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Friday, March 22, 2019

At the think tanks: the Romanian Ambassador to the United States

George Maior, Ambassador of Romania to the United States, speaking at the Hudson Institute, March 19, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie

"I am a diplomat," said George Maior, ambassador of Romania to the United States, answering a question about NATO at a talk he gave at the Hudson Institute Tuesday.

"NATO functions well despite differences," and its members "have values and common interests. We should work for creating harmony" rather than talk about disagreements, said Mr. Maior, 51, whose nation in January began its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Europe faces "many challenges on a global scale," Mr. Ambassador said.

The E.U.'s main concern is the upcoming departure of the United Kingdom from its ranks, a topic of utmost interest at the Hudson.

Ambassador Maior said the E.U. will "remain just as strong without the U.K." but countries in north central and Western Europe "really, really consider [Brexit] a great loss," and "we must face this pragmatically."

The U.K. exit can become "lose, lose" for the E.U. and the U.K.

High on the agenda at a May summit will be E.U.'s future, said Mr. Maior.

At the crowded afternoon session, Mr. Maior addressed the relationship between the E.U. and the U.S., stressing the importance of cooperation and "shared values."

"European and American destinies have always been and need to be interconnected" to "benefit both."

The U.S. and the E.U. share "a great track record" which "has made a difference to people around the world."

Europe "needs more, not less" U.S. involvement in Europe, based on the agreement of the Transatlantic Partnership, the ambassador said.
On left is Walter Russell Mead of the Hudson Institute with George Maior, Ambassador of Romania to the United States, at the Hudson Institute, March 19, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie

After Ambassador Maior's remarks, there was time for a few questions and answers, some about Turkey, which, moderator Walter Russell Mead noted, is "an important part of Romania's economy."

"From NATO's point of view," said Ambassador Maior, "Turkey's presence is vital for the alliance." 

And how about reported human rights violations in Turkey?

"We are concerned everywhere in terms of the rule of law and human rights."

He labeled the area around the Black Sea, "a region in turmoil," affected by the war in Georgia and Russia's "illegal annexation" of Crimea.

A man who identified his organization as the Russian News Agency asked about missiles in Romania which belong to the U.S.*

"I do not agree [with the question]," Mr. Maior said. The missiles do not belong to the U.S. "but they are a NATO project" for protection for Europe against missiles from the Middle East.  "They have nothing to do with Russia."

The ambassador talked about 45 minutes in this chapter in the institute's "Ambassadors Series."

*When it woke up this morning, missiles were on Russia's mind. See comments by the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, at the Stimson Center, March 4, 2019.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Trumps came to church today

A spring bouquet is coming to St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

Melania is of slighter build and thinner than she appears. She was wearing what looked to me like an ivory-colored, double-breasted coat dress.  

The Trumps arrived 10 or 15 minutes early for the 11 a.m. service at St. John's, and I did not see them enter the church and never saw her face.

They sat almost shoulder-to-shoulder in the "President's Pew" (where all presidents sit when they attend St. John's) with a woman (Secret Service?) at the end of the row. Trump leaned over and exchanged pleasantries with the woman from time to time, and she smiled.

He never took off his (dark blue or black) overcoat during the service, at least while I was there.  (I left the service early since I had already attended the 9 a.m. service, but I wanted to see the Trumps at 11 a.m. since word traveled fast at church that they were coming this morning!)

When he first sat down, Mr. Trump looked all around the church, up, down, and straight ahead.  The Trumps struck me as lovey-dovies (!) since they, or rather he exchanged words often with his wife, leaning over towards her several times before the service began.  She sat ramrod straight.  

From my vantage point five rows back, I could not really see Melania since someone had the nerve to sit in front of me (!) and block my view, but I could easily see Trump.

He is a big man.  

At first, I do not think he sang the hymns, but towards the end, he may have been singing with the rest of us.

He held the bulletin with the hymns in front of him and looked down, and I think I saw his mouth moving. However, in true Episcopalian fashion, he may have just been mouthing the words or barely whispering them.  We don't have much of a reputation for singing in the pews.

Until my view was blocked, I do not think she sang. 

The Rev. Bruce McPherson, the interim rector, delivered a sermon about St. Patrick (Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody!) and the obligations we have as Christians to speak up against hate speech, no matter where we are, what line we are standing in, or who is around us.  He said this was hard to do, and admitted he had passed up many opportunities himself, but in the wake of New Zealand, we need to speak up.  

It takes courage, he said, but that is what leadership is about. 

At the beginning of his sermon, he said something about a fox which, he said, does not have the connotation now that it had then.

It was the same sermon the Rev. McPherson gave at 9 a.m. so there was no hidden meaning for the Trumps, like I suppose some might suspect.

When you are the center of attention and are used to lecturing those around you rather than being a listener, I imagine the roles are hard to swap.  

After two or three minutes of the sermon (about 15 minutes long, in the usual Episcopalian tradition), Trump seemed to fidget a little, looking a little left, a little right, and for a half-second, I wondered if he would get up and march out, but soon he became enamored by the content, as were the rest of us, and he listened.  

There were no sounds. Everyone was glued to Rev. McPherson's words. Including at least one of the three agents who sat in the row behind the president and Mrs. Trump.

From the pulpit, Rev. McPherson said that he admired the Islamic faith, and he quoted this line from Islam:  "You are God, and I am not."

It was an excellent sermon, and I hope we all go out and follow Rev. McPherson's advice.

Every Sunday at church when we say out loud "the Prayers of the People," the same lines are said: We pray for "Donald, our president," members of the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, and peoples of nations who are experiencing extreme difficulties, such as those in Venezuela and in New Zealand.

During silent prayers today, someone said out loud (which anyone can do but it is rare in the silent Episcopalian custom for anyone to say out loud anything alone at St. John's), "we pray for Donald and our nation."
Before the Trumps arrived, the Secret Service brought in the dogs to scope out the place, but I was at a meeting upstairs and missed them, which I really wanted to see! Maybe, the next time.

Rather than orange, I would call Donald's hair color,  suntanned blonde.  If you have seen her photos lately, you have noticed the blonde streaks in Melanie's hair.

Were you there?  What else can you add? Maybe it's not appropriate for me to write about their "personal time" at church, but the way I look at it, anytime the President of the United States goes public, it's our, the people's, time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bravo! Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 'Scheherazades'

Sani ol-Molk (1814-1866), Scheherazade and the Sultan, 1849-1856/Public Domain,

Bravo!  Bravo!

That was the response from the sold-out, standing audience at the conclusion of two Scheherazades played by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Listeners were spellbound by Scheherazade.2 by John Adams (b. 1947) and Scheherazade by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908).
Mr. Adams wrote Scheherazade.2 for his longtime friend and collaborator, Leila Josefowicz, the BSO guest artist who was Scheherazade at the concert.
Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Like Rimsky-Korsakov's composition, Scheherazade.2 was thrilling and captivating, almost as if the audience became peeping people, witnessing private, dangerous events.

Fortunately, although contemporary, Mr. Adams's Scheherazade.2 lacked harsh clashes and stifling pauses which afflict many modern works.  

Both Scheherazades are poignant masterpieces, played with large orchestras, using almost the same instruments with the addition of Mr. Adams's celesta and cimbalom.
An Arabic manuscript of the 1001 Nights by Unknown/Public Domain,

In both performances, the cello and bass captured the tensions and fears caused by the sultan, evident throughout the music which contained agonizing combinations, as the imaginary, ruthless dictator practices torture, but gradually succumbs to the magic of Scheherazade.  

Ferdinand Keller (1842-1922), Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar, 1880/Public Domain, 

Wearing a sleeveless, colorful tunic, Ms. Josefowicz played her violin with gusto, occasionally stomping her foot, standing in the shape of a Z, mostly perpendicular to the audience and adjacent to BSO's conductor, Marin Alsop, who complimented Ms. Josefowicz's ability to perform without notes.

Sometimes the violinist threw back her back as if to taunt her invisible captor, the 15th century sultan.
According to legend, Scheherazade (also called Shirazad, Shahrazad, and Shahrzad) was the name of the last bride of the murderous sultan who, over 1001 nights, killed 1001 women, one by one on their wedding nights, fearing their unfaithfulness.

That is, until the last bride, Scheherazade, who regaled the sultan night after night with stories and endings she left until the next night and the next and the next...for 1001 nights.  By then, the sultan was enraptured and made Scheherazade his queen to live forever in the pages of 1001 Nights.

At evening's end, Conductor Alsop recognized the principal musicians, the soloists in the Rimsey-Korsakov, the first violinist and concertmasterJonathan Carney who played like it was his last concert, and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski, another evening star among many.

Indeed, Rimsey-Korsakov brought my friend and me to tears, emotionally wrought by his compelling Scheherazade.

For both composers, their creations began with art.

Mr. Adams visited the Monde Arabe (the Arab World Institute) in Paris where he saw renditions of cruelty and  brutality inflicted upon women beginning with illustrations from the 15th century. (Additions from the 21st century: Trump, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Kraft, Bill O'Reilly, Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, Tucker Carlson)

On International Women's Day weekend, Conductor Alsop called Mr. Adams "probably the biggest feminist I know."

Wikipedia says Rimsey-Korsakov had an interest in the Orient and the pictures from 1001 Nights helped drive him to his greatest composition.

Although Rimsey-Korsakov's version ends happily with Scheherazade able to prolong and save her life through her marvelous story telling, Conductor Alsop said Mr. Adams's composition leaves it up to the listener to decide the outcome.

In which case, (thank you, Mr. Adams) with her bow, Scheherazade pierces the throat of the cruel dictator whose streams of blood turn into coral snakes which the heroine rides to the torture chambers. There, snake-strangled guards loosen their grips on chamber keys which our heroine scoops up and unlocks prison doors, freeing all captives. 

Together, the former prisoners and Scheherazade leave the Earth to ride on, ride on the snakes in majesty up to the heavens where they alight from the rocket snakes to step upon starry skies and to this day, wink at us nightly from their pedestals in the universe.

Meanwhile, continuing their journeys, the corals speed through the universe to their temporary residency on the planet Mars, which to this day is known as the Red Planet.
Sometimes, as it were, these kind beasts are yet called upon to awake from hibernation and be born again, to render aid to those on Earth, and descend upon legislators in Annapolis, Maryland who disavow the Bravo Symphony Orchestra's financial needs.  

On Earth, the rocket snakes embrace the people's representatives whose skin turns coral red as they become servants in the kingdom of Daniel Sultan, a worse destiny, not yet known.
So ends the tale of a thousand and one nights of pleasure with the Bravo/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  

You see what music and art can do! The beat goes on

Next up for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra:  

Appalachian Spring March 14 at Strathmore, March 15 and 16 at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, and  

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix March 22 and 24 at the Meyerhoff, and March 23 at Strathmore.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Where have all the flowers gone, Philadelphia?

At the Hall A entrance at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show, orange and yellow streamers hang from the ceiling looking like dried piece of mud and sand with apples and oranges strapped to them, a dreary introduction for adults who shell out a $42 weekend rate to attend/Photo by Patricia Leslie

This year's flower show in Philadelphia, ending March 10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, is a tired and sad remnant of past years' displays.

The title, "Flower Power" left me wanting.

Really? I grew up in the 60s and "flower power" today lacks appeal and finesse.
An infrequent garden landscape at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
It must be peace at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie

My expectations were not exceeded in 2019 in the City of Brotherly Love.

I found no magic or allure.  

Nothing climbs to the ceiling or sent me soaring.

But they came.  The flower show says 250,000 people come annually.
These narcissi ("Sir Winston Churchill" Double Daffodils) won our First Prize for Best Fragrance in the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This host of golden daffodils were all that we found. Usually boxes of them are laid out in competition, but we missed them at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The international show this year (and it truly is international since it's the first FTD World Cup competition hosted in the U.S. since 1985) is rather tame and boring (have I said that?) without any huge, mammoth splashes of color or vibrancy to make your mouth drop and the words, "Do you believe that?" tumble out.

Compared to years past, the flowers and exhibitions this year have lots of concrete space to take up room for missing displays. (See links below to compare with previous shows.)

Was it just me who was disappointed?  Nyet. Another veteran and a newcomer on the Smithsonian Associates' bus tour agreed it was not the best day trip. No one on the return trip "oohed" and "awed" or even talked about the show, save the Smithsonian guide, Bill Ulman, who did a splendid job (assisted by Marilyn Jacanin).

After spending two hours at the show, the newcomer said she got bored and went across the street to the Reading Terminal Market.
This was one of the "miniatures" which had a theme this year of gardens in books. This title is The Magician's Garden by Chris van Allsburg which won a second prize for "Team Amanda" at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show. The white dots are reflections of ceiling lights in the protective glass/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Another miniature, this one, Escape to Bag End by J.R.R. Tolkien won a second prize for "Northview Crew" at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This miniature, The Garden of Stubborn Cats by Italo Calvino won first prize for Deb and Jim Mackie at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A miniature for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett won a third prize for "Jenkintown Mini-Makers" at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show. The judges might have liked it more had they not had to bend over to see it in the window/Photo by Patricia Leslie.
Rudyard Kipling's changing colors The Glory of the Garden by John Jayne and Jayne Price won second prize at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This industrial setting, Return of the Restless Railway by Peter Brown won first place for Marlene Goeke and Michelle Blockwell at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Bay leaves, rosemary, corn kernels and husks, mustard and caraway seeds, and almonds are some of the components of this first prize winner, a hair ornament, by Tyler R. Hetherston. Judges labeled it "exquisite, feminine and flawless" at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show. The white dots are reflections of ceiling lights in the glass/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The judges criticized this beautiful ring by Sarah Carlson and Fran Gerdes awarding it only a third prize because its colors were not "bold and pop arty."  Good grief!  It is much nicer than the first place winner, whatever below, at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
First place (?) jewelry at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Great favs, the blue earring "challenges functionality," wrote the judges who granted a second prize for Georgette Sturam and the Garden Club of Trenton at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
One of the international World Cup competitors, Tamas Mezoffy from Hungary created this array on display at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Another international competitor which rather looks like artificial flowers stuck on cotton.  Sorry! At the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Looking up at the ceiling entrance, what would you guess? My tie-dye hair in the morning (had I this much!), hidden bee hives (whoops!  That's the holding screen), a still of a ceiling explosion of thistledown, or a skirt worn by an angry giant at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show?/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I believe, another international competitor at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
An entry in "Entryways" by the Norristown Garden Club won a second prize at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Whatever is prettier and more soothing to the eye than a combination of white and green?  At the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
When it's "flower power," Jimi Hendrix is always nearby, maybe hiding in the bushes at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Tulips at the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Hyacinths and more tulips whose colors seem a bit faded, now that the end is nigh for the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Dear Flower Show:  Can't you give us something pretty?  Like song titles, France, Italy, painters (please exclude harsh contemporaries), beaches, South America, cities, greens, planets, gems (imagine!), and animals? (Well, some of them are.)

Exclude reptiles from animals?  But I recall the life-sized one, standing I think, with skin of green flowers and red eyes which blinked!  I am still talking about him, for the third time this week!  Now, that's a memory, and the only memory I have of your 2019 show is...disappointment.

Philadelphia, I'll admit I am still fuming about Bryce Harper. You can have him, but please, ...bring back the flowers. Thank you. 

To compare 2019 with other shows, please check the following links for pictures from 2016, from 2015, and 2013.