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.