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Monthly Archives: October 2013

In a world,

Where thumbs exercise more than thighs. Where an elliptical machine is just another platform to twiddle your thumb. Where your eyes are glued to those few square inches. Where your thumb kindly strokes that screen, with a definitive sweeping motion. Scroll. Scroll. Where thighs slow down at the will of the thumb. The will of the device.

In a world,

Where pedestrians walk blindly. Where bustling downtown sidewalks house zombies strutting idly. Where eyes do not look where they are supposed to look – in front. Where the “next big thing” must dwell within those few square inches. Frown. Frown. So serious.

In a world,

Where the break of day is announced through those few square inches. Where your closest companion is neither dog nor partner. Where a device is put on a leash, never to leave your sight, always by your side, by your bed, by your head. Where. Where. Don’t loosen that leash.

In a world,

Where comics become reality. Where Power Rangers is now on your wrist. Where the device wears us. Where something electronic clasps on to your pulse. Where the “next big thing” pierces the flesh, quivering through fat and muscle fiber, like some alien nightmare. Thump. Thump. Wear the machine, those few square inches.

In a world,

Where no one owns the world in one’s palm. Where I dare to look up.

 

In a world.

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Northern Virginia, and a vast majority of Suburban America, is enchained in frappuccinos. In NoVa-Suburbia Land, Coffee is not coffee. Rather, coffee is a hazy understanding of something burnt combined with lactose, sweetener and whipped cream. Make that a grande.

Route 29, piercing the heart of Fairfax, was devoid of anything worthy of referring to as “cafe.” The lone star was Caffe Amouri of Vienna, a local hotspot for many great single-origin beans, thanks to meticulous in-house roasting. But that’s Vienna. And one Caffe Amouri cannot pump enough of its black liquid gold through the entire region.

Enter 29th Parallel Coffee & Tea. Barely a month old, this new cafe would have been a revolt against the NoVa coffee scene, if one exists. More accurately, 29th Parallel is attempting to build a niche, one bag at a time. I honestly had low expectations as I walked through its doors, but I always have low expectations when trying out new cafes.

I was impressed.

The cafe uses beans exclusively from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co., an award-winning (Roast Magazine’s 2009 Roaster of the Year) roaster based in Topeka, Kansas. Coffee doesn’t jump to the forefront when I picture Kansas, but PT’s is dead serious. When I visited, the cafe featured a variety of beans from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Panama.

The beans were fresh. The cup of Ethiopian Sidamo I tried, and all of the 12 oz whole beans on sale, were roasted within ten days of purchase. Amir Khalil, the manager, told me their current turnover rate for inventory is about ten days, and their goal is to shorten that even more, to about a week or less. Amir and his staff knew their stuff, and we struck up a great conversation about coffee regions, brewing methods, and NoVa coffee culture.

By the way, that cup of Deri Kochoha, Ethiopia? Superb.

Anyone who has a decent understanding of good coffee knows Fairfax needs just that, good coffee. Real coffee. No more fraps. It’s time to graduate, and 29th Parallel sheds hope to this barren region.

Great seasonal varieties, excellent roasting, skilled brewing. Now available on Route 29.

I like brine.

It has been years since I stepped through the famed doors of Katz’s, stumbled to the front of the line, and ordered more deli meat and chopped liver I’ve seen in all my life. Then one of those “what the hell did I just put in my mouth” moments happened, when the man hand-carving the blackened hunk of pastrami handed a slice to me and said, “Try it, and tell me you don’t like it.” I tried it, and I was speechless. Except my brain was screaming, “what the hell did I just put in my mouth.”

Katz’s has been the standard for me, at least for pastrami. Hand-carving the meat is what sets that deli apart from the rest. Paper-thin slices do not do justice to the fatty juice that should be running through the meat. When that brisket is taken out the steamer, it rises from a bed of billowing steam. Hand-carving the meat preserves that moisture, and delivers the clouds right to your mouth.

I’ve been meaning to try DGS Delicatessen in DC for a while. In search of a decent Jewish deli in town, I wandered to and fro, disappointed mostly with the inability to reproduce my virgin pastrami experience at the Big Apple. Not bad, but nothing special. Maybe it was an atmosphere thing. Katz’s has a distinct noise, a distinct density. And I don’t know of a DC deli that can point to a table and say Meg Ryan had an [cinematic] orgasm there. Right there.

Multiple sources informed me that DGS is legit. So I finally went there, with high expectations.

I like DGS.

Scrap everything I said about pastrami (just for a second). The pickle plate at DGS is a must. Every pickled thing is done in-house, and whatever they are slipping in their brine, it’s working. The mind-blowing appetizer is more like artwork than pickles. Complete with a hot pink egg. I can’t find words to describe pickled blueberries. Sweet, sour, with a tang, but not like pickled cucumbers, still has a reminiscence of late summer. Amazing.

I can say this. The pickles at DGS are better than Katz’s. I said it.

The latke was cooked perfectly, crispy brown on the outside, steaming moist on the inside. The apple chutney (not sure if it is made in-house) was delicious, complimenting the rather salty potato pancakes.

latke

Pastrami. HAND-CARVED.

Am I the only person blown away by this? I’m sure some misinformed TV guy on the Food Network said Katz’s is the last place on earth still doing this. Sorry, Food Network guy, DGS has been doing this forever, just blocks away from my office. Thanks.

The portion was smaller than Katz’s (meaning DGS serves sandwiches for one person, not me, my wife, and Uncle Joe), but the price tag was also proportionately smaller. I got the classic: rye and mustard, nothing else. It was stupendous. All the benefits of hand-carving the meat were there. Moist, juicy, flavorful. Right amount of fat. And something was going on with the mustard, although I shoved this thing down too quickly to observe it. In simple terms, to quote Borat, it was “very nice.”

pastrami

Katz’s is good because it’s in New York. The city adds flavor. By the same token, DGS is good because it’s in DC. Believe it or not, the District also adds flavor.

Even in the midst of a shut-down.

YOLO (“You Only Live Once”) is such bullshit. Unless you pull an Austin Powers and arrange to be thawed in a few decades, yes, you do only live once. YOLO is based on the premise that one should do whatever one desires because, hey, you only live once.

Partially agreed, because I too think that at the end of one’s life, one’s greatest regrets are the things one did not do, not the things one did do (I read that somewhere). But YOLO is a coin, and on the other side, it is premised on mayhem – LET LOOSE. The premise of “no regrets,” on steroids, unleashes one’s innermost desires and pleasures, often in uncontrollable, irresponsible manners. “YOLO” so “Just Do It.”

In disguise, YOLO appears to be inwardly soothing. I have a desire for something, for some act. I only live once. I carry out that desire, that act. I achieve what I want. I have no regrets. Therefore, I am pleased. I am happy. Right? RIGHT? YOLO! In fact, the fruition of desire rarely brings lasting satisfaction. Instead, it fuels more desire, a thirst only quenchable by increasingly daring thoughts and actions. You are not “living in the moment.” Actually, you are living “for” a moment, and when that moment lapses, so does your satisfaction. And repeat.

Every moment counts. The second that just passed by while you read that last three-word sentence will never return, lost in eternity. So valuing the moment and following your passion is critical in living a satisfying, happy life. However, contentment need not always be accompanied by accomplishing things. Not everyone is a twenty-something George Washington University grad with no debt and cash to spare, thanks to daddy’s checks. Yes, there are desires, there are passions, there are dreams – but for some (perhaps most), circumstances do not allow them to come into fruition. Shouting YOLO, dropping everything, and darting to achieve that desirable act may not be an option.

A better slogan is “Amor Fati,” a Latin phrase meaning “love of one’s fate.” This is about total inner contentment, focused on “being,” rather than “doing.” At first, such proposition sounds feeble and helpless, bound to a predestined life. As my middle school clarinet tutor would say, “Life is a whore, whatever you do, you’ll always get screwed.” Traumatic at the time. But this is not what amor fati is about. Amor fati is about self-respect.

True content is only attainable when you practice the deep art of loving yourself. To do this, one must recognize and accept the current condition one is in, or one’s “fate.” However, I do not use the word “fate” here in an eternal sense. Rather, I like to think of it more as a short-term experiment, bound to change one way or another by miscellaneous factors beyond one’s control, in directions one cannot foresee. Love your fate also means love your situation. Regardless of where you are, regardless of your circumstances, regardless of what you have, regardless of what you don’t have – love yourself. Thrive in your cubic meter.

Stifling? Maybe. But not when you think about amor fati with its sister Latin phrase, “memento mori.” It means remember death. We all die, some sooner, some later. Death escapes no one, and therefore, every moment should be preciously lived out as if it is our last. The best way to do this is to prescribe value to the “now,” in its purest form, no bullshit, as is. The standard for contentment lies within. It is absolutely subjective, bound by no comparison, chained to no material or immaterial possessions. While YOLO is forward-looking (Just Do It), amor fati stops now, at this instance. And I am content.

The root of unhappiness is “but I don’t.” But I don’t have have money, but I don’t have time, but I don’t have the looks, but I don’t have the skills – but he does. This poisonous act of comparison, placing the standard of contentment outside of who we are, is like an inoperable cancer in society, claiming more lives than we bother to consider. (Read my piece on the suicide epidemic in Korea, here.) Millionaires cannot buy contentment. But that Zorba in Kazantzakis’ famous novel, dancing gleefully under the moonlight with santuri in hand – perhaps he holds the key to happiness.

We demand respect from others, but fail to respect ourselves. Happiness begins with self-respect. Happiness is achieved through loving me in the now.

Memento mori, so amor fati.

kimchi_7

Objects do not speak. In rare circumstances, they appear to speak, in tones our ears are not trained to recognize. These apparent attempts at communication, the apparent tonal exchanges, are understood as “sound.”

Cell phones do not speak. But the manual input that took place the night before, the scrolling and pressing of 6:00 am, empowers it with an apparent voice. 6:00 am hit, so the hand-held device spoke, apparently. Incessantly. The repetition of a singular tone, so perfectly spaced yet alarmingly disorienting, triggers a host of other sounds – rustling sheets, creaking springs, groaning mouths.

Coffee does not speak. But the brewing process gives it a tongue, or tongues, fuming along with every ounce of vapor. The kettle hisses lightly, its lid rattles unevenly, to no particular pattern. The grinder is more unforgiving; you will not miss that voice. Even more so than the alarm, the Burr grinder penetrates the solemn morning kitchen like a freight train. Perhaps the most delicate of sounds is birthed when the fresh grinds bloom, in the womb-like cone filter, rising steadily but in no hurry. As the bloom dies down, like a deflating souffle, its bubbles burst, and the vapors that say “hey, this is coffee” permeate the several cubic feet of airspace surrounding its deflation.

Subway stations do not speak. But the unforgiving ticking of the internal clock resuscitates the concrete blocks and steel rails that make up these underground Batman caves. Up and down the escalators, on the “fast” lane on the left, shoes and pumps click sporadically, hurriedly. Eyes dart to and fro, wrist watch to cell phone, back to wrist watch. Coughs here and there, chatter elsewhere. Central Command blurts out something over the speaker, only to be buried in the business of busy-ness. From afar the tunnel illuminates, the train announcing its arrival with a not-so-authoritative honk. Again, the doors fail to shut on the first try. Bells go off, and the doors re-open, re-close, re-open. Hear the eyes roll. Newspapers rustle, and someone’s Beats headphones blast beats that sound like that other song with beats. Phones ring, “I’m on the metro, I might lose….” Lost. Doors closing.

Sidewalks do not speak. But the season tickles it just enough to evoke giggles and sighs. Summer comes, and the sizzling summer sun beats down on K Street. Old partners and young associates, seated outdoors in the one of many kitschy cafes and bars, chatter about and clank wine glasses. Autumn comes, and the orange and golden brown leaves lightly tap the sidewalks at the end of their descent. Visiting winds roar through the fallen, twirling them left and right, choreographing their every move, conducting their every sound. The chatter and wine glasses are no more, as if the winds have hushed them indoors, muting them from the sidewalks. Winter comes, and the leaf chimes are no more. The visiting winds sound empty, their howls become prolonged symphonies with no interludes or arias to speak of. The shoes and pumps, the clicking of heel to cement, accelerate and become sharp staccatos. It’s cold. Spring comes, and, well, spring comes. Alas, through all this, one sound fails to change. The lone saxophonist at the subway station continues his hymns, wrong notes and rhythm and all.

Offices do not speak. But the paycheck is the meth that powers the addiction, and more meth. Keyboards click, stop, and click. Outlook chimes, and more Outlook chimes. The printer sounds like it has a cough. The stapler has a weird soothing effect, but it has more to do with the physical motion of stapling than with the sound. Debbie, please come to the front desk. Debbie, please come to the front desk. Another motorcade. One, two, too many motorcycles, cop car, cop car, Suburbans, two more; is it Obama? Who gives, the siren is just as annoying. Outlook chimes. Printer coughs. Knock on the door. Keyboard clicks. More Outlook chimes. Damn, Bill Gates.

People speak.

From daybreak, people enable objects to speak, apparently. People empower objects with voices, apparently. Immersed in sound, people decline to differentiate sound from noise, floating along with their alarms, their grinders, their subway trains, their Outlook chimes. Immersed in noise, people cannot differentiate sound from sound; everything is the same, repetitive. Immersed yet unaware, unwilling. Unable.

But sound is here.

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