Saturday, March 17, 2007


This has been great. Of the last ten winters, this year's has far and away impressed me the most. Last winter was a dud for the few weeks I was in town to see it. For the next two years, barring vacations, I will live in a part of the world that doesn't even have seasons as I know them. In southern Vietnam, the official two seasons every year are "rainy" and "dry," with temperatures approximating August in North Carolina throughout both of them. After the last two years in Monterrey, 2007 was my one shot to see a real, whole winter until the beginning of 2010. So the fact that it has been routinely below freezing, and that I've witnessed some eight or nine snowfalls, over the last three months exceeded all expectation. Its done my heart good. Today, despite low temperatures and the freezing rain, I met Sunshine after classes, in Rosslyn, and we headed off to Silver Springs, Maryland to see the Last Winter,* an ostensible horror film of ulterior ecological concern; and, by the way, part of the 15th Annual Environmental Film Festival in DC.* In a remote Alaskan outpost, one mega-conglomerate schemes to start drilling--regardless of some wonky test readings taken in the permafrost. Then the small crew starts to go crazy: seeing shapes amass in the wasteland, going into the subzero butt-naked, etc. Starring Ron Pearlman. The movie was a little preachy, but all the acting and filmmaking were great. There was a little too many of the whiz-bang attention-getting editing doodads pervasive in modern horror, plus a highly eye-rolling tack-on afterthought that rather clunked. Otherwise, I recommend it. After our screening, the director (Larry Fessenden) answered questions. The experience was well worth having to walk home in the falling ice. [Cavin]

Friday, March 16, 2007


First: my good friend Ellie has made her music available free over the internet. You can listen to, or download, four acoustic tunes here. Highly recommended. Now back to talking about me: when I woke up today it was eighty-two degrees outside. This wasn't unexpected after yesterday's heat (a tolerable, moderately breezy seventy-eight average) and the hot night. But today it was overcast, making the heat oppressive somehow. I let the housekeepers in after making sure Dora was well out of their way, and then I got busy updating our iPod with all Ellie's new songs and staying out of the way, myself. During this hour the temperature dropped twenty-six degrees outside, the wind picked up, and the day went from overcast to downcast. As I type, it's hovering in the low fifties and raining out there. Its also really windy. We just returned from a pleasant meal at Thai Terrace (between Ballston Commons Mall and Virginia Square in Arlington). We met one of Sunshine's coworkers. I've eaten there before: I liked it then and I liked it again, tonight. The tom kha was superb (and about the prettiest soup I've ever seen, high praise indeed considering Thai is one of the world's most aesthetic cuisines). My shrimp in emerald curry was so good I had the remaining sauce packed up to go. The conversation was all work-talk between interesting and compelling people, so I dug it. After dinner, we got groceries returning to Falls Church, and this reminded me to add something to my litany of complaints: it's a solid drag to carry groceries into this place. None of the doors can be held open. All require electric key entry taking whole seconds to read. The elevator's slow, possibly possessed. And it's sometimes hot and sometimes raining. [Cavin]

Thursday, March 15, 2007


For anyone who was interested enough to view my National Zoo pictures,* here is a movie I made of the coatis playing in their wheel (and thanks to Angstor for the use of her channel). You may note that there are other, similar spinning coati wheel movies available. Apparently I've been by no means original, but at least my movie incorporates an informative plaque. Tonight we ate Vietnamese food at the compelling Eden Center again. Huong Viet* is my third Center restaurant, and tonight's food was marvelous (crab and asparagus soup, bean curd and shrimp hot egg noodle). The conversation was also very interesting. As we rounded the corner away from Oakwood, Sunshine began speaking in tonal syllables ("kwaa, kwaah, koo-ah, koo-ah..."). This always happens, and is occasionally punctuated by my questions or her own happily spontaneous translation of various words plucked from signs,* fliers, and newspapers. Learning a new language is a willful regression into the earliest stages of formulation, and can come across like some strange autism. It's cute to watch, but terrifying to do: the act of restarting along first stages of learning is tantamount to mining the very bottom of a developed intellect to build a new one. This is real ego stuff: managing a fledgling intellect from the remove of another, mature one. It is part infantilism and part performance. How utterly frustrating it was to be a child the first time, when there was little of the shame that comes attached to adult intellectual labor. Anyway, this was our conversation tonight as we rounded the corner back from Eden Center. Probably somewhat over-thought and a little armchair-analyst too; but while this endeavor renders us stupider than we really feel, it's important that we compensate by acting smarter than we really are, too. [Cavin]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


It was sunny and seventy-one in DC today, real surfing weather, yet I never left the house for longer than it took me to take out the recycling. I do feel like I have finally caught up on the sleep I missed this weekend, so that's a plus. Did I ever mention that our unit is positioned right over the complex's playground? I am not complaining too much since every unit is right over something annoying and loud (tennis courts, swimming pool, the lively Vietnamese Eden Center). Only the people facing away from the exercise yard, in the backside of our building, look out over something quiet: the adjacent Oakwood Cemetery. There it is, I assume, much quieter when the kids gather after school. Did I ever mention we live right beside a cemetery? What I did today: I cooked my first real meal in the unit. I would have imagined that the sheer smallness of our kitchen might make everything somehow handier--since everything is only a few steps away no matter where I stand. Still, with the lack of storage space, everything I need has somehow landed right behind things I don't need, and there's an awful lot of required rearranging to get anything done. Otherwise, except for some slow habituation with regard to these electric burners, the kitchen and I got along well. Today's menu was spiced black-eyed pea soup and a medley of stuffed pasta shells (some with herbed muenster and others with parmesan and rosemary cream cheese) in paprika sauce, accompanied by toasted pita. It all turned out pretty well. In between fussings with the strange range, I managed to upload the handful of pictures I took at the National Zoo when we were there Saturday afternoon. Start here if you are interested. [Cavin]

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Today Sunshine's hard slog through the archives of Stars and Stripes kicked off; she knows just where in the Library of Congress to find it. She did this after class, and managed to make it though a whole month in just a few hours while I was left to my own devices. I spent the first part of the day resting-up after a tiring weekend. Then I thought I'd see a movie in the early evening before our downtown rendezvous. Silver Springs AFI is showing the Infernal Affairs trilogy* (the triple-feature was last Friday, but we didn't go), but today they were only showing the second installment. The E Street Theater is showing the Host* and Tears of the Black Tiger,* two things I don't want to watch without Sunshine. The Lives of Others* was a viable possibility until I realized the clock I was using was the only one in the house that had not been reset for Sunday's stupid new Daylight Saving Time: I could never make it all the way to E Street and 10th in just thirty-five minutes. Also, since it's technically still winter, all the museums close at five thirty (except the American Art slash National Portrait Gallery, which closes at seven--I know because I was there just two weeks ago). What I ended up doing was taking a leisurely downtown stroll--today's weather was perfect for that sort of thing--and then reading Live and Let Die* for an hour at the Chinatown Starbucks. Their second floor has an impressive view of H Street and 7th, overlooking Chinatown's impressive Friendship Arch;* their coffee is more exotic because "Starbucks" is written in Chinese. Later, I met Sunshine on the National Mall, and we ate at a little Greek place in Capital South. [Cavin]

Monday, March 12, 2007


A couple years ago, after the 2004 Library of Congress National Book Festival,* we were introduced to a man named Jon Singer. We were planning to dine-out in Chinatown that night. Mr. Singer is quite the well-known gourmet; however inaccurate to use French terminology for a gastro-intellect mostly focused on Asian cuisines. For Chinatown, Mr. Singer was necessary, and throughout that evening, he captivated us. He did indeed find excellent food in a tiled underground Chinese shoebox with cheap wall-tchotchkes and a group of heavily tattooed tong in sunglasses watching over the place. He steered us through the hanging magic-marker-on-yellow-posterboard menu. He proceeded to explain how the food was prepared, letting that lead into topics of chemistry, which morphed into the science of historical pottery glazing. Long after dinner we stood on the corner talking to Jon Singer. Then we didn't see him again until today at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater on the GW campus. Mr. Singer plays the gamelan, and he'd attempted to explain what that meant during our long-ago Chinatown evening. Today we got to see him perform as part of a gamelan ensemble accompanying a montage of pan-Asian dance performances.* It was great to see Jon Singer again, and now I've seen a gamelan, too. I'm still unsure what it is, really--an Indonesian band? sport? martial art?--some lingering confusion stems from Jon Singer's explaining it scientifically while still keyed-up from today's performance. I can say this: a gamelan resembles a room--a kitchen, specifically--where pots and drums and other melodic percussions are neatly scattered before a group of players, each concentrating on piecing together music. A sound assembly line. For all of you who thought there really were little people inside the calliopes of your youth, the gamelan* is for you. [Cavin]

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Today it was sunny and warm. Not that I noticed at noon when we headed out for the day. It was a little windy at the time, and it did not seem to be such a bad idea to wear my jacket out. We took the metro just south of the Capital to visit the Library of Congress.* We navigated two of the four stone buildings trying to, one, get Sunshine an official researcher's card, and two, find the periodical room where the nineteen seventies Stars and Stripes magazine microforms were located. All of this was more difficult than you might imagine if you've never been inside the Library of Congress. Since this library must, by definition, house almost everything, it has whole rooms of stuff most libraries have mere shelves for. These are spread across an occasionally subterranean tangle of cinder block hallways that look vaguely unfinished owing to the open ducts, pipes, and electrical works running through them. It was also hot. At two we ate a sleazy lunch at the Union Station food court, a past experience I recalled more fondly than I should've. Then we spent a few hours at the National Zoo,* which was pretty neat considering its size and cost. The Zoo is located in one small arm of Woodly Park, a forested crevasse cut into northwest DC. Like most Smithsonian attractions, it's free. Even in the winter there was a lot to see, though golden tamarins and otters were inside for the season. Why? In my jacket I was hellishly hot today (and zoo drink machines cost a buck-fifty). The high point: overhearing a woman talking about the time the emu somehow escaped and turned up in her backyard. "That's him," she began, "that guy sort of startled me one morning." [Cavin]