♬ Magnolias for Ever ♪

Des magnolias par centaines | Des magnolias comme autrefois

 Je ne sais plus comment faire | Les magnolias sont toujours là

 

Saucer magnolias in the Smithsonian Castle Garden

 

Current mood today: Claude François for ever! Magnolias will do that to ya 😉

I was looking forward to the beginning of peak bloom for the Washington, DC cherry blossoms this weekend, but the National Park Service has revised the date and pushed it Wednesday March 23-Thursday March 24. Currently blooming, however, are the stunning saucer magnolia trees at the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden (right behind the Smithsonian castles.) I think these will hold me over for a few days 😉 

Tips for Enjoying Cherry Blossom Season In DC


Spring is coming! Every year the highlight of the season in Washington is, of course, the annual blooming of the district’s 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees. The whole town gets cherry fever and hundreds of thousands of tourists (and locals too) descend on the Tidal Basin and the National Mall to admire the delicate white and pink flowers. This year, peak bloom will hit between March 18-23, 2 weeks earlier than originally anticipated due to the recent warm temperatures. This means most of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 20 to April 17, will probably happen sans-blossom. Regardless, here are a few tips for navigating this huge Washington, DC event.

DC Cherry Blossoms

 

SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK EARLY

The Cherry Blossom trees were a gift of good will from Japan to the United States in 1912 and represent the budding relationship between the two countries. They’re scattered around the city, but the prettiest, most picture perfect pink concentration is around the Tidal Basin, just off the National Mall. Avoiding the stroller pushing, selfie snapping crowd during peak bloom around there is impossible, but your best bet for some quiet cherry blossom time will be early in the morning on a weekday. Like 7AM early, right at sunrise. The evening is also a lot quieter and you can even join a ranger on a lantern walk from 8-10PM (Fridays/Saturdays 3/18, 19, 25, 26 and March 1 and 2nd.) Don’t forget to check the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website for a full schedule of events. The day of the parade (April 16), of the kite festival (April 2) or of Cherry Blossom 10 miler race (April 3) are likely to be even busier than usual.

Cherry blossoms at MLK memorial

LEAVE YOUR CAR AT HOME 

Seriously, don’t drive to the Tidal Basin if you can avoid it. Traffic will atrocious and there’s NO parking out there! The closest metro to the Tidal Basin is the Smithsonian metro stop on the blue and orange lines, though the circulator’s new national mall linedeparting from Union Station, will also get you pretty close. I always walk there from my place, but my best advice is to grab a cab, lyft or uber, especially if you’re going early in the morning. Capital Bikeshare is a great option for your trip back from the Tidal Basin. On your way there you might not find an empty docket for the bike. Make sure to be on the lookout for one of the pink #bikeinbloom bike too! However you get there, make sure to wear comfy shoes since you’ll be doing a lot of walking regardless.  
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

LEAVE THE TREES ALONE 

This really should have been tip number one. Don’t pick blossoms from trees or hold on to a branch. These are big no-nos and if you see someone doing this, you should yell at them. Don’t yell at tourists though for standing on the wrong side of a metro escalator 😉 Rookie mistake, just kindly let them know that we have rules here, and that they should be standing on the right, walking on the left. 

DC Cherry Blossom trees

BRING SNACKS… AND ALLERGY MEDICINE 

Bring some snacks if you’re planning on walking the whole tidal basin. Even better, bring a blanket, some food and have a picnic. Just remember don’t litter (there aren’t a ton of garbage cans down there) don’t drink alcohol in public. In the United States, there is such a thing as open container laws so you can’t openly drink alcohol in public places like sidewalks, parks or the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Womp womp… leave that bottle of rosé at home! Finally – take or pack allergy medicine. All over the city all sorts of trees are booming too so even if you’ve never suffered from seasonal allergies before, you might still want to pack or take a zyrtec!

TAKE TO THE WATERS! 

In addition to the tidal basin and the Washington monument area, you can also find cherry blossoms along the shoreline of East Potomac Park, extending all the way to Hains Point. A great way to appreciate those trees is by taking a DC water taxi from Georgetown or from Old Town Alexandria. If the water temperatures are warm enough, you might even be able to rent a kayak from Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown and paddle your way to the blossoms. Perks, you also get a good workout! But one of my favourite things to do during peak bloom is renting a pedal boat at the Tidal Basin for a picture perfect view of the monuments and the dusty pink blossoms reflecting on the water. If you’re headed to see the blossoms on a weekday, you can even book your boat in advance to reduce wait time.pedalo sur le tidal basin a washington

 

THINK BEYOND THE TIDAL BASIN

While the trees along the Tidal Basin are definitely the most striking, there are other pockets of cherry blossom action in other locations across the city. Here are some alternative spots to see the pink-and-white blooms:

  • There’s  more than 20 varieties of cherry blossoms at the 95-acre Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia which is a great option if you don’t want to come all the way into the city. Bonus: the Korean Bell Garden, while not Japanese at all, makes for a very pretty backdrop.
  • Rather than risk having your dog(s) trampled by hordes of tourists at the Tidal Basin, bring your furry friend(s) to the dog-friendly National Arboretum. You and your pup(s) will be able to enjoy cherry blossoms without being overwhelmed by crowds. 
  • For families, Stanton Park in Capitol Hill is both lined with pretty cherry trees AND has a playground for your kiddos. 
  • Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown is great for off-the-beaten path cherry blossom viewing.  General admissions there will set you back $8 though.
  • Take a drive through the wealthy suburb of Kenwood near Bethesda where the streets will be lined with cotton candy trees. 

IMG_6366_2

 

EMBRACE THE SEASON AND THE PINK

Peak bloom only lasts 4 days and odds are, if you’re not from DC, you’ve had to plans your trip including book your hotel and travel WAY in advance. And odds are it might not coincide with when the blossoms are out. And that’s ok. There’s still SO much you can do. The White House might be blooming with tulips and the capitol ground with magnolias. You can get tickets to the DC United home opener on March 20th (there are additional home games March 26, April 9 and April 16) or the Nationals home opener on April 7 (or one of the follow up games April 9-14 as well as pre-season games April 1-2).

The whole town also turns pink during cherry blossom season, and while it might seem cheesy, I love the way restaurants celebrate with special menu items. I typically stick to the desserts and cocktails though and also use the festival as the official kick-off date for rosé-drinking season. This time of year is also the perfect excuse to discover or re-discover some of the best japanese restaurants in town. Finally, if you’ve never done afternoon tea at the The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, now’s your chance! The original Japanese delegation to America stayed there in 1860 and the hotel goes all out that to commemorate, with spring décor, a cherry blossom afternoon tea and cherry-inspired cocktails. 

Cherry blossoms inspired eats

Cherry rose cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar in Washington, DC

Whether you’re a veteran cherry-blossom festival goer or this is your first time in DC, I hope these tips will to help you navigate cherry blossoms season. Washington is truly pretty in pink and while the Champs de Mars’ cerisiers are very lovely too, short of going to Japan Washington’s cherry blossoms are truly some of the most beautiful in the world. If you’ve got any tips to share about cherry blossoms time in DC, let me know in the comments!

Postcard from New York: Going to A Late Show Taping

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen ColbertHere’s something free and unique to do if you have a spare afternoon in New York City: attend the live taping of a late (or late-late) night talk-show! I say afternoon, because a) while the shows air in the evening, tapings typically happen earlier that day b) even though you have to book your tickets in advance, there’s a lot of waiting around in lines involved before you can actually take your place in the audience. Here’s what my experience attending a live taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” was like.

But first, why The Late Show with Stephen Colbert? I actually watch the show every day and I absolutely love Stephen Colbert. I love his smart humour, and think his guests tend to be more interesting than those on other shows. Also, I was busy all week with work commitments and his late show is the only one that tapes on Fridays when I finally had some free time 😉

The first step if you want to see any late night talk-show  (Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah also shoot in New York City) is to go online and get (free) tickets. I knew exactly when I would be in New York and stalked the Late Show’s website for available tix, which are typically released a month in advance and go REALLY fast. I booked my spots for February 19th on January 11 to give you an idea of the timeline. Once you’ve got the tickets, you should clear out your calendar for that entire afternoon. Attending a live taping is a BIG time commitment and involves a lot of waiting around. Even with your pre-reserved tickets, you still need to queue to physically claim said ticket on the actual day of the taping and seats are first comes first served starting at 2PM. My ticket instructed me to get in line “no later than 3PM” but I showed up at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway (between 53rd and 54th) at 1PM to get decent seats. Each show is overbooked, and reserving a spot is no guarantee that you’ll get in. At 2PM, the line started moving, as Late Show staff checked my reservation and my I.D. They gave me a numerical ticket (111/400… not bad!), stamped my hand with a black CBS logo and instructed me to come back at 3:45PM. 

CBS logo

That gave me about an hour and half to grab a late lunch. Luckily, I knew of two great options in Hell’s Kitchen, within a 5 minute walking distance: Danji and Totto’s Ramen, both on 51st street between 9th and 10th avenue. After standing an hour outside in the middle of February, ramen seemed like the best option to warm up!

Pre Stephen Colbert Late Show RamenTotto's Ramen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my assigned time, I headed back to the Ed Sullivan theater and waited another 10 minutes lined up in numerical order based on my ticket. Our bags were scanned before we got to queue some more, this time at least in an indoor area inside the theater. Another pro-tip: if your bags are too large, they’ll make you check them so pack light. And I was able to go in with a bottle of water. That time of the waiting was possibly the worse because you’re crammed into a rather small room with 150 other people with 2 TVs cranking out old Stephen Colbert skits as only distraction. FINALLY, a young lady with a microphone welcomed us and reminded us of a few things: mainly, we’ll be filmed (duh!) and we’re not allowed to use our cell phones. I’d attended a few tapings of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart before so I knew the drill. No tweeting, snap-chatting, instagramming and NO photography whatsoever in the studio! Womp womp! 

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

IMG_6023IMG_6022

Finally, I sat down at my seat, on the fifth row, right in front of the band area. There’s pros and cons to sitting on the main level of the theater. The main pros are proximity to the stage, the host, and the guests but on the con side cameras do get in your way and you can’t see the beautiful projection on the ceiling of the theater. Around 5PM, comedian Paul Mecurio came onto the stage to get us pumped for the main show coming up. He reminded us quickly of our purpose today as audience: to laugh, preferably loudly, at Stephen’s jokes. He made a few jokes of his own and pulled a few people onto the stage, including a software engineer from Google and his friend who was an opera signer and had an absolutely beautiful voice. Then Stephen Colbert came in for a quick Q&A. The questions weren’t riveting but he did mention that his wife was in attendance with some of her girlfriends, which was pretty cool.

At around 5:45PM, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band, came onto the stage to play a few tunes and before I knew it the taping was finally starting!! I will say Jon Batiste and Staying Humans are pretty awesome in person, even with an extra human tap-dancing in the “percussion” areas. I took a couple of screen shots of the show afterwards, which included special audience members from the Coast Guards, Chelsea Handler in a tight little white number, an awesome segment on Marco Rubio’s “Morning Again in America” ad that included references to some of my favourite Canadian things like DeGrassi and Poutine, Zosia Mamet and a performance of The Lumineers’ new  song Ophelia. 

Coast Guards members in the audience of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
IMG_5790Chelsea Handler on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

About the guests – when you book tickets to the show, you have NO idea who the guests are going to be. Like, when I saw Jon Stewart in Washington, D.C., I had no idea that President Obama would be his guest… the day AFTER I got to be in audience. I don’t even remember who the guest was when I went… I just remember that it wasn’t Obama 😉 I’m pretty happy with who I got to see, though honestly I would have been happy with anyone, as just getting to be in the audience was quite the treat. One of the highlights of the show that evening though was the cute interaction between Colbert and his wife (“darling”), either during the taping or during the commercial breaks as well as his interaction with us the audience the few times that he had to re-tape a segment (quite a few times actually). Otherwise, the guests pretty much just ignore the audience 😦

After the show wrapped, Colbert did a few reshoots, including Zosia’s name, which he had mispronounced. He explained to us that earlier in the day, the building next to them had a sewers issues that had prevented them from being able to do their rewrites in their typical offices and that was one of the reasons the show’s taping appeared a bit frantic and disorganized. He chatted up with his wife a bit, asking her where she and friends were headed for drinks afterwards and that was that. I myself headed to Casellula for a post-Late Show glass of vino. Overall, I had a blast at the taping, it was so fun to see behind the scene of a show I watch everyday though it was a lot of waiting around, and definitely required some advance planning. Here’s my last pro-tip if you’re planning on being in the audience like I was: wear warm clothes! The theater is FREEZING so much that the staff is walking around in their coats. I definitely wished I’d worn a warmer sweater 😉

Have you ever attended a show’s tapping, whether in New York or Los Angeles? How was that experience for you? 

The White House in Gingerbread

One of my favourite “political” memoir, Sucré d’Etat*, wasn’t written by a politician at all, but by a pastry chef. And not just any pastry chef: the longest serving executive pastry chef to ever work in the White House kitchen. And a Frenchie of course 😉 Chef Roland Mesnier made delicious desserts for 5 different presidents starting with Jimmy Carter in 1979 and wrapping up with George W. Bush in 2004.

White House pastry chefs are responsible for the planning, managing and preparing of all desserts and pastries served at the White House, including for State Dinners and for the private entertaining by the First Family. Among the many confections that the White House pastry chef is responsible for is the yearly gingerbread house that is one of the highlights of the holiday displays at 1600 Pennsylvania.

White House Gingerbread

Friday (December 19), he’ll be on hand to talk about his latest book, The White House in Gingerbread, a memoir and cookbook that tells among other things the story behind each of the holiday gingerbread houses he created for display in the White House State Dining Room. And what better place to do that than in front of his latest creation, a STUNNING replica of the White House (the largest one ever created) currently displayed at the Historic Decatur House across from the White House. He’ll be joined by the co-author of The White House in Gingerbread, Chef Mark Ramsdell of Praline Bakery and Bistro in Bethesda from 3-5PM (reservations required here, $25 without the book, $55 with a copy of the book) to sign copies of the book and demonstrate how to build a gingerbread house. The Gingerbread White House is on display until December 22, from 10AM-3PM, Monday-Saturday and is is complimented by a White House holiday inspired décor designed by HGTV design star Genevieve Gorder, host of the annual HGTV White House Christmas Tour. Go check it out!! 

 

Holiday Spirit on Ice at City Center DC

I’m pretty sure the folks over at City Center DC didn’t anticipate that it would be 70 degrees outside when they planned a live ice sculpting event for December 12th. Despite the unseasonably warm temperature, the event was a ton of fun! While two sculptors worked on an ice dress and a Christmas tree at the Park at CityCenterDC, additional sculptures were slowly melting away in Palmer Alley! My favourite was the Birkin bag, of course 😉

Check out some of my pictures below. 

Ice sculpture at city center DC

Live ice sculpting at City Center DC

Ice sculptures at City Center DC

 Ice Menorah at City Center DC

Carolers at City Center DC

Ice sculpture at City Center DC

Ice sculpture at city center DC
And while I’m pretty sure none of the sculpture survived the evening, you can catch more icy action at the National Habor where ICE! at Gaylord National features 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures and five ice slides, among other attractions, inside 15,000-square-foot tent kept at a cool 9 degrees. Ok, that’s actually cold not cool! Brrr. 

8 Ways Washington, D.C. Rocks the Holidays

IMG_0889Washington does Christmas pretty well! Here are some of the holiday displays I look forward to year after year.

CHRISTMAS WREATHS AT UNION STATION

Union Station all decked out for the holidays

In addition to the three large wreaths hanging in the three main archways in front of Union Station, there’s other decorations including a giant Model Train exhibit inside in the West Hall and a 32 feet tall Christmas tree outside, both courtesy of the Norwegian embassy. In 2013, the tree was decked out with 700 shining replicas of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream. In 2014, the tree made a statement on the environment and was decorated with polar bears. I can’t wait to see what the Norwegian embassy comes up with this year! (<– CDs!)

 

OLD EBBITT GRILL’S NUTCRACKER SOLDIERS 

Nutcracker Soldiers Standing Guard outside Old Ebbitt grill

These guys are guarding the best oyster happy hour in the city – half price raw bar Monday-Thursday between 3-6PM, so swing by before heading to the National Christmas Tree (coming up at number 3!)

 

NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE (AND NATIONAL MENORAH) 

National Christmas Tree and Menorah

BOTANIC GARDEN CHRISTMAS DISPLAY

During the holidays, replicas of Washington, D.C.'s most famous monuments made entirely in tree products are displayed at the Botanic Garden.

During the holiday season, the U.S. Botanic Garden presents “Season’s Greenings”, a unique exhibit featuring model trains and replicas of Washington, D.C.’s most famous buildings and monuments, made entirely in tree products. In 2013, there was even an Eiffel Tower replica! Check out all the landmarks on display in 2015 in my Season’s Greenings at the US Botanic Garden post

 

DOWNTOWN HOLIDAY MARKET

Downtown Holiday Market offers seasonal shopping in the heart of Washington’s Penn Quarter. Don’t miss Vigilante Coffee to get your caffeine fix before going on the shopping spree, Migue’s Mini donuts and Cherry Blossom Creative and Grey Moggie‘s booths for awesome letterpress cards and prints. 

Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, DC

ZOOLIGHTS

Zoolights in Washington, DC

The annual winter celebration at the National Zoo runs from November 27 to January 2nd this year, with more than 500,000 LED lights brightening up the zoo from 5-9 p.m. each night (other than December 24-25 and New Year’s Eve when the zoo is closed.)

GINGERBREAD HOUSES EVERYWHERE

Gingerbread house at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, DC

If you’re a pastry chef in Washington, D.C. around the holiday season, you better know how to make a gingerbread house. In France, sweet Christmas creativity is typically channeled into bûche de Noël (some are real works of art!) but here it’s all about the gingerbread houses. Each holiday season, former White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier creates a gingerbread replica of George Washington’s mansion displayed at Mount Vernon. There’s always stunning gingerbread creations as part of the Christmas decor at the White House too, but many of the city’s hotels will also feature fun and festive creations in their lobbies or restaurants too, like the Ritz Carlton version of the Smithsonian Castle pictured above.

 

CITY CENTER’S TWO 25-FOOT REINDEERS & CHRISTMAS TREE

Holiday display at city center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are a new tradition started in 2014 and I certainly hope they’re here to stay!  

 

BONUS: MANDU’S DUCKS AND THEIR ADORABLE SANTA HATS

Mandu's duckies all decked out for the holidays

Life Goes On~Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau in Washington, DC

I’m not exactly in a celebratory mood these days, but life goes on. Paris is about life, about being at a terrasse right now etc. Life has to go on and this week life includes the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, which always takes place on the third Thursday of November (or midnight that Wednesday!) Here are a few, selected spots where you can partake in some Gamay-drinking in Washington, D.C.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2015

BITRO DU COIN    Still THE place to be at midnight when Beaujolais Nouveau is released. It’s probably too late to get reservations for dinner, but show up around 10PM when they start  clearing out the tables. The Beaujolais typically starts pouring 11PM, which technically is well past midnight in France anyways 😉 More details here.

CAFE DU PARC Get a complimentary glass of George Duboeuf Beaujolais at the bar between 6-9PM, with additional ones and small bites available for purchase too. If you like it, stay for the prix-fixe Beaujolais dinner ($55 diner only, $80 with George Duboeuf wine pairing).

CENTRAL   Michel Richard’s Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant will keep the party going from Thursday November 19 through Saturday, November 23. Rather than serve the Duboeuf Beaujolais you’ll find pretty much everywhere else, they’ll be pouring a Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 for $11 a glass, or $42 bottle. Executive Chef David Deshaies has also created a classically French 3-course prix fixe menu ($55) to pair with the grapes, featuring gougeres, escargot Fricasse, Filet mignon with syrah-shallot sauce, and winter vegetables; and a seasonal Apple-cranberry cobbler for dessert.  

SLATE   For those who want to try some of the finer vintages of Beaujolais, Slate’s owner/Sommelier Danny Lledo will be leading private at-the-table tastings of the 2014 Nouveau and three choice Beaujolais for guests on Thursday, November 19th from 5-8 pm.  The cost of the tasting is $15 and choices include: George Duboeuf Beaujolais “Nouveau” 2015, George Duboeuf Flower Label Beaujolais 2014, Jean Paul Champagnon Fleurie, Beaujolais 2013 andDomaine Laurent Martray Brouilly, Beaujolais 2013.

TABLE Who wants to cook the day before Thanksgiving? Nobody, that’s who. For $150, Table invites you to give thanks for Gamay wine with  masterfully prepared local cuisine paired beautifully with Cru Beaujolais on Wednesday November 25. Check out the full menu and book your spot here

 

Beaujolais Nouveau

 

BEAUJOLAIS FOR A CAUSE    The DC Center is hosting a Beaujolais-themed fundraiser at the Human Rights Campaign on November 19th to benefit its Women Center. Tickets are $20. L’Alliance Française and the French-American Chamber of Commerce are also hosting a “Beaujolais and Beyond” “fun”raiser celebration at La Maison Française. Beaujolais Nouveau and other red wines will be free-flowing and proceeds benefit causes dear to both francophone organizations. 

ENO Wine Bar in Georgetown is dedicating its Beaujolais celebrations to the 129 victims who lost their lives during the Paris attacks on November 13. On Thursday, November 19, the bar will be illuminated with France’s national colours blue, white and red. ENO will be pouring a Dupeuble 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau (same wine as Le Diplomate though it’ll be $9/a glass and $35/bottle at the 14th street bistro) for $10 a glass and $40 a bottle. Guests are encouraged to share prayers and messages over social media using hash tag #ENOPrayersforParis. These messages will be displayed on a loop on Thursday evening at the wine bar. I’m not a huge fan of the #prayforParis hashtag, though I really appreciate the sentiment. Consider adding a #Parisisaboutlife or . Paris may get tossed by the waves but she will not sink, even in a pool of Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Nouveau

 

Finally if you’re like me and your favourite way of “enjoying” a glass (or five) of Beaujolais Nouveau is at home with some friends, here are a couple of wine shop I recommend:

WEYGANDT WINES is carrying 3 unique cuvées of Pierre-Marie Chermette’s Beaujolais Primeur 2015: Cuvée Pierre Chermette ($12/bottle), Beaujolais Primeur Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015 and Chermette’s Beaujolais Primeur Rosé 2015 (OMD Beaujolais Rosé!! Game changer!! That one is exteremely limited so go snag a bottle right now!!) ($12/bottle).

DCANTER carries a Domaine Descroix Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 priced at $13. This is a pretty decent Beaujolais option that would pair really well with your Thanksgiving meal, so you might want to reserve a few bottle since the Capitol Hill shop will most likely sell out pretty quickly. 

CORK & FORK is where I usually pick up my Beaujolais Nouveau every year. Dominque Landragin typically selects a couple of interesting bottles that you won’t find in most stores. Like DCanter, he’s offering the Domaine Descroix Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 as well as a Domaine Anoir du Carra Beaujolais Village Nouveau. My recommendation when it comes to Beaujolais is always go for the village if you can… 

Last Friday, terrorists sought to attack France’s way of life… what better way to show them that our spirit will never be defeated than with some headache inducing Beaujolais Nouveau. Or something like that 😉 Cheers!

 

 

 

Meet the Real Instagrammers of Washington on “We The People DC”

We the People DC Instagram AccountI first heard about the We The People DC’s instagram account from my friend Christina of Just the Bottle. It’s been one of my fave account on the social network ever since! In a nutshell, it’s a community photo project that looks at the nation’s capital from the eyes of Washingtonians by handing over the instagram account handle to a different person every day. The project begun in February with a countdown featuring some of Washington’s most famous residents – or at least their statues 😉 Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson and FDR urged followers to “see what DC is all about through the eyes of its humans – and Abe.”

So who are the people behind We the People DC? Meet Macon Lowman and Katelyn Bryant-Comstock, two UNC Public Health Grads and recent DC-transplants. Inspired by the RDU Baton (and the NYC Baton), they launched We the People DC on Instragram one cold winter day.  Six months and one picture of Obama later, the account has been in the hand of some 200 Washingtoniens and Washingtoniennes and now has close to 7,000 followers. Macon and Katelyn were kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the project. In a follow up post, my friend Christina will also describe what it was like to hold the handle for the day!  

We the people founders

Macon Lowman and Katelyn Bryant-Comstock, co-founders of We The People DC

Let’s start with what inspired you to start We The People DC and how you came up with the name of the project.  Why play on the government petition system instead of just going with DC Baton?

Macon: “Though our inspiration came from the RDU & NYC batons, there are many similar photo projects (ilovetexasphoto to name one) and each had taken a slightly different approach. Some featured community members, others only featured professional photographers, some let handle holders have the reigns for a day or a week, etc… When designing this project, we really wanted to focus on the diverse range of people that make DC a unique city. Given our focus, we thought why not add a clever twist to the name, and that’s pretty much how We The People DC was born.

You held the handle when the account first launched, when you were still trying to drum up attention for the project. Would your “typical” day be any different if you held the handle this week? 

Macon: “At the time, I featured a very authentic day in my life. We weren’t really sure if the handle would take off beyond our friends so there was no intention to feature certain places that might drum up attention. All in all, I’m really happy with how it has organically grown through the community and I’m not sure my day would look much different than the original day I held the handle.”

Katelyn: “I agree with Macon, my day wouldn’t look much different!  I did try to go to some of my fave spots the day I held the handle (ie: the Raven, Well Dressed Burrito), and while I may not always go to my those on the same day, it was a nice excuse to schedule some fun things that I may have let go to the wayside if I weren’t holding the handle.”

Initially, you only handed off the handle during weekdays, then you added weekends. Do you think people who have the handle when they’re tied to their desk from 9-5 are at a disadvantage? 

Macon: “Logistically, it made sense to only do weekdays at first. We had a small amount of followers and hadn’t yet figured out scheduling handle holders efficiently so we needed to get those details under control before expending to weekends. On a week day, holders can really break down stereotypes the public has of DC. We’ve seen a lot of non-traditional careers featured outside of the political spectrum. Additionally, I believe it forces the handle holder to be more aware of their surroundings and take initiative to do things that they might not do on their typical work day. Maybe you’ve been wanting to try out a new restaurant on your lunch break, had your head buried into your phone on your commute to work instead of noticing art around town or you’ve just gotten used to a unique aspect of your job that you become more appreciative of when you get to show it off… all of these examples and more really force the handle holder to be present on their day and I don’t think that is a disadvantage at all.” 

Katelyn: “I agree that forcing people to be present is one of the best parts of the weekday handle holders. Even the view from your front door shows off a side of DC that people may have seen before, and you don’t even have to go to your 9-5 to capture that!  And while WTP is not meant to be a networking instagram (we’re trying to break DC stereotypes here), we have had non-profits get volunteers from seeing descriptions of their work on the handle, and I’ve personally learned a lot about careers I would have never thought about just from watching people’s days while holding the handle.”

Other than someone whose last name is Obama, is there a prominent Washingtonian you’re DYING to hand off the handle to? Why? 

Obama Makes a Cameo on We The People DC

Macon: “As many Washingtonians know by now, Mei Xiang just had a baby boy. I’ve been fascinated with following the Smithsonian Zoo’s #PandaStory. They’ve showed everything from transporting artificial sperm across continents to acquainting Mei Xiang with ultrasounds, and her actual birth. I think it would be really neat to have one of the baby pandas veterinarians hold the handle for the day”. 

Katelyn: “I would love to see one of DC’s celebrity chefs hold the handle.  We’ve seen their food displayed already, let’s go in the kitchen and see how it’s all done!

I LOVE both of these ideas!! I also loved it when the handle was held by The Capital Area Food Bank. Were you approached by an individual? By the organization? What’s the process if a DC non-profit or business wants to be showcased? 

Macon: “Perfectly timed question. CAFB signed up to hold the handle just as any community member would. They followed up with us to share that they saw an increase in their social media followers and volunteers following their day with the handle. After sharing that information, one of our friends (s/o Laura Bach!) suggested that we feature a non-profit regularly on the handle. We loved the idea and will now be reserving the 1st of every month for a non-profit to hold the handle. We really hope this helps the community to develop relationships with organizations doing great work in the district.”

 Macon – I adopted my best furry friend, Chloé, from the Washington Animal Rescue League. You adopted yours, Porky, from DC’s first cat café Crumbs & Whiskers, which I think is awesome.  How fun would it be to have either of these organizations hold the handle?!? (Please tell me that’s in the work!!). 

Macon: “I don’t like to ruin surprises, but I will say that if you are a cat cafe fan and/or animal adoption supporter– we may have a treat in store for you come October.” 

OMD, can’t wait! My friend Christina held the handle a few weeks ago, which happened to be the day of Diner en Blanc. She’s got some tips for those handling the account in a separate post, but what would be your recommendations? What are some of the guidelines and best practices when you’re We The People DC for the day? (I’m taking notes since I’ll get the handle in November…) 

Macon: “I dare you to find a coffee shop that has yet to be featured! All joking aside, I’d encourage people to show off unique locations or facts about DC that you wouldn’t necessarily find with tour guide. Also, create an inviting conversation around your photos. I’ve seen some great dialogue go on between handle holders and followers on every topic from best appetizers in town to race relations. These community conversations are much more likely to happen if you share photos you feel strongly about and describe to people why you selected them. Lastly, just have fun with it! It’s exciting to be a bit of a celebrity for the day. As far as sign-ups go, there is a link to our tumblr page in the Instagram profile. Once on our tumblr page you can follow-up the sign-up link to fill out our short survey. We’ll let you know within a few days that your entry was received and your place on the waiting list.”  

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Katelyn: “I think another tip would be posting often!  We suggest a minimum of 5 posts, and people vary between about 5-10 per day, but I think the people who post a lot and create those opportunities for conversation get good engagement with community members. One of my favorite parts about the handle has been the historical facts that people post with their pictures.  I feel like some of our handle holders could be professional DC tour guides! While you may not be able to do that for every post, it’s definitely an added bonus if you can!” 

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Hopefully, this post has gotten you stoked about this awesome and fun local instagram project! You can learn more about We The People DC by visiting its tumblr. And if you’re interested in holding the handle in the future, sign up right here. Though be warned, following a DCist article in July, the waiting list is about 200 people long… so it might take a while 😉

 

 

Gad Elmaleh in DC – Part Trois, Now All In English


Le revoici, le revoilà! Gad Elmaleh repasse au Birchmere, avec un petit changement qui n’est pas négligeable: le comedien fait son show en Anglais!! 

It’s hard enough being funny in your native language, let alone in a foreign one. Seinfeld, for example, was notoriously bad when dubbed in French, and the humour didn’t quite translate. And yet, that’s exactly the personal challenge that French funnyman (and Seinfeld BFF) Gad Elmaleh has set for himself. After performing sold-out shows in Washington, DC twice in 2013 (in April and September – you can read my recap from the September show right here), the comedien is back for a third time. This fall, he’ll try to branch out of the French-speaking and expat crowd by performing en anglais in 17 cities across the US and Canada.

Gad Elmaleh al in English

I thought he was absolutely hilarious when he performed at the Birchmere in Alexandria two years ago. The running joke throughout the performance was Cathy, the lone non-French speaker in the audience whom Gad picked on repeatedly. Good news for her, she can go back to the Birchmere on December 13 and finally be in on the jokes. I, for one, would rather see the comedien in v.o. (version originale). But I’m excited at the prospect of bringing my husband to the show this time, or some of my other friends here who appreciate French but may not speak it well enough to follow an entire stand-up routine in it (maybe they should do like at the opera and have surtitles!). 

You can get your tics for the DC, Montreal and Vancouver shows here. You can also catch one of his film, Capital, on Netflix right now. Or you can get a sneak peek of his English show on YouTube, with a short segment where he comments on two very American things French expats in the US don’t get: air conditioning and over-zealous wait staff at restaurants 😉 Don’t worry, it’s not all US bashing during his routine. The French definitely get picked on too! 

*** note: it appears the DC show is already sold out… womp womp for those who didn’t purchase tickets soon enough, like me! But wow, that was quick!!*** 

Dîner en Blanc – Part Deux, DC Edition

When Washington played host to its first Diner en Blanc last year, the main complaints from participants concerned the location. Yards Park in Southwest DC was a beautiful venue, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t strike anyone as particularly iconic. Compared to some of the other famous locations where the all-white diners have popped up across the globe — Lincoln Center in New York, the Trocadero with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop or on 6 bridges over the Seine in Paris, Covent Garden in London, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles to name a few — the 42-acre development on the Anacostia River waterfront was a bit lacking in Washington monuments and recognizable sites. It was also a bit out of the way, with few passers-by likely to stumble upon the scene. With that in mind, the organizers sought out not only a more central location, but also one that felt more-DC. And that location was the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, a 1900s beaux-arts building in front of the more modern Convention Center. 2,700 revelers, all dressed in their best whites, squeezed into the park around the former library for an evening of eating, drinking, dancing and of course, instagramming 😉

This was my second Dîner en Blanc of the summer. In New York last month, I got to experience what it was like to be a care-free guest at the event, showing up in Manhattan just hours before the start of the diner. Yesterday was a completely different story! I started the evening in Dupont Circle, where 500 of the guests met one of 10 different group leaders that would whisk them to the secret location — part of the concept of the flash mob dinner party is that guests only found out where it is being held at the last minute. The logistical challenge for the organizers is to get everyone onsite in a timely and orderly fashion, while they’re lugging their table, chairs and food. On the metro. The DC metro. Once my five groups had left Dupont Circle with their leaders, I hopped in an uber to beat them to the location, so I could be onsite to welcome them and help them set up in a pre-determined spot on the lawn of the Carnegie Library. The few quiet moments I got to spent before the storm of white-clad guests descended upon Mount Vernon Square were some of my favourites of the diner. 

Diner en blanc DC 2015

Diner en Blanc at the Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square ~ Enjoying some quiet moments before the groups arrived.

Then the groups arrived from the 8 different meeting points scattered around the city and Northern Virginia. The Convention Center and Chinatown groups arrived first obviously. The Dupont Circle groups arrived last which led to a somewhat frantic setting up. Before we knew it, it was 6:45PM and the second edition of Diner en Blanc DC officially kicked off with the traditional waving of the napkins. Finally, it was time to relax and eat! 

DC's 2015 Diner en blanc at the Carnegie Library

Rather than order from the catered options available for purchase, I had prepared a simple cold diner that was heavy on prosciutto: spiced watermelon soup with prosciutto, prosciutto wrapped melon (with additional hors d’oeuvre sized ones to pass around the tables) and a spinach-prosciutto quiche with a green salad. I had picked up some shimmery vanilla macarons at Olivia Macaron, the Georgetown shop had made them especially for the occasion and they looked so pretty on my table (in addition to being delicious of course!)  

diner Macarons

Bonus, like in New York, Celebrity Cruises also passed around some white chocolate dipped macarons and my friend Cecilia of OneVanillaBean had made all sorts of delicious desserts like a raspberry-rose roll-out cake and caneles, which she was kind enough to share with the people sitting next to her. By 8PM when the sparklers were lit and the jazzy background music that accompanied diner turned into more upbeat sounds spinned by DJ Sabeel, I was ready to kick-off my shoes and hit the impromptu dance floor set up on the stairs of the library!

Sparklers at diner en blanc DC

At that point, all of the stress I experienced in the early evening was long gone (copious amount of Lanson Champagne definitely helped with that as well!!) As I danced with old friends and new friends alike, 2,700 strangers from all walks of life who came together to share a magical moment, I remembered why I love this event so much and why I’m so proud to be involved with it. Because you have to bring basically everything with you, you can really express your creativity at Diner en Blanc, whether you express it through your outfit, menu or tablescape. My friend Sandy made this crafty #DEBDC sign, which was quite a hit! My friend Xionara had a bird on her head. Felicity Amos, my Dupont Circle co-group leader, had an elaborate table display, complete with a white bust of George Washington. 

My friend Sandy made this crafty sign! #DEBDC

The fact that I was able to walk home in less than five minutes made it only better 😉