Charanya in Washington

Charanya is a junior President’s Scholar with a triple major in political science, French and finance. She is interning this summer in Washington, D.C., at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan research institute.The recipient of the Jack C. and Annette K. Vaughn Foreign Service and International Affairs Internship through SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, Charanya is working in the center’s International Security Studies Division, helping compile research for her supervisor’s new book, which focuses on the re-integration of rogue and pariah states, such as Libya, South Africa after apartheid, Russia and China. She’ll also help with an upcoming book launch.

Potomac fever

I’d been talking to my research supervisor the other day when he asked me if, nearly two months into my DC internship, I’d caught “Potomac fever” yet. At the time I said I didn’t know; now, I’m pretty sure I’m a chronic case.

It all started after the Barack Obama speech on Tuesday. None of us had any idea that the speech Senator Obama was delivering was his landmark foreign policy address. We’d heard the words “major speech” bandied about, but really, what speech isn’t considered major when you’re a presumptive nominee?

After having lunch we’d all headed back to the intern room, where I immediately logged on to the New York Times, only to see as the feature a picture of Obama standing at the podium of the Reagan Building Atrium accompanied by a long article about his plan and some of the reactions it had drawn. All I could think was, I was there!

Then on Thursday, a friend of mine, who is interning at a sustainable-community nonprofit, invited me to come see Al Gore with her at Constitution Hall. The event was sponsored by the We Campaign, an organization dedicated to energy independence. When we arrived, a gigantic crowd had already amassed on the front steps, and a few charming activists from a conservative organization called Freedom Works were holding signs that read, respectively, “Drill Drill Drill” and “You Can’t Have My Car Al Gore.”

charanya-we.jpgWe left our activist friends behind as the doors opened and we were led into a colossal stadium-style auditorium adorned with huge green “We” signs and green spotlights (“it looks like Emerald City,” someone remarked). Literally thousands of people filed into the hall – remarkable for an event that had had only a week’s worth of publicity – before Al emerged to deafening applause.

charanya-gore.jpgThe speech he delivered was, I thought, absolutely brilliant. Instead of the political speeches of our YouTube gaffe-avoiding era – which generally seem to range from faultlessly orthodox to merely careful – this was a true call to action and unapologetic shake-up of the status quo. Al Gore pointed out how three of the most significant problems we’re facing – national security threats, environmental issues, economic worries – can all be traced to our overdependence on oil. (My favorite quote: “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.”)

The solution is not, of course, to “drill now” or to set a long-term goal (2050, for example) to cut carbon emissions. Rather, Al Gore proposed a 10-year deadline to transition completely to alternative energy sources. He couched this goal in terms of JFK’s call to land a man on the moon in 10 years – one which appeared similarly, laughably, impossible but ended up happening, instilling the kind of hope and confidence in American citizens that is sorely lacking today. We left the hall feeling incredibly inspired and moved to action; although Gore was criticized by some for failing to delve into the specifics, the audacity of the vision he had set forth resonated with the crowd of thousands.

charanya-poet.jpgAfter work that same evening, I headed to my new favorite DC haunt, Busboys & Poets – it’s a U Street cafe/bar/bookstore, named for Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy when he first began writing poetry. It’s also dedicated to progressive causes; all proceeds from the bookstore are directed toward social justice education in local high schools, and the place regularly hosts author events.

Christine Pelosi (daughter of Nancy), a Democratic activist and author, was stopping by on this particular day to discuss her new book, so a friend and I had decided on a whim to drop in. After we were seated in the small, fairly intimate room, a tall woman walked up to our table and introduced herself: “Hi, I’m Christine. What brings you all here?” So there I was, talking to Christine Pelosi, superdelegate, about my internship with the Wilson Center. I noticed she was wearing one of the green We Campaign buttons they’d been handing out at the Al Gore speech, so I remarked how much I’d enjoyed the event. “Wasn’t it great?” she said. “I’d love for you both to talk about it – I’m doing an interactive segment after my book talk.”

We were listening to her talk when a few sharply dressed Secret Service guards walked in, flanking a petite, well-coiffed woman I immediately recognized as Nancy Pelosi. My friend and I exchanged hysterical, unbelieving looks. No one had even mentioned the possibility of her showing up here; we’d just come for the event and some good food, and I’d even brought some work articles to read afterward. She took a seat a few tables away from us, beaming at everyone in the room as we stared at her, goggle-eyed.

To add mortification to our shock, Christine, who was asking everyone about their “calls to service,” called on us – “there are a couple of young ladies here who attended the Al Gore rally, and we’d love for them to talk about why they went.” A mic was thrust in my hand and before I knew it, I was stammering about the need for alternative energy sources as Nancy Pelosi looked on attentively. I can’t (and don’t really want to) remember what I said – I was completely overwhelmed and still amazed that I was able to string together a complete sentence.

As the event wound down, Speaker Pelosi began chatting casually with people in the room. We approached her, disposable camera in hand (I had shamelessly run out to a neighboring CVS midway through the event after my camera picked this opportune time to die). I racked my brain for a second figuring out how to address her (Representative Pelosi? Ms. Pelosi? Nancy?) and finally said, “Speaker Pelosi, it’s such an honor to meet you.” She replied with a smile, “No, the pleasure is all mine.”

Charanya-Pelosi.JPGShe agreed to a picture, and when we were having trouble figuring out the camera, showed us how to turn the flash on. We shared our tremulous excitement with two girls our age from American, who had been sharing a table with Nancy Pelosi (she reached over and picked up their tab at the end of the evening). Finding our way back to the U Street Metro station, we were practically dancing, our excitement symptomatic of full-on Potomac fever.

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Senator Obama comes to work

I was idly checking my Wilson Center e-mail over coffee on a Friday morning when I noticed this little item in my inbox: “Invitation to a Director’s Forum with Barack Obama.”

I thought I’d misread the subject – surely Barack Obama, future leader of the free world, wouldn’t be coming to my workplace on Tuesday. I’d just been talking to a friend the night before about wanting to see Obama before I left DC (one of the sad realities of not living in a swing state is the fact that you really don’t get to see a whole lot of politicians besides Mike Huckabee).

But the fact that he was coming to the Wilson Center to deliver a major speech about Iraq and national security seemed a little too good to be true. In retrospect, it absolutely makes sense, because former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, the vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, is the director of the Center, and because the academically oriented Wilson Center is the perfect place to deliver a speech about policy.

So Tuesday morning, I interrupted the clockwork morning routine I have with my two roommates – one has to be at work at 8:30, one at 9, and I usually roll in between 9:30 and 10, so we’ve figured out the kitchen/bathroom/closet situation accordingly – because I certainly wanted to be early to the event. Over my bowl of oatmeal I read the Times op-ed Obama had published detailing his plan for Iraq withdrawal.

When I arrived around 8:45 in the atrium of the Reagan Building (the Wilson Center shares this behemoth with a variety of other organizations), the line was already out the door. I told an Obama volunteer I was with the Wilson Center, hoping this would allow me to skip the line – happily, it did. In fact, my status as an intern – the lowliest of all lowly creatures on the DC totem pole – allowed me to be seated just a few rows away from the stage. I saved seats for my intern friends who weren’t quite as gung-ho as I was about beating the rush, contemplating how cushy it felt to see a major political candidate while not suffering near heat exhaustion or standing for four numbing hours.

charanya-obama.jpgThe sign affixed to Obama’s podium announced – instead of the usual sunny slogan – this stern all-caps statement: JUDGMENT TO LEAD. We watched about 10 different people test the mics and teleprompters as the minutes ticked by. Two hours and one coffee break later, Obama came out alongside Lee Hamilton, who introduced him briefly (“the junior senator from Illinois … author … community organizer”). Even the older, staid, suit-wearing members of the audience had slight fan geek-out moments as Obama took the stage.

Everyone composed themselves as Obama began his solemn, 5,602-word (thanks, Slate) speech about the need for a new foreign policy, particularly with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan. He outlined five policy goals he wants to accomplish as president, including ending the “tyranny of oil” and rehabilitating America’s international standing.

As I listened to him elaborate on this last point, I remembered what a speaker had said at a recent CSIS Africa event – specifically, that electing Obama would have an incredibly positive impact upon America’s legitimacy and influence in sub-Saharan Africa. Hearing that, I remember being truly excited about the prospect of an Obama presidency for the first time (after all, I was pulling for Hillary in the primaries). Listening to his speech on Tuesday absolutely reinforced that feeling for me.

charanya-obama2.jpgObama finished to a standing ovation, and while I thought he’d leave the stage immediately (there was no question-and-answer) he leaned over and began shaking hands with audience members in the front row. Before I knew it, I’d been shoved toward the front, my hand extended. Obama took it with a smile as I blurted: “Excellent speech.”

“Thank you,” he replied. “And how are you?”

I scurried off to avoid saying anything inane. Talking with a couple of interns about the incredible event to which we’d been witness, I remarked that I wasn’t sure if I’d heard the words “change” or “hope” once.

“No,” countered another intern, “but I definitely heard the word ‘different.’ ”

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Happy 4th from the nation’s capital

DC5.jpgAlthough almost everyone I know left DC for the long weekend, I decided to stay and celebrate the Fourth in its full, touristy, bandanna-waving glory. One of my fellow interns – who is French, and whom I made promise to celebrate Bastille Day (“le quatorze juillet”) with me if we did all the cheesy Fourth of July stuff she was so excited about – wanted to head over early to the Archives to watch a “dramatic reading” of the Declaration of Independence, presumably by men in powdered wigs, which would have been glorious if we hadn’t both overslept.

Instead, we decided to meet around where we work, which is in the thick of all the important Independence Day sites – the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, etc. – to watch the massive parade which takes place each year. While I usually walk the mile and a half to work, I decided to Metro it on this particular day. Apparently every single family with small children had the same idea – I had to wedge myself onto the train between a pair of strollers whose unpleasant inhabitants, wearing star-spangled onesies, glared hard at me. No one was holding the handrails, as there was literally nowhere to move if the train were to make a sudden stop.

DC2.jpgFifteen minutes and several whiffs of indiscriminately sprayed cologne later, I arrived at Federal Triangle gasping for breath. A red, white and blue crowd had formed by the Department of Commerce on Constitution Ave., along which the parade was set to go. Although the Weather Channel had predicted torrential rain for the weekend, the sun was defiantly and relentlessly beating down, and we’d arrived too late to score a place in the shade. Luckily the parade originated close to where we were standing, so we didn’t have to wait too long before the military bands marched past, followed closely by a handful of Daughters of the American Revolution, various high school bands, Underdog, unicyclists in Jazz Age outfits, George Washington and Miss America – a motley crew.

DC3.jpgAs the heat intensified, a woman on the front steps fainted, and after offering her our water bottles (don’t worry, she was OK), we decided it was definitely time to go. After recuperating with lunch and some coffee, we wandered around downtown, stopping by the Sculpture Garden to dip our feet in the pool (it’s probably the only publicly-owned fountain in DC where that’s acceptable). Not wanting to miss out on the rest of the festivities, however, we soon left to take a gander at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Mall, where the most gung-ho of the Fourth of July crowd congregate hours before the fireworks are scheduled to begin, bringing a cooler’s worth of soda and enough PB&J to pass the time.

DC4.jpgThe Folklife Festival, which is replete with food and free entertainment, picks three themes each year – this year’s were the extremely random combo of Bhutan, NASA, and Texas (!). On the other end of the Mall were a variety of religious booths – we were offered lemonade by the Hare Krishnas and salvation by the Mennonites. The sight of gray and white-clad hymn singers and sari-clad dancers in peaceful coexistence was probably the most patriotic thing I witnessed all day.

After the Folklife Festival, we headed to Trader Joe’s (heaven on earth – it’s a grocery store but so much more) for some tasty picnic food – fizzy lemonade, cheese and crackers, Nutella, and an assortment of cookies. We had grand plans to head over to the Lincoln Memorial early and picnic by the beautiful Reflecting Pool before the fireworks began, but sadly this is when the predicted rain finally began to fall.

We camped out at my apartment grumpily watching reruns while a friend tried to find out if the fireworks were still on (we’d heard that they would postpone them to Saturday in the event of serious rain, which would have been completely wrong -everyone knows that the fireworks are the ne plus ultra of the DC Independence Day celebration). After a few vain calls to the DC fireworks department (I found it on Google) we heard through a friend of a friend that the fireworks were, indeed, still on. We determinedly brought our picnic to the Lincoln Memorial, where I was chastised for bringing butter knives, which are apparently a security threat. After promising the security guard I’d exercise caution with my condiments, we were admitted inside.

DC1.jpgAnd although the grass was still sopping wet, making the picnic somewhat problematic, the fireworks were tremendously magnificent. After watching the last trails of steam subside following the glittery, multicolored finale, we sat on our now-damp blanket in front of the majestic, pillared Lincoln Memorial quietly contemplating how good it felt to be in the nation’s capital on the Fourth of July.

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Thoughts on think tanks

As I begin my fifth week of research here at the Wilson Center, I’ve come to realize how much I don’t know. My research focuses on pariah states, which are countries whose internal customs and practices exclude them from the international community. Although I wanted to spend only a week on each state (I’ve been asked to research Zimbabwe, Sudan, Libya and Burma, as well as any other states that might fit the description) I quickly became mired in Zimbabwe, which is particularly provocative given the runoff “election” that took place this Friday.

Zimbabwe’s crisis
Last week, I attended a meeting at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which was billed as a discussion about the roles of South Africa and Nigeria as sub-Saharan regional strongmen. However, it quickly morphed into a harsh criticism of South African President Thabo Mbeki’s inaction in stanching the Zimbabwean political crisis.

The chief speaker, a scholar from Nigeria, tweaked the West for expecting too much from Mbeki, whose “quiet diplomacy” approach – he believed – would be vindicated in time. This, understandably, caused some controversy in the room, particularly given the flood of op-eds in the Times and Post placing a great deal of responsibility for Zimbabwe’s turmoil upon Mbeki’s shoulders.

I see merits in both sides of the argument – if Mbeki were to decry Zimbabwe he’d be painted by Mugabe as a pawn of the West, but at the same time the country is steeped in such visible and egregious corruption that not doing anything appears to be a crime in itself.

Read this book
I’ve also recently finished reading What Is the What, the novelized autobiography of a Sudanese refugee named Valentino Achak Deng, written by Dave Eggers. It’s been a long time since I’ve read an “important” book – the kind that can make you change the way you think, or the kind you want to buy hundreds of copies of and distribute on the streets just so people will read it – but this, truly, is it.

I’d bought it almost a year ago but hadn’t read past the first few pages; only after researching Sudan for my Wilson Center work did I realize how much I needed to finish it. People often conflate the Darfur genocide with the larger political crisis in Sudan, but they are not the same; this book in particular deals with the Second Sudanese Civil War, in which the Arab/Muslim North was pitted against the Christian/animist South, devastating the country. The 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement nominally ended the fighting, but there are uneasy indications of another civil war, particularly if the government in Khartoum does not implement all of the agreed-upon provisions of the treaty.

These facts – the names of the rival political parties, the death tolls, the underlying causes of the dispute – are faceless and abstract, which is why What is the What is such a devastating book. It follows Valentino Deng as he flees Sudan with thousands of other young children known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Reading about their desperate searches for food, their struggles against disease, the idylls of their childhood days destroyed by war, made me wish I could drop everything on this continent and fly to that one.

This is the contradiction of being in DC – there’s a think tank on every corner, hosting conferences and conducting research in an attempt to analyze the world’s problems, but I can’t help but think that there’s a difference between sipping Pellegrino at a self-conscious policy discussion and doing trench work in a Sudanese refugee camp. Obviously being able to understand the situation – as opposed to just blindly going in – is vital, which is why I’m glad to have a very research-intensive internship this summer; I just hope to be able to go to the front lines one of these days.

A talk with Justice Breyer

Speaking of policy discussions, I went to Brookings last week to hear Justice Breyer give a talk on the importance of international law in American governance – he and Justice Kennedy have been particularly criticized for their citations of foreign constitutions and precedents in their decisions. We’d analyzed Breyer’s opinions and voting patterns in Professor Kobylka’s Civil Liberties class last semester, so it was fairly surreal to see him in person, and in a suit to boot (for some reason I pictured him giving his lecture in judge robes, which in retrospect I realize would have been ridiculous).

Justice Breyer is certainly one of my favorites jurisprudentially – although some of his drier opinions were torturous to wade through before exams – and his speech was witty and surprisingly not too esoteric. Needless to say, I learned a lot this week, although one thing is for certain – I have a lot more to go.

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I’d rather be in D.C. …

I was hesitant about spending this past weekend in New York – I already feel I have such little time left before I head back to Dallas, and I still have an almost embarrassing amount of uncharted territory to explore here in D.C. This was before a friend told me about the Chinatown Bus, which is one of the phenomena of East Coast travel – it drives back and forth from the Chinatown in D.C. and drops off at the Chinatown in New York for a measly $35 round-trip, which, given the current price of fuel, is pretty amazing. So my friend and travel buddy Ashley and I booked bus tickets for Friday evening at 7.

Having a minimal grasp of time and not wanting to miss out on Social Hour hosted by the Latin American program (a different program hosts Social Hour each week – this one promised flan and tacos; how could I say no?), I left the Wilson Center around 5 and returned home around 5:30 to start packing. I glanced at my printout ticket, which warned me, sternly, to arrive in Chinatown at least a half-hour early or risk my seat being sold. Realizing it was already 6:15, I left my granola bar on the table mid-chew, grabbed my half-packed weekender, left a frantic voicemail on Ashley’s phone and booked it to the Foggy Bottom Metro station.

In my rush, I got off a station too early and, instead of waiting for the next train, ran the 11 blocks to 610 I Street, which turned out to be quite literally an alleyway in a nondescript section of Chinatown. A crowd of extremely irate travelers had formed -turned out the 6 o’clock bus had yet to arrive. Sure enough, it was 10 p.m. before our bus left D.C. And 2 a.m. before we arrived in the supremely sketchy and equally random drop-off spot in New York, where a man in an unmarked van asked if we needed a ride. (As you can probably guess, given that I’ve survived to write this entry, we said no.)

dc-9.jpg
Saturday morning began more auspiciously – a coffee and pastry breakfast (my favorite) and the requisite shopping in Soho. We decided that New York wins points for its H&M, which hands-down beats the sad, picked-over racks of D.C.’s. However, D.C. more than compensates with its Metro system, the Cinderella to NY’s ugly stepsister. The D.C. Metro has five, beautiful, simple, color-coded lines that even someone completely directionally challenged (me, for example) has (almost) no problem navigating. The New York subway has trains with color, letter and number designations, stations which only operate on weekdays and signs which promise train lines that never actually show up. Worst of all, the subway has these horrible turnstiles that lock you out for 15 minutes if you don’t walk through the very second you swipe your card (trust me on this one – it happened more than once).

dc-7.jpgHowever, we braved the subway again to get to the Theatre District – on a week’s notice, we’d managed to get tickets online to a matinee showing of the very silly and very fun Mamma Mia, which featured a winning combination of ABBA songs and polyester bellbottoms.

dc-8.jpgThe theatre was surrounded by a sort of outdoor market which sold everything from pashminas and glass jewelry to socks. (Socks?) My favorite was a stall displaying enormous African straw baskets – I definitely would have gotten one if I thought American Airlines would allow me to stow it under my seat on the flight back to Dallas.

For dinner, we went back downtown to a trendy vegetarian place called Broadway East (I opted for the untrendy pizza) and wandered around afterward in quest of dessert. On an otherwise dark side street was a happy fluorescent sign reading “Rice to Riches” and a smaller one declaring that “rice pudding was getting a makeover.” It listed 20 flavors which ranged from the expected (vanilla) to the very-much-not (cookies and cream?!).

dc1.jpgI wondered aloud how a tiramisu-flavored rice pudding could possibly taste good and was stopped by a complete stranger: “It’s life-changing. You have to try it.” I never say no to life-changing dessert, so we went in and shared an order of the Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug, which was pretty remarkable.

The next morning we did a little more exploring downtown, including getting lattes at an amazing place called Jack’s Coffee, which is kind of the anti-Starbucks (one of its slogans is “thirty-six hours from cow to Jack’s,” which scared me a little until I realized they were talking about the milk), and walking around Battery Park, which is at the tail end of Manhattan. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Chinatown to catch our return bus, which miraculously left New York just half an hour behind schedule. Five hours later, our bus rolled into the D.C. alleyway we’d grown to know so well. And although the weekend had been lovely and New York an incredible place to visit, I was glad to be back.

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Like a local

One of the first things I did when I got to DC was to Google the “best things to do in DC.” I’d quizzed several people on the same subject, all of whom mentioned the monuments, the Mall, the museums, etc., which are all lovely but extraordinarily tiresome in the summertime, when they are overtaken by floods of khaki-shorted tourists and unrelenting heat waves.

dc-6.jpgThe Internet guides had more inspired suggestions, particularly one that suggested I explore DC “like a local.” It recommended weekend shopping at Eastern Market (the famous DC farmer’s/flea market) and browsing in the row of independent bookstores in Dupont Circle with cute titles (“Politics and Prose,” “Second Story Books,” “Afterwords”).

Because I wanted to take the first week to settle in (not to mention figure out the confusing “quadrant” system – using the Capitol as the “center” of DC, the city is quartered into four parts: northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast, so the intersection of 21st and F could either be really close or really far away, depending on if you’re talking 21st and F NW, or 21st and F SE – everyone has their own pre-quadrant-understanding horror story).

I didn’t do too much venturing, promising myself that I would make up for five banal afternoons of Target and Safeway shopping by getting extra amounts of culture the following week. I also decided to purchase something called SmarTrip, a rechargeable Metro pass which resembles a credit card, after losing a brand-new fare card in the furor that was the Hillary rally, and which has the added benefit of making me seem as though I am, indeed, a local. (It worked, too – I was asked for directions twice after being seen with my SmarTrip. I was able to help neither time.)

Of course, DC’s temperamental weather is a force to be reckoned with, as I rely on my feet and public transportation to get around, and torrents of rain early in the week discouraged me from what were supposed to be educational evenings at the National Museum of (insert minority ethnic group or historical era here).

Finally, on Wednesday, I trekked over to the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum and ended up spending over two hours on the first floor alone. I’m a determined caption-reader, so a quick gander at the folk art exhibit turned into a slightly disturbing art history lesson.

dc-5.jpg I was attracted to this particular exhibit by what looked like an enormous, shiny castle, the size of the supermarket cereal shelf. I walked closer and realized the entire massive structure had been built with, of all things, balled-up pieces of aluminum foil – the remnants of a thousand lunches. The caption beneath explained that the artist had a psychological disorder and killed himself; his friends discovered this gigantic loopy structure in his basement after his death. The mental image of this poor man sitting alone in a dim basement, crafting turrets out of Reynolds Wrap, was cinematically eerie.

Other, less morbid exhibits included the section on cartes de visite – tiny, 1920s-era calling cards bearing photographs of the visitor, which would be left at the host’s door and collected like baseball cards – and a Katharine Hepburn retrospective. I have yet to visit the following two floors, but I definitely intend to go back.

On Friday, the Wilson Center hosted “Social Hour,” in which scholars, staff, and interns mix and mingle and eat hummus. Because the intern room is so hushed and the atmosphere of the Center so studious, this was an excellent opportunity to meet the people with whom I’d worked in silence for two weeks. After Social Hour, a few interns went to Jazz in the Garden, which is exactly what it says it is – live music in the nearby Sculpture Garden (“sculpture” being the loose term for corrugated metal-type structures placed on beds of grass). By the time we arrived, hundreds of people had arranged themselves on picnic blankets and were enjoying the jazz as well as the sunny weather and assortments of crackers and cheese. It was a lovely, lazy way to end a rushed work week.

Saturday marked my first experience with Ethiopian food, which is apparently a DC specialty – my trusty Internet guide mentioned a “Little Ethiopia,” which is much like a Little Italy or Chinatown and located in the very cool, relatively undiscovered U Street area. We went to a place called Etete and feasted on various curries with a strange, spongy, slightly sour bread called injera, eating everything, gloriously, with our hands.

In the course of exploring the neighborhood, we somehow wound up at an incredible live jam session with a soul singer, harpist, bongo drummer, and of all things, didgeridoo player, at a cafe called Mocha House, and then had another unplanned adventure trying to find the nearest Metro stop.

dc-3.jpgThe next day, I met a friend at Eastern Market bright and early, where we sampled various fruits and cheeses, tried on troves of jewelry, and marveled at the vintage dresses all being sold for a song. I became particularly excited about my “find,” a fuchsia shift dress Jackie O might have worn, until I noticed that the label said “Ann Taylor.” Not quite vintage, unfortunately. I also had to be dissuaded from purchasing a $10 tie-dye muumuu – the combination of heat and the anything-goes flea-market atmosphere can do strange things to a person’s sensibilities. I did buy a silk pouch for my camera and a few little pieces of jewelry, but left soon afterward out of shopping-induced hunger.

dc-4.jpgWe went back to my friend’s place to cook (seeing as my little kitchenette currently has one pot and no knives) and spent the next hour crafting a magazine-worthy meal with our farmer’s market vegetables and cheeses: yellow tomato and mozzarella sandwiches, a sweet pepper stir-fry with quinoa, brie with plump red grapes, and the piece de resistance – strawberry shortcakes. Riding the metro to home sweet Foggy Bottom (the area where I live) with the rest of my farmer’s market goods, I almost felt like a local.

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Living history with Hillary

When I read in The Post on Thursday that Hillary Clinton would be delivering her concession speech in D.C., I spent the rest of the day frantically trying to figure out where (campaigns are so cryptic about these things) until her website finally posted a link to an invitation.

CIMG0423-sm.jpgThis led me to the National Building Museum early Saturday morning, where I’d spend the next five sweaty hours. Hillary was scheduled to speak at noon, but doors opened at 10, meaning that a good seat required queuing up at least an hour and a half before, outside, in the cruel D.C. humidity. By the time we arrived the line was already snaking down the block, but the mood of the crowd was distinctly unlike that of any other rally I’d seen. A few people still defiantly carried “Hillary for President” signs (even though we’d been asked not to bring any “campaign regalia”), and many sported buttons, but a large number had arrived just with their digital cameras and a distinct sense of resignation.

CIMG0421-sm.jpgOne older woman, holding an enormous bouquet of red roses and wearing a hilariously coordinating outfit (a brown-and-turquoise “Hillary” t-shirt with a prairie skirt of the exact same brown-and-turquoise) told a TV reporter tersely that she just didn’t see herself voting for Obama and didn’t see him being able to change her mind – “he’s too young, he’s too inexperienced. That’s all I have to say.”

Hillary’s fabled older female supporters didn’t all appear to regard Obama with quite the same sense of anathema – the ones I chatted with in line appeared a little bit dejected but willing to work with the prospect of “change.” Probably one of my favorite aspects of campaign rallies is the people, who are unfailingly interesting. After I’d spent a little time in line talking to a sweet elderly lady sporting a button depicting a college-age Hillary, she asked if I could get in a picture with a few other supporters “for her blog.”

The National Building Museum itself is historic and lovely in a very nineteenth-century, carpets-and-pillars way – the antithesis of a fluorescent corporate-sponsored arena – which made sense, considering the circumstances. We nabbed prime standing room next to a pair of tall Danish men (apparently this election is almost as big news in Europe as it is here), close to the scores of cameras and news crews (I was told later that this was the most-photographed single-candidate event in election history). A woman close behind us gave an interview to a Japanese journalist, while a group of young voters chatted with a Spanish news crew.

CIMG0437-sm.jpgThe room grew hotter and muggier as people continued to pour in throughout the next hour, first onto the floor and then onto the second and third balconies. After several false alarms a campaign staffer finally announced Hillary’s arrival – and the cheers were deafening. She walked onstage with her family, looking as cheerful and well-rested as she had when she announced her candidacy over a year ago.

Her speech was, I thought, at least, perfect – ending on her own terms, she was able to capture the historic nature of her candidacy and of this primary and remind voters that she and Obama had once represented an “embarrassment of riches” to the Democrats. Her comment about the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” brought tears to supporters’ eyes (I’ll admit it – I was verklempt). Experiencing such a moment in such a speech, surrounded by thousands of other supporters, was the kind of history I’d always imagined could only happen in a place like D.C.

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Work, fun and politics in D.C.

CIMG0411-sm.jpgAs I write this I’m sitting in the eerily quiet “intern workroom” on the third floor of the Woodrow Wilson Center. It’s really just a computer lab for interns to type, research, highlight and occasionally pause to sip coffee.

Because the Wilson Center is a research institute, the pace here is slower and steadier than that of a Congressional office, where deadlines are looming and deals are brokered. At the same time, the Center hosts over 500 events a year, so when I arrive at work every morning, there’s always a new glossy set of brochures and spread of breakfast (brioches, fruit, coffee, orange juice) laid out ever so neatly and a steady hum of voices and applause on nearly every one of the Center’s eight floors.

In fact, the department in which I work – the Division of International Security Studies – has a book launch and lunch event next week. My work, however, is primarily to research states considered to be “rogue” or “pariah” – the usual suspects, Iran and North Korea, along with Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma, and others – for a book about re-integrating outlier countries into the international community.

The Wilson Center is actually owned and operated by the Smithsonian, which is just across the street (our next-door neighbor is the Environmental Protection Agency). I’ve yet to explore any of the surrounding landmarks, but so far I know this: I love D.C. I love the fact that its license plates say “Taxation without Representation” (of all the slogans D.C. could have placed on its cars!), I love the user-friendly Metro (although I’ve taken it in the wrong direction more times than I’d care to admit), I love the limousines with tinted windows suggesting that someone famous and political is sitting inside, and I love the general 90-miles-an-hour pace of this city.

The amount of things to do is almost overwhelming, so I’ve made a list, complete with Metro stops. Sadly, the visit I was most excited about – seeing an oral argument at the Supreme Court – isn’t to be, as the Court is out of session until September. I’ve already ventured in the vicinity of First Street, home to the Court as well as the Capitol and the six buildings used by Senate and House committees, to attend a Wilson Center event about national security concerns in the 2008 election featuring my internship supervisor along with top pollsters (one of whom I recognized, aurally at least, from NPR!)

Speaking of the election, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were here yesterday, Obama to give an address at a conference, Clinton to “meet with Capitol Hill supporters to strategize her next move.” Although I was a rally-attending, sticker-sporting Hillary supporter, I’m happy and relieved to see the nomination resolved and the party coalescing around Obama.

I’m off to lunch now – probably a delicious and subsidized sandwich courtesy of the Center cafeteria, to be eaten outside at a table on the vast Woodrow Wilson Plaza, which, incidentally, has promised free lunchtime jazz for a week now but has yet to deliver – and then on to more research and D.C.-exploring. Stay tuned!

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