What I’ve Been Reading

Winter break was created to allow time to delve deep into fiction and irrelevant nonfiction, I’m certain of it. I’m also terribly lazy and not quite done with all of them, but here are the best of the books that have been lingering on the nightstand as of late:

1. Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine De Saint-Exupery [nf]. Saint-Exupery is best known for Le Petit Prince; while not writing children’s stories, he jetted about the globe delivering mail for Aéropostale and compiled some achingly beautiful memoirs that use flight as a vehicle to clarify his thoughts on risk and tenacity and meaning. This is my favorite book ever, probably, and a re-read.

2. What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer [nf]. This is the rightfully-famed trail of the 1988 presidential race – as noted in the intro, it seeks to figure out what on earth “kind of life would lead a man to think he ought to be president” – and is easily the most engaging thing on this list. Recommended for Houstonians in particular, if only for the Bush/Baker bits, River Oaks jokes, and IH-45 traffic complaints that pop up while following HW. Bonus description of Joe Biden: “There was (to be perfectly blunt, as Joe would say) a breathtaking element of balls.” That should be all you need.

3. The Son by Philipp Meyer [f]. Texas by generation. This got a tremendous amount of press as the “next Lonesome Dove” which I don’t agree with (Lonesome Dove is grand and aspirational; this is grand and gritty). Maybe it’s what would happen if Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry edited each other while drinking lots of whiskey.

4. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker [nf]. Chronicles a decline in violence and rise in civility throughout the ages, with a hearty dose of evolutionary psychology. Impressively well-documented for all its breadth. Gladwell gets all the credit for popular writing about complicated subjects, but I really think Steven Pinker manages to achieve the same engaging accessibility without nearly as much kitschy oversimplification (I just realized I’ve been reading his stuff for [gasp/cringe] nearly ten years). If you’ve talked to me about nearly any international conflict over the past six months or so I’ve probably mentioned something from this book; it’s just wonderfully applicable.

5. Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov [f]. More of Nabokov injecting his delightful synesthesia into off-kilter and verboten love stories. Still in the middle of it, but I like this quite a bit better than Lolita, in particular for how the structure of the novel manages to toy with time and memory.

What I’ve Been Reading

Pt. 2 And Remembering the Coming Back (Texas)

It goes without saying that there is one and only one state that might make a decent tattoo (hint: not Wyoming) – one that people make waffle irons to honor – and a great ambition of my adult life is to consistently be the most obnoxious person in the room every March 2nd I spend outside these borders. I suspect the reasons why are something I’ll keep chewing on for a lifetime, and that’s just fine: this obsessive braggadocio has evolved dramatically over the past five years, and I am now nothing of the 17 year old wanting to escape to the northeast. But in an effort to atone for past sins, I’ve compiled some materials from my student-taught-course-that-never-was –Texas History through Food and Literature** –for reference and perusal by all those who were either born here or got here as fast as they could.

Continue reading “Pt. 2 And Remembering the Coming Back (Texas)”

Pt. 2 And Remembering the Coming Back (Texas)

Southern Efficiency, Northern Hospitality

My friend Alex, upon finding out I was in DC for the summer, told me that this is where she had imagined me living permanently – I believe the term “puzzle piece” was employed. I like the idea of fitting here very much: D.C. connected with me a very electric way (I’m tempted to use words people use when explaining why they love New York, which I could never understand). I like the youth and the energy, the wide boulevards and the grand structures provided for government buildings, and the pressure to work, constantly. The southwest may have a permanent grip on my heart, but this is undeniably where my head needs to be – at least for the next few years. SO: here is a collection of things I enjoyed doing, and might suggest to other people making their way here for summer months. Consider it an epitaph to infatuation – when I’m back next, I expect it’ll grow to something more thorough.

D.C. Summer Intern Bucket List

Activities

1. Run the monuments. There is a way to do this at every skill level – the loop to WWII from GW is a perfect 5k, and the Capitol to Lincoln Memorial and back is just over 5 miles, which you can extend to 7 if you swing around the Tidal Basin (the way to meet up with TJ & FDR). Add on three more miles by swinging across the bridges to Roosevelt Island, which has fantastical things like real trails and tree cover. Or cut wherever you’d like. In any case, I loved making a habit of this; it’s the best way to be an early-morning patriot.

2. Eschew private transportation. This is coming from a girl who treats her car like a person, who will agree to drive 14 hours at a stretch without blinking: I adore the Metro. I get the same feeling of awe from the arched vaulted ceilings that I get from approaching a tangled loop of Texas highway interchanges – a sort of gasping pride that people managed to create this. Wait until a thunderstorm in off-hours and snag a car to yourself. Run up and down like this guy.

3. Watch 4th of July fireworks form the Lincoln Memorial. I can’t say I remember this, but the pictures make it look lovely.

4. Spend a hungover Sunday strolling through Eastern Market. Try on a bunch of jewelry, and revel in items of absurd political kitsch. I bought these ridiculous portraits of the city stylized a la Van Gogh…

5. Visit the monuments at night. Jefferson at night is particularly spectacular, as is WWII when the fountain is working. The place fills up with fireflies.

6. Watch a motorcade. I can’t provide actual instructions, but somehow managed to catch both Obama and Biden. Even too-cool-for-school Dupont halts, giddily.

7. Tour the three branches of government. Indisputably a must; I was lucky (?) enough to hit the Capitol on the final day of debt ceiling proceedings.

8. Shop in Georgetown. Dress up. Laugh at the Ralph Lauren café (why is that there??!). Wish all streets were so cute.

9. Wander by everywhere you want to work. In addition to providing some solid motivation, most of the buildings (Ronald Reagan!) that ought to be in question are lovely.

10. Walk. DC is a city of neighborhoods and townhouses and shops crammed in between – you miss it by taking the metro.


11. Creep. Creep so much. I wandered Georgetown hoping to see Maureen Dowd, who lives in one of JFK’s old bachelor pads (this eventually happened in an ENTIRELY different way – as in someone on our nonprofit’s board is her neighbor – but that’s a longer story). I got to be the mayor of the State Department on 4square for two days before someone who actually works there figured it out (this is basically the only thing 4square is good for). Eavesdrop on staffers at happy hours, deliberately leave for work early so you can pass Foreign Service employees walking from Foggy Bottom, smile at the attractive ones, go on runs by the Pentagon. This may be a tragic example of my poor taste and general nosiness, but I like important people who are good at their jobs and it’s exxciiiiittting with all the extra letters.

12. Become reacquainted with trees on Roosevelt Island. Real trails! Genuine shade! A statue of Theodore! I had never been so excited.

13. Arlington Cemetery. One way to grasp at immensity.

14. Visit the National Zoo. GIANT PANDAS! Giant pandas giant pandas giant pandas.

15. Go on lots of random dates, because during the summer this place is swarming with twenty-somethings in suits with interesting jobs, and if you’re like me and simply here for two months you never have to see them again. This is also the best way to eat in nice restaurants.

16. Bus to New York for a weekend. It’s twenty dollars one way; there is no excuse not to.

17. Listen to Secret Service agents having normal conversations. He was turned away from the crowded street outside the White House, speaking furtively into his walkie-talkie: “No, honey, the five grain bread.

18. Houstonians: keep quiet when locals complain about the heat and humidity, for they are naïve and know no better.

19. Browse Kramerbooks. 1) There is a bar in a bookstore, and that is great 2) They have an excellent selection of niche works likely of interest to anyone who would get a summer job in DC. There was an obscure development travelogue I had spent months passively searching for – it was sold out on Amazon and missing in every chain bookstore I visited. They not only had it, they had TEN copies and more by the same author. Fantastic selection of works in international development and counterterrorism and wine.

20. Watch a lot of West Wing. Be inspired by fictional retellings of things happening down the street. Shrug off cynicism, relish tiny victories.

21. Recognize obscure policy makers in your field of choice. Become momentarily star-struck. Get over it and introduce yourself if appropriate (Peter Hotez after a talk he gave about moving to Houston? Yes. Kal Penn looking scruffy outside the White House? Rajiv Shah hurrying home? No.)

22. Check out the White House protestors. Some of them are crazy, and some of them seem too sane to be spending their time where they are. My favorite was actually a counter-protest: two old men with “ARABS are people, too” written in incendiary red letters, standing next to your typical “kill the Muslims” stock. In any case, they will likely be more interesting than the fenced-off rose garden across the boulevard.

23. Get out of town. Unlike Texas (where three hours will take you from Houston to San Antonio, and perhaps 12 will allow for a state-wide crossing), here there are not quite so expansive stretches between places of note. Hiking in Great Falls, MD is accessible by public transportation, Charlottesville is two hours southwest, and Shenandoah NP is a scant 90 minutes away. I opted for the latter two – vineyards in CVille, Appalachian Trail runs and BEARS, OH MY! in the park.

Restaurants

24. Order a Rickey, DC’s official (yes!) cocktail. Preferably at The Passenger, as they managed to make one that landed in my top 10 list and the shadowy train-car atmosphere makes for a unique venue.

25. Founding Farmers. I can’t get enough of this place. Stuffed French toast, butternut squash ravioli, locally grown food, brilliant decorating and more LEED-certified than Duncan.

26. Peregrine Espresso in Eastern Market, right behind Capitol Hill, unequivocally provided the best latte I’ve ever had. There is and never will be a contest: I took one sip and realized I’d peaked.

27. Amsterdam Falafelshop on U-Street is open all of the hours you would like it to be, with a fantastical variety of toppings.

28. Julia’s Empanadas, anywhere. Size of your hand and warm and delicious. I got into an awful habit of running here for dinner, eating, and running back. There are worse zero-sum games.

29. Ben’s Chili Bowl. Classic, crowded drunk food. Veggie dogs! Veggie chili! Oh, the joy.

30. Crepes A Go Go, Dupont Circle. I wandered in randomly, mostly because of the similarity in name to my favorite Houston taco place, and then came back…and came back…and came back. Whatever they put in the batter kicks ass; going back to Coco’s will be a struggle.

31. Baked & Wired, Georgetown. Stop in post-shopping for…honestly, anything I’ve had there could be described as impossibly delicious. The menu changes based upon what they bake that day. One standout: an espresso brownie the size of my face, loaded with chunks of dark chocolate and made with still-detectable cream cheese.

32. Market Lunch, also in Eastern Market, provides a damn fantastic breakfast. A line out the door at 7:30 on a Saturday morning should speak for itself (but if it doesn’t, the buckwheat blueberry pancakes were killer).

And for the moment? I’m stuck in limbo – San Antonio – feeling homesick for both D.C. and Houston. One of those is going to come up much more quickly than the other!

Southern Efficiency, Northern Hospitality