Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The First-ever NPLH Contest

Well, the task that brought me to D.C. was a lot less fun than Greenbrier Sports Camp was in the early 1980s -- in Alderson, West Virginia, a few yards from the Federal Women's Prison where Martha Stewart held court. I think I must have gone to camp with the set designer for the atrocious 2001 film Wet Hot American Summer. A) dear God Lydia, could you have maybe taught me not to tuck in my shirt?; B) one of my groomsmen named Chris; and C) a forgotten counselor gone wild ...

but as I wrote about in February, D.C. is still a very fun town. Soon after Laurie and Josh greeted me in town with a proper, not-too-sweet Mosel Valley Riesling, I found myself with Liia and Jaak and Thomas at a brilliant concert at the Kennedy Center performing the music of Estonian conductor Arvo Pärt, the most-performed living classical composer today. The Estonia President and the Estonian Ambassador to the U.S. introduced the concert — they managed to get in a warranted dig at the Russians, mentioning how Pärt’s music was banned in the Soviet Union — but I was too afraid of their massive security detail to snap any photos of them. So as a result here's an empty stage.

Pärt’s not-quite classical, not-quite spiritual, not-quite ambient music is wonderful; indeed the show was sold out, and not simply because, I’m quite sure, every Estonian on the I-95 corridor was in attendance. Maestro Pärt himself was in the audience and came out for a bow. I clearly wasn't up to the moment photographically.

It all reminded me of my 12 hours in Tallinn in 1992, when I consumed truly the worst burger of my life at a place called “American Burger” (ah for the initial post-Cold War years, when people around the world liked us ...). I still remember vividly the vile meat patty and equally vile sauce and often wonder what became of the place. Maybe the proprietors moved on to found Skype. I should have taken a picture of the place instead of a picture of this building below, whatever it is (maybe someone in the Vilms clan knows). At the time, I assumed that the burger was so bad because Estonians had been living under the Soviet yolk or didn’t raise the right kind of cows or because American TV shows don’t really provide enough close-ups of burgers to reveal that they don’t in fact have Thousand Island Dressing or yogurt-based sauce on them. However, as you read about at length in 2013, I’ve come to realize that the EU actually has either mandated that Europeans make bad burgers or that, simply, Europeans really like Thousand Island Dressing and yogurt-based sauce on meat. 

But I digress. A few days later I went to an Old 97s show. I assume everyone reading this is already a fan of this iconic alt country-meets-punk band (Rhett Miller calls them "loud folk"), but here’s a taste if you’re not.

It’s amazing how rock stars like Rhett Miller manage to stay looking like rock stars even when Propecia Nation becomes their fan base ... (ha -- nice try singing "We've been doin' this longer than you've been alive//Propelled by some mysterious drive."

On the more staid front, Dad and I went to a beer dinner at the Cosmos Club. Maybe because the club realized that the idea of a bunch of old white guys swilling beer in suit jackets is pretty rich, they offered a special dispensation over email that we need not wear jackets. The beer was all from St. Feuillien, a female-owned brewery in Belgium that has been around since the 11-somethings. 

You know what’s coming next: St. Feuillien is tasty and well-made and yet somehow … well, the saison and the Belgian strong pale ale (pictured, and yes I know I poured badly) and the tripel all tasted pretty much the same. It left me hankering for a more category-bending American beer, say a Funkwerks Tropic King saison, highlighted in the previous entry. Luckily for me, instead of hightailing it back to Fort Collins, all I had to do was stroll down to Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights and get one on draft -- clearly the highlight of the trip. Must be nice to be able to get Epic on tap, too, given I can’t in the town where it’s made. Um, is two-year old stout still good? 

Laurie the speculating local and Dave from Charlottesville had never met, but they talked about health systems changing.

I was so impressed that I took Montana Gillian back to Meridian Pint in search of another (I’m no longer surprised when Gillian appears anywhere), but they were out. A DirtWolf Double IPA was a pretty good stand in, I have to say. D.C. has become an amazing beer town, in part thanks to its laissez-faire laws -- enough to make any Utah Gentile red with envy. Instead of having to go through a distributor, as in Maryland or Virginia, any bar owner in D.C. can just put a keg in the back of her truck and plop it under the bar. D.C. beer culture also has the requisite foot soldiers, one pictured here with Gillian.

File under 2010s beer craze central casting
Indeed, D.C. has gone so beer mad that it was quite a shock to come across one place — 1980s Wisconsin Avenue standby Cactus Cantina — with a beer menu that absolutely should be in a 1993 time capsule (you can imagine it: macro Mexican beers, Sam Adams, Heineken). I love Cactus Cantina, but they owe me 90 cents for the half of the D.C. Brau The Public Ale can that they confiscated from me at the table. Um, I figured with the lax keg laws ...

Luckily Thalia and Andrew’s Isaac and Katie saved the other five under the table from the waiter and made off with them. Next time I’m going back to El Chucho instead.

And speaking of my younger friends, I got to see lots of them on this trip, even if Joe's and Marjie’s kids, shockingly, are no longer kids. Here’s Anna and Andrew's Leo and Jack

And wow, our little flower girl Amelie has all grownded up, along with Caleb and Liam

Dear Pete’s New Haven Pizza: your pizza is good, but there is no way that your large salads are large enough to share. Signed, Cedar and Rachel. 

And so on. All in all, the trip afforded adequate diversions from the task at hand (and from the Republicans’ absurd Overpoliticization of Everything). I even had another great meal at Fiola, this time with Chris (also pictured at the top of this entry) and spent some quality time with my sister. 

The best discovery of the week? Lydia was quite the potter in her day (actually, this was just about the favorite thing I found all week). Whoever posts the best comment about what this thing was supposed to be wins an Epic of choice. 


  1. I'll have to make sure to hit Meridian Pint next time we're in D.C. That's some beer list.

  2. Toothbrush holder? Coin bank?

  3. This is a sculpture of the feeling you get when you're descending on an express elevator and it's just about to stop.

  4. Clearly this is an early rendition of James P. Sullivan. Who is James P. Sullivan? You might know him by Sulley, as seen in Monsters Inc.


    See how far I'll go for free beer?

  5. I am the snot monster! I've come to fix your cold!