Sunday, April 01, 2007
Cherry Blossom Time
This, for those of you who don't know, is the Jefferson Memorial during the Cherry Blossom Festival. A couple of my colleagues organized a day to go and see the Kite Festival at the Washington Memorial, the Cherry Blossoms at the Jefferson Memorial and the Slavic Festival in some courtyard down a street by a highway. The weather was perfect and a small group of us wandered around the Mall and the side streets of DC for several hours. It was a great way to stretch our legs after a long week of class. The kites were just what you'd imagine, little black dots way up in the sky. Many of them were, apparently, quite beautiful for people with either binoculars or telephoto vision. There were huddled clumps of kite 'enthusiasts' doing what enthusiasts of any ilk tend to do...beating their hobby to death with expertise. Somehow, a few small children managed to get ahold of a couple of kites and threatened to bring the whole kite flying world to its knees by simply throwing their kites into air and having fun. A man spoke without pause into a microphone and sounded as if he were speaking in Klingon, but with great enthusiasm and much expertise.
So we wandered around dodging kites and kids and generally enjoyed the morning. Looking towards the Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Memorial we were overcome with the same thought and three of us called out for "Gennnnnny" from "Forrest Gump" with one voice. We 'B' Diplomats alright, but not necessarily mature diplomats. Then we headed over to the Tidal Basin to check out the cherry trees. They were in full bloom, as advertised, and while we admired the beauty of Spring, one of the group was overcome by her allergies and went home.
From the Cherry Blossoms, we headed over to the Slavic Festival. It was being co-hosted by several embassies, including the Bulgarian Embassy so I was quite excited about the almost certain prospect of rakia and shopska salad. Imagine my disappointment when I found only a single card table booth with a couple of brochures and not a drop to drink anywhere in sight. I talked to the woman at the booth for a few minutes and managed to get the name of a decent Bulgarian restaurant in Arlington, so the trip wasn't a complete waste of time. There was food being served at the Festival and there were several folk-singing and folk-dancing groups but none of them were from Bulgaria. There was a quasi-Chalga singer, but she was from Ukraine. I spoke briefly with the Deputy Chief of Mission from the Bulgarian Embassy and he too seemed disappointed that they hadn't brought along any rakia. He gave me permission to take this picture with the Bulgarian flag and we somberly shook hands and said, "Dovishdane".
In the evening, I joined another group of colleagues to watch the Georgetown/Ohio State basketball game. We found a bar in Georgetown with standing room and drank our beers surrounded by rabid student fans. There was a police presence in the Georgetown streets of a magnitude exceeded only in Fallujah or Baghdad and it was absolutely clear that they intended to keep the lid on any over-exuberant celebrations. Unfortunately, Georgetown lost and the air went right out of that balloon so the evening ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Still, it was a nice change of pace day for me and, as I'm not really a "riot" sort of guy, I enjoyed the quiet walk home and smoked my cigar in peace.
I'm getting to know some of my colleagues a bit better and I'm enjoying all the time I get to spend with them. As a group we seem to have moved from positions of "I really hope I get sent to (insert country here) and I really don't want to go to (insert some other country here)" to "I don't care where I'm sent as long as they send me somewhere!" The more we learn, the more we realize that we just aren't able to judge which are the 'good' posts and which are the ones to be avoided. While it's easy to figure out which parts of the world we'd like to either live in or avoid, we just don't know much about the morale at the individual posts. The staff at the posts are the most important ingredient in determining whether or not our time there will be pleasant or miserable. Until we've been in the service for awhile, however, we won't really know anything about the various staff reputations. For example, we've been told that Lagos has a great staff and extremely high morale while a couple of western european embassies have morale 'issues'. Surprisingly enough, this information did not lead to a stampede in bidding for Lagos. My strategy in bidding has been to bid for all the Management jobs and Consular jobs in any part of the world I think would be interesting. One of our first two assignments will be a Consular tour and I'm looking forward to mine. Vice-Consul Gemmell in Florence sounds about right to me.
On April 13th we are being given a reception by the corps of retired foreign service officers. In their wisdom, the powers that be have made me the coordinator for the event. You'd have to ask yourself why they have so little regard for the retired foreign service officers. Anyway, I plan to coordinate like crazy just as soon as I figure out exactly what that entails. Foreign Service...broadening my horizons.
We begin Week Five tomorrow and baseball season starts tonight. How much better can one man's life be?