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.