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Monday, August 29, 2011

2001 A Space Odyssey: Still Odd In 2011

To cap off a full D, C. day, we joined about 200 of our neighbors tonight to view 2001: A Space Odyssey, the final film in this summer's Crystal City Outdoor Film Fest.

Each Monday since June, the free films have been shown at the the Bell Street quad site, an open space surrounded by high-rise office buildings, but this was the 1st Monday we had been able to attend. Residents with blankets and beach chairs, and many with snacks or even full home-prepared or store-bought dinners, converge on the quad before dusk to find a good viewing spot.

This is the 5th year for the festival, which each year features movies with a specific theme. This year's theme was By the Numbers. For the record, here is what we missed:
  • The Sixth Sense
  • District 9
  • Oceans 11
  •  Apollo 11
  • 16 Candles
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • 50 First Dates
  •  (500) Days of Summer 
Now for the film that we did see. I first viewed 2001 in 1968 and while I recognized its superior visual artistry, I really didn't get the story line. I blamed the drugs. But my seeing the Stanley Kubrick's classic, which many critics believe fits solidly in to any list of the 10 most influential films of all-time, definitely drug-free for decades still leaves me clueless about exactly what Kubrick was really saying. As our master of ceremonies said at the conclusion of the film: "I hope you enjoyed our series. And I hope you'll be back next year. And if anyone out there can explain the ending,would you please come up here and see me." 

    Travelers' Tip:
    Free outdoor film festivals like the one here at Crystal City are happening all over the country.  They make a great, relaxing way to conclude a day of site seeing.  Just remember to bring some popcorn.

    Eating Out in Georgetown: A Return to Clyde's

    Since we were in Georgetown, we decided to have lunch at Clyde's, the only D. C. restaurant that looms large in Price family lore.

    In 1977, we visited Washington with 2 other Bridgeton couples, Bob and Marion Spence and Yosh and Karen Hanzawa.  We brought our 4-year-old son Michael with us, and the Hanzawas were accompanied by their 6-year-old daughter, Kristin.  Based on its strong reputation, we decided to have our Friday night dinner at Clyde's.  And we are still joking about that dinner more than 30 years later since it took us more than 3 hours to be served. I don't remember all the details about that night, but I do recall our waiter coming back to our table after about 2 hours to tell us they hadn't prepared our order yet because they had run out of baked potatoes. I also vividly remember that when the hot dogs we had ordered for Michael and Kristin finally arrived, they remained uneaten since both kids had been sound asleep in their chairs for more than an hour.

    So how did Clyde's fare on our revisit? Well, the wait was still a little long. (However, half an hour is a dramatic improvement over 3 hours). They still play good 60s music while you wait for your meal (Ironically, one of the choices today was "Hungry" by Paul Revere and the Raiders).  But, most importantly of all, Clyde's still deserves its reputation for serving quality food at a reasonable price for D. C.

    For the record, I had the backyard burger (a well-done barbeque-sauce-drenched burger topped with salt-and-pepper beef brisket, melted cheese, and cole slaw) and a side of southern green beans for $10.95. Judy had the crab cake sandwich and fries for $2 more.

    Travelers Tip:
    Even though I was fairly certain Clyde's was on M Street, I still used the Yelp app on my cell phone to confirm the location.  For those of you who have Android or I phones, Yelp will point you to restaurants wherever you are. I use it constantly and highly recommend it.

    Book It

    This bookstore bridges Georgetown and George Washington
    This past weekend, in a chance encounter after a documentary at The National Archives, we met Phillip Levy, the owner of an independent bookstore in Georgetown, and promised we would visit his store. Today, we made good on that promise.

    Spying us, Levy seemed surprised that we had actually stopped by. "People say they'll do a lot of things, but they don't always do them," he said.

    I jokingly told Levy that I had immortalized him and his Bridge Street Books store by detailing our initial encounter in this blog (see the Aug. 27 entry). "Immortalized, I don't think so," Levy said. "But we were in about 500 papers once. Guess who wrote the article?" When I unable to answer his query, Levy explained that noted columnist George Will, whose office is about 2 blocks from Bridge Street Books, once included the local book shop in an article he wrote about the closing of Scribner's Book in New York City. "He said we were like all good independent book stores, only more special," Levy said.

    For the next hour, while Judy paged through Turn Left At Machu Picchu, I slowly perused the offerings on both floors.  As expected, the selection reflected the left-leaning, liberal attitudes of its owner with strong sections on history, race, music, art, and poetry.

    I had pledged to Judy that, when it came to purchasing, I would be judicious and I think I stayed true to that pledge, buying only 4 books for myself, 2 of which were deeply discounted.  For the record, the books were:
    • Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaaronovitch
    • On History by Howard Zinn
    • The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon by Ronald Collins andDavid Skover
    • Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson by William McKeen
    Travelers' Tip:
    While you can buy virtually any book online (thanks for that, Amazon) and the superstores of Barnes and Noble have extensive displays, I agree with George Will - there is still something very special about the personalized, eclectic offerings in small independent book stores. Visit them whenever you can.  You never know what you will find.

    Machu Picchu in Pictures

    A mist-covered Machu Picchu
    In 1911 Hiram Bingham III, who some contend served as the inspiration for film hero Indiana Jones, journeyed to the high mountains of Peru to explore the fantastical ruins of Machu Picchu. Today, we traveled to the National Geographic Museum in D. C. to peruse a pictorial documentation of that journey.

    Bingham, at the time a Yale University professor in his 30s, made 3 trips between 1911 and 1915 to clear the area and map and photograph the site, which is considered one of the world's great archeological wonders. In 1913,  National Geographic magazine devoted an entire issue to black and white pictures of the Incan marvel. At the time, Bingham brought thousands of articles from the site, an act which caused great controversy as Yale University refused to return the findings to Peru for almost 100 years.

    The exhibit was especially meaningful for us since we plan to explore Machu Picchu as a cornerstone of a South American excursion next February.  We will be visiting Rio de Janeiro before cruising around Cape Horn to Santiago, Chile and then flying to Peru..  

    Travelers' Tip:
    Of course, the museum has a gift shop filled with every National Geographic item imaginable.  It is worth a visit if just to look at the roomful of colorful images. 

    Sunday, August 28, 2011

    And Now We're Walking to the Airport

    The tower at Ronald Regan National Airport as seen from the Mount Vernon Trail
    Tonight, in an exploring mood, we discovered that we can walk from our apartment door directly to the departure gates of Ronald Reagan National Airport in about 30 minutes.

    For our daily exercise stroll, we decided to walk a portion of the Mt. Vernon Trail, a popular 18-mile exercise route which runs behind our apartment complex and links Theodore Roosevelt  Island in D.C. with George Washington's home. Now while we had traversed the 5-mile northern section of the trail from Crystal City to the Roosevelt nature retreat, we had never headed south.

    About a 1/2 mile onto the trail, we encountered a sign which said Reagan Airport and pointed left. "You want to try it?," Judy asked. "Why not," I replied.

    So we took the trail branch, wound through the underground walkway that ran under the airport access road, followed the signs to Parking Garage C, headed up the elevator to the 2nd floor, and found ourselves a few steps from the moving walkway that would carry us to the wide corridors for the retail stores and secure monitored gates of the airport.

    We decided to keep going.  With more than 2/3 of the arriving and departing flights cancelled due to Hurricane Irene, the airport, or at least the part of the airport we could visit, was virtually deserted. 

    We did find that Reagan contains a 5 Guys, a California Tortilla, and a Potbelly's, which just happen to be my 3 favorite DC food chains. I also wondered what would happen to all the memorabilia, including date-marked T-shirts and posters, on sale for the planned unveiling and dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was postponed until sometime in September or October because of the impacts of Hurricane Irene.

    Travelers' Tip:
    Although we probably will never use it, it's environmentally nice to know that Reagan National has a secure bike area for those who would like to pedal their way to the airport.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011

    Keeping Their Many Eyes on the Prize

    The view that Dr. King saw.
    We concluded our week-long focus on activities scheduled to coincide with the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial by viewing "The March" at the National Archives McGowan Theater today.

    The 33-minute documentary, directed by James Blue, uses actual footage from the times to capture the 1963 protest for jobs and freedom, which proved to be the most historic Civil Rights gathering of the 60s era and gave a setting for Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

    In addition to the inspiring speech from Dr. King, the black and white film captured many images specific to the early 60s. For example, many of the extremely orderly crowd of more than 200,000 were dressed in attire befitting church attendance. In one shot, an on-duty National Parks officer was shown smoking a cigarette while Marian Anderson performed. The documentary also showed the large number of white clergy and young teenagers who marched and listened on that August day.

    When the lights came on after the showing, a gentleman sitting in front of us, explaining that he had arrived a minute into the showing, asked if there had been any opening credits.  "I was at the march," he said, a simple statement that launched a 15-minute back and forth discussion that ranged from the relative merits of John Sayles "The Return of the Secaucus 7" compared to "The Big Chill" to favorite free DC museums to lamentations about the loss of quality independent book stores nationwide.

    As we learned, Philip Levy, who has operated Bridge Street Books in Georgetown for 31 years, said he was 18 at the time of the historic DC march.  He and some friends sold posters (kind of a collage, he recalled) behind the Lincoln Memorial. "I couldn't see what was going on, but I heard everything," Levy said.  He noted that his positioning did allow him to see actors Paul Newman and Marlon Brando and have a brief conversation with writer Norman Mailer, who was covering the event for Esquire magazine.

    With my love of books, I obviously promised Levy that we would soon visit his Georgetown store.  I warned him, however, to be prepared, as I had been known to spend hours in bookstores. "That's fine as long as you buy something," Levy said with a smile as we parted to find out what Hurricane Irene had in store for us and the DC area.

    Traveler's Tip:
    You do not have to stand in the long lines that can exist for regular Archive viewing to attend any showing at the McGowan Theater.  Simply use the Special Events/Group entrance on Constitution Avenue.  After being screened, you follow the signs to the theater.  After your performance, you can tour the rest of the archives offerings without re-entry. I highly recommend checking out the gift shop  which has some unique offerings including a T-shirt commemorating the almost surreal meeting between then-President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley.

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    Remembering MLK at the JFK Center: A Magical Music Night to Remember

    I attended my 1st major rock concert in 1966 with a triple-bill of The Blues Magoos, The Who, and Herman's Hermits (???).  Since then I have enjoyed too many concerts to even begin to keep track of including double-digit shows from The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I've been to multi-band, multi-day extravaganzas like 1969's Atlantic City Pop, the 1970s Canadian Woodstock Strawberry Fields, the 2009 Bonaroo Festival and this summer's Dave Matthews Caravan in Atlantic City. But I would have to rate tonight's Martin Luther King Memorial Dedication performance at The Kennedy Center in the top tier of my extensive shows-I've-seen list.

    Now while this was the 1st show I had ever attended at the main concert hall in The Kennedy Center and I was well aware of its impeccable acoustics, I don't think it was auditorium sound quality that drove the show up near the top of my listening charts (although obviously it didn't hurt). It was the incredible, and I do mean incredible, talent on display from these 3 virtual unknowns to most of the rock world.

    First up was the soul-stirring, hand-clapping, foot-stomping gospel sounds of Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes.  Sister Maggie, at 81, gives a whole new meaning to the word spry and I am sure that she and her family singers could elicit at least one "Praise Jesus" from The Devil himself.

     
    Next was the NYC acapella group Naturally 7.  Now the term acapella does not do this group, who just finished a Mexican tour with Michael Buble, justice as somehow they use their voices to simulate the sounds of virtually ever instrument in the soul hip-hop word. I know it is a cliche, but this truly is one group you really do need to see to believe.  And even then, like a great magician, you may still not have a clue as to how they do what they do. Before this week, I had never heard of Naturally 7 and now they rank a solid number 2 on my new music should-be-more-popular-than-they-are list, right behind Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and far ahead of number 3 Fitz and the Tantrums.


    Finally, French harmonica virtuoso Frederic Yonnet closed the show.  Now the harmonica is no stranger to modern music.  There's blues greats like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. There's Motown's Stevie Wonder.  And the harmonica played an essential part for 3 of the tops gods in the rock pantheon - Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger.  But if there is a better harmonica player in all the universe than Yonnet I would love to hear him or her.  As one concert veteran muttered as he walked out of the show, "Stevie Wonder ... sheeeet ... that boy there (Yonnet), now that's the real deal."


    Travelers' Tip:
    If you attend a performance at The Kennedy Center, be sure to make some time to check out the many exhibits featuring the life and words of former President John F. Kennedy which are located throughout the venue.

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    The Message in the Music

    India Arie performs a song of peace
    We attended a special concert at the Walter E.Washington Convention Center tonight featuring artists spanning musical decades from 1960s Impressions to the 21st Century acapella sounds of Naturally 7, all performing songs with themes from the messages promulgated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights era.

    Fitting enough for the time period being explored, the 2-hour show was in the format of those old Motown reviews, where each artist had 2 songs to showcase their artistry with tunes chosen to commemorate the ideals espoused by Dr. King.

    Among the many, many highlights of the night:
    •  The Impressions (which featured 2 members who have been in the group for more than 50 years) doing their Civil Rights anthem "Keep on Pushing"
    • Naturally 7's stunning take on "What the World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love)"
    • Ray Chew, the former musical director of the Apollo Theater and current musical director of American Idol, leading the house band through a stirring instrumental of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."
    • Eddie Levert's (former lead singer of the O'Jays) fully funkified, crowd raising double dose of "Give The People What They Want" and "Love Train."
    • Patti LaBelle's show-closing, extended, ethereal version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," fortified by 3 changes of shoes and a string of held high notes that no human being should be able to reach.
    In a word, the night was wow.

    To check a Washington Post slide show of the concert click here.

    Traveler's Tip:
    If you attend an event at the Walter Washington Convention center be prepared to walk.  The venue is massive.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Shaking All Over

    Dunbar High School: Will Dave Price be working here one day or is an earthquake a sign of no way?
    An afternoon that began with a friendly education-exploring lunch with a former colleague, then continued with an unexpected, impromptu tour of a historic Black section of D.C., finally climaxed today with a once-in-a-lifetime East Coast Earthquake, which shook and shocked Washington area residents and left several historic treasures with structural damage.

    Here's my detailed where were you when the earthquake hit story.

    When I first announced that I would be retiring from education and moving to Crystal City, Paul Smith, whom I had worked with as part of The Talent Development Program out of Johns Hopkins University, contacted me, asking if I would like to join him as a consultant to a whole school reform program he would be handling at Dunbar High School in D.C.

    To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the project. One part of me simply wanted to enjoy my retirement. But another part was intrigued with being able to work with a problem-plagued, big city urban school like Dunbar. Paul and I stayed in touch through the summer, but were unable to get together because of my moving and travel schedule.  Finally, with school starting, we were able to coordinate schedules and plan a lunch at The Big Bear Cafe, a counter culture establishment on First Street.

    I traveled by Metro to the nearest station to the cafe, and, since I was really early, decided to walk to Dunbar to check it out before proceeding on to lunch. After passing through the school's metal detector, I was directed to the office. As I was explaining my purpose in visiting to a secretary, I was approached by a nattily dressed man (at least nattily dressed by my South Jersey school standards) who offered his hand and introduced himself as school principal Steven Jackson. Somehow, from reading about Jackson both online and in the Michelle Rhee biography The Bee Eater, I expected someone larger in statue. But it was clear from his demeanor that Jackson was definitely in charge of his building. In a friendly, yet forceful way, he wanted to know what this visitor was doing in Dunbar.  I briefly explained my connection to Paul Smith, adding that I might be working here. Apparently satisfied with my explanation, he politely dismissed himself and returned to the open-door meeting his was having with 3 colleagues in his office.

    After a brief discussion with the security guard manning the screening system, I left Dunbar and resumed walking the 4 remaining blocks to the Black Bear Cafe. There I was joined by Paul and we enjoyed an hour lunch with the time equally divided between catching up on the past couple of years and discussing the plans for Dunbar. Although we reached no definite conclusion about my involvement, I told Paul I was definitely interested and he promised to get back to me with a yes or no as soon as funding plans were finalized. (For those interested in financial aspects, I asked for $17.4 million a day and Paul was pretty convinced that might cause a stumbling block).

    Paul left for a meeting at Dunbar and I decided to explore new areas of  DC by walking up Florida Avenue to a different Metro station. After about 4 blocks, I stopped to look at restoration work on a brightly painted Victorian row home and suddenly was joined by Bill, who described himself as a sort of informal historian of the area. "That's pretty incredible, what they're doing," said Bill, who explained that he was born in DC and, after extensively traveling the US and turning 50 years old, he had come back to live here. I explained that I had just moved to DC and was trying to learn all I could about the area.  "Oh, I could bore you for hours with that stuff," Bill said. And so Bill launched into a fascinating neighborhood history lesson.

    "See that gate over there," Bill said. "That's LeDroit Park. It was a private guarded gated community back in the 1870s.  No one who didn't live there could get in.  The people got tired of having to walk around it and finally got it opened up.  Then it became an exclusive area for Black residents. Jesse Jackson has a home at 4th and T.  And Walter Washington, the first elected mayor has a home there, too."

    Continuing our tour up the street, Bill pointed out work on 2 theaters.  "That there is the Howard," he said, "Everybody played there. Duke Ellington, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. And that one over there is the Dunbar."

    And so, for the next 20 minutes, Bill regaled me with inside stories about the historic Shaw Neighborhood - Ben's Chili Bowl, Howard University, and the whole U Street Corridor. Finally, Bill said he was heading for lunch and prepared to duck into a local Ethiopian Eatery. I thanked him for all his information and told him I might continue my walk all the way back to the Capitol. "Hmm. I wouldn't do that. There's a few rough streets that way,"he said.

    "Just cut down that road," he said, pointing to direction. "Turn left and you'll come to the Shaw-Howard Metro Station.  That's a direct line to Crystal City."

    On the Metro ride home, I had time to reflect on just how much fascinating hidden history there is in DC and how grateful I was to have outgoing, local "historians" like Bill around to clue me in.

    Getting off the metro at my Crystal City stop, I decided to run an errand in the Crystal City Underground. And that's where I was when I encountered the great Eastern Earthquake (although I must admit, at the time, I had absolutely no idea what was happening).

    As I was headed to the underground Rite-Aid, I experienced what I first believed was a large scale explosion, followed by shaking. At first, I thought given my proximity to the Metro, that a train had derailed. But when the shaking resumed, I quickly considered and dismissed the idea of a bomb. But any consideration of what exactly was happening was quickly replaced by 1 thought - I wanted to get out of that underground and out on the street. The next few seconds were a blur.  I remember the startled face of a Vietnamese hairdresser as she exited her shop and stared at me quizzically as bottles of beauty products tumbled from the shelves behind her. I remember 2 well-dressed black women who kept pace with my brisk walk, all the while struggling to comprehend our circumstances. "Oh My God. What do you think it is? What's happening?," they cried. I remember 2 guys imploring me to forgo my hasty exit and join them under the archway of their store door.  

    Somehow, I restrained myself from running (maybe it was a false sense of Steve McQueen cool) and just kept up my brisk walk until I was able to jerk open the door to the street, where I joined thousands of Crystal City workers and lunch-goers who were already outside, trying to come to grips with the situation.

    Obviously, my 1st thought was to get in contact with my wife Judy, who I had left back in our apartment about 4 hours ago. I dialed my home number on my cell and got - nothing.  Looking around, I saw that everyone else had their cells out and intuited that the phone system must be over whelemed.  So, still trying unsuccessfully to dial, I began the 4 and 1/2 block walk to our Crystal Plaza Apartment Complex.

    On my walk, I found that my eavesdropping skills, honed during my 10 years as a reporter, came in handy. "Earthquake ... 5.9... all the way to North Carolina... did Bill and Julie get out? ... that's right an earthquake ... aren't there after shocks ... we'll just have to go back in later and get your purse ... I hope the kids are OK ... hey, hey get away from the windows ... no, we'll open back up, we're always open ... Well, I'm going over there, the bar looks open and I need a stiff drink ... where are the police and firemen? ... they'll let us know when we can go back in ... no I don't know if they'll let us go home"

    I reached our apartment complex and found Judy outside with the rest of our neighbors who had been home at the time of the disturbance.  And, of course, Judy had her own earthquake tale to tell.  She had been ironing when she heard the apartment door shaking. "At first, I thought you had come home and couldn't get in the door," she said.  But when the whole 7th floor apartment started swaying and several statues plummeted from the top of our 6-shelf bookcase, she quickly realized there was something more dramatic in play than a klutzy husband. "The TV was really rocking and I rushed to grab and steady it," she said. "Then I went out on the balcony to find out what was going on. The concierges were outside.  They were really upset and hollered for all us to come down outside."

    Finally, we were given the OK to re-enter our complex and we threw ourselves in front of the TV (which, thanks to Judy's quick action, was safe and still working - I knew there was a reason why I love that woman) to find out exactly how an earthquake had found its way to DC to shake up our afternoon and that of most of the Eastern seaboard.

    Travelers Tip:
    I guess this incident and its aftermath again proved that, despite all our technological advances,  Nature still has mysterious forces we must always respect as we struggle to reckon with them.


    Monday, August 22, 2011

    A Memorial for Martin, a Man of Hope and Peace

                                                             Today we joined thousands of other DC area residents and visitors to get a first public glimpse of the new Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, which will be officially dedicated by President Barack Obama and a host of other dignitaries this Sunday, a date which marks the 48th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered as part of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    Initially, this first-day unveiling was only to be for DC residents, but that plan was scrapped when it became apparent that the limited-viewing would be impossible to enforce.

    The image of Dr. King emerges from the Stone of Hope, which is 28' 6''high and stand forward of, and is detached from the Mountain of Despair, a massive gateway which represents the struggle faced in the pursuit of social justice and equality.  The series of quotations  chosen for the inscription walls which frame the Stone of Hope and the Mountain of Despair stress 4 of the primary messages espoused by Dr.King: democracy, justice, hope, and love.

    Travelers' Tip:
    If you visit the memorial, make sure to read each of the quotations from Dr. King.  They provide a powerful prompt to reflect on how far we have come as a nation and how far we have yet to go.

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Take Me Out to the Ball Game

    Jayson Werth: Booed by Phils and Nats fans alike
    In 1962, my Dad took me to the old Connie Mack stadium to see my first Phillies game. Two years later, we went to the then-new Shea Stadium to see the then-new New York Mets play.  In the intervening decades since, I have been to Veterans Stadium, Citizen Bank Park, and about a dozen major league ballparks in cities other than Philadelphia, but I had never witnessed what we saw today until we made our first visit to the Washington Nationals ballpark - there the Phils fans not only outshouted and outrooted their Washington counterparts, they literally outnumbered them.

    Now with the Phillies solidly in 1st place and Philadelphia only a couple of hours from DC, it wasn't surprising that Phils fans would come to the 3-game series, but the total number, which formed large seas of red around the stadium, was astounding.

    Now for the game itself. The Phils sent their ace Roy Halladay to the mound. On the opposite side of the field, there was outfielder Jayson Werth, who assured his place in Phils fans' infamy when he left this year and signed with the Nationals. There were 4 home runs, 2 by the Phillies and 2 by the Nats.  There was an hour-and-a-half rain delay which forced Halladay from the mound. There was a dramatic go-ahead run for the Phils in the 8th inning and an even more dramatic game-tying home run in the 9th for the Nats which came with 2 outs and a 1 ball, 2-strike count on the hitter. And finally, there was a final (and not so wonderful) 1st for me as I joined the stunned Phils fans as  reliever Brad Lidge  allowed the winning run to score by hitting a batter with a pitch with the bases loaded.

    Travelers' Tip:
    There is a Metro stop right near the ballpark, but on this day of firsts, we decided to go on a limo bus trip sponsored by The Crystal City Sports Pub, a 3-story club that is a 2 blocks from our apartment, has more than 100 TVs for game day viewing, and has been listed by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 25 top sports bars in the country.  The bus dropped us off right by Home Plate Gate and picked us up at the same place. No fuss, no muss, no bother.  And, oh yeah, Phils fans outnumbered Nats fans on the bus, too.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Our Neighbor to the South in Pictures

    It's the end of the world as they know it
    It was a double-dose of Mexican art today, as we toured 2 separate exhibitions in DC at institutions charged with promoting the history, culture, and people south of our border.

    First, we looked at the show Mexico Through the Lens of National Geographic at The Mexican Cultural Institute.  The exhibit pulls together, for the 1st time, a selection of 132 photographs of Mexico from the National Geographic Society's archives. Mexico has been featured more than 150 times in the magazine (more than any other country) and many of the photos came from special issues devoted to Mexico, one in 1916 and the other 50 years later.

    One of the more interesting pictures featured a young boy smeared with mud who was being decorated with jaguar markings as preparations to perform a tribal rain dance. What made the photo so intriguing as that the unseen marker was creating the boy's jaguar spots with a Coke bottle.

    The second exhibition, currently on display at The Art Museum of America, was entitled Mundos Posibles (Possible Worlds). Here Mexican photographers used their pictures to delve, not into the real world, but into created worlds of the minds including myth, science fiction, and the apocalypse.

    Travelers' Tip:
    If you visit the Mexican Cultural Institute make sure to closely check out the murals which decorated the walls and staircases. Originally, the Mexican government wanted famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to handle the work,but he demurred, allowing one one of his best students to undertake the job.
    If you visit 

    The Revolution Starts Now: With Steve Earle

    Steve Earle at The Birchmere
    We made our first (but I guarantee it won't be our last) visit to The Birchmere tonight to see Steve Earle in concert with his band The Dukes (and Duchesses).

    During the stellar 3-hour show, 2-set show with 2 encores, Earle featured songs from his latest 3 CDs, but old favorites like "Guitar Town" and "Copperhead Road" weren't forgotten. Earle's passion for liberal politics ("I'm not a Democrat, I'm way to left for that" Earle told the cheering crowd) and unceasing support for the poor and the working class was also on prominent display. An impassioned speech about the American benefits of immigration led into "City of Immigrants" while "Harlan Man" and its related  "The Mountain" were preceded by a powerful expounding of Earle's belief that unions and collective bargaining are cornerstones of this country.

    Although the set list contained many highlights, my 3 favorites were:
    • "Galway Girl" - especially appropriate since we had just returned from an Ireland visit
    • "Feel Alright Tonight" - which was featured during the closing montage of the 2nd season of the HBO series The Wire
    • "This City" - which was part of the soundtrack for the HBO series Treme.
    Earle and his wife share a tender moment on stage
    Right before ending the first set, Earle turned the stage over to his wife, Allison Moorer, who captured the crowd with her voice and closed with an impassioned reworked version of the Sam Cooke anthem of The Civil Rights Movement "A Change Is Going to Come."

    Travelers' Tip:
    If you go to The Birchmere, make sure you go early. The club provides dinner and long tables and there is no reserved seating.


    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    Walking to The Island

    Teddy welcomes visitors to his nationalpark
    It was a 10-mile walk this morning, 5 miles on The Mount Vernon Trail from Crystal City to Theodore Roosevelt Island and the same (although somehow it seemed longer) trek back again.

    We were accompanied by hundreds of fellow Washingtonians getting their serious Saturday morning exercise.  There were sprinters, and joggers, and marathoners.  There were young running married couples pushing their infants in specially designed baby strollers.  There were single bikers, biking pairs, tandem bikers, bike teams, and even a group-leading, highly-perched uni-cyclist, all shouting "on your left" as they streamed past us.

    The 18-mile trail, one of the most popular exercise areas in all of D. C., winds from the Virginia estate of 1st President George Washington to the island preserve named in honor of Roosevelt, our 26th president. The trail is bounded by The George Washington Parkway on one side and the Potomac River and the sights of  DC on the other.

    Roosevelt Island, where cars and even bicycles are banned, provides a quiet oasis in the middle of the bustle that is part of the nation's capital.  Besides a rustic relief station, the only other man-made object on the island is a 17-foot-tall statue of the nature-loving Roosevelt and 4 massive granite tablets bearing his words which rise from the wild overgrowth like remnants of a lost civilization.

    For the most part, at least on our way to the island, we kept up a good walking pace. We did stop for a short time at Gravelly Point Park to watch and listen to jets, as, at much less than a football field over our heads, they cruised about one a minute to a whining touch down at Reagan National Airport.

    We also stopped once for Judy to make a sneaker adjustment.  There, we were approached by an older, sweat-drenched, smiling Japanese woman, who expressed some concern about our walking method. "You've been out here a long time. You need water,. You get one of these," she said, pointing to the bottles and gadgets on a special runner's belt circling her waist. "You get it at the runner's store at the end of M Street in Georgetown just over the bridge." Completing her motherly advice before darting  off to continue her workout, she added. "I run marathons.  I ran my first one at 50. Now, I'm 60 and I have run 82 marathons. I know these things."

    We were also cheered on by a half-dozen or so shout-outs prompted by the fact that Judy was wearing a bright orange and white Tennessee T-shirt.  "Go Vols," a group of 3 young female runners drawled as they passed us. "Tennessee number 1."

    Travelers' Tip
    If you do plan to walk any part of the trail take water and pay attention. There are some serious exercisers out there.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Tourist Guy, Osama bin Lousy, and Other Tales of Newslore

    The Original Tourist Guy: Look Out!
    It was a DC do-over as we headed back to The Mary Pickford Theater at The Library of Congress again today, this time hear a lecture on current folklore on the internet inspired by real news which a Pennsylvania professor has dubbed newslore.

    Tourist Guy Round 2: Who You Gonna Call ...?
    Newslore, according to Pennsylvania State University  journalism instructor Russel Frank who coined the term, takes multiple subversive forms, all of which circulate freely on the internet: jokes; urban legends; digitally altered photographs; mock news stories,  press releases, and interoffice memos; and  parodies of songs, advertisements, movies, and TV shows aimed at skewering politicians, celebrities, and business tycoons.

    "Many recipients dismiss this material as mindless, tasteless nonsense created and disseminated by people with too much time on their hands," Frank, the author of the new book Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet. "But folklorists assume that when people invent, transmit, and retransmit some form of cultural expression that item must have something to tell about the culture that gave rise to it."

    Frank said he has been examining newslore for 15 years, but that study intensified in the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks on The World Trade Center. For the first few days America adopted a solemn tone, but, soon, web accounts, with a much different tone, many focused on Osama bin Laden and terrorism, began making the web rounds.

    Frank used the plethora of pictures featuring a character who has come to be known as 9/11 Tourist Guy as a classic example.  The initial photo captured a man posing on the deck of the world trade center, oblivious to the fact that a jet plane is headed directly at him.  Although many were taken in by the picture and mass emailed it to their friends, astute observes quickly compiled evidence that the image was fake.  Such as:
    • the unsuspecting tourist was dressed for winter; Sept. 11 was warm
    • the plane was coming from the wrong direction
    • the plane depicted was not the type of jet that crashed into the towers
    • the observation deck wasn't even open at the time of the attacks and
    • there was the question of how the camera taking the picture would have survived the collapse of the building
     Tourist Guy at a deadly day in Dallas
    However, even when the picture proved to be a hoax, Tourist Guy didn't die.  Photoshopped parodies of the faked original began circulating showing Tourist Guy being threatened by a subway car or a hot-air balloon or even the Stay-Puff Marshmellow Man from the film Ghostbusters.  In the final phase of the phenomenon, instead of disaster coming to him, Tourist Guy shows up at the disaster.  There he is on The Titanic.  There he is next to the fiery zeppelin. There he is in President Lincoln's Box at Ford's Theater.

    Frank contends that newslore is worthy of serious academic study since it provides and accurate record of what people are really thinking and helps them handle the absurdity and often senseless horror that comes with living. "Jokes are one of the mechanisms we use to protect ourselves from the terrible things that can happen in the world," Frank said. "The jokes do more than express anxiety; they help us grapple with it."

    The elevated Center Cafe at Union Station: may I suggest the grilled chicken panini

    Traveler's Tip:
    Since the one-hour lectures at the Library of Congress start at noon you will probably be hungry after. And while there are good restaurants nearby, it's worth the 20-minute walk to Union Station. There you can find a series of interesting eateries in the restored great hall.  Or you can opt for the massive food court that takes up the train station's entire basement.  Trust me, there's something there for just about anyone's taste or pocketbook.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    From the Mountains of the Moon to Memories of Yoknapatawpha

    Pop artists Andy Warhol gets in the space picture
    It was a DC double-down today: a free art exhibit on space exploration for my wife, a free lecture on American author William Faulkner for me.

    First, we headed to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum for the exhibition NASA Art: 50 Years of Exploration which features famous and not so famous artists' renditions of the history of space travel from the early 60s to the latest and last voyages of the space shuttles.

    The exhibit pieces, about 50 or so in number, ranged from the realism of Rockwell to the wildness of Nam June Paik. There was collage (Rauschenberg), photography (Liebowitz) and even music with video (The Kronos Quartet). Artists blended mythological soarers like Icarus and Daedalus with real life high flyers like Neil Armstrong to capture their view of mankind's continuing attempt to reach for the stars and beyond.

    The exhibit was impressive, but easily manageable. We both liked it so much we went through a second time.

    Our Best of Show - Martin Huffman's"Sunrise Suitup"

    Our Creativity Counts Prize - Clayton Pond's "Strange Encounter for the First Time" where the space shuttle Enterprise meets the noted Starship Enterprise from the Star Trek series.




    Returning to earth, we headed to the James Madison Building of The Library of Congress for a noon-time lecture entitled William Faulkner and the Ledgers of History.

    For about an hour in the standing room only Mary Pickford Theater (and yes, we did stand) Emory University Professor Sally Woolf used details from her recent book to present a compelling case that Faulkner used a real-life antebellum Leek diary from the then owners of the McCarroll Place homestead in Holly Springs, Mississippi as a basis for many of the details in his novels and short stories.

    After establishing that that Faulkner had visited the McCarroll home for years to hear old stories and take notes from the diary, Woolf says she is convinced that he appropriated much of what he found there for his fictional creations.

    "The diary entries and the family stories that he found there definitely made their way into his novels," Woolf said. "Of course, when you're an artist, it's hard to say what parts come from experience and what parts come from imagination."

    Woolf says that when she presents her Faulkner diary lectures to her students, they inevitably ask if the Nobel Prize winning author was a plagiarist. No, she  quickly answers. "Faulkner did draw some details, names, characters, and situations, but he made them something completely new," Woolf  said.

    Travelers' Tip:
    In this post 9/11 world make sure you allot arrival time for any government-sponsored event.  We were almost late for the Faulkner talk because we got hung up in the screening line for the library.

    Hail to the Chief

    I've always been a big proponent of unscripted moments. For example, in my world, you are never lost, you're just on the way to unplanned adventures.  And that philosophy, as frustrating as it is can be to my more focused friends, led last night to a chance encounter with the President of the United States.

    Originally, we had planned to be at The Politics and Prose Bookstore at 7 p.m. to hear a book talk by Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley. Now, being new to the DC area, we are stlll learning our way around the city.  I hadn't done that much location research, but I knew that the shop, which we had never been to, was about a mile from the Van Ness Metro stop on Connecticut Avenue. And I had the store's address. Armed with that info, it couldn't be that hard, right?

    So, after dinner, we walked the 4 blocks underground to our Crystal City Metro stop, swiped our Metro Smartrip cards, and boarded the Blue Line train, which would take us to the Metro Center where we would transfer to the Red Line for our bookstore stop.

    While waiting for our transfer we had the first of our night's two unexpected incidents.  A middle-aged man, wearing a white shirt-sleeved shirt and matching hat, stumbled past us and plummeted off the platform right into the path of an oncoming train.  As awaiting passengers looked on in shock, the man, obviously stoned out of his mind, circled a bit before swaying off in a half-crouch toward the opposite platform.  In a few seconds, he reached his destination and several good Samaritans reached down to pull him up. The man, oblivious to both his surroundings and the unease he had caused, simply staggered off through the crowd.

    We boarded our train without further incident and traveled to Van Ness. Exiting through the turnstiles, I had the feeling we should go right; my wife  was convinced we should go left.  Exiting the station, the descending numbers seemed to support my wife, so left we went.

    We walked down Connecticut Avenue past scores of unique looking apartment complexes. We walked past a couple of blocks of really neat open-air restaurants and cafes.  But when we reached the Cleveland Park Metro station, even though the address numbers were still headed downward, I was pretty convinced we were going in the wrong direction.  And when we reached the National Zoo, I was sure we were.

    When I pointed out my newly established certainty to my wife, she looked at me with that look of frustrated disgust that only she can muster and said "You can't look things up, can you? Next time, when we don't know where we're going, we're going to Mapquest."

    Knowing she was right, I still had to respond.  "Hey, it's OK. I really didn't want to hear the booktalk that badly anyway (I did). We're exploring. We're having new adventures." But little did I know just how right those words would prove to be.

    As we approached an intersection about 3 blocks later, we heard the sounds of a helicopter hovering over the trees. At the intersection, we saw that police had it blocked off in all directions . "I wonder if they are having a race?" my wife asked. When we joined the crowd of about 15 people, we saw a dozen police motorcycles and cars, lights flashing, coming toward us.  Then we noticed the big, black limousine in the middle, heard cheering on the other side of the street, and suddenly realized that President Barack Obama would be passing directly by us as he turned to head back to The White House..

    And he did. We waved and he waved. We smiled and he smiled. We thumbed-up and he thumbed-up.  Of course, as I am apt to do, I kept my camera in my pocket the whole time.  But then, given the current state of my photography skills, I probably would have only captured the President's license plate anyway.

    "Well, there's our DC moment for tonight," the young businessman to my left said. And he was right - it was a thrilling moment. OK, it wasn't like we had a half-hour sit-down with Mr. Obama, but we did see and wave to a president who was only a few feet away. An exciting DC moment.  And a moment that confirmed my theory - you're never really lost, you're just on the way to possible unplanned adventures.

    But, before we turned in for night, I promised my wife that I would seek better directions next time. Now, in reality, I probably won't. Forget maps and Mapquest; I'll take those unplanned adventures any day.

    Traveler's Tip:
    If you are really, really drunk skip the Metro and take a cab. It might cost more but it's better than staggering off a platform into the path of an oncoming train.  Also, the next time you appear headed in the wrong direction, don't get upset - you might be on your way to meet the president.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    The National Building Museum: It's a Seldom Seen DC Must-See

    The Great Hall of Dancing Presidents
    Some of the most enjoyable things in life are totally unscripted.  And that was the case today with our visit to the National Building Museum.

    Here's how our unplanned visit happened.  We had decided to grab lunch in Chinatown and then head to the National Air and Space Museum to view an art exhibit there on space exploration. However, while strolling after lunch, we came upon a huge, striking brick building which we decided to check out. And 4-and-a-half hours and 2 docent-led tours later, filled with more details and facts about building than we knew we wanted to know, we were really glad we did.

    The NMB, built in the 1880s by Civil War Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, was orginially designed to house the U.S. Pension Bureau. After falling into disrepair, it was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1980s for its current use.  One of the most striking features of the brick building (at one time the largest such building in the world) is its massive Great Hall, which is the only place in DC besides the White House to house the presidential seal. That's because the hall has been the historic scene of 19 inaugural balls.  Grover Cleveland held the 1st ball inside the then-unfinished hall in 1885. In 2009, Barack Obama scheduled his Commander-in-Chief Ball there.  Oh, and by the way, if you would like to host your own event in the hall you can. All you need is $30,000 for 4 hours of rent.

    The museum is currently home to several permanent and temporary exhibitions. Two of those, Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition and Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s, are profiled in posts below.  The others are:
    -- Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of (Art Deco Muralist) Hildreth Meiere (until Jan.2)
    -- Investigating Where We Live (students' interpretations of 3 DC neighborhoods until May 28)
    -- Cityscapes Revealed: Highlights from the Collection(long-term)
    -- and Washington: City and Symbol (also long-term)

    The museum also houses a building zone where youngsters 2 to 6 are introduced to the building arts through play and a museum store which The Washington Post heralds as "the best all-around shop in DC"

    Travelers' Tip:
    While you can view the exhibits on your own or with a self guided tour sheet, I recommend that you take 1 (or more) of the daily guided tours.  The docents are knowledgeable, the experience deepens your experience, and the cost is perfect - all tours are included in the $8 entrance fee.

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    The World of Tomorrow As Seen Today

    The main exhibit at The National Building Museum is Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s.

    The exhibit is divided into 6 rooms, each capturing some aspect of the 6 world's fairs which were held from 1933 until 1939.  Of course, at the time America found itself immersed in a catastrophic economic crisis (sound familiar) and government officials and leaders of industry viewed the fairs as a way to wow, educate, and convince the general public that more and better goods would lead to a happier, healthier life.  The areas explored are:
    • Welcome to the Fairs
    • A Fair-Going Nation
    • Building a Better Tomorrow
    • Better Ways to Move
    • Better Ways to Live
    • Better Times
    • Legacies of the Fairs
    As someone who spent 50+ years of their life in the Southern New Jersey town of Bridgeton, once home to an Owens-Illinois plant that was the largest glass making factory in the world, I was particularly interested by the strong O-I presence at the NY World's Fair where Owens was pushing glass as a building product "strong enough for people who throw stones to live in."

    One of the highlights of the exhibit, as it was at the NY Fair, is Electro, The Moto-man, a robot that walks, talks, and, in keeping with those times, even smokes a cigarette.  You can check out the 1939 reaction to Electro by viewing this YouTube clip.

    As you stroll through the exhibit,  you are struck by how much the 1930s future does resemble our today. TV, in its infancy then, does appear in virtually every home, as do the dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and countless other household necessities that debuted during the decade of fairs.  Of course, you see changes too. For example, unlike 1930s fairgoers, we no longer dress up much to go out. And Electro would probably sip a lattte, not smoke a Lucky, today.  

    Travelers' Tip:
    If you can't get to DC to see the exhibit which closes Sept.5, you can still learn more about the times  through 2 best-sellers dealing with the 1939 NewYork World's Fair. For fiction fans, there is E. L. Doctorow's World's Fair: A Novel.  For those who want a factual account there is Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro, which, ironically, I just began reading the night before we visited the National Building Museum.

    Little Legos for Large Buildings

    Tall, taller, even taller
    One of the featured exhibits at the National Building Museum is Legos Architecture: Towering Ambition which displays about a dozen of the world's most recognizable structures made entirely out of Legos. Included are the Empire State Building, The White House, and Frank Lloyd Wright's masterful Fallingwater, as well as more contemporary buildings from around the world.

    Dominating the exhibit is Burj Khalifa, a Dubi architectural marvel which at 162 stories and 2,684 feet, is the largest edifice in the world.  The replica, which stands 17' 6" high and contains 450,300 legos, took 280 hours to design and 340 hours to build.

    Obviously designed to demonstrate the creativity of Legos, the exhibit also promotes the idea of play as a forerunner to great building accomplishments. As Witold Rybczynski says in one of the messages displayed around the room: "We have all spent hours sprawled on the floor playing with toy blocks and built little houses with Lego bricks or some other construction toy.We have all been little architects." So just think: the next time you see your son or granddaughter making a mess with blocks on the living room floor don't get upset; you make be witnessing the birth of the next Frank Lloyd Wright.
    Fallingwater Lego-style
    Travelers' Tip:
    If you visit, be prepared to stay a while. The exhibit includes a large area of Legos where budding builders can try out their skills.  Overheard from one grandmother: "Look at that. All he wants to do is play with those Legos.  We could have done that at home." And while that's true, you couldn't do it adjacent to all those fascinating structures for inspiration. You might also want to make sure your credit card is well stocked - all the structures are available in Legos sets for special purchase.  However, they are pricey, ranging from $25 for The Empire State Building to $100 for Fallingwater.  The exhibit is on display until Sept. 3

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Life Can Be Grand

    For Audrey old ways are good ...

    It's better than 16 days in the British Isles. It's better than moving to an apartment in a perfect location next to DC. It's even better than retirement, as wonderful as that is.  And what is this great, marvelous thing you ask ... why it's a visit from your grandchildren.

    Now having grandchildren is like any new-to-you experience; you really can't understand it until you try it, or, in the case of grandchildren, it tries you. Some say it's so wonderful because you can spoil your grandchildren and then send them home.  And while that's true, I don't think that view portrays the whole picture. Having grandchildren demonstrates the continuity of life and forces you to really think about the future, while, at the same time, allowing you to enjoy each current moment watching your grandkids grow.

    ... and Owen shows new ways are OK too.
    And grow they do. Already, Audrey, at 3-and-a-half, and Owen, at 2, are showing their independence. Audrey is determined to wear only clothes that feature dark pink. Owen believes that any remote, computer, or other electronic device is his to personally reconfigure. And in the past few weeks, both have decided that eating mashed potatoes is a culinary no-no (although fried potatoes are still on their menu).

    One of the most intriguing things about this grandparenting business is seeing how much raising young children has changed over the years. For example, in the 1970s we had no electronic devices for toddlers (a current offering that has allowed Owen to forge way ahead of Meemom in IPad handling) or onview-24-hour-a-day Dora the Explorers (through which Audrey has already learned to count from 1 to 10 in Spanish and speak and understand Ayuda me and a host of other Spanish phrases).  

    But I'm also pleased that the joys of simple, creative play have not been forgotten. Audrey spent quite a bit of time on her visit playing with the same alphabet blocks and tiny figures that her father had played with at her age.  She also created her own vision of Oz with a plastic set of story characters (or at least she did after Grandpop hid the scary Wicked Witch in his pocket). And Owen giggled and laughed as he caught, dropped, and threw (sometimes backwards) the Gaelic nerf football we brought back for him from Ireland.

    Ah, but no visit lasts forever. After 3 too-short days, Audrey and Owen had to head back to their Tennessee home. And while that's a negative for me, it could prove to be be a positive for you, depending on exactly how you feel about bloggers who devote space to the comings and goings of their grandkids. I promise no more grandparenting tales until we visit Knoxville in September.  Well, that is I promise no stories unless Owen poops in the potty.   Or Audrey decides to do something especially significant like wear a blue dress.

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