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Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Midsummer's Night Dream, Synetic Style


The Synetic Theater Company, or as we like to call it, the world-class theater in our Crystal City basement, is back, this time with a revival of one of their former productions A Midsummer's Night Dream.

As with all of their Shakespeare adaptions, the play is silent, meaning the setting, staging, costuming, music, dance, physical action, and especially in this case, the actor's expressions and reactions have to carry both the story and message. And they do.

In its review, the Washington Post called the play "a particular sensual pleasure. It was not just energetic and sexy; it was light, big-hearted and magnetic." The Washingtonian gives the play 4 stars, claiming in its review that the revival is "a visually stunning piece, as well as one that truly embraces the comedy component of Shakespeare’s dreamy work."

Of course, the Synetic story line follows that of Shakespeare's original comedy - the adventures of 2 couples who get stranded in a forest and fall victim to the pranks of fairies and sprites, and the misadventures of five buffoonish actors attempting to put on a play.

Alex Mills as a bent-back Puck
The play usually is dominated by the character Puck and that is true of this Synetic version. An incredibly lithe and limber, blue, spiky-haired Alex Mills flips and swings his way through the mystical moon-lit forest on vines.

A special shoutout also goes to Synetic in-house composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, who gets much stage time playing piano live for the silent-film, slapstick happy, modern-dressed actors' troupe.

The play, with a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes with no admission, continues until Aug. 4.


Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Shakespeare's plays are made to be seen, not read about. And this Synetic version is no different. Click here to view the official trailer for the production.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beatles Spotted in DuPont Circle Mansion

Listen,
Do you want to know a secret?,
Do you promise not to tell?, whoa oh, oh.

     - Lennon and McCartney

Now that Deep Throat has been uncovered, Washington's best kept secret is The O Mansion. 
    - Savannah Magazine

The Beatles in DC?
What could be more British than the Beatles? Maybe the birth of a royal British baby? But what if you could combine the two into a single celebration party. Well, blimey blokes ... you'd have one bangin' big British birth day/band bash, wouldn't ya.

That was the situation earlier this week when The Mansion on O Street hosted the wax likenesses of John, Paul, George and Ringo walking down Abbey Road, now a display in DC at Madame Tussauds Museum near Ford's Theater.

The precise date was chosen because it marked the 50th anniversary of the release in Britain of The Beatles' 1st album Please Please Me. But in a fortuitous turn of events, the party took on additional British significance when Kate and William (or Kate and William as they are known all over the world) proudly announced the delivery of an heir to the British throne earlier in the day.

The unique mansion is a fascinating DC attraction, albeit one that isn't quite as recognizable as the White House or the Lincoln Memorial. Defying a single descriptor, it is at the same time a hotel, museum, musicians' hangout, art and crafts display gallery, book repository (with more than 30,000 books), and party hall. It's kitschy, kooky, elegant, eclectic, mysterious, marvelous, and just a damned fun place to spend time.

Prior to the official presentation of the Beatles figures, guests, with early Beatles tunes as a soundtrack, explored the mansion/museum's 100 rooms with its 32 secret doors. My wife just kept saying "amazing, I love this place. Look at this" over and over.

O staffers had placed Beatles artifacts and memorabilia, including signed guitars, rare photos and a letter John Lennon wrote to a laundry, throughout the museum's 4 open floors.  Many of the guests took part in a special Treasure Hunt for All Things Beatles. Items to be found ranged from a picture of Yoko Ono with the founder of the mansion, H. H. Leonards Spero, to Sean Lennon's guitar.

In this bathroom,  John Lennon always shines on
The mansion was an especially appropriate place for the Tussauds Beatles night since one of its themed suites is named The Lennon Suite and features all things John. The suite includes a bathroom where the floor features an lighted image of Lennon. Then there is also the fact that H. H. (as she likes to be called) is on the Board of Directors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Later, as many guests lined up to get a picture taken with their favorite Beatle, a singing-guitar playing group of musicians from Austin, Texas kept others swaying and singing along to Beatles songs.

On our walk back to the Dupont Circle Judy and I agreed that our 1st visit to the Mansion would definitely not be our last. You too can visit for the day or a stay. If you would like to spend a night or 2, prices range from $350 a night for a small bedroom to $25,000 a night for 20 bedrooms, 32 bathrooms, 10 whirlpool tubs, 6 steam showers, 2 rain showers and sauna, 11 kitchens, 2 elevators, 11 special event rooms, 18 fireplaces, 3 laundry facilities, 2 business centers, a game room, the Amnesia Room, an exercise room, and a private chef. But no matter what option you choose, as the Beatles themselves once sang, you will enjoy your magical mystery tour of the Mansion.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Of course, I had to get my picture taken with the likenesses of the 2 living Beatles and post it on Facebook, contending that I was at an exclusive DC party for the royal birth. And just in case you are wondering as I was, it takes 6 months and costs about $300,000 each to create a Madame Tussauds figure. By comparison, in 1963, the total session time cost for producing Please Please Me was £400, the equivalent of £10,000 today.
Paul, Ringo, and Dave

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hey, Hey They're The Monkees

Nesmith, Dolenz, Tork or, as their fans call them, Mike, Mickey, and Peter

I freely admit it - I've always been a fan of the Monkees. I know. In 1966, when their popular TV show 1st aired, they didn't write their own songs. They didn't play the instruments on their records. They were dismissed by many rock purists as an American fab-ricated four, created for the sole purpose of capitalizing on Beatlemania.

But those facts, while obviously true, didn't represent the whole story. Their TV show clearly demonstrated that there was a chemistry and wit among Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork that was akin to that of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The Monkees developed an updated, surrealistic, droll humor that was reminiscent of the Marx Brothers. The entertaining musical numbers on the show were an early form of MTV videos.  As for their initial songs, they were composed by some of the best writers of the time - Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carol King, and Neil Diamond. They became huge hits that are permanently etched in collective AM music memory. Soon, however, the Monkees began playing their own instruments and composing their own songs. Much like the Beatles, they moved from cuddly moptops to experimental psychedelics, rejecting old ways and promoting a lifestyle calling peace, love, drugs, and understanding. And like the Beatles, by the time the 70's came in, they were gone.

Until the other night, however, when I saw my 1st Monkees live show at the Warner Theater, I had forgotten just how much I had once enjoyed the Monkees extensive musical catalog, especially the deep album cuts and songs from their cult movie Head.

Of course, there are only 3 Monkees now. Davy Jones' death in 2012 meant that the entire band would never perform together again. Interestingly, the remaining Monkees never directly addressed Jones' death on stage. They let their handling of his biggest hit "Daydream Believer" do that for them. "We knew we had to do the song, it was such a big hit for us," Dolenz told the sold-out crowd. "We went back and forth. Should I sing it? Should Mike sing it? Should Pete sing it? Finally, Mike came up with the solution. He said it's not our song anymore; it's your song." And with that, as they have been doing at each stop on their A Midsummer's Night with the Monkees tour, Dolenz called a member of the audience up on stage to lead the crowd in a massive sing-along.

The crowd, many members sporting Monkees T-shirts from previous tours, was well warmed up. From the 1st notes of the opener "Last Train from Clarksville," they had been singing along with the songs they remembered - some from the show, some from the radio, some from their turntables. "She," "You Just May Be the One," "Mary, Mary" "Randy Scouse Git," "For Pete's Take," "No Time," "Words," "Goin' Down," and "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?."

The biggest ovation of the night came from a double-play at the 8th and 9th spots in the 30-song, 2-hour set. Number 8 was introduced this way. "Hey kids," Dolenz said "I want you to know that I sang  this way before Shrek." And with that, the keyboardist in the 7-piece backup band broke into the instantly recognizable intro for "I'm a Believer." After the raucous applause, cheers, and whistles faded, the band jumped right into "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," one of the definitive garage rock classics of all-time.

During almost every number, clips and outtakes from the TV show and Head were shown. Between songs, the 3 Monkees engaged in light banter. Throughout the night, they switched instruments. Sometimes, Dolenz was on the drums; sometimes guitar. Tork played guitar, banjo, bass, and keyboard. Nesmith played mostly guitar, but did play organ on one number, and, after a funny exchange about promise and cost with Dolenz, used his voice for a Moog synthesizer on the trippy, ethereal  "Daily Nightly."

The concert concluded with a 2-song encore: Nesmith's "Listen to the Band" and the 1967 hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday." It was time for final bows. The crowd delivered an enthusiastic sendoff. Many had missed and mourned Davy Jones. Others were happy for the return of Nesmith, who hadn't played with Dolenz and Tork in more than 30 years. The guy exiting behind me probably said it best. "Those Monkees, some good times, some good memories." Like most of the crowd, and indeed The Monkees themselves, he walked away, slower and less steady than he would have in the 60's. But, on this night at least, he was still a believer.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
So what Monkees' song did I like best? I knew what it would be as soon as we purchased our tickets."(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." The song not only is way cool (cool enough to have been covered by The Sex Pistols), it includes one of the 1st organ rides I ever learned. Click here to hear to a live version of the song from 2012. And be sure to listen to that 4-note organ part.

Friday, July 19, 2013

G-Men and Journalists

FBI Director talks to famed columnist Walter Winchell. 
Maybe it's the fact that I spent years in journalism, but the Newseum is my favorite DC museum.

Invariably, when we take visitors there, they are impressed with the modern, 6-story facility, too.

And it is exhibits like G-Men and Journalists, which, with its 300 artifacts that capture the sometimes cooperative, sometimes combative relationship between the FBI and the news media, makes the Newseum so popular.

Here is a quick look at just some of what you can see in the exhibit. But you really should get to the Newseum and check it out for yourself.


The capture of gangster John Dillinger brought acclaim to Hoover and the Bureau

The kidnap of the Lindbergh baby added to the story

Questions still remain about the FBI during the Civil Rights era

In the 1970s, Patty Heart was a huge story.

With the Oklahoma City, domestic terror struck 

And that terror only deepened with 9/11 ...

... and the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
While you are taking your walk through the history of the FBI and America's biggest crimes, don't forget to:
Get your picture taken between Hoover and Dillinger

See how shrewd use of popular culture increased the FBI image

And learn about the Ten Most Wanted


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Food on the Go

1st Mascots: Early Bird and Nite Owl
In 1946, the Southland Ice Company, owners of the Tote 'Em (so called because customers toted away their purchases) convenience stores in Dallas, Texas, decided to make some changes. First, they extended store hours. Those new hours would mean the stores would be open from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. Then, company officials realized the new hours called for a name change. So the Tote 'Ems became 7-11 and, with that name change, began an ensuing nationwide explosion of convenience eating and quick food buying that continues to this day.

But the 7-11 changes didn't stop there. In 1962, the 7-11 chain became the 1st such stores to stay open for 24 hours. Then, in 1975, the chain introduced what is still today one of its signature items, the slushy ice drink known as the Slurpee.
So convenient you can leave the kids in the car
The 7-11 story is just one of several detailed in the Food on the Go display, which is part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's exhibition Food: Transforming the American Table 1950 - 2000.

The history of cup lids
As you might expect, the growth of mobile eating paralleled the rise of the automobile as America's main means of transport. In 1950, Popular Mechanics magazine showcased what is likely the earliest automobile cup holders. Twelve years later, the Ford Falcon Futura was equipped with a glove box that opened with places to put cups if you were eating at a drive-in eatery or movie theater. Today, almost all vehicles sold are equipped with some type of cup holder.

While fast food restaurants had appeared as early as the 1920's, drive-thru dining really came of age in the 1950's in car-crazy California. That passion for mobile eating quickly led to such chains as the In-and-Out Burger and Jack-in-the-Box, which started in 1948 and 1951 respectively. The concept of ordering meals at a 2-way speaker 1st used at the Jack-in-the-Box was so new at the time that customers had to be warned that a disembodied voice (often so garbled as to be virtually unintelligible) would be speaking to them.
Check out these prices.
Of course, the largest fast food takeaway chain quickly became McDonald's, which introduced its "Speedee Service System" in its California eateries in 1948. Over the next 6 decades, McDonald's, which reports that more than 50% of its business is conducted at drive-thru windows, continues to be a leader in serving food even faster to its eaters. In the 1980's, register overlays programmed to specific products were introduced. In the 1990's computer touch screens made the check-out process even faster.

Today, food on the go operations bring in $110 billion dollars a year in the United States alone. An April 2013 study showed that there are 160,000 fast food eateries serving 50 million Americans daily.  That same study shows that 72% of all Americans eat at a fast food establishment at least once a week. Now that's a whole lot of tote 'em.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you would like to learn more about the Food exhibition at the Smithsonian, just click here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Looking Back at a March for Freedom and Its Leader

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Strength of Love" - 1961


Obviously, with the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech occurring next month, it stands to reason that there would be quite a focus in DC this summer on Dr. King and that historic August day.

But in light of recent events such as the Supreme's Court decision negating the Voting Act of 1965 and this past weekend's verdict in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin, the spirit of those 250,000 Civil Rights marchers and Dr. King's words have taken on added poignancy and a renewed sense of urgency.

One way to experience the panoply of Dr. King's powerful messages is to visit the One Life: Martin Luther King exhibition now on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

The exhibit, which will run until June 1 of next year, features photos from all stages of Dr. King's life from his leadership of the 1955 Alabama bus boycott that began the American Civil Rights Movement to his tragic assassination in Memphis in 1968.

However, one of the most interesting displays is devoted to items from the Washington March, officially named the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In addition to the official button pictured here those items include: pictures of the day, a pledge card asking participants for "their complete and personal commitment to the struggle for Jobs and Freedom for all Americans", the day's official program with a schedule, objectives, and march map, and an advance pamphlet listing do's and don'ts for the day.

In the days and weeks to come, many will be questioning how far we have come toward realizing the dream of racial equality King magnificently outlined that day. But no matter what happens next, we would all be wise to remember this reminder from Dr. King: "We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline . . . . Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Although the pictorial focus is on Dr. King, visitors will also get to see some of the key figures of the Civil Rights era including:

  • Rosa Parks
  • Rev. Ralph Abernathy
  • President Lyndon Johnson
  • Andrew Young and
  • Dr. Benjamin Spock

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Library of Congress Looks at the Civil War

The Myriopticon, A Historical Panorama of the Rebellion. Springfield, Massachusetts: Milton Bradley Company, [before 1890]. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress 
Some historians say that the outcome of the Civil War was never in serious doubt from the time the 1st shots were fired at Fort Sumter. The urban North was simply too powerful and populated for the agrarian South to win. It was a mathematical question of more men, more munitions, and more mechanization. You can even see the vast difference in capabilities of the 2 regions by perusing the school texts of young students. While the 80 different textbooks published in the Confederacy during the times of the conflict were simple black and white books on cheap paper, their counterparts in the North were replete with colorful illustrations and drawings.

The Northern texts were also much better at a not-so-subtle use of propaganda to promote patriotism and the Union cause. Take, for example, the words of these 2 pages from The Union ABCs.

Q is for Quarters, guarded with care
R is for Retreat, may you never be there
S is for Sailor who respected will be
T is for Traitor, that was hung on a tree.

Samples of the textbooks are just some of the more than 200 items now on display at the Library of Congress for its exhibition The Civil War in America.

A graphic timeline, adapted from the massive companion book to the exhibition, provides a chronological framework of wartime and postwar events.  Original documents that chart the course of the war are interwoven with personal pictures and eyewitness accounts and recollections that place the war in a human perspective.

Among some of the more interesting items displayed are:
  • the sheet music for "The Palmetto State," a song composed to celebrate the fact that South Carolina was the 1st state to secede from the Union
  • The Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal which, since medicine was in short supply in the South, offers ways to use indigenous plants, herbs, and berries for treatments
  • the haversack that poet Walt Whitman carried as he visited the wounded Union soldiers in DC. Also on display is Whitman's notebook where he described "the heap of feet, legs, arms, human fragments, cut, bloody, black and blue, swelled and sickening" he found at a battle site
  • an 1863 broadside from the Workingmen's Democratic Republican Association headlined "To the Working Men of New York ... Stop and Think ... Stand by the Law" which was published to urge men to not riot and honor the draft for additional soldiers
  • playing cards with Union emblems provided to Northern soldiers to promote "liberty and loyalty"
  • a copy of Abraham Lincoln's famed Gettysburg Address
  • a minnie ball extracted from a wounded soldier
  • a copy of CSA (the Confederate States of America) 1865 Senate Bill which was "to provide for the Raising of Two Hundred Thousand Negro Troops"
  • the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the night he was assassinated which included a pocket knife, 2 pair of glasses, and a $5 Confederate bill
  • an April 20, 1865 poster from the War Department offering a $100,000 reward for the murderer of President Lincoln
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
You have plenty of time to visit the exhibition. It is scheduled to run until Jan. 4. However, if you won't be able to make it to DC or you want to get a preview of what you will see, you can do so by clicking here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Paul McCartney Gets Back and Rocks DC

The Beatles 1st played DC in 1964 just after appearing on Ed Sullivan ...
... and last night Paul McCartney, now 71, returned to DC to rekindle those old  memories.
It wasn't a Beatles concert. The deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison have ensured that such a show can never happen again. However, last night at Nationals Park, Paul McCartney, backed by his crack 4-member band, delivered a 39-song live masterpiece that evoked all the life-changing music he created with Lennon, Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

After a 30-minute video highlighting his 5 decades as one of the era's greatest songwriters and performers, McCartney opened the show with the 1965 Beatles' hit "Eight Days a Week." Almost 3 hours later, after he closed with a 2nd encore of the related trio from Abbey Road, - "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," and "The End," - the sold-out crowd definitely believed they had been taken on a magical musical mystery tour of the Beatles years.

McCartney's new Out There tour features 5 Beatles' tracks that he has never before performed live. In addition to "Eight Days a Week," the songs are “Your Mother Should Know," “All Together Now," “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!," and “Lovely Rita."

Using the vocal and instrumental talents of Paul Wickens on keyboard, Rusty Anderson on guitar, Brian Ray on guitar and bass, and Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, McCartney offered 27 spot-on Beatles renditions. Everyone had their favorites. For some it was the anthemic "Let It Be" and "Hey Jude." For others it was the acoustic beauty of "Blackbird" (which Paul introduced as his tribute to the Civil Rights protesters of the 60's) or "Yesterday," (which is the most recorded song of the rock era).  For me, it would be "All My Loving," "Paperback Writer," "And I Love Her," "Lady Madonna," "Eleanor Rigby," "Back in the USSR," and "Day Tripper."

The most unique moment came from the choice of the only cover of  the night - an all-instrumental jam version of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady," with McCartney playing lead guitar. McCartney explained the unusual choice. He said Hendrix gave him the greatest tribute of his career in 1967. In June of that year, on a Friday, the Beatles released their classic Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Hendrix was so taken by the title tune that he learned it and performed it live at a concert on Sunday attended by a who's who of British rock royalty including the Beatles.

Throughout the night, McCartney demonstrated his prowess on several instruments including his signature Hoffner bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and concert grand piano. For several lively numbers, he led the band on a colorful, psychedelically painted upright piano. He even played ukulele on "Something," his tribute to George Harrison. McCartney dedicated 3 others songs: "Here Today," (a song he says he wrote in the form of a conversation he wished he had with John Lennon), My Valentine (for his wife, Nancy) and "Maybe I'm Amazed (for his deceased wife, Linda).

Of course, while the night's focus was on the Beatles and their music, the Out There set list also includes several hits from McCartney's 2nd band Wings, as well as an incredible version of "Live and Let Die," which has to set a record for the most pyrotechnics (not 1, but 2 sustained outbursts of fireworks) in a James Bond soundtrack tune.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
You can check out the complete set list by clicking here. However, as amazing as last night's song list is, I think it's even more impressive that McCartney could have included so many more Beatles/ McCartney tunes that he has performed at least 50 times on previous tours. How would you like to hear a concert of these songs?

  • Jet
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • My Love
  • Got to Get You Into My Life
  • Drive My Car
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Cub Band
  • Here, There, and Everywhere
  • Michelle
  • Magical Mystery Tour
  • I've Got a Feeling
  • Let 'Em In
  • Good Day Sunshine
  • Penny Lane
  • The Things We Said Today
  • A Day in the Life
  • Getting Better
  • She's Leaving Home
  • I'll Follow the Sun
  • I Will
  • Fixing a Hole
  • For No One

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Libertarianism vs. Conservatism


What is the difference between a young libertarian and a young conservative? And, if you believe you are a champion of individual freedom and limited government, which approach makes for a better political philosophy?

These were 2 of the big questions examined last night in a lively debate held at The Cato Institute, sponsored by that libertarian organization and the conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation. Yaniv Nahon, a graduate from American University who will be entering George Washington Law School, and Grace Pyo, a junior at Wheaton College, represented the conservative viewpoint while Regan Opel, a junior at the University of Texas, and Caleb Gonzalez, a senior at Harvard University, presented the libertarian point of view.

Prior to the debate, the panelists were given 8 topics to prepare. Four were then chosen for the debate. They were:

  • The U.S. should use military force to stand for liberty in other countries
  • The state should have a role in defining marriage
  • Individuals should be free to move across the US border
  • The government has a role in promoting virtue
During the 30-minute long exchange, clear differences between the 2 philosophies appeared. With the conservatives contending that the libertarians were naive in their beliefs that absolute individual freedoms could be afforded without ensuing anarchy, the libertarians countered that conservative curbing measures actually were counter to their supposed calls for limited government and personal liberty..

"We're not anarchists, well not most of us are anarchists," Gonzalez said in a laugh-inducing response. He was supported by Opel who said laws should be designed solely "to protect from other people, not form ourselves."

Hahon called Opel's beliefs naive. "If men were angels, there would be no need for government," he said.

On the question of military intervention, Pyo maintained that the United States has a responsibility to defend its allies. "Without a strong military, they are no freedoms," she said. Gonzalez countered by saying "I don't believe we should run the world by military agendas. If Afghanistan is a success story, I would hate to see what they would point to as a failure."

On the issue of marriage, Pyo said laws are needed to define marriage as that between a woman and a man "for the sake of children and future generations," adding "good laws establish norms and norms effect culture." Gonzalez countered that same-sex marriage would be a benefit to society. "It is not competing with heterosexual marriage. It is competing with no marriage at all," he maintained.

On opening the borders, Opel said such a move would "fill gaps in our workforce, not take jobs away."
Pyo said that while the immigration system should not be abolished, it should be reformed. ""I think we need to control who comes into our country to protect our liberty.," she said.

On the idea of government promoting virtue, Yanov contended that any law "is establishing a moral code." He added that the government could, and indeed should, promote such values as work by "requiring work to receive government assistance." However, Opel countered that government "is not the proper place to promote virtue. Virtue is highly arbitrary. There is a danger that one's own virtues are those to be promoted."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As a far, far left-leaning liberal humanist, I found last night's debate engaging and enlightening. Of course, I believe both philosophies lacking, but I think the broader libertarian social ideas are better than those more limiting ones espoused by the conservatives. Due to time constraints, it couldn't happen, but I would have liked to have heard the articulate young people offer their views on the other  4 issues initially proposed. They were:
  • Religion should be restricted to the private sqaure
  • All drugs should be legalized
  • The defense budget should be cut
  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be privatized

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Screaming for Edvard Munch's 150th

The distorted, disturbing figure is one of the most familiar in modern art. If you haven't viewed one of the 4 original versions of the painting (one of which recently sold for $119 million at auction), you have seen the inflatable doll, or the posters, or the cartoons, or the T-shirts, or the coffee cups, or the key chains. In fact, Edvard Munch's iconic image in "The Scream" may be the most used visual to represent the anxiety, the anguish, and the alienation inherent in our contemporary age.

But what exactly was the Norwegian artist, born 150 years in 1863, trying to say with the work considered by many to be his masterpiece?

In a talk at the National Gallery, senior lecturer David Garriff shared Munch's own explanation of his piece.

Munch suffered from severe agoraphobia (among a host of other crippling fears). He found himself unable to be around any type of crowds. To even walk up a street, the artist kept a building on his right shoulder so he couldn't be surrounded by others.

"The Scream"
 "Most people think this is a crazy expressionistic painting that Munch pulled out of his imagination,"  Garriff said. "But it was a fairly accurate recreation of a panic attack he had. He was walking across a fjiord with his friends when it struck. He says 'I felt a huge unending scream.' Notice he doesn't say I heard; he says I felt. The great thing is he was able to elevate that away from his own personal experience and turn it into the universal."

Garriff's engaging, informative talk was part of the National Gallery's current exhibition Edvard Munch: A 150th Anniversary Tribute, which includes more than 20 of Munch's works from the Gallery's collections. Although there isn't a painting of "The Scream," there is an original Munch print of the work, which is actually entitled Geschrei (German for scream).

The lecturer said that Munch consistently used events in his own life to fuel his art. "He makes no apologies that his art is based on his life," Garriff explained. "Without the events in his personal life, his art wouldn't have existed in the first place. He always said 'I don't paint what I see, I paint what I saw.' For better or worse Munch opened the door for personal art. It can be powerful or it can be self-indulgent and abused."

Munch's life was filled with trauma, death, and disease, all of which found their way directly into his art. His Father made sure the young Munch was steeped in the evils of sin and the power of God to punish. Both Munch's beloved mother and a devoted sister died from tuberculosis. Another sister spent her life in mental institutions. "He ruminated on illness and death and it inculcated with his fears and phobias," Garriff said.

During his life as an artist, Munch associated with 2 groups. The 1st were Bohemian thinkers in Oslo who pledged to commit suicide as the ultimate rejection of the false society they saw surrounding them. The 2nd was a Berlin-based group led by Swedish writer and painter August Strinberg. That group greatly shaped Munch's views about love, sex, and relationships.  "Munch had a fatalistic, if not downright morbid view of life," Garriff said.

Munch's Madonna
Much of the discussion of Munch's work centers around his view of women. "His feelings about women haunted him throughout his life.  He was a male artist who feared the growing power of women. He felt they had the ultimate courage. They give birth. But to him they were a source of suffering. He thought they would make him lose his individual identity," Garriff said.

Several prints of Munch's twisted takes on women are in the Gallery's exhibition. They include "The Vampyre," where a predatory woman appears to literally be sucking the life blood from a man, "Man's Head in Woman's Hair," where the hair resembles the tentacles of a beast or monster trying to ensnare the man, "Madonna," which plays with the image of both the virgin and the whore and includes an unholy fetus creature and spermatazoa on its frame, and "Puberty," a young girl having her 1st period.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
You still have time to see the Munch exhibit. It is scheduled to run until July 28. Garriff will be giving 2 Sunday lectures on the artist. The Art of Edvard Munch: The Early Work will be offered on Aug. 18 and The Art of Edvard Munch: The Late Work on Aug. 25.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Long Ride Up, A Long Ride Down

If you are afraid of escalators (official name - escalaphobia), you might want to consider skipping the DC Metro Station in Wheaton, Maryland. With a length of 230 feet and a vertical rise of 115 feet, the escalators in Wheaton are the longest set of single-span escalators in the Western Hemisphere.

It takes 2:45 to ride from the bottom to the top (or the top to the bottom). That is longer than some popular amusement rides. And I can verify that time since I had to travel to Wheaton last week for business.

Interestingly, the Wheaton Station is not the deepest in DC. That distinction goes to its neighbor on the Red Line, Forrest Glen. However, that station is only served by elevators because it was determined that installing and maintaining escalators at Forest Glen would be too expensive.

Both the Wheaton and Forest Glen stations are unique in that there are separate tunnels and platforms for trains instead of a common room employed in other DC Metro stops. That system was put in place because it was cheaper to build at such depths.

Speaking of maintaining escalators, that ongoing work can cause problems for Wheaton riders even if they are not leery of the long moving trips. According to a 2012 study, the escalators at Wheaton are out of service more than any other of the long escalators in the Metro system. That study reported that the Wheaton escalators function only 67% of the time, meaning you had better be prepared for some serious climbing or descending if you use the station.

The station opened in 1990, and, for 8 years, it was the northeastern end of the Red Line until the Glenmont Station became operational.

As for those who do suffer from escalaphobia, experts say that the fear is often related to other phobias including fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of steps and slopes (bathmophobia), fear of climbing (climacaphobia), and fear of vertigo (illngophobia).

So if Wheaton is the longest escalator in the United States, where is the longest escalator in the world? That would be in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, at 3 stations, are escalators with a length of 433 feet and a vertical rise of 217 feet. By contrast, the world's shortest escalator, at 32.8 inches, is located in a shopping mall in Kawasaki, Japan.

Tales, Tips, and Tidbits
Most of us take escalators for granted. But they have quite an interesting history. To learn more, click here. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dining in DC: JJ's Cheesesteaks

When we lived in South Jersey, Philadelphia was our city. Now that we live in Crystal City, DC, just across the Potomac River, is our downtown. Obviously, there are differences between the 2. DC has the Washington Monument; Philly has the Liberty Bell. DC has the Nats and Skins; Philly has the Phils and Eagles. DC has half-smokes; Philly has cheesesteaks.

But what happens when you are in DC and you want a piece of Philly, specifically one of their famous cheesesteaks? Recently, my guitar-playing buddy of 40 years, Jimmy Overstreet, was visiting from Florida and he wanted such a sandwich. You can't just jump in the car and head to Pat's or Geno's or Tony Luke's.

Our research on Yelp led us to JJ's Cheesesteaks, a sub-only shop on U Street which has the reputation of offering the best cheesesteaks in the district. So how were they? The short answer - pretty good, a rating partly attributable to the fact that JJ's uses Amoroso rolls, a Philly staple.

But, as you might expect, these were cheesesteaks with a DC twist. While you can create your own cheesesteaks (including the Philly wid or wid out) choosing your meat, your cheese, your topping, and your sauce, there are already crafted concoctions, many bearing political names. For example, there is the Senator and the Capitol and the MLK.

For Philly fans, there is the Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, and the Rocky Balboa Italian Hoagie,. For visitors wanting a western experience, there is the Wild Bill and the Eastwood. And, if you want to be a bit more exotic, you can order the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall, or the Mayor of Istanbul.

Feeling in a DC state of mind, I chose the Senator, which is grilled chicken and cooked ham topped with white American cheese, tomatoes, and honey mustard. And I must say that this Senator delivered much more than those other Senators housed just a few Metro stops away on Capitol Hill. leading me to issue a yes vote on JJ's.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
What others say:
The Prices Do DC Rating
  • 4 out of 5 Amoroso rolls

Thursday, July 4, 2013

DC Celebrates America's 237th Birthday

Welcome to this week's Friday Flashback. Each Friday in the Flashback we will offer a post about some part of the past and its relationship to DC. Sometimes, we will write a new entry. Others times, we will showcase articles that previously appeared in The Prices Do DC or some other online publications. But no matter who does the writing, you can trust that you will learn something important from the Flashback. Here today is a look at last year's America's birthday party in DC.


It was a startling series of sounds, contemporary sounds that shattered the carefully established 1776 vibe. First came the screeching of police sirens, followed by a line of uniformed DC policemen on motorcycles rapidly turning the corner at Constitution Avenue and 7th Street. In these cautionary 21st Century times of terror, many in the huge crowd outside the National Archives on this July 4th morning turned nervously toward the noise. "Get to the right, get to the right," one of the officers shouted.

The din silenced the colonial Abigail Adams reenactor who had been sharing a dramatic reading of The Declaration of Independence with a Revolutionary clad George Washington. But in a matter of seconds, the wariness turned to cheers as the crowd discovered the reason for the interruption. The officers were escorting 4 large red-and-white Budweiser Clydesdale trucks which had transported the famous horses to DC to participate in a parade that was to follow the annual Declaration of Independence Reading Ceremony. "Yeah, America; Yeah Bud," the American-flag shirted man next to me hollered, getting part of the crowd to join him in the cheer.

The crowd responds
An unperturbed Adams resumed her reading with Washington. When it came to the part where the revolutionary writers listed their specific grievances against King George and his British government, they were joined by reenactors portraying main document writer Thomas Jefferson, wise septuagenarian Ben Franklin, and firebrand John Adams. As the trio read out specific charges, the crowd, now well into the moment, replied with echoing boos and calls of "Here, here" and "Independence." At the conclusion of the reading, a reenactor portraying free Black and Revolutionary War private Ned Hector read a list of the 56 signers of the Declaration. The state-by-state lists were followed by shouts of "Huzzah" from the crowd, and in the case of South Carolina, one call of "Gamecocks."

Prior to the reading, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero explained the history of one of America's most historic documents. The original copy of the Declaration, written on parchment, was saved by the quick action of a civil servant when the British burned Washington in 1812. It remained in Washington until the start of World War II, when it was placed in the vaults at Fort Knox for extra protection. After the war, it was housed at the Library of Congress until it was brought to the Archives in 1952, where it has remained on public view ever since.

The Revolutionary colors
"Of course, there was that time in 2004 when Nicholas Cage stole it," Ferriero said, prompting laughter from the crowd with his reference to the popular movie National Treasure.  "But he returned it." However, the movie prompted the current most asked question at the Archives - can we see the map on the back?" Ferriero said that the map only existed in the minds of the movie makers. "I can assure you the only words on the back are 'original declaration 4 July, 1776,'" he said.

The ceremony began with a presentation of the colors and a powerful acapella rendition of "The National Anthem" by the United Air Force Band singers. There was also a performance of colonial period music by the 3rd U.S. Infantry "The Old Guard" Fife and Drum Corps which concluded with an updated version of "Yankee Doodle."

Everybody Loves a Red-White-and-Blue Parade

Patriotism and picture taking were the order of the day

Lady Liberty gets ready to ride through the streets of Washington

Nothing says Happy Birthday America like the DC Rollergirls

This Eagle of Freedom is ready to soar

Here  are the Clydesdales whose transport  trucks caused all that initial confusion
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. We should all return periodically to reread (or, in some cases, read for the 1st time) these and all words from the document which created the country we now have today. Click here to do just that.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Touring DC: In the Steps of JFK

July annually means the start of the summer tourist season in DC. This year, 4 historic anniversaries are being celebrated in the nation's capital: the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To commemorate the 4 events, The Prices Do DC has designed a full-day tour featuring monuments and museum exhibitions selected to help you know more about the people and events of the times. Today's tour: The Life and Times of President John F. Kennedy


Morning














Kennedy Grave Site at Arlington National Cemetery
Pay your respects to the slain President. To learn more, click here.  Free. (Metro - Arlington Cemetery - Blue Line.)














Newseum
It has been 50 years since President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and to commemorate JFK's life the Newseum is displaying 3 special exhibitions: A Thousand Days, Creating Camelot, and Three Shots Were Fired. To learn more, click here. Admission charge. (Metro - Archives - Yellow and Green Lines.)

Afternoon















Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space
In 1961, President Kennedy pledged that America would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. Although he did not live to see it, America made the deadline. The story is detailed in the exhibition From Apollo to the Moon. To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Smithsonian Station - Blue and Orange Lines or L'Enfant Station - Yellow or Green Lines.)















International Spy Museum
The 1960's was the time of the Cold War and one of President Kennedy's favorite authors was Ian Fleming, the creator of 007 James Bond. Check out the exhibition Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains. To learn more, click here. Admission charge. ( Metro - Gallery Place/Chinatown Station - Yellow, Green, and Red Lines.)

Evening













The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
There are electronic kiosks here where you can learn more about JFK. The building itself is impressive and worth a visit. Also, every night of the year at 6 p.m. there is a free 1-hour show on The Millennium Stage. To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Foggy Bottom Station - Blue Line - then take the free shuttle bus to the Kennedy Center.)

Related Dining Experiences for Lunch or Dinner

  • Martin's Tavern (This 78-year-old Georgetown eatery is where John Kennedy proposed to Jackie) 
  • Mrs. Kennedy loved elegant dining and French food. Try one of DC's French restaurants. Click here for some suggestions from Yelp. 

Tales, Tidbits, and  Tips
Here are some suggestions to help you get the most from this, or any, DC visit.
  • Consider staying in Crystal City, which is just across the Potomac, or a hotel/motel in Maryland near a Metro line. It is usually less expensive than staying in similar lodging in DC.
  • Leave your car at home or at your hotel/motel. We have lived in the DC-area for 2 years and have never driven in the district. Between the Metro, buses, and taxi cabs it is safe and easy to get around the city. DC is also extremely walkable.
  • You will have to be inspected and screened at most all museums and attractions. To save time, carry only what you absolutely need with you. 
  • In the summer, DC is hot and humid. Dress accordingly.
  • It doesn't hurt to download some DC apps on your smartphone. Our 5 top recommendations are DC Rider, Go Out from The Washington Post, Smithsonian, National Mall, and Yelp.
  • For more valuable suggestions and tips,check out our The Prices Do DC blog and website.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Touring DC: In the Steps of Martin Luther King

July annually means the start of the summer tourist season in DC. This year, 4 historic anniversaries are being celebrated in the nation's capital: the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To commemorate the 4 events, The Prices Do DC has designed a full-day tour featuring monuments and museum exhibitions selected to help you know more about the people and events of the times. Today's tour: DC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, and the 1963 March on Washington.


Morning










Smithsonian National Museum of American History
First check out Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963. Then join a Civil Rights student sit-in at the Greensboro lunch counter. (Check information desk for times). To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Smithsonian Station - Blue and Orange Lines)
















National Portrait Gallery
See the exhibit One Life: Martin Luther King Jr.  To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Gallery Place/Chinatown Station Metro(Yellow, Green, and Red Lines)

Afternoon


















National Gallery of Art - East Building
In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall provides a powerful artistic statement on Black life in America. To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Archives Station - Yellow and Green Lines)















National Museum of Women in the Arts
Take in American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960's.  To learn more, click here. Admission charge. (Metro - Metro Station - Blue, Orange, and Red Lines)

Evening 
















Martin Luther King,  Jr. Memorial
End your touring day by visiting DC's newest national memorial, a tribute to the slain Civil Rights leader. To learn more, click here. Free. (Metro - Smithsonian Station - Blue and Orange Lines or Foggy Bottom Bottom Station - Blue and Orange Lines). You will also want to visit the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Although Dr. King is most known for his Civil Rights stands, he was also a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War so a visit to that memorial might also be in order if you have time.

Related Dining Experiences for Lunch or Dinner
  • Ben's Chili Bowl (this is DC's iconic eatery. You haven't really visited DC if you haven't eaten at Ben's. Get the half-smoke with chili just like Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama)
  • One of the great soul food restaurants in the U Street district including The Florida Avenue Grill (Dick Gregory still stops in for mac and cheese whenever he is in DC), Oohs and Ahhs (try the fried whiting, potato salad, and hummingbird pie) Marvin's (a soul/Belgium restaurant dedicated to soul singer Marvin Gaye, who was born in DC. Go for the chicken and waffles), or Eatonville (named for author Zora Neale Hurston's Florida home town). .

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