The weeks since Thanksgiving have been a nonstop trainwreck of reading, writing, making presentations, and attending lectures. But now I'm in the home stretch. All that's left is a short 10-pager, which I'm going to conclude at home.
Now, I'm on my way to campus to hand in a rough draft of the first chapter of my thesis! I never thought you could really quantify knowledge, but if you wanted to quantify the first chapter of my thesis, all you need to do is look at this ivory tower of knowledge that's taken over one corner of my room.
In the thick of all that knowledge came this year's first snowfall last Wednesday. Waking up to this picture outside my bedroom made me even more anxious to get home for the holidays:
As I walked out of the Farragut West Metro stop during my lunch break today, I noticed a group of GW students holding homemade signs asking for money to help finance their "alternative" spring break. I scoffed, seeing as how GW is the most expensive school in the country. At a little more than $50,000 a year for undergraduates, I'd imagine mom and dad are OK with supplementing at least some of that, even if you're taking out some loans.
As I was chuckling to myself, one of the more obnoxious students yelled to some passerby: "Even famous New York Times staff writers can donate!"
Wait...whaaaa? I looked at the man walking ahead of me. Was there...? Could there have been a hint of a moustache on that face? I stepped up the pace as he came to a stop at the corner, subtly turned my head and...Sure enough! Thomas "The World is Flat" Friedman!
Because I'm such a nervous nelly around celebrities (see George Clooney siting) sitings, and yet a total teenage girl (yes, even for NYT columnists), I was too excited to say hi or mention how much I loved his "From Beirut to Jerusalem."
Though I'm sure he would've been amused to hear praise from a girl in a red coat and silver shoes.
The Graduate School has received, reviewed, and accepted your application to graduate with the MA in Communication, Culture and Technology. We look forward to working with your graduate program to confirm the completion of your degree requirements. If you have any questions about your degree application, please stop by our offices, ICC 302, or contact us by reply email.
Thank you and best wishes!
Graduate Student Services
The giant pandas really are GIANT. And they like to eat. A lot. In fact, they did little else, except maybe sleep, and occasionally swat food away from the other. Just check the Panda Cam, if you don't believe me.
Vahan wanted to be sure he got this picture of him posing with his dinner, so here you are, dear:
A fun anecdote: Vahan decided it would be fun to mock the spotted owls in the bird house. He made faces and noises, before finally sticking his tongue out and letting out a loud "Pbbbbbtttt!!" (Yes, it is like dating a 9-year-old sometimes.) The spotted owl did not look pleased. He cocked his head to one side, turned around so his behind faced us, and pooped, then turned back around and continued staring. That put Vahan in his place.
My favorite seven songs of the moment, in no particular order...
1. "Sovay" by Andrew Bird: Peaceful, melodic, good for work, when I'm often demanded (gently encouraged?) to play d.j. by Natasha, my friendly officemate.
2. "Fighting in a sack" by The Shins: I hadn't listened to the Shins in a while when I'd dug up my Garden State soundtrack, which prodded me to go looking for Chutes Too Narrow. Awesome album. Get it. Get it now.
3. "Silver lining" by Rilo Kiley: Probably my favorite song off their new album, "Under the blacklight." With every album, my crush on Jenny Lewis just grows and grows.
4. "Blue train" by John Coltrane: Apparently, jazz is the perfect thesis writing music because I listen to Coltrane over and over and over. In fact, I probably listen to "Blue Train" over and over and just don't realize it because it's perfect background music.
5. "Presidente" by Kinky: If you're not a morning person like me, you need a major kick in the pants when slogging to work in the mornings. Kinky wakes me up AND puts a skip in my step.
6. "Let factories open" by Armenian Navy Band: I realize most people won't be familiar with this AWESOME band. Here's a hint: Jazz, pop, rock, Armenian, fabulous. This song reminds me of my summer in Armenia, and in particular, a fun little road trip I took with my dad and some other OC friends while he was visiting me there.
7. "Way to blue" by Nick Drake: Fred once made fun of me for being a whiny emo girl because I liked Nick Drake. I find him soothing. I do not find Fred soothing.
I started reading Life in Armenia while I was actually in Armenia. The contributors are all diasporans who now live in the motherland. Very well written, and very interesting insights.
Last, but certainly not least, Panda Cam! Scroll down to see the adorable communist bears. Vahan and I are going to visit them today, even though he dislikes them for their unwillingness to mate. Who cares, right? Totally cute!
First days: http://georgetown.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2069130&l=e9701&id=1417897
Random road trips, around town: http://georgetown.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2072428&l=65564&id=1417897
Ill-advised Kharabagh trip (and yet, SUPER fun): http://georgetown.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2069130&l=e9701&id=1417897
Last days: http://georgetown.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2074289&l=9196a&id=1417897
The sense of humor part? I already forgot my password (there are too many passwords on the interwebs these days!) and when I clicked "Forgot your password?" it replied "Having a hard day are we?" Why yes! Yes, I am, Kayak.com. Thank you for recognizing that!
First, my advisor (who, strangely enough, is now my friend on Facebook) approved the bazillionth draft of my thesis proposal. Hooray! Cleared for thesis launch!
Second, after basking in the glow of that accomplishment, I checked my e-mail and discovered that the director of a place for which I'd reallllllly like to work come May asked me to come in for a second interview this week. Woohoo!
Third, by now excessively giggly and giddy, I headed down to Quick Pita with Katy and Nick for a pre-class shawerma when just a block away from our department's building we encountered police cars, a crowd, and...movie trucks? Then that little item that's been nagging me since I saw it in Friday's Post -- George Clooney is in town filming the latest Coen Brothers movie. OMGOMGOMG -- I SAW GEORGE CLOONEY! It was a quick take. He jogged up the hill at 35th as a black sedan rushed past. But I SAW HIM. (And consequently was reduced to the blubberings of a teenage girl.) Katy tried pointing out that as a Southern Californian, it shouldn't be such a big deal, and it wouldn't be if it wasn't GEORGE F'ING CLOONEY! Siiiigh. Vahan, just a warning, if I see him tomorrow, I will propose marriage.
As if that couldn't be topped (and in further proof that my nerd-dom was fully restored only a few short hours later), I attended an honorary degree ceremony for one of my new favorite authors, Orhan Pamuk, who won last year's Nobel Prize for literature and is one of the many Turkish intellectuals who have the courage to speak the truth about what happened to the Armenians in Turkey. If you haven't read Snow, do so. You can thank me later.
Hooray for the best day ever! Now, I'm going to make some tea and eat a slice of pumpkin bread and gloat to myself.
1. The Wedding of the Century (aka Vahan's brother finally marries his girlfriend of 7 years) was last weekend in Detroit. When I say Wedding of the Century, it might only serve as such for Armenians in the greater Detroit, and possibly even East Coast, area. 350 people at a reception is no small shindig. It's a proper love festival. If you want to get just a taste for it, go here and here. Or, if you have a Facebook account, just check out my two most recent photo albums.
2. In addition to wedding festivities, Sunday was Vahan's birthday. We got the entire reception to sing to him and brought out a cake. Today I wanted to take him to the Four Seasons for a $20 scotch (as I accidentally did last year), but apparently the anarchists will not allow that this weekend. Too bad.
3. The march for a thesis proposal goes on. I'm finalizing my draft this weekend and will begin writing the first chapter next month. There's no turning back now. Yikes!
I wish I could be more witty. At least I'm pithy. Hopefully I'll come up with better anecdotes soon.
On the plus side, I just discovered a new store opening at Union Row, the latest in new urban gentrification on 14th, right near Busboys and Poets. It's Yes! Organic. Frankly, the name endears me slightly as in, "Yessssss. That's awesome." But then again, I'm weary of the gentrification. But then again, again, as Vahan likes to remind me, I'm one of the people moving into the neighborhood, driving up prices and frequenting the Whole Foods at 14 and P. What's a girl to do?
Which brings us to our first topic: Why has Eleeza decided to write a thesis when she doesn't have to? Is she insane? Masochistic? Discuss.
I'm still convinced that the intellectual challenge will be good for me. I've never written anything longer than 25 pages, so roughly quadrupling that ought to either:
a) Force me to quit grad school before I get my degree. (Just kidding Mom and Dad!)
or b) Turn into a raging lunatic (Very likely.)
I've come to realize that I need to just accept this and know that I'll feel good when it's all over. Or so my professors keep telling me. However, a conversation with the Big Chief of the department made me nervous today. Theory?? Who needs theory?? Yikes!
Roommie and I are all settled into our new place and loving it and the neighborhood. It's so refreshing to be able to walk here and here and here.
Finally, I had a nice (if exhausting) quick trip home this weekend to see the parents, sister, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and probably half the people I'm related to in the greater Southern California region. It was a whirlwind from 4 a.m. Friday morning to 5:30 a.m. Monday when I landed at Dulles, but it was worth it. I hadn't been home in six months -- the longest stretch of being gone from home for me. I really wish I lived a six-hour drive away and not a six-hour flight. But then again, I'm happy living in DC and wouldn't trade that for anything right now. Maybe someday I'll make my way out west again.
That's all for now.
Oh how ignorant we are to our own codependence on reliably available high-speed internet connections. Consequently, I went nearly mad until I got on a plane and soon thereafter arrived at Camp Haiastan to lecture the kids about the motherland and enjoy Vahan's day off with him in nearby Boston. Incredibly, summer camps these days have wifi. Who knew?
As of today, however, we've got wifi at home. Thank the broadband gods!
Camp was fun, the lectures went well (despite my terror at having to speak in front of hordes of judgmental children), and Vahan and I had a fantastic night at the fabulous Taj Hotel, followed by a lovely picnic in the Boston Public Garden just across the street the next day.
Afterward, I rented a car and drove through the scenic Berkshires and into Vermont to see Bec, Jason, and the new Zimbaby: Abigail. (It's a girl!) She's even cuter than her pictures, with much redder hair and even bluer eyes. It's fair to see that I'm an auntie smitten. Just look at that face:
And please note the adorable yellow booties I bought for her in Armenia. I have some taste. Even if she'll probably outgrow them by Tuesday.
K and I moved to 11th and W, just two blocks from the funness of U Street bars, restaurants, and cafes. A short walk from Adams-Morgan, and Dupont. And, most important, only two blocks from a metro station. It no longer matters that I don't have a car. Hooray! Everyone is welcome to come and visit...but only after September. You see, we're cramped in a one-bedroom this month until the two-bedroom upstairs is vacated and cleaned, so we can move all our junk (again) into the more appropriately sized apartment.
Though it's cramped and a bit of a pain. I've got plenty of little get-aways planned to keep me out of the house. (In addition to not having Internet, which means I spend a couple hours a day in a coffee shop.) Tomorrow I'm flying to Boston to see Vahan, who's spending his summer vacation as a counselor at Camp Hayastan. After giving a lecture to the kid, he and I are staying at a fancy Boston hotel, before I take off for three days in Vermont to meet little Abigail, Rebecca's new daughter. I'm looking forward to a week of Americanness (with a little Armenian-Americanness thrown in for good measure.)
The last two weekends in August will be spent in NY. First for a wedding of Vahan's former coworker, then for AYF Olympics in Newark (admittedly not in NY, but close enough that I plan to spend a lot of time there.)
And after all that, we can *finally* move into a normal-sized apartment. And classes will start. And the long, slow march to a master's degree will resume.
I promptly crashed at 10 p.m. and got up at 6 a.m. I'm hoping to get out and see some friends and start dealing with Friday's impending move. I have a feeling I'm going to fall asleep on the metro at some point. Oh well. I'll look like a trendily-dressed bum.
As for the move, K and I are moving to 11th and W...for now. Long story, but we're crashing in a one-bedroom for this month until we figure out the situation on the two-bedroom. More details to come on that later.
That's enough for now. I'm going hunting for more coffee, stat.
Not that the aim of my summer here was to answer these questions, but I feel myself wondering about that every time I've wandered through Armenia. It's a question of identity and so it will persevere.
And now, as I leave Yerevan for the fourth time, I feel more secure in my purpose in visiting and the impact I may leave now and the assistance I hope to offer in the future. At first, I felt very discouraged about the state of media here. The general lack of professionalism or adequate training, coupled with the culture of corruption has really weakened press freedom here. I wondered what point there was to investing brainpower in strengthening those outlets. But in the last few weeks, I've seen that when a real effort and initiative is made by determined and capable people, it IS possible to affect change.
I only hope I can be just one of those mechanisms for change.
That's all from Moskovyan Street for now. I'll write from another capital city after I return tomorrow. Thanks for reading!
The latest medical drama: Monday night I noticed the index finger on my right hand becoming a bit swollen and sore. At first I figured I was dehydrated as my other fingers were also a bit swollen, so I went home and chugged some water. On Tuesday that soreness hadn't passed and continued to worsen until yesterday when I finally asked a doctor friend from the US working here for a month to take a look. She gave me some neosporin and assured me I didn't have some rare strain of finger cancer (after rolling her eyes, of course.) Then she checked off the other ailments I couldn't possible have, including (to my horror) an ingrown nail (!), arthritis (!!), or gangrene (!!!). Instead she concluded it probably got infected as a result of all the dust and dirt that's swirling in the city nowadays, which probably entered my system via an open wound from a hangnail.
The pain continued today when I was visiting my friend Armineh, a surgeon who know runs an NGO specializing in early intervention for special-needs children. And who was the subject of the documentary I worked on here with Harry.
I informed her of my own special need. Immediately upon removing the band-aid, it was apparent that the infection was worsening -- a greenish color had formed around my nailbed. She looked at me and said with all the seriousness of a surgeon: "We have to cut it open and draw out the puss."
I nearly fainted. Protesting did no good. Begging for my mother didn't help. The other women in the office simply laughed and told me to toughen up.
(Here I should note that Armineh lost her leg in the 1988 earthquake and I was whining about my finger.)
A warning for the squeamish: I couldn't even look while she was doing this. You may not want to read it.
She had just gotten a case of supplies from Doctors Without Borders (God bless the NGOs), including sterile kits with surgical scissors and syringes. I gripped the hand of one of their therapists and choked back the tears as she cut and drew out the yellowish puss that had gathered in my finger.
It was over in a few minutes, my finger throbbing somewhat less. She sent me home armed with a kit of iodine, cotton swabs, bandages, a big hug and an order to email her upon arrival in the U.S.
I love Armenia, but I'm really looking forward to going home.
Me, post-op, with my saviour.
I was very distrusting of the guy at the repair shop. He was sort of crabby and blamed me for not immediately taking my camera apart after it got wet (like I know how to do that) to dry out the inside. When he did, it was completely rusted inside. But after grumpily explaining to me that there was only a 10 percent chance he could fix it...VOILA! He did!
I almost kissed him when I picked it up. (Don't worry, Vahan. I didn't.) I did, however, happily hand him the 5,000 AMD I owed him. (Roughly $15.)
I finally got to Kharabagh this weekend…just barely. I figured it would be an adventure when three of my friends decided to rent a car and drive the 350 km ourselves over mountains, and bumpy roads. But I wasn’t expecting what happened three hours after we left Yerevan.
We were taking turns driving (everybody wanted to say they’d driven in Armenia). We stopped off at a field in Sisian to admire the view and Mary got behind the wheel. About 10 minutes later, as she was driving, she got distracted, realized she was veering off the road, overcorrected, resulting in a nasty fishtail across the two-lane highway before the car took off over a sloped embankment and banged into the field.
It felt pretty awful and probably could have been much worse. We flew over several sizable piles of rocks that probably would have caused the car to flip, not to mention the fact that the three of us in the back weren’t wearing seatbelts, a la Armenian style.
I got banged against the passenger door pretty hard and probably clenched my jaw because it’s been sore ever since. A few cuts and bruises cover my elbow and my right arm and leg have been really-strenuous-workout sore the last few days. I asked a doctor friend who’s in town to check me out and she proclaimed me paranoid, but lucky. Also, it appears I’m not bleeding internally. Apparently if I was, I would have passed out a few hours after the accident. Good to know, eh?
So we call the rental car company, which drives out from Yerevan with a new car for us to destroy…errr… drive. Of course, since we’re three hours outside Yerevan, we had to wait. In a field. With no food. Or bathroom. And it was so windy outside we couldn’t even really stand outside the car. The phrase “bonding experience” doesn’t it justice.
Finally the rental people arrive, are incredibly kind, and send us on our way. Only to call us the next morning in Shoushi to insist that we return to Sissian right away so that Mary can take a blood alcohol test. 24 hours AFTER the accident. Uhh. No. We didn’t go.
Instead, we had a wonderful weekend in Kharabagh. (Even if we did get there four hours after we planned on arriving.) Saturday night was a party at a Kharabaghtsi’s house with the Birthright volunteers who were also there for the weekend. Sunday morning we attended services at Shoushi’s beautiful church, which when Shoushi was held by Azeris during the war, they used as an ammunition depot.
Then we drove down to Jugulduguz (not sure if I got that right.) Basically a giant beautiful gorge in Shoushi. Then we drove to the town of Aghdam, a village that was completely annihilated by the Armenians during the war to ensure that the Azeris wouldn’t and wouldn’t want to capture it again.
Driving through the ruined buildings and homes felt like going through a ghost town. A few squatters had taken over some plots with horses and cows. But we saw very few people in a village that probably once was home to thousands of people.
The eeriness continued when we reached the mosque in Aghdam, which the Armenians allowed to stand, but desecrated inside. Now it’s the home for several cows and pigs. We climbed to the top of the minaret for an amazing view of Kharabagh and, to the east, Azerbeijan.
To ensure my own safety, I insisted on driving back. It was a pretty incredible feeling to be driving the streets of Stepanakert, through the Lachin corridor, and the fields and mountains of Armenia.
Now I’m working hard to get through the last of my grant requirements in my last days here.
Back to DC on Sunday!
(For my odar (read: gringo) friends, a primer on the war in Kharabagh. And here’s another on Kharabagh in general.)
When I got soaked by the man on Nalbandyan, I thought he just nailed my skirt and some of my shirt. But then I reached into one of my purse pockets and found soggy pieces of paper. Then I remembered my camera.
It wouldn't turn on. I took out the battery in the hopes that drying it out would help. It turned back on when I put the battery back in and would turn off when I hit the button on the camera, but it wouldn't turn back on unless I took the battery out and put it back in.
So I dropped it off at a computer repair shop today in the hopes that they can open it up, let it dry out on the inside, and then (hopefully!) now how to put it back together again. If not, I'll have to spend my last two weeks without a camera. :( I'm very, very unhappy about this.
It's vartavar. A day when children -- really anyone with a mischievous streak -- is given free reign to terrorize unsuspecting people with buckets of water, water guns, hoses, and anything else that will enable them to drench the defenseless pedestrian.
Vartavar's origins are actually found in the church. It falls 98 days after Easter Sunday. But it is also a mix of pagan traditions. A brief Google search didn't turn up a more complete explanation.
At first, I was steadfastly opposed to leaving the house today. I figured I'd stay home, get some work done, do some reading, and glare at the mean little children gathered behind my building. Instead, I decided I should at least experience vartavar firsthand once. And so, with a deep breath, sandals, and clothes that would dry out quickly, I left the building.
As I stepped out of the elevator I waited for someone to jump out and immediately drench me. At which point, I figured I'd just go back home and sulk for the rest of the day. Instead, it seemed the hallway was safe, as was the entrance to the building, and the street outside.
"This isn't so bad," I stupidly thought.
I walked a good five blocks before I heard a whoosh and a stream of water came crashing down from a balcony above. It only splashed the back of my feet. I looked up expecting an 8-year-old culprit. Instead, I saw a woman my age and her mother. I smiled and walked on.
As I got closer to the city center, it felt more and more like the wild west. The streets are unusually empty for a Sunday afternoon. Maybe Toumanyan, a main street that runs near the opera house, would be a bit quieter. I was craving a shawerma anyway.
Both sides of the street were lined with boys and girls armed with buckets, hoses, water guns, water bottles, and various other weapons of choice. That was the first time they got me good.
I ate my shawerma and decided to keep heading down Toumanyan, which looked quiet enough. As I approached the corner of Nalbandyan I noticed a man standing in a doorway with one hand behind his back. I immediately grew suspicious. Then he put his hand forward and I saw it was empty. I relaxed. He stepped inside the shop, and I figured I was in the clear.
Just as I passed the shop, he emerged with a large blue bucket. I screamed and ran but he drenched me. I stood on the corner wringing my skirt out as the policemen across the street laughed at me.
Finally, I got to vernissage. I was determined to finish my souvenir shopping today. I figured with all those goods, I'd be safe there, too.
Apparently, I'm a slow learner.
While there were no buckets, it seems every jewelry seller keeps a water gun hidden underneath his table. I got sprayed a few times, but luckily no drenchings.
Now I've taken refuge in my apartment, but I've stupidly agreed to dinner with a friend in an hour. I guess I'll be taking my chances again.
So it was with some surprise that I came home from dropping my dad off at the airport tonight only to discover him on Gmail chat. Apparently, the Yerevan airport now offers free wireless.
Only in Armenia. Le sigh.
(I hope I've given you enough to read, Dikran.)
Drinking buddies at the Irish pub.
At Amberd in Byuragan, during my day trip with Yerkir Media.
Just one of the presents Vahan sent for me via the obliging Pifer. I haven't yet enjoyed the soup. I also received a second can of soup, but that one was condensed. Additionally, I've enjoyed the two-week-old copies of the Grand Rapids Press and the Kalamazoo Gazette. If sending two cans of soup and newspapers from halfway around the world doesn't say love, I don't know what does.
That's enough pictures for now. Each one takes roughly several minutes to upload. I'll work on putting some more up tomrorow/today.
Also hampering my communications these past two weeks has been my dad's visit. Though we didn't travel around the country very much, we somehow managed to fill our days in Yerevan between visiting friends, lounging at cafes, and probably eating too much. (Sorry, Mom.)
So in honor of my dad I'll share my favorite story from his week here. I will preface the story by saying that I'm now officially boycotting Magnolia, an opera cafe next door to Megheti (Melody in English.)
A few days ago we stopped in this cafe for lunch. Dad was craving ghorovadz (BBQed pork) and wanted to sit outside. He ordered a beer and the waiter said they had beer on the tap, so I ordered one, too. The waiter arrived with our drinks and placed a very tall beer in front of my dad and a much smaller glass in front of me.
I gave him a funny look and dad told him he didn't order a large beer. The waiter replies: "Here we give the women smaller glasses."
As you can imagine, the fury began to rise in me. I glared at him and said: "Aren't men and women equal?"
"Oh yes, yes, but that's not the issue. We give women smaller glasses because they're lighter and easier to lift."
This is when I kindly informed him that I'm a feminist and I won't hear such nonsense.
After we finished lunch and the bill came, they of course charged us both 600 AMD (about $1.50) for each beer, regardless of the fact that I was served only about half what dad got.
Only in Armenia.
P.S. It seems I've finally been able to upload a photo to the blog (though it took some time). I'll try to post two or three more here and there when I can.
There are other reasons why dads are great. They buy you delicious Thai food for dinner, and make you go to smoky jazz clubs because they met the owner on a train in Italy. Then they buy you a $10 glass of cognac because "it's good for your throat."
Also, they want to go to Karabagh and Georgia with you. They even think it'd be fun to have hamburgers on the Fourth of July across the street from Vernissage. They think walking around Yerevan aimlessly is just as fun as you think it is. And they feel as sad as you do when you see the sad, lonely, hungry dogs and cats that wander with even less purpose on the streets. They make you salads with tomatoes and cucumbers, and cut up apricots for you to share.
Dads are great and mine is even better.
P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANYA! (It was on July 3rd, people. Make the call.)
Anyhow, I wrote this up Tuesday afternoon before the plague descended upon my house and thought my D.C. readers especially would enjoy it.
Living and working in the Washington area, I've almost become accustomed to the regular traffic disruptions of motorcades. After nearly a year I can almost distinguish the presidential motorcade from the diplomatic missions from the high-ranking Congressional members.
But today was an Armenian first. An executive level motorcade for the visiting Greek president. Why is he in town? Well, he's Greek so clearly it must be the Summit of Nations that Hate Turkey.
The motorcade itself -- pretty funny. The streets were cleared a good 10-15 minutes before the presidential escort actually arrived complete with a fleet of motorcycle officers (another first for me in Armenia -- they got motorcycle officers here?), followed by black Secret Service-style SUVs carrying Secret-Service-looking agents with walky-talkies pressed to one ear. (I guess they're not advanced enough for the little ear piece thingies.)
My favorite part: The absolute silence that resulted when the police stopped nearly all the traffic in the city. No honking taxis or mashrutkas. No dirty, loud, old Opels or Nivas. Not even a flashy BMW or Mercedes revving its engine to show off. Only the quiet sound of me chomping on sunflower seeds, a few birds chirping, and the occasional cop yelling at a pedestrian to get off the street and onto the curb.
A total stand still.
And in a flash -- the arrival of the motorcade -- it was over.
But in the summer, in Yerevan, where it's hot and dry and you don't have a can of chicken noodle to make you feel instantly better, it leaves a lot to be desired.
I've had an unproductive couple of days due mostly to interview subjects flaking on appointments. Yesterday I ended up having nothing to do all afternoon so I just wandered around town, stopping for a bite to eat, grabbing a beer, then coming home to cook a quick dinner. It was as I was sitting on the couch, catching up on CNN that I started feeling the chills. I was wearing a tank top and it was windy outside, so I closed the window. Then I put on a long-sleeved shirt. Then I wrapped myself up in a blanket. I took a decongestant, thinking it was my backed-up sinuses bothering me again, but that's when I realized I was feeling pretty woozy and my whole body was aching.
It got progressively worse after that. I finally dragged myself to bed and tossed and turned most of the night until I woke up late this morning feeling only slightly better.
I think it's a flu and not a cold, because it's not just a runny nose (though my nose is still a bit stuffy.) I still feel somewhat woozy and weak. My plan now is to gather enough energy (my remaining Luna bar helped here) and go down to the corner to buy a big bottle of Sprite and, if I'm feeling a little stronger, try the hot and sour soup at the closest Chinese restaurant.
Hurry, Dad! Get here, so you can bring me soup!
The only snag is that my phone card is very short and the jack is directly behind the TV stand. I've pulled up a chair right behind the TV (which is as far as the cord will extend) and am using that as a desk. Dad, maybe you can bring a longer phone cord? Oh well. This'll do for now.
This has been a successful week for interviews. I got 6 good ones done. Now I'm looking forward to a weekend of sleeping (as if I could sleep any more), a little shopping (I've so far resisted at Vernissage, but I'm sick of my earrings and think it's high time for new ones), and on Sunday going to Pyuragan with the staff of Yerkir TV, which ought to be a little crazy, but definitely fun. For those unawares, that's the Tashnag TV station. And if you don't know what a Tashnag is...well, I'll explain when I get back. :)
Apparently the connection isn't quite good enough to upload photos. That'll be my next task, I promise.
Life is still relatively cheap, but it's left me wondering what money is worth nowadays. You used to be able to buy a shawerma and a tahn for a little more than a $1. Now it's about $3. A taxi anywhere in the center of the city was about $1. Now it's creeps closer to $2 to $3.
It's still inexpensive for me, but what about the rest of the country? How are their lives being affected? With massive influxes of tourists every summer -- Armenians eager to spend their money in the motherland -- prices for everything on the rise. Even apartments. My rent here costs more than what I was paying in Arlington.
The last time I was here I was stunned at the site of a Lacoste boutique on Sayat Nova. Now there's Hugo Boss, Levi's, Mango, and Benetton. If I can't afford it, who here can?
Work mainly consists of reading newspapers, watching TV newscasts, and surfing the Internet for Armenian news all in the name of determining how electronic media are transforming the overall media landscape and, in turn, influencing the democratic transition.
The answer so far: Not by much.
It's a solitary adventure, which for the most part I enjoy. After working at a newspaper for so long, where you're constantly dependent on others, it's nice to be able to do things my way. That means setting my own schedule, reading and writing what I want, and generally being independent.
The drawbacks, of course, are that I miss out on the collegial workplace environment. I have been doing some research in the resource library at the Caucasus Media Institute, but the resources available to me are limited.
As such, it's been challenging to stay focused and not wander the streets like a lost little puppy. Though I have deadlines, they require very little of me, other than the final research report, which isn't due until a month after I return. I try to schedule an interview or meeting every day so as to structure my time, but it's challenging even to stick to that.
Part of my grant requires me to volunteer my time as a media expert. I'm hoping to start some of that work soon with www.Hetq.am, Armenia's investigative journalists organization.
That's about all for now. I'm going to go to bed early for a change and wake up before 11 (shock!) to attend a conference on modern Armenians communities tomorrow. Should be interesting.
On Monday, I woke up early and, for the first time, felt fully rested after a normal night's sleep. I took a shower, had a glass of pomegranate apple juice (delicious) and decided to leave the house early to stop at the market across the street. I'm running low on water and wanted a few more snacks. I saw a group of people standing outside the Moskovichka market. It looked like either a fight was brewing or maybe someone fainted on the sidewalk.
That's when I smelled the smoke. And I saw the melted glass on the sidewalk. And I saw the unconscious woman.
I peeked inside the store, whose doors were open. Black smoke had stained the walls and ceilings. Some of the glass deli cases were ruined and others were pulled onto the edge of the sidewalk. The beverages section survived in tact, but the deli, and breads, and cleaning products seemed to be wiped out.
I felt a pang of sadness and personal loss. The little corner market was my Moskovichka. After only a week it was my little market.
I carried on to the CMI library to do some work and by 2 p.m. was sufficiently hungry that I went for a pizza at Square One on Abovyan. Just as I was finishing my lunch, the skies turned dark, and a wind I can only describe as hurricane force (I think some of the trees outside the windows were on the verge of snapping in half) blew hard through the city. I could hear the distant thunder and then: The rain. It started steadily, then grew harder, and with the wind seemed to at one point be falling horizontally. I waited. And waited. Slowly sipped my Diet Coke until finally it stopped. I paid my bill and decided to head home to type up my notes.
It seems the rain came at the right time to blow away the smell of charred breads and melted glass. As I walked home, the young women who worked at the Moskovichka were all sitting outside the dank, dark store. Doing nothing, and looking very sad in their milkmaid-style uniforms.
I'm still not sure what happened. But it seems there was a fire either late last night or early this morning. I passed by the store the night before around 11 and was disappointed it was closed because I wanted to get a few things.
Now I suppose I have to start going to the Russian supermarket - SAS Supermarket -- another block over. Of course it doesn't compare to American-style supermarkets, but it is much larger than the Moskovichka, with American-style checkout counters, and a far wider selection of brand-name products. (An addendum: It also has American-style prices. Another reason to be disappoitned.)
Somehow it only makes me sadder.
Living so close to the center of the city means I can:
*Walk to the Opera house (and the oodles of cafes that surround it) in about 5 minutes.
*Walk to Toumanyan Shawerma (best shawerma EVER, PERIOD, HANDS DOWN) in about 10 minutes.
*Walk to Republic Square and CMI in about 12 minutes.
In other words, the location rocks my world. Plus, I have a 24-hour Internet cafe and a supermarket across the street.
Last night I decided to do some exploring in my neighborhood and ended up a rock club (Stop Club) also across the street. I listened to the band that was billed as folk-rock. It turned out they were a bit more indie. It was awesome. What was more awesome, as I sat at the bar, was seeing one of Anya's best friends walk in. Yup, finally found Maro! She came here as a volunteer for two months. That was eight months. Maro was supposed to go home next week. I may have convinced to stay at least as long as I'm here. (Sorry, Anya!)
After that, we went to an Irish pub and then a cafe near the opera with some Brits of Polish origin who'd come to Armenia for the week to see the Armenia-Poland football (soccer) match. I got home at about 3:30, which means I woke up at 1 and barely got out of the house a few hours later, which is probably better because the atrocious heat has begun. You can't walk 10 minutes without sweating like a pig. Ick.
* The heat has begun. Thankfully, the late afternoon thunderstorms are still coming and clearing the air at night. There's a nice breeze going now, and back-to-back lightning. It feels good.
* Got set up at CMI. I'll be working from their library, which has a computer with an Internet connection at my disposal. (Sweet!) I won't be there every day, but it's nice to know I have a space that isn't the apartment with all the distractions that come with any apartment (i.e. TV, refrigerator, balconies that peer out on interesting neighbors.)
* Also got my first interview and set up a few others. I'll be checking out NDI's Yerevan office on Monday or Tuesday. I'm excited to finally see a field office at work.
* Eaten at Toumanyan Shawerma twice already. Never gets old.
Those are the high points for now. It's about 11:30 pm here. I'll try (again)to write something more cogent about my impressions on how Yerevan has changed sometime tomorrow.
I arrived late last night, 1 1/2 hours late and one suitcase short. British Airways apparently decided to only load one of my suitcases on the flight to Yerevan. Unfortunately, the one that got left behind had all my toiletries in it. They promise it'll arrive by Wednesday morning.
Otherwise all else is well. My apartment is amazing. I highly encourage anyone who's considering visiting this summer to do so. I've got more than enough space to house a couple people. It's a brand-new renovation -- I'm the first person to stay there! My balcony has a view of the opera building and the kitchen window looks out toward the Cascade. It's probably bigger than my place in Arlington. Seriously, people, come visit!
I woke up late today and got moving rather slowly. I'm still jet lagged and exhausted from the trip -- even though it was so much shorter than flying from California. But I did take a nice walk around the city today. I stopped in the IREX office to thank the staff who helped me find a place. Then there was lunch at Artbridge, my favorite cafe, where I met one of my favorite friends, Azatouhi, with whom I spent a lot of time when I was here in 2004 with Harry. I took a walk around the city in the afternoon only to be caught in a serious thunderstorm.
It finally let up and now I'm at the 24-hour Internet cafe across the street from my sweet pad. I'll probably go to bed early tonight and get to work setting up interview tomorrow.
My brain is a little mushy now. I'll try to write something more eloquent tomorrow and give you a little insight into how I think Yerevan has changed in the last 2 1/2 years. There's plenty to say about that.
Anyhow, I ended up having to buy an extra carryon that I checked and was able to lose the extra 27 pounds in my massive suitcase, and consequently avoided paying $50 penalty I would have been charged.
Needless to say: A very unnecessarily stressful experience. Avoid this at all costs if you can.
That said, I'm only 7 hours away from Yerevan and getting more excited by the minute. Mostly I just want to sleep. It's 6:30 my time (11:30 in London) and I slept only about 2 hours on the remarkably short flight. Another bonus: A 24-hour wifi pass at Heathrow runs about 5 pounds, or close to $10. Money well spent on killing three hours if you ask me.
Another word of advice: Californians move to the East Coast or travel overases from the East Coast. Wayyyyyy easier on the body. It only took 6 hours getting from DC to London. It takes longer flying home to California. Amazing.
That should be all for now. Next post/stop: Yerevan!
Only the second part of that statement is actually true. I'm very excited for my summer there, but I'm also a little sad to be gone from here, Washington/Virginia, my new home these last 10 months. That said, I'll be back in eight short weeks, and still have three weeks of summer to live it up. (As much as you can live it up in the disgusting mugginess that is D.C. in August.)
I'm excited, however, to be living in Yerevan for two months. Though my trip last spring was also two months, I felt I was getting back on a plane by the time I got used to a new place. This time, I'm actually going to get a sense of living in Armenia, something I've been wanting to experience for a long time.
So I'll do my best to keep you posted with funny English translations, crazy cab drivers, delicious Toumanian shawerma, and maybe occasionally write about my work. Oh, and there'll be pictures, too!
Lots of love to you all!
This long weekend was devoted to the ACYOA Sports Weekend. For my gringo friends, this means a weekend o' partying Armo-style. Vahan and I flew in late Thursday, where we were met at the airport by his sister and best gal pal Greg.
VERY IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: Lest I be exiled from Vahan's family forevermore (and not invited to his wedding) the wonderful DIKRAN picked us all up from the airport at 10 p.m. just because he's a nice guy. He also let me sleep on the couch in his basement. He did not, however, come with us to Ram's Horn. I guess that means he is a gay.
After a late-night snack at Ram's Horn -- my new favorite all-American greasy spoon, where the menu includes wonderful combinations like the third and fourth items:
(Aren't they clever?) we crashed. On Friday, we checked into the Troy Marriott and got pumped for a weekend full of parties. Friday night at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Saturday night at Ford Field (preceded by a delicious Italian dinner with Vahan's grandfather and his wife), and Sunday night at St. John's, which included an open bar...made of ice!
Cool! (Pun intended.)
We wrapped it all up with a church picnic on Monday. Craaaaazy weekend. One too many dirty martinis, lots of dancing for my now-sore feet, but it was all worth it. It was nice way to leave the U.S. behind for two months and prepare for an onslaught of two months of Armenianness when I take off from Dulles on Saturday....stay tuned!
For good measure, here's my favorite pic of me and Vahan from the weekend. OK, really I just wanted to show off my new cute short haircut. Enjoy!
And no, we're not doing the robot. It's Armenian dancing at Ford Field, naturally.
In the meantime, I'm headed to Detroit tonight for the long weekend to boogie with some Armos. I'll post a full report with pictures when I return.
I've been playing tour guide for a Bosnian parliamentarian, a Kenyan political party chief, and a Liberian civil society leader all week. It's involved me shopping at H&M and Forever 21 with the Bosnian, going grocery shopping with the Liberian, and debating perfume choices with the Kenyan.
I think I need a break from Washington. Good thing I have one coming in two weeks.
I celebrated some more with shoe shopping...which quickly devolved into shoe-dress-blouse-pants shopping. But that's ok. I deserved it. Plus, I haven't spent all of my tax refund yet.
So, to reiterate: I'M DONE I'M DONE I'M DONE I'M DONE I'M DONE!
I finished editing my 10-minute documentary for my war/media/tech class today. The screening/Q&A hour is Tuesday. The only thing I have left to do is write a 1-2 page reflection on the process and then I will be really, *really*, honest-to-goodness DONE with my first year of graduate school.
It feels...immensely gratifying right now. And like a relief. And then I think about potentially writing a thesis next year and the anxiety builds up again, but that's just me. Thinking ahead. Wayyyyy too far ahead.
For now, I'm looking forward to my last couple weeks at work (for which I'm helping organize a really awesome seminar on youth and politics in post-conflict states), spending quality time with The Boy (including some even more quality time in the great state of Michigan), and then...come June 2...8 weeks in Armenia! Yahoo!
My letter of invitation has been shipped to the embassy. Now all I need is the visa, an apartment, and hopefully a desk here and my summer will be off to a fabulous start.
Apparently, I was still thinking about cereal, because I poured my coffee into another bowl.
Finals. Must. End. NOW.
Also funny: Listening to an interview subject in a documentary project say doody (OK, fine, DUTY) over and over.
This semester needs to end.
Note to self: When finishing thesis next spring do not accept house guests in April.
(Note to Christie and parents: Very happy you came to town this year. Please don't misunderstand my appreciation. Of course, if you're Christie, you book a trip 9 months in advance and people have no choice but to accept you into their homes. I kid! She's been nice enough to host me in SF on numerous occasions.)
In fact, Christie and I had a blast Easter weekend, along with Christie's Santa Cruz friends and MY neighbors Liz, Brian, and the new little Adriana. Now that she's moved to London (yes, the one in England), she takes full advantage of her time in the U.S., where everything is "half off!" British pounds. Of course, I couldn't just sit back and watch her shop her little heart out. So perhaps my credit card faced a little damage as well, but dammit! I got my tax refund and it IS my birthday month.
Yes, month. All of April belongs to me. Hooray! Actually, the day o' birth was April 10, but I like to milk it for all its worth. The day before, Vahan took me out for tapas and showered me with gifts (highlights included a box of Godiva chocolates, and Maureen Dowd's "Are men necessary?" Gotta love a man with a sense of humor. Of course, I shouldn't forget the book "The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team." Oh that sense of humor.)
The night of, we took the MARC train up to Camden Yard to watch the Tigers beat the Orioles, hang out with Drs. Freddy and Laura, and for me to eat every possible bit of junk food in the stadium. Amazing but true: If you eat an Italian sausage, french fries, two beers, peanuts, cotton candy AND funnel cake you won't get sick. This must be why I'm capable of eating anything in a foreign country. There should be a medal for that.
This past weekend my parents were in town for much D.C. tourism, Eleeza's-new-life-tourism, and general parent-child bonding. They had planned their trip around the annual cherry blossom festival, unfortunately mother nature had other thoughts in mind. Namely, an unwelcome repeat showing of the tail end of winter. Gusty winds, rain, and cloudy skies couldn't keep us from the tidal basin, or the Jefferson Memorial, or the Smithsonian. Yes, my feet still hurt. But I probably needed the walking after all the eating we did.
So now I'm down to the last two weeks of school. I'm six classes, two final papers, and a 10-minute documentary away from being halfway through graduate school. It's a little surreal, but definitely welcome.
The new 27-year-old me is looking forward to what my 28th year on this planet may have in store.
Exactly a year ago today I left my job at The Paper and got ready for a two-month trip round the world, a move across country, going back to school and generally starting a new life.
In that time I saw four new countries, started a job in a brand-new field and one that I'm really starting to love, found someone that I really do love, and generally fell in love with my new city and school. Now I'm preparing to spend two months in Armenia doing my own academic research (frightening but exciting), starting the second half of graduate school (and the more frightening prospect of writing a thesis), and in just one more year figuring out the next steps in my life.
As I was talking to Sarah the other day, she commented on how much my life had changed in the last year and how it was exactly what I'd been trying to do for so many years but just couldn't figure out the HOW part. She's right. It took me a while to figure out what to do if I went back to school, but once I got that part down, everything else just sort of naturally followed.
I've felt pretty fortunate in the last year, but I also feel like it's been well-deserved, so I won't make many apologies about it. Only one more thing could make this year perfect: A Georgetown win in the final four tomorrow night! HOYA SAXA!
GO HOYAS!!!! (They play UNC in Elite Eight at 5:05 ET tomorrow!)
Second: An apology for absentia.
Since going home for spring break in early March I've been running around nonstop seeing family, getting school work done, seeing more family, obsessing over March Madness, and planning for a summer in Armenia!
Yes, that's right. I'll be spending June and July in beautiful Yerevan on an ALL-EXPENSES paid fellowship to do research on electronic media's impact on Armenia's democratic trasition. Needless to say, I'm beyond excited. It's all thanks to this wonderful organization. So if anyone's looking for some floor space to crash on in Yerevan (or will otherwise be in the country this summer) let me know. It's gonna be a "hoyagab" time.
In other news: Vahan and I spent a nonstop week in California on my spring break and his vacation/meet-the-family time. He thinks he's the Mayor of Cypress Tree Lane. I think his head has gotten too big for the L.A. Dodgers hat he bought in Venice Beach. You be the judge:
Now time to cram in a little bit of reading before spending the afternoon with Anya and Zela who are here for their spring break, then dining with Vahan and his parents who are here for a funeral (not as sad as it seems as Great Uncle Aram was 96 years old and he got a full military funeral at Arlington Cemetery on Thursday.)
Let the March madness continue...
As if that wasn't enough to worry about, I've spent the last two weeks getting to know the finer points of iMovie and enjoying the closet-like confines of the video editing rooms at the Georgetown library all in the name of my very first digital story, or, as my professor calls it: A cultural identity narrative. I decided to focus my project on South Africa and combined text from J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace, the South African film "Tsotsi," and music from that film to pull together a narrative exploring South Africa's culture of violence in the post-apartheid state.
But really, none of that is as cool as the fact that I just made a 9-minute movie!
(An addendum: I was never able to properly upload the movie to YouTube. If I ever get it figured out, I'll add it in a new post.)
As if all that weren't enough, we were doused with snow again yesterday. As much as I've enjoyed this new-fangled season called winter, the inner Californian I so desperately try to suppress is now officially ready for the arrival of spring. It's gotten so bad, that I've refused to wear gloves under the doubtful notion that if I don't wear gloves it can't possibly be that cold. Ugh. At this point, I consider 35 tolerable and anything about 45 to be "warm."
California, here I come.
An addendum: The video may not be immediately available as YouTube processing seems to take roughly forever. So much for instant digital gratification.
P.S. #2: Thanks Katy for the inspired idea of making our work available to the world. See, those hours in Gelardin were *NOT* wasted!
And we went to the Art Museum, where we decided *not* to be one of the dozens of morons running up the steps a la Rocky, but we did opt for this photo with a Rocky-esque statue:
Then we had a fabulous Italian dinner, a nightcap at a nearby cigar bar, and hit up the Italian market and the aforementioned cheesesteaks before calling it a weekend and getting home just in time for me to ignore the Super Bowl and him to cook for all the people watching the Super Bowl at his house.
On an unrelated note: Snow is back and still no snow days. Keeping my fingers crossed for a university AND work shutdown soon!
In other Exciting Developments, I attended my first honest-to-goodness Washington protest (and really my first actual protest ever seeing as how journalists can't protest.) We got to chant fun phrases like "Bush! You liar! Your cowboy ass is fired!" Though, I must say, my favorite was Eve Ensler's (of "Vagina Monologues" fame) getting all the women in the crowd to shout "Pull out now!" Ahhh. Hippie humor.
Here's what the streets surrounding the Capitol looked like as we marched:
Also, in exciting appliances news: A couple weeks ago I bought a TV for $25 from a moving sale. This weekend I hit up Target for a DVD player and a little TV stand. So now we have what passes for an entertainment center in our little television-deprived household. Still don't have cable, but that does mean that visitors will no longer be reduced to watching movies on our laptops. Hooray!
Finally, SoCal kids, get out your Blackberries/DayPlanners/scrap pieces of paper. I'll be home March 3-11 for spring break (hooray! I get spring break!) and am bringing with me a certain native of Detroit, Michigan for the ride. So you best be prepared for some good times.
Alison and I tried to go to a SOTU bingo party but apparently RSVP'ed too late. (Yes, in Washington these types of parties fill up fast. MASSIVE nerds.) So instead we hit up Adams-Morgan and settled on a bar that advertised $5 buckets of beer and jello shots every time Bushie utters your chosen word (mine were "energy" and "diplomacy." Energy, as you *should* know came up several times. Diplomacy not so much. Though Whelan kindly corrected me to point out that he did say it four times. The midget barkeep owes me jello shots!)
The packed bar actually fell silent once the speech started, though there were appropriate boos and cheers. Being a blue-tinged bar, Hilary got a lot of whoops and hollers and Bush plenty of hisses. To be fair though, more than a few of us suggested Ted Kennedy was perhaps past his prime, if I may be so bold.
Some of my favorite comments from the night:
"More Dikembe, less Bush!" (By the way, I do believe Georgetown was the only university mentioned in the speech. Go HOYAS!)
"Woohoo terrorism!" (She wasn't actually cheering jihad so much as hollering for her free shot.)
And my favorite: "Ethanol sucks!" (From your tree-hugging friend and mine: Ali D. You stay classy Ali D.)
After this week's horrifying murder of an NDI staff member in Baghdad and now more fatal oppression in Turkey, I do question why I'm so devoted to promoting freedom of speech. But I know that it's simply because I truly believe that guaranteeing such basic human rights is a strong step toward a more peaceful world, where we can debate one another without going to war.
I hope some world leaders are taking note of the same thoughts.
But some scary news at work today really drove home the dangers of Iraq. Not that we weren't already cognizant of the Wild West-like atmosphere of kindappings and ambushes, but it had almost become routine. A dozen Iraqis killed in a suicide bombing here, four more Marines killed in an IED explosion. Sadly, it was no longer shocking. Just another bloody number to add to the ever-growing toll.
Then came this:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A suicide car bomber killed 17 Shiites at a teeming Sadr City market Wednesday, while gunmen in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad shot up a convoy of democracy workers in an ambush that took the lives of an American woman and three bodyguards.
The attack on the marketplace came one day after car bombings killed scores of university students just two miles away, indicating that al-Qaida-linked fighters are bent on a surge of bloodshed as U.S. and Iraqi forces gear up for a fresh neighborhood-by-neighborhood security sweep through the capital.
Although nobody claimed responsibility for either day's car bombings, such attacks are the hallmark of Sunni militants, who appear to be taking advantage of a waiting period before the security crackdown to step up attacks on Shiites. There had been a relative lull in Baghdad violence since the first of the year.
An Iraqi army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the attack on the Western convoy took place in Yarmouk, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad.
The three-car convoy belonged to the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, according to Les Campbell, the not-for-profit group's Middle East director. He said the four dead included an American woman along with three security contractors -- a Hungarian, a Croatian and an Iraqi. Two others were wounded, one seriously, Campbell said by telephone from Washington. Their names were withheld until their families could be notified.
''It appeared to be an attack with fairly heavy weapons, we don't know what kind,'' Campbell said. ''We have some information that a firefight ensued. Our security company responded to the attack.''
Campbell said the ambush took place at midday as the group returned from a program elsewhere in Baghdad.
* Celebrated Armenian Christmas (again) on Monday at the Armenian Embassy, with an Armo soprano's recital.
* Marked a friend's birthday dinner at Cactus Cantina. Apparently we weren't the only ones who thought the place appropriately festive. From last week's WashPost: "Laura Bush, Condi Rice, Mary Matalin, Margaret Spellings and Harriet Miers at Cactus Cantina for a surprise birthday party for Karen Hughes. A dozen Bush administration power babes gathered at the Tex-Mex restaurant for fajitas, enchiladas, quesadillas, margaritas and chocolate cake with a "classified" number of candles. (Hughes turned 50 on Dec. 27.) No word on how many hot chilies Miers ate, but she announced her resignation yesterday morning. Hmmmm." According to the waiter, I share my taste with Condi -- we both had the chicken fajitas.
* Overheard a public policy student on the bus to Georgetown talking to a friend about his morning on the Hill: "Well, you know I'm from Illinois, so there was this coffee thing and we were chatting with Obama."
* At a work lunch at Palm, spotted Mary Matalin's husband James Carville taking a seat a few tables down.
It's good to be back.