after, she graduated and headed for Harvard Law, as she’d always planned. And I headed into my final year.

I, too, joined Caryl’s course and I also went to Ghana. In 2005. Similar tales resulted, except that my cohort upped the ante with multiracial girl ambivalence. I, too, met with Ghanaian students, had an amazing Ghanaian tour guide, and spoke with Ghanaian intellectuals – one of whom was Kofi Awoonor.

He met our group throughout the ten day trip. He introduced us to the students of University of Ghana’s Cape Coast campus. He dined with us and entertained us with diplomatic war stories at an Ivorian restaurant in Accra. And he even took us out to a resto-bar overlooking the Atlantic. Or maybe I’m mixing up my boys born on Friday and he only went to the dinner with us.  Or maybe there are other punctuations I should remember, but don’t now. Nevertheless, he was a figure and remains a phantom – tireless and effervescent – in my Ghanaian memories and my West African dreams.

Just shy of 7 years have passed since that trip. And in those 7 years of separation, I’m sure he’d long since forgotten us – she from ’04, me from ’05.

Some twist of fate made these two individuals, my people, show up in Westgate Mall that day.  One could say it was no coincidence. Neither are Kenyan. Months earlier, maybe even weeks earlier, neither was even in the country – much less in the mall!  I bet they didn’t even know that the other was there. I suspect that even if they’d passed one another, they wouldn’t even have recognized each other by name or face. But there they were, fighting for their lives.

Unfortunately, he lost.

There are requiems that must be written for the loss of such lives like his. But you could google such memorials and they’d be more intimate than anything I could produce.  Yet her shattered serenity I know more dearly and could argue that it too deserves commemoration of its own. I could pity these two people and praise their bravery or simply honor their greatness – tragedy not withstanding.

What these events have raised in me is the nagging knock of mortality at my own door, followed by – not the fear that life is too short – but the fear that the world is frighteningly small.

I know people in Libya. I know people in Nigeria. In Afghanistan. In Iraq. And in Washington, DC. Safety has become its own mirage, now more than ever. It’s trigger finger, though, remains brilliantly, divinely, randomized.

Perhaps if it weren’t these two people, these uniquely separate individuals, whose lives intersected almost a decade ago for just ten days…

If they could find themselves deeply entangled in danger in a foreign country, far from, distant from, their own…

Were it not them, were it not now, maybe I’d still feel spared the disruption of the world’s violent explosions so closely to home…

Ifs and buts get us nowhere…

So it was them. So it is now. So far, but so close.

I wish we were close enough to hug, but weren’t not. We’re just close enough for tragedy, but not enough for comfort. I’d like to hug her to let her know that I love her and that I’ve always appreciated her shadow. I haven’t the words to express both condolences and respectful distance. I haven’t the vocabulary to say that I’m happy she walked away, bruised but breathing. That these events aren’t hers alone to suffer. For, we are all utterly too close, too shamefully close to a Kenyan mall near you.

And I am so sorry, so deeply sorry, for her loss and for the loss of Kofi.

…We’ll always have Ghana.

The Best Coast

Alyson L. Palmer was born and raised in the Seattle area. After undergrad she spent a year in NYC and two-ish with the Obama administration in DC. Now gearing up for her third year of law school at UDub = Univ of Washington. Timing seems sweet for her to jump back on the campaign trail for Obama 2013, but as yet she has no comment on that subject. 

Before I moved to New York City, a co-worker cautioned, “on the west coast, we’re wash and wear. On the east coast, they’re dry clean only.”  For you East Coasters, that was a dig at you.  Those of us on the “Best Coast” are decidedly more relaxed and we like it that way.  We don’t walk like something is on fire. Unless, you know, it is.  We don’t consider traffic signals mere suggestions, but rather a useful tool to regulate that pesky balance between pedestrians and vehicles.  And when we talk about having an apartment or office with a view, we don’t mean a view of other apartments or office buildings.

Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling east.  I graduated from college and high-tailed it to NYC as fast as JetBlue could carry me.  You folks have the market cornered on revolutionary era buildings, cobblestone, and national monuments – all symbols of years gone by that a wonk like me enjoys.  I mean, you occupy 2/3 of every US history book…and you know it.  I don’t think I am letting out any State secrets when I say ya’ll have a superiority complex a mile wide and an ocean deep.

True, the west is the rebellious, upstart little sister with all her unbridled energy running around without a care in the world, because Thomas Jefferson never signed a proclamation on her desk and Sojourn Truth never ate at her counter.  But, that is what I love about the west!  She can invent and invest in whatever strikes her fancy.  There aren’t as many traditions on the west coast, so we make our own way – do things that don’t fit inside a box constructed in 1799 or 1999 for that matter.

This idea manifests most clearly in our ideas of style and culture.  If the east coast is Paris, the west coast is Tokyo.  We’re quirky in that “sure, this doesn’t match, but I meant to do that” kind of way.  We aren’t afraid to make mistakes and start trends we will regret in 5 years (flannel anyone??).  We drive with the windows down rain or shine, because we aren’t worried about the leather in our BMW becoming discolored.  An advertisement saying “vintage clothing” means someone actually wore it before and not just to the tents last February.  Street style on the west coast isn’t folks trying to make the “trends” page in Elle magazine, it’s stuff we actually wear while walking on the street to work, school and play.  And we indulge in music, art and science as part of our everyday life, because “work-life balance” isn’t a synonym for the “mommy-track”.  We exercise by paddling, biking, skiing, surfing, and climbing, because not to would be an unforgivable waste of this gorgeous landscape.  After all, we’ve got all those adventures 15 minutes away from home.

Our refusal to walk the path of the settlers does have its downsides.  Why it takes 4 hours to get to the next city of note is beyond me.  A road trip stops being fun when you realize you are still in the middle of nowhere 3 hours later.  For an area of the country founded on exploration, it’s ironic that we’d be so adverse to cutting away from the pack and starting anew just a few miles down the road.  We still struggle with mass transit, because we are mostly a collection of big small-towns.  Nobody had the foresight to think about what would happen when an increase in population and business would force us to travel not just sea to sea but north to south.  Now that our traffic is legendary, maybe we’ll get it together and figure out high-speed rail.  Last and least is our own complex.  The one that makes us not as sweet as the south with its barbeque and twang, and not as refined as the east with its universities made from the plantations of the Founders.  We are accent-less, our food and architecture are riffs off of someone else’s invention, and our refusal to be pinned in a direction makes us a bit directionless.

But for all of her deficiencies, the left coast is absolutely the best coast.  Because when we say we “went for a run in the mountains,” we’re not talk about a vacation.  We’re talking about Tuesday.  We’re not opposed to being nerdy and techie, because our nerds brought us Microsoft and Google and Apple.  We aren’t opposed to innovative scholarship, but when we use the phrase “ivy of the west,” we mean the school is distinguished and high caliber, not pretentious.

We may be drinking our own Kool-Aid on this one, but we like being “not like the rest.”  If you must liken us to anything at all, think of us as ducks.  We make life look carefree, but below the surface we are working hard as hell and reaping the benefits of a clear night sky and a cool ocean breeze. You east coasters, on the other hand, reap the benefits of using of our MACs & PCs to power through 14 hour days – I mean, stay ahead of the curve.