fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Ward Hall was a sideshow impresario. Chelsi Smith was Miss Universe 1995. Peter Donat was an actor, best known for his television work, though his involvement in the American Conservaory Theatre in San Francisco was also significant. Adam Clymer was a political correspondent for The New York Times. Marin Mazzie was a musical theatre actress. Virginia Whitehill was a women’s rights activist. Dudley Sutton played Tinker Dill in the British television series based on Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy mysteries. Maartin Allcock was the lead guitarist for Fairport Convention and also played keyboards with Jethro Tull. Arthur Mitchell founded the Danc e Theatre of Harlem. George Hatsopoulos wrote an influential textbook on thermodynamics. John Cunliffe was a British children’s author, best known for Postman Pat. Charles Kao won a Nobel Prize for his work on fiber optics for communications.

Denis Norden was an English humorist. I have fond memories of listening to him and Frank Muir on My Word many years ago. I particularly remember a story about Rene Descartes, whose wife told him not to eat the miniature quiches at a party as she was saving them for a late night snack. He explained this request to a friend by saying "I think they’re for 1 a.m."

Health Kvetch, Part 1: I had a (routine) doctor’s appointment on Friday last week. That included getting my annual flu shot, in my left arm. I also got the first shot of the new shingles vaccine, in my right arm. My left arm itched around the injection site until Monday. My right arm was sore whenever I lifted it until Tuesday.

Health Kvetch, Part 2: I had laser gum surgery (LANAP) yesterday, in hopes of it dealing with an infection both less expensively and less painfully than other options. The procedure wasn’t too bad and, so far, the recovery is not terrible, though icing the affected area much of the day yesterday was mildly annoying. (I took part of the day off from work, but did call into a couple of meetings from home.) However, the periodontist said the maximum pain is usually at the 3rd day, so we will see. So far, the pain has been pretty minimal, which might be due to taking Tylenol as a precaution. The other annoying parts (aside from the whole periodontist thing) are: 1) the huge antibiotic tablets that I have to take for a week and 2) having to eat a soft diet for 7-10 days. Hopefully this will prevent the need for worse things.

Museum Day – National Museum of Women in the Arts: Saturday was the annual Smithsonian-sponsored Museum Day. This means free admission to a large range of museums throughout the country. You have to get tickets in advance, which means you need to choose what museum to go to. The trick is to make sure you are going to something that normally does charge admission, which rules out the overwhelming majority of museums around here. I chose the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which proved to be a good choice. Some of my favorite pieces were Red Ice (a photograph by Deborah Paauwe), Jo Baker’s Bananas (textile art by Faith Ringgold), 4 Seated Figures (sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz), Carrots Anyone? (artist’s book by Susan Joy Shore), and Wonderful You (painting by Jane Hammond, in which she imagined herself as various mythical and mythological characters). All in all, it made for an enjoyable couple of hours.

JGSGW: The first Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting of the season was Sunday. The topic had to do with Shoah memorials in the former Soviet Union. But there is more value in the general schmoozing before and after the meeting.

Everything Else: I think I am finally caught up on puzzles from when I was gone. I am not, however, completely caught up on reading mail (both e and snail varieties).

Last night was book club. After reading an 800+ page book, we’ve decided to set a 400 page limit on future selections.

I should probably say something about baseball. And/or politics. But anybody who knows me at all can already figure out my opinions.
fauxklore: (Default)
I still haven’t had time to catch up, because I’ve been busy doing things. Here’s what the past several days have looked like.

Storytelling, Part 1: The Grapevine Wednesday night was the season opener for The Grapevine, a very good storytelling series at Busboys and Poets in Takoma. I can’t quite whine about it being in darkest Maryland because it is still just within the D.C. line.

Anyway, this month’s featured tellers were Milbre Burch and Len Cabral. I’ve known Milbre for many years, since we both lived in the Los Angeles area in the 1990’s, and it is always delightful to see her. I was glad to have a chance to catch up with her a bit. And, of course, to hear her tell. Her program was a selection of folk tales from banned lands, i.e. those subject to the immigration restrictions of our current administration. I thought that was a really cool idea for a theme. There was a good mix of stories and she told elegantly and entertainingly, as always. Len’s stories included some from his Cape Verdean heritage. His telling was far more physical, with a lot of voices. Overall, this was a good illustration of the range of traditional storytelling and a very entertaining evening.

Storytelling, Part 2: Voices in the Glen Story Swap: Saturday night was our monthly story swap. It was in darkest Maryland, so I was grateful for carpooling. There was a particularly big turn-out and another wide range of stories. In honor of having just heard Milbre, I told "Be Nice," which I first learned from her.

One Day University: I went to One Day University on Sunday. This is always a good use of a half-day.

The first talk was Is That Really Art? Understanding and Appreciating Modern Painting by Tina Rivers-Ryan. She focused on four artists / styles – Pablo Picasso (cubism), Alexander Rodchenko (constructivism), Jackson Pollack, (abstract expressionism), and Andy Warhol (pop). Her basic point was that one has to understand the language of painting in order to assess its quality. I thought the section on Rodchenko was particularly interesting, largely because he was the one of the four I was least familiar with. I also appreciated her plug for taking advantage of docent tours as a way to learn about art. But I am still completely cold towards Pollack’s work.

The second talk was by Robert Watson from Lynn University on Our Broken Two-Party System: Can American Politics Be Fixed? He was very entertaining, but I found his conclusions depressing. On the other hand, we did survive the 1850’s when Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner to a pulp on the Senate floor in response to an anti-slavery speech. I also appreciated Watson’s point that after 1901 the parties essentially switched positions, largely in response to Theodore Roosevelt. Another good point was the lack of friendships across parties that results from the ease of air travel allowing congresscritters to spend much of their time in their home districts, so they socialize with one another less. Unfortunately, he didn’t really have any suggestions on what to do about the rise of extremism and fact-free politics. Well - he did have one suggestion. Namely, subscribe to your local newspaper.

The final talk was on How the 1960s Shaped American Politics Today by Leonard Steinhorn of American University. He really started with the 1950’s and the post-war prosperity and suburbanization of the American dream. (Hmm, what about the Korean War?) However, the good times really only worked for straight, white, Christian men. That led to the civil rights movement(s) and, combined with the Vietnam war protests, led to huge societal changes. Which led to the backlash by people who think life is a zero-sum game. On a more positive note, he pointed out that millennials are, in general, inclusive. For example, he claimed that even his Trump-supporting students are accepting of sexuality and gender differences.

Overall, it was a stimulating morning.
fauxklore: (Default)
I went up to New York for the weekend. The Save the Deli group on Facebook was having a "meat-up" to try the last two kosher delis in the Bronx (as well as other events on Long Island). I had originally considered staying for the Sunday lunch, but I’m so far behind on things at home that decided I should take an earlier train. I also saw that it was a weekend with an Encores production at City Center, so that made it easy to decide what to do on Saturday night. For convenience, I used Marriott points to stay at the Residence Inn at Broadway and 54th. Aside from my usual hotel rants (why oh why do they hide the light switches? And does anybody really need 9 pillows?), it was perfectly acceptable. The sound proofing was above average. And the location was ideal for my purposes.

NYPL: I didn’t have any particular plans for Saturday morning. It was raining, so I decided against a stroll around Central Park. Instead, I walked down to 42nd Street and visited my touchstones – the Chrysler Building (the most beautiful skyscraper on the planet) and the New York Public Library. I should note that there is a lot of scaffolding up around the Salmon Tower Building, making hard to see the bas reliefs from across 42nd Street.

I didn’t have a huge amount of time, so decided not to spend it in the microforms room (which has some items of genealogical interest). Instead, I went up to the third floor and looked at the McGraw Rotunda, the Rose Main Reading Room, and the Salomon Room (where I noted that nobody ever taught the Astors how to sit on a chair.) I also noted Lego reproductions of Patience and Fortitude (the library lions). And I did a brief browse through the library shop, but did not buy anything.

Loeser’s Deli: It was more complicated getting to Loeser’s than it would normally be, since the 1 Train wasn’t running north of 137th Street. I had to switch to the A Train at 59th Street, take it to the end at 207th Street, and then use a shuttle bus to 231st Street.. It was easy enough, but annoying.

Anyway, there were 8 of us at Loeser’s and the owner came out to greet us. I tasted a little bit of a kasha knish one of the other people ordered. It tasted fine, but the ratio of filling to crust was very skewed towards filling. I decided to order a combination sandwich – tongue, bologna, cole slaw, Russian dressing. I added a little mustard as well. It was okay, but not a lot of meat for the price. Given that their sign says "where a sandwich is a meal," I found that surprising. I ate only half the sandwich, because I wanted to save room for the next place. It took a long time to get them to wrap up the other half.

The skimpy sandwiches appeared to be the case for the sandwiches other people ordered. Customers cannot see pastrami coming through the rye here. I should also note that the cole slaw that came on the side was terrible. It was cut fine and had little flavor. What was on the sandwich worked okay, but I really like bigger shreds and a vinegary dressing. There were also two thin slices of pickles, which looked anemic but actually tasted pretty good.

Liebman’s: Three of us continued on to Liebman’s, which is about 0.6 miles away, according to google maps. What that doesn’t account for is elevation, and it was a steep walk. Still, we survived the hike. The atmosphere (like the neighborhood) was definitely more upscale, though the chairs and tables looked like every diner on Sunrise Highway on Long Island. (There’s something about an aqua vinyl booth…) There was a much more extensive menu. I opted for a chopped liver platter. This consisted of two absurdly large scoops of chopped liver, a scoop each of potato salad and cole slaw, a pile of cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions, and a stack of rye bread. The presentation was quite fancy. I’m sure they could do a chopped liver swan for a bar mitzvah or wedding.

I ate about 2/3 of one of the scoops of liver and some of the potato salad and cole slaw. All of it was very good. The cole slaw was so much better than Loeser’s! I also had one slice of pickle, which was fine. They were much faster than Loeser’s at wrapping up the leftovers, too. Liebman’s was the definite winner of the Bronx deli outing. But, frankly, there is no real reason to schlep to the Bronx as long as the 2nd Avenue Deli still exists in Manhattan.

Getting back to midtown involved taking a bus to the A Train to Columbus Circle. I had plenty of time to stick my leftovers in the refrigerator, change my clothes, and check email and facebook before going to the theatre.

Encores – Me and My Girl: It was a short walk over to City Center to see the Encores production of Me and My Girl. This was not as old a musical as most Encores productions, since they were using the 1984 (London) / 1986 (Broadway) version, not the original 1937 one. Interestingly, there is a production being done right now by 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco.

Anyway, the plot is a pretty thin one. Bill Snibson is revealed to be the new Earl of Hareford, but has to unlearn his Cockney ways and play the part. That gets in the way of his romance with Sally Smith – especially as the rapacious Lady Jaqueline Carstone is determined to marry the Hareford fortune. All of this is an excuse for lively music hall style songs (written by Noel Gay) and old (but funny) lines. For example, Maria (the duchess and Bill’s aunt) says, "when I’m down in the dumps, I buy a new hat" and Bill says, "oh, that’s where you get them." Not exactly surprising or original, but stuff like that still gets a good laugh.

As for the songs, I was fairly sure I would get earwormed by "The Lambeth Walk," which closes Act 1. Actually, the title song is just as sticky. And then there is "Leaning on a Lamp-Post," and the Gilbert and Sullivan inspired "The Family Solicitor."

Christian Borle played Bill, which is the sort of over-the-top role he seems to be getting known for. (He won a Tony as Shakespeare in Something Rotten and an earlier one as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher.} He’s clearly very talented and it would be interesting to see him in a role with more emotional depth. Lisa O’Hare, who played Lady Jaqueline, was also typecast, as that role was similar to her performance as Sibella in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Other notable performances included Laura Michelle Kelly as Sally, Mark Evans as the Honorable Gerald Bolingbroke (Lady Jaqueline’s love interest), and Don Stephenson as Mr. Parchester, the family solicitor. Simon Jones also had a smallish role and I was astonished at how old he has gotten. (I checked and he is 67, which is not really all that much older than I am.) While Encores productions are nominally concert versions, I did not notice any of the performers carrying scripts and, while the sets are somewhat scaled down, they are not completely minimalistic. This can stand up to any fully staged musical, particularly given the quality of the singing and dancing.

All in all, this was a lot of fun. Back at the hotel, I ate some of my leftover chopped liver for a late supper and collapsed.

Getting Home: The train home was fine and included eating the rest of my leftovers for lunch. didn’t run into any significant metro delays, either. I ran out to the supermarket to get the Sunday Post and a few groceries. (Strawberries and sour cream for supper to counteract the meatiness of the weekend.) I finished reading the Sunday Post, but, oops, that was last Sunday’s! I don’t even want to think about how much stuff I have to do at home, sigh. Still, it was an excellent weekend.


May. 8th, 2017 02:18 pm
fauxklore: (baseball)
I went to Atlanta for the weekend. My primary motivation was checking out the new ballpark, but, of course, that wasn’t all I did.

I had no issues with my United flights either way. In fact, I got upgraded both ways, though they failed to email me the upgrade notification for the return. It is also a big advantage to fly an airline other than Delta to/from ATL because you come in and out of the T-gates and don’t need to take a train to your plane.

I had contemplated staying near the ballpark, but decided that didn’t really make sense because it is the middle of nowhere in deep suburbia. Staying in midtown was actually more convenient, allowing me to take MARTA to and from the airport. More significantly, it also allowed me to do some important sightseeing on Saturday morning.

The High Museum of Art is one of the major art museums of the country. It is normally fairly pricy, but I have a Bank of America credit card, which gives me free access to various museums on the first weekend of the month. I find that if I have to pay to go to a museum, I feel like I need to see everything. But getting in free means I can just pick and choose a few parts to see without feeling like I’ve wasted money.

My main priority was the African art selection. There is an interesting mix of both traditional and contemporary pieces from several countries. My favorite – actually, my favorite piece in the entire museum – was one named Taago by El Anatsui, a Ghanian artist. It consists of pieces of aluminum from the tops and necks of local liquor bottles, joined with wire, to form a sculpture reminiscent of kente cloth. There was also a special exhibit of works by Ashley Bryan, who illustrated a lot of books based on folklore.

I moved on to the contemporary art, which includes a large collection of works by folk artist, Howard Finster. Other notable works include a painting by Richard Estes, whose photorealism I’ve admired for some time, and Insect Icon Tapestry by Jon Eric Riis. All in all, I spent a few pleasant hours at the museum, before heading off to the Cumberland area to meet up with friends for a late lunch / early dinner at Copeland’s. The food was good and the conversation was intelligent and wide ranging. Eventually, we left and they dropped me at the ballpark.

My first impression of SunTrust Park was that it was chaotic. They are still developing The Battery, a shopping and entertainment complex around the stadium. From what I could tell with the crowds, it is pretty much a collection of high end restaurants and watering holes. I fought my way through to the Right Field Gate, where there was a long and chaotic set of lines to get into the ballpark itself. I had bought a ticket package for Star Wars day, which included an R.A. Dickey Stormtrooper bobblehead, so my first stop was to redeem my voucher for that. The instructions they had emailed actually told me the wrong place to go to do that, but it was easily enough resolved. I should probably note that I am not really a big Star Wars fan, but it is always fun to add to my collection of ballpark gimmes.

That accomplished, I went to check off their monument garden, which has various exhibits on the history of the team. Of course, much of that history is pre-Atlanta – both in Boston and in Milwaukee – but that is fair enough. The statue of Hank Aaron is the centerpiece, as it should be. Overall, it is a reasonable exhibit, though the crowds were a bit of a pain.

The actual stands were not crowded. There were a few people at the entrance to the seating area taking photos with costumed Star Wars characters, but not so many actually sitting down to see the game. The Braves were playing the Cardinals, so this fell into the class of games in which I didn’t care who won. It looks like the Braves have a fair number of loyal fans. Unfortunately, those are generally identifiable by the tomahawk chop, a particularly obnoxious method of cheering. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but would prefer a non-racist way of showing it. On the plus side, several people sang along with the national anthem, and, later on, with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." (Singing along to the latter is one of my three primary ballpark rating criteria, along with local character and a general level of fan engagement.)

It was actually hard to gauge fan engagement, because the weather sucked, with a few brief rain showers, which weren’t enough to affect play, but did send many people scurrying for cover. I’ll also note that there appeared to be particularly long lines for the concessions (none of which seemed particularly local or interesting). They don’t have any vendors in the stands, either, which doesn’t help.

As for the game, the Cardinals won, largely because Julio Teheran’s pitching was not up to snuff. I’ll also note that I was impressed by a couple of nice catches that Randal Grichuk made in right field. And Aledmys Diaz hit a three-run homer which pretty much clinched the game for St. Louis. Overall, it was a reasonably exciting game to watch.

I’d rate the ballpark in the group of vast group of middling ones. It’s a pleasant enough place to watch a game, but lacks soul. It also loses significant points for difficulty of access. Their website claims the Circulator bus connects the ballpark to the Cumberland Transit Center, but that bus actually appears to stop running at 9 p.m. and does not run at all on Sundays. The transit center is a long walk from the ballpark. There is a closer stop to a Cobb County Transit bus, though the ballpark staff misdirected me on how to get to that stop. And that bus runs infrequently, so was very crowded, largely with fans complaining that it is supposed to be the Atlanta Braves, not the Cobb County Braves. I should also note that the ballpark website pushes Uber as their transit solution, but the Uber pickup location had a line three blocks long. That is, of course, in addition to the cost and moral issues associated with Uber. When the team played at Turner Field, they ran shuttle buses from the Five Points MARTA station, which was a much better solution.

The really important thing is that I have, again, been to a game at every major league ballpark. One does, after all, have to keep up one’s standards when it comes to obsessions.

As for the rest of the weekend, I got home in time for a much needed nap, followed by dinner at Tachibana for a friend’s 50th birthday. What I didn’t get done was any housework, alas.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Luis Olmo played outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first Puerto Rican position player in the major leagues in 1943. (Hiram Bithorn had pitched for the Cubs a year earlier.) Sam Mele played baseball for a number of teams, notably the Red Sox. Tony Alamo was an evangelist who was best known for his church’s tracts, which often got left on car windshields, at least in Los Angeles. He was convicted as a sex offender, related to his sexual involvement with young girls.

Roar: I went to the Better Said Than Done storytelling show on Sunday night. It was a benefit for the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the nine women who performed told stories about their triumphs over sexism, harassment, and violence. The stories were interesting and heartfelt, with a wide range of content and telling styles. Obviously, I thought some of them were better than others and this is the sort of material that can lend itself to a certain amount of bibliotherapy (i.e. tellers who are focused on their therapeutic needs, rather than the audience). But I am more forgiving than usual since the underlying issues are ones we need to talk about.

Office Move: The powers that be decided that my officemate, who is about 90% retired, should not have his own office space, but should use a hot desk when he comes in. So they moved me to a one person office down the hall. The move was not handled well, with it taking far longer than it should have to get my phone hooked up. And I had to battle to get a white board installed in the new office. Now, I just have to finish unpacking, which is annoying enough.

Artomatic: I went with a couple of friends to Artomatic last night. This is an unjuried art exhibit, held periodically in one or another soon-to-be-renovated office building. This year’s is in Crystal City, so was convenient to my office. We only had time to hit a small percentage of it. My favorite pieces were a series of fused glass dresses (intended for display, not wear) and a quilt done on teabags. I also enjoyed some of the poems that were written about various of the exhibits. I just wish I’d had time to see more of it.

Uighur Food: After Artomatic, we went to dinner at Queen Amannisa, which is a Uighur restaurant. We ordered several dishes to share – orange and beet salad, lamb kabobs, meat nan, and a noodle dish with chicken. I thought all of them were good, though the noodles definitely topped my list. They were, alas, too spicy for my friends. I think that, overall, the meal was a success. And we certainly had good conversation during it. It was a pleasant evening, and worth a bit of sleep deprivation for.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
The Trump Card I went to see Mike Daisey’s latest monologue at Woolly Mammoth on Thursday night. If you are at all familiar with Daisey’s work, you know that he has no qualms about being provocative. The thing that makes this piece more than just a rant is that Daisey tries to understand both how Trump became what he is (e.g. his father’s racism and dishonest business dealings, combined with Roy Cohn’s mentoring) and his supporters’ frustration with feeling left out of the American conversation. A lot of the emphasis is on Trump as a performer and his success at being what he is. Interestingly, there is nothing about his wives and children, though there is plenty of material about his sexual assaults. The left does not get off lightly here, either, with accusations of smugness (mea culpa) and a bit of an attack on NPR. It’s an interesting piece and was worth seeing, though I don’t think Daisey is likely to change anybody’s mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For what it’s worth, travel home was also straightforward and hassle-free, though I didn’t get upgraded.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have at least 2 more genealogy updates to do, but let’s catch up on other stuff first.

Celebrity Death Watch: Viktor Legostayev was the chief designer at Energiya, the Russian spacecraft company. Anita Ekberg was an actress. Dallas Taylor played drums with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Abdullah was the king of Saudi Arabia. Colleen McCullough wrote The Thorn Birds. Rod McKuen wrote poetry and song lyrics. Suzette Haden Elgin wrote The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, as well as a lot of science fiction. Ernie Banks was "Mr. Cub," a ballplayer known as much for his attitude ("Let’s play two!") as for his hall-of-fame caliber playing. Incidentally, I can’t help but be amused that he had twin sons.

The person I want to particularly highlight is Bernice Gordon, who constructed hundreds of crossword puzzles over 60+ years, dying yesterday at age 101. Her puzzles were clever and often innovative. I particularly enjoyed her last collaboration with David Steinberg. He was 16 years old and she was 100 at the time, which is further proof that puzzles really are for all ages.

Who Needs SkyMall When There is Still Hammacher Schlemmer?: Most of you know by now that the SkyMall catalogue, prime source of product mockery when flying, is no more. But, fear not. I still get the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue, so product mockery lives! The most recent edition offers cashmere lounge pants – only $179.95 and only in charcoal grey for men and light grey for women. Er, no. Cashmere belongs in scarves or maybe sweaters or, if you are part of the 1%, coats. Or, or course, on goats.

Then there are the "taste-enhancing forks." Apparently the fork has diffuser paper, so you can have a drop of aromatic oil waft its scent to your nose while eating. Because, you know, real food doesn’t have enough scent of its own. They suggest that "pairing a drop of chocolate with a mouthful of strawberry intensifies their taste." I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally eat strawberries with a fork and I don't think their flavor needs to be enhanced. And the 60 bucks this costs can buy at least a couple of months’ worth of good chocolate. The kit includes not only the forks and droppers and diffuser papers but also "a multi-sensory evening program." Any associated aromatherapy does not, apparently, enhance the ability to write coherent advertising copy.

Finally, there is "the wireless speaker water bottle." I have horrible thoughts about this catching on and what torture it would enable people at work to inflict on me. I have woken up in the morning with many a strange desire, but never once have I thought that I need to listen to music via my water bottle.

First Flight: If you’ve ever had the pleasure to take a flight piloted by Captain Denny Flanagan, you will understand why he’s a great advertisement for the best of United Airlines. It was worth taking the train up to NY to fly from JFK to LAX with Captain Denny, followed by an ops tour and lunch. There were a dozen of us who did the flight and maybe a dozen or so locals who joined us for the rest. The ops tour included going out on the ramp to look at planes, going through the ops center, and various gate activities. For example, I got to make an announcement of a flight delay. What was interesting about that is how scripted the whole thing is. That is, the gate agents don’t really get to ad lib at all.

After lunch (at The Daily Grill, which is okay, but pricy for what it is), I was able to get together with a couple of friends in LA, which included petting yarn, drinking tea, and having interesting conversations.

Good Advertising For Your Employer: For my overnight at JFK, I stayed at the Hampton Inn. That isn’t exciting, but it’s a brand I find to be reasonably consistent and reliable at a fair price point. I mention it because the shuttle driver was another person who reflected well on his employer, enthusiastically repeating why he thought they were the best. You don’t see that attitude a lot nowadays, so it is worth noting when you do.

Restaurant Week Dinner: Our latest local flyertalk get-together was a restaurant week dinner at 701. They did an excellent job. For one thing, they had several choices for each course – and no upcharges. For another, everything I had was quite good. I want to particularly note the pear crisp, because it’s the sort of dessert I really should make and never think of. It was perfect winter food.

Amazing Art: Before that dinner, I had a little time to kill and dropped in at the National Portrait Gallery / Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of the current exhibits is of works by photorealist painter Richard Estes and it completely blew me away. In short, I found it nearly impossible to believe that these were paintings and not photographs. I may go back when I have more time and look more deeply.

TESS: My local alumni club had a talk Wednesday night on the Transient Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which is a proposed NASA mission to look for earth-like planets. This included dinner at Maggiano’s, home of vast quantities of mediocre Italian food. The talk was reasonably interesting. The orbital injection is complicated and looks risky to me. I thought the coolest part was a representation of certain signal features that enables separating out stars by their sizes by converting data to sound.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Two quick and depressing bits of local arts news:

1) It looks like Ari Roth, the artistic director of Theatre J, has been fired by the DCJCC. That's not really surprising given the controversy over some of his choices of shows. He is moving ahead with plans for his own theatre company, but that will be on the infinitely less convenient H Street Northeast. And it is unclear whether Theatre J will continue over on 16th Street. Regardless of the outcome, there will be more questions about freedom of speech and accusations about tolerance of views within the Jewish community.

2) It also looks like Artisphere in Rosslyn will be closing. I've gone to various events there many of them were odd and interesting. My biggest personal connection was the Rosslyn yarn bomb, which we worked on and assembled there. I understand the economic realities, but art is important to me and I hate to see arts organizations close.

At this time of year when so many people are doing their charitable donations, please consider your local arts organizations.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I’ll apologize up front for the length of this, but I have lots of things to catch up on. As I have said before, if you have more than two interests in life, you are doomed.

Celebrity Death Watch: Reubin Askew was a progressive governor of Florida, back in the days when such a thing was possible. Fred Phelps headed the Westboro Baptist Church, known for anti-gay bigotry. James R. Schlesinger held a number of government positions throughout his career, most notably as CIA director and as Secretary of Defense (and, later, Secretary of Energy.) After his government career, he was chairman of the board of Mitre. From my personal standpoint, his most notable position was as chair of the Position, Navigation and Timing board (which oversees GPS) and I have drafted at least a few white papers dealing with his recommendations.

Gene Feist founded the Roundabout Theatre Company, which has produced many notable performances, particularly revivals of musicals. David Brenner was a Canadian comedian. And Mitch Leigh wrote Man of La Mancha. His musical failures include Home Sweet Homer. He also wrote the Sara Lee jingle. Nobody doesn’t like Mitch Leigh. (Whose birth name was, by the way, Irwin Michnick, but that scans even worse.)

Non-celebrity Obituary: Kevin Brooks passed away last week. He was a storyteller who had a Ph.D. from MIT (via the Media lab) and worked at Motorola. I only met him briefly,, but I saw his dedication to storytelling and to Laura Packer, his widow. He was a bright, creative, and kind man and his loss will be sorely felt in both Boston and Kansas City.

Loveland: Loveland is Ann Randolph’s one-woman (plus an off-stage male voice) show, currently at Arena Stage. She plays Frannie Potts, whose talent is facial gesturing to sounds. Frannie is on a plane trip from California to her home town in Ohio and the story is a mixture of incidents on the plane with flashbacks involving Frannie’s relationship with her mother. This was billed as a comedy and it did have some funny moments. Unfortunately, most of the humor was a lot cruder than I’d prefer and I suspect thinner-skinned people would find a lot of the show remarkably offensive. I am sure Randolph knows this and is doing it deliberately. Or, at least, I hope anybody who would include a bit in which someone plays the harmonium to nursing home residents while singing, "listen to the drone, it will help you die," is being shocking intentionally. (I will admit I laughed at that bit. Then I went home and took three consecutive showers.) I didn’t stay for Randolph’s brief writing workshop after the show because her material was too far from anything I’d ever want to do.

House of Blue Leaves: I saw tickets on Goldstar for a production by the Providence Players of House of Blue Leaves, a play I remembered enjoying the previous time I saw it. They did a good job, with notable performances by Adam Downs as Artie and (especially) by Jayne Victor as Bunny. The play is a bit dated in some ways, but it is still an interesting dark comedy. I’m uncomfortable with the treatment of mental illness in it, but I recognize that one is supposed to be uncomfortable with that.

Chavurah Movie and Dinner Night: My chavurah had an outing to the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival. We saw a movie called Under the Same Sun, which I will write about as part of a movie wrap-up in a day or so. Afterwards we had dinner at Noodles and Company, which isn’t really the most congenial atmosphere for mingling and conversation, though I do like their Indonesian peanut noodle sauté (which I get with tofu).

MIT Summer Intern Reception: The annual reception for MIT summer interns who are interested in the blend of technology and policy is always interesting. Unfortunately, none of this year’s crop of interns was interested in space, so I don’t think I was very helpful to them. There were a couple who expressed an interest in energy, but the overwhelming majority this year were interested in health care. That’s not surprising, but it is disappointing. Still, there was a lot of intelligent conversation (including some with fellow alumni) so was worth going to.

Corcoran Tour and Reception: The MIT Club of Washington had a reception at the Corcoran Gallery and a tour of the collection. The reception was quite lush, with things like smoked salmon and chocolate truffles. Interestingly, they serve only white wine to minimize risk of damage to the artwork. The museum highlights tour was excellent. Our docent was both informative and entertaining. My favorite piece was a sort of pastiche of Van Gogh painted by Robert Colescott. That probably says more about my tastes (dark humor and modernism) than it does about the collection, which is heavy on 19th century American art.

Minor Yarn Frenzy: A friend cleared out her stash and gave me 15 pounds of yarn she didn’t want. In exchange, I gave her old towels to donate to the animal shelter she sometimes volunteers at. About half of the yarn was stuff I could use. The rest of the yarn included rather more novelty yarns (ribbon yarn, pompon, muppet fur, etc.) than I would do anything with, but I know other yarnoholics and most of it has been distributed to grateful crafters. I have someone to send the rest to, but need time to package it and mail it off.

Baltimore Rock Opera Society: Friday night, I went to see the Baltimore Rock Opera Society production of Grundelhammer at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Because it is easy (and free) to get to Old Town from my office, I had some time to shop beforehand. Shops along King Street include both a used bookstore and a yarn store, so you can imagine what happened. I also stopped at Mischa’s, because I had been running low on coffee. I am now restocked with some of Sulawesi’s finest. I also had time for dinner at Eammon’s, which has excellent fish and chips.

As for the show, it was somewhat over the top, but quite entertaining. The premise was a sort of medieval society where battle is fought with guitar riffs. The young son of the true king, Benedon, has to defeat the evil king, Lothario, who secures his power by feeding enemies to a monster (The Grundle). That way Benedon can save the kingdom (and, of course, get the girl). I’ll note the performance of Christopher Krysztifiak as Benedon, who showed a surprisingly wide range for this type of thing. This was also a complicated show technically, with elaborate puppetry (including some very amusing shadow puppets). The downside is that the scene changes took forever. Since they started almost a half hour late and the scene changes probably added up to an hour total, it made for a very late night.

Better Said Than Done – Into the Woods: I was part of a storytelling show on Saturday night. I told a story about our annual summer camp raft trip down the Delaware River. While I had told the story before, I reworked it a lot, which ate up a lot of my mental energy for a couple of weeks. One of the people I used to work on stories with used the phrase "kill your darlings" to refer to the need to cut out material that may be good but just doesn’t belong in that story. It was good advice to keep in mind and I was reasonably happy with how the story turned out. The audience reacted well, too.

I should also note that it was an excellent show, overall. It’s always interesting to me how many different ways a general theme can be interpreted and what a wide range of material and styles there are.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
If I don’t wait an entire month to write stuff, the blog posts get shorter. I am pretty much caught up on what I've been doing, though I am heading to the NPL Con imminently so will be uncaught up again.

Pink Martini: I started off July by seeing Pink Martini at Wolf Trap. The sultry summer evening was well accompanied by the sultry music. There was lots of familiar material (some of which is still stuck in my head over a week later) but some new stuff, too. The only problem is the usual one with Wolf Trap. Namely, it takes me 10 minutes to drive home, but first I have to spend 30-40 minutes getting out of the parking lot.

When Art Danced With Music: The National Gallery of Art has an exhibit on Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes and I went with a couple of friends this past weekend. The exhibit was impressive, with paintings, backdrops, costumes and film excerpts. The latter were very helpful in seeing the rest in context. The key point is that Diaghilev had no particular artistic talent himself, but was able to bring together composer, choreographer, designers, dancers, etc. to influence the development of ballet. That prompted one of my friends to say, "so he was the systems engineer of the ballet!" I love that as a way of explaining what systems engineering is about. Anyway, it was an excellent exhibit, even if I think Picasso’s costumes for Parade are too absurd to dance in.

Not Quite Knitting: I went to knitting group on Sunday. I attempted to wind a hank of a complex yarn into a ball, but the swift fell apart just after I started. I managed not to have the right needles with me for any of the yarn I’d brought to work with. And I seem to have lost half a sweater in my living room. This was not my finest hour.

In Memorium: My colleague, Young Shin, passed away in his sleep on the Fourth of July. The memorial service was last night. It’s something of a tribute to a person when a few hundred people show up for their memorial. He was an interesting character and we’d had many discussions about history and language, among other topics. I know he was extremely proud of his children and I hope they can take some comfort in the deep feelings he had for them.


Jun. 20th, 2012 12:43 pm
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Once again, I have a long list of odds and ends to write about. I will save the travel and theatre related ones for their own posts.

Celebrity Death Watch: Mobster Henry Hill died of natural causes, which is somewhat surprising. He was the subject of the book Wiseguys (and the movie based on it, Goodfellas) and, more relevant to why I mention him, lived in my home town for a few years. The other celebrity death to note is Rodney King. The acquittal of the policemen who beat him triggered the L.A. riots, which was certainly one of the scarier experiences of my life.

Should Have Been Celebrity Death Watch: Most of you will never have heard of storyteller and cowboy poet Mark Wilson, who passed away last week. He was a smiling presence at a number of storytelling events in California. Mark always dressed in cowboy style (hat and boots) and spoke with a quiet Western drawl. He was always kind and caring and will be missed.

Animal Death Watch: Someone mentioned to me what he described as another black bear fatality in his neighborhood, involving a police officer. I assumed that meant a bear had killed a cop, but he clarified that the cop had killed the bear. I am sure someone out there is ranting about police brutality. In a related story, my boss witnessed an entire family of ducks (mama and 12 ducklings) get wiped out on I-70 over the weekend. Robert McCloskey must be rolling over in his grave. (And, yes, we talk about this sort of stuff in our weekly staff meetings.)

Ceu: I went to hear Brazilian chanteuse, Ceu, perform last Tuesday night at Sixth and I. The opening (and accompanying) band, Curumin, were competent but not really exciting and way too loud. Her voice is great and I wish I could have heard it without the ear piercing background.

Artomatic: This is an art show that happens roughly annually , moving locations to take advantage of unused office buildings. This year was of particular interest since they are using the building I used to work in. I went on Wednesday night with two friends, one of whom worked there with me. (The other worked for my company until our recent lay-offs. Her husband worked with me in that office building, too.) I will spare you much about our conversation, some of which led one of the others to remark, “why aren’t we writing for The Big Bang Theory?
As for the art, this is an unjuried show so is quite a mix. One of the usual highlights is the Peeps Show, i.e. exhibit of peeps dioramas done for the Washington Post’s annual competition. A lot of the most interesting art at the show uses found objects, which is why creative people have so much trouble throwing things out. I am, by the way, contemplating exhibiting at a future Artomatic, but I do not use anything weirder than magnetic tape (which is, by the way, a real pain to crochet with).

Three Things That Seem Unrelated But Are Not : 1) I had to drive to darkest Maryland for meetings on Thursday and Friday. Getting to my destination (near Baltimore) took 40-50 minutes in the morning. Getting home took about 2 hours. I apologized to my car. 2) There were several signs up at the company I was visiting about an upcoming seminar on being an openly gay professional. This would have been unknown not all that many years ago. Some changes are good. 3) Suppose a man likes to wear a crochet kippah but is losing his hair? What does he do if there isn’t enough hair left for bobby pins? (This last is related because the thought was triggered by a man who was at one of the meetings I went to.)

Lateness: We got asked to include something in a report on why the report is late. The real answer is that it sat on the desk of the person asking for 2 months before he looked at it. “It’s your fault” was already deemed an unacceptable statement to include. (Lateness is a chronic problem in my organization, by the way. Boss Standard Time is 15 minutes late. As a prompt person, this drives me nuts.

Other Random Work-related Thought: Is the phrase “primary back-up” an oxymoron?

Mixed WMATA News: On the plus side, they changed the bus schedule for the route I take. On the minus side, the new “Rush Plus” on the metro completely screws anybody who lives along the western side of the Orange Line and needs to connect to the Blue Line. They claim it benefits more people than it hurts, but my experience is that about half the people on the trains I take get off at Rosslyn to go to the Pentagon or Crystal City and will now end up waiting 20 minutes on a crowded platform. (Yeah, the trains are supposed to be 12 minutes apart at worst, but they were 12 minutes apart before when they were supposed to be every 6 minutes.) The upshot is that I will probably end up taking the bus more often.
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I should be writing a quarterly update on the goals I set out at the beginning of the year, but I've made so little progress on them that setting that down would only frustrate me. Most of that is because of just having had such a crappy start to the year, between splitting up with Robert and dealing with a couple of health issues. I complain enough about other people kvetching that I have no desire to spend my time doing so myself.

My fundamental philosophy of life amounts to, "if what you're doing isn't working, do something else." And that is exactly how I have been trying to deal with all the stress of the past few months. I will also note the effectiveness of the heartbreak diet. That is, if you're too torn up to have much appetite, you can lose 25 pounds surprisingly easily.

My other way of dealing with things is, of course, to go out and do fun stuff. This weekend it meant a trip up to Philadelphia for an art-filled day with my friends, Megan and Jack. We saw the Van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was organized in an unusual way. There's a room for blades of grass, a room for wheat, a room for trees and undergrowth, and so on. I'd say my favorite piece in the collection was the final one, "Almond Blossoms." I also speculated on what Van Gogh would have done had he ever been transported to Iowa.

While at the museum, we also checked out "Nude Descending a Staircase" by Marcel Duchamp. This has some personal significance as seeing it (in a book) changed my view of modern art. I had the epiphany that the key word was "descending" and that, if you look at it as being about the movement, it makes sense. So seeing it in person was well worthwhile.

We also saw an impressive photographic exhibit by Zoe Strauss. Her photos cover a wide range of working class experiences and I was particularly impressed by her portraits. We then chased down a few of her billboards, which are being exhibited in a wide range of places throughout Philadelphia.

After a stop for lunch at a brewpub, we visited a couple of exhibits that are part of Fiber Philadelphia. The Handweaver's Guild show was relatively conventional, with my favorite pieces there being a few needle felted birds and a set of temari balls. An exhibit at the Crane Arts Building, titled "Outisde / Inside the Box" was quite different. My favorite pieces at that one included a story quilt by Jenny Iserman which told about women who had been murdered by their husbands and a set of humanoid figures by Brigitte Amarger that were made of x-rays stitched together.

Next came coffee at Higher Grounds in Northern Liberties. Finally, we went over to South Street and the Magic Garden, which is a fascinating mosaic project, before they dropped me back at 30th Street Station for my trip home. All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Today's artwork was limited to knitting group, where I crocheted half an amigurumi uterus.

And now I need to get caught up on household paperwork. I'm hoping the next few months will improve.
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The Forward was one of the institutions in my house when I was growing up. Actually, it was the Forverts and it was the Yiddish newspaper, not the modern website (which is still an excellent source of Jewish news). My Yiddish is fairly minimal, mostly insults and food words. But my grandfather read the Forverts regularly and my father generally picked it up after he was done, though Dad's normal newspaper of choice was the New York Times.

Many years before that, the Forverts had an advice column, called A Bintel Brief (a bunch of letters). This may have been the first advice column in the U.S. and people wrote in about the same sorts of issues that they write to advice columns about now. Some of those letters were collected in a book in the early 1970's. It's fascinating reading and well worth seeking out a copy of.

I mention this because I went to the opening tonight of Lina Finck's gallery show at Sixth & I Synagogue. She's working on a graphic novel version of a selection of the letters. Her interpretations are intriguing anc cover a variety of the typical subjects. I'd like to particularly note the Gallery of Missing Husbands, a feature in which women wrote in (and sent photographs) of the men who had abandoned them. When I asked her, she said she had thought about hiring a translator for the material that was only in Yiddish, but was concerned that would be a breach of integrity. It's an excellent exhibit and the only flaw is that I found myself wanting more. (They do have a book out on a table with some of the other letters illustrated.)

The Forward is publishing excerpts from the graphic novel. I, for one, am looking forward to buying this when it comes out.
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I am, as usual, absurdly busy. I know this is a self-inflicted wound, but it does make writing here a low priority.

Celebrity Death Watch: Anne McCaffrey wrote a series of fantasy novels involving a place called Pern. There are dragons involved. I've actually never read her stuff, but I know several people who are big fans.

Prague: I went to Prague over Thanksgiving weekend. My brief run-down is:

  • The lie flat business class seat is one of the greatest inventions of our times. However, the business class lounges at FRA are absurdly overcrowded. As in standing room only at times.
  • Figuring out the bus and metro from PRG to my hotel was reasonably easy. The Prague metro is clean and efficient.
  • I spent Thursday meandering through part of Old Town (the highlight of which is the Astronomical Clock) and doing a more thorough tour of the Jewish Quarter. I was somewhat surprised by the architecture of the Old-New Synagogue, as I think of fan vaulting as a rather Christian thing. The golem may still be buried somewhere there. Highlight of the Jewish quarter is the old cemetery.
  • Met up with two people from flyertalk for drinks at the Four Seasons. Beer there costs about 3-4 times as much as in less rarified atmospheres. I went out to dinner with one of them. No turkey was on offer, so I settled for duck for Thanksgiving.
  • I toured Prague Castle on Friday. I did the short tour ticket, which gets you into the Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. George's Church, the Palace, and the Golden Lane. Highlight is Land Rolls in the Palace. I also bought a marionette in a shop on the Golden Lane.
  • I also went to the Toy Museum, just outside the Castle. The Barbie collection is particularly impressive.
  • Then I walked down to the Lesser Town (Mala Strana), stopped at a cafe, went to the Church of St. Nicholas, and meandered a bit.
  • Walking back to the Old Town over the Charles Bridge led to a bit of trauma. I was a little ways onto the bridge, when a woman started screaming. I looked down to see what had happened - and saw a body on the pavement below. My assumption is that this was a suicide. Very disturbing.
  • I took a ghost tour on Friday night. The guide tried to hard to sound spooky and, overall, the tour was so-so. It was also bloody cold out.
  • I took a tour to Kutna Hora on Saturday. The highlight was the Bone Church, which is simply bizarre.
  • After coming back, I meandered around the New Town. The architecture of the Jerusalem Synagogue is also, um, notable. The word "garish" comes to mind. Walking back to the Old Town, I was impressed by the Municipal Building. I also stopped in the Tyn Church to see the grave of Tycho Brahe.
  • Overall, it was a good trip. I saw enough to feel satisfied, though I could always use one more day.
  • Flight from PRG to FRA was fine. FRA is still the second worst airport in Europe (behind CDG). Flight from FRA to IAD was on old configuration 777, which has crappy seats. My footrest was broken, so I got a skykit (compensation certificate, which gets you a choice of either additional frequent flyer miles or a discount on a future flight). Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Work: I have now rewritten various parts of a briefing for Friday at least 736 times. Please let this week be over.

Endangered Languages: Since the subject is one of my minor obsessions, I went to a lecture on endangered languages at the Smithsonian last night. The first speaker, an anthropologist studying Zuni, was poor, reading from her notes and not engaging with the audience at all. The second speaker, a linguist working on the Zapotec family, provided something of a crash course in field linguistics, which was a lot better. SHe also spoke interestingly about different ways of describing spatial relationships. The final speaker was a man working on revitalizing the language of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. He was very engaging, especially in his comments about how heritage languages evolve to include concepts the ancestors would not have known about. All in all, it was a good program.

Fabric of Survival: Before the lecture, I had time to check out this exhibit of the art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. The exhibit is a series of fabric collages (with embroidery) depicting the life of a Holocaust survivor. The pieces are remarkably detailed and well worth seeing.
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I saw Art at Signature Theatre last weekend. For those unfamiliar with it, Yamina Reza's play (translated from the French by Christopher Hampton) has to do with three friends whose relationships get shaken up when one of them, Serge, buys an all-white painting. Marc hates it and it makes him wonder why he and Serge are friends. Yvan tries to be conciliatory - and gets attacked for that.

It's all funny enough but the whole thing didn't quite work for me. I wanted more about their pre-painting friendship in order to make sense of what the underlying issues were. There are hints of that (especially with respect to Yvan) but it isn't really explored.

The three performers were all quite good. Michael Russotto as Yvan was especially memorable in his hysterical monologue about a conflict over wedding invitations.

On a more serious note, I have often wondered about how we develop our tastes and what they say about us. I can't say I've ever noticed any particular correlation between personality and artistic tastes, other than my conviction that anybody over 25 who still thinks the Impressionists are the pinnacle of art is a bit unimaginative. (It is one thing to have a poster of Monet's "Water Lilies" on the wall of a college dorm room. By the time you're an adult, you should have branched out. I wouldn't drop our friendship over this, however.) This applies to other art forms, too. I even have friends who like country music.
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Monday evening, I went to the Australian Embassy (hence, the Oz in the entry title) for a program on "Contemporary Perspectives on Fiber and the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef." There were four speakers - three museum curators and an artist - who discussed textile art, the DIY movement (especially things like yarn bombing), and the reef. Mostly there were pretty pictures, though there was some discussion of using fiber art to increase environmental awareness and everyone gave at least lip service to the intersections between art and science. The most interesting speaker was Matilda McQuaid from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum who talked about similarity of technique between fiber used for art and fiber used in industrial applications.

Afterwards, there was a reception - cheese and crackers and fruit and little sandwiches and heart-shaped cookies, plus Australian wines. I talked with some other people who had worked on the reef, mostly about how much fun it was. I had a more serious conversation with a group of other women about the denigration of artwork by women ad how craft gets characterized as less important than non-functional art. All in all, it was a pretty interesting evening.

By the way, for those of you who haven't seen it, the reef is at the Museum of Natural History on the Mall until 24 April. The museum is free so you really have no excuse for missing it if you're in Washington.

I also wanted to mention this article about the impact of last names on people's behavior. I sent the article to Robert, who hates waiting in lines and told him perhaps he is just one of those poor, impatient Z folks. He was dismissive of the whole thing and claimed he could not remember any impact of his last name on anything in school, except possibly sitting in the back of the room. When I thought about it, the only time I remember choosing anything based on alphabetical order had to do with choosing gym classes in high school. Some classes would fill up and I suppose that one could be traumatized by having to take folk dance instead of tennis. (Actually, I recall being equally traumatized by all gym classes except for folk dance. I also remember folk dance including the hustle and the bus stop, but I don't want to think about what that says about my high school and/or the 1970's.) Anyway they alternated which end of the alphabet they started with, so it was us folks with nice sensible names in the middle of the alphabet who got scarred for life.

What was your experience of alphabetical order when you grew up?
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I do some things besides going to the theatre. For one thing, there is always work. If only it weren't for that unfortunate addiction to a middle-class lifestyle ...

Anyway, the obvious celebrity death for me to mention is Leslie Nielsen. He was a genuinely funny man and a couple of his movies (notably Airplane) are deserved classics.

I have a couple of more specialized names to remember, though. The NPL'ers will be interested in the obituary of Frank W. Lewis, who wrote cryptic crosswords for The Nation. And many Jews of my generation grew up with the "art" of Morris Katz on the walls of their homes. As a teenager, going to the Catskills with my parents, I was vaguely impressed by the speed at which Mr. Katz could slap paint on a canvas, using palette knife and toilet paper, but I never cared much for the results. (My parents most questionable artistic acquisition, however, is a lithograph of a chicken plucker. I frequently refer to this as the single ugliest picture in the known universe.)

Speaking of art, I went on the MIT Club of Washington's tour of the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the American Art Museum on Tuesday night. The exhibit consists of a number of works from the collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Rockwell's art isn't really my thing, but the docent's spiel was interesting. She emphasized the connection between Rockwell's work and the movies. But what I found most interesting was how much effort he put into setting up the scenarios he painted, making extensive use of photographs (which he then painted from). By the way, I also had time before the tour for a quick look at the new acquisitions at the National Portrait Gallery (which is the other wing of the American Art Museum). I continue to be impressed by the photography of Alec Soth.
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The other thing I had scheduled for last weekend was seeing a show called One Small Step at the Kennedy Center. This was part of their On the Fringe: Eye on Edinburgh program, which brought in several shows from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This particular show, produced by the Oxford Playhouse, involved two men (Robin Hemmings and Oliver Millingham) playing 40+ roles to tell the story of the space race, from Sputnik through the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. It was really geared to children and I suspect the optimum age for seeing it is on the order of 8-10.

Overall, the show was disappointing, The downscale props and costumes (e.g. a pillow rearranged to form the hat of a Russian scientist, an open file cabinet serving as the ladder from the lunar module to the surface) were imaginative enough, though I'm not sure if a generation reared on special effects appreciated them. The pacing was somewhat too frenetic for my tastes. Perhaps that works well with the children, but I found it distracting. More of an issue was that I not only didn't learn anything from the show, but I didn't feel much magic. By contrast, at Edinburgh Fringe in 1998, I had seen a 20 minute reenactment of the lunar landing done by two actors using just their hands which I found thoroughly enthralling.

While at the Kennedy Center, I took advantage of the opportunity to see a Fringe exhibit, Of All the People In All the World. This involved 300 million grains of rice, i.e. one grain for each person in the U.S., subdivided into piles to represent various population statistics. Some of it is political, so there are large piles that have to do with people killed in various conflicts or with statistics about hunger. But there are also more whimsical groupings. One area had things about astronauts, including the number of people who had walked on the moon. Next to that was a single grain of rice labeled "Michael Jackson." An even funnier use of a single grain was the one for "Condoleeza Rice." All in all, I found this to be a fascinating exhibit and recommend you check out the rice show if you get a chance. I also plan to look for other productions by Stan's Cafe, the group of artists who were responsible for this.
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As I mentioned, I took a red-eye home from Seattle Friday night. That's one of the things I always swear I am not going to do and end up doing because I overcommit myself. It wasn't too bad actually. Between getting upgraded to first (admittedly 757 First which, annoyingly, lacks leg rests) and being exhausted, I got a few hours of surprisingly sound sleep. We got to Dulles on time and I retrieved my car and made it home quickly enough.

I had a few hours which I could have used to sleep. Instead, I caught up with various odds and ends, though they ran more to playing Sporcle than to actually doing housework. Just about noon, I set off to Lorton for the Virginia Storytelling Alliance Saturday Series. I got down there early enough that I could look at some of the studios at the Workhouse Arts Center. The coolest thing I saw was a vending machine that sells art. (There are tokens you can buy and various artists have items in little boxes roughly the size of a cigarette pack.)

Anyway, I went first to Linda Fang's workshop on suspense. She had us mime a few situations to demonstrate how our actions can reflect suspense. Then we worked in pairs on creating suspenseful stories using trigger sentences we were told to incorporate. My partner and I came up with a stalker scenario, in which a missing shoe triggered panic over what might have happened the night before. In the end, the victim's dog walks in, shoe in mouth. All in all, the workshop was both unusual and interesting.

I stayed around for the "Business and Story Swap." The business discussion was a mixture of complaints about how people in Virginia don't understand storytelling along with some practical tips on marketing. In short, there wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. I will fully admit that I don't do a lot of marketing because I am: a) busy with a lot of other things, including my day job and b) lazy. I like to think I am realistic enough not to kvetch about not getting jobs I didn't apply for. (In fact, the Saturday series is a good example. I had thought about submitting a workshop proposal, but was not sure if I'd be able to clear my calendar for it. Given my crazy scheduling, that is just as well.) There was time for a brief swap. I wasn't going to tell anything, but the shaggy dog story that Katie and Otto told provided a suitable lead in for "Lyle and the Ghost."

As well as the formal events, a lot of the point of going to these things is hanging out with other storytellers and it was, as usual, good to see some of the folks who live in other parts of the state. I'd have liked to stay for the evening concert (and dinner in Occoquan beforehand) but I had other commitments. Some day I will actually double or triple check my calendar when I plan things, but that day hasn't come yet.
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I'll write about Conpac separately. This entry is about all the other stuff I did while out in Seattle.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, I drove down to Olympia to do the capital volksmarch there. I stayed down that way overnight, the only notable part of which was my difficulty in finding the hotel since their directions omitted a crucial turn. On Wednesday, I drove up to Tacoma and explored the Museum of Glass. The architecture of the museum is interesting. as are the outdoor installations around it. The most famous of those is the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. The bridge connects the museum with downtown Tacoma (which has a few cool old buildings, notably Union Station, and is lined with niches filled with Dale Chilhuly's work.

The exhibits inside the museum were organized into three gallery spaces, plus the hot shop where you can see glass artists at work. Having seen glassblowing many times (and taken a glass blowing class myself), I didn't stay long in the hot shop. Instead I moved on to the galleries, which had three exhibits. The first of those was a mid-career retrospective of Preston Singletary's work, which is focused on translating traditional Tlingit designs into glass. I particularly liked some of the sand carved glass pieces. I also thought that some of his work, e.g. a figure of raven stealing the sun, did a fine job of highlighting glass art as sculpture.

The second exhibit was of pieces from the museum's permanent collection. As one would expect, this covered a wide range, though all of the art is contemporary. The final exhibit was my favorite. The museum has children design creatures (in crayon) and then selects one each month for their in-house artists to make. The designs are, not surprisingly, often colorful and whimsical. They are also particularly challenging for the artists since the children aren't constrained by expectations of what glass is supposed to look like. By the way, the artists make a second copy for the child's family. Aside from this being fun, I think it has interesting things to say about the creative process.

I returned the car and took the (newish) light rail to downtown Seattle for the con, which worked well. There was time on Thursday to do a downtown Seattle volksmarch, which covered most of the obvious things to see in the central part of the city. The route wound through Seattle Center before going to waterfront and I detoured through Olympic Sculpture Park (part of the Seattle Art Museum) along the way. That was somewhat disappointing as I am not particularly fond of modern sculpture. There's the typical Calder stabile and the obligatory odd object by Claes Oldenburg (in this case, a typewriter eraser), but too any of the pieces look like somebody randomly threw large blocks of metal on the ground. I was particularly annoyed by an untitled Roy McMakin piece that consists of a concrete bench next to a "plastic" armchair and a "cardboard" file box (rendered in metal and enamel). I'm not about to start the "what is art?" debate here, but that piece is definitely not my sort of thing.

I was also disappointed in the aquarium. (The walk passed by it, so I stopped in.) The best exhibit is their giant octopus and the outdoor area has things like puffins and otters (both sea otters and river otters). I usually favor the colorful coral reef displays and, of course, seahorses. There were just a few of the latter (and none of my beloved leafy sea dragons) and, while the coral reef tanks were fine, the area was filled with screaming children. I'd probably have liked the whole thing better had I been there when it was less crowded.

From the waterfront, the route continued up to Pioneer Square (with a checkpoint at the Klondike Gold Museum), through the International District, and back to downtown. Overall, it was a good way to fill a few hours and walking made me particularly appreciate the Pacific Northwest weather.

Most of the other things I did were con-related, though I did also fit in an excursion to Archie McPhee. And. after the con, [livejournal.com profile] miz_hatbox was kind enough to invite me to hang out with her and her family. I will tell you that should she ever invite you to dinner, you should definitely accept, as she is an excellent cook as well as a fine conversationalist. Our conversation ranged from a parlor game involving bad combinations of conventions (e.g. allergists and cat fanciers) to potential uses of stainless steel wool to the idea of people wasting their talents to, well, pretty much everything. By the way, we had made an excursion to the supermarket and I was able to buy lapsang souchong tea! My colleagues will once again have to endure that fine smell of burning rubber tires in the morning.

As for the trip home, United failed to upgrade me, but I did have an exit row aisle. When I discovered that the reading light didn't work, the flight attendant refused to give me a skykit (United's compensation mechanism) because the middle seat next to me was empty and had a functioning light. (That it also had a large man sprawling into it was of no interest to the FA. I will check with the Flyertalk crowd before dashng off an email to customer service to ask for compensation.) At any rate, the flight was otherwise as fine as a redeye can be (i.e. barely tolerable). Due to the holiday schedule, I had a long wait at Dulles for the first Washington Flyer bus, which I used to get breakfast. And then I had a 20+ minute wait at West Falls Church for the train. So I was especially exhausted by the time I got home and immediately took a nap.

Now it's time for grocery shopping and unpacking and possibly another nap.


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