Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Race for the Cure

It's been awhile since I walked to raise money, so when a nice young woman at Whole Foods asked if I would participate in the Komen National Race for the Cure, I said yes. Two women I've known for a very long time, Helen Mehoudar and Anice Nolen, are breast cancer survivors, and I wanted to do this to honor them, as well as to raise money to support breast cancer education, screening, and treatment programs.

Contributions are tax deductible, and you can pledge your support online by clicking here. And if you're in the DC area and want to join me in the walk on June 4th, you can sign up here.

Thank you so much.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A politician making sense

I don't normally think of myself as a single-issue voter, but I don't think I could ever vote for someone who wasn't pro-choice. Still, when someone is against abortion, I have some understanding of where they come from. Yes, I could say, "If you don't like abortion, don't have one." But if someone really believes that to have an abortion is killing someone, I can see how they would fight to make abortion illegal. I don't agree with them, but I have some understanding of their position. My real frustration, then, is those who are so opposed to abortion, but are also against comprehensive sex education and improving family leave policies. I think the abortion debate needs to be broadened. It's not just about abortion. There are a lot of other issues, and there are better ways to reduce abortion (it will never be eliminated) than than making it illegal. When I read E.J. Dionne's column today, I thought that Thomas R. Suozzi made a lot of sense.

Monday, May 16, 2005

In which I write about an event that I'm already tired of reading about

Last Wednesday, I attended an all-day meeting at a hotel over by Embassy Row. During lunch, someone came over to the table where I was sitting and mentioned to the group that the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court were being evacuated. The bearer of the news didn't have any more information than that.

One woman sighed. "I hope whatever's going on is over with before too long. This could really mess up the commute out of the city this evening."

Then we went back to our food and our conversation.

When the meeting resumed after lunch, there was an announcement that everything was fine. We still didn't know what was going on, but it hadn't affected us while it was happening, so it didn't seem worth speculating over now.

I forgot about it until I got home and turned on the computer. My browser opened up to the Washington Post, with news of the small plane that had accidentally ventured into restricted airspace over the District. I had an email from a friend in the midwest, wondering if everything was okay. Was I scared? Had I been evacuated? By that time, I was sure she had the news that everything was fine, so I wrote a quick note back, telling her that we hadn't even really known anything was happening.

I've been wondering if I should write about this at all. I was going to mention how the media overreact to these kinds of things, but after reading nothing except that in the Post for the next couple of days, I'm pretty much tired of it.

I think I'm more interested now in the fact that we don't react. We don't panic. We worry about our commutes and eat our pasta. Most of these things are seen as inconveniences. Last summer, when the terror alert was raised for certain buildings in several cities, buses entering the Pentagon were being stopped. They ran mirrors along to check underneath, and bomb-sniffing dogs were led around the outsides of the buses. I heard rumors that the Pentagon police were even boarding some buses, although it didn't happen on my bus. One of my neighbors was glad they were taking these precautions.* I was upset that my seven-minute bus ride was taking 45 minutes. Add that onto my 5 minute train trip and 2 mile walk to from the metro to the office, and my commute was ridiculously long. I was noticably cranky upon arriving at work that week.

A couple of months ago, as my morning bus made its way to the Pentagon, the driver announced that people weren't being allowed to board trains at the Pentagon Metro. I felt somewhat panicky. After the bombings in Madrid, I began to worry about the terrorism and the Metro.** But none of us displayed any fear. We just concentrated on how we should get to work. The trains were apparently running, just not stopping at the Pentagon, so we got off our bus, and joined all the riders from other buses in the trek back to the previous station. As we passed a HazMat team closing up shop, a Pentagon police officer informed us that we would be allowed to board trains at the Pentagon, and we retraced our steps, and we continued on our normal journey into work.

Even though I'm continuing about my normal business, I am nervous. I worry. In November, in spite of my fear of heights, I climbed the steps to the top of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral to look out over London. I knew I was safe, but my stomach felt empty, and my knees shook. Back in Washington, I hear that the trains aren't stopping at the Pentagon station and see the flashing lights on the emergency truck, and I have to tell myself not to panic, even as my stomach feels hollow and my knees go a bit wobbly. Then I take a deep breath and head to work. And if it's happening across town, I don't pay much attention at all.

*He works in one of the buildings that had its alert level raised, so he may have just been more nervous than the rest of us in general.

**I'd like to point out here that my main fear isn't that something bad will happen on Metro during my commute. I'm more worried about something happening 30 or 40 minutes after I've exited the system, while Brian's commuting. Because, seriously, if the train I'm on explodes, I'm dead. If the train Brian's on explodes, I'm alone. For me, personally, Plan B there sucks a whole lot more (I am so freakin' eloquent). I haven't decided whether this is selfish or unselfish on my part. And when I mention this to people, they mostly are just surprised that I've thought it through so carefully.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Have you seen this blogger?

One of my favorite bloggers, Julia Montgomery of Tequila Mockingbird, has disappeared from her blog, and her readers are now staging, as one put it, a six-degrees-of-separation search-and-rescue mission. You can read about the operation, headed up by Postmodern Sass, here.

I started reading her site back in March, just before she left for Thailand. I made my way through her archives, and before too long, I had read every post on her site. Some made me laugh out loud (and when I was reading in my cube at work, that was a little embarrassing), and others made me want to cry. I love her writing. She finally came back on April 1st, with a quick post and some photos, but since then the only updates to the site are the comments on that post (almost 200 now) from readers wondering what has become of her. Selfishly, I want her back so I can read more wonderful stories. Less selfishly, I just want to know that the person I've never met but whom I admire is okay.

So if you find someone meeting this description, could you please let the internet know?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Weekend getaway

Because I would rather regret my misspent dollars than my misspent youth, and because a weekend of my youth is surely more misspent doing laundry and grocery shopping than sightseeing in a foreign city, last week I went to Buenos Aires for the weekend. I am quite pleased with myself, even if I do feel a wee bit silly. But Brian was in São Paulo this past week for work, and he figured he might as well spend the weekend before in Argentina. I certainly wasn't going to let him go have fun with out me; I'm certain there was something about that in the vows. So on Friday night we headed to Argentina.


One of the biggest problems we faced in Argentina was the language barrier. Both of us took Spanish in college, but it’s been a good five years since we’ve had any lessons, and four since we’ve had much occasion to use it. Add to our inexperience, the fact that the Argentine accent was stronger than we’d expected. One of our college Spanish teachers was from Argentina, so we had some idea of what the language would sound like, but Carlos must have controlled his accent to help us learn what Spanish sounds like in the States, Mexico, and everywhere else. I wasn’t too worried about language issues when we first arrived. A week earlier, I had called to reserve a room. I was able to understand and answer all the questions the man asked me: How many people? When will you arrive? How many nights?

We arrived at the airport early Saturday morning, and I approached the first counter marked “Remises” to find out about a taxi to our hotel.

“¿Cuánto cuesta un remis a la Calle Lavalle?” I asked, hoping they would understand me. I had no idea whether ‘remis’ was masculine or feminine, and I pronounced ‘all’ as ‘eye.’

“¿A Cah-shay Lah-vah-shay?” The woman asked after a moment.

Brian and I exchanged a glance that communicated all kinds of questions and worries. “Sí,” I replied.


One in a cab, the driver asked us where we were going more specifically, and I checked the address in Lonely Planet. When we were stopped at a toll plaza, the driver asked to see the listing. I showed him, and he said something I didn’t understand. I looked at Brian, hoping he had gotten it.

“He says our hotel burned down.”

I understood that the man was offering to take us to a different hotel, run by someone he knew. Eighty pesos a night, including breakfast, he told us. Any trust I had for the man flew out the car window and was run over by some other little car on the highway into Buenos Aires. I had read posts in the Thorn Tree forum about taxi drivers in this city. They weren’t to be trusted very much anyhow. While Brian and the driver stumbled through conversations about other topics, I concentrated on figuring out how to say “I don’t believe you,” and “Let me out of this car.”

As we approached Lavalle, the driver again repeated what he had told us earlier about the hotel. I told Brian that we needed to just go to the hotel and work things out from there if there was really a problem. Brian conveyed this to the driver, and slowly started to figure out that the hotel had not burned down; that wasn’t what the driver had been telling us after all. He’d only meant the hotel was likely to be full.

“Tenemos reservaciones,” I told him, confident enough to say that. And I still had some 'reservaciones' about this driver. We declined his offer to wait for us, in case the hotel was full, and headed along the pedestrian mall to the hotel.

When we got to our room, we got out our Spanish-English dictionary. The words for ‘flame’ and ‘full’ are rather similar. Brian had simply heard one when the driver had said the other. Having figured out that, we contemplated the sign in our room:

Sr. Pasajero:
Tome nota que su equipaje puede ser revisado cuando usted retira del hotel.
-La Gerencia

Did it mean they would search our bags when we went out? Or that we could check them at the desk when we checked out if we wanted to continue sight-seeing.

“I guess your interpretation depends on how paranoid you are,” Brian said. He went to take a shower, while I turned on the TV. I heard the water start to run, and then he came back into the room.

“I’m watching Argentine cartoons,” I told him.

“This is important.”

“There’s a guy in a turban. I think he’s the bad guy.”

“No, listen. ‘C’ stands for ‘caliente,’ not ‘cold.’”

Very important indeed.


Later on we checked to see if the water drained the wrong way in the Southern Hemisphere. The toilet didn’t seem like a good way to tell, and we couldn’t quite see which way the water was funneling down the drain in the sink, so I spit in some toothpaste while I was brushing my teeth. It swirled counter-clockwise down the drain.

When I first brushed my teeth after returning home, I watched the water swirl down the drain. Counter-clockwise. I did some research with my most trusted source for random information. It turns out, the water should have drained clockwise when we were in Argentina, but that we needed to let the water rest for a long time before we would see the effect.


So what did we actually see in Argentina? It’s amazing what one can pack into two days. We started out wandering along Florida Street, a pedestrian mall of shops, to the Plaza de Mayo.

One of the first things that we saw was tango dancers on the street, as we’d been promised.

Photo of tango dancers

They were amazing. Later, we saw a sign describing tango as “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire,” and that was the honest-to-goodness truth: watching tango is like watching people have sex standing up in public.

Plaza de Mayo was mostly empty, as it was the weekend. We saw the monument there to the revolution and independence of Argentina, and lots of graffiti. The Casa Rosada is there—the government building that houses the executive power (basically like our White House). That’s where you saw Madonna sing from the balcony in Evita.

Photo of La Plaza de Mayo

There is also an interesting cathedral lining the plaza. Outside of the cathedral we saw a camera crew and some trucks, which we’d also seen as we walked along Florida. We watched them for awhile and couldn’t figure out what they were doing.

From there we made our way toward Recoleta, to the cemetery that everyone told us we needed to see. It was the strangest cemetery I had ever seen. Outside there were musicians playing, and a sort of crafts fair was going on. There were more tango dancers. I had expected something a long the lines of Arlington Cemetery, with a series of graves and grave markers and the occasional larger memorial. But all of the tombs at Recoleta are above ground, and it looks like a small city.

Photo of tombs in el cementario recoleta

We peered into the tombs. Sometimes there was a casket right there. More often there was some sort of altar with a crucifix, and a steep, narrow staircase descending into the ground. We finally located Eva Perón’s tomb, where she is buried with her family (Juan Perón is in another cemetery across town), mostly by following the crowds.

Photo of Duarte family tomb

Photo of plaque for Evita

We awoke the next morning to the sound of rain. I dragged a very cranky Brian out in the wet, chilly morning, to look at old buildings, including el Teatro Colon (the opera house), and el Palacio del Congreso (the capitol building).

Photo of el Teatro Colon

Photo of el Palacio del Congreso

Finally Brian convinced me to stop in a café, where he ordered coffee and we had hot, fresh, delicious empanadas. We bought a newspaper, and I read that the camera crew outside the cathedral had been a Spike Lee crew filming some sort of commericial. By the time we were finished, it was still chilly, but the rain had stopped, and Brian had enough caffeine in him to make him a much happier sight-seeing companion.

The highlight of that second day was the San Telmo market. Much like Washington’s Eastern Market, the Mercado San Telmo is in an enclosed area, where there are produce stands and stands to buy meat, cheese, eggs, and bread. But there are also antiques booths, with people selling delicate-looking old toys, old-fashioned cameras, and gaudy jewelry. Outside the market, other people set up booths to sell crafts and other goods.

Photo of the outside of El Mercado San Telmo

Photo of a produce stand

Photo of meat

We went from San Telmo to Caminito in La Boca. Caminito, which is named after a tango song, is a very touristy, pedestrian strip down near the waterfront. The buildings are painted bright colors.

Photo of Caminito

Photo of Caminito

I had read that it wasn’t really safe to wander off the main streets in La Boca, but I found it interesting how poor the neighborhood surrounding Caminito was. There was a soccer game about to start in the stadium nearby, and the streets near Caminito were filled with people dressed in blue and yellow, many of them wrapped in their team’s flag, as they walked to the game.

People were obsessed with soccer. On our way back to our downtown hotel, we passed a bus stop that was outside a café. As we approached, we noticed half a dozen men with their faces pressed up against the glass. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing at first, but then we saw that the game had started and was being shown on television in the café. The men were watching it intently.

That game (or maybe another) was on the radio on the bus I took to the airport later that night. The three other passengers on the bus gathered up front near the driver, listening to the game. I let my mind wander as I watched the city float by the window in the darkness. The announcer spoke too rapidly for me to understand anything except his call of “¡GOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLL!” when someone scored.