Ramadan ended a few days ago. I'm not especially conversant with the Muslim calendar, but as I was drifting homeward over the last few weeks late at night, I kept being stopped at a police-staffed crosswalk on the busy 5-lane road near my house, while clumps of men in long white gowns and white cotton caps (irreverently, I kept thinking of the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas") and women draped in considerably more fabric hurried to and from the local mosque. I got the impression from the crowd-volume that Ramadan is more or less the Islamic equivalent of Christmas and Easter, service attendance-wise; even those folks who don't darken the door of a mosque the other eleven months of the year will make cameo appearances at prayers during the fast. And given everybody's insane schedules around here, evening prayers are the best attended. Not to mention, people have actually gotten to eat something by that point, so everyone's in a better mood. A local restaurant had large banners up advertising after-sunset iftar--its outdoor seating area was packed one not-so-late night I went by.
Friday provided further evidence of our multicultural greater District of Columbia area. When I left for work, I was briefly behind a car with an "I [heart] Allah" bumper sticker taped in the back window, and upon my pulling off the Beltway into Silver Spring, I found myself behind a minivan with a bumper sticker in Hebrew and English, proclaiming the driver to be a certain type of Jew (I couldn't remember the Yiddish-sounding adjective, so I trolled CafePress for the sticker, and now I know a lot more Jewish humor, but I still couldn't find the word, so I don't know if it was intended to be humorous or not)--at least it wasn't an Obama sticker in Hebrew (I have seen those around here).
Starting around twenty years or so ago, when "The Full Monty" was issued, there was a sort of international craze for garden gnomes. The Roaming Gnome mascot of Travelocity (or some such travel website) is a holdover from this fad. Usually these kitschy plaster figures were eight to twelve inches high, and deposited around one's garden, frequently next to a path or set of steps, like Anglo-Saxon domovoi. I have to park in a visitor spot in the lot near Susan and Steven's townhouse, and I try to vary which one I use so the locals don't get irritated. On Saturday, I parked in front of a neighbor's house, which like its fellows has a little patch of greenery in front. I noticed in the center of the patch there was a gnome. A very tiny gnome, about two inches high, carefully positioned. It makes sense, I suppose, to scale down one's gnomes just as one scales down one's furniture to fit into a smaller space, but it makes me wonder if the reverse is true--is there a gigantic gnome plunked out in the middle of a Midwestern cornfield somewhere?
Watching Taiwanese television has paid off! Saturday evening, as I was loading my car for my latest night drive down I-95 to Georgia, I heard threads of loud music echoing from the Hilton a few streets away and I glanced up to see glowing candlelit paper lanterns ascending gracefully into the clear night sky. "How beautiful!" I exclaimed. "Chinese lanterns!" A young matron from next door was unloading a couple of items from her car, and she expressed relief, learning what they were. "They were too close together to be airplane taillights," she told me, "I was worried there was some sort of vigil going on." I assured her that the lanterns were probably from a wedding--you painted your wishes on the four sides and sent them floating heavenward.
A friend is staying in my basement room this week--she's come for a week of work in DC from her home in Prague, and I am out of town at the same time. I traded in my ticket voucher for a round trip plane ride to Colorado in September. I had flirted with going to exotic locations (including to see my friend in Prague), but they all were far more expensive than my voucher (the cheapest means to Prague is running about $1400 for coach round-trip), and most would have required considerable additional expenditure for lodging. I will be staying nights (for free!) with my cousins out in Denver, and have arranged to rent a car to tool around on my own (go hiking and sightseeing!) during the day. They have two nice cats, so I will be getting my feline fix, too.