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Thursday, October 27, 2011

DC & Prohibition: How Dry It Wasn't

If you ever wondered why Prohibition, which writer H. L. Menken dubbed "the 13 awful years," failed so miserably here in the United States, you need only look at life during that era in DC.

There was an unofficial bootlegger who had an office in the House of Representatives building. That same enterprising bootlegger later expanded his operation into his own office in the Senate. 

When the the 18th Amendment became law in 1920, there were 247 licensed bars in Washington. In 1932, one year before the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, records show that authorities raided 1,155 locations in the district where on-premise alcohol was found. At another 600 speakeasies, owners, tipped off by corrupt officials, were able to dispose of their illegal contraband before the raids. In fact, it is estimated that more than 3,000 speakeasies of all sizes and types operated in DC during the Prohibition era.

"People felt Prohibition was for someone else to obey, but not for me," says Garret Peck, author of Prohibition in Washington D.C: How Dry We Weren't.

As part of the Books and Beyond series, Peck appeared at the Library of Congress today to discuss the history of Prohibition and his new book.

The attempt to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol was the result of decades of intense lobbying by the Temperance movement, which featured such groups as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League.

"Temperance was the social movement of the time," Peck said. "They (the supporters) believed if we dry up the country, we'll be a more God-fearing nation."  

But quickly it became apparent that the law was doomed to fail. Alcohol consumption continued, and, in many cases, especially women influenced by "the 1st sexual revolution," actually increased. "Suddenly disobeying the law became glamorous," Peck said.

The author noted that Washington D.C. was not plagued by organized crime related to the bathtub gin trade like cities such as Chicago and New York."Here it was a scene dominated by amateurs," Peck explained.

Eventually the combination of lawlessness and economic hardship caused by the Great Depression led to repeal. But, Peck noted, evidence of  those 13 years still exists.  For example, the national income tax was instituted during that time to substitute for the substantial loss of federal tax on alcohol. Words coined such as scofflaw (which literally means one who scoffs at the law) are still part of our lexicon. And then there is NASCAR, which actually began with races between drivers of souped-up cars especially equipped to rush alcohol past government agents trying in vain to enforce the Volstead Act.

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips:
Prohibition is currently in vogue.  There is the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. There is the recent 3-part Ken Burns PBS documentary on the subject that is now available on DVD. And, for those who would like a more active look at Washington's illegal drinking past, Peck offers a special walking tour of DC's Prohibition years.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Definitely Not a Drag: And a Gay Time Was Had by All


Skating DC fairies under the cover of October skies.
Standing in the 15-deep Dupont Circle crowd at the Q Street corner, waiting for the much-anticipated street race to start, I felt a bump on my shoulder. Turning, I encountered the 1st of a half-dozen fairies roller blading past me, wings on their backs, pastel antennae or crowns sprouting from their flowing hair, vibrant tutus fluttering in the night wind, their sequined tops shining under the light of the street lamps, heavy makeup and glitter covering bearded faces.  Ah, such are the sights on the Tuesday before Halloween when the nation's capital hosts its annual Drag Queen Race.

Although the race doesn't start until 9 p.m., crowds of thousands begin arriving as early as 6 to view the site of almost 100 drag queens in every type of costume sashaying and prancing up and down a blocked-off 17th Street again and again. Many of the crowd pour out into the street to get their picture taken with the obliging queens, while others simply hoot, holler, and applaud..

Some of the enthusiastic racers, who obviously work long and hard on their creative costumes,  enter as a themed group. For example, on this night, the 25th running of the annual race, there were The Queen of England and her retinue including relatives and fur-hatted strutting guards calling "God save the Queens"; a high-haired Marie Antoinette and her "let them eat cake" court; a group of blue uniformed Pan Am stewardesses pushing their coffee, tea, or me cart; and a pack of multi-hued Super Blow Pops, grandly announcing that "this is what happens when you suck too hard."

There were pairs. Alice in Wonderland and her off-with-their-head queen. A starkly phallic Washington Monument accompanied by a short-shorts wearing National Park Ranger. Several takeoffs on black and white, on-their-toes, ballet swans were also in vogue. .

Individual gay-supporting icons were in abundance. Lady Gaga. Dorothy of Wizard of Oz fame. A blue-body-painted Smurfette. Some of the contestants pushed the bounds of taste. Like the hairy-legged Marilyn Monroe look-a-like who pulled her skirt up and wiggled provocatively. Or a white-robed zombie Jesus fronted by a black-clad, particularly slutty Mary Magdalene. Other contestants blew that good taste line away faster than the whirling winds of the twister that plunged Dorothy into gay lore. How about a pink-pillbox-hat-wearing, bloodied Jackie Kennedy clone with the sign "I had a blast in Dallas" taped to his/her back? Or a group of muscular, off-the-shoulder tops and tight leggings wearing Flashdance workout queens performing all types of simulated sex acts with their hand weights and small barbells?

But it wasn't just a night of sight, but of sounds as well. Both the contestants and the crowd had great fun with an ongoing double entrendre, sexually charged repartee. When a group of In-the-Navy style guards pushing a small float of scantilly-clad mermaids streamed by, one young woman hollered "stay dry." A float-pusher responded "No sweetie, stay wet, always stay very, very wet."

And then there was the huge, red-gowned queen with a high mountain of teased hair (think John Water's Divine on steroids) who approached with a toilet bowl scrubber in hand. She was part of a clever group calling attention to the recent spate of exploding GSA toilets here in Washington. As she waved her dildo-impersonating scrubber directly in front of us, a young girl next to me leaned back, almost cringing with concern. "Oh c'mon sweetie," the contestant said with a wide smile. "You have nothing to worry about from me."

"Him, on the other hand," she cooed, suggestively twirling her toy inches from my face. "Now, that's another matter."

As for the race itself, I'm not sure who won. I know whoever it was, did get a glass slipper filled with champagne for his effort. But on this night, it was far more important that everyone, not just one winner, got filled with a great gay time.

















 



Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips:
A great glamor shot: Priceless
Anyone familiar with us Price men knows we are not afraid to explore our feminine side. My 2-year-old grandson Owen recently went through a phase where he seemed all too willing to let his older sister Audrey dress him in her princess dresses. And his father (and my son Michael) once entered an 8th-grade talent contest as Dolly Parton and followed that up with a high-school cross-dressing day Halloween as a South Jersey hooker. And I have been known to test what its like as a teacher on the other side of the gender line. (See captivating glamor photo at left). Who knows? Maybe, with a little training, I might even enter the DC drag race next year.

Saved by an Angel or Saved By Science?

What do a male American astronaut who set a record for time spent on the Russian Mir space station, a female deep sea blue hole diver, and the last 9/11 survivor to escape from the South Tower of the World Trade Center alive have in common?

If you answered that all 3 exhibited the human knack of facing deprivation and possible death with an unseen presence pointing the path to survival you would be right. Of course, such tales create another huge question - should that survival be attributed to divine intervention (possibly in the form of a guardian angel) or is it proof of yet another of the brain's amazing powers.

Today, The National Geographic Museum showcased a 2011 documentary The Angel Effect which explored reports of survivors who have reported being guided to safety by a mysterious presence.

The documentary was based on the book The Third Man Factor, written  John Geiger, editor of The Toronto Globe and Mail and the youngest head of the Canadian Geographic Society in its history.

After the screening, the audience was able to direct questions to Geiger through a phone conference.
Geiger said he first became intrigued with the idea of mysterious intervention after reading such accounts by famed early 20th Century Antarctic explorer Sir Lynn Shackleford, as well as a personal minor example of the phenomenon he experienced during one of his own Arctic expeditions.

One of the central stories in both the book and the film was that of 9/11 survivor Ron DiFrancesco. DiFrancesco says that a calming voice guided him through stairwell flames and lethal debris to safety 84 floors before.

But where does such a voice come from? Although both the book and film grapple with that issue and outline the ongoing efforts of scientists to resolve it, the true answer remains elusive. Those who favor the scientific theory speculate that somehow in times of great stress the right brain may assume dominance over the left side, allowing us to use normally untapped powers which let us to survive. For the more religious, like DiFrancesco, who only truly realized he had survived the 9/11 tragedy after awakening from 3 days in a coma-like state, putting faith in the miracles of God is sufficient.

But,  after all his years of research, where does Geiger stand?

"Like adrenaline, I believe it is part of our equipment as human beings to do extraordinary things," Geiger said. "But that doesn't mean God didn't put the mechanism in our brain in the first place."

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips:
If you find yourself in DC on a Tuesday with free time between noon and 1, The National Geographic offers a free film (and often post film discussion) every Tuesday. Upcoming features include a series of Dia de Muertos films and Mysterious Science: The Truth Behind Bigfoot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

John Brown: Martyr or Madman?

In many respects, you could call John Brown's aborted 1859 raid at Harper's Ferry, an event which helped catapult both North and South toward a bloody Civil War, the 9/11 of its time.

"Nothing like that had ever happened before in America," Pulitzer prize-winning author Tony Horwitz says. "Brown wanted to shock this nation with the sin of slavery and bring on this great war."

Horowitz appeared tonight at the Politics and Prose bookstore to read from and discuss his latest book Midnight Rising: The Story of John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War.

Horwitz says that Brown could be compared to the monomaniacal Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's classic American novel single-focus obsession Moby Dick.

"It's impossible not to be whip-sawed by this guy," Horwitz said. "He was a remarkable man for his era who believed he had a moral imperative to end slavery.  But he was also a terrorist who okayed horrific violence."

"Brown's story is a classic study of (the question) does the end ever justify the means?" he added. 

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips:
This is not Horwitz's first look at Civil War topics. His most noted work is Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War , which explores the world of hardcore southern Civil War reenactors. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mr. President: You've Got Mail

Every evening, when President Barack Obama gets his massive daily briefing book, tucked inside is a purple folder containing 10 letters written by regular American citizens. Given the bleak  economic times, many of the letters detail sad tales of personal hardships and woe. Some are congratulatory; some critical. Obama scours each one, sometimes turning to his wife Michelle to read a particularly poignant or powerful passage.

"He says reading those letter helps keep him connected and sane," Washington Post writer Eli Saslow told a crowd gathered at The Newseum today to hear Saslow talk about his new book 10 Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President.

Saslow said the process of culling the 10 letters daily is a quite involved, a task that has become even more involved in these days of Anthrax and other scares. "Essentially, it requires an army," he explained.

Obama receives almost 20,000 pieces of personal correspondence daily. Fifty staffers and 1,500 volunteers sort through the missives, narrowing them into 75 pre-chosen categories. From those groups, 10 letters representative of that day's concerns are then placed in the purple folder for Obama to read.

Saslow, who has been covering Obama since 2008, says the president definitely reads all the letters and responds back to most of them, even those critical of his job performance. "Now if you begin Dear Socialist Jackass you probably aren't going to get a response. But he has written really detailed letters back to some who questioned him," Saslow said.

For his book, which received endorsement from both Obama's administration and the President himself, Saslow said he chose 10 people whose letters indicated "action still to come."  He then spent at least a week with each of them so he could tell the story of their letters and their lives.

Like the letters themselves, some of the 10 stories are uplifting ... like the tale of a black Philadelphia teenager who was so inspired by Obama's ascent to the presidency that he turned his life around, won the top class office in his high school, and now is a sophomore in college. However others reflected "the relentlessly brutal deluge of heartbreak" that drove so many to reach out to the President. One such story concerned a Michigan woman who lost her job, saw her husband lose his job, had their health care cancelled, learned that she was pregnant with her second child, and then was diagnosed with cancer. In one of the book's revelations, the only way the beleaguered couple could keep going was to make their first trip ever to New York City, find a collector, and sell the President's letter for $10,000.

Responding to a question from the audience, Saslow said that all the 1st 10 people he asked agreed to be part of the book. "They were unbelievably honest and candid," Saslow said. "They wanted to believe somebody is still listening, their problems are important, and their lives do count."

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips:
If you do go to The Newseum, make sure you make at least 1 trip to the bathroom.  There you will find selected real errors and goofs in headlines and stories guaranteed to make you chuckle.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dead Presidents: Do They Still Walk Among Us?

Does Lincoln still haunt The White House?
What better way to kick off the Halloween season than to take a night-time, October moonlit walking tour of Washington D.C.'s most haunted places.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, we did not see ghost nor spirit one. In fact, when it comes to horror watching any Republican presidential debate is far more terrifying. But we did learn a lot of history and we were entertained by many tales of supposed historical haunts and haunters.

The 2-hour journey began at The Octagon House (an 8-sided 18th Century home that served as temporary living quarters for President James Madison and his wife Dolley after the British burned the White House during the War of 1812) and concluded in front of the White House.  Here a point of supernatural interest: Dolley has been seen still hosting parties at The Octagon and her spirit supposedly stopped workmen from tearing up the Rose Garden during Woodrow Wilson's presidency.

Other sites included the former homes of Henry Rathbone, Stephen Decatur, and Henry Adams.

At the White House, our animated guide related several tales of supposed sightings. Many involved Abraham Lincoln, who has supposedly been seen by everyone from domestic workers to heads of state. My favorite involved a tale of a Secret Service agent, who had been assigned to President Kennedy's detail prior to his assassination in Dallas. Sometime later, on duty at the White House, the agent observed a man running toward the home. The man ignored repeated calls to stop and so the agent fired 4 shots. The man turned, revealing himself as the dead president, smiled, and vanished.

Tales, Tidbits, & Traveling Tips:
No night of the supernatural in DC would be complete without the strange tale of the Indian Chief Tecumseh's curse and the Presidential Circle of Death. To read all about it, click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Othello: The Green-Eyed Monster Goes Silent

Not 1, but 3 Iagos
As a rock n' roll keyboardist since 1966, I've practiced in a lot of basements in the past 45 years. However, until we moved to the DC area this summer, I had never witnessed the performance of a world class theater group in my basement.

Technically, I suppose, you could argue that the award-winning Synetic Theater is really in the Crystal City underground, not our basement.  But since all we have to do to see a show is head down 8 floors of our apartment complex on the elevator, walk through the below-ground connecting corridor of our complex to the Crystal City underground mall, continue 3 blocks underground to the theater, and enter the underground lobby, I am going to maintain that I can say it's my basement theater.

Tonight, we saw Synetic's version of Othello, the 2nd in the company's 3-part series Speak No More: The Silent Shakespeare Festival.

As I have explained earlier in this blog, Synetic, recognized as the nation's premier physical theater company, performs without words, instead relying on movement, music, mime, and visuals to convey both story line and emotional impact.

As for Othello itself, Judy said she enjoyed  Macbeth more. While I agree that Macbeth may have been more impactful overall, I think Othello is far more difficult to perform without words, and, therefore, I give great credit to the company for tackling that more challenging production so well.

For any of my former AP English students reading this, my favorite scene was Synetic's interpretation of the big black ram tupping the lovely white ewe. And the production featured not 1, but 3, characters portraying aspects of villainous Iago's twisted psyche. For power, it would be hard to top the final scene, with a dead Desdemona suspended high above a stage filled with bloody carnage.

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips:
If you're going to be in the DC area, Othello will be performed until Nov. 6. Romeo and Juliet, the final production in the festival, will run from Nov. 25 until Dec. 23.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fest for a Great King

The Obama and King families tour the MLK Memorial site
In the last year year of his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King spent much of his time planning for a massive march and occupation of Washington D. C. to focus attention on the problems of poverty

On the last day of his life, Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee joining garbage men in their struggle for higher wages and better working conditions.

And today, on a beautiful October Sunday, more than 30,000 people joined President Barack Obama to dedicate the new national Memorial to Dr. King and hear clarion calls for a re-dedication to action to turn King's dreams of social and economic justice into reality.

"Today, people bring up the brand of my father and forget the beliefs of my father," said Martin Luther King III.

One of Rev. King's daughters, Bernice, tied the dedication to the Occupy DC protests occurring just blocks from the Memorial site, calling for "a radical revolution of values and reordering of priorities in the nation.".

"As we dedicate this monument, I can hear my father saying that oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever," she said. "The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself ... I hear my father saying what we are seeing now, all across the streets of America and the world, is a freedom explosion."


Obama: Keep poushing for the King dream
In his remarks, President Obama also issued a call for continued commitment to the values and ideals espoused by Dr. King.

"Nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work -- Dr. King's work -- is not yet complete," President Obama said.""Let us not be trapped by what is. We can't be discouraged by what is. We've got to keep pushing for what ought to be. I know we will overcome. I know there are better days ahead. I know this because of the man towering over us."

The Memorial site features a 30-foot statue of Dr. King gazing out over the Tidal Basin. Julian Bond, who as a young man marched side by side with Dr. King, noted that despite his huge accomplishments, the 5'7'' King was always sensitive to his physical stature. "And now he is 30 feet tall," Bond, pointing to the statue, noted.

Next to the wildly enthusiastic greetings for President Obama, some of the day's loudest vocal response came for the remarks delivered by Rev. Al Sharpton, who said the King Memoiral will stand as "a marker for justice today."

One day earlier, Sharpton had led a DC  march for jobs and justice, an action that put him in direct alignment with the Occupy DC group. "We're going to occupy the voting booth. We're going to take in those who stand for justice and retire those who stand in the way" Sharpton said to the clamoring crowd. "This (election) is not about Obama; this is about our Moma."

Tales, Tidbits & Traveling Tips:
While most of the tributes to Dr. King and his legacy took the form of the spoken word (including a magnificent poem written especially for the occasion and delivered by poet Nikki Giovanni) music was also part of the message. Aretha Franklin sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," a hymn she said Dr. King often requested.  Stevie Wonder led the crowd in a rousing rendition of his song "Happy Birthday," written to commemorate the Martin Luther King holiday.  Wonder also headlined a celebratory 2-hour concert that also featured James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, and Ladice and concluded the 6-and-a-half hour day of celebration.

Stevie Wonder and social activist/comic Dick Gregory

Sheryl Crow

James Taylor

Wonder and Crow duet on Dylan's Blowing in the Wind

A fitting finale: Love Train

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Baseball by the Book

With the Phillies eliminated from the MLB playoffs, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery tonight to get our baseball fix by attending a book talk on Baseball Americana:Treasures from the Library of Congress.

For almost an hour, Susan Reyburn, a writer and editor with the Library of Congress, and Frank Ceresi, a DC area baseball historian and memorabilia appraiser, showed and discussed computer pictures of artifacts they culled for the book from the library's massive holdings, which is the largest collection of baseball items this side of Cooperstown.

The pair said they used all areas of the Library, but much of the focus centered on the manuscript, performing arts, motion picture, prints and photography, and,or course, baseball card collections.

Of the more than 350 images included, Reyborn said her favorite is a 1786 letter from a Princeton University student which contains the 1st reference to baseball ever in American writing. (Guess that definitely shoots down the myth that Abner Doubleday invented America's pastime).

Ceresi said his favorite was a picture of an aging Babe Ruth leaning on a bat borrowed from Cleveland Indian pitcher and Hall of Famer Bob Feller.  In later years, Ceresi said he and Feller became friends and on one visit, the pitcher had shown him that very bat.

Responding to a question from the audience, Ceresi said that despite the depth of the Library's collection, it does not contain the item most baseball collectors agree is the most valuable item today - a rare Honus Wagner card.  Ceresi said that hockey great Wayne Gretsky once bought 1 of the cards for $400,000.  Recently that same card was resold for $2.8 million.

Traveler's Tip:
If you would like a more hands-on experience than reading the book, Reyburn says you can see the actual items pictured by visiting the Library of Congress, obtaining a library card, and then requesting to examine the baseball-related items by name. "Our director says it's time to get the champagne out of the bottle," Reyburn said. As for a full baseball memorabilia exhibition, Reyburn said that there have been talks, but the actual outcome will depend on funding.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hope Gets Unearthed

A rescued miner prays in thanks for his miracle
It's a primal fear - being buried alive. It's been the subject of horror masters from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King.  And sometimes it happens in real life, as it almost did this time last year to 33 Chilean miners. But, in that case, the real-life horror story had a happy ending - an ending which is the focal point of an exhibit now at the Smithsonian Museum of National History.

Entitled Against All Odds: Rescue at a Chilean Mine, the exhibit details the dramatic, world-watched 69 days from the unexpected cave-in which trapped 33 miners to their safe October 13th return to the surface.

The Fenix
The exhibit highlights include the red, white, and blue rescue vehicle nicknamed Fenix (Spanish for the legendary creature of rising and rebirth the Phoenix), a copy of the bit used to drill the narrow escape passageway, models of thin pipes (called palomas) which were used to drop food and medical supplies to the miners, and the actual clothing some of them wore, as well as video clips and enlarged photos from the ordeal.

The exhibit is wrapped by a timeline in both English and Spanish, creating a significant incident by incident account of the harrowing adventure. For example, it is pointed out that those on the surface limited the miners to a 2,500 calories-a-day diet so they could remain thin enough to fit in the Fenix with its tiny 21-inch diameter.

For their part, the miners remained hopeful, but prepared for the worst. "I waited for death, but was tranquil," says Mario Sepulvedo. "I knew that at any minute the lights could go out, but it would be a dignified death."

But fortunately it was rescue, not death that came for Sepulvedo and his 32 fellow workers. It truly was, as President Barack Obama says, an example that "there's nothing we can't accomplish together."

You know, the Museum of National History is not that far from The Capitol Building. Maybe all our Democratic and Republican legislators should meet at the red, white and blue (the colors of the Chilean flag) Fenix and figure out exactly how to get our economy and our trapped American populace to rise once again.  If nothing else, the visit would remind them that you don't have to live in the doomed, damned world of Poe. Miracles can, and do happen.

Travelers' Tip:
If you would like to see this small, but powerful exhibition you do have some time. The exhibition, which debuted on August 5th, a year to the day that the miners became trapped, will remain open until May of next year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Uno ....Dos ... Tres ... Quatro! The Rhythm Is Going to Get You

Carlos Santana at Woodstock
From La Bamba to Livin' La Vida Loca. from the smoothness of the cha-cha-cha to the violence of the narcocorridos, from Carmen Mirnada to J-Lo, Latinos have played a huge role in the development of American popular music.  And now in American Sabor, the 1st of its kind bilingual, interactive, multi-media exhibit at the Ripley, the Smithsonian has chronicled just how widespread that role is.

Many of the names are familiar: Ricky Ricardo, Carlos Santana, Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Estefan, Selena. So are the dances, the cha-cha-cha, the mambo, the rumba, salsa.  But what isn't as well-known is the scope and diversity of the Latino influence, a situation American Sabor is designed to rectify.

The exhibit is arranged according to 5 stations, each one representing an American city of notable Latino cultural and musical contributions. The cities are: New York, Miami, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

As a classic rock keyboardist, I was most taken by the presentation of how the old Mexican accordian sound was transferred into the Farfisa/Vox organ notes that drive such rock classics as Sam the Sham and the Pharohs'  "Wooly Bully" or ? Mark and the Mysterians' "96 Tears." By the way, an interactive station allows you to try out those rifs on your own lighted keyboard, while a dance-floor station next door allows others to perfect their mambo steps.

Then there was the presentation that convincingly contended that the 3-chord structure of Ritchie Valens "La Bamba" (itself borrowed from old traditional Mexican folk song) is identical to that of other rock staples such as "Twist and Shout" and "Louie Louie" and therefore is really the most vital, important chord progression in all of rock and roll. Important stuff, indeed.

Even for the most knowledgeable of musicologists, there is much to learn here. For example, I doubt that few people know that the chord drop in the Beatles "Do You Want Know a Secret" was copped directly from a Hispanic guitar song or that the working title of The Eagles hit "Hotel California" was "Mexican Reggae." I know I didn't.

Of course, much of Latino music is loved for its percussive beat driven by congas, timbales, and other assorted drums. That too is documented here with hours of film clips.  There is Tito Puente and his band at NYC's legendary Palladium. And Santana exploding into public view at Woodstock. And Los Lobos at the Filmore. And younger contemporary acts such as Lysa Flores or El Vez playing punk venues today.

As your Latino friends would say "Experiencia American Sabor. Usted aprender√°, que te guste, y que definitivamente va a querer bailar."

Travelers' Tip:
Thorough research is vital to successful travel. Even though this outstanding exhibit has been on view since early July, we didn't view it until today. The reason - I hadn't discovered it in my research and, just by walking by the sign on the National Mall, somehow got it in my head that I didn't want to go.  How sad that would have been. Both Judy and I agreed that this was one of the best exhibits we have seen since we arrived in DC. And even though the exhibit closes on the Mall this Sunday, you still have a chance to see it since it is touring the country. To see where it will be showing, check the American Sabor website, which is linked in the 1st paragraph of this post.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Taking the Stand to Take A Stand

Tommie Smith and John Carlos (rear)
It is one of the most dramatic, revolutionary pictures of all-time. Two young black men, just moments removed from winning track medals in the 1968 Olympics, standing on the medal-platform, heads down, a single back-gloved fist raised in the air in silent protest.

And tonight, 43 years later, John Carlos, one of those historic figures, appeared at the Busboys and Poets bookstore along with sports writer Dave Zirin,to discuss the book The John Carlos Story they had co-written.

In a lengthy, highly entertaining, often hilarious monologue, Carlos detailed his life which led him from the streets of Harlem to his historic moment in Mexico. Initially, he said, there has been much discussion of a boycott of the 1968 games by black American athletes to protest conditions for blacks here and in white-dominated African countries.

That boycott was to receive full support from Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, Carlos said he had a chance to meet with King, who was then embroiled in a trashmen's dispute in Memphis, and asked him why, with death threats escalating, he continued his crusade.

Carlos said Dr. King very simply told him: "John, I have to go back to stand for those who won't stand
for themselves and I have to go back to stand for those who can't stand for themselves."

Within months, Dr. King was assassinated and the boycott idea was dead. However, Carlos and his running mate Tommie Smith vowed to take some kind of a stand. And so, when Smith finished 1st and Carlos 3rd in the 200, an eternal visual symbol of protest came to be.

Interestingly, while all the focus was on the gloved raised fists, there were other aspects of the protest. Both athletes wore necklaces for lynchings of blacks in the South and  stepped up to the podium without shoes to call attention to the plight of the poor. Carlos further left his track suit unzipped in a sign of solidarity with oppressed workers.

Zirin, who is one of the most socially conscious sports writers in America today, said he had 2 major questions when he and Carlos started the book.  The first was - why did you risk what you did? (and indeed the  fallout was nasty and long-lasting).  Zirin indicated that perhaps the answer to that could best be explained in a quote on the front cover of the book:"How can you ask someone to live in the world and not have something to say about injustice?"

The second, and perhaps even more important question, Zirin said is - why does what Carlos did still seem to matter so much and resonate so loudly? "We still have injustice today and it's still important for people to take a stand. John did that. And he paid for his stand, but he says he really had no other choice - it was the right thing to do," Zirin said.
Carlos signing his book.

Travelers' Tip:
You have to always be ready to part with your money.  I swore I wasn't going to buy the book, but after hearing Carlos and Zirin speak, I felt I had too.  I had them sign it to my grandchildren Audrey and Owen. I hope, like Carlos, if they find a time in their lives when a stand needs to be taken, they will have the courage to do the right thing regardless of the costs.

Recording History One Column at a Time

They have captured politicians and common people for decades. Once, they circulated as faded strips of paper stored in wallets for years; now they move as email or Facebook attachments in a matter of minutes. Some have used them to line bird cages, while others have called them great pieces of American literature composed daily.  And now, thanks to 3 practicing journalists, more than a 125 of the best newspaper columns of all time have been collected in 1 book for us to read and admire.

Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns is the newly-published product of John Avalon,  senior columnist for Newweek and The Daily Beast; Jesse Angelo, a top editor at both The Daily and The New York Post; and Errol Louis, the political anchor of NY1 News.

The trio appeared today at The Newseum today to discuss their work and sign copies of their book. The idea for the collection originated after a series of discussions about favorite columns and columnists. "We were stunned that such a book didn't exist, so we decided to put it together," Angelo said.

Despite the scope of the task, the trio said there was little disagreement about the selection, but obviously decisions of what to use and what to exclude was needed. "You know it's a great book  when The Federalists Papers ends up on the cutting room floor," Louis joked.

In fact, in addition to being a collection of great wisdom, keen insight, and fine writing, the book can be viewed for its historical value. "It's really the story of America told in the 1st person," Avalon said.

And indeed, there is a scope of American history demonstrated not only in the topics, but in the history-shaping writers included.  Benjamin Franklin. Frederick Douglas. Theodore Roosevelt. Then, there are literary greats such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Langston Hughes.  There are column greats from yesteryear - H.L. Menken, Ernie Pyle, Red Smith. There are the 1960s and 1970s game changers - Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Breslin, Bob Green, Mike Royko. And there is no lack of today's best voices - Dave Barry, Maureen Dowd, Mitch Albom, Anne Quindlen.

Of course, the columns can be read in any order, but the compilers arranged entries by category. The 10 themes are:
  • War
  • Politics
  • Sports 
  • Humor
  • Crime
  • Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
  • Local Voices
  • Hard Times
  • Farewells
  • The Pursuit of Happiness
Travelers' Tip:
Although the lines at a book signing can be long, if you want to have a few extra words with authors go to the back of the line. That way you avoid the disgusted looks from those behind you who think you are monopolizing the moment.

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I am a retired educator and journalist who is enjoying his new life in DC. So much to do here and so much for free.

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