Monday, March 08, 2010

Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling

When I was a kid, the ultimate comfort food was Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. If I was sick, or on a cold rainy day – and we had a lot of those in Oregon – she made the soup, with a little milk. Later she introduced me to others – damn, Campbell’s made some good soup. Chicken and rice, split pea, cream of tomato, bean with bacon. Then I graduated to Lipton’s instant chicken noodle soup, which sounds like a step backward, but with an egg beaten in, we were getting closer to some real cooking. When I was in high school mom got more adventurous, making lentil soup from scratch, and black bean soup, and then I married an Italian, and learned about lentils and sausage, pasta e fagioli, ribollita, straciatella … moved to California, discovered menudo, and pozole, and tom ka gai … and, finally, pho.

With pho, we’re back where we started from. Meat and noodles in steaming clear broth. Add a few things I’ve come to love since I was a kid – fresh herbs, freshly squeezed lime, chiles. With a complex broth, a little fish sauce, meats of different textures – steak, flank, tripe – pho is just the greatest. We had a disastrous vacation in Vietnam a few years ago, but we ate some damn fine pho there, pho for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a rainy vacation (that was part of the disaster), but feeling sorry for myself in rainy, raw Nha Trang, pho was a comfort.

We do have cold raw days down here in San Diego, and Sunday was one, so we drove out to our new favorite pho joint, Pho Ca Dao, on El Cajon Boulevard. Years ago we hung out at a place whose name demonstrated the delicious culture clash of California – Pho El Cajon. But they’re gone now, and Pho Ca Dao is it.

Turns out my mom loves pho too. She goes to a pho joint on Sandy Boulevard in Portland, called Pho Oregon. They’ve got some culture clash up there, too, as it turns out.

Pho Ca Dao
5223 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92115

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Conflagration Will Be Televised

The San Diego wildfires got official CNN disaster certification when Anderson Cooper and his black t-shirt arrived on the scene. To be fair, he was actually wearing a dark brown safari shirt – I suppose it won’t show ash smudges. Certainly the all-wildfire-all-the-time coverage was more palatable than some of the recent round-the-clock stories – all-Britney-all-the-time got pretty tired pretty fast. But there was something pretty annoying about Anderson hanging out in somebody’s burned-out yard, giggling with Dr. Sanjay Gupta about their madcap disregard of warnings to wear face masks.

All the same, at least with cable news, we know that the point is to exploit events for our entertainment. The next day, George Bush showed up, and my annoyance turned to disgust. As far as I know, the last time he showed his face in this purple town was to declare “Mission Accomplished” on an aircraft carrier a mile offshore. (And you thought he was in the Persian Gulf! That flight suit was necessary for him to travel one mile from shore to a ship they had deliberately turned around so the San Diego skyline wouldn’t be visible.) This time around, he “consoled” the well-to-do Republican voters of Rancho Bernardo – I’m betting FEMA will come through for them like they never did in the parishes of New Orleans. Governor Schwarzenegger asked him to go console some evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium, but Bush declined. I guess they concluded that people who don’t have the means to find private lodging may not vote Republican.

Sad how in Bush’s America, all turns to anger and politics. As far as I can tell, the city has handled the crisis very well, even without the National Guard, who are all in Iraq. I hope it’s clear that this was no Katrina. I can hardly begin to imagine what a nightmare it must have been for those who were evacuated with minutes to gather up their precious belongings, spending days in limbo, not knowing whether they have a home. But in a few weeks, except for those most directly affected, life in San Diego will be back to normal. New Orleans may never be back to normal.

And that’s the strange thing – for many of us, life was never really not normal. I live near downtown, and work downtown. My company closed our offices, but I kept going to work. Traffic on the freeways was light, NPR was off the air because their transmitter burned, and the air quality was really bad for a few days – that’s the sum of the impact on me. It reminded me of how I felt after 9/11: I was aware that others, including people I knew, were terribly, terribly affected. But it was somewhere else, far away, and the direct effects on everything I could see were small.

But maybe I minimize. We watched CNN morbidly, debating whether we should start pulling important papers together, though the nearest fire was at least 10 miles away. The day the fires started, before we knew how bad it would be, we happened to drive through a thick cloud of smoke that went on for several miles, and it was very alarming. The next morning, the sunrise burning red through the smoke, the office empty except for the few of us who lived nearby, I felt a vague dread. This lifted as the fires got worse – more upsetting not know what’s going to happen, than to know what has happened, if you have been spared.

The number of friends who have reached out from around the country has been deeply touching. When the news says the fires are in San Diego, people don’t realize that, like Los Angeles, the land area of San Diego is vast. I reassured each one that we are fine, our home is intact, and those we know who were evacuated had places to sleep. One friend asked if people in San Diego were talking about the implication of global climate change in this. I’ll admit to feeling irritated – no, I responded, this week, people in San Diego are talking about whether each other’s homes are still standing. But we’ll get back to politics soon enough. George Bush was in town, after all.
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

George Bush Giveth, and George Bush Taketh Away

My partner is a civilian employee of the US Marine Corps, working as a psychotherapist with the guys returning from the war in the Middle East. Recently, on a flight home from London, he got to chatting with the American Airlines flight attendants, who were so moved by his work that they gave him a bottle of champagne, as a gift to thank him for his work.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, it was necessary to transfer between terminals, which in turn requires leaving the "secure zone" and going back through security ... where, of course, they took the champange away from him. His gift for his contribution to the War on Terror was confiscated due to the War on Terror.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thanks, Jackie! Thanks, Pierre!

I grabbed my DC walking tours book today and took a stroll around the White House. Here are some things I learned:

1. You can run but you can’t hide. I discovered the Renwick Gallery, a museum I’ve walked by many times, yet it never registered that it’s there, part of the Smithsonian. It’s a weird, eclectic, thing – one room holds the Indian collection, hundreds of portraits of Indians made in the first half of the 19th century. The rest is a museum of decorative arts. And in the men’s room, of all places, a poster commemorating my employer’s gift to the museum.

2. Pierre L’Enfant rocked. He should get some kind of posthumous Pritzker Prize for urban design. His design for Washington, DC is great, tying seats of power and monuments together logically. A note: my guidebook says that the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial were supposed to lie on one axis of the plan, but when it came time to build the Washington Monument, the site was too marshy, and it had to be moved slightly to the east. Lucky thing – that off-center Monument behind the White House is very photogenic.

3. Jackie Kennedy rocked. We already knew she was an architectural preservationist – her remodel of the White House is legendary, and she went on to save Grand Central Station. But while she lived in the White House, she also managed to save the Executive Office Building, and the graceful mansions that line Lafayette Square. Thanks, Jackie.

4. The Boy Scouts of America are one very strange outfit. The Boys Scouts Memorial, which sits just off the Ellipse, was proposed in 1959, the 50th anniversary of scouting in America, and was dedicated in 1964. The statue, however, is more reminiscent of the muscular realism popular in the 30s – when I run across it in Italy, I call it Mussolini Modern. It’s an interesting monument, but what’s up with those homophobe scouts presenting a naked Dad figure? Mom, I should point out, is far more demure – and little Billy has not a single merit badge. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Haircut on Capitol Hill

If you can’t find it on Google, post on Craig’s List. Mine said this:

Where’s a Military Barber Shop? – Guy in town for a few months from San Diego. Used to paying $8 for my buzz cut at barber shop right outside MCRD. Can't see paying $25 for a high-n-tite ... any advice? Thanks.

I posted it in the gay listings, figuring some gay service member would point me in the right direction. Good call! I got about ten responses. One instructed me to go to the shop next to the visitor’s center in the Pentagon. Another suggested Fort Myers. All the rest had the same answer: Sneed’s Barber Shop, across the street from the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill.

(I mentioned this on the phone to my partner, who works on a USMC base near San Diego. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that. I Street, I think.” I get the address, and indeed, it’s at the corner of 8th and I Streets, SE. The man is scary, but we knew that.)

So on a Saturday morning, I took the metro to Eastern Market, and walked the few blocks to Sneed’s. On the way, I discovered that Capitol Hill is a great neighborhood, and made a mental note that there is definitely more to DC than Dupont Circle and Georgetown. Ethnically diverse, cool restaurants, galleries, gay bars, specialty markets … I’ll be back, for sure. After a few blocks, I came to Sneed’s.

The place is open 5am to 4pm on weekdays, and 7am to noon on Saturdays. At 9 on a Saturday morning, I expected the place to be packed, but to my surprise I got a chair immediately. Only four chairs in the place – one had a Marine, another a gay guy getting his head shaved, the third a little boy with his dad proudly watching – and me. The barber made me nervous, he mumbled to himself in a Tourette’s kind of way, but he gave me a good haircut, using a straight razor, which is rare. On the wall across from my chair was a signed picture of President Bush, and the price list:

Civilians … $15
Marines … $7
Military Police … $12
Mustache/Beard … $10
Bush … $20

Dirty joke, or put-down of Fearless Leader? I didn’t have the cojones to ask. The barber rang up $7, but I owned up to being a civilian, paid my $15, and walked home.