Pondering My Existence In Two Languages

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Last night I found myself on the Southwest Waterfront of Washington D.C., right on the Potomac River. The neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and filled with shops, restaurants, and a music venue.

My coworker, who used to live and work around here, says she remembers when the Wharf wasn’t much of a place to hang out on a Wednesday night. But now it’s welcoming, fast paced, and vibrant.


Like, didn’t George Washington cross the Potomac? Well now I have too.

This just in….ol’ Jorge crossed the Delaware not the Potomac in that mas famoso painting. My bad. Thanks, Google. No thanks ABQ public schools.

So on a beautiful evening after a very long day at work, we headed over to a schmancy so-called designer Mexican place to eat. Now, as a New Mexican, anything called “designer Mexican” gets a hard side-eye from me, but I went along to get along, as they say. Plus, I was hungry.

It was a short walk and we got there early so I looked around, got a couple photos and then noticed this:


How great are those annotations, huh?

To answer a few questions: Those are two different restaurants. I don’t think this was a planned thing. No, they are not owned by the same people. Mi Vida is Mexican, with a “celebrity Chef” (I know, I know), La Vie is a Mediterranean restaurant.

(For a side road, this review of La Vie in the Washington Post worth the read for sheer snark: La Vie on the Wharf is so bad I’m only writing about it as a warning.)

So there I stood on the banks of the Potomac, in a place where I could feel the gentrification galloping by like wild horses, being imposed upon to ponder the nature of life. In two different languages. What course of events brought me to this place where two restaurants, one on top of the other, are called Life and My Life? What message are they trying to send?

Then I laughed. I shook my head. I took a photo.

In the words of the droll host of a favorite podcast:

“That’s so delightfully…stupid.”

My existential crisis didn’t last long. Soon we went to eat, snagging a table up in that balcony section toward the middle of the building. Lovely views. Decent food. Excellent night.

And the basis for a fair to middlin’ blog post, with photos to remind me of it all.

Boom. That’s life, baby.

Apropos of mostly nothing, my favorite rendition of “La Vie en Rose”

Photos ©2019 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




Two Decades Later

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The year was 1998. I was a young professional, new to California, and working for a big company. The big company had just merged with another big company and the employees of neither company seemed to be happy about it.

There was a lot of rabble rabble about how we needed to do a better job partnering. How we should act like one company. The leadership wanted to take two companies, each with their own very strong corporate culture, and smash them together fast.

Phone calls were had. Terse emails were exchanged. And then leadership had an idea, as leadership tends to do.

Each site from both companies (we each had a lot of locations) were tasked to send an employee to visit the new headquarters. We were going to have a “team building” event. (I use the scare quotes purposefully, as they convey more than my words could do)

Being young and dumb and not smart enough to move faster when leadership wants to force a volunteer, I was designated to travel to represent our site. In hindsight, sending someone so green was probably a good way to show HQ just how much our site wasn’t going to play ball. But fine, okay. I’m not bad at making friends and I like to travel, so load up!

Headquarters was located in Virginia, so this girl from the west was handed a plane ticket headed east. My travel plans worked out where I had a day there on my own, and my hotel was located right by a Metro station, so lo and behold, I found my way on board and took my first trip into Washington D.C.

Washington D.C., capitol of these United States, home to an overwhelming number of things I’d read about in history books in school. After a short Metro ride, I found myself on the National Mall with eyes wide and a full day head.

The Ken Starr report had just been released, so there was a weird tension in the air. Every now and again, one or several black Suburbans with blacked out windows came hurtling up the streets with police escort. There were questions about things the leadership of our country did or did not do, and it was a weird time to be in D.C. But there I was.

I walked from one end of the Mall to the other. I started at the Lincoln Memorial and made my way uphill. For obvious reasons I couldn’t get near the Capitol Building, but got closer than I thought I would.

I saw a painting that I would never forget at the National Gallery of Art, saw the actual Star Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian, looked at buildings, statues, and items that I never imagined seeing all the while feeling very patriotic.

I enjoyed my time in D.C., but I also felt very out of place. I tend not to follow politics much and my memory for history is pretty terrible, so I felt like I stuck out like a hayseed. After a full day, I headed back to my hotel after a fun tourist day thinking that D.C. ain’t my kind of town, and I ain’t D.C.’s kind of girl anyway.

And that was that. Over the last two decades I’ve availed myself of Dulles Airport several times, as it’s a decent stop on the way to and from Europe, but haven’t spent any more time in D.C. itself.

All that changes next week as my job for a much smaller company has decided to send me eastward for training in support of my new job role.

I had thought this training was going to be a casual event, exchanging ideas, best practices, whatnot. Turns out it’s kind of a big deal and a VIP is scheduled to attend the event to give a talk. So yeah. New Mexico by way of California is going to D.C., and this time I get to stay at a hotel inside the Beltway, right in the heart of town.

This is happening just after yet another report is being released tomorrow with questions about some things the leadership of our country did or did not do. So that’s an odd parallel. A decade apart and politicians are still (allegedly) behaving badly. (no comment)

On this trip, however, I have a guide. A fixer. An inside person. One of my coworkers is also going to the training, and she used to live there. Used to work right where we’re going to be staying, and knows her way around. She’s originally from Texas, but we forgive such things. She’s promised to take me to her favorite restaurant for what she claims is a good local bourbon.

And suddenly Washington D.C. seems a lot more like my kind of town.

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Speaking of New Mexican’s in Washington D.C., here is a boost to Silver City native and fellow New Mexico expat Avelino Maestas. Hit that Instagram link to take a look at his gorgeous photography in and around Baltimore and surrounding areas.

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Though I will be staying near here, I think I have missed D.C.’s legendary cherry blossom explosion


Photo found from NBC Washington news site. Link here.




Change Gonna Come

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I think, sometimes, it must be a bit odd living with me.

On Sunday afternoon, with many things troubling my mind, I went outside and took a nice walk. I also looked at my neighborhood and noticed the way the sunlight is shifting. A cool tinge to the breeze. And I noticed that college kids are starting to move back to this college town.

When I got home I was a bit tired, a little sweaty, and more centered in my mind.

“Oh!” I said, as The Good Man and I talked things over, “I brought something home.”

His eyes lit up at the prospect. What could it be? Something freshly baked from our fabulous neighborhood shop? A pound of aromatic fresh ground coffee? A small fun tchotchke from one of the many nearby gifty shops?

Nope. What I brought home to my sweetheart was this:



From a Red Maple tree

I brought my love a leaf.

More than a leaf, it was the perfect representation of how restless I was feeling. As summer begins to give way to fall. As youth gives way to middle age. As things are in motion and changing at my place of work.

I was stunned on my walk to notice that leaves are already changing. Trees are starting to turn the bright reds and yellow and oranges of fall. I’m sure our unseasonably cool late summer has been part of the reason, but I was startled to see the change. I was also comforted to know that the restless feelings inside me are in sync with nature.

It is both a green leaf and a red leaf at the same time. Both the joy of spring and the end of summer. Happy and sad. Birth and death.

Transition.

My theme song lately has been Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I just recently found this song again through the whims of Pandora’s algorithms. And as Pandora is want to do, it plays at least once a day during my work days. Occasionally, if the time is right and the office door is closed, I sing along.

It is a sad song. A lament. But also, it’s inevitable that change has to happen. Like that leaf, there has to be some core that remains and stays in place to keep you grounded. With that grounding, then other things can change.

Lest you think I have any personal big changes planned, I do not. I consider most of my life to be my rock. But things around me are changing at a rapid clip, and I am feeling that happen.

Seasons are in transition. Things at work are changing fast, and actually have been changing for some time. And the nation is changing too. This election cycle has been nothing short of the lunchroom at an insane asylum. Come November, things are changing for all of us, no matter how the voting goes. Even the world is changing. Both for the good and for the bad.

I’m not always very good with a lot of change. Some people thrive. Me, I get a little worried. It’s my way.

But on that sunny Sunday in Northern California, a pretty little leaf became the perfect metaphor for what’s going on inside of me.

And The Good Man, he understands that sometimes I need to bring home a leaf to best explain everything that’s on my mind.

___________________

Because I can, I ran my leaf photo through the Prism app, which I just adore. My favorite of the conversions was this one.

Thought I’d share it too:



Same leaf, now artified







Leaf photos ©2016, Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone6, the Camera+ app, and the Prism app. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




I Don’t Subscribe To This Point of View

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Do you remember the Sting song “Russians” from way back in 1985? An overly somber commentary on the state of the Cold War, Sting implored “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

I have had occasion to listen to this song a few times over the past months. It keeps coming up in my consciousness. I do readily admit that in 2016 the song sounds almost quaint and old fashioned. I remember the first time I heard it in 1985 it felt deadly serious.

As a GenXer, the Cold War is certainly a part of my formative years. Growing up in New Mexico, I was acutely aware that “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” was largely created in Los Alamos. My dad was employed by Sandia Labs and he worked on nuclear weapons. Hell, my dad was one of those guys in the 1950’s out on some Pacific island in the middle of nowhere setting off nuclear explosions just to see what would happen.

So the Cold War was a little more real to me than perhaps many of my classmates. I remember on the playground talking with some friends about this list that apparently the Soviets had. A list of the first places they would hit if the war began. We all agreed Los Alamos would be on the list and debated if Sandia was there too.

I remember saying to a friend that I’d rather be nearby if a nuke was dropped. I’d rather be vaporized than have to live with radiation poisoning. I was just a kid but I had worked out how I would get as close as possible to Kirtland Air Force Base to control my own destiny.

That was some heavy stuff for a little kid, but it was the reality of the world back then.

So when I learned in April of this year that I would be traveling to the Czech Republic, I was incredibly excited. I love international travel and Czech Republic is a really old and quite historic city. The Good Man calls it “deep Europe” and it sounded so dark and mysterious.

But I also pulled up short. Hesitatingly, I asked The Good Man, “Didn’t…uh…Czechoslovakia used to be Communist?”

Then I took a look on Google, I searched “Iron Curtain” and found this map. There it is, Czech Republic behind that heavy line.



Map found here

I had a startling realization that I was preparing to travel to a communist country. This brought up an amazing amount of fear and almost guilt. Like I was betraying my country. Like I was letting down my father and all of those people he worked with back in the day. Or that I would surely find myself taken prisoner and subjected to intense KGB scrutiny simply for being an American in the wrong place.

Of course, all of that is patently ridiculous. The Czech people had taken back their country in 1989 and Americans visit Prague all the time. One of my coworkers had just been there and she loved it.

My weirdness was not helped when the guy who heads up the property team at work dropped a letter on my desk and told me to keep it with my laptop when I traveled. The letter assured that my employer owned the machine and that I was authorized to carry it.

I said, “This is my fourth international trip for our employer. I should admit I’ve never had a letter like this before.”

He quickly replied, “That’s because you’ve never traveled to a former Communist country before.”

Oh.

Back in the day, I loved that movie “White Nights.” What more could a movie do to pander to GenXer fears around the Cold War? Plus, I had enormous teenage tingly feelings for Gregory Hines (I can confess I actually got to meet him once and he was even more handsome in person, and also a true gentleman). Mikhail Baryshnikov was not exactly hard to look at either. But I’m wandering off topic…

That scene where Baryshnikov’s character, a defector from Russia, realizes the airplane is going to make a crash landing in Siberia had a big impact on me. As he’s tearing up his passport and flushing it down the toilet, I was terrified. When the inevitable straight out of central casting KGB agents arrived to harass our hero, I just knew that was EXACTLY how it really was. This was more documentary than fiction, right? <*smirk*>

It was with all of these thoughts and fears that I boarded a plane headed for the Czech Republic. Of course what I found when I landed was a beautiful country and very kind people.

My first foray into the center of the city of Prague was to attend a formal dinner at the historic Rudolfinum. One of my coworkers who knew her way around suggested we get off the Metro a couple stops early and walk about half a mile to the venue. Well of course, I was excited at this very idea. My first real exposure to the heart and soul of Prague.

I was immediately enchanted by the lumpy cobblestone streets and the very old buildings. We soon came across an odd building with four statues over the entrance depicting what appeared to be, to my eye anyway, communist era workers. The kind of thick neck and heavy features you’d find in a Diego Rivera painting.



A very bad screen grab from Google maps because I didn’t take a photo while there

I had kind of a “holy shit, look at that” moment and kept walking. There was a remnant of Soviet era Prague right there. Right there!

As we kept walking my eyes landed on souvenir shops with colorful marionettes, crystal shops, many pubs, restaurants and even a big ol’ Burger King, and I knew that it was okay. I was not somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I didn’t need to rip up my passport and toss it into the murky blue waters of an airplane toilet.

No, rather, I was exactly where I needed to be. Instead of fear I felt proud that my ten New Mexico bred toes felt the pulse and music and life of one of deep Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Now, in hindsight, of course I was being ridiculous. I mean, my brother has traveled right into the heart of Moscow, Americans are free to visit Cuba, and Dennis Rodman gets to visit his bestie in North Korea. It’s a different world and a different view.

At the end of the day, it turned out that the Russians did (and do) love their children too.





El Frijol

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A couple days ago I mentioned that I had been in Chicago for a writer’s conference at the end of March.

I’ve been to Chicago many times (as in passing through on my way elsewhere) but I’ve never really been to Chicago. When a couple ladies from my class said they wanted to go into downtown for dinner I was totally on board.

We hopped on the L and headed from Rosemont into downtown and walked around.

The ladies were intent on seeing Cloud Gate, colloquially known as “The Bean” and I was onboard.

It just so happened that the March theme for my photography club was night photography, so I took along a camera just in case I saw something good.

The Bean is like any touristy object, it’s been photographed thousands of times. I had no idea what I could do to improve on what’s already been done, so I just had fun with this shiny reflective piece of art.

Here’s what I got:




Image Copyright © 2015 Karen Fayeth


I think the Chicago skyline is so beautiful and a bit iconic as well. I love that at certain angles, the polished surface of the Cloud Gate just disappears into the sky like liquid silver. It’s really cool!

My favorite part of the whole night was when my fellow travelers and I had found our way to Millennium Park and were a bit lost trying to find The Bean inside the park.

At one point, a bunch of kids came running and flowed around me like a stream while they pointed and shouted “El Frijol! Mira! Mira! El Frijol!” I smiled because I knew I was near. And I laughed because of course it’s called El Frijol. My New Mexican pride stool tall as I found that big shiny bean.

I love the shot, but I wasn’t sure anyone else would. Turns out this photo took second place in the voting for my photography club’s monthly challenge, and that makes me happy (missed first place by one vote!).

After The Bean, we found our way to Giordanos because hello Chicago style pizza! Can you believe I forgot to take a photo of that delicious deep dish? Oh well.

This photo of Cloud Gate brings me good memories of downtown Chicago. I look at this beautiful bean photo and I smile.

Chicago is such a great city. Really top notch. I can’t wait to go back.