Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pat Summitt and Friends at the Army/Navy Club

There she was...the line was not twice but three times longer than for any of the others. And the others were males! I fully expected it and why not?

Pat Summitt, head basketball coach for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, with her team has won the NCAA championship eight times, the winningest coach in all of NCAA history. There she was... signing pictures for the 300 or so Tennessee alumni who gathered last week at the sold-out event to see and hear the top UT coaches tell a few stories, answer question from the "voice" of the Vols, Bob Kesling, and poke fun and glamour at each other at the Army/Navy Club.

Philip Fulmer, the football coach since 1992, and Bruce Pearl, the men's basketball coach who has brought the men's game up to almost par with the ladies, were there, too.

Although guests were warned by e-mail ahead of time that only one autograph would be made for each person by each coach, all three graciously agreed to sign whatever you brought to be autographed just as many times as you wanted! One lady, a design artist for Gannett, brought her 2 1/2 year old son and his Smokey Bear and a basketball which Coach Summit, who looks 20 pounds lighter and ten times better in person than on the tube, happily signed, all the while conversing with each proud alum.

And if you didn't bring anything to sign, no worries: Color photos of each coach were supplied to eager participants. And there was no mention about a wavering football team, hungry for a better year than we've seen in a long time.

If Coach Pearl can't make it as a coach and there's no sign of that since he took the men's basketball team to No. 1 for the first time in history, he could certainly earn big bucks as a comedian for he's as genuinely funny as anybody you'd hear on the late night shows. He just completed his third year for the Vols.

He said that the night before the wildly popular UT-University of Memphis game (when the teams were ranked No. 2 and No. 1, respectively) where some fans were paying thousands of dollars for tickets, he told two players he wanted them to go with him the morning of the game to St. Jude's, the renowned children's cancer hospital in Memphis, to visit some of the children. When Coach Pearl went out to the bus early the next day for the visit to St. Jude's, there already seated on the bus was the entire team waiting for him. He said it was that kind of a team, that kind of a year.

A surprisingly good dinner of bar-b-cue on china plates atop tablecloths added to a fun evening on top of a hill with a view looking towards a gorgeous sunset outlined by long fairways and even a fox which crossed the paths of UT alums on their way up to the clubhouse. Most everyone had orange of some sort in their apparel or running through their veins.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dave Brubeck on a Cultural Tour at GWU's Elliott School

A couple of weeks ago The Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University hosted a seminar on cultural diplomacy featuring Dave Brubeck in honor of the 50th anniversary of his State Department tour outside North America.

Back in the 1960s (or was it the 1970s?) I saw and heard the great Brubeck perform at
East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, and I was dumbfounded he was still living! Bravo, Mr. Brubeck (now, 87).

The seminar kicked off an almost week-long festival in Washington honoring the man, his music and his achievements (was there any press about it?) that was preceded by the other half of the festival in Stockton, CA, home of Mr. and Mrs. Brubeck's alma mater, the University of the Pacific which is home to the Brubeck Institute.

At the seminar four white males made up the panel and each presented a brief (10 minutes or so) current history of diplomacy including world events of the 50s and the direction another cultural musical tour could take today.

Mr. (and Mrs.? I was unsure) Brubeck sat in the middle of the front row in the audience, and Mr. Brubeck was recognized from the podium. He certainly appeared to be a lively fellow, but I did not see him at the reception afterwards..

After the panelists' presentations, questions were taken from the 150 or so members of the audience, composed mostly of Caucasian students, professors, alumni, and the curious who attended voluntarily, like me. Because so many responded to the seminar invitation, GW moved the locale to the Harry Harding Auditorium.

After a few moments of "questions" it became obvious that some audience members who spoke (all males) were actually more interest in making statements, and three of them came, appropriately enough, from the State Department, leading the moderator, Dr. David Grier, to twice applaud the "expansion" of the panel.

Anyway 50 years ago "State" sent Mr. Brubeck and his group to India, Europe, and the Middle East to be cultural ambassadors for the U.S.

Jazz was important to the cultural life of European people, said Professor Hugh Agnew who described the world in the late 1950s as "teetering on the brink of change". Not only was the world reeling from the psychological damage of World War II and the Korean War, but the rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union contributed to a European fear of another war.

Ambassador Karl Inderfurth (who served during the Clinton Administration) called the Brubeck trips abroad "clearly one of the best decisions the State Department has made." Dr. Marc Lynch whose enthusiasm and presentation made me want to sign up for his class tomorrow, said Adam Clayton Powell (denied a visa in 1955 to travel abroad) vigorously urged "State" to send Brubeck overseas so that people could begin through music to understand what America was all about.

Who was not sent to represent the U.S. in the 1950s? He shook his hips and gyrated and came from Memphis and was also serving in the Army (but probably would not have been tapped anyway, Dr. Lynch said.) Until 1957 and Little Rock, the late great Louis Armstrong was a "cultural ambassador". "He did not want to part of a government which allowed (Little Rock)", Dr. Lynch said.

He compared jazz to "hip hop": Both are loved by blacks and youth; both are mysterious, unpredictable and unique. "Music can build bridges," Dr. Lynch said, and suggested State might consider sending hip hopsters abroad like it sent Dave Brubeck to weave magic and try to convince others we are not as bad as they think. Hip hop is quite popular in the Middle East, and it "gives voice to the voiceless".

A handsome 32-page souvenir booklet was distributed to all, and a gala reception at the City View Room on the seventh floor of the 1957 E Street building followed the seminar and featured the current Dave Brubeck Quartet (namesake not included).

It is truly marvelous that GWU opens its doors to curious people who have no connection to the university whatsoever, other than a fondness for knowledge, a desire to broaden one's perspective, learn a little, and open minds and doors to the unknown. I am grateful.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A New Degas' "Dancers at the Bar"

About 150 persons attended the recent lecture at the Phillips Collection about the repair to this painting described in detail by Elizabeth ("Lilli") Steele. She is the head of conservation at the Phillips and addressed an audience of mostly young, female, and likely, conservators or students.

In the magnificent new auditorium at the Phillips, Ms. Steele said she had been intrigued by the painting for as long as she has worked at the Phillips: 20 years.

It's believed Degas began painting it around 1884 and "probably worked on it for 20 years", Ms. Steele said.

Degas kept the painting in his possession (likely in his studio: "probably the worst place") until he died in 1917 . His estate sold the painting the next year, and Duncan Phillips purchased it in 1944 for $18,000 ("and it's likely worth ten times that now, " Ms. Steele said.)

From 2002 to 2007 the painting went "on tour" to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other locations.

After it returned "home" and inflamed Ms. Steele with love anew, she inspected it closely and with approval by Phillips hierarchy no doubt, began a restoration of the painting which took 10 months.

Before any painting is repaired, an in depth study of the artist, the painting, and its provenance is conducted so that the conservator/archivist gains more information, background and knowledge of the artist's intentions, art, and its various locations, Ms. Steele said.

Microscopic inspection and an examination under ultraviolet light of every possible inch of the painting were made.

Once grime and dirt were removed and a "gentle vacuuming" was performed with small tools, including dental equipment and cotton swabs, brighter "almost different" colors became clearly evident and the painting's three-dimensional effect was restored. The "before and after" pictures of the painting shown on a large screen convinced the audience Ms. Steele was not exaggerating.

Her investigation uncovered a tear in the canvass, a thumbprint and two different inscriptions by two different people. Also, an infrared image of the painting revealed six, rather than four legs, and the change in skirt lengths Degas made. "Degas kept changing his mind about the (dancers') appearance," she said.

For Ms. Steele personally, "it was a lot of fun to work on," she said. "A big thrill!"

She spoke for about 45 minutes and answered questions before some audience members rapidly departed to go view the painting at another gallery at the Phillips. "Dancers at the Bar" is much larger than what I would have thought.

Lectures always add interest and background to the understanding of a painting, making original art all the more pleasing to see up close and personal.

Suggestion to Phillips: Refrain from permitting latecomers to interrupt lectures by directing them to rear seating only.

The Phillips Collection is located at 1600 21st Street, NW near the Dupont Circle Metro stop (north end). Admission on weekdays to see this Degas is free; weekends, $12 which includes admission to special exhibits.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Societies of the States Celebrate the Cherry Blossom Princesses

Last week I attended a fun event on the top floor (I think it was) of the Hart Senate Office Building where a combination of members (and others) of the state societies of Tennessee, Texas (most of the attendees), Alabama, and South Carolina met to carouse and see and congratulate the four state cherry blossom princesses.

You'd think it'd be a good time for congressional reps. to shake hands and build constituent strength among the activists but nary a one did I spy from Tennessee (my state). Most of the crowd was the young staffer set, and, gee, can they dress any worse? Just give them a plastic bag and watch them whine: : "Lady, can you spare a dime?"

Still, it was a delightful time, representatives or not.

I rode up the elevator with a handsome lad, Andy Rubert, III who formerly worked for Senator Frist and is now a "financial adviser". Although Republican, still so personable and friendly, I've almost a mind to call him for advice for my wee fund. And dressed for the occasion!

Anyway, there was Susan Chafin from Columbia, Tennessee, Cong. Bob Clement's daughter, Rachel, James from Texas, Marguerite from Texas, and an opthamologist, Dan ?, with his dad, scouring the environs for a place to land professionally. These are the names I can remember.

Plentiful alcohol (beer and wine) and good hors oeuvres which mostly lasted the entire evening. As usual, I am one of the first to arrive and the last to leave, but I do believe a good time was had by all. Oh! And the lobbyists paid for the whole blooming (they were) thing!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Musing after the Newseum

WOW! For news junkies, yes! For others? Not sure $20 will be viewed as a good value by them.

Why, with all these news stories and adulations, has nothing been written about the high admission price? Does the hierarchy at the Newseum really think this fee is okay? How was it set? Why $20? Perhaps the Newseum is not non-profit, after all.

The museum (sorry, that's what it is) is phenomenal: seven floors of old newscasts and history and lots of front pages. There is part of the Berlin Wall and part of one of the World Trade towers and part of one of the planes which crashed that dreadful day engulfing the crowd, now silent..

Pictures taken by a photographer on his way to his death by the fall of a tower flash by. Video of his wife being interviewed suggest she still is numb for she speaks non passionately. His photo bag and equipment, damaged by the falling tower which took his life, are on display. Not to miss.

The Pulitzer Price photos are shattering. Two days later and the tragic shot of the little girl and the vulture both on the ground in Africa live vividly. The repercussions to the photographer are understandable. All the pictures are unforgettable and one tastes a bit of greatness. Video and comments by some of the photographers are shown.

The hosts recommend starting with a confusing film on the bottom floor and taking a glass elevator to the top and descending, not by stairs but by ramps like ones found at stadiums. (It does have that feel.)

Upon entering on opening ("free") day April 11, I immediately spied on the street level Senator Chuck Hagel being interviewed on the radio. Members of the crowd turned and asked each other "who's that? Who's he?" When told, some still had no idea who he is. Not everyone lives and breathes news and politics!

A spectacular building, a spectacular day, and the views! Must sees! Even when "full" (which is doubtful post-April 11) there is plenty of room to move around and witness. What fun the television reporting (additional fee) is for, mostly, the young at heart and body.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ovie and the Caps from Section 422

The greatest game! And nobody left...not even when the score was 4-1 and there were about 2 minutes left. Usually, in the last five minutes of any (not all) hockey games, the fans start streaming out, but the Caps v. the Hurricanes had the sold-out mob glued to their seats! Excitement for all. So many players scored, assisted, stopped, bumped, trunked and ground their way to a huge win!

If you think for one minute downtown Washington is only suits and black and blue clothes and conservative fashion, you have not for sure been to a Caps game where there are real macho macho men. Bravo! To think they actually exist in downtown D.C.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Maj. Nicole Malachowski Speaks at the National Air and Space Museum

The best piece of advice she gave to the audience in the comfy surroundings of the IMAX Theatre at the

National Air and Space Museum?

"Surround yourself with positive people and choose your friends carefully."

Any negative people in your life? Rid your life of them.

Enthusiastic, vivacious and unrelenting in her patriotism, Capt. Nicole Malachowski, 33, described her upbringing and support from family members and teachers in her quest to become a fighter pilot. She gave much credit to her husband and parents, all of whom were present.

Wearing her Air Force uniform adorned with rows of ribbons, she barely mentioned the 180 combat hours she flew in Iraq but, instead, energetically told about her life as a Thunderbird pilot and the selection process which was, after all, what the approximately 250 people came to hear.

When she was 12 her family made a trip to Washington and visited the Air and Space Museum "which changed my life. I consider this 'hallowed ground'."

For a sixth-grade class project she announced to her class she wanted to become a fighter pilot which her teacher denounced since, at the time, female fighter pilots were not authorized. "I wasn't phased" by the teacher, she said.

"It's all about courage, confidence, and taking chances," she said. "If my parents had ever said 'no', I wouldn't be here," she proclaimed proudly.

In high school she joined the Junior ROTC and later, the Civil Air Patrol which she highly recommended to young people. She got her pilot's license at 16 and flew solo. Before she graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996, Congress changed the law allowing females to fly fighter jets, and she was off to the skies.

While she talked at the museum, still shots and spectacular videos of her Thunderbird experiences played on the IMAX screen behind her. (We were in the pilot's seat with her!) Later this year she'll become a Legislative Fellow on Capitol Hill.

I can't recall the last time I attended a lecture where the crowd gave the speaker a standing ovation but that's what happened at the National Air and Space Museum one Thursday night. Check out its web site for more free lectures presented not only for aviation and military ethusiasts but also, for the plain curious made happy by the achievements of many, especially women. (Maybe some of their cues will rub off.)

The Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in the world followed by its "cousin", the four-year-old Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport which recently celebrated the arrival of Visitor # 5,000,000.

Some information for this piece is derived from an article in the July 6, 2006 edition of the Stars and Stripes newspaper