Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ambiguous Debussy

Last night Amy invited me to an evening of music and conversation.  It was put on by Grinnell College (where Amy did her undergraduate studies) and the format was a mix between concert, lecture and salon (in the 18th Century French sense of a social gathering where smart people sit around and entertain each other by being interesting).

The evening featured a music professor from Grinnell and his take on the Preludes of Claude Debussy (a late 19th/early 20th Century French Impressionist composer).  Rather than just introduce the pieces and then sit down and play them, the professor instead spoke briefly about how Debussy put the titles at the end rather than the beginning.  No one really knows why Debussy did this, and it seems to open up some ambiguity in the relation of the music to the title and what it all supposedly means.  Indeed, by putting his titles at the end of the music, Debussy seems to invite listeners and players to engage with the music first, and then consider whether the title fits (or not). 

The professor also went further afield to explain how musicology has evolved over the past 60 years to focus more on what music "has meant" than on what it "means."  In addition, he pulled from literary theory and presented a sort of taxonomy of different types of ambiguity, which served as a theoretical framework for the evening. 

Once we had gotten through the lecture, the concert/salon portion started.  The professor would play a piece without telling us the title, and then the audience (about 30 people; the size of a class) would discuss the piece -- what was happening?  what did it mean?  how did it make us feel?  what do we think the title is?  Inevitably, the comments went roughly as follows:
  • Very sad, I think this was a very sad piece.
  • No, not sad at all!  I think it was contemplative.
  • Oh yes, me too, contemplative.
  • I heard waves.
  • Like soldiers preparing for battle.
  • Or a woman pacing on the widow's walk on her house, watching for a ship to come -- first she thinks she sees something, but then it's gone and she's depressed again.
  • Greek tragedy!
  • I thought of Anna Karenina, when she was with her husband but wanted to be with her lover.
  • Or, like, how I dream at night about all the different things I need to be doing but can't actually get done during the day because there's so many things going on, and I'm so tired and frustrated.
  • Or the Industrial Revolution and the inhumanity of workers.
Oh, liberal arts majors!  How I do love you. 

Then the professor would tell us the title of the piece and it would be something like, "Sound and Scent Mingling" (which caused general befuddlement) or "Dansers at Delphi" (which made the Greek tragedy guy beam broadly) or "Window to the Plains" (which made everyone nostalgic for Iowa).

Afterwards we gathered in the main foyer for hearty refreshments and social hour.  Turns out Grinnellians are all super friendly and have a great sense of school spirit and camaraderie (one more thing that I never got at the U).  Conversation ran from the music we'd just heard to memories of school to how everyone's lives have been affected by the sequester (seriously, it's bad).  One woman I met is a historian with a focus on religious history who works for the National Archives; she told me about a recent visit to Salt Lake and how she thought the Pioneer Museum was astonishing and probably had one of the best (and most understudied) collections of 19th Century textiles anywhere in the world. 

The event was held in the Daughters of the Revolution Constitution Hall.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A lesson for salesmen


Salesman:  [Ignoring me while rearranging stacks of shirts]

Me:  Hi, I want to buy a tuxedo.  Looking for a slim fit in a 34" jacket.

Salesman:  [Without even looking up from his shirts.]  The smallest jacket I have is a 38".
Total sale:  $0 

Me:  I'm looking for a tux.

Salesman:  Trendy?

Me:  Yes -- slim fit, 34" jacket.

Salesman:  We don't carry 34" jackets.  Try on this 36" -- See?  Now we can do a bunch of alterations and it'll look roughly like this. [scrunching up the back]  You'll look great.
Total sale:  $0

Me:  I want to buy a tuxedo.  I need a 34" jacket.

Salesman:  Really?  I'm sure a 36" jacket would look just fine on you -- here, just try it on.

Me:  Okay, but I'm serious:  I want a 34" jacket.

Salesman:  Well, I think the 36" looks fine, but since you insist, go ahead and try on this 34" jacket.  It's not a tux (we don't have any 34" tuxes), but at least we'll . . . HOLY COW!!  That looks AMAZING!  That's off the rack and it fits you PERFECTLY -- I can't believe it. 

Chorus of other salesmen:  Wooaahh.

Tailor:  You look gorgeous.

Me:  [Letting that "I told you so" moment sink in]

Salesman:  I'm calling Germany to see if they will make you a 34" tuxedo.  In the meantime, here's every other 34" jacket in the store, and a bunch of shirts; this tie would look awesome; oh, and have you ever worn a pocket square?
Total sale:  Amount withheld to protect the guilty. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013


My decorating has gotten more adventurous and ecclectic over the years.  I think it's the cumulative influence of the myriad colors, textures and forms that I've encountered through international travel, in art museums and design magazines, and in the personal styles of friends and family. 

For example, butterflies.  They're my latest obsession.  I'd never thought to decorate with them before -- the idea of having dead bugs on my wall always seemed a little creepy.  But then Amanda showed me a shop in Denver that had a wall full of mounted butterflies, and I loved the gorgeous colors and patterns of their wings.  So I bought one and put it in my bathroom next to my Moroccan pottery and Dutch porcelain.

I loved it.  I wanted more.

So I've appointed Amanda to be my official purveyor of butterflies.  This job consists of bringing me butterflies whenever she comes to visit me.  The only stipulations are that the wings must be pretty and the frame must be black.  The first installment came last weekend with Amanda's spring break visit.  Two lovely new additions to my collection!

No butterfly on the top shelf; just an air plant
Urania (Peru)
Morpho didius (Peru)
Ganyra phaloe (Peru)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My job does have some perks

Remember that crazy deal I worked on in December and January that had me living out of a hotel (or, more accurately, a conference room) in New York for so many weeks? Well, the woman who led the business team for my client in that deal was honored tonight for her efforts to promote diversity at her company and, more broadly, in the media industry. Her husband, who is also a significant firm client, suggested that we buy a table and come for the party.

The firm did buy a table, and I was invited to join. Which meant I essentially got a free trip to New York (complete with first class high speed train tickets and nice hotel that leaves me oranges and chocolate with a handwritten note saying how much it loves my firm) so that I could go to a fancy party with two of the more prominent lawyers in the firm and some important sports media clients. It's the sort of client development work that I think is fun (and also a good reminder that, if I'm going to keep doing this work, I really need to start watching sports).

After the dinner, I split off from the group and met up with Tarek (a good friend from law school and fellow associate at the firm), who recently returned from a two year assignment working in Saudi Arabia. We talked for way too long over drinks at a fun bar (I had mint lemonade) and got caught up on our various life projects.

Now it's time for bed -- I've got to be able to get back to real work tomorrow.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spring break weekend

What do Cancun and DC have in common?  Spring breakers.  Cancun gets the party-wild college kids; DC gets the school groups.  They arrive in giant charter buses and troop through the city in matching t-shirts while learning about Our Nation's Capitol.  Oh, to be a student with regular buit-in vacations! 

Normally spring just rolls right by me -- it's usually a busy time of year for me at work, and my non-work time is spent planning international travel and planting my container gardens too soon.  This year was shaping up to be more of the same (only with the added distraction of trying to convince someone to hire me), until this weekend, when the Waterhouses showed up.

Because, you see, Amanda's a teacher, and her brother's in school.  So they still get spring break.  And this year they decided to visit DC en famille -- Amanda flew out from Denver, Andy and Jenn from Salt Lake City, and Will and Susan from Grand Junction.  (Rachel et al. didn't make it, but we'll see them in Chicago in April.)  Fortunately for me, they invited me to join them in their adventures.

And by "adventures" I mean food, art, food, theatre, food, art, dance, food.  Basically in that order and frequency.  Which, of course, is how spring break (and, really, life) ought always to be done!

Here are some of the highlights:

Dinner at Central Michel Richard
Think French bistro, taken up a couple of notches. 

Cheese puffs.  Hot and perfect.

"Faux" gras (because it's chicken and not goose),
with terrine, cornichons and mustard


Rockfish with vegetables

Profiteroles with vanilla icecream and dark chocolate

Modern dance, with a Swedish twist
The Kennedy Center is presenting a month-long festival featuring the performing arts (and design and visual arts) of Scandinavia.  On Saturday night, we saw the GoteborgsOperans Danskompani perform in the Eisenhower Theatre.  They had a crisp, clean style and some very nice moments (their OleroB -- based on Maurice Ravel's Bolero -- was my favorite, with the androgynous costumes and magical glitter at the end).  But I never really felt the emotional depth in the choreography or dancers that I often find so rewarding in modern dance, and the technical and cerebral elements of the performance just weren't enough to carry the evening to greatness.

Sunday brunch at Mintwood Place
Amanda and I broke off from the rest of the group on Sunday morning to meet up with Amy for brunch at Mintwood Place (which apparently has made it to the semifinalist list for the James Beard Foundation Award for best restaurant and best chef in the mid-Atlantic region).  Amy had seen the dance concert on Friday, so we were able to compare notes. 

Belgian waffle, with one egg and a side of bacon

Dinner at J&G Steakhouse
This restaurant has been one of my standby favorites for a while now -- it's delicious and has a cool vibe.  Sunday night was no different on that front (in fact, my appetizer and dessert were probably the best I've eaten there), but the service was SO SLOW!!  Seriously, we sat down at 6:45pm and didn't leave until after 10:00pm.  Which wouldn't have been a problem if we had been doing a multi-course tasting menu, but we were just doing an ordinary dinner.  Fortunately, we didn't have after-dinner plans, and between the six of us we had enough crazy travel stories to keep ourselves entertained for hours. 

Crab cake with grapefruit, avocado and ginger sauce

Lamb with vegetables

Cheesecake with grapefruit sorbet and marmalade

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How did it go?

Hard to say.  I mean, I was there and all, but I'm having a hard time forming an opinion on whether the interview went well or not. 

To be honest, I'm feeling kind of down about it. As I replay the questions, I can identify a couple where my responses were a little less than stellar, and a few that could have been perfect if I'd only had the presence of mind to say two more things.  The GC was clearly looking for a very specific skill set -- more so than was indicated in the job announcement -- and while I've got lots of experience with part of what she's looking for, I have virtually no experience with the other part. And as we talked, I found her difficult to read.  I couldn't tell if she was genuinely pleased to have me interview, or if interviewing me was a gesture to the firm motivated by a desire to have us continue providing pro bono work.  Unfortunately, the other person I was supposed to meet with had to cancel our appointment due to other work emergencies, so I don't have anyone to compare to (or who can be a cheerleader for me, if needed). 

On the other hand, these negative feelings may have more to do with chemistry and psychology than any objective evaluation of the situation.  This interview was the culmination of a couple of weeks of intense preparation and anticipation, and immediately after the interview I climbed onto a train and sat for 3 hours with nothing to do but (over)analyze everything and wish I'd brought more snacks.  Coming off of a pre-interview high like that, I think it's pretty natural to feel ambivalent and overly critical and a little deflated.

But if I force myself to look at things with a more objective eye, there's every reason to remain positive and hopeful.  After all, I am one of the few who actually received an invitation to interview.  I do have a lot of experience in one of the key areas of interest and a demonstrated ability to learn new things and perform at a high level in a variety of settings.  The GC has received some very strong recommendations on my behalf.  And she even suggested I get in touch with a guy in DC who recently graduated from NYU law school and who worked for them for a while -- she wouldn't have done that if she hated me.  As for the other interviewer, it may be that this missed connection will simply be grounds for having me back for another round of interviews.

Regardless, not having that second interview meant that I had time to stop at a cafe and get a little lemon tart to tide me through the train ride home.

So much of Les Miserables still to read!!

The GC said they won't be making any final decisions for "several weeks," so now begins a period of suspense in which I suspect I'll focus on work and everything else in order to avoid wondering when (and what) I'll hear back.  I'll let you know if/when I do hear anything!  Keep those prayers and positive energy coming!!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Big Day

I got a full seven hours of sleep last night; a killer workout and a hearty breakfast this morning. I'm sporting a pink tie, a green watch and flawlessly polished shoes; there's a fresh vial of eye drops in my bag. My head is full of questions and (hopefully!) brilliant responses.

My train arrives at 2pm -- it's game time at 3pm.

There's a lot at stake, and I'm playing for keeps. I think I'm ready. Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


So I walk into the Verizon store to buy a new phone, and the guy looks me up and says, "I see you bought insurance -- just call this number and they'll send you a replacement phone overnight." 

I love it when I'm a responsible adult and buy insurance.  (Even if, when the crisis occurs, I forget that I've got it and spend the weekend kicking myself for not being a responsible adult.) 

The upshot is that I now have a fully functional phone and am ready to reenter the hyper-connected world of the 21st century.  Only thing is that my backup storage didn't work as well as my insurance, so I need phone numbers and addresses. 

If you're reading this blog and want me to have your contact information, send me a text (same phone number as before) or an email (jackjasondavis at gmail dot com).


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Phone-less, again.

I am having the worst luck with iPhones.  I've hade one for less than a year, and already I've lost two.  The first time it fell out of my bag in a Crate & Barrel while I was shopping for shower curtains.  This time it fell off my seat during a standing ovation at the Kennedy Center and was forgotten in the shuffle to get out.  How is it possible for me never to lose anything else in my life, but always to lose the one piece of expensive technology that I really don't want to lose??  Grrr.

Of course, this means that I'm feeling grumpy and poor and acutely aware of just how single I am.  I mean, there's nothing like losing one's phone or locking one's keys in the trunk to drive home the fact that I live alone and am totally self-reliant.  The family and close friends that I should be able to turn to in situations like this are impractically far away, so when that self-reliance breaks down I'm really in a bind.  I need to build a stronger local support network here.

The timing is also extremely inopportune.  Normally I go for weeks without really needing my phone; but of course now I'm in the midst of coordinating a crucial job interview in New York, and the hiring office is relying on my cell phone number.  If I want that process to go smoothly (and I do), I just can't afford to be unreachable.  So first thing tomorrow morning, I'll be in the Verizon store buying yet another cell phone (possibly not an iPhone) so that I can keep my life from running off the tracks.

[Don't hate me for dropping the "job interview" reference without further explanation.  If you aren't already au courant, think of it as a cliff-hanger -- like Matthew Crawley crushed under the car.  Hopefully I will have lots more to report soon.]

The loss of my phone also means that I don't have any photos of recent activities.  So you'll just have to believe me when I say I've had a good weekend (lost cell phone notwithstanding).  I enjoyed first rate performing arts, first with the Folger Shakespeare Theatre's strong production of Henry V, which in my mind is one of Shakespeare's best history plays . . .

Best wooing scene ever
followed by an excellent National Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter singing Schubert lieder and the University of Maryland choirs singing Mozart's Requiem (my all-time favorite requiem).

The concert was part of the Kennedy Center's festival of Scandinavian
arts, and boy did she fit the bill:  8 feet tall and white-blonde hair.

A weekend of performing arts isn't complete without good food, and this weekend was no exception.  Having finished my Paleo nutrition challenge this week (we won!!), I'm now able to eat things like bread and cheese.  I kicked off the weekend with a pre-theatre dinner at Le Pain Quotidien, where I ordered a delicious tartine of warm goat cheese with pear, honey and prosciutto.  On Saturday I went French at the Bistro du Coin and was disappointed with a mediocre gratin d'endives and filet of salmon.  Today I more than made up for any gastronimical disappointments by making Mexican chocolate pots de creme from a recipe I found on the blog Nom Nom Paleo -- all I have to say is that everyone who reads this blog should run, not walk, to the kitchen and whip up a batch of this decadent dessert.  It was super easy to prepare and oh, so exquisitely, chocolately delicious.  (And believe me, the suggested small serving sizes are there to protect you from death by chocolate.)  I'll be eating chocolate all week long.

We also had the first truly spring-like weekend of the season, with temperatures in the low 60s.  I took advantage of it on Saturday to go running on the local high school track, and then for a quick 20-mile spin on the bike.  It was great to be outside in the sunny, warm weather.  I can tell that my winter gym workouts have maintained a good general fitness base, but there's still no substitute for getting out there and actually running and cycling.  It's going to take me a few weeks to get back up to speed!


Thursday, March 7, 2013


It's that time of year again, my friends!  The time of year when all my great travel plans for the year start coming together.  My previous Great Adventures have taken me to AfricaSouth America, Europe (Eastern and Western) and the Middle East -- so where to this year? 

Asia!  Southeast Asia, to be specific:  Vietnam and Cambodia. 

I'm going in June with Vanessa, a friend of mine from Rennes (because an American man and a French woman vacationing in Vietnam isn't historically awkward at all . . .).  We've got a lot of planning left to do -- and probably more than a few shots to get -- but I'm super excited.  There will be jungles, ruins, motorcycles and so, so much delicious food!
Of course, Southeast Asia is only the centerpiece of this year's travel.  Also on deck:  Chicago in April and Poland in September.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


The great thing about DC snowstorms is that they generate ENORMOUS hype and anxiety, and only very rarely live up to it -- which means I get to enjoy all the drama of a weather emergency without the inconvenience of the real thing.

For example, today:  DC is supposed to get socked by the last big snowstorm of the season; they're forecasting between 4 and 8 inches of snow throughout the day (don't laugh).  Because this is equivalent to THE END OF THE WORLD, the federal government has shut down, schools are closed, and everyone and their dog is in the grocery store buying 300 rolls of toilet paper and frozen pizza. 

I was supposed to go to Philadelphia today for all-day meetings with a client, but those plans have changed in favor of a remote teleconference -- which means that, instead of catching the train at the crack of dawn and sitting in a conference room all day with terrible food, I got to sleep in (till 5:30am!), go to the gym, and am now curled up in yoga pants and a t-shirt on the couch drafting stock purchase agreements until it's time to join the teleconference. 

Meanwhile, it's snowing.  Not enough to warrant the panic, but enough to make me feel very cosy and happy right now. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

More misérables!

Finally, after FOUR LONG MONTHS, I've finished Volume I! 

Okay, so it may have taken my Mormon pioneer ancestors less time to cross the Great Plains than it took me to read the first half of everyone's favorite eighteen-hundred-page novel.  So what!  At least nobody's died of cholera along the way.  And besides, we can chalk this up as a faith-building example of "enduring to the end" -- because I've still got about 900 pages to go. 

My negative opinion of Victor Hugo hasn't changed much.  I still think he's incredibly misogynistic, and his penchant for long tangents that do nothing to advance the plot still drives me nuts.  But my positive opinion of Victor Hugo -- which exists separately, and in parallel to my negative opinion -- has grown tremendously this time around.  Having taken the sage advice of Quynh-Nhu to slow down and take the pace of the novel on its own terms, I've grown to appreciate Hugo's incredibly perceptive eye -- and eloquent pen -- for capturing social nuances, moral complexity and the simultaneously divine and devilish messiness of humanity.  Those moments don't come on every page, or even every 50 pages, but when they do come, they're like little revelations flashing in muddy water. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013


The worst part about early March is that you think it's spring but it's still freezing cold.  All I want is for it to be warm and sunny and green outside! 

What better way to ring in a new month and distract myself from the cold air and snowy weather forecast than planning a trip to warm and sunny . . . CHICAGO! 

Okay, not so warm or sunny right now, but I'm not going until the end of April -- and by then it had very well better be warmer and sunnier than DC is now.  Plus, I'll be meeting up with the Waterhouses (who are traveling there) and a couple of other friends from NY and France (who live there), so you can be sure there will be plenty of performing arts, good food (Michelin does Chicago!) and fun times regardless of whatever the weather might do.

In the meantime, I'll keep working on that Sysyphean task of balancing work, fun and the rest of life in a way that let's me do it all and write about it now and then, too.  Because I promise, interesting things have happened in the last couple of weeks, despite my not having written.  It's just that I've been trying very hard to get 7 hours of sleep every night and, as you know, it's virtually impossible to get anything done when you spend that much time just lying around doing nothing.