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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sometimes DC's Most Repeated Tales Lack a Key Element - The Truth

For Robert Pohl, his latest book came from his job as a licensed DC tour guide who spends a lot of his time "chasing 8th graders around DC."

"I knew exactly how 8th graders operate - I was one of them once," Pohl says with a chuckle. "I had some great facts, but I needed something to make them more palatable."

So Pohl began mixing in stories about some of the capitol's most famous sites. For example, there was one he would tell about the Washington Monument. When it was first opened, elevators were new and considered dangerous. Only men were allowed to ride up to the top of the monument. The members of the fairer sex and their children had to struggle up the steps to get a view from the top.

"This was a perfect story. It brought the Washington Monument alive to the people," Pohl explained.

However there was a big problem - the story wasn't true, even though it had been told and repeated for decades. It was the DC version of an urban legend - a story that "exists somewhere in between horror stories, jokes, and morality tales," said Pohl, who appeared recently at Politics and Prose to discuss his new book Urban Legends & Historic Lore of Washington, DC.

In the book, Pohl used meticulous research to find the truth (and the falsehoods) behind more than 30 of the most-often repeated stories about historic DC. Take the idea that the word lobbyist was created in this city. The version of that tale goes like this: When he was president, Ulysses S. Grant would walk over to the Willard Hotel and sit in the lobby. There, people who wanted a favor from the president would present their case as he sat.  However, both parts of that tale appear untrue. First, in the 25 books of his memoir, Grant only mentioned the Willard 4 times, even though it is only down the street from the White House. In fact,  there is no proof that he spent evenings there. And there are mentions of the word lobbyist in 17th Century England, long before Grant took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Then there is the case of another great story involving a President, this time the massive chief executive William Howard Taft. In the various versions of this story, Taft got stuck in the White House bathtub prior to his inauguration and was only able to be freed with a pound of butter and the strength of 4 or more strong men. Good story, but again not true. First of all, Taft couldn't have been bathing in the White House prior to his swearing in. However, as there often is in such tales, there was a kernel of truth mixed in with fanciful elements. Taft, at more than 300 pounds, did have a special bathtub installed in the White House that was large enough to accommodate 4 normal-sized men.

But Pohl's research did not lead him to debunk all the questionable stories. For example, the Lincoln Memorial really is the only building struck by gunfire during World War II. However, it was shots from an errant machine gun, not anti-aircraft fire that damaged the building. Pohl found confirmation in several newspaper accounts from the time.

"This story stuck in people minds as if it were an urban legend," he noted.

Pohl said the urban legends he investigated shared many of the components from similar stories spread in other parts of America. "They tend to erupt, be localized, change over time, and have a moral" he said. "They are all good stories and we all like good stories. As human beings, we love patterns and we want to see patterns even when they may not exist."

Pohl did acknowledge there is one story that he loves so much that he refuses to look into it. That tale involves the Jefferson Memorial. At some point, officials were going to remove some of the famed Cherry Blossom trees that surround that memorial. A group of elderly civic-minded ladies, irate at that plan, decided to cling to the trees to save them. The local police chief was summoned. Realizing that "knocking old ladies on the noggin would't be good for anyone," the chief came up with a more subtle plan. He began plying the ladies with free coffee. Within half an hour, nature was calling and the protesters had to abandon their position for the nearest restrooms.

"At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it," Pohl said with a laugh.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reliving 1964's Freedom Summer at the Newseum

This Polumbaum photo captures the essence of the era.
Even though he had fought in the South Pacific in World War II, photographer Ted Polumbaum was always very clear about the most frightening times of his life - those occurred 50 years ago when he was photographing the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi that came to be known as Freedom Summer.

"He was much more afraid in Mississippi than he ever was in World War II," Polumbaum's widow Nyna said this past weekend at the Newseum, where she and her daughter, Judy, appeared at an Inside Media taping to talk about Polumbaum's 1964 photos for Time magazine. Those photos captured the attempt of committed young southerners and northerners to register black voters in hate-filled towns all over Mississippi.

Earlier, Nyna had given more than 200,000 of her husband's photos to the Newseum and some of the most dramatic of those shots form the basis for the institution newest exhibit 1964: Civil Rights at 50.

Polumbaum began his documenting in Ohio, where the young white and black volunteers were being trained for what they were about to encounter. "They were told the government would not be able to help them at all," Nyna said. "They should be prepared to be beaten, shot, and maybe even killed."

In actuality, 3 of the volunteers did end up losing their lives, the victims of racists who were willing to take any measure to keep blacks from being able to vote. Chillingly, one of those subjects, 21-year-old Andrew Goodman is captured in one of Polumbaum's shots of the training. "Goodman was really good at playing the brutal Southern white racist," Nyna said. "I was always amazed at the enormous maturity and incredible bravery of these young people."

Nyna said her husband said the scariest personal moments came when he first arrived and stayed at a for-whites-only motel. "He was terrified going home at night to the white motel," Nyna said. "After that, he always stayed in black neighborhoods to be safer."

There was never any question that Polumbaum, long a social activist, would seek out the dangerous Mississippi assignment. "This was something that wasn't a new idea for him. He was committed and wanted to go," Nyna said. "He always said that this was one of the transformative events of his life."

Actually, Polumbaum's career in photography was the result of a stand he made during the time of the Communist witch hunts. After he returned to Yale University (where he and Nyna met) from World War II, Polumbaum had been active in the John Reed Club, an organization which tried to bring Marxist speakers to the New Haven campus.

After college, he was working in 1954 as a television news writer when U.S. marshals came to the Polumbaum's home to arrest Ted for "subversion in education." He invoked the 5th Amendment when he was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was immediately blacklisted from TV and had to "find a new way to make a living." He returned to his earlier love of photography and then spent decades taking pictures of some of the biggest events of the times.

Nyna said she hopes that people will be inspired by the actions captured in her husband's photos, especially young people who have no real awareness of the sacrifices made in the name of Civil Rights.
"That history, which may be very much a blank to them, is really very much alive," she said. "The struggle is not yet over. There is still much more to do."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Studying Stamps from A to Z

If you want to learn everything about stamps from A to Z, you should head to the National Postal Museum next to Union Station. In fact, you might start your study at the exhibition Alphabetilately A-Z, which takes visitors on an alphabetical history of stamps and stamp collecting.

For example, under A, the display details features of advertising covers which decorated 19th Century envelopes and postal cards with colorful images to promote company products and services.

Z, meanwhile, is for zeppelin posts. In 1908, airships, including the ill-fated Hindenburg, began carrying mail. During those years, special stamps were issued to commemorate that method of delivery.

The complete stamp alphabet display is as follows:

  • A - advertising covers
  • B - bisect
  • C- Cinderella stamps
  • D - duck stamps
  • E - EFOs (errors, freaks, and oddities)
  • F - firsts
  • G - G stamps
  • H - handstamps
  • I - inverts
  • J - joint issues
  • K - Kansas City roulette
  • L - local post
  • M - Mulready
  • N - numerals
  • O - overprint
  • P - Persian Rug
  • Q - quality
  • R - Railway Post Office
  • S - Setenant (French for joined together)
  • T - topicals
  • U - Universal Postal Union
  • V - Vmail
  • W - war issues
  • X - x (for cancel)
  • Y - Yvert and Tellier (a French company that publishes catalogs of stamps for collectors)
  • Z - zeppelin mail
Elvis mail: Return to Sender


As you might expect, the exhibit also features details about the invert that is the most famous stamp printing error ever made. That stamp is known as "The Inverted Jenny." The "Jenny" is actually the stamp of a blue airplane that was printed flying upside down. Inverts are supposed to be caught at printing and destroyed. However, 1 sheet of 100 Jenney upside-down-flying stamps escaped detection and they were sold in 1918 at a DC post office. The Postal Museum has 2 of the 100 stamps in its collection.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Yoga: The Art of Transformation


If you want to view a comprehensive history of yoga which is not only the first of its kind in DC, but also in the entire United States, you had better hurry. You only have one week to take in Yoga: The Art of Transformation at the Freer and Sackler Gallery.

There you can view devotional sculpture, intriguing art, colonial photographs, and early film and posters that trace yoga from its origins in ancient India to the 20th Century.

The 6 galleries, containing more than 130 works of art, demonstrate how Yogis (and their lesser-known female counterparts called Yoginis) have been imagined and understood over the centuries.


Today, yoga is practiced worldwide. For example, in the United States, an estimated 2 million residents are engaged in some form of the discipline which is recognized as a source of health and spiritual insight.

"It makes you have peace of mind - physical, spiritual, and mental," says Walter Choi, who has been offering guided talks of the exhibition. "Yoga practice can be done by anyone and anyone can benefit from it."

The exhibit opens with a series of statues that reflect the purity of meditation.  Many of the statues feature beings with multiple hands which symbolize the multiple attributes of yoga. Others contain a 3rd eye which is symbolic of the all-seeing idea of pure knowledge.

Even from its earliest times, in addition to growing spiritually and mentally, yoga also featured fitness components. "A healthy body is very important for your mental elevation," Choi explained. Yogis have long been known for being able to contort their bodies and assume strange seated body postures known as asanans for extraordinary periods of time.

From the 16th to the 19th century, Asian art depicted yogis as alternately wise sages, witty spies, evil wizards, and brave heroes.

With the arrival of photography in the 1840s, Europeans were captivated by these exotict often near-naked ascetics with long matted locks. Many were brought to European stages to perform as magic act curiosities.


The interest with yoga in the United States originated in the late 1800s with speaking engagements by Swami Vivekonadra. The guru extolled the virtues of yoga, claiming that "every individual can realize their supreme self or their god-self within."

In 1902, Thomas Edison filmed the stage act of an Indian magician for one of his earliest short movies.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Smithsonian Sunday: The Man Who Viewed the Bible as Art

DC's Smithsonian museums (there are 17 of them here in the city) are among America's most treasured and visited places. But the Smithsonian also publishes a series of some of the most interesting, fact-filled blogs appearing anywhere on the internet. Each Sunday, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry that initially appeared in one of those highly-readable blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe we'll see you soon at the Smithsonian.


It’s not the place you would expect to find the world’s third-oldest manuscript of the gospels. The jade-like walls of the Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room are beautifully rendered in rich detail work. Delicate spirals rim the panels and gold-painted shelves line the walls, housing dozens of works of Asian ceramics. On one end, a woman immortalized in portrait, robe falling from her shoulders, watches over the room. To her left, a row of closed shutters block the room’s access to the sunlight. Golden peacocks, their feathers and tails painted in intricate detail, cover the shutters. On the far wall, two more peacocks are poised in an angry standoff. One is dripping with golden coins. The creature is a caricature of the Peacock Room’s original owner, the wealthy Englishman Frederick R. Leyland. The other peacock represents the struggling, underpaid artist—James McNeill Whistler. Whistler, who fought with Leyland, his patron, dubbed the piece “Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room.”
The parchment pages of the late 4th to 6th century biblical manuscripts, recently placed on view in the middle of the room, were originally intended to be handled and turned gently, most likely, as a part of the liturgy, by the monks that owned and read them. In the seventh century, wooden covers painted with the figures of the four Evangelists were added, binding the manuscript tightly and making the pages much harder to turn. At that time, the bound books probably made the transition to a venerated object—but yet not a work of art.
To continue reading this Smithsonian.com post, click here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Supplement: What's Been Happening In DC

Each Saturday we will offer a round-up of a few online articles not originally published in The Prices Do DC which are of interest to both Washington area residents and visitors.


DC officially welcomes Bao Bao
Bao Bao, the National Zoo's giant panda cub, makes her public debut. (from The Washington Post)

DC dinosaurs are facing extinction again. The Dinosaur Hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the Mall will be closing for 5 years in April for renovations. (from The  Washington Post)

Judy Chicago's, whose masterpiece "The Dinner Party" was once rejected by DC, is back in the nation's capital with a new exhibit at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. (from The Washington Post)

A 2-year renovation project is beginning on the Capitol dome. (from The Huffington Post)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Flashback: One Name, Two Fates

This story 1st appeared in The Price Do DC on Nov. 6, 2001


Two boys named Wes Moore. Both black. Both from the streets of Baltimore. Both raised without fathers. Both finding trouble in school and with the police. Yet one winds up a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other ends up serving a life in prison for his felony murder conviction.

How does something like that happen and what can we do about reshaping a system that allows, and too often even preordains, such tragic dichotomies?

That was the question on the floor tonight at the Politics and Prose bookstore as a 3-member panel discussed The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore, this year's selection as the book all of Washington is being encouraged to read as part of the DC Reads program.

Moderating the discussion was Kurt Schmoke, former Mayor of Baltimore and current Dean of the Howard Law School. The other 2 panelists were the author Wes Moore's mother Joy and his older sister Nikki.

If there is a moment when the 2 Wes' stories took its most divergent turn, it is probably when Joy made the difficult decision to send her son to the Valley Forge Military Academy in an effort to save him from himself and the streets.

"We'd never even let him have a toy gun," Joy said. "But at the time, there was no other alternative."

Strong, loving family support was a theme interwoven through both the book and the night. Joy's eyes welled with tears as she recalled her parents pitching in financially to help pay for the military school. "My mom said "I know there is a window in every child's life when you have to make a move or the child is lost,'" Joy said.

Another point of digression between the 2 Wes' paths  occurred in their first encounter with the law. As the book points out and Joy reiterated, one of the 2 policemen who nabbed her son as he and his friend were tagging (spray painting graffiti) on buildings "took the time to talk to him. He showed that there were people who cared."

As her son consistently maintains, the biggest tragedy in the entire narrative is that occurred by the family of the off-duty policeman slain in the robbery gone wrong perpetrated by the other Wes Moore. Even though he did not pull the trigger (that was his brother, Tony), Moore was found guilty of  participating in the robbery and, under Maryland felony murder law, sentenced to life in prison without parole for his part in the crime.

But the fate of  the other Wes Moore is still tragic, Joy said. "There is no reason that a guy with this kind of talent should be wasting away in prison," she said. "He should be sitting right here, right now contributing to society."

Joy said she believes the story of her son and his name twin dramatically illustrates the importance of "opportunities and where you go and the people you meet along the way."

"If there could have been another title for the book it could have been called choices," she added.

While her son's star continues to rise, the other Wes Moore sits in prison, each day the same as the one before it and the one yet to come.  Asked by a member of the audience how that Wes Moore feels about the book, Joy responded that he told her son "I've wasted every opportunity I've ever had. If this book helps save even one person, go for it." 


Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tales:
While most of the focus was on Wes Moore's  mother and sister at the Politics and Prose discussion this afternoon, the moderator, Kurt Schmoke, also was directly involved in Moore's rise. As mayor, Schmoke hired him as a political intern and began mentoring the young man, a process which  continues today. During his years as Baltimore's mayor, Schmoke became famous (or infamous depending on your view) for seriously suggesting that the only way to end the failing war on drugs was to legalize some of them. His insistence on legalization caused at least one U.S. Congressman to label the scholarly Schmoke "the most dangerous man in American," and also led to the ex-mayor getting a bit part in HBO's fantastic series The Wire, ironically as a critic of a plan named "Hamsterdam," which provided a sanctioned drug-law-free zone in creators David Simon and Ed Burn's fictional Baltimore. To learn more about then mayor Schmoke's visionary view that people are not only addicted to drugs, but to the money that drugs bring, click here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sculpted Dresses as Arty Body Armor

There is no shortage of great places to view free art in the DC area.  For example, you can go to the National Gallery, the American Museum of American Art, or the National Portrait Gallery in the district. Just across the Potomac, you can go to such places as the Artisphere in Rossyln or the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria.

Chances are you wouldn't consider visiting the Century Center in Crystal Plaza. But the Artspace there is currently exhibiting one of the most intriguing small exhibitions in the area.

The exhibition features a series of dress sculptures by tinmaker/seamstress Donna McCullough. The series originated in 1995 out of McCullough's struggles navigating the male-dominated corporate world.

"They challenge us to consider the societal expectations of women," says curator Bobby Donovan. "Through her art, Donna explains the expressions and values of women, both those they embrace for themselves and those that are culturally assigned to them by others".

"She makes forms that are comfortably familiar, yet must be most uncomfortable to wear," Donovan added. "Her dresses are not the soft sensuous garments of attraction. They are hard and unyielding. Despite the hints of frill and charm, they are, in reality body armor."

For her creations, McCullough uses cookie tins, oil cans, company logos, and other such found objects. She gives her works titles reflecting their intended meaning such as Tea in the Garden or Brunch with Frances.

Her most recent work, 2 sculptures of which are part of the display, is called Drill Team.  Unlike the seriousness of her other sculptures, the dresses in this series offer a whimsical rendition of cheerleading uniforms, all of which display vintage logos and graphics.



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

God, Chat Rooms, and Christian Mingling

One of the best things about living in DC is there are so many free things to do. And one of our favorites is to attend presentations at Washington think tanks. You can get talks that span the political spectrum. Tea party ideas at The Heritage Foundation. Conservative views at the American Enterprise Institute. Libertarian stands at the Cato Institute. More middle-of-the road positions at the Brookings Institute. Progressive, liberal, and left leanings at the Center for American Progress and the New America Foundation.

The other day we were going to take in two talks at New America. In between, we would have time for lunch. As we often do when we are in the area, we chose the eclectic C.F. Folks, run by the idiosyncratic, wise-cracking Art Carlson. Last year, Carlson's lunch-only institution, with its 11 counter stools, received an America's Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation.

After ordering, I checked my phone messages and email. One definitely stood out. "GOD created a match for you," it read. I looked at the message. Then I looked at my wife. On the 27th of this month, we will have been married 41 years. But what if she wasn't my match. I mean God (or should I say GOD) was claiming he (or she or maybe it) had a match for me. And what if that match wasn't Judy. I mean when GOD contacts you, you should probably check it out.

So I told Judy about my message.

"Go for it," she said turning back to her own reading.


Now, to be specific, the message wasn't exactly from GOD. It was from the web site ChristianMingle.com. In addition to the words of GOD, it included a second message - "Cozy up with someone special this winter."  Next to the message was an extremely white-toothed couple decked out in heavy sweaters, scarves, and knit caps.

I clicked on the link and was taken to the Christian Mingle website. A banner on the top of the page read "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." As you might expect, much of the site was devoted to a mission statement which in part read:

"We bring Christian singles together. At Christian Mingle we're more than just a site for Christian dating, we're a Christian personals community where you can find singles that share your values and love for God in Christ. Enjoy our Christian chat rooms, instant messenger, message boards, Bible verse of the day, searchable Bible, and many other great features."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was glad GOD (or, in this case, God's helpers at Christian Mingle) had brought the idea of Christian dating into the 21st Century, but it was clear a mistake had been made. Maybe the NSA had inadvertently sent my email address to the Christian Mingle people.

I wasn't a Christian. I didn't own a wool-knit cap. And, most importantly, I wasn't single. In fact, I hadn't been single for 40 years. For 40 years ago (41 in 13 days), I had married my perfect match. She was sitting right across from me.

But the exercise wasn't a total waste. I was glad to have discovered that Christians had chat rooms. And if God ever makes a guest appearance in that room, I hope I get invited back. I'd like to ask him about that NSA thing.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Smithsonian Sunday: Where Does Winter Road Salt Go?

DC's Smithsonian museums (there are 17 of them here in the city) are among America's most treasured and visited places. But the Smithsonian also publishes a series of some of the most interesting, fact-filled blogs appearing anywhere on the internet. Each Sunday, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry that initially appeared in one of those highly-readable Smithsonian blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe we'll see you soon at the Smithsonian.

As much of the country endures from the heavy snowfall and bitter cold that has marked the start of 2014, municipalities in 26 states will rely on a crucial tool in clearing their roads: salt.
Because the freezing point of salty water is a lower temperature than pure water, scattering some salt atop ice or snow can help accelerate the melting process, opening up the roads to traffic that much sooner. It's estimated that more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American.
But all that salt has to go somewhere. So where does it go?
To find out, click here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday Supplement: School Choice in DC

Every Saturday we publish an article (or more) that is of interest to both DC residents and visitors which first appeared on a website other than The Prices Do DC.


Thousands of parents descended on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday for the D.C. Education Festival, a one-stop school shopping event meant to help families navigate the city’s growing — and sometimes overwhelming — number of school choices.
The city’s increasingly popular charter schools have long marketed themselves at this annual event, but this year, for the first time, traditional D.C. middle and high schools were on hand to sell themselves, too.
To continue reading this story, which was offered on Trove, click here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Flashback: Unbuilt Washington

This post 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC on May 27, 2012

An alternate Washington Monument
Washington DC is a city of well-known monuments. The Washington Monument. The Capitol. The White House. The Lincoln Memorial. The list is lengthy. But before the buildings were the iconic structures they have become today, they were a series of architects' drawings and plans and mockups.

And, of course, in almost every case, they weren't the only designs considered. Can you imagine a Washington Monument with a giant round base at its bottom? Or a Pentagon with a 24-story tower rising from its middle courtyard? Or how about a Venetian style canal leading to the steps of the Capitol?

Well, architects could. And not only could they envision them, they drew up complex plans for such structures. And it is these plans and designs that formed the basis of Unbuilt Washington, an exhibit that just ended Memorial Day at the National Building Museum.

How about this for the Lincoln Memorial ...
If you known anything about the design of the city Washington, you know much of the credit for the look of the goes to Charles L'Enfant. However, L'Enfant was often late with his drawings and reluctantly had to be fired by 1st President George Washington. So, even in its beginnings, the district became the vision of many planners. Even Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, submitted architectural plans for what the new capitol city should look like.

Many of the plans on display featured pyramids and domes and British-style gardens that are virtually impossible to equate with DC given the way it looks today.

Some of the more interesting projects are those that never came to fruition. For example, in 1940, the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a massive project for Washington which was named Crystal Heights for the amount of glass it woulds contain. If built, Crystal Heights would have been the largest hotel and apartment complex in America. It would have included a shopping arcade, a theater, and underground parking for 4,000 cars.

... or this for our Capitol?
But some of the unrealized projects on display could still become a reality. In 2000, a design competition was held to "show how you believe the most powerful man or woman on Earth should live and work." One of the winning designs featured a futuristic "tree-fort" where the president could go to escape the inherent pressures of the job. Another included a giant screen outside the new White House where the first family and other dignitaries could have real-time conversations with visitors.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

National Book Festival Heading Off the Mall


The rumors were finally confirmed Wednesday: After 12 years on the Mall, the National Book Festival is moving to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Word that the National Park Service was concerned about pedestrian damage to the grass first broke in September, just as the 2013 festival was about to begin.
The Library of Congress staff tried to figure out some way to address the Park Service’s concerns, but ultimately, no feasible compromise was reached. More than 200,000 people attended last year’s two-day literary event.
To continue reading this post originally appearing in The Washington Post, click here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Learning The Lindy Locally

Tonight, the Synetic Theater opens Twelfth Night, the latest in its series of Silent Shakespeare productions. Here is an article from The Washington Post explaining how members of the award-winning theater company did clandestine dance research at a local dance emporium in Columbia Heights.

(Koko Lanham) - Irina Tsikurishvili stars in “Twelfth Night” at Synetic Theater, part of the Silent Shakespeare series
To the regular Lindy hoppers at the Jam Cellar dance night in Columbia Heights, the new odd couple was easy to spot. She was 40ish and European — Russian, maybe? — and he was her quick-on-his-feet, much younger partner. That they could dance was obvious, yet they were struggling a bit with a basic rock step.
The mystery couple turned out to be Synetic Theater choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili and actor-dancer Alex Mills, out on the town on a clandestine swing-dance mission to learn the Lindy hop and brush up on their Charleston before staging a 1920s-inspired production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
“People kept telling us, ‘You guys are picking this up so quickly,’ so finally we had to tell them why we were there,” Tsikurishvili recalled.
The results of their reconnaissance trip will be onstage tonight, when Synetic opens the 10th installment of its “Silent Shakespeare” series — ­dance-theater productions that convey stories through movement and music, without any of the Bard’s dialogue. On one hand, the setting feels calculated to capitalize on the “Gatsby” craze, but it’s also a choice that makes artistic sense for the troupe. Irina and her husband, Paata Tsikurishvili, who directs the show, have long been influenced by the aesthetic of silent films — particularly the comedic mime work of Charlie Chaplin — and they knew setting a show in the ’20s would open up new possibilities when it came to choreography.
To continue reading the post, click here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polar Vortex Dining on California Tortilla's Dime

The way I figure, if you're going to experience the effects of the bone-chilling Polar Vortex, you should get something for it. That's why I was excited to hear about the special freezing weather promotion from California Tortilla.

For those of you not familiar with the company, California Tortilla is a Mexican eatery company headquartered in Rockville, Maryland.

The firm, which operates restaurants throughout the DC area, was making an unusual promise - any customer buying something to eat today at any of its establishments, would also receive an order of chips and hot, cheesy queso for the cost of whatever the wind chill factor turned out to be at the California Tortilla headquarters at 10 a.m.

Thus, for example, if the wind chill factor was 5 degrees, the chips and queso would cost 5 cents. However, if the wind chill factor dipped below zero, the chips and queso would be free and you would be paid the total of the negative degrees shown on the thermometer.

So with a 10 a.m. wind chill of -10 degrees, we headed out 4 hours later to the California Tortilla across the street from our Crystal City apartment complex to see if the company would actually make good on its promised deal.

When we entered the eatery, we were greeted by cashier Laprisha. As soon as we said the required statement, "man, it's cold outside," Laprisha smiled and told us we were eligible for free chips and queso. She also offered us one of the dimes she was holding in her hand. I had to ask her if she had been busier than usual for a Tuesday. "We really have" she said. "I'm running out of dimes."

Even though we had only walked across the street, the bitter wind chill had done its damage. I wanted something hot to balance the ungodly cold. I came up with what I was sure was the perfect combination - a spicy cup of chicken tortilla soup paired with a fiery Korean BBQ burrito bowl, plentiful drizzled in both sweet and spicy Korean BBQ sauce and Siracha chili sauce. And if that still wasn't spicy enough, I could turn up the heat with any combination of the dozens and dozens of special hot sauces that are always available off the California Tortilla Wall of Flame.

A woman bundled against the cold walks past a homeless man in McPherson Square as temperatures dipped into the single digits Tuesday morning in Washington. (Mladen Antonov/Getty Images/AFP)
Of course, while our eating adventure made fun of the arctic-like temperatures, there was a serious side to the arrival of the cold front, which had been plaguing the Midwest for a couple of days. The Washington Post reported that the region's social service agencies had been working since Monday afternoon to try to get people into shelters before the freezing, possibly-fatal weather hit. Those agencies were reporting that they had opened extra warming centers and placed extra beds in shelters, only to find themselves still short of space.

Meanwhile, other newspapers across the country devoted much of their front page space to detailing the effects the Polar Vortex was having on their coverage areas. Here is a sample of some of those pages courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Smithsonian Sunday: This Current Cold Snap Makes Earth Colder than the Surface of Mars

DC's Smithsonian museums (there are 17 of them here in the city) are among America's most treasured and visited places. But the Smithsonian also publishes a series of some of the most interesting, fact-filled blogs appearing anywhere on the internet. Each Sunday, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry that initially appeared in one of those highly-readable Smithsonian blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe we'll see you soon at the Smithsonian.


In northern Minnesota right now, the temperature has dipped to a staggering -42 F. The chill is running so deep in the North Star State that it’s not only colder than in the lands above the Arctic Circle, it’s actually colder than some of the daily temperatures on Mars—you know, the planet 78 million miles further from the Sun on average.
The source of these freezing temperatures, which are heading to the eastern states over the next couple weeks, is bubble of cold Arctic air is pushing down south, says Climate Central. “The coldest days in the East this week look to be Thursday through Saturday, with temperatures in northern New England struggling to rise to near zero, and highs in the teens or single digits from Boston to Albany and New York City on Friday.”
To continue reading this article from Smart News at Smithsonian. com, click here.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saturday Supplement: Around the Metro in 86 Stops

Every Saturday we publish an article (or more) that is of interest to both DC residents and visitors which first appeared on a website other than The Prices Do DC.


When it comes to making New Year's resolutions, Stephen Ander does not mess around. Today, the 31-year-old government research consultant embarked on a feat few have accomplished: To visit every Metro station in a single day.
"I am a dead-set New Year's resolution-maker and I sadly could not budget it into my 2013, so I'm rushing to get into my 2014 goals," he told DCist. Ander, an Alexandria resident, will rise early and head to the Franconia Metro station when it opens to begin his journey. "The Metro opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 3 a.m. I think it's doable," Ander says
Of course, this isn't the first time someone has attempted to visit every Metro station—all 86 of them—in a single day. Last year, 23-year-old Andrew Baker conquered the system in seven hours, 27 minutes, and 49 seconds. Ander says he wasn't aware that anyone had done this before, but that's not deterring him at all. He's also doing things a little differently than Baker. Whereas Baker only exited a train to transfer to another Metro line, Ander will get off at every stop and take a picture of the station then hop back on.
To continue reading this article from The DCist, click here.

Friday, January 3, 2014

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

With the NFL playoffs underway and the Winter Olympics a little more than a month away, there is a lot of talk about sports. Here is a post about the man they called "the Mozart of sports photographers" that originally appeared in The Prices Do DC on  Dec. 11, 2011.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Legendary Alabama Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Best of DC 2013: Culture, History, and Current Events

Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei had both his own show and was part of the the Damage Control exhibit at the Hirshhorn Galley in 2013
Favorite Major Art Exhibit
  • Judy - Ai Weiwei @The Hirshhorn
  • Me - Damage Control(@The Hirshhorn
Favorite Smaller Art Exhibit
  • Judy- Hello: my name is @The Fridge
  • Me -One Man'sTrash @The Torpedo Factory
Favorite Exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery
  • Judy - Armed Conflict  
  • Me - Ellen Harvey's An Alien's Guide to the Ruins of DC 
Favorite Art Museum
  • Judy - American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery
  • Me - The Hirshhorn
Favorite Artist Talk
  • Judy - Yoko Ono(@The Hirshhorn)
  • Me - Ray Chapman (@The Hirshhorn)
Favorite Outdoor Arts Festival
  • Judy - Arlington Arts Festival
  • Me - Arlington Arts Festival


Favorite Historical Re-creation
  • Judy - The 1963 March on Washington
  • Me - The 1963 March on Washington
Favorite Book Talk about JFK and the 50th anniversary of his death in Dallas
  • Judy - Richard Beltzer at the National Press Club speaking about Hit List
  • Me - Jeff Greenfield at Politics and Prose speaking about If Kennedy Lived
Most Meaningful Protest Rally We Participated In
  • Judy - Forward on Climate
  • Me - No War in Syria
Favorite Museum of 2013
  • Judy - Museum of the American Indian
  • Me - The Newseum
Favorite Historical Exhibit
  • Judy - Armed Conflict @The Corcoran Gallery
  • Me - The Civil War in American @The Library of Congress
Favorite Historical Talk
  • Judy - Holocaust Survivor Gerde Weissmann Klein @The National Archives
  • Me - Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer on their coverage of the JFK assassination @The Newseum
Favorite Exhibit at the Newseum
  • Judy - JFK: 3 Shots Were Fired
  • Me - Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement
Favorite News Speaker at the Newseum
  • Judy - Judy Woodruff
  • Me - Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer
Favorite Political Speaker at the Newseum
  • Judy - Congressman John Lewis
  • Me - Congressman John Lewis
Favorite Book Talk at Politics and Prose
  • Judy - Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan 
  • Me - Insane City by Dave Barry 
Favorite Book Talk Not at Politics and Prose
  • Judy - The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan @The National Archives
  • Me - David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell @ The Historic 6th and I Synagogue
Favorite Book Talk at the National Book Festival
  • Judy - Christopher Buckley
  • Me - Brad Meltzer
Favorite Book Talk about a Rock Memoir
  • Judy - Linda Ronstadt @The National Book Festival
  • Me - Graham Nash @The Library of Congress
Favorite Annual Event (Serious)
  • Judy - Embassy Tour sponsored by Cultural Tourism DC
  • Me - The National Book Festival on the National Mall
Favorite Annual Event (Just for Fun)
  • Judy - The Halloween DC Drag Race
  • Me - The Halloween DC Drag Race
Best Cultural Discovery of 2013
  • Judy - The Mansion on O Street
  • Me - The Mansion on O Street
Favorite Think Tank for Programs
  • Judy - Cato Institute
  • Me - New American Foundation

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