DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Prices Pick the Best of DC 2011

The ending of one year and the coming of another is a natural time for reflection. There's no doubt that 2011 ranks with 1973 (the year we were married and heralded the arrival of our son, Michael) as a pivotal year for the Prices. We both retired. And, after 6 decades, we moved in June from a small town in South Jersey to an apartment in Crystal City, Arlington, a mere 5 minutes by Metro from DC.

The move has been an extended joy. Not to knock our old Bridgeton home, but there is more to do in DC in a day than there could be in a decade in Bridgeton.

So what have we enjoyed most in our 1st 6 months in the nation's capital? Well, you can find out by checking out our categorized, 1st annual Price's Picks for the best of our DC 2011 below.

Best Smithsonian Exhibit
Judy - American Sabor (the history of Spanish music in American pop music)
Dave - the same

Best Program at the National Archives
Judy - Hamburg America (a look at the country's best hamburgers as part of What's Cooking) 
Dave - Panel on the Constituion and the Presidential Election

Best Program at the Newseum
Judy - Hurricane Katrina as Seen through the Eyes of the Reporters Who Covered It
Dave - Newslore: Examining Folklore on the Internet

Best Program at the Library of Congress
Judy - Hope for America: The Role of Humor in Politics
Dave - the same

Best Program at National Geographic
Judy - Exploring Machu Picchu
Dave - The Teenage Brain

Best Must-Pay Museum
Judy - National Building Museum
Dave - The Crime and  Punishment Museum

Best Art Exhibit (Major Show)
Judy - 30 Americans @The Corcoran Gallery
Dave - the same

Best Art Exhibits (Small Show)
Judy - Central Nigeria Unmasked @The Museum of African Art
Dave - 50 Years of Space Exploration @National Air and Space Museum

Best Curated Program
Judy - Seeing Gertrude Stein @The National Portrait Gallery
Dave - DC Ghost Tour of the Area Near the White House

Best Presentation by a Former News Anchor
Judy - Tom Brokaw @Politics and Prose
Dave - the same

Best Social Program @ Busboys and Poets
Judy - John Carlos (1968 Black Olympic protester)
Dave - Lessons We Should Have Learned from 9/11 (Ralph Nader panel)

Best Politics and Prose Book Talk (Fiction)
Judy - George Pelecanos on The Cut
Dave - Colson Whitehead on Zone One

Best Politics and Prose Book Talk (NonFiction)
Judy - Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs biography
Dave - Charles Shields on Kurt Vonnegut biography

Best Book Talk @Non Book Store
Judy - James Madison @The National Archives
Dave - Prohibition in DC @The Library of Congress

Best Event (One-Time Only)
Judy - Dedication of Martin Luther King Memorial
Dave - the same

Best Event (Recurring)
Judy - Halloween Week Drag Queen Race near DuPont Circle
Dave - the same

Best Event (Social Protest)
Judy - Occupy DC
Dave - Save Our Schools Rally

Best Free Film
Judy - Hamburg America @The National Archives
Dave - In God We Teach @The Newseum

Best Nature Event
Judy - the earthquake
Dave - 10-mile walk to Theodore Roosevelt Island

Best Holiday Special Event
Judy - Christmas at the Botanical Garden
Dave - National Symphony Concert on Labor Day at the Capitol Lawn

Best Live Sporting Event
Judy - Phillies vs. Nationals w/The Crystal City Sports Bar
Dave - Red Sox vs. Orioles on last night of 2011 regular season

Best Theater Event
Judy - Billy Elliot @The Kennedy Center
Dave - Page to Stage Festival @The Kennedy Center

Best Synetic Theater Silent Shakespeare Production
Judy - Romeo and Juliet
Dave - Macbeth

Best Dance Performance

Judy - Prophets of Funk:The Music of Sly Stone @American Dance Institute
Dave - the same

Best Concert (Paid)

Judy - Message in the Music: The Songs of the Civil Rights Era @Walter Washington Center
Dave - Ray Davies @The Fillmore Silver Springs

Best Concert (free Millennium Stage @Kennedy Center)
Judy - Naturally 7/ Frederic Yonnet
Dave - Asleep at the Wheel

Best Concert (Free on the National Mall)
Judy - Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow @MLK Dedication
Dave - Dean & Britta @Warhol Headlines exhibition at National Gallery

Favorite DC Restaurant
Judy - Rice (Thai fusion)
Dave - Zatinya (Mediterranean)

Favorite DC Lunch
Judy - Clyde's
Dave - Ben's Chili Bowl

Favorite Crystal City Restaurant
Judy - Portafino's (Italian)
Dave - Jaleo (Spanish tapas) 

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The complete story behind these and many more events can be found by perusing the posts in the rest of this blog. Read away and let us know what you think.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Listing the Ins and Outs

One will be in, one will be out
Apps are last year; naps are now. Out with the drama, in with Obama. Say bye to singer Adele; say hi to bluesman Gary Clark Jr.

At least that is the forecast from the annual The List published by The Washington Post which details who and what will fade and surge in 2012.

And today Post reporters and List designers Monica Hesse and Dan Zak appeared on Inside Edition at the Newseum to explain the process they use to put together the paper's talk generating compilation of hot-not items for 2011 and 2012.

Both reporters readily admit that their list is quite arbitary. "We're not doing rocket science here," Hesse said. "It's strange in that while we are incredibly serious about what we do,  we know it's kind of a joke, too."

The List has been a Post staple since 1978 and Hesse and Zak have been responsible for the last 3 editions.  Zak says study of all the lists does have historical merit. "It's an amazing way to look at culture over a period of time," he said, noting that the list is far more specific today, substantiating the contention that with the 24/7 news cycle and the internet explosion "culture changes so quickly now."

While Hesse and Zak consider the list year-round, the actual work begins right after Thanksgiving when the duo heads to a local Barnes and Noble for a reading marathon of all the magazines on the shelves, paging through issue after issue for list ideas. They then spend the next month narrowing the list down to 80 or so items for publication.

While the 2 reporters seek consensus, some of the items are more personal. For example, Hesse, who describes herself as "a huge nerd ," said the item Winterfell (an imaginary land in HBO's Games of Thrones) out, District 12 (an imaginary land in this year's movie The Hunger Games) in was her choice. "Dan could care less. But he trusts my judgement," Hesse said.

Some of the items have a historical basis. In 2011, the 150th anniversary of the start of The Civil War, prompted a resurgence in Civil War reenactors. In 2012, Titanic revivalists are expected to rule as the world celebrates the 100th commemoration of that ship's sinking. Other items are grounded in more recent news. For example, the list calls for stewardess nostalgia to be replaced by postman nostalgia. Still other items have a generational basis - Ovaltine (a 1950s product) is expected to be replaced by a Tang (the 1960s powdered orange drink designed for astronauts) renaissance.

Producing the list also allows the reporters to poke fun at people who worry about in-out designations.  For example, over-hyped hamburgers will make way for over-hyped meatballs in 2012. What does that mean? "Stop standing in line for food your Dad used to make you when your Mom was out of town," Hesse said.

Asked to pick a favorite item, Zak said his choice was Tebowing making way for hunting for the God particle. Hesse mentioned searching for new dinosaurs replacing searching for new planets.

But, of all the items on the list which one do the reporters think will be the most controversial. Both agree - replacing heartthrob Ryan Gosling with Michael Fassbender.

"We'll get Twitter feedback," Zak said. "Things like - Gosling will never be out. He is my everything."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
For those of you who are more into trying to figure out what has happened rather than predict what is yet to come, the same Post edition that included The List also featured humorist Dave Barry's look back at the weird, wild, wacky year known as 2011 as only the former columnist, who has been called America's funniest man, could write it. You can check out Barry's piece by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saving Christmas

NOTE: In today's performance of Saving Christmas: It's Priceless, the part of Rudolph will be played by Kennedy Center Opera Stage Manager Richard Kidwell.

A few holidays ago, Judy and I decided to stop exchanging Christmas presents. We already had so much stuff and if we really wanted something, we would just go ahead and buy it. And if it was close to Christmas, we would then say it was a Christmas gift.

This year, Judy wanted tickets to The Kennedy Center to see the Tony-winning musical Billy Elliot. Now while I have enjoyed musicals (most recently Wicked and Jersey Boys), they really aren't my thing. I prefer an August Wilson or Arthur Miller drama.  But Judy often goes to things with me that she's not crazy about (including August Wilson and Arthur Miller dramas), so I readily and cheerfully (at least in my way of thinking) agreed to get 2 tickets online for Dec. 21, the night before we were leaving DC to spend Christmas with our grandkids in Knoxville.

Today, when I checked our calendars, I saw that there was a discrepancy. One listed a 7:30 p.m. start, and the other an 8 p.m curtain rising. I decided to look at the tickets to see which time was correct. But when I pulled out the file folder where we keep tickets, there were none there for Billy Elliot. No problem. I would just go to the email folder where I keep my internet purchases and reprint the tickets. However, when I clicked there, there was no email from The Kennedy Center. OK. Maybe, Judy had put the tickets somewhere else.

"Hey, Hon," I asked. "What did you do with the Billy Elliot tickets?"

"What tickets," she responded. "I never saw any Billy Elliot tickets. You took care of that."

Uh-oh. Problem.

As Judy approached, I clicked on my account with The Kennedy Center. It showed that I had, indeed, purchased 2 $100 tickets for today. However, it also showed that the tickets were for a 1:30 matinee. And since it was now 1:26 p.m., my minor missing ticket problem had suddenly turned massive..

With Judy standing over my shoulder, I sheepishly tried to explain. "I don't know what happened," I said. "Look, we'll just go to The Kennedy Center and get tickets for tonight."

"No, I don't want to go now. I don't want to pay twice for tickets," Judy said, giving off that "I figured something like this would happen since I know you really didn't want to go in the first place" look.

"I'm sure they'll make it right. I'll just explain that I messed up. Look, there's tickets for tonight." I said, as if my pointing at the computer would somehow assure that those tickets would be ours at no extra cost despite a clearly stated no refund, no exchange policy.

So we headed by Metro to The Kennedy Center. There, at the ticket window, I explained my situation. The agent graciously listened. She nodded in all the right places. And then she said she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. I tried more pleading. "Well, we can find out how you got the tickets," she said. I gave her my password. She checked her computer. It showed that I was to have printed them out from an  email. "Really, I never received an email," I said as Judy watched skeptically. The agent said she could print out the tickets, but I had to understand that they now had "no monetary value whatever." She did, however, attach a phone number to call in the event something could be done to rectify my mistake.

I immediately called the number. Linda was even nicer than the ticket agent. "I can't do anything without the approval of our manager, but if you hold, I'll ask him now," she said. In less than a minute, Linda came back on the line and said she hadn't been able to reach the manager. "But someone will call you back before 5," she promised.

At exactly 4:51 (when the state of your relationship for a whole holiday season in on the line you remember these kinds of details exactly) Linda called. "Mr. Price. Bring your tickets and be at the rope line at 7:15. Ask for Mr. Richard Kidwell, our manager. He will take care of you."

After thanking Linda profusely, I told Judy the news. She managed to control her excitement, realizing that this adventure wouldn't actually be over until we were seated in the theater.

I made sure we got to The Kennedy Center early. We strolled around for 45 minutes, then approached one of the red-jacketed volunteer ushers at exactly 7:14:59. She directed us to the center entrance. I must have given off some kind of please-help-me vibe because as I approached, a distinguished looking gentleman broke off the conversation he was having and asked "Mr. Price?" I nodded. I produced the now worthless tickets and he handed me a piece of paper with 2 seats numbers for Row U on it. "Enjoy the show," my new holiday hero Richard Kidwell said.

And so, extending my arm, I prepared to escort Judy to her seat for her Christmas present. "See, no problem. It's a season for faith,"I said. As we sat down, Judy indicated that while faith was fine, when it came to a next time she would prefer to order her own tickets. I still have no idea why she wanted to be such a humbug.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So what about Billy Elliot? Judy really liked it.  As for me, I was there. And sometimes, that alone is enough.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Central Nigeria Unmasked

Vertical masks from the Benue River people in Nigeria
I remember when I was 8 or so going Christmas shopping with my Mother in Philly. Every time we would enter a toy section of a department store, I would stand transfixed in front of the displays of Marx toy figure play sets, wanting each and every one.

Well, today, 5 decades later, I recaptured some of that wanting wonder as we visited the Smithsonian Museum of African Art to take in the Central Nigeria Unmasked:  Arts of the Benue River Valley exhibit.

As the name of the exhibit implies, masks are a central focus. There are vertical masks representing human figures. There are horizontal masks representing creatures from the animal world. There are relatively recent hand-carved masks from the mid-20th Century. There are simpler, weathered masks that carbon dating indicate are more than 500 years old. And there are huge special ceremonial masks for storytelling, with woven strands of hibiscus fiber streaming downward like Rapunzel's hair.

But masks aren't the only artifacts on display.  There are male-female pairs of Kundul figures used in healing rituals. There are sculptural vessels with wide mouths used to capture spirits of disease and then discard them. There are ornate power staffs. And there are serpentine Mumuye rainmaker wands.

One of the most captivating sections deals with ancestral incarnation masquerade ceremonies. As you stare at costumes used in such productions, video documentary footage plays on both small and giant screens. You see examples of the "tall ghosts," faces masked, bodies covered in textiles that resemble a funeral shroud, leaping and twisting through a village to the sound of rhythmic drums and eerie voice chants. 

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you have any interest in African art or masks, you have until March 4th to come to the museum  and see the exhibit. However, if you can't make it, you can get a flavor of what is looks like by clicking here to view a CNN International report on Central Nigeria Unmasked.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting Our Just Desserts

Now I was never a huge fan of the TV show The A Team, but I did think it was cool when actor George Peppard, as his character Hannibal Smith, would say his favorite catchphrase "I love it when a plan comes together."  However, we are finding in DC that sometimes it can be just as cool when a plan doesn't come together quite as expected.

The latest example of that phenomenon occurred tonight.

Harry Belafonte
Our original plan was to travel to Busboys and Poets to hear activist/artist Harry Belafonte discuss his life and his new autobiography. Now we are very familiar with Busboys and Poets. In fact, we had just been there 2 nights earlier to hear Ralph Nader. At that session, Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallah warned that a huge crowd was expected for Belafonte, so plan to arrive early.

However, I guess you could say we didn't realize just what early would mean. When we arrived at 4 p.m. for the scheduled 5 o'clock program, we discovered that the entry line stretched half-way down the block from V Street to U Street. And, in addition, it appeared that Busboys and Poets was already almost filled to legal capacity. Having nothing else to do, we decided to chance the daunting, slow-moving line. We struck up a conversation with a couple behind us who had attended several of the same Busboys and Poets events we had attended. Then, as we inched forward, we chatted with a woman in front of us who was originally from Philadelphia and had spent her summers at the South Jersey shore.

Suddenly, a stir broke out in front of us. Belafonte had sat down at a table and was clearly visible through the large plate glass windows. Cameras ands iPhones flashed as the shivering crowd attemped to capture Belafonte's warm smile and friendly waves of acknowledgement.

Within minutes, a manager came out to say that no one else would be admitted, but that there would be limited signed copies of My Song: A Memoir available at the bookstore tomorrow. I looked at Judy. It was time for Plan B, which I already had in mind. Before we learned of the free Belafonte talk, I was leaning towards going to the John Waters Christmas show at the Birchmere. Given the indie film director's  fascination for the bizarre and sickly strange, I couldn't begin to envison the type of holiday show he would produce. I hadn't mentioned it to Judy because I knew she wouldn't really want to go. Plus, there was the $45 a person ticket thing. But now, shut out of Belafonte, I figured I would bring up the Waters' show. My initial reaction was right. Judy issued a double no - one for Waters and the other for spending $90 for a show she was pretty sure she would hate.

OK. No problem. Just produce a Plan C. Earlier that afternoon, I had been doing one of my favorite time-wasting pastimes - researching DC restaurants I planned to visit. Judy had mentioned she wanted to get dessert. One of the places I had been researching - Co Co. Sala Chocolate Lounge & Boutique - was credited with having DC's finest desserts. It was only 3 Metro stops and a short walk from where we now stood. And I knew that as much as Judy disliked John Waters she did like dark, rich chocolate.

We headed back to the U Street Metro stop and jumped on the yellow line. Exiting at Chinatown, we headed down H Street toward 9th Street. We passed Matchbox, praised for some of the finest gourmet pizza in all of DC. (Note to self: Check it out soon). We passed 5 Guys, my favorite DC burger chain which originated just across the Potomac. We passed Cuba Libre, where we would be going on a Monday in January to partake in an 22-dish Cuban dish food sampling to prepare us for our trip to Cuba in February.

Approaching 9th Street, we heard music and looking to the left found the 2-block Downtown Holiday Market in full swing. I tugged at Judy's arm. "C'mon, you said you wanted to go to the market. Let's go now," I said, trying unconvincingly to pretend that I knew we would encounter this very event on our walk. And so we strolled past 2 blocks of lit, tented booths with gifts from Peru, gifts from Tibet, indeed gifts from all over the world, not to mention gifts from just around the block.

Completing our tent window shopping, we headed off to Co Co. Sala. Approaching the restaurant, we noticed it was unusually dark "I don't think it's open," Judy said. And, as usual, she was right. Sunday was a dark day; our 1st visit to the chocolate lounge wouldn't be occurring on this night..

OK. No problem. Bring on Plan D. I knew we were only 2 blocks from Zatinya, the Mediterranean restaurant operated by DC's legendary chef Jose Andres. We had eaten at Zatinya and received one of our favorite DC meals so far. "C'mon we'll go to Zatinya," I said, heading off in that direction.

In a matter of minutes, we arrived at the restaurant. All the tables were full or reserved, but the hostess said we could sit at the bar, where a complete menu is served. And so we finally sat, with no Belefonte in sight, but with us staring at a dessert menu filled with delectable delights. For the record, Judy had the homemade ice cream trio: Lebanese chocolate walnut (who needs a chocolate lounge?), bakalava, and, most intriguing of all, olive oil. Meanwhile, I closed my Sunday evening DC adventure with creamed Turkish coffee cake and Moroccan mint tea. Hannibal was right. I love it when a plan comes together.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So what is the moral of the story above? I suppose you could make a case for not stressing when you are traveling. Then, there are echoes of the Boy Scout maxim: be prepared. But, to me, the main message is you've got to love living in a place where a great dessert at a Jose Andres restaurant is your Sunday night Plan D.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Just Like Romeo and Juliet

Time is running out for Romeo and Juliet
All things, no matter how great, end. And so it was last night as we attended a stirling performance of Romeo and Juliet, the final play in the Synetic Theater's Speak No More: The Silent Shakespeare Festival.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Synetic Theater and last night's powerful production of Romeo and Juliet only deepened my regard for director Paata Tsikurisvili, resident choreographer Irina Tsikurisvili, and their talented cast's riveting performances.

Romeo and Juliet is far from my favorite Shakespeare play, but Synetic was able (once again with only physical action, no words) to fascinate from opening to closing curtain. Special kudos to the staging, lighting, and music, all of which merged perfectly to enhance the oft-told tale of young, doomed love.

But apparently I am not the only one enjoying Synetic's groundbreaking work. Here is a 3 out of 4 star review from Washingtonian theater critic Missy Frederick in the After Hours section:

Synetic Theater’s production of Romeo & Juliet never lets the audience forget that fate is stacked against its title characters. That’s because the clock is ticking, literally, from the beginning. Designer Anastasia Simes’s set is a study in clockwork, gears turning on stage and performers interlocking to become part of the machinery. It’s an effective device, and when paired with Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s score—which is peppered with sound effects like discordant beeps and ticking noises—it helps build tension in this silent take on the original tale of star-crossed lovers.

Romeo and Juliet wraps up Synetic’s three-play “Speak No More” festival (previous entrants included Macbeth and Othello), where choreography, scenery, and emotions rather than dialogue have to suffice when bringing Shakespeare’s stories to life. Director Paata Tsikurishvili does a good job of streamlining the story, and most attendees will be familiar enough with the text to fill in any blanks for themselves.

Though it’s clear early on that Romeo has a rival for Juliet’s affections in Paris (a gallant Scott Brown), the historic bad blood between the Capulets and the Montagues gets lost in translation until much later in the play, as the show emphasizes Romeo and Juliet’s courtship and initial connection instead.

Said lovers are played by Alex Mills and Natalie Berk. Mills’s Romeo is a dreamy, head-in-the-clouds hero, more of a lover than a fighter; Berk plays Juliet with a wide-eyed coquettishness. The pair’s eventual coupling is one of the most visually arresting scenes in Romeo & Juliet: sheets, flashing lights, and shadows are used to erotic effect to capture the lovers in sensual poses and movements as they consummate their relationship.

Romeo & Juliet is obviously a tragedy, but Synetic’s production isn’t lacking in comic relief. This is chiefly provided by choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili in a ratcheted-up role as Juliet’s nurse, as well as Philip Fletcher, reprising his 2008 performance as a jester-like Mercutio. Both get their own moment to shine. Tsikurishvili’s is in a devilish, tumbling-driven fight scene in which the nurse attempts to deliver a message from Juliet to Romeo; Fletcher dominates one of the show’s opening scenes, where he teases his friend Romeo about his newfound infatuation, pantomiming with exaggerated womanliness.

Though a mere 90 minutes, Romeo & Juliet’s pacing stutters near the conclusion. The production’s final death scene isn’t as climactic as other routines, and it feels like the show is laboring to get there. But as the lights go down on the two dead lovers, a pendulum swinging in the background, Romeo & Juliet still delivers a final, ominous punch.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
While the Shakespeare Festival is coming to a close (the last performance of Romeo and Juliet is Dec. 30) there will be more Synetic in 2012. There will be world premier of their production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew from March 31 to April 22 and another world premiere of Home of the Soldier from May 23 to July 1. If you are a fan of cutting-edge theater (or think you might like to be) do yourself a favor and check out a production. Trust me, if you do, you'll be back.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nader Says Say No to Corporatism

According to activist Ralph Nader, the battle against the "predatory activities" of a powerful corporate state that has been "sucking the power of the American people away" will be a defining issue of the 21st Century.

"They (these giant corporations) have to behave. They are Frankensteins of our own creation. We've lost any semblance of a true democracy and we ought to take it personally," Nader told the crowd which came to Busboys and Poets tonight to hear him discuss his latest book and outline a plan for action.

Nader said all movements start when "people get a fire in their belly" and he hopes his new book entitled Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It to Win can help ignite that fire.

Employing no notes, Nader cited a litany of abuses caused by unchecked corporate greed. For example, he asked how can worker productivity have increased 25 times while poverty is also increasing.  "Twenty-three million are un- or underemployed. One out of 3 workers in this country is making Walmart wages," Nader said.

Nader blamed corporations for "making the wrong things." Instead of focusing solely on profit, companies should be looking at producing still-profitable products that would lead to goals like a cleaner environment or better public transit. "But they're just making money for the sake of money," Nader charged.

The long-time activist also said that the money made is "very poorly distributed." As one example, Nader pointed to the fact that despite record corporate profits and outlandish bonus salaries for some, an estimated 800 Americans die each week because they can't afford proper health care.

Nader admitted that any fight to wrest power from corporations will be long and hard.  He contended that current politicians are unwilling to limit or punish corporate activities because they rely on funding from such institutions to operate costly election campaigns. Also, many people suffer from "the syndrome of helplessness."  And then, there is the current power of the corporations themselves, with their virtually inexhaustible resources to pay for sharp legal help, and, in a sense, purchase justice, Nader said.

"Let's face it, they are geniuses in concentrating corporate power, Nader said.

However, Nader said a battle of the people versus giant corporations can be won. "Our assets are immense," he said, citing the right to vote, to challenge in the courts, to whistle blow on abuses, to organize, to rally, to demonstrate, to march.

Throughout his talk, Nader praised the spirit, commitment, and work of the various Occupy groups such as the one that is camped out in DC. "One of the great slogans of the 21st Century will turn out to be the 99%," Nader said. "The occupation movement is a great innovation. They're doing things nobody can stop us from doing. But we haven't scratched the surface of our political creativity."

Toward the end of his talk, Nader explained how he believes opposition to corporate control could be established. In its simplest form, Nader's plan calls for seeking $100 and 100 hours of volunteer service from 1 milllion Americans who want to see change.

"Corporations that are too big to control, that are too big to tax, are too big to exist," Nader said. "Corporations must be our servants, not our masters."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you want to know more about Nader's plan, it is explained in full at the website for Center for Study of Responsible  Law. Click here to find out more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Best of Sports, It's Just a Click Away

He's been called "the Mozart of sports photographers." His photos made the front cover of more than 170 issues of Sports Illustrated. His shot of Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) standing in triumph over a fallen Sonny Liston is considered the greatest sports photo of the 20th Century.

Neil Leifer, whose photos make up the visually arresting Photo Finish: The Sports Photography of Neils Leifer now on display at the Newseum, described his 5 decades as a premier picture taker during today's latest edition of the interactive museum's Inside Media program.

During his hour-long presentation, moderated by long-time journalist Shelby Coffee, the amiable Leifer detailed his belief that his amazing success is a combination of skill, determination, preparation, and perhaps most of all, some incredible luck.
Leifer's 1st great picture:  At 15, he captured the wining touchdown in the 1958 game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, singled out by many sports experts as the greatest football game ever played.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson and President John Kennedy at opening day of baseball.

Legendary Coach Vince Lombardi carried on the shoulders after yet another Packer championship

Broadway Joe Namath: Checking with a coach or making an after-game date?

Legendary Alabama Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant

Ali wins again. A shot from high above the Astrodome' s floor.
As a teenager, Leifer said he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to combine his passion for sports with his love of photography. "Besides, I knew it would let me have the best seat in the house which I never would have been able to afford," Leifer said.

In 1958, pluck and ingenuity propelled Leifer toward his desired career. He would arrive early at Yankee Stadium for New York Giants football games and volunteer to wheel in disabled veterans. "There were 50 or 60 veterans and only 6 or 7 people to push the wheelchairs. Once we got them in, we could watch the game," Leifer said. He explained that he would bring hot coffee to shivering police officers who would "look the other way" while Leifer would pull his cheap camera out from under his coat and shoot some pictures from the bench or the end zone. It was this arrangment that allowed him to capture his first great shot: Johnny Unitas scoring the winning touchdown in what is still called the greatest professional football game ever played. "I learned that day that 75 percent of great sports photography is luck and the rest is getting the shot," Leifer explained.

Leifer readily admits that boxing is his favorite sport, with the incomparable Ali his favorite subject of all-time. Leifer captured Ali in more than 70 different photo sessions, some staged and some acted out on canvas. "Ali was God's gift to every journalist and photographer. He made everything you did that much better," he said.

Not surprisingly, Leifer calls Ali that greatest athlete he ever photographed. Numbers 2 and 3 aren't as obvious, however. He lists triple-crown winner Secretariat as second. In 3rd place, he claims it is American Olympic skater Eric Heiden. "He raced in all 5 speed skating races, won all 5, and set 4 records," Leifer said. "I think that may be the most incredible sports performance of all-time."

And what, after the millions of photos he has taken, is his favorite? Leifer says that answer is easy - it is the 1966 picture of Ali walking back to his corner in the Houston Astrodome after kocking out his challenger. "That picture ... there isn't a thing I would change," Leifer said. "It's the only one of my pictures I have hanging in my house."

While Leifer is most known for his collection of sports shots, he has scored with some non-sports pictures, too. One of his favorite photos came after he convinced Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to light his cigar and then have a shot of both of them smoking away.  Leifer captured a Time magazine cover with his shot of Pope John Paul. And then there is the rare  picture of a hat-wearing President John Kennedy at the opening day of the 1961 baseball season at Washington's Griffith Stadium. Leifer explained how he captured that picture. As was then custom, Kennedy,  as president was called upon to throw out the first pitch. "Let's just say he had a lousy delivery.  I knew I didn't have a picture there," Leifer said. So, for the next 8 innings, he sat with his back to the game, waiting for a worthwhile shot of JFK. "I was hoping he would eat a hot dog and get some mustard on his chin, but he wasn't really doing anything," Leifer said. Suddenly, it became colder and Kennedy did something he never did - he placed a hat on his head. Then, Leifer was once again the recipient of great luck. A high foul ball headed toward the Presidential box, Kennedy turned, Leifer clicked, and another award-winning photo was captured. "I always say this is the picture of the Kennedy administration leaning left. Caroline Kennedy once told me that (picture) was the only time she had ever seen her Dad with a hat on," Leifer said.

During the audience question-and-answer session, Leiffer was asked if there were any shots he regretted not capturing.  "Of course," he responded. "You're paid not to miss, but you do. Sometimes it comes down to being in the right seat. There's skill involved, but as I say, there's a lot of luck, too."

Coffee said Leifer is an extreme rarity in the sports world, a non-athlete who is considered as famous as the subjects he is covering. "I've been with Neil at an event and it's sort of like being backstage with Bono at a U2 concert.  John McEnroe comes to Neil's table to greet him," Coffee explained.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you like sports or photography, or especially both, you really should consider making a trip to the Newseum to see Photo Finish. The exhibit will be on display until August 12th.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Doing Christmas Naturally

A patriotic all-natural Capitol for Christmas
Evergreens, toy trains, poinsettias, and frankincense are long-time symbols of Christmas time. Now all of them are brought together in this year's Christmas display at U.S Botanic Gardens near the U.S. Capitol.

Also featured are creative animal houses made out of plants and other natural materials with clever names such Monkey Mansion and Bookworm Borough.

Trains and trees
In keeping with the fact that the display is in the nation's capital, there are also natural replicas of historic DC buildings and monuments, as well as miniture natural versions of several presidents homes, including those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton.

As you tour the special holiday part of the indoor gardens, the trains travel both above and below you, surrounded by a wild natural environment complete with mountains, waterfalls, trestles, and tunnels.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
More trains running
While the national Botanic Gardens are especially beautiful at Christmas time, it is a special place for plant lovers year round. The gardens are arranged according to environmental themes. You can stroll through a Hawaiian island display. You can witness the dramatic changes between a desert and a jungle.You can pause to take in the sweet smells or capture a photo of vibrant plant colors. There is also much to learn. You can peruse a medicinal section showing plants that are used around the world for health. Or you can take in a reflecting circle where you can read famous sayings about plants while quotes such as "the grass is always greener" or "it's not my cup of tea" play in the background.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reporting a Date Which Still Lives in Infamy

On Dec. 7th 1941, noted news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow was scheduled to have dinner with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR wanted to talk to Murrow, then the most famous newsman in the world, about Britain and its war with Nazi Germany. Murrow was certain that the president would cancel, given that Japan had attacked the United States at Hawaii just hours earlier. However, FDR kept the appointment. And he did something amazing. He told Murrow every bit of information he had about damages and causalities. But then Murrow did something even more amazing. Fearing that such details could aid the Japanese, he sat on the information for 2 days.

"Imagine today. Something like that would never happen," veteran newsman Marvin Kalb told a large group assembled tonight at the National Archives to hear the former Meet the Press moderator discuss the early days of news reporting after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Time and again Kalb, who was the last journalist hired for CBS by Murrow in the 1950s, referred to the significant differences in news operation today and in the 1940s in his talk, which was augmented by actual sound recordings, video, and pictures provided by event co-sponsor The Newseum.

In 1941, Americans received  their news primarily through radio. There were 133 million radios in the country and the average American family listened to 4 and 1/2 hours of radio daily. "Television was absolutely not a player at all," Kalb said, noting that there were only about 2,000 TVs in the entire United States.

President Roosevelt first learned of the attack at 1:47 p.m. Washington time. Thirty-nine minutes later, New York radio station WOR interrupted the broadcast of the New York Giants/ Brooklyn football game to give Americans their first word of Pearl Harbor.

But apparently such relative quick news response for the time was not the norm everywhere. As the President was taking the first steps for America's involvement in World War II, the Washington Redskins were playing the Philadelphia Eagles in the nation's capital. There was no word of the attack from the broadcast booth. However all those present knew something was up as they kept hearing announcements such as would General so-and-so report immediately to his office. Then Redskin owner George Marshall later defended the decision not to make any attack announcement by claiming "we don't report non-sports news over the public address system."

Americans quickly became consumed with war news. An estimated 80% of all Americans listened to President Roosevelt ask for a formal declaration of war from Congress on Dec. 8th in his famous "a date that will live in infamy" speech. Interestingly, FDR made a last minute change in that speech; originally he had intended to say "a date that will live in world history."

Kalb said that in news stories, commentaries, and news reels, war reporters made little effort to be fair and objective. "America was galvanized. You can hear the anger and the fury. Today, it is so different," Kalb said. Supporting that contention, a news reel was played identifying Japan as "little yellow bellies"  and "Jap gangsters" who gave America "a stab in the back."

Kalb said that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center "returned us to a kind of Dec. 7th mode."

"Now, we're (the news industry) struggling to get back to middle ground of being objective and fair," he added.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips 
Kalb's talk came on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. At the time, much of the country was extremely isolationist. FDR and others in his administration had been expecting Japanese action, but they were leading a country that was not eager for war in foreign lands.There had been reports of Japanese action on Nov. 30  and Dec. 4, but those dates came and went without incident. But the shocking news of the Dec. 7th attack was one of those few events that made virtually everyone remember exactly where they were on that day that still lives in infamy. Suddenly, isolationism was out and a 4-year war effort was in.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tu Ba or Not Tu Ba

Sometimes you're right. Sometimes you're wrong. And tonight was definitely a case of the latter.

Based on my event planning, we arrived at the Kennedy Center to see Merry TubaChristmas!, a free concert on the Millennium Stage that was to feature tuba players from all over the D.C. area performing traditional Christmas music. Actually, there would not be just tuba players; there would be sousaphone and euphonium players, too.

On paper, it sounded really intriguing. And there was a tradition behind the event. Started by the late Harvey Phillips, this concert would be the 38th TubaChristmas in a row, meaning it was the same age as our son, Michael. It also promised to be professional. I knew from reading The Going Out Guide in The Washington Post that the tuba, sousaphone, and euphonium players had arrived at 3 o'clock to rehearse for tonight's performance.

But when we entered the long hall leading to the Millennium Stage, we noticed, or more properly put, heard, something wrong. Instead of the deep sounds of tubas, we heard the tinkling sounds of ringing bells. On stage were several members of a chapel ringing group, dressed in Austrian Christmas garb, rehearsing for a performance. OK. No problem I thought. The tuba fest must be in another part of the massive Center. Since we were 45 minutes early, Judy said she wanted to check out the gift shop. I walked over to a display and picked up the Millennium Stage schedule for December. And there it was in black and white: Merry TubaChristmas!

I found my wife in the gift shop. I showed her the schedule. She looked at it. "What day is today?" she asked.

"Tuesday," I replied.

"No" she said. "The date."

"The 6th," I answered.

"Yep, and what day does it say for the tuba concert," she said, emphasizing her words with that look she reserves for the times she believes I am suffering from yet another outbreak of the stupids. .

I looked at the schedule again. And there it was, as clear on the nose on my face, as they say. Merry TubaChristmas. Dec. 7. Wednesday. Uh-oh. We weren't 45 minutes early. We were 24 hours and 45 minutes early. The concert was tomorrow. Tonight belonged to The Chapel Ringers from Fort Myers Chapel, who were preparing to deliver a holiday bell ringing program.

I had to think quickly. I really wasn't in the mood for Silver Bells, sleigh bells, door bells, or any kind of bells. I wanted tubas. Or I wanted food. "How about we forget the concert and go to that new upscale bar-b-que?" I asked. "You know, the one that opened last night across the street from us."

Admitting that she was hungry, Judy agreed. So we boarded the Kennedy Center Shuttle, jumped on the Metro, got off at our Crystal City stop, hurried through the underground, exited on 23rd Street, walked under the Grand Opening banner and entered Memphis.

An hour later, I emerged satiated, not on Tuba tones, but on pulled pork egg rolls, home-made hush puppies, bar-b-qued chicken and ribs, cole slaw, mashed potatoes and 3 glasses of iced tea. And I had learned a valuable lesson. If you make a mistake about a holiday tuba concert, a good Plan B is bar-b-que. It can really ease the pain of a tuba-less Tuesday.

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips
There is a postscript to this story. We will not be attending Merry TubaChristmas this year. We've set aside tomorrow night to hear a talk by former newsman Marvin Kalb at the National Archives on the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But we we can still see and hear what we will be missing. The Kennedy Center puts every Millennium Stage performance on its website. So this weekend, maybe we'll get some takeout bar-b-que and check out those festive tubas on the screen.

A Real Burr in the Side of The Founding Fathers.

Aaron Burr can definitely be labeled the bad boy of the Founding Fathers. He considered George Washington dim. He killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel over a supposed sexual slur. And he was tried as a treasonous insurrectionist at the behest of then-president Thomas Jefferson.

This afternoon, author David Stewart appeared at the National Archives to explain his thoughts about the enigmatic Burr, the central figure in his new book American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America.

Stewart's book, which one critic described as "2 parts adventure story, 1 part courtroom thriller," picks up Burr's tale in 1805. By that point, the extraordinary soldier, lawyer, and political power was facing murder charges in both New Jersey and New York for the Hamilton duel and had learned that his rival Jefferson was not allowing him to run for vice-president, a position he had held since 1800.

Unsure of his fate, Burr did what so many men of his times did - he headed west. But he had an ulterior motive. He was planning to put together an army, liberate Mexico, and then form a separate Western nation from the Eastern states.

"He was a man of action, not a man of ideas," Stewart said. "People who knew him described him as mesmerizing. He was telling these (western) people they should rebel. He thought Jefferson was a pantywaist.  He was desperate to leave his footprint on history. He was willing to do whatever he could get away with."

But Burr's plan failed. He relied on General Charles Wilkinson for support. Wilkinson turned out to be a triple agent, working for Jefferson, Spain, and Burr all at the same time. Key figures like Andrew Jackson, even though sympathetic to Burr's plan, declined to help. And, perhaps most damning of all, Burr was able to raise only 100 of the 1,500-man army he needed.

Finally, at the urging of Jefferson, Burr was arrested and charged with treason. The judge was to be no other than John Marshall, still recognized today as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Supreme Court Chief Justice in history. Wilkinson, at the time the head of the United States army, was expected to be the main prosecution witness.

"For it's time, this really was the trial of the Century," Stewart said. "You had a former vice-president accused of treason. And if he was found guilty, he would be hanged. Imagine what Fox News or CNN would do with something like that today."

Jefferson wanted a guilty plea and so had the trial moved to Virginia, where his power was the greatest. However, Justice Marshall was determined that Burr should receive a fair trial. And, in the end, Burr was exonerated.  There would be no hanging. There were, however, several outcomes from the trial that have lasting impacts today, Stewart noted. Marshall's handling assured that "the courts would not get pushed around." The author explained that the trial also established such legal concepts as the limits of executive privilege and the rights of habeas corpus.

After the trial, Burr retired from public life, opting to quietly practice law in New York. Before he died at age 80, he saw the Spanish-held areas of both Florida and Texas brought under American control. "I was vindicated," Burr wrote. "I was only 30 years too soon. What was treason then is patriotism now."

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tales
Much as it does today (think Clinton, Cain etc), Stewart's talk  made it clear that sex also  played a big role in early American politics.  Take, for example, the famous Burr-Hamilton duel. Hamilton had long been critical of Burr. He had called him corrupt, dangerous, and power-mad. But, in a speech that provoked the deadly duel, Hamilton apparently crossed Burr's line when he claimed his adversary was "yet more despicable." Today, Stewart said, despicable is a relatively benign negative term, often associated with cartoon character Daffy Duck. Yet in Burr's time it connoted sexual perversion. So once Hamilton used "despicable," Burr felt he had no recourse as a gentleman but to issue the dueling request.  Interestingly enough, Burr apparently was something of a ladies man. In fact, one friend summed it up this way: "I'm surprised Burr accomplished anything in view of all the time he spent chasing women."

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Night at the Newseum

A Big Bush head protest puppet top
Celebrities often have testy relationships with the tabloid newspapers and reporters that cover their every move. And nowhere was that contentiousness more apparent than between Michael Jackson and the tabloids.  When he was staying in Germany, the King of Pop came up with a unique way to express his distaste. Jackson took pillows from his hotel room, wrote "Let's Burn All Tabloids, Mountains of Them Worldwide M. J." on them, and tossed them down to the adoring fans besieging his hotel.

Last night, one of those Jackson pillows was a central component of the Newseum's private, members-only showing of the new artifacts the institution collected in 2011 for its task of telling the continuing story of news and news gathering. 

Examples of other interesting acquisitions on display included
  • a broom that  an enterprising New Orleans reporter had used as a boat paddle to cover the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Also donated by the same reporter was his pair of glasses that he broke and superglued together during his disaster reporting
  • a large puppet head of President George W. Bush used by protesters at the G8 Summit in 2007
  • a 1953 mockup of the dummy 1st issue of what would become Sports Illustrated
  • a hand-colored Currier and Ives lithograph from the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg
  • a makeshift "Yes We Camp!" sign written on cardboard and used at the Occupy DC protest
  • the only 5 covers of Time magazine where a giant X appears on the cover (the 1st was the end of World II; the most recent, the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden)
  • The t-shirt bearing the slogan "Journalism Is Not a Crime" worn by the Indonesian editor of Playboy magazine when he was jailed for publishing pornography. Two issues of the extremely tame by Western standards (no nudity) copies of the Indonesian Playboy were also supplied
  • actual court sketches of the murder trial of reporter Don Bolles, who was killed in the 1970s when a bomb blew up his car while he was reporting on organized crime
  • a roll of Dow Jones ticker tape from November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas
Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips
If you have interest in political comedy, you might want to plan a trip to the Newseum in 2012. Curators announced last night that a Presidential election exhibit featuring parody will be opening on President's Day weekend in February. One of the items - a moose head from a Saturday Night Live sketch involving Tina Fey portraying Sarah Palin - scheduled for the exhibit was on display tonight. Curators said the exhibit will include articles ranging from the political cartoons of Thomas Nast to items from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seeing Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Before there was modernism, before there was feminism, there was Gertrude Stein and her intimate companion Alice B. Toklas. Their salon, held at 9 p.m. on Saturdays at their Paris apartment, was the place to be in early 20th Century Paris. Their circle included artists like Picasso and Matisse and writers like Hemingway. For years, Man Ray was their personal photographer until he asked to get paid.

But despite Stein's obvious connections and influence in the world of arts and letters, questions still abound about her real legacy. Was she, as she described herself a visionary genius, whose writing would not truly be understand for at least 50 years? Was her taste in arts tasteful or tasteless? How did she survive in Nazi-occupied France during World War II despite the fact that she was a Jew, a lesbian, and a supporter of modern arts?

The exhibit Seeing Gertrude Stein: 5 Stories now at the National Portrait Gallery is an attempt to shed light on those and other questions. Today, we took a special tour of the exhibit given by exhibit curator Wanda Corn, art professor emeritus at Stanford University.

Stein in her Caesar image
Corn said Stein was extremely conscious of her image and was constantly reinventing herself, sort of a precursor to such trendsetters as Madonna and Lady Gaga. It was said of Stein that Stein's favorite subject was Stein. She posed for more than 25 artists including Picasso. In her early years as an American expatriate, she was reflected in artists' renderings as a "Buddha of the Left Bank." However, not all portraits were flattering. Her short hairstyle,  which Stein herself referred to as her "Julius Caesar cut," prompted an artist who had been cast out of Stein's circle to make an ink and sepia drawing of her in a toga, leaning back as if on a throne, holding a globe in one hand. "That hand on the globe is intentional saying that she had too much power and authority over the world of art, sort of like a Caesar," Corn explained.

The curator said that the manly Stein and feminine Toklas ("There really was no Gertrude without an Alice. They called each other wifey and hubby") created the 1st modern art museum with their Saturday night open salons. "If you wanted to see modern art in Paris in the early part of the 20th Century, you went to visit Alice and Gertrude,"  Corn said.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
Of her collecting, Stein once said. " I could either buy clothes (actually Toklas made the stylish outfits both wore) or buy art and I chose to buy art." Although involved for more than 40 years in a lesbian relationship, neither Stein nor Toklas commented on the issue. When an interviewer once asked Stein about her sex life, she answered "My sex life? Ha, ha, ha, ha." Both partners championed male homosexuals and their circle reflected that adoption. "We are surrounded by homosexuals," Stein wrote. "They do all the good things in all the arts,"

While Stein reveled in her role as artistic muse, she really desired fame for her own writing. Finally, in the 1930s she achieved some of that with the acceptance of her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and a successful lecture tour of American colleges in the 1930s. Stein, never one to hide her self-proclaimed abilities claimed, "I brought the revolution to writing that Picasso brought to painting."

Mash-up image of Gertrude Stein and Gloria Steinhem
Stein died in 1946 after somehow being able to spend World War II in a countryside estate in Nazi-occupied France. However, interest in her life did not end with her death and began escalating anew in the 1960s. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Stein (and Toklas) period is that her life contained so many segments -   Bohemian liver, lesbian lover, patron of the arts, Earth Mother to struggling young artists, World War I nurse, World War II benefactor of help from Nazi collaborators (?), innovative writer, or self-proclaimed genius with no discernible talent. As NPR concluded its article on the exhibition, Stein is "likely to remain many different things to many different people - a mythical figure of the Left Bank, a lesbian role model, a feminist pioneer, a language innovator."

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips
Stein makes for fascinating study. If you would like to check out this exhibition yourself, it will remain at the National Portrait Gallery until Jan. 22, 2012.  If you can't make it to DC by then, there is the guidebook shown here which includes all the details and background of the exhibit..

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Andy Warhol: Flash and Shadows

Joint Art from Andy Warhol and Keith Harring
Pop artist Andy Warhol exhibited a life-long interest in news and news makers, a fascination that was reflected in much of his art over 3 decades. Whether it was small black and white pictures of news boxes or giant Warholian replicas of actual tabloid headlines, the daily news often served both as source and inspiration for the New-York based artist.

Today, we headed to the National Gallery of Art to view the exhibit Warhol: Headlines. Work there ranged from one of his first large prints of news tabloid material "A Boy for Meg" (1961) to his last 1980s TV shows for MTV Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes of Fame.

To me, the most captivating piece was a large work entitled "News Flash." which transposed enlarged actual news flashes from those historic 3 November days in Dallas in 1963 when President John Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, who, in turn, was gunned down by Jack Ruby as a stunned audience watched on national TV with screen shot prints of Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in the colorful Warhol style.

It was the news and the handling of the same that moved Warhol to create the piece more than paying any tribute to the slain president. "I was thrilled having Kennedy as president. He was handsome, young, smart - but it doesn't bother me much that he is dead." Warhol once said. "What bothers me was the way television and radio was programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing."

Ironically, in 1968, Warhol had his own brush with assassination and Kennedy death.  Hanger-on Valerie Solonas asttacked Warhol, firing point blank at him with a pistol. Coming back from the edge of death in the hospital Warhol said "I heard a television going somewhere and the words 'Kennedy' and 'assassin' and 'shot' over and over again. Robert Kennedy had been shot, but what was so weird was that I had no understanding that this was a second Kennedy assassination. I just thought that maybe after you die, they rerun things for you, like President Kennedy's assassination."

To complete our DC day with Warhol we crossed the National Mall to the Hirshhorn Gallery of Modern Art to take in the companion show Andy Warhol Shadows, which features a pattern of  a 100 large canvases with streaks and trails created by painting with a mop.

When Warhol himself hung that exhibit in New York in 1979 he said, "Someone asked me if I thought they were art and I said no. You see the opening party has disco and I guess that makes them disco decor."

"The show will not be liked like all the others. The reviews will be bad - my reviews always are. But the review of the party will be terrific," Warhol concluded.

Tales, Tips, and Traveling Tips
Both Warhol exhibits are temporary and will be gone from DC by mid January. However, if you have an interest in Warhol, his works, pop art, or the 60s, you can always visit the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the city of his birth. We've been there and the trip is worth it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A N'awlins Christmas

Nobody does festive like New Orleans. That's why tonight's spirited concert at the Strathmore by the Aaron Neville Quintet with opening act Allen Toussaint was a perfect kickoff to our 1st Christmas season in DC.

Allen Toussaint
Best known as a legendary New Orleans producer and songwriter, Toussaint is also an amazing stride pianist in the Big Easy style originated and perfected by such greats as Professor Longhair and James Booker. Accompanied only by himself at a Steinway, Toussaint proceeded to take the audience through a journey of hits he wrote that were made popular by others ... "Mother-in-law" by Ernie K. Doe, "Fortune Teller" by the Rolling Stones, "Working in the Coalmine" by Lee Dorsey, "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley," by Robert Palmer, and "Southern Nights" by Glen Campbell.

Toussaint kept up a running commentary throughout his 45-minute set. At one point, he said he was extremely uncomfortable when interviewers would question him about his music and influences. Instead, he said, he opted to play them and immediately produced an astounding performance piece that featured snippets of more than 25 songs and styles from West Side Story to blues to "Beer Barrel Polka" to classical. Two other highlights were his versions of "St. James Infirmary" (with a middle of the melody of "Summertime" added) and the Arlo Guthrie hit about riding on the City of New Orleans.

Aaron Neville Quintet
For his part of the night, Neville opened with a medley of 50s soul classics bookended by Ben E. King's "Stand by Me."In his 2-hour set, the music was equally divided between Neville Brothers notables ("Congo Square," "Fever," "Yellow Moon"); Christmas classics  ("O Holy Night," "Please Come Home for Christmas," "White Christmas") and standards of soul, Southern gospel and reggae. Of course, for anyone who is an Aaron Neville fan,  there was "Tell It Like It Is" and "Amazing Grace." The actual closer was a clever, fun-filled medley of "Good Night, Irene" and the theme song from the old Mickey Mouse Club (Why? Because we love you.)

Thanks Mr. Neville and Mr.Toussaint for a great early Christmas gift.

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips
I know Aaron Neville doesn't remember, but he is involved in 1 of my closest brushes with rock n' roll fame. When we lived in South Jersey, we would help our friend Bob Rose with his annual Folk Festival production. One year, we picked Dr. John up at the Wilmington train station and took him back after his performance. Another time we picked Keb' Mo up at the Philly airport, took him out to dinner, and returned him to his motel. And then there were the Neville Brothers. Bob had asked me to accompany the 2 bus drivers to the local motel to pick up the band and bring them back to the venue. When the band members realized I knew the local area, they had 1 question for me: How close are the local fast food places?  (The band got a daily food allowance and they could pocket whatever they didn't spend for food) Meanwhile, the road manager was exasperated because Aaron didn't want  to leave the motel because he was watching a special on the Animal Planet network.On the ride to Bridgeton, I sat with Ivan Neville (Aaron's nephew and keyboardist for Dumstaphunk and Keith Richard's Expensive Winos) and directly behind Aaron, who rested his large, muscled arms on the bus seat. As I talked to Ivan, all I could think was --- my god, that beautiful voice comes from somewhere inside that massive man. Wow.

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