Flashback: Painting My D.C. Summer by Numbers (08/11/12)

To commemorate my first month as a “real-world” D.C. resident, enclosed below is an excerpt of a blog post about my first D.C. summer, three years ago and pre-real world.  

Here are some highlights of and reflections on my nine-week stay in this thriving city, in numerical form:

First Time in Washington, D.C., A Summer of Many Firsts

I had visited the capital cities of my ancestral motherland and my homeland, but never that of my birthplace, Washington D.C. Ten minutes into my stay in D.C., I got my first glimpse of American national monuments, perhaps a peek of the Capitol Building in the distance, I sensed the gravity of this place, felt a private thrill at the prospect of living, working, and existing in such an importance place for the next nine weeks.

I had good reason to be excited. D.C. is to Beijing and Ottawa as NYC is to Shanghai and Toronto. The former is the latter’s less vivacious and less schizophrenic, but more civilized and equally important brother. In the summertime, D.C. is especially vibrant. You can feel the energy of the city and its inhabitants wherever you go that feels less in-your-face than that of NYC.

Heavy-lifting, D.C.-style.

Nine weeks in D.C. would provide me with the opportunities to accomplish many “firsts.” It started off with the first of taking Amtrak for the first time. With regards to work, I started my first paid summer internship in an office, conducted the first of many international Skype interviews and team meetings, managed my first course website, not to mention fist-pumped in an office setting for the first time while watching Spain dominate Euro 2012.Outside of work, I got my first exclusive tours of the Washington Post and the Library of Congress, earned fleeting first-name recognition from an eminent pollster, became starstruck by news anchors at my first live taping of PBS News Hour, all courtesy of the IOP’s SIW Program.

PBS News Hour Taping!

Moreover, I volunteered at my first voter phone bank, cooked my first ever risotto from scratch, celebrated a national birthday in that nation’s capital for the first time, watched my first spoken word exhibition at the Jerusalem Fund, set foot for the first time in the Smithsonian Museums, held my first exotic insect, and heard lions roar and witnessed zebras fighting up-close for the first time.

He was a cutie.

On a more personal note, I accomplished some more momentous firsts, all related to writing. I finished my first Model UN study guide, started my first blog, created my first and only bucket list, and finished my first full-length novel. The rare freedom of summer has allowed me to ride the natural ebb and flow of my inspiration, which comes to my in bursts, rather than in a constant stream. I have continued writing and will never stop as long as I live. My passion for writing is as much a part of me as my flesh and blood, my characters as much my children as my brainchildren, their storylines my lifelines. I have flirted with the idea of giving up meat before, tried to cut myself off from Facebook, all things that I renounced for a spell, albeit with difficulty. But I could never, ever give up on writing and storytelling, and this summer has reinforced that to me.
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Flashback: Roman Holiday (with a Genovese Twist) (08/10/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I have been regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is the final post in this particular series, an excerpt of a blog post about gallivanting through Genoa and roaming in Rome.

Right away, it struck me. 

The colours. After weeks of passing buildings of marble and slate and brick commuting to and from work in London, there was something enchanting about these Italian buildings tinted delicate pastels, transformed into jewel tones by the sunset. Arrayed in the colours of gelato – pale peach, pistachio green, roasted chestnut, burnt orange, persimmon red, saffron yellow – they formed scenes that could have come straight from a Giotto fresco.

Then, there was the colour of the sea. The languid Ligurian Sea, lazy and azure, is framed by rows of boats rocking gently to and fro, cradled by the sea, against a backdrop of the verdant Apennine Mountains. Famous for its historic role as a key port city, the bygone home of dukes and birthplace of such notable explorers as Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, Genoa has since lost much of its commercial significance, with the advent of airplanes and the wave of globalization driving Italian-based waterborne travel closer to desuetude.

And it shows. However ornate, the Genovese architecture is not entirely well-preserved. Just a few streets away from the row of august palazzi where dukes once lived is the intersection of dingy alleyways that comprise the red light district. But for the most part, the city appears unaltered since its Renaissance days. I stayed somewhere in between the two aforementioned areas, in a charming building with butter yellow walls and a staff with sunny dispositions. There, I met an American taking a roundabout detour on the way back from Morocco, an Australian couple honeymooning far from their Melbourne home, and a Spaniard with a knack for storytelling late into the night. United by our varying degrees of fluency in English and our wanderlust, we traded travel stories and marvelled at this beautiful city that, at least for the time being, was ours to share.

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Flashback: Le 14 juillet à la Ville Lumière (07/18/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I have been regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of a blog post about a whirlwind 14 juillet weekend in Paris.

 On my way home, I ducked into the air-conditioned refuge known as Tesco. While picking up some nectarines, I spotted a prepackaged Salad Niçoise on a nearby shelf. There was nothing particularly eye-catching about it. The tuna was in unappetizing clumps. The limp green beans looked more grey than green. It was the label “Salad Niçoise” itself that had drawn me in. In my mind, I conjured up an image of my last meal in Paris the previous weekend. It had been a simple dinner of Salad Niçoise, washed down with a toothachingly sweet chocolat froid à l’ancienne. Best of all, the garçon indulged my French without a whiff of condescension, unlike the somewhat supercilious garçon at Le Café de la Paix two nights ago. But to get to that, I have to start from the beginning.


As an inveterate Europhile, I came to Europe this summer with romanticized notions of the cities that I was to inhabit. I was fully aware of the fact that my vision of London was a glamorized one and, with that in mind, London in many ways met and even surpassed my expectations. But much as I consider myself to be an Anglophile – blame it on all those British history books and classes and nights of watching Sherlock and Downton Abbey – my romanticization of Paris was beyond compare.

My love affair with France began at an early age. While I had never visited France before last weekend, I had been fortunate enough to have grown up in a world infused with French culture, thanks to my parents’ time in France and my own childhood years in Quebec. Elementary school French language classes were exhaustingly repetitive and heavily reliant on mind-numbing, albeit entertaining, videos (Téléfrançais, anyone?). However, luckily, I had some fantastic French teachers later on, and by high school, I had fallen in love with the French language.

Adding to that, central to American romantic comedies is the Parisian romance that is falling in love with Paris itself: that promise that once you step onto the streets of Paris, the historic architecture will enrapture you, the impossibly flaky pastries will entice you, and the chatter of locals sipping wine al fresco late into the night will enchant you as you amble down a sun-drenched side street leading to the Seine. The sunset will be reflected and refracted off the river in a thousand shimmering planes of crimson and gold, setting the entire city ablaze, lighting the flames of romance between couples and stoking the fire of inspiration for aspiring artists.

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Flashback: Alohomora (06/17/2013)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I will be regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of a blog post about the magic of London.

est magicae.

It only seemed fitting that after visiting the enchanted studio where the Harry Potter books were transfigured into films, I would dedicate my next blog post to magic.

But the magic to which I am referring is not, as some might expect from me, the magic of hexes and jinxes, of Quidditch and Quodpot (the most popular wizarding game in the United States. See Kennilworthy Whisp, Quidditch Through the Ages, Chapter 8).

This magic does not come with flying sparks and exploding leather balls. Granted, it does come with the occasional ability to defy gravity, as these levitating Covent Garden-dwellers demonstrate.

It is the magic infused in acrid pipe exhaust belched out of double-decker buses and the curried notes of fragrant Indian street fare; the same magic that rings with the pounding of feet on pavement, that stings and smarts with the chilly blast of air channelled along the river. It is the magic embedded in and intertwined with all things tangible and intangible in this sublime city.

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Flashback: Fortuna Major (06/07/13)

In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I will be regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of my first blog post about interning and exploring in London. 

Hearts, stars and horse-shoes, clovers and blue-moons,

We drove to the airport by alabaster moonlight.

In the preceding twenty-four hours, I had shed my dusty dorm spring cleaning garments, crossed the forty-ninth parallel, embraced family members long unseen, run to the ravine bathed in sunshine, and repacked my suitcase (just over fifty pounds!) for a flight that would take me even farther than had the last.

It was twilight when I boarded the plane and, in a sense, I felt as though I were occupying a sort of twilight zone, as if by stepping onto the plane and taking my seat, I was leaping off the precipice into a realm of great incertitude, but also of great adventure. Perhaps I was conflating the mild psychosis induced by sleep deprivation with unprecedented nerves over travelling. Or perhaps it was just the gravity of this event – my first voyage across, or rather over, the Atlantic – weighing down upon me.

Ironically, a flight involving as little English as possible was precisely what reawakened my excitement for England. My seatmate was an elderly woman who did not speak a smattering of English. She sat in a permanently forward posture, as though she were clinging to every word uttered by the cartoon characters dancing across her screen, affording Tarzan and his jungle companions her undivided attention. That is, until the child in the seat diagonally across the aisle from hers began wailing, at which point she affixed upon him a withering glare of which I was grateful not to be on the receiving end.

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