May 9th, 2013

storyteller doll

April Catch-up, Part 1 of 3: Miscellany

As usual, I have been too busy to find time to write. I need to get caught up soon, though, as I am going on vacation in a week and will only get further behind.

Oyamel: Oyamel is on a few lists of best Mexican restaurants in the U.S. and is owned by Jose Andres (who also owns Jaleo, one of my local favorites). So it was an obvious choice when I was given a list of options for meeting someone for dinner in Penn Quarter. This is a small plates / sharing type of place, so we split 4 dishes. Te ceviche tradicional was, indeed, traditional enough, but a bit salty for my tastes. The test of adventurousness came in the form of the chapulines tacos. Chapulines means grasshoppers. These were okay, but crunchy and salty and I have no desire to eat them again. The tamal verde (with chicken) was quite good, but the real highlight was the ensalada de chayote (squash salad). Overall, I still prefer going to Los Angeles for my Mexican food fixes, but I would definitely eat here again (and try other dishes).

Detroit Unleaded: We were time constrained for dinner because we were going to see a movie called Detroit Unleaded, which was part of Filmfest DC. The film was advertised as the first Arab-American romantic comedy and was in a mixture of English and Arabic (with English subtitles, of course). The story involved a young man who inherits half a gas station after his father is murdered and the young woman he meets when she delivers phone cards for her protective older brother. It was sweet and I thought it did a good job of capturing the conflicts that often face children in immigrant communities.

Salad Supper: My chavurah had a potluck spring salad supper. I made insalata caprese, which is easy but relies on shopping well. You need very good tomatoes, in particular. All you have to do is slice the tomatoes, top each slice with a slice of good mozzarella cheese, and top that with a basil leaf. Then, just before serving, drizzle on a nice fruity olive oil. I think it was successful, since I didn’t have any leftovers to take home. By the way, we also had a little mixer game that involved everyone getting a slip of paper with a salad ingredient. You had to guess other people’s ingredients by asking yes/no questions. I won this and got a container of silly putty as my prize.

Limmud Baltimore: Limmud is a Jewish learning event, which apparently originated in London. It’s an interesting concept, offering a wide range of learning discussions. I heard about the Baltimore event from a friend and thought it would make for an interesting day. It did and it deserves its own entry, which will follow in a few minutes.

Embassy of Netherlands: The MIT Club of Washington had a Partners and Patrons event at the Embassy of the Netherlands. The talk, which had to do with the Netherlands Forensics Institute, was very interesting. The food was not as good as some of the other embassies, but the socializing was just fine.

One Day Hike: I did the 50K version of the Sierra Club’s annual one-day hike of the C&O canal towpath. That deserves its own entry and will get one soon, including a few photos. For now, I will just say that I finished.

More Socializing: I managed to recover enough from the walk to go to a happy hour at a friend’s condo the next day. We talked travel and tea, ate from his groaning board, and watched planes from his balcony. It was good to see some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and I stayed longer than I’d expected to.

VASA Board Meeting: Finally, closing out April, I had a VASA board meeting, fortunately by telecon. It looks like we have some busy times ahead.
storyteller doll

April Catch-Up, Part 2 od 3: Limmud Baltimore

I mentioned going to Limmud Baltimore, a Jewish learning event, in the previous entry. Here are the details on it.

The event was on the Johns Hopkins campus. Finding the parking lot was a challenge, but there was good signage from the parking lot to the two buildings where sessions were being held. Things started on Jewish standard time (i.e. 20 minutes late), which was a bit of an issue since there were only five minute breaks scheduled between sessions. The intro, by Jakir Manela was mostly focused on what experiences people have had with teaching and learning. After that came decision time, as I often wanted to be in multiple places at the same time. There were both 90 minute and 45 minute sessions (overlapping) and I figured that the 45 minute ones would let me sample more. That was partly true, but I found that most of those were too short to really get into the subject.

The first session I went to was titled “The Me vs. we in Judaism” and, led by Justin Myrowitz consisted of a discussion of what obligations we have to the broader Jewish community. The limited time meant that the discussion didn’t go very far. I think a longer session, with source material handed out, would have been more valuable.

After that, I went to a talk by Andy Gershman on “Modern Day Maccabees: Jews and Sport.” Gershman hosted sports talk radio shows in Israel and writes about Jewish sports stars. Anybody who knows my minor obsession with Jewish baseball players would not be surprised to find that I enjoyed his talk. This was also one of the few for which the 45 minutes worked fine.

Another of my obsessions is Jewish superstitions and so I went to Elise Saltzberg’s session on that subject. The only new superstition I learned of was her idea that green cars are bad luck, but she did not explain that as specifically Jewish. (Note that my car, Neptune, is blue-green and has served me well for enough years to discount that superstition. Now, if you want to talk about bad luck, do not ever ever ever put a hat on a bed. But I don’t think there is anything particularly Jewish about that one.) At any rate, it was an interesting discussion, though I concluded that the Angel of Death isn’t all that bright given how many ways there are to fool him.

Lunch was included an was followed by a screening of part of a new documentary about the integration of Gwynn Oak Park in Baltimore.

I’d intended to go to a 90 minute “Create a Mosaic Hamsa” session, but I got there to find that there were only materials for 9 people. Rather than battling it out, I figured that there were enough other things I was interested in that I’d survive. So I went to “A Rosen By Any Other Name,” Robert Shapiro’s discussion on origins of Jewish surnames. I can’t say I learned anything particularly new, but it was a good (albeit, too brief) presentation.

I followed that with a session by Morris Panitz on “Ethical Food Consumption.” While he did make an effort to bring in a few Jewish texts, I still found this a bit more superficial than I’d hoped for.

I decided I need to get some arts content in, so I went to Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff’s session on “Telling Torah: Stepping Inside Our Story.” (Disclaimer is that she is the person who told me about Limmud Baltimore in the first place.) I thought she was very well organized and used the limited time effectively, both modeling storytelling and having everyone in the class tell Torah stories in pairs and discuss those stories.

Finally, I went to Joel Shurkin’s talk on “When Jewish Composers Fled the Ghetto.” I was a bit disappointed in this, since I thought he focused too much on familiar composers (e.g. Mahler) and I really wanted to know more about unfamiliar ones (which is why, for example, I go to the Pro Musica Hebraica series here).

Overall, I’d give the event a B-minus, largely because of my frustration over inadequate time for so many sessions. I think scheduling 15 minute breaks between sessions would also have helped a lot, since there wasn’t really a good time to look at exhibitors or to socialize much. Most Limmud events in other cities are multiple days and that might be a good solution to providing adequate time.