Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Other NASM III

This is the last installment in our series covering the National Air & Space Museum - Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Keep up, people, we have so much more to see after this!

For instance, today I went to the National Gallery of Art and need to blog about that soon. (Before I forget all the interesting things I thought while I was there.)


So after the SR-71 Blackbird, and the Shuttle Enterprise, what else is there to see?

Well, the Concorde...and some other shiny birds.

The camera can barely capture it and certainly doesn't do it justice. My attempts from ground level were even worse.

How do they fit them all in? Do they have a Gulliver to remove the roof and shuffle the little planes around like a child arranging a jigsaw puzzle? No, unfortunately they probably have to open the hangar doors and move everything out one by one in an interminably tedious and risky process. The poor guys who had to plan the layout, eh?

This is very cute and looks almost like a desktop model with perhaps a remote control!

The Shuttle Enterprise mockup from a second story viewing platform.

This battered old thing has seen a lot of action, a North American P-61C Black Widow with radar turret. It began combat operations after D-Day 1944, at night and in bad weather, in German airspace and over the Pacific. After the war it was used extensively in weather research, altitude testing, and in the National Thunderstorm Project.

The back end fell off this one. Or, it's a frog with wings. No, it's a Waterman Aerobile.

My favorite in today's post, the Pan American Airlines Boeing 307 Stratoliner Clipper Flying Cloud. They covered everything in
that name!

I love this shot from above...gorgeous machine. I love unpainted planes.

Dulles International Airport as seen from the Observation Tower


No rest for the wicked. Chris, N and I went back to Washington, met up with her cousin A, and had dinner at Rosa Mexicana where the best guacamole I've ever had is made at the table. It being the last day of Restaurant Week the others had their $35 menus but I settled for a single item which was fine because Chris practically begged me to eat half his starter, some delicious and spicy chicken chimichangas (I think).

They ended up taking their dessert home because we were running late - Chris had to drive back to NYC and wanted to leave before 8pm, and we girls wanted to be at our event by 7.30. He made his deadline, but we were half an hour late to ours.

Frustratingly, our restaurant was across the street from the Verizon Center Arena, but we had to go back to my place so Chris could pack his car and N could pick up hers to drive us back into town for the game.

"The game?" you ask. Yes, the game...

Still haven't guessed?
Well, those of you on Facebook would know.

BASKETBALL! Yes, Olivia went to a GAME.

The Washington Wizards were playing the San Antonio Spurs. Go Texas! They won by a long shot, 98 to 67. Washingtonians were leaving half an hour before the end it was such a lost cause.
San Antonio has won 14 of the last 17 meetings with Washington. Hehe! You don't mess with Texas. (Even as I type, the Houston Rockets lost a close 102 to 105 against the Chicago Bulls after long maintaining a 17 point lead.)

Half of the fun was the game, and the other half was the audience participation. At half time there was a contortionist who arrived in a small box, wrapped himself in knots and passed through a toilet seat and a tennis racket, making us all squirm in our seats. There were the Wizards cheerleaders who came out a couple of times in all their out of sync glory. (Nobody beats the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, again don't mess with....) There were the team mascots who came out and danced, and others who shot free T-shirts and golden balls into the stands.

Best part, though, was the Kissing Cam during halftime, which had the fans in stitches. The cameras (which I never spotted) would zoom in on a couple who would have to kiss, though a couple hid their faces giggling. We all wondered "What if they choose a pair on a first date?"

There was a live DJ during timeouts, and the cameras mostly focused on the cute dancing children, and some adults. Then they spotted a really old white guy who was really getting his groove on! He was so good, they stayed on him, and we all cheered him on, he had so much energy and some proper moves! He was down with the kids ;) Yes he was...

...Stop now Olivia.

Neither of the girls are avid fans - it was A's first and N's second time. Alright, I may never have the opportunity to go to another game and it was an expense I could have bypassed, BUT it was fun and I am glad I had the experience.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Other NASM II

But first off:

1) Who are these people who are able to answer their phones and do text messaging and emailing on the Metro?  Every time I check, I have no reception.  Must just be my crappy phone. 

2) It was so warm today (62F/17C) that I took off my jacket.  After the winter-long heating has removed all the moisture out of the fabric of the house, suddenly on the first mild and humid day you smell the carpets and the curtains until you get acclimatized to it. But not for long, a front is blowing in tonight and there will be a wintry mix by Sunday.

3) I gave a homeless man a quarter today.

4) Landlady's younger brother (who is an actor or something and was in last week's episode of Law & Order) is staying here this weekend.  You know who he looks like?  Billy Bob Thornton.  Maybe tomorrow I should ask him how many people have said that...

5) I bought turkey bacon yesterday and fried it up this morning.  It is AWESOME!  I may never go back to pork bacon, ever again!

Now, where was I with this second NASM series?

Oh yes, Enterprise.


Original development mock-up of the Space Shuttle.  In deference to eager Trekkies who demanded it, NASA named the model the Enterprise.  It was tested in wind tunnels for aerodynamic integrity and even dropped from a piggyback to glide back to earth with a test pilot aboard.  But it is made of some composite material.

This looks like it just floated out of the payload bay.

See those little men beside it?  That is how big this is.

Rocket booster ring...?

ANDROID.  It was developed in the 1960s to perform functions that would be repetitive and harmful to a human subject, such as testing space suits.

(Let me know if you can't read the label.)  
Remember when laptops looked like this?

Note the Velcro tabs for sticking pens and useful objects onto the computer.  There are Velcro patches all over the place, on every surface, all over NASA equipment.  

I quipped that after astronauts retire they probably don't ever want to see another piece of Velcro.  Either that, or they use it for everything and drive their spouses round the bend.

(Again, let me know if you can't read the label.)  
Although this looks like a relic from the 1970s, the plate (which in this view is obscured by the label) states it was manufactured in 1989.

Space diapers - these ones have Sally Ride's name tag on the back.  Developed for female crewmembers to wear during launch or EVAs.  Men used to wear urine collection hoses and bags.  Now both male and female astronauts prefer the commercially available disposable diapers.  (Which is why the former astronaut driving from Texas to Florida in diapers without stopping was not unusual in the space flight community, although her reason for doing so was wrong.)

Apparently (according to Chris, who used to be a tour guide at Space Center Houston) Apollo astronauts liked peeing and releasing it into space because they enjoyed seeing their "tinkle twinkle".  The yellow briefs probably belonged to Alan Bean.

Important part of the Apollo survival rucksack.  I suppose in case the capsule on reentry seriously overshot the rescue crews or if prevailing conditions delayed rescue.  Every eventuality has to be prepared for when it comes to space exploration.
Contains: Flashlight, compass, mirror, four fishing hooks, needles, knife blade.  Made of grey-painted steel with brass fittings.

A Mobile Quarantine Facility.  Probably from back when NASA thought alien microbes (as in, unknown, not little green man germs) would return with the astronauts.  It is a modified Airstream and there are six lovely plush olive green velour seats inside.

There will be a third installment of this series.  Teaser word:  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Other NASM I

It was an immensely busy weekend.

Chris drove down from NYC to spend a couple of days and kill three birds with one stone: to go to a fellow intern's birthday, see my place, and go to the NASM out in Virginia.



It was Restaurant Week in DC over the past week, so most of us at the birthday dinner on Friday evening ordered from the set menus. We were at The Oceanaire, a classy art deco style seafood room only a couple of blocks from the White House.

I ordered a glass of Chilean Chardonnay and for starters I chose Caesar salad.

This was followed by a main course of grilled Arctic charr in a citrus soy sauce with sesame chili cucumber.

[Arctic charr is a very respectable, richly-colored cousin of salmon. It is extremely moist and tender in texture, contains much less mercury, and is palpably high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A favorite with the Inuit, it is generally consumed in Canada, the US, Iceland, and Scandinavia but is rare in Britain. It seems like an excellent fish to eat once a week.]

For dessert I ordered the warm cookies and whole milk, which I drank but was too full to eat the cookies, so they were boxed up for me on a doily in a reusable dish.

There were about 15 people at the dinner. I met the birthday girl N, and quite a few other people. Z who promises to invite me to see plays and performances which she seems to attend quite often, along with C who is in the army but is a dancer and very elegant. L who wants to know all about what to do on a trip to Europe, and E who shares a fine taste in food.



Chris and I went to a diner near my place for breakfast, and I won a bet. He ordered bacon with his breakfast, and I ordered sausages. After he ordered, I sat there going "bacon bacon bacon" like the dog in the Beggin' Strips commercial. After our server left, all of a sudden somehow he was sure he'd ordered sausage and I knew for a fact I'd heard him say bacon. So I said, "No, you ordered bacon" and he said, "No, I ordered sausage" and it went back and forth like this a few times. Eventually he asked, "What do you want to bet?" I replied, "I bet.....breakfast!" Both smugly nodded in agreement.

The plates came and sure enough, he had bacon. I crowed, "See? See? You got bacon! He's paying!" The poor server thought she'd made the mistake and kindly offered to take the bacon back and bring sausages, but Chris honestly conceded he must have ordered bacon, so we told her the story and she had a good old laugh.

N couldn't wake up in time for breakfast but when she did finally join us, we got into Chris's car and headed out. It took nearly an hour, as the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center is in Chantilly, Virginia, right next to the airport.

Consisting of giant hangars and an observation tower for watching takeoffs from the airport next door, there are views south towards Prince William county, west towards the Blue Ridge Mountains, east over Fairfax county towards Washington, and north to Dulles International airport and Maryland.

Today's installment is dedicated to the jet of all jets, the legendary SR-71 Blackbird. It is the very first aircraft I fell in love with as a teenager. The Vangelis in the background is the perfect accompaniment to such a magical sky flyer.

A thing of beauty - 45 years after its creation, the SR-71 Blackbird is still the highest and fastest aircraft that has yet taken to the air, even though it was decommissioned in 1991. Pilots had to wear high pressure suits, very much like spacesuits.

Think about other things designed in the 1960s. They look nothing like this, do they?

The skin is approximately 85% titanium. I got braces when I was 12 and remember thinking, "Oh wow, this is the stuff the Blackbird is made of!" Titanium is light yet strong, and has a memory for shape. The cones move back and forth to control airflow through the engines.

The great afterburners. It is the only aircraft that can fly solely on afterburn but becomes more efficient at higher speed.
The Blackbird carried no weapons or anti-aircraft missiles. It flew so high it was invisible to radar, and flew so fast nothing could catch it.

Flying over Mach 3, it took 1 hour and 54 minutes from New York to London

After that, who wants to look at bread and butter helicopters? Well, here are a couple....

Both look as though they served in Vietnam, but since I didn't make it down there to read the plaques I can only guess.

There was an afternoon talk with four of the original Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military pilots. Navigators, gunnery crews, and bombardiers were trained at other bases around the nation, but the pilots came out of Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama - nearly 1,000 between 1941 and 1946.

There was an activity for kids, but we joined in and designed our own Mission Patches.

Clockwise L-R:
1) This represents my life in the USA. The top is the flag of the District of Columbia. Below that is a failed attempt at clasped hands of friendship, which I modified into a dove (coincidentally
columba is Latin for dove). So the dove of my dreams is shown flying into the sunrise of new beginnings. At the bottom is the Lone Star flag of Texas because that's the state that made me an American, and once a Texan, always a Texan.

(Heyyyy, anyone see some potential blog titles in there...?)

2) Chris being Chris drew a dinosaur with its eyes closed beside the accidentally misspelled slogan "Dino-surs Unite!" which is still making me laugh.

3) We had just walked out of the fantastic IMAX presentation "Blue Planet", so inspired by this amazing film, N. drew our planet.

4) In honor of two pairs of old friends reuniting and one pair of new friends being made, Chris designed a mission patch with our three names at the bottom.

Stay tuned for a second installation. Teaser: the word

Friday, February 20, 2009

Settling in like Snowflakes

My new living situation has made it possible for me to take adorable domestic photos like Nikki's. I have always enjoyed seeing life through her lens.

These strawberries were actually
on the vine when I bought them!
May I point out that the bowl is landlady's but the mini fork is mine, and they kind of match. The art nouveau mirror was the first thing I bought when I moved to Bay Ridge, optimistically anticipating more atmosphere than I had, really.

Landlady left the pretty flower arrangements in my room. I think the roses are my favorite.

I took a photo of a house on sale. Do you like this one?

Or should we pool our pocket money and get this one instead?

Having run out of houses for sale on the street I walk to the metro station, I finally snapped a shot of the cutest yellow house with its yellow Bug parked in front. And check out the giant fir tree. It's on a fairly busy corner, but not so busy that nobody will notice me...I'm always self-conscious about photographing houses...


This is an exciting place to live. I've got everything I need within walking distance but in case I need to travel further afield I'm only a
short metro ride away from some new shopping developments.

Where I am, though, there are so many amazing luxury stores that I will never need - Dior, Gucci, Tiffany, Van Cleef and Arpels, et al. are literally sitting in a row. Practically across the street corners from one another are Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus. Obviously Macy's just wasn't good enough to join in.

The Mazza Gallerie has Ann Taylor, Williams Sonoma, and some other specialty stores I don't need, Neimans being the anchor for this development. Across the road, the Chevy Chase Plaza next to the Embassy Suites was a surprise waiting to be found, and I did discover it finally yesterday. There's Ann Taylor Loft (more my line, where I buy my suits and better classic casuals), Pottery Barn, the Cheesecake Factory, J. Crew and Banana Republic (both more old-school preppy than Ann Taylor Loft), and my favorite, World Market, where I found some long-needed spice mixes, exquisite spicy snacks, and talked myself out of buying the Digestive biscuits even though I miss them, because I'm used to buying them for pennies, and would rather have gourmet cookies for that price.


People I've encountered have been very chatty, friendly, helpful, and complimentary - without me reaching out first. Many people smile if you make eye contact, even accidentally, and my response to this is not as automatic as it was when I lived in Texas, but maybe it will come back. Once upon a time I used to smile so much more than I do now. You can't smile at Londoners, they think you're a) loopy, b) high, or c) going to mug them. There were random New Yorkers who used to tell me to smile as I walked down the street, but then they're not incidental smilers themselves!


Oh! I nearly forgot to tell you about the dinner I had with C, the lovely lady who hosted me when I visited last month. She took me to a place near all those swanky shops I told you about. It's a brasserie-bar called Clyde's, and apparently a Washington institution starting with the smaller original in Georgetown, where all the good old boys and other political types congregate. No two Clyde's are the same; depending on the location, some are country casual, some are antique classics; the one near me is large and spacious as befits the neighborhood, with cushy little booths and for once I didn't feel far away from the table, or too low behind it. Very wood-panelled with potted palms, the free walls are covered with art deco murals from the Golden Age of travel. Scale model replicas of classic planes hang from the ceiling, and racing cars sit on the counters. Next time I go I promise I will take photos. In the meantime you can see some at the link above.

We ordered a starter of creamy crab and artichoke dip with baguette.
On Tuesdays most bottles of wine are half price, and we ordered a crisp Chardonnay which came in a silver ice bucket on a stand.
We split our main courses of:
1) Two fresh large-chunk crab cakes with aioli, green beans, and two little stacks of sweet potato slices pan fried to crispiness on the edges. I am no lover of sweet potato but this was a winner and I ate it all.
2) Rainbow trout in a delicious and hearty parmesan crust with green beans and roasted new potatoes.

We were way too full for dessert. I love the classy yet laid-back vibe there (perfect after a hard day at work) and hope to return not too long from now. It certainly wasn't cheap, but definitely not as pricey as it sounds, and way less than the dinner on Park Avenue last week.

There will be more adventure this weekend as Chris is driving to town from NYC for a snazzy dinner party and a visit to a museum so stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After some goodbyes in NYC, I went home to Washington.

Good byes should always be made with good food and farewells should always be made with decent fare.

Two weeks ago, I went to dinner with dear friends at Niko's Mediterranean Restaurant on the Upper West Side off Broadway.

Grilled Halloumi (a fresh Cypriot cheese) presented in the nicest way I've seen yet


A week ago, I went to dinner with a friend I'd made at the dentist's office when I worked there. We've met up quite a few times since then and really ought to become critics because we photograph and savor everything we eat on our foodcentric outings.

We met at Cafe Centro, an art deco gem inside the Met Life building which is on Park Avenue behind Grand Central Station. It was Restaurant Week in NYC (as it is this week in DC), so we went with their set menus.

I chose a
frise salad with toasted pecans, slices of honey roasted pear, and mini gorgonzola fritters. I was so hungry, I forgot to take a photo, sorry. We each had a glass of white wine, mine being a California pinot grigio.

This was followed by:

Long Island duck breast (medium rare) on a bed of spinach, with cranberries and a vincotto (wine reduction), and a mini pureed chestnut flan

Dessert was a
chocolate almond financier in a butterscotch sauce topped with brandied whipped cream and a rolled chocolate stick

On the subway afterwards, the two of us decided to meet again on Friday afternoon for the long-promised 3-course dessert at Chikalicious in the East Village. It was VERY windy and freezing cold, but I had essentially finished my packing and I could not leave NYC without undertaking this project:

We ordered the cocktail of the day, which was
sparkling white wine with a frozen cube of raspberry juice with a raspberry in the middle - so as it melts, the wine turns pink

My main course was
hot chocolate soup and banana ice cream with freshly chopped banana, topped by a cocoa bean crispy wafer

The final course was a little plate of teensy weensy
petit fours

Then we went across the street to their bakery and I picked up a couple of their most perfect cupcakes.



The morning mail included a gorgeous handmade card from Nikki and Roomie, which I packed in my hand luggage and have now set on my little dresser. Thanks, girls :)

I can't believe it took only two days for that card to travel nearly 2500 miles!

The moving guys started after 9.30 and left at 11.00 am for their 4-hour drive south. Chris came by for moral support and to help roomie and me eat breakfast. It was past 1pm when I reached Manhattan and found Penn Station after wandering west from 34th St-Herald Square (having taken a taxi last time, I didn't know it was right underneath Madison Square Garden).

All panic stations when I missed the 1pm train, the next two were sold out, and I couldn't get a train out of NY until 3pm - two hours are precious when you are following a moving van! I called them and they were already in Maryland - not far to go. I called the office and they said they'd send them on their secondary delivery so as to buy me time. I called landlady and she said if I wasn't there by then, she could write them a check, and that everything would be alright and that I mustn't forget to breathe.

I got on the Acela Express, you know, the tilting bullet train. It was nice, but as regards comfort, not really that different from the slower and slightly less spacious Northeast Regional. It was, however, fast enough that I couldn't think about everything outside the window, so I fell asleep for a much-needed nap.


Arrival at Union Station nearly 6pm. As I left the gate I smiled and said, "I'm home."
No way the guys would still be at the house, so I took my time and snapped some pics

The lovely embossed barrel vaults make this a very classical space, the cleanliness, potted plants, and mood lighting promote calm

Classical figures stand in every niche. One day I will find out who they all are.
I got into a taxi and once again carried on a lengthy conversation with the taxi driver. People here are very southern in their social skills.

Once home, my bed was assembled, my bags and boxes piled against the wall, and my hangers in the closet. I was up until the wee hours, putting things away like a little squirrel storing nuts for the winter.
Here is my bed after I made it and rehung the voile curtains. No need to shut the curtains now in order to shut out the room.

In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night and smiled. You know how usually when you're in a new place, you wake up and don't remember where the heck you are? Well, that didn't happen.

Yesterday I went out with the other upstairs tenant to Columbia Heights, an up and coming neighborhood with some excellent brand new stores. Between Target and Bed Bath and Beyond, I got a cute kettle and a great trash can.

Simplehuman are very cool. I like their slow close lids, because it is so annoying when lids shut suddenly in a blast of trash can air

And my elegant little Oster kettle which works fine so far

Same time, same place, stay tuned for more.