fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Maurice Bluestein modernized the wind-chill index. Edie Windsor was an activist who played a major role in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. J. P. Donleavy was a novelist, whose works included Fairy Tale of New York. Frank Vincent was an actor who sort of specialized in playing gangsters. Grant Hart was one of the founders of Husker Du. Harry Dean Stanton was a character actor who was in too many movies to attempt to single out a few to mention. Paul E. Gray was the president of MIT from 1980 to 1990.

Pete Domenici was a senator who represented New Mexico for many years. In general, I disagreed with his positions on environmental issues. He also got into trouble for reports about having fathered an illegitimate child and supposedly had pretty awful phone manners. However, he was a strong supporter of treating mental illness the same as physical illness.

Book Club: Book Club was on Wednesday. We had a pretty good discussion about Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I like the central question at the heart of the novel, which is who should tell another’s story. But the reason I am mentioning this is that part of the novel involves one of the characters having an affair with a writer she admires. I made a comment to the effect of, "if Neil Gaiman showed up on my doorstep…" and was shocked that two of the people present were entirely unfamiliar with him. (I explained him as a writer of humorous fantasy with floppy hair and a British accent.) It also turned out that there were several people who had never read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Philistines!

Christine Lavin: Friday night I went to see Christine Lavin at Jammin’ Java, one of my favorite local venues, not least for its proximity to home. Doug Mishkin opened for her and was thoroughly delightful, getting everybody singing his song "Woody’s Children." As for Christine, she was as funny as ever, with a mixture of old and new material. Many of her songs tell stories, e.g. one that described a dinner with a famous person with atrocious table manners. (I won’t reveal who it was, so you can have the joy of the surprise at the end.) During intermission, she taught members of the audience how to do some elaborate napkin folds. (I, alas, was in line for the facilities, so missed out on the lesson, though I saw the results.) All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful evening of folk song and laughter.

Loser Brunch: There were several things I could have done this weekend, but it had been a while since I’d been to brunch with the Style Invitational Losers and Devotees, i.e. fans of the Washington Post’s humor contest. This brunch was at Brion’s Grill in Fairfax, so reasonably convenient. The buffet was just okay, losing points from me for not having any fruit beyond a bowl of mixed melon. On the plus side, they did have cooked to order omelets. And they had French toast donuts, something I had never experienced before. This sort of thing is all about people, in my opinion, so I don’t really care much about the food. The conversation was lively and it was a good way to get out of the house for a couple of hours.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Benjamin Barber was a political theorist who wrote the prescient Jihad vs. McWorld in 1995. Vinod Khanna was a Bollywood actor. Jonathan Demme was a film director. Seeing Something Wild and Swimming to Cambodia in the 1980’s is what made me conscious of the director as a way of choosing what movies I might want to see, an approach that has, generally, stood me in good stead.

Idan Raichel: I went to see Ian Raichel at the Barns at Wolf Trap last night. It was an interesting concert, since he is best known for things like The Iden Raichel Project, MiMa’amakim, and his collaborations with Vieux Farka Toure. In other words, for big group fusion collaborative music. This was just him and a piano (and some electronics, particularly with respect to percussion). He gets characterized as "world music" because of those collaborations and he had a few things to say about that characterization. For example, he noted that Edith Piaf is world music to Filipinos. (This is, by the way, why I have trouble with the term. But it was a helpful one back when there were physical record stores to browse in.)

Overall, it was an enjoyable concert. He was clearly having fun singing and playing – and talking, though not, generally, about the songs themselves. And the Barns is a lot less annoying than the Filene Center, as it doesn’t take ages to get out of the parking lot. (And, when I do, I am going in the opposite direction of almost everybody else there, since I cut across the back roads of Vienna to get home.)

Speaking of Concerts – That Facebook Meme: As you probably know, there’s a facebook meme that involves listing 10 concerts you claim to have been to, with one of them being a lie. It’s the sort of thing that I think works well for facebook, assuming other people use it the way I do, as a way of keeping up with friends from scattered parts of their lives. I’m not going to play the game here, but I would like to make some observations.

First off, my lie was Ry Cooder. His 1995 album, Talking Timbuktu with Ali Farka Toure, pretty much defines my adult musical tastes. But he’s never been playing somewhere that I could get to when he was there.

As for the ones who were true, Ari Shapiro is better known as an NPR reporter, but he sings cabaret, notably with Pink Martini. He has a good voice. And he looks like the groom doll on a wedding cake.

I saw Arlo Guthrie as part of the HARP tour – Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger – around 1984 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. I think I actually went to that concert with my brother.

Elvis Costello was at the Chicago Theatre this past October.

Eric Bogle was either at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley or McCabe’s in Santa Monica. Possibly both. At any rate, it was somewhere in California and somewhere between 1982 and 2002. The thing I do remember distinctly is that he sang "Do You Sing Any Dylan?" (which, google tells me places the concert after 1992, so it must have been McCabe’s after all) and "Bloody Rotten Audience" (and, yes, I know Tony Miles wrote the latter).

I saw Garnet Rogers at Jammin’ Java. Don’t expect me to remember when, but maybe 2009 or so? I remember being disappointed, though I think Garnet has always disappointed me simply by not being his late, great brother Stan (who, alas, died before it ever occurred to me that there was such a thing as Canadian folk music).

John Denver is the most embarrassing on this list. I went with three friends in high school, and did not find it embarrassing at the time. What can I say? Tastes change as we age. Anyway, it was about 1975 at Madison Square Garden. I know that Robert Redford was at that concert, by the way, because another friend, who was supposed to go but whose parents were not comfortable with the whole thing and vetoed the idea, had a huge crush on him. When we told her we had seen him there at the arena, she dropped the schoolbooks she was holding.

The most interesting on the list is Kongar-ol Ondar. I took a tour of Siberia, Tuva, and Mongolia in 2000. Part of that included going to Na’adam Festival events in Kyzyl. That meant watching Tuvan horse races and Tuvan wrestling (complete with eagle dance) and, of course, listening to Tuvan throat singing. We went to the national concert, where the only Westerners there were the 4 of us (me, a guy from Milwaukee, a guy from Princeton, and our Czech tour leader), a French musicologist, and an American radio producer. We got a lot of attention, but nobody got anywhere near as much attention as Ondar did.

Nobody was foolish enough to guess Pierre Bensusan. In addition to being my favorite living musician, I may have mentioned in the past that I’ve probably seen Pierre perform a couple of dozen times. I think the first of those was at the Julia Morgan Center in Berkeley. I know I saw him a couple of times at McCabe’s and several times at Jammin’ Java, and at various other venues, including the Takoma Park Community Center. Alas, I missed his most recent performance in this area.

Finally, I saw Tom Paxton at the Barns at Wolf Trap a couple of years ago. I think I had seen him previously at McCabe’s, but I’m not sure. I remember thinking the Wolf Trap show was not very energetic and deciding I didn’t need to see him again.

The One That Got Away: I expressed some surprise (on facebook) at how many of my friends could identify exactly when and where they saw certain performers. As you can tell from the above, I am, uh, vague on a lot of the details.

So one friend pointed out that I do more things that most people, leading to more opportunity for confusion. Which, while true, reminded me of something I failed to do. In late 1981, there was a big Royal Shakespeare Company production of Nicholas Nickleby that played in New York. It was absurdly expensive by the standards of the time (100 bucks, I think) and took 8 ½ hours over two days. My parents went to see it and brought my brother, who was living in New York again by then. I was in grad school in Berkeley, but my father was so impressed with the whole thing that he offered to fly me to New York and pay for the ticket. I turned him down.

The thing was that, back then, flying cross-country was a big deal for me. And the idea of doing it just to go to a play was ridiculous. I was also hesitant to go to the theatre alone. No, it was just too too crazy a thing to do.

Adult me is beating my head against the wall, of course. I think a lot of what changed was all the business travel I ended up doing, which sometimes involved things like flying cross-country for a 3 hour meeting. (In one case, that meeting involved getting a briefing from a person whose office was catty-corner from mine.) And then there were all the years of carrying on the world’s longest-running brief meaningless fling. If you and the person you are involved in live on opposite sides of the ocean, you can get a lot more used to doing things alone.

Remembering this makes me appreciate the craziness of my life even more.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Ralph Cicerone headed the National Academy of Sciences from 2005 until this past June. Rick Steiner was a Broadway producer, notably of The Producers. Janet Reno was the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the U.S.

Klezmer Brass All Stars: I only made it to one concert of this year’s Washington Jewish Music Festival, largely due to the inevitable schedule conflicts. Fortunately, I was able to make it to see Eleanor Reissa, Frank London, and the Klezmer Brass All-Stars. Frank London is, of course, the Klezmer trumpeter of our age and has collaborated with a large range of musicians from many cultures. Performing with Eleanor Reissa is pretty mainstream for him, but that was fine. Eleanor Reissa is well-known as a Yiddish singer and, while her running joke of pretending she was translating for those in the audience who spoke only some relatively unlikely language (e.g. "this is for our Swahili friends") grated on me a bit, the woman can sing. I particularly liked her sultry rendition of Fargess Mir Nit. I also need to point out that Michael Winograd was there on clarinet, because he’s a pretty big name on his own. The concert had the title Vilde Mekhaye (which translates to Wild Ecstasy) and that was pretty accurate.

Freaky Friday: I went to see the new Disney musical, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre this weekend. I don’t remember the original movie well enough to say how true to it the musical was, but it did follow the same basic story of mother and daughter switching bodies and learning about each other in the process. The music and lyrics are by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, who were also responsible for Next to Normal (and If / Then, which I didn’t see).

This was fairly frothy, but it was fun. The music was often lively, though some of the rhymes in the lyrics were a bit strained. The real key to this was the performances by Emma Hunton (daughter Ellie) and Heidi Blickenstaff (mother Katherine), who were both perfectly on the mark. And, as the song "Busted" reveals, not quite as different from one another as it might seem. Remembering back to my teenage years and my relationship with my mother then, I thought the dynamics seemed very realistic. Overall, while there was nothing revolutionary here, it was an entertaining few hours, which is about what I want out of a musical.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
The Trump Card I went to see Mike Daisey’s latest monologue at Woolly Mammoth on Thursday night. If you are at all familiar with Daisey’s work, you know that he has no qualms about being provocative. The thing that makes this piece more than just a rant is that Daisey tries to understand both how Trump became what he is (e.g. his father’s racism and dishonest business dealings, combined with Roy Cohn’s mentoring) and his supporters’ frustration with feeling left out of the American conversation. A lot of the emphasis is on Trump as a performer and his success at being what he is. Interestingly, there is nothing about his wives and children, though there is plenty of material about his sexual assaults. The left does not get off lightly here, either, with accusations of smugness (mea culpa) and a bit of an attack on NPR. It’s an interesting piece and was worth seeing, though I don’t think Daisey is likely to change anybody’s mind.

Trip to Chicago: A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that: 1) I had never been to the Art Institute of Chicago and 2) it would be easy to remedy that. A quick bit of research also found an Elvis Costello concert to go to at the historic Chicago Theatre. Plane tickets are easily acquired, as are hotel reservations. In this case, I stayed at the Hilton at O’Hare, which is located conveniently on the airport grounds. I had some qualms about the travel when the American Airlines plane caught fire at ORD Friday afternoon, but my United flight was actually fine and, in fact, arrived about 20 minutes early. By the way, before leaving IAD, I checked out the new Turkish Airlines lounge and had an excellent supper of lentil soup and baba ghannoush.

I had intended to have breakfast at Wildberry Pancakes and Café, but the wait for a table was an hour and a half, so I went elsewhere. Then I drifted over to the Art Institute. I am a great believer in docent tours, so took the tour of the Modern Wing that was on offer when I was there. They define Modern as, essentially, early the first half of the 20th century. The tour started with Picasso and Braque and cubism (with a few touches of other things Picasso did, including a bit of insight into his various mistresses). After passing through the Russians (e.g. Kandinsky), we continued down to the Contemporary collection, which included Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack. I will have to admit that the latter is pretty much my least favorite artist of all time, but so it goes. The most memorable piece was a sort of sculpture by Felix Gonzales-Torres named "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). This consists of a stack of wrapped candy and viewers are encouraged to take a piece. Talk about absorbing the artwork!

After the tour, I stayed in the Modern Wing for a bit, going back to look at some things we had skipped, e.g. a couple of works by Chagall, notably White Crucifixion. Of course, the most significant Chagall work at the museum is the America Windows, six stained glass windows, which are beautiful and vibrant and the definite highlight of my visit.

There are lots of other famous works at the museum, of course, though American Gothic is off on tour right now. I did see such things as Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette. I also made a point of visiting the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which depict both European and American rooms from various periods. They are quite exquisitely detailed, but the crowds make them harder to enjoy than they should be.

Anyway, the whole museum is quite overwhelming and I didn’t attempt to see everything. As it was, I spent about 5 hours there and was pretty exhausted at the end of that. Had I been staying downtown, I could have gone to my hotel and taken a nap, but I didn’t think I had time to schlep back to the airport and back to the city. So I was rather tired for the Elvis Costello concert.

First of all, I should note that the Chicago Theatre is pretty spectacular. Unfortunately, the sound system doesn’t measure up to the ornate décor. There was a good mix of material, including pretty much everything off the Imperial Bedroom album. The most notable video images on the screen above the band were for "Watching the Detectives," which used a wide range of noir / pulp covers. That nourish theme was nicely followed by "Shot With His Own Gun," by the way. But I think the performance highlight of the evening was "This House is Empty Now." Overall, it was a reasonably good evening, but the sound system really did put a damper on things.

For what it’s worth, travel home was also straightforward and hassle-free, though I didn’t get upgraded.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, I’m behind. Life gets like that.

Celebrity Death Watch: Stuart Anderson founded the Black Angus Steakhouse chain. Richard Seltzer wrote a number of books abut of popular medicine / medical philosophy. Lois Duncan wrote suspense novels for young adults. Goro Hasegawa patented the game Othello. Ralph Stanley was a bluegrass star. Rabbi Chaim Avrohom Horowitz was the Bostoner Rebbe of New York (and, later, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel) and wrote a lot of influential Jewish music. Barbara Goldsmith wrote several non-fiction books, including a well-received 2005 biography of Marie Cure. Alvin Toffler was a futurist and author, best known for Future Shock. Mack Rice wrote such songs as "Mustang Sally." Finally (and most relevantly to my career), Simon Ramo was the "R" in TRW, and is pretty much considered the founder of systems engineering.

The Breakfast Club: Apparently, I saw exactly one movie over the past quarter. I think I kept falling asleep on airplanes instead of watching movies. Anyway, I had somehow never seen this teenage classic before. It may be 31 years old, but I think it stands up reasonably well. Maybe I think that because my teenage years are a long time ago. It has obvious flaws – clichéd roles and an unlikely ending – but it is watchable despite those. I do, however, wish there were better female role models.

Story Swap: I had two things on my calendar a week ago Saturday night, and decided I could only do one of them. As tempting as coral crocheting at a local yarn store was, I do love story swaps. And the person who was hosting it has a particularly amiable cat. (That reminds me of The Minister’s Cat, a parlor game that way too few people seem to know. The minister’s cat is an amiable cat who adores avocadoes. The minister’s cat is a belligerent cat who batters bandicoots. And so on.) Anyway, it was a good time, with some fun stories, particularly a quest story that Eve told. I told the story I had done for the Better Said Than Done competition.

Friends in Harmony: A friend had given me a ticket to a concert that a chorus she sings in was part of. Seeing that it was very close to home, why not? The event was called Friends in Harmony and featured four choral groups - Mosaic Harmony, Olam Tikvah Chorale, Ketzal Chorus, and the Sakura Choir. The idea was to celebrate the diversity of Fairfax County, so there was an invocation by the imam of a local mosque, followed by the singing, which included gospel, Jewish liturgical, Mexican, and Japanese music. They even provided a CD to take home. All in all, it was well organized and I enjoyed most of the music.

Business Trip: Then I went off to Colorado Springs on a business trip, which meant lots of work and not enough sleep. It was reasonably productive, particularly in terms of meeting some folks in person who I had only talked to on the phone in the past. And, on the way home, I reached my million miles on United!

La Cage Aux Folles: When I got home Friday, I had time for a brief nap before driving over to Signature Theatre to see the final show of the subscription year. I had seen La Cage Aux Folles during its original Broadway run many years ago. Signature’s version is, of course, scaled down, but is still a large show for them. It was very enjoyable, with an excellent performance by Bobby Smith as Albin. I continue to believe that "I Am What I Am" is one of the strongest first act closing numbers in musical theatre. There’s Jerry Herman’s catchy music, a reasonably witty book, and fun choreography, so it made for an enjoyable evening. Given the competing drag queen stories playing local theatres now, I’d say this is well worth prioritizing above Kinky Boots if you are going to see just one of them.

Conference Going: I spent much of the weekend in a state of suspended animation, recovering from my trip, though I did get a few errands done. Then the beginning of this week involved a work-related conference that was decently informative. I am reminded again and again that space is a small world, as there were several people there who I know from various of my past lives in the business (i.e. other jobs within my company, supporting different customers). I hate to say this, but I really hope I haven’t aged as badly as some of them have.

And now I am caught up, for, oh, about 3 hours. Especially as I have theatre tickets tonight.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is one of those catch-up posts. What can I say? I do a lot of stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Arthur Anderson was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, telling us about cereal being magically delicious. Doris Roberts was a character actress, who I first took notice of when she played a guest role on St. Elsewhere. Ben-Zion Gold was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel during my years at the superior institution up the street.

You don’t need me to tell you about Prince. And you’d be better off asking somebody else about him, anyway, since his music wasn’t really my thing. Billy Paul, who sang "Me and Mrs. Jones," was more to my taste. But the musician whose death I really want to highlight is Papa Wemba. He was a major figure in the world of Afropop, which is very much my thing. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may want to consult a doctor to make sure you aren't dead yourself.

Made in Space: As I mentioned previously, the theme of this year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series was space. This talk was not actually part of the series, but many of the same people were there. The speaker was Andrew Rush, the President of Made in Space, which has demonstrated (in a very limited way) additive manufacturing in space. For example, they used a 3-D printer to produce a tool on the International Space Station. Their plans are a lot more ambitious. I grasp the benefit of not needing things to survive the launch environment, but he didn’t address having the manufacturing equipment survive the space environment. For example, what are the impacts to electronics of energetic charged particles? And he didn’t really talk about the economics at all, since certain components (mostly electronics) would need to be stockpiled in the manufacturing facility. Still, it was an interesting talk. And, as a bonus, one of the people there was someone I was very friendly with as an undergrad and hadn’t seen in close to 36 years!

Book Club: The major reason to belong to a book club is to force yourself to read books you might not choose otherwise. This session’s book was Minaret by Leila Aboulela. It was an interesting book, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It would have been helpful to know a little more about Sudanese culture – and clothing, as I had to google what a "tobe" is. (It turns out to be more like a sari than like a burka, which is what I had been envisioning. One thing I continue to find amazing is other people’s limited views of the world. That is, except for the Tajik woman in the group. Of course, they probably think my view of the world is weird - e.g. my scale of how much a country is likely to be a basket case based on what colonial power dominated it.

Speaking of the Basket Case Scale: The worst colonialists were the Belgians. It isn’t clear that there’s an adequate sample size, but I wouldn’t want more countries to be as screwed up as the Congo is.

The Dutch were horrible colonialists, but, fortunately, were usually kicked out by the French or British before they could do too much damage. There are, however, no excuses for the basket cases they made of Indonesia and New York City.

Former Portuguese colonies are, in general, doomed to an eternity of civil war. The only mitigation is that they tend to have great music.

Former French colonies are also doomed to be basket cases. On the plus side, the French are sometimes willing to come back in and help them out. And they tend to have good bread and good coffee.

Former English colonies are a mixed bag. They tend to have some level of democratic government, but may have lasting ethnic tensions. Quality of food and music is more variable.

Former German colonies seem to end up with suspiciously long serving leaders, but, again, it isn’t clear if the sample size is adequate to judge. On the plus side, they tend to have good roads.

Surprisingly, former Spanish colonies may be the most functional. Admittedly, the lifetime of a President for Life may be measured in days, but the periods between junta rule are often reasonably free politically.

Innovation Reception: I had an MIT-related reception to go to on Monday night, which was kind of a pain in the neck since, being Passover, I couldn’t eat much of the food. (They did have some raw veggies.) The talk was fairly interesting, with an emphasis on nano-technology. I have to admit to a certain level of skepticism about the emphasis on nano, largely because of my experience with the technology valley of death. That is, the overwhelming majority of technologies fail to make it from research to operations (or, in this case, commercial viability). Academics are always way too optimistic about this, but it affects the riskiness of technology investments.

Pierre Bensusan: My very favorite musician on the planet playing at a place just a couple of miles from my home? Of course, I was going to be there. I’ve seen Pierre perform live numerous times and I continue to be blown away by his guitar virtuosity.

Passover: I have been somewhat unenthusiastic about Passover this year. The only significant cooking achievement was a frittata with asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. And, frankly, that is as much a shopping achievement as a cooking one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
About 5 years ago, I wrote an entry about Mark Glanville’s outstanding Pro Musica Hebraica concert. So I was excited to see that he would be back here for the Spring 2016 concert, along with two other singers, Mathias Haussmann and Anthony Russell, and pianist Alan Mason. Fortunately, my schedule worked and I was off to the Kennedy Center Monday night to hear this.

The bad news came in an announcement by Charles Krauthammer at the beginning of the evening. (Yes, that Charles Krauthammer. I may disagree with most of his politics, but he and his wife, Robin, have created an excellent and important music series.) Namely, the Terrace Theatre at the Kennedy Center is closing for renovations for a couple of years, so there won’t be Pro Musica Hebraica events there. Though I gathered that there will be some, less frequent concerts, possibly at the Concert Hall. Aside from infrequency, that’s bad news because the Concert Hall’s acoustics are a lot worse than the Terrace Theatre’s.

Anyway, the concert was titled Wandering Stars: Two Centuries of European Jewish Song. Part 1 covered 19th century European songs, while Part 2, which had to do with 20th century music, focused on "exile and remembrance." I’m not crazy about associating exile with Europe, but that’s another subject for another time.

So, music. Glanville kicked off Part 1 with three songs by Salomon Sulzer. The songs were fine, though a bit more along the lines of German romanticism than I’d prefer. A bigger issue is that they were short, and I felt a little bit cheated in that respect. Glanville did a good job, but I think he’s a stronger performer with other material.

Russell was a revelation. His rich bass is perfectly suited to the Yiddish art songs he performed, which included a piece by Sidor Belarsky, as well as Belarsky’s arrangements of other composer’s songs. Russell has made a specialty of Belarsky’s music and that’s really quite a musical bashert. (Before someone asks, that’s a Yiddish word that means "destiny" and is usually used in relationship to marriage.) I particularly liked his performance of Israel Alter’s "Akhris Hayomim."

Then came Hausmann’s turn. He started with two pieces by Alexander Zemlinksy, both of which dealt with war. Again, they felt very Germanic to me, though the liveliness of "Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen," which is essentially a soldier’s marching song, did break up some of the air of lamentation. But to make sure that the audience could stay at least a little bit in despair, he moved on to Mahler’s "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen," i.e. "I am lost to the world." If you ever want to wallow in alienation, you just have to pull out the Mahler.

The first half closed out with all three singers performing another Salomon Sulzer song, "Wanderlust Israelitischer Handwerker." This was a livelier, somewhat lighter piece, urging traveling craftsmen to be cheerful and trust in G-d’s protection. It was a good way to end the set.

The music in Part 2 was much more to my taste. Glanville started with two pieces by Alexander Oshanetsky. "Oy, vos ken you makh, s’iz Amerike" is a humorous piece detailing the differences (primarily in sexual mores) between Europe and America. Glanville clearly enjoyed singing it and the audience roared with laughter. The other piece, "Vilna, Vilna," was full of longing and memory for that city. When I saw that the next piece was "Es brent" (“It is burning”) by Mordechai Gebirtig, I turned to the friend sitting next to me and whispered that it’s a remarkable song. And, hearing it live again, it remains as powerful as ever, with the horrifying image of people standing with their hands folded, watching the shtetl burn instead of using their own blood to staunch the flames. By the way, the program notes say the event in question was a 1936 pogrom in Przytyk, so it is not technically a Holocaust song. Avrom Brudno’s "Unter dayne vayse shtern," which closed out Glanville’s set, is, however, and it reflects an anguished longing for G-d and the despair. Glanville has the emotional control to perform material like this without overdoing it and that is why I am such a big fan of his.

Next up, Hausmann performed a suite of songs by Hanns Eisler. They were somewhat too modernist for me and, frankly, I didn’t really know what to make of them. That was followed by Erich Zeisl’s "Die Nacht bricht an," another piece I found too modernistic. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s "I wish you bliss" was more to my taste. None of my dissatisfaction reflects on Hausmann’s musicality. He sang just fine, but was singing pieces that, for the most part, I didn’t much care for.

The highlight of the concert was Anthony Russell’s final set, again of pieces primarily arranged by Sidor Belarsky, but by various scomposers. Shmuel Polonsky’s "Mayn yungt" and Zelig Bardichever’s "Bessarabi” were straightforward songs of longing and memory. "Viglid" by Leyb Yampolsky followed and is literally a lullaby, but the lyrics reflect the inability to provide the good life a parent wants for a child. Russell’s resonant voice was simultaneously soothing and sad. He closed the set even more powerfully with the combination of two traditional songs – the African American piece "My Soul is Anchored in the Lord" and the Jewish prayer "Va’ani Tefilati," which is one of the most beautiful parts of the High Holiday liturgy. This was jaw-droppingly beautiful. In short, Russell (who is an African-American Jew by choice, by the way) conveyed such sheer spiritual power that I can’t imagine any audience member was unmoved. Yasher koach!

There was an encore with all three singers, but, since it wasn’t in the program and I didn’t take notes, I won’t trust my memory on it. I know it was a Schubert piece on a Hebrew text and that Glavine dedicated it to the memory of his recently-deceased mother, but I don’t have more to say than that.

Anyway, all in all it was a very good concert. I did buy Glanville’s second CD and, if Russell had had any CDs there, I would have bought them. I do highly recommend checking him out on Youtube (and, of course, in person if you have the opportunity) because he has a truly remarkable voice.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, I made a minor edit to the year in review post, as I had somehow forgotten about the trip to Toledo for the Mud Hens game.

Which brings me to recent entertainment news, going back into December.

Celebrity Death Watch: Wayne Rogers played Trapper John on M*A*S*H. Natalie Cole was a unforgettable singer (and I really should have more to say about her, but went with the cheap pun). Mike Oxley was a politician, best known for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which has to do with financial regulations on publicly traded companies. Pierre Boulez was a composer and conductor, who was controversial for his focus on the modern repertoire.

Holocaust Survivor Band: The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage has a free concert every night. Because it’s free, I’m willing to take a chance on stuff I might not be familiar with. In this case, it sounded right up my alley, given my obsession with Jewish music. I was expecting mostly klezmer music, but this was a pretty international mix, including French and Italian pieces because the two survivors who founded had the band had spent time in France and Italy after their liberation. It’s clear that 90 year old Saul Dreir and 88 year old Reuwen "Ruby" Sosnowicz were having a lot of fun. My one issue is with Ruby’s daughter, Chanarose Sasonowicz, who did the narration and song introductions. Mostly, she just said things like "Is everybody having fun? Good." I like my song intros to come with some sort of storytelling. She also got things completely wrong for the song, "Rozhinkes mit Mandlen," which is a lullaby, not a love song. And "rozhinkes" means "raisins," not "honey." Oy.

Bad Jews: My first theatre outing of the year was to see this play at Studio Theatre (with a non-Jewish friend, but she is in a long-term relationship with a Jewish man). The plot has to do with two brothers (Jonah and Liam) and their female cousin (Daphna), who are dealing with their grandfather’s death and their long-simmering family issues. Liam has brought along his non-Jewish girlfriend (Melody), who he plans to propose to. He and Daphna (who is a truly horrible and unsympathetic character) are fighting over who will get their grandfather’s chai, which he wants to use to propose to Melody, and which Daphna thinks she should have because she is the only Jewishly observant one of the family. (Though not all that observant – she is wearing pants, for example.) Jonah just wants to be kept out of it. There were some genuinely funny moments, but the play is pretty dark, overall, with lots of issues about what Judaism means to millennials and how the Holocaust plays into that. I have to say the relationship dynamics made my family look remarkably functional.

Matilda: The only Roald Dahl I’ve read is Revolting Rhymes and his classic mystery story, "Lamb to the Slaughter." The latter is, by the way, the best blunt object murder story ever. So I can’t say whether or not this musical is true to the book, but it doesn’t matter because I found it surprisingly enjoyable. I tend to cringe at musicals with lots of children in the cast, but the focus here is really on one child (the precocious Matilda) and one adult child (her teacher, Miss Honey) and how they learn from each other to conquer the horrible adults around them (Matilda’s parents and the headmistress of her school). Much of that redemption comes from books and storytelling, which resonated with me, of course. The book has plenty of humor, which makes the horror manageable. The music works well, too, setting appropriate moods, though "When I Grow Up" is the only song I’d really call memorable. I also want to note the choreography, since it’s a rare musical nowadays that has any to speak of.

As for performances, they were mostly on track. Gabrielle Gutierrez was a charming Matilda, and never overdone. Jennifer Blood was suitably sweet as Miss Honey. And I particularly want to call out the villains, Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. Wormwood (Matilda’s book-hating father) and Bryce Ryness as the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, whose motto is "children are maggots." (A couple of the children did annoy me, but I will not publicly castigate children for having screechy childish voices.)

The show isn’t perfect, however. For one thing, it is somewhat too long. The bigger issue, however, is a production one. I’ve had issues with the lighting at the Kennedy Center Opera House before, so that was no surprise. However, I was surprised by issues with the sound system, with poor balance making some of the lyrics muddied and hard to understand. I suspect this has improved over the run, as the reviews I saw made me expect it to be universal through the show. But it was still annoying when it did happen.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Patricia Elliott won a Tony award for playing Countess Charlotte in A Little Night Music on Broadway. Lemmy Kilmister founded Motorhead. John "Brad" Bradbury was the drummer for the ska group, The Specials. Meadowlark Lemon was the most famous player for the Harlem Globetrotters

Dave Henderson played baseball. While he was only with the Red Sox for one season, he hit a critical home run in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, which kept the Sox in the running and let them, eventually, get to the World Series that year.

I want to especially highlight Scottish singer / songwriter Andy M. Stewart. Apparently, he had been quite ill for some time and was paralyzed after failed spinal surgery. At least he didn't have the galloping bollickitis. (Before you ask, it's a lyric reference.) Anyway, I saw him perform at least a couple of times with Silly Wizard, as well as during his later tours with Manus Lunny and Gerry O’Beirne. I loved both his voice and the wit of his songs. When I first heard "The Queen of Argyll" (on one of the Silly Wizard albums), I played it about a dozen times in a row. (I still think "the swan was in her movement" is a brilliant line.) I really need to go out to listen to Celtic music more.

Good For the Jews: This is a music / comedy duo who do a show every Christmas eve at Jammin’ Java. It makes a good outing for the NoVa Chavurah. I’d gone a couple of years ago and went again this year. They didn’t have a lot of new material, but there was some. And it was fun hearing some of their older stuff again, e.g. "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let’s Eat," "Going Down to Boca," "Reuben the Hook-Nosed Reindeer," etc. And there was a Steven Wright style Pesach joke I thought was brilliant. Some of the humor is a bit crude, but we are earthy folks after all.

The cutest thing was after the show when David (one of the guys in the duo) talked with a woman from our group he had sort of flirted with and sort of picked on during the show. It turned out that she thought her family might live near his, but he couldn’t remember the name of the development in Florida they’re in. So he called his mother – and then put our friend on the phone with Mom.

Afterwards, we went over to Amphora (a nearby diner) for desserts. (Or, I suppose, non-desserts, as some people got stuff like appetizers or breakfast items.) I realize they were very busy, but the service was truly atrocious. Slow is one thing, but forgetting to bring items (or bringing the wrong item) is another. And I have a particular dislike of waiters who auction off items.

Jewish Christmas: I did the traditional movie and Chinese food thing. For the movie, I chose Spotlight which was superb. I will say more about it when I do my quarterly movie review.

As for the Chinese food, that was a Chavurah dinner outing to East Chateau. Which is conveniently close to my place and has very good food, though the service is slow (and they also tend to auction off the food, which is a real problem when one person at the table can’t remember what she ordered). Still, there was good food and good conversation and that’s pretty much all one can hope for at this sort of thing.

The Rest of the Weekend: I had grand plans for achieving organizational nirvana. I did get rid of a few odds and ends. I got about halfway through the annual desk drawer clean out. And I actually read the entire Sunday Washington Post by the end of Sunday.

But there is much much more to go. Sigh.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Goals: I have not yet given up on my goals for 2015, but I haven’t done a hell of a lot regarding them, either. I did a little bit more afghan square knitting and a little more Bible reading (like maybe about 4 pages).

I did sort out some genealogical info and, more importantly, partially figure out how I want to file various papers related to that. I have a tree up on geni.com, though I am not really impressed with it as a tool. But a start is a start, right?

I also did 3 Volksmarch events. There would have been more, but the weather has not really cooperated.

It wasn’t quite so explicit a goal, but I’ve also made a dent in the chaos that is my house. Given the crappy weather forecast for the weekend, I am expecting further progress then.

Admirable Restraint: Nobody is allowed to bring electronics (cell phones, tablets, even fitness bands) into our suite at work. So we have this big red box at the front desk for people to put their stuff in. I guess that there was too much stuff for just one box, so this week a second big red box appeared.

I have managed to resist the temptation to go out and buy several small red boxes to scatter around the two big ones.

Strange Theory re: Ear Worms: Songs with titles referencing the names of celebrities are particularly likely to infect me. It is possible that mere lyrics involving celebrities are sufficient. The infectiousness has no correlation with how much I do or don’t like the celebrity. This may also explain why I went around singing "David Duchovny, why don’t you love me?" for much of 1999.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, a few quick celebrity death watch notes. Gil Marks wrote about Jewish food. Ken Weatherwax played Pugsley Addams on TV. Mary Ann Mobley leveraged being Miss America into an acting career.

I have a number of serious things to write about, but this has been a hectic week and I am more inclined to be frivolous. Today’s holidailies prompt has to do with holiday music. The token Chanukah songs that got thrown into the mix for chorus when I was growing up were Mi Yimalel and I Had a Little Dreidel. The former is okay, but the latter annoys me. Clay is obviously a completely inappropriate material to make a dreidel from, since it is fragile. And you don’t just wait for clay to dry; you bake it in a kiln.

So let’s try some alternate lyrics.

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of wood
Getting splinters playing
Would not be very good.

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of tin
Now I can gamble pennies
Along with all my kin.

I have a little dreidel
I knitted it from wool
If you tried to spin it
You’d see that I’m a fool.

I made a little dreidel
With origami fold
No matter what I use
This song is dumb and old.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have an appointment this afternoon that I need to drive to. I should probably have just worked from home this morning but I decided it was faster to drive in to the Land That Transit Forgot than to clear off enough space on either my dining room table or my desk to be able to get anything productive done. So I had to deal with the slog that 395 northbound is in the morning. On the plus side, I should finish in time to be able to stop at The Container Store on the way home.

I listen to the radio in the car and, sad to say, I listen to cheesy earworm-inducing pop-rock. For example, I am currently infected with Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t.” Which brings me to my all-in-one shot version of Music Advent. Namely, here is a list of the top songs on my birthday for every year of my life with my commentary:

1958 – Volare. Still addictive after all these years.

1959 – The Three Bells. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of this one, or The Browns, who sang it.

1960 – It’s Now or Never. Elvis and not at his best.

1961 – Michael. I’m not sure if I know this one, but at least I have heard of The Highwaymen.

1962 – Sheila. I vaguely recall this song by Tommy Roe, but I couldn’t sing it. (Not that I can sing, but you know what I mean.)

1963 – My Boyfriend’s Back. At last, something I know and even like.

1964 – The House of the Rising Sun. An actual classic.

1965 – Help! The Beatles, yes, and a pretty good song, though there are better, given that both Ticket to Ride and Yesterday were the same year.

1966 – Sunshine Superman. Ugh. I can listen to some pretty syrupy stuff, but Donovan? Ugh.

1967 – Ode to Billy Joe. Oddly, I just read about somebody making a commemorative documentary about this song. There is no accounting for tastes.

1968 – People Got to Be Free. I have probably not thought about this song since 1968 and there is a reason for that.

1969 – Honky Tonk Women. Ah, the Stones. Much better.

1970 – War. Edwin Starr’s one-grunt wonder.

1971 – Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey. Surprising earworm potential.

1972 – Alone Again (Naturally). A song that makes as little sense now as it did when I was a teenager.

1973 – Let’s Get It On. You can’t really go wrong with Marvin Gaye.

1974 – (You’re) Having My Baby. No. Just, no.

1975 – Rhinestone Cowboy. And that was before Glen Campbell had Alzheimer’s.

1976 – You Should Be Dancing. Yes, I should be dancing, but I have no memory of this Bee Gees song and I think I prefer it that way.

1977 – Best of My Love. Nor do I remember this, or The Emotions, who sang it. I prefer not to recall the emotions of my college years.

1978 – Grease. Actually, why don’t we just cut out all the disco era?

1979 – My Sharona. Is it any wonder that the records I have from that time period run to Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, and Devo? I was not a disco queen.

1980 – Upside Down. This actually worked fine in Jazzercise class.

1981 – Endless Love. It was a chart topper for several weeks, but I am blank.

1982 – Abracadabra. The Steve Miller Band means things are improving.

1983 – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Someone should write a dissertation on the songs of Jazzercise. I seem to recall a particularly painful abs routine.

1984 – What’s Love Got to Do With It. I was totally focused on grad school at the time, so love had little to do with anything.

1985 – St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion). No clue. Apparently John Parr performed it, which also doesn’t help.

1986 – Venus. Bananarama. I was working and had a car at this point. I listened to the news.

1987 – La Bamba. Even in the Los Lobos version, this is still the single best dance song of all time.

1988 – Monkey. George Michael and back to the news.

1990 – Blaze of Glory. Jon Bon Jovi supposedly owns Django Reinhardt’s guitar. I find this vaguely disturbing.

In fact, let’s just forget the 1990’s on. That goes for the news, too.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Ian Paisley was a Northern Irish Protestant politician. Tony Auth was an editorial cartoonist. Overall, not too interesting a list, but I will not sink to memorializing Scottish cats or claimants to the Russian throne.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Ab Logan was a storyteller in Baltimore. I didn’t know him very well, but he was always kind to me in our interactions. I have a particularly fond memory of taking an early morning walk with him at the National Storytelling Conference in Pittsburgh some years ago.

Smart Elevators: I forgot to mention this when I wrote about my recent business trip. The hotel had so-called "smart elevators," which had no buttons inside them. Instead, you pressed the floor you wanted on a central keypad. Allegedly, this saves energy, though I am not actually convinced it does. It does stop the problem of idiot teenagers who press every button. Anyway, the whole thing was slightly creepy and reminded me of the elevators in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that got depressed about knowing where you wanted to go before you did and ended up lurking in the basement.

Pink Martini: I went to see Pink Martini perform with the NSO Pops on Thursday night last week. They were also joined by the Von Trapps (the great-grandchildren of the Captain and Maria) and NPR reporter Ari Shapiro (who continues to resemble the groom doll from the top of a wedding cake). It was an excellent show and, as always, it was fun to count how many languages they sang in. (At least 7 by my reckoning.) Overall, it was well worth the inevitable earworms.

Neptune’s Health: I took my Neptune (my car) in for service this weekend. It proved to be fairly expensive, with a bunch of odds and ends to take care of, e.g. replacing the serpentine belt, replacing a cracked hose, and so on. Still, I can afford it. And a few hundred bucks is a lot less than the cost of a new car.

Division Party: My division head had a pool party at his house on Saturday. It was, literally, a wash out as it was chilly and pouring rain so we mostly stayed inside, partly in the living room and partly around the piano. Overall, it was relatively painless for a work-related social event. We also have good ammunition to use against him in the future, since he had given his address incorrectly in the party invitation.

Other stuff: I’ve been working on the story I am telling Thursday. That eats up a lot of mental energy. And I had a few things to do related to my MIT reunion gift committee, which will take up time soon enough. And then there are little things like work. No wonder my house is a mess.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Leonard Fein was a Jewish intellectual. He founded Moment Magazine and the anti-hunger charity, MAZON. Jim Jeffords was a Republican senator from Vermont until he was essentially forced out of the party by increasing nonsense from right wing true believers and became an independent. Some of us would say he came to his senses. Don Pardo was an announcer par excellence, for various game shows. Note that Saturday Night Live can be thought of as a game show – or, at least, a reality show - for comedians.

Teddy and the Bully Bar: Restaurant week was last week and I went out with a couple of flyertalk friends for dinner on Wednesday night. I chose Teddy and the Bully Bar because: 1) they had their restaurant week menu on-line when I was looking to make the reservation, 2) I could get a reservation at a reasonable time, 3) they had sufficient choices for each course and 4) I’d eaten well during a previous restaurant week at their sister restaurant, Lincoln. I was surprised to see how many restaurants had restaurant week menus with no choice at all for one or more courses or had upcharges for almost everything.

Anyway, the restaurant’s theme is Theodore Roosevelt and the waiter explained that this was reflected both in their décor and in having a farm to table concept (because Teddy was a conservationist). I started with the Shoemaker’s Rickey, and was told the rickey is the official cocktail of Washington, D.C. Frankly, I found their version rather bland. Note to self: this idea about branching out from G&T’s has not been successful for the most part. The food was better, with all of the ingredients seeming very fresh. The melon soup was delicious, as was the beet salad. The chicken I had was a little bland, but still juicy. The biggest winder was a funnel cake with berries for dessert. The service was friendly, but not super efficient. Still, I would definitely eat there again.

Epic Smokehouse: I got another restaurant week meal – this time, a lunch – thanks to our group getting a spot award from my company. We went to Epic Smokehouse in Pentagon City. The smoked ancho Caesar salad was delicious. The pulled chicken sandwich was okay, but the cole slaw on it had that annoying sweetness of the southern variety. Their fries were terrible, but I am a fan of thicker cut Belgian style ones, not seasoned shoestrings. The key lime pie for dessert was a bit too sweet. It wasn’t a terrible meal, but I was glad the company was paying and not me.

Chavurah Dinner and Concert Night: My Chavurah (Jewish social group) had a dinner and concert night on Saturday night. Dinner was at M&S Grill in Reston. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the menu, even though I’ve eaten there before, so settled for getting onion soup and salad. The food was just okay, but I did enjoy the conversation. As for the concert, this was a group called The Real Geniuses, who played rock oldies. The sound wasn’t very balanced and they didn’t seem to have a lot of energy. There was room for dancing at the front and most of the dancers had not grasped the concept that you are supposed to do it to the music. I am fairly forgiving of the dads with little girls and the obviously disabled component. But I feel free to mock the other folks there. There was still some value in getting out and socializing.

Sunday in the Park With George: I went to see Sunday in the Park With George at Signature Theatre on Sunday. I’ll admit to being somewhat lukewarm towards this musical, largely because I feel that James Lapine’s book hits people over the head with the burdens of being an artist. With that said, I thought Signature did an excellent job with it. Brynn O’Malley was right on the mark as Dot / Marie and Claybourne Elder was a competent George. I also want to note Donna Migliaccio os the Old Lady (Seurat’s mother). Overall, I’ll just say this production was well put together.

By the way, I may have mentioned this before, but if you are a big fan of Seurat (or, as in my case, just like weird stuff), you owe yourself a trip to Columbus, Ohio to see the topiary version of A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La grande Jette. I firmly believe that topiary French people are the touristic highlight of the state of Ohio and, quite possibly, the entire middle of the country.

Caught up: And now I am all caught up on what I’ve been doing. That should last, oh, at least 12 minutes.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Casey Kasem probably didn’t originate the pop music count down, but is widely associated with it. Tony Gwynn was one of a handful of baseball players who remained with a single team (the San Diego Padres) his entire Major League career. Ultra Violet was an artist and Andy Warhol’s muse for more than 15 minutes.

Yemen Blues: Thursday night saw me at the DC Jewish Community Center to see Yemen Blues perform. This is a fusion band, led by Ravid Kahalani. I’m not entirely sure how one would characterize their music, which is why the "world beat" label is handy. The largest influence is Yemenite (duh), but there are West African rhythms and blues and other jazz forms. The percussion was particularly notable and there was one piece I can best describe as an intriguing battle between Middle Eastern and Latin percussion. There was also some notable oud playing. My one complaint was that the space was not really conducive to movement and this was music that demanded to be danced to. From my Israeli folk dance days, I know that the dancing of Yemenite Jews was traditionally very constrained in space and primarily up and down, with the explanation that the people did not love the land, so they danced as if their feet were on fire. So maybe that was suitable after all. (Actually, I do have another complaint. The concert started 20 minutes late. That’s a lot on a weeknight. But it was good enough that I will forgive them.)

Ordinary Days: Friday night I schlepped to Bethesda to see Ordinary Days, a musical (really a song cycle) by Adam Gwon. It was worth the effort as the show was thoroughly charming. The story involves two pairs of New Yorkers. The best of the characters is the semi-hysterical grad student, Deb, well-played by Erin Weaver. The free-spirited Warren is her foil and helps her to see that there is beauty in the small things in life. The other couple, Jason and Claire, are less satisfying characters. For one thing, he belongs in, say, Iowa and he’s really only in New York because he fell for her. But, more significantly, there is some great trauma that keeps her from letting him in and we don’t find out what the twist is until almost the end of the show. The revelation (in the song "I’ll Be Here") makes her a lot more sympathetic, but I found it hard to believe she’d been with Jason an entire year and not told him about it. But, overall, that’s a minor flaw. The music is lovely. And there is plenty of wit in the lyrics, along with delicious subtle tidbits, e.g. when Deb, who is doing her thesis on Virginia Woolf, makes a reference to having a room of her own. A show like this is a good reminder of why Gwon is considered one of the rising stars of the musical theatre world.

And, look, unlike everyone else in the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area, I managed to write about the show without using the word "extraordinary!" (But it is.)

Ah, Metro – Last Monday night’s Red Line Haiku Version:
Metro’s web site claims
single tracking starts at 10.
Half hour wait at 9.

Ah, Metro – Friday night’s Haiku Version:
Track fire delayed Blue
Line. Had I known, I would have
taken the yellow.

Bethesda station
has the worst escalators
in the whole system.

(Yes, I understand that Metro’s priority is to get people out of the stations. But there was really no reason for both working escalators to be going up at 9:30 at night. Walking down the half mile long non-working escalator is hard on the knees of this grumpy old person.)

The Weekend: I spent much of it sleeping, though I did get some errands done. And I made it to knitting group where I showed off my "it’s not stash, it’s souvenir" yarn purchase from Italy. I have this idea for a patchwork jacket using these odds and ends I have picked up in various places. It will be a while before I start on that project, but I am already referring to it as A Coat of Many Countries. What I actually did was crochet afghan squares because I need to destash a bunch of acrylic and that is a good way to do so. And it is also brainless enough that I can do it while talking.

Moral Dilemma of the Week: Neptune needs a bath. Normally, I look for a group of teenagers doing a car wash for charity. Well, Arlington County has banned charity carwashes because of the impact of run-off on the Chesapeake. Fairfax County has not done so yet, but I do actually care about the Bay. Apparently, commercial carwashes are okay because they have ways to capture grey water. But I still feel like I’d rather have my money going to a school band or the like than to Mr. Wash.

The Prostate Dialogues: Last night’s outing was to see Jon Spelman’s one-man show at Theatre J. I know Jon and I admire his storytelling, so I can’t give this an unbiased review. It’s a brave show, with a surprising amount of humor. In addition to his experience with prostate cancer, the work deals more generally with issues of aging and mortality and what manhood is. I’m not sure how somebody under, say, 50 will react, but I found lots to relate to, even without a prostate. By the way, there was a talk-back, but I didn't stay for it because going out on a weeknight means enough sleep deprivation as it is.

Commute Miracle – the Tuesday morning haiku version:
bus to the Mark Center came at
seven forty-three.

Some Like It Hot: I like hot weather, but the current heat and humidity, which is reminiscent of Benin, is too much, even for me.

Books and Gelato: Since I was already over at Dupont Circle last night, I stopped in the used bookstore there. And I found a copy of Don Camillo Meets Hell's Angels. I didn't even know about that one. Afterwards, I stopped in at Dolcezza Gelato. The cinnamon was good, but the winner there was the strawberry tarragon, which may be the only good pink thing on the planet.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Jay Lake was a science fiction writer. Jerry Vale was a singer. Arthur Gelb edited the New York Times and had a big influence on its direction. Ann B. Davis kept house for The Brady Bunch. Maya Angelou was a poet. Mona Freeman was the first Miss Subways, which will probably not mean anything to non-New Yorkers, but it meant her picture was on the trains.

Ruby Dee was an actress. I think I knew that she was the widow of Ossie Davis. I am pretty sure I didn’t know that she had a degree from Hunter College (in romance languages).

Don Zimmer was a baseball icon. Among the things he was notable for were being an original member of the New York Mets and managing the 1978 Boston Red Sox.

The more obscure person I want to note is anthropologist George Armelagos. His book, Consuming Passions, is one of the most interesting books about food ever written. I particularly enjoyed the section on cannibalism, for its utter lack of sensationalism.

Non-celebrity Obituary: Mack Smith died of a stroke just about as I was setting off on vacation. He told good stories – Jack tales and tall tales. If I recall correctly, he won the Virginia Liar’s contest at least once. He was good people and will be missed by our community.

Bat Boy: Last weekend, I went to see Bat Boy: The Musical at 1st Stage. It was about what one would expect of a musical based on a story from the Weekly World News. The basic plot involves a half-boy half-bat creature found in a cave, who is taken to the local veterinarian’s home, where he is taught to be civilized, but has to fight the local townsfolk’s prejudices. There was an impressive performance by Jimmy Mavrikes in the very demanding title role. Maria Rizzo as Shelly had good chemistry with him. Unfortunately, some of the cast lacked energy, possibly because of the demands that playing multiple roles made on most of them. The score was okay, but not especially memorable. So, overall, while it was entertaining, it was hardly an essential show to see.

The Tony Awards: As much as I like Neil Patrick Harris, I think Jefferson Mayes was robbed.

Washington Jewish Music Festival: This is one of my favorite events of the year. Monday night, I saw a movie as part of it - Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. I will write about that more when I do my quarterly movie wrap-up. For now, I will just say it was very funny.

Last night, I went to see Kinky Friedman. He’s pretty much still doing the same shtick he’s been doing for 40 some odd years. He sang stuff like "They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and "Asshole from El Paso" and so on. And he told various jokes, many in questionable taste (which is part of his persona). My favorite was his comment about his will, which specifies that he be cremated and his ashes scattered in Rick Perry’s hair. He also had some serious notes, reading a story about his father from his book about Texas heroes. Overall, it was an entertaining evening.

Tonight, I am going to see Yemen Blues, which I expect to be more energetic, fusiony stuff. Which is exactly my cup of tea.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
And so it is again catch-up time. My pre-Pesach chocolate weekend will get its own write-up, but this is everything else.

Celebrity Death Watch: Jesse Witherspoon was a country singer / songwriter. Steven A. Shaw founded eGullet. Lorenzo Semple, Jr. wrote the first few episodes of Batman for television. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was a boxer, but better known for having been wrongly convicted of murder and vindicated after many years in prison. Mickey Rooney was an actor.

Moving on to the literary world, Sue Townsend wrote about Adrian Mole. Peter Matthiessen wrote about snow leopards (among other things). Gabriel Garcia Marquez has the distinction of being the author of the book that has been in my unread pile the longest. I bought One Hundred Years of Solitude a good 20 years ago for a book club which fell apart before I got around to reading it and, somehow, I still haven't opened it. Seeing as how I am more likely to read dead authors, maybe it’ll bubble to the top of the stack soon.

Networking: The MIT Club of Washington had a dinner talk on Orbital Debris. That being a work-relevant topic for me, of course I went. I brought along two friends, one of whom is currently job hunting. What struck me is that neither of them made much of an effort at networking. I realize that they may have felt a bit shy because they are not MIT alums, but this was an obvious opportunity. I don’t think of myself as particularly good at schmoozing people up, but it seems natural at this sort of event. (And, yes, the talk was interesting, though I can’t say I learned much.)

Pierre Bensusan: As I have inevitably mentioned before, Pierre Bensusan is my favorite musician on the planet. He’s doing a 40th anniversary tour and he played a concert at Jammin’ Java, which is very close to my house. So, of course, I had to go. I’ve seen him perform numerous times before (for over 30 years, in fact) and I am happy to say his guitar playing is as amazing as ever. I was particularly pleased that he played Agadir Ramadan. He even played some new material. And, of course, I bought his new recording – a 3 CD live collection. If Django Reinhardt were still alive, maybe Pierre would have some competition, but that isn’t the case.

Pesach: Did you know that, prior to splitting the Red Sea, Moses had to file an Environmental Impact Statement?

In other holiday news, I cooked a potato and kale frittata which proved to be a surprisingly good idea.

Don Quixote: The American Ballet Theatre was at the Kennedy Center. I went to see Don Quizote on the grounds that I prefer narrative ballets to mixed repertory programs. On the plus side, Veronika Park and James Whiteside were very impressive dancers. However, the narrative was pretty weak, at least for somebody who has actually read the novel. Beyond the tilting at windmills scene, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were mostly spectators to village (and gypsy camp) dances.

Tender Napalm: I don’t see a lot of straight (i.e. non-musical) plays, but Signature Theatre has a few as part of their annual subscription. This play, by Philip Ridley, was interesting, provocative, and disturbing. It involves two characters (Man and Woman) who may be stranded on a desert island. There is a lot going on between them, which may or may not involve a tsunami, a sea serpent attack, battling armies of monkeys, and/or an alien abduction. What seems to have happened in the real world is the death of their daughter, possibly in a terrorist attack. The violent imagery is a bit much to handle and it’s a difficult play to watch, but it definitely held my attention. I’m glad I saw it, but I am hesitant to recommend it. It felt more like a fringe production than something at a more mainstream theatre, so maybe I can offer a cautious recommendation on that understanding.

By the way, for future reference, Easter Sunday is possibly the ideal time to go to Signature. This was the first time in ages that there were dozens of open spots in the public parking areas of the Campbell Street garage. Unfortunately, I will probably forget that by next year.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Here are various odds and ends, with no theatre involved.

Celebrity Death Watch: Harold Ramis was an interesting comic actor. Sean Potts played the tin whistle and was one of the founders of The Chieftains.

Retiring Celebrity Watch: Carl Kassell of NPR is retiring. I am not sure what impact that will have on the value of my Carl Kassell doll. Not that I was planning to sell.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Leslie Perry had been suffering from ALS for the past five years, so his death is not surprising. He was a mainstay of the Los Angeles storytelling community and a great builder of community, as well as a fine storyteller. I remember, in particular, a letter he once sent out that pointed out the need for storytellers to support one another, attending and advertising other tellers’ programs, for example. He also talked about the need for tellers to tell the difficult stories. Both of those triggered discussions that have influenced how I try to deal with storytelling. After he became ill, he had two books published, had a play produced, and was the subject of a documentary. He may not have been a household name, but Leslie was a celebrity in my community and in my life. He was a good man and I will miss him.

Weather: We got about 5 inches of snow on Monday. This had been predicted, so I had brought my laptop home and was productive. But it is proof that I don’t live in Camelot, where winter exits March the second on the dot.

Washington Jewish Film Festival: Because of the snow, the showing of The Herring Queens (a documentary about Lower East Side appetizing store, Russ and Daughters) on Monday night was cancelled. So the only WJFF event I made it to was not a film, but a Yiddish music program on Tuesday night. That featured Cantor Sara Geller and was a mix of concert and sing-along. She has a fine voice, but the songs she did started out with art songs, which are not really what I was expecting. The sing-along part was fine but consisted entirely of overly familiar songs. Can we please have some Yiddish music event someday that does not feature "Oyfen Pripitchik," "Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen," and "Tubalalaika?" The rest of the concert part was somewhat more to my taste, since it was largely theatre music. My favorite piece was "It’s Tough" (sung in English), which tells of the tragedy when Izzy Rosenstein loves Genevieve Malone.

In Other News: Between various work and non-work commitments, I am stressed and frustrated and grouchy. It is a good thing I am not a violent person.

And now I am all caught up. Of course, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is this weekend, so I will be behind again. And my non-LJ to-do list is the length of my arm. But I’ll take what small victories I can.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Brunch and Travel Show: I took an early train back from New York after my minor theatre binge so I could go out to brunch with a couple of people from flyertalk before going to the Travel and Adventure Show. We ate at City Tap Room, which had a somewhat odd brunch menu. I had a frittata with potatoes, mushrooms, kale and gruyere, which was okay, though a bit too salty. Don't things like that usually come with toast or the like, though?

Anyway, the travel show has gotten smaller, but is still dangerous as I get ideas. In some cases, I have no interest in a tour, but I use itineraries to get an idea of what I want to do when I go somewhere on my own. In other cases, there are places with poor enough infrastructure that having things organized makes sense. The bottom line is that (as usual) there are more things I want to do than there is time or money for.

Pro Musica Hebraica - Evgeny Kissin: I continue to go to the Pro Musica Hebraica concerts of Jewish classical music when I can, i.e. when I am in town. This edition was pianist Evgeny Kissin playing 20th century music and reciting Yiddish poetry. The first piece was Moyshe Milner's Farn opsheyd (Kleyne rapsodie) which I enjoyed. It had a definite Jewish feel to it, partly through the rhythms as well as the folk-tune like melody. That was followed by Ernest Bloch's Piano Sonata. Op. 40, which was the most familiar piece of the evening. Unfortunately, I remain lukewarm towards Bloch, whose music seems like generic modernism to me, with no particular Jewish flavor. The first half of the evening concluded with Kissin reciting several poems by Haim Nachman Bialik, with supertitled English translations. Kissin taught himself Yiddish, so I'm not surprised by the formal sound of his accent, which sounds too Germanic to me. (Bear in mind that I am a biased Litvak and understand little Yiddish myself, so my opinion may not matter. I think it is supposed to sound like my father and grandfather and this didn't.) At any rate, Bialik's poems were not really to my taste. My maternal grandfather was a big fan of Bialik, but of his Hebrew poetry, so I don't feel as disloyal as I otherwise might.

The second half started with Alexander Veprik's Sonata No. 2, which was pleasant enough, but not especially memorable. Then came several poems by I. L. Peretz. I particularly liked "The World is a Theater." It's obvious that Kissin is passionate about reciting these poems, but I thought the segment went on a bit too long. The evening ended with Alexander Krein's Suite dansee, op. 44, which was my favorite piece of the concert, with strong echoes of klezmer styling.

Overall, it was an interesting evening and it's good to support the ability to hear some of the more obscure works that got played, especially in the hands of as expressive a musician as Kissin.

Opera - Moby Dick: I'm not really an opera person, but I love Moby Dick, so I was curious as to how it would be transformed to the stage. There was a lot of spectacle involved, with a tilting stage and supernumaries climbing ladders and ropes and so on. What surprised me was how well Jake Heggie's music fit the action. Gene Scheer's libretto did take some liberties with the novel, but it had to in order to make sense. The performances were excellent and I want to especially call out Matthew Worth as Starbuck and Eric Greene as Queequeg. All in all, this was interesting and well worth seeing and made me more likely to go to the opera in the future.

Beaches: Back on more familiar ground, I went to see Beaches at Signature Theatre on Saturday. This is a brand new musical and is an adaptation of the novel and movie. The story involves the bond between two women, Cee Cee and Bertie, who meet as children in Atlantic City and continue their friendship through various crises, culminating in Bertie's untimely death. This could be maudlin, but there was so much humor (largely due to the brassy Cee Cee, excellently played by Alysha Umpress) that it avoided that trap. Not that it was free of tearjerker moments, but the tone was more balanced. There was also a tuneful score by David Austin (plus "The Wind Beneath My Wings" from the movie, thrown in surprisingly unobtrusively). There was even some amusing choreography in the form of a 1970's disco number. And I can't resist mentioning what great eye candy Matthew Scott provided. Damn, he looks amazing with a beard.

I have had mixed feelings over the years towards the new musicals that Signature puts on, but I want them to keep producing new musicals, and this was a good example of why.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, a quick obituary note. Mac McGarry, long-time host of It’s Academic has died.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I went to One Day University on Saturday. This was the first time this had been held in Washington and it was done in conjunction with The Atlantic. The event was at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, which is a reasonably central but slightly bleak location.

There were four sessions, each of which offered tw o75 minute classes to choose from. For the first session, I chose "How the Brain Works: Why We Do What We Do," presented by Marvin Chun of Yale. I am reasonably knowledgeable about neuroscience, but it was interesting to hear about some of the more recent research using functional MRI to investigate brain activity. In particular, Chun showed results from experiments in which scientists could actually get images that indicate what people were thinking about. He also touched on the question of persistent vegetative states and showed research that indicates at least a small percentage of people in such states show relatively normal brain activity. While I can’t say he really answered the "why we do what we do" part of the title, this was a worthwhile lecture. I also found myself wondering if he had any clue that, during the Q&A, he only looked for hands raised in one half of the room.

For the second session, I chose "Beethoven’s Ninth: The Story Behind the Masterpiece," presented by Thomas Kelly of Harvard. Kelly’s emphasis was on what the audience at the piece’s premiere would have known and how they would have reacted to it, versus how we hear it today. I found this truly fascinating. We are so used to thinking of the Ninth as something of a radical work of music, overthrowing the rules of the symphony, but he pointed out ways in which it is less radical than that, e.g. by comparing the opening of the final movement (which becomes the choral movement, after quoting from the earlier parts of the symphony) to a bass rage recitative. Kelly was an enthusiastic and entertaining lecturer. I left feeling enriched.

They sold boxed lunches, but I was more in need of some fresh air and movement, so I went out for a brief walk. After lunch, I went to a session on "Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness" by Catherine Sanderson of Amherst. She talked about a lot of research on what does and doesn’t make us happy and ran through several things people can do to improve their happiness. While she was a very entertaining speaker, I was a little uncomfortable with some of how she talked about her family. I also wish she had addressed cross-cultural issues.

The final lecture I went to was "Four Books Every Book Lover Should Read" by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College. He actually talked about five books, primarily by reading excerpts from them. My bigger disappointment was that the description had said that he would address how participants could develop their own list of essential reading and he didn’t touch on this at all. Overall, this was the one of the four talks I would not recommend.


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