Monday, November 11, 2013

Out of State. Literally.

Shutdown covered.  Let's move on.

I was in D.C. for four full days, staying with my friend Melissa, focusing more on soaking in the culture than taking in the sights.  I managed to see all my good friends that live there, take a thorough tour of Georgetown, and eat southern food twice.  It was quite the success, I must say.

Melissa said something along the lines of, "Whatever is in your wildest dreams to do in D.C., it's my job to make that happen."  Talk about a great hostess!

The first day I spent wandering around three neighborhoods: H Street, Adams Morgan, and Dupont.  I popped into little vintage stores, gawked at the gorgeous villas along Embassy Row, and ate fried chicken and collard greens out of a styrofoam box from a greasy place called Henry's where the ladies called me "baby".  It was fantastic.  It was halfway through my chicken leg that Melissa called to make sure that I wasn't near the capitol building, where a shootout was taking place.  Lots of "excitement" in D.C., let me tell you.

That night we ate dinner with Melissa's friend, Ita, at Big Bear, her neighborhood hot spot.  The setting was quaint, with ivy growing up the brick walls, and umbrellas framed by large twinkle lights strung above the tables.  To really add to the atmosphere, there was an R&B singer named Alison Carney that crooned us through drinks, dinner, and dessert.

Bright and early Friday, at 11:30am, I left for Georgetown, where I spent the entire day.  I finally got to see the Office of International Programs and witness my Georgetown-based colleagues in their natural habitat.  After lunch with an old colleague, I received a private tour of the entire campus from a student worker.  It was really awesome to get an inside look at so many cool pockets of the university.  That day I really got to imagine the other side of my students' experience, as well as witness in general what a private, east coast university experience would be like.  Quite the opposite of mine, that's for sure!  Let's just say there was a lot more mahogany.

Healy Hall

Presidential photo shoot

Meeting up with Paul

That evening I met up with Emily, who was the Residence Coordinator at the villa right before me.  We overlapped there for a semester and made our share of memories!  This is us in front of Massimo Dutti, one of our favorite European stores come to America.

Melissa and Bridie, Emily's Georgetown friend that was the RC at the villa before her, met us for happy hour along the waterfront in Georgetown.  Nothing like a $5 margarita to get the weekend off on the right foot.

We had dinner at an Italian place for old times' sake that was just off the canal and appropriately called "Il Canale".  Of course you know I tracked down the owner to entertain him with our nostalgia of Italy.

A lot of the weekend's highlights surrounded food, and one of my favorite spots was Eatonville on 14th near U Street.  I got to meet up with Claire, a friend from UCSD that is currently living in DC.  The food made me swoon-shrimp and grits, friend chicken, and mac & cheese to die for.  I loved the mac so much that I literally ate my whole meal and then ordered just that for dessert.  The waitress didn't judge me at all, and I knew I was at home there.

Let's see...other activities I haven't mentioned?  Watching Scandal in the actual city where it takes place, Meeting up with Paul and Vincent (more friends from villa days), going to Eastern Market, enjoying killer pie on H Street, getting my hair pulled by a gang of teens on the bus, thrift shopping with no luck, sweating, brunching, and pretending it was autumn in 80 degree temperatures.

Drinks at Marvin

Farmer's Market with Paul and Vincent

Because every vacation should go out with a bang, Melissa and I got tickets to a fall wine event at Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate in Virginia, for Sunday evening.  There was a huge wine tent for tastings, plenty, and I mean plenty, of acres on which to picnic, a blues band, and candlelit tours of the house.  Magical doesn't adequately describe how neat it was to relax on George Washington's porch.  It was one of those mind-boggling history-meets-me kind of experiences for both of us.

One highlight of the night was snapping this photo with George and Martha.  I put my hand on G. Wash's shoulder, and, completely in character, he slowly swiveled to face me and drawled, "Why, you're quite forward."  Even the next morning, Melissa and I could not stop cracking up about it.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Can't shut us down

Congress put this gag on G-Wash so he 
couldn't voice his opinion on The Shutdown.

I calculated that I have been to ten European capital cities, but up until one week ago, I had still never been to my own.  To make it even weirder, I worked for a Washington, D.C. institution-Georgetown University-for two years out of Italy, without ever having set foot on the actual campus.  So this trip was long past due.

And I picked the best time to go!  I couldn't wait to walk through crunchy leaves in my boots, high-fiving President Obama on my way to tour the Library of Congress.  But that didn't happen.  Between the government shutdown and the last heatwave of the season, D.C. didn't turn out to be quite as I had imagined it.  It might have been even better.

When the government shuts down, everyone chills.  People relax.  Tourists don't feel like they have to spend their whole trip with the fanny-pack-clad masses looking at fossils.  Instead, they enjoy serenity and 1/2-off margaritas.  They explore the now semi-private memorials as badasses that don't mind breaking rules.  It's kinda great.

Melissa and I dedicated Saturday to the National Mall.  We skipped right over Nordstrom and headed straight to the monuments.  There was hardly anyone in the area; most people heard of the shutdown and decided to avoid the monuments altogether.  What a mistake!  We were able to enjoy everything (with the exception of Lincoln) more intimately than one usually could.

Here we are at the WWII Memorial, after tearing up watching all the veterans stake claim to it.

I was most excited to visit the Lincoln Memorial, but this was the most locked down of them all.  The memorial was still magnificent, and it was incredible to witness it in person.  This is the highest level one could reach, and Lincoln wasn't even lit up, so we could barely see him.  To compensate for the injustice, the clouds started looking freaking amazing.

To be clear: it's not that we were jumping over fences to get in to these places.  The park rangers were literally standing there, gates open, saying "The memorial is closed," with a sly smile and an encouraging wave in.  It looked something like this.

The Korean War Memorial was one of the most affecting in terms of design.  I couldn't help but feel like I was standing next to actual soldiers trudging through the terrain.

Next up, on the edge of the Tidal Basin, was the newest memorial, dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.    This one was a literal translation of his words: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope": a (perhaps-too-stern-and-not-hopeful-looking-enough) MLK was carved out of the mountain, serving as the stone of hope for civil rights.  It was beautiful, and as you can tell from the picture, mostly deserted.

We sat on the edge of the Tidal Basin, enjoying the serenity of a body of water that had no boats, ducks, or children.

We brought the tour full circle by grabbing an ice cream and heading to the Capitol Building.  We walked by tons of Smithsonians and I tried my best to think of how nice it was to not feel like I had to spend all my time in museums, instead of how cool it would've been to steal see the Declaration of Independence.

One of the funniest points of the day was when I asked a foreign man with a professional camera to shoot us in front of the Lincoln Memorial on my iPhone.  In a matter or seconds, he took 16 terribly crooked pictures of us.  What first seemed useless turned into this great reel of "negatives".  We wanted so badly to see what the pictures on his camera looked like.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SF: You know you want it

Sometimes I like to wait a month to write a blog.  That way it's like double nostalgia.  It's not at all like procrastination.   No, not at all.

One of my besties, Shawn, came to visit for Labor Day Weekend.  I'd been wearing him down for awhile and finally he gave in to his inner yearning and my outward insistance and he bought a ticket to San Francisco.

We like to view every one of Shawn's visit as a trial run, or SF interview, if you will.  We try to show him up-and-coming neighborhoods, great restaurants, and the overall happy-go-lucky, fabulously fun aspects of life in this city (and we don't speak of fog or rent payments).

Dolores Park picnic with our high school friend, Darrin

Dinner at Kitchen Story before dancing in the Castro

Exploring Potrero Hill where we had Turkish breakfast

Enjoying a rest by the water in Dog Park Patch

Breakfast on Gio's patio

Hike through the Presidio, with GG in the background

Shawn deciding that his life would be complete 
if only he lived in San Francisco, 
close to his dear friends Gio and Kelly

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Italian" Houseguests

Two weeks ago, these cool people came to visit:

That's Alan, my American boss from Villa Le Balze/Georgetown, his lovely, refreshingly sassy Ecuadorian wife Anna Maria, and trilingual little Massimilliano, who's not so little anymore, by the way.  They decided to make San Francisco one of their stops on their US summer vacation, which was great news for me!  We squeezed them into our apartment, and things were much more lively at home, with a resounding 4-year-old's giggle permeating frequent games of hide and seek.

We managed to fit in so much in the short few days they were here.  This was partly thanks to the fact that we got home early in the evenings and slept in in the mornings.  The first day they explored Pier 39, and then Friday I took off work to walk through Chinatown, the Ferry Building, and Dolores Park with them.  The highlight of that day for me was going into a fortune cookie factory.  I had never seen them made before, and both the machinery and the process was fascinating.  Pictures of the tiny, unmarked factory were 50 cents each, so I refrained on principle.  

Taking a breath at the Ferry Building:

Later we got some ice cream and went to hang out at Dolores for a couple hours.  

What a view from the top of the slide!

That night I took them to one of my favorite local restaurants, Straw, which has carnival-inspired gourmet fare.  Massi and I are in a carnival ride chair for this pic:

Saturday was nature day.  First, we shared a feast of a picnic overlooking the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square.

When you're toting a kid around with you, you have to make sure to plant lots of parks in the itinerary, or you'll regret it!  He had endless energy climbing the slides and learning the monkey bars, and we got a chance to sit down and rest!  Win-win.  Plus, look how cute this is:

Anna Maria has the most adorable pet names for him in Spanish.  Of course, her little "príncipe" is one, as well as "mi amor" but my favorite is when she calls him her "cielo" which means a combination of heaven and sky.  Lovely!

That afternoon, before taking them to SFO, we went to the Sutro Baths at Land's End.  We walked over to catch a view of the Golden Gate, and spent some time chilling (literally) on the beach.  As you can see in this great photo of Alan, it was a bit breezy.  Massi got to throw some rocks into the ocean, a favorite pastime of his, and ended up wearing less and less clothes as he got more and more friendly with the ocean waves.

What a treat to get to see them, after more than a year!  They were my family while I was living in Florence: I discussed life with Alan every day; I spent Thanksgiving at their house.  Massi was so sweet while he was here, playing all over town with the Transformer I got him, cuddling up before bed, and translating much of what he said from Spanish to English for my benefit.  I can only hope that they end up on my side of the world again sometime in the not-too-distant future.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Legends of the Summer

When someone entitles their tour "Legends of the Summer," they better be prepared to deliver.  No one would've been better suited (pardon the pun) for this task than the wonder that is the JAY Z-Justin Timberlake 2013 collabo.  I don't know the exact number of people packed into Candlestick that night, but it felt like the entire bay area was there, crooning along with JT and bouncing at Jay's command.  It all sounds so cliche, but I really felt like I was in witnessing greatness ("You're in the presence of a king; Scratch that-you're in the presence of a god").  The stage, even before the lights, videos, and special effects started, looked awesome, and you could tell some really mind-blowing shit was about to go down.  

We were prepared for the quivering candlestick cold, but once we were on our feet dancing, even the periodic sharp gusts of wind couldn't hold us down.

You could say we were a little excited.  Yeah, you could say that.

When they came out on stage there was this amazing surge of energy that pulsed through the thousands of fans.  I think my start-of-show dance looked like I needed to pee because I just kept squat-bouncing and whispering "Oh My God" on repeat.  The stage was brilliant, with bright glittering lights, statuesque "legend" figures, geometric patters, or images of Jay/JT shooting across the layered screens.  So while the men themselves didn't physically reach great heights (they looked like tiny toy soldiers), the stage's greatness really compensated.

They sang almost every song we wanted (Jay, how you can skip '03 Bonnie & Clyde, c'mon), and kept the show going fluidly.  They kicked off with "Holy Grail" and flowed into a combined set, with each putting their two cents into the other's songs.  Then Jay Z took a short hiatus while Justin made us melt with his sultry tunes.  Before you knew it, Jay was back with all his problems and empires and we went from swaying to bouncing again.  Finally, for the encore, the two emerged suit-and-tie clad with champagne flutes in hand.  They were so freaking nonchalant.  Jay would just bob his head and sip while JT sang his heart out.  I think when you look up the definition of "cool" in the dictionary it literally just says "Jay-Z".  At least it ought to, because nothing else could describe that word better.

I took a ton of videos for your entertainment and my own reliving.  I also have a good video of 99 Problems but I sounded like too much of a dork singing in the background to post it.  Enjoy!

Izzo (H.O.V.A.):

Like I Love You:

Empire State of Mind:

Suit & Tie:

My voice will never be the same after that much screaming, but it was well worth it.  Oh, and today I bought tickets to JT's solo tour this winter.  Obsessed much?