Friday, July 09, 2004

DINING: D.C. Democratic Foodies Complaining About Restaurant Week Timing

I've heard that many Democrats in the city are less than pleased over the timing of this summer's Restaurant Week. The week of reduced-price lunch and dinner offerings at some of the city's best restaurants has been scheduled for the week of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Restaurant Week is the time when cost-mindful foodies run from restaurant to restaurant, sampling what chefs around town can throw together on a reduced budget.

The eGullet food forum's "frogprince" says: "[A]s a member of the industry, i realize the inherent difficulty in charging 20 or 30 bucks for a three course meal and still serving quality and beauty; good things cost more money; pristine ingredients and preparation demand pecuniary provisions that can stretch into the stratosphere."

And that is a regular complaint about restaurant week. Some restaurants go all out, others could really care less. And to the wait staffs, Restaurant Week means a overworked week of low tips, which can often reflect in courtesy and service.


The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is predicitng budget shortfalls for the next two years, The Washington Post reports this morning. But some on Metro's board, including D.C. City Councilman David Catania vow to fight any push for additional fare hikes. The new strategy may be to go after local governments to cough up more cash to keep the regional transportation system up and running.

"Metro Expects More Deficits" [The Washington Post]

Thursday, July 08, 2004

DRINKING: Choose DC-9's Canned Beer Offering (And PBR Is Not on the List)

The Ninth Street Northwest bar/club DC-9 is advertising a contest to determine what canned beer the establishment will offer. And they want you to help choose it.

The hipster beer of choice, Pabst Blue Ribbon is not on the list you can choose from. Perhaps it is too cool. But here are the possible cans that could show up at the new eastern U Street corridor/Westminster nightspot:

Keystone Light
Iron City
Natural Light
Miller High Life

As of Thursday afternoon, it appears that it is a battle between Schlitz and Iron City for the top prize.

If it comes down to one of those two, I know of one New York Times reporter and a Capitol Hill staffer -- both Schlitz and Iron City aficionados -- who will make an evening of drinking the bar out of its shabby-chic beer selection. In fact, the duo and their cohorts have done this at the Brickskeller in the Oculus' presence. And they have done it during other pub crawls. The Brickskeller crew is always pleased with their beer-can pyramid constructions but it is unclear whether DC-9 will appreciate their beer-drinking endeavors. The Oculus challenges them to try nonetheless.

DINING: Mayor Williams at Lauriol Plaza? Sietsema Is Shell-shocked

In The Washington Post's "Ask Tom" chat on Wednesday, food critic Tom Sietsema was shocked when he was told that D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams was spotted in Lauriol Plaza, the uber-popular 18th Street pan-Latin American restaurant known for its tetchy host staff, tortilla chips, overpriced bulk margaritas, long waits and strict no-seating-until-your-entire-party-has-arrived-or-lose-your-table policy. Newcomers to Washington love Lauriol Plaza and though the Oculus dislikes the restaurant's captive audience marketing scheme, they make good ceviche.

From The Washington Post's "Ask Tom" chat:
Washington, D.C.: Well, we now know that Mayor Williams has poor taste in restaurants and could really use your recommendations -- he was spotted at Lauriol Plaza last night?? What is next, the Cheesecake Factory?

Tom Sietsema: I recall that shortly after 9/11, in a display that the city was safe again, the mayor and the President dined together -- at Morton's of Chicago, a chain restaurant.

Tony, how COULD you?

(To my knowledge, President Bush does not enjoy dining out in the capital city. From what I recall, he's dined at Cactus Cantina with the first lady. Cactus Cantina is Lauriol's sister restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue in Cathedral Heights, which is coincidentally one of Monica Lewinsky's favorite dining spots in Washington. Additionally, the president has been out to that strip-mall Chinese restaurant in Arlington that the Bush family has enjoyed for years.)

"Ask Tom" []
Lauriol Plaza
Cactus Cantina

... In Other Restaurant News.
According to Sietsema's "Weekly Dish", restauranteur Giles Becker says he isn't intending for his new venture, Aria, to compete with the "Toscas and Galileos in town." He says his aim is to be the "neighborhood restaurant" for the 17,000 federal workers in and around the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Reagan Building was home to Michael Jordan's now-defunct restaurant, as well as the late Palomino. So Becker offers an antipasti bar at moderate prices. Sietsema says that "[i]f the prices are modest, so is the cooking, at least for the moment." The restauranteur says that he is searching for the right chef to ramp-up Aria's food.

"Weekly Dish" [The Washington Post]

CONSTITUENTS: What Exactly Is 'Escalator Goo'?

Ever since I've come back from vacation, for some reason I have become more tolerant of tourists standing on the left side of Metrorail escalators. When they're in a large group and parting the waters would require more than four "excuse me"s within eight escalator steps, I've let them go, sucked it up and just stood there.

So I found it interesting standing all the way down the long escalators at the Woodley Park metro station Wednesday morning observing a group of visitors on their way down to the mezzanine.

"Hon-ne, I've got some escalator goo," a middle-aged woman declared.

"What, Mary?"

Escalator goo? I know that Metro escalators can emit odd mechanical odors, and perhaps cry out an occasional squeal, but I didn't know that so-called "escalator goo" could come from the handrail.

She lifted up her hand, and sure enough, she was brushing off a sticky material off her left hand and wrist. I was perplexed. She brushed her hand on her shorts.

She got to the bottom, and she stopped to figure out what went on.

What was the escalator goo? It was a Sunny Delight, which she had in her left hand. (She was leaning the left side of her body on the handrail to maintain balance.)

"Oh never mind. It's just Sunny D! My hand smells like OJ!"

Laughter ensues and everyone went on their way. Crisis averted.

IN THE NEWS: Gov.'s Plane Nearly Shot Down, D.C. City Hall Evacuated, Snakehead Lover Revolt

. . . Close Call for Fletcher. The Washington Post reports that the plane of Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) was nearly shot down last month when it violated secure airspace above the capital on its way to National Airport before the body of the late President Ronald Reagan was to land in the area.

From The Washington Post's Spencer S. Hsu:
Although many planes have violated restrictions imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the June 9 episode was extraordinary because the aircraft penetrated so deeply into the no-fly zone during a high-security event and remained unidentified to air defense officials for several critical minutes. Current and former homeland security officials said the incident was a significant security breakdown.

"Plane That Caused Capitol Evacuation Nearly Shot Down" [The Washington Post]

"Thousands Flee Capitol After Warning of Imminent Attack; Ky. Gov. to Blame" [Oculus]

. . . Speaking of Evacuations. The District's Wilson Building, home to Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. City Council, was evacuated during the afternoon rush hour Wednesday when authorities received word from the Albany Times-Union newspaper (of all places) that the building was being threatened. The mayor's spokesman tells WTOP radio and The Associated Press that "some harm would come at 3:30 p.m."

The building was promptly evacuated, bomb squads swept the building and an clear was declared.

"D.C. City Hall Evacuation Over" [WTOP/AP]

. . . Snakehead Defenders Raise Their Voices. Facing the possibility of becoming the owners of a banned marine species, snakehead owners in Maryland are making their positions clear on what some would call throwing the baby out with the bath water. According to The Washington Post's Darragh Johnson, "Protesters and speakers in Annapolis yesterday were asking that pet owners who have snakeheads 'be grandfathered in, and that's one thing we will be looking at,'" said a spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources Fishery Services.

"Fish's Fans Ask, What's Not to Love?" [The Washington Post]

... Briefly Noted.
General Electric has donated GE filtered water pitchers to reduce lead in the D.C. drinking water. [WRC-NBC4/AP]
Two embattled officials in the District of Columbia government -- the D.C. health department manager and Mayor Anthony Williams' chief of staff -- have left their respective posts. [The Washington Post]

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

COMMUTING: The 30s — The Crucial Guide to a Critical (Condition) Bus Line

I’m not sure what I did to anger an older homeless woman Tuesday morning. But sure enough, I did something beyond standing at the bus stop reading the paper, to get “You mutta-f***ing creep” verbally hailed at me.

But such things happen on the 30-series buses. It’s Washington’s version of the F train. Throw a mass of humanity together on a slower-than-molasses public transit line and you get conflict, general annoyance and inefficiency. Despite being easy to fault, the 30s — also known as the Pennsylvania Avenue line — is a critical District bus line (running from the inland highlands of Anacostia, clear across town through Georgetown and up Wisconsin Avenue to Friendship Heights) that has high ridership.

Critical Identifiers. The 30s are technically five separate bus lines (30, 32, 34, 35, 36) that run from its western terminal at Friendship Heights. The 30 bus stops at Archives and the rest go to various terminals across the Anacostia River. The 30s, like the 42/Mount Pleasant Line, can be easily identified because they often travel in twos and threes and one-time, I saw four 30s in a row. This is not by choice, but by chance. The 30 buses perfect the accidental art of bus leap-frogging.

The 30s can be incredibly slow since they must pass hundreds of stops, roughly one block apart, going across town through some of the District’s most congested traffic corridors. One will catch up with another. Then when one is stopped to pick-up and drop-off passengers, the other will pass it. Then a few blocks later, the roles are reversed. This awkward dual slalom — involving large multi-ton buses — is a pure symbolic representation of transit inefficiency, a callback to the days when 30-series streetcars would get bunched up on their crosstown routes. (Most of the numbered Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus lines are all that remains of the former numbered Capital Transit streetcar network, dismantled in the late 1950s and early ’60s.)

Another interesting aspect of the 30s is the Wisconsin Avenue Bus Rally. This is when at least three 30s are lined up in a row after breaking out of Georgetown on their way to the Friendship Heights terminal. Once they clear Macomb Street, the 30s will sometimes race each other between Newark and Van Ness streets, where they can pick up considerable speed. Other out-of-service buses on their way to the Jenifer Street Western Division bus garage will sometimes join, creating a group of five buses, hauling ass uptown. While this may not be intentional, I don’t blame the drivers, who are probably off schedule and stressed out after coming through Georgetown, letting off steam by participating in such road rallies.

Colorful Characters. While any bus line can attract its colorful characters, the Pennsylvania Avenue Line provides an extra special environment to experience humanity. My most favorite experience is from February 2002 after the big blizzard, when a quirky Glover Park personality boarded the extremely overcrowded bus and started singing a McDonald’s ad jingle about their premium salads (“I want a salad, with lots of stuff, just plain lettuce is never enough …”). The 30s run slow enough, but with slushy snow drifts, clogged traffic and hot crowded quarters, the 45-minute bus journey to Foggy Bottom with an oddball singing a fast food salad jingle seemed like an eternity.

Bus drivers, like mental ward orderlies, can have a difficult time dealing with unruly passengers. Once this past spring, I was riding on a 34 bus near the National Cathedral when one man started yelling gibberish, complaining that a woman across the way was laughing at him. When his protests became too much for the bus driver to handle, she pulled off to the side of the avenue, and went back to knock some sense into him.

“Nobody’s laughing at you,” she said. “Where are you going? Those big towers near Naylor Road?”

“She’s talking about me,” the man said, pointing to a twenty-something across the aisle.

“She’s not talking about you, she’s not doing anything to you,” the bus driver said, pointing at the woman in question. (The woman looked as if she were surprised, but perhaps a little too innocent.)

Everyone on the bus was of course had focused their attention on the incident, pretending to not actually be listening. (My strategy: I unfolded my newspaper and turned it at a 45-degree angle to watch.)

And then the woman in question, who had done her best to maintain composure, started to quietly snicker, confirming the man’s assertion. But he was not taken seriously, and eventually quieted down, occasionally muttering indiscernible protestations under his breath.

Making the 30s Better. WMATA has taken a good first step in improving the 30s: marketing them. I was pleasantly surprised to come across a brochure for 30s from the transit agency’s marketing department, saying how the 30s will get you where you want to go since it goes clear across town. While Georgetown’s “Blue Buses” are a good way to connect Georgetown-goers to various subway stations (a glorified shuttle bus … something more mentally soothing to those with bus-phobia), the 30s already serve a majority of the Blue Bus routes. And they go elsewhere across town, and are probably the best sightseeing bus line in the city (Eastern Market, the Capitol, the Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, White House, World Bank, Georgetown, National Cathedral).

Regardless if WMATA can successfully promote the 30s to attract more riders, there is one stumbling block: they’re slow. The main culprit is Wisconsin Avenue between R and M streets. The congested corridor, currently under construction for the Georgetown Project, can significantly reduce the efficiency of the line. Whether it is pedestrians in front of the Benetton, a car with New Jersey plates parked in a bus stop, or a rented limousine dropping off a Fairfax County socialite for ice cream at Thomas Sweet (I saw this on Saturday), the buses can get easily off schedule. Of course, the buses can run into similar problems on Capitol Hill, Anacostia or downtown, but it seems that the problem is particularly acute in Georgetown.

Residents of Burleith, Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, McLean Gardens and Tenleytown know full well of the problems they can encounter with the 30s. To avoid the frustration of getting stuck on their way downtown, some will go uptown to Tenleytown and then head back downtown on the Red Line.

In the District’s current plan to increase neighborhood interconnectivity by running light-rail lines through certain corridors, Wisconsin Avenue is left out. While the routes, if ever built, will extend as far west as Georgetown and Woodley Park, the corridor will have to continue to rely on the sometimes unreliable 30s. It might be smart to reconsider this corridor — between M Street and Tenleytown — as ridership would most likely be high and the need is already great.

One interim solution, that wouldn’t cost as much as reconfiguring city streets for light rail, would be to designate one line one the 30s as a limited-stop bus. For instance, the 30 bus between Friendship Heights and Archives, could have stops at Jenifer Street/Friendship Heights, Harrison Street, Albemarle Street/Tenleytown Station, Van Ness Street, Macomb Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Calvert Street, S Street, Q Street and then either continue with limited stops through Georgetown and into downtown. Or it could then run on a reconfigured route that would bring it to Dupont Circle and Farragut Square (via Q Street and Connecticut Avenue) and bring direct bus service between the upper Wisconsin corridor and the northern portions of the Central Business District. That bus could then charge an express rate. Slap up some novel “Wisconsin Express” signage in a flashy fluorescent color, or something similar, and the route would be very successful. Similar things could be done with other routes across the city, making the bus more accessible to all, don’t you think?

IN THE NEWS: Clinton's Big D.C. Book Signing, Slots and the Dulles Moon Rovers' Twilight Years

According to WTOP radio, hundreds of people have lined up in front of the downtown Barnes and Noble bookstore to get their copies of "My Life" signed by former President Clinton.

From WTOP:
Bundled in sleeping bags and sitting on chairs sipping hot coffee out of thermos and eating cold chicken, they've been waiting in line in D.C., some since 11 a.m. Tuesday for Wednesday's 4 p.m. signing at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on 12th Street, NW.

"Hundreds Line Up for Clinton Book Signing" [WTOP]

Gambling News. Supporters of bringing a slot machine mega center to the corner of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast got one step closer to their dream by acquiring the required number of signatures to put a measure authorizing slots on the November ballot.

From The Washington Times:
Circulators delivered the petitions to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics at about 4:15 p.m., saying they had collected more than 50,000 signatures since Thursday — nearly three times the 17,600 required.

... No word yet whether there will be rush hour or holiday weekend drive-thru slots for commuters stuck in traffic on New York Avenue ...

"Petitions for slots filed" [The Washington Times]

Moon Rovers to Remain at Dulles.And out at Dulles Airport, The Washington Post has an update on the international airport's efforts to expand and improve transportation around the facility. The biggest improvement expected by the end of the year are a set of moving walkways connecting the Eero Saarinen-designed main terminal with concourses A and B.

What does that mean? The moon rovers that transport passengers across the tarmac and runways will become secondary, but not eliminated.

Then in 2009, a new train network is supposed to be finished.

From The Washington Post:
By 2009, an automated, underground train system, similar to ones in the Atlanta and Denver airports, will provide another link between Dulles's main building and the far-off ones where flights begin and end. Those changes will relegate the mobile lounges to a secondary role, although airport officials said they will not disappear entirely.

"Halfway to the Future of Dulles Airport" [The Washington Post]

Monday, July 05, 2004

MUSEUMS: Gopnikesque Gelato Gluttony

The Washington Post's top art critic, Blake Gopnik, celebrates the assortment of flavors of gelato at the National Gallery of Art. Screw the art upstairs, Gopnik says the gelato is a must for any visitor.

And in true Gopnikesque fashion, exploring the qualities of the gelato offerings is just as stimulating as examining the techniques Titian used in the portrait of Ranuccio Farnese.

From The Washington Post's Blake Gopnik:
First, vanilla -- the primed "canvas," as it were, behind many works of frozen art. The National Gallery's version was much softer, smoother, more voluptuous than any American ice cream could be -- it had none of the hard edges of a Norman Rockwell-style scoop, or his excess of sweetness and fat.

"Warhol's Soup Cans? Bleh. Show Us the Gelato."
[The Washington Post]

JULY FOURTH: Rain Doesn't Cancel Fireworks, Encourages Drinking

While Sunday's intense rain cancelled the traditional grand parade on Constitution Avenue, things dried up enough for the fireworks to go off without a hitch last night. While thousands poured onto the Mall to take up prime viewing spots near the launching site, I was out near Fort Meyer, on the grounds of the Netherlands Carillon, which, along with the Iwo Jima memorial, provides an impressive vista of the city.

There were numerous parties on Meade Street, across from the memorials. There was even a giant beer pong table set up in front of one apartment complex, as if the approach to the Iwo Jima memorial was fraternity row in College Park. But the drinking and tailgating on Meade Street wasn't in preparation for a Hokie football game, it was to celebrate the nation's 228th birthday.

An overzealous Senate staff assistant on a unwarranted power trip yelled at partygoers to leave the premises to proceed to the fireworks a half hour in advance. Unfazed by the demands, we stayed to enjoy some more drinks. At 9:08, we walked through security and took a prime position with ease, as the first shots went up.

No Problems With Metro. I was pleasantly surprised as to how efficient the subway was last night. During large events, riding the subway can be equated to sending cattle to the stockyards. I even transferred at Metro Center twice with ease, and had seats on my entire journey.

But there was one Metro transit police officer at Metro Center on the Glenmont-bound platform who was yelling at passengers as if they were Marine inductees at Parris Island. That's not good for WMATA's cheery public image, especially for visitors to the city.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

JULY FOURTH: A Rainy Depressing Day

In case you haven't stepped outside, it has been raining all afternoon. The Constitution Avenue parade was cancelled. And yet, thousands of people are descending on the National Mall right now to stake out positions on wet grass to watch the fireworks, scheduled to fire off at 9:10 p.m.

Also, WMATA is operating special Metrorail service. The Yellow Line will terminate at Franconia-Springfield. The Blue Line will run from Rosslyn to Huntington, with only Orange Line trains servicing the I Street and 12th Street downtown subway line.

"Rain Dampens July 4 Celebrations" [The Washington Post]

TRAVEL LOG: Celebrating the Summer Solstice the Latvian Way

South of Kalamazoo, near the town of Three Rivers lies, nestled in the woods and lakes of southern Michigan, is a very interesting place. A summer encampment called Garezers, the decades-old cultural center where the Latvian language and culture was preserved during the Cold War.

John's Day, as in many European cultures, is tied to ancient pre-Christian solar celebrations. In the Latvian tradition, the men, dressed in highly-decorated gray overcoats, wear crowns of oak leaves (with one man, the "John," wearing the largest crown). The women, dressed in white shirts and colorful vests, wear floral crowns (here's a historical photo of some Latvian women in traditional costumes).

After a lot of dancing, a large bonfire is lit toward sundown and more singing, dancing and revelry follows late into the night.

Entering Another Country. The John's Day festivities last week Saturday were held at Garezers' outdoor amphitheatre, at the end of a dirt road that winds its way through thick woods. Putting on the John's Day festival is not a cheap undertaking; entrance was $12 per person.

As I drove in with my family, we saw a man sitting in a white plastic chair drinking a beer. It was 6 p.m. and the man, who must of been in his 60s, was already drunk. (The celebrations weren't scheduled to begin until 8 p.m.) After trying to ask him whether we were supposed to pay him or whether we could go on through, he mumbled something that he repeated and then verbally stumbled over again.

While the translation doesn't do the moment justice, he said something to the effect of: "I have no idea. I don't care if you go in."

After quickly trying to interpret his declaration, we decided to drive in. We took a position near the top of the amphitheatre's terraced steps. There were already two elderly women seated toward the top. At one point, they were discussing whether their grandchildren would show up. They had their doubts.

Where Old-Timers Meet Second-Generation and Newcomers. I never learned the Latvian language, though in some circumstances, I can generally understand words and phrases. But through ceremonies and events like John's Day, I have gotten to understand the Latvians' beautiful and artistic culture, reinforced with many rich traditions.

A place like Garezers brings together the varied elements of Latvian society in North America. It's where the older generation who remember the old country gathers with the second and third generations of Latvian-Americans, many who, like myself, only understand the culture in bits and pieces. Garezers is also a place that draws newcomers -- read "Russian-Latvians" -- those who grew up under Soviet control and bring to the North America a hybrid native culture. (The Latvian people hold only a slim majority to the Russians who were resettled in the Baltic states under Stalin's push to Russify the population.)

The fractures in the overall Latvian community can become strained. At recent John's Day festivals, the local sheriff has been called to break up drunken scuffles between newcomers and the established Latvians. This year, we left well before the time when the bulk of the newcomers, so I'm not sure if there was any drunken rough-housing.

Up in the corner were the summer campers, who looked like they might have stepped out of the nearest mall. Garezers hosts a camp where children can be introduced to the Latvian language and culture. Besides a few of the girls wearing floral crowns, there was no trace of their Latvian roots besides their fair skin.

The generation gap between the young and the old can often be the most difficult to adjust to. Last year, my grandfather was taken aback when a teenage girl in front of him sat down in a way where her stomach was showing and a jeweled thong was peeking out from her shorts. Certainly there weren't any young maidens fleeing the Red Army in 1940 with jeweled thongs.

There are only a few million Latvians in the world and the culture has been diluted after 50 years of Soviet occupation. Larger ethnic groups have easier time preserving the traditions. But for the Latvians, it is more difficult. Garezers is one of a handful of places in North America that provides a gathering point for the major traditions to be explored and revisited. But as the older Latvian generation continues to gray, it is inevitable that many of these traditions will be lost.

The Bunker. In February 2001, one of my cousins from Riga came to visit me in Ann Arbor. As his English wasn't all that great and my Latvian skills are piss-poor at best, I sought out Latvians our age who spoke the language. I came across a history classmate who happened to not only speak Latvian, but was also hosting a Latvian party at his house on campus that was to draw college-age Latvian speakers from across the Midwest.

My cousin's eyes bugged out when he stepped into the house's basement and found that it had been transformed into a World War II bunker, with battle maps, anti-Soviet slogans, and images of armed struggle scrawled onto the foundation. There was a drinking bench and a roll call of Latvian fraternity brothers and their nicknames (our names were added to the list).

Drinking is fundamentally important to the culture. Doing a round of cheers (pronounced "pree-air-ka") can take an eternity to complete because, as in many other cultures, failing to establish proper eye contact with everyone at the table is a key misstep.

World War II and Soviet occupation is still very much in the minds of the older generation. To the second and third generations, understanding the Cold War Latvian experience can get a little hazy, where war remembrance can be somewhat misunderstood or even become a novelty. This is probably why my cousin found it crazy that Latvian fraternity brothers were re-enacting a time period the Latvian nation has been trying to move past.

The Goats Are Shredding the Cabbage. Song and dance are very important to the continuation of Latvian traditions. At John's Day there were many circle dances performed by what I was told was a troupe from Chicago. The men and the women were divided and took their turns singing and dancing. The mug dance, for instance, is a highly interpretive sequence of men drinking with mugs and the women scolding them, all in a circle dance format.

We did a rough translation of one of the songs for which we were handed a song sheet. You can see that some of the lyrics make little sense. But as these are centuries-old tunes, their meanings, context and impact have been lost over time. Here is a quick sampling:

Men: Come to me young maiden
You will never experience hunger
In winter, I will let you crunch on ice
In summer, I will let you crunch on stones

Women: Boy, boy, I'm telling you
Go and wash your mouth
You will not get a wife
Until you wash your mouth


Men: Sleep, sleep young maiden
Your work is finished
The pig weeded your garden
And the goat was shredding the cabbage

And then for the conclusion, something a little more universal from the chorus:

Let's have peace, let's have peace
We are not enemies
We are all from the same country
Let's all live together in peace

For more information of Latvia, I encourage you to take a peek at the All About Latvia blog, which is probably the best English-language blog on current Latvian-related matters.

Also, for those who frequent the Pharmacy Bar on 18th Street, you may notice the Latvian newspapers on the wall. The bar is indeed a Latvian establishment.

TRAVEL LOG: A Week's Wrap-up

So I leave Washington for a week and everything seems to be going to hell.

First, I return to higher fares on for the bus and subway, but yet, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is facing intense criticism for running two-car trains after 10 p.m., rankling party-goers trying to make it out of the District via subway.

Second, snakeheads are a continuing menace.

Third, there are more pest control problems at the National Zoo. One zoo official tells The Washington Post that it will not be an "overnight change. ... We still have pockets [of infestation], but it's much better."

Anyhow, the Oculus is back in business. Expect more postings today and tomorrow.