Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The 17th Street High Heel Race

Update: 2007 race info on my homepage.

The 17th Street High Heel Race (also known as the Drag Race) is too easily missed on a rainy October night. Located outside of JR's, a popular gay hangout, this pre-Halloween event invites locals to strut their stuff in elaborate Halloween drag.

17th Street High Heel Race
For about an hour before the event, the eclectic participants sashay up and down 17th Street in a disorganized parade, some complete with entourages and musical accompanyment.

17th Street High Heel Race
And yes, there is a race. Although making a hundred drag queens do anything on time is nearly impossible, the whole event ends suddenly as an explosion of sequins of color sprints across a finish line. The race lasts less then a minute, and then the crowd of spectators spills from the sidewalk into local bars, most of which host a party to celebrate the event.

This annual High Heel Race is not to be missed. (Of course, it happened yesterday, so you'll have to hold out until 2006 if you didn't make it.) Come early for the parade -- and to secure a spot on the sidewalk. "Trampled by drag queens dressed as Dallas Cowboys" is (probably) not a fitting way to end your life.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Modern Art in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Red Horse (sculpture) by Alexander Calder
I scarcely remember my parents taking me to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. After recently going there I now understand why my childhood visit was unmemorable. Modern sculptures are strewn across the garden like a tornado dropped a giant trash heap onto an ornate garden.

Four-Sided Pyramid (sculpture) by Sol LeWitt
Yes, I am unsympathetic to the legions of starving artists who invent these monumental eye-sores, but not without reason.I have a theory that modern artists are successful only insofar as they can rationalize why their "art" is indeed art. Of course anybody can weld irregular pieces of steel together, but it takes a creative huckster to explain how those pieces of steel represent the "brutal modern element" -- and do it convincingly. In other words, the skill is not the art itself, but the persuasive rationalization of the art.

Stele II (sculpture) by Ellsworth Kelly
There was one piece in particular that I found insultingly drab. Its title is Stele II, by Ellsworth Kelly. It is supposedly based on a French kilometer marker, and named for a type of commemorative stone monument used during ancient times. And it is, without exaggeration, a twelve foot high and one-inch thick piece of weathered steel. That's it. Again, I maintain that it took more time to defend this as "art" than it did to construct it.

Nevertheless, the more I think about it, the more I understand it. Truly it is easier to work with a blank slate, which is what Stele II really is -- an unassuming steel canvas. The dark-gray abyss pulls me in, and my imagination with it. It compels me to ascribe meaning to it, independent from the artist's intended meaning. Does it represent the cultural emptiness and subordination felt by Vichy France? Or does it represent the postmodern nihilism France engendered following WWII? Who knows? It is simply compelling to play an active role in its interpretation.

Moondog (sculpture) by Tony Smith
In the end, modern art is what its audience makes it. It is so entirely subjective that it is impossible to wholly condemn it.

Untitled sculpture by Joel Shapiro
But some of it is just rubbish.

Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County

Wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County, Virginia
According to its website, Huntley Meadows Park "is a rich, natural island in the suburban sea of Northern Virginia." Truer words are rarely written. Down Route 1, among ever-present strip malls and asphalt sprawl lies an incongruous oasis of natural splendor. Be sure to visit the interpretive center to better understand the ecological and historical value of the park.

Hiking along the trails at Huntley Meadows is quite effortless -- too easy, we thought at first, but the copious flora and fauna provide ample distraction. A flat, wooded trail turns into a raised boardwalk overlooking a vast, cattail-laden wetland. Here's a shortened list of the animals we saw:

A dozen turtles.
One snapping turtle.
Two deer.
Dozens of swifts.
A dozen or so Canadian Geese.
Several preying mantises.
Dozens of woolly caterpillars.
Several large spiders.

Turtles sunning in a wetland

It may be misanthropic to say, but the most irritating parts of this park are its human visitors. The unchallenging trails lend themselves to a particular demographic: frustratingly slow elderly people and loud, obnoxious children.

Oh well, for the more adventurous there is an "informal trail." While not necessarily more challenging than the other trails, the term "informal" seems to fend off the noisy and slow-moving.


Although we were initially disappointed by the less wild elements at Huntley Meadows -- short, flat trails, families with strollers, and screaming children scaring off the wildlife -- it was ultimately difficult to drag ourselves out of the solitude and peace we found along the "informal trail".

Tree and vines in the forest

Leaving Huntley Meadows, our only regret was that we'd made such early dinner plans -- to which we were unremorsefully late.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Revisiting Cafe Asia ... in Arlington

Sushi army at Cafe Asia in Arlington
I had neglected to visit Cafe Asia's Arlington location before this past Saturday. Compared to the downtown DC location, this restaurant has a larger but friendlier interior, expansive bar seating, and an even better happy hour.

Having a somewhat early Saturday dinner at 6PM -- well within the 4:30-7:30 happy hour window -- we had dinner for two for $18. ($24 after leaving a nice enough tip.) This included six pieces of nigiri sushi, two appetizers, and four decent beers (Samuel Adams Octoberfest).

The bar at Cafe Asia in Arlington
Sitting down at the bar and asking about the happy hour specials, the bartender told us he had $1 pieces of nigiri sushi, half price drafts, and half price appetizers. "And half price sake, right?" Yes. Sometimes, it pays to know more about the specials than the staff.

Cafe Asia in Arlington is on Wilson Boulevard, an easy walk from the Court House Metro and a doable jog from the Rosslyn station. This is one of the best $1 sushi happy hours around, so check it out and you'll be amazed how cheap you can eat on a Saturday (and Monday through Friday, too).

Karaoke: the Phenomenon and the Mystique

Rocking out at Rock It Grill
Karaoke has always been an underground phenomenon in America. Unlike the Japanese, who've made karaoke a national pastime, many Americans publicly mock it as a garish time-waster. Nonetheless, you can find a karaoke bar or two (or twenty) anywhere.

The participants are a diverse crowd of all cultures, ethnicities, and ages. Karaoke's common ground lies in both its participatory and voyeuristic nature. People come to sing, listen, dance, playfully ridicule, and just enjoy. It cuts across the boundaries of culture and taste.

Singing Sinatra at Rock It Grill
Alexandria's own Rock It Grill and Crystal City's Freddy's Beach Bar are likely Northern Virginia's most kicking karaoke bars. On almost any given night you'll hear a mesmeric mishmash of crooning, bellowing, serenading, caterwauling, harmonizing, and screeching -- all for your entertainment.

Remember, you don't have to sing to partake in the karaoke phenomenon (but drinking helps). Just cheer for the brave souls singing someone else's song ... in public. And maybe sing your own alcohol-induced rendition of Sinatra's "Mack the Knife" for all your fans!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Finding Peace at the Navy Memorial

the Navy Memorial
The Navy Memorial encircles visitors in a peaceful fountain, making it a great place to relax midday to calming white noise.

Detail of Navy assisting NASA in the Navy Memorial
Enthusiastic super-tourists can also enjoy this attraction without a moment's rest. The Memorial features a 100-foot diameter map of the world and artwork depicting naval history along its perimeter. The Memorial is directly is across the street from the National Archives and a short distance from the FBI building.

Happy Hour at Cafe Asia

Sci-fi modern decor at Cafe Asia
Cafe Asia's interior is too modern to be comfortable and too hip to be boring. It faintly reminds me of the sterile, sci-fi setting of THX 1138. But not in a bad way.

Happy hour at Cafe Asia offers $2 drafts, half price sake, and $1 per peice nigiri sushi from 4:30 - 7:30, Monday through Saturday. But don't overdo it -- drink too much and you're likely to fall off the stylish white cylinder you're perched on in the dining area.

Monday, October 03, 2005

International Grocery Adventure

fun asian candy jars
Gigantic international grocery stores abound in Northern Virginia, from Fairfax to Annandale to Falls Church to Woodbridge. Frozen empanadas, sake, kimchi, exotic deserts, cheap produce, and fresh herbs are all available in unfamiliar packaging and often at low prices.

Hello Kitty Pocky
Besides being fun, cheap, and exciting, many of these enormous grocery stores have their own authentic restaurants built-in, where you can often get fresh sushi, pho noodle soup, rice pastries, frozen smoothie drinks, and other tasty treats to eat while you're grocery shopping.

Frozen mysteries at the asian grocery store
Although trying new products can be hit or miss, brave souls can pick up fresh frozen seafood at very low prices in these markets. Seriously, you should see my freezer -- it's like an ice age in Fiji, and we're eating well.

So if you really want a grocery adventure, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's won't cut it. Go straight to the source and keep at it. Don't forget, this is America, and at least most of this stuff won't kill you.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Maryland Renaissance Festival

Fantasy leather mask at the Renaissance Festival
If you have a car and an imagination, there's no good reason to skip the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which is among the largest and most established in the country.

Although the $17 entrance fee keeps some people away, you can't get much better entertainment for your money. Mostly intended to appeal to the masses (kids included), there are musicians, contortionist, swords swallowers, dancers, jousters, and plays to enjoy nonstop on multiple stages from 10AM and 7PM. In addition to formal entertainment, there are artisans all over selling fascinating crafts (such as the leather fantasy mask above), actors strolling around in costume as Henry VIII and his court, and the endless entertainment of the rennfest subculture in their own element.

I dig the entertainment, but some people claim they go just for the food. Of course, what's a Renaissance festival without meat on a stick? People walk around eating turkey legs, "Steak on a Stake", cheesecake on a stick, pork chops on a stick, and who knows what else. We went for some delicious fish and chips, fried pickles, salmon croquettes, cookies & milk, garlic potatoes, and a mushroom sandwich. And we exercising some serious restraint -- there are carbs around every corner, waiting to get you.

No Tech Pinball
Both kid-free grownups and families can find more to do at the rennfest than time allows. There are unusual and anachronistic games everywhere, including "Drench the Wench" and this no-tech pinball game, pictured above. Whole families can be seen walking around in costume, so this is a nice place to warm your kids up for Halloween. (But no, you really don't have to wear a costume.)

So ... is the Renaissance Festival fun? Yes.
Inexpensive? Moderately.
Worth a trip? Definitely.
Ending in just a few short weeks? Absolutely.

So check it out while you still can, and you won't be disappointed.
read more
July 2005 »
August 2005 »
September 2005 »
October 2005 »
November 2005 »
December 2005 »
April 2006 »
May 2006 »
July 2006 »
August 2006 »
October 2006 »
November 2006 »
January 2007 »
March 2007 »
May 2007 »
June 2007 »
October 2007 »

Homepage: Small Picture DC »


Powered by Blogger
Sitemeter since July 21, 2006