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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   National Cathedral
Tuesday, January 10 2012

location: near Sligo Creek Park, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland

After another spate of remote work, Gretchen and I drove with the dogs to the north end of Rock Creek Park, only about two miles from her parents' house. Gretchen observed that she'd spent most of her childhood there at the edge of Sligo Creek Park but had never once gone to Rock Creek despite its proximity. The way she sees things, her parents emphasized cultural venues (concerts, operas, museums, etc.) while overlooking natural ones. As for my parents, it was exactly the opposite.
Rock Creek Park is a big urban park, but when we parked and went for a brief hike, we encountered nobody. The forest, though, is densely criss-crossed with unofficial trails made by the accumulated insult of millions of footfalls. Still, the park was surprisingly clean, essentially devoid of litter and only mildly besmirched with scratchiti (on the lower trunks of the many beech trees). Given that the park dates to the 1890s, one would imagine the trees in it would be massive, but they're only modestly so. Perhaps this is because the soil is poor (the gorge that defines most of the park appears to sit mostly on obdurate quartzite, the boulders of which give the park its name).
We took the dogs for another walk at another parking area further down the parkway. This was near the creek itself, and Gretchen was concerned that the dogs needed water (they didn't). But because we could be seen from the road, and we'd heard that enforcement of leash laws is brutal, Sally and Eleanor had to be on leashes.
Using smart phone navigation, we were easily able to find our way out of the park and over to the National Cathedral (parts of which are enclosed in scaffolding, perhaps because of an unusual earthquake several months ago). Gretchen had heard that cathedral grounds are a good place to run dogs, but a woman we talked to there didn't seem to think that was a good idea. So again we kept them on leashes as we walked the grounds (including the nearby St. Albans School). Occasionally Eleanor would lunge at a squirrel (most of which here were black) only to be surprised by arriving at the end of a leash. She's not familiar with that paradigm.
When we got to the front of the cathedral, we tied the dogs to a cyclone fence and went inside to look around. It's a vast, magnificent building, but it definitely lacks something in comparison to its antecedents in Europe. There's something about the newness of the columns and flagstones that cheapens the experience in a way that the many elaborate stained glass windows could not overcome. Furthermore, the vaults and ceilings, which in Italy would have been covered with frescoes, were barren. There's just not enough talent and time even in the wealthiest nation on Earth to arrive at that level of visual richness.
The neighborhoods we'd been driving through today (near Rock Creek Park and the National Cathedral) were all exceedingly post, with beautiful rambling houses made of brick and stone arranged in a dense suburban pattern. The conventional urban grid returned on our way into Adams Morgan, though it was hard to find parking once we arrived due to a massive project to rejigger the plumbing on either side of 18th Street. Our only use for Adams Morgan today was Ethiopian food at Meskerem (the only Ethiopian restaurant we like). It was delicious as always, though it occurred to me that if we lived in the area I could possibly get sick of their vegetarian platter.
In hopes of beginning the rolling back some of my stomach flab, this morning I'd consumed nothing but black tea (which I always drink without either sugar or milk), so lunch at Meskerem was my first food of the day. Gretchen was amazed by my appetite, which was large even by my own standards. When I mentioned that this was my first food of the day, she was surprised by the low level of of crankiness I'd been exhibiting.

This evening, one of Gretchen's old friends from Milwaukee (who now lives in the DC area) came over for a visit, and we all went out together to a Vietnamese restaurant in Silver Spring called Lotus. I ordered the soup, which I spiced up with fresh hot peppers that came on the side. It seemed to be the perfect thing for soothing my right tonsil, which was feeling sore, particularly when I talked. But I wasn't doing much talking; most of the conversation was Gretchen catching up with her friend, which only aggravated the slowness of their eating. If it hadn't been for the peppers slowing me down (and occasionally giving me a bout of the coughs), at some point I would have had nothing to do.

Back at Gretchen's parents' house, we said goodbye to Gretchen's friend after he snapped a few pictures, particularly of Sally, whom he was amazed to find still alive.
It being a long, unplanned evening, I decided to go fix myself a drink. That was when I encountered what might have been the most useless liquor cabinet I've ever tried to raid. One could tell immediately that it was not a cabinet that had served in anything but a decorative role (and as a repository for regiftable gifts). It contained four or five kinds of sickly-sweet liqueurs, three (yes three) different bottles of vermouth, and a nearly-empty bottle of E&J Brandy. There was no vodka, no gin, no tequila, no rum, and no whiskey (any one of which might have served as an "anchor bottle" for a reasonable collection). I ended up pouring myself a glass of straight vermouth, which was actually kind of delicious.
There were a number of other alcoholic options available, including a number of reasonably-good beers and two previously-opened bottles of wine. I tried wine from both of those bottles but it proved undrinkable; evidently it had gone bad. (Who knew this was even possible?) It's all part of the minor cultural friction inherent in a relationship between someone from a post-Catholic/post-WASP family and someone from a culturally Jewish family.

Gretchen with Eleanor in Rock Creek Park.

Gretchen with Eleanor near the National Cathedral. Note the scaffolding.

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