Sunday, August 20, 2006


It's not that life hasn't been rich and rewarding lately, it just hasn't been blog-worthy. I'm tickled that I rode my bike around the National Mall, went home and ate pizza and watched cartoons, and finished a very good book about Northern Ireland. But this isn't exactly material worthy of the Algonquin Round Table. It's just a decent two weeks.

That being said, I'll let the Inky do the interestingwriting for me today...

One Last Thing Start spreadin' the news...
By Jonathan Last, Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphians are different. I discovered this truth, as I have many others, while listening to sports-talk radio. It was Dec. 20, 2004, and I was driving from Philadelphia to Washington. The day before, the Eagles had beaten the Dallas Cowboys, running their gaudy record to 13-1, best in the NFL. But during the game, one of their wide receivers - his name shall not pass my lips - had gone down with an injury. So for two hours in the car, I listened to fans calling in to lament that without He Who Must Not Be Named, the Eagles were finished. The championship dream was destroyed. The season was over. Doom and calumny. The general suspicion of both hosts and callers was that the Eagles would not win another game. For my part, I agreed. I didn't think they'd score another touchdown.

Then something strange happened. As I crossed the Susquehanna River and lost contact with my beloved WIP, I picked up the Washington sports station. The Redskins had just beaten a woeful San Francisco squad for their fifth victory of the season. The D.C. fans and radio hosts were thrilled. They were talking playoffs. They were talking - this is no joke - Super Bowl. These people were crazy - but, I realized, perhaps not as crazy as we were in Philly.

Philadelphians are different. We do not trumpet our difference, the way they do in New York and Boston. We do not insist that the rest of America imitate or affirm us. For whom? For what? But our cultural presence - call it the Philadelphia Diaspora - is actually vibrant and vital and growing.

Philly is a philm star now. The latest flowering of the Philly Diaspora is the intensely perfect film Invincible. The Vince Papale story used to be the stuff of local legends, but now it has been rendered into a big-budget summer flick with Mark Wahlberg as the improbable Eagles special teamer. The movie is as much about Philadelphia as it is Papale, and it's destined to be a classic. The city also had a leading role not long ago in John Turtletaub's crowd-pleasing National Treasure and is featured prominently on the small-screen darling It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. We even have our own star director in M. Night Shyamalan.

Our food is slowly colonizing the rest of America, too, as Philadelphians have begun opening bona fide cheesesteak joints in the least likely places. Tony Luke's has invaded Manhattan, as has a shop called, poetically, 99 Miles to Philly. If you ever find yourself in San Marcos, Calif., Philly Franks imports Amoroso's rolls for its cheesesteaks and Tastykakes for dessert. My world was brightened earlier this year when two Philly kids and one of their college pals opened South Street Steaks just outside Washington. They do a serious cheesesteak, and, God bless them, they're imposing Philadelphian values on the unwashed: Signs tell patrons how to order (Wiz wit', etc.) and clearly state that the owners refuse to put either Swiss cheese or mayonnaise on the sandwiches. Some would call them heroes.

Once you start looking for them, you see footprints of the Philadelphia Diaspora everywhere, from the old world (the Bavarian parliament in Munich has a giant fresco of William Penn) to the new (there's now a popular "cheesesteak" widget for the Apple operating system). Wikipedia, the giant Internet encyclopedia, even has a detailed entry for the phrase "4th and 26." Believe it.
In the end, it comes back to sports. There are Philly fan clubs all across this great country of ours, from the Eagle's Nest in Oregon to Tampadelphia in Florida. If you want to watch an Eagles or Phils game, most decent-size cities have Philly sports bars, like Famous Philly's in Port Orange, Fla., or The Shack in Santa Monica, Calif. Philadelphians abroad are never alone. In our pride and our grief, we find each other.

The Philadelphia sporting scene is beginning to take up the space in the national consciousness previously occupied by the Boston Red Sox. Where the Bosox went 86 years without a World Series victory, the Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and Phillies have now combined for 92 straight championshipless seasons. America is starting to take notice.

"Hasn't this city suffered enough?" ESPN's Bill Simmons recently asked. Prepare yourself for talk of "Philly Nation" in the coming years, because as our suffering blossoms, the Diaspora swells. It is a bittersweet arrangement.

Such is the power of the Philadelphia Diaspora that by the time Ed Rendell is elected president, I fully expect there to be a Philly version of the Emil Verban Society, the group of fancy-pants Cubs fans in Washington that counts George Will, Donald Rumsfeld and Hillary Clinton as members. (In case the governor's listening, I humbly suggest the title "The Randall Cunningham Society." For all the obvious reasons.)

Why is the Philadelphia Diaspora achieving critical mass now? Because Philadelphians are different. America is rocketing toward an ever more sterilized and franchised society, where nothing is distinctive and everything is safe. In this cultural flatland, Philadelphia stands out. We still have rough edges, mean streaks, and soft, sentimental hearts. We are the last redoubt of the real.

As the city enters its new golden age, the Philadelphia Diaspora will only grow in size and importance. It will be a strange sensation, but we'll get used to it. Today the cheesesteak and Marky Mark; tomorrow the world.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

A Girl's Gotta Doogh What a Girl's Gotta Doogh

.C. in August is a strange place indeed. A good portion of the locals leave town once Congress goes into recess. I know of at least one individual who got married months ago, but could only find time to take her honeymoon once there were no Representatives to pester about foreign ops supplementals. Those that are left are often occupied with visiting relatives who want to take in the nation's capital before school starts. All in all, it's kind of a drag on the social scene for the small minority of those who like to take their summer vacations in June and July.

I was all prepped tonight to attend the nicely random birthday party of a casual acquaintence's friend's girlfriend (again, it's August in D.C., you take what you can get). But, just as attending completely random house parties and mixers in strange houses and nightclubs are a staple of D.C. social life, so too are flaky, shaky noncommittal evening plans that fall through at the last minute. Too late to make other arrangements, it became clear that I was not going to a stranger's birthday party in Georgetown after all.

But it wasn't too late to go out myself. Spending a Saturday evening confined to the apartment seemed like a wholly depressing idea, so I decided to take myself out for dinner. I consulted my taste buds, and found they were crying out for, of all things, Afghan food.

But alas, unlike NYC, where there were three suitable establishments within walking distance at all times, Afghan cuisine is a bit hard to come by in downtown Washington. The only place I'd ever been to had dismal service and a bad attitude, but at this point my belly would accept nothing else. So I consulted my handy, dusty guidebooks and found that the next best option was in a strange land called Falls Church, Virginia. It wasn't terribly late, and I so wanted some delicious doogh and kabobs, and it was Metro accessible, so off I went to the leafy suburbs of Northern Virginia.

A lengthy Metro ride, a bus trip, and a lovely walk through some shopping centers later, I determined that a post-kebab night in downtown Falls Church wasn't gonna happen. Not exactly jumpin'. The restaurant itself was almost cleverly hidden along the main road behind an unremarkable exterior. But the trip was worth it. Such delicious saffron rice, such delectable scallion dumplings, and doogh, glorious, doogh. I was a happy girl. And I got to immerse myself in a scene wholly different than the lovable yuppie wonks in whose company I usually find myself. This restaurant was frequented by middle-aged Jews holding high-decibel conversations on foriegn policy ("Sure they're destroying Lebanon, but they're all asking for it"), nutrition ("The vegetarian combo is excellent, but I'm not allowed to have all that rice"), parenthood ("Yes, our son is thirty and he's moved back in with us, but he's quite the entrepreneur. He works all day on this website of his about overheard conversations on the Metro, and I'm sure he'll find an investor.") and travel ("My 82-year-old mother and I are taking a cruise to Alaska. It's really the only way to see the place. I don't do well with snow or weather."). It's nice to step outside your comfort zone.

While I don't intend on making a habit of solitary dining experiences, it was nice to be able to have the freedom to go on a mini-odyssey because I was cravin' some basmati. That said, I do wish Congress comes back soon, and brings the social scene back with them.