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I went to three Capital Fringe Festival shows over the weekend. (I had previously seen Mr. Taken.) Here’s the run-down, plus a note about the neighborhood.

NoMa: All three shows I saw this weekend were at Gallaudet University, which is at the edge of the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue) area. Since I hadn’t been over that way before and had heard that it’s the hot and trendy neighborhoods, I took advantage of good metro connections to walk around a bit before the first show I went to. Unfortunately, a couple of friends saw me walking in the wrong direction (i.e. away from Gallaudet) and called me, panicked that I was horribly lost. Now, to be fair, I do spend a good percentage of my time horribly lost, but I probably should have answered the phone and reassured them.

The highlight of the area is allegedly Union Market, which is pretty much hipster central. I wasn’t all that impressed with it, though it did provide good ice cream. There is a promising looking coffee place there. There are also some charming row houses along M Street Northeast. And the newish REI in the Uline Arena, which was the site of the first concert The Beatles played in the United States. Still, there isn’t really a lot to draw me into the neighborhood.


Ready to Serve: Ellouise Schoettler’s story is about a group of nurses from Johns Hopkins who volunteered to serve in France during World War I. Her research was extensive, based largely on letters from the nurses themselves. There was no shortage of drama, with descriptions of the nurses having to wear every bit of clothing they had to cope with the cold and mud, as well as patients with horrifying injuries that they could do little for. It’s important to tell the stories of women’s history and Ellouise does this splendidly.


Constructive Fictions: This play tells the story of Rabbi Barry Freundel, who is serving a 6 and a half year prison term after pleading guilty to peeping on and filming women in the bathroom of the mikveh. The set is his jail cell, which is rotated (without much real point, in my opinion) by four women, who comment on his explanation of his actions. They outline their stories, and, while they are supposed to be composites of his victims, there is a lot that seems identifiable to anybody who followed the media coverage. That’s a concern, since the playwright, A. J. Campbell, apparently didn’t talk to any of the victims. A bigger problem with the play is that Matty Griffiths, who played Freundel, didn’t seem to know his lines very well. That was obvious partly due to closed captioning, but also had the effect of throwing off the timing of the women.

Despite those problems, the play was interesting, with a shocking ending. Even more interesting was listening to people discussing it afterwards.

Life: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts: Neal Learner’s light opera was the highlight of this year’s Fringe for me. Act One dealt with birth, as Joan is screaming in agony and Charles tries to reassure her everything will be fine. They reminisce about their meeting and reflect on how their lives will change. And then the twins show up, in a very cleverly staged way. Act Two has the kids growing up and asserting their personalities. Act Three dealt with death. This doesn’t sound particularly interesting, but it was well-written and well-performed. There were some questionable rhymes here and there, but I can forgive this in what was otherwise a quite charming and enjoyable show. This has been selected for the Fringe Extension, by the way, so you still have a chance to see it. I will definitely look for other works by the writer / composer, Neal Learner, in the future.
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The King and I: I went with a friend to see The King and I at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night. This is (like most Rodgers and Hammerstein) a musical I have mixed feelings about. There is some glorious music, e.g. "We Kiss in a Shadow." And, of course, "Shall We Dance?" is a nice showy number. But is "The March of Siamese Children" anything more than a way to show off kids so parents will go to the theatre? Louis (Anna’s son) could use a lot more development as a character. And "I Whistle a Happy Tune" simply annoys me, aside from its earworm potential.

Despite those inherent flaws, the production was quite good, with special kudos to Jose Llana as the King of Siam. I also thought Manna Nichols was very good as Tuptim. The choreography made good use of a relatively small space (this was in the Opera House, not the Eisenhower, which also has the disadvantage of less than wonderful acoustics). Could one write a musical nowadays with an internal ballet like "The Small House of Uncle Thomas?"

My only real complaint (aside from my overall lukewarmness towards the score) is that the show was awfully long. I was nervous about the metro schedule, since trains stop running at 11:30 on weeknights now. I may have to limit weeknight excursions to things that are driveable or that I know will end by 10ish.

Chinotto: We had dinner before the show at Campono, which has okay food and is right across the street from the Kennedy Center. The café in the Kennedy Center is dreadful, with mediocre food and high prices. And the friend I went with was driving, so didn’t want to do dinner in Foggy Bottom beforehand. My salad was fine, but the real reason I am mentioning this is that they have chinotto! I know I am the only North American who actually likes those bitter Italian drinks, but the point is that I do like them and they are hard to find here. So it was a rare treat.

Now, if I could only find somewhere that has Schweppes bitter lemon…

Fielding Dreams: I shouldn’t really go out two nights in a row, but the DC JCC had a program on Washington’s Jewish Ballplayers and, given my minor obsession with Jews in baseball, how could I resist? Fred Frommer (who authored a book on Washington baseball, not limited to Jewish players) moderated the event. The other speakers were Phil Hochberg who, in addition to a career in sports law, was an announcer at RFK Stadium, and Aviva Kempner, who is well known for her documentaries, including The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. The big news is that she is now working on a documentary about Moe Greenberg and she talked extensively about him.

Anyway, there were 18 Jews who played major league baseball in Washington, though some played only 1 or 2 games. The number should really be 17 because Buddy Myer, despite being in nearly every Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was not actually Jewish. Most of the players talked about were active in the 1930’s or so, but there were a few I remembered. For example, Greg Goossen played for the Mets for a while, though, of course, their real Jewish star was Art Shamsky. (As far as I know, Ed Kranepool is not Jewish, though he did give a talk at our shul when I was a kid.) It was Goossen about whom Casey Stengel allegedly said "I have a 19 year old player. In 10 years, he has a chance to be 29."

Another familiar player was Jason Marquis, who I saw pitch here several times. The only Jewish pitcher who had a winning career in Washington, however, was Al Schacht, who went 14-10 in the early 1920’s. The other really significant pitcher who was discussed was Syd Cohen, who gave up Babe Ruth’s final home run. But the better story about him is that he played winter ball in Mexico under the name Pablo Garcia. The minor league ballpark in El Paso (where he grew up) is named after him – and his brother, Andy, who was the more successful ballplayer.

The big story, however, was Moe Berg. His baseball career wasn’t exactly impressive, but his career in the OSS made up for it. Apparently, he spoke at least 7 languages – and couldn’t hit in any of them. But his linguistic skills got him sent to Japan with much bigger names and to Switzerland to meet Heisenberg and so on. He was a genuine character and I’m looking forward to Aviva’s movie.

Speaking of Baseball: Jackie Bradley made an awesome catch Sunday night, robbing Aaron Judge of a home run. That is exactly how I like to see my Red Sox deal with the Source of All Evil in the Universe.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I had, for some reason, been given an opportunity to do another Zero-G flight, for free this time. But there was a lot of paperwork to fill out – enough for a 100+ page book. I got hung up on a question asking me to check off which conditions I had, which including being blind, blonde, or blinde.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Ilya Glazunov was a Russian painter. Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese writer and dissident. More significantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, since I saw a newspaper article that said his organs were failing in time to use him for my one-time trade. (Tommy Tune should now live until next year.) Fresh Kid Ice was a rapper. Mahi Beamer was a Hawaiian singer. George Romero was a director, best known for the movie Night of the Living Dead. Martin Landau was an actor, notable for starring in Mission: Impossible.

I want to especially highlight Maryam Mirzakhani. She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, which is the top honor for a mathematician. I will refrain from commenting on the spelling of her first name.

What I Left Out of the NPL Con Write-up: I completely forgot to include my appreciation for all the hard work that Hathor and B-side did as Con hosts. Mea maxima culpa.

The Hotel Rant: I spend a lot of time at hotels. Therefore, I feel qualified to state that most hotels suck. I have already mentioned slow elevators. But there are many many many ways that hotels can make my life miserable.

My chief complaint is hotels that hide their light switches. This was one of the sins of the Hotel Revere, where the NPL con was. There was one dim light near the door, which was not adequate for finding the black on black switches that turned on both the desk lamp and the lamp between the two beds. The latter was especially annoying as there was a switch nearby that did not, so far as I could tell, control anything. At least there was a nearly adequate amount of light once I located those switches. There is one hotel I used to sometimes stay at on business trips (The Boulder Broker) where I learned to pack my own light bulbs, since there wasn’t anything brighter than 25 watts within their guest rooms.

Next on the list is the near impossibility of getting mattresses and pillows right. Most hotel mattresses are too soft. Except for the ones that appear to have been hewn out of granite. It is one thing to have had a super-hard surface when I stayed at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. And, actually, that had several layers of reindeer skins, which made it softer than the mattress at a particularly dreadful hotel in Benin that I have mercifully forgotten the name of. Pillows are even more of a problem, as there are usually too many of them and no good place to leave the extra 20 or so they pile on the bed. The worst offenders in this category are bolsters. I have never met a person who actually uses those bolsters. All hotel managers and designers need to read "The Princess and the Pea" and/or watch the musical, Once Upon a Mattress. Or at least try to sleep in the beds at their hotels.

Speaking of useless things on beds, I have never understood those ridiculous shawl-like pieces of fabrics hotels like to drape across the foot of the bed.

Drapes are often a problem. I tend to bring some duct tape so I can get them to close all the way and blot out light. I have probably ranted before on the subject of hotels that locate their drapes in places that require you to climb over or rearrange furniture in order to close them.

Sound is an even more annoying thing than light. I will note that the Hotel Revere had good sound-proofing. But many hotels do not. I particularly despise atrium hotels, i.e. ones where the rooms are arranged around a tall, sound-reflecting open area. This is an especially common design for Hyatts, which is a reason why I usually prefer Marriotts if I am going to stay at chain hotels.

Bathrooms pose a number of issues. If there is going to be a tub, it should be deep enough to soak in. Bonus points if the hotel provides bath salts or bubble bath. But a shower alone is acceptable, as long as: a) you don’t have to spend a half hour figuring out how the fuck to turn it on and adjust the temperature, b) the shower head is not so far away from where a person would stand to allow the shower water to cool too much by the time it reaches the body, and c) there is some sort of closure that prevents the shower from flooding the entire bathroom when it is used. (I am speaking to every hotel in France here.) Good things include heated floors (ah, Norway) and heated towel racks. However, hot water remains more important. I think it was Ulan Ude where I first encountered the notion that a hotel might have heated towel racks without having hot water, but I’ve run into it once or twice since. And I hope never to have that happen again.

I am not particularly fussy with respect to toiletries, with the proviso that they shouldn’t smell weird. I prefer individual bottles rather than the current eco-trend of large squeezy bottles that: a) you can’t take home with you and b) I don’t trust not to be contaminated with something disgusting. If worst comes to worst, my standard toiletries bag includes a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, which is also useable as shampoo, laundry detergent, and reading material.

Finally, there is temperature control. It goes without saying that the thermostat should be easily visible when you enter the room and should not require rearranging furniture to reach. The thermostat should be digital and it should be possible to set the controls for either Fahrenheit (i.e. real temperature) or Celsius. The thermostat should be easily visible and not require an advanced degree in engineering to operate. Come to think of it, I have an advanced degree in engineering and half the time I can’t figure out how to get the bloody temperature to something I can tolerate. (Admittedly, I have about a 1.5 degree comfort range.) The default temperature setting should not be 90F in winter and 60F in summer. If I ruled the world, it would be 76F everywhere all the time.

Hotels that don’t suck include half the hotels in Italy (though the other half are amongst the noisiest places on the planet, so one must seek expert advice) and exactly two hotels in New York (The Algonquin and The Library Hotel). The former is bookable using Marriott points. But one needn’t spend a fortune to stay at one of the rare tolerable hotels in the world. The Albergo Atlantic in Bologna can be had for under 60 bucks a night, including breakfast.

Mr. Taken: The first show I saw at this year’s Capital Fringe was Mr. Taken. Ward Kay, who wrote it, is a Style Invitational devotee. And Valerie Holt, daughter of Empress Pat Myers, was part of the six person cast. The story involves a group of friends and their relationships. At the beginning, Jen is living with Marcus, though they don’t treat each other very well. Eric and Liz have just gotten engaged. And then there is Patty, who is crazy about a guy who has a girlfriend (hence, nicknamed "Mr. Taken") but who Jen is sort of trying to fix up with nerdy Charles. Marcus confronts Jen about her behavior, in front of the others (at a pre-Christmas get-together) and then moves out. Some months later, Patty has spent the night with Eric, whose engagement ended because Liz slept with someone else, when Liz suddenly walks in... All of the performances were good, especially those of Jamel Lewis as Charles, Brooke Bangston as Patty, and, of course, Valerie as Liz. But the show didn’t completely work for me. I had a hard time figuring out why these people were even friends in the first place, never mind sleeping together in various combinations. Then again, this is mostly farce, which is a form of theatre I don’t much care for.

The Originalist: On Saturday, I went to see The Originalist at Arena Stage. This is a play about Antonin Scalia, who was very convincingly played by Edward Gero. His foil throughout is a young African-American lesbian law clerk, Cat, played by Jade Wheeler. There is another clerk, Brad (played by Brett Mack) helping out, but he’s mostly there as sort of the anti-Cat and plays a much smaller role. Why does a flaming liberal want to clerk for a justice like Scalia? Well, she explains, she needs to understand monsters to know how to fight them. Scalia is only partly monstrous in this. He is capable of learning some things from Cat, as well as influencing her. At any rate, I thought this was an excellent play. It was often genuinely funny, while carrying a serious message about whether it is even possible to find a political middle. That’s a question I find even more relevant now than when this play was first produced in 2015. (And, remember, I am a charter member of the Dead Armadillo Party.) I also thought that the use of music – mostly opera excerpts – to delineate scenes was very effective. Overall, I highly recommend seeing this. If one could, it would be ideal to see the evening performance on 22 July, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg is going to be doing the talkback (along with Arena’s artistic director, Molly Smith.)
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Celebrity Death Watch: Vin Garbutt was a British folk singer, best known for protest songs. Sam Panopoulos invented Hawaiian pizza, which should be protested. Adam West was Batman. Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a cofounder of SWAPO and more or less relegated to minor ministries within the Namibian government after independence. Samuel V. Wilson directed (and reorganized) the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1970’s. Rosalie Sorrels was a singer-songwriter. A. R. Gurney was a playwright, best known for The Cocktail Hour. Bill Dana was a comedian, best known for his Jose Jiminez character, which seems horribly dated and racist nowadays. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of Germany, including 8 years prior to and 8 years after the 1990 reunification. Stephen Furst was an actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House. Baldwin Lonsdale was the president of Vanuatu. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder of ArtScroll publications, an influential publisher of Jewish texts. Frederick Leboyer popularized a natural childbirth approach. Gabe Pressman was a television reporter in New York. Michael Nyqvist was a Swedish actor. Michael Bond created Paddington Bear.

Business Trip #1: I got back from New York in time to unpack and pack for the first of two back-to-back business trips. That one was to Colorado Springs for an annual meeting. I flew out from DCA via ORD, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked okay. I was even able to have a sit-down dinner at a Chili’s in the airport. I waited forever (about 7 minutes) before being given water. Fortunately, once I called the server out on that, she was efficient. That was not the case a couple of nights later at a diner in Colorado Springs, where I was tempted to leave, citing the need to go to the police station and file a missing persons report for my server. There is something of a stereotype about women eating alone being bad tippers. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Anyway, the work stuff was reasonably productive, though, as is typical of this sort of thing, most of the value was the conversations in the hallway between presentations. Connections are, as always, everything.

The Weekend In-Between – Awesome Con: I had made plans to go with a friend to Awesome Con, which is a comic con type of thing at the D.C. Convention Center. I am not a science fiction / comic book type for the most part and am fairly pop-culture illiterate. My primary interest was people watching and I do find it intriguing how much effort people put into cosplay and such. We spent most of our time on the sales floor, though didn’t manage to cover all of it. I bought a fairly spectacular hat because the friend I was with is an evil person who refused to talk me out of it. I also bought a couple of gifts which I won’t talk about until they are given. We did also go to a panel on women in geekdom, which was less focused than I was hoping for, but still reasonably interesting. I later found out that another friend of mine was there (i.e. at that same panel) but I didn’t see her.

Overall, the event was overwhelmingly huge, which I found something of an energy drain. They also did a terrible job of signage and a pretty egregious set-up for food, with most of the food stands having no nearby seating. If I go again in the future, I might try to do more planning and focus on panels more. And maybe get more sleep in the week beforehand.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The next day, I had tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about this show, but never seen it (or heard the music) before. The premise is a concert by Hedwig, the victim of a botched (and not really voluntary) sex change operation. There are various references to (and sort-of glimpses into) a much larger concert being given at the same time by Tommy Gnosis, who turns out to have an interesting history with Hedwig. That relationship drives some of the transformation behind the story.

Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. There is an interesting mix of music and some mildly funny lines. And there is no doubt that Euan Morton (who played the lead) is very talented. But I thought the whole thing was heavy handed and not well pulled together. I also want to note that the lighting was completely irritating. Incidentally, I ran into a couple of friends, who were puzzled by the whole thing. We concluded we are just too old and clearly not the target demographic for this material.

Business Trip #2: Unpack, do laundry, pack. Such is my life at times. I was off to the Bay Area for a one day meeting. It was actually pretty interesting and included a high bay tour, which is always one of my favorite things to do. But quick trips like this are always pretty exhausting. I should note that I had originally been scheduled to fly out on American through DFW, but weather delays let me persuade them to put me on a non-stop on United to SFO. I did come back on American (via CLT), which featured just as much service as is typical of them (i.e. next to none). The highlight of CLT was spotting a plane painted in PSA livery. I used to fly PSA quite a bit between L.A. and the Bay Area, but they were bought by USAir a lot a lot of years ago.

Book Club: I got back in time to make it to book club. This meeting's topic was A Man Called Ove. I believe it was the first time that everybody liked a book. If you haven't read it, do. It's quirky and funny and touching in equal measures.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The only thing on my calendar this past weekend (well, aside from catching up on sleep) was seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Signature Theatre. I really know this show from its original cast recording of over 45 years ago – and will admit that it is not one I particularly like. I remain unimpressed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, but, then, it was an early experiment with rock opera and the form hadn’t really been figured out. (ALW, of course, never did figure it out, but others have.)

Signature is always a good place to see musicals for several reasons. Among those are a number of performers, including Nastascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene and Bobby Smith as Pontius Pilate. I was also impressed with Karma Camp’s choreography and thought the lighting and projections were used in interesting ways to create the sets. Overall, I’d say this was a good production of a flawed show.
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This was the weekend of June 9th through 11th. Yes, I am behind. Live with it.

Part 1 - 31 Chambers Street: I decided to leverage off a flyertalk-related trip to New York and took a vacation day, enabling me to get up to the city early enough to spend some time at the Municipal Archives. The main thing I was looking for was the death certificate for my great-grandfather, Henry Schwarzbord. I also obtained the death certificate for Rose Lebofsky, my great-uncle Nathan’s first wife, and the marriage certificate for another great-uncle,Willi Lubowsky (aka Wulf Chlebiocky). None of those actually told me much that I didn’t already know, but did confirm some transcription errors on Family Search. And I am somewhat of a completist regarding documentation.

Part 2 - Soup Do: Soup Do is an annual flyertalk dinner event, held the Friday night before the Brooklyn Reality Tour. It’s basically a lot of people in the back room of La Bonne Soup, eating dinner, and talking about travel and frequent flyer miles and such. There’s a prix fixe dinner available (though only 2 of us at the table I was at did it). I thought it was a good deal – salad, soup, dessert, and a glass of wine for about 30 bucks once you add in tax and tip. The wine was so-so, but the salad, onion soup, and crème caramel were all quite nice. And, of course, the point is the conversation, which was lively and entertaining.

Part 3 - the Brooklyn Reality Tour: This is an annual flyertalk event, focused largely on food and conversation. We started with Smorgasburg, which provided an early lunch stop. It was hard to choose among all the options, but I went with a Peking duck bao (a bit messy) at someone’s recommendation and the very trendy (and delicious) halo-halo, which consists of ube ice cream with dragon fruit, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, blackberries, red mung beans, coconut, mango, and a little almond milk. Then we drove over to an overlook of the Verrazano Narrows, before going on to Coney Island. We drove around various neighborhoods, including Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Sheepshead Bay. We attempted to go to Floyd Bennett Field, but the hangar with the display of historic aircraft had closed early, so were foiled in the sightseeing attempt. More driving around included Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza, and, of course, Dan’s childhood home and elementary school, because you do that sort of thing when you run the tour. We had a bakery stop at Butter and Scotch, which had excellent pecan pie. I bailed at L&B Spumoni Gardens, since I had theatre tickets, but the rest of the tour included a pizza dinner there and the traditional sunset over Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Part 4 - Pacific Overtures: Pacific Overtures is my favorite Sondheim score, so I would have been interested in this revival at Classic Stage Company even if it didn’t have George Takei playing the Reciter. He does have a nicely resonant voice, but the real highlight of the performances for me was Megan Masako Haley, playing Tamate and, later on, a girl mistaken for a geisha. Much of her role was silent, but she was very expressive and elegant, highlighting the simplicity of the production. I thought that the overall aesthetic felt essentially Japanese, which is pretty much the point. I was disappointed in them having cut "Chrysanthemum Tea," which has one of Sondheim’s absolute best internal rhymes ("it’s an herb that’s superb for disturbances at sea") but they did an excellent job with the other songs. "Please Hello" is proof that Sondheim’s talents at pastiche, for example. And "A Bowler Hat," is my single favorite Sondheim song of all time, as it reveals character so effectively by showing Kayama’s transformation as he absorbs Western culture. This was a lovely production, with fine voices and was well worth seeing.

Part 5 - Welsh brunch at Sunken Hundred: Sunday morning had me back in Brooklyn for brunch at Sunken Hundred, a Welsh restaurant. This was part of the "around the world in 5 boroughs" project that one flyertalker started. I had crampog, which are oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes, which came with a blueberry and fenugreek compote and rosemary butter. I also tasted a small piece of a scone. The food was fabulous and I would happily eat there again.

Part 7 - Ernest Shackleton Loves Me: I am not sure where I first saw this show advertised, but the name itself was enough to sell me, given my interest in polar exploration. (Though, for the record, I think Douglas Mawson was even more impressive than Ernest Shackleton.) And it’s a musical – well, just take my money! The premise is interestingly bizarre – a 45 year old woman seeking a relationship finds love with the long-dead explorer via a dating website. It’s probably just a fantasy from her single-parenthood induced sleep deprivation, but they act out various parts of the Endurance expedition and Kat learns about optimism and standing up for herself. Both Val Vigoda as Kat and Wade McCollum as Shackleton (and other male roles) were clearly having fun in this very quirky show. Overall, there was a lot of laugh-out-loud humor and lively music (sea chanteys! Yes!) And they even used Frank Hurley’s actual photos and footage. I could quibble about the script making Shackleton’s journey to South Georgia too much of a solo effort, but, then, this wasn’t titled Frank Worsley Was the Best Navigator Ever. I thought this was a lot of fun and am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Part 8 – Ben’s I grew up going to Ben’s Kosher Deli in Baldwin. The one in the city is not as good (and, definitely, not up to the 2nd Avenue Deli) but it is conveniently located close to Penn Station for pre-train dining. I got a tongue sandwich and stuffed derma. The former was good, but the latter was quite disappointing, with overly salted gravy. The service was also decidedly mediocre. It wasn’t a horrible meal, but it didn’t fully satisfy my Jewish deli needs. Fortunately, I have at least one more trip to New York planned this summer.
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Washington Jewish Film Festival: I made it to two movies this year. There were others I was interested in, but couldn’t make the schedule work for. The two I saw were both comedies - Moos and OMG, I’m a Robot. More about those when I do my quarterly movie wrap-up.

Laura Bush Killed a Guy: I went to see this one-woman play, produced by The Klunch, at Caos on Friday night with a friend. We had intended to have drinks and happy hour food at Hill Country BBQ, but there was a long wait for a table and the bar was too crowded, so we sought out something else. The Smith doesn’t do a happy hour and was too noisy. We ended up going to Pi Pizzeria, which was okay. As it turns out, I was wrong about what time the play started, so we could probably have managed Hill Country. So we ended up having a wait to get in to the theatre, during which two homeless guys got into a fistfight several yards from where we were waiting. Oy.

Anyway, the show was worth it. Lisa Hodsoll captured Laura Bush’s voice and manners effectively. Ian Allen’s script had three different versions of the traffic accident in which 17-year-old Laura ran a stop sign and hit another car, killing its driver. In one, it’s a deliberate plot. In the second, she’s drunk. Only the third version is a true accident. There are also multiple versions of how she met her husband. And then there is a lot of material about the Bush family in general, how she was treated by other dignitaries (Caroline Kennedy, in particular, snubbed her), and how she is pretty much the forgotten first lady. It was an interesting show and often quite funny.

Story Swap: The monthly Voices in the Glen swap was Saturday night. We even had a new attendee, who had found us via NSN. There was a good mix of stories, as usual. I told "Sawing Off Manhattan," which I had not done in a long time. I had played with the ending, unsuccessfully, so I decided that I won’t use it at the Folk Festival. If I want an American story, I can always tell a Bill Greenfield tale.

The Man Who: This play, written by Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne, was inspired by The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks, but only some of the vignettes are based on patients Sacks wrote about. All four actors in this production at Spooky Action Theater played multiple roles, both as patients and doctors. The stories are really those of the patients, confronting the puzzling realities of neurological disorders. There was a talkback afterwards and it was interesting that the actors said they focused on performing the physical actions because many of the words were like speaking a foreign language.

Anyway, it’s an interesting show and worth seeing if you’re in the area in the next couple of weeks.

16th Street NW: I think 16th Street NW has to be one of the most interesting streets in D.C., at least from an architectural perspective. There are lots of grand old residences (pretty much converted to apartment complexes), assorted embassies, and interesting churches. Best of all is the House of the Temple, which has something to do with the Scottish Rite Freemasons and has a couple of sphinxes in front of it. Apparently, you can tour the building and I really ought to do that one of these days.

Overheard at Dupont Circle: Two men were embracing at the corner of 18th and Q. One said to the other, "Don’t die in Missouri."

Sleep, or Lack Thereof: I hate it when I wake up around 2 a.m. and never really manage to get back to sleep. Nothing was obviously wrong, but I just couldn’t seem to turn my mind to sleep mode. I did get up for a half hour or so and look at facebook, but, mostly, I stayed in bed, trying vainly to get a decent amount of rest. Sigh.
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On Rye: I had a moment of inspiration before going to the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of Macbeth last night and got dinner at On Rye, a pseudo-deli that has been getting good buzz. I say pseudo, because of the limited menu, which lacks most of my deli favorites. (No tongue? No chopped liver? No latkes? No knishes? No kishke? Not a real deli by my book!) I got the matzoh ball soup, which was disappointing. The actual matzoh ball was good, but the broth tasted too much of dill and not very much of chicken. I also got a pastrami sandwich. The pastrami was satisfyingly peppery, but the rye bread could not hold up to it, making it annoying to eat. Overall, I was not impressed. I understand that they have a stand at Nats Park and I will take advantage of that to try out their babka ice cream sandwich.

Macbeth: Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest play, but you wouldn’t know that from the current production at Shakespeare Theatre Company, which came close to 3 hours. Overall, the production was weird. Liesl Tommy, the director, emphasized the political aspects of the play, at the expense of both the psychological and supernatural ones. From some of what was written in the program, this was a deliberate choice because this is, after all, Washington. Anyway, it was done in an African setting, though they kept the language to Scotland. As far as I could tell, the only significant change in the script was to turn Duncan into a queen, instead of a king. (A few other characters also got the sex-change treatment.) Most of the characters were dressed in camouflage (with red berets, which kind of defeats the purpose of camo). The witches (and Hecate) were treated as CIA operatives, manipulating the action. I actually liked that aspect for the most part, with one witch shooting cell phone footage of all the dead bodies, and the cauldron scene done as a briefing for "Operation Brinded Cat." The most African moment came in the murder of Lady Macduff, who was "necklaced," a specifically South African form of summary execution in which the victim has a rubber tire placed around their upper body, which is then dowsed in gasoline and set on fire. I suspect that went over the heads of a lot of the audience.

I understand the ambitions of the production and the attempt at relevance, but it didn’t really work for me. It did emphasize Macbeth as a tyrant, but it gave Lady Macbeth very little attention, for example. And I have always thought the right way to handle the witches was to have them be rather ordinary, which would allow the language they use to highlight their strangeness.

I should also note that I believe this was the first time I have ever actually payed to see a Shakespeare play. Admittedly, a heavily discounted ticket via Goldstar, but paid for nonetheless. I saw Measure for Measure in college, but I am fairly sure the guy I went with bought the tickets. The two shows I’ve seen previously at the Shakespeare Theatre Company were Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest, both of which were part of their annual summer Free for All program. This summer’s production will be Othello and I will probably try the on-line lottery to get tickets. Free Macbeth would have been more satisfying.

Cough, cough The pollen count is sky high right now. It also didn’t help that the person sitting next to me at the theatre last night had soaked in some particularly allergenic perfume. Sigh.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Glenna Sue Kidd played for a number of teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. William Baumol was an economist and came up with a theory about why services will always increase in price, unlike goods. William David Brohn arranged and orchestrated music for a number of Broadway musicals, notably Ragtime for which he won a Tony. Powers Boothe was an actor, primarily on television. Stan Weston designed G.I. Joe. Henry Chung was the owner of Henry’s Hunan, a well-known San Francisco restaurant (now a small chain) that is credited with bringing Hunan cuisine to the U.S. Baba Chuck Davis founded the African-American Dance Ensemble.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Ella Raino Edwards, better known to most of us as just Ellaraino, was a storyteller and actress in Los Angeles. She was a powerful presence. She apparently died in mid-March, but I only just heard about it.

I knew Trisha O’Tuama from the early days of the net. She was active in several Usenet groups (e.g. soc.women and talk.bizarre) and also on a couple of mailing lists I was on. She was provocative and didn’t take any crap from anyone. I met her in person only a couple of times and she wasn’t at all abrasive then. Even though we hadn’t interacted much recently, I will miss her.


Errata: People I grew up with have corrected me on teachers. Second grade was Mrs. Redman and fourth was (initially) Mrs. Hundt. The gym teacher was apparently Miss Parkman.

Kaleidoscope: On Friday night, I saw Kaleidoscope at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church. This is a new musical by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, the latest in their "bold new works for intimate spaces" series. The story involves a Broadway star on her final solo tour. Except she is suffering from dementia and can no longer remember her lines. So her daughters and her granddaughter keep the tour going at home. Florence Lacey did a fabulous job as Evelyn Throne, who is confused about what is going on and sees her memories as a kaleidoscope of disjointed images, which she can’t put together into a cohesive story. This sounds depressing, but there was plenty of warmth and humor to balance things. The music was lovely, too, though I wish there had been a song list in the program. The most memorable song was "One More Walk Around the Garden," in which Evelyn progresses from walking on her own, to using a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair as the song goes on. I must have gotten something in my eyes. I have recommended this theatre highly before and this is yet another wonderful show there.

EU Open House: Saturday was the annual European Union Embassies Open House. I went with my friend, Cindy, and we started at the Embassy of Spain. They had an exhibit on architecture, but the real point of these events is food and swag. In this case, they were charging for almost all of the food. (We did get some free bags of Spanish potato chips.) The food was cheap, though – three bucks for a plate of vegetable paella and another 2 for a glass of wine. And it was definitely worth it.

We moved on to the Embassy of Poland. I was interested in a project that is digitizing a book signed by Polish residents in the 1920’s as a gift of friendship to the United States, though I didn’t find any familiar names on the couple of pages I looked at for Tykocin. There was a 1920’s theme overall, with appropriate costumes and music. They also had free food samples, with sauerkraut and mushroom pierogie, plus cake.

Lithuania had a small area on culture, mostly involving choral singing and folk costumes. They had quite a lot of food, including some delicious borscht. There were also potatoes, sausages / dried meat (which I ignored), herring, cheeses, brown bread, and Lithuanian beer. I continue to believe that my ancestors left largely in search of hops. (Sorry, but I am not a fan of the lighter, sweeter beer styles.)

Those three embassies are close together, but our next stop was further, so we wanted to get a shuttle bus. They had neglected to put up a sign for the bus stop, so there was some confusion involved, but we did eventually succeed in getting to the Embassy of Malta. That one was, frankly, not all that worth it. They had a guy lecturing in a too small, too hot room, and a film playing in another room. They did give us little packets of Maltese date and pistachio cookies as we left, however.

We took another shuttle over to the Embassy of Portugal. They had a bit of a line and we waited a while to get in. Fortunately, it was well worth it. They had better (or, at least, larger) tote bags to add to the ones we’d collected. And they had a drawing where you could win a basket of food and wine, though most people (each of us included) just got a t-shirt. As for food, they had bread and cheese, custard tarts, and, best of all, port wine.

We split up at that point because we wanted to go to different embassies. I went to the Embassy of Hungary, where the main exhibit was an outdoor one on Hungarian dog breeds, the most appealing of which is the Kuvasz. As for food, most of what they had was for sale, though they did have good cheese biscuits for free.

I could probably have made it to one or two more embassies (depending on lines) but I was tired and decided to just go home, where I promptly napped for a couple of hours.

Objects of Wonder: Sunday’s venture was to the National Museum of Natural History for a Chavurah event. Objects of Wonder is as much about how the museum handles its collections as about the objects themselves. There were a wide range of things to look at, including stained samples of types of wood, a stuffed lion, a painted house from a native American community in the Pacific Northwest (complete with an associated story on an audio loop), and pretty much samples of everything the museum offers, with the exception of dinosaurs and mummies. (Given my dislike of mummies, this was no loss.) I think the most bizarre bit of information was that they estimate the age of whales by the thickness of their earwax.

After going through that exhibit, we checked out another one nearby, with winners of a competition for nature photography. I particularly liked a photo of a leopard descending a tree. There were also some great polar bear photos. My animal biases may be at work here.

Then we went out to lunch. We ended up at Tadich Grill, which was a bit pricy, but good. I had some excellent arctic char. The weather was lovely and we sat outside enjoying it. All in all, a lovely day out.

What I Didn’t Do This Past Weekend: I didn’t get any housework done, though I did manage grocery shopping. And I didn’t get enough sleep. Sigh.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Aaron Hernandez played football for the New England Patriots before his arrest in a murder case. Lawrence Hogan served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, where his son is currently the governor. Cuba Gooding, Sr. was a soul singer and the father of actor, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Erin Moran was an actress, best know for Joanie Loves Chachi. Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I have intended to read for many years but never gotten around to.

Fun Home: The touring production of Fun Home, a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel is playing at the National Theatre and I saw it last week. The story is fairly simple – Alison is gay and becomes a lesbian cartoonist. Her father is gay and commits suicide. (That is not a spoiler. She says it in the first few minutes of the show.) The interesting thing is how the story is told, with adult Alison narrating the action and two younger versions of herself acting appropriate parts of it. Almost all of the focus is on Alison’s relationship with her father, which is ironic given the Bechdel-Wallace test. There are two other female characters – her mother and her first lover - and most of what she talks about with them is that relationship.

I will admit to having had some skepticism, because this is the sort of premise that could lead to a preachy or dull show. But it is neither. We all have coming of age discoveries to make and we all have evolving relationships with our families and we all learn things about our parents that may make us reassess those relationships. Small Alison (about 9 years old) is a cute and lively kid, longing for Dad’s attention, yet recoiling when it comes in the form of asking for help at the family funeral home (which is the source of the title). Medium Alison (a college freshman) felt exactly right for that confusing age and got one of the best songs as she enters a relationship and sings about changing her major to Joan. I also through that Abby Corrigan, who played Medium Alison, was a particularly strong performer. Robert Petkoff was also notable as Bruce, Alison’s father, who was somewhat trapped by his times and didn’t know how to deal with that. He’s not particularly likeable, but it’s also obvious he causes himself as much pain as he causes to other people.

I should also note that Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori’s music were enjoyable. There is a nice blend of serious and silly among the songs. One of the things I have been known to whine about is musicals where the music serves no real purpose. Here, it does illuminate character and emotion. I do wish, however, that the program had included a song list.

Overall, I highly recommend seeing it while it’s here.


March for Science: Saturday was the March for Science. I had mixed feelings about the whole thing, largely because a lot of the discussion on their facebook page was treating the whole thing as cosplay and focused on silly signs and so on. The real issue, in my opinion, is Trump’s failure to appoint people to key science roles, e.g. science advisor to the President, NASA director, NOAA director. But a friend was in town for it. Notably a long-time friend, who is used to my snarkiness and contributes a certain level of his own snark. We skipped the speeches, met for lunch at a Thai restaurant, and then went over to catch the end of the rally part and march from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. The weather was crappy (chilly and rainy) but I had a poncho and he had a jacket and rain hat and, as my Dad used to say, people are more or less waterproof. So March we did, along with snide comments about signs that were off-message, as well as admiration for some clever ones. The chanting got nicely loud around the EPA building. If nothing else, we got a good walk out of it.

Brunch and Batteries: I had a chavurah brunch to go to on Sunday. Unfortunately, when I went out to go to it, my car battery was dead. I took a cab over (and got a ride home), but it was still stressful. The food was pretty good and the conversation was good, so it was worth it. When I got home, I called AAA and they brought a new battery and installed it. It's still annoying, but not horribly painful.
fauxklore: (travel)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chelsea Brown was an actress on Laugh-In. Roy Sievers played baseball for several teams, notably the Washington Senators in two of their incarnations. Paul O’Neill founded Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Tim Pigott-Smith was a British actor. Joanne Kyger was pretty much the only female poet of the beat generation. Eugene Lang was controversial as a businessman, since he was arguably a patent troll, but redeemed himself by founding the I Have a Dream Foundation and funding not only scholarships, but additional support, for poor public school children.

The big name of recent deaths is, of course, Don Rickles. I have to say that I never really cared much for insult comedy he specialized in.

Parade: I went to see Parade, Jason Robert Brown’s musical about the Leo Frank case, at Keegan Theatre on Friday night. I saw a different production of this show (at Ford’s Theatre) a few years ago. My conclusion is essentially the same. The score is excellent, but the book suffers from the failure to take a consistent point of view. Except for Tom Watson, the villains are more opportunists than anything else. Britt Craig is trying to revive his journalistic career, while Hugh Dorsey is trying to win the gubernatorial race. Frank, himself, comes across as (not surprisingly) puzzled over what Is happening to him. The change in his relationship with his wife, Lucille, is also an interesting aspect of the show. As for the performances, I thought that Michael Innocenti was quite good as Leo Frank, though he had some trouble with pronouncing the words of the Sh’ma at the end. Eleanor Todd as Lucille and Timothy Hayes Lynch as Governor Slaton were also quite good. But the real scene stealer was Malcolm Lee as Jim Conley. I should note that I had seen Lee perform before – as the Dryer in Caroline or Change at Creative Cauldron. He’s a performer I will have to watch out for more in the future.

United Airlines: So there have been two United Airlines (really Continental – since ALL of the management of the combined company are ex-Cons, but that’s a point of interest only for airline geeks) "scandals" in the news. Both of which are really illustrations of the abuse of social media.

Let’s take "leggings gate" first. The way this was portrayed is that United kicked two girls off a plane for wearing leggings. Except, that isn’t actually what happened. They denied boarding to two teenagers who were traveling on an employee’s pass. That pass has conditions, which include a dress code. You can argue the propriety of that dress code elsewhere, because it is beside the point. The two kids, who knew the rules, left with no comment. An unrelated family behind them in line included a ten-year-old girl wearing leggings, her father (wearing shorts), and her mother. The mother saw the teenagers told to leave and concluded that her daughter needed to put on a dress over the leggings – despite nobody from the airline having claimed that. A professional outrage blogger at another gate witnessed the incident and – again, with no actual knowledge of what had happened – took to twitter. Much unjustified outrage followed.

Let me try a fictional example to explain the absurdity of the story. Suppose the New York Yankees offered to give me a first class plane ticket to anywhere I wanted to, with the condition that, since I would be representing them by accepting this ticket, I would have to wear a pink sleeveless NYY tank top. I show up dressed, instead, in respectable clothes, i.e. a long-sleeved blue Boston Red Sox shirt. They are perfectly within their rights to deny me boarding.

Today’s outrage is a little trickier. The story is that a flight from ORD to SDF (that is, Chicago O’Hare to Louisville) needed four seats for a deadheading crew. The flight was full and had boarded. They asked for volunteers, offering a $400 voucher (plus an overnight hotel stay, as there were no other flights that night) and then upping the offer to an $800 voucher. Nobody volunteered. So they went to the Involuntarily Denied Boarding (IDB) procedure. The deadheading crew are in a "must fly" situation, so four passengers have to be IDB’d. There is a pre-determined order for who gets chosen, based on status, fare basis, time of check-in, etc., with specific exemptions for disabled passengers and unaccompanied minors. Those people are compensated at 400% of the fare they paid, up to a maximum of $1350. That is paid as a check, not a voucher.

The third person they called refused to deplane, saying he was a doctor who had to tend to patients in the morning. (I have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. Nor does it matter.) He continued to refuse to leave, so law enforcement was called. Apparently, the cops handled him roughly and two passengers got that on video. Outrage ensued.

As far as I am concerned, the cops (who are not employees of COdbaUA – or, technically, Republic, as this was an Express flight) are legitimately being targeted for their roughness. Apparently, at least one of those cops has been placed on leave while the incident is being investigated. But the passenger was clearly in the wrong in refusing to deplane. (He also probably made things worse by going limp when grabbed by the cops. Which is rather bizarre under the circumstances, but who knows what his personal history with police is?) And the airline was correct in calling the police to remove him. In this case, the story is focused on the wrong party, almost entirely out of ignorance and (I suspect) prejudice.

Now, UA’s social media team is undeniably inept in responding to these things. That is also an entirely different matter.

I will continue to fly United when its routes and fares make sense for me.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Bill Walsh was not only a copy editor for The Washington Post, but wrote three cleverly titled books on the subject of copy editing - Lapsing Into a Comma, The Elephants of Style, and Yes, I Could Care Less. Phil Garland was a New Zealand folk singer. I particularly recommend his song "To the Tall Ships" (with lyrics by Joe Clark). James Cotton played blues harmonica. Derek Walcott was a Caribbean poet and Nobel laureate. Lawrence Montaigne was an actor with numerous television and movie appearances, as well as being in the original cast of Shinbone Alley. Felicia O’Dell was the internet celebrity chef Auntie Fee. Chuck Berry was a rock and roll superstar, but you didn't need me to tell you that. Jimmy Breslin was a columnist for Newsday and Son of Sam’s favorite penpal. David Rockefeller headed Chase Manhattan and chaired the Museum of Modern Art. I have reservations about his foreign policy activities (which may have, for example, helped trigger the Iran hostage crisis) but there is little doubt that he was a significant philanthropist with broad interests. Martin McGuiness was an IRA leader who became a peacemaker. Colin Dexter wrote the Inspector Morse series of mysteries. He also wrote a book about how to solve cryptic crosswords.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mary Joan Trafton was a colleague and a close friend. We started working for Milo at the same time and, over the course of numerous business trips, discovered compatible ways of thinking. This was especially true on trips to Boulder, where we realized that High Crimes, a mystery bookstore, would be open late when they had a signing. She was always willing to try out new restaurants and we spent lots of evenings exploring the crème brulees of Boulder. We had similar senses of humor, which included things like buying Milo a pointy-haired boss wig, which he wore when he did our performance reviews. She had been ill with cancer for a while, so her death was not a surprise, but it is still always painful to lose a friend. I am still waiting to hear what the arrangements will be and hope I will be able to go to whatever ceremony happens. At the very least, Suzanne (our other partner in crime) and I will do something.

Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing: I saw this new show at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Elva Miller was a real person, who achieved a brief career in the mid-1960’s as a horrible singer. Debra Monk portrayed her and did an excellent job of both the bad singing and the moments when we glimpse her self-perception. Boyd Gaines played her husband, who was convalescing in a nursing home after a stroke. He was also convincing in a role that focused on his frustration over his condition. Then there is her niece, Joelle, played by Rebekah Brockman, who is torn between the fear that she is part of a group exploiting her aunt and the knowledge that Mrs. Miller is having fun with the whole experience. There is some generation gap material and some more serious topical material (e.g. re: Vietnam). But the real point is about following dreams. That makes Mrs. Miller surprisingly sympathetic. I will note, however, that I dearly hope nobody ever decides to produce a cast album of this show!

Story Swap: Our monthly swap was on Saturday night and was, as usual, fun. I took advantage of the late arrival of our teenage tellers to perform X. J. Kennedy’s poem, "In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day." Later on, I told "Tia Miseria." There was the usual wide mix of stories and, later on, snacks and conversation.

World Storytelling Project: Yesterday being World Storytelling Day, I announced a project to learn a story from every country in the world. I am using the U.S. State Department list of independent countries, which has 195 countries on it. Obviously, I already know stories from some of these (and have personal stories from a few.) This is not the sort of thing I intend to put any particular deadline on, but it should be a fun challenge. And, yes, I have picked out a story from Afghanistan to tell.

Note to Coworker Down the Hall: Close your door when you are having a conference call, damn it!

Sociable

Feb. 21st, 2017 03:54 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I've had a fairly sociable week or so.

Wednesday night, I went to the California State Society Ahhhscar Night party, as a guest of a friend. He told me he'd be wearing his tuxedo and advised me not to show any restraint, so I wore my most classic black cocktail dress, my feathered hat, and my grandmother's amethyst necklace and earrings. It worked well. Rather amusingly, several people on the metro commented on my hat and there were lots of people at the party itself who complemented me on my outfit. I never really got a handle on the crowd. Not that it was cliquish, per se, but the music was loud and I was mostly waiting for people to approach us. I think the highlight of the evening (aside from spending time with the guy who invited me) was the conga line we got caught up in.

I decided not to go to another party on Saturday night because I had good intentions regarding housework. I did make a little progress but it is emptying the ocean with thimblefuls. There is a reason I refer to my den as the Black Hole of Vienna. On the plus side, I actually finished reading the Sunday newspaper on Sunday for a change, having read most of it on Saturday.

Sunday was a Style Invitational Losers' brunch. I hadn't been over in Rosslyn in ages (well, except inside the metro station, which doesn't count) and was surprised at how much has changed. The building I used to work in has a Target now. (I'm not sure what is on the upper floors. I had an office on the 5th floor and shared a bullpen type space on the 13th floor.) The brunch featured good conversation, including reminiscing about voting machines and old TV shows.

I'd thought I would go to knitting group afterwards, but the brunch ended up late enough that I decided it wasn't worth it. A friend who is getting divorced is storing some things at my place, so she came over with a couple of more boxes. We had a nice chat and ordered in Chinese food for supper.

Monday was a holiday. I did make somewhat more progress on the mountain of papers to deal with. But I also went into the city in the evening for a special tour of Studio Theatre, which was an MIT Club of DC Partners and Patrons event. They showed us all 4 theatres and lots of behind the scenes area (e.g. the set shop, the paint shop, the costume shop). The highlight for me was the set for their upcoming production of The Three Sisters, which has actual birch trees. It sounds like an interesting production, running in parallel with No Sisters in the theatre above, with the same cast using a backstage staircase to move between the two plays. But I'm not really big on Chekhov and my schedule is fairly overcommitted (so what else is new?) so I doubt I will go to the two plays.

In discussing theatre with some of the staff, I realized that as much as D.C. is a great theatre town, we are lacking one thing. There is no company here that specializes in older, obscure musicals, akin to what York Theatre does so well in New York or 42nd Street Moon does in San Francisco.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have thoughtful brilliance to write, but this ain't it. However, I have done a few things lately...

Celebrity Death Watch: William Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist. Alan Jabbour was a fiddler and founded the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Dick Gautier is best known for having played Hymie the Robot on Get Smart, but I want to note he was also Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway (and, in fact, won a Tony for that role.) Anthony Armstrong-Jones was better known as Lord Snowden, a photographer and the one-time husband of Princess Margaret. He was, by all accounts, better as a photographer than as a husband. Vicki Lansky wrote the cookbook, Feed Me I’m Yours. Brenda C. Barnes was the CEO of Sara Lee for several years. Loalwa Braz was a Brazilian singer-songwriter. Maggie Roche was a folk-rock singer, who performed primarily with her sisters. Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte were both baseball players from the Dominican Republic, who died in car accidents on the same day. Eugene Cernan was an astronaut and, notably, the last man to walk on the moon. Mike Connors was an actor, best known for playing Mannix. Bob Holiday was an actor and played Superman more than any other actor, including starring in the musical, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. John Hurt was an actor, most famous for starring in The Elephant Man. Mary Tyler Moore was an actress, most famous for her television roles (especially as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) but also on Broadway and in film. In Minneapolis, there is a statue of her tossing her hat in the air. Harold Rosen led the team that built the first geosynchronous communications satellite. Etienne Tshisekedi was the head of the opposition party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, including a couple of brief stints as Prime Minister. David Axelrod was a jazz / fusion musician, composer, and producer.

Professor Irwin Corey was an interesting comedian, parodizing a certain sort of intellectual and billing himself as "the world’s foremost authority." More importantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, so his death earned me 15 points in the game.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: John Shipman, known to many as Groot, passed away on January 31st after a short battle with an aggressive cancer. He was a kind and generous man, a lover of good music and good food, and proud of his influence on students at New Mexico Tech. I don’t get to Albuquerque often, but will miss having dinner and conversation with him when I do.

Storytelling: I told Border Crossings, a story about travel and weddings and the like last Saturday night as part of the Better Said Than Done show at The Auld Shebeen. It went well. You can watch the video and see for yourself.

A Visit to Lebanon: The most recent embassy event I went to (via my alumni association) was last Monday night at the residence of the Ambassador of Lebanon. The food was tasty, with a wide mix of dishes, including particularly notable fattoush. There were also good Lebanese wines. The talks were by the charge d’affaires and by the president of the MIT Alumni Association and were quite positive about the future of Lebanon. Good food, an interesting setting, and intelligent conversation always makes a nice evening out.

Business Trip: I went out to California last week for a meeting in San Diego. I took advantage of the trip to spend part of a day at the corporate mothership in Los Angeles, which was fairly productive, as were the discussions I actually took the trip for. The travel was rather annoying since it got set up a bit last minute, meaning I ended up with window seats, instead of my preferred aisles. (On short flights, I like windows, but not disturbing people in order to get up is a higher priority.) The flight to LAX was particularly cramped. And the wifi wasn’t working, so there was no entertainment. The drive to San Diego was not as bad as it might be, but there were some rough spots, especially since I left later than I’d planned to. Mostly, I got held up by an accident around San Clemente and then things just crawled through La Jolla getting to my hotel. The main result was that I concluded that the same person who designs United’s economy class seats designed the seat in the Kia Forte I had. That is, poor padding and no lumbar support. I flew back from SAN, with a connection at LAX. Actually, I didn’t fly back – I flew to EWR, since I had pre-existing plans in New York. About which more in a minute.

I was also able to get together on Thursday night with an old friend for dinner and a nice, far-reaching conversation.

Jewish Soul Food: Since I got to New York after midnight, I slept in on Saturday morning. That meant skipping breakfast and having an early lunch. The matzoh ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli is fairly good, though since when does chicken soup have dill in it? The half a tongue sandwich I also had was sheer perfection. Add in a full sour pickle and this addict got her fix for the next several months.

Milk and Honey: The purpose of the trip was seeing York Theatre’s mufti (i.e. semi-staged, street clothes) production of Jerry Herman’s first musical, Milk and Honey. I was familiar with only a couple of the songs from this show and concluded the score really needs to be known much better. It’s lively, very clearly Jewish music (since the object was to make a sort of Israeli equivalent to Oklahoma), and simply a delight. The performances were wonderful too, especially Alix Korey as Sylvia Weiss, the role originated by Molly Picon. I also really liked how they handled the parts of the staging that involved animals. The show is probably unrevivable for a number of reasons, but I still enjoyed it immensely. I’ve seen several shows at York and I continue to be impressed.

Not That Jewish: This is Monica Piper’s one-woman show at New World Stages. It is billed as comedy, but it’s really storytelling. I was expecting something of a comic rant about Judaism, but this was a more serious and deeper exploration of what being Jewish means if someone is not particularly religious. There are dark areas – failed relationships, parents dying, single parenthood, breast cancer. But there is a lot of humor along the way. And the piece got pulled together well at the end. Overall, I’m glad I saw it.

Trains: Amtrak was surprisingly efficient going home. The Washington Metro, not so much, as they had scheduled track work that shut down the Orange Line from Eastern Market to Foggy Bottom. Normally, I’d get off Amtrak at New Carrolton and just ride the entire length of the Orange Line, which is slow, but means I don’t have to shlep luggage. This time, I took the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, Yellow Line from Gallery Place to Pentagon, Blue Line from Pentagon to Rosslyn, and then the Orange Line home. I’m exhausted just typing that. And the next Safe Track surge approacheth, sigh.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Charles J. Colgan was a long-time member of the Virginia senate and founded Colgan Air. Mario Soares served as President and Prime Minister of Portugal for a couple of decades. Nat Hentoff wrote for The Village Voice and The Wall Street Journal, primarily about jazz music and politics. Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani served a couple of terms as the President of Iran. Clare Hollingworth was the British journalist who broke the news of the outbreak of World War II.

Sister Frances Carr was one of the last three Shakers. There are now only two members of the sect at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. I have a long-standing interest in the Shakers (and other 19th century Utopian communities), who I admire for their philosophy of "hands to work, hearts to G-d." Their combination of egalitarianism, craftsmanship, and innovation is intriguing and their music is a huge influence on American folk music in general.

Om Puri was an Indian actor, who also appeared in a number of British and American movies, e.g. East is East. I am highlighting him because I had actually thought of putting him on my ghoul pool list, but didn’t because I thought he had died a couple of years ago. I should have googled him to check. Oh, well.

For the record, my list of people I predict will die in 2017 is:
20. Buzz Aldrin
19. June Foray
18. Beverly Cleary
17. Robert Mugabe
16. Gord Downie
15. Irwin Corey
14. Shannon Doherty
13. Valerie Harper
12. Tommy Chong
11. Frank Langella
10. John Cullum
9. Tommy Tune
8. Queen Elizabeth II
7. Javier Perez de Cuellar
6. Jimmy Carter
5. Dick Van Dyke
4. Sidney Poitier
3 James L. Buckley
2. Birch Bayh
1. John Paul Stevens


Titanic: I went to see Titanic at Signature Theatre on Saturday. Because of the snow, I used metro plus bus, which worked well enough, especially since I was lucky enough to not have to wait for the bus at all.

As for the show, the performances were excellent. I want to particularly note Sam Ludwig as the stoker, Frederick Barrett, who gets a couple of great songs – one comparing working on the ship to working as a coal miner and one proposing (over the wireless) to his girl back home. Tracy Lynn Olvera was also notable as a social-climbing second class passenger. I also thought Katie McManus was very good as the forthright third class Irish immigrant, Kate McGowan.

The show is grand and the second act (after the iceberg) is moving. But, there are both too many and too few subplots. It’s hard to care about characters when you’re switching between lots of them with each song. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way around that without making the show 4 hours long. I also have to admit that I didn’t really care for most of the score, which was rather more operatic than my tastes. There were exceptions, e.g. "The Proposal / The Night Was Alive" and the lively "Ladies Maid." I also want to note that Yeston apparently believed the myth that the band played "Autumn" while the ship sank (which is, I suppose, better than the "Nearer My G-d to Thee" myth), while historians now claim the actual hymn played was "Oughten."

By the way, every attendee gets a boarding card describing a passenger. I got Mr. William Cruthers Dulles, a 39 year-old first class passenger. They provide a web page to look up the fate of your alter ego. He died in the sinking.

JGSGW Meeting: I was really interested in the topic for Sunday’s meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, which had to do with how to get reluctant relatives interested in talking with you. How interested? Well, when I went out to drive to darkest Maryland for it, I found my car had a flat tire and I paid for a taxi to get there. (I got a ride home from friends.) I’m not convinced it was worth it. I did pick up a few tips, but most of the talk was stuff I already knew.

And, sigh, I still have to find time to get the tire replaced.

Hidden Figures: Finally, last night I went to see Hidden Figures, the current movie about African-American women who worked as computers for NASA, performing mathematical computations in the early days of the space program. The story is a compelling one, involving three women doing their very best to make things happen, despite all the obstacles (both racial and gender) thrown in their paths. It’s not a word I use often, but I found it inspiring and highly recommend seeing it.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2016 was not a great year for me, though I did have a few great things happen. I had certainly underestimated the impact of changing jobs, mostly in terms of how much mental energy that absorbed. I can't count how many nights I went to bed more or less right after supper.

I did finish one life list item, namely seeing the stone monoliths of Babeldaop. I got somewhat more involved with the Style Invitational Loser community, going to a few related social events. I started doing graze, which has, in addition to providing interesting snacks, given me something to write about here. And I had a particularly interesting year with respect to storytelling and to genealogy. Here are the details, in my usual categories.

Books: I only read 88 books last year, 48 of which were fiction. Only 6 were rereads. The ones I disliked include Lenore Glenn Offord’s Clues to Burn and Parnell Hall’s The Puzzle Lady and the Sudoku Lady. The absolute worst was a Laos Travel Guide which had about 40 pages about Laos and 100+ pages about studying mixed martial arts in Thailand, plus a chapter on ketogenic diets. I described this as the literary equivalent of the movie Disco Beaver From Outer Space.

On the positive side, some of the nonfiction books I enjoyed wereCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Leaving Before the Rains Come (two of Alexandra Fuller’s memoirs), Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux (about his travels in Angola), Crossworld by Marc Romano (about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), and Motoring With Mohammed by Eric Hansen (about Yemen). As for fiction, I enjoyed Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady, To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman (who often writes teenage girls well), and three books by Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice, Ice Cold, and, especially, The Bone Garden.

Volksmarch: Nothing, zero, nada, nil. Sigh. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t seem to have been very interested in walking other than as a means of transportation.

Travel: The biggest trip of the year was, obviously, the eclipse cruise in the South Pacific, which included the visit to Babeldaop, as well as seeing the giant stone money of Yap, and, of course, my third total solar eclipse. It also pushed me over the edge of qualifying for the Travelers’ Century Club, so I joined it, even though I still think their country list is pretty silly. My only other international trip of the year was to Martinique, mostly to take advantage of a cheap airfare.

I had business trips to Los Angeles, Florida (the Space Coast), and Colorado Springs.

Personal domestic travel included a trip to L.A. and Denver for Captain Denny Flanagan’s pre-retirement get-together, Stamford (Connecticut, that is, for the ACPT), Salt Lake City (for the NPL con), New York (for Lolapuzzoola and for my high school reunion), Pittsburgh (for Loserfest), Chicago (to see the Art Institute and go to an Elvis Costello concert), and Key West. On the way home from Salt Lake City, I achieved Million Mile status on United.

I should also note that I flew a few times on Jet Blue, which I hadn’t done before. I’m fairly impressed with their service, though I don’t think much of their frequent flyer program.

Culture: I went to several story swaps, of course, as well as several of the shows at The Grapevine and a couple of storytelling-related fringe shows. In terms of performing, I did the Washington Folk Festival. But, more importantly, I performed in three Better Said Than Done shows, including the Best in Show competition. I’m particularly happy to have the summer camp story on video. And I’m glad to be working with some family material in a way that I think works for humor without being disrespectful.

I saw 11 movies over the past year, with only one in a theatre. I think the best of them was The Imitation Game. I went to three music events. Both of those categories are things I would like to do more of this coming year. I also went to a Cirque du Soleil show and to a comedy show.

My biggest cultural activity of the year was going to the theatre. If I’ve counted right, I went to six non-musicals and 21 musicals. The worst of those was The Flick at Signature Theatre. As a friend said, "How many people walked out when you saw it?" Highlights included Matilda at the Kennedy Center, 110 in the Shade at Ford’s Theatre, The Lonesome West at Keegan Theatre, The Wild Party at Iron Crow in Baltimore, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre, and, especially, Caroline, or Change and Monsters of the Villa Diodati at Creative Cauldron. The latter has become one of my favorite theatres in the region, with high quality performances in an intimate setting.

Genealogy: Note that I added this category this year. I made a fair amount of progress, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, with highlights including meeting a cousin and tracking down info on a couple of my grandfather’s siblings. I’m also proud of having funded the translation of the chapters my paternal grandfather contributed to the Lite Yizkor Book. And I got my DNA tested, though that hasn’t led me to any major revelations yet.

Goals: I pretty much failed miserably on my goals for last year, other than reaching million mile status on United. It isn’t even worth enumerating progress on others, all of which were, at best, one step forward and two steps back. I’m giving myself a 25% for the year.

As for the coming year, I still have hope that I can get things done. I’m tempted to write something like "oh, just grow up already," but let’s be somewhat specific and measurable.


  • Complete at least one household organizing project.

  • Complete at least one knitting or crochet project.

  • Complete at least one writing project.

  • Contact one "lost" family member every month to request genealogical information.

  • Spend at least a half hour each week reading things from the reading goals on my life list.

  • Treat myself to one indulgence (e.g. spa treatment or special meal or the like) every month.

fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Hiroshi Arakawa was a Japanese baseball player and later managed the Yakult Swallows. Edwin Benson was the last native speaker of the Mandan language and made an effort to teach the language to children in North Dakota. Bob Krasnow co-founded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Javier Echevarria Rodriguez headed Opus Dei, a controversial part of the Catholic Church and a favorite target of conspiracy theorists. E. R. Braithwaite wrote To Sir, With Love. Alan Thicke was an actor and talk show host, probably best known as the father on Growing Pains. Thomas Schelling was a Nobel prize winning economist, specializing in game theory and complex systems. Henry Heimlich invented the Heimlich maneuver. (Note: he did not die of choking.) Zsa Zsa Gabor was an actress and socialite, who was at least as famous for having had nine husbands.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Another former colleague passed away earlier this month. Bernie Klem had an office catty-corner from mine, despite which we had an occasion on which we both flew from L.A. to Washington for me to give him a briefing. My favorite story about Bernie is the time he was checking into a hotel that asked him for a government ID to get the rate within per diem. He just said, "I'm traveling undercover" and they gave him the rate!

Three Holiday Parties: I have survived the party season, with minimal stress. My condo complex party has been less interesting since the Scottish guy realized that it wasn’t formal and, hence, gave up wearing his kilt to it. On the other hand, the food is good (as long as you get there early enough to get some of it) and the conversation can be interesting. It’s never a bad thing to get to know your neighbors at least a little bit.

The second party was at work and the stress level is lower now that they cater it, instead of doing pot luck. They were doing partial pot luck for a while, with folks doing appetizers and desserts, but they went full catered this year. They had okay Italian food with the definite highlight being the tiramisu for dessert. As for the white elephant gift exchange, my contribution was a hot cocoa gift box from Penzeys, which consists of cocoa, two hot chocolate mixes, a jar of cinnamon sticks (well, actually, cassia, but normal people are not as snobbish about this as I am), and bay leaves. Don’t ask me to explain the latter, because I can’t. Unfortunately, it got chosen towards the end, so it’s hard to say if it would have gotten stolen. I ended up with a set of teas and an infuser, along with hot chocolate sticks and a Trader Joe’s shopping bag.

The final party was at my former great-grandboss’s house. That one was pot luck and I find it intriguing that the offerings included Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy’s chili. I brought a Mediterranean pasta salad, for which I will offer a recipe below. There was good conversation and entertainment, in the form of our hosts (and their daughter) singing and me telling a couple of stories. The downside was that the party was in Manassas and, oy, that is a long drive. At least the morning ice storm was long since over and the roads were in good shape.

Flyertalk Dinner: I posted that it had been a while since we’d had a get-together, expecting people to suggest something after Christmas. But it turned out that a lot of people were free on Thursday night. We went to Sine Irish Pub in Pentagon City, which is always reliable. It was cold enough out to justify eating things like shepherd’s pie or fish and chips. And, of course, there was the usual travel conversation.

Silver Belles: This was a cute little holiday musical at Signature Theatre. The premise is that the Silver Belles of Silver Ridge, Tennessee put on an annual pageant for the local orphans. But now their leader, Oralene, had been struck dead by a bolt of lightning (which also, not coincidentally, destroyed her still) and they are struggling to put the pageant together. Oralene gets to influence things from beyond the grave.

There’s a lot of Southern-inflected humor and quirky characters and reasonably lively music. Donna Migliacci was excellent as Oralene. I want to particularly point out her expressive reactions to the crazy things the rest of the Belles do. There was also great chemistry between her and Dan Manning, who played her husband, Earl. The other outstanding performance is by the always wonderful Nova Payton. However, it bothered me that she as the one African-American performer was playing the sexy, vamp role.

I’m not big on either Christmas fare or country(ish) music, but I still thought this was worth seeing. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the umpty-umpth version of A Christmas Carol.

Carousel: Finally, I went to see Carousel at Arena Stage. I’ve always been lukewarm towards this musical. There is some lovely music, e.g. "The Carousel Waltz," but I have trouble with the whole "he’s your man, so you put up with him even when he hurts you" stuff. In short, I think Billy is a jerk and Julie is an idiot. And, yes, I understand the psychological damage abuse does and why Julie behaves the way she does, but it still annoys me.

The performances are excellent, with Nicholas Rodriguez as Billy Bigelow, Betsy Morgan as Julie Jordan, and Kate Rockwell as Carrie Pipperidge. It is also a pleasure to see actual dancing on stage. But, overall, I find the story too off-putting. If I have to see a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, give me South Pacific.

Le Catch-up

Dec. 1st, 2016 05:05 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Oy, am I behind. But I won’t get caught up by kvetching alone, so here is an attempt at catching up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Yaffa Eliach was a Holocaust historian. Robert Vaughan was an actor, best known for playing Napoleon Solo on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Little known fact is that I had a Napoleon Solo doll when I was a kid and he had a wonderful relationship with Barbie, often helping her escape from Russian spies and wild animals and so on. Leon Russell was a musician and songwriter. Gwen Ifill was a journalist, primarily on PBS. Mose Allison was a jazz pianist. Whitney Smith designed the flag of Guyana, which I mention only because he is claimed to have coined the word "vexillology," thus enabling Sheldon Cooper’s "Fun With Flags" shtick on The Big Bang Theory. Ruth Gruber was a journalist and humanitarian. Sharon Jones was a soul singer. Ben Zion Shenker was a rabbi and composer of over 500 Hasidic niggunim. Florence Henderson was an actress, best known for portraying Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. Ron Glass was also an actor and associated in my mind with his role on Barney Miller. Grant Tinker was a television executive, including heading NBC in the 1980’s. And, of course, he was the husband of Mary Tyler Moore before that. Michael "Jim" Deiligatti invented the Big Mac. Brigid O’Brien followed in the tradition of her father, Pat, and acted.

Leonard Cohen was a singer-songwriter, who I’ve always thought of as the Poet Laureate of Depression. That isn’t intended as a negative statement. It just means that there are times when you need to wallow in despair and his music suited that mood perfectly.

Melvin Laird was the Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 (under Richard Nixon). While serving in Congress, he supposedly convinced Spiro Agnew to resign the Vice Presidency. He had a lot of influence on how Pentagon budgeting is done. Most importantly, he ended the Vietnam era conscription and initiated the All Volunteer Force.

Jay Forrester was, essentially, the founder of system dynamics. I will admit to qualms about the application of systems models for economic analysis, but his work did enable the growth of systems thinking in the world at large. Hence, he made a difference in the opportunities I’ve had in my career.

And then there was Fidel Castro. He was a dictator and it’s clear that he oppressed the Cuban people. On the other hand, his commitment to education and health care was real. That doesn’t balance out the evils of his government, of course. I will note, however, that the U.S. has had a lot less animosity against lots of dictators who are at least equally bad. How much do you hear about Teodoro Obiang Nguerna Mbasogo, for example? Admittedly, Equatorial Guinea )see, I saved you from having to look him up) isn’t 90 miles from Florida, but the point remains that the treatment of Cuba has not been entirely rational. I am hoping that Fidel’s death may work towards normalizing things. I do still hope to go to Cuba at some point, since my grandfather lived there in the 1920’s and my grandparents met and married there.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Milt Eisner was a member of my chavurah. He was a retired statistician and a puzzle person, who competed at least a few times in the ACPT.

Condo Association Meeting: Our annual meeting was right after election day. It wasn’t too painful. And they had good brownies.

WBRS Reception: Then came the William Barton Rogers Society reception. This is an MIT related thing and a reward for a certain level of donation. It was at the Mayflower, which is less impressive than one might think. They served heavy hors d’oeuvres. The speaker was John Lienhard, who is the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. He was reasonably entertaining. But, really, the value of these events is the opportunity to have intelligent conversations before the main speaker.

Housecleaning and Swap Hosting: Hosting a story swap forced me to do a certain amount of house cleaning. It is fairly appalling to turn up coupons that expired two years ago and such.

Anyway, there was a small group at the swap but it was still enjoyable. I was particularly pleased that Margaret told a First Nations story that is, apparently, in the novel Mrs. Mike, a book I remember entirely for some gruesome medical details involving: 1) diphtheria and 2) amputation.

JGS 36th Anniversary Luncheon: The meal was just okay, but the talk, by Arthur Kurzweil, was excellent. He was entertaining and inspiring. I have commented in the past about genealogy in terms of connectedness to my family’s history and I’ve also thought about that connectivity when I go to shul, admittedly all too rarely. (That is, by the way, why I prefer a more traditional service.) Anyway, as always, it is all about stories and he told good ones.

Book Club: We had a good discussion of How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which involves a Japanese war bride. But I am getting increasingly annoyed at the racism (and other general narrowmindedness) of one person in the group. Sigh.

Work: Work has been particularly hectic lately. I was at a full day class one day and have been in endless meetings other days. The telephone is also both my chief tool and the bane of my existence. I’ve also been suffering a lot of IT hell, with issues on three of the four systems I use. However, I suppose it is worth it as I did get a very positive performance review.

The Secret Garden: I went with a friend to see The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. This is one of my favorite Broadway scores of all time. Really, almost the whole score is earworm worthy. I do still think that the book, even as somewhat rewritten here, is probably incomprehensible to anyone who have never read the original novel. But who cares when there is such luscious music with songs like "Lily’s Eyes" and "Where in the World" and
"How Could I Ever Know?" (They did, alas, cut out "Race You to the Top of the Morning.") I should also mention the excellent performances, including Anya Rothman’s as Mary Lennox,, Josh Young as Neville, and, especially, Michael Xavier as Archibald and Lizzie Klepmperar as Lily. (Note, too, that Daisy Egan, who played Mary Lennox on Broadway in 1991 and won a Tony at it, plays Martha, but that’s not an especially showy role.) Anyway, if you live here, go to see this show. If you don’t, you could do worse than to listen to the original cast recording a few thousand times.

Martinique: Finally, I went to Martinique this past weekend. It sounds unlikely, but Norwegian flies from BWI to Martinique and Guadeloupe at very low fares, so why not? I stayed at the Hotel Bambou in the Trois Islet area, which was decent enough for the price. They were very friendly, but the wifi in the room didn’t work well and, while the price included both breakfast and dinner, the dinner buffet was not very good. One expects better of a French colony.

Anyway, it was an easy ferry ride to Fort de France, the capital, where I was eager to see the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, which is very impressive indeed. It was built in France in 1889, then disassembled and shipped piece by piece to Martinique. Schoelcher, by the way, was the major abolitionist writer of the French West Indies. I spent a couple of more hours meandering around the city, which has some interesting architecture (somewhat akin in New Orleans). The Grand Marche was another highlight, especially as there was a lively band playing in front. Overall, it was worth a few hours meandering around.

My rule of thumb for travel is that I need to do something every day, so my Sunday venture was to Musee de la Pagerie, which was the birthplace of Empress Josephine. There was a special exhibit about the history of jazz, but it was dense words, entirely in French, so I didn’t read much of it. The actual museum has pictures of Josephine, along with a few of Napoleon, as well as a few artifacts, many of which I gathered are reproductions. There is also a sugar house (the family was in the sugar cane business) and attractive grounds.

Other than that, I spent time swimming, both in the pool and in the sea. And lazing on the beach. I walked up to the casino, which is remarkably unimpressive, and to the Creole Village shops, which are likewise.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough but not especially exciting trip.
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.

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