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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Home of the Soldier

A scene from Home of the Soldier
It is a story both timely and timeless. A young man trains to fight for his homeland. Once engaged in war, he finds he is bombarded not just with deadly bullets, but with powerful questions. Why fight?  Can you maintain humanity in a time of slaughter? How different is your enemy from you?  And, in the end, is the sacrifice worth the cost?

These are the central questions that propel Synetic Theater's visual, visceral, impressionistically violent latest offering, Home of the Soldier.


In his artistic director's note in the playbill, Paata Tsikurishvili, the founding director of Synetic, says that the play is an attempt to explore human life and home.

"Having become an American citizen, working in the DC theater for years, I gained a new appreciation for what military men and women do," Tsikurishvili writes. "I wanted to explore the humanity of this remarkable group. It is easy to use weapons and explosions in TV and the movies, and stamp it with a military feel, but it is quite another thing, as we have discovered in our process, to dig into the experience of these men and women and discover what they feel."

Tsikurishvili said he and his supremely talented ensemble tried to create a new war story, something both epic and relevant to today. "We wanted to portray an individual's quest through the experience of a modern war. We created a close-to-home fantasy world, one that tries to capture the essence of a military paradigm and take on the question of what it means to civilize."

Writer Ben Cunis said he found researching the play "eye opening," saying he was especially struck by the honesty that the soldiers he interviewed displayed about their experiences.

"The miracle of modern technology has allowed countless soldiers to share their experiences online and the amount of raw footage to be found of soldiers waiting, working, dancing, and talking among their teams is stunning. There are some wonderful documentaries out there, but nothing beats the soldier's direct perspective," Cunis said.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
Home of the Soldier marks the end of the season for Synetic, which I jokingly say performs in my basement since it is located in the Crystal City underground where I live. I found myself thoroughly engaged and engrossed in the theater company's unique productions. Synetic calls its style physical theater and I would urge anyone interested in modern theater, reworkings of classic literature, or dance to check out a production.  Here is the schedule for the 2012/2013 Season.
  • Jekyll & Hyde (Sept. 20 to Oct. 21)
  • A Trip to the Moon (Dec. 6 to Jan. 6)
  • The Tempest (Feb. 21 to March 24)
  • Three Musketeers (May 9 to June 9)
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (July 24 to Aug 14)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Writing About the President

From left, Maraniss, Kantor, and Schieber
It can be exceptionally difficult to write accurately about a sitting president, especially one who is seeking re-election.

First, there is the image - it must be protected at all costs. Then there are matters ranging from personal pride to political propaganda to national security. And with President Barack Obama, there are some special problems. First, unlike some of his predecessors, Obama is self-reflective and introverted. But the largest barrier to truly knowing the real Barack Obama may be that Obama views himself as a writer, one who wants to depict his own personal narrative, not leave it to others to do.

"Obama primarily thinks of himself as a crafter of narrative. He wants to be the custodian of his own story," Noam Schieber says, adding that Obama had signed a copy of his book for Schieber, and inscribed it, "To Noam, a fellow storyteller."

Today, 3 authors who have recently written books about Obama, his family, and his administration appeared at a New America Forum to discuss the challenges they faced. The panel consisted of:
Kantor said that unlike other former presidents, Obama didn't come to the office with a lengthy political record. "Obama was an insane overnight success. It was as extreme as we've ever seen in modern politics," Kantor said.

Kantor, who reports on the Obamas for The New York Times, says she has found that Obama is acutely aware of what is being written about him. For example, she pointed out that in a press conference, Obama noted that a negative story about his dealings with a foreign power had been printed above the fold, but a positive story appeared below the fold.

"I think he is a rational man in an irrational society," Maraniss said. "He thought he was the exception and could overcome all the political stuff that is going on."

Maraniss, whose book dealt with Obama's formative years, said he finds it intriguing that many of Obama's best qualities "are not politicians' qualities." But what about the personal stories in the two books about himself that Obama has written? "Really, they're a fairly unrealistic account of what happened in his life, but then he called my book fiction," Maraniss said.

Schieber, who first began covering the president when he was a state senator, said that criticism of Obama that he was not a typical Washington political type, glad-handing financial supporters and stroking Washington egos, should have been expected. "So much of his appeal was as the anti-politican," Schieber said.

Kantor says that the anti-politician side is what continues to draw her to Obama's story "There is this  tension of trying to win at politics, while at the same time objecting to it," she said.

Even in the face of setbacks, Obama has strong confidence, a confidence some say often borders on  arrogance. "They joke about a new measure of confidence - the Obama," she said. "Things like that's 2 Obamas. Or your Obama seems to be low today."

Maraniss agreed that Obama believes his personal powers are great. "He believes he is a great basketball player and he is not. He can't even jump," said Maraniss, prompting hearty laughter from the audience. "But he does seem to have this borderline sense of destiny. He believes he can do great things."

Maraniss said that a key to understanding Obama's character may be contained in a letter he wrote as a 21-year-old, a letter talking about the careers his friends had chosen to enter. "The only way I can satisfy myself is embracing it all," the young Obama wrote.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Tonight marked the first time in our DC stay that we attended a session sponsored by one of the many Washington think tanks. In this case, it was the New American Foundation. To learn more about that group, click here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bringing Back the Funk

Clinton and a small part of P Funk with Mothership model
Several songs into his visually arresting stage show, George Clinton, the leader of the P Funk All-Stars, surveyed the bouncing, swaying crowd which completely filled the large tent on the National Mall and spread in every direction over the grounds.

"The Mothership in the Smithsonian," Clinton bellowed, his voice nearly drowned out by rousing shouts and claps. "We really are one nation under the groove!"

For the uninitiated, which certainly didn't include many of the thousands who attended the concert and sang and danced to every song, the Mothership is a central part of Clinton's music and myth. For years, Clinton and his band Parliament Funkadelic used the large spaceship as an integral part of their shows. Now, one of those versions of the Mothership will be an exhibit in the under-construction National Museum of African-American History, which is scheduled to open in 2015. The NMAAH was the sponsor of last night's concert entitled Bring Back the Funk. The concert served as a kickoff for the Smithsonian's annual outdoor Folklife Festival which will run until July 8.

While Clinton, who has always been hugely popular in DC, and his contingent of more than 20 musicians, singers, and dancers, were clearly the stars of the show, the crowd gave a warm reception to the 2 opening acts.

First up was bassist and bandleader Meshelle Ndegecello, who although born in Germany, grew up in DC. She opened her set with an instrumental take on Washington Go Go music legend Chuck Brown's great 1970s funk hit "Bustin' Loose." Brown would have played the festival but died last month. Ndegecello and her 3-piece followed with a set of jazz/funk numbers, including a spoken-word version of James Brown's "(Say It Loud) I'm Black and I'm Proud."

Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk
Next was Ivan Neville, son of New Orleans musical legend Aaron Neville, and his band Dumpstphunk who play a newer brand of funk tinged with New Orleans elements. In funk, the drums and the bass are essential and Dumpstaphunk emphasizes those elements by having a ferocious female drummer and 2 bass players.

Clinton, considered by most to be the reigning Godfather/King of funk, briefly joined Dumstaphunk on stage, beaming his approval as he pointed to individual members and shared a microphone for a chorus or two.

"I don't know if you all know what just happened," said one of the bass players when Clinton exited the stage. "But I feel like we just got baptized. That was Mr. George Clinton up here."

Clinton, who is known for his outlandish stage costumes and wild, unruly hair, appeared last night in a subdued, stylish brown double-breasted suit with matching hat. His attire sparked a comment from popular DC DJ Tom Joyner, who hosted the show. "Bet some of you didn't recognize George. Hair all conked back. Smooth. Looking like Nat King Cole."
George Clinton, earlier in the day, touring real space ships at the National Air and Space Museum
Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
This year's Folklife Festival is divided into 3 segments: campus and community, citified, and creativity and crisis. You can check out a full program schedule by clicking here.

The Quilts Are Still AIDing

The solemn figures, some alone and some in pairs or small groups made their way slowly and silently across the National Mall grounds, trying to take in the poignancy, power, and history of the row upon row of quilts carefully laid out at their feet. As they strolled, pausing from time to time for a closer look, they heard the roll call of names at their back: the names of the 94,000 victims of AIDS the quilts represent.

The display marks the 6th time the quilts have been unfurled in Washington since the project began in the late 1980s as a way to both visually illustrate the numbers lost to AIDS and humanize the devastation of the worldwide pandemic.

This display is serving as the central focus of the Crisis and Community portion of this year's annual Smithsonian Folklife, which is running until July 6.

The year 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of The AIDS Memorial Quilt and 30 years of life with AIDS. With the introduction of The Quilt in 1987, The NAMES Project Foundation redefined the tradition of quilt making in response to contemporary circumstances. Through hands-on panel-making activities, individuals and communities come together to remember loved ones, grieve, find support and strength, and engage in dialogues for change. The Quilt contains nearly 48,000 panels, and it has been viewed by more than 18 million people.

The quilts, each of which represents an AIDS vicitm, vary greatly. Some are simple - just a name, an age, and maybe a heartfelt message. Others are more ornate with pictures, slogans, and artifacts capturing the essence of a life. Still others are strikingly colorful creative masterpieces of folk art. But each serves its purpose.

Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt is the first Festival program to focus exclusively on community craft and performance that were directly developed in response to crisis and grief. With The AIDS Memorial Quilt as the anchor and through craft demonstrations, dance and musical performances, interactive discussions, and other activities, this program commemorates the innovative and resourceful ways through which communities have endeavored to educate people and to cope with one of the most complex pandemics in modern history.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
It would be virtually impossible not to be moved by the massive display of quilts. Becoming more actively involved makes the experience even more moving. Each day as visitors stroll, volunteers are reading the names of AIDS victims, many of them represented in the quilts. I volunteered to be a reader. I read 2 pages of names, hoping in some small way to do my part so victims could be remembered. At 4 p.m. each day, the quilts must be put away and stored. Judy and I joined other volunteers in that hour-long process. To borrow from the lyrics of Elton John, we know it's not much, but (on this day at least) it's the best we could do.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Look at the Jaina Figurines

When it comes to ancient figurines and other artifacts, we have a tendency to view such antiquities with reverence. But Yale University Dean Mary Miller believes it is important to keep in mind that these items were not created to be museum works of art. They were once used by real people for everyday purposes.

Take the exquisite collection of more than 50 Mayan Jaina figurines now on display until September 15th at the Mexican Cultural Institute.  "They were all designed to be held in the hand," Miller says. "They're old and dear friends to me and I'm happy to think about them in a new way."

Miller, who has 4 decades of experience working with treasures from the Hispanic regions of the Americans, appeared at the Institute tonight to talk about the new exhibit  Jaina: On the Threshold of the Mayan Underworld.

Jaina, located in the present-day Mexican state of Campeche, was an artifically constructed island which served as a Mayan burial grounds from about 600 to 900 A.D. More than 1,000 graves have been excavated at Jaina, which the Mayans designed to be a point of contact between their Earthly world and the underworld.

The figurines found at the burial sites served as both messenger and message for the concept of regenerating life, which was the backbone of the Mayan mythological belief system. Mayans had many burial rituals. For example, buried males always faced north, while females faced south and infants faced west. Human sacrifices, often infants, were also part of the Mayan culture.

Notice the Mayan blue.
Miller said the figurines demonstrate the ideals of Mayan beauty. The Mayans used boards to reshape babies' skulls, flattening heads and elongating foreheads. They used nose extenders. "No nose could be too long," Miller said. Being cross-eyed was also desirous and the Mayans took artificial means to achieve that beauty ideal. "All notions of beauty are highly cultural," Miller said. "When I talk to young people they have a hard time understanding that until I show them the Jaina figures."

The Mayans had no gold, but the vibrant blue pigment (appropriately called Mayan blue) with which they stained some of their molded clay figurines served to designate richness. Miller said it appears the creation of these figures was a sort of cottage industry in Mayan times.

Many of the figures were used as musical instruments. Items on display included figurine whistles, rattles, and even ocarinas. "Music was an important part of Mayan funeral services," Miller said.

The figures also fall into some stock character categories including old gods, young women, vendors and crafters, athletes, warriors, and submissive captives. One of the more common figurines is a young woman, possibly representing the fickle goddess of moon, being suggestively fondled by a craggy, toothless old man. However, what you are seeing is not a scene debauched lechery, Miller said. Actually, it represents 2 gods together since only Mayan god figures could show signs of age, a tribute to their eternal longevity compared to the temporal nature of mortals.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
A Jaina ballplayer
The next time you plop a cigar in your mouth to celebrate the victory of your favorite sports team, you should thank the Mayans, Mary Miller says. The Yale dean points out that when the 1st Europeans arrived in the Americas, there were no team sports in Europe. The Europeans were captivated by team games such as an early version of soccer and imported that concept back to their native lands. "They discovered a world of team sports," Miller said. "They took some of the athletes back with them to Europe to say 'aren't they extraordinary.'" As for cigars, most all of us know from our history books that tobacco was a product of the New World. In fact, the origin of the word cigar comes from the native language of the ancient Mayans. The Mayans called the cigar a "Ciq-Sigan" which the Spanish word "Cigarro" is derived from. The New English Dictionary of 1735 called the cigar a "seegar", and was later adapted into the modern word    "cigar".

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Art of Video Games

Visitors tour the video game exhibit
When it comes to video games, my knowledge is virtually nil. A couple of games of Pong with my young son in the early 70s. A few dozen games of  Spider Monkey on my iPhone and iPad this year with my 3-year-old grandson. And that's it. No Atari, Nintendo, Play Station 3, X -Box, or Wii.

So when I learned that the Smithsonian American Art Museum was going to feature a first-of-its-kind exhibit The Art of Video Games, I figured I had better turn to an expert. I called my friend Jim Boner, the director of the Bridgeton (NJ) school system's audio visual programs and inveterate gamer for 25 years, and invited him and his 5-year-old daughter Jells, who is also a budding gamer, to spend some time with us here in DC. As part of the deal, he would view the video game exhibition and tell me what he thought. Here is what he had to say.

What did you think of The Art of Video Games exhibition?
I liked the scope of the exhibit. Everything was larger in size. The things that I grew up with were blown up to 20-foot-size. With the games they selected,  they pretty much nailed everything but the next generation. But it would have been nice to see some of the (games that were) losers not just the winners. 

What did you like best about the exhibit?
They are finally trying to elevate video games from something that you play in your parent's basement to what they really are - an entertaining art form. 

Do you think video games should be considered as art?
Absolutely. I think they should be considered art not only for the talent involved, but because art should stir the imagination, act as an escape, create a controversy, or cause people to think and video games do all of that. 

How do you account for the increasing popularity of video games?
When games moved from the arcades to everyone's living room in the 80s, the industry entered into a slump. It was a case of quantity over quality. Then the games got much better and became more social. Now, with the iPhone, more people than ever are playing them. I mean my grandmother is playing Words with Friends. 

What would you say to someone who sees no art value in video games?
I would ask them - do you see value in film? Those same elements in film are in almost all the games now and the immersion factor in games makes them even more engaging than watching a film. 

What pre-visit advice would you give someone who is going to see the exhibit?
I would say if you are expecting the art behind video games, don't get your hopes up. But if you want  to experience video games in a new way you won't be disappointed.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you want to check out the video game exhibit, you still have time. It is scheduled to run until Sept. 30.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Patented Jobs

Ol' Steve Jobs he dead and gone
Left his work to carry on.
                                     -- late 21st Century folk/blues song

Of course, there is no folk song celebrating Steve Jobs. Yet. But, like steel-driving John Henry and hard-riding Paul Revere, Jobs status as computer and consumer electronics designer and head of Apple has soared to the mythological state of our folk heroes of yore.

The S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian is hosting an exhibit focusing on Jobs and his patents for Apple favorites such as the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Interestingly, the larger-than-life photos of Jobs and replicas of dozens of his patents are displayed as if they are images on a giant Apple iPhone. The patents range from 1983 to 2011.

Also on display are several Apple products including a 1984 Macintosh computer and a 2003 iPod.

Jobs' enthusiasts claim that it was his ability to offer quality products which incorporated beautiful design which made him such a cult favorite. In his own words on display, Jobs in 2011once said: "It's technology married with the humanity that yields that which makes our heart sings."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Jobs' patent exhibit here runs until July 8. You can read more about Jobs by checking out the Nov. 29, 2011 The Prices Do DC post about Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson's talk at Politics and Prose. If you live in or are visiting the DC area later this summer, you can take in Mike Daisey's one-man play The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs which will be performed at the Wooly Mammoth Theater from July 17 to August 15.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play

Is this the post-apocalyptic future? How many Simpsons characters can you ID?
Imagine there was a severe catastrophe. The power grid across America goes down and without power, water, and emergency services, fires rage out of control and nuclear reactors overheat, releasing wind-blown radioactive materials across the land. The U.S. population is decimated and a small band of frightened survivors tries to hold on to its humanity by remembering and replaying bits of popular culture, in particular episodes of The Simpsons TV show.

That supposition forms the basis for Anne Washburn's superb creation Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play now being performed brilliantly at the Wooly Mammoth Theater Company. The play is divided intro 3 acts. Act I takes place shortly after the disaster. Act II occurs 7 years later and Act III takes place 75 years into the future.

The one-of-a-kind play, which contains elements of science fiction, satire, pathos, humor, hurrahs to pop culture, and witty, original musical numbers and dances, obviously owes a thematic debt to the literary genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Washburn acknowledges Stephen King's epic The Stand (which is one of my all-time favorite novels and is on sale at the theater) as an inspiration. But the mingling of those elements with the doings of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Sideshow Bob, Mr. Burns and other members of The Simpsons casts pushes the play into new thought-provoking and extremely entertaining territory.

In her essential narrative from the playbill, production dramaturg Miriam Weisfeld writes: "In Mr. Burns, the comfort that unites strangers and keeps despair at bay is simply a TV cartoon: a funny story they can recall together and - even better - re-enact. In her play, Anne Washburn proposes that performance plays a vital role in human survival. It becomes an escape from fear, a valuable commodity, and finally an elegy for a lost way of life."

Director Washburn says the play is a vehicle to explore the ways that memory - and necessity - change narratives. "I was interested in what stories would persist after the loss of a civilization, and the different reasons they would be retained, and I was interested in storytelling: in what parts of a narrative are essential, and what the role of storytelling would be in a post-industrial society. In Mr. Burns, I tried to understand what values would be relevant for a post-civilization audience who had lost and endured so much"

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Are these post-apocalyptic DCers?
As additional attractions for the play, a blackboard where you could trace and add other cultural references found in The Simpsons was placed in the lobby. Upstairs, an exhibition of apocalyptic art work from 3 DC-area artists (Gregg Deal, Dafna Steinberg, and Kelly Towles) was displayed. The commissioned Mr. Burns artwork examined the question - What does the future of the District hold if a majority of the population is annihilated tomorrow?

Fire and Ice

Air disaster captured in real life photo ...
The ill-fated ship Titanic and the equally ill-fated zeppelin Hindenberg had much in common beside the fact that their names will forever symbolize the great disasters of the 20th Century. For their time, they were both modern marvels of transportation.  Ironically, they both inspired a sense of safety with their superior technology. And, to undercut expenses, both carried mail.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking in the icy waters of the Atlantic and the 75th anniversary of  the Hindenberg's fiery destruction at a  Lakewood, NJ air station. The National Postal Museum is marking those anniversaries with a special exhibition entitled Fire and Ice.

... and sea disaster depicted on film
The exhibit looks at both tragedies and offers a glimpse of artifacts and documents saved from the ship, as well as eye-witness accounts from survivors and items manufactured as a result of the historic incidents.

Here is a quick comparison by some of the numbers at the supposedly unsinkable Titanic and the Hindenberg, which German leader Adolph Hitler heralded as yet another example of Nazi Aryan technological supremacy.


Category                                                   Titanic                                  Hindenberg
Size

882 ft.
804 ft.
Cost to make

$10 million
$2.6 million
Time of Trip Across the Atlantic

6 days
2½ days
Number of Trips Made

0
63
Time of Total Destruction

2½ hours
34 seconds
Cost of Most Expensive Ticket

$4,350
$450
Number of  Casualties

2,229
97
Number of Saved Passengers/Crew

712
62
Pieces of Mail Saved

0 (all 5 mail clerks on board perished)
360 (although some were somewhat charred)

However, the final outcomes of the 2 tragedies were quite different. The sinking of the Titanic prompted several changes to cruise line rules and today that industry flourishes. However, in 34 fiery seconds, the end of helium (or, in the case of the Hindenberg more volatile hydrogen) air ships was over forever. Interestingly, the hydrogen was being used because the United States refused to sell helium to the German-based Zeppelin company.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The title of the Fire and Ice exhibition comes from the 1st 2 lines of Robert Frost's poem entitled "Fire and Ice." Here is the complete poem and you have to agree, given the apocalyptic nature of the twin tragedies, it is fitting.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Nation of Wusses

Even 2 years later, when he thinks about it, Ed Rendell, the former Mayor of Philadelphia, Governor of Pennsylvania, and Democratic National Chairman, still can't believe it. His beloved Philadelphia Eagles were to play an important home game with the Minnesota Vikings. There was a forecast for a significant snowstorm, but before even one flake of snow had fallen, the game was cancelled. And while there was some snow in the Philly area, the brutal forecast never materialized. Asked that day about the decision, Rendell blurted out that the cancellation was just more evidence that America was becoming "a nation of wusses."

He repeated his "nation of wusses" accusation in a front-page piece he wrote for The Washington Times. There he maintained that the cancellation was symbolic of a cautionary paralysis plaguing America and its politics. Echoing Tom Hanks' remarks on crying in baseball in the movie A League of Their Own, Rendell wrote: "Cancel a football game for bad weather? There's no cancelling a football game for bad weather."

Rendell, who appeared at Politics and Prose today, has chosen his accusation as the title for his new book A Nation of Wusses: How America's Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great.

"We used to be a nation of risk takers," Rendell says. "Now we close schools with an inch-and-a-half of snow on the ground. What message does that send to our kids."

Continuing his extended snow metaphor, Rendell talked about former Eagle football great Steve Van Buren. On the day of a 1950s Eagles game in a driving snowstorm, Van Buren took 2 trolleys and a bus to get to the game. "Can you envision any of today's athletes doing that?" Rendell asked.

Rendell said he wrote his book, which he composed completely in longhand, for 3 main reasons. One was to have his say in a fun, but serious way about the complex problems facing America today. "We have an infrastructure that is absolutely collapsing. It is dangerous and it hurts us as a nation," Rendell said. "We're getting killed every way economically. It is ludicrous and embarrassing. We have none of the world's 10 largest ports. Six of the 10 are in China. But when China undercuts us, all we do is say would you please stop."

The 33-year political veteran said he believes much of the problem stems from the political idea that party ideals and re-election is an ultimate goal, not helping people and restoring America to greatness. "Too many politicians have no respect for the people they represent," Rendell said.

A second reason Rendell says he wrote the book is to demonstrate that, despite strong beliefs today to the contrary, "government is not the enemy."

"Government can and does great things," Rendell said. "Government must be part of the solution. There is good government spending and there is bad government spending. The key is to invest in the right things. Politicians can lead - all they need is courage and will."

A third reason for the book is a call for young people to consider the political arena. "We need young people to get into public service," Rendell said.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
In his book, the popular, plain-spoken Rendell offers the top 10 reasons he believes why most American politicians are wusses. Here they are:
10. They refuse to give credit to a rival no matter what he does
9.   They refuse to admit mistakes
8.   They refuse to answer questions from the media
7.   They don't have the courage to say no to their base
6.   They refuse to debate
5.   They refuse to stand by their votes
4.   They refuse to speak in front of protesters
3.   They change their positions as early and as often as you change your socks
2.   They run from their allies at the first hint of trouble
1.   They take credit for things they voted against.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ellis Island and the Immigrant Experience

10,000 immigrants a a day could pass through Ellis Island
Ellis Island is a powerful symbol of the American immigrant experience, and by extension, the American dream. We all know the stories. Every immigrant arriving to America was screened there. Or that agents on the island routinely changed the names of eastern European immigrants whose strange-sounding names they couldn't pronounce or spell. The stories have been passed down in families for generations.

There is only one problem, a panel of experts said tonight at a program on Ellis Island and the Immigration Experience at the National Archives - many of the stories are more myth than truth.

"Ellis Island is a powerful symbol and we often get that confused with fact," says Marian Smith, chief historian for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. "When you get an image fixed in your mind, it can stop you from considering other possibilities."

Smith moderated the 3-member panel which consisted of:
  • John Colletta, a veteran researcher and conductor of the Smithsonian's Resident Associate Program
  • Megan Smolenyak, who describes herself as a genealogical adventurer and
  • Joel Wurl, a senior Program Officer of the Division of Preservation and Access for the National Endowment for the Humanities
The program, which was presented in partnership with the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, served as a kickoff for the Archives newest exhibition Attachments: Faces and Stories from America's Gates.

Colletta addressed the claim that immigrants were renamed, an idea chiseled into the American psyche through the movie The Godfather, where Vito Corleone received the last name of his village. The correct names of all passengers were on the ship's manifests and therefore there was no need for name changes. Colletta maintained..

The idea that all immigrants passed through Ellis Island is also a myth, he said. For example,1st and 2nd class passengers arriving to America were screened in their staterooms and then allowed to proceed directly to New York City.  In addition, there were more than 100 ports of entry into the United Sates beside Ellis Island. Also, Ellis Island was periodically closed, meaning that several hundred thousand immigrants over the years arriving in New York didn't get processed there.

Smolenyak said even key figures in the Ellis Island experience are subjects to distortions. Annie Moore, an Irish teenager, was heralded as the 1st immigrant processed when Ellis Island opened in 
1892. Statues of Moore appear at both Ellis Island and the Irish port city of Cobh. But many facts once reported about her later life were proven to be wrong, Smolenyak said..

Wurl focused his remarks on the people who were sent away from the United States with their port of departure being Ellis Island.

"The American gate has always swung in both directions," Wurl said, nothing that many were deported during the anarchist Socialist/Communist scares of the early 20th Century. "The story of America is who left as well as who stayed."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you are interested in the story of immigration and the immigrant experience, you have plenty of time to see the Attachments exhibition at the Archives. It runs until Sept. 4.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What Happens When Beach Boys Grow Old?

The Beach Boys now ...
... And the Beach Boys then.
It was about 20 minutes into The Beach Boys concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion tonight. The young 20-something sitting on the blanket next to us had a revelation. "God, they're old," he blurted out. "I mean really old."

And he's right. The Beach Boys, who began their career 50 years ago, are old. In fact, by the end of this summer's 50th Anniversary tour all 3 of the original remaining 5 members - Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine - will have turned 70. Their blond surfer hair has gone grey or missing. Their hands, now covered with age spots, shake as they strum their guitars or strike the keyboard. Brian Wilson, the main composer of the group's massive hits catalog whose mental and emotional struggles have been well-documented, sits at his piano away from the rest of his group in a near catatonic state. Sometimes he simply sits and stares, as if unaware of what is happening on the stage around him. Other times, when he sings, he mumbles, coughs, or is painfully out of tune. Obviously, none of the members of the group can hit all those high harmonies which were so much a part of the California surf and sun style they introduced with their 1st records in the early 60s. That task is left to some of the 10 backing musicians who are accompanying the Boys on this tour.

But despite all the physical limitations imposed by age on the singers, you can't dispute the brilliance of The Beach Boys songs. The term genius is overused, but I believe Brian Wilson qualifies. He, Love, Jardine, and his deceased brothers Dennis and Carl provided the American soundtrack for the years between Elvis Presley and the 1st rock and rollers and the arrival of The Beatles. During their career they have produced 93 records which have appeared on the Billboard charts. They first graced the top 10 with "Surfin' U.S.A." the week of June 15, 1963. Their new reunion release "That's Why God Made the Radio" (their first album of all-new material since 1992) showed up at Number 3 last week, allowing the Beach Boys to break a record by expanding their span of Billboard 200 top 10s to 49 years and one week.

It was the hits that the Merriweather Post crowd wanted to hear. And, in that respect, the Beach Boys did not disappoint, performing a 26-song 1st set, a 19-song 2nd set, and a 3-song encore. (You can check out the complete set list for the 3-hour show by clicking here).

The 1st set was definitely the weaker of the two. It was plagued by song choices that seemed to start and then abruptly stop the crowd. The 2nd set began on the same tone, falling to the night's nadir with a cringe-producing  attempt by Brian on  "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times."  But immediately the tenor of the night changed.  The band performed back to back strong renditions of "Sail On, Sailor" and "In My Room." After 2 newer tunes, the band paid tribute to the deceased Wilson brothers. On the giant screens, Dennis sang "Forever" and Carl provided posthumous vocals for one of the group's most beautiful love songs "God Only Knows." After that, as if filled with the spirit of their former bandmates, the group forced the crowd to its feet with a phenomenal version of "Good Vibrations." They stayed there  as "California Girls" segued into "All Summer Long," followed by "Help Me, Rhonda," "Rock and Roll Music," "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Surfin' USA".

By the time the last notes of "Kokomo," "Barbara Ann" and "Fun, Fun, Fun" rang out, it was 1962 again. The surf was up and all the girls were the prettiest in the world. Forget age spots. Forget a few more pounds. Forget grey hair or shaky hands. It was summer. The sounds were right. The Beach Boys let you believe. Summer is eternal and, in our memories at least, we really can stay forever young.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Rock and roll was supposed to be young people's music. "Hope I die before I get old," the singers sang. "Don't trust anyone over 30," their listeners responded. But life ages all. Rockers are no exceptions. The night after the Beach Boys played, Little Richard, who this summer will turn 80, performed at the newly restored Howard Theater in DC. He had to be carried to the stage and spends his off-stage time confined to a wheel chair. Reportedly, the Rolling Stones are planning their own 50th anniversary celebration sometime later this year. When they take the stage, Mick Jagger will be 69 and his younger sidekick Keith Richards will be 68. Keith addressed the issue of rock and age a few years ago. Nobody seems concerned about bluesmen in their 80s and 90s performing; why should rock n' roll be any different, he asked.  I hope Keith is right. There  may be more missed notes and wrong chords than there were 50 or 60 years ago. But it will still be the same rock of our youth. And we can all still like it as long as our hearing holds out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Story of a Start

A young Woodward (on the right) with partner Carl Bernstein
Today, Bob Woodward is recognized as one of the finest investigative reporters of his era (Although he prefers the title in-depth reporter).  However, before he could earn that title he had to learn his craft. And before he could learn his craft, he had to get hired. That 1st hiring was no easy task. In fact, if it hadn't been for the wife of a Washington Post editor, Woodward might never had been at the Post to chronicle the Watergate story which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

During a conversation tonight at The Newseum, Woodward detailed the tale of persistence and pluck that led to his Post hiring.

After completing his Navy career, Woodward, the son of a Midwestern attorney, considered the idea of law school. However, he also liked to write and since he was living only a few blocks from the Washington Post, he decided to ask for a job at the paper.

Woodward directed his request to editor Harry Rosenfeld. As Woodward remembers, Rosenfeld was so amused that a reporter want-to-be with no experience would seek a job at the Post, that he called other editors over to check out this brazen candidate. But Rosenfeld agreed to give Woodward a 2-week trial.

"I wrote some stories, but none of them were any good and they didn't make the paper," Woodward said. Rosenfeld said that Woodward wasn't ready for the Post, but the editor did help him get a job at a small weekly in the Maryland suburbs.

During his year at the weekly, Woodward kept besieging Rosenfeld for a job. Woodward said he obtained the editor's home phone and called him on the weekend.

He reached Rosenfeld's wife, Sylvia, who said she would go get her husband. After a long wait, Rosenfeld came on the phone. He had been up on the roof and he was mad. "What kind of idiot are you?" Rosenfeld hollered over the phone. "Stop bothering me." After abruptly hanging up, Rosenfeld told Woodward's story to Sylvia. She looked at him and said "Harry, you're always saying your reporters don't work hard and aren't persistent. It seems this is the guy you should be hiring." Rosenfeld considered his wife's words, called Woodward back, and offered him a job at $156 a week..

"Sylvia has a prominent place in my will," Woodward said with a laugh.

Two qualities that a successful reporter needs are curiosity and the ability to get people to open up with information and Woodward addressed both in his remarks.

During his early years, Woodward worked as a janitor at his father's law office. Working at night, he began looking at papers and files left on desks. Eventually, he graduated to exploring old case files, many of them involving former classmates. "I learned that most people have secrets," Woodward said.

So how to you get people to talk about those secrets? Woodward's short answer - "The key is to take people as seriously as they take themselves," he says.

As an example, he cited an in-depth interview he was able to arrange with President George W. Bush. In preparation for that interview, Woodward read tremendous amounts of background material which he then synthesized in a 21-page memo he sent to President. His fellow editors scoffed. "Bush hasn't read that much material in life. What makes you think he'll start now?," they offered. But apparently Bush was impressed with Woodward's thoroughness. When the president met with Woodward, he said he was "astonished that someone took such an interest in what he did."

But in the end, good reporting mostly comes down to hard work, Woodward says. "What a reporter does is obtain the best obtainable version of the truth (at the time)," he said. ""If you don't do the work, you're going to get it wrong.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
A young Bob Woodward wanna-be, 3rd from right with hand on chin
All of us have a story about how we got our 1st job. Woodward's appears above. Mine is somewhat similar. And like Woodward's it is about reporting. In June of 1974 (3 years after Woodward was hired by the Post), I had an English degree from Villanova University, a wife, and a 1-year-old son, but no permanent job. Desperate, I began walking down the main street of the small South Jersey town where I lived, literally going door-to-door asking for work. One of my last stops was the local newspaper. I was able to finagle an interview with the managing editor Joe Garwood. He asked me 3 questions. Did I have any experience? No. Did I have a journalism degree? No. Could I type? No. Garwood said that while he liked to hire locally, I really had nothing to offer. Despondent, I returned home. That night, at 7 p.m. Garwood called, saying that a reporter had suffered a stroke and he would start me tomorrow on a two-week trial. I would make $80 a week. I readily agreed. At the end of the 2 weeks, Garwood agreed to hire me permanently and gave me a $20 raise. For the next 10 years, I worked as a reporter/bureau chief/editor for The Bridgeton Evening News, The Press of Atlantic City, and the Philadelphia Bulletin. So, in one way, I guess I could claim I was more successful than Bob Woodward. I passed my 2-week trial and he didn't. But when it comes to talent, production, fame, and money, I suppose I have to give the reporter's edge to Woodward.

Friends in High Places

When examining the story of reporting Watergate, 2 names come immediately to mind: Woodward and Bernstein. But, of course, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein weren't the only newspaper people involved in the process.

During his conversation at The Newseum tonight about Watergate, Woodward said much of the credit for The Washington Post's stories, which played such a a key role in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, should go to Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and Publisher Katherine Graham.

Ben Bradlee
The fiery Bradlee set the tone for the newsroom that allowed and encouraged 2 relatively young, inexperienced reporters to tackle what turned out to be one of the biggest stories of the 20th Century.

"It was a great environment. The Post was the place to be," Woodward said. "Bradlee said go out and get the story. We don't know what is really going on."

Graham, who could have lost her entire media empire if Woodward and Bernstein's stories turned out to be erroneous, also stuck by the newsroom despite veiled and not-so-veiled threats from the Nixon Administration. Graham was the subject of one of the best-known threats in American journalistic history. Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell warned reporter Bernstein about a forthcoming Watergate article. "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published."

Catherine Graham
Woodward praised Graham for being a "mind on, hands off" boss. He recalled when he was summoned for tea to Graham's office. Graham demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the Watergate affair and asked Woodward when the full story would be revealed. Woodward, with the Watergate investigation still underway, said he feared the complete story might never be made public.

"Never.  Don't tell me never," Woodward said Graham told him, vowing to let the newsroom use all the resources at its disposal to continue to go after the story.

Woodward said he and Bernstein have discussed a fitting memorial for their late publisher. "We're going to put a plaque in the Post which says 'Never. Don't tell me never - Katherine Graham,'" he said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Watergate stories actually had 3 lives. The 1st, of course, was in The Washington Post. Then there were the 2 best selling books by Woodward and Bernstein All The President's Men and The Final Days. Finally, there was the award winning movie made from All The President's Men. Newseum moderator Shelby Coffey III, who at the time of Watergate was a Post editor, asked Woodward about seeing himself and his story displayed on the big screen.  In the film, Woodward was portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman portrayed Bernstein. At Redford's urging, Jason Robards was selected to play Bradlee. Initially, Robards was reluctant to take on the role. "All he does is go around and say 'Where the fuck's the story,'" Robards said. The movie makers laughed and said that Robards was right. "All you have to do is figure out about 15 different ways to say 'Where the fuck's the story,'" they said. Coffey asked Woodward what it was like having Redford depict him on screen. "You have no idea how many women I've disappointed," Woodward said, provoking hearty laughs from the sold-out crowd.

Woodward and Bernstein in their Watergate reporting days


Their screen counterparts Hoffman and Redford

Woodward on Watergate

When it comes to Watergate, Bob Woodward wants to make one thing perfectly clear: the reporting he and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein undertook did not topple a president - it simply set in motion judicial and congressional actions that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Woodward appeared at The Newseum tonight to talk about Watergate on the 40th anniversary of  the June 17, 1972 break-in that led to Nixon's demise.

As expected, much of the focus was on Woodward's famed anonymous source, identified only as Deep Throat. In an extreme rarity in Washington, the identity of that source remained unknown for years until Mark Felt, in 1972 the 2nd highest ranking official in the FBI, came forward in 2005 to admit that he had provided key information for the Watergate story.

Woodward actually met Felt before he became a reporter. Prior to Watergate, Felt had helped Woodward with other stories. Woodward described his relationship with Felt as "a predatory friendship."

The pair would meet clandestinely in a deserted parking garage. "He was somebody I pressured. He would basically confirm things," Woodward said. "Sometimes he would help. Sometimes he would not help."

Woodward, who despite authoring 16 best-selling books still remains as an editor at the Post, says he believes Felt's motives for helping was a combination of "personal ambition and angst."

"He wanted to be director after J. Edgar Hoover died (he was passed over for that post) and he was outraged by what was going on in the White House," Woodward said. 

Woodward and Bernstein were both young reporters at the Post when they began reporting on Watergate, which began with 5 men with White House connections breaking into the National Democratic headquarters at the Watergate seeking information to help Nixon in his re-election bid against Democratic nominee George McGovern.

At first, the White House dismissed the story as an account of a 3rd-rate burglary. Later, as the series continued, Nixon contended that "somebody's trying to win a Pulitzer Prize" instead of printing the truth. However, after 2 years of stories and startling revelations of wrong-doings by nearly 40 of his associates, Nixon became the 1st, and still only, American president to resign that office.

The resignation decision was sealed when it was discovered that Nixon had secretly taped all of his Oval Office discussions and the profanity-laced contents would lead to his impeachment. The tapes are still being released and Woodward says Post editors and reporters jokingly refer to them "as the gift that keeps on giving."

"It's clear from the tapes that Nixon was using the power of the office for personal revenge," Woodward said. "He was angry and unhappy at being president."

Woodward says he believes the most shocking thing about the hours and hours of tapes is "the dog that never barks."

"You never hear (Nixon talking about) what would be good for the country or what you could do to uplift the country," Woodward told the sold-out crowd.  "He never connected to the high purpose of the presidency. He misunderstood what the office is all about. If Carl and I were to ever write another book about Nixon we would have to title it The Wrong Man."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Nixon: Just how bad was he?
Just 3 days prior to his talk at the Museum, Woodward had joined with Bernstein for the first time since the 1970s to co-author a Washington Post story contending that 40 years later Richard Nixon was even worse than he was originally thought to be at the time of his resignation.  You can read that story in its entirety by clicking here. The story itself offers a piece of journalistic history. In all the previous stories the pair wrote together, the byline appeared as Woodward and Bernstein. This new piece marks the 1st time Bernstein's name ever appeared first.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Summer of '72: What It Was

If there were a poet laureate of D. C. crime writing, that honor would have to go to George Pelecanos. Each of the Washington native's 18 novels have taken readers through the darker sides of D. C.'s streets, sounds, bars, stores, and people. In fact, many say that if you truly want to learn about the real Washington that exists outside of  the White House and Capitol Hill, the best way is to turn to Pelecanos' pages.

Tonight, the author appeared before an appreciative crowd at Busboys and Poets to celebrate the paperback publication of his novel The Cut and to read from and discuss his latest effort What It Was.

Pelecanos said What It Was was an outgrowth of his research into Cadillac Smith, a larger-than-life D. C. gangster from the 1970s. In his book, Pelecanos changed his main character's name to Red Jones and Jones' fictionalized tale is recounted by Derek Strange, a recurring Pelecanos character.

"This book is a response to the people who said I was getting soft," Pelecanos joked. "It's just a straight-up, kick-ass crime novel."

In the passage Pelecanos read, Jones, whose street name is Red Fury, walks into the Soul House bar on 14th Street (the same street as the present day Busboys and Poets) and calmly guns down a drug dealer in front of the horrified bar crowd.

During the killing, Jones is creating a 70s guitar-driven Superfly-like funk song in his head with the lyrics "Red Fury he's the man. Try to stop him if you can."

Music has always been an integral part of Pelecanos' work. Indeed, it is the old song "In the Rain" by the Dramatics that prompts Strange to begin recounting the tale of Jones and the Summer of 1972 he knew as a young policeman. "I try to make the music organic to the books. Music has been a big part of my life," Pelecanos said. "I'm always listening to music and I'm still searching music out, especially old largely forgotten R&B and 70s soul. I have a real love for that."

After his reading, Pelecanos spent about 30 minutes discussing his writing. He talked about the individual nature of his novels and his collective work on the HBO TV shows The Wire (which many critics contend was the best series ever aired) and Treme, whose 3rd season will air next fall.

Pelecanos said he always tries to "frontload" his research for a new book. His study often sends him pedaling through the streets on his bicycle where he captures pictures and notes on his iPhone. For a historical piece such as What It Was, Pelecanos says he employs "library time and memory work."

Listening to the stories and tales of D. C. residents also provides Pelecanos with fresh material. He first fell in love with the streets of Washington as an 11-year-old boy delivering meals from his father's diner. "All my life living here I've listened to the people talk," Pelecanos said. With the success of The Wire, members of both sides of the law have become more eager to do that. Pelecanos says. "I've always had a good relationship with the street cops, but homicide detectives were different," he said. "But (on The Wire) we were always sticking it to the brass and they loved that." Criminal offenders, meanwhile, appreciating that The Wire took the time to show all facets of their often difficult lives, have taken to contacting Pelecanos and offering ideas..

When it finally comes time to write, Pelecanos says he writes 7 days a week until the book is finished. "It's very difficult to get back in the tunnel that you're in if you take a break," he explained. Pelecanos says his writing days are relatively routine. He writes in the morning, takes a break for physical activity such as biking or kayaking in the afternoon, and then, in the evening, edits what he had written earlier.  "That way I'm all ready for the next day," Pelecanos said. "I'm secluded and being socially retarded, but then I spend 6 months on a TV set with hundreds of people and that gets me back to my social side."

Like all long-time D. C. residents, Pelecanos has seen Washington change. "To see all the changes, they've been both good and bad," he said. "I miss Chocolate City (D. C..'s nickname because of its overwhelmingly large black population). That's the city I was raised in. But to see lights now on in H Street, that means people are working and that's good. And I don't miss all the vacant houses and abandoned storefronts."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
For someone who loves to read, one of the perks of living in the D.C. area is seeing, hearing, and, many times, briefly chatting with favorite authors. This was the 2nd time I've had a chance to hear Pelecanos, who shares my favorite crime writer designation with New Orleans writer James Lee Burke.  Earlier this month I had a 2nd similar opportunity with my favorite contemporary history  writer Douglas Brinkley. And tonight, we're headed to the Newseum to hear Bob Woodward of the Woodward/Bernstein team talk about Watergate. For a reader, that goes to make a great month.

Friday, June 8, 2012

At the Zoo

Someone told me
It's all happening at the zoo
I do believe it
I do believe it's true

                          -- Paul Simon
                             At the Zoo

Owen learns about pandas ...
I'm not sure everything is happening at the zoo, but our visit to the National Zoo today proved that there is a lot going on there.

The zoo, which is one of the 17 Smithsonian museums located in Washington, is more than 100 years old (it opened in 1889) and currently houses more than 2,000 animals from about 400 different species. And, as today's visit once again demonstrated, it is also the most popular place in the DC area for the young stroller set and those that push them.

Our trip provided something for all of us. Audrey got to see her favorite, the giant panda. For Owen, it was the Asian elephants. Grandmom got to spend time with the apes. And I discovered a specialty food stand that featured gourmet $5 hot dogs. For the record, I had the Foggy Bottom (melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing) and the Berkley (spicy mustard, relish, and banana peppers).

... while Audrey dreams of unicorns
After lunch, Owen did what he currently does best at that time - he fell asleep in his stroller. Audrey used the break from her brother to convince Grandmom to let her get her face painted. Earlier in the day, she had said that while she loved the animals, she wished the zoo had a unicorn. So Audrey asked her face painter to turn her into a pink and purple unicorn. Looking into the mirror, Audrey proclaimed, "see Grandmom, now there is a unicorn at the zoo."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Our visit to the zoo meant that we had now taken Audrey, 4, and her brother Owen, 3, this week to the 4 Smithsonian Museums most suited for youngsters. Audrey said she liked the stuffed animals and dinosaur bones at the Museum of Natural History best. As expected, for Grandmom, it was the apes at the zoo. I picked the Museum of American History, which has been my favorite since I was just a little older than my grandchildren are now. Audrey said Owen couldn't vote. The reason - he had slept through more parts of the museums than he had seen.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On a Carousel

The Smithsonian Carousel
As children of the 21st Century, our grandkids are already quite tech savvy. At 3, Owen can play games like Spider Monkey and watch You Tube kids videos on both the iPad and the iPhone. Just the other day, Audrey, 4, showed Grandmom how to use Doodle Buddy to create art on the iPad.

But both Owen and Audrey enjoy older forms of entertainment, too. They love carousels. That's why they both chose to start their 2nd visit to the National Mall with a ride on the carousel located outside the old Smithsonian Castle.

The original carousel at the site was a classic 1922 merry-go-round with 33 animals and 2 stationary chariots. It began operating in 1967 and  cost 25 cents to ride. In 1981, a vintage 1941 model with 60 horses replaced the older carousel. Today, a ride costs $3.50.

Audrey shows surprise at her brother's choice
On the ride we split up so Audrey and Owen each could have their favorite animal.  Not surprisingly, Audrey chose a pink and purple horse. Despite my suggestion of a red, white, and blue patriotic steed, Owen chose a multi-colored pony that grabbed his fancy.

After a relatively long ride with plenty of oom-pah-pah music, we headed to the National Museum of Natural History. Owen wanted to see the giant elephant and the butterflies. He wasn't sure about the dinosaurs. And he definitely didn't want to see Titanaboa, the new replica of the giant prehistoric snake that is bigger than a school bus. Audrey was pretty much up for anything, except the giant snake.

After an hour in the Natural History Museum (for those of you wondering, after some initial reluctance, Owen was OK with the dinosaurs and we didn't see the giant snake), we finished our day with our 2nd trip this week to the National Museum of American History. Audrey had announced that she wanted to see Dorothy's ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz again. For her brother, it would be a 1st viewing, since he had slept thorough our entire earlier visit.

Arriving at the display case for the ruby slippers, we encountered a problem. The case was besieged by more than a dozen middle-school age girls, each intent on taking at least a dozen pictures of the famed shoes. But Audrey, intent on showing her brother the slippers he had missed on his 1st visit, came up with an alternate plan. "Owie, come on around the back. You can can see them there," she said.

To conclude our day, we once again split up. Grandmom and Audrey headed to the gowns worn by the wives of the presidents. Owen and I made our way to the trains and cars that make up the transportation exhibition. And while that plan may sound sexist, it worked. Both Audrey and Owen said they had a great day on the mall.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The kids told us they were too hungry to make it back to our Crystal  City Plaza apartment without a 2nd snack. Fortunately, Grandmom came prepared and so we had an impromptu snack picnic beside the dancing waters outside the National History Museum.


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