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Watch the World Cup in D.C. with international crowds and flavors

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birdbone
27 days ago
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Alexandria, VA
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The Sweet Scent of the Linden Trees

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On Monday this week I got ready for the day ahead, opened the front door and stepped over the threshold. The world outside seemed just the same as I had left it the night before. Yet, there was something different about it in that subtle happy way which fills you up with joy and hope.

A sweet scent was wafting through the air in thick enveloping waves all over town.  I recognised it immediately – the warm homely smell of linden trees in full bloom. The large linden trees lining up Vicenza’s streets had blossomed overnight and as I was walking underneath their green branches overloaded with yellow blooms, for a moment I felt like I was not in Italy anymore, but back home in Bulgaria.

Linden tree in bloom, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

It is interesting how a smell can transport you miles away to a memory deeply buried in your mind. The primeval olfactory sense awakens emotions for which we often lack the words to describe them in a rational way. Yet, a smell can evoke vivid pictures and set you up right in the midst of a scene which you may have long forgotten.

As I was walking down the street, heading towards Vicenza’s old town, the sweet linden scent followed me, met me upfront, surrounded me from all sides. And in the eye of my mind I could see yet more streets lined up with linden trees in full bloom. Not too far from where I stood in my vision the sea was lapping the shores of my home town and the gentle sea breeze was mixing in the warm air with the sweetness of the yellow blossoms. It was the start of summer when you are still looking forward to long sunny days and you are not yet exhausted by unbearable heatwaves. And the sweet-salty smell of linden trees and sea breeze gave you imaginary wings, made you feel carefree and young at heart.

Linden tree in bloom, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

Back in Vicenza I crossed the street leading to the Bridge of the Angels and then walked on the pavement following the curve of the river Bacchiglione. On its other side, across the fast-flowing waters, large linden trees caught my eyes.

Another instantly awaken memory made me chuckle. I wondered what the good Italian people would make of me if I had the courage to prop a ladder against the linden trees and pick their blossoms just as it used to be done all over Bulgaria at the start of summer.

As soon as the blooms of the linden trees burst open, you would see Bulgarian men and women armed with ladders and baskets all over town. They would harvest the blossoms, spread them out to dry on a piece of old newspaper and when winter came they would have cups of fragrant linden tea with a bit of sugar. It was a quick and easy way to bring back summer for a second whilst outside the snow fell softly on the frozen ground.

Linden tree in bloom, Vicenza, Veneto, Italy - www.rossiwrites.com

It was one of those things which people did then, many years back, not giving much thought to the fact that the linden trees on the streets in front of their houses actually were owned by the council. Nowadays, I understand that heavy fines had been introduced to try and curtail this spontaneous linden blossom harvesting, as often people would also break the branches of the trees and damage their trunks in an excessive need to pick as much linden as they could.

This problem doesn’t seem to exist here in Vicenza, where the linden trees rustle in the morning breeze undisturbed by the constant stream of passing people. And even though it has been raining a lot since Monday, every chance I get I throw the windows wide open so that the sweet scent of the linden blossoms can permeate the house bringing me its promise of long summer days and awakening the occasional long forgotten yet so vivid memory.

P.S. I mustn’t forget to buy a box of linden blooms tea when I am next in Bulgaria!

Pin me - The Sweet Scent of the Linden Trees - www.rossiwrites.com

Which smells take you back to your childhood? What memories do you associate them with? Let me know!

For more stories like this, please, follow me on Facebook and subscribe to my newsletter. And, oh, I love comments too, so leave me one below. Ta!

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birdbone
27 days ago
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Alexandria, VA
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Keep the Mall open for sports, residents tell NPS

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A draft proposal from the National Park Service (NPS) would greatly reduce available playing space for organized sports on the National Mall and increase fees for players to use the areas that will still allow residents to play. More than 100,000 people participate in local sports leagues that play on the Mall, according to Fox 5. Following an outcry from players, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) led a meeting on Monday, June 18 to discuss the proposal.

Currently under the DC Park Service, it can cost as little as $7 for the season to use one of the 28 softball and multi-use fields by the Mall and in Rock Creek Park. In 2019, NPS will take over the reservation process and may increase fees up to $70 for two hours or $30 for one hour, plus a $10 admin fee. It could also permanently ban teams from playing near the Washington Monument from 3rd to 17th streets.

All parties said they wanted to work together to find an solution, but...

NPS said it has had to spend a lot of money fixing the grass on the Mall that was damaged from sports activity, and had to close the area around the Washington Monument to restore the turf. Panelists in favor of organized sports readily acknowledged the importance of keeping the Mall grounds in a state of good repair, and even conceded that higher fees might be necessary to ensure that the recent years-long turf restoration project conducted by NPS was not in vain.

Proponents also made the case that part of the point of the turf restoration was to end up with stronger, more resilient grounds that can handle a variety of activities, including recreation.

Use of the National Mall for recreation and enjoyment has been part of its purpose since the L’Enfant Plan, a point made by two meeting attendees Robert Kinsler, the CEO of DC Fray, a for-profit social sports organization and Judy Scott Feldman, the Chair of the National Mall Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group. The Mall is not, to quote Feldman, “just for tea and picnics.”

Image by Jennifer used with permission.

Another case for keeping the Mall open for sports is the sheer lack of adequate outdoor facilities in the rest of the District. Seth Shapiro, Permit Systems Director of DC Parks and Recreation (DPR), which is relinquishing its permitting authority at certain Mall sites, cited the often-intense competition for athletic space at parks around the city.

Acting Superintendent Patricia Trap of NPS seemed willing to hear out these concerns, and — with some prodding from Norton — committed to refraining from moving forward with any permanent changes until there had been an extensive public engagement process.

Norton said repeatedly that it was far more preferable to have the parties involved come to an agreement among themselves rather than leave the issue to Congressional appropriators who may not have a deep understanding of the District’s needs. Trap, who is just four weeks into her role having transferred recently from outside of DC, seemed to be glad to avoid such political pitfalls.

The devil is always in the details

The meeting became less cordial when the discussion turned to the permitting system for volleyball courts at the northwest part of the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and Kennedy Center. A contingent of pick-up volleyball players made up the bulk of those in attendance, and they were not shy about expressing their criticism of how NPS has handled the courts since they were taken over from DPR in 2015. The at-times tense back-and-forth illustrated the passion local residents have for sports.

Volleyball players also raised a compelling point about the currently vague role of for-profit sports enterprises like DC Fray. To that end, Kinsler argued that demand for public space far outstrips supply, and organized social sports make efficient use of space by scheduling large numbers of people (which costs money).

Kinsler also said that registered companies provide consistent points of contact for public officials when issues arise, and pointed out that many sports are not conducive to a pick-up style of play.

Volleyball courts and the Washington Monument by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

NPS does have regulations on the books about for-profit activities on National Park grounds, but it remained unclear whether and how they are being enforced in the case of organized sports.

Norton, for her part, applauded the enterprising nature of groups like DC Fray, and cautioned NPS to enforce more consistent guidelines to avoid running afoul of both federal policies and public opinion.

In the end, all that came out of the meeting was a commitment to keep having more such meetings to hammer out the “competing values,” in Norton’s words, of a lively National Mall vs. prudent use of federal lands and dollars.

While much remained up in the air, one thing is clear: don’t mess with volleyball.

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birdbone
32 days ago
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Alexandria, VA
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Alexandria Mayor, City Council Candidates Talk Meal Tax, Housing

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Alexandria mayor and city council candidates discussed a variety of issues facing the city during a May 18 forum at the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. Grassroots Alexandria and the Tenants and Workers United and NAACP Alexandria hosted the forum.

Present were mayoral candidates Allison Silberberg and Justin Wilson, city council candidates Canek Aguirre, Willie Bailey, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, John Taylor Chapman, Matt Feely, Dak Hardwick, Amy Jackson, Del Pepper, Robert Ray, Mo Seifeldein, Paul Smedberg, Michael Clinkscale (Republican), Kevin Dunne (Republican) and Mark Shiffer (Independent). J. Chris Hubbard was represented by his wife, who was allowed an opening statement only.

Unless noted, all candidates are competing in the Democratic primary election on June 12. The party nominees for mayor and City Council will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.

Candidates answered four short answer questions and seven yes/no questions. Topics included immigration, affordable housing, police reform, education, safer schools, and LGBTQ human rights. Here are summaries of candidate responses provided by Grassroots Alexandria:

1. Many residents in Alexandria are fearful of the federal government in regard to immigration and deportation — as a local elected official what would you do to defend and support immigrants –undocumented and documented - in Alexandria?

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Canek Aguirre: Supports driver's licenses for all.

Willie Bailey: Supports holding agencies accountable and driver's licenses for undocumented citizens.

Elizabeth Bennet-Parker: Works with new immigrant women as part of her nonprofit, wants to
provide no cost legal aid and break Sheriff's ICE agreement.

John Taylor Chapman: Supports driver's licenses for all, making legal aid and accessible city
resources available, including city council members.

Michael Clinkscale: Does not want support for undocumented immigrants, in favor of deportation.

Kevin Dunne: Does not believe Alexandria has a responsibility on this matter.

Matt Feely: Supports driver's licenses and legal aid.

Dak Hardwick: Supports driver's licenses and NYC model of city ID program.

Amy Jackson: Supports an inclusive community and making Alexandria a sanctuary city.

Del Pepper: Supports welcoming all and voting for politicians who support immigrants.

Robert Ray: Supports open social services to all

Mo Seifeldein: He is an immigrant from Sudan and a lawyer who supported his sister when she immigrated. Supports working on relationship with police department.

Mark Shiffer: Believes local resources should solve local problems and Alexandria should be a sanctuary city.

Allison Silberberg: Supports driver's licenses, believes Human Rights Campaign and current resources are helping.

Paul Smedberg: no response

Justin Wilson: Believes this is a human rights issue.

2. Do you support fully funding and dedicating the 'penny fund' for affordable housing? Please tell us other ideas you have for preserving and creating affordable housing in the City of Alexandria?

Aguirre: Yes and keep meal tax.

Bailey: Yes, believes it is a basic human need and supports more developer contributions.

Bennet-Parker: Yes, it is a major issue of her campaign. Believes in creative housing options.

Chapman: Yes, has already been fighting for this and supports creative house options.

Clinkscale: No, money should go towards training people to have skills to make more money themselves.

Dunne: No, instead focus on zoning and development.

Feely: No, but yes to the base budget funding. Need housing for a diverse community.

Hardwick: No, thinks that means there is not limit to funding.

Jackson: No to dedicated funding, concerned about the limits to funding.

Pepper: Supports sticking to the meals tax.

Ray: Yes to dedicated funding.

Seifeldein: Yes to dedicated funding, partner with nonprofits. Supports rejecting funding from developers.

Shiffer: Yes to dedicated funding. Wants more business in Alexandria and believes money should not be funneled to developers.

Silberberg: Supports meals tax instead.

Smedberg: No to dedicated funding, believes it should be in base budget only. Supports looking at zoning laws.

Wilson: No to dedicated funding. Supports passing more projects.

3. Over the last 3 years, our organizations have collectively been working to build trust between police and community. Alexandria City Police Department is currently collecting data to improve transparency, how will you help ensure that your constituents get clear, comprehensive demographic reports covering all police interactions (including police stops)?

Aguirre: Accountability is key. Led this effort with Grassroots and NAACP starting three years ago.

Bailey: Information should go to city council members. City staff should help with reports.

Bennet-Parker: Supports body cameras, racial bias training, monitoring APD and updating criminal justice
board.

Chapman: Yes, part of the original effort as well, but we need more. Open data should be available
online. Use Human Rights Commission to support more transparency.

Clinkscale: Require that raw data be posted online.

Dunne: "Data is not political," should be accessible "from the comfort of our homes"

Feely: Yes

Hardwick: Appointed by the police chief, supports transparency and available data.

Jackson: Support body cameras (but they cost a lot of money) and holding police accountable.

Pepper: Yes, the information should be available to everyone.

Ray: Notes that police salaries are lower here than in other areas.

Seifeldein: Yes and also data should be translated. Police need to reflect the community they serve.

Shiffer: It is a major issue for him. Believes in accountability and transparency for everything.

Silberberg: Yes, supports working with nonprofits too.

Smedberg: Says it is a"very fine police force," notes move toward transparency with the new police
chief.

Wilson: Notes some information is already available online, supports funds for body cameras, transparency.

4. If you could champion only one legislative initiative during the next council session, what would it be?

Aguirre: Build relationships through transparency and quarterly town halls

Bailey: Affordable housing

Bennet-Parker: Modernize zoning and permit processes. Helps housing and small businesses

Chapman: Affordable housing

Clinkscale: Apprenticeship programs to teach trades

Dunne: Smaller budget, lower taxes

Feely: End ICE agreement and redefine relationship between Sheriff Department and ICE

Hardwick: Education – ending deferrals for school renovations and acknowledge capacity issues

Jackson: Pre-K funding for all

Pepper: Affordable housing (education is a close second)

Ray: Citizen impact on local government, citizens should have more say in policy

Seifeldein: Quality of life: education, public safety, and housing

Shiffer: Budget and 10 year plan

Silberberg: Affordable housing for workforce and through ARHA

Smedberg: We need more transit to give people access to jobs

Wilson: Early childhood education for all, public/private partnership


1. The Alexandria Sheriff's Department has an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The practices of ICE do not include proper judicial oversight. Will you commit to encouraging the Sheriff Department to modify the existing IGA to remove ICE on the contract so that our jail no longer hands people over to an agency without judicial oversight?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Ray, Seifeldein, Shiffer, Silberberg

No: Clinkscale, Dunne, Feeley, Hardwick, Pepper, Smedberg, Wilson

No response: Jackson

2. Affordable housing is a major crisis; if elected, will you support continuation of 1% of the meals tax dedicated to funding affordable housing?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Feeley, Pepper, Ray, Seifeldein, Shiffer, Silberberg

No: Clinkscale, Dunne, Hardwick, Jackson, Ray, Smedberg, Wilson

3. Every child deserves equitable services to eliminate disparities and allow all of Alexandria's children to succeed. If elected, would you support increased funding so that every four year old can attend preschool?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Feeley, Hardwick, Jackson, Pepper, Ray, Seifeldein,
Shiffer, Silberberg, Smedberg, Wilson

No: Clinkscale, Dunne

4. Do you support putting armed school resource officers into ACPS Elementary Schools?

Yes: Feeley

No: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Clinkscale, Dunne, Hardwick, Jackson, Pepper, Ray,
Seifeldein, Shiffer, Silberberg, Smedberg, Wilson

5. In 1988, Alexandria became the first municipality in the Commonwealth to add "sexual orientation" as a protected class in the city's nondiscrimination ordinance. Despite this progress, the Alexandria Office of Human Rights is still limited in its ability to investigate cases of discrimination based on "sexual orientation" due to Virginia's Dillon Rule. Currently, the office's protocol is to classify discrimination against LGBTQ Alexandrians as "other forms of discrimination." However, this risk-averse protocol may be leaving some Alexandrians without protection. Further, while Alexandria's nondiscrimination ordinance does include "sexual orientation," it still does not include "gender identity."

a. Do you support adding "gender identity" to the protected classes in Alexandria?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Clinkscale, Feeley, Hardwick, Jackson, Pepper, Ray,
Seifeldein, Shiffer, Silberberg, Smedberg, Wilson

No: Dunne

b. If elected, would you direct the Office of Human Rights to fully pursue cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Clinkscale, Feeley, Hardwick, Jackson, Pepper, Ray,
Seifeldein, Shiffer, Silberberg, Smedberg, Wilson

No: Dunne

6. Would you support Alexandria, like other cities, in establishing a matching fund to support pending applications for DACA/TPS recipients?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Feeley, Hardwick, Jackson, Pepper, Ray, Seifeldein,
Shiffer, Silberberg, Smedberg, Wilson

No: Clinkscale, Dunne

7. Do you support the need for ARHA and the City to create a more comprehensive displacement plan for residents as development begins on upcoming projects?

Yes: Aguirre, Bailey, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Feeley, Hardwick, Jackson, Pepper, Ray, Seifeldein,
Shiffer, Silberberg, Smedberg, Wilson

No: Clinkscale, Dunne

Pictured left-right: Dak Hardwick, Matt Feely, Kevin Dunne, and Michael Clinkscale respond to the idea of introducing armed "resource officers" into elementary schools. Photo by Barbara Hale

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birdbone
60 days ago
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Alexandria, VA
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Video: Alexandria City Council Candidates Forum

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Check out the video below of this past Friday’s Alexandria City Council candidates’ forum, sponsored by Tenants and Worker United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos and the NAACP. The Democratic candidates, from right to left, are Canek AguirreWillie Bailey (who I’ve endorsed)Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (who I’ve endorsed), John T. Chapman, Matthew FeelyDak Hardwick, J. Chris Hubbard (his wife represents him at this forum), Amy JacksonRedella “Del” Pepper, Robert Ray,  Mo Seifeldein; Paul Smedberg (also note that there were several Republican candidates, plus Mayor Alison Silberberg and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson). Unfortunately, given that there were so many candidates, each one got very little time, but at least from this forum you can get an impression of what the candidates are all about, their personalities, etc. Overall, I’d say that there are many excellent candidates, of which I’ve endorsed two so far (and might endorse more – haven’t decided yet). Who do you support and why? The primary is on June 12, so no matter what, make sure you vote!

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birdbone
60 days ago
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‘A violation of trust’: Alexandria officials slammed for scaling back Potomac Yard Metro station without public input

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birdbone
67 days ago
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