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Celebrity Death Watch: James Ingram was an R&B singer/songwriter. Dick Miller was an actor who appeared in a lot of Roger Corman’s movies. Stewart Adams developed ibuprofen. Ron Joyce cofounded Tim Hortons. Candice Jean Earley was an actress, best known for a long-running role on All My Children. Harold Bradley was a country guitarist. Clive Swift was a British actor, best known for Keeping Up Appearances. Kristoff St. John was an actor, best known for starring in The Young and the Restless. Bob Friend was a baseball player, who had the distinction of leading the league in ERA while pitching for a last place team (the 1955 Pirates). Julie Adams was an actress, best known for being abducted by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. John Otto Marsh, Jr. was the Secretary of the Army under Reagan and Bush 41. Jacqueline Steiner cowrote "Charlie on the MTA." C. Y. Lee wrote the novel The Flower Drum Song. Izzy Young was a folklorist who produced Bob Dylan’s first concert. Robert Hubbard invented the Head and Neck Support (HANS) system used to reduce injuries in auto racing.


Weather: It was 5 degrees Fahrenheit last week. It was 70ish yesterday. It’s in the 50’s now. And it is supposed to snow some next week. Aargh!


More on Blackface in Virginia: So now it turns out that Mark Herring (Virginia Attorney General, so next in line after the Lieutenant Governor to become Governor) went to a party where he and a couple of friends wore brown makeup and wigs to dress as rappers. This was in 1980, when he was 19. His record as attorney general (and this is his second term in that office) is clearly anything but racist. The point is that this was not uncommon behavior in this part of the country at the time.

An interesting tidbit is that the next in line after Mark Herring is Kirk Cox, who is the Speaker of the House of Delegates and is most famous as being the(Republican) guy who won a tied election by having his name drawn out of a bowl. By the way, he has said he has no plans to try to oust Northam. No reports on whether or not he ever appeared in blackface when he was in college.


Ain’t Misbehavin’: Back in my normal life, I went to see Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Signature Theatre on Saturday. They’re doing some massive construction in the Campbell Street Garage, so I had to go over to the Randolph Street Garage, which is just as close, but feels further away for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Anyway, for those who are not familiar with it, this is a jukebox musical, based on the works of Fats Waller. I don’t like jukebox musicals to begin with and this one didn’t even have any semblance of telling a story. So, while I liked some of the songs and I thought it was performed well (which I will talk about in a minute), I didn’t find it very interesting. The first act seemed rather lacking in energy, but maybe that was just because I was pretty tired myself. The second act was better.

But they did have a stellar cast. That included Iyona Blake, Nova Payton, and Kevin McAllister, all three of whom I’ve seen perform multiple times before. Kevin was particularly good singing "Your Feet’s Too Big," which is one of my favorite Waller songs. Solomon Parker III stole the show when it came to dancing, however, in his performance of "The Viper’s Drag." I should also mention that Mark Meadows did the music direction and played piano, at which he was quite showy. The final performer was Korinn Walfall, whose performance was fine, but who I thought was given a horrible dress for the second act.

Overall, it was diverting enough, but hardly essential to see.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Harris Wofford was a politician and civil rights activist. Maxine Brown was a country singer. Kaye Ballard was an actress and singer, best known for The Mothers-in-=Law on television in the 1960’s. Jonas Mekas was a film director. Diana Athill was a literary editor and memoirist. Meshulam Riklis was a businessman of the sort that gives Wall Street a bad name, but is better known for having married (and later divorced) Pia Zadora. Florence Knoll designed modern furniture, largely for offices. Fatima Ali competed on cooking-oriented reality TV. Michel Legrand was a composer, best known for the song "The Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair. Jumani Johansson claimed to be the illegitimate son of Malawi’s long-time president, Hastings Banda. Peter Magowan co-owned the San Francisco Giants. Rosemary Bryant Mariner was the first woman to fly jets for the Navy and the first to command a military aviation squadron. Patricia McBride Lousada (who is not the same person as Patricia McBride) was a founding member of New York City Ballet and a protége of George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham.

Oliver Mtukudzi was a Zimbabwean guitarist and cultural icon. I was privileged to see him perform in 2012 at the Lowell Folk Festival.

Russell Baker was one of my favorite writers. He wrote more columns for the New York Times than anyone else and won two Pulitzer prizes, including the first ever giver to a humorist. The other was for his memoir, Growing Up. He also scored me 15 ghoul pool points. (I’ve backfilled with Harry Reid.)


Errata: I didn’t watch someone die per se, but I did witness a suicide. I was in Prague, walking across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town after visiting the castle. A guy climbed up on a railing and leapt off. He landed on a plaza below, not in the river. I had nightmares the rest of the time I was in Prague and for about a week after I left.

New York State of Mind: I may be swamped at work, but I had made plans for a weekend in New York, so I took off Friday and took the train up. The excuse was a get-together, vaguely organized by some Travelers’ Cwntury Club folks, focused on the New York Times Travel Show. The hotel price (at the Doubletree on West 40th) was particularly good. One of my friends wanted to come, too, so we made some dinner and theatre plans. The catch came when she broke her ankle while on vacation. She decided to come anyway. The travel show could have been a huge issue, but it turns out that one can borrow a wheelchair (for free!) at the Javits Center and I was willing to push her around. We also had to use taxis and Lyft to get around, instead of just walking, but so be it. I’ve had experience with a broken ankle myself and it’s not like it was fun for her.

I figured out why the hotel was so cheap, by the way. Aside from the annoyingness of having to rearrange furniture (in this case, moving the desk) to close the curtains (a fairly common hotel problem) and absurdly slow elevators, the heat in my room was entirely inadequate. I finally got the room temperature up to something humanly tolerable by turning up the heat to 87 and putting it on high fan. The hotel restaurant (where we had breakfast with the group that had arranged the get-together) was pretty dreadful, with bland food and slow service. The really egregious problem came Saturday night, when we came back and they weren’t letting guests in the main door and two of the four elevators were reserved for their roof-top bar. They relented with my friend due to her broken leg, but I had to shove past them, with them threatening to call security, to get in. If two people are together, you should let both of them in, assholes. The two redeeming things were that the room was pretty well sound-proofed and the bellhop, with whom we had stored luggage on Sunday, was very helpful, offering us bottles of water and opening up a wider door so my friend could manage more easily.

But I was only in the hotel to sleep and I have experienced worse in my time There is a much better Doubletree on W. 36th, by the way.

Restaurants: On Friday night, we ate at Barbetta, suggested by another friend. This is the oldest Italian restaurant in New York and is quite formal. Some people might think that’s stuffy, but it was fine with us. Their prix fixe menu is normally $58, but because it was restaurant week, it was $43 for the three course meal. (The a la carte menu was also available.) I should have asked about prices for drinks, however, as they charged me $30 for a Campari and soda. Anyway, I got beet salad, paillard of chicken with fennel, and pears baked in red wine (something I actually had a craving for recently and am too lazy to make). All of it was quite good. The service was attentive, without being intrusive. And it was quiet enough to carry on a conversation.

On Saturday night, we went to the Third Avenue location of P. J. Clarke’s. This is another really old place and we chose it largely due to proximity to the theatre we were going to. The food is not very exciting (I had chicken pot pie), but they have a good beer list. The table we were initially seated at was by a window and there was a draft, but they moved us. It’s noisier than I’d have liked, but it was fine for what it is. Given my friend’s limited mobility, it was a good choice.


Come From Away: Friday night’s theatre excursion was to see Come From Away, which I’d been wanting to see for ages. It had done a pre-Broadway run at Ford’s Theatre but I never managed to make it work with my schedule. Anyway, for those who are not familiar with it, it tells the story of the diversion of 38 planes to Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 and the relationships that developed between the townspeople and the plane people. Some of the stories are composites, but several are of individual people – a woman from New York who was worried about her firefighter son, the first female captain of a commercial airline, etc. I mention those two in particular, because they were among the more moving stories. The music is suitable for Newfoundland, too, with its Celtic influences. This is a true ensemble piece, not least because the various actors all play multiple parts.

There are a couple of things I can quibble with. For one, during the song "Prayer," an Orthodox rabbi talks to a Jewish townsman who has been separated from his heritage since he was snet as a refugee from the Shoah and they sing "Oseh Shalom." While the melody is a very familiar one now, it was actually written by Nurit Hirsch for the 1969 Hasidic Song Festival, so a man who hasn’t had any Jewish exposure since he was a child in the 1940’s wouldn’t know it.

Later on, some of the plane people get screeched in, becoming honorary Newfoundlanders. This involves drinking Screech rum and kissing a cod. They all balk at the latter, but as someone who has experienced this ceremony itself, the rum is far worse than the cod.

Anyway, those are minor nits and did nothing to take away from how much I enjoyed this show. I would definitely be willing to see it again. Though I would bring a lot more Kleenex with me. Do go see it if you have the chance.


Camelina: On Saturday night, we went to see Carmelina as part of York Theatre’s Musicals in Mufti series. I have seen a number of productions there, although it was my second choice for the evening. My first choice was The Book of Merman but my friend had assumed I had meant The Book of Mormon and vetoed the idea since she’s seen that. I should have explained the parody version, but this was fine with me as I think York always does a great job.

Anyway, Carmelina was by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, with additional lyrics by Barry Harmon and book by Joseph Stein. It is based on the movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, though many of you are more likely to recognize the plot from Mama Mia. Carmelina, who lives in a small Italian village, made up a dead American war hero, Eddie Campbell, who she claimed was the father of her daughter, Gia. She had actually slept with three different American soldiers and has been extracting money from all three for 16 years. Old fashioned, indeed, as nowadays, they'd insist on DNA testing. All is fine until there’s a reunion of the American soldiers who served in that area. There is also a café owner, Vittorio, who has been mooning after her.

I should explain that the Mufti series involves minimal staging and actors are often still carrying their scripts. This was exactly the sort of show which the format is well suited for, since it doesn’t involve big production numbers. What it does have is a lovely score and a witty book. It flopped in 1979 (only 17 performances) because it was perceived as old fashioned, but I really loved it. The notable songs include "It’s Time for a Love Song," "Someone in April," "One More Walk Around the Garden," and "The Image of Me." It was also well-performed, with Andrea Burns as Carmelina, Anne Nathan as her maid, Rosa, and Joey Sorge as Vittorio. All in all, a delightful evening.

By the way, Burton Lane’s widow and his stepdaughter were there, sitting right next to my friend (who got moved to the front row because of her leg). And John Kander came over to talk to Mrs. Lane during intermission. I was proud of myself for refraining from swooning fan girl behavior.

Travel Show: Since the travel show was the ostensible reason for the trip, I should probably say something about it. I had gotten a deal for admission from one of the exhibitors – free ticket for one day, $5 plus service fee for the second day. On Saturday, we mostly went around the exhibit hall, collecting brochures and swag. I like to look at travel brochures for destinations I plan to travel to on my own, just to get itinerary ideas. I did also get some info on a couple of specific destinations I’m interested in. (I have booked at least three trips I found out about at either the New York or DC travel shows in the past.) We did also go over to the Ask the Experts area and talked to people about travel insurance and about Bolivia.

On Sunday, we went to a presentation on the Camino del Santiago. Then we went ot hear Pauline Frommer talk about up and coming destinations and new travel planning tools and such. And we went to a couple of other Ask the Experts tables to find out about gadgets and about what to do when things go wrong.

All in all, it was a good weekend, though tiring. I slept pretty much through from Newark to Baltimore on the train home.
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2018 was fairly stressful, largely due to a work situation that appears to be resolving itself. And, of course, the state of the world didn't help.

Books: I read 40 books, which is probably the fewest since I learned how to read. Also, surprisingly, only 6 were non-fiction. This is a little misleading in that I don’t count guidebooks, which end up being most of what I read when I’m traveling. My logic for not counting them is that I rarely read them cover to cover.

Favorites were Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, and Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

The book I hated the most was Murder By Sacrilege by D. R. Meredith.

I really need to do a used bookstore run. I’m not even sure how many books I have ready to go out.

Volksmarch: I did three events – in New Orleans, Atlantic City, and Charleston, West Virginia. The latter was a State Capital walk. I should get back into focusing on special programs, but first I need to resolve some issues with my right foot.

Travel: I started the year out in Singapore. My last trip of the year was to the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. John) which is only semi-international, involving a dependency of the U.S., not a separate country. My major trip of the year was my family roots trip to Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarus (plus a part of a day in Zurich), which was incredible.

Domestic trips included business trips to Colorado Springs and to Layton, Utah. Personal travel was to New Orleans, Stamford (Connecticut, for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), Atlantic City,New York (4 times, including a Brooklyn Cyclones game), Portland (Oregon), Rhode Island (mostly for a PawSox game), Memphis (Redbirds game), Milwaukee (Wisconsin for the National Puzzlers’ League con), Frederick (Maryland, for Loserfest. It counts because I did stay overnight), Richmond (Virginia – and, again, staying overnight makes it count), and Charleston (West Virginia). It seems unlikely, but it appears that I had an entire year without going to California.

Puzzles: This was pretty much a middle of the pack year. I ended up in the 62nd percentile at the ACPT, the 39th percentile at the Indie 500, and 55.7th percentile at Lollapuzzoola. Annoyingly, I didn’t solve cleanly at any of them.

I also had a good time (as always) at the NPL con. That included bringing along a hand-out puzzle, which I think went over reasonably well. I am planning for a walk-around puzzle for the 2019 con, since it’s in Boulder, Colorado, a city I have spent a lot of time in.

Ghoul Poul: I didn’t do particularly well in my second year. I finished 14th out of 20 participants, with 70 points. The people I scored with were Prince Henrik, Barbara Bush, John McCain, and George HW Bush.

Genealogy: I did the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project, which got me writing about a few family stories, but didn’t really drive much research. I did, however, get in touch with a few unknown cousins (two from the FAINSTEIN family, one from the KHAIKEL / MEDINTS family) and made some progress on the GOLDWASSER family (my maternal grandfather’s mother’s side).

Baseball: I only made it to one Major League game this year – Red Sox at Nats on the Fourth of July. But it was a good year since: 1)I got to three minor league games (Memphis, Pawtucket, and Coney Island) and 2)my BoSox won the World Series.

Culture: If I counted correctly, I went to 16 musicals, 2 operas and 14 plays. My favorite musicals were Dave at Arena Stage and Me and My Girl at Encores in New York. My favorite plays were Heisenberg and 4380 Nights at Signature Theatre and Becoming Di. Ruth and Treyf at Theatre J. I also went to one ballet, one Cirque du Soleil shows, and 6 concerts. The most significant of the latter was seeing Jonathan Richman at the 9:30 Club. I had wanted to see him live for ages, so I was really glad to have the opportunity.

I went to One Day University 5 times. And I saw 16 movies, of which my favorites included What We Do in the Shadows, The Shape of Water. and Bathtubs Over Broadway

There was also a bunch of storytelling in there, some with me on stage and more with me in the audience.

Goals: I had six goals for 2018. So how did I score? I got about halfway through 2 afghans, so that gives me 33% on the goal to finish three. I did nothing about organizing photos, though I did find out about scanning resources at the library. I read 40 books, including 1 poetry book, so I I get 77% and 33% for that goal. I think I entered the Style Invitational twice, so will give myself 33% there. I did 3 Volksmarch events, so get 50% there. And I think I got through roughly 65% of catching up on household paperwork. I figure that gives me somewhere around a 40% on the year, which is not terrible, but not wonderful, either.

So what about goals for 2019?


  • Finish shredding and filing household paperwork.

  • Organize my genealogy files, both physical and electronic.

  • Organize my yarn stash. Ideally this would include using up at least 25% of the yarn. While I am at it, I also need to organize knitting needles and crochet hooks and the like.

  • Organize photos. Yes, really.

  • Read at least 52 books.

  • Enter the Style Invitational at least 4 times.

  • Do a 20 minute or longer workout at least 3 times a week.

  • Bring lunch to work at least twice a week.

  • Eat fruit every day.

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I had a fairly busy holiday weekend. Thanksgiving itself was low-key, though I did go out to the supermarket in the morning, mostly out of a need to restock my tea supply.

Friday afternoon, I went to see Signature Theatre’s production of Billy Elliot. As expected, they did a good job with it. I particularly liked Catherine Flue’s performance as Grandma. And I thought the staging of the conflict between the striking miners and the police was quite good. I should also note the audience demographics. Namely, I don’t think I have ever seen quite so many young boys at a musical before.


Saturday night was the last Better Said Than Done storytelling show of the year. I was the last performer of the night and told "A Memorial For My Father," which went well. The audience was nicely responsive – especially after having been well-primed by the other storytellers. Overall, it was an excellent evening. Video to follow in the next several weeks.

To keep up the pace, I went to the opera on Sunday. This was the Washington National Opera production of Silent Night, with music by Kevin Puts and libretto by Mark Campbell. The story involves three groups of soldiers (German, French, and Scottish) who declare a Christmas eve cease fire, extending it the next day so they can bury their dead. There is an emphasis on an individual story in each of the three groups. The German soldiers include an opera singer who has been conscripted and pines for the female singer he is in love with. The French lieutenant is waiting for his wife to give birth. And a young Scotsman was dragged off to the war by his brother (who gets killed).

There was an interesting mix of music, but I found the staging somewhat dull. And I thought the libretto was a bit preachy, but that is more or less a consequence of anything about World War I, which really started out for a lot of the participants as a great adventure before turning so completely to horror. It was worth seeing on the grounds that this did after all win a Pulitzer, but I didn’t completely love it.

I also did a bunch of housework, but am nowhere near achieving condo nirvana. At least I don’t have anything in particular to do this week – well, aside from work.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Elder Roma Wilson was a gospel musician. Ntozake Shange was a poet and playwright, best known for For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf. Bernard Bragg co-founded the National Theatre of the Deaf. Whitey Bulger was a gangster. Roy Hargrove was a jazz trumpeter. Raymond Chow was a film producer in Hong Kong, credited with discovering Bruce Lee. Donna Axum was Miss America 1964. Francis Lai wrote the score for the film A Man and a Woman. Evelyn Y. Davis was an activist shareholder and corporate gadfly, who at least once made the list of 25 Most Annoying Washingtonians. Micheal O Suilleabhain was an Irish composer and musician. Wallace Triplett was the first African-American to play in the NFL.

Willie McCovey was a baseball great, primarily playing first base for the San Francisco Giants. He holds the National League record for grand slam home runs. There’s an inlet outside of Whatever Telephone Company It is Named For Today Ball Park in San Francisco that is known as McCovey Cove.

Little Shop of Horrors: Before going away, I saw Little Shop of Horrors at The Kennedy Center. This was part of their Broadway Center Stage series, which are concert versions, i.e. minimally staged, with actors sometimes referring to scripts. The most notable part of the staging was that, instead of using puppets for Audrey II, the person playing the plant wore a suit and gloves to represent it. That worked better than I might have expected, though I still prefer the puppetry. Anyway, it remains a fun show, with an enjoyable score. The performances were also quite good, with Megan Hilty doing an excellent job as Audrey, very much akin to Ellen Greene’s intonations. Josh Radnor was also good as Seymour. Lee Wilkof, who played Mr. Mushnik, was the original Seymour off-Broadway. And Michael James Leslie embodied Audrey II (the plant). Overall, it worth the late weeknight.

NYC Weekend – Part 1: Nancy Drewinsky and the Search for the Missing Letter I had a trip to New York already planned when I realized that I could just go up earlier on Friday and see this Fringe show, written and performed by my friend, Robin Bady. Robin is an excellent storyteller and this piece has to do with how the McCarthy era affected her family. She was too young to be really aware of what was happening as her father, an engineer, was suspected of being a communist, along with several of his colleagues. The answer is complex and her attempts to find out the story were met with reluctance to talk about what happened. It was an interesting story and well-told, though still somewhat of a work in progress. I hope to see how Robin develops it further as time goes on.

NYC Weekend – Part 2: Museum Going Saturday was a dreary day – cold, with heavy rain. Fortunately, New York has plenty of museums to spend such days in. I started with the Guggenheim on the grounds that I had never been there. The architecture is as much a draw as the artwork. The main exhibit was of works by a Swedish artist named Hilma af Klint. The most interesting of her work was from a series called Paintings for the Temple, which was based on her involvement in mystical philosophies like Theosophy, leading her to a mixture of abstract symbols and characters. They reminded me of the magical symbols I used to draw on the corners of my papers in school during a flirtation with witchcraft in my early teen years.

There was also an exhibition from the Thannhauser Collection, which included Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and other art, including several pieces by Picasso. Overall, I enjoyed the museum, but it was crowded and the admission fee is on the high side.

I walked a few blocks north to the Jewish Museum, which is free on Saturdays. I started with their permanent collection, which had several interesting pieces. I was particularly taken by a portrait of an Ethiopian Jew by Kehinde Wiley and by a sculpture called Venus Pareve by Hannah Wilke. I should also note that I was impressed with how much art by women was part of the collection. I also really liked an exhibit of excerpts from television shows having to do with psychotherapy.

But the main reason I had gone to the museum was to look at a temporary exhibit of work by Marc Chagall and other artists active in Vitebsk in the period just after the Russian revolution. Having been in Vitebsk in early September, I felt almost obliged to see this. And, of course, Chagall has long been one of my favorite artists. The exhibit also included works by Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky and others. There was a good mix of works and I thought the exhibit (which runs through early January) was well worth seeing.

By the way, I was just leaving there to meet a friend for coffee when I heard about the Pittsburgh massacre. I will write about that and other political matters separately.

NYC Weekend – Part 3: They Might Be Giants The actual reason for the trip to NYC had been to see They Might Be Giants at Terminal 5, a cavernous night club in the extreme western part of midtown, a land populated largely by auto dealerships. I think of them mostly as a novelty act, due to songs like Particle Man and Istanbul and Why Does the Sun Shine? All of those were part of the show. But there was a lot of other material, not all of it funny, and much of it too loud for me. I liked the second set better than the first, but I am really too old to go to concerts that don’t start until 9 at night. Also, I was completely earwormed by The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

NYC Weekend – Part 4: Restaurant Going Friday night a bunch of us had dinner after the show at Cowgirl in the West Village. I got Frito pie, which amused Robin, who was unfamiliar with this wonderful dish of chili (vegetarian in my case, though they also have beef) with cheese and sour cream and the like served over an actual bag of Fritos. I also had a very good IPA, but I don’t remember what it was and they don’t have their drink menu on-line. If you want Tex-mex food in Manhattan, this would fill the bill, but it was on the noisy side.


Saturday night’s dinner before the concert was at Inti, a Peruvian restaurant on 10th Avenue. I got a very nice grilled chicken dish, with garlicky vegetables. Surprisingly reasonable prices for mid-town Manhattan, too. I’d eat there again.

Before leaving on Sunday, I had brunch with friends at Pete’s Tavern in the Gramercy Park area This is one of several places that claims to be the oldest restaurant in New York. The fried chicken sandwich was very tasty. Overall, everyone seemed happy with their food and drinks (I went for Irish coffee) and the conversation was lively and entertaining.

Business Trip: I got home about 9 at night, which meant rushing around to unpack and pack for a business trip to Layton, Utah. Aside from being exhausted and having a fairly intense work schedule, there’s not really anything to say about that. I was originally supposed to come back Thursday night, but the trip got extended because our team had to outbrief in the late afternoon. I spent most of Saturday in a state of suspended animation.

WBRS Reception: I did drag myself out of the house on Sunday, first to go grocery shopping and later to go to a William Barton Rogers Society reception (related to giving to MIT) at the Spy Museum. There were heavy hors oeuvres (particularly good spicy tuna cones, as well as veggie tacos served in lime halves), along with lots of intelligent conversation. The main feature was a talk by Eric Alm, co-director of the Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics. His main point was that indigenous populations tend to have a more diverse microbiome population than people in the more developed world. He also had some interesting data on how quickly one’s microbiome can change in response to travel or illness. Fortunately, he didn’t mention any changes in response to dessert.


Things Still to Write About: Voting. Condo association annual meeting. How the Virginia Department of Transportation is going to screw us over. How Jeff Bezos is going to screw us over. Possibly a locked entry re: work.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Joe Masteroff wrote the books for Broadway musicals, including Cabaret and She Loves Me. Otis Rush was a blues guitarist and singer. Marty Balin cofounded Jefferson Airplane. Peter Bjarkman wrote about Cuban beisbol. Charles Aznavour was a French singer of Armenian descent, who was also notable for humanitarian activities. Leon Lederman won a Nobel Prize in Physics for research on neutrinos.

Nevermore: Friday night, I went with a friend to see Nevermore at Creative Cauldron, a small theatre in Falls Church that I like a great deal. This was Matt Conner’s musical, with lyrics from Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. Stephen Gregory Smith (Conner’s husband) played Poe, who interacts with five women throughout the play – his mother (who died when he was an infant), Virginia (his cousin, who he married when she was 13 but who died of tuberculosis 11 years later), Muddy (Virginia’s mother), Elmira (an early love, who was engaged to Poe when he died), and a whore (a composite character). I have mixed feelings about Poe as a writer, but he and his work were definitely interesting. I mostly enjoyed this show and I thought Smith’s performance was particularly notable. He really captured the emotional agony of Poe’s relationships with the women in his life. It was definitely worth seeing.

By the way, we had dinner beforehand at a Russian restaurant called Troika. The food was just okay, but they are attached to a small grocery store. And I found a container of halvah spread! This is something I had discovered in Israel a few years ago and had never seen in the U.S. before. The brand name is Krelva and it is apparently from Turkey (though I never saw it there). I am pleased to say it is as delicious as I remembered.

Heisenberg: Continuing with theatre going, I saw Heisenberg at Signature Theatre on Sunday afternoon. I have subscribed to Signature for several years now and, other than avoiding seeing plays by Annie Baker (whose work I detest), I see pretty much everything they do. That’s my excuse for having been entirely unaware that the title is completely metaphoric and the play has nothing to do with Warner Heisenberg. Instead, it’s about uncertainty and, specifically, the uncertainties that come up in relationships between people.

The specific relationship is between a 40ish American woman, Georgie, and a 75 year old Irish man, Alex. Both of them live in London and they meet by chance, with Georgie tracking him down to pursue the relationship. We quickly learn that a lot of what she says are lies and it’s hard to tell whether she is just manipulating him to get him to give her money to go to New Jersey and look for her estranged son. We can’t even be sure that the son really exists.

This is a really funny play and the performances were excellent. Rachel Zampelli was an intriguing – and somewhat scary – Georgie. Michael Russotto was a charming Alex, especially in a speech about how he really does listen to all types of music. I wasn’t crazy about the ending of the play, but it did make sense. I just like more certainty in theatre.

Pink Martini: I’ve seen Pink Martini perform several times and they continue to be among my favorite musicians. How often does one get to hear songs sung in English, German, French, Spanish, Croatian, Arabic, Italian, Turkish, Armenian, and Greek in one evening? China Forbes has an awesome voice, as do other singers who perform with them. Notably, that includes NPR host Ari Shapiro, who I still think looks like the groom doll on a wedding cake. I do wish there had been somewhat less talking, however. And that they had started on time, as it was a bit late for a Sunday night. Dave Anderson was a sportswriter for The New York Times.

Brett Kavanaugh: I wasn’t going to say anything because I figured that everyone I know is sick and tired of political discussions. But there are a couple of things I don’t think I heard anyone say.

First, my normal instinct is to pretty much ignore things people do before they’re adults. I’m being vague about defining adulthood here, but I did dumb stuff when I was a teenager. My issue with Kavanaugh was his failure to just say something like, "I probably did hurtful things to other people when I was drunk and I don’t remember them, but I’ve grown out of that and I’m sorry." His fitness for the Supreme Court (or, more precisely, lack thereof) has much more to do with his partisan tirade, which he has apologized for.

So now that he has been confirmed, he has a chance to prove he can be a reasonable and impartial judge. I don’t have any real confidence that he will be, but I have been surprised by other Supreme Court justices in the past.

Or he could well turn out to be another Roger Taney. For those who don’t recognize the name, Taney became Chief Justice as a protégé of Andrew Jackson. (He had previously been rejected by the Senate, first for a position as Treasury Secretary, then as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.) He went on to write the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case, generally recognized as a terrible decision. The interesting thing is that, despite that legacy, he is generally recognized by legal scholars as having made a lot of good decisions. I can hope.

Speaking of Politics: I got my sample ballot in the mail this past week. I had no intention of voting for him, but I am still slightly disappointed that Peter Carey (the Whig Party candidate) did not, apparently, get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

And for anyone reading who is in Virginia, it is really really really important to vote for Tim Kaine for Senate. Because his opponent, Cory Stewart, is a racist Confederate whacko.

Speaking of White Supremacist Whackos: The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, which is just a few miles from where I live, was defaced with spray-painted swastikas early Saturday morning. I am furious, but there is not a lot I can say until we find out who the perpetrator(s) wes.
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It’s time to do some of the catching up. Let’s start with a trip to New York in August, just before I went on my real vacation.

Lollapuzzoola 11: I’ve said before that Lollapuzzola is my favorite crossword tournament. It’s smaller than the ACPT and less pop-culture heavy than the Indie 500. Historically, the puzzles have been just a little bit wilder in their themes, although I thought that this year’s were actually pretty much on the normal side. Even without cell phones going off or people imitating cats, I still had a good time.

The travel was mildly stressful, as there was some sort of Yellow Line delay and I got to Union Station just as my train to New York was boarding. Still, the train is definitely the best way to make the DC to NYC trip and it’s not like I actually missed it. I stayed at the Renaissance on West 35th Street, which is convenient to Penn Station and proved to be quieter than most of the other New York hotels I’ve tried. (My favorite is still the Library Hotel, but it is hard to get a good rate there, so it’s splurgy. I also love the Algonquin, which is a good use of Marriott points.)

They’d moved locations this year to Riverside Church, which is across the street from Grant’s Tomb, aka one of the New York City tourist attractions I have never actually gone to. It’s up near Columbia University and it had been over 40 years since I’d been over that way. It’s changed less than one might expect, though there are more chain restaurants on Broadway than there were back in the mid-1970’s when I went to a Saturday science program for high school students at Columbia.

Puzzle 1 was by Aimee Lucido. The theme was easy to figure out, though I think someone could have solved the puzzle without really grasping it. I solved it cleanly in 12:16. That’s slower than the top solvers, but still reasonably respectable.

Puzzle 2 by Erik Agard and Yacob Yonas didn’t go quite as well for me. I didn’t completely grasp the theme. The "aha" moment struck about 5 minutes after I turned the puzzle in. That wouldn’t have made much of a difference – but there was a crossing clue I didn’t know the answer to. Had I completely understood what was going on (or, at least, read the theme clue a bit more carefully), I wouldn’t have had an error. I had a decent time (11:59) and, frankly, I doubt that taking another minute or two would actually have helped. So much for the goal of solving cleanly.

Puzzle 3 by Patti Varol went better. I enjoyed the theme (which I understood) and solved it cleanly in 13:05. I think the lunch break followed that, during which I went with several people over to Sweet Green, a salad chain that has good food but annoys me on the grounds that they don’t take cash. My willingness to go with the group is based on my usual prioritization of sociability over at least some of my persnicketiness.

I didn’t think that Jeff Chen’s Puzzle 4 was particularly interesting, though I solved it cleanly. It took me 23:39, which was also reasonable.

Puzzle 5, by Paolo Pasco, had the sort of theme that I always enjoy (and which I figured out reasonably easily). I solved it cleanly in 23:59, which, while respectable, was a tad slower than I should have been.

I ended up finishing 112th out of 253. That’s the 55.7th percentile. (If someone happened to see what I said on facebook, I only just now realized how to look only at the individual competitors and not include the pair solvers.)

To keep up the history, that isn’t quite my best showing at Lollapuzzoola, but it’s decent. I would, however, have preferred to have solved cleanly, instead of having that error in puzzle 2.

2012 – 42.6
2013 – 44.6
2014 – 57.6
2015 – 51.0
2016 – 59.1
2017 – 53.7
2018 – 55.7

I had the traditional pizza for dinner. And then I took the subway back downtown for my equally traditional theatre-going.


SpongeBob SquarePants: I had chosen to see SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical on the grounds that: 1) it had gotten pretty good reviews and 2) it was closing in September. The plot involves the town of Bikini Bottom in a crisis, involving a volcano that is about to erupt. SpongeBob enlists the aid of a squirrel scientist named Sandy Cheeks and his best friend, Patrick (a sea star) to save the day.

The story is fairly idiotic, but I do like that things are saved via science – and by a female scientist at that. The score consisted of a series of singles by a number of pop artists and was fairly forgettable. As for the performances, Ethan Slater was good in the title role, but I thought that Gavin Lee as Squidward really stole the show. Overall, this is really geared towards families with young children and would probably appeal more to people who love, say, The Lion King, which I also described as a show where I walked out humming the costumes.

I took a relatively early train home. I still had time to walk up West 35th Street and photograph the plaque which marks Nero Wolfe’s home, though there is no longer a brownstone there.


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I will get back to catching up on vacation (and pre-vacation) things, but I don’t want to fall further behind, so here is what I’ve done since I’ve gotten back.

Celebrity Death Watch: V.S Naipaul was a Nobel laureate in literature. Mark Baker was a (primarily) theatre actor, best known for playing Candide in the 1974 production of the Bernstein musical. Morgana King was a jazz singer and actress. She actually died in late March, but I didn’t see her obituary until mid-August. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India from 1998 to 2004. Kofi Annan was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997-2006. Barbara Harris was an actress, both on Broadway (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Apple Tree among others) and film (Nashville, Freaky Friday, etc.) Ed King played guitar with Strawberry Alarm Clock and Lynyrd Skynard and wrote the song, "Sweet Home Alabama." Martin Shubik was an economist whose work included analysis of the best pastrami sandwich in New York. Robin Leach hosted Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Princeton Lyman was a diplomat, credited with helping to end apartheid in South Africa. Marie Severin was a comic book artist. Paul Taylor was an influential modern dance choreographer. Peter Corris wrote crime novels. Susan Brown was a soap opera actress. Vanessa Marquez was an actress, best known for playing a nurse on E.R. Gloria Jean was an actress and singer, who appeared in several 1940’s and 1950’s films. Carole Shelley was an actress, whose roles included playing one of the Pigeon sisters in The Odd Couple. Randy Weston was a jazz pianist and composer. Christopher Lawford was the son of actor Pater Lawford and a nephew of JFK, who also became an actor and wrote a memoir about his struggles with drug addiction. Bill Dailey wa a character actor, known for appearing in I Dream of Jeannie and The Bob Newhart Show. Burt Reynolds was a television and movie actor, best known for Deliverance. Richard DeVos co-founded Amway. Mac Miller was a rapper. Sam Cornish was Boston’s first poet laureate.

I hope you don’t need me to tell you about Aretha Franklin. She was one of the greatest singers of all time and a truly iconic American voice. I’m usually not keen on people being dubbed royalty of some genre, but I will make an exception for the Queen of Soul.

Khaira Arby was a Malian singer. I heard her perform at the Festival Au Desert in 2011 and met her briefly in the market in Timbuktu while I was there. She was apparently the first Malian woman to start a career under her own name. She was also an activist for women’s rights and an advocate against female genital mutilation.

I assume I don’t need to tell you about John McCain. He was an interesting politician, something of a maverick among Republicans. While I often disagreed with him, I do think he had a lot of integrity. In an era of bad behavior, he seemed able to be a gentleman most of the time, which deserves credit in and of itself. He also scored on my ghoul pool list (and almost everyone else’s, alas.)

Neil Simon was a playwright, whose work focused on New York and the Jewish-American experience. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. His plays were a good example of my theory that funny and serious are not antonyms.



Please Don’t Analyze This Dream: I don’t remember the context, but there were a bunch of soldiers wearing triangular green-painted (or maybe enameled) metallic masks that I referred to as "Turkish death masks."



Passion: I saw Passion at Signature Theatre on Saturday. This is one of the more difficult Sondheim musicals, largely because Fosca is a fundamentally unlikeable character, stalking Giorgio, a sensitive man who has the heart of a poet in a soldier’s body. It’s an uncomfortable view of love, accompanied by emotional (and only sporadically humorous lyrics, mostly relating to the other soldiers’ reactions to Giorgio). Despite all that, Signature did an excellent job with it. Claybourne Elder was a convincing Giorgio. And Natascia Diaz made Fosca a little bit sympathetic. Overall, I thought it was worth seeing, but though I will never love the show the way I do most of Sondheim’s others.



Gelato Festival DC: On Sunday, I ignored the chill and rain and went off to the city for Gealto Festival DC. The idea is that you buy a wristband (for $30 plus fees) and get to taste all the gelato you want. There were several gelato makers competing, with flavors designed for the festival.

Crusty Fantasy from Gelato Gourment in Weston, FL was a mixture of caramel, cashews and rice krispies. The name is terrible, but the flavor was reasonably good.

Blue Majik from Gelato’oh Brick & Motor in Philadelphia was pineapple flavored with a blue coloring from algae. It supposedly also had ginger and apple juices, but I couldn’t detect them. I liked the idea of a sugar-free sorbetto, but it didn’t quite work for me, largely because the texture was not as smooth as is ideal.

Apurimac from local DC shop Pitango Gelato was a very intense chocolate. I know some people will doubt this is possible, but I thought it was actually too intense and I ate only a couple of spoonfuls.

Trinacrium from uGOgelato in Miami was my favorite. It was a mixture of pistachio and almonds, with a spray of orange. This was absolutely delicious – a lovely combination, with great flavors and texture. I was clearly not the only person who thought so, as it won the competition.

American Dream from Gelato Bliss in Hagerstown, MD had salted peanuts swirled with a coca-cola reduction. This was better than I expected from that description, but not something I wanted more of.

Butter Pecan from Marinucci’s in Reston, VA was disappointing. They apparently used European butter instead of cream, which gave it a weird mouth feel to me. This was another one where I didn’t eat more than a couple of spoonfuls.

Cheesecake with Cherries from Mike’s Gelato in Columbia, MD was exactly what it sounds like. It wasn’t bad, but I am just not crazy about cherries, so had just a small taste.

Nocciola Chocake from Zerogradi Gelateria in Ambler, PA was hazelnut gelato with chocolate sauce and chocolate cake crumbs. I liked this, but would have liked it better if there were more chocolate flavor.


There were also a few non-competitors:

PreGel apparently sells a gelato base to shops, rather than selling commercially. I tried two of their flavors – hazelnut and cannoli. The hazelnut was excellent, but then it’s a flavor that I tend to like a lot. The cannoli was good, but would have benefited from more crunch.

Bella Gelateria (not clear where they are) had some sort of caramel and coffee flavor. This was just okay. There was nothing wrong with it, but it seemed pretty ordinary.

Moorenko’s from Silver Spring, MD had two flavors. The burnt caramel and pear with walnuts was quite good, but could have used more pear flavor relative to the other ingredients. Their ginger, however, was sublime, with large chunks of fresh ginger in it. If this had been a competitor, I would probably have voted for it over the Trinacrium. Best of all, they said it’s available at a couple of local grocery stores!



Rosh Hashanah: I went to the traditional service at Sixth and I. On the plus side, I like the cantor, who is reasonably inclusive, versus some who think they’re performing as operatic soloists. On the minus side, the siddur they use has absolutely terrible English translations. And if I notice that, with my lack of Hebrew fluency, they must be really bad. I was also suffering a bit from difficulty focusing, which I will attribute to jet lag. At the very least, I got to spend time with a couple of friends who I see all too infrequently.

Happy 5779 everyone!
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Celebrity Death Watch: Christian Menn designed the Zakim Bridge in Boston. Elbert Howard co-founded the Black Panther Party. Sergio Marchionne oversaw the merger between Chrysler and Fiat. Donald Kaul co-founded RAGBRAI, a famous bicycling event across Iowa. Warren Brown wrote about cars for the Washington Post. Mel Rosen was a crossword constructor and co-wrote an influential book about how to create crosswords. Bill Loud was the father in the TV show An American Family, which was arguably the earliest example of a reality show.

Hexagon 2018 – Tweet Land of Liberty: Hexagon is a political satire troop, who do variety shows for charity. This is up my alley to begin with, but another reason for going is that I know one of their members. The premise of this year’s show was that a couple in 2118 is touring the National Museum of American History’s exhibit on the Trump Era. Some of the highlights of the songs and skits were "Trump Girl Left Behind" (about Tiffany Trump), "Spending More Time" (about Paul Ryan, though spending more time with one’s family is a time-honored Washingtonian excuse for quitting or being forced out of a job), "These Colors Don’t Run" (about the Metro), and "Thoughts & Prayers" (a Roy Zimmerman song about mass shootings). The low light was a cringeworthy sketch about a couple on a date who have their lawyers getting signed permission for every step they take. I should also note that the sound quality was uneven, with some of the wireless mikes apparently not working, making some of the singers nearly inaudible. Things tend to be funnier when one can hear them. But, overall, I thought this was worth seeing.

Musical Therapy: I chose this show largely because I like musicals. And there were, frankly, not many musicals in this year’s fringe to choose from. Fortunately, it proved to be an excellent choice. The premise is that Theresa is a couples’ counselor, who has her own relationship problems. She’s infatuated with the guy whose office is next-door and tries to manipulate her clients’ relationships so she can end up with him. She uses sock puppets in her therapy, and they provide an amusing chorus for various numbers. There are also a truly astonishing number of euphemisms for a penis. The show is definitely quirky and requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief – but it is also extremely funny. The music was nicely jazzy and worked well to tell the story. It was also well-performed, even though the performance I saw had a last-minute understudy (who had to carry a binder with her script) for one of the parts. There was no program but looking at reviews on line leads me to call out Katie Rey Bogdan as Theresa. And I want to give a big shout-out to Joey Katsiroubas and Dan Hass who wrote this. All in all, I loved this show.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Madeleine Kamman was a cookbook author. Gary Beach was an actor, best known for playing Roger De Bris in The Producers on Broadway (and on film). Burton Richter won a Nobel Prize in Physics. Adrian Cronauer was a disc jockey and inspired the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Shinobu Hashimoto was the screenwriter for Seven Samurai and Rashomon.

Jonathan Gold was a restaurant critic in Los Angeles. I read him regularly in the L.A. Weekly and in the Times when I lived there and often looked at his reviews when I was going to be visiting. His reviews covered a wide range of restaurants, including some lesser known ethnic cuisines. He was also the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just a couple of weeks before his death. On a personal note, one of his reviews led me to Jitlada, which I still think is one of the best Thai restaurants in the U.S.

Dave: I went to see a new musical at Arena Stage on Friday night. Based on the 1993 movie, Dave is the story of an ordinary good guy whose resemblance to the president of the U.S. leads him to a stint acting in that job after the real POTUS has a stroke. He’s manipulated by the Chief of Staff and the Communications Director, until he decides he can actually do good. That leads to an interesting situation with the First Lady, too. Obviously, the premise requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but this was an extremely funny show, with a fairly lively and tuneful score. I thought Drew Gehling was very appealing in the title role, but the most notable performances were by Mami Parris as Ellen (the FLOTUS) and Bryonha Marie Parham as Susan (the Communications Director). I also want to call out Douglas Sills as the Chief of Staff, Bob, and Josh Breckenridge as Duane, the Secret Service agent. Overall, this was a total hoot - an enjoyable evening out.

Too Much Rain: I was supposed to go to a story swap in Montgomery County on Saturday, but it was pouring and there were three accidents between my house and the Beltway, so I turned around (well, not literally – I exited the Beltway and drove back home). I did grocery shopping on the way home, but managed remarkably little housework once I got home. I also had a phone rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling event, which was helpful because the story in question was in the "here are a bunch of mosaic tiles but I have no idea how they fit together" stage. I also have an out in the form of permission to tell something else if I can't find the grout in time.

Fun House: Every summer, the National Building Museum has some sort of installation. I loved the miniature golf courses they did a few years ago and liked the maze they followed it with. A friend wanted to do the Fun House this year. It was, frankly, disappointing. I liked the marble track in the Playroom and thought some of the other features were fairly entertaining, especially the door in the bathroom that opened to show a shower of plastic balls being blown around. I never managed to find the kitchen, which was shown on the guide in one of the other rooms. The biggest draws were the pool and jacuzzi which were, essentially, large ball pits. But there were way too many children there, which made things less than relaxing. Overall, I didn’t think it was worth $16.

Supra: After the Fun House, we had lunch at Supra, a newish Georgian restaurant I had been wanting to try. I started with a cocktail called Tarkhuna Twist, that had gin, tarragon lemonade, luxardo maraschino, and tarragon oil. It was just okay – sweeter than I would have preferred. As for food, we got eggplant stuffed with walnuts (particularly delicious), beets with smoked cheese and salad, salmon with a tomato and walnut sauce, and imeruli (a type of khachapuri, i.e. cheese bread). My friend also ordered a side of turkey bacon, which I ignored. The food was very good and I would happily eat there again. It was more expensive than the Fun House, but well worth it.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Big Van Vader was a professional wrestler, as was Matt Cappotelli. Constance Adams was an architect who designed space habitats and spaceports. Richard Benjamin Harrison was a Pawn Star. David Goldblatt was a South African photographer. Joe Jackson was the patriarch of the Jackson 5. Harlan Ellison was a science fiction writer. Liliane Montevecchi was a Tony-winning actress. Dame Gillian Lynne was a dancer and choreographer. Alan Longmuir was the bassist for the Bay City Rollers.

Charles Krauthammer was a political commentator. I agreed with some of his positions (primarily on Israel and on Trump) and disagreed with more. Regardless of that, I will always be grateful to him for founding the Jewish classical music series, Pro Musica Hebraica, which put on excellent concerts of music that deserves to be better known.

Donald Hall was a poet, essayist and critic. I heard him read when he was Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 2006. I particularly like that he wrote poems about baseball. I’ve also always loved the title of his memoir String Too Short to Be Saved.


Baseball Americana plus Michael Lewis: Wednesday night was book club, so I normally wouldn’t go out on Thursday night. But a friend had gotten free tickets to hear Michael Lewis (the author of Moneyball) speak at the Library of Congress. The ticket included early admission to the Baseball Americana exhibit, which officially opened on Friday. I got there too late to see much of the exhibit, so I definitely need to go back and spend a few hours there.

As for the talk, he was very entertaining. He apparently had a bit of high school baseball glory and his coach compared him to Catfish Hunter ("he also didn’t have a fastball"). My favorite line was that "children’s sports exist for the moral education of their parents." That was part of an anecdote about his children playing baseball in Berkeley, where the ideal was for a team to finish at .500 and then them being on travel teams where they had to cross the hills and play against Republicans. Overall, it was a very entertaining talk and I’m glad I went, despite my tiredness.

Better Said Than Done: Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done storytelling show at The Auld Shebeen. I told a story about the more normal summer camps I went to. I was having trouble finding an ending, but a spam email I got on Friday morning led me to exactly what I needed. It’s always fun when something works out in an unexpected way. Overall, it was a good show and the audience was responsive.

Hamilton; I saw Hamilton at the Kennedy Center on Sunday. It was very impressive, but I was glad for the open captioning as I could not have kept up with the rap sections otherwise. I’d argue that the rapping serves the role of operatic recitative, making the show closer to opera than to traditional music theatre, though really the whole thing is sui generis.

There are numerous historical accuracies, though I suspect the majority of them are Ron Chernow’s fault, rather than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s. The most egregious has to do with Angelica Schuyler, who was actually already married when she met Alexander Hamilton. I also think John Adams was treated unnecessarily harshly, though he was, after all, obnoxious and disliked. I’m also annoyed at the complete absence of my favorite founding father, Gouverneur Morris.

But whatever the historical flaws, it succeeded in making me more interested in Hamilton’s life and career, which makes it a success overall. I’d also be interested in seeing it again, as I know there are things I missed. (I did catch references ranging from Sondheim to Gilbert and Sullivan.)

I’ll also note that the orchestration is a bit strings-heavy, which is a good thing in my book, but might not be in everyone’s. I wasn’t really crazy about much of the choreography, which I thought was often a bit more frenetic than necessary and has way too much of people jumping on chairs. Still, I would probably benefit from seeing it again and being able to focus more on the staging without the distraction of the captioning.

As for performances, I thought Austin Scott (who played the title role) could have been more energetic, as he was overshadowed by Nicholas Christopher as Aaron Burr and, especially, Carvens Lissaint as George Washington. But this is definitely an ensemble show and the cast did, in general, work well together.

Bottom line is that it is, indeed, a great show. But I still think Guys and Dolls and West Side Story are the best musicals of all time.

I should also note that it is a nice change when the audience demographics look fairly diverse, instead of the more typical experience of a theatre full of older white people. I have been to way too many shows where I am one of a handful of people who can walk unassisted.

Living on the Surface of the Sun: Sheesh, it is hot out. I was outside a bit more than I’d have preferred yesterday, since I went to see the documentary Three Identical Strangers at the DC JCC. And today I discovered that a shuttle bus I needed to take was running only every half hour instead of the normal every 15 minutes, so I roasted while waiting for it. It would have been helpful if they’d put a note to that effect on the schedule board at the stop, instead of the schedule change from March of last year that was posted.

Catch-up

Jun. 18th, 2018 03:01 pm
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I have a bunch of political ranting to do, but first let me catch up on the past week or so.


Celebrity Death Watch: Ira Berlin was an historian, who wrote largely about slavery. Victor Tolmachev was one of the chief designers of the Antonov airplane. Eunice Gayson was an actress, notable as the first Bond girl. Kenyatta Jones was a football player. Lorraine Gordon owned the Village Vanguard, a jazz club. Christopher Stasheff was a fantasy writer. Leslie Grantham was a British actor. Martin Bregman produced movies, including Scarface and Dog Day Afternoon.

You don’t really need me to tell you about Anthony Bourdain. His suicide seems to have hit a lot of my friends particularly hard. I found it unsurprising, frankly. Bourdain made no secret of his history of substance abuse, which is often a form of self-medication. And his relationship life was said to be turbulent. Still, he was an interesting writer and deserves credit for encouraging people to broaden their food horizons.


Hail, Colorado Springs: I flew out to Colorado Springs Monday afternoon. My flight from IAD to DEN was crowded, but arrived early. The DEN to COS leg was delayed about 20 minutes, however. Despite my reservation being for a compact car, Avis asked offered me a Chevy Tahoe or a minivan. I pushed back and ended up with a Kia Soul. Which is not a compact car either, but is at least possible to: a) park and b) get in and out of wearing dress shoes. I stayed at the Springhill Suites, which is adequate, but my room had rather too more traffic noise than I’d prefer.

The bigger noise issue was Tuesday night, when I was awakened about 12:45 a.m. by a thunderstorm. Shortly after that started, I thought the people above me were panicking and running around furiously. Then I remembered I was on the top floor. In short, there was the worst hailstorm I have ever experienced. It went on for about 35 minutes and sounded like a herd of moose stampeding through the parking lot. Reports were that the hail was either golf ball size or baseball size, but I couldn’t tell from my brief glance through the window of my room. The next day, everyone was talking about damage to their rental cars. I was lucky in that mine just got about a half-dozen or so dents on the front hood, but several people had windshields shattered.

The meetings I was out there for were reasonably productive, though I was fairly annoyed at one person (who is someone I am often annoyed at due to his lack of listening – and, more significantly, lack of interest in listening.) I made a token appearance at the social on Wednesday night, which was more annoying because: a) parking in downtown Colorado Springs is a pain and b) the place it was held at was too loud to really carry on a conversation.

The trip home on Friday was just okay. The real problem with a 6 a.m. flight is that I don’t sleep well when I have to be up earlier than usual. I was pretty wiped out from poor sleep and the altitude and, of course, my gate for the DEN to IAD flight was all the way at the other end of Terminal B from where the COS to DEN flight had arrived. I really felt like I was going to collapse on the way there. I was fine once I had rested a bit and drunk a lot of water. I was still happy to get home to the humid lowlands, which really suit my body much better.


World Cup: I am cheering for Uruguay and Senegal, should anyone care.


53rd Old Time Music Hall: The British Players do their old-time music hall show every year or two. The traffic on the Beltway getting to Kensington Town Hall was annoying, but I’d left myself a lot of time (more because I was concerned about parking, but it turns out that there is a fair-sized lot at the Town Hall itself). The ticket includes refreshments (beer, wine, or soft drinks, plus nibbles like goldfish and chex mix). There’s a sing-along before the show (and another at the end of intermission). But the main thing is a bunch of musical acts, along with a lot of corny jokes. Many of the songs are funny (e.g. "The Cannibal’s Menu," "The Pheasant Plucker," and "The Night I Appeared as Macbeth.") But there was also a bit of a focus on World War I, including an Irving Berlin medley (nto quite British music hall, but …) and a Flying Machine medley (Come, Josephine…) and some dance numbers (though the kick line was not quite as well-synchronized as it should have been). Overall, there was nothing profound here, but it was a fun afternoon.


The Scottsboro Boys: I had seen The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway. I thought it was an interesting show, with excellent music and a lot of disturbing aspects, starting with the use of minstrelry as a mechanism of presenting a story full of racism. For those unfamiliar with the historical background, the story involves 9 black boys who were arrested and sentenced to death for the alleged rape of two white women in a boxcar. It’s clear all along that they’re innocent – but they are repeatedly found guilty even after one of the women recants and admits they made up the rape to avoid being arrested for hopping the freight. The affair caught the attention of the Communist Party and, hence, the involvement of a lawyer named Samuel Liebowitz. There is a shockingly anti-Semitic song ("Financial Advice") which deals with his involvement in the case. The real focus is on Heywood Patterson (played excellently by Lamont Walker II) who refused to confess in exchange for being freed. (In the play, he died of cancer after 31 years in jail. In real life, he escaped in 1948, but was later arrested and convicted of manslaughter in an unrelated case in 1951. His death in prison was of cancer, but followed that second sentence.)

There is another aspect of the show I want to mention, but I will be put it behind a cut to avoid spoilers. Read more... )
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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: I saw the Kennedy Center Center Stage concert production (i.e. minimally staged) on Friday night. Yes, the sexism is problematic, with secretaries whose sole ambition is marrying a tycoon. But there is plenty of humor, along with great songs and outstanding performances. They did cut "Cinderella Darling" – and I’d rather they had cut "Paris Original" – but there’s still the fun of "Coffee Break," "Grand Old Ivy," and "I Believe in You."

As for the performances, I was very impressed by Skylar Astin as J. Pierpont Finch and Michael Urie as Bud Frump. Betsy Wolfe played Rosemary well, though this production made her seem particularly predatory and, hence, less likeable. And then there’s Nova Payton, who is one of the biggest stars among local performers here and whose scat singing in "Brotherhood of Man" stole the show.

All in all, a fun evening.

The Flushies: Saturday was the Flushies, the "awards show" for the Style Invitational. I stopped off at Pie Gourmet on the way over to pick up a strawberry-rhubarb pie for the potluck. I should probably have brought an appetizer or main dish, as there were disproportionately many desserts, but that’s how it goes sometimes. There was lots of good conversation, followed by sing-alongs of parody songs, award presentations, and a game. In short, this is a good group of people to socialize with.

Memory Lab: On Sunday, the JGSGW had a session at the Northeast DC Library on how to use their Memory Lab. This started with a talk about archiving and preservation, which had some helpful info on things like naming files and selecting formats and such. Then we got a demo of both the audiovisual equipment, which you can use to digitize videotapes and cassette tapes (and copy data from floppy disks), and the high-resolution scanner. I probably won’t be able to make an appointment to use things for a while, given how overcommitted I am, but this is a great resource, and I am glad I went to the program.

Farewell to a Friend: Sunday night, I went out to dinner with some FlyerTalk friends, including two people visiting from Australia. The two locals included a guy who is moving to Bangladesh. I’m missing his official going-away party (due to a business trip) so was glad I got to see him. After dinner, we went over to his condo, which has and amazing view, including DCA and some of the monuments in the city. It was a fun evening and I was glad I got to see him before he leaves.
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Celebrity Death Watch:Dick Tuck was a political prankster. Lla Brennan was a restaurateur. John Julius Norwich wrote about history and travel. Jill Ker Conway wrote a well-received memoir, The Road from Coorain, and became the first woman president of Smith College. Nick Meglin was an editor of Mad Magazine. Bruce Kison was a baseball pitcher, including two World Series championships with Pittsburgh and a brief stint with the Boston Red Sox. Frank Carlucci was the Secretary of Defense from 1987-1989 (under Reagan). Russell Nype was a Tony-winning actor. Kate Spade was a fashion designer.


Camelot: I went to see Camelot at the Shakespeare Theatre Company on Friday night. I have a complicated relationship with this show, since we did a production of it when I was in 6th grade. That was largely on the grounds that we were studying the Middle Ages, but it was really because our teacher, Mr. Ryder, was into musicals. And, while we used the songs, we rewrote large portions of the script. Most of the songs were sung by the entire class. As a result, I know the score well, but I had never actually seen the show. (I should also mention that the show got me addicted to Dark Shadows because I made paper mache trees for the set with a couple of other girls, who insisted we had to watch that soap opera while working on them.) I have, however, read The Once and Future King, which is largely the basis for the book.

So how was it? It’s rather a mess, really. For one thing, there is no way to tell how much time passes between events. There must be some time for word to spread to France about the Round Table and for rumors about the relationship between Lancelot and Guenevere to reach Scotland. But there don’t seem to be any knights going on quests, so who knows? Even King Pellinore seems to have given up on the Questing Beast in favor of sleeping on a featherbed with a fluffy pillow. The score has a few notable moments. "If Ever I Would Leave You" is lushly romantic, but it has other songs that are easy to mock. I’m always tempted to change a lyric in "C’est Moi" from "a knight so extraordinaire" to "a knight so full of hot air." And then there are songs like "How to Handle a Woman," "The Lusty Month of May," and, especially, "Fie on Goodness"” which just scream that this is not Lerner and Loewe at their best. (I should note that my biggest objection to the score is that it doesn’t have a consistent tone and has few bits that suggest medieval England.)

I could forgive much of that if the performances were better. But Alexandra Silber was too operatic as Guenevere, without being able to enunciate clearly enough with all the vocal pyrotechnics. Ken Clark was uneven as Arthur, but that is probably as much the fault of the score (and direction) that doesn’t know quite what to do with his disillusionment. The best performance was by Nick Fitzer as Lancelot. Now, there’s a voice that suited the character!

Incidentally, I have whined before about STC’s failure to use local actors and this was another case of it. Also, while I am nitpicking, the set had Lancelot and Guenevere rolling around on a stage full of rose petals at the beginning of Act II. The petals stayed there, which may be practical from the standpoint of set design, but annoyed me, because I was distracted by them being swept around in random patterns by the long dresses and robes worn by many characters.

There is some interesting political relevance to the story, but, overall, the show just didn’t work well for me.


The Indie 500: Saturday was the Indie 500, DC’s local crossword tournament. There were plenty of out-of-town attendees, particularly the Boston crowd. They’d moved locations and there were more people competing this year.

The puzzles were fashion-themed this time, though how much the themes had to do with fashion varied. I will refrain from details to avoid spoilers for the solve-at-home crowd. (I have one spoiler in rot13 in the comments). Things started off well for me, with a decent time (5:24) on Puzzle 1, even though I entirely failed to notice the theme while solving it. The average time was 5:41, by the way.

One of the Indie 500 traditions is pie and the boxes of miniature pies showed up early this time – between puzzles 1 and 2. They were unlabeled. I got something that seemed to be a sort of lemony custard, which was quite tasty.

Puzzle 2 had a cute theme and was reasonably straightforward. I finished in 11:24, which was a little slower than I should have, but there wasn’t any particular thing that slowed me down. (And the average time was 12:57, so it isn’t as if that was a bad time.)

I really enjoyed the theme of Puzzle 3, as well. I got slightly slowed down by one of the theme clues being a Down clue, while the rest were Across clues. And there was one square that required me to go through the alphabet to figure out an answer. Still, I solved it cleanly in 17:08, while the average was 18:27. At the end of three, I was in 75th place out of 164 contestants.

Then it was time for lunch. I ended up at Rice Bar, which is a bibimbap place a couple of blocks away. It was good and filling, though I will probably choose a different sauce than the peanut sauce I got if I go there again.

Puzzle 4 was the hardest of the day and took me 24:43, while the average was 19:26. Part of my slow time was due to my being unsure about the spelling of one person’s name. I had a spelling issue on another name, too, though I figured that out quickly. But I got hung up on the southeast corner, largely due to an initial error on one clue. I did end up solving it cleanly, but I was slow.

Puzzle 5 was straightforward and had a cute theme. I finished it in 11:47, while the average was 12:52. Sounds fine, right? Well, it would have been if I hadn’t had a stupid error. I had attempted to correct an error, but did not manage to actually completely erase the wrong letter. All I can think of is that I used the eraser at the end of my pencil, instead of the click-eraser I had with me. The error cost me a lot of points. And I ended up finishing 100 out of 164. Aaargh.

While the scores were being tabulated for the finals, there was a game that involved finding names hidden in other words. I was pretty good at this, for the most part. One of my teammates was amazed that I knew the word "psaltery" (a sort of medieval stringed instrument). I will confess to actually owning one – and playing it, though not very well.

So here is how I’ve done over the years on the Indie 500:

2018 – 100 / 164 (39th percentile)
2017 – 64 / 128 (50th percentile)
2016 – 60 / 117 (49th percentile)
2015 – 61 / 100 (39th percentile)


Quajado: I got home and made quajado for a potluck on Sunday. For those who are unfamiliar with this dish, it’s a Sephardic egg, cheese, and vegetable dish, sort of like a crustless quiche. I baked it in a 9 inch square pan because that’s what I had, but one could use a round pan, of course. Here’s the recipe I used:

Chop one medium onion. Saute in olive oil until soft, about 10 minutes.

Grate two smallish zucchini.

Thaw one package of frozen chopped spinach. (You could, of course, use fresh spinach, but I had frozen on hand.)

Mix the vegetables together. Add 6 lightly beaten eggs, 1 cup of ricotta cheese, and a ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese. Add a couple of crushed garlic cloves and a teaspoon or so of crushed red pepper.

Pour the mixture into an oiled baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until set and slightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

You can use other vegetables and other cheeses, e.g. farmer cheese instead of ricotta, gouda instead of parmesan. And you could throw in additional herbs.

JGSGW Luncheon: That potluck was the annual luncheon for the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington. The quajado went over well and I didn’t have any leftovers to bring home. I suspect that was, in part, because it was more original than, say, yet another kugel (there were three if I recall correctly). I had some interesting discussions about traveling in Eastern Europe. And I refrained from pointing out that Austria is really Central Europe.

The actual program had to do with things you can find in newspapers and the speaker had some interesting examples, e.g. several items from a small town newspaper that all mentioned the street that members of a prominent family lived on. There was also a lot of information about good sources for newspaper research, starting with the Library of Congress.

Washington Folk Festival: After the luncheon I raced across Maryland in the pouring rain to get to Glen Echo Park for the folk festival. The weather was truly atrocious and River Road was pretty close to living up to its name. Still, I made it there. My set wasn’t until 5 p.m., so I had time to listen to some other people’s stories beforehand. As for my set, I told a brief Herschele Ostropole story, followed by Mendel and the Enchanted Goat, and a Nasruddin story. I could probably have squeezed in one more story, but my watch was fast so I thought I had just one minute instead of about five.

The rain had let up (though not actually stopped) by the time I left. So it wasn’t bad driving home. I had time for grocery shopping and then ate supper before pretty much collapsing.
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I am still ridiculously busy at work. My boss needs to learn how to take a vacation as he is still sending me things to review.

I did get out two nights this week. Tuesday night I went to the Washington National Opera production of Candide, which was part of the Bernstein celebration at the Kennedy Center. They used a new book by John Caird. The change I noticed most was in the second act, with changes in the song "What's the Use?"

Alex Shrader was an appealing Candide and Emily Pogorec was up to the role of Cunegonde. Denyce Graves was very funny as the Old Lady. Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening.

The other evening out was for Book Club, which was pretty routine.
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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.
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I had a fairly hectic weekend. In spite of which, I did actually get a fair amount of household paperwork done, but there is, inevitably, more stuff to plow through. Still, there was time for entertainment, too.

Girlfiriend: I went to see Girlfiriend at Signature Theatre on Friday night. Despite the title (which is derived from the Matthew Sweet album that forms its score), this is a coming-of-age story about two gay men, who have just graduated from high school and are having a summer romance before one of them leaves for college. Mike is an alpha male, a football player, heading to college and a likely medical career in the more distant future. Will is awkward and doesn’t really know what he wants for the future. His fantasies are charmingly simple – like going to Safeway and shopping for dogfood with Matt. Mostly, the two of them go to a drive-in, where they watch the same movie every night. If only Evangeline, the story of a nun / cop / superhero / alien, were a real movie! The music is enjoyable and the script is funny. But what really made this worth seeing was the performances. I’ve seen Jimmy Mavrikes, who played Will, in several shows before. Lukas James Miller, who played Mike, was new to me, but also did a good job. The chemistry between the two of them felt realistic for teen romance. I was afraid that there would be a tragic ending and was relieved to be wrong. Overall, I thought this was a charming and, dare I say, sweet little show.

Storytelling: Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done show at The Auld Shebeen. The theme was Getting Busy: stories of work, tasks, and getting’ busy. I had a fairly literal interpretation, with a story about how I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. But there were a wide range of interpretations of the theme, which is one of the things that always makes this fun. There was a large and lively audience and I think it went well. Video to follow eventually.


Witch: On Sunday afternoon, I went to see Witch at Creative Cauldron. This was part of their Bold New Works for Intimate Spaces series. It had to do with a group of women – 3 mothers, their tween daughters, and the mother of one of them – staging a series of sketches about witches as part of the women’s march. The witches ranged from Joan of Arc to Rebecca Nurse (one of the Salem victims) to Margaret Hamilton to a woman in Ghana who was exiled to Gambaga. The point had to do with the treatment of women, both historically and now. There was also some material about the women’s relationships with one another, but that was not quite as fleshed out as I’d have liked. It was definitely a provocative show and I look forward to discussing it with other people who’ve seen it. (It brought out plenty of anger on the part of the friend I saw it with.) There's also the interesting irony of it having been written by two men.

I should also note the performances. In particular, Florence Lacey demonstrated the power of an older woman. And Iyona Blake continues to amaze and impress me with her powerful voice. That was particularly dramatic with a sustained note at the end of the song "Gambaga."
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I decided to try doing book run-downs, akin to the ones I've been doing for movies.


  1. Stephen King, Different Seasons. While King is most associated with horror, three of the four novellas in this book are not really in that genre. The Winter piece is conventional horror, with both a ghost story and the spooky circumstances under which that story is told. The Spring piece has to do with a wrongfully convicted prisoner. Both of those were readable enough, but not as gripping as the Autumn story, which involved adolescent boys who set off on an adventure to find a dead body, the result of an accident. What is interesting is not so much the dead body but the circumstances of the boys’ lives and how those affect their interactions with one another. The strongest piece is the Summer one, which is a story of psychological terror about a teenage boy who is obsessed with a Nazi war criminal he has discovered in his neighborhood. I found this piece completely chilling, largely because it seemed perfectly plausible. Overall, this book was absorbing.

  2. Alexander Kent, Signal – Close Action! I have been reading the Richard Bolitho series off and on for a while now. I’m not particularly interested in British naval battles of the late 18th century per se, but Bolitho is an appealing character. The real point is his interactions with his crew – which is sometimes contentious – and with his superiors. I will continue reading this series, as the books are enjoyable.

  3. Katherine Boo, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. I’ve already written a little about this book, which has to do with an informal slum in Mumbai. It’s interesting, but depressing. The level of corruption and the general lack of caring about poor people (which extends to ignoring a dead body) left me feeling hopeless.

  4. Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues. This is the first Phryne Fisher mystery and, frankly, it didn’t really leave me wanting to read more. There’s too much talk about clothes and Miss Fisher is too skillful to be believed. (For example, she’s an expert fast driver and can fly an airplane and can dance well enough to capture the attention of a Russian ballet star.) The plot is somewhat predictable. And the whole thing is horribly overwritten.

  5. Arvin Ahmadi, Down and Across. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, but this got a lot of buzz in the crossword community. The characters are interesting and I liked the Washington, D.C. setting. There’s a bit too much coincidence in some of the encounters, however. I had to suspend a fair amount of disbelief, but the psychology felt real even when the events didn’t. Overall, worth a read.

  6. Crabbe Evers, Murderer’s Row. Evers has a series of mysteries set at various baseball stadiums. This one involves a murder at Yankee’s Stadium (or, as I think of it, the Heart of Darkness). The plot is mediocre and the writing is so-so, but the baseball lore is interesting. Skippable.

  7. D. R. Meredith, Murder By Sacrilege. This is the sort of mystery that is based entirely on quirkiness. The premise of a preacher putting his wife’s naked body in a Nativity scene outside the church and then refusing to talk about it at all was an interesting one. But most of the characters behave in such unlikely ways that I was ready to throw this book into a river by the time I was a third of the way through.

  8. Gerald Nachman, Showstoppers!: The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Remarkable Songs. This is focused primarily on individual songs, regardless of the actual quality of the shows they’re from. So it discusses some cases where there’s a single well-known song from an otherwise forgettable musical. There is, however, a lot of backstage chatter about some of the bigger shows, which is interesting – at least if you’re a musicals geek like I am. I think Nachman gives Jerry Herman more credit than he deserves. I think Herman was aiming for commercial success a lot of times, rather than merely being a happy person, which is why he wrote so many catchy songs with repetitive insipid lyrics. I also think he underestimates Frank Loesser. Yes, "Adelaide’s Lament" is a great song, but how could you ignore "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" or "Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat" when it comes to showstoppers? And to step away from Guys and Dolls, what about "I Believe in You," from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? And, really, could he not find a single worthy song from 1977 ("Tomorrow" from Annie) to 2001 ("Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers)? Hint: City of Angels (1989) had "You Can Always Count on Me," among other worthy candidates. And 1991’s The Secret Garden has songs like "Race You to the Top of the Morning," "Wick," and "Come to My Garden" – all three in a row. I also think his failure to include off-Broadway shows is a mistake, but at least he’s up front about his criteria. I enjoyed this book, but it could have been even better.

  9. Herman Raucher, Summer of ‘42. This was out of what I refer to as the Mom collection, i.e. the huge number of books from my mother’s house that I feel compelled to read before disposing of. The only thing I knew about this book before reading it is that it had been turned into a movie. Actually, it turns out that the screenplay came first and, while the book was released before the movie was, it was actually a novelization. The story involves adolescent boys, who spend their time fighting with each other and trying to get laid. There’s some humor, mostly as the boys try to figure out what sex really entails – but this is mostly standard coming of age fare. I suspect it worked better on film than on paper. I also suspect it works better for a different generation. It was okay, but too melodramatic for my tastes.

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Celebrity Death Watch: Barry Crimmins was a comedian and an anti-pedophilia activist. Orin C. Smith was president and CEO of Starbucks for a few years. David Ogden Stiers was an actor, best known for playing Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H. Sir Roger Bannister was the first person to run a mile in under four minutes.

Harvey Schmidt was a musical theatre composer, whose best known work is the score for The Fantasticks, though I might argue for 110 in the Shade as a better score. I was particularly peeved about his death, since I have his lyricist partner, Tom Jones, on my ghoul pool list.

Ahhhscars Night: This is an annual Oscars-themed party put on by the California State Society. My friend, Paul, has figured out that his wearing a tux will entice me to go out on a weeknight. It was a pretty nice evening – good food, good dance floor (though my ankles are not up to as much dancing as they used to be, sigh), and an excuse to get dressed up. I went with a cocktail dress this year, instead of the long gown which is too much hassle to put on by myself. I wore my great-grandmother’s necklace and a pair of outrageous earrings. The music was a bit too loud some of the time, but one expects that as this sort of thing. Overall, it was a fun evening.

medancing


Book Club: This meeting’s book was Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. This is a non-fiction work about an informal slum near the Mumbai airport and several of its residents. I thought the book was interesting, but depressing. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been to India (and I haven’t been to Mumbai at all), so I had hoped things had changed. But, no, there is even more disparity in wealth, along with all the effects of urban migration and on-going political corruption. I can’t really blame people for trying to take advantage of the system, given what few opportunities they see for themselves. The author is going to be giving a talk in Arlington in April and I am going to try to go.


Hellish Commute Day: Wednesday was a total nightmare for commuting. There was a disabled train at Ballston and it was in a position that meant they couldn’t single track around it. So all rail service on the Orange and Silver Lines was suspended. I gave up, walked home, and drove in, so I was only about 15 minutes late to a meeting. Given where I was going, it made sense to take 50 – but even had that not been more direct, the toll on I-66 apparently got up to the $48 range. (I am not sure exactly how much it was, since the newspapers only talk about tolls between the Beltway and the District and it would, presumably, be less to get off in Arlington.)

Wind Storm: We had a pretty horrendous wind storm this weekend, with the worst being during commute hours on Friday. I was fortunate, in that we only lost power for a few minutes. The guy who has the office next to mine had a tree fall on his house, which is, apparently, totaled. The Federal Government shut down. My company did not, nor did they bother to send out any info until nearly 10 a.m. I have had previous indications that our corporate leadership in Los Angeles has never grasped the concept of time zones, but that is particularly egregious. I made the executive decision to work from home, which is something I dislike doing. It gave me a chance to catch up on some reading, and kept me out of the way of flying branches and parts of signs and such.

Becoming Dr. Ruth: Things let up enough by early evening to brave the outdoors and I went into the city to see Becoming Dr. Ruth at Theatre J. The metro was running more smoothly than I expected and it wasn’t bad getting to Dupont Circle. The play was written by Mark St. Germain and starred Naomi Jacobson, whose performance was a tour de force. I pretty much forgot that it wasn’t Dr. Ruth Westheimer standing there, crawling over packed cardboard boxes and telling the story of her life. This was a life with lots of challenge and trauma, but the overwhelming takeaway is one of determination and positivity. This was an intelligent, charming, and witty evening of theatre.

Light Years: This was the new musical I was most looking forward to this season, entirely on the grounds that it was written by Robbie Schaefer of Eddie From Ohio. The actual show was rather different from my expectations. It’s more of a song cycle than a musical per se. It’s autobiographical, with an emphasis on Robbie’s relationship with his father (played by Bobby Smith, a long-time Signature favorite), a Holocaust survivor who tells him stories, but not the stories he most needs to and longs to hear. Near the end, there is that one important story, which hearkens back to an earlier song in the show and had me sobbing. I do have some quibbles, however. Did Robbie have a mother? Well, she gets mentioned once in passing, but she seems to have played no role in his emotional life. And there are hints of Robbie’s own sacrifices for his family, but not enough details there. Still, I found this an absorbing and moving (and tear-jerking) show. I am fully aware that some of my reactions have to do with my own relationship with my father, who was also a Holocaust survivor, so I can’t generalize to how others might react.

Catch-up

Jan. 17th, 2018 04:16 pm
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Anna Mae Hays was the 13th chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and the first woman in the U.S. armed forces to become a general officer. France Gall wa a French singer. Doreen Tracey was one of the original Mouseketeers. Keith Jackson was a sportscaster, particularly known for college football. Dan Gurney was a race car driver and is credited with creating the tradition of spraying champagne on the podium after the race. Dolores O’Riordan was the lead singer of The Cranberries. Edwin Hawkins was a gospel musician, best known for "Oh Happy Day." Jo Jo White played basketball, largely for the Celtics. Jessica Falkholt was an Australian soap opera actress. Her greatest significance is that she’s the first person anybody scored on in this year’s ghoul pool.

Joe Frank was a radio personality. I used to listen to his show, Work in Progress, on KCRW when I lived in Los Angeles. He was always interesting and, often, quite funny. There is apparently a documentary about him scheduled to be released this year.

Ghoul Pool – 2018: Speaking of ghoul pool (a contest to predict what famous people will die in the next year), the entry lists are now out of the beginning of the game embargo, so I can reveal mine. Note that the number indicates how many points a person is worth and you get an extra 12 points for uniqueness, i.e. being the only participant to have someone on your list.

20. I.M. Pei
19. Robert Mugabe
18. Ed Kranepool
17. Honor Blackman
16. Beverly Cleary
15. Dervla Murphy
14. John McCain
13. Johnny Clegg
12. Al Jaffe
11. Herman Wouk
10. Jimmy Carter
9. Javier Perez de Cuellar
8. John Paul Stevens
7. Tom Jones (the lyricist, not the Welsh singer)
6. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
5. Norman Lloyd
4. Jerry Herman
3. Olivia de Haviland
2. Sheldon Harnick
1. Sara Paretsky

The Pajama Game: Looking back, I realized I never wrote about the production of The Pajama Game at Arena Stage, which I saw just before leaving for my vacation. It’s a problematic show to modern sensibilities. I’m tempted to retitle it to something like "Sexual Harassment at the Sleep-Tite Factory." I also find a lot of the lyrics to be full of cheap, amateurish rhymes ("A new town is a blue town…")

But – and this is a huge redeeming factor – there is fabulous choreography. I was particularly pleased to see that Donna McKechnie, who played Mabel, still has it at age 74. (I saw her as Cassie in A Chorus Line back in the 1970’s!) The most striking dance moves, though, came from Blakely Slaybaugh as Prez (the union president).

I do prefer the modern sensibilities and deplore the sexism. But I also miss the days when people broke out into spectacular dance moves with little provocation. In fact, I often wish that people in real life would spontaneously broke into song and dance. It would certainly liven up many a design review.

Losers’ Post-Holiday Party: Getting back to the present time, Saturday night was the annual post-holiday party for the Style Invitational Losers. As usual with potlucks, I have a long debate with myself over what to bring. Someday I will use up the spring roll wrappers that I bought way too many of because I misunderstood the package labeling. But this time, I went for quick and easy in the form of stuffed mushrooms. You just take baby bella mushroom caps, arrange them on a baking pan. Fill each cap with some alouette (or similar) cheese. Dip the cheese-stuffed end in panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

As for the party itself, it was conveniently metro-accessible. Or, conveniently if the Red Line weren’t running only half-hourly over the weekend, so I got there later than I intended. Still, I was in time to get food and, more importantly, in time for the sing-along, which is always a highlight of these things. Throw in lots of intelligent conversation, both with people I already knew and those I hadn’t met before, and it was a good time.

One Day University: On Sunday, I went to One Day University. This time out, it was at the Lansburgh Theatre and consisted of two lectures. The first was The Presidential Library given by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College. I had actually heard Luzzi lecture (on a different literature topic) previously and he’s quite a dynamic speaker. He posed a few general questions about the relationship between reading and ability to be an effective leader. He discussed several presidents in depth, focusing on what they read. George Washington, for example, used Cato as a model of manhood. He also collected etiquette books. Thomas Jefferson read pretty much everything. Lincoln was, of course, an autodidact. As a counterexample, Warren Harding’s reading was limited to things like Rules of Poker. Buchanan and Fillmore supposedly both read a lot, but neither was much of a leader. Grant didn’t get mentioned, but I find it hard to imagine him reading much of anything beyond the labels on liquor bottles. (Apparently, he got in trouble at West Point for spending his time reading James Fenimore Cooper, instead of his textbooks.)

Luzzi compiled an American Library List that included some obvious authors (Locke, Rousseau) and works (Plutarch’s Lives, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Bible). He also recommended things like Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Ben Franklin’s autobiography. Fictional works which got mentioned included Great Expectations and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Didn’t any presidents appreciate the real Great American Novel – namely Moby Dick?

Anyway, Luzzi’s conclusion was, essentially, that good readers make good leaders. He made four points to support this: 1) reading fundamentally suggests a person knows he doesn’t know everything, 2) readers are curious, 3) reading supports collaboration, and 4) reading puts one in another’s shoes. As a self-confessed biblioholic, I tend to agree.

The second speaker was Mark Lapadusa of Yale University, speaking on How to Watch Movies Like a Film Professor. He started out by pointing out that this applies to seeing a movie repeatedly and, for first viewing, one should just enjoy it for what it is. Then he showed various film clips and talked about aspects of them. The films he discussed were Casablance, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Dr. Strangelove, and The Godfather (Both I and II). That’s a pretty wide assortment of styles and subject matter. He touched on one subject that I have a long-standing interest in, namely film music, specifically in the case of the shower scene from Psycho. If he’d had time for questions, I might have asked him more about that.

I was also a little disappointed that he didn’t talk about source material. For example, The Godfather is one of a handful of movies that is generally considered far more successful than the novel it is based on. Casablanca was based on an unsuccessful play. What makes a film adaptation successful and why do so many movies based on bestsellers fail either by being too true to the novel or not true enough?

I had a chance to discuss the lectures a bit more after. I had gotten into a conversation with a woman named Ann before the program. We ended up sitting together in the auditorium and decided to go out to lunch (at China Chilcano – tasty Peruvian / Asian fusion food) afterwards. It was nice to have the opportunity to digest some of what I’ve heard. All in all, an excellent way to spend part of a day.

Murder Was Her Hobby: I took advantage of being in the city to go to the Renwick Gallery and see their exhibit of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glessner Lee. This is a series of miniature rooms depicting what may or may not be murder scenes. They were built to be a teaching tool for forensic science and are incredibly detailed. Apparently, Lee even made underwear for the dead bodies. Because they are still used for teaching, the exhibit does not include solutions to the cases. There were a few where I thought I had a good idea of what had happened, but I was completely puzzled by the majority of them. So much for all the hours I’ve spent reading murder mysteries!

The craftsmanship is amazing and the exhibit included flashlights to allow for closer examination of the crime scenes. However, there wasn’t very much thought given to the flow through the room, so one was stuck standing and waiting for people to move for long stretches of time. It would have been better to set things up so people moved only in one direction through the exhibit. And it would have been much better to limit the number of people allowed in at a time. Even with these annoyances, it was worth seeing the exhibit and I’m glad I took the time to.

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