An American Girl in Washington

The bon temps? They rouled.

Posted in Travel by AGinDC on 23 February 2012

No, I’m not talking about True Blood. I’m talking about Mardi Gras y’all!

This weekend I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and had an absolute blast. For those of you who haven’t been,Mardi Gras in New Orleans is amazing. The parades are incredible, the beads are flying, the people are friendly, the hotels and restaurants set up outdoor bars with hurricanes and gumbo.  My first NOLA Mardi Gras was the year after Katrina and it was amazing. I fell in love with Bacchus Krewe (Krewes are the clubs that put on the Mardi Gras parades and balls) themed their parade “The Wizard of Oz” because it was all about a little girl coming home after a storm. Needless to say, it was amazing and moving. That year I also fell in love with Orpheus Krewe because it was started by Harry Connick Jr. and he is just the cutest thing ever.

This year I missed Bacchus because I went back to Opelousas (see next post) where I taught with Teach for America. I hadn’t been back since I left in ’07 and it was amazing. Instead, we drove up to NOLA on Monday morning, just in time for the awesome parades that happen on Monday and Tuesday.

Before the parades though, we checked into our hotel. It was amazing. We stayed at The Saint which is brand new and is part of the Marriott Autograph Collection. O.M.G. It’s right on Canal Street (we had our own grandstand, avec cocktail waitress, for the parades) and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Besides the location, which could not have been more perfect, the rooms were beautiful, the toiletries were enough to make me commit gross maid’s cart theft and the restaurant was absolutely delicious. Did I mention the amazing live band at the bar and the fact that I watched a parade from the window of my hotel room? Yeah.

The floor at The Saint. I liked the tiles.

Angels in The Saint

The room key!

The first thing we did, of course, was eat. We headed to the Hard Rock Cafe because they have one of the best balconies in the Quarter. The food was mediocre, but the view was amazing and we wanted to sit in the sun and check out the scene before diving in.

Horrible picture of me and a cosmo on the balcony

Then we headed to Cafe du Monde for beignets. Mmmm….

After stuffing ourselves like silly we headed to our own private grandstand for the parades.

Selina waiting at the grandstand.

The parades were as amazing as usual, but my favorite was Orpheus, if only because of HCJr. Sadly, I was using the camera phone on my pathetic 3GS and I was right in front of a street light so forgive the shoddy pics but this is what you get!

First we started with cocktails in The Saint’s Burgundy Bar. You can’t see it, but apparently it was Bacardi Gras.

This float is a giant dragoney-fish thing of some kind…

Another fish. I think this was Prometheus and the theme was Neptune something-or-other.

This was supposed to be Hinduish I believe.

Orpheus’s floats were flowerlicious this year.

This train was insanely long. It had like six cars full of people throwing beads. We really didn’t think it would make it around the corner.

The dragon! This thing was amazing! It even had a little baby dragon in the back!

The dragon continues…

The dragon’s tail.

The parades ended well into the night and Selina and I, being old, went to dinner and then bed. The next morning was Zulu, which is one of the most famous parades, and which is notable for a) being an African American krewe, b) because they actually make their own floats unlike the other krewes who pay professionals and c) because it’s the krewe of the Indians who you may or may not have heard of/seen on Tremaine. Sadly, I did not take any pictures because we weren’t on the grandstand and I’m short. Sorry. You’ll just have to go next year and see it for yourself!

Before Zulu we got breakfast at Royal Palace on Royal:

On the way we passed an awesome street band:

After the parades we went to Mena’s Palace for lunch:

I had the friend chicken and red beans and rice…

Then we followed everyone else and headed to Bourbon Street. For anyone who has never been to New Orleans, Bourbon Street is a sinner’s playground on the sunniest of Sundays (Larry Flynt has not one but two clubs in the Quarter) but on Mardi Gras? Forget about it. It’s hedonism at it’s best. Even describing it is NSFW and since children (and mothers) are reading this, I won’t go into detail. But trust me. You will see things you never imagined. Selina was walking through with her eyes wide open the entire time. For better or worse, almost nothing shocks me anymore and even I saw a thing or two that made me turn my head. These things are best approached with a daiquiri in hand.

One of my favorite things about public spectacles is that both the saints and the sinners come out to play. Mardi Gras is no different and, this being the South, there were plenty of holy soldiers from the church doing battle with evil. The funny thing is that these people never seem to get that they are actually part of the festivities. In DC, I always know winter is over when I see my first guy with a megaphone and a picket sign. They’re more reliable than Puxatony Phil. Mardi Gras is perhaps the pinnacle of this phenomenon. At strategic points throughout Bourbon Street men (only men) in black hoods stood in circles with unintentionally hilarious signs that said things like, “Repent!” and “Party Cancelled Due to Lake of Fire”. As they shouted about Jesus and repentance the  sinners in question posed for pictures, threw Mardi Gras beads at them from balconies and generally included them in the fun, whether they liked it or not. They reminded me a lot of the guards outside of Buckingham Palace. I don’t know if they saved anyone, but they certainly earned a few heavenly brownie points for keeping straight faces.

After walking up and down the streets laughing and cringing and shaking our heads, Selina and I headed to our Saintly rooms and went to bed. Or at least, we tried. Because the one downside of sleeping on Canal Street during Mardi Gras is that you’re the only ones in town trying to sleep…

I love New Orleans, and I love celebrating Fat Tuesday. My goal is to make it out every year from now on, both to party and to see my friends in Opelousas. And, of course, to eat beignets.

Laissez les bon temps rouler indeed.

AGinDC

Fashion Week in the Fashion District

Posted in Travel by AGinDC on 17 February 2012

The other night I had one of my sad, short stops in New York. Only sad because they’re short, but still, being in New York for a few hours is better than not being in New York at all. I was terrified at the thought of my hotel for the night, since last time I stayed in the absolutely awful New Yorker. But, the fates did not fail me this time!

With perfect timing and a clear sign that I did something right in a past life, I found my cab riding up to the Hilton Fashion District.  Firstly, I was totally excited to be staying here during Fashion Week, and secondly, I was just happy not to be at the same sad Hyatt Regency in Cleveland.

The Hilton FD looks like the place Archer would go if the W was out of penthouses. My room was gorgeous and the toiletries were by Peter Thomas Roth! It was like the Sephora fairy had personally swooped in and left a bathroom full of goodies just for me.

The Hilton FD wasn’t the only great place I went to that night. I met up with my co-worker and we went to Bukhara Grill on E. 49th. Delicious Indian food, seriously. Check it out. Then we had dessert at etc etc (try the chocolate molten lava brownie thingie. Amaaazing). Both were delicious.

Now I’m in my last day in Cleveland before MARDI GRAS!! I am so excited to go back to Louisiana, I don’t even have words. =) Woohoo!!

AGinDC

People who are People

Posted in Travel by AGinDC on 16 February 2012

I’m sitting here in the world’s longest flight from Philly to LaGuardia (*UPDATE: At least, for the first half of writing this post). Not because the flight is actually all that long, but because we keep getting put in f*ing holding patterns. I feel like I’m in Jet Blue’s worst nightmare. But, since I’m on hold and I’ve teed up all of the emails I can think of, I thought I’d take a quick blog break. =)

One of the awesome things about this job is that I get to meet pretty cool people. From our founder and hero Wendy Kopp to leaders of charter schools that are working their asses off to provide kids with excellent educations, every day I meet people who rock my world. I also, of course, meet some people who… well… don’t… but not nearly as often. One of the great things about being the alum of an amazing organization is that 99.9% of our alums completely kick ass. I get to meet them all over the country and it’s crazy how incredible TFA people are. It’s weird that I am one of them and is further confirmation that they actually meant to accept that other AG so many years ago and that I have been posing ever since. There are, however, also non-TFA alums who rock (although not nearly as many), and many of them are related to us in one way or another.

On Friday, when I got stuck in San Diego (did I tell you about that?) and stayed in the gorgeous US Grant Hotel, I was there to speak at a Young/World President’s Organization event (awesome) and to sit on a panel with John Legend! It was pretty cool. John is on the TFA board and is insanely passionate (and surprisingly knowledgeable) about education reform. He’s also way too charming and polite to be a pop star. He acts more like visiting minor European royalty than a guy who is friends with Kanye. Although, I guess being friends with Kanye would make anyone uber polite and humble. I mean, what else could you be? Anyways, it was a blast getting to talk ed reform with him and a roomful of 100 or so of San Diego’s top business leaders, all of whom were nodding and groaning and clapping as they, too, are passionate about education. Other awesome people I met at the event? Try the Director of the San Diego Zoo. Yep. He rocks. Of course. I mean, zoos are awesome and clearly the people who run them are awesome and since the San Diego Zoo is the second most awesome (after the National Zoo of course) zoo ever, this dude is clearly the second most awesome zoo-person ever. And he was. He had AMAZING ideas and is incredibly smart and just so so cool.

Yesterday I was in Cleveland, where, make no mistake, awesome people reside. For instance, the Mayor of East Cleveland and his assistant are incredimazing. So are a lot of the school leaders. And yesterday I met both the President and Owner of the Cleveland Indians. Totally cool guys and it was soooo amazing being in the office of the President of the Indians. Especially because he was sporting a Michigan hockey stick from when we kicked Ohio State’s ass a few months ago! Woohoo! More awesomeness? Today I went to New York to meet the Alaskan Arianna Huffington*!

It’s amazing how many diverse and incredible people all come together for the cause of education. It’s exciting, and it’s heartening, because with everyone actually pulling together, maybe we really can solve the problem of education in our country. And until then, I’m going to keep looking for opportunities to visit awesome baseball stadiums. =)

AGinDC

*not her actual name

Heaven. I’m in Heaven.

Posted in Travel by AGinDC on 13 February 2012

One of the nice things about this job is that I get to try lots of new things. Cars (thank you Enterprise!). Cities. Foods. People. Ways to embarrass myself. Etc. I also get to try new hotels, but not nearly as often as I thought. Due to the wonders of Priceline bidding (I do work for a non-profit, after all), I often end up in the same old spot. I stay at the Hyatt Regency in Cleveland so much that the other day the (very, very cute) valet said, “You again?”. Yeah. So I now know exactly what kind of lotion and shampoo I’ll get at a Hyatt Regency (crappy), Sheraton Grand (crappier), and Wyndham (surprisingly good, but the hotels are crappy). I’m also used to middle-of-the-road luxury. It’s not a La Quinta, but it’s not the St. Regis either. I’ve learned to appreciate the small things, like the sheer grandeur of that giant Manchester Grand Sheraton in San Diego. The window seat on the 21st floor of the Sheraton Grand in Sacramento. Hmmm… I’m starting to see a pattern. Apparently I like Sheratons more than Hyatts. That figures, they’re owned by Starwood (see below). And occasionally, I get to stay in absolutely amazing digs like the Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco, and it makes it all worth it. This is just such a tale.

On Thursday night I got off my third trip and sixth plane in four days absolutely exhausted. I had a red-eye the night before and arrived in Cleveland with enough time to change and brush my teeth in the airport bathroom, slather conditioner in my dry, frizzy hair (the curls were so flat it looked like they’d been sitting under a brick for two days) and drive my rental car (cute little Mazda, drove well actually) straight to a meeting. And then another meeting. And then I checked into a hotel for two whole hours for three conference calls and a fifteen minute nap. I meant to take a shower but that never happened. Then back on a plane. Then a Vegas layover. Then another plane. Then a thirty minute wait at Enterprise for a Toyota Yaris. By the time I drove into San Diego (which made me so happy I blasted Rufus Wainwright’ s “California” in the rental car shuttle. I’m really starting to love this town) I was exhausted and just wanted to crawl into my sad little average hotel bed under my average hotel covers in my average hotel room. But after I gave my car to the valet, I walked into a grand lobby of beiges and blues and crystal chandeliers and guests who made me look like the new housekeeper. Live jazz was playing from a grand old restaurant and as I walked by stylish people were swing dancing the night away. The dapper-looking concierge gave me my room key for, the top floor. As I rode up I could feel my spirits rising and as I headed down the hallway, past the Presidential Suite, I decided that things were looking up. When my room was next door, I knew they were.

The Yves Clement!

Just in case there weren't enough on the bed...

The note from "Michelle"

I walked into Nirvana. Slippers on the floor, chocolates on the pillow next to a note from someone I can only surmise is Michelle Obama informing me that tomorrow will be sunny with a high of 69. Of course it will. Water with glasses on both sides of the bed. A custom Yves Clement drip painting as the headboard. French lotions and soaps in the gorgeous bathroom along with a loofah and every bathroom accessory you could desire. The furniture is gorgeous. The curtains are French. I am a happy girl. This, is the way life should be. But of course, what more would you expect from the people who own the W? I love you Starwood (see above).

The next morning, my breakfast came.It was delicious, of course. A pot of glorious tea, wonderful pastries, perfect bacon. I halted my checkout until 2 so I could enjoy as much as I could of the glorious room. The shower wasn’t that great but I was willing to give it a pass. Once I had to leave (after unsuccessfully trying to rob the maids cart) I had wine and lunch in the restaurant downstairs and held a conference call in the lobby. I really didn’t want to go.

Yummy

Even the paper had its own little bag

Sadly, the next night I was back at a Sheraton Grand. But as long as I know there are places like the U.S. Grant waiting for me, it’s more motivation to work twice as hard towards my dreams.

Finis

AGinDC

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