Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The National Portrait Gallery Unveils Laura Bush

By the Queen of Free
She is pretty, no doubt, but the painting makes her appear about 20 pounds slimmer than the photos of her I have seen over the years. My, what a slender neck you have!

Perhaps the artist, Aleksander Titovets, a native-born Russian who lives in Texas and paints Southwestern landscapes among other subjects, wanted to flatter his subject.

Which brings to mind: Why was a Russian-born artist selected for the commission anyway? Texas does not have American-born painters who do portraits? Just asking. Perhaps he is friends with fellow El Paso residents, the J. O. Stewarts, who donated the painting saving taxpayers $40,000, reported CNSNews.

Whatever. The painting is too busy: An arched window with panes opening to what is likely the Treasury building, a bowl of fully opened salmon colored roses, a color which is repeated throughout the painting with handsome effects, and two (that is two) chairs with conflicting patterns all compete to almost smother Mrs. Bush, who sits with open book in hand in one of the chairs smiling (almost with her husband’s smirk) at the viewer.

Please, I need to catch my breath!

Breaking up the cacophony is a long camel-colored drape hanging behind her which outlines (on one side) a blank wall in the upper left quarter of the painting. It is the only section without objects.

With its warm, pastel colors, the portrait is a nice, harmless impressionistic style much like Mrs. Bush herself, I would imagine. To brighten any room, it is one I am certain the First Family would welcome in their new Texas home.

Mrs. Bush hangs on the first floor to the left of the entrance on G Street, catercorner from the gift shop. Yes, worth a trip! Happily, the Portrait Gallery is open daily until 6:50 p.m., but it starts later than most museums: 11:30 a.m.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Movie: "Seven Pounds" (of Flab)

Honestly, it was just so terribblllllyyy bad!

I wanted to leave before the half to go to the lobby and watch popcorn cascade from the aluminum pan into the big container below (which would have been more interesting), but trying to be considerate to my cousin (who likes all movies) and her daughters especially during the holiday season, I stayed. Being nice sometimes just isn't worth it.

When I described it to a friend she asked: "Was it a comedy?" We could only wish.

To sum up:






Would you like to know a new way to commit suicide? In addition to completing mental suicide when you see this thing, a new physical way to kill yourself is presented along with illustration.

The best is saved for last in a bath tub which, in retrospect, has me drowning in laughter.

The only redeeming social factor is Will Smith's body and even seeing this movie for free is not worth that. Well, yes, some of the music is okay but not to abandon two hours of your life to see tripe.

Do you catch my drift? To think I actually paid cash to see this! Moan and groan.

There cannot be any doubt, dear Readers, that the writer/producer of this bowl of concrete put together words and searched for a star who would be foolish enough to star in a plotless film which moves in slow motion.

In this economy, in any economy these takes are intended for the recycle pile which actually is too good a place for it to land since it might mean we'd have to see portions of it, God forbid, again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mild and Bland: Mary Cassatt at NMWA

By the Queen of Free

Not to be confused with the exhibit, "Role Models: Feminine Identity in Contemporary American Photography" at the same place which is not mild and bland.

At least, that was the impression two women whom I presumed to be volunteers gave a 9-year-old friend’s daughter and me upon entrance at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on a free Sunday recently.
They hesitated and directed us first to the Cassatt exhibit.

Upon climbing the marble stairs we met a chicly dressed visitor from a foreign land (France? Belgium?) who looked at me sternly and said “This (‘Role Models’) is not for her” nodding first to the child and then, to the contemporary photography exhibit. (And you thought Americans were conservative.) I thanked her.

Golly gee, if an exhibit is that graphic, should signs be posted? (“This exhibit is rated XXX.” Think of the crowds who would flock!)

I welcomed the warnings which spared us from possible embarrassment and, likely, my certain death at the hands of the girl’s mother had we seen the show. Better to be safe than sorry. Besides, there was harmless Mary Cassatt adjacent. (Has anyone ever called her works ‘dull’?)

Nothing controversial about her paintings and etchings in the small show which is all about friends and relations. (The title is: "Mary Cassatt: Friends and Family.") Did Ms. Cassatt ever paint any men? The paintings are the pastel colors with the idyllic expressions and poses you visualize when her name is mentioned. Rather robotic with little evidence of consternation other than one of a relative who grimaces slightly. It's like all the subjects are getting ready for naps. They are painted in the style of what was idealized and expected of women at about the same time the Women’s Suffrage Movement was gearing up and women were being arrested for demanding the vote! Imagine.

What's the saying? "Well behaved women never make history? (Who said it? Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and she was?) Well, Mary Cassatt proves her wrong.

Anyway, I enthusiastically anticipate returning to see Strong Women who always inspire and instill me with energy, vigor, and happiness. I have seen enough of Quiet Women in places besides museums.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Grim Photography at the National Portrait Gallery

By the Queen of Free

Then there is the photography exhibit on the first floor ("Portraiture Now: Feature Photography"), many of the photographs which can be seen online.

If you are looking for a cheery spot over the holidays, if you need a bit of a psychological lift amidst all the Christmas cheer, this is not the exhibit to visit.

Is the National Portrait Gallery becoming the National Photography Gallery?

Anyway, if you want your daughter to grow up to be a body builder not, take her to this exhibit and take a gander at the two photographs of female muscle giants. Yeeks! My gender stereotypes shaped my impressions to put it mildly.

Photographer Alec Soth shows all grim women, heads tilted, meaning ? , their heads are not on straight? Jocelyn Lee's photographs are mostly women, some boys and an old man in environmental settings.

Up too close for comfort and way too personal are Martin Schoeller's Jack Nicholson (immediate words which spring to mind are “The Shining” and “The Old Cuss”), Barack Obama (“handsome dude”), John McCain (his bloodshot eyes and other age realities make him look far older than you've grown to know him), and Angelina Jolie (how many lip injections?).

It’s a sad, depressing world we occupy nowadays, and and these photographs bear testimony to the whole negative lot, especially Katy Grannam’s child in an adult prison in New York (is this still lawful?) and a few which show female veterans and the dreadful psychological effects of war.

The artists took many of the photos on assignments for the New Yorker, Esquire, and the New York Times magazine. This exhibit is not to be confused with the magnificent “Women of Our Time: 20th Century Photographs" show in another wing. More on that later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas at the U.S. Botanic Garden

By the Queen of Free

No matter how many times you have been, the glory and peace of the Botanic Garden is a cure for what ails you in the middle of a wintry afternoon with no sunshine and grey skies.

The soft lighting, the contemporary quiet music which meshes into the background like so many of the ferns, the whispers of the crowd, the colors, the gigantic tree beautifully decorated, the leisurely pace of the visitors, the artistic works here and there and green green everywhere, mix to soothe troubled minds and bodies.

I call it a "salve of peace" unlike that found anywhere else in D.C. Even the exterior of the building adds fitting elements to the serenity.

It helps to accompany a child to the Garden and see more of the wonder through her eyes, but she is not vital to enjoyment.

And the trains! The trains!

They fascinate all the big and little ones as they weave terrific preludes to “The Polar Express” showing down the street at IMAX at the Natural History Museum where most of the audience is adults, and I know why: We want to believe. Go and see for yourself and tell me I am wrong.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Must See: Abraham Lincoln at The National Portrait Gallery

By the Queen of Free

The Kate Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Gallery housing the new Abraham Lincoln exhibit of photographs, prints, and a wood engraving of the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Portrait Gallery has the ambience of a funeral parlor: The lighting is low, and the mood, somber and subdued among the many visitors who were young, old, of many nationalities and interests when I dropped by. (Several Capitols hockey fans identified by their big red jerseys stopped in on their way to a game.)

The gallery is not large, and the etchings and lithographs of Lincoln big and small are well worth a trip. That the artifacts are all owned by the Smithsonian Institution is astonishing.

Photography came of age during Lincoln’s tenure, and he willingly obliged many requests to be recorded on film, glory be.

In one of the last prints made before his assassination April 14, 1865, Lincoln is labeled a “messiah.” Tad, his son whom Lincoln spoiled especially after the death of his beloved son, Willie, is shown with his father in another “last one” dated February 5, 1865. One photo shows Lincoln with Frederick Douglass, the first African-American to visit the White House.

The exhibit continues the perpetuation of the negative depictions of Mary Todd Lincoln in photographs and words. (With all the many omnipresent evil descriptions of her, it is easy to compare her to Eve and taking another step, blame Lincoln’s downfall on her, but I imagine that's already been done. Is there anything positive about her? He married her.)

An accompanying description for another print says Lincoln was hesitant to speak much publicly, aware of the importance citizens placed on his words.

Why the name of the exhibit “One Life: The Mask of Lincoln”? Yes, there are two masks made of his face, one before the war (1860), and the other after (1865), which visitors may see close up, and which clearly demonstrate the effects of war on a president, but the title suggests a dark environment which Abraham Lincoln's legacy contradicts. Ask Barack Obama.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball was held March 4, 1865 in the very same building of the "Mask" exhibit (oh, what a lovely hall for an upcoming ball) and another exhibit on the second floor about his inauguration make a fitting tribute to the president we hear more about daily as the momentum for the celebration of his bicentenary birth on February 12, 2009 builds.

Except for Christmas Day the National Portrait Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 6:50 p.m. when the guards begin throwing visitors out quickly. It is located across from the Verizon Center at the corner of 8th and F streets, N.W.

While at the exhibit cell phone users may dial a number to receive more explanation including the reason behind Lincoln growing a beard. Many of the images and labels are available online at the Portrait Gallery's web site.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The National Press Club's Book Fair

It must have been Antonin Scalia and his seven bodyguards.

Or maybe it was the “Triple Crown” (as one of his adoring fans called him) winning wrestler Bret “The Hit Man” Hart, author of, hmmm, “Hitman.”

Whatever! They were big draws at the National Press Club’s annual Book Fair where nonclub members had to fork over $5 to get in and then have the chance to talk with favorite authors and get books signed and have a drink or two.

One author served martinis; some chef authors served up delicacies from their cookbooks. I don’t know if Neil Connolly, the Kennedy family chef and co- author of In the Kennedy Kitchen, had any food to dispense since there was none around his table when I reached him, but he’s grown to even look like the Kennedys which, he said, several people had observed, too. (You know, like in a long marriage you grow to….and you even begin to resemble your dog after a while, or is it vice-versa?) His book was beautifully designed with many color photographs.

The crowd never slowed. Or thinned. A fan of Hitman’s told me he waited a hour in line to get in and drove from West Virginia for the sole purpose of obtaining Hitman’s autograph. The lad was aghast at Metro’s fares.

Most of the wrestler’s fans, I would guess in my stereotypical way, had never attended a book fair. They were mostly in their 20s, male, in the gear you’d expect, and very courteous. “Hitman’s” addition to the Fair was fortuitous!

At times it was difficult to maneuver the floor which made it more fun (and desirable). I only drank beer, a martini (which a mystery writer supplied at her table), red wine (another author supplied) and munched on sweets which waiters brought around occasionally.

I heard Scalia sold out. I didn’t hear one thing positive the whole night from anyone about the man’s decisions on the Supreme Court, so who was buying? The lawyers who plead their cases in his courtroom?

The Press Club’s own centennial book about itself sold a healthy three copies (before I left), but who’s got $39.95 these days for a coffee table book? At least, that’s what I term it.

Roger Mudd looks a lot younger and healthier than you might imagine since he broadcast for CBS about 50 years ago, it seems (actually, it's not far from 50). He has a new book out all about it, The Place to Be.

Helen Thomas was there reigning supreme with cartoonist Chip Bok promoting their new children’s book, The Great White House Breakout.

Russell Baker, now age 83 (!), looked fit and selling David Halberstam’s book(s) for the family, someone told me. Where was Chuck Hagel?

Congresswoman Barbara Lee gave a t-shirt to each buyer of her book, Renegade for Peace and Justice, but being sandwiched between the wrestler’s long line of fans in one direction, and I think it was Scalia’s “fans” in the other, she was, like, holding her head out of water. “My” author (I was a volunteer) told me he felt sorry for her, and I went over and promptly bought her book.

The evening began with a wonderful reception for authors, their guests, and volunteers. I was horrified to hear the volunteer assigned to Helen Thomas wonder who she was.

Funds raised at the fair are designated for the Press Club’s Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library, certainly a worthy endeavor. So much to do! So little time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Surrealism at the Smithsonian

At the Smithsonian Associates’ recent presentation on “Surrealism,” the Institution’s representative described Judy Pomeranz, the evening’s featured speaker, as one of its favorite guest lecturers in art.

Ms. Pomeranz is an attorney, a freelance writer, and an art aficionado and clearly one impassioned by art, but I suppose it was information from a professional I was seeking rather than art commentary which was delivered.

I wanted to hear the “why,” the “how come,” and analysis which form the basis for Dadaism and Surrealism, but I heard little of it at the lecture. More of the history of these two movements would have been desirable.

World War I, its death and horror gave birth to Dadaism, Ms. Pomeranz said.

What connected Dadaism and Surrealism? How are they different? Little explanation was offered other than Dadaism (the name came from where?) began as a completely absurd movement whose artists rejected all tradition as they responded to the War. When it became too mainstream, Surrealism took over around 1922, Ms. Pomeranz said. (A definition of each with contrasting examples would have been welcomed.) If she included criticism it was so mild it was hidden.

Man Ray, Marcel Deschamps, Giorgio De Chirico, Magritte, Joan Miro and lots of Salvador Dali were the highlighted artists whose works were shown. Since just a third of the paintings were familiar to me, how can I complain about lack of satisfactory content?

But I do. Others may have felt the same since several left before Q&A ended. Of all the educated and trained art critics in this town, why isn’t one of them delivering lectures?

Lecture specifics:
Cost: $30, SA members; $40, others
Average attendee age: 55
Number who attended: 60 approx.
Location: Ripley

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day at the U.S. Navy Memorial

By the Queen of Free

Veterans Day occurs every November 11 to commemorate the ending of the World War I when an armistice on the eleventh day of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month stopped fighting between the Allies and Germany.

Today at the U.S. Navy Memorial at 7th and Pennsylvania about 350 gathered to see the laying of the wreath of red and white carnations at the Lone Sailor statue, and to hear a few words and a benediction by Navy personnel who came to honor those past and present.

On the splendid afternoon in glorious sunshine we listened to magnificent music played by the Navy band, marred only by construction sounds emanating from across the street at Archives. (Could not someone have ordered construction to halt 30 minutes in honor of our servicemen and women?)

About 30 chairs sat on Memorial Plaza to accommodate veterans and family members. The rest of us gathered in the circle around the memorial to witness and to hear.

What a delight and heart rendering to see at the ceremony's end a veteran of likely World War II vintage standing beside the sailor statue wearing a slight smile and his Navy cap bedecked in ribbons. Many captured him on film while he stood with a cane beside the wreath with a shiny blue ribbon labeled in gold: Veterans Day 2008. One could only imagine what histories the gentleman carries.

Three D.C. Boy Scouts proudly joined him to have their pictures made, and the youths with the older gentleman reminded us of the changing of the guard down the street.

With awe and silence we had come to watch and admire the dignified ceremony to commemorate those who give in the name of the United States. We are grateful.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alliteration at the Caps Game


C’est vrai.

Male high school sophomores from Hermitage High School in Leesburg sat behind me at the Caps game Tuesday night. They were utterly charming and gentlemanly.

“Fight! Fight!” they screamed. “We want to see a fight! Fight ‘em!” they yelled constantly at the teams on the ice throughout the night (Caps and the Nashville Predators). My daughter would credit testosterone for it all.

“Let’s start a wave. I know we can do it. Come on, you guys,” urged one. I turned around and agreed to join them in “the wave” but it never got going.

Washington Wizards. Where are they?” one asked. The Wizards’ banners hung from the ceiling. They play at Verizon Center, too.

“Where did that name come from?” a buddy wondered. “Alliteration,” said another.

I was stunned. How many adults can define “alliteration”?

I turned in my seat and asked: “What did you say?”

They smiled and said in unison: “Alliteration.”

“Are you studying that in English class?”

They all gleamed and nodded yes.

“Your teacher would be proud,” I exclaimed.

Amidst the “fight, fight!” they practiced their third-year Spanish including “Por que, Jose, por que?” which they shouted at the Capitols’ goalie, Jose Theodore, whenever Jose would almost miss a stop.

When some of the group left their seats momentarily, the rest of the crew decided to play a trick when they returned.

I half listened. Hockey is fast moving and one must pay attention!

Sure ‘enuf, they played their trick.

“Oh, no! I don’t believe it! “ one grimaced as he took his seat. “We missed a fight?” one yelled.

Soon unbelief and consternation led to action and I felt a tap, tap tapping on my shoulder, and the ones who “missed” the fight wanted confirmation from me: “Was there a fight?”

I could not tell a lie which led to big hoo-haws and guffaws and laughter, and the guys put up their fists for a fist-bump with me.

They came with the DECA Club from their high school, a big impressive group out to have a good time with their schoolmates and show a stranger a good time, too.

It was a good night for victories all around for the Caps won 4-3 , and so did I.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Algebra Students at Brookings

By the Queen of Free

On Wednesday I attended a presentation at Brookings (which I gather is trying to shorten its name): "The Misplaced Math Student..." where presenters debated the values and disadvantages of placing all students in Algebra in the 8th grade.

The president of the Education Trust, Kati Haycock, was quite persuasive and knowledgeable and said all students should be placed in 8th grade Algebra since all 8th graders, despite poor math performances, gain from the environment and perform better than 8th grade students who are not placed in Algebra.

California and Minnesota have mandated that all 8th graders will take Algebra and are gearing up for their new required classes.

Ms. Haycock contradicted the findings of Tom Loveless, the featured speaker, National Math Panel member, and senior fellow at Brookings who based his report on findings from the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

Mr. Loveless said trends show advanced students have falling grades in Algebra while less advanced students have rising grades, and implied (said Ms. Haycock) that less proficient students are dragging down top students, a finding Ms. Haycock disputed.

Less experienced teachers, 80% of whom do not have math degrees, are assigned to poorer schools and do not teach math as well as degreed math teachers who produce Algebra students who make better grades, Mr. Loveless said. Some 8th graders "know as much math as 2nd graders" and come from disproportionately poorer, larger schools, and are minorities.

In its final report the National Math Panel found knowing how to work fractions is critical to math success, but many students do not understand fractions. (Some of the panelists said many teachers who teach math do not understand fractions either so how can you effectively teach what you do not understand?)

Henry "Hank" Kepner, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, another panelist, said teaching Algebra to all students is a civil rights issue.

Vern Williams, a Math Panel member and 35-year math teacher (which he stated four times), supports teaching Algebra to 9th graders, not 8th graders, "for equity reasons" (whatever that means).

He said administrators who often have little or no classroom experience dictate curriculum to teachers and demand that teachers promote students. He is an award-winning Fairfax County, VA math teacher.

Ms. Haycock disputed Mr. Williams' administrators' curriculum requirement which she said was often non-existent. "Teachers are handed an Algebra book and that's all they get sometimes," she said emphatically.

Mr. Williams supports teaching Algebra to students "when they are ready for it. I know some sharp 4th graders who are ready for Algebra, and some 8th-graders who are not."

Throughout the morning "pretend Algebra," "fake Algebra," and "pretend math instruction" classes were often mentioned.

Ms. Haycock said parents deserve some blame for their students' dissatisfactory grades.

Mr. Williams: "The system is also to blame, not just the teacher." And "teachers are under tremendous pressure to pass children."

A math professor in the audience stated that college freshmen increasingly enter university with inability to figure fractions. He supports strengthening state certification requirements for teachers.

Another audience member, who identified herself as a former chancellor of New York state schools, said the panel's presentation was the same content as that which would have been presented 40 years ago so what do "we" do now with all the information presented?

"What works?" she asked. "Are we going to sit here and do nothing and present the same information in 40 years?" Mr. Loveless' answer was evasive, non-committal, and insouciant. He came to present, not to act.

About 60 persons attended the briefing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I interrupt this programming to

spend every possible available moment until November 5, 2008 canvassing, calling, cooking, hosting, volunteering, driving, pollwatching, writing checks for the Democratic cause, namely:

To elect Barack Obama President of the United States

and many other notable Democrats, too, like

1. Mark Warner, candidate for the U.S. Senate (VA)

2. Judy Feder, candidate for the 10th Congressional District (VA)

Please send Judy a check:

Judy Feder for Congress
6816 Tennyson Drive
McLean, VA 22101

3. Jim Martin, candidate for the U.S. Senate (GA) running against the sleeze, Saxby Chambliss who
defeated our own Max Cleland because Max wasn't "patriotic" enough! Max, triple amputee
from Vietnam! That was the Karl Rove - George Buzh duo at work. Let's beat them now! Here's
your chance. Please send a check to:

Martin for Senate
P.O. Box 7219
Atlanta, GA 30357

Thank you. This programming will resume in November, 2008.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

12 Hours Chasing John Wilkes Booth

Yes, it is possible to do it on your own. But the time! The wonderful little side trips and the hard-to-find locations. Plus all the spoken history as you ride. The camaraderie of like minded individuals who have the same curiosity as you.

I am speaking of another of the Smithsonian’s excellent day trips, this one entitled, “John Wilkes Booth’s Escape Route,” a 12-hour tour of the places and stops he made after he shot Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865, in Washington, D.C. which Ed Bearss, the famous historian and narrator, led last Sunday.

(One of my new comrades told me: “When you see Bearss is the guide, jump on it (the trip) since his tours sell out quickly.”)

Bearss is the retired chief historian for the National Park Service who also leads tours to Civil War battlefields and other places more than 200 days per year, one of the day trippers said.

Whatever, Sunday’s trip was superb.

We began at 8 a.m. sharp (don’t be late or you’ll miss the bus) making the first stop at Lafayette Park, the location of the home (now demolished) of Secretary of State William Seward. Mr. Bearss laid the groundwork for the evening of April 14 describing an attack upon the Secretary in his home by one of the conspirators. (Seward survived.)

From there, we stopped at (hold on):

the Peterson House (where Lincoln died on April 15),

the alley behind Ford’s Theatre (the theatre is closed for renovation),

Mary Surratt’s boarding house a few steps from Sixth and H streets (now a Japanese/Chinese restaurant),

the Surratt Tavern in Clinton, Maryland,

Samuel Mudd’s home near Bryantown, Maryland where lovely costumed Civil War ladies greeted us standing out beside tents. Uniformed Confederate soldiers fired muskets into the field. One played “Dixie” on a flute.

We stopped briefly at St Mary’s Church where Dr. Mudd met Booth in 1864 and where Dr.and Mrs. Mudd are buried, and:

Rich Hill, the home of Samuel Cox,

a thicket like the one where Booth and his accomplice David Herold hid for four nights (the exact location is unknown),

Cleydael, the home of Richard Stewart, where friendly horses, sheep, the current homeowner and four McCain signs greeted us,

Port Royal where Booth and friends crossed the Rappahannock River,

the Peyton House (now boarded up and unlikely to be restored, Mr. Bearss said because a Kansas museum, I think it was, owns most of the artifacts. Kansas? ),

and ending at the location of the Garrett House and Barn where Booth was shot and died.

All that remains of the Garrett structures on the hill between highway lanes amidst vines, trees, and a leaf-strewn path is a small plaque placed within the past year, Mr. Bearss said, by the 21st Century Confederate Memorial group to honor Booth.

And there was more, but don't ask me what.

Mr. Bearss knows all the details of the tragedy and the players upside down and backwards, and after speaking almost non-stop all day, answering questions and describing events and people, times, and places, he took questions on the way back.

The dictionary does not have enough superlative adjectives to adequately describe the day. An excellent detailed map is supplied so you can easily follow the route and timing by the half hour in some cases.

The price ($114 for Smithsonian Associates members) includes a delicious, quick lunch at Captain Billy’s Crab House in Popes Creek, MD, and light refreshments on the way back. (The "Smithsonian Sherry" is better left undrunk.)

A splendid trip in every regard, but perhaps I exaggerate.

Kudos for sure to Kay Weston, the Smithsonian representative, and to “Winfield,” the bus driver.

Because of all the steps and stairs and climbing throughout the day, I do not recommend this trip for handicapped persons, but I can recommend the book about the chase of Booth: Manhunt by James Swanson.

Oh, would that money were no object.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Book: The Warren Buffet Portfolio

No, I don't know of any connection between Warren Buffet and Washington recently (other than the reported relationship between him and Katharine Graham in Monday’s Washington Post),

but I read so you don't have to:

Subtitle: Mastering the Power of the Focus Investment Strategy (John Wiley and Sons)

From these pages and this old (1999) book, I offer a few tips garnered which may prove helpful, especially with the erratic market.

For definitions, try investorwords.com and BusinessDictionary, and I love Google's finance pages.

* Index funds are usually better than mutual funds.

* Focus on return on equity rather than earnings per share.

* Invest in no more than 15 companies. (Buffet prefers 10).

* Buy low!

*Keep your turnover rate between 10 and 20%, and Buffet thinks lower is better. (Do I have to define turnover rate? Okay: from Investorwords.com: For a mutual fund, the number of times per year that an average dollar of assets is reinvested. )

*Hold for a minimum of five years. (Holding reduces transaction costs and raises after-tax returns. Also, when you hold for several years, say, 10, you reduce your risk.)

*Hold on during bumps. ("It's going to be a rocky ride" said Ms. D.)

*Hold forever if the company is performing above-average, to wit, do not sell superior companies.

(You often hear about the "beta factor" which is a degree of correlation between the stock market as a whole and an individual stock. If a company's stock has a beta of 1, it means the stock is rising and falling exactly with the market. If a company's beta is 2, it is rising and falling twice as fast as the market, meaning it is riskier than the market, and the inverse is true: A beta less than 1 means the stock is "safer" with less risk than the market and therefore, generally performing below the market.)

*Share price is not as important as a company's intrinsic value since an investor may be able to purchase a company's stock at bargain rates. Study stocks selling lower than their intrinsic values. (How do you figure intrinsic values?)

*Compare annual reports of a company you like with similar companies. Compare performance with forecasts. Look for low ratio of price to book value, low price/earnings ratio or a high dividend yield. The value of any investment is the present value of future cash streams.

For additional reading the author recommends Philip Fisher's Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits: Paths To Wealth Through Common Stocks, now considered a classic and re-issued in 2007 by Wiley with a foreword by Fisher's son, Kenneth Fisher.

Buffet respects John Maynard Keynes.

Note to self: Check out the Sequoia Fund.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jon Secada at Ronald Reagan

By the Queen of Free

Jon Secada at Ronald Reagan?


Yes, at the last summer outdoor concert of 2008, sponsored by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as part of its DC Grooves concert series.

People, dogs, and lights were all agroovin’ on a recent Friday night at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza, for sure. Even the guards inside Ronald Reagan were moving their bodies to the music.

It’s hard to keep your person still when the music is apoppin’ and agoin’ and the musicians are L I V E and not taped and as good as Jon Secada.

He was hot. He’s got a voice, too, able to hit the way high notes and as good in person as you’re afraid he might not be. (At first, the base almost drowned him out, but that was soon corrected.)

He sang all his signature hits, including "Just Another Day," "Do You Believe in Us," many, in Spanish in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (or is it “Cuban American Heritage Month”?) although few Latins were there.

When Secada came out, he urged the crowd to come closer to the stage, and it did, standing throughout his songs, dancing, clapping, gyrating, waving arms, moving in time with the beat, singing along with Secada urging the singalongs.

His band was a smash.

There was plenty of room for dancing like the man and his dancing partner, his pooch which he carried around all night, found out. They danced to the notes in between his screams for the crowd to sit down so they could see better.

Or, there was the butterfly woman in white pants who flew continuously around the plaza alighting here and there, almost carrying a wand as she danced to the music like a fast-moving cloud unencumbered by the notion of a partner.

The wind was a bit testy at times, exhaling its first breath of fall.
It rustled the leaves in the large, planted plaza trees, and the tiny white Christmas lights strung on the branches moved with the music of the wind, and twinkled, adding to the romance of the night and another marvelous evening in D.C.

Crowd estimate was about 300, I suppose. Promotion was not the best. What government has the dollars for advertising free concerts? Which explains part of the paltry attendance, but D.C. has a lot going on every night, and competition for evening attendees is keen.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Richard Avedon at the Corcoran Gallery of Art: Portraits of Power

It's a great show. Well worth the price of admission ($14; less for students, seniors and children under age 7).

The Avedon opening for members was crowded, but, at least, we were able to see the photographs standing not ten deep.

Rather than 9 p.m. (the announced closing), we left at 9:50 p.m. with no rush by the guards. (Obviously, not the Smithsonian guards who could give lessons to NASCAR.)

Anyway, the photographs! Many, stern, serious, few smiles. Most are quite unflattering. White backgrounds. Black and white. Severe. Large.

One of the few smiles is on Robert McNamara. Why is he smiling? He should never smile again.

Almost everyone looked far worse than you have them pictured mentally, except, John Kerry. In a picture taken in 2004 he's the only one who looked handsome and better than reality which is mean to most of the subjects.

(Henry Kissinger (in the second photo of him in the show) might have had the flu. The pain and agony on George Wallace's face (in the third picture of him) makes a viewer wince. If he had not died before Dick Cheney erected his Torture Chamber, he could have been sitting on boiling water at Guantanamo.)

Come to think of it, the show is pretty darned depressing overall.

Standouts in the crowd: Several shots of the Chicago 7, George Bush the First, Rudolph Nureyev, Jimmy Carter (was handsome), Barack Obama (in color), Dwight Eisenhower (with eyes seemingly rolling around his head), the Rosenberg boys. (Where are they now? Twice in the news in a week).

I cannot recall a more uncomely photograph of Ronald Reagan. Avedon easily (to a viewer) captures the arrogance of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Few women grace the exhibit. But the outrageous, the charming Dorothy Parker with her personality and wit flowing from the frame is there, contrasted with, a few galleries away, the eternally injured Vietnam woman who is too painful to look at for more than a second or two.

Richard Avedon died in 2004 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

I recently upgraded my membership to get invitations to the members' previews with wine and hors d'oeuvres, and the upgrade has been a splendid value.

Plentiful treats and drinks amidst seeing the shows without the hordes. Plus, additional benefits, like free admission to Mt. Vernon (expired at the end of July. Yes, I went.). Plus entrances without charge at other fee-based museums.

This coming Thursday night I return to the exhibit and to hear the curators, Frank Goodyear and Paul Roth, deliver a lecture about the show, another membership benefit. The exhibit ends January 25, 2009.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Inverse Ratio at the Cosmopolitans Friday Night

If you are single, over age 50 (the invitation says 40 but never mind), like to dress up (black tie optional), and dance to a live band and not a DJ, you will like the Cosmopolitans dances held four times a year for $50 each (advance) especially if you are male.

Females: N O T

Friday night's soiree, if it can be called that, was at the Austrian Embassy, a good place to dance and a lovely venue with free parking nearby, located amidst several embassies off Van Ness.

The band, "Tapestry," was good, playing the oldies to the crowd, and the food, a value for the price (heavy
hors d'oeuvres, a nice substitute for dinner), and a male/female ratio of 33.3/66.6 more or less.

In the "group" dance the ratio changed to approximately 10/90. Take a look at the pictures at the web site for proof.

Most (95%) of the crowd was Caucasian.

Cash bar.

Another typically social evening in Washington, D.C. where females vastly outnumber males. C'est la vie!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Starry Night with Herman Wouk at the Library of Congress

By the Queen of Free

If the public had known the presenters at the Herman Wouk award ceremony at the Library of Congress this week would include Martha Raddatz, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ,William Safire, and Jimmy Buffet performing, it is likely a mob scene would have ensued.

Wisely, the Library of Congress press office kept the names of the celebrities (is that a dirty word now?) off the press release, and so the Coolidge Auditorium was almost SRO anyway.

Mr. Wouk received the first award bestowed by the LOC for "lifetime achievement in the writing of fiction." And he received another honor, too: Henceforth the award will be called the Herman Wouk Award. He has written 12 acclaimed novels, plays, and nonfiction, many of which were displayed in a lighted glass case in the foyer of the auditorium.

Herman Wouk is a delightfully charming 93-year-old who looks, speaks, walks, dresses, and acts like someone in his mid-70s, seriously.

When he made his entrance onto the stage the audience stood and clapped for several moments. Mr. Wouk wore a sharp suit and red tie, and sat and listened for two hours to the presenters who read at length from his novels, sang, and gave him special gifts including a framed letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- CA) commemorating Mr. Wouk's achievements, and a framed facsimile of four leaves from a Hebrew illuminated manuscript.

The ceremony began with a taped segment from the television show, "What's My Line," broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring Mr. Wouk who tried to "stump the panel." It was a show filled with laughter and reminiscences of times and people past. And the Coolidge audience loved it. (Are there re-runs anywhere?)

Except for reading some of Mr. Wouk's War and Remembrance, Martha Raddatz of ABC News seemed a reluctant participant for she barely said any words other than those in the book. William Safire made the crowd laugh with his remarks and his reading from Inside Outside. Justice Ginsburg, as fragile as a porcelain doll and weighing about as much, made you proud of Bill Clinton who nominated her to the U.S. Supreme Court. She read excerpts from The Caine Mutiny.

And Jimmy Buffet! Whew! He bounded on stage, removed his jacket and gave the history of his and Mr. Wouk's collaboration on Don't Stop the Carnival before he took off his shoes and played the guitar and sang several numbers from the play in bare feet. Maybe that's another first for the stage of the Coolidge.

The event ended with Mr. Wouk reading in an affirming, strong voice excerpts from his personal journals which he has donated to LOC along with several manuscripts.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Book: "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester

Finally, I get around to reading this book. Ten years after its publication..

What has this got to do with Washington, D.C.? A little about St. Elizabeths Hospital is told.

The subtitle is: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Alas! Midway through I discovered it was not documented! Horrors. What have I been wasting my time on? Is the word "Tale" in the subtitle a clue?

Oh sure, there are mentions at the rear of the book about conversations Mr. Winchester had, and the hospital records he read, and the places he visited, and the people he knew, and his Internet searches, and "further readings," but what's to keep a writer from creating fiction from an unusual story and claiming it's non-fiction? I don't know. Seems like a great way to craft a novel and claim it is real. Like that guy on Oprah a couple of years ago.

Mr. Winchester found assistance from the good folks at the National Park Service and the National Archives, etc. etc. But nowhere is found one footnote, one link, one date, one specific reference to any of the information Mr. Winchester used to tell his story. There is no index.

Despite several attempts, the author was not successful trying to pry hospital records from St Elizabeths Hospital about a key character in the book, the "madman," Dr. William C. Minor. Mr. Winchester gloats that he was able to get the files another way via the Internet and says: "It was more than gratifying to be able to telephone St. Elizabeths the next day and tell the unhelpful officials (he had found the records)...They were not best pleased" (sic; he is British). St. Elizabeths is no longer a federal institution but under the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia "a government that has experienced some well-publicized troubles in recent years," he writes.

Makes one wonder about the privacy act, your own medical records, and how they can become public property. Perhaps records of prisoners are not safeguarded as well as those of others .

Mr. Winchester was able to obtain Dr. Minor's records from other medical facilities with no attribution, other than general attribution, made about any of the records (dates, persons, descriptions). Nor are conversations with archivists, historians, a family member of Dr. Minor's, or sources Mr. Winchester used listed, dated or described in detail.

Quite a few pages are taken up with Mr. Winchester's acquaintances and friendships which enabled him to write the story.

The book is so short I thought it must be an abridged edition, but no.

Where are the pictures of the key players and places? Mr. Winchester mentions pictures and papers revealed to him by Dr. Minor's great-great-nephew, but none are included, and there are no citations of the papers used, if they were.

The line drawings which are included are nice and suggestive, reminding me of Nancy Drew mysteries I read long ago. The name of the artist who made the drawings for this book is not included anywhere that I could find.

Am I the first one to raise these questions about lack of documentation and citations? This is hard to believe since many years have passed since it was published.

This book is definitely not worth the time. With more embellishment, what a movie it could be!

Mr. Winchester is a prolific author: Since the publication of The Professor, he's brought out about a book a year, and many more before that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Free Movies at Mary Pickford Theatre, Library of Congress

By the Queen of Free

Yes, they are free.

No, you can’t just walk in and expect a seat if all the reservations are taken and there are no seats left. Call 202-707-5677 no more than one week ahead to make a reservation for no more than two shows.

Yes, without a reservation it is possible to get a seat since they are released 10 minutes before show time, but there are only 60 seats.

Last Friday night ”Rock Around the Clock,” released in 1956 in black and white was first up, and starred, of course, Bill Haley and the Comets.

In 25 words or less: The plot depicts the group’s growth from a small town band to the country’s most popular, led by a developing promoter who forms a romantic relationship with the young female dancer of the group, complicated by money and “another woman.” (Well, all right: 40 words.) Imagine. Who in 2008 is watching this for plot?

Moviegoers want to hear and see the music, and we were satisfied. You rock in your seat and love it. Who were Freddie Bell and The Bellboys? Just hearing their name suggests music which was delightful, and their antics! Try “riding” a base, why don’t you? Why didn’t they “make it”? Maybe they did, and I just never heard of them.

Anyway, the original Platters sing several numbers in their distinctive style showing their grace and class. Wikipedia lists the songs sung in the movie.

The second feature, “That’ll Be the Day” also features 1950s music and stars David Essex who delivered an incredible, magnificent performance. Good night; I am still thinking about the movie two days later.

Remember the song? I always associated it with a happy message. Not! Music of the 50s era infuse the movie throughout. It is a British film set along a coast, and several paintings came to mind while watching the show. Have I ever seen a British film I didn’t like?

Although it was produced in 1973 , the cinematography, the sepia tones, the quick changes from one scene to the next, give it a contemporary air. The acting and direction are absolutely superb.

It’s a haunting story about a characterless, shallow man raised by a single mom. Through flashbacks and chronology his life from a young boy to a 20-something evolves, and he always takes the low road. The movie is quite disturbing about his lack of moral fiber which never improves. Ringo Starr plays a major part in about one-third of the film and performs flawlessly. Despite the dark nature of the movie, I found it astonishing , and evocative of personalities encountered today. Highly recommended!

These two movies are part of the series devoted to films before the Beatles (but 1973 came after the Beatles' advent). Check out the schedule for other upcoming films, but please: Do not take my seat. Thank you. (September is included in the schedule section "July - August 2008".)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tour de Jour: The Park Service NOT at FDR

By the Queen of Free

One night last week I went to a walking tour at the FDR Memorial.

It was a free tour, one of the many free things to do which is hosted by the National Park Service. I found it on the Web at "Cultural Tourism DC."

That day I called the National Park Service to make sure someone would show up. After some fumbling around and several questions asked of me about the tour from the Park Service employees, the NPS folks "found" it and said yes, someone would be there to lead it.

It's a long walk from my office to the FDR Memorial, but I certainly needed the exercise. And the information from a Park guide about FDR. I don't know enough about him.

But I wanted someone to show up. That was the reason to go, no?

No one came.

Three of us waited at the appointed hour of 8 p.m. at the beautiful, the crowded (even at night, but it's so spread out and big, who notices the people?) FDR Memorial for the hour's tour. After 15 minutes two of us left to explore the memorial on our own. At 8:25 p.m. I saw the third of our group still waiting on the bench.

The Park Service was certainly apologetic the next day.

Why does it post tours that, seemingly, none of its employees know anything about? Why are tours posted on a Web site which do not happen?

Another tour was scheduled for Friday night for a two hour evening tour of the Mall. Even though a Park Service employee told me someone would show up to lead that one, too, how could one be sure? Was it worth a wait downtown until 7 p.m. to find out? I nixed the possibility.

Yes, it is free; yes, the Park Service is poorly funded, but why promote something that's not going to happen? It creates frustration and unhappiness among those interested, not to mention negative comments on a blog.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Movie: "Man on Wire"

92 critics can't be wrong.

Are you familiar with the "tomatometer"? The film critics' site, "Rotten Tomatoes"? Few movies score 100% on the "tomatometer" which means "thumbs up" by all participating critics, and "Man on Wire" is one!

Go see it! Just fantastic.

The story, the score, the tension, the everything.

A documentary and thoroughly entertaining. Not a chick flick; not for the squeamish or "fluff bunnies," or acrophobics. You will grip your seat; you will gasp; you will laugh. Although you know the ending, your palms still sweat.

Philippe Petit's "words of wisdom" at the end are worth the price of admission. And if you are curious about the construction of the World Trade Center towers, many scenes of their construction are screened throughout.

Bravo, Philippe Petit, the star, James Marsh, director, and Michael Nyman, music director! I can't wait to buy the CD.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Movie: 'Mamma Mia'

Moviegoers and Mama lovers, this is not for those who've seen it on stage. Yes, it is as bad as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CBS reviewers claim.

The theatre version is so lovable, you want the movie to entertain and enthrall like the play, but, alas, movies are seldom as good as the stage, and this one follows the pattern.

My cousin called it “camp.” Yes, it is “camp” all right. It is so camp that audience laughter is rampant when Pierce Brosnan sings. Especially in "S.O.S." He was a super trouper to have tried this and must have earned money, money, money for taking the chance. Meryl Streep's singing is almost as bad. The girl (“Sophie,” Amanda Seyfried) has a stunning voice, the only one which works on a professional level.

If you can put aside your musical ears and take a chance on it, you may likely spend a pleasant two hours if you paid the matinee price. And if you are a chick, for “Mamma Mia” is strictly a “chick flick.”

My pal, Rita Faye called it “the best movie I’ve ever seen in my life!” Well, you can only imagine what she has seen (or not seen).

Despite all the criticism that the female stars are too old, their ages made no difference to these dancing queens.

There’s no need to pluck the plot since there isn’t one. You’re reading this since you like “Abba,” right? That’s the plot. Beware: The songs will stick to your mind like brain plaque.

Location expenses will win the Oscar for the lowest location costs for a large-scale movie, since 95 percent of it takes place in a Grecian urn, whoops, Grecian inn. Dear reader, the money saved was not used on voice lessons. It's only money, money, money, honey, honey.

Must reading: The Times’ review by A. O. Scott. (Link above.) It is one of the best movie reviews and should by studied by theatre students everywhere. You need to laugh out loud? Take a read.

In Santa Fe on a Monday night, the audience was a respectable 50 persons or so. Not bad for a camp out night. Based on the number of theatres still showing it locally several weeks after opening, the winner got it all. Thank you for the music.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Crime at the Nats Game

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon yesterday to take my out-of-town family to a Nats game and join friends. For unprofessional fans, our seats were great! Section 202 in the shade on a hot day.

It was our first visit to the glorious new stadium and everything went well, even spreading out with stroller, grand baby, and daughter at the nearby concrete platform with railing to watch the game from a distance and enjoy our picnic of Nats' dogs, chicken wings, fries, water and cold beer.

Everybody was happy and the Nats won! 4-2 vs. Cincinnati. My 16-month-old grandson clapped his little hands and shouted with the crowd.

My pleasure in ball games involves dogs, beer, good conversation, and an occasional look out on the field to see what's going on. I went for my last and second beer of the day to a nearby food stand and gave the cashier $20.50 for a Bud Lite (yes, no Happy Hour pricing), and she gave me $13.00 in change. She then picked up the $1 bills from the drawer, leafed through them, finding a $10 bill in the 1s, and stuffed about $12 in her right shorts pocket. Then she stooped and stayed hidden by the counter top.

Should I have reported it right then and there? To whom? Caused a commotion at the bottom of the sixth in the stands? I pondered: If the transaction was recorded in receipts, and several people have access to the cash drawer, who is charged with stealing? Is anyone? Or are shortages common? It would be easy to avoid ringing up cash purchases by pouring beer from the tap. Who would know? Perhaps employees are instructed to stuff bills in their pockets when the till gets full. Calling Mr. Ethicist.

The government money crimes in D.C. are unceasing and revolting.

Last year I boarded bus 5A at Dulles en route home and watched the bus driver stand and collect $3 in cash from each rider. If exact change is required, why was the bus driver collecting it? I thought drivers were not supposed to handle cash. I reported that one.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Classy Contemporary Art at Zenith's Alternative Gallery

By the Queen of Free

The new show, “Reincarnations,” which has opened in the lobby, the “Sculpture Space,” at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue is not to be missed. So much to love!

Curated by Linda and Steven Krensky for Zenith Gallery, the show’s stated description is: "Mixed media works created from found objects” and recycled materials.

It is so much more than anticipated and entertaining in every way.

There's a full-scale woman with a school bus as part of her arm on a discarded bicycle, multiple glass lens from sunglasses which hang like wind chimes , rows of combs, lamps, sculptures, musical instruments. It is all marvelous and serves up much to an art lover on any scale to savor and admire the creativity and genius of the participating artists.

Caitlin Phillips made handbags from books. “Cleo,” the cat is made up of blue and gold ceramic pieces by SuAnne Lasher. A “room” at the entrance of the exhibit almost becomes part of the office building itself, until closer inspection from a distance (what ?) reveals old, recycled signs are its walls, providing enlightenment. (Sorry, I didn't get the artist's name! To add.)

Jane Pettit’s sculptures including a mermaid and three frogs made of mosaic tiles at the end of the space deserve to be moved out further in the gallery to allow visitors distance to more easily admire both sides.

Kristin Eager Killion, John Pack, Randall Cleaver, and Irma Spencer are some of the other 43 artists who participate.

At the crammed opening Wednesday evening, it was an “avant-garde” (or as much as one can be described in stuffy Washington, D.C.), mostly older Baby Boomer crowd who loved it all (or most of it anyway) and seeing old friends and artists in a welcoming venue, the lobby of an office building (or what appears to be a lobby). How refreshing to be around an "event" in D.C. where the majority of the crowd was older than 30. Anyway...

The show is open until September 28 on weekdays (office building hours from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., or “on weekends by appointment”; call 202-783-2963).

Prices for all pieces are listed. Were there any "NFS"? As usual, I found myself wishing that my income was much bigger so that I might buy a piece or two.

The press release says some of the artists are college-trained, and others, self-taught. Whatever! The pieces serve to pique the mind in wonderful ways. I shall return!

Smithsonian Class V: Christianity: Holy Pilgrimages

It is likely because I am a Christian and am more familiar with its “sacred sites” than the other religions, that I found the “Christianity” lecture to be the least interesting of the five presented by the
Smithsonian Associates in its "Sacred Spaces and Spiritual Journeys” series.

It was not that Anthony Tambasco, professor of theology at Georgetown University who gave the last lecture, was boring or tedious in any way. Far from it. My eagerness to learn a little about the Islamic faith and Buddhism were factors, and I was least attracted to Christianity. Anyway!

He showed class members 60 slides of sites and maps of the Christian faith, providing as much detail as 90 minutes (with questions) would allow. If you can’t go to these “sacred places,” seeing them in color photographs with a bit of their background explained by a renowned teacher is certainly a satisfactory substitute.

Professor Tambasco divided “Christian Pilgrimage” into segments: "Life As A Journey"; "Prayer, Petition, and Praise"; "Penance"; "Purification"; "Rededication"; and "Imitation."
With “prayer” Christians need to ask for healing, he said. “Penance” includes the hardships and choices Christians make during the “pilgrimage of life” while “purification” acknowledges sinfulness, confession, and renewal.

Byzantine Christians selected many of the Christian sites which lay atop former Byzantine churches, Professor Tambasco said. The size and scope of the land Jesus traveled was actually not that big. Professor Lambrusco pointed to a map of Jesus' travels from Galilee to Jerusalem to Golgotha off and on throughout his lecture.

The supposed site of Jesus' birth is now “very touristy,” and it is a difficult place to pray because of the numbers of people, yet the mountain of the “Sermon on the Mount” now managed by Italian nuns, is quite peaceful and better for prayer.

Locations where Jesus performed miracles (Capernaum, the Tomb of Lazarus) were shown. Each gospel describes a different itinerary for Jesus, Dr. Tambasco said. John’s writings tell of Jesus’ ministry over three years; the others, only 1.5 years.

It is amazing that so many sites, and/or portions of them, remain. Some, like the sites of the House of the Last Supper and the Garden of Olives are not certain, yet the supposed locations approximate the actual places, Professor Tambasco said.

The sepulcher where Jesus' body was placed is generally accepted as the right location.

Suggested readings Professor Tambusco listed were his own, In the Days of Jesus: The Jewish Background and Unique Teaching of Jesus, and The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.

Would I sign up for the series again? Without a doubt. A new acquaintance said she and her husband would not, however, and she suggested an outline at the beginning of the series would have been helpful. Agreed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mark Russell at the Omni

Mark Russell for $20 ($22 with tax).

Yes, he’s worth it, political aficionados.

At the Omni Shoreham Hotel on Calvert Street…two shows every Monday night, at 7 and at 9.

For about 75 minutes (show started promptly on time when we went) he regaled the crowd in the private, masculine (but don’t let that deter you, ladies; the crowd was half men and half women) bar named after him where he plays the piano while telling jokes and singing original lyrics to the tunes of familiar numbers.

No politician escapes, especially Joe Lieberman, featured the day we went on the front page of the New York Times, and the New Yorker for its non-satirical cover everyone was talking about.

Barbs were cast on both sides of the aisle.


“Where will John McCain place his hand to take the oath of office?
Atop the New Yorker.”

“When Democrats tell lies before Congress, it’s called ‘perjury’;
when Republicans tell lies before Congress, it’s called ‘State of the Union.’”

The baby boomers? Who cares about the likes of them? Everybody! What a nation of whiners, indeed! (Mark Russell, a baby boomer – NOT, complained about the lack of attention he’s received: “Nobody cared about me when I turned 60,” he boomed. Wikipedia says he is 75.)

As a sure sign that Buzh is OUT, there were few wisecracks made about him, but, lo, Hillary and Bill? Aplenty.

McCain’s age? Sure. Obama’s ‘flip-flops’? Yes.

An attentive waitstaff serves drinks ($$; it is the Omni), and there is plentiful (free) popcorn.

The night we originally wanted to go was sold out, and when we got a reservation a week later, the bar was about half filled with tourists and residents (he asked), ages from teens to 90-somethings. (True! One in my group, 90, could pass for 70-something.)

For a few bucks, it’s an evening’s pleasure to spend with your political friends in a beautiful setting, the Omni, and hear content which will make even the silent, howl.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rocking out with The Rev. Al Green !

If you like only two notes of Al Green's music, you won't be hurting to rush, rush to his nearest concert. What a stupendous, captivating, magnificent show The Rev. Green gave at Wolf Trap Tuesday night.

The Washington Post story by J. Freedom du Lac pretty well ignored the reaction of the crowd and the pure delight we experienced with nonstop dancing at our seats and in the aisles at what was likely a sold out show.

We rocked, we danced, we clapped, we swayed to the beat, we sang along, we threw our hands up in the air. Seats? Not needed.

The music! Goodness gracious! We sang along with most everything, and Al and the crowd didn’t seem to care since his voice was so loud and melodious it wiped ours out: “Love and Happiness,” “Let’s Stay Together,” "Here I Am," other big ones; a dash of Otis, the Four Tops, the Temptations, and some new ones from his latest album, “Lay It Down.” Oh, my.

The mood and sounds of the combination of the happy, enthusiastic crowd and The Rev. Green singing “Amazing Grace” is too difficult for me to describe. I’ve got to rush out and get his gospel recordings before they sell out.

If it can be believed, The Reverend's voice is better than decades ago, and he can still reach those way high notes and hold them forever.

A tuxedo, the Post said? Not the traditional tuxedo you might expect from the word but a fancy three-piece suit, with vest, lavender shirt and matching tie.

Throughout the evening, the Rev. Green frequently took off the jacket, only to put it right back on. He came out in long white (nylon?) gloves which he kept on for about a third of the performance before he threw them out to the crowd. He wore sunglasses which he never removed.

And the roses! Has anyone told you about the roses? All night he threw out long-stemmed red roses to the females close to the stage. And kissed some of the adoring women. (The terrific photo by Richard Lipski in the Post story is worth a look.)

His band included two female vocalists, three men on electric guitar, an organist, a pianist on electric keyboard, two horns, one sax player, and two percussionists. That this was an entourage from a minister was obvious since the females wore no skimpy, revealing costumes but dull suits with pants. You would have thought they were lively K Street types.

The two dancers on stage were young males who perfectly performed their choreography synchronistically and often changed outfits.

The Rev. Green frequently moped his brow, and the perspiration twinkled in the lights and in the night, much like the stars in abundance on the heavenly night.

The evening began right on time with a 45-minute set by jazz, blues, and folk guitarist and composer Amos Lee, a former elementary school teacher, who was interviewed this morning on NPR's Weekend Edition by Scott Simon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Smithsonian Class IV: Buddhism and Bodh Gaya

Is a Buddhist an atheist?

A student in the fourth of the Smithsonian Associates’ series of classes, “Sacred Spaces and Spiritual Journeys,” wanted to know.

The lecturer, Robert DeCaroli, an associate professor of history and art history at George Mason University said “no”; however, some might term Buddhism an agnostic faith. The religion does not honor a single deity.

Wikipedia says estimates vary about the number of people calling themselves Buddhists: between 230 and 500 million.

Buddha was born a prince in what is generally accepted as Nepal in and around the fifth century BC. He was named Siddhartha, and his father, a king, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps but as life seldom goes according to the parent’s plan, the son chose otherwise, Dr. DeCaroli said.

His father created an idyllic compound for his son’s living quarters, wanting to shield him from life’s turmoils. Before Siddhartha was 30, a chariot driver took him outside the compound where, in the “real world" Siddhartha experienced the “Four Sights” which affected him deeply, giving rise to Buddhism.

He witnessed an old man suffering the culprits of aging; he saw disease and death, and he saw how a hermit lived. Siddhartha lived a hermit’s life for a while, realizing that his deprivations (hunger, suffering) made such heavy demands upon his body that he was not able to concentrate and bring about improvement.
He believed that life is suffering (anxiety, unrest, uncertainty) produced by desire which, if broken, can mean happiness.

To help overcome anxiety he adopted meditation and, at the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya in India, now a shrine, he received “enlightenment.”

It is almost certain that a portion of the tree with its roots remains in the tree which lives on the site today. The tree attracts Buddhists from around the world who come to the site and the nearby Mahabodhi Temple on pilgrimages.

The Temple is believed to have been built around the first century, and was rebuilt In the 1870s by Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British architect. A tree does not exist in photographs of the Cunningham period, Professor DeCaroli said.

Several Buddhist temples and monasteries built in style of the original Mahabodhi Temple may be found throughout Asia, many containing the famous Buddha statue.

Throughout his presentation Professor DeCaroli showed numerous pictures of the temple, the Buddha statue, and maps generating many questions from students. He said Bodh Gaya is “an international place.”

The series ended on July 16 with “Christianity: Holy Pilgrimages.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Party at the Phillips

Was there a party going on?

It sure seemed like it Thursday evening at the Phillips Collection, with a young lawyers association taking a private tour of the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series, the Brett Weston lecture in the auditorium, and the Gallery Talk on Vincent van Gogh's and Pierre Bonnard's paintings. Whew!

It was a race to get to all the places, paintings, and lectures I wanted to see and hear.

First off, the Brett Weston lecture, presented by the curator of the show, Stephen Bennett Phillips (any relation?), at 6:30 p.m. was delivered not only to a SRO crowd in the large, nice, new auditorium which seats 180, but also to a SRO crowd in a nearby overflow vestibule which heard the lecturer on remote and saw Weston's photographs on a large screen like the viewers saw them in the auditorium.

The Phillips' Brooke Rosenblatt wrote me the count was 197. Not bad for an art lecture in Washington, D.C. on a Thursday evening in July.

The retrospective show is entitled: "Brett Weston: Out of the Shadow" and will travel to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art after it ends at the Phillips September 7. Mr. Weston (1911-1993) was a photographer of the Southwest like his father, Edward Weston (1886-1958) who also has some art in the exhibit. It's interesting to compare the subjects and styles of father and son, black and white, stark photographs.

Edward Weston, whom Wikipedia calls one of the "greatest photographic artists" of the 20th century, was "almost" a manic depressive, Mr. Phillips said, and his illness is evident in some of his photographs (a dilapidated car, a chair). He was later struck by Parkinson's disease.

Brett Weston's photographs "pushed abstractionism" which Mr. Phillips mentioned several times. Brett Weston joined the Army in 1943, working in the Signal Corps as a photographer in New York City where he practiced and honed his art. On his way to a post in Texas, he was "transformed" by the white sands he saw, and some of his best shots are of contrasts in shadows, sand, and silhouettes. He loved California and the West Coast.

He wanted to shoot photographs of things "as they were," Mr. Phillips said. Many of his photos include sun and water and a empty, dark center. He was married four times, the longest marriage lasting four years, and his career, not surprisingly, took precedence over his wives.

When Mr. Phillips' presentation ended, I flew up three flights of stairs to find the “gallery talk” at 7 which took some doing since none of the five staff members I asked, knew where the group was. A new acquaintance, also hunting the gallery talk, and I were quite happy to eventually locate the talk already underway.

Standing in front of the first of three paintings of southern France and the Mediterranean which she described in the half hour talk, Lois Steinitz was engaging, informative, and delightful, and the crowd grew.

She began with Pierre Bonnard’s “The Open Window,” then his “The Palm,” and lastly, "The Road Menders" by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1880). Leading us from one painting to another, she contrasted the differences in the colors the painters selected: Bonnard’s bright and sunny scenes; Van Gogh’s, mute and practically monochromatic choices. Until she pointed them out, I was unaware of the "anthropomorphic" characteristics in the "Road Menders," and suddenly, the trees and lamppost came alive as people. The trees grew arms and legs, sometimes four, right before my eyes. (All it takes is an "awakening.")

Bonnard (1867-1947) inserted his wife in many of his paintings, and there she was: hidden in the right corner of “The Open Window” and standing, like a ghost holding an apple (suggesting Eve, Ms. Steinitz offered) at the front of the otherwise colorful “Palm.”

A truly captivating evening for art lovers and well worth a Phillips membership or single admission price. Did I mention the Diebenkorn show?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Play: 'Mamma Mia' at National Theatre

For sheer entertainment, really, what could be better? Singing, dancing, fun, frolics, and costuming. Who cares about a plot? It’s the songs of Abba and dancing we came to hear and see, mind you. Disappointments? What? Not here!

One test I administer to good productions: Would I see it again. Yes and yes! I saw it in D.C. when it was last here two (three?) years ago. Yes, I would have gone back the next night if money were no object. What more can I say? We got the “cheap” ($42.50) seats but were able to move up to the $71 seats at intermission. What price entertainment?

The movie is coming next week, and it is difficult to imagine Meryl Streep as Donna, but who cares? I can’t wait to see it! On Sunday the New York Times made the movie sound even better than I could have ever envisioned. Still, live and on stage…where it's been for years in New York, London, and in Las Vegas, the Times said.

It is hard to leave the theatre without dancing your way down (up) the aisles. Three days later and “Dancing Queen” continues to play joyfully in my mind.

My friend said the audiences in New York and Chicago sing along with the music and dance in the aisles. Alas! And sniff,…this is Washington, D.C., if you please, where self excitement is contained...usually.

And, besides, we moved…a little, especially at the end… when it occurred to me that we all, every last woman in that hall, were living in yesteryear, for one brief evening when we were 17, and I was a Dancing Queen:

Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music,
getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music’s high
With a bit of rock music,
everything is fine

You’re in the mood for a dance
And when you get the

You are the dancing queen,
young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the
You can dance, you can jive,
having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene,
dig in the dancing queen

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Live from a Pentagon Hill: Fireworks Fiasco on the Fourth

By the Queen of Free

From atop the hill behind the Pentagon, below the Air Force Memorial, we joined hundreds of others to see the Fourth of July fireworks display on the Mall Friday night.

We waited for what seemed like double the 45 minutes until the fireworks blasted away. The throng on the hill "oohed and aahed."

The chorus of sounds reacting to the sights from a distance didn't last long, however, for the fireworks were quickly engulfed by a huge mushrooming black cloud which immediately began to cover the show. Was it smoke from the fireworks? It grew bigger with each blast. Have you ever seen fireworks covered up? Nor had we.

Within minutes, the only thing to be seen was a bare periphery of the color and majesty. The sound of silence from the big crowd was stunning. A drizzle began and umbrellas went up. Before five minutes passed, hilltoppers packed up belongings and families, and headed away, down the hill, to drier spaces. What reason was left to stay?

Among those around us, we agreed that like everything else going wrong in our country, the big black cloud was certainly George Buzh's fault. It had to be. Didn't he ignore Kyoto and make fun of global warming? At least, until it affected an animal with which he is familiar: the polar bear. The black cloud was certainly related to global warming.

On the other hand, it could also be perceived as George Buzh's liftoff from Washington, D.C., and for that we are grateful. "So long, Buzh," we exclaimed, clapping "high fives" with our new friends on the hill. Next year, the cloud will be gone.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The 2008 Cowboy Census in D.C.

By the Queen of Free

Music, dancing, and fun galore at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall...

Never were there so many cowboy hats in one place in D.C.: 4.

The Washington stuffed shirts? Not there. And it's a good things, too, for this crowd was having too much fun to be slowed down by the likes of political sad sacks. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? What? There's an election when?

At the Texas Dance Hall the audience was 95% tourist, all bedecked in their tourist apparel, dancing the evening away on Wednesday night to the likes of Texas musicians whoopin' it up big time.

Dance floor ages: six months to way beyond, all having a great time. Heads and feet of the chair sitters and those along the periphery, a bobbin’ in time with the blues music. The music crowd was bigger on Thursday night, but the dancin' music was not as inviting, what with Bhutan music, costumes, skeleton dances, and the talented, delightful Mariachi Los Arrieros to perform and play.

Kicking up those heels, guzzling beer (restricted to which areas?), listening to zydeco, the blues, all live, all entertainment. What more could a person ask? (Well, ahem, about those canned kidney beans, and, please, could we have limes next year with our Coronas?)

The thrill is not gone.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" Opens Briefly in Bethesda

By the Queen of Free

Thank goodness for Montgomery County’s Heritage Days.

Last weekend the annual festival offered a terrific opportunity to visit the officially unopened site of the setting for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” where Josiah Henson, “Uncle Tom” in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bestselling novel of more than 150 years ago, lived and worked for 30 years (1795-1825) at the Riley house and farm on Old Georgetown Road.

Earnest, energetic tour guides from the Montgomery County Department of Parks conducted visitors throughout all parts of the home, answering questions and offering important known details, reading from index cards.

From a screened porch which served as the “holding room” for last weekend’s guests on the hot, muggy Sunday, visitors followed the guide into the air-conditioned house on 30-minute tours, stopping in each room to listen to descriptions of the history of the house, deplete of furniture (unless kitchen counters count).

My group, walking up and down the stairs, seemed humbled and awestruck to be inside the home with its unraveling history.

Telltale reminders of the modifications made in the mid 1930s by the owners at that time exist (wallpaper, bathroom, room sizes). A few descriptions and renderings of the possibilities of uses of the home during Mr. Henson’s life are posted here and there on the walls of the various rooms, and in the log addition which may have been the kitchen Mr. Henson described in his autobiography

Mrs. Stowe based her novel on Mr. Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself which was published in 1849. The tour guide recommended both books which are quite different from each other, she said, and she read aloud small portions of Mr. Henson’s book to Sunday’s visitors including Mr. Henson's description of the deep wounds he saw on his father who suffered at the hands of a cruel slave owner who had also attacked Mr. Henson's mother.

Early in 2006 the Montgomery County Planning Board bought the house from private owners for $1 million, according to Wikipedia, and it will take until 2012, the guide said, before the house is restored and opened to the public.

Shouts and splashes from a nearby family’s swimming pool hidden mostly by trees in the back yard were reminders last weekend that the former 500-acre Riley farm had been reduced to a single acre, with life soon to return to the Riley house, too, and acquaint present day onlookers with glimpses of Mr. Henson's life 200 years ago.

Committees of historians, architects, landscapers, archivists, planners, and others are now conducting serious research in order to restore the property as authentically as possible to that of Mr. Henson’s lifetime. More than 550 artifacts have been uncovered in the minute investigation of the property. Tree rings and paint can reveal important information, the guide said.

If you "Google" "Uncle Tom's Cabin," another site comes up, too: In Dresden, Ontario, Canada where Mr. Henson and his family lived for many years after he fled his servitude in Maryland via the Underground Railroad in 1830.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rush! Renwick Jewelry Show Closes July 6

By the Queen of Free

Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection organized by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston

More than 275 pieces created by artists from around the world are included in a glittering exhibit which is delightful in every way at the Renwick Gallery

Unless the wearer is a giant, I do not believe this is jewelry made to be worn but to admire and wonder about the artists’ perspectives and creativity.

From the “Conventional Weapons Necklace” (just imagine) by Nancy Worden to the brooch, “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” by Judy Onofrio, which includes a tiny colorful cameo of Abraham Lincoln and the three monkeys in common crouch with serpents intertwining the pin’s borders, this is an stunning show which entertains gloriously.

Many brooches, some necklaces, a ring stand, and a few bracelets (can you guess what the “Gold Finger” bracelet looks like?) are included in this show of contemporary adornments. I did not see any earrings or body piercings.

Some of the most fascinating necklaces are: “Sneak Necklace” of beads and thread by Joyce Scott, “Square Necklace” by Robert Smit, “Air Neckpiece” by Pierre Cavalan and one made of book paper by Janna Syvanoja.

Everything is absolutely incredible.

Since the gallery is open on the 4th, take your brood (the children will be almost as captivated as you) for a peak before you head to the Mall to see the fireworks show which will almost match the color and spark inside the Renwick.

You likely know the Renwick is a few steps from either Farragut Metro Stop, sits adjacent to the Blair and Lee houses on Pennsylvania Avenue at the intersection with 17th Street, N.W. down the street from the White House and Lafayette Park, and the show is free, mind you, free!

Another Smithsonian treasure. Hours are from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday – Sunday. You will love it.