Monday, February 12, 2007

Freedom of speech.

The grey car in front of me. Maryland plates.
They read "4SHAHID".
For the martyrs, the suicide bombers, the terrorists.
If only it could only be on a licence plate...


On my way to work in a cold morning. A couple is walking toward the "Grill Fish" place on Florida Ave at the corner with North Capitol Street. The woman is visibly pregnant. Probably 8 or 9 th month. She is smoking.

Last flight

I'm in Dulles. I got a pass to the gate to accompany my mother who is flying back to France.
We are sitting, silently, each thinking of all the time spent together. We don't see each other very often so each of her visit is precious.
I noticed behind us a couple also silent. The man is in a uniform. I can't tell if he is a pilot or any other member of the flight crew. The woman is dressed impeccably, her face is made up with care and she looks very dignified. Both seem to be in their 60s.
The man goes away after a while and she stays seated erect, looking straight ahead.
My mother and I are still waiting. I want to get her a better seat and go to the gate where the flight attendants are just arriving. A large group of laughing women, joking about the upcoming trip (and work!) that awaits them. One of them is asking something to the United employee at the gate. "Come on" she says, "It's his last flight!"
The employee looks up as the flight attendant explains: "He is retiring after this flight. Taking his wife to Paris for the occasion. You have to make this a bit special".
I realize immediately who are they talking about and after securing a nice seat for my mother, I come back to tell her the new story I got. She loves stories.

The pilot is back now. He came back with drinks ("diet Pepsi" for both) and he is giving his wife a small glass before sitting down next to her. They drink slowly and then walk up to the gate and I see them taking a picture in front of the panel that says
"5:45 PM" "Flight 914" "Paris".
Soon afterward he is gone to the plane and his last trip in the pilot's seat.
His wife boards a bit later with the first and business classes.

English spelling is weird

On a window of a dirty building near Mt Pleasant street. A small note taped to the glass.
It says "Please don't knock on may window".
The spelling makes sense in Spanish...


Thanks for all the regulars who checked the blog while I was away from it.
It will be a bit irregular at first but I'm back.
I've written up some of the stories I could not write earlier.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Garbage truck

On my way to work on route 193. There is work going on and the road has been reduced to one lane.
As I near an intersection a garbage truck makes a right turn on to the road. It is too big to negotiate the turn gracefully and it strickes one of the orange cones that closed the other lanes. The truck stops, backs up and keeps going.
I honk. Only to let the driver know that he could have just waited for me to pass before attempting the turn in a hurry, a maneuver which was so clearly a mistake.
The driver honks back, a clear signal to get lost. I am following it for another 20 meters when I notice that the orange cone is actually stuck underneath the truck and is being dragged down the road.
The truck is flagged down by the workers on the side of the road and forced to stop. Someone crawls underneath and grabs the cone. We are all watching.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dangerous kids

On my way from work yesterday. The woman in the school yard that was surrounded by young kids. Probably 10 of them, about 6 or 7 years old. They were jumping on her from all sides. She is bent forward trying to get one of the kid off her back. I can see her laughing from the pleasure of the game.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

French cheese and American mice.

Guest in the garbage. An uninvited furry guest that I wanted to kill but could not. I just stayed there, watching in disgust as it jumped on the floor of the kitchen and hurried behind the dishwasher. In two seconds, it was gone.
The traps I bought are for "catch and release" so I don't have to kill them.
"Mice are not an endangered species" my mother remarks calmly when I show her the traps. She gave me French cheese for the bait. The cheese was still there this morning. I'll try peanut butter if the traps are still empty tomorrow. After all, these are American mice...

Thursday, November 09, 2006


It's gone. The sign that greeted me every day on my way to work.
Painted over to please the new neighboors. The end is near.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Swimming Pool (IV)

At the pool tonight after a relatively short swimming session. I was getting dressed when the aquaerobics class came back in the locker room. About 10 women between 50 and 80 years old, talking of anything but Michelangelo.
I hear a compliment on a swim suit and the answer comes "Well, thank you. I found out since I bought it that it is a mastectomy swimsuit, so I feel like I am taking it away from someone who really needs it".
I can't help but taking a peep at the woman who just spoke these words. She is among the youngest of the group. Maybe around 50. She is holding as a demo, a wet swimming suit, showing the part of the breast-cup that is designed for women who have had mastectomies. I can see something that look like a double slit, extra clothes. It is not quite clear how it is supposed to work and how it looks on a woman who still has her two breasts large and hanging.
I hear another woman saying "Be happy you don't have to wear these for that reason".
I walk out of the door to enjoy the cold but refreshing air that greets me.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Japan (III) -- Women only

This is it. I’m on my way to the airport, My week in Japan is over. I am looking forward to sleeping into my own bed “tonight” (after a 20 hours travel).
My suitcase is loaded with Japanese "stuff" ranging from food to small souvenirs. The train from Machida to Shinjuku is crowded with commuters. I see one express train come and the rush to get in it that follows. It is impossible to fathom. I see a blond woman filming the scene. There is no way I am getting on a train as crowded as this and I use an old Parisian trick: going to the end of a train to avoid all the people who cram into the middle cars to be nearest to their exit. As I arrive at the end of the track, the announced train is a semi-express, another safe bet to avoid crowding. Sure enough when the train arrives, there is enough room and I board. It is only after two or three stops that I realize that something is strange: I am surrounded by women. There is no one man in sight. Not a single one. I immediately start formulating hypothesis on why it should be so. My first guess is that most of the women in this train have come to the same conclusion as I did: it’s better to board a semi-express than an express, losing a bit of time in the process but wining space and peace of mind. Knowing the sexism of the Japanese society, I also suspect that this way, the woman are trying to avoid being “pinched” in the anonymity of a crowded train. I’ve experienced this and know first hand how disturbing this can be.
I’m there formulating all these hypothesis when I notice a large green sign on one of the window of the train car. The sign says “Woman Only” and explain that between the hour of 7:30 to 9:30 in the morning the first (or last) car of each train en-route to downtown Tokyo is reserved for women. This is true for express and semi-express trains.
A woman only car! This is such a brilliant idea. No problem of rush hour “encounters”, no hassle. If only they could implement this in Paris! So there is some good in some imposed rules after all. The imposed rest at the swimming pool bothered me but it is coming from the same philosophy of the society that triggers this rule about women-only cars that I find so appealing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Japan (II) -- Swimming Pool (III)

I decided to go for a swim. Nothing unusual except that I am in Japan and my knowledge of the language is rather limited. What I know is that somewhere near the “Sagamiono” stop station (one stop away from where I am staying) there is a public swimming pool. I got the information from a Japanese colleague who forwarded me a website address in Japanese. All I can understand on that website is the picture of a nice pool. I go down to ask the front desk. I am not staying in a hotel but in a “weekly appartment building”. They do not catter to tourists (which is a good thing as there are hardly any tourist here in Machida) but to Japanese travelers, renting studio appartment at a cheaper rate than an hotel. The front desk woman does not speak a word of English, nor French.
I try the few words I know in Japanese. She tells me to wait. About 10 minutes later, she is back with a printout from the web, showing a private health club that seems to be nearby. The price is outrageous. Something like $30 for an entrance pass valid twice. I decide to go exploring the Sagamiono station.

Once there, my first stop is a private health club that I saw marked on the orientation map at the train station. About 10 minutes of exploring walk, I end up in a lounge with soothing music and massage chairs. Everything around me looks like in the US. The big “Whey Protein” containers for sales with pictures of diformed people looking proud of themselves, the TV above the counters, the TVs above the treadmills that I can see in a corner of the next room. After a very short discussion “No pool. Members only”, I am sent to the other side of the train station, the other side of the tracks to look for another private club “Live” where, I am told, I can find a pool.
I get there to find that “Yes pool. but sorry: members only”. Fortunately, not only a young staff member speaks English perfectly, he is eager to practice and after sending his colleague to print out the directions to the public pool, he keeps asking me if there is anything else I want to know. I ask him about Japan, how he came to speak English so perfectly (a very rare occurance here) and after bowing and enough “arigato goisamasoo-ing” (about 5 on my count), I’m on my way to the bus station where, armed with the printout of the directions, it is easy to board the correct public bus for the pool.
We pass an American base on the way. I see houses with a lot of green around, signs to keep out, and a large wire fence around.

The pool is all I expected a Japanese pool to be: clean, clean and clean. The entrance fee is about 3$ but the charge is only valid for 2 hours. Any additional time has to be paid for. I don’t plan on staying that long. Just wanted to shake off the long flight in and relax in prevision of an heavy week of work.

There are lockers available (1$) and private stools to change (never seen in the US) and then I am in water. The deepest end is about 5 foot deep and lap swimming is done by changing lane on the back and forth. There is one line to swim one way and another line to swim back. Efficient way to minimize the number of lanes reserved for lap swimming. I am the only westerner in a pool.Most of the people came in with kids (it is Sunday after all) and there is a large number of older people (there is what looks like a communal restaurant for old people at the entrance of the pool). So I swim back and forth, bowing in the water with a “dozo” to allow someone to pass me (I am not a fast, nor a good swimmer). I am starting to relax fully when I hear a witsle. I ignore it thinking it is directed to one of the kids playing in the nearby lane but as I am readying to swim back, a woman taps on my shoulder. She is about 60 with a very kind face and a soft smile. “Rest now” she says. I look at her, uncertain of what she means. “Rest now. No swim”. I look around. Everybody is getting out of the pool. It is rest time for everybody. Every hour, from 10-off to the full hour, everyone and the pool take a 10 mn break. It does not matter that one just arrives and does not need to rest. It’s mandatory rest time. I look at people standing around the pool and some who are walking toward a small room on the side. Japan is a smoking country. Smoke is everywhere so my first thought is that this is the smoking room but then it just does not make sense. Even in Japan, people just don’t swim and smoke. So I have a closer look and realize that it’s a sauna. Nice dry heat. People sitting in silence, enjoying this imposed rest time.
I slowly gets the heat enters my body, completely relaxed now. A nice break indeed.
Still I cannot get over the irritation to have it imposed on me by some rules. I am all for taking breaks when swimming, I just don’t see why it should be imposed by the pool rules and be the same for everyone.
I laught at the thought of such rule in the US or in France and again realize how lucky I am to live there rather than here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Japan (I) -- The first time

This was my first time. 6:35 AM in the morning. I was awake because of the jetlag, standing in this small hotel room in my PJs and it happened. The hotel moved. As if it were a paper construction. The potential strength of that earthquake was palpable. Like the touch of a giant who has decided not to hurt you but whose "caress" still sends you across the room.
My first reflex is to grab my pants and get dressed. I don't want to stay in my PJs. Don't want to linger in bed. I want to be entirely dressed in case it happens again. Then I look for my passport and green card and decide to carry them at all time. I won't let them in my hotel room as I usually do. I can't risk it.

I check the net and the monitoring of earthquakes and sure enough, I find it: a 5.3 magnitude quake off the coast of Japan. Nothing really but enough to make me think that I don't want to die here, that I want to be back home as quickly as possible, surrounded by friends and familiar faces. I've checked. There has been no earthquake recorded in Washington DC for the past 100 years.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

San Francisco (III) -- No to Napa

Just don't go. It's a waste of time and waste of money.
We decided to take a day off from the conference and bike Napa (well part of Napa at least).
Our first stop is "Sterling" which greets us with a large parking lot filled with SUVs and limos. That's enough to make me suspicious but the worst is the $20 fee to take a cable car to access the wine tasting area. $20 to "taste" wine? When did this happen? This is like paying a contractor for an estimate. You should not. Estimates are part of their cost for doing business. Tasting wine is the same thing. This should be part of the cost of doing business. If the wine is good, we buy a bottle and everyone is happy. We decide to pass on the $20 wine tasting experience.
The place next door ("Twomey") is much more low key (still $5 for a tasting but the wine is excellent) but the first impression is the one that stays for the whole day. It is a rip off. Wine places are selling "chocolate Riesling", "wine coasters", napkins. Each place looks more like a supermarket than a winery. I still buy a couple of bottles. One is for a friend that was pissed at me (and my entire fault). I ask the guy at the counter a wine to restore a damaged friendship. No wine is too good. I hope this would do the trick. The other bottle is for the concierge at the hotel who got us the rental car. We could not find one and he saved our Saturday. Later, when I give him the bottle he laughed at my description of the places and tells me that next time he'll give me the list of places that I should visit. That there are still nice, low key places in Napa. They're just a bit more hidden than the big names on the tourist circuit. There will be no next time. Napa once is one too many...

Friday, October 06, 2006

San Francisco (II) -- Don't shoot the pianist

The hotel I am staying in is a posh hotel right off Chinatown, at the top of a steep hill.
There is a piano in the lobby and at certain times during the day, the piano is playing. By itself. The keys are going up and down as if an invisible player was sitting there. Nobody to shoot at.
This proves irresistible for a kid about 4 year old who has jumped on the seat in front of the piano and is trying to follow along the song and the keys going up and down. He is really "following along" although the sound produced does not improve the music that much. His mother is sitting nearby, letting him enjoy a big, new toy.
This is when a woman employed by the hotel comes to the kid. It is very clear that she would like nothing better than grab him and put him somewhere as far as possible from the piano, but she can't and she is trying to bring him to stop in a falsely smooth voice. The voice, most adults use when they speak to children, as if speaking to an inferior intellect. Slowly, smoothly and higher pitched voice that they would to adults.
"Do you want some milk?" I hear her say. "Maybe some cookies?" she adds as it is clear that the milk won't do the trick. The child is unflappable. He just loves that piano and no milk and cookies are going to make him leave it. The voice gets a bit higher in pitch. "Look! I have some toys over there!" The kid is still pounding on the keyboard. The woman turns to the mother and with a very low and severe voice tells her that kids are not allowed near the instrument. I'm not sure if the milk, cookies and toys are still part of the deal.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

San Francisco (I) -- Swimming Pool (II)

I am in San Francisco for a meeting. I arrive early to set everything up and discover that the room is occupied until 5 PM so I decide to go for a swim in the local pool. Not a long walk from here, just a lots of hills. This is San Francisco after all.
I have my first surprise arriving there: it's free. Apparently it's free on Tuesdays. Or maybe it's free only today. In any case, I'm in without having paid a dime and the pool is OK, if not incredibly cold. The water is a least 5 degrees colder than my local pool. I can swim for 20 minutes and still feel the water fresh on my body. As I am nearing my usual kilometer swim, I am seized by crippling cramps. I decide to stop and head back in. The place is quite dirty and not really welcoming so I get dressed to go back to my hotel for a hot shower. A woman enters the dressing room. She was the one sharing the lane with me. She smiles and asks me how I am and I realize she saw me struggling out of the pool with my cramps. I explains that my right calf was killing me. She listens and then with a smile tells me "too bad I didn't know it was cramps. The remedy for cramps is very simple." She points to somewhere between her mouth and her nose and she continues "all you have to do is push somewhere there". "You have to find the correct point though. But it's somewhere here". She is pushing here and there, tracking an invisible "mustache" with her finger while explaining the principle of this point and its importance in acupuncture.
I love California.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Swimming Pool (I)

I've resumed swimming a couple of time per weeks. I used to swim a lot and then stopped. I realized recently that I missed it and with a bit of a nudge from a friend, has gone back to it. So it's about 7:30 AM and I am arriving at the pool near where I work. The morning is already beautiful and I am looking forward to the relaxation of the water. A family passes me by as I am walking toward the entrance. There is what I assume to be the mother and her two sons. All of them on bikes, all of them pedaling with enthusiasm. I can't help but feeling the joy of the scene. The health, the good habits instilled so young, the relaxed way to bring the kids to school. As I am reflecting on how lucky these youngsters are to have a mother who understand these things, I hear her scream. She is yelling at the youngster who didn't stop at the stop sign in front of the parking lot. She screams at him to "STOP RIGHT NOW" and he, as a 8 years old would do, is pushing her to the brink by not stopping "right now" but stop and then go some more, and then stop and go some more. She is hysterical now and gets to him quickly, swinging at him and knocking him out of his bike. I've seen enough. I turn to enter the pool

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Junk them!

In front of a Funeral House on Florida avenue, a sign asks:
1-800-GOT JUNK?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Good deed and bad karma

In Baltimore for a meeting, which has meant long drives and long hours for the past 4 days. Today, I am coming home relatively early and I'm happy to have "escaped". At the last light before the beginning of the highway I see a man coming to my car with a small cardboard that reads "Homeless. Please help". I honk , open my wallet and my window to give him money. The light has just turned green and the car behind is getting nervous honking to get me moving faster. I start and get on the highway, feeling good to have helped him even if only with a dollar.

Only back in DC that I realized that I had given him a $10 bill instead of the intended $1.
Now I am annoyed at myself to not having looked more carefully. No more of feel good and just thoughts about checking more carefully next time.
Doing and feeling good on the cheap.

Motorcycle disappointment

Almost every day I would see it on my drive to work. A pale green motorcycle on the sidewalk at the intersection of Florida and W Street. It's a "vespa", an authentic Italian motorcycle, like the one in "Roman Holidays". I grew used to seeing it, day after day. Used to imagine the type of person that would have a pale green motorcycle and park it all the time at the same exact spot. Man or woman? Young or not so young? Used to look for it every time I'd cross the intersection.
And then it happened. One morning last week, I saw him. A man whose face I forgot, about 30 years old. Maybe older. He was just about to leave, on the pale green Vespa. I slowed down to get a better view but he went the other way, up Florida as I kept going on W street. So now I know and the "vespa" has already lost its appeal. I should have closed my eyes.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Car dialogues

On the Beltway, completely trapped in traffic. The guy in the car next to mine started a conversation. A simple hello, transformed into a discussion with our two cars crawling in traffic.
He notices my accent. "French" I tell him and at the next "stop" of our cars, he shows me a CD. "They're French too!" he is yelling at the top of his lungs. "I had never met a real French but they're French". I cannot read the title or the artists name on the CD but I can see the image cover of scantly clad women with large breasts. I change lanes to lose him.

On Wisconsin Ave, at around 9 PM. The car behind me has no light on. It is practically invisible. I slow down to let him pass me and put myself behind him, trying to get his attention by turning my lights on and off but to no avail. It's a convertible and the outside light is enough to allow the driver to see the dashboard and the road. A unlit car in the night is a big danger to all the drivers around so I accelerate to his level and shout through the window. "YOUR LIGHTS!".
Finally success. The lights appear and I hear a loud "Thank you!" Before I have the time to shout back a "You're welcome", the car accelerates and it is gone in a minute..

Monday, August 28, 2006

Silent recess

On my way to Chinatown this morning, I pass a small kindergarten playground. There are a couple of swings in a large patch of grass but all the kids are ignoring them, looking at the sidewalk though the metal fence that encloses the garden. There is a giant hole in the sidewalk and a crew of two is repairing some water pipes. The kids are clearly fascinated by the spectacle and all of them are completely still, silent as far as I can tell. Ten kids, all about 3 or 4 years old, boys and girl, looking at the work these men are doing. It must look like a giant playground, complete with mud and white pipes. A playground for adults. Irresistible for kids at any age.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Young capitalists

On a bike ride this weekend, I am planing on biking up to the lake at the end of Rock Creek Park. I've made my way to Meadowbrook Stable, readying myself for the upcoming 15 miles. It is quite hot and humid and there are only few people out. A small kid is standing on a picnic table, with a large sign advertising lemonade. She is very cute, smiling and looking at people passing by. Hard to resist indeed. I stop to buy a 25 cents glass of lemonade. Her mom presides over the transaction. I give her 30 cents, explaining that this includes the tip. The child is confused but the mother smiles and thanks me. She blames the weather for the lack of foot traffic. Clearly, not many people are out in the sun today. In any case, it looks that she will soon run out of supply. The business will probably close early.

The ride ended up with a flat tire after mile 35. I did the last 5 miles by bus. The next morning I make my way to the bike shop to get the tire fixed. The road is empty but two kids are there selling lemonade and cookies, sitting in front of their house. "How's business?" I ask, thinking of yesterday's girl that had set up shop on the bike path, clearly looking for costumers. The two boys seem happy "We had 3 people coming already!" The fact that this street is only used by locals living within one block is of no concern to them. Their lemonade is more expensive (a whooping 50 cents a glass) but nice and cold.
Already two completely different business models.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I'm saving your life, bitch!

On my way back from work. It is getting dark, a mixture of black and red that makes things and people almost invisible.
I'm driving, hungry and eager to be home. I saw some movement in the middle of the intersection in front. The light is green and there are no car.
I flashed my lights to high beams to see better and I can now see a woman pushing her bike. She is crossing, dressed in dark color, probably en-route to the nearby club.
Another flash to warn her that she is totally invisible to traffic but that flash is misunderstood and she raises her hand to give me the finger. I gave it back to her resisting the urge to think that I should have zoomed by her and her bike.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Superman does not want to die

I saw him jogging in the street in the middle of the morning traffic. He was approaching the "ID-crisis" intersection where all the streets change their names: U Street becomes Florida Ave and Georgia Ave becomes 7th Street. An oddity with a poetic charm.
He seemed confused but his path was clearly aware of the cars zooming by. He made his way across the intersection avoiding collisions after collisions. As the light changed, and on the point of fighting traffic coming in a different direction, I saw him jumping on the sidewalk, smiling widely in celebration of his victory. He had won the DC equivalent of the Pampluna's running with the bulls. His torn and dirty T-shirt underlines the futility of his uncelebrated battle.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Smoke up in the air

This was pure happiness. A worker his feet dangling in the air, about 50 meters above ground, taking a smoke pause from his work on a building.
I noticed him at the corner of 14th and W. Waiting for the light to change on my way to work. I could not see his face, only that he was smoking, sitting at the edge of the upcoming luxury condominiums that will be ready soon.
Two stories below him, one worker is gulping some food.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Honk if you love Jesus

There are mayoral elections coming up in DC and signs are popping up all over. It is becoming routine on my way to work to see people picketing with large green or red signs. "Fenty" or "Cropp". Standing in the street already hot and sticky even at 8 AM. I usually honk for support for all of them. I am not yet a citizen so I can't vote but still I honk. Just to let the people know that I saw their signs. Breaking the silence of indifference, giving them a little joy by letting them think that their standing in the heat has had an impact.
Tonight coming back from work (and after the small problem on the road), I pass one man standing by himself on the sidewalk of Florida Ave. He is holding a hand-written sign and it takes me longer to decipher it. It is written "Pray for peace in Jerusalem" on one side and "Honk if you love Yeshua (Jesus)" on the other. I have to fight the desire to honk. I drive away looking at the rear view mirror and the man standing there in silence.

There is nothing

On my way back from work. For a chance I am driving down Rhode Island Ave. On the downhill right after the Carmelite place. I'm not sure how it happened. All I know is that I was stopped a the light and then colliding with the car in front of me. A white car with licence plates in Maryland. We both stopped and I see a woman getting out of her car. She looks really annoyed (and I can't blame her, I just collided with her!). I put my distress signals and walk to her, looking at her car. There is no track of the shock. It was quite a mild shock (I was stopped after all) so I am not surprised but still not quite sure of what she is going to do.
She looks at me and I say "There is nothing on your car. My licence plate is bent but nothing on your side". She inspects her car. Some marks here and there but I'm not sure these are from the shock. Probably there before as she does not point to them. She smiles. "I was so worried" she said. I smile back. "I'm not sure how it happened and I was worried too". She walks back to her car and wishes me a nice evening. I go back to my car and we both leave.
An incident handled with civility in the country of lawsuits. How refreshing...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Death in the morning

I could not see what it was until it was too late. I saw what seems a small brown bag being bounced around under the car. I realize now that it was trying to escape. The driver probably never saw it. A grey BMW with Maryland plates, convertible with the top down and the man enjoying the morning sun.
Below his car, I saw the brown bag being tossed up and down until it got trapped it under the rear tire. The bag turned red and I saw the feathers being smashed. Instinctively, even though I was also driving, I closed my eyes. Too late. The image of the red splash on the pavement stayed with me all day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Riding a dog

Today I went hiking again on the Billy Goat trail. I like it more and more for the convenience it affords: close to DC and safe enough to be done alone (although some incident may disprove this..). As I approach the trail I see a large dog and a toddler holding a leash and walking by its side. What make the scene remarkable is that the dog is larger than the child. This kid could easily ride that dog and she may be thinking of it as her steps are still uncertain and not completely stable. The dog is walking at the kid's pace, clearly knowing that any faster would be impossible for that child to follow. I can't decide who is the more admirable sight. The dog or the child.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dog's heaven

I'm on a long walk exploring some of DC neighborhoods. It is a hot day and I've been walking for about 2 hours, making my way back home slowly. Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave has a large statue at its center and it is flanked by 2 water fountains. A woman is standing by the fountain while her dog is literally taking a shower. His foot are in the water and he is going from one faucet to the other, clearly enjoying the reprieve from the heat. The woman is motionless. She seems to be willing to wait as long as her dog wants to stay and she is enduring the sun while her dog is relaxing at the pool. It is funny to see though, a dog so completely content without being jumpy and excited. In the 10 minutes it takes me to walk around the square, I see that the odd couple has left the first fountain and the dog is now having fun in the other one. Boundless enthusiasm of an animal.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Snack in a car

On my way back from work. At the corner of Florida and U Street, almost right in front of the 9:30 pub and the new luxury condominiums that just got built there..
A big SUV in front of me. I can see the faces of the people inside and a guy rummaging through a paper bag from a fast food place. He holds a soggy pizza slice in front of him and I see him tilt his head backward to shovel the slice in his mouth. He does not eat it all at once and throw the rest out of the window.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Faking it

Billy Goat trail on a sunny Saturday morning. I'm with a friend, enjoying the small hike so close to the city. As we turn on the path, there is a couple, resting, in the middle of the trail. The woman is lying with her back straight on the ground, her legs popped up on a rock and her head resting on her backpack. It looks awkward but I've learned that people hiking here have all their quirky habits so I don't say anything. As we get closer and we are almost passing them, the man, holding a cell phone, calls after us: "Would you please see if the rescue team is coming?"
Immediately feeling bad not to have noticed the agony on the woman's face, we ask if there is anything we can do beside direct the incoming rescue team to the site. "No" says the man, "just tell them to hurry". We don't ask what's the problem, we just both nod and hurry down the trail.
It's 11:10 AM.
Less than 10 minutes later, we're at the "Emergency exit #2", a short cut to the tow path. The trail goes on after that but that's where we expect the rescue team to show up. We wait for a couple of minutes. Nobody is coming.
A tall guy almost running is catching up to us. He is coming from the same direction as us, so he had to pass the couple on his way here. He does not look at us, going super fast on the trail walking with two poles for stability and "tracing" the path. The guy is clearly in a hurry. We scramble out of his way (there is no doubt in my mind that he will just walk through us otherwise) and he disappears in front. As we decide to keep walking, we meet him about 50 meters away from where we saw him first. He is talking to a woman who was walking in the opposite direction, giving her advice on how to exit the path at the "Emergency Exit #2" as she seems exhausted and already tired. This is when I notice his carrying a small "Walkie-talkie" on his belt. I ask "Are you from a rescue team?". He answers in a non-denial way. It seems that he is involved with rescues but not officially. I told him about the couple and the woman injured. "You must have passed them" I say, "as you were coming from that trail when we saw you first". "I saw that couple you're talking about" he smiles, "but they were just blocking the trail. The woman has nothing". My friend and I look at him incredulously. "No, she is really injured. She could not move when we saw her. They are not blocking the trail. They're stuck there...". The smile on the guy's' face vanishes and he turns around quickly. "I thought she was faking it" is what I remember hearing before seeing him disappearing fast on his way back to the woman. We keep going meeting the rescue team lost on the path. They've hiked the long way instead of coming in from the Emergency Exit number #2, they've hiked all the way in. No wonder they could not get there on time. A 10 mn stroll to the woman was transformed in a 35 mn hike through the woods.
We both make a mental note to never get injured on the trail...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Image of a sunny day

I am on my way back from the Immigration office where I went to get my fingerprints taken. Soon, very soon, I'll be an American. The day is sunny and hot. I see a woman about 65 or 70 watering her plants in front of her house. She is wearing a very formal dress, grey with black laces. A dress that would not seem inappropriate at the opera house. She is holding the water hose with all the dignity that her dress confers. Upright and dignified in the molding heat that came onto Washington. The man working in shorts and T-shirt at the other end of the garden seems strangely out of place.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Pure fun

Columbia road next to "La casa del pueblo". About 6:30 PM. I'm walking coming back from a friend's house. An apartment building with a large garden iron door. A little girl is hanging on the door. She is going back and forth as her older sister (her mother?) pushes and pulls to open and close the door.
The little girl is shrieking with pleasure. Back and forth on a door. Pure and simple fun.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


On my way to National airport to pick up a friend. It is about 8:30 PM and it's not completely dark yet. Just right before the exit to the airport, I catch a glimpse of a man fishing in what seems like a pond, on the other side of the road from the Potomac. He is in the water to his waist, a silhouette with a hat and a long pole. He looks lost, far away from civilization, within a stone's throw of the shore.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Parallel parking

Friday, a beautiful day in DC and I am out for a short walk before going back to work. On Columbia Road I notice a van trying to park between a car and a motorcycle. From the angle of the car, I know that the driver is having troubles.
As I walk past it I can't help but looking to the driver. She too turns her head and looks at me with a pleading air. I stop and start to direct her: "You can go back some more, some more, some more. STOP. Now go forward"' I say going back to the front to check the distance to the motorcycle.
After a couple of back and forth, she is parked but about 2 meters away from the sidewalk. I shake my head. "You should try again" I suggest. I can see that she is afraid of the traffic zooming past her while she is parking. She is hesitating and this trial is also for naught.
I ask her "Do you want me to park the car for you?". She shakes her head and asks me if I would not mind helping her for the third time. I don't mind. I tell her that learning to drive in Paris is a marvellous recipe to learn to parallel park anywhere.
I give her all the tricks and start shouting "back, back, turn, turn, turn, back again, turn the other way, the other way, now forward, forward...".
She is parked in less than 5 mn, 10 cm away from the sidewalk, so happy of her prowess. I am happy too. I think she got it completely now. Another 2 or 3 times like this and she'll park like a Parisian in the streets of DC.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dada fan

The Dada exhibit currently at the National Gallery. The last room has a large screen that shows a rotating wheel painted in back and white. The effect is mesmerizing, spirals going away from us and small circles disappearing.
A man is walking by with an infant in his arms. She must be 9 or 10 month old. A baby with a cut dress and rosy cheeks.
Her eyes are drawn to the screen. She stops moving and watches. After 10 seconds, the father moves to the next display. The baby twists her head completely, and turns to keep watching the wheels and the geometrical patterns that are shown on the screen. Her dad does not notice and I can see them both, him looking straight ahead at a picture and the baby in his arms, her head twisted and tilted to watch some more of that fantastic spectacle.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


The tiny hand of a child pokes through the window of the car, in front, on my left. I'm driving up 15th Street. The window on that station-wagon is opened just a bit at the top and I see the small fist coming out, shaking. A band-aid is still glued to the thumb. Motions of the other fingers. Go away! Go away! Finally the victory. The band-aid falls and the hand gets back in the car. I noticed that the small orange plastic band didn't fell on to the ground. I accelerate to have a better look at the car. As I get at the same level as the rear-window, I can see the band-aid stuck on the black plastic that marks the start of the window. Flapping in the wind. I wonder if the kid has seen it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I found them

I finally found the waterfalls I had been looking for.
There are small but untamed and easy to find once one realizes that they are off "Coleville road". and not off "Georgia Ave". These falls had become almost something of a quest. The promise of a hidden treasure. A beauty nearby but out of my reach. They were here all that time. I just had to learn where to look.
The water is still brown from the rain when we reach them. They are graffiti on the rocks nearby. Still it's beautiful.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hidden deal

7PM. In front of the Union Station post office. This is the last day before taxes are due and people have all come down here, knowing it will still be opened.
I'm making my way in and overhear a conversation between two homeless people. The woman is sitting, begging near the entrance, hoping to cash in on the sheer number of people streaming in and out of the place. There is a man standing in front of her, pointing his finger to her face. I hear her saying "Do not touch me or I call the police. I say NO" and his plea "but I like you. Honest to god. I like you". Her voice becomes more strident. She is clearly upset and is making clear she wants nothing to do with him. I enter the post office. It is the mad house with a line of about 50 people. I put my letters in one of the boxes and turn around to exit. I've been inside less than one minute. The woman has disappeared from her spot. The man is sitting there now and he is carefully counting some dollar bills that he is clutching. I can't imagine what happened. Maybe she sold her spot, maybe she got scared, maybe, maybe. I regret to have missed that deal.

Monday, April 10, 2006


A yellow jacket. A red bike. The kid is standing in front of an adult (his dad? his brother?) examining a small red bike. I can't hear them (I am in my car, driving to work. late) but the adult turns his head suddenly and I can see the kid recoiling with fear. All his body moved back as if expecting a punch that he is used to receive. The man looks at the boy and slowly turns back to the bike. The kid's body is still a bit tilted, still anticipating the punch, not yet back to his natural posture.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How many dogs in a car?

On my way to meet a friend. I am walking up the street. A car is parked about 20 meters in front. I notice a woman walking a dog to one of the houses. She is pulling a long leash as the dog reluctantly climbs the stairs to the front door. As I come nearer, I hear a cacophony of barking. The sound is coming from the car. I do a doubletake on the car: It is filled with dogs. Literally filled. About 10 dogs in a small Rav 4 car. There are dogs everywhere. Big dogs in the back, small dogs poking their heads between the seats. A dog putting its paw on the steering wheel. There are so many dogs that I am not sure how the woman can drive or even sit. I catch the look of another passerby, a neighbor who is walking toward me and also caught sight of the dogs. She has the amused air of someone who has just came back from the circus.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The stick

I am with a friend walking on Mount Pleasant Street, slowly making our way to Adams Morgan. It's dark already.
In front of us a woman has stopped to grab something over the small fence of a house's garden. We see her pulling out a large branch and walking away. We both look at each other puzzled. Just a short comment on fireplaces as we keep walking. The woman is now walking with the large branch in her hand about 10 meters in front of us. We cross the "Rat Park" (the rat-infested park at the corner of 16th Street, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Road). We are so close that we can hear her say "I got a stick" to someone on her cell-phone, and she hangs up. My friend teases me "This can't be on your blog if you don't know why she is so excited about that stick!". No matter, I am just too curious. I call after her "Madam, Madam". When she turns around, I realize that she is no more than 25 years old. A petite woman with an open face. She looks at us a bit worried. "What's the stick for?" I ask.
A huge smile on her face. "For the piñata" she says pointing to a plastic bag she is carrying. "To break it" she adds seeing immediately that I didn't understand her answer.
Her friends call from across the street. A young woman all dressed up and a young man carrying a much shorter stick, more like half of a baseball bat. I just have the time to say "Your stick is nicer" and she runs to join them. I hear her boasting to her friends the opinion I just offered her. She'll keep that stick tonight.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

My son the republican.

Coming back on Saturday from the Seymour's photo exhibit at the Corcoran Museum, in front of the White House, at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave and 17th Street.
A family is crossing the street. The man is wearing a leather jacket, a bandana covering his head, some tatoos on his forearms. The rebel par excellence. His kid, about 8, is walking in front of him. He is wearing a pair of beige freshly pressed pants, a darker-colored sweater. His hair are cut short and neatly. My friend notes that he is dressed more conservatively. He is too young to fake an outsider or rebel status.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Bus 42 on my way downtown. A woman gets in with a little girl in tow. I hear her say in Spanish "Do you want to sit down?"
I don't hear the answer but soon I hear sobbing. It's the girl who is speaking in English through what seems tears. I quickly turn around to see the woman sitting with the little girl by her side. Apparently she can't follow in class. "It goes so fast" I hear her sobbing. The mother answers in Spanish "Have you told your teacher?" The little girl answers still in English that she raised her hand but the teacher didn't call her. Then comes the larger sob and the plea from the girl "I want a tutor to help me!" The mother clearly does not want to hire a tutor and she is giving now a lecture to the girl on the obligation of her teacher. I understand most of it and it seems like a pep-talk on the duties of a teacher to pay attention to everyone, to treat everybody the same. If she was speaking in French, I would expect the line on "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité". The little girl is not buying it. She keeps insisting on a tutor. The world on its head: a kid begging for extra work that the mother is refusing to give her. They leave the bus still speaking, one pleading in English the other answering in Spanish..

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Promise of untold stories

Today in Fells Points, Baltimore. I'm there to meet a friend in town for a meeting. I just park in front of the water, right across the street of the Bonaparte pastry shop, one of the best French pastry shop in the area. A short walk to the meter to get a sticker for my car but the machine is not working with my credit card. I can't get a parking receipt to print and I don't want to try again for fear of getting charged every time I try.
I see two women ready to leave and I just call out to them for some help. Maybe they have the change for $4. One of the ladies comes up to me. She is about 60 years old. The air of a favorite grandmother, with a little smile in the corner of her mouth as if she was anticipating some joy that only she could see.
I ask her about the machine but with my accent she quickly asks me about my nationality and with my answer, she immediately switches to French. Her French is slow but perfect and singing. She is clearly enjoying speaking it and it is my turn to ask questions. She has never been to France but was born in Alexandria, Egypt from Italian parents who put her in a French school.
She jokes that her Arabic is almost gone and that her Italian is too rusty. "Not many people speak it around here" she says, and the ones who speak it, speak it in a way that is different from the ones she grew up speaking at home.
She used to live in New Jersey but moved to Baltimore a couple of months ago to be close to her daughter. She lives in a house for old people. She turns her head a bit whispering "old people only complain all the time. I prefer to be surrounded by young people. They have more energy". I follow her look to her car where her companion is sitting waiting for our conversation to end.
We laugh. I'd love to keep talking to her, to ask her stories from her childhood in Egypt. Ask about her impression of America when she arrived here probably as a teenager or a young adult. I'd like to know all the details that are never mentioned in any book. The smells, the sounds, the people. The same feeling than when I buy a new book. The promise of stories in these pages. I am ready to ask her for a phone number or an address but I fear not to be able to follow up on the enthusiasm of this instant. I fear to be disappointed. The best stories are the ones that are left untold. They are the ones still open in the imagination. I can see my friend coming toward us from his hotel so I just ask her name. "Nelly" she says. I tell her mine and we part. She gets into her car and leaves. I still have to find $4 in quarters to pay the parking machine.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Scenes from a short walk at night

Three small vignettes from tonight as I was walking down 16th Street.

The crossroad at the intersection between Hobbart and Mt Pleasant is completely blocked by a car, a grey Prius, turning right. I hesitate to cross in front of the car as I'm not sure that the driver, a man in his 60's, saw me . The man turns around to check that the path is clear and I expect him to let me go first but he does not and just starts driving . When the car passes me I tapped gently on the back and keep walking. The car has turned now and I see it slowing down and waiting for me to catch up. The window goes down. "What did you do that for?" he is asking. "The right of way in crossroads is to pedestrians " I answer calmly. I don't want any fight, just to let him know what he should have done. "I waited a whole minute at this intersection because I could not see anything" he answers. My answer seems to surprise him. I just say "OK. I didn't know that" and keep walking. I'm sure he was expecting an argument.

Five boys about 11 or 12. All dressed in "gansta" mode with black tights head covers and bulky clothes are trying to cross 16th Street. One of them is bouncing a basketball. The traffic is heavy and they are stuck in the middle of the street, with cars zooming passed them in both directions. Finally one car stops and let them cross. One of them shouts "Thank you!" as they walked. Five well behaved boys in gangsta mode.

A dog is howling nearby and a guy walking toward me answers it "To you too!" As he finishes to address the dog, he catches my eyes and we both burst in laughter.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

L'enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions

I was buying the paper this morning. At a CVS on Connecticut Ave, near Politics and Prose.
The paper is 35 cents plus 2 cents tax for a total of 37 cents. I give the girl behind the counter one dollar and then as she is typing the amount in the machine, I find 7 cents and tell her "Wait! I have 7 cents" expecting an easier transaction. In fact, she looks puzzled. "How much should I give you back?" she is asking. I tell her "Well, I gave you 1 $ 07 and the paper cost 37 cents so you owe me 1$07 MINUS 37 cents and that's..." I want to let her do the math. She is about 15 or 16 years old. She probably knows how to subtract. She rushes to her pocket calculator as I say. "No, you can do it! I'll help you." I'm in my "teacher mode" now, working slowly with the numbers to make her understand. "How much is 10 minus 3 ?" I ask. When she answers "5", I just ask again. "Don't try to guess, count even on your hand if you have to". She obliges.
I turn around to apologize to the man behind me. I smile while saying that I hope he won't mind but it is important. "Teaching maths to a young mind". He does mind and calls someone to open a new line. I'm undeterred and keep explaining to the girl how to get the result that she needs. I've now got a pen, a paper and I'm scribbling on it, explaining as I write. "So you see, I gave you 7 cents extra from the dollars so that takes care of of the 7 cents extra from 30 cents of the paper". She sees but after telling me that 10 -3 is indeed 7, she cannot tell me that 1$ -30 cents is 70 cents.
After a full 2 minutes of explanations, she finally gets it and says 70 cents. I smile happy and convinced to have done good. As I get my money back (she did gave me the correct change), I ask her "Which grade are you?". Her answer takes me aback. "Twelve grade". I cannot help but joke "Twelve grade! What have you been doing for these 12 years?" Her smile vanishes. She looks at me straight and says with a clear voice "I have a learning disability". I do not know what to say so I just nod my head, feeling embarrassed. As I leave the store, I notice a woman in the line glaring at me with her eyes sending me insults and reproaches.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Taking it off

I'm driving back to DC via another (and a bit longer) road. We've almost reached the highway and I'm getting a bit tired. A quick look into my rear-view mirror wakes me up completely. The 18-wheeler behind me has a huge confederate flag pinned down to the front. I've never seen this flag displayed so prominently. We're still in West Virginia, approaching the border with Maryland.
The truck is going much faster than I am. It passes me and disappears. About 20 minutes later, as we have already entered Maryland, I spot the truck on the side of the highway. The driver is walking toward the front. I surmise that he wants to get ride of the flag before keeping driving. After all in Maryland, this flag will not go unnoticed. I pass him before I can check if I was right.