Always Busy

May. 9th, 2018 11:05 am
fauxklore: (Default)
I have political rants to inflict on people, but let me first speak of what I have been up to.

Celebrity Death Watch: Sachio Kinugasa was a Japanese baseball player who played in 2215 consecutive games. Alice Provensen illustrated (and later wrote) children’s books. Larry Harvey founded Burning Man. Judith Leiber designed handbags (and died the same day as her husband, Gerson, a painter.) Abi Ofarim was an Israeli musician and dancer, best known for "Cinderella Rockeflla" with his wife Esther. Rabbi Aaron Panken was the President of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Charles Steger was a former president of Virginia Tech. Paolo Ferrari played Archie Goodwin in the Italian television adaptation of the Nero Wolfe books. George Deukmejian was the governor of California through much of the 1980’s.

Conference Going: I spent three days last week at a work-related forum that may or may not prove useful in the future. Parts of it were like having somebody read a dictionary to me, parts had me metaphorically throwing up my hands in despair on how little progress we’ve made in too many years, and only a couple of speakers seemed to have anything concrete to say. I suspect it is just that I am old and have been through a few too many fads on how to engineer systems better. Also, I am tired of people who are speaking at space-related events starting out by admitting they don’t know anything about space systems. Or I could just have been cranky because I had to drive and, while Route 28 is almost tolerable in the morning, it is inevitably a slow-moving hellstream in the afternoon.

Canadian Embassy: On Wednesday evening, I went to an MIT Club event at the Embassy of Canada. The talk was on renewable energy (hydropower on the part of the Canadians; wind and solar on the part of the Americans) and how our grids play together. The interesting part was the relative dearth of east-west transmission lines in both countries, while there is good north-south connectivity. Admittedly, it’s not like anybody actually lives in the Dakotas or Saskatchewan … (Er, yes, I am joking. Sort of.) The reception was pretty much the wine and cheese and crackers sort (plus charcuterie and excellent dried fruit and mixed nuts). One of the embassy people was from Saskatchewan and I extracted some tourist tips from her, e.g. the existence of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum. (I have been trying to find a reason to go to that province, without much success. This sounds like a plausible weekend trip.) Aside from that, I talked with fellow alumni.

Around the World Embassy Tour: I did more embassy going on Saturday, which featured the annual Around the World Embassy Open House. (There is a separate event for EU embassies, which is this coming weekend, but I have prior commitments.) We started at the Embassy of Nepal, which had some photos, a short film, and food that it was too early in the day for. The Embassy of Guinea was just steps away, so we walked through, looked at the building and some photos, and listened to some music. Then we cabbed over to the Embassy of Angola, which was high on my list, largely because Paul Theroux hated it so much that it piqued my interest in going there. They had excellent snacks – some sort of peanut brittle like thing, chocolate cake, coconut rolls, what looked and tasted like malasadas (though I don’t know the Angolan name for them). There was also good coffee and some weird but not unpleasant drink made from corn. They also had a fair amount of swag, including paperweights and brochures and an issue of National Geographic.

We took the bus down 16th Street to the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center (roughly affiliated with the Embassy of Oman) where we dressed up in Omani clothing for selfies, drank coffee heavily scented with cardamom and rosewater, and ate dates. Then we cabbed over to the Embassy of Qatar, where we had more selfies in costume, more coffee, more dates, and some fairly substantial food (they had meat pies, chicken sandwiches, and cheese pies). They had advertised falconry but were unable to get permission for it.

That was as far as we had planned, so we looked at the map and settled on going to the northwest end of Embassy Row and the Embassy of South Africa. There was a long line, with free bottles of Nando’s lemon-herb sauce at the end of it, along with biltong samples. There was also a marketplace, mostly selling jewelry. (They had a food court, with food for sale, outside.) The Embassy of Bolivia was just across the street, so we went there and got some sort of alcoholic drinks. Inside, there was an art exhibit and a look at a fancy dining room. Back outside, there were costumed dancers. I was fading quickly and decided that I was better off going home at that point, but my friend wanted to stay to the bitter end. I abandoned her in line for the Embassy of Brazil (where, coincidentally, she was standing just a couple of people in front of a woman from my book club). I walked down to Dupont Circle and metroed home for a nap.

Paperwork: Our "improved" foreign travel reporting system at work (and, yes, that applies to embassy visits, unless you go to the embassy to get a visa for a real trip) is annoying. This is no surprise. I am especially peeved that they ignored all of my comments in the pre-rollout test session we had. Peeved but not, alas, surprised.

Team Israel: On Sunday, I satisfied my obsession with Jewish baseball players by seeing the documentary Heading Home: The Story of Team Israel as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. It was worth the schlep to Bethesda.

Crumbs and Whiskers: A few weeks ago, a friend had been talking about her struggles with depression and I asked what I could do to help. One of my suggestions was a visit to a cat café. (I have learned over the years that it is best to offer a few suggestions, because depressed people tend to be unable to think of what might help. And what helps me may not be right for you.) So we made that excursion Monday evening. Petting cats is good therapy and they’ve adopted out hundreds of cats, who get to live better in the café than they did in cages in shelters.

I mentioned that my mother sucked at naming cats. She had one named Mamacat and had named one of the ferals who hung out on her lawn Rita. So I was challenged on what makes a good name for a cat. I believe that the name of a god or goddess (ideally Egyptian, but others will do) is a good starting point. Beyond that, one should consider the cat’s physical characteristics. I’d love to have a pair of Siamese cats named Mocha and Java, for example. But avoid trite names like Tiger. Names of authors can work well. Royalty is always good. (My brother and his ex-wife had a cat named Empress Josefina, for example.) My former boss always named his cats after serial killers. Note: no matter how much I think you have misnamed your cat, I will never tell you this, because I am not a monster.

Other good therapy is walking and the weather was lovely for a stroll back to Foggy Bottom. M Street still annoys me, with large herds of slow-moving tourists, but the weather mostly made up for it.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Vladimir Voevodsky was a mathematician. Tom Alter was in over 300 Bollywood films. Ralphie May was a comedian. Joseph Schmitt designed spacesuits for the earliest astronauts. Nora Johnson wrote The World of Henry Orient. Armando Calderon Sol was the first president of El Salvador after their civil war. Edna Dummerth played for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Connie Hawkins was a basketball player, whose career included the Harlem Globetrotters and the Phoenix Suns, among others. Herve Leroux was a fashion designer.

Embassy of Romania: Thursday night I went to a dinner at the Embassy of Romania, which was cosponsored by the MIT Club of Washington and the Harvard Club. You can tell events organized by the latter because they tend to be less organized. The ambassador talked about the history of Romania and was reasonably interesting, but the sound system was terrible. The buffet was quite good – a few types of dips, rice, vegetables, chicken, stuffed cabbage, mamaliga (i.e. polenta), and tiramisu and some sort of strudel-like things for dessert. It was a nice enough event, but I prefer there being tables to sit at when eating.

United Catering Operations: On Friday evening, I flew to Denver to go to a Frequent Flyer Giving event involving a tour of United Catering Operations. My flight out to Denver got delayed by a mechanical problem, so I didn’t get in until 11 at night and it took another half hour to get to my hotel. Fortunately,, the tour was worth it. We had to wear lab coats (personalized with our names, so we got to keep them) and hair nets. We went through various coolers and food preparation areas. United also caters for Frontier Airlines, British Air, Icelandair, as well as preparing food for the deli department at King Sooper and for the Air Force Academy. We had activities at some stations. For example, I put bread out on a conveyor belt for sandwich making for King Sooper and sliced cucumbers for a salad in the test kitchen. There were also trivia questions along the way, with chocolate coins as prizes. At the end, we got a tasty lunch (including rare bison on crostini, a salad with pears and acai and pomegranate dressing, a very tasty steak with asparagus, and triple mousse cake for dessert). There was also a charity auction, but I am trying to downsize. They gave everyone swag bags with a small Polaris pillow (which they discontinued because buttoning the pillowcase was too slow a process) and a couple of amenity kits. Then it was back to the airport and my flight home, which got in a half hour early. Overall, a fun but exhausting trip.

The Mistress Cycle: On Sunday afternoon, I went to see this show at Creative Cauldron. It’s more of a song cycle than a conventional musical, since there is a very minimal book. The piece tells the stories of five women, at different times and places in history. Ching (a composite character) was a 14-year old concubine in 12th-century China. Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of King Henri II in 16th-century France. Lulu White was forced into sex work at the age of 13 but went on to become a successful madam and the richest woman in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Anais Nin was the 20th century French writer of erotica. And Tess Walker was a composite of a modern 30-something woman.

I have some qualms about treating all of those characters as mistresses. I’d argue that there is a difference between the choices that some of the women (notably Anais Nin) made and being sold as a concubine. I also wish that the music had been more varied. Lulu White did get bluesy numbers (perfect for the vocal talents of Iyona Blake, who played that role) and Ching’s solos (especially "One in a Line") had a distinctive voice (and were well-performed by Justine Icy Moral), but the rest of the songs were a bit monotonous. That’s a pity since the performers were all quite good. Erica Clare was very expressive as Tess, so I wish she had had more interesting songs to sing. I thought the show was provocative and worth seeing, but the score didn’t excite me.

MIT School of Engineering Reception: Finally, Sunday night was a reception at the Willard for the MIT School of Engineering, in honor of selectees to the National Academy of Engineering. The food was pretty good (especially the desserts) and the conversation was lively and intelligent. The main talk had to do with increasing diversity in STEM. Overall, it was a pleasant evening out.


Aug. 9th, 2017 01:44 pm
fauxklore: (Default)
I've been busy for most of the past week.

Celebrity Death Watch: Ara Parseghian coached football for Notre Dame and appears in crosswords fairly often. Judith Jones edited cookbooks. Ernst Zundel was a Holocaust denier. Darren Daulton played baseball, largely for the Phillies. Don Baylor also played baseball, including a stint with the Red Sox in 1986, during which he set a record for being hit by pitches. Haruo Nakajima was the first actor to portray Godzilla. Glen Campbell was a countryish pop singer, notable for songs such as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Rhinestone Cowboy."

I want to particularly highlight Barbara Cook, who was one of the greatest Broadway stars of all time. Some of her more famous roles included Marian in The Music Man, Cunegonde in Candide (in which she achieved a tour de force with "Glitter and Be Gay"), and Amalia in She Loves Me. She had a fabulous voice and, unlike many great singers, she could also act.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Michael Cotter was a Minnesota farmer turned storyteller, who told stories of his farm life. He was a quiet and skilled teller, who I was privileged to hear a few times.

I am way behind on reading magazines, so I only just caught the news (via the MIT section of Technology Review) that Kathy Porter-Jordan, a friend from my undergraduate days died nearly a year ago. I particularly remember one year on Shavuout when she and I delved into the subject of leprosy in the Tanach.

Trip to Oregon: I made a quick trip last week to Portland, Oregon for the memorial service for my friend, Mary Joan. The travel was a bit stressful, as a thunderstorm struck just after we had been boarded (but before the plane was fully fueled). In the end, we got delayed about two hours. My decision to take a non-stop was vindicated as I figured I was fine as long as I got there some time on Thursday night. The delay was extended a little on arrival as a guy in the row behind mine had a medical emergency (significant enough for the flight attendant to be bringing him oxygen) and we had to wait for paramedics to take him off before we could disembark. But, I got there, so everything was okay.

My friend, Suzanne, was at the same hotel and, fortunately, has a compatible attitude towards timing. (Google maps says it’s a 22 minute drive, so let’s figure 45 minutes and then let’s add an extra half hour just in case we get lost ….) The ceremony was brief, with a few people (each of the two of us included) speaking, with a longer speech by Mary Joan’s husband. Then everybody went out to lunch, at which we learned that the day had been chosen since it would have been their 44th wedding anniversary.

The trip home went smoother, despite it involving a redeye too short for more than a nap. I also had a longish wait for the moon buggy from the D-gates to the main terminal at IAD, so it took longer to get to my car than to drive home. At least I had time to nap for a few hours before my next commitment.

Ben’s Bar Mitzvah: A friend’s son’s bar mitzvah was Saturday. The service was your standard Chabad service, which I won’t comment on. Ben did fine on the Torah reading and his haftorah and his mother did the expected job of bursting into tears during her brief speech afterwards. There was pretty good food at the Kiddush lunch. The big reception was in the evening at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. I only had time for a quick look through the museum, but it would be worth going back and spending half a day to see it all. There was reasonably good food and slightly odd entertainment, mostly oriented towards the kids, e.g. a sword swallower. Overall, it was a pretty nice event.

Embassy of Haiti: I went to an MIT Club of Washington event at the Embassy of Haiti last night. Actually, it was a joint event with the Harvard Club and they far outnumbered us. The embassy is beautiful, with a large art collection – practically a gallery. The ambassador was personable and gave a brief and entertaining speech. The food was okay – rice, chicken, fish, pork – and they had tasty rum punch and cake for dessert. The only problem was that it was very crowded and the food line was quite chaotic. Still, it is always worth going to these sorts of things.
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: (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: This was a bad time for transgender performers, with the deaths of both The Lady Chablis and Alexis Arquette. Other notable deaths are of children’s book author Anna Dewdney, electronics retailer and embezzler "Crazy Eddue" Antar, and ska musician, Prince Buster, who has now gone "One Step Beyond."

Embassy of Costa Rica: My alumni association had a dinner and talk at the embassy of Costa Rica on Thursday night. I was tired and grumpy, so not very enthusiastic about it. It did, however, turn out to be a nice evening. The ambassador, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, talked about how he went from science to politics, as well as discussing the direction Costa Rica is taking, both in terms of economics and environment. I had no idea, for example, that their biggest export is medical devices. While the drink selection was unimpressive (and not specific to Costa Rica), the food was very good, especially a tasty cold salmon dish. I left feeling livelier than I had on the way there.

On Republican Turf: I went to a (work-related) breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club on Friday morning. This is, essentially, the national Republican frat house. What I found interesting is a sign of how times have changed. I am beyond the age of need for such things, but the ladies’ room offered free tampons and pads. I cannot imagine that would have been the case just a few years ago.

High School Reunion: My 40th high school reunion was Saturday night. It turned out to be cheaper (and, of course, infinitely lower in stress) to fly up to JFK. I’ve just started flying Jet Blue this year and, so far, I’ve been really impressed with their service. Their boarding process is mildly annoying, but their seats are reasonably sized and they serve okay snacks on short flights. I rented a car from Payless, which shares space with Avis. They were fairly inefficient, but it wasn’t too long a wait before I was able to drive off in a Kia Soul, which would not have been my first choice of a vehicle. On the plus side, I’ve now ruled out yet another potential replacement for my beloved Saturn.

I briefly checked out the Resorts World Casino in Queens, but they didn’t have anything much that I wanted to play. Then I drove out to Long Island. I was staying at the Homewood Suites in Carle Place and, when I arrived, I went to hang up my dress for the evening. Except, oops, I had, um, forgotten to pack it! I distinctly remember taking it out of the closet and draping it over the back of the sofa, ready to pack. Apparently, I must have gotten distracted along the way. (This is why I make checklists to pack for actual vacations.) I had planned on an afternoon nap, but had to make an emergency shopping trip instead. Fortunately, there is a Dress Barn just a couple of blocks from the hotel. I picked out 4 dresses to try on. The first one would have been acceptable. The second one just didn’t work at all. When I tried on the third one – bingo! It was exactly what I wanted, with an interesting neckline and a lovely lace inset in the back. I didn’t even bother to try on the fourth dress. The price was reasonable and nobody would have known about the fiasco had I not told the story. I just think it’s funny that I can remember part of the lyrics to our class song, but can’t manage to remember something like this.

As for the reunion itself, it was lovely. There were, alas, several people I’d have loved to see who weren’t there, but it was great to see those who were. I do admit to sometimes finding myself wondering if I ever knew certain people, but our class was over 400 people and one tended to know only those who shared the same classes and activities. I’d say that, for the most part, people seem happy and successful, though we are at an age where a lot of people are coping with aging or dying parents. Kids grown up, going to college, getting married. A lot of people have found themselves with the resources to do things they always wanted to do but didn’t think they’d be able to – myself included.

Later in the evening, they put on music for dancing. The only problem with that is that the music was very loud – too loud for carrying on a conversation without shouting. We are, after all, middle-aged. Though surprisingly few people look it. I think all the balding men and the wrinkled women just decided to stay home.

Baseball: Because I don’t have enough stress in my life, the Red Sox are being exciting. They’re in first, but there are various birds (Blue Jays and Orioles) within swooping distance.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Last week was pretty busy because I can’t resist going to interesting things even if I’m exhausted. Genealogy catch-up to follow sooner or later.

The Grapevine: This month’s featured storytellers were Jo Radner from Maine and Regi Carpenter from upstate New York. I’ve heard Jo tell several times before and she had a fun, eclectic set. She started with a riff on Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater’s wife, followed that with a Nepali folktale about a pumpkin who marries a princess, and then told her pie story, which is one I’ve heard before and was happy to hear again. Regi told pieces about her childhood, including one about a favorite teacher, which made me nostalgic for Mrs. Meyers, my elementary school music teacher. All in all, a lovely evening.

Saudi Embassy: Thursday night was an MIT Club of DC event at the Saudi embassy. There was time when I first arrived to check out the public areas of the building, which had walls lined with photos of impressive modern skyscrapers, scale models of significant buildings (presumably mosques and palaces, though they weren’t labeled) and two display cases of traditional clothing. Then we were ushered into the auditorium, where the presentation started with a 20 or so minute film about the history of Saudi Arabia and its more recent attempts at modernizing. Aside from the propaganda that painted things as more modern than we would normally believe, one thing I gathered was that it did not really exist as a country until the 1932. I suppose I should have known that, but I didn’t. Anyway the film was followed by a Q&A with the ambassador. Since he spoke off the record, I won’t comment on specific things he said, but I thought he was long-winded and slightly evasive. Eventually we got to go into dinner, which was good, but not spectacular. (In particular, I thought some of the dishes had excessive sweet spices, e.g. stuff like cinnamon.) At least they had tables and chairs. Too often these events mean balancing a plate and a wine glass while standing. Of course, they didn’t serve alcohol, so there weren’t wine glasses involved, though there were other beverages.

The Flick:This Pulitzer winning play by Annie Baker has to do with three people who work at a movie theatre in Massachusetts in the last days of film (versus digital) projection. Sam and Avery clean the theatre, work the box office, and sell refreshments, while Rose is the projectionist. The point is the relationships between the three, of course, with the setting and background helping with explication. The scenes are divided with movie clips, but you would have to be a real movie geek to recognize more than a few of them, especially since the tiny projection is impossible to see. And the connections of specific movies to the actions of the play were not especially obvious to me. Frankly, I felt that the film clips mostly made this very long play (nearly 3 ½ hours) longer for no really good reason. There were some interesting moments, but I was not surprised that at least a quarter of the audience didn’t return after the intermission (which was two hours in). Since it was Signature, the acting was excellent and I want to particularly commend Thaddeus McCants as Avery. But, overall, the whole thing would have worked better for me if it were half the length.

Story Swap:The Voices in the Glen story swap was Saturday night. There were a lot of listeners, including a few who had never been to a storytelling event before. There was a good mix of stories and everyone seemed to enjoy it. My contribution was my father’s version of the Crossing of the Red Sea, complete with environmental impact statement.

Speaking of Storytelling:Remember the story contest I was shilling just a bit ago? Well, I made the top 10! Anybody in or around DC who wants to come, the final show is Saturday May 28th at 6:30 p.m. at Jammin' Java in Vienna. Of course, I need to come up with a shiny new story for it, but I already have two ideas. (Well, actually, three ideas, no, make that four, but I have narrowed it down to the top two.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, this is one of those catch-up entries. I know. Deal with it.

Celebrity Death Watch: Lots of people died while I was away – and since I got back. Malcolm Fraser was a former Prime Minister of Australia. Lee Kuan Yew was the founder of Singapore. Robert Schuller built a glass house of worship, aka the Crystal Cathedral. Cynthia Lennon was John Lennon’s first wife. Sarah Brady was an anti-gun activist. Gary Dahl invented the pet rock. Tom Koch was a humorist who invented Mad Magazine’s game, 43-Man Squamish. Naomi Wilzig owned the World’s Erotic Art Museum in Miami. Stan Freberg was a parodist. Gunter Grass was a German novelist, best known for The Tin Drum.

There are two people I want to highlight in particular. John Renbourn was a British folk singer. He was probably best known as part of Pentangle, but I particularly like his solo albums, especially A Maid in Bedlam. And Al Rosen was a baseball player, whose career was cut short by injury, preventing him from joining Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Lou Boudreau as the Jewish contingent at Cooperstown.

Taxes: I finally finished my taxes this weekend. Most of the delay was due to not being able to find a couple of pieces of paper. The mortgage interest statement was actually in plain view on my dining room table. The last charity receipt was more or less where I thought I’d put it, which still meant a few hours of searching.

I used to be so much more organized and I can be again.

Embassy of Estonia: The night before I left on vacation, I went to a dinner and talk at the Embassy of Estonia. The ambassador was a fairly interesting speaker, focusing on the country’s economic position. However, he went on rather long given that the audience was standing. (There were a handful of chairs, which were occupied primarily by people who really needed them. And a few people sat on the stairs. But the rest of us shifted uncomfortably.) The food was pretty good, with a pretty wide range and especially notable desserts, e.g. excellent strudel. One disappointment was that they didn’t have any Estonian wines or beers – only American ones.

More Vacation Details: I’d bought a ticket from EWR to OSL largely on the basis of price. When I see cheap airfares to somewhere that I might conceivably go to (i.e. anywhere that is not an active war zone and, ideally, somewhere I haven’t been to before), I buy first, think later. I actually knew what I wanted to do in Norway – namely, take the Hurtigruten up the coast and see two specific things in Oslo (the Fram, which is the ship Amundsen took to the Antarctic) and Munch’s The Scream. I was hoping for some aurora, too.

I am pleased to say that I accomplished all that I intended, plus a few other things.

Future Vacation Plans – Your Chance to Help: I cashed in some miles for a trip to South America in November, that partly involves some genealogical research and will also address two life list items. Since I need to connect in Panama City, I built in a day and a half there, which should enable me to see Panama La Vieja (i.e. the old city) and the Canal, including the Frank Gehry designed Museum of Biodiversity. I will probably use the hop-on / hop-off bus to do most of that. Given that, does anybody have any hotel recommendations? Keep in mind that: 1) I prefer boutique hotels and local charm to large modern chains, 2) convenience of location (including things like proximity to restaurants) is a high priority, and 3) safety is always a top priority.

You Can Also Advise Me About Books: I am in the middle of reading The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. This is about the Supreme Court under Warren Burger. I am finding it surprisingly interesting. So I am interested in any recommendations anyone might have for more recent books focused on the Supremes.

Mini-Rant 1 - Politics: I expect to spent the next 19 months – and at least 4 years after that, holding my nose.

Mini-Rant 2 - Free Range Children: Apparently the Montgomery County police picked up the two Meitiv children again, 2 ½ blocks from their home, and kept them for hours, despite telling them they were just going to give them a ride home. If I were the parents, I would be charging the police with kidnapping. And don’t give me any crap about the world having changed and gotten more dangerous. Almost all child abductions involve non-custodial parents. In fact, the crime rate now is lower than when I was growing up in the 1960’s.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Maximillian Schell was an Oscar-winning actor. As was Philip Seymour Hoffman. The latter was certainly one of the great character actors of our time, but fell prey to drug addiction.

The celebrity death I want to highlight, however, is that of Pete Seeger. He was 91, so it wasn’t unexpected, but somehow it seemed like he had always been there and always would. His music was the voice of my parents’ generation and my own. And that music survives him.

Food Pornography,Part 1: Some restaurants extend Restaurant Week, which allows for another dinner out with friends. In this case, it was the last Saturday in January and we went to Co Co Sala. I had been there before, but none of the other people I was with had. The deal was a hot chocolate shooter, salad, two small plates, and dessert for $35.14. In my quest to not be so dull about cocktails, I had something called Allure, which involved lychee and Prosecco. It was pretty and tasty, but a bit too sweet. The beet salad was disappointing as the golden beets had little flavor and there were a lot more of them than the red beets. Mac and cheese was excellent and sliders with mole were good, though not exciting. Dessert is the expected high point of a chocolate-themed restaurant and I was especially impressed with the chocolate sorbet that was part of mine. I should note that, unlike my past visit here, we were seated in the back room, which proved to be far more serene. It’s a minor service note, but I do appreciate it when restaurants have black napkins which won’t shed white lint on your clothes.

My Workplace Is Not Like Yours, Part 1: There are often protesters outside the Pentagon. I have no idea what this particular group was protesting, but I have to admit to some admiration for protesters who are still out there when it is 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peter and the Starcatcher: I am not particularly fond of Peter Pan, but the children’s book this play is based on (which involves an origin story for him) was co-written by Dave Barry, who I am a fan of. I’d have to say that neither of those influences is what dominates the play, however. Rather, it is reminiscent of a cross between Monty Python and a fringe show. That’s actually good. Instead of glitzy special effects, there are actors standing in line and manipulating ropes to create walls and doors. There is lively music. There are a father and daughter who can speak Dodo, the language of the extinct bird. There are points where I thought it was overdone, but those were fairly few. I should note that the song which starts the second act is alone worth the price of admission. I also want to commend Megan Stern as Molly, who has a role of varied challenges (including speaking Dodo).

Ballet – The Jazz / Blues Project: I haven’t been particularly interested in most of the shows The Washington Ballet had on this season’s schedule, but this one seemed promising. The first piece, Bird’s Nest featured music by Charlie "Bird" Parker with a live performance by the Howard University Jazz Ensemble. The music was excellent, but the choreographry was average. I preferred the choreography (by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa) for the second piece,PRISM. to Keith Jarrett’s improvisational Koln Concert. However, I found the costume and lighting choices for this rather questionable. The final piece was Blue Until June with Etta James’s blues songs and choreography by Trey McIntyre. I thought much of the choreography did not match the music well. And I continue to be annoyed when dancing continues for several measures after the music ends. So, overall, I preferred the music to the dance in this program. I think that, in the future, I should stick to narrative ballets, as those generally suit my tastes better.

My Workplace Is Not Like Yours, Part 2: My government grand-boss apparently keeps a selection of ties in his office. The part I find amusing is that he apparently selected one for someone else in our organization to wear to a meeting.

Food Pornography, Part 2: I went to an alumni association event last night at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is interesting and the talks were mercifully short. There was a particularly wide variety of food, including items familiar (fried rice, steamed vegetables, chicken in soy sauce, dumplings, spring rolls) and items less so (jellyfish with turnips). The food highlight for me was definitely the sesame balls. That’s something I have had at dim sum places from time to time, but these had particularly strong sesame flavor.

It occurs to me that I have no idea what a sesame plant looks like.
fauxklore: (travel)
I will do other catching up soon, but I wanted to write up some recent short travels.

Embassy of Lithuania: Technically, embassies are foreign territory, so my evening at the Embassy of Lithuania counts as travel, despite just requiring a trip to the border of Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. The building is actually one of the oldest embassies in the District, since it was opened in the 1920's. This was a typical MIT Club of Washington event, with an entertaining talk by the Deputy Chief of Mission, who focused largely on economics. I am, of course, interested in Lithuania since my father's family is from there. I am sad to say that the food was not very impressive and the beer was definitely not to my taste.

Frequent Traveler University: This edition of FTU was in Tampa, which is an easy flight from Washington. I'm not going to write up what got said in any detail, but I will note that this is the first time that there was actually any material on actual travel, rather than frequent flyer programs. There was still a lot about credit cards and various ways of using them to get lots of points and miles. But there were a couple of sessions by Stefan Krasowski (of Rapid Travel Chai which talked about finding flights and hotels in less traveled parts of the world and so on. I am well-traveled, but I learned a few things I hadn't already known. There was also a session on getting what you're entitled to without being a jerk. I like to think I didn't need that one, but ...

My favorite quote of the weekend was from Seth Miller. To wit (in the context of stretching the rules for transit visas in China and why not to), "there is no real upside to being detained, deported or arrested." I thoroughly agree.

I was also able to take advantage of being down that way to have dinner with an old friend, who I hadn't seen in 20+ years. Tracy took me to dinner at an excellent sushi place in Clearwater (known as Charlie's, though it has a more sushi-ish real name). And we had a lovely wide-ranging conversation, including topics as far afield as home schooling and Maltese fireworks.

McCormick 50th Anniversary: Finally, I went up to Boston this past weekend for the 50th anniversary of McCormick Hall, the dorm I lived in at MIT. The weekend included two brunches, a symposium (in which I learned a lot about Katherine Dexter McCormick, whose donation was responsible for the building, which, in turn, enabled MIT to admit more women by having somewhere to house them), a reception, and dinner. There were also tours of the building, which still looks quite good after all these years. By my day, there were several co-ed dorms and I will admit having chosen to live in McCormick largely because of it being physically nicer than many of the others. I only realized later on that, had I not lived there, I would have known maybe three other women.

But the real highlight was, of course, seeing people. Other attendees included one of my suitemates and a friend from Hillel, as well as the housemasters from throughout the years and Norma, the house manager who all of us who worked desk at the dorm were terrified of. It was also great meeting other women from throughout the years. And what do bright intellingent women talk about? Knitting, of course! (Actually, there was lots of conversation about what we studied, what we did now, and how we got from there to here.) All in all, it was a fun event and definitely worth the trip.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I am, of course, remarkably busy and, hence, behind on writing. This should get me more or less caught up on things I am willing to write about publicly.

Celebrity death watch: There are several interesting celebrity deaths to note. Muriel Siebert was the first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. I have to admit I had not realized that newsman David Frost, who is probably most famous for his interviews with Richard Nixon, was still alive until he wasn't. Another "end of an era" death to note is that of science fiction writer, Frederik Pohl. In my opinion, he was more significant as an editor than as a writer, but I'm also not a big science fiction person, so my opinion is only semi-educated. Cal Worthington was a car dealer whose commercials in California featured his "dog" Spot (various animals, most memorably a lion and a hippo) and a catchy "Go see Cal" jingle. And Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet who translated Beowulf.

Reno Mileage Run: In late August, I did a quick trip to Reno. This was pretty much a mileage run, but Reno is a good place to do that to since you can arrive late at night and depart early in the morning without bothering with a hotel room. In this case, I took a shuttle from the airport to the Peppermill and gambled all night, coming out about 20 bucks ahead. The travel also went fairly smoothly, despite a delay in the first leg that made the connection a bit tighter than I'd have preferred. All in all, with a good price on the ticket, it was a fairly painless way to rack up some miles.

Baseball: Goldstar often has discount tickets for baseball games, so provided a cheap way to see the Nationals play the Mets. It was a bit of a pain picking up the ticket, since the third party ticket office is all the way around the ballpark from the main box office with confusing signage. But cheap is cheap and I even got a free t-shirt. This game was a case of divided loyalties for me. The Mets won and I was pleased that their victory was largely due to a 2-run homer by Ike Davis, who is more or less the Art Shamsky of our times. (So, sue me. When in doubt, I always root for Jewish baseball players.)

Zaytinya and Men's Collars Over the Years: The Smithsonian American Art Museum / National Portrait Gallery was presenting the movie Wings, the first ever best picture Oscar winner. I made plans to go with a couple of friends. One of them joined me for lunch at Zaytinya beforehand. This is the Mediterranean outpost of the Jose Andres empire and is every bit as good as his other places. They were continuing Restaurant Week, so it was also excellent value. All of the food was good, but particularly notable dishes included the baba ghannouge and adana kebab.

We had time before the movie to look at a little of the museum. I've been to that museum a lot, so imposed my favorite exhibit there (David Beck's MVSEVM) on my friend. We also looked at the patent models and the portraits of the Presidents. I usually speculate on men's facial hair, but she focused on the collars, which don't lie flat until the late 19th century. There may be some correlation with beards. There are also changes in neckwear, but there is something of a chicken and egg problem here.

I'll write about the movie separately, since I seem to still be seeing enough movies to make them worth their own quarterly wrap-up.

Dinner in Singapore: The MIT Club of Washington provided a slightly early birthday dinner for me, in the form of an event at the Embassy of Singapore. The talks included a short one by the ambassador on the history of Singapore, followed by a marine biologist discussing sustainability. The food was reasonably varied, with meat, chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. Plus galub jamum for dessert. Good food and intelligent conversation always make for my sort of evening.

Speaking of Birthdays: I'm 55. As a few people pointed out, I'm eligible for the over-55 menus at various chain restaurants I don't normally eat at.

Culpeper Volksmarch: I am trying to get caught up on the baseball walks program, so did a year round event in Culpeper. The route was quite hilly and, therefore, kicked my butt. I also need new walking shoes as my feet were killing me for the last kilometer or so (of 10). But the walk served its purpose as (among other things) it passed the childhood home (with historical sign) of Eppa Rixley, who pitched for the Phillies.

Story Swap: We had our regular story swap on Saturday night, which is always fun. I need to find some time to work on some new things. In lieu of that, I told "Why I'm Not a Millionaire." Jane had an excellent Norwegian story.

Miss Saigon: This was the first show of the season at Signature Theatre. They did a reasonably good job, given the limitations of the score. Diana Huey was impressive as Kim, as was Tom Semsa as The Engineer. I also want to note Chris Sizemore as John. I think the score is pretty weak and some of Richard Maltby, Jr.'s lyrics are remarkably amateurish, e.g. rhyming "moon" and "fortune." I can also quibble with the orchestration in a few places, as I firmly believe that a song lyric referring to "a song played by a single saxophone" should not be accompanied by keyboards and percussion (in addition to the saxophone). Still, I thought Karma Camp's choreography for "Enter the Dragon" was impressive and I got all teary-eyed during "Bui Doi," a song about the plight of street children. My bottom line is that Signature did as well as possible, given the limitations of the material.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
As usual, I have been too busy to find time to write. I need to get caught up soon, though, as I am going on vacation in a week and will only get further behind.

Oyamel: Oyamel is on a few lists of best Mexican restaurants in the U.S. and is owned by Jose Andres (who also owns Jaleo, one of my local favorites). So it was an obvious choice when I was given a list of options for meeting someone for dinner in Penn Quarter. This is a small plates / sharing type of place, so we split 4 dishes. Te ceviche tradicional was, indeed, traditional enough, but a bit salty for my tastes. The test of adventurousness came in the form of the chapulines tacos. Chapulines means grasshoppers. These were okay, but crunchy and salty and I have no desire to eat them again. The tamal verde (with chicken) was quite good, but the real highlight was the ensalada de chayote (squash salad). Overall, I still prefer going to Los Angeles for my Mexican food fixes, but I would definitely eat here again (and try other dishes).

Detroit Unleaded: We were time constrained for dinner because we were going to see a movie called Detroit Unleaded, which was part of Filmfest DC. The film was advertised as the first Arab-American romantic comedy and was in a mixture of English and Arabic (with English subtitles, of course). The story involved a young man who inherits half a gas station after his father is murdered and the young woman he meets when she delivers phone cards for her protective older brother. It was sweet and I thought it did a good job of capturing the conflicts that often face children in immigrant communities.

Salad Supper: My chavurah had a potluck spring salad supper. I made insalata caprese, which is easy but relies on shopping well. You need very good tomatoes, in particular. All you have to do is slice the tomatoes, top each slice with a slice of good mozzarella cheese, and top that with a basil leaf. Then, just before serving, drizzle on a nice fruity olive oil. I think it was successful, since I didn’t have any leftovers to take home. By the way, we also had a little mixer game that involved everyone getting a slip of paper with a salad ingredient. You had to guess other people’s ingredients by asking yes/no questions. I won this and got a container of silly putty as my prize.

Limmud Baltimore: Limmud is a Jewish learning event, which apparently originated in London. It’s an interesting concept, offering a wide range of learning discussions. I heard about the Baltimore event from a friend and thought it would make for an interesting day. It did and it deserves its own entry, which will follow in a few minutes.

Embassy of Netherlands: The MIT Club of Washington had a Partners and Patrons event at the Embassy of the Netherlands. The talk, which had to do with the Netherlands Forensics Institute, was very interesting. The food was not as good as some of the other embassies, but the socializing was just fine.

One Day Hike: I did the 50K version of the Sierra Club’s annual one-day hike of the C&O canal towpath. That deserves its own entry and will get one soon, including a few photos. For now, I will just say that I finished.

More Socializing: I managed to recover enough from the walk to go to a happy hour at a friend’s condo the next day. We talked travel and tea, ate from his groaning board, and watched planes from his balcony. It was good to see some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and I stayed longer than I’d expected to.

VASA Board Meeting: Finally, closing out April, I had a VASA board meeting, fortunately by telecon. It looks like we have some busy times ahead.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have, again, been extraordinarily busy. This entry will, alas, only get me halfway caught up on all the stuff I've been doing.

World Baseball Classic: It's hard to say how significant the World Baseball Classic, which is envisioned as a sort of equivalent to soccer's World Cup, is. But, as a person who has made the effort to go to baseball games in a couple of foreign countries (Japan and Dominican Republic so far), I couldn't resist a quick trip down to Miami to watch the Pool 2 finals.

I am not sure if the event was why prices were high, but I decided it was best to use miles one way on American and pay for a flight on United coming back. It turned out that there was low mileage availability in first, though not in coach. Hmm, 25000 miles for either class? What a tough decision! That gave me a chance to check out American's domestic first class which is, let's just say, unimpressive. The only plus over United is that you can order your choice of meal in advance. But there was no predeparture drink, the food was bland (and the salad dressing was awful), there were no free headphones for the (overhead, not personal) video. This was a mainline plane, not "express" service, so really quite shabby.

Because of high prices closer in, I booked a room at the Miami Marriott Dadeland. This is quite a ways south of the airport (and the ballpark) but is actually quite convenient since it is adjacent to the Dadeland South Metrorail station. A two buck ride is well worth it for a room that is half the price of something closer and it saved me the cost of a rental car, too. The hotel was quite nice. Unusually, there was an internet terminal (like the ones in the business center) in the room. I would stay there again. It is also a short walk to the Dadeland Mall, which is not exciting, and to a local supermarket.

The ballpark is a bit of a hike from the Civic Center station (and not well sign posted), but there is also shuttle service available. The weather was lovely, so I didn't mind the walk. The game itself was between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I didn't have any particularly strong feelings either way, so I could enjoy the play, which was of a reasonably high standard. And the fans on both sides were lively and knowledgeable. All in all, it was worth the trip.

A Behanding in Spokane: Browsing the listings on Goldstar, I saw the Keegan Theatre's production of A Behanding in Spokane. It caught my eye because it was written by Matt McDonagh, who wrote the movie In Bruges. The play had a similar, macabre humor. The story involves a one-handed man, a couple who claim to have found his hand and are trying to sell it to him, and a motel clerk who has always wanted to be a hero. It was very twisted and very dark - and very funny. The highlight was Bradley Foster Smith's portrayal of Mervyn (the motel clerk). This is definitely not mainstream fare, but well worth seeing for those who can handle the rough language and grotesque absurdity.

Swiss Embassy Residence: Then came an MIT Club of Washington dinner at the Swiss Embassy Residence. I'd actually been there before, but the weather was nicer this time, making it easier to appreciate the view from the living room. Before the talk, there were drinks and hors d'oeuvres (quiche and some sort of pinwheels with dried beef.) The program itself was very short. They showed two amusing Swiss tourism videos and followed that with a 10 or so slide presentation on innovation. Then came a buffet, the highlight of which was raclette (toasted cheese, served with potatoes and cornichons). Throw in intelligent conversation and this was definitely my type of evening.

Cinderella: Cinderella is not a ballet I would normally go out of my way for, but I had no real objections to it as part of my season subscription to The Washington Ballet. I thought they did a good job with it, especially with the portrayal of the stepsisters (played by Luis Torres and Zachary Hackstock - and, yes, it is traditional for men to play them. The really mysterious thing about this ballet has to do with the prince's search for the woman whose foot fits the shoe. There are bits danced by a Spanish woman, a Tunisian woman, and an Asian woman. Obviously, this is symbolic of how he is searching the ends of the earth to find her. But why does he go off to all those far-flung places before searching in what is practically his own backyard? And why can't he recognize the stepsisters as the two horrible creatures who were throwing themselves at him all through the ball? Just how dim is he?

And, on that note, I will shut up and dance away.
fauxklore: (Default)
My catching up here is going to be somewhat non-chronological. I think it makes the most sense to write a general entry first, in which I will mention a couple of things that deserve their own entries, and then write those entries.

Attempt at Movie Going: I have lamented before that most of the movies I see, I see on airplanes. I made an attempt at the beginning of the month to go to an actual movie theatre. The specific motivation was the opening of a new movie theatre reasonably near me. It's the Angelika at the Mosaic, which is a real estate term to try to persuade folks that the part of Merrifield at Lee Highway and Gallows Road is something other than industrial wasteland. The theatre is nice enough and has interesting art house selections (including Butter, the movie about a butter carving contest that I was attempting to see), but they were not ready for prime time. To start with, I asked for a ticket for one movie. The clerk handed me a ticket for a different movie entirely and then had to get help (including giving me back my money) to get the correct ticket. Then I watched the concessions clerk take 20 minutes to find chips for nachos. I went into the theatre and the movie had already started - 10 minutes before its schedule show time. Someone got the manager who claimed that they had gotten a bad print and would load the new print and restart it. We waited for about 10 minutes. He came back in, told us they were having trouble loading the print and it would be another 10-15 minutes. He handed everyone a pass to make up for that. (And, indeed, it did got a long way to compensate.) We waited another 20 or so minutes. He came back in and said the projector was having trouble. He gave out more passes and told us to come back in a half hour. I went and got some lunch nearby and, when I returned, learned that they were not going to show the movie for another hour (which was when the next scheduled show was). I gave up and just asked for my money back. So I failed to see Butter but I do have two passes to the Angelika.

Celebrity Death Watch: The ones I missed noting include football player turned actor Alex Karras, actor and activist Russell Means, moderate Senator Arlen Spector, presidential candidate George McGovern, and Cambodian royal Norodom Sihanouk.

Notes to Myself: Amazingly, I figured out that a random string of letters I scribbled on one of my planner pages was a list of which Qantas fare codes earn full mileage credit on American. What I can't figure out is where on my electronic ticket I can actually find what the fare code was so I can persuade them to give me that mileage credit.

Passport Renewal: I timed my passport renewal well. I not only managed to avoid needing to pay a fee for expediting my renewal, but the regular processing by mail took only 2 weeks, not the 4-6 they claim on the website. I got the old passport back a few days later, by the way.

Dinner Out #1: I had dinner with some frequent flyer friends at Four Sisters, a Vietnamese restaurant just down the street from that new Angelika. The spiffiness in the neighborhood did the opposite to the food, alas, which was not as good as I remembered from previous visits there. (Admittedly those were to their previous location, by the Eden Center, so it is possible that it was long enough ago that my memory was being faulty.) I think I will stick to Pho Cyclo if I want Vietnamese food in that general vicinity in the future. The company and conversation were worthwhile, however.

Dinner Out @2: A far more successful dinner out was the MIT Club of Washington event last week at the Embassy of Hungary. Their chef won the best embassy chef competition last year and it was obvious why. The smoked salmon with fennel salad and a pink waldorf salad were particularly notable, but all of the food was delicious. And, again, it is always a delight to have a chance to converse with intelligent people.

Dead Products Department: I am saddened that Newsweek is going all digital. I am even sadder at the cancellation of Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets. These were very handy for travel. They are claiming the pods are a replacement, but they are less travel friendly since they are liquid filled. And I don't see how they would fill the fabric softener role that the 3-in-1 sheets did. Sigh.

Hurricane Sandy: My first extreme weather event of the month involved my trip to Chicago, which merits its own entry. Hurricane Sandy had the decency of striking at home. The rain was quite heavy and the winds were loud, but there wasn't much impact in my neighborhood and, miraculously, my power never went out.

However, the storm hit hard up at my mother's. I have not yet been able to talk to her myself, but (thanks to facebook) a neighbor checked that she is okay. There was as much as 7 feet of water in Island Park. She is on relatively high ground, but I am sure the downstairs got flooded. (She had taken everything off the floor down there as a precaution.) There is still no power in town and phone circuits are busy. I have to say I am grateful for technology letting me at least check up on her via a neighbor, but I will be happier when I can hear her complaints directly.

Other Stuff I Need to Write About: I ran two storytelling events, both of which went reasonably well. For one of those, I adapted a familiar folk tale and the process of doing so is worth an entry in itself. I also went to another storytelling concert, one play and one ballet. No wonder I don't have time for dating, not to mention writing about dating.
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Between Pesach and tax season I am behind on everything. So this is another of those catch-all bits of rambling.

First, there are several celebrity deaths to note. Earl Scruggs was a bluegrass musician. Thomas Kinkade was a commercial artist. Mike Wallace had a huge influence on the nature of television journalism. Adrienne Rich was a feminist poet. And Reed Whittemore was one of my favorite modern poets, whose work was filled with grace and wit. If you are not familiar with his work, let me offer this short example.

I also want to note that my first boss at the Circle-A Ranch passed away recently. Wayne retired and moved to Oregon back in the 1990’s and I had a few years in line management as his replacement. That gave me the opportunity to try out management in a safe environment and was a good way to find out it was not really what I wanted to do.

While I am on death and news, Bingu wa Mutharika, the president of Malawi died recently. The interesting thing there is that the Vice President, Joyce Banda, is now the second woman to become a head of state in Africa, after Ellen Johnson SIrleaf of Liberia. In other African news, the coup in Mali looks to be heating up, so it looks like having gone to the Festival Au Desert last year was good timing on my part.

Among the things I never got around to writing about were several receptions, three of them MIT related. A dinner at the Embassy of New Zealand provided an opportunity to see some interesting architecture, with a roof shaped to resemble the hull of a ship. That was enhanced by my conversation over dinner with an architecture professor and critic. A few nights after that, I was at an event with departing MIT President Susan Hockfield. The most interesting part of her remarks had to do with the cost of an education. My alma mater has made real strides in financial aid and she said the average debt of graduating seniors is just $14,000, which I find quite remarkable. The final MIT related reception I went to was the annual one for summer interns. I brought along a friend who works at NASA and has potential openings. It is always good to see the enthusiasm of students and to reconnect with fellow alumni. The non-MIT event I went to was a friend’s promotion ceremony. Aside from the usual military ceremony, which I always enjoy, the setting was particularly interesting. Roosevelt Hall, the site of the National War College, is a spectacular Beaux Arts building overlooking the Potomac, with a particularly dramatic rotunda. We got there early so had time to look around at the display cases, which included several having to do with General Colin Powell, including his diplomas. And the honoree was someone who particularly deserved his promotion, making the whole thing a lovely occasion.

The only other significant thing I did recently without having written about it was go to the most recent Pro Musica Hebraica concert, which involved Marc-Andre Hamelin playing works by Chopin and Alkan. Chopin was not, of course, Jewish, but Alkan was and the link was their friendship, based on both of them being outsiders in Paris. It was an excellent evening of solo piano. The highlight was definitely Alkan’s four-movement "Symphony for Solo Piano." However, I will note that, if one had not been told that the composer was an Orthodox Jew, there is nothing in the music itself that would suggest that.

The other main thing I failed to write about was doing the Month of Letters project, which involved writing a letter every day in February (except Sundays and postal holidays, i.e. President’s Day). That let me get a few things I’d been meaning to send to people on their way, as well as using some of my vast supply of note cards. I am, alas, now behind in answering letters (and emails) that I got in return.

Finally, the clippings file offered up a couple of amusing advertisements. One is for a razor that "hydrates your skin like no other razor." Personally, I’ve always found that drinking water and using lotion were more effective ways to hydrate my skin than shaving my legs is ever likely to be. The other is for a cheese and breadcrumb mix. Because, you know, it is just too hard to sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs separately on the top of a casserole.
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Let's see, I was halfway through the weekend before last. On Sunday, I went to see Really Really at Signature Theatre. This is a new play, written by a 26 year old wunderkind. It deals with the aftermath of a very drunken college party and is, essentially, a "he said, she said" date rape scenario, punctuated by the reactions of his and her friends. (More precisely, it was "she said, he was too drunk to remember what happened.") There are reasons not to trust any of the people involved, as well as implications that a difference in social class is a contributing factor. That was all pretty interesting, but the play didn't quite work for me for two reasons. One problem was that the ending removed the ambiguity and seemed to be done that way entirely for shock value. My bigger issue was that there was nobody to like.

Monday night, I went over to Looped Yarn Works in Dupont Circle. Along with The Phillips Collection, they were yarn bombing the area. We knitted and crocheted hearts (I crocheted four) and hung them around the area. You can see a little of the result at the Phillips blog entry. (I have some pictures but still need to upload them. And I am having internet issues at home, so it may be a while.)

And Thursday night was an MIT Club of Washington event at the Turkish embassy residence. The building is truly spectacular. It was built for Edward H. Everett, who made a fortune by inventing a machine to make crimped bottle caps for soda bottles. He gave free reign to the architect, George Oakley Totten, Jr. The result has lots of polished wood, marble, stained glass, original art, and pretty much everything you associate with rich people. There were the usual talks (one by the Deputy Chief of Mission, who was quite entertaining, and one by an MIT professor, who was less so) followed by a dinner of finger foods (miniature kebabs, domades, cheesy things, etc.) And, of course, the opportunity for conversation with intelligent people, which is the main reason I go to these things.

I went away for the weekend (to Las Vegas) but that will be a separate entry.
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Monday night, I drove to darkest Maryland to see the Old Blind Dogs perform. They're one of my favorite Celtic bands, largely because of the awesomeness of their fiddler, Jonny Hardie. Except that Jonny had visa problems and was not on tour with them. Aaron Jones commented that, since that meant none of the original players were performing, they were the New Blind Dogs. They actually did surprisingly well as a trio, largely because of Ali Hutton on pipes. (He also plays whistles, but pipes are more impressive.)

I also have proof that zombies exist! There were at least two people in the audience who were sitting completely still throughout the concert. Anybody who could sit through the Old Blind Dogs without tapping fingers or toes or clapping or nodding their head or some sort of movement cannot possibly be breathing. So, as I said, zombies.

On Tuesday night, I went to an MIT Club of Washington event at the Embassy of Ghana. Ambassador Daniel O. Agyekum gave a somewhat rambling, but entertaining, talk on the history of Ghana, the possible impact of oil discoveries there, the need for economic partnerships and investment in Africa, etc. There was also a brief talk by an MIT professor on Pure Home Water, an NGO which is producing and distributing water filters in northern Ghana. The talks were, of course, followed by dinner. I was pleased that they served a wide range of Ghanaian food - jollof rice, some sort of spicy beef skewers, goat curry, seafood skewers and plantains, plus salad and fruit for dessert. Since the ambassador had talked about how good pineapple from Ghana is (which I can attest to, since we had it for dessert every night when I was there in 2006), it was a bit disappointing that there wasn't any pineapple. The strawberries were quite good, however. All in all, it was a nice event.

By the way, I continue to recommend Ghana to people who ask for a first destination in West Africa, as the infrastructure is good and the people are friendly. And it is, of course, English speaking.
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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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First, to follow-up on a news story I'd mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the American man who had been effectively exiled for 2 months via the No Fly List was allowed to come home. I'm not sure whether to be more disturbed by the story or by some of the comments about it I've seen on various news sites.

While I am on the Middle East related subjects, I went to an MIT Club of Washington event at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates last night. I was a little surprised by the food. For one thing, they did serve wine and beer. But the big surprise was that the appetizers included crab cakes and sushi. The ambassador gave a brief speech before turning things over to people involved with the Masdar Initiative. I noticed that the ambassador did peek at his blackberry during the other two speeches. The gist of the presentations was that the UAE wants to be a leader in energy, not just oil.

The announcement had claimed that the presentations would be followed by "dinner featuring ethnic food." There was pita and some dips (very good pine nut hummus) but most of the food was fairly generic Mediterranean fare. There was beef tenderloin, chicken with sage, and Mediterranean sea bass, along with potato croquettes and grilled vegetables (zucchini and peppers). It was good, but not exactly exotic. I suppose the mango ice cream for dessert might have qualified as mildly exotic. Still, it is always interesting seeing different embassies and one gets to have a lot of conversation with intelligent people at these events.

Finally, I took advantage of having a medical appointment to stop at the Foggy Bottom farmer's market to pick up mushroom empanadas and cardamom gelato for supper. They have a lot more prepared food than the Crystal City market does, but fewer produce vendors. I did get some blackberries to have for breakfast tomorrow, but there wasn't anybody selling salad greens, for example.


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