Friday, January 9, 2009

On Monday morning December 22 our 2008 Eurotrash Holidaze Tour pulled up stakes and rolled South.

Marti and I had breakfast at the Galaxy, ordered deli sandwiches to bring on the train ride to Washington DC.

With all our luggage (even after leaving some things behind at W. 46th), we always enlist the services of a porter at Penn Station. The guy loads out from the taxi, parks Marti and me in a special waiting area, apprises us of the on-time situation, takes the bags and us to the train early so we have our choice of seats, loads in the bags and wishes us a Happy Holiday. Believe me, this is the best twenty bucks you can spend on a train journey. Business class, airport lounges, porters, bellmen, car services and taxis: my solutions to reducing the wear, tear and stress of travel.

Marti and I spent a quiet evening at the Henley Park on Massachusetts Avenue. Dined in the hotel café. With access to wifi at last, I downloaded four episodes of All My Children to my laptop. Hey, man does not live by high culture alone.

The next day my bride and I decided to detox a bit. For breakfast we had street vendor half-smokes, smothered in chili sauce, near the car rental office. For those readers unfamiliar with this gourmet delicacy, here's Wikipedia's defintion: A half-smoke is a type of sausage found in the United States capitol of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding region. A half-smoke is slightly larger than than a regular hot dog, spicier and with more coarsely ground meat . . .
A half-smoke is commonly made of beef, pork or a combination of the two, and is served on a hot dog bun . . . The etymology of "half-smoke" is unclear as the sausage is not always smoked. One possible explanation is that many places cut the sausage in half when grilling, or that many half-smokes are 50/50 beef and pork (though 100% beef half-smokes are common).

After our health food breakfast we collected a Chrysler 300 with a huge trunk, tooled back to the Henley Park and had the bellman load in baggage. Marti and I pulled out of the circular driveway, bound for Hooterville (Charlottesville, Virginia).

We of course encountered Hell Traffic on Route 66 in Northern Virginia, even though it was the middle of the day and most of the DC-area had already headed for zee hills on the Christmas break. May I just say again how happy I am to 1) not own a car, and 2) not be driving daily in this market any longer. By the time we got to Gainesville my bride and I were hungry again. We stopped for late lunch at Saigon Crêpes, a delightful new restaurant in a nondescript strip shopping center. The young Vietnamese-American waitperson was lovely. A student at the University of Virginia, she was very excited when we explained that we were traveling from our home in Paris. She plans to look us up here next summer.
Oh yeah, the pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) was delicious -- and comforting on a cold December afternoon.

We checked into the Doubletree Hotel . . .

. . . then drove over to Marti's parents' home, which had been decorated beautifully for Christmas. We spent a pleasant evening with Nan and John, as well as Marti's brother John and his wife Nanci.

Marti and I had promised to cook Christmas Eve dinner, so the next morning after breakfast at Nan and John's, Nanci and John(x2) and my bride and I assaulted the local Whole Foods supermarket for the fixin's.

On the menu: a simple mesclun salad with olive tomatoes and artichokes . . .

. . . followed by my late mom's Christmas Eve standby shrimp Creole with white rice. Charlottesville friend Pat Shutts' Christmas cookies made a delicious dessert.

That evening Marti and I attended the Orthros and Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom at the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. Following the service we spoke briefly with Father Michael. I had e-mailed him weeks earlier regarding the time of the Christmas Eve service. Marti's parents had generously allowed us to move dinner to the late afternoon so we could go.

Marti was churched twice that evening. After the Greek Orthodox service, she attended the evening music and hymn singing and Holy Eucharist Liturgy at the Episcopal Chuch Of Our Saviour with her family. I went back to the hotel, wrapped gifts and watched a George Carlin HBO special from 1978.

Christmas morning at the Greggs'. This is the only place I know where people over 50 still dig into stockings from Santa Claus. In many ways Hooterville has always been a trip to a parallel universe for me.

Santa sez: No more Right Wing screeds!

We brought German stollen from Paris, a nod to the Greggs' service in Cold War West Germany way back when.

My favorite elf delivers presents from under the tree.

Something struck Nanci and John Boy as real funny.

Nan gets the joke as John digs into the giftwrap with visions of yet another military history book dancing in his head.

Okay, we've done brekkie, the stockings, the gifts under the tree. The already-prepared catered turkey is still gonna take hours to thaw & recook. What do we do now? Thankfully, Marti's parents gave me the DVD set of Bernardo Bertolucci's five-hour Director's Cut 1900, a favorite film of mine from 1977.

From 1900: Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu visit a prostitute. Whatever pants Gérard had been wearing before this scene never fit him again in this lifetime. My brother-in-law's comment: "Hey, did this movie get a rating?"

December 26. Dawn over the Doubletree.

I spent the day after Christmas packing three boxes full of gifts and other accumulated items to be shipped home to Paris by uniformed government workers at considerable expense. My catchwords for next Christmas: Scarves. Jewelry. DVDs. An ounce of weed. Anything that won't add measurable weight or bulk to our already-formidable baggage. By the time I rendezvoused for lunch with Marti and the other discount shoppers at Cheeseburger In Paradise, I was more than ready for a huge Top Shelf Margarita (Patrón Silver Tequila, Cointreau and Grand Marnier).

We love the family album restaurant shot. Somebody should hold an annual Waitstaff Photography Festival, don'tcha think? The grand prize could be a framed portrait of the waitperson taken by someone at the table.

Here we are again the next morning. At IHOP. At seven a.m., Allah be praised. After our Happy Hooterville Christmas my bride and I were rollin' again . . . back to DC.

Soon after we arrived back in the Nation's Cap and checked again into the Henley Park, Marti hosted her customary Gal Pals Lunch -- at Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, NW. That's Cathy, Gina and Pat with Marti and her new boyfriend.

While Marti and her Krew were downing chili half smokes at Ben's, I went to visit our friends Val and Jacques at Idle Time. That's a delightful drawing of their shop by Mary Melcher, whom we met later that afternoon.

Marti joined us after her luncheon. Val was camping it up behind the register. These two freaks certainly appear happy for peeps who are selling a product that fewer and fewer Americans use anymore.

The Pope of 18th and Columbia Road surveys his turf. Adams Morgan is our old DC 'hood. Jacques has been experiencing health problems this past year; Marti and I were heartened to see him looking so well. Bonne santé, mon frère. Et bonne continuation.