Saturday, April 07, 2007


Last night was neat in a "small world"-type of way. Our friend Stephanie is in town visiting her husband Bob, so yesterday's happy hour was in their honor. Sunshine met Stephanie in orientation class back in 2004, before either had worked a stint abroad. I met Stephanie at our friend Matt's going away party in Monterrey.* She had recently returned from a post in Saudi Arabia, and was the coworker newly arrived to replace Matt. Shortly afterwards, we also left Monterrey, following Matt to DC, while Stephanie is still in the midst of a two-year commitment in México. Last night's happy hour was pretty popular: I estimate there were about twenty-five people there. These were unevenly divided between Stephanie's friends from México and orientation, her friends from Saudi, and Bob's friends from DC. I knew only three people there, excluding Sunshine (but I know more of them now). It was nice to hear scuttlebutt from Monterrey (like: they've opened an IHOP in San Pedro). The happy hour was at some pool dive under a pedestrian bridge in Rosslyn. Since this is the District Area, the dive is rife with swank wavy tabletops and lit by lantern-like globes, but it's still a dive. Their pretzel basket was excellent. After several happy hours, sixteen of us made our way up the hill to a tiny Japanese place called Kanpai. We took up most of the establishment. Luckily, I think we were the only table. The menu at Kanpai is limited but the food is good. I had shumai soup and a sashimi don including tuna, mackerel, whitefish, yellowtail, octopus, salmon, oshinko, and some marinated mushrooms. All the usual suspects, but presenting simple things well is better than the opposite. Plus, it was excellent to dine with Stephanie and Bob again. [Cavin]

Friday, April 06, 2007


This is really the second part of yesterday's post* about movies. Yesterday and the day before I saw two films by the master director Kenji Mizoguchi. You might remember that I've mentioned Mizoguchi before (here and here). Yesterday, after watching High Noon,* I saw his sedate contemplation of art and the floating world in Utamaro and His Five Women (1946).* Utamaro is an eighteenth-century artist and printmaker living the life of a commoner in Edo's pleasure district. The five women of the title are, at one time or another, his models: prostitutes, tea waitresses, and servants to the shogunate. As he becomes entwined in their lives and interrelations, they become his environment. Utamaro the artist is an observer, like us, watching the melodramatic ways of the women he draws. His is also a voice of reason, advising secondary characters toward greater restraint or moderation. At least, right up until some offense to the shogunate causes him to be handcuffed for fifty days. Thus rendered helpless to draw, his influence also weakens, and his world spins toward tragedy. Tuesday night I saw Mizoguchi's supernatural masterpiece Ugetsu (1953).* In a time of civil war between competing warlords, roving armies are plaguing the sixteenth-century countryside: inducting the able-bodied, commandeering provisions. One potter sees a profit to be made in this chaos. Accompanied by a brother dreaming of battlefield glory, he leaves his wife behind to sally forth into opportunity. Instead, each member of the family meets with either earthly or altogether allegorical tragedy: the abandoned women are brutalized and the men discover the illusionary nature of dreaming big. Fanciful notions of success might be just that: only after losing everything can these ghosts be dispelled. Ugetsu is a remarkably beautiful period portrait, less stately and measured that some of Mizoguchi's films. [Cavin]

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I've been to a number of movies lately. Two of them were movies by legendary director Fred Zinnemann (the Austrian-born filmmaker of Oklahoma!,* From Here to Eternity,* A Man for all Seasons,* and about eight other Oscar-nominated titles). Today, after an uneventful metro ride, I saw Zinnemann's western masterpiece High Noon (1952),* a taut little real-time daylight noir at once archetypical and allegorical. I figure most everyone has some familiarity with this movie. I've seen it on TV numerous times. I've seen its disembodied scenes used as examples in documentaries, as padding in retrospectives, and as allusive Americana in everything from commercials to comedy skits. It was great to see this movie on the big screen, its chronology intact: Marshall Will Kane's mounting desperation mirrors the rising temperature as he crisscrosses town unable to rally a posse against the gunman coming for him on the noon train. More than a gunfight, it's a revelation of cold war paranoia where everyone's motives seem reasonable, but nothing is happening the way it should. By the end, lives, souls, and convictions will be crushed. And ain't Gary Cooper cool? Even sweating in fear under the blazing sun, he's a wealth of outdated dignity in a compromised society. In the final minute of the movie, his well-earned disgust with the world is devastating. Yesterday, after a metro ride fraught with harrowing peril, I saw Zinnemann's Act of Violence (1948).* This tight contemporary noir classic opens as a gunman boards a bus, train, rental car, and boat in the process of stalking another man who seems to be an average Joe. But this is noir, where nobody's just what they seem. Tricky and inventive, this story of the armed past confronting a WWII POW is naturalistic, powerful, and believe it or not, character-driven. [Cavin]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Sunshine's second day of teacher's workshops ended a little before one, so we drove to historical Alexandria for the first time. It's as thrilling, architecturally, as Savanna or Charleston, SC; and being twenty minutes from Georgetown possibly keeps frat occupation minimal. Besides looking at buildings, all I saw to do there was shop and eat. I had good, peppery manicotti at Pines of Florence. Then Sunshine dropped me at the King St. metro, well down the blue and yellow lines in the southeastern District area. I hit the platform as the yellow line train departed, but the blue line was what I'd been aiming for: up through Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery to join my regular route heading east (orange line), then north (red line), to Maryland. Today was another movie day. When the blue train arrived, I got in the first car. There were seven other people in it. But, as we made our way along the raised tracks to Pentagon City,* I started looking at the Metrorail map.* Today's trip, as I'd planned it, was going to take me through a marathon twenty-one stations. I only had about ninety minutes. If I'd gotten on the yellow line train originally, I could've shaved off several stops. So, deep underneath the Pentagon, I changed trains: leaving a blue car with twenty people in it, waiting seven minutes or so, and getting onto the next yellow car along: a car so crowded that I could only make it about four feet into the carriage. I was still in the first car, and as we moshed our way to Fort Totten, and the red line, I was able to look out the front window.** I think my new metro goal is to snag the front seat. It's a totally different experience. [Cavin]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Sunshine went to work even though she had the today off. Her language teachers were having a workshop in the District, and she was urged to attend. Like most Mondays, I had the house to myself. But like most weekend days, I went to town and hung around the Mall. I took some pictures of the Lincoln and Vietnam Veteran's memorials. Sunshine met me at Foggy Bottom, and we killed time until six: browsing an all-art bookstore and snacking on fancy mozzarella salad and mojitos. At six, we wandered over to Kaz Sushi Bistro,* where we'd failed to eat last Friday. We had better luck today: our two-top was all the way in the back of the restaurant--one curtain of dried vines away from the sushi bar. The meal was worth the wait. Kaz's menu* advises that the fare is mostly traditional, but will occasionally stray into foods prepared with local ingredient variations. These are segregated onto a photocopied sheet. The rest of the menu is just three small pages. This is the easiest way to illustrate the care with which each item found its place on the menu. Even with such a finite selection, the restaurant was still concerned that I might order something mildly impurely Japanese. What I did order was toro nigiri, masago with quail egg, unagi maki,* and something they called "calamari pasta". That's grains of marinated ika wrapped around uni with quail egg and shaved nori on top. It was not fishy, and the creamy egg balanced the slightly metallic taste of the urchin. My meal consisted of sake, excellent green tea, and exactly fourteen bites of food. It was far and away the best meal I've had in the District yet.* Afterwards, we made reservations to eat there again next week. [Cavin]

Monday, April 02, 2007


We went out to a party last night. It was all the way out in Pentagon City. This multi-segmented strip mall city-state is located just beyond the famous five-sided US Department of Defense stronghold. The giant central mall has a mote filled with dark, ominously forbidding apartment skyscrapers. It's otherwise completely soulless: the whole place is as existentially construed as a Lego play-set, answering the question of whether or not a model of something, blown-up into actual size, becomes the thing it is modeled after. It does not. Sadly, it's a perfect example of what large corporate urban developers got out of the New Urbanism movement. This was a compelling notion back when it was a theory on paper. Here are the best efforts of combined retail- and living-environment multi-structure movement made to emulate the social centers of yesteryear's actual organic downtowns. Of course "white flight" decentralization and the attendant rise of "gated subdivision"-oriented box stores killed yesteryear's model. New Urbanism is the understanding that this is a sorry turn of events, but sees no trouble in gentrifying (and falsifying) existing urban spaces--so affluence will leach back--or, as is the case with Pentagon City, building a whole new downtown where once there was suburbia. Let's call it posturban sprawl: decentralized box downtowns. It's no surprise that, with his usual deep social perception, George Romero set his latest zombie movie in just such a place. That movie (and the recently viewed Playtime) were flitting through my head when I walked from the metro to the party, and then again when going home (over ever-so-aesthetic cobble-brick pedestrian access walkovers recessed into lightless one-way no-through-access roundabout intersections) some three hours later. I had a great time at that party, though. The food and the company were both terrific. [Cavin]

Sunday, April 01, 2007


In honor of this first week of the 2007 Cherry Blossom Festival,* we walked around the in the dark last night and all around northwest downtown today. This is probably not classic cherry blossom tourism, but oh well. It was latish already when we decided to head into the District today, so we mostly haunted the length of 19th St. between Farragut and Dupont Circle. I like 19th: it's still very chic downtown DC, what with all the skyscrapers, but there are also interesting little places tucked in and around higher-falutin' tony dress-up urban meet-market destinations (unlike Georgetown, say, or even 6-10th Streets around Penn). There's the little panini place we discovered last Thursday on the corner of I (that's Karma*), the busy sushi and less-busy Indian we chose between last night (Kaz* and Aroma*), and many other types of places (a whole Malaysian block at M) along the gentle slope to P Street at the Circle and on into Embassy Row. There are also a lots of bloomin' cherry trees. After yesterday's whining about Asian fusion, I'm embarrassed to mention we ate at Nooshi,* an elision between a pan-eastern noodle bar and sushi restaurant. An extension of that embarrassment: I couldn't bring myself to order sushi so instead sat down to a bowl of quasi-Thai curry coconut seafood soup. It was good, as were the jasmine and oolong teas, but I think the highlight of the dinner was the chunky ginger ice cream. It was amazing, though maybe still somewhat too frozen when it hit the table. After dinner we wandered on up to the other side of Dupont, where Sunshine showed me a really neat used bookstore (Second Story*). Here eight-tenths of the layout is devoted to art, history, archeology, or some combination of the three. [Cavin]