I’m just going to put this out there: applying for fellowships is incredibly stressful and excruciating. Extracting recommendations, crafting a stellar and unique project proposal, all for something I probably won’t get because there are only six spots for Fulbright research grants in Israel. The constellation of the Jewish holidays didn’t help, either, because the deadline was in the middle of High Holiday season. But I managed to turn everything in, and now all I have left to do is a faculty interview and my language evaluation, which I am scared to death of. And do you know what, I get to go through the whole process about three more times this year. Oh, and did I mention I’m also applying to grad school?
It became clear to me that I needed a weekend off campus, i.e. a weekend with my best friends and sister who are all in Washington, D.C., which is where I plan on attending grad school and possibly living my adult life. Amtrak makes it so easy (unless there are delays), and I couldn’t resist because I hadn’t spent time with my best friend Sarah in four years. Naturally, the trip almost didn’t happen because the Tuesday before I caught a version of the respiratory virus that’s been going around campus, but lucky for me it only lasted for 24 hours. Even though I lost my voice on Thursday, I still went to D.C., and it was the best weekend I’ve had since I was in Israel.
Sarah interns for a senator, so on Friday morning I went with her to work and got to go on a tour of the Capitol she gave to some of her fellow statesmen and women. She was an EXCELLENT tour guide, and it shows that she really knows her stuff. One of the tour leaders in front of us was using note cards, but Sarah knew even the most obscure factoids by heart. After lunch in the cafeteria, where I ran into a fellow Rothberg high alum (seriously, this is what happens), I headed to Tenleytown to American University to see my sister Emily and Sam. Emily has a really nice dorm room that is big and clean. I’m no fan of cinder block, but it has carpeting and great storage. Conclusion: I was deprived as a freshman. I also got to meet her roommate and some of her friends, which was great because it seems like she’s really integrated well into college life and loves it. When Emily left for physical therapy I saw Sam, who showed me around campus a bit before she had a meeting. We chatted, I met some of her friends, and I enjoyed seeing what her life at AU is like.
And then, I had a few hours to myself, which meant that I had to go into Europe mode. How much traveling did I want to do? Ride the Metro to somewhere or walk around aimlessly? At first I intended to go all the way to Georgetown, but when that got too complicated I just went to Foggy Bottom and checked our George Washington University, which is where I’ll probably end up going to grad school, given my GRE scores. I’m not used to urban campuses, but GW is pretty close to the water, so it has potential. It’s not in a part of town I would want to live in, but it’s easy to access. I made my way to the Elliott School of International Affairs to inquire about their graduate program, and to take a look at the classrooms. There’s no question that I can definitely see myself there in the future. That night Sam, Sarah, Emily, and I went to a cute restaurant in Cleveland Park that had excellent food and cocktails.
Saturday was our big day. We started out at the Barracks Row fall festival. Sarah and I got to peek inside the grounds of the marine barracks, and there was a cook-off competition between chefs from the White House, Federal Reserve, Air Force, etc. But I’ve watched a lot of Top Chef, and the food didn’t look so spectacular. After that we went to the farmers market at Eastern Market, which had the most amazing produce. I really love Sarah because she made sure to show me the seafood case. In addition to browsing the food and the crafts, we also made friends with the guy who sells pickles.
Then it was off to the main event: the National Book Fest:
Fate had obviously interceded in our favor because one of the afternoon’s speakers was none other than Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated and other excellent books. To put it bluntly, Sarah and I are in love with him. We got to the tent about fifteen minutes before he was due to speak, only to find that everyone else there was there for him, but had arrived a few speakers early to get good seats. But never fear, because when Sarah and Allison are on the case, they make things happen. I was ready to pounce, even if it meant stealing a front-row seat from a senior citizen. And pounce we did, and we were rewarded. But of course, the event could not be complete without some sketch-tastic stalkerazzi-ing (he’s on the left):
He gave a great talk that focused on his “new” book Eating Animals, but thank goodness he mentioned that he’s working on another novel. And he’s supposedly coming to speak at Vassar in November! And I also really hope that he shows up to teach my seminar.
We had a few hours to kill before returning to Book Fest and so it was onward to the Newseum, just a few blocks from the National Mall. I had been dreaming about the day I would go to the Newseum and envelop myself in pride for my esteemed profession that upholds our First Amendment rights. It was a good thing that the Covering Katrina exhibit was still there, too, because I was afraid I had missed it. So here it is folks, the coolest museum in D.C.:
The outside front wall of the museum posts the front pages from national and international dailies every day, and as I approached the building the Times-Pic was literally right in front of me, so I couldn’t resist:
One bad thing about the Newseum? Entry is about $20. There’s only a $2 discount for journalists, which I find to be quite ridiculous. But whatever. It wasn’t like there was a choice to make. The first thing we did was the Katrina exhibit, which began here:
Beyond that, however, it didn’t feel right to take any more pictures. For me, it’s the equivalent of photographing Auschwitz. So the exhibit is pretty much all about the Times-Pic, which of course is wonderful. A lot of people I have worked with were either quoted and/or in photos. It was very interesting for me to learn about how the staff survived in the post-Katrina upheaval and what they went through to report the news, whether it was from the newsroom of another newspaper or a reporter’s home. I’ve never heard anyone at the T-P ever talk about that experience. One of the objects on display was a small whiteboard filled with story assignments from early September 2005. For some reason, looking at that made everything more real to me.
The best part was that I was okay emotionally. Seeing Katrina through a reporter’s lens is so different from seeing it through your individual nightmare. I found it easy to remove myself from all of that, and most of the video footage they showed was stuff I had already seen.
There’s a lot of other good stuff in the Newseum. There’s a wall of front pages from the day after 9/11, and a very, very good movie about those reporters. Now that one made me tear up. One floor has a history of news/newspaper corporations, another tells the history of printing in general. Somewhere in there is a station where you can pretend to be a newspaper or television reporter. And if you’re hungry, they have an overpriced cafeteria with a great salad bar!
On our way out of the Newseum we turned around to discover that the Capital was right behind us:
But our perfect afternoon didn’t end there, because we didn’t want to miss Michele Norris, a host of NPR’s All Things Considered, who is also an award-winning journalist. She was there to talk about her new book, The Grace of Silence, which is a sort of memoir about how her family dealt with racial dialogue. From what I could tell, she wasn’t using notes (we were in the front, obviously), and she had a great stage presence. She also had a posse there to support her, including Gwen Ifill and Washington Post senior editor Milton Coleman, the highest-ranking black journalist in America, who was on stage with her:
After her talk, she took a picture with me and Sarah:
I won’t bore you with the mundane details of the rest of the day, but it involved seafood, Jersey Shore, and a SyFy channel made-for-TV movie called “Sharktopus,” which is indeed about a hybrid shark-octopus that terrorizes all sorts of good-looking people. But I think it goes without saying that I had a wonderful time, a much-needed vacation from the real world of school and thinking about the future. I guess it’s a good thing I’m going back in three weeks!