Saturday, March 31, 2007


Indian restaurants are great. Many have virtually identical menus (with minute transliteration variations); but variations between the dishes themselves can sometimes be extraordinary. My favorite litmus for any new Indian restaurant is the muttar paneer: homemade cottage cheese and green peas cooked in a spiced sauce. I have had tomato-cream-saffron sauces golden with turmeric. I've had sauces brown and lush with onion-coriander-cumin heat. Before tonight, we've been unable to find a better-than-average Indian restaurant within the District. The few times we've managed to even locate one the fare was mediocre or limited. Tonight, it was our plan to eat reportedly great sushi at a little upstairs place near the corner of I Street and nineteenth. We've had a hard time finding better-than-average sushi, too. Being fair: it's traditional sushi I'm talking about--there's plenty fancy little Asian fusion places around here. I typically enjoy these, but sometimes I yearn for a top-dollar, beautifully austere, perfect-simple-real refined Japanese meal, too, without dodging crank cocktails and craftily-named special frat rolls to do so. I was excited. Only, it seemed pretty touch-and-go as to whether we'd get a seat without reservations on a Friday: we were told we could wait a half-hour to discover, finally, whether we'd eventually get a table or not. Instead, we opted to try Aroma,* the half-empty Indian restaurant next door. Their matter paneer was exceptional: cooked in a creamy spicy tomato-onion-yogurt sauce. After dinner we wandered in a random, after-dinner way that took us to the shiny back slabs of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.* The wall is almost too much to contemplate. Stand too far away from it, and the names printed there begin to look like a pattern, maybe a texture, maybe dots. But nobody stands that far away from it. Everyone stands really close. [Cavin]

Friday, March 30, 2007


I'm still talking about yesterday, which was an excellent day for loitering around town. I finally dropped back in at the nice little convenience deli at Virginia Square metro stop. I used to shop for sandwiches and six packs there when I'd come up to visit Sunshine. She lived three blocks back toward Ballston, around the corner from Thai Terrace. I really like that deli. I believe it's Korean owned, and no one can understand me the first time. "I would like a cheese sub," I told them yesterday. "Cheese?" they asked me, for clarification I thought, so I told them, yes, I wanted muenster and dill havarti. They waited politely until I was finished ordering, then looked at each other and said "cheese? Cheese?" I pointed to the word on the overhead menu (they had to come out from behind the counter to see it): Cheese Sub. "Oh, what kind of cheese would you like?" Eventually I got a great sub, though. Then, later, while I was waiting for my movie to start, I ate in a pan-Asian bistro right out of an allegorical sci-fi movie. It's called the Asian Bistro. The menu is split into three categories: Japanese, Chinese, and Asian. Inside there are faux-lacquered Oriental tchotchkes and burbling plastic Zen waterfalls. There was a lit plate of frosted glass seeping novelty fog at the front counter. I was seated by the woman who took my order. She shouted everything she said at the top of her lungs. There's something magical about washing down several fistfuls of possibly harmful sushi* with a beaker of sake in the thirty minutes before a movie rolls. I ate steamed somethings called "wasabi shumai" that were like damp horseradish matzah balls. "Come again," she shouted at me. I just might. [Cavin]

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Man, I could see a movie every day in this metropolitan area. Killing time before making my way to Maryland this afternoon, I went to the National Portrait Gallery* where I finally looked at the titular portrait collection. I'd relegated this museum to the end of my list because it didn't seem all that inspiring: portraits might be well-painted, and certainly provide a who's-who of those rich or famous enough to commission them, but come on: frame after frame of lugubrious dark gravitas mixed into sitting men. Snore. Except, like all things I know very little about, this was far more interesting than that. Not the least of several moments of surprised enthrall came in front of that portrait of Benjamin Franklin one sees everywhere. I am far more familiar with the painting than the man, right?; to me, Ben Franklin is that painting. Standing there, I realized I was sort of star-struck. Eventually, I made my way to Silver Springs, where AFI* is showing Jacques Tati's mind-blowingly superb Playtime* in 70mm. This genius meditation on the bafflement of modern living follows, among others, a group of US tourists, a puzzled uncle, and an officious office manager navigating a bleached and polished stainless-plastic-glass corner of Paris. The scenery is a mindless modern xtopia spinning in a funny clockwork of sound, movement, and syncopated comedic imbroglio.* The characters either lend a warm human heart to their Goldbergian existence, or simply throw their hands up and dance. Occasionally a cinematic "City of Lights" is glimpsed in reflected glass or on distant horizons, but this is not the Paris we've come to expect. Within the frame of this almost dialog-free illustration of a loco-scape constructed without difference to those destined to people it, all is corporate steel, modern calamity, and traffic. [Cavin]

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Man, I could see a movie every day in this metropolitan area. Sometimes, Sunshine even gets out of class with enough time to see one with me (though this is rare). Today, we met at the Qdoba near Metro Center and ate as quickly as possible before seeing the seven-oh-five show of the Host* next door at the E Street Cinema.* This is the second time I've seen this movie, after the North Carolina premier back in February when it was screened as part of the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham. The Host is a Korean post-giant monster movie, à la Tremors,* mixing equal doses of several genres. It is at once a dark comedy and a biting local and international social commentary. Unlike many of its forbears, especially the kind made in the US, it is also a compelling human drama, resolutely focusing the larger plight--a monstrously besieged Seoul riverfront, and the Kubrick-esque military follies that follow--through the lens of one family struggling to stay together. It is a heartbreaking pleasure to finally be a part of a monster attack. In many examples of this genre, the point-of-view hovers way up with the monsters (a byproduct of the rubber suits and miniscule city models used to make these films, surely), so since childhood I have grown accustomed to gazing pitilessly at the fire and crunch of Tokyo or Manhattan from that aloof vantage. Certainly, this has led to the humanization of the antagonists, rendering Godzilla, et al., into folksy antiheros somewhere along the way. This is not the case in the Host, were the experience of terror and tragedy and humor and monstrosity happen from a human vantage, presented somehow devoid of the camp and smirking self-regard of most domestic attempts in this genre. Recommended. [Cavin]

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Just down Broad Street toward West Falls Church (about twice the distance to the State Theater where we saw los Aterciopelados last Monday, but not quite as far as the good Indian restaurant, Haandi, where we dined three Mondays ago) we located a neat little jam-packed used book and comic store called the Hole in the Wall. We were here looking for the local Afghan restaurant Panjshir, which was just across the street and down the block. We opted to eat before shopping. This was my first Afghan food, and I wish that I'd held taken notes. All I can do is describe the medley of veggie dishes I ordered to sample as many things as possible. I have no idea what these dishes were called: one, apples cooked in nuts, brown sugar and ginger with a fine hot mint chili; two, pumpkin cooked similarly but with the nuts replaced by what I thought tasted like tamarind or pomegranate; and three, gingered turnips drizzled with garlicky yogurt and tomato sauce. This last dish was my favorite. All were served with yummy olive-drab coriander rice and leavened bread. There was middle eastern cardamom tea. Afghan food seems a distant cousin to North Indian (some dishes share transliterations that sound similar: korma/quarma), with a little more date-and-nut middle eastern influence. This makes a lot of regional sense, I know. Every dish I had was both very sweet and somewhat spicy, much like challenging Thai food flavor combinations, but without any of the sour third. I was pretty heavy-handed with the mint hot sauce. My favorite thing on the table tonight was the hearty Afghan noodle soup Aush; vegetarian, toothsome, and also topped with yogurt and tomato. By the time we were done eating, the bookstore down the road was closed. [Cavin]

Monday, March 26, 2007


I feel better. I woke up still feeling a little fuzzy, so I took things very low-key all day; but I can now safely say that I'm finally coming out of the lingering light cold that hit me early last Thursday. We've had a day evenly delineated between entertainments excruciatingly good and entertainingly the opposite. Good news first: most of the afternoon we spent watching the second season of the Sopranos* while I convalesced lazily. This season of this series is so utterly good that it's confusing my previous ranking: how many different HBO shows can cluster in my number one slot? Later in the afternoon, we drove to the Ballston Commons Mall to see the bad news. That would be the newest predictable Sandra Bullock movie, Premonition.* I don't mean "predictable" in the sense that the plot was obvious before we stepped into the theater. Actually, I was surprised to discover that this was more of a Butterfly Effect* or Memento* -like scrambled-time narrative type of movie rather than the It's a Wonderful Life* or Final Destination* –like "how do you stop the future?" type of movie that its previews make it out to be. No, the predictability is in the quality: its another inconsistent, overwrought telegraphed right-wing screed posturing as the newest potboiled conceit thriller with pretensions of armchair para-psy-fi-chology. In this respect, the previews were dead-on. To be as fair to the movie as I can possibly be, I have to say that, in those rare moments when Bullock managed to wrestle the performance of her 2D character from the heavy hands of the filmmakers, she was really pretty good. All other bets are off, though: it is a movie told by an editor, full of sound and fury, with all attendant significance and subtlety. [Cavin]

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Today there were things to do: a party for the whole group of Sunshine's coworkers who will be going over to Vietnam between now and the fall (including those heading for work in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) and their Vietnamese language and regional studies teachers. Also, tonight was the very last showing of Kenji Mizoguchi's the Story of the Last Chrysanthemum* at AFI's Silver Theater* at the very end of the red line in Maryland. Here are some guesses about these things: the party was fun and filled with people I'm dying to meet--such as the people Sunshine will be working closely with for the next several years and the interesting teachers I hear about every day. Probably it was mostly indoors because it's rainy outside today. The Mizoguchi film, his masterpiece by many estimations, would be a wonderful work of exquisite subtlety light-handedly documenting the intricate landscape of Japanese Kabuki culture at the end of the nineteen thirties. The deceptively simple-looking method of long, still takes the director perfected to make this movie would have leant each scene an offhand familiarity, highlighting the actions and humanity of the characters rather than the exoticism of their surroundings. It would probably have been raining as I walked back to the metro afterwards. Then, after about fifty minutes on the red and orange lines, it would have been raining still for the half-mile walk back to the unit. All of these are guesses, of course, because that little head cold I caught on Wednesday night was somehow resurrected by last night's drinking game party, and I didn't really feel good enough to go out and do any of these socializing and quietly sitting still activities. I'll be well again tomorrow, but it's too bad about today. [Cavin]