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Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Flashback: And the Oscar Goes to ...

Tomorrow (Saturday) at the Newseum Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday will talk about all the movies in this year's Oscar race. Here is an article about a Hornday's 2012 movies presentation which 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC on Feb. 25, 2013.


Argo: The best movie of 2012
Even before the 1st envelope was opened at tonight's Academy Awards there had been 2 huge winners from the 2012 movie year, according to Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday.

With films such as ArgoLincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty, the 1st winner was the adult audience. "This was a great year for the garden variety film goer," Hornaday says. "Adults were a very big market. These were the kind of dramas most of us grew up with."

Hornaday appeared at the Newseum on Saturday to talk about the year in film and many of the Oscar nominees. It was the 3rd year in a row that Hornaday had presented such a program the day before the awards would be announced.

This year's 9 nominees were all strong pictures. But Hornaday contends the strength of movies reached into other genre categories such as comedies like Magic Mike, science fiction films like Looper, and thrillers like Skyfall, the latest in the long line of James Bond pictures. "What you want is diversity," she said. "Some years there has been a huge disconnect between what critics like and what the public likes, but it wasn't that way this year."

Hornaday says that there are film experts who believe the bounty of strong movies can actually be attributed to the failing economy of a few years ago. It can take 4 or 5 years for a film project to reach the theaters, which means many of these films saw their financing actually reduced. In turn, that reduction may have sparked an increase in creativity, the result of which actually made for a better movie. "My sense is that they (filmmakers) are really upping their game," Hornaday said.

The second big winner was Washington, D.C. which was a integral locale to 3 films - Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty - most favored to win the best picture award. "It was a great year for DC," Hornaday said. The critic said that Washington has long fielded a strong presence in stories and settings in films. "People have always had a fascination with the power behind the curtain. But what set these apart was the lack of cynicism. And this came at a time when Congress is stuck with such a bad odor," she contended.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Hornaday is an interesting and engaging speaker. But her real strength is in her cogent, informative writing. To check out Hornaday's recent writings including articles supporting her contention that audiences were the big winners in 2012 and a look at the Oscar under the influence of politics, just click here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Forget Snakes on a Plane, Now It's Snakes in the Gallery

Demeter in front of a masterpiece he calls jokingly calls "Pass the buck". Photo by Matt McClain/Washington Post
When you think of art, you think of snakes - right? You don't. Well, Bela Demeter does. For 35 years, he was a reptile keeper at the National Zoo. After he retired, he became a docent at the National Gallery of Art. As he wandered around the Gallery giving his guided talks, he realized that the art there contained a lot of reptile motifs. So now, a few times a year, he gives a special walking tour entitled Dragons in Art.

We took the tour yesterday. And we discovered that not only is it about snakes and dragons and toads, it offers equal parts art, myth, religion, science, and history. And, as an added bonus, Demeter infuses his engaging tales with a keen sense of wit.

Demeter admits that he uses snakes and dragons as a luring come-on for his true purpose. "We're really trying to expose you to the arts," he says.

In all, the tour covers 10 galleries and 6 centuries of art.

Mercury
We began in the massive rotunda, examining a statue of the Roman god Mercury. Mercury is often represented holding a caduceus, which has become a symbol for medicine. The caduceus depicts intertwined snakes. But actually, using Mercury's ornament for medicine is a wrong representation, Demeter says.

"Mercury did a lot of things. The Greek and Roman gods, they multi-tasked. Mercury was the god of liars and thieves and merchants - in fact mercantile comes from the word Mercury. But he never had anything to do with medicine," Demeter noted.

"The Romans and Greeks had a profound respect for snakes. The Romans used snakes in their worship and they had priests like our snake-handling ministers of today," he added. "But if you know anything about snakes, they are escape artists." That is why some species of snakes are in different parts of Europe today - they are the direct descendants of escaped snakes carried by the Romans to the lands they conquered.

With the advent of Christianity, however, humans view of snakes took "a decidedly sinister turn," Demeter pointed out. There were 2 reasons for this. First, the Egyptians, who held the Jewish people in captivity, worshipped snakes. In fact, famed Egyptian queen Cleopatra was known as "the serpent of the Nile." Christianity was designed to rebuke the pagan beliefs of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

And then, of course, there is the fact that the concept of original sin from the Garden of Eden tale is forever intertwined with idea of temptation from a wily, Devil-like serpent.

So for the next few galleries we examined various artists' renditions of the snake in the Garden of Eden. (For an example, look at the picture of the "Rebuke of Adam and Eve" by Italian artist Domenichino, which Demeter jokingly refers to as "Pass the Buck.").

In one of those pictures, an evil-looking cat is in the foreground, staring back at each viewer of the picture. Demeter has a theory about why the cat was included. "I've read the Genesis story and I don't remember any cat," he said with a laugh. "But in the 15th Century, the cat was associated with the Devil. Think about witches and their familiars. Their familiars were never a dog; they were always a cat. In fact, during that time, there was an effort in Europe to kill every cat. By the 1400s, cats were almost extinct. But something else was going on at that time. Europe was swept by a number of plagues. The plagues were carried by fleas that came on rats. And what kills rats - cats. That's something to think about."

Demeter says that such examples point out one of his steadfast beliefs about art. "No art is formed in a vacuum," he says, pointing out that understanding the history, culture, and beliefs of a period in which a piece of art was produced helps you understand and appreciate the art much better,

St. George slaying the dragon
Christian art of ages past also often depicted the battle between virtuous knights such as St. George and evil dragons. "These were really showing the power of the church in subduing evil," Demeter said as we began examining a series of dragon in Christian art.

In fact, Demeter said the great artist Leonardo da Vinci had his own beliefs about depicting dragons in art. "When you are drawing a dragon, you should use as many real parts (of animals) as you can," da Vinci was supposed to have said. "That will make it more terrifying."

Early Dutch painters always included real-life images with highly symbolic meanings in their works. We looked at one Dutch painting that Demeter noted included a frog so realistic that its species can still be identified today. "That's how well the Dutch did their art. It's amazing," Demeter noted.

Frog or toad: Now you should be able to tell
From the paintings, we moved to sculpture, examining first a series by DaRavenna involving Neptune and dragon-like sea monsters. In the same gallery, were incredibly realistic depictions of frogs and toads. Demeter explained how those depictions were so life-like. "They used real models as molds. Now you can't use a live frog. And you can't use a dead frog. So they would stun the frog by putting him in either vinegar or urine," Demeter explained. Of course, that process was painful for the animal. In fact, Demeter pointed out that one of the replicas was actually mislabeled by museum experts. It was called a toad when actually it was a frog. And how did Demeter know. The small statue had its mouth opened in anguish and only frogs open their mouths that way.

Chinese dragon vase
The tour finished in the gallery containing exquisite Chinese porcelain vases. The Chinese have a quite positive view of both dragons and snakes. "They are not mean. They bring good luck. To have been born in the year of the dragon is the best. To have been born in the year of the snake is the second best," Demeter said.

The Chinese have a very involved mythology surrounding dragons. They believe it takes 3,000 years for a dragon to fully form and that they go through many stages during that time. The Chinese also believe that dragons bring rain. Demeter said that there may be a scientific reason for that belief.

"The ancient Chinese were very astute observers of nature. We have found remains of crocodiles in China with a skull of more than 30-feet. Such a crocodile would have been huge. It could have weighed tons - in short, a dragon. Crocodiles are also effected by barometric pressure. When it drops, they move. Thus, it would have been natural to associate them with rain," Demeter said.

"The Chinese were also aware of dinosaur fossils. You put that all together and you can easily see where the dragon mythology comes from," he added.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hillary Clinton on the Rise

First Lady of the United States for 8 years. The most successful failed female presidential nominee candidate in history. One of only 3 women to serve as Secretary of State. The most likely Democratic presidential candidate for 2016 should she choose to run.

Obviously, all these factors combined make Hillary Rodham Clinton one of the most reported on women in the world.

But Washington DC political reporters Jonathan Allen and Aimee Parnes were convinced a need still existed for a comprehensive book detailing a sense of how Clinton makes decisions and how she might govern if she were to become president of the United States in 2016.

Last night, Allen and Parnes appeared at Politics and Prose to discuss their new book HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton."

And obviously, judging by the large crowd that attended last night's presentation, there is an audience definitely interested in Clinton. In fact, Allen began the book talk this way: "I hate to disappoint all those of you who came to see Hillary Clinton," his remark eliciting loud chuckles.

The new book actually tells 2 stories - the political battles between the Clinton and Obamas camps and Clinton's tenure as Obama's Secretary of State.

"This is not a foreign policy treatise, but we wrote through the lens of her decision making and how government works." Allen said.

Parnes said she originally wanted a different book title. "I wanted to call the book The Phoenix," she said. "She (Clinton) always kinds of plunges and then rises higher than ever."

Obama had long considered Clinton for the Secretary of State job despite the brutal campaign the 2 camps waged in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary and objections from many of his advisers, Parnes noted.

"He fought and fought and fought to get her. He felt it very strongly. He knew it would help him bring her set of Democrats back and he believed she was right for the job," Allen said. "It was a shot-gun wedding, but a very close one."

However, it was clear from their reporting that the Clintons and Obamas shared a work relationship, not a deep personal friendship. "I don't expect to see them socializing together any time soon," Allen said.

Allen said Clinton's time as Secretary of State altered the perception of the American government. "The footprint of American democracy was a combat boot. But she presented a different picture of America. There was an elevation of perception, especially in Europe," he explained.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the questions from the audience dealt with the probability of a Clinton run for the White House in 2 years.

Both reporters said her time as Secretary of State had changed Clinton. "I think she is a little bit more liberated. She learned to let some people in that are outside the circle. There is willingness to try to address deficiencies," Allen said.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Traveling in Place

For Ann Lordeman, it sounded like a perfect match. Lordeman likes to learn while she travels, and Road Scholar promises their programs are not tours, but learning adventures. And after 1 program (she has since been on 14 more) Lordeman found that she indeed had discovered a great way for her to travel.

"I know they will take me to places that I never even knew existed, places that I wouldn't see on my own," Lordeman says.

So that is why, this past weekend, Lordeman could be found at the Road Scholar booth at the Washington DC Travel and Adventure Show in the Walter Washington Convention Center. There, she answered questions and told about her experiences to many of the 20,000 people who attended the 2-day event.

Lordeman, who is a retired researcher for the Library of Congress, volunteered her time to share her love of travel with anyone who would listen.

But most of the travel experts at the convention were professionals. Take Pieter Reynolds of Your Ireland Personalized Vacations. You could find Reynolds, employing a lilting Irish accent, cajoling visitors to stop at his company's exhibit and explore the options.

The company builds many of its trips around special events. For example, there is an Ireland excursion for St. Patrick's Day, Rome at Easter, and Germany at Christmastime. Reynolds said one of the most asked about theme-trips this year is a British Isles excursion which features sites from Downtown Abbey, the wildly popular BBC television series.

"Those tickets are really hard to get. We tried for 2 years," Reynolds said.

In all, there were more than 200 exhibitors offering travel information both for sites in America and around the world. You could get brochures on safaris in Africa, cruises in the Caribbean, layovers in Iceland, religious pilgrimages to the Holy Lands, and high adventure train trips through West Virginia.

Or you could sit with a crowd of about 1,000 people and hear TV traveler Rick Steves impart tips about his back-door excursions in Europe. Afterward, you could have Steves sign one of his many books, which were for sale at the site, if you wanted to wait in a line that snaked around the exhibition hall.

Ashley Waters gets cooking
If food is your thing, you could stop by the Cuisine Noir Taste of Travel Stage and watch, smell (and, in some cases) taste exotic foods prepared by chefs who explained each stage of their cooking process. We paused to watch Ashley Waters create a dish called Belizean Sere, which included red snapper, coconut, and plantains while her co-host described the foods and culture of her native Belize.

Then you might stroll to the Destination Theater to hear speakers like Colonel Joel Wilkinson, Director of the Maine Warden Service and host of the Animal Planet network's "North Woods Law."
Colonel Wilkinson describes the rugged charms of the Maine woods
If you wanted a more hands-on experience, you could learn scuba driving in a large pool, practice riding a Segway, or show off your rock climbing expertise.

As you can see, if it involved travel, there was plenty to do. There was even a special booth for those who would like to travel, but are afraid of leaving their home unoccupied. DAT services was offering tips on how to secure your home if you take off for other parts of the country or the world. Or, I suppose, even a travel and adventure show.

At the travel show, you learn scuba diving ...

... spin for prizes ...

... watch dancers and performers from around the world ...

... and/or climb up the rock

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Smithsonian Sunday: The Real Most Interesting Man in the World

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.

The real "Most Interesting Man in the World" didn’t sell Dos Equis; Eliot Elisofon took pictures. And yes, Elisofon was allowed to touch the artwork in the museum, because he gave it to them. He also put the Brando in Marlon. And strippers kept photos of him on their dressing tables.
His Latvian last name (accent the first syllable: EL-isofon) so confounded General George S. Patton that the commander simply called him “Hellzapoppin.”
The most interesting man in the world didn’t think of himself as a good photographer, but rather as the “world’s greatest.” And while ceaseless self-promotion was his game (he hired a press agent and a clipping service), the output of his camera can be measured: The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art boasts more than 50,000 black-and-white negatives and photographs, 30,000 color slides and 120,000 feet of motion-picture film and sound materials. In addition, the photographer collected and donated more than 700 works of art from Africa. Hundreds of other images are owned by the Getty Archives, and his papers and materials are housed at the University of Texas at Austin.
To continue reading, click here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Supplement: 7 New Museums Headed to DC?

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

First, we have an article on Lonnie Bunch who is guiding the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to reality.

Then we have a look at 6 other new museums now being planned for DC.

Lonnie Bunch as the site of the new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History
Lonnie Bunch can’t walk three feet at the BET Honors pre-dinner reception this month without stopping to hug, accept well wishes and talk about the 380,000-square- foot museum he’s building from scratch on the National Mall.
In a room full of VIPs and stars, his celebrity is singular.
He huddles with Motown founder Berry Gordy to talk Detroit collaborations. There’s a brief chat with Georgetown professor and pundit Michael Eric Dyson about coming up with a Smithsonian programThere’s a quick hi-by with Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Next month, it comes out of the ground!” he enthuses about the construction to a guest whose name escapes him.
To continue reading this article which first appeared in The Washington Post, click here.
Artist rendition of the proposed DC science fiction museum
Between now and 2020, at least seven museums will open in the D.C. area, funds allowing. Most everyone’s aware of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, but the six below — including the just-announced ICE — are more mysterious.

Here is a look at those 6 in article originally published in the The Express.  To read the article, click here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Flashback: Dining in DC - We, the Pizza


This article first appeared in The Prices Do DC on Dec. 29, 2012. It is this week's choice for our Friday Flashback because a branch of We, the Pizza will be opening just steps from our Crystal City apartment complex this year. Can't wait.


The way I figure it, if it's good enough for the president of the United States, it's good enough for the Prices. That's why, when we're in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and want pizza, we head for We, the Pizza on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Now let me explain something about my pizza preferences. I know there are people who are concerned about the sauce, about the crust, about the cheese. But when it comes to pizza, I like variety. And that is where We, the Pizza shines. There are 12 varieties of pies. Then there are 5 more types in the special Pizza on Tour category where pies capture the flavors of different regions of the United States and Mexico. All are available by the pie or the slice, which allows for some creative taste combinations.

Let's deal with the tour category first. Here is the current list:

  • Mortadella Pico de Gallo from Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Honey Ham and Pineapple from Maui, Hawaii
  • Cajun Chicken  and Andouille from New Orleans, Louisiana 
  • Regal Pepper Farm from St. Augustine, Florida
  • China Poblano Spicy Mexican Pie from Puebla, Mexico.
I have tried and enjoyed all but the Regal Pepper. Pressed to pick a favorite, I would have to go with the Honey Ham and Pineapple (roasted fresh pineapple, Virginia ham, ginger, honey, lemongrass, mozz, and a  hint of tomato sauce.

From the 12-pie regular list my 3 favorites are Coletti's Notorious BBQ (slow roasted pulled pork w/BBQ sauce, cheddar, and crispy onion), Buffalo Chicken Pie (spicy boneless chicken wings, creamy blue cheese, mozz, and Miguel's hot sauce) and Forrest Shroomin' Pie (wild forest mushrooms, truffles, mozz, and fresh thyme). The next time we visit I'm going to sample the For the Greeks in Us (tomato sauce, feta cheese, mozz, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, fresh oregno, sprinkled toasted sesame seeds, and Spike's Kefalonian olive oil).

As you can see, I really do crave variety. But my wife is completely different. For her, pizza is basic. The most daring she gets is extra cheese. But fortunately for me, she gives a big thumbs up to the Simple Cheese Pie here.

We, the Pizza is under the direction of chef Spike Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn first came to prominence when he participated in Bravo’s Top Chef in 2008, then Top Chef All Stars two years later. His other Capitol Hill establishment, the hamburger and shake Good Stuff Eatery is located right next to his pizza shop.

Now what about that presidential thing we mentioned? We the Pizza is on the list of the 44 places in the DC area Barack Obama has dined since taking office in 2008.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
What others say:
The Prices Do DC Rating
**** 4 out of 5 pies

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Puppetry Now at the Smithsonian



Puppetry is one of the oldest types of performance art in America. Now, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, a new exhibition traces the history of the subject from colonial times to the TV shows of today.

Early American hand puppets
The earliest traditions of puppetry were established by immigrants from Great Britain, France, and Italy who traveled from town to town putting on street and park performances. In the early 20th Century, puppets and their puppet masters became an integral part of vaudeville stage performances across the country.

In the 1930s, Edgar Bergen and his sidekick Charlie McCarthy brought the idea of puppetry to the new media of radio. In 1969, Jim Henson and his staff brought the Muppets to the children's show Sesame Street. With Kermit, Oscar, and the beloved duo of Bert and Ernie, puppet popularity encountered an explosion which continues to today. In fact, it was the donation of 21 of Henson's most beloved creations to the museum in October of last year which paved the way for the current exhibition.

The California Raisin made sure they were heard through the grapevine in 1986
The exhibit, which delights youngsters of all ages, examines puppets from the beginnings of America until today. Included are examples of:
  • Asian shadow puppets
  • hand puppets
  • marionnettes 
  • paper puppets
  • ventriloquist's puppets
  • finger puppets 
  • stop-motion puppets and
  • Muppets
But no matter what the type of puppet is used, the art of puppetry really depends on 3 factors: a puppet, the imagination of a manipulator, and an audience willing to suspend belief and accept the puppet as "real."
Youngsters who get excited about the exhibit, can indulge their puppetry fantasies at the special gift shop

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It Isn't Over Until the Fat, Mighty Whale Sings

Capt. Ahab and his doomed crew
In American culture and the arts, Moby Dick has been many things. Of course, first it was the classic 19th Century Herman Melville masterpiece novel of the obsessed, megalomaniacal sea captain Ahab's relentless hunt for the giant white whale that had severed his leg and stolen his soul. Then it was the popular 1950s movie starring Gregory Peck.

Now, in the 21st Century, it is an American opera. And this Saturday, Moby Dick, with songs by Jake Heggie and libretto by Gene Scheer, debuts at the Kennedy Center.

Last week, selected members of the Washington National Opera cast previewed songs from the show on the Millennium Stage. The cast performed 5 selections. They were:
  • "Greemhorn with me ..." from Act I, scene 3 featuring Norman Garrett and Chad Johnson
  • "Well Stub, wise Stub ... " from Act I, scene 5 featuring Christian Bowers and Jacqueline Echols
  • "Captain Ahab? I must speak with you" from Act I, scene 7 featuring Norman Garrett
  • "Poor Rover" from Act II, scene 2 featuring Jacqueline Echols and and Chad Johnson and
  • "Ah, Starbuck, it is a mild wind" from Act II, scene 6 featuring Corey Evan Rotz and Norman Garrett
In performances in other cities, much interest has been focused on the innovative, creative stage set designed by Robert Brill. Here, The Washington Post's Anne Midgette interviews Brill about the monumental task of staging the opera, which had its world premiere in 2010. And here Midgette gets Heggie to talk about the production.


Two fantastical sea scenes from Moby Dick

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All She's Still Saying Is Give Peace a Chance


This month we've seen a new British Invasion of media about the Beatles almost the same as that which also exploded when John, Paul. George, and Ringo first set foot in American in February of 1964. We had the Grammy tribute concert celebrating the Beatles' historic first performance 50 years ago on the Ed Sullivan Show. Then, of course, there was the re-creation of the band's 35-minute, 12-song, first American concert right here in DC.

Well, in the event you are in the DC area and you aren't yet Beatled out, you can head to the Hirshhorn Museum to check out art work by one of the most important non-Beatle players in the Beatles' story - Yoko Ono.

In 1969, one year before the Beatles broke up (at the time, and even today, there are fans who blame Ono for the dissolution of the Fab Four), John Lennon married Yoko and the pair remained united in their art and music until Lennon was tragically gunned down in 1980 outside the couple's apartment in New York City.

Yoko Ono, far right, speaks at the Hirshhorn
Ono's work is included in the exhibition Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950. The exhibit features creations from artists influenced by the fear and uncertainty caused by the threat of imminent annihilation posed during the immediate decades following World War II and the anxiety that still resides in our contemporary world today.

Ono appeared at the museum to discuss her work, and naturally, she spoke much of her relationship with John and how they influenced each other.

"I didn't wish for it, but I met John and my whole life changed," Ono said. During much of their time, both in music and art, the couple delivered a blistering critique of the social conditions of the 60s and 70s.

"People would ask - 'what is she doing here' and I would say trying to make it a peaceful world," Ono told the crowd of art and Beatles lovers.

"With John's assassination, I know the pain that people go through," she said. "But we can survive all this together. I know we can if we use our brains. We all have brains. They think they can control us but we can change the hate to love and the war to peace. We just need a clear, logical head to know what is going on."

"We think 'I shouldn't do this' - but if all of us stand up it will be very difficult to beat us. They (the oppressors) will be very lonely. They won't even have servants," she added.

"Not too many people choose to be activists. Well, John and I were activists. Today people ask me - 'Yoko, are we going to have doomsday (which is a recurring motif in the Damage Control exhibit)?' I say, well it is up to us. If we are all so dumb, we will," Ono said.

Now 81 years old and having spent more than 30 years without John, Ono acknowledges that she has changed. For one thing, she focuses much more on her Japanese past and her ancestors. "I thought I was escaping that and being a rebel. But today, I know family history is important."

"There are so many beautiful things now. Whenever I get depressed, I take a look at the sky. It is so beautiful," she concluded.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden

Streets often get presidential names. Washington is also first here
Since it is the nation's capital and the home of the White House, there are many appropriate places to spend President's Day. One of the more informative is The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Here you view artifacts related to all 44 of America's president from George Washington to Barack Obama.

As the title of the exhibit suggests, both the positive and negative aspects of the position are explored. In 1964, then-president Lyndon B. Johnson captured that duality when he said, "The presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was: and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands."

Presidents Bush 2, Clinton, Bush 1, and Carter: 
The exhibit is divided into 7 sections. Here is a quick look at those sections and a highlighted item from the dozens in each.

Celebrating Inaugurations
  • the oversized overcoat worn by Grover Cleveland at his 1885 swearing-in
Presidential Roles
  • the chaps worn by Teddy Roosevelt when he visited his Dakota Territory ranch
The White House as Symbol and Home
  • a colorful chessboard used by John Quincy Adams
Limits of Presidential Power
  • a file cabinet damaged when the Plumbers, authorized by President Richard Nixon, broke into the psychiatrist's office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg
Assassination and Mourning
  • a wooden black sign with stark white letters reading: "Closed ... Sun. Mon. Tues. ... Due to the Death of President Kennedy
The Presidency in Popular Imagination
  • a video compilation showing how various presidents have been represented in Hollywood films over the years
Life After the Presidency
  • George Washington's favorite red chair which he used at his Mount Vernon home after he retired as the first president in American history
One final note: Currently, the most viewed item in the exhibition is not on display in the presidential gallery. That item is President Abraham Lincoln's top hat.

However, the historic hat is viewable at the history museum's exhibit titled Changing America: The Emancipation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Smithsonian Sunday: Now Olympic Site Sochi Was Once Setting of Horrific Ethnic Cleansing

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.


History has largely been kind to Alexander II, the Russian czar who freed the serfs in 1861, just two years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (the two world leaders even corresponded about their plans.)Modern historians refer to him as the “Czar-Liberator” and compare him to Mikhail Gorbachev for his willingness to engage with the West and reform Russia.
But on the occasion of the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi and the surrounding areas, it’s helpful to look back and remember that 600,000 locals died from starvation, exposure, drowning and massacres in a concerted campaign by the Russian Empire to expel the Circassian people, as they were called, from the region. The Circassians and the other inhabitants of the Caucasus region did not fit into the Czar’s reform program, because he viewed them as an inherent risk to the security of Russia’s southern frontier and the nation is still coming to terms with the consequences of the czar’s expulsion of the Circassian people today.
To continue reading this article, click here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Supplement: Exhibits about Real Monument Men on Display in DC

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


At The Washington Post, the critical response to the new George Clooney-directed film The Monuments Men has been mixed, inspiring a halfhearted embrace from reviewer Ann Hornaday and outright loathing from art critic Philip Kennicott. The fact-based drama was inspired by the World War II exploits of a group of art experts recruited by the Allies under the banner of the military’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section to rescue art treasures from the Nazis. Whether you love it or hate it, the movie may be intriguing enough in its details to inspire curiosity about the real-life Monuments Men, as these art nerds in uniform became known.
A good place to learn more is the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery, where the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art is displaying a collection of photographs, letters and other documents laying out what AAA director Kate Haw calls “the story behind the story.” In conjunction with other Monuments Men-themed programming at the National Gallery of Art and the National Archives, the exhibition “Monuments Men: On the Frontline to Save Europe’s Art, 1942-1946” offers a fascinating glimpse of the history that inspired Hollywood. According to Haw, Clooney’s production team visited the Smithsonian’s archives to study some of the very material that is in this show.
To continue reading this story which originally appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Flashback: Beatles Spotted in DuPont Circle Mansion

This story 1st appeared in The Price Do DC on July 23, 2013



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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Love in Art for the Art Lovers in DC

Venus and Adonis by Titian
There are many ways you can show that special person in your life how much he or she means to you around Valentine's Day - a card, candy, flowers, chocolate. But if you live in the DC area and your special someone loves art almost as much as you, you could take them to the National Gallery of Art to hear lecturer David Garriff deliver his Love in Art Gallery walk-and-talk.

Each year, for 2 weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, Garriff takes visitors on a tour of some of the museum's best-known works which display how Italian, Dutch, and French painters used the theme of love in their art.

The best thing about the talk is not only does it teach you a lot about art, but it also makes you contemplate how love and its various depictions have both remained the same and changed over the centuries.

Many of the masterpieces explored in the talk used classic Greek and Roman myths for their source material, and no writer was more in evidence yesterday than Ovid, with his seminal work The Metamorphoses. 

Before beginning the 75-minute tour, Garriff promised an afternoon full of "amorous escapades and adventures" and that promise was fulfilled. We got to see a Roman god, which, as Ovid described it "his rigid member" extended and the female nudes so favored by art patron King Phillip the 2nd of Spain.

Famed symbols of love made appearances. Some were familiar, such as representations of that imp Cupid and his ever-present quiver filled with the arrows of love. Others, such as eggs with holes in them to represent the loss of virginity, were new discoveries.

One of the lecture's more interesting revelations was that while today we give cut flowers to represent our love, in olden times cut flowers in Flemish art were a symbol of decay and inevitable death.

The 10 paintings on the tour covered the gamut of love, from eternal devotion to an imbalance of feelings to 18th Century near-porn.

"Ill Matched Lovers" by Quentin Matsys
For example, in "Ill Matched Lovers" by Quentin Matsys, a lecherous old man fondles a young woman, while the woman steals the man's wallet and slips it to her fool-like accomplice behind her. "Dutch painters always included some type of moral or aphorism in their work and here we are reminded of a couple - 'There's no fool like an old fool' or "A fool and his money are soon parted,'" Garriff noted.

A much more risque picture of love was seen in the French work "The Swing." Here a woman is pushed high in the air by a man presumed to be her husband, while lurking in the bushes and watching is another man presumed to be her lover. At the height of her swing, her legs are spread wide open and her shoe flies off, presenting an open invitation to her hidden lover to engage in a passionate rendezvous later.

Garriff regretfully explained that he usually completed the special love tour with a look at Rodin's 19th Century sculpture "The Kiss". However, the section that houses that masterpiece is now undergoing renovation. In it's time, the Rodin piece was considered shocking. "When it was shown in the United States authorities would not allow men and women in to see it together. The men would go in for half-an-hour , then women only would go in for half-an-hour," Garriff said. "I guess they thought they couldn't control what would happen if they saw the work together."

The lecturer noted that throughout the ages, art has been used as an excuse to view some of the more carnal pursuits. "You could always say - 'I'm not just being prurient; I'm looking at Venus," he said.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beatles Get Back with a Historic Night in DC

Crowd outside DC venue for The Beatles' 1st American concert
The Beatles on stage in their first American concert in DC in 1964
On a cold, snowy February 11, 1964 night, the Beatles and 8,092 screaming, shrieking, mostly female fans joined to make rock music history. For on that night, with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of the American music charts, the British group played their first American concert, a presentation which took place just 2 days after the Beatles had been introduced to this country on an Ed Sullivan Show seen by a then-record audience of 73 million viewers.

Tonight, that historic event was recreated as the touring cast of Beatlemania Now, wearing replicas of the suits John, Paul, George, and Ringo wore on that night, performed the exact 12-song, 35-minute set that the Beatles played 50 years ago. And, in a nod to history, the Beatles tribute band's performance in the same Washington Coliseum as the original concert, began at 8:31, the identical start time of the 1964 show.

The reenactment was a fundraiser for the DC Preservation League, which has led a fight to keep the dilapidated Coliseum, also known as the Uline Arena, from being torn down. This would be the last performance ever in the venue, which has been used as a parking lot for the past few years. It will undergo a multi-million dollar renovation and reopen as a complex for offices and shops, but will still include the historic facade.

In another nod to history, the sold-out show, attended by 2,500 Beatles fans willing to brave the cold of the now open-air building, opened with a 5-song acoustic set by Tommy Roe, who also was one of 3 groups to open for the Beatles on the original 1964 date.

"It was great to perform on the same stage as the Beatles then and it's great to be back in DC tonight," Roe said as he encouraged the crowd to sing along with his hits.

Following Roe's well-received oldies performance, the crowd, about 100 of whom indicated that they had been at the original Beatles' show, was shown a short video documenting the history of the arena, which in its day featured everything from ice shows to basketball games to early concerts by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

The crowd surged with anticipation as the Beatlemania group took the stage and plugged their guitars into the same type of Vox amps originally used by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. And just like Ringo Starr had been seated 50 years ago, the tribute band's drummer was placed on a riser. However, the replica group played on a regular stage, not the stage-in-the-round that the Beatles had used. That configuration forced the Fab Four to keep turing their amps and Ringo's drum riser so they weren't always playing to only the same 25 percent of the arena's fans.

The excitement continued to rise as the band hit the first notes of the Beatles' cover of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." The complete set list featured:
  • "Roll Over Beethoven"
  • "From Me to You"
  • "I Saw Her Standing There"
  • "This Boy"
  • "All My Loving"
  • "I Wanna Be Your Man"
  • "Please Please Me"
  • "Till There Was You"
  • "She Loves You"
  • "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
  • "Twist and Shout" and
  • "Long Tall Sally"
Initially the crowd, obviously many decades removed from the age they were when the Beatles first invaded America's shores, were content to clap, smile, and sing along with the songs. But by "She Loves You," everyone was on their feet, dancing and swaying to the magic of history being replayed. 

The 31-minute concert proved you could indeed be filled with teen spirit once again. Yesterday was today and the Beatles' infectious music was just as thrilling as it had been 5 decades ago. For while you now might be too old to scream and shriek, when it comes to Beatles' music, you are never too old to twist and shout.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Synetic Scores Again with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night


With all the snow this winter, power outages have been occurring all over the country. The next time you find yourself without power, you might want to call the Synetic Theater troupe to perform their current production Twelfth Night in your area.

The play, set in the Gatsbyesque, 1920s era of silent films and the company's 10th production in its ongoing Silent Shakespeare series, creates enough energy to keep a huge neighborhood or even a good-sized city steeped in power for days.

Director Paata Tsikurishvilli says the linkage between the 1920s and the Shakespeare play was "natural."

"Much like the seminal novel of the period, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare's play is a meditation on selfishness and shallowness, a satire at once melancholic and biting," Tsikurishvilli says in his director's notes. "In fact, many of the characters in Fitzgerald's novel seem direct descendants of those in Shakespeare's play - both works are peopled with the idle, indolent, hard-drinking rich, living purely for fun, in the moment, and with apparently nothing better to do than ostentatiously wallow in their private miseries or exact cruel and heartless revenge for grievances, real of imagined."

"Only the play's central character Viola (played brilliantly in the production by Tsikurishvilli's wife Irina) stands out from the rest of these petty aristocrats: a (Charlie Chaplin) Little Tramp-like figure, searching for love, deeply good and completely indestructible," he added.

The use of the 1920s setting also offers the opportunity for the talented cast to demonstrate a new-for-them style of movement based on the iconic dances of the 1920s such as the charleston and the jitterbug.

In short, if you like great theater, spirited dancing, Shakespeare, the 1920s, or early jazz music, you should see this play. But you will have to hurry. There are only 6 performances left this week.

But don't just take our word for it. Here's what the critics are saying:
  • "The production is creative, entertaining, and oozing with charm". (The Washintonian)
  • "A bouyantly entertaining evening during which, it seems, anything goes." (The Washington Post)
  • "Layer after luscious layer." (from The DC Theater Scene

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Can Data Miners Tell How Many Olympic Medals a Country Will Win?

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.

The American Olympic contingent at the opening ceremony: How many medals will they win?
If someone asked you to predict the number of medals each country is going to win in this year's Olympics, you'd probably try to identify the favored athletes in each event, then total each country's expected wins to arrive at a result.
Tim and Dan Graettinger, the brothers behind the data mining company Discovery Corps, Inc., have a rather different approach. They ignore the athletes entirely.
Instead, their model for the Sochi games looks at each country's geographic area, GDP per capita, total value of exports and latitude to determine how many medals each country will win. In case you're wondering, it predicts the U.S. will come out on top, with 29 medals in total.
To read the complete story, click here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

House of Cards Returns for 2nd Season

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.


Next week, the set-in-DC award-winning Neflix show House of Cards premiers all its episodes for its second season for your binge-watching enjoyment. Here is a series of articles about the political drama, which President Barack Obama says he regularly watches:
  • First up. star Kevin Spacey talks about what it's like playing the most devious fictional man in all of DC (from The Wall Street Journal)
  • Next, creator Beau Willimon looks back at the show's wild ride and (sort of) teases season 2 (from The Washington Post)
  • Finally, here is a profile of Kate Mara, who plays a wildly ambitious journalist on the show and knows something about power since she is the granddaughter of 2 NFL owners in real life. (from The Washington Post)

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