Season of Rebirth: Burning Man Temple and Calatrava’s Oculus

On the the blessings of living in the megalopolis of the DC to NYC corridor is the possibility of visiting beautiful sites mere hours of days apart. On Christmas, the opportunity presented to visit Calatrava’s Oculuson the World Trade Center site and just days later, the Best’s Temple for Burning Man at the Renwick. While I didn’t seek out each site for any sort of spiritual experience, both left me with pause given we are working through the season of rebirth, renewal — and new beginnings.

The Temple as well as the Oculus honor those that we mourn and desire and the eyes are naturally drawn skyward — which for the Oculus brings a rush and multitude of layered memory. Calatrava’s soaring design is meant to embody just that — a bird flying from the hand of a child. The innocence of that image is felt — and the color in the evening, resembles the sky on that day most of us remember clearly — a day that started like most other fall days. The bird metaphor embodied in the design, one can hope is that the spirits of those lost are now free and while evil struck, a return to innocence is possible.

For the Temple, the fresh and fragrant smell of balsa wood also elludes to hope, while reverent lighting provides a moment of heavenly breath. Visitors’ messages to loved ones link the Temple to the site of the Oculus where messages were left for days and months after the fall of the Towers — perhaps it is the written word that provides a moment of renewal in our belief that those we love are not truly gone from our grasp — that memories are closer than we think.

While the Temple is set to come down on January 5, there are still a few days left to experience the installation but the Oculus offers a permanent destination for reflection.

Out with 19 in with 20

 

Growing up, I heard repeatedly that whatever you were doing at midnight on December 31st would set your path for the year. When added to the fact that I was born on January 1st, the amount of pressure auto-built into those two days was immense, literally from day one. Then I decided to get married on December 31 as well (it seemed celebratory at the time), and it’s a complete pressure cooker. Not to mention, most of my favorite restaurants are closed on New Year’s Day.

Now that I am solidly in middle age, I still feel this trifecta of the holiday squeeze. We’ve tried to move any celebration, minimal as it is, of our anniversary away from the end of the year landmark which is a step. For New Year’s Day, it’s best to focus on what is available — though since we no longer imbibe, and sobriety is now for the cool kids, it does seem a tad ridiculous that there is such a long list of closures on the first day of the year.

Taking all this into account, my truisms for ending this past year should serve me well into this new year as well.

  1. Rely on Asian restaurants – always. Chinese, Thai, Indian — have several favorites and one is bound to be open on January 1 (much like Christmas). This year, City Lights of China in Dupont Circle opened right on time at 11:30 am — just in time for brunch with friends. Next, rely on tried and true institutions — there will always be a museum open, somewhere close by. This year time at the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum — and the piece above reminds me of my own olden days of New Years gone by on the town (Karen LaMonte’s Reclining Dress).
  2. Stick to the basics when it comes to activities — what do you really love? What is the one place that offers solace? For me, it’s the East Potomac Golf Course. It’s where I met my husband, played endless rounds with friends in my 20’s and it’s where my kiddo had her first golf lesson. It’s no country club, but it is gold. We really should’ve gotten married here.
  3. Midnight — well that’s all bonk. On the years I’ve been fast asleep it didn’t predestine me to great sleep the following year; the years I’ve been out late champagne-ing with friends didn’t necessarily predict a year filled with bubbles. Now we hygge on the last night of the year — carpet camp-out, appetizers from Trader Joe’s and possibly too much pie. This year, I did forget to light our TJ cedar candles; and don’t think I don’t miss black dresses, stockings with runs and the champagne — because I really do and I hope this kind of celebration circles back. But for now, it’s hygge.
  4. I am not too old. For all of us at midlife, squeezed between generations, career changes and concerns over college savings it is completely daunting most days to figure out how to get all the laundry done and ponder anything new. My own vow (not resolution, I don’t believe in those) is to remember every day that I am not too old to have what I truly want whether it’s a PhD or a book deal — it’s all about the focus and most importantly, eliminating obstacles. A fresh decade awaits – as Oprah famously mentioned several years ago — we’re going to be 50 (or any other age) regardless.

 

 

Between seasons…

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“Teach this poem” lands in my inbox early each morning thanks to Poets.org. As the cold bears down on us here in the East, and while the clock may indicate that day should break soon, clearly even the sun is desirous of hibernation. As I click on my sunlamp, I am yet surrounded by the sights and sounds of darkness. Joon’s poem, “Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today,” today’s “Teach” installment offers a new way to think of the cold — wear it. As I ponder which coat to wear on my afternoon trip North, I will think of the cold as something I wear — like the season — but unlike one character within the poem that says the cold has “broken his windows,” I will wear my cold with joy, for it is the season I love the most.

Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today

Emily Jungmin Yoon

I read a Korean poem
with the line “Today you are the youngest
you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest
I have been. Today we drink
buckwheat tea. Today I have heat
in my apartment. Today I think
about the word chada in Korean.
It means cold. It means to be filled with.
It means to kickTo wear. Today we’re worn.
Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.
My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said
winter has broken his windows. The heat inside
and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.
Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today
it fills with you. The window in my room
is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It’s tea.
We drink. It is cold outside.

Thank you Poets.org for this winter discovery of Emily Jungmin Yoon.

There’s a certain slant of light

Only Emily could describe the onset of winter so perfectly.

There’s a certain slant of light – Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

 

August: Heat, Humidity, Escape

Summer in the DC area can be described in one word: stifling. It is hot, but more importantly incredibly humid. Nearly every day you can look to the horizon and see the pillar-like clouds begin to form sometime in the late afternoon — which means it’s nearly certain that a storm will race through at some point, and we’ll have to watch the sky carefully if we really want to head to the pool. On this particular August scorcher, the sky is completely covered, thunder is beginning to roll in the background and the columns of spiky storm clouds are gathered — it’s like the DC-summer storm trifecta. img_20190815_153952

The only thing you can do, should you be trapped in or near the city during the summer is seek out those spots that have some sort of breeze or some sort of tree cover. The gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown provides just such a respite — lush gardens with plenty of trees, nooks and crannies to hide out in for awhile and a FREE museum that is filled with Byzantine and Pre-Columbian treasures in a remarkably well-cooled and designed space. My suggestion is to visit the garden first, sweat, and then head inside to enjoy the chilled air so that you can brace yourself for a quick run to the bus on Wisconsin Avenue before the late afternoon storm cracks its first lightening strike.

The heat may be unrelenting when walking the gardens (and picnics are prohibited), but the garden will draw you in from the Orangery (with orange trees) upon entry to the garden-of-delight swimming pool and surrounding grounds that make you wonder just whom you know that is going to have a party here that you can attend. With this beautiful thought foremost in your mind, you’ll be ready to wander down the short staircase to visually melt into the sunflower gardens — that appear at once wild, yet English in the neat rows but overgrown in a completely French manner.

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Escape to the flowers, even with unbearable humidity that bears down on your skin with its weight and oppression — the flowers remain hopeful. Fall is coming.

 

What I’ve read so far this year…

2019 is a big year — not only did I turn 50 on the first day of the year, but like everyone I know I set out to create the bucket list of things to do. And of course the list became way too long, way too fast; a simpler approach to this year was clearly in order because who wants to over-live it? Fifty is a watershed year without doubt, but I quickly realized that in the rush to stuff everything I’ve not gotten to yet, and all the things I’ve yet to conquer in just 365 days I was setting myself up for goal non-completion. Again, everyone I know is or has recently passed through this phase of mid-life as well. The solution: 50 books. So far so good, and here’s my list so far…hint: most of these can be purchase through my links to Powell’s just to the right –>I may never own my own “shop around the corner” but I can have my own little virtual shop right here.

Currently reading: Hammer’s The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu

Humor

Where’d You Go Bernadette: I just re-read this amazingly funny, sometimes poignant and omg did she ever nail every single stereotype about Seattle.

Nonfiction

Never Can Say Goodbye (compilation): For anyone that loves NYC, this is a sweet read of essays from authors that both love and hate the best city in the world.

Dunbar’s Never Caught – The Washington’s Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge. You’ll never think of the Washington’s quite the same after reading this well-researched and written book-form documentary. Incredibly sad.

Orlean’s The Library Book: Why don’t we know more about the mysterious fire at the Los Angeles Library?

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Having grown up watching the horrors of South African apartheid on television, it was odd to explain all this to my kiddo as she read this for school. Not only does Noah’s book detail his own experience, it makes you wonder how far, if at all, we’ve come. Regimes and governments may change, but so much of our world remains under siege.

Historical Fiction: My favorite genre — plenty of history, some filler, plenty of literary language.

Benedict’s Carnegie’s Maid: The tale of a young Irish girl who inadvertently becomes the maid for one of the wealthiest families in America.

Hopper’s Learning to See: Dorothea Lange. We all know the Depression-era photos, this novel offers a glimpse into her personal life and how the Depression never really left her.

Chiaverini’s The Enchantress of Numbers: Ada Lovelace — Ever wonder where computers really came from? What role did women have in mathematics in Victorian England?

Godwin’s The American Heiress: If you love Victoria, this is quite similar — but the American version with wealth, the hunt for a Duke to wed and plenty of damp English weather.

It’s clear I have a ways to go — luckily the pool is open and summer is nearly upon us. Happy Reading!

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On the train again…

 

img_20190420_120241I’m rolling into the Baltimore station yet again, and since my last trip north on the exact same train, in the quite car again, where I sat just two months ago when our train struck a human on the tracks. Since we pulled out of the last station, I’ve been head down in my book, hoping for the best — we’re cruising through Baltimore’s tunnels now and should hopefully arrive at the station without incident. For weeks after the accident, I scanned the news for mention of the poor soul that was struck – that poor woman whose life will never be the same. For now, it seems that we’re cruising slowly, and peacefully into the station.

Several questions have dogged me since that train ride in March, and all of those questions revolve around trauma. May is Mental Health Awareness month and since today is the last of the month, I find myself really pondering how we as a society can emphasize the importance of mental health check-ups. Part of the marketing campaign for the month revolves around the phrase “breaking the stigma” — which I completely support; part of breaking the stigma is turning things from oddities into routines.

For a woman to find herself on a set of train tracks — most certainly involved trauma, not just the accident, but whatever brought her to that place. Because news coverage is so weak, it is impossible to know her circumstance before or after the accident; but no one finds themselves near train tracks on a well-known busy commuter corridor in a major metropolitan area without having lived through some trauma. And what of the train driver and other staff that saw the accident yet could not prevent it? What of the first responders — who must see accidents like this on a regular basis? Trauma is all around us, yet our American culture remains steadfast in its neglect of the fact that the eyes cannot un-see, the brain cannot un-learn and the flesh cannot un-feel.

We must do more.

 

Mango Mango!

Having just returned to DC from NYC, with some extreme indulgences into Chinese mango chicken at Our Place, we decided to wrap up mango month with our first trip to
img_20190423_182639 Mango Mango Dessert in the amazing Eden Center. This mango ice cream sundae, with its base of mango chunks, full scoops of mango ice cream topped with mango drizzle and sweet whipped cream was beyond the fruity beyond — almost too pretty to plunge a spoon into. Nestled on the outskirts of the Eden Center, Mango Mango is a sleek dessertery that offers everything from waffles and fruit to peanut paste soup (next up on the try-it list).

The beauty of Mango Mango is this — on a steamy spring afternoon, you can pop inside (not busy in the afternoon) and indulge in not only this creamy, dreamy fruit tower but also their not-too-cold A/C. One of the best parts of Asian cuisines, to me, is the incorporation of savory and sweet — fruit with chicken and garlic, fruit pastes that incorporate red peppers for pork — and the overall prevalence of the mango. In American cooking, the mango still seems exotic yet for Asian cuisines the mango is just about everywhere — Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese. Growing up on the West Coast, Asian restaurants were always part of our culinary vocabulary and now that we’re in the near South, it is wonderful to find these comfort foods in just about every neighborhood.

I’ve long been drawn to mangoes for their health boosting ability — their color alone is a mood booster and this dynamic yellow fruit often appears on super food lists. There are entire blogs devoted to mango love. A trusted source, the BBC, details the nutritional benefits of this delectable fruit from its vitamin content to its beneficial properties for the gut.

Health value aside — the mango is beautiful in color, texture and versatility — and readily available in summer in the U.S. But in those dark winter months…a bag of frozen from Trader Joe’s does just fine for a lovely even crisp, crunchy oatmeal top and butter to carmelize the mangoes for a tinge of chewiness. Love cobbler but don’t have any peaches? Mango cobbler is an apt substitute and just a tinge different, that here in the near South, would sure to be a $15 dessert at a newer restaurant. Warm or cold, a scosh of whipped cream on top completes the beauty of a mango dessert.

Softball Muffins

img_20190421_080832When you think of signature morning rituals in New York, bagels are what most often come to mind. But within every bagel and coffee shop, there are the others — the softball sized muffins that can be found nowhere else I’ve traveled. While these muffins rival the Costco version — these bagel-shop muffins are most often right out of the oven and lack (for the good) the Costco mass-production taste and squishy feel.

This carrot raisin muffin from H & H Bagels on 2nd Avenue is gloriously NY. It’s sturdy, carrots but not too many (as with the raisins), and a little bit spicy much like 2nd Avenue itself — a working muffin for a working avenue of uptown/downtown traffic that wakes slowly…then bam we’re off and running headlong into the day. If you get in early enough, you’ll find no lines and you can breeze in and out of H & H — much like just about any place in the City; wait too long and the line is out to the winter-weather vestibule or beyond.

The beauty of the NY muffin carries into the future — smart shoppers will pick up a weekend’s supply so that sleeping late on day two is possible. Never flat, and resistant to the deflation many baked goods suffer during a microwave spin, the NY muffin continues to stand tall like many beloved buildings that surround H & H. Perhaps this is due to the careful brown paper wrapping each muffin receives before heading out into all kinds of weather that the City dishes up, and perhaps it’s just resilience in a munchable form. Whatever the reason, the NY muffin offers a slightly sweet and textured way to start the day — while I love a hot bagel, the muffin is not just an “also there” of the bagel shop — it’s a full-fledged member of the bagel shop team.

#traintravel: the unexpected

IMG_20190311_083126I often take photos as I ride the train — I firmly believe it is the only way to see America. Road travel, unless using secondary roads, does not provide a real glimpse into America’s cities and rural areas — but even that view is limited. To get into the real America, it is essential to get into alleyways; I use this same methodology when looking for a new place to live as well — you can tell a lot about a neighborhood or town by what you can find in any given alleyway, be it trash or gardens.

While heading north yesterday, I had just snapped this photo in West Baltimore as our train came to a stop — not a jarring stop, but an unexpected one as I gazed down from the overpass where my car #3 was perched. I felt victorious when I boarded the train yesterday — with the help of the wonderful Amtrak Red Cap, I was the first one to board the quiet car. Frequent Amtrak riders know that the quiet car is the best — no cell phone calls, usually more room and people are just busy working or reading. The quiet car also doesn’t carry the extra cost of business class; as a plus the WiFi is generally more stable in the quiet car for its proximity to the business car, unlike the complete unreliability of connectivity in the general cars.

As we came to our stop, I was just finishing the last of my weekly prep for classes when one of the conductors announced, “We have a train emergency. We need everyone to stay calm. We have a tresspasser on the tracks, and we’ve had an incident.” Now, because lots of my fellow passengers had headphones on, not many heard this announcement. It’s not unusual for a train to stop to let other, faster train traffic through at odd spots along our northward route so at this point, no one is even thinking it’s a disaster to be sitting on an overpass. By the second announcement, people are starting to peek up over chair backs to ask neighbors what is going on. By the conductor’s second announcement, we know the truth – our train has struck someone. By the third announcement, we know the victim is female. By the fourth announcement, we now know that EMS is on the way — and from my vantage point on the overpass, I can see the ambulance pass underneath our perch. I start sending notes to my family to let them know where I am; and a forward note to my meeting still several cities away that I may be late. Then I google the accident.

Train accidents are more common that we all may think. The big ones, cars or trucks stuck on the tracks or cars racing trains make the televised news. People on the tracks rarely make headlines, and in 2017 over 2,100 people were struck by moving trains. This is no small number, and in fact is a crisis. Train tracks are usually fenced off, hence the conductor’s announcement of a trespasser on the tracks; but this hardly means tracks are inaccessible to humans. The report of our accident described the female victim as, “attempting to cross the tracks” — yet, there is no reason to cross the tracks at this urban, overpass setting. No reason.

We were allowed to move slowly into Baltimore after EMS departed and an inspection of the tracks by law enforcement; and allowed to leave our train to quickly transfer to another headed north to reach our destinations as our train’s crew was pulled out of service and the train put to rest until a full investigation took place. I learned from a fellow passenger, who had been on another train that struck someone that we were lucky — based on the shortness of our delay, the victim was alive. Had the victim been a fatality, our delay suspended above West Baltimore, would’ve been several hours of shelter-in-place. Lucky is not a word I’d use; fortunate maybe, that we only lost an hour of our morning and that we have our health to race to another train, up a flight of stairs and down another. Fortunate that we ourselves did not attempt to cross the tracks in front of a train going upwards of 50 mph as it rounds a bend into downtown Baltimore. Fortunate that we did not suffer from whatever reason the victim chose to cross the tracks, and fortunate that we do not bear the injuries that must’ve resulted from such an impact. The victim was reported by local news to not only be alive, but alert. Alert most certainly is not fortunate.

Meetings aside, I spent most of the day searching for news…any update on the victim. Does she have a family? Does she have friends to rush to her side? Her life is most certainly going to be difficult going forward. And what of our train driver? Does Amtrak offer the needed support for what he and the rest of the staff may’ve observed? Too many questions that deserve answers — and further investigation. I still believe that train travel is the only way to really see into America’s collective soul — and today, with so many world events shaking, it is worth a few moments of respite and introspective concentration to really understand how one victim, on one rail line, is so representative of all that ails America.