Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jasper Johns and Banana Leaves

The Phillips Collection has two new exhibitions, one featuring Antony Gormley, the other showcasing Jasper Johns  Neither exhibition is open to the public yet, but tonight was a members-only preview.  Fortunately, my friend Amy is a member and she invited me to go with her.

I had never heard of Gormley before.  His sculptures were wonderful.  The lithographs and drawings were alternatingly elegant, enigmatic and creepy.  The picture below, for example, strikes me as both radiant and terrifying.

Jasper Johns, on the other hand, is super well-known and was the main draw for me.  I've seen his numbers and flags and targets before, but those were all from fairly early in his career -- I hadn't known about the rest of his massive body of work.  When you've been making prints since the 1950s, and are still going strong today, you're bound to have quite the collection.  Many of his works aren't exactly easy to decipher -- they're definitely best digested by those who are very much "in the know" since they contain intricate references to other artists and other works by Johns himself.  The more I learned the richer the experience became.  For example, the can of paintbrushes in the painting below is a reference to an earlier sculpture that Johns did, and the stripes in the background are a common motif of his (there is also some significance to the wooden base, but I've forgotten what it is).

After leaving the art gallery, we had dinner at Banana Leaves near Dupont Circle.  It's just reopening after a fire last year, and I thought the food was pretty good for a relatively inexpensive dinner.  The honey peanut sauce was unusual and pleasant, but I'll probably order something less sweet next time.

Tom yum soup
Noodles with honey peanut sauce

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend - Shenandoah National Park

What do you do on a long weekend in Washington, DC, when you've already gone jetskiing and hosted a picnic in your apartment?  Well, one good option is to go hiking in the Shenandoah National Park.  It's about two hours west of here through rolling rural Virginia.  The Skyline Trail traces the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, with lush forest on both sides and the occasional panoramic view of the farmlands below.  The famous Appalachian Trail weaves alongside the road and has a multitude of offshoot trails that explore the wooded foothills below.  It's lovely and very green.  Later in the summer it can feel claustrophobically hot and humid amidst all the trees, but early in the season it's fresh and clear and bursting with new growth and wildflowers. 

Today I went with my friend Amy to hike the Matthew's Arm/Overall Trail.  It took us about three and a half hours to do the 8 mile loop.  We really liked the trail and probably would have liked it even better if we'd known that there were some notable waterfalls nearby -- but we didn't know about those until we were on our way back out, when all of the hikers heading the other direction kept asking us how far to the falls . . . .  Fortunately, we bought a year's pass to the park, so we'll be able to come back to see what we missed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend - Sunday Picnic

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and nothing says "summer" better than a picnic with friends.  Since actual picnics outside are complicated by potentially unpredictable contributions from Nature (bugs, dirt, humidity), I invited a group of friends from church to join me for a picnic in my apartment (where Nature is neatly cultivated in pots on the balcony). 

I provided pasta salad and the fixin's for sandwiches; the others pitched in with fruit, vegetables, dessert and, of course, lemonade, the offical beverage of picnics.  The food was tasty and the company fun.  Seems to me we should plan more activities this summer . . . beach trip anyone?

Eric, Melyssa, Jen
Michelle and Nate

Jon and Somelea

Checkerboard chocolate cake!

Memorial Day Weekend - Annapolis

By the time we were finished jetskiing, Tim and I were STARVING -- jetskiing on rough waters is surprisingly physically demanding (and of course I was still recovering from my 50-miler earlier in the morning).  Rather than drive all the way back to DC, we went up the road to nearby Annapolis.

The first order of business was to get something to eat.  We found a place on the waterfront called Armadillos that served some hearty hamburgers that really hit the spot.


Once we'd averted death by starvation, we had a chance to walk around the town.  I'd never been to Annapolis before, and I'd heard it was pretty -- and was it ever!  So charming and ecclectic, I would rank it hands-down the prettiest of the cities in this region.  Tons more personality and better maintained than much of DC, and with none of the weirdness and grittiness that you find in Baltimore.  It felt much more New England and European than Mid-Atlantic.  (I think my favorite part was walking along Compromise Street -- it made me feel like I was in an allegory.)

Lots of Navy in this town.  White uniforms everywhere.
The architecture inside the Naval Academy was
much more French than English.  Surely this
dome was inspired by Les Invalides.

How's this for a backyard?

Memorial Day Weekend - Jetskiing

What's better than going fast on a bike in pouring rain?  Going really fast on a jetski on a broad Maryland river. 

My friend Tim and I decided to seize the first 90ish day of the season by going jetskiing on the South River (near Annapolis), just above the point where it flows into the Chesapeake Bay.  We took the state-mandated safety test, rented a pair of jetskis, and headed out to the open water where we could speed around all the sailboats (who I'm sure thought we were super annoying).

This was my first time jetskiing, and I absolutely loved it.  The water was super choppy because of all the other boats, and there were a few times when I'm pretty sure I looked like I was hanging on for dear life (because I was) as I skipped over colliding wakes.  But in the coves where the water was calmer, I sped around at over 50 miles per hour.  SO MUCH FUN!

Marina on the South River
Tim's jetski (mine was blue and brand new)
Dried off after the ride

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend - Lunch with the Germans

Heidelberg Bakery celebrated the weekend by firing up the grills. Bauernwurst and sauerkraut . . . Yum.

Memorial Day Weekend -- Out and Back

Remember those capricious gods of work and weather?  Well, I must have done something right, because this weekend is going to be awesome:  Three full days of hot, sunny, summery weather and nary a trace of work that can't wait until normal life starts again on Tuesday.

I kicked things off this morning with a bike ride.  Given everything else that's planned for the day, I told myself I had to be done with the ride by 10:30am.  I headed out at 7:00am sharp, rode for 53.8 miles, and was back in my apartment at 10:25am -- right on schedule (yay!).  It was a great ride:  too early in the morning to see any of the fun stuff I saw last time, but that also meant I didn't have to dodge quite as many people.  We've got high humidity (71%), so the early morning was cool and misty until the sun burned it off around 9am.  Fortunately, I don't feel the humidity as much on a bike as I do when I'm running -- go fast enough and you'll have all the wind you need to keep you cool.

Now I have two hours to rest my legs and run errands before the next adventure. Woot!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Container Gardens, Year 2: Pink and Green, with Fish

You may recall that the upshot of last year's apartment flood was my moving into a new apartment with a balcony, which I promptly filled with an array of potted plants.  Having thus broken my many-year hiatus from gardening, I intended to expand my gardens this year in some ambitious ways; namely, I wanted more color, flowering vines, and . . . drum roll . . . a water feature. 

I started planting last fall with some shrubs and perennials that I knew would survive the cold.  I used the winter months to track down half a whiskey barrel and read six books on water gardening.  And once the nurseries started getting plants in early April, I started planting in earnest.  It's still early in the season, but the plants are established enough to be photo-worthy.  I'm pleased with the results, and I hope you'll enjoy the photos.  I may post more later in the season as more plants come into bloom.


The water garden is my pride and joy this year, and it's been many months in the making.  Thanks to a tip from Ammon, I was able to get the barrel in Watertown, NY, the day after Christmas.  It was covered in mud and ice and was far from water-tight, but it was well priced and fit in the back of my car, so I brought it home and started cleaning it up.  Every week through the winter I poured a bucket of water into the barrel to saturate the slats.  As they soaked up the water, they expanded to seal the gaps.  By mid-March, it was water-tight to just below the rim. 

As I read about water gardens, I realized I'd set myself a challenging goal.  There's no outlet on the balcony, so there would be no electricity for a filter or aeration system.  That meant I needed to create a self-sustaining ecosystem of fish, submerged oxygenating plants, floating plants, bog plants and bacteria to keep the water clean.  I also discovered that nearly all water plants need enormous amounts of sun to thrive, and yet my balcony receives at most four hours of sun per day.  Finally, given the range of temperatures it would experience--from the high heat of the summer to the cold of winter, without the insulating benefit of a deep, in-ground pond--I needed to get the hardiest type of goldfish.

I ended up traveling to three different water garden nurseries, and had to adjust some of my original aspirations (no lotus or papyrus!).  But in the end I got a very close what I'd originally envisioned. 

Clockwise from top left:  Pickerel rush, calla lilly,
water hyacinth, Texas Dawn hardy water lilly,
parrot's feather
Water hyacinth
The pond is stocked with three Comet goldfish.  They're supposed to be the hardiest goldfish, and they have the added benefit of being pretty, with bright red and white bodies and long graceful tails.  They can grow very large, but supposedly they'll stop growing when they reach the optimum size for the pond.  They don't hold still for photos, so here's a video:


The left-hand side of the balcony is the shadiest, so the challenge is to build interest and color without relying on sun-loving annuals or defaulting to impatiens.  I'll warn you now that I take a liberal approach to what constitutes a "shade" plant -- some of these are supposed to be planted in full sun, but I just plant them in a way that anticipates that they won't grow as much as they otherwise might.

From left:  Kong Rose coleus, Kong Red coleus,
Margarita sweet potato vine
Escargot de jardin (a gift from Ashley) and
Kimberly Queen fern
Rose Splash hypoestes ("polka dot plant") with
asparagus fern
Clockwise from top:  coral bells, spike,
heartleaf bergenia,variegated sedge
Bottom righthand corner:  wintergreen

This is where the sun hits most, so I feel like I've got some latitude to be more adventurous (despite the looks of horror from the ladies in the nursery when I tell them what I plan to do -- apparently clematis should NOT be grown in such conditions! tsk, tsk). 

Clockwise from top left: Will Goodwin clematis,
Queen Victoria lobelia, asparagus fern,
Allan P. McConnell hosta,
Super Eflin impatiens (in pink and white),
black sweet potato vine, and astilbe
The flower appears more violet in real life
Clockwise from left: Celebrate New Guinea impatiens,
Super Elfin impatiens, Purple Queen setcreasea,
more impatiens, Pony Tails stipa tenuissima
At bottom:  Yang Rose wax begonias
On the far right:  Albert spruce with ivy and variegated sedge, and a leafy
plant from last year that came back (and should have blue flowers)
Lower lefthand corner:  Jasmine


With these plantings and the gorgeous spring weather that we get here in the DC area, I spend as much time as possible on the balcony.  I eat breakfast out here in the mornings, and at night I unwind after work by feeding the fish, watering the plants, pruning, and noticing how they've grown during the day.  When I have to work late, I try to come home and do it out here.  After a long bike ride on the weekends, I like to just relax in the comfy chair with a magazine or book.

I love (LOVE) the smell of eucalyptus.  It's a scent that I've associated since childhood with Granny's house and Lady -- to me, it's the smell of home.  I don't love the "country cottage" look it has, but I still keep bunches of it stashed around the apartment for aromatic purposes.  The most effective spot is out here on the balcony in these tall ceramic canisters.  As the heat and humidity climb, the eucalyptus sweats, filling the air with its rich, clean smell.  It really enhances the ambiance of the space.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Today's Ride

I learned my lesson about good-weather weekend bike rides a couple of weeks ago:  If I wanted to be able to ride without having to weave through half the population of Washington DC in various stages of physical exertion, I need to hit the road early.  So this morning, at what felt like the crack of dawn, I kitted up and headed out for a spin.  The weather was glorious (mid-70s, no clouds or wind, low humidity) and I felt great, so I decided to push myself a bit. 

Three-and-a-half hours and 61 miles later, I was back home sitting blissfully among the flowers and pond on my balcony, reading about commedia dell'arte and refueling on a "Deconstructed Guacamole" wrap from Sweetgreen and a bowl of frozen yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and shaved coconut (because I deserved a little splurge after burning 3,000 calories). 

In the meantime, I'd had a lot of fun.  I started with a fifteen-mile loop from Ballston (the neighborhood where I live, in Arlington) down to the Potomac River and back.  From there I headed west on the W&OD trail toward Purcellville.  Along the way I passed:
  • a turtle crossing the road;
  • a woman with a pink riding crop (but no horse) shouting hysterically at six police officers whose cars (lights flashing) were parked across the path as if it were an emergency (all I caught was the woman's description of what I assume were the persons of interest: a sixty-ish man in a yellow jersey and another guy in a red jersey, both on bikes);
  • a bench (where I stopped after the first hour-and-a-half to replenish my blood sugar by eating some gummy sports candies designed for that purpose);
  • lots of beautiful wooded land that hid the tracts of suburbia on either side;
  • a platoon of Civil War soldiers marching through said wooded land (this is Virginia, after all);
  • several more police cars who seemed to be monitoring the points where the bike path crossed ordinary roads;
  • a McDonald's (where I rode through the drive-thru to get a small Coke -- that was at mile 46, and I was feeling depleted; next time I'll have to bring more gummies);
  • a woman helping her ten-year-old daughter climb over a very high chain-link fence into a restricted area with power-lines, in what appeared to be a very foolish attempt to pick wildflowers; and
  • lots of runners and other bikers (only two of whom passed me back -- that was at mile 50, when I was still on the Coke high, so I naturally I raced them for the next 6 miles until the Coke crash came, at which point they sped off into the distance as I mentally shook my fist).
It was a great ride, and I'm happy with where things stand:  In the four weeks since I bought my bike, I've ridden between two and three times a week, covering a total of 240 miles, with weight training and yoga on the off days.  My average speed has gone up from 14mph (over a distance of 15 miles) on the maiden run to 16mph (over a distance of 61 miles) today.  And my knees feel better -- both on and off the bike -- than they have in the last two years of running (or not running, as it's turned out).  I attribute that success largely to the geometry and fit of my bike and my decision to maintain a cadence of around 90 revolutions per minute regardless of terrain.  I still have a lot of work to do to build endurance and technique, but I'm hoping that by the end of the summer I'll be riding consistently four times a week and able to complete at least one 100-miler.  Woot!

Moo, tip, bang

Last night after work I saw the Shakespeare Theatre Company's staging of Constance Congdon's adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters.  This was part of my season's subscription, but my friend Amy decided at the last minute to get a ticket as well, so we met for dinner at Le Pain Quotidien before walking over to what turned out to be a perfectly delightful evening of theater.

I had heard from Amanda that the play would be fun and in the commedia dell'arte tradition, so I'd expected a farce in the vein of 17th Century French comedies, which are influenced by commedia traditions but are still fully scripted, polished plays.  I suspect, based on the background materials provided by the STC, that that's what I would have seen had the production conformed to Goloni's original 18th Century play (apparently Goldoni was accused by critics of killing commedia by insisting that the actors work from scripts and abandoning the masks; others claim he saved it by raising artistic standards).  But this production was based on the 1947 production at the Teatro Piccolo (which was the first to revive the traditional masks and archetypes) and further adapted by Constance Congdon, so that what I saw was full-blown commedia dell'arte, complete with masks, archetypes, virtuosic physicality and outrageous improvisation that made the performance both timeless and universal (thanks to the archetypes) and specific to that very night (thanks to the improv, which drew inspiration from the day's news, the city, and people in the audience). 

It was enormous fun.  The audience guffawed and chuckled in alternation throughout the performance, with the occasional gasp when an improvised joke shocked or went too far.  And you could tell the actors were enjoying themselves immensely.  It was like being in a room of mischievous five-year-olds playing to their heart's content.  They were all -- and especially the fellow playing Truffaldino -- extremely good at this.  Only once did one of the actors crack at the antics of his fellow performers, but they were being so funny that it really couldn't be helped.

The STC also put together some really great articles about commedia and the history of this play.  You might appreciate them, too, especially if you don't know much about commedia (or are looking for ideas on how to teach it to others who are new to it).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


What's more fun than going fast on a bike?  Going fast on a bike in the pouring rain.

The week so far has been wet and dreary, and there's no break in the forecast until the weekend.  So when the skies cleared this evening, I ducked out of work and to get in a quick ride before the clouds came back.  I wasn't quick enough, though.

The air was warm and so humid it was like riding through meringue (but with gnats), and somewhere around mile 7 the skies unleashed an apocalyptic deluge.  The nearest bridge where I could shelter was well ahead of me -- so I continued on through drops as big as diapers and just as wet.  Within a minute I was soaked.  To the point that my shoes were literally full of water, with little streams spouting out of the ventilation patches by the toes.  By the time I got to the bridge there was no part of me left to keep dry, so I just kept tearing along, laughing at the ridiculous, sopping spectacle of myself, praying that my slick tires wouldn't send me careening to my doom in the Potomac, and reveling in the fact that I had the entire trail to myself.

Of course, the storm was only about a quarter of a mile wide, which meant that I quickly rode out of it and had the somewhat more dubious pleasure of riding through neighborhoods that hadn't felt a single drop, looking like I'd just run through the car wash and having swarms of gnats stick to my dripping skin.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The capricious gods of work and weather

Sometimes I think the ancient Greeks had it pretty good:  If something wasn't going the way you wanted, all you had to do was identify the offended god, sacrifice something (100 bulls, say, or your fourteen-year-old daughter who thought she was about to be married to Achilles) to appease that god, and then things would go right again.  Sure, when you got home your wife might murder you for sacrificing your daughter without her permission -- but at least the weather would have cooperated for once!


The weather in March was absolutely gorgeous; I worked all the time.  In April, my workload was delightfully light -- I put in about 40 hours per week, had leisurely evenings and work-free weekends.  I bought a bike and planted some flowers.  The weather?  Cold and rainy every day. 

Same pattern today:  The weather finally breaks and we're set to have three days of perfect DC spring weather -- upper 70s, no humidity, cloudless skies.  I got to work at 6:30am to plow through everything so that I could get out early and enjoy the weather.  Natch, by the time 6:30pm rolled around, I had more work to do before Monday than I'd had to do all week.  Because that's how the gods of work and weather roll -- and, unfortunately, being good Christian that I am, killing something to make them happy isn't really an option.

So I canceled all my weekend plans with friends and lugged my stack of projects home . . .

grabbed some dinner muy delicioso from Cafe Rio (which recently opened not far from my house, much to the delight of every Mormon in a ten-mile radius -- seriously, every time I go at least 80 percent of the customers are LDS; the missionaries are on a first name basis with everyone there) . . .

and settled in for the long haul.  At least I have a balcony and wireless Internet -- tomorrow I'll take my work outside and soak up as much Springtime as I can while drafting documents for my clients.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Building Dancers

I hadn't expected to walk out of work today and see people dancing on the facade of the clock tower across the street.  And yet there they were.  Totally bizarre and cool.  I love public performance art.


(You'll see the dancers better if you maximize the video.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Baltimore: Kinetic Sculpture Race

Baltimore is an odd city with a lovely inner harbor.

Nautical tranquility is nice, but that's not why I went to Baltimore on Saturday.  The goal of the visit was to see the craziness that is the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race.  Think of this race as what you might get if the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade had a kid with the Pinewood Derby Race, and that kid grew up to be an artist and/or hippie who liked to weld bikes together.  People make outlandish contraptions that are capable of propelling themselves over a course several miles long, over hills and mud obstacles and a water loop over the harbor.

Starting line (which happened to be right
in the path of the March of Dimes walk --
it was an epic traffic jam)

My favorite

This one was dead on arrival -- never made it out of the gate.
After watching the grand start, we jumped onto the water taxi to wend our way (very slowly) around the harbor to see the water loop.  Along the way we met a chatty young woman carrying a giant camera and wearing a t-shirt from a Susan G. Komen charity race.  She enthusiastically told us about everything else that was going on in Baltimore and, in so doing, lots of carefully selected details about herself:  she runs a lot, she's teaching herself photography (when not running), she's a graduate student researching breast cancer and pursuing a joint degree ("yeah, I mean, someday people will refer to me as 'Doctor Doctor'"), and she loves (LOVES! almost as much as running) public transit.  Most of these details were conveyed in the form of bait to get us to ask more about her.  I was torn between the fun of resisting the bait and the fun of taking the bait just to see how she could work in yet another reference to how much she runs.

Amy and me on the ferry, as captured by our new
photographer-runner-breast cancer friend
We also encountered a ferry-boat that would only back up in one direction.  We were hoping to get to the other side of the harbor quickly so that we could see the contraptions do their water loop, so we took what was supposed to be the most direct water taxi.  The boat was docked in an angle between a buoy and a giant schooner, and rather than just driving out between them, we did (I kid you not) a forty-point turn bumping against the dock and the buoy to get out into the open.  "Don't worry," said the Captain, "It's the boat, not the captain. It just only backs up one direction, which is fine if it's the direction you want to go -- kind of a pain when it's not."  Really.   

Still, we made it to the water course in time to see many of the floats, well, floating out around the bend.  Surprisingly, all of the contraptions floated, and most of them were able to propel themselves forward somehow or other.  (I admit, it was kind of disappointing.  I was really hoping for a pink fluffy Titanic moment.)

Parasols notwithstanding, the cancaners had a
hard time making it around the pier.

And these guys turned on a 50-yard radius; it was hilarous.

I had to be back in DC by early afternoon, so we weren't able to stay for the muddy obstacle course or see the ultimate winner.  Still, it was a fun time filled with colorful characters and a nice chance to see Baltimore again (which I hadn't visited since 2002, when I went there to be an extra in Chris Rock's movie Head of State).