Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Take aerial pictures of the Mall from a kite

LOCATION: National Mall (or any good kite-flying spot) TIME: Of your life! EQUIPMENT: Camera, kite, camera frame and suspension rig

Make is a new magazine by O'Reilly Publishers that details all kinds of geeky projects. This one shows you how to rig up a camera to hang from a kite-line so that you can take aerial photographs. An excellent adventure for the spring.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Another kind of Nirvana

LOCATION: Nirvana Restaurant, 1833 K St. TIME: "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." - Douglas Adams EQUIPMENT: Healthy appetite, and $9.95 plus tax & tip

This is my new favorite place for lunch in the area. They serve a vegetarian buffet, with regional specialties from different parts of India depending on the day of the week. (So far I've tried Wednesdays - from Gujarat - and Fridays - from Rajasthan.) The food is delicious, and quite different from standard Americanized-Indian restarant slop.

The hostess - she's the owner, or the owner's wife, or the main chef - is outstandingly proud of their home cooking and regional authenticity, and hovers over the buffet, answering questions about the food. We praised an appetizer consisting of hard-to-identify little nuggets on Rajasthan day, and her cheeks glowed with a mother's fire. "They're made of chickpea flour, and wheat flour, and rice, and cabbages, and spices," she said. On Gujarat day, however, we requested naan, and her eyebrows swiftly drew together. "Naan is not a bread eaten in Gujarat, also not strictly vegetarian - has eggs," she explained (forgivingly: we were ignorant, but at least we wanted to improve ourselves). "In Gujarat they eat little puffy breads, you can see in the buffet. Regional distinction is everything is very tiny and delicate - cute food. Of course maybe they eat thirty of those little breads. But each one has to be cute."

And if you have to wait for a table, there's a couch with a selection of Indian newsmagazines, allowing you to discover that Indian political cartoons are totally adorable.

The Fortunate Isles

A few million silvery fish children swim
Across his belly. He gasps. I'll have to wash
It off my sheets. We hook our limbs
And rock, and sigh. If he got me pregnant then
Perhaps I'd kill it. I haven't ever had to make
A real decision - on, oh God, so many things.
Are all those choices still curled away
Like the seeds in my belly, most never to be born?

My life is like an old map of the Ocean Sphere
With curly maelstroms of foam,
And gothic script to label the unknown:
Dragons, five-headed men, Leviathan who could snap
Your ship with one shrug for his toothpick,
And even Earthly Paradise toward the antipodes
(Though perhaps just the mapmaker's
Merry whiskey dream...)
I wait in the sphere of his arms.
We smell of morning bed: sleep and sweat and crotch.

Or perhaps my life is like waiting to catch a wave:
They pull and roll on past and leave you behind,
Until finally the fortunate foam grabs you,
You're lost in the rush of its flying fizz and then,
Crash - it dumps you home.
Seneca said,
"There will come an age in some distant future
When the Ocean shall loosen its shackles
And the earth shall lie wide open.
And Typhis shall discover a new world.
And no longer shall there be an end to the earth."

One more day swells inside us and around us.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Wake up

I sometimes have ominous dreams of apocalypse. The world is going to end - for various reasons - and I'm on a desperate mission to save it. There's a jar of magical uranium on a shelf ten miles away, and if it falls and breaks, the universe will explode, and people's eyeballs will drip down their cheeks like tears. Or my dear friend is in grave danger, trapped in a cave underground, and I've got to rescue her before she suffocates. Or I myself am fighting to defend my family's home, waving my sword against three fierce onlookers who want to chop us into soup-sized pieces.

Usually the rescue attempt never quite succeeds. I arrive just in time to see the uranium jar topple, in slow motion, far away across the room, or I dig down into the cave only to find my friend already dead, or the warrior I'm fighting hacks my arm off, and then they all surround me. In the moment just before kinetic disaster descends, there's a moment of stillness and swirling, overwhelming horror. My heart thumps, my mind races in terrified denial: Oh shit I'm going to die this is real in just a few seconds there will be nothing, nothing at all if only I'd - oh I made so many mistakes I could have avoided this - oh God it's too late it's too late - and then I wake up. It's usually not with a scream but with a gentle gasp.

These sound like nightmarish dreams, but the mornings that follow them are wonderful. I can't describe the sense of blissful oceanic relief that follows the dawning realization that it was just a dream. It wasn't true! The world remains! My friend is not a worm ridden corpse, she's well and happy and probably eating her breakfast right now! My left arm is still attached to my body - I can wiggle it and feel my fingers - and I'm alive, alive, alive. On the days that follow these terrible dreams, colours are brighter, tastes are sweeter, everything in the world is more vivid and precious, and the sense of wondrous, shocking gratitude never quite leaves me.

Occasionally, when I have these dreams, they become lucid. That is, I'll realize I'm dreaming, even though I don't wake up. When that happens, they instantly lose their dread, and become interesting movies. Ah, I'll think to myself, even as I frantically dodge and dance during the swordfight, that's not actually my left arm lying there severed on the ground, pumping blood. This is just a dream! I can wake up whenever I want. But I think I'd like to see what happens next.

The last stage of the yogic journey is samadhi, or enlightenment, after which you acknowledge that everything in the world is simply maya, or illusion, and you recognize Atman, or the universal spirit, in all things. I wonder if it's anything like that: waking up from an unhappy dream.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Watch Short Cut to Nirvana

What: "SHORT CUT TO NIRVANA"... a pilgrimage to the Kumbh Mela
Where: E St. Landmark Cinema in Washington DC
When: Opens on March 11th for two days (unless you bring the crowds…)
11th and E Streets NW

Who: Filmmaker Maurizio Benazzo will be present for Q&A’s on most weekend shows

Watch the trailer at:

An exhilarating, insightful, uplifting and often hilarious journey of discovery
to the biggest event in History - the Kumbh Mela. Held every 12 years where the
holy Ganges and Yamuna meet, this incredible festival brings together 70
million pilgrims and many of India's great spiritual leaders, including the
Dalai Lama.

Daily: 2:15, 4:40*, 7:10* and 9:20* on Friday and Saturday.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Behave yourself at house parties

LOCATION: Your generous friend's home EQUIPMENT: Yourself, helpful attitude NOT OPTIONAL: Offering

I guess it's a bit of a cultural difference, or - well, I'm not really sure. When I was growing up, my mum was always having dinner parties. There's not a better place in the world for good conversation than in someone's home over a delicious meal. So, having grown up with this delightful ritual, I pretty much had it drilled into my head early on: YOU DON'T SHOW UP AT PEOPLE'S HOMES FOR PARTIES EMPTY-HANDED!!! Perhaps you are coming straight from your whaling boat where you've spent the past three years in an epic fruitless quest for a malevolent white whale, and you haven't even had a chance to clean the harpoon stashed in your backpack, which is crusted with ooky bits of whale intestine. You still stop off at the corner store and get SOMETHING.

Apparently, this little bit of wisdom hasn't reached DC. My beautiful friend Jaiva threw a big party at her house last weekend, with an 80s theme. When I arrived around 11pm, the party was in full swing, Jaiva had set up projectors to beam movies and PacMan animations against the wall, and the sound of people chattering was loud enough to drown out the music. Yep, everyone was having fun.

Except Jaiva.

She's an awesomely laid back California girl, so by neurotic DC standards her expression wasn't anything to remark upon, but I could tell she wasn't a happy camper. "I think we're going to run out of alcohol pretty soon," she said. "People just haven't been bringing much."

While we were discussing the alcohol problem, a guest came up and tugged on her sleeve. "Uh, the toilet's broken. You've got to come look at it."
"It's probably just stuck or something," Jaiva said distractedly. "Did you play around with it?"

"Nah, I don't know, you have to look at it."

So Jaiva ran upstairs and flushed the toilet for her guest. Then she moved a potted plant from a corner after someone knocked it over. Then she tried to fix the sound system, which wasn't playing music loud enough. Then she did five other things that I didn't notice.

For heaven's sake! As anyone who has thrown a good house party knows, it is a LOT of work: the set up, the hostessing, the real-time troubleshooting, and, most of all, the cleanup of the drunken mess the next day. I used to live in the basement of an art gallery last summer, where I'd throw some parties just by myself, and I've had some mornings where the combination of the sordid mess, the piles of stinking beer bottles, and the incredible contrast - from the jovial crowd just a few hours ago, to the lonely, squalid pigsty that it was my job to tackle all by myself - set me off into pathetic little fits of hysterical, self-pitying tears.

And yet, house parties are infinitely better than bars. You meet so many more people, so much more easily, and they are usually much nicer and more interesting than the average bar denizen. It's much cheaper (even if you include the cost of your MANDATORY OFFERING). And you have all the comforts of a home: couches to sit on, comfy bathrooms, even bookshelves to raid if you're feeling overwhelmed by the crowd and want to take a fifteen minute breather for a drunken reading of some Eliot poetry.

The host of a house party knows this. They want you to have a rockin' good time, and they want you to meet cool people, otherwise they wouldn't have invested so much effort in providing you the opportunity for it. And there are wonderful benefits to being a host. It's fun to share your home and offer people hospitality. It makes you smug when people praise you for your crazy parties.

Deciding to throw a party is a cost-benefit analysis: you weigh the fun from the party and the glory of hosting against the pain of the cash, time, and energy it takes to throw it well. People assign different weights to the equation, naturally, and if you happen to have someone in your group of friends who tilts towards hosting - for heaven's sake, treat them well! As a prospective host, your decision on whether to throw the next party is based on your experience of how painful the previous ones were. If you take advantage of your generous friends and friends-of-friends, nobody's going to be willing to throw house parties, and then everyone is going to have to hang out at noisy bars, sulking and feeling bitter about their $7 martinis and the fact that they can't hear anyone else speak, and it's a half-hour wait just to get the bartender to notice you.

This has turned into a rant, and I'm sorry for that, but I've just got to say: I love my friends, and I love having dinner parties for them, but when people don't let me know if they're coming, or they say they might and then flake out and never let me know, or nobody brings anything and I worry that I'm going to run out of food and wine - it really sucks, and it stresses me out.

There's another kind of party - and I've had these as well - where there's something in the air, and all your guests are good. They let you know they're coming, and then they come, and they bring so many drinks that you end the evening with more alcohol than when you started, and they spontaneously help to clean up, and, if it's a dinner party, some of them do the dishes; and if the toilet breaks, they spend a bit of time figuring out how they could fix it without having to bother you. When that kind of party happens, even if your house is still trashed at the end, you don't mind, and you clean it up in a happy daze, because you feel that your efforts were appreciated, and you don't feel like you were taken advantage of. And then you start planning the next party right away.

But if you have too many of the bad kind of party, you start to get bitter. And then your acquaintances hail you in the street and call, "Zoe, when's your next party? Soon, right? I just love your parties!" and you make a lemon face and think to yourself, "Yeah, you just love showing up at my door empty handed and drinking all my booze and eating all the fruit in my fruit bowl and breaking stuff and hiding it so you don't have to confess, and then stumbling home leaving me with all the mess. That must be really great for you."

So here's to spreading the house party love, and facilitating each others' hosting efforts, and to a DC where everyone is willing to invite people over to their homes, and we spend many more evenings enjoying each others' company by candlelight over a home-cooked meal, or dancing with friends in somebody's living room, and the hosts never, ever regret it the next day.