Thursday, September 20, 2012

Life in DC

One of my goals coming back to DC this year was to date more.  In two years in DC, I went on dates with two girls and no more than a third date with either of the girls.  In all honesty, there really weren't too many options for dating in Belmopan.  I'm sure I could have put more effort in to it, but I don't think it would have really turned out any differently.

Coming back into DC, it has been a bit of a different story.  I joined OK Cupid - a free dating site - and I have had three different dates from there.  I also went on a couple of dates with a girl from my Pol/Econ class.  I've had a pleasant time on each of the dates, but I haven't really hit it off with any of the girls.  I'd go out a third time with one of the OK Cupid girls, but we haven't been able to figure out a time to get together, so I may be getting the brush off.  We'll see what happens.

German class is going well so far.  I really liked the class that I had for the first two weeks.  The instructor was simply fantastic.  He pushed us to use our German in new ways each and every day.  The two other students in my class both had a decent amount of German, which put me in a distant third place in terms of language skills.  But, I actually liked being the worst in the class.  Being thrown into the deep end, forced me to swim harder or drown.  This made me stronger, but really probably wasn't fair to the other two women in my class.

After two weeks, they moved those two girls into a faster moving class with another student who had previous German experience.  I was joined in my class by two other students and we also started with a new instructor.  I have no idea if it is because of the new instructor, the new classmates, or the new material, but I don't feel like I have learned nearly as much this week as I did the previous two weeks.  I am still amazed by how much German I have learned in just three weeks, but I still have miles and miles to go.

My biggest complaint about German so far is their insistence of repeating basic words in nonsensical ways.  For example, the word "sie" can mean "she" and refer to either a person or an inanimate object such as a lamp.  "Sie," when capitalized, is also the formal version of "you" both in the singular and plural ("you all").  Finally, it also means "they."  So one pronoun covers four different situations and you determine its meaning based on the verb and the context.  The exact same sentence can mean very different things - "Sie kommen aus Ireland" means "They come from Ireland", "You (formal) come from Ireland" or "You all (formal) come from Ireland."  (Fortunately, "she comes from Ireland" is different  - "sie kommt aus Ireland.")

Worse than "sie", however, is all the different forms of "the."  Like Italian and Spanish, German nouns have different genders.  Every noun is either masculine, feminine or neuter.  Each gender has its own word for "the" - "der", "die", and "das", respectively.  If the noun is plural, "the" is "die" regardless of the gender.  (The noun ending also usually changes to show plurality).  By itself, this wouldn't be too bad.  What makes it worse is that these articles change based on the case of the noun.  I still don't really understand cases and when they are used because we don't really differentiate in English.  The best example in English is the way we change from "he" to "his" to "him" depending on where it falls in the sentence.  There are four different cases in German, "nominative", "dative", "accusative", and "genitive."  I have no idea what these mean yet.

Since German has four cases and four genders (masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural), there should be sixteen different words for "the."  While this would be annoying, with a bit of memorization, it could be learned pretty easy.  Plus, the different forms of the word "the" would clue me in to the gender and case of the noun making comprehension easier.  That would be too easy.  So, instead there are only six words for "the" and they are used for multiple meanings.  So "der" can refer to a singular masculine noun in one case and a singular feminine noun in another case.  Yep.

In other news, in only two weeks, I will be competing in my first race.  Ever.  On October 6, 2012, I will run in the Dead Man's Run 5K.  One of my fraternity brothers and his wife suggested the run and I loved the name.  I have convinced several FS friends to run it with me as well.  I only have two goals for the race.  (1) Finish; and (2) don't finish last.  Regardless of my time, if I meet these two goals, I will consider it a success.

On Monday, I finished the Couch to 5K program on my iPod.  On the last day, I jogged for 30 minutes without stopping.  I honestly don't think I ran 5K during those thirty minutes (that would be a 10 minute mile, which is a pretty good speed), but I had never in my life run for 30 minutes without stopping before.  I am both very proud of this fact and a bit ashamed at how proud I am.  For many adults, a 30 minute run is a warm-up or a light work-out.  But, two months ago, I could not run for 5 minutes without stopping.  Through this program, I continually pushed myself to achieve something I had honestly thought impossible not long ago.  Although it is a cliche, if I could do this then anyone can do this.  And although I still don't "like" running, I don't hate it anymore.

Finally - a quick update on my statistics and goals:

Current statistics (starting stats from August 4, 2012):
Weight - 271 (285 lbs).  I am down from my peak, but still haven't passed the 270 plateau which is my low point since probably 2010.
Pant size - 42x30 Still in the same pant size, but they are no longer tight and the belt has come in a notch.
Longest run without stopping: 30 minutes (90 seconds)

  1. Complete the Couch to 5k app by October 1, 2012  Completed September 17, 2012
  2. Run a 5k race (fall 2012)  Scheduled for October 6, 2012.
  3. Join some intramural sports league of some sort (fall 2012) I haven't done anything on this.
  4. Complete a 10k race (Spring 2013) Some friends are encouraging me to do the Cherry Blossom 10 miler.  Seems impossible now, but we will see.
  5. Lose 30 lbs before Katie's Wedding (November 24, 2012).  Note - if I have not met this goal on my own, I will begin using weight watchers.  I am down 14 lbs.  I also started weight watchers last week, so we will see if that helps.
  6. Lose 60 lbs before I go to Germany (May 2013)  almost 25% of the way there
  7. Lose two pant sizes (38x30) before I go to Germany no change yet
  8. Complete a marathon in Europe  (question - can you take sick leave when your body is literally unable to move because you stupidly ran a marathon?  Or do you have to take annual leave?)
  9. Do 100 sit-ups in 10 minutes I did 20 sit-ups one day and my abs hurt for 3 days.  Haven't really put much effort into this.
  10. Weigh less than 200 lbs.  (This really doesn't seem like a possibility for me.  I have weighed at least 200 lbs. since I was in junior high.  Even when I lost all that weight in Italy, I barely made it to 220 lbs.    But the upper range of a healthy weight for my range is 179 lbs.)  16% complete
  11. Ask at least one girl out per month (not really a weight loss goal, but still important.  Also, can be the same girl more than one month if I have a girlfriend).  so far so good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hard Day

Today has been a hard day.  For anyone who may not know, at least four American Foreign Service Officers were killed yesterday in Benghazi, Libya.  Among those killed was Ambassador Stevens and information management specialist Sean Smith.  I have never met either of these individuals and I don't believe I know anyone else in Libya who may have been the other victims.

Despite no personal connection to those killed, I have spent the day mourning.  I am shocked that something like this could happen.  Dad called yesterday and asked me about the attack on the Embassy in Egypt.  I could hear the worry in his voice.  I assured him that the diplomats there would be fine.  Protesters may have climbed over the outer wall, but they would not get inside.  Everyone would be safe.  A few hours later, I heard about the first death in Benghazi.  This morning, I woke up to three or four more deaths.

I am scared.  Scared for friends.  Scared for colleagues.  Scared for myself.  All day, I've had the same sinking feeling I had eleven years ago.  This type of thing isn't supposed to happen.  I get the same helpless feeling when I see clips of the East Africa Embassy bombings or hear stories about the Iran hostage crisis.  These incidents feel all too real to me in ways they never did before I joined the Foreign Service.  Although logically, I KNOW that nothing like this will ever happen to me, days like today make it feel too close.

People often say that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.  It's a nice thing to say and seems appropriate when people are grieving.  Most of the time when we say this, we quickly move on with the rest of our day.  But not today.  I can't stop thinking about the victims.  The IT guy trying to set up the internet for the consulate.  The Ambassador returning to Benghazi to open up an American Corner where he had previously liaised with the Libyan rebels.  Their wives and kids seeing the news and frantically trying to reach their loved ones.  Or worse, the mother who gets a phone call out of the blue telling her that he son died in some town she had never heard of a year ago.  The local staff, so proud to be working for the American Consulate, suffering along with their American colleagues, but without the recognition of their sacrifice.  The still-unnamed victims.  Do I know know them?  How long had they been in the Foreign Service?  Where had they served?  Did they want to be in Libya?

Finally, I am mad.  I am that some blowhard asshole makes a low-budget movie that has no other purpose than to piss people off and denigrate another religion.  That these assholes spent $5 million just to be dicks.  They KNEW that this would cause problems with Muslims and did it anyway.  They have every right to make their dumb ass movie and put it on the internet.  But I also have every right to call them fucking dumbshit assholes.

I am even madder at the pricks who get so upset about a dumbass movie that no one would ever know about or care about that they storm a U.S. Embassy and shoot up a U.S. Consulate with rocket grenades.  Lighten the fuck up.  It's a fucking low-budget movie that you propelled into the spotlight with your attack. You are hurting your own position with your actions.  You're hurting the wrong people.

Please remember that all the views on this blog are mine, and mine alone.  My views do not represent the State Department of the Government of the United States in any way.  Everything I know about this attack comes from public news sources.  I have no additional insight.

I apologize for the cursing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

NYC Pictures

Times Square at dusk

Homeless man taking advantage of seating in the middle of Broadway

Shelley and me with Manhattan skyline

Lady Liberty

Great Hall at Ellis Island

Manhattan skyline with Freedom Tower

Chrysler Building

Central Park

I love the Central Park lamp posts

This was the softball player I mentioned in the last post.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I (heart) NY

Despite all my world travels, I had never really been to one of the greatest American cities, New York City. (I once had a long layover at JFK and spent about four or five hours in NYC, but didn't really know where I was or where anything else was, so it was mostly a wasted trip).  Last week, my sister called to tell me that she had a long layover in Newark on Saturday and Sunday, which coincided with Labor Day weekend.  I took advantage of the free hotel rooms and took the bus up there.  (Quick bus review - miserable experience, but the price was right).

Coming around a bend somewhere in New Jersey, I looked up and caught my first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline.  I actually gasped at the sight.  It really is beautiful.  After winding our way through the city, we finally disembarked at Penn Station, ninety minutes late.  I hustled my way towards Hell's Kitchen to watch Nebraska's season opener against Southern Mississippi at the local Nebraska bar.  My cousin Bob really talked up this bar to the point that I was actually a bit disappointed (missing most of the 1st quarter due to satellite errors certainly didn't help).  It was a pretty cool bar, but I actually like Union Pub in DC better for Nebraska games.

It was dusk by the time the game ended, so I decided to try to catch the sunset from the top of the Empire State Building. I ignored the hawkers half-heartedly trying to sell me tickets to "skip the line" as I entered the tower.  Upon arrival to the second floor, I saw a relatively short fast-moving line and thought I might make it up to the top just in time for sunset.  What I didn't know is that this was merely the first of approximately sixteen lines that I would have to wait in.  I swear that the most unrealistic aspect of "Sleepless in Seattle" is how little time it takes for Meg Ryan to get to the observation desk.  Needless to say, I did not make it up before dark.  The deck is so crowded that you stand three deep just to get to the ledge and look out.  Despite all the hassles and lines, the view was spectacular.

Sunday morning, Shelley and I made our way back into the city and headed downtown.  We purchased tickets for an evening show, had an unmemorable lunch, and then headed towards the Statue of Liberty.  In battery park, we waited in lines to take the ferry to Liberty Island.  Standing in the park, in the shadow of the unfinished Freedom tower, I remembered the scenes from 9/11 of terrified individuals scrambling to get on boats and off the island.  Standing there, I realized how trapped they must have felt with the towers looming over them and the water sealing them in on the edge of the island.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island greatly exceeded my expectations.  Arriving on Liberty Island by ferry with the Manhattan skyline in the background and Ellis Island next door, I felt transported back in time to 1908.  My great grandfather, Cirino Caniglia, 17, arriving in steerage on The Prinzess Irene, looking up to see that majestic statue.  The joy, the fear, the excitement - all captured by the majestic lady in the harbor.  The free audio tour provided some fantastic insight about the statue and made the trip to Liberty Island worth the wait (even though the crown isn't open yet).

As a history nerd and an immigration geek, I was really excited to visit Ellis Island.  For years, I had wondered how these huge ocean liners had docked at this fairly small island.  Turns out that they didn't dock there.  They usually docked in Manhattan and unloaded the steerage passengers on ferries to take them to Ellis Island.  The first and second class passengers were processed on the ship and admitted directly into the U.S. without physically passing through Ellis Island (though their names would likely still be recorded there).  Moreover, most passengers spent only an afternoon on the island where they were met by long-lost family or  sent on to their onward destination (a train to Omaha for my great-grandfather).  While I enjoyed the immigration tour, I was disappointed that they did not have any of the historical documents - the manifests, etc. - on display.  I thought I'd be able to give them a name and have some librarian pull down the old manifest, flip to the correct page and show me my bisnonno's name.  None of that was available.  The only historical research tourists could do there was the same internet search you can do on their website (which is pretty cool, if you've never done it).

After we returned to Manhattan, Shelley and I rushed to midtown to watch Avenue Q.  The show is an adult version of Sesame Street mixed with a Broadway musical.  The puppetry (muppetry?) is amazing and the songs are hilarious.  Some of the highlights were "It Sucks to Be Me", "The Internet is For Porn", "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", and "If You Were Gay."  Plus, how many times do you get to see muppets screwing like rabbits? (Yeah, they went there).

On Monday, Shelley had to fly again, but I spent the morning exploring Midtown.  I did a mini-walking tour past the NYC Library, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center and St. Paul's Cathedral, before finishing at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  This museum is fantastic and full of great artists.  The highlight for me was Van Gogh's "Starry Night."  The painting is so much more impressive in person than in prints.  It conveys so much more motion and emotion.  Other great artists included, Dali, Picasso, Warhol, Jackson Pollock and more.  I spent three hours there and I could have easily spent five.

After the museum, I picked up a Pastrami on Rye sandwich from the Carnegie Deli and headed to Central Park for lunch.  I loved Central Park because it is perfect for people watching.  My favorite moment of the day and perhaps my favorite moment of the whole trip was watching this slow-pitch softball game.  Most of the players were old-timers in their late 40s, 50s, or 60s, with a few young guys sprinkled in.  One player just absolutely oozed New York City.  I can't be sure of his ethnicity.  He may have been Dominican, or Puerto Rican, or a light-skinned African American or a random mix of a dozen places.  He wore tattered Yankee pinstripe pants with a wife beater and an inexplicable fanny pack.  He talked smack on and off the field in an accent I could not place to save my life.  He oozed joy at playing the game.  Simply put, he was a kid who loved baseball who happened to be an old man.

(Pictures to be put up later on).