Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Bell of a Night with the Smithsonian Associates

by the Queen of Free (for members)

It was a dull and listless night at the Smithsonian Associates’ “free” lecture presented by artist, art critic, poet and nephew of Virginia Woolf, Julian Bell, at the S. Dillon Ripley Center Tuesday night.

Maybe it was his British accent. Maybe it was the rapid rush of his words, or the almost slurring of them which made comprehension difficult. Maybe it was too much art presented all at once. Maybe it was Mr. Bell's facing the screen rather than the audience. Maybe it was all of these things which combined to make it a lacklustre showing, unusual for the Smithsonian.

The acoustics did not seem to impair the presentation on 17th century art, but after 10 or 15 minutes the first audience members departed, followed stealthily by others, like mice scurrying in a hole (the exit), to hurry home and catch President Obama’s first major address.

About 150 mostly senior citizens* attended and 100 percent were Caucasian (or the ones I could see). (*Overheard conversation subjects: swimming lessons, pills, aching feet, late breakfast.)

Julian Bell said the period 1600 – 1670 was a “uniquely exciting phase in the history of art," and he finds a connection between early modern and present day art. Some of the artists and the works he mentioned included Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, Velasquez, Vermeer. One of the most fascinating pieces he described was the sculpture, "The Head of the Damned," terrible and horrifying, which he said (if I understood correctly) that the artist made from studying himself in the mirror.

Mr. Bell is the author of Mirror of the World: A New History of Art which he planned to sign after his lecture.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charley Pride at DAR's Constitution Hall

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

The U.S. Air Force Band's "Wizard of Oz" Cast

Katherine Kohler plays the clarinet

By the Queen of Free

Although he is 70 and his voice quavered a little, Charley Pride can still put on a heckuva show. Combine his talents with the U.S. Air Force Symphony Orchestra in a free performance at DAR’s Constitution Hall and you’ve got a magnificent Sunday afternoon of splendid music.

He was a little stiff physically and his voice, not as strong as when the Country Music Hall of Fame selected him Male Vocalist in 1971 and 1972, and Entertainer of the Year in 1970, but Charley, who wore a shimmering metallic jacket in rainbow colors, can still carry a tune in a hearty manner, dance on stage, carry on a conversation with the audience, and seem to love his work.

With the backup of the Singing Sergeants, he delighted the mostly senior citizens for more than an hour with his big hits including: “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” "For the Good Times," “He'll Have to Go,” and “Mountain of Love." Until Sunday I had not realized the reggae flavor of his music.

The keyboard accompanist was especially strong and the violins were exquisite. The percussion section at times was too powerful.

The Hall’s acoustics complement the artistry. And two jumbotrons added to the pleasure of the listeners who tapped feet to keep up with all the lost loves (who writes his music?) and romantic ballads Charley sang. He talked to the crowd, which filled about 90 percent of the seats, about his mother who died at 47 and the advice she gave her children. He sang a song “for the ladies” specifically selected by his wife of 52 years.

The first half of the Sunday show featured the Air Force Concert Band and costumed band members who sang an energetic, professional medley of “Wizard of Oz” tunes which the audience adored.

The winner of the Col. George Howard Young Artist Competition, Katherine Kohler, an astonishing high school clarinetist from Napierville, performed an outrageously unbelievable piece with the orchestra.

Throughout the afternoon the musicians' precision, sound and clarity led by Col. Dennis Layendecker left a listener shaking her head that the quality and enjoyment are available at no cost. Only in Washington, D.C. Guest emcee was Bernie Lucas from 98.7 WMZQ.

Next up: Keiko Matsui, jazz pianist, March 22 at 3 p.m. at the Hall.

An Imprismed Artist: Giorgio Morandi

By the Queen of Free (I was a guest)

You may think bottles and jars and containers painted from different perspectives in muted colors would be boring but then you haven’t seen the latest exhibition at the Phillips Collection: Morandi Master of Modern Still Life which is up through May 24, 2009.

Upon reading a description you might decide it's not worth a trip but you would be missing a good-sized show with several Cezanne (opening Thursday in Philadelphia) comparisons, intriguing still lifes, and interesting etchings.

Morandi is considered a master of landscapes, too, but the exhibit has just a few of them. However, the show is made all the more fascinating when you learn that Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) lived in the same Bologna apartment with his mother and three sisters practically his whole life and never ventured outside Italy until he was 66! Egads! No wonder his subjects were indoor and inanimate. Does this explain why he painted almost no humans except seven portraits of himself? Please: Where is his biography?

Wikipedia calls him "a prescient and important forerunner of Minimalism.” I’ll say.

One painting, “Wild Flowers” was reminiscient of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” without the sun, as in yellow. In the accompanying brochure the Phillips says Morandi has a cult following. Oh, I am sure. With sisters and a mother for roommates, is it any wonder his paintings of boxes and shadows are in muted colors? Were they small-sized tombs for different body parts? It is easy to note the plentiful phallic symbols on top of many of the containers. Hey, if I were living with a mother and three sisters in an apartment I’d be drawing weapons of mass destruction. (Hollywood! Get me Hollywood.)

Friday night the Phillips hosted “upper-level” members to a borderline lively reception where enough hors d’oeuvres, dessert pieces, wine, and Italian beer were served to substitute for dinner. A pleasant, enjoyable evening also presenting food for thought.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Book: "Call Me Ted" by Ted Turner

It was one of those books I was ambivalent about ending since parts of it became laborious (sailing, baseball, sailing, baseball, movie business) and yet it means “our” relationship ended, and “poof!”, he was gone. I enjoyed it while it lasted. I felt like we were friends while reading it.

I like Ted Turner a lot: his looks, power, persona, money, charisma, his goals, sunny attitude. He seems to have a good personality, too. And he’s funny! A woman-slayer. What’s there not to like?

About 18 months ago I saw and heard him interviewed by (if memory is correct)Bernard Shaw of CNN at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum (fitting venue!) where Ted received an award. He sat on stage and peered out at the audience of about 200 as if to say, really: Why are you all here?

I do want to see him get back with Jane. I always thought she left him for his philandering ways (his father told him that's what men did), but the book suggests it was spiritual division which separated the two more than anything else. They remain good friends. Ted and Jane, and Jane and Ted. How much time is left? Please get back together.

His father was emotionally and physically abusive. Ted was put in boarding school at age four. That’s four, not 14. It is difficult to consider placing a four-year-old in boarding school. His father drove him to seek ceaseless activity, but one of the most important points a reader remembers is advice his father gave: Do not set your expectations and your goals too low, for if you achieve them all, what is left?

When Ted was 24, his father committed suicide.

Four years prior, Ted’s sister, Mary Jean, died at age 17 of lupus erythematosus. No parent can ever completely recover from such a tragedy, and Ted bore his parents’ anguish as they dealt with the long-term illness of their only daughter.

He attended private schools and completed three years at Brown University until his dad would not pay for any more because of displeasure with his son. It is sad to read and reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s foster father who refused to fund the entirety of Poe’s college because of disagreements.

Ted is propelled by “demons” (according to Jane and others) and keeps constantly busy to avoid facing ghosts headon. He has mastered more arenas than 99.99% of anyone else! Sailing, professional team ownership (Atlanta Braves), outdoor advertising, television networks, the movie industry, philanthropy ($1B to the United Nations), population control, now restaurants.

The book carries humorous and revealing anecdotes by the major players in his life (including Jane and his children) and a description by one whom Ted doesn't like much (Jerry Levin) who screwed him on the AOL Time Warner deal.

Omitted from the book are many of Turner’s controversial statements and actions listed at Wikipedia.

Who has more versatility? Energy? I don’t know. What are you doing now, Ted?

The book was written with the assistance of Bill Burke in style, level, and format for a USAToday reader. It's a light read. Still, enjoyable for the most part, informative, enlightening, honest, and I plan to give the paperback version to my sons at Christmas.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ovie and The Caps On Fire at Verizon!

By the Queen of Free - N O T

With his terrific theatrics, Ovie has the crowd leaping to its feet and screaming! There he was sliding into home plate (whoops)the net, and scoring from his side while lying sideways as he skidded across the ice! From his fanny perch he twirled around and around like a ballerina (ballerino?) after making THE shot which Sports Illustrated labeled on its online front page today: "NHL Shot of the Year."

It was major performance! The fans almost beat the place to smithereens! Verizon was in flames! It will be one of those shots shown time and time again.

No way were the Capitals going to lose. It was a dynamic evening, and you talk about fun! You want fun? Come and join the throngs and make silly while you pound a stranger and your beer goes up in the air like what erupted from a few rows in front of us and the group of 20-somethings romping it up, screaming at all the many bad calls of the refs and having a joyful time.

It was a sellout game, and even from the ceiling where my friend, Claire, and I sat on the very top row, the victory swept us up on a wild night to witness the Capitals all win a ferociously exciting game.

Being on the last row has its benefits Claire said: We didn’t have to worry about blocking someone’s view or having drinks poured on us. But who would have cared on another magical Capital night? Call the fire department!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Movie: “Pool of Princesses”

By the Queen of Free

This was a documentary?

Not fiction?

Horrors! What in the world awaits Germany if these lives are typical?

The “true” tales of three 15-year-old girls as filmed by Director Bettina Blumner over the course of a year in their sad, hollow world. All from single-parent families who care more about cigarettes than their children. Nothing is off-limits except “heroin and pregnancies” said one mom to her daughter.

The film takes place in a Berlin neighborhood over a summer filled with jobs, parties, truancy school, and no commitments. Sex, multiple partners, emotional detachment pervade a shallow, empty time. They float from hither to yon, restaurant to restaurant, guy to guy. One of the girls has a relationship which is not as superficial as many. They smoke incessantly.

What future lies in store for this almost abandoned group whose selfish, egotistical parents provide no direction or guidance which the girls yearn for and desperately need? Is it me placing my middle-class values upon them? Of course. Food for thought.

The movie received the 2008 German Film Prize for Best Documentary Film. It was screened at the Goethe-Institut Washington at 812 Seventh Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. in the best non-profit movie theatre I have visited.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

THE Emancipation Proclamation at Archives

By the Queen of Free

For five days only beginning today on the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth

Despite the sign which said a 20 minute wait, it took less than that to reach the original document. The ink is quite faint. In the low lighting the approximate 75 visitors and those in the rotunda were subdued and of somber mood. Several security guards stood nearby.

At the line's entrance an attractively designed 8.5 x 11” four-page brochure in sepia tones with the complete text and brief explanation about the Proclamation is available at no charge.

The Proclamation, which Archives names one of the nation's most treasured documents, declared the freedom of all slaves in states which had seceded from the Union (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) but omitted its abolishment in the border states (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia). Exceptions were made for those portions of the Confederate states which were already under Union jurisdiction on January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The National Archives at 700 Pennsylvania Avenue is open special hours this weekend from 10 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. from Saturday through Monday for viewing the document which is only made public a few days each year.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Flowers Is Is at the Botanic Garden

From top to bottom: The bird of paradise,the indoor courtyard,the banana tree,the tour,springtime in February,and the notorious Devil’s Tongue

By the Queen of Free


For a respite from the normal workaday world, for a breath of springtime in February, for a change of scenery, the angelic, the paradisaical Botanic Garden at the foot of Capitol Hill offers the weary a song, a pleasant trip into another space of fragrance, beauty, loveliness, and the color of rejuvenation: green.

On Monday Marjorie Abbot, Garden volunteer,led a small group on a delightful tour, providing a brief history of the sanctuary and explanations about a few (time constraints) of its 26,000(!)plants. We saw the “Devil’s Tongue” (so perfectly named)with its horrid smell (everyone took Marjorie's word for it, and nobody tested her truthfulness), hundreds of orchids, medicinal plants bountiful, cacti, and we smelled the uplifting, the magnificent fragrance of the hyacinth.

What a celestial contrast the Botanic Garden presents compared to the brown, the empty, the languor of the outdoors only a few steps away.

The short trip to another world on my lunch break brought to mind these words:
Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the flowers is

Perhaps written by Edna St. Vincent Millay or Ogden Nash. They sound more like Nash, don't you think?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Poem

By the Queen of Free

All right, already, I know it was almost three weeks ago, but a girl has got to work to eat.

Anyway, this was the scene in front of the Capitol while Elizabeth Alexander read it: More than half had already left their seats.

At least it has sparked thousands of conversations throughout the world and raised the spectre of “poetry” and what contemporary poetry is exactly. (I do not know.)

I know at my office THE poem has come up often since January 20 and two conversations turned into knock-down drag out fights.

Quick! What one word captures it? The first word which comes to mind when you begin to recall the content?

Exactly. Mine, too: Mediocre.

Maybe, mundane. (Please don’t tell Stacie.)

Honestly! Yale? This poem is proof that you can live by reputation alone.

Wasn’t it supposed to send us soaring onboard a new wing of hope? It is depressing stuff, a real downer. (Feb. 21 addition: Some others agree with my assessment, too, based upon this Yahoo story yesterday indicating the poem's sales of 6,000 compared to Maya Angelou's poem sales of 1,000,000 after she waxed poetic(?)at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.)

The placement of the poetry reading on the Inaugural program, after President Obama's inaugural address was sad, like an afterthought giving credence to those who might think it a weak part of the swearing-in.

As the new president neared the end of his speech I kept wondering: “Where’s the poem? Where’s the poem? Wasn’t a poem commissioned for this historic day?”

It was read ex poste facto when few remained at or near their seats on the grounds of the Capitol.

Some stood still and listened to words which seemed to come from a lonely Middle American farmer surrounded by no more thoughts of soaring than the birds he watched land on the fence while his cattle munched hay nearby.

“Repairing the things in need of repair”?

Come on! Any high school English teacher would count off for that phraseology.

“A farmer considers the changing sky.” Powerful stuff!

"We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, 'I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.'" In bold red ink: T R I T E across this section. Which brings to mind (sorry about this):

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

"We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see." Really?

Okay, okay already, so the last two lines are okay:

"In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light."

I could go on and on, but enough of my tripe. Except it's a good thing Garrison Keillor didn't have a hand in this or we would have been hearing about how the crows pecked out the eyes of the woman and her son at the bus stop, the sky fell on top of the farmer, and the students stabbed the teacher with the pencils.

The poem en toto as found at the New York Times:

Praise Song for the Day’ - The 2009 Presidential Inauguration Poem

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Archives Presents: White House Transitions

By the Queen of Free

From left to right: Gary Walters, former White House chief usher, Ann Stock, Bill Clinton's social secretary, Sharon Fawcett, Presidential archivist, and Frederick Ryan, Ronald Reagan's chief of staff.

One of the many joys of living in Washington, D.C. is the opportunity to attend and hear free presentations by “insiders” who reveal new stories about employers, Washington celebrities and other VIPs. The entertainment value usually far exceeds that which one pays to see and hear on screen and stage.

That is, if you like this sort of thing. We live here and like it!

At Archives recently, two panels of insiders told stories about Presidential transitions and moving day to the overwhelmingly Caucasian, mixed-aged audience which mostly filled the magnificent William G. McGowan Theatre.

Some of the panelists were the former White House chief usher, Gary Walters; Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, Frederick Ryan; and Bill Clinton’s social secretary, Ann Stock.

Mr. Walters said the house transforms from a home for one family into a home for another family within hours, all on January 20. “The clothes are hung,” favorite foods are stocked, and “all boxes are emptied” so that the new first family feels immediately “comfortable.” The First Family pays to move its personal possessions.

Preparation for the change begins right after the November election and continues through “to the end of the day,” (meaning January 20, I think).

Ms. Stock said the Obamas' organization and planning should serve as a transition “model” for they moved quickly on White House transition planning. Michelle Obama immediately picked 26 to help staff the White House, Ms. Stock said, unlike any other First Lady. (The White House staff totals around 90 persons.)

Between 100 and 150 events occur in the social life of the White House in the first 100 days of a new administration.

Who pays to move them in and move them out?

They do!

However, the federal government pays to move records, Mr. Walters said. The First Family pays for all their and their guests’ food and beverages, he said. The total cost shocked Laura Bush (I think he said Laura) the first time he presented a bill to her. (What about state dinners?)

Children in the White House make it “a lot more fun,” Ms. Stock said. “They bring life to the White House and to everyone who works there.” The nice thing for the Obamas is they “live over the store.”

One time Chelsea Clinton climbed out on a ledge at the White House to sunbathe, and members of the press brought it to the attention of Walters.

Sharon Fawcett, a Presidential archivist, said Archives keeps the official daily diary of the President. Ronald Reagan’s diaries which he kept and which were published after his death were his own personal diaries. The Archives staff is frequently contacted to find Presidential events and dates which they locate generally within two hours.

Presidential papers are supposed to be accessible five years after the President leaves office.

The White House has no restrictions on pets kept by occupants. Mr. Walters said many different animals have been pets to first families including parakeets, snakes, and raccoons. The staff often supplied Barbara Bush’s dog, Millie, with treats, and Millie was no slouch. About every day the elevator operator at the White House took Millie down to the West Wing where she marched to get treats. Mrs. Bush would call Mr. Walters: “Where’s Millie?" And “stop feeding Millie!”

Terry Sullivan, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor and executive director of the White House Transition Project, spoke on the second panel, "The Presidential Transition," about his experiences from President Eisenhower to George Bush I.

The people the President sees most often are not whom you would expect. The ones he sees daily number about five including the secretary of state, his national security advisor, and his chief of staff with whom he spends about five percent of his daily time.

The press secretary is one of seven to 11 persons the Presidents sees about three times a week, interacting with none on a regular basis (other than his COS).

The President does lots of different things every day “but nothing in particular every day.” (Obama’s and Bush II’s exercise? But he was speaking of practice before their terms.)

About 15 percent of the President's time daily is spent on diplomatic issues.

Another panelist, Roger Porter, a Harvard professor and presidential policy director, said people like to be consulted early, especially Congressional members who want to know about announcements before they are queried by the press.

Presidential scholar and University of Vermont professor John Burke talked about nominees whose pasts proved troublesome. Mistakes are recognized and names are quickly pulled. He listed Linda Chavez, Bush II's choice for Labor Secretary who did not make it.

Assigned parking places are a sensitive issue at the White House, noted Martha Joynt Kumar, the moderator of the second panel, who is a Presidential scholar and another White House Transition Project director.