Grandeur

Apr. 17th, 2019 01:51 pm
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Celebrity Death Watch: Charles Van Doren was a contestant on the quiz show Twenty-One in the 1950’s and was caught up in the cheating scandal, as he had been given answers by the producers. Earl Thomas Conley was a country music singer-songwriter. Scott Sanderson pitched for several baseball teams, including the Expos and the Cubs. Ian Cognito did standup comedy in Britain. Georgia Engel was an actress, best known for appearing as Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but she also performed in several musicals, including Hello, Dolly and The Drowsy Chaperone. Tony Buzan wrote several books popularizing mind mapping. Gene Wolfe was a science fiction writer. Bibi Andersson was an actress who appeared in several Ingmar Bergman movies. Les Reed was a songwriter whose works included "It’s Not Unusual."

Whew!:I had a very busy week at work last week, accompanied by a busy week at home. The latter was largely due to taxes. Almost all of the effort of doing taxes is in finding all of the paperwork. Every year it seems that one or more pieces of paper (a 1099 interest statement or a receipt for a charitable donation, typically) goes missing, resulting in much scrambling to find it or search for a replacement source of the relevant info. And every year I swear I will do a better job of filing. At any rate, it did get done. Only to get into the other annual whirlwind known as cleaning for Passover. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably never discover that my pantry has a jar of marshmallow fluff and a can of water chestnuts, not to mention an absurd number of bottles of vinegar. (Presumably each of those was bought with a different recipe in mind.) I still have to clean the oven, vacuum, and achieve total world domination.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t also have a busy weekend.

Grand Hotel: I went to see Grand Hotel at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. I saw the movie long ago and, as far as I remember it, the musical is reasonably true to it. The plot revolves around several people staying in the hotel in Berlin during one day in the late 1920’s. Elizaveta Grushinskaya is an aging ballerina, accompanied by her companion, Raffaela, who secretly yearns for her. Flammchen is a secretary who wants to be a Hollywood actress. Otto Kringelein is a dying Jewish man who is trying to experience some of what has passed him by before the end. Baron Felix von Gaigern is an impoverished nobleman – and thief. The most passionate moment in the whole thing involves the romance that develops between Grushinskaya and the Baron. The Baron is easily the most appealing character in the ensemble, raising the hopes of several of the others, while ending up doomed himself.

The performers included a number of familiar faces. Natascia Diaz was excellent as Grushinskaya and Nkrumah Gatling, as the Baron, made a fine romantic foil for her. But the most striking performance was by Bobby Smith as Otto Klingelein.

Overall, this isn’t one of my favorite musicals, largely because I think it is rather shallow. Maury Yeston seems to have gotten involved with too many of these shows that try to follow too many characters at a superficial level. (I have the same issue with Titanic, for example.) Still, I liked it well enough to find it a diverting couple of hours.


Story Swap: Saturday night was a story swap. We had a small group, but it was still enjoyable. Eve had a long pourquoi story, which I think was from Guatemala. I told my father’s version of the crossing of the Red Sea. And there was a lot of general schmoozing.

One Day University: Sunday was One Day University. I was a bit annoyed that they did not include coffee this time out – unlike all the other times I’ve attended. I wasn’t going to pay four bucks just for a caffeine fix. (Instead, I went over to the nearby CVS and got a coke zero for 2 bucks.) Still, this really seemed pretty chintzy to me.

There were three lectures this time. The first talk was by William Burke-White of the University of Pennsylvania Law School on America and the World 2019: Where Are We Now (And where are we going?. His basic message was that, since World War II, the U.S. has led the global order with four pillars: 1) sovereignty (nation state as basic actor), 2) security (territorial integrity), 3) economic liberalization (currency convertibility, financial stability), and 4) open, rules-based system. What is changing now is the rise of China, leading to a trade war, along with a rise of populist nationalism, due partly to economic disparities. Information transparency and manipulation has led to a lack of secrecy in diplomacy. He also mentioned artificial intelligence and climate change as influencers, though he was less clear about their effects. I can’t say he really said anything I found startlingly new and original, but he was a reasonably interesting speaker.

The best lecture of the day was by Jennifer Keene of Chapman University on World War I: What Really Happened and Why It Matters. She emphasized the importance of the decision for conscription, which included public draft registration on particular days. Despite the public nature of registration, there was an almost 11% rate of draft evasion, which is higher than for Vietnam. While 95% of the men in the Civil War were combatants, only 40% were combatants in World War I. The work of those support troops was not as recognized and respected, which had a disproportionate impact on African Americans, who were overwhelmingly (89%) assigned to non-combatant roles like lading ships.

As for the importance of WWI, she noted that the German threat to the U.S. was real, including both the threat to shipping and sabotage within the U.S. But a more lasting impact was the rise of interest in Civil Rights, partly in response to the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act (which made it illegal to oppose the government and led to the founding of the ACLU). She had several stories related to issues like women suffrage, rights of African-Americans, rights of immigrants, and the peace movement that grew in the 1930’s, which made the U.S. reluctant to enter WWII. Overall, she was a dynamic speaker and held my interest.

I had expected to enjoy the final talk, by Mark Mazullo of Macalester College on Mozart and Beethoven: The Lives and Legacies of History’s Most Famous Composers. But I just didn’t buy his key premise that both composers were inherently tied to the revolutions of the era (both political and industrial) and to empathy as a road to democracy and human rights. Yes, they were entrepreneurial compared to, say, Haydn, who worked for Count Esterhazy, but I’d argue that gave them more freedom to write what they wanted, while also adding greater insecurity. Mazzullo brought up the point as the reason why Beethoven wrote only 9 symphonies while Mozart wrote 41 and Haydn wrote 104. But Haydn lived to 77 and Mozart died at 35, so you could argue they were roughly equally productive. (Beethoven is a bit more complicated – he never really composed quickly and modern scholarship suggests his lifelong poor health was due to chronic lead poisoning. But he also had plenty of patronage during his earlier years.) Overall, I don’t think I really learned anything new from this talk.


Notre Dame: I went to Notre Dame with Robert (the gentleman with whom I conducted the world’s longest running brief meaningless fling) during a weekend in Paris In 2009. It took some effort (and Berthillon ice cream) for me to persuade him to wait in line to get in, but we were both suitably impressed with its grandeur. I believe that grand works of art and architecture are proof of the value of divine inspiration. However, as I read about the large donations to restore the building, I can’t help wondering how much else could be accomplished with that money – education, job creation, etc.
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I have been crazy busy at work and trying to get caught up on some household things. Hence, my relative silence. Which is not, alas, likely to change this month. Anyway, here is a quick catch-up of last weekend’s entertainment, before I head out of town for this weekend.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I don’t remember any of the context, but I was wearing a jacket with teal and purple horizontal stripes.

Hexagon 2019 – Romp in the Swamp: Hexagon puts on an annual political satirical musical comedy revue, with the money going to charity. I know two people involved in it. One writes music and lyrics and performs in the show. The other mostly writes lyrics. Some of the funnier bits involved a perfect candidate who is undone by using a plastic straw for her water, a song in praise of athleisure, and a relook at the Golden Girls in the age of #metoo. There are also Newsbreak segments, with late breaking topical jokes. My favorite was about the Georgetown tennis coach being arrested for racketeering. Overall, it was a fun evening. But the venue (a high school auditorium in Tenleytown) had seriously uncomfortable seating. I felt sorry for students who have to sit through assemblies there.

Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity: I saw this play at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. It starts with a lecture by an art historian, during which members of the audience are asked to write down what they would consider a masterpiece that needs to be preserved when the rest of the world is destroyed. Then the scene shifted to the ruins of a museum, with the art historian shackled to the wall. She is tortured by a young woman soldier, while a third woman nurses her. The idea is to force her to restore a Rembrandt painting. There is a fair amount of absurdity in the script, ranging from a choice of music to listen to while she works on the painting to the rhinoceros that has taken up residence in 17th Century Dutch Paintings. That leads to plenty of humor, but, ultimately, the story is about the destruction of a civilization and is very dark. I found it interesting, though more violent than I’d prefer. It was also well-acted by all three women – Holly Twyford (the art historian), Felicia Curry (the soldier) and Yesenia Iglesias (the nurse). I will probably look for other plays by Heather McDonald in the future, as I did find it provocative.

Lost and Found: Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done show on the theme of Lost and Found. I had thought about developing a story about my non-existent sense of direction, but decided I didn’t have the time to flesh it out. So I went with a story I’ve done before about a hiking experience in South Africa nearly 20 years ago. It went over reasonably well, though I did forget a moderately funny line I’ve used in the past. On the plus side, something I added (largely because of a mistake I made during rehearsal) worked well. Overall, it was a nice evening.
fauxklore: (theatre)
Love Stories: Fall for the Book and the George Mason University Folklore Round Table put on a storytelling event on Wednesday night, with a focus on love stories. A few of us from Better Said Than Done were invited to tell as part of the program. I had a mental debate about what to tell. Better Said Than Done is focused on personal stories, but I have an original fairy tale that fit the theme well and decided to go with that. It worked well. But I do still plan to tell a story about the 13,769 times I fell in love (starting with Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super Heroes – ooh, that green skin!) some time.


Finding Neverland: Last night, I went to see Finding Neverland at the National Theatre. For those who are unfamiliar with it, this is a musical about how J. M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. I have to admit that I don’t really know enough about him to know how accurate it is, but I gathered that the basics are there. It wasn’t a terrible show, but it wasn’t brilliant either. Most of the music is pretty forgettable and many of the jokes are corny and trite. I like the concept that we all need to play and growing up doesn’t eliminate that. I don’t like being hit over the head with it. Also, I hated much of the choreography. It was redeemed with "We Own the Night," but I wasn’t surprised to learn that the choreographer, Mia Michaels, is best known for working on So You Think You Can Dance. I don’t want generic showy moves in theatre choreography. I want dance that tells a story.

The single thing that annoyed me the most is that I know that J. M. Barrie was a Scot. I assume this is the director’s fault and not the actor’s, but I found it really grating that Jeff Sullivan played him with an English accent. No. Just no.

I didn’t completely hate this – and, by the way, I do completely hate Peter Pan and take some pleasure in refusing to clap for Tinkerbell – but it could have been tightened up quite a bit. If you want to see a show based on Peter Pan, I suggest Peter and the Starcatcher instead. That had some real imagination behind it.
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I am really tired because I was out late on Wednesday night. I went to The Grapevine, a storytelling show in Darkest Maryland. (Except it really isn't. It's technically on the D.C. line of the border in Takoma Park. But it involves going to an extreme end of the Red Line, so it is rather like falling off the edge of the earth.) The featured tellers were Noa Baum and Donald Davis. Normally, there is also an open mike, but they skipped it, possibly because it was very very crowded.

Anyway, Noa had a new story about dolls, mixed with a story about Vasilisa the Wise and Baba Yaga. Some of the transitions between the two didn't quite work for me, but it was an interesting piece. One thing, though - and I know this is not Noa's fault - but Baba Yaga's hut does not have doors or windows. That (along with the chicken feet) is one of its key features. She goes in and out via the chimney.

As for Donald, he told two stories - Mrs. Rosemary's Kindergarten and a story about haircuts. I've heard both of them multiple times before, but it doesn't matter because he is just such a great teller. Overall, the show was a real treat and worth the exhaustion.

I compounded the exhaustion last night because I was absorbed in reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and stayed up to finish it. It's an excellent novel and brought back memories of traveling in Ghana.

Friday Five: I don't usually do these, but since my grandfather was a jeweler, this one appealed to me.



  1. Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry? Describe. I have a necklace that my great-grandmother supposedly bought in China. It's black enamel over what I think is brass, with complex designs of the metal showing through the enamel.

  2. Is there a piece of jewelry that you wear daily? Describe. I wear at least one ring all the time, except for when I travel in somewhere dicey. It's usually a square-cut sapphire ring, but I have identical emerald and ruby rings (and some others I sometimes wear depending on what I have on).

    I used to wear an onyx ring on my index finger all the time, but I've been having some joint issues that made the finger swell, so I haven't been wearing it much.

  3. What is the most costly piece of jewelry you own? I have a star sapphire and diamond ring I inherited. I never wear it because it is fragile and doesn't really go with anything, but it was custom-made for my mother so I feel obliged to keep it.

    Of things I actually bought for myself, I have a Marty Magic gold ring in the shape of a bat. I also have a couple of pairs of Lunch at the Ritz earrings, that are big and dangly and fabulous for special occasions.

  4. What piece of jewelry would you secretly (or not so secretly) love to own, but do not? Why don't you? Maybe more from Lunch at the Ritz, possibly one of their necklaces. I don't wear necklaces much, however, because I tend to play with them and break them.

  5. Is there a piece of jewelry you once owned but no longer own? What happened to it? I had another sapphire ring which disappeared in the course of one or another move ages ago. I keep hoping it will turn up, but after 30+ years it seems unlikely.

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It was my turn to host our monthly story swap. Which meant making at least a nominal attempt at making my condo presentable.

As usual, I started out with good intentions to put things where they belong ( which is often the trash). But there is never really enough time. So the boxes where I put things I intend to get to are overflowing. And there are stacks of things on half of my bed, which I need to sort out.

Also, why do I have a bag-less vacuum? It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it is a pain to empty. The bin has way too small a capacity. Four sweeps over the floor did not get all of the dust and shreddies that spilled from emptying the shredder. But that was all I could handle doing.

After all that, three of the 5 people who had RSVPed canceled. We had nice seasonal stories anyway.
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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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I do have other things to write about, but timing is everything when it comes to shameless self-promotion.


I'm one of the performers in a storytelling show on Saturday night.


God, the Universe and Everything: really big stories
November 24, 2018
The Auld Shebeen (Downstairs – Entrance on North St.)
3971 Chain Bridge Rd.
Fairfax, VA 22030
6:00PM Doors Open
7:00PM Show
Full drink and dinner menu available for purchase
Seating is on a first come, first served basis
$15 at the Door (Cash Preferred)
$10 Advance Tickets

For tickets, see the Better Said Than Done website under storytelling shows.
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I still haven’t had time to catch up, because I’ve been busy doing things. Here’s what the past several days have looked like.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Overall, it was a stimulating morning.
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TCC Luncheon: Saturday was a Travelers’ Century Club luncheon. I invited a friend who also travels a fair bit to come along so I got a dose of work-related gossip along with the travel talk. She enjoyed the meeting (as did I) and will probably join as a provisional member. There aren’t too many places where somebody can ask, "Who’s been to Easter Island?" and see over three quarters of the people in the room raise their hands.

Better Said Than Done Show: Then there was a storytelling show on Saturday night. I told a story I have been working on for over a decade. I think it had about 3 words in common with the version I rehearsed over the phone. It mostly worked, though it isn’t completely where I want it to be. I took out a lot of the gorier details (involving domestic violence, overheard through open windows) and I am not entirely comfortable with that decision. I think what I need is equally disturbing, but more bizarre, examples of things I’ve heard.

But, overall, it was a very good show, with a wide variety of stories.

If you want to hear me live, the next show I am doing is August 15th at the Lake Anne Coffee House in Reston, Virginia. It’s at 7 p.m. and it’s free!

Also, I haven’t posted the video from the previous show here, so, for your watching pleasure:



Knitting Group: Sunday was the first time in ages that I made it to knitting group. I can’t say I made much progress on my sampler afghan. In fact, I made no progress, thanks to a dropped stitch and screwing up fixing it. But there was lots of good conversation, so it was worth it anyway.

A Brief Political Diversion: The controversy over a congressional race a couple of districts southwest of mine has to do with whether or not the Republican candidate is into Bigfoot porn. There’s a part of me that finds this amusing and there is a (bigger) part of me that thinks, "who cares what his kinks are?" Assuming, that is, that Bigfoot is a consenting adult.
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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.
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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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Celebrity Death Watch: Clint Walker was an actor, best known for his role in the TV series Cheyenne. Dovey Johnson Roundtree was a civil rights activist. Allyn Ann McLerie was an actress whose roles included Amy in Where’s Charley? (as in the song "Once in Love with Amy.") Richard Peck wrote children’s books. Ted Dabney cofounded Atari. Gardner Dozois was a science fiction writer and editor.

Philip Roth was a highly overrated writer. Portnoy’s Complaint is one of those books I finished only to see if it improved. It didn’t. His attitudes towards Judaism and towards women were simply obnoxious.

Alan Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon. He had a later career as a painter, apparently incorporating moon dust from his patches into some of his art. There are now only four moonwalkers still alive – Buzz Aldrin, David Scott, Charles Duke, and Harrison Schmitt.

New England Trip: I flew up to PVD on Saturday morning. I always get a minor kick out of taking advantage of Star Alliance lounge access (thanks to my United Gold status) at IAD when I’m taking a short flight. Especially when it’s a flight on a CRJ, the most uncomfortable planes around. In this case, I had a nice breakfast at the Turkish Air lounge – yogurt, berries, and simit (the Turkish equivalent of sesame bagels, but better because the ratio of sesame seeds to crusty bread is higher) plus surprisingly drinkable coffee.

I rented a car and drove to Connecticut. I had planned to walk around Mystic, but it was very hot and there were big crowds for the holiday weekend, so I didn’t spend long there. Then I drove up to Mohegan Sun, which provided a quick lunch, people watching, and some gambling. It is remarkably glitzy. I was tired so drove on to my hotel (the Hampton Inn in Norwich) in the late afternoon. I took a nap and read for a while, before ordering in what proved to be mediocre Chinese food for supper. Overall, it was an unexciting day, but the next day was the real reason for the trip.

In the morning, I drove to northern Providence to pick up my friend, Ron, at the bus station. We then headed to Pawtucket, hoping to find somewhere to kill time before the PawSox game we were going to. Fortunately, there turned out to be a diner right by McCoy Stadium, where we had a reasonably cheap brunch. Then we headed to the stadium, which has something truly miraculous – free parking! We hung out for a while until the gates opened. That gave us time to notice cute sculptures of children playing ball, as well as a larger statue of Ben Mondor, who bought the team out of bankruptcy in 1977. There is also a mascot statue who needs new pants.

We stopped at the team store for me to buy a hoodie as the fleece I had brought with me had a broken zipper. This was a wise move as the weather was not very baseball suitable – cold and drizzly. Fortunately, the rain stayed light enough that the game could be played. The PawSox defeated the Lehigh Valley IronPigs 1-0. The most notable aspect of the game was a large number of walks. I should also mention there was a sports bottle give-away, so I got to add to my collection of ballpark gimmes.

McCoy Stadium is old (1942) and is at least somewhat endangered, but I thought there was nothing really wrong with it. It’s not at all glitzy, to be fair, but the seats are okay and the concessions, while unexciting, are pretty much in line with other minor league ballparks. The most unique thing there is the tradition of "fishing" for autographs. The field level seats aren’t really at field level, so people lower buckets to the dugouts on ropes with something to sign, a sharpie to sign it with, and some sort of "bait" (typically candy or gum). There are also lots of banners about team history and famous players, as well as a big display about the longest game ever played – the famous 33 inning game between the PawSox and the Rochester Red Wings.

I should also note that the PawSox follow a lot of Red Sox traditions – including singing "Sweet Caroline" in the moddle of the 8th inning and playing "Dirty Water" at the end of the game when they win. The latter doesn’t really make sense that far away from the Charles. Overall it was a fun afternoon, despite the weather.

I drove Ron to the Providence train station, then headed back to Pawtucket to the Hampton Inn there for the night. I read for a while, before walking over to an Irish pub right next to the hotel for supper. The food wasn’t great, but the Narragansett IPA was good.

I flew back Monday morning. I didn’t get nearly as much done Monday afternoon as I’d hoped to, though I did accomplish fairly major grocery shopping and fairly major napping.

Minor League Ballparks: I haven’t officially decided that I should go to a game at every minor league ballpark (as I did with the majors) but I am obsessive enough to sort of have it in mind. So, for the record, here are the ones I have been to (in chronological order):

Salt Lake Bees – Pacific Coast League (AAA) affiliate of the Anaheim (not L.A. damnit) Angels. Apparently, the stadium in Salt Lake City is called Smith’s Ballpark. It’s easy to get to, since there is a light rail stop one block away. I was in SLC for a conference in May 2006 and the game gave me something to do one evening.

Reno Aces – Pacific Coast League (AAA) affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greater Nevada Field is conveniently located downtown, a short walk from the hotel area. I was in Reno mostly to do a volksmarch or three in April 2011, so this was another target of opportunity.

Portland Sea Dogs – Eastern League (AA) affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. I was in Portland, Maine for Sharing the Fire in April 2013 and thought it would be fun to spend Sunday afternoon going to a game at Hadlock Field. What I neglected in this thinking was the fact that Maine is still uninhabitable in April. Even though I wore multiple layers of clothes plus my winter parka, I don’t think I thawed out completely for a solid week.

Potomac Nationals – Carolina League (A-Advanced) affiliate of the Washington Nationals. G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium is in Woodbridge, Virginia. This is maybe 30 miles from my house, but one has to figure an hour, given traffic on I-95. It’s a shorter drive from Lorton, where I had spent the day at a storytelling event in July 2013. The main reason to go there is that it is a lot cheaper than going to a real Nats game.

Lexington Legends – South Atlantic League (A) affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. I was in Lexington for a Flyertalk Do in April 2014 and skipped out on Friday night partying to go to a game at Whitaker Bank Field because I am more obsessive about baseball than about either horses or bourbon.

Vancouver Canadians – Northwest League (A – Short Season) affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Another target of opportunity, as I was in Vancouver for the July 2015 NPL con. I figured I might as well go to a game at Scotiabank Field (aka Nat Bailey Stadium)

Toledo Mud Hens – International League (AAA) affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Fifth Third Field is downtown, as much as Toledo has a downtown. This was the first time I went somewhere specifically to go to a minor league game, as part of a FlyerTalk Do in September 2015.

Pawtucket Red Sox – International League (AAA) affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. McCoy Field is the oldest of the AAA ballparks and they are talking about either building a new stadium in Pawtucket or moving to Worcester. This was a trip specifically to go to a game there while the ballpark still exists.


Shameless Self-Promotion: I have a few storytelling performances coming up. This coming Sunday (June 3rd), I’ll be telling folktales having to do with Tricksters and Treatsters at the Washington Folk Festival. The festival is at Glen Echo Park in Cabin John, Maryland and is free. My set is at 5 p.m. but there is storytelling and music and dance all day (and all day Saturday, but I have another commitment then.)

On Wednesday June 20th at 7 p.m. I’ll be telling at a Better Said Than Done show at the Lake Anne Coffeehouse in Reston, Virginia. The theme is Top Chef: stories of dining, wining, and winning (or trying to. And on Saturday June 30th at 7 p.m. I’ll be at the Auld Shebeen, again with Better Said Than Done, as part of a show about S’More: stories about camping, food, and wanting more.
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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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Weather: I am so tired of being cold. We even had a (mercifully brief) snow flurry this morning. Come on Springtime, damn it!

The Grapevine: I made it to darkest Maryland (well, actually, just short of Maryland) for the monthly storytelling show at Busboys & Poets – Takoma. I did put my name in for the open mike, but did not get picked out of the hat. Which is just as well, as I was tired.

Anyway, the three tellers whose names were drawn all did well. They were followed by a young poet, who stumbled on trying to perform from memory, but one must be kind to the young. The first featured teller was Anne Shimojima from Chicago. She told an interesting mixture of stories, including two Japanese folktales, a lovely literary story and a personal story.

She was followed by Mary Hamilton from Kentucky. Mary started with an amazing original story ("Susan Contemplates Murder") that was very funny, with the humor coming from the truth of the emotions. She also told a personal story, having to do with her wedding and her family’s eventual acceptance of her unconventional husband. And she told a couple of folktales, including one at the end that was particularly apt for the current zeitgeist, though she noted that it had been collected in the 1940’s.

All in all, it was a fun show and worth being out on a weeknight for.

Speaking of Stories: Here is the story I told at the February Better Said Than Done show.




United and Dogs: So there are a few stories going around involving United Airlines and dogs and everybody is jumping all over them.

The first one involves a dog being placed in an overhead bin and dying during the flight. The allegation is that the flight attendant insisted that the passenger put the dog in the overhead. The flight attendant claims not to have known that there was a dog In the bag. Given that a lot of carriers do look like ordinary dufflebags, I find that plausible. It sounds like the bag might have been a little too big to fit under the seat, so it would not be surprising for the flight attendant to ask for the bag to go overhead. Apparently, also, the passenger was Spanish speaking, so I can see the flight attendant not understanding that it was a dog. But why didn’t the passenger check on the dog during the flight? Supposedly, the dog was barking early in the flight, so why wouldn’t the flight attendant have noticed that? The whole thing sounds like a tragic misunderstanding. But it’s not the sort of thing that is likely to happen again and there is nothing specific to United that led to it.

In response to this, there is a story being revived about how many more pet deaths United has had than other airlines. Over the past 3 years, there were 85 pet deaths and 41 were on United. Actually, Hawaiian had a higher rate of pet deaths over that period. But they went to zero last year – because they stopped accepting brachycephalic breeds of dogs, which account for almost all pet deaths. And that is precisely the point. United accepts a wider range of pets as cargo than any of the other U.S. based airlines, including those flat-faced breeds that are prone to respiratory failure under stress.

By the way, since I was curious, there was one death of a cat. That was a Sphynx cat, which is a marginal breed barely worth the honorable name of cat.


The other United incident involved sending a dog intended to go to Kansas to Japan, and vice versa. This one is really not United’s fault at all. The dogs had connections that involved an overnight in Denver and were sent to an off-sight facility (not owned by United) overnight. That’s where they were put back in the wrong kennels, switching them. Annoying and stressful, but no harm in the long run.


Bottom line is that I would fly with a pet on United, if I had a pet and were that determined to travel with it (which rarely makes sense, but that’s another matter).
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Celebrity Death Watch: Nini Theilade was a ballerina. Morgan Tsvangirai was the leader of the political opposition in Zimbabwe. Gunter Blobel won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Billy Graham was an evangelist. Emma Chambers was a British actress. Sridevi was a Bollywood superstar. Nanette Fabray was an actress and singer and probably best known for her work with Sid Caesar. Shmuel Auerbach was an influential Israeli rabbi. Barbara Alston sang "Da Doo Ron Ron." Eido Shimano was a controversial Buddhist leader, who was forced to resign from his role in the Zen Studies Society after a sex scandal.

Cynthia Heimel wrote humor pieces for a wide range o publications. Her book, Sex Tips for Girls was a big influence on me

Prince Henrik was the Prince Consort of Denmark. He’s only significant because he scored me 20 ghoul pool points due to a quick trade. Since the rules this year let you reuse somebody after a trade, it was an easy way to get on the board. Instead of putting I.M. Pei back on the top of my list, I reloaded with Stirling Moss on the grounds that his retirement from public life probably means he is down to mere weeks. I have been known to be wrong about this sort of thing, however.

About Arming Teachers: I’ve already written my opinions about gun control and the latest massacre hasn’t changed them. I do want to say, however, that the idea of arming teachers as a countermeasure is a terrible one. If there is a school shooting, police who respond will have no way of identifying teachers and are likely to shoot anybody who is brandishing a weapon.

About Punishment and Civil Disobedience: I also have a quick comment about students getting suspended for participating in protests. I believe they should be punished as long as the punishment is exactly the same as for any equivalent action, e.g. other unexcused absences. Part of civil disobedience is being willing to accept those punishments to bring attention to the issues being protested. Compare to Gandhi serving jail time in South Africa for refusing racially-based registration.

Visiting Escribitionist: I met [personal profile] lillibet at Belga Cafe for cocktails and conversation when she was in town. I tried a cocktail called Yuzu Making Me Crazy which consisted of Untitled No. 2 Gin, balsamic, yuzu, beet syrup, and plum bitters. It was lovely, both in taste and appearance. The conversation was equally lovely, covering people and places and ideas.

Month of Letters: I have failed this year, though I have a couple of days left to write to people. I thought I could catch up and just never managed to. Which is about where I am on housework, too.

Election Security: Thursday night, I went to an MIT Club meeting on election security. There was good conversation beforehand. The talk itself was also interesting, covering mathematical techniques for ensuring accuracy of voting. But I do wish they did these things at a better location than Maggiano’s, which I think serves up vast amounts of mediocre food and overpriced mediocre drinks.

Storytelling: I did Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done show, which had a theme involving love, marriage, and commitment. My story had to do with DLL, a MUD I played on in the 1993 time frame and on which my character and another character had a rather unusual wedding. There was a wide mix of stories and a responsive, albeit smallish, audience. Overall, it was a fun evening.
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Extended Restaurant Week: Some flyertalk friends invited me to join them for an extended restaurant week dinner at 2941, which is probably the best restaurant in Fairfax County. It’s an excellent place to go for this sort of thing, since one can’t normally get out of there for much under a hundred bucks, even without alcohol. They had a reasonable number of selections (3 or 4) for each course, with only one that had an upcharge. I had a nicely citrusy ceviche for the appetizer, which also had the interesting touch of fried tortilla strips for some crunch. For the main course, I got the duck Bolognese, which was quite tasty. The chocolate velvet (essentially a chocolate mousse) made an excellent wintertime dessert. And they are one of a handful of places that has drinkable decaf. The food was excellent and the atmosphere is quiet and highly conducive to conversation. It’s really a lovely place and I’m glad the others involved thought of me to fill out the party.

MiniFest:Saturday was the Folklore Society of Greater Washington Mid-Winter MiniFest. My set wasn’t until 4:30 in the afternoon, but I was carpooling with another teller, so ended up going for the whole day. There were some song and dance tracks I might have liked going to, but I have been having knee issues that I thought would make Intro to Morris Dancing a bad idea and the singing I most wanted to go to conflicted with some of the storytelling I most wanted to hear. So I spent almost the whole day at the storytelling room, with a couple of breaks to go to the Green Room for tea and snacks. I also did a minor bit of shopping, largely because I saw something which made me think of someone I know. And the same stall had local honey, which is something I had run out of a while back. (I have two other sources, but won’t see either for a while.)

Anyway, everyone I heard did reasonably well. I was particularly pleased with the performances by the three members of The Twinbrook Tellers (our youth affiliate) who performed. As for my set, I had crowd-sourced some new similes to use in "The Baker Woman and the Miller’s Daughter," but forgot the one I had most wanted to use ("as hard as a rock café"). The story that got the best reaction was "Berel the Baker," and, having been there, I can truthfully assert that one cannot get a bagel in Chelm. I also told "Nasruddin’s Cat" and "Clever Greta." Why, yes, there was a food theme. Overall, I had fun both telling and performing.

Sunday: The weather was dreadful. There were a couple of things I might have gone out for, but nothing I absolutely had to. I got through a bunch of household paperwork, though not, alas, all of it. And I almost read the entire Washington Post.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Norman Baker was a navigator on three of Thor Heyerdahl’s expeditions. Neil Gillman was a major philosopher of Conservative Judaism. Rance Howard was an actor, though is probably better known as the father of Ron Howard. Lowell Hawthorne was the founder of Golden Crust, a Jamaican restaurant and frozen food chain. Ali Abdullah Selah united Yemen. Shashi Kapoor was a Bollywood actor. Christine Keeler was the model at the heart of the Profumo affair, a famous British government sex scandal. Johnny Hallyday was a French rock star. King Michael was the king of Romania and staffed a coup against the fascists in 1944. Conrad Brooks acted in a number of atrocious movies, primarily those made by Ed Wood. Tracy Stallard played baseball for the Mets and for the Red Sox. He is most famous for giving up the 61st home run hit by Roger Maris in 1961 Simeon Booker was a significant African-American reporter.

Jim Nabors was an actor and singer, best known for playing Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show.

John Anderson ran for President in 1980. He generated a lot of enthusiasm among people like myself, who are socially liberal and economically conservative. Frankly, I haven’t been anywhere near as enthusiastic about any candidate since.

Joan Hess was a mystery writer. Both the Claire Malloy series and the Maggody series are popular humorous cozies, which I highly recommend. She also wrote a series of botanically themed mysteries under the name Joan Hadley.

JGSGW: There was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting the first Sunday of December. The speaker was from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and mostly served to convince me that I need to go down to the museum and spend some time with the databases they have which are not on the internet. And it apparently takes some particular expertise to deal with the records they have from the International Tracing Service. It’s handy to live nearby, but it isn’t as if I have any actual free time.

Radio Show: Speaking of lack of free time, I had to leave the JGSGW meeting a little early to go home to tape a story for a radio show. The Story Hour with Wendy Mann will air on Wednesday December 20th and repeat on the 29th at 10:30 a.m. on WERA 96.7 FM in Arlington. It’s also on mixcloud.com. The show is a full hour of holiday stories. My Chanukah in Chelm story is just a small piece of it, but I am sure the rest of the stories are well worth listening to, also.

Ah-choo: Then there was work to cope with. Except I got a cold, so was out for a couple of days. Sigh. Because it isn’t like I wasn’t busy enough and stressed enough to start with.

Holiday Party: The annual condo complex holiday party was last night. The food was good and the conversation was lively, though rather a bit much on the adult side, e.g. a lively discussion of water heaters and dryer hoses. I also discovered that a colleague lives in the complex. (She is newish to our office, though has been with the company for a while, at a different facility.) Also, for those who have followed these parties in the past, no man in kilt, alas.

Brief Political Rant – Jerusalem: The kerfuffle over Trump saying the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is really much ado about nothing. It is not, despite what a few people have posted on facebook, him telling another country what their capital is. Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since independence and the government offices are there. There have been repeated bipartisan resolutions in the U.S. Congress to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. In practical terms, it makes sense to have embassies near the seat of government of the country they’re in. And, realistically, the embassy would end up being in West Jerusalem, which is not really in dispute. (There is little to no Palestinian interest in West Jerusalem, just as there is little Israeli interest in most of East Jerusalem. The disputed part of Jerusalem is a small area, pretty much confined to the Temple Mount.)

Brief Political Rant – Sexual Misconduct: There are degrees of misconduct and I am concerned that the current rush to be rid of anybody who has done anything questionable misses that. No, I don’t want to have to deal with off-color comments or unwanted pats on any part of my anatomy, but those are not equivalent to raping a child.

More broadly, how should we deal with bad behavior of people who have accomplished good things? An example which comes to mind is a current debate within the Jewish community regarding the music of Shlomo Carlebach. For those unfamiliar with the name, he was a rabbi who wrote a lot of songs that are widely used liturgically in Jewish Renewal (and some modern Orthodox and some Conservative) circles. He was also apparently abusive towards some women. So, should his music continue to be used in services, knowing that his can feel hurtful to women he molested? It’s not a simple question. I tend to believe that art itself can overcome any evils of the artist. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t gawk at Caravaggio’s paintings, for example. But there is the passage of time there, while Carlebach’s actions are much more recent history. Then, how much time has to pass? And how much remorse must a malefactor show? None of this is easy. I do know that treating it as if every case is the same and metaphorically hanging them all can’t be the right answer.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Nancy Friday wrote about women’s sexual fantasies, thereby persuading my generation of women we weren’t abnormal. Richard F. Gordon, Jr. was an astronaut. Roy Halladay was a great baseball pitcher, and one of a handful who won Cy Young awards in both leagues. John Hillerman was an actor, best known for his role on Magnum, P.I.. Ray Lovelock played Fyedka in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof. Jeffrey Richelson wrote books about the Intelligence Community and about satellites. Liz Smith was a gossip columnist. Nancy Zieman hosted a public television show about sewing. Salvatore Riina was the chief of the Sicilian Mafia.

Bobby Doerr played second base for the Red Sox and is in the Hall of Fame. Hehad been the oldest living former major leaguer for much of the last year of his life. He was also alleged to have been the person who taught Yaz to be a power hitter.

JGSGW Meeting – and a Couple of Related Personal Notes: A week ago Sunday was a very interesting Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington Meeting. Rabbi Gary Gans talked about his aunt, who was almost deported because she lost her citizenship by marrying an alien and voted illegally despite that. This led to an interesting discussion about family secrets and what it is and isn’t legitimate to reveal.

As far as family secrets go, I have a situation in which I know of someone who married in Europe. That person then remarried in another country after the Shoah, despite knowing their original spouse had survived. In this case, I do not have documentary proof, which is part of my rationale for not telling the details. But there is a certainly a potential lie of omission there.

The other interesting point has to do with my grandmother. She emigrated from Poland to the U.S. (New York) in 1920 and was naturalized in December 1923. She married my grandfather, who was a Polish citizen in Havana on 14 January 1930. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem because the law changed in 1922 and marrying an alien didn’t automatically cost a woman her U.S. citizenship. But, as I understand it, if a woman married an alien and lived outside the U.S. for more than 2 years, she did lose her citizenship. And Grandma and Grandpa stayed in Havana until May 1932. There isn’t any evidence that she re-naturalized. Grandpa was naturalized in January 1939. It can’t be that Grandma was covered by that, because she was one of the witnesses on his petition for naturalization. It all sounds rather suspiciously tangled to me.

Elections: Last Tuesday was election day. All of my choices won, which made me happy. I should note that the election which got the most press was in the next county over, where Danica Roehm of Prince William County became the first openly transgender person to win an office in a state legislature. Her opponent, Bob Marshall, has referred to himself as "Virginia’s chief homophobe" and made an issue of her being transgender. But the thing I think most people missed is that she focused her campaign on actual issues, notably transportation and, specifically, the need for improvements to Route 28. The triumph of substance over bigotry makes me especially happy.

Condo Association Annual Meeting: The next night was my condo association’s annual meeting, which was relatively short and painless.

Balkan Dinner: Then came Thursday night, when I went out to dinner with a few people from Flyertalk. We went to Ambar, which is a Balkan restaurant in Clarendon. While they have a $35 all you can eat small plates deal, we decided that we were better off going a la carte. I got roasted eggplant spread, the Balkan beef patty (essentially a spicy hamburger), and Brussel sprouts. The Brussel sprouts were disappointing, largely because the yogurt and lemon sauce didn’t work for me, but the rest was quite good. I would certainly be willing to eat there again

Story Swap: I hosted this month’s Voices in the Glen story swap on Saturday night. That meant a flurry of housecleaning. Unfortunately, by the time I would have been vacuuming, my back was killing me from the rest of what I’d done. I am glad that storytellers are a forgiving lot. We had a small group, but good stories and interesting conversation.

Ah-ah-ah-choo!: I succumbed to the cold I’d been fighting off for several days and stayed home from work for two days this week. I’m not quite over it, but I am considerably more functional. Despite being sick, I did go to Storytelling on the Lake in Reston, where I told a story I call They Tried to Kill Us, They Failed, Let's Eat.. I was also really happy to hear David’s story of extreme holiday decorating again.

I have political rants to write and so on, but I also have work to get done. That's enough for now.
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Stupidest Swag Ever: When I wrote about the MIT School of Engineering Reception, I forgot to mention the swag they gave us. The silver shopping bag looked elegant, but what it had was a sleep mask with the words "engineer at rest." Oy.

The Grapevine: I dragged myself to Busboys and Poets in Takoma last Wednesday for storytelling with Angela Lloyd and Robin Bady, two of my favorite wild women. Angela had a great mix of stories, ranging from shopping with a man who was going to hop a train to her version of Cinderella. (Glass slippers go with everything.) Robin focused on the ghostly. As I expected, it was a great evening of stories and I only wish I’d had more time to hang out with both of these wonderful ladies.

Fall For the Book: Thursday night was another storytelling event – a Better Said Than Done show for the Fall for the Book festival. The theme was "Air Guitar: stories about faking, music, and playing with heart." I told a story about the trauma I suffered as a child at the hands of (well, keys of) a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano - and my brother. The story mostly worked, though I still think the ending could use some improvement. Overall, it was interesting to see how various tellers interpreted the theme and the show was a lot of fun, though the audience was on the small side. There was also lots of great conversation with other tellers before and after the show.

TCC: On Saturday, I went to a Travelers’ Century Club luncheon. TCC is a group for people who have been to over 100 countries and territories. The catch is that their list of countries and territories is rather broad (e.g. Alaska and Hawaii get counted separately from CONUS). So I have rather mixed feelings about the whole thing, but it is always good to hang out with other well-traveled people. I had a lot of good conversations with interesting people (e..g the U.S. ambassador to Benin and her husband; she was surprised to be sitting between two people who had actually been to Benin). There were other people I would have liked to have gotten more time to talk with. Schedule permitting, I will try to go to future luncheons.

An Act of G-d: I saw this play at Signature Theatre on Sunday afternoon. The premise is that the Lord has come down to earth, inhabiting the body of actor – make that 7-times Helen Hayes award nominated actor – Tom Story and is going to revise the 10 commandments. The show is based on a twitter feed by David Javerbaum. That twitter sensibility makes for a lot of wisecracking and no real narrative line. There’s a lot of local insider humor (e.g. a reference to Bobby Smith, who is a better-known local actor). Some of it is genuinely funny, while some of the jokes are total groaners. The basic premise is that G-d created man in His image – and He is an asshole. Illustrative examples abound. It’s worth seeing as long as you aren’t really expecting anything particularly profound.

WBRS Reception: Sunday night was another reception at the Willard Intercontinental, this time for the William Barton Rogers Society, which has to do with donating above a certain amount of money to MIT. There was plenty of good conversation and very tasty food (heavy appetizers before the speaker, desserts after). The speech was about the D-Lab, which is MIT’s effort to involve students with projects in the developing world. I wish something like that had existed back in my undergraduate days, though I would probably have been too wimpy and conventional to get involved in it. As well-traveled as I am now, I can’t imagine 19-year-old me going to, say, Ghana. Anyway, the reception was a nice evening out. And, thankfully, no swag.

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