Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The State Societies Greet Cherry Blossom Princesses

Ms. Tennessee Cherry Blossom Princess Mary Clayton Davenport(orange jacket in right foreground) attended the Monday evening fete along with princesses from California, Kentucky, Alabama, and South Carolina

By The Queen of Free

It was not the place to be for those over age 30.

The congressmen who addressed the crowd while I was there were all over age 30 which may explain their rapid departure, like mere seconds after they spoke, not even appearing the least bit political or bothering to wait and shake the hands of those who feed them.

But wait, these were, likely, not constituents but mere Capitol Hill aides who are up here, not down here, and do they even vote? Average age: 25.

The event was to welcome the cherry blossom princesses from Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama whose state society members got together to exchange pleasantries and refreshments, all funded by lobbyists, thank you very much, in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday evening.

Rep. Jim Cooper (BD), Rep. Lincoln Davis (BD), and Rep. Phil Roe (R) all from Tennessee spoke briefly and ran out. Hmmmm, it was a Monday night which counts as one of Congress' eight days off a week, so fast Congressional getaways to go vote could not have been the reason.

The acoustics were so bad you couldn’t hear what they were saying anyway although each said a few words from a podium into a microphone.

Where were the senators? I guess it was too far for them to walk.

It was a much smaller event than last year’s, because, a Tennessee State Society officer explained to me, last year’s party was hosted by eight state societies, and Monday’s, only three. The beverages were about the same, but the hors d’oeuvres, much paltrier (smaller variety, no shrimp, paper plates (did we have paper plates last year?)). The economy, you know. Even the lobbyists are affected! Oh, dear.

Whatever, it was fun to greet and meet new faces and learn new things while munching, drinking and gazing upon the Capitol, the grounds, and the gorgeous blossoms which filled the long windows.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mary Todd Lincoln at The National Portrait Gallery

By The Queen of Free

She was the subject of a portrait talk at the National Portrait Gallery Thursday evening.

Standing in front of this sketch by Pierre Morand which is part of the “One Life: The Mask of Lincoln” exhibit, Erin Carlson Mast, the curator of the Lincoln Cottage, presented a biographical sketch about Mrs. Lincoln whom Ms. Mast knows quite a lot about.

Mrs. Lincoln had 10 years of schooling; President Lincoln, one, Ms. Mast said. Mrs. Lincoln came from a wealthy family in Lexington, KY, and her Confederate roots were problematic. Like her husband, she loved the arts, literature and the theatre. She had her own “redeeming qualities,” Ms. Mask said.

She mentioned the military presence in the background of what looks like Lafayette Square in the 1864 sketch.

The crowd of about 40 packed the small gallery and strained to hear every word of the presentation. Mostly it was middle-aged women and a few men who attended.

How nice to be in surroundings where Mary Todd Lincoln was not castigated as a bad influence, and crazy, dazed, manipulative, extravagant, unfriendly, evil and what are some of the other adjectives used to describe her? Oh, yes, lest I forget, she may have had a hand in her husband’s assassination. He married her, didn’t he?

In May Catherine Clinton, the author of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life published this year, will speak about her book at Lincoln’s Cottage.

A Portrait Gallery representative told me the museum has received a lot of interest in its First Ladies portraits which the Portrait Gallery is trying to beef up.

Next up at these wonderful Thursday 6 p.m. “Face to Face” talks is Toni Morrison’s portrait, to be presented by Warren Perry April 2.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Good Time at Ben's Chili Bowl

There was a party going on!

Now, seriously.

It was my first visit to Ben's and man, the place was rocking. Now, seriously. We were on our way to the Lincoln Theatre next door to see the Arena Stage production "Crowns" on opening night.

The whole neighborhood is a happenin' place!

The cashier was a whoopin' and a stompin'. The music was a 'rockin' and the cooks and servers were a swayin'. There must be a party goin' on! At the cash register I danced with the cashier on opposite sides of the counter throwing my hands in the air to match his.

So many people crammed in, a "crowd control monitor" stood at the entrance to temporarily stop customers from entering because there was no place to sit, the back room was reserved for a big party, and the lines in front of the counter to order doubled up.

A jivin' and a boppin', the place was a hoppin'. For a good time, go to Ben's! Did I mention the half smokes? Worth every dime, just to dance in a restaurant without room.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cezanne and The Ballet in Philadelphia

The crowds line several aisleways on both sides of the hall to see Cezanne

The best $200 I’ve ever spent:

An all-day outing with the Smithsonian Associates to see the new Paul Cezanne show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the ballet, “Cinderella,” performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet at the 150-year-old Academy of Music, “the oldest grand opera house in the United States still used for its original purpose.”

A magnificent day in every way. We went up via chartered bus, leaving from the Air and Space Museum at 6:45 a.m.

The tour leaders were Ursula Rehn Wolfman, a frequent lecturer around town on all things about the arts and literature, and Harvey Walden of the Smithsonian.

The title of the art show is “Cezanne and Beyond,” and its only venue is Philadelphia. You are looking for Mont Sainte-Victoire? I counted eight (and a half; one may have been Mont Sainte-Victoire in the background) and likely missed a couple.

I suppose the words “and Beyond” mean to encompass some of the artists Cezanne influenced for many (!) of their works are in the show, too: Picasso, Matisse, Ellsworth Kelly, Jeff Wall (mind blowing light boxes: the clarity!), Giorgio Morandi, also now appearing at the Phillips. To the unsuspecting “and Beyond” may be even more of an attraction if one knew all the others included.

At times though they can dwarf the master with their own adaptations of Cezanne’s paintings which are juxtaposed after, in-between, and before the followers'. If this makes no sense, please go and see for yourself.

On our visit we had a personal escort to squire us around and give short talks about many of the paintings before we ate a delicious lunch at the Museum with exquisite service.

Our next stop: Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet where many adorable little girls in all their ballet finery breathlessly awaited the performance, too.

It was all enthralling: The dancing, the lighting, the sets, the costuming (on loan from a Texas company, Edward Barnes, one of the dancers told us afterwards in a "private audience"). And the music! Not taped but performed live and in person (ahem) by the ballet company’s own orchestra. Everything merged to make a beautiful production in a glamorous hall. Beatrice Jona Affron was the conductor.

I could have looked much longer at the lovingly rendered coach which was drawn by four “horses” and which did not stay on stage long enough for me to grow weary of it. The step”sisters” (actually males) provided delightful humor with their antics and “gowns.”

If you think for one nanosecond that because the Cezanne show doesn't end until May 17, that the crowds will be smaller now, dream on. We visited on a Saturday morning, and I don't know how the Museum could have crammed more in. At about $24/head, the Museum is raking them in, and that's good, given the state of the arts these days. You go, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Ballet, never disappointing, thoroughly entertaining and producing beautiful memories, visuals, and sounds of a lovely springtime day in Philadelphia.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Van Gogh Film Premiere in Washington

It was a sold-out audience at the Natural History Museum’s IMAX theatre on St. Patrick’s Day Night. We came to see anything about Van Gogh; we were not disappointed.

The title was "Brush with Genius," and it was the Washington, D.C. premiere.

The music, the telling, the art, the scenery gave much to delight. The paintings became the scenes which became the paintings in gentle descriptions. All told by Van Gogh "speaking" mostly from the letters he wrote describing his life, his passion, his tribulations.

Many galleries in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam served as locale for some scenes all of which were filmed on location in the Netherlands and in France. Many of the paintings were new to me. Van Gogh “said” his passion near the end of his life drove him to paint sometimes three canvasses a day.

Effectively interspersed throughout was actual filming of the movie by the co-creator (with Francois Bertrand), Peter Knapp, passionate Van Gogh aficionado.

By the minute (about 40 total) it was likely the most expensive movie I've ever seen, however, the value far exceeded the cost. Another hit by the Smithsonian Associates!

Monday, March 16, 2009

White Faces O-U-T At The Kennedy Center

The wedding dresses from 22 Arabic countries

The view (left) of the stage from the SRO Corral

By The Queen of Free

The only persons allowed in to the seating sections for the 6 p.m. Millennium Stage concert Friday night were from one of the 22 member countries of the Arab League, at least, beginning at 5:30 p.m. when I arrived.

“But I have a friend waiting for me,” pleaded one Arabic guest to the usher, and she got in.

And another and another.

"My friend has saved a seat for me," was the refrain.

"Where?" asked the usher, and the honored guests got in.

“I am one person. May I get in?” a Caucasian (me) asked.


The unseated stood behind the roped off area and listened. If it was a private party, no one bothered to tell the riffraff.

Some say, “Well, it was the Arabesque festival” and they were there to see and hear their own, Ahmed Fathi. And not all Arabic people who wanted seats got them, but 100% of those who were seated beginning 30 minutes before show time were Arabic.

Noise at the back did not totally obliterate the sounds of the music, but one definitely had to strain to hear.

Thank goodness the unbelievably gorgeous wedding dresses from the Arabic nations were still up which did make the trek worthwhile. And many of us left early to see them.

White faces? Not here.

1934 at SAAM

"The Farmer's Kitchen" Ivan Albright 1934

"Chicago Interior" J. Theodore Johnson 1933-1934

"Skating in Central Park" by Agnes Tait 1934

"Radio Broadcast" by Julia Eckel 1933-1934

"Black Panther" by Alice Dinneen 1934

By The Queen of Free


Women, grab your hat, your dancing shoes, your party dress and hit the streets to party hearty for if anything says “carpe diem” it is the sad woman’s painting at the top, one of many intriguing art pieces in the new magnificent show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum: "1934: A New Deal for Artists."

Her mournful eyes depicted in almost 3-D fashion convey her sorrowful and empty life (or so I suppose) just before she enters the grave. I imagine her husband standing outside the kitchen window screaming something negative at his wife.

The pallor of her skin: It is grey up to her scalp, suggesting her lifelong’s work inside a cave for she is seems to be covered in soot.

Small amounts of red dominate the painting: The red circles in her dress match the red radishes in her lap which match her red knuckles which match the small circles in the wallpaper. Has her life been an endless repetition of meaningless tasks?

Her hands! The label says even the cat withdraws from this poor woman who is a horror movie in one frame.

What did she ever do that she liked to do? My former husband criticized me once for “doing what you like to do.” End of that!

So many things to think about.

The painting’s label says the artist, Ivan Albright, always drew his subjects aged, distressed, and tormented. His neighbor in Illinois was his model for the painting which is entitled, “The Farmer’s Kitchen.”

Contrast it with the vibrant, warm “Chicago Interior,” which J. Theodore Johnson lovingly (it shows) painted in 1933-1934 of his wife which faces “The Farmer’s Kitchen” from across the gallery. What were Robert Herrick's words?

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting

The paintings originated under Franklin Roosevelt's Public Works of Art Program in 1933. Withing six months of the program's announcement almost 3,800 artists created about 15,500 works of art which were displayed in public buildings, says the Smithsonian at the entrances to the exhibit. The Roosevelts selected 32 of them for the White House and Congressional members chose others from a show of 500 at the Corcoran Gallery.

"1934: A New Deal for Artists" is up through January 3, 2010. I've only been twice in a week.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lady Bird Johnson at The National Portrait Gallery

By The Queen of Free

At the National Portrait Gallery the only portrait of a First Lady to hang in a gallery with Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson, Gerald Ford, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Harry Truman is one of Lady Bird Johnson.

Where is everybody else?

Curatorial Assistant Amy Baskette who gave a “portrait talk” about Lady Bird on Thursday evening said the Portrait Gallery began beefing up its First Ladies collection about four years ago, and an exhibit on them will open “soon.”

The comparatively small painting of Lady Bird by Boris Artzybasheff (cool first syllable) commissioned by Time magazine for a cover in 1964, is sandwiched between portraits of her husband, Lyndon, and President Ford. Hanging perpendicular to the Johnsons is John F. Kennedy who is captured brilliantly by Elaine de Kooning in a striking, contemporary, large vertical masterpiece with lots of green splashes.

Perhaps it is the dove behind Lady Bird, the colors, and style which suggest art deco and precisionism. Why the dove?

Ms. Baskette spoke in glowing terms about Lady Bird Johnson, her business acumen and other achievements. Her image and issues (beautification and the environment) are more esteemed every day. That Lady Bird even had issues she promoted gallantly, unlike the Bush First Ladies who wasted their pulpits, is laudatory, especially considering that Lady Bird’s era preceded the elevation and promotion of women as equal citizens (and no, we haven’t made it).

Lady Bird Johnson died in 2007.

The group of eight who listened intently to Ms. Baskette for her 20-minute talk ranged in age from 20-somethings to 60-somethings, mostly female (6), and 100% Caucasian.

On March 19 at 6 p.m. Martha Washington’s portrait will be featured in a talk by Sidney Hart, and on March 26 at 6 p.m., Erin Carlson Mast from Lincoln’s Cottage will talk about the poor, the sad, the much maligned Mary Todd Lincoln. All, free!

The National Portrait Gallery is open from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Winter Along the Canal Towpath

By The Queen of Free

See that brown green murky water standing dormant (dead) along the canal towpath? Do you believe anything can live in it? The fishermen say it is so. Yuck! One fisherman told us he usually (usually) puts the fish back in the muck that he catches. (Please tell me what you do with the others. You don’t eat them, do you? And you are still alive?)

It is still there: The browns of winter. The bare trees enable hikers to see across the Potomac to the massive homes with large windows which sit high atop the cliffs. Where is the house of Daniel Snyder who cut down all the trees so he could better see the Potomac?

Compared to the W + OD Trail in Fairfax County, the canal towpath, saved by Justice William O. Douglas, is almost barren of bikers and walkers, and that is good.

We chanced upon a kayak school in a small channel where two watchful parents watched and listened to an instructor give lessons to several students who weaved their vessels in and out the waterways following hanging poles strung from tree branches which guided their paths.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Maya Lin at The Corcoran

Run, go fast, and see the Maya Lin show at the Corcoran.

But, wait, didn't it just start?

Yes, run, go fast and see the Maya Lin show at the Corcoran.

Garcon! My skates, s'il vous plait.

The size, the materials, the scope, the construction, the curves, the wood, the designs, all of which have a strange, calming effect which I need. Surely, the muted color of the materials contributes. Except the big straight pins. They have a story to tell.

About 200 members attended the members' opening on Tuesday night and heard Ms. Lin speak a few moments about the exhibit, "Systematic Landscapes," her interest in the Earth and introduce her children (and her husband, too? I could not see or hear).

A guard told me the Corcoran staff spent six weeks putting the show all together.

You mean, all the wood pieces in the mound and the hanging wire?

Yes. They are numbered. Everything is neatly diagrammed so the staff knew where to hang/put it/them.

On the floor of one gallery are black rectangular squares which act like floor fences surrounding three individual lake pieces. The guards keep visitors "out" of the blocks. But in the "mound" gallery, feet come perilously close to wood pieces which form the base of the "mound" and there are no guards to "keep out."


I said to the guard: "I guess it would have been too tacky to put up signs telling people to keep off and away from the sculptures." The guard smiled: Yes.

But "Tonight's our first test to see how it works. If someone knocks over a few pieces, that won't upset the mound too much since the wood is 'stabilized,' but if someone falls flat on it, that will be an upset." The "lakes" are unusually precarious and need protection, the guard said.

Everyone was having a good time with old and new friends, beer, wine, cheese, bread, scallops (the best!), beef sticks, cous cous, lemon creme puffs, and the new show.

Overheard: "It's all the media's fault. The media has driven this. The market was up 400 points today." And: "Frank is catatonic. The market was up 300 points today."

Run, go fast, and see the Maya Lin exhibit at the Corcoran. It closes July 12.

Pictures to come.

The roof is still under repair on the other side, but you don't even notice. Now, about those floral designs...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ripped to Shreds: The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

By The Queen of Free

The dainty, charming Mary Livingston Ripley Garden was ripped asunder on January 20, 2009 by the million+ Inaugural visitors.

They smashed fences installed to keep them out and protect the grace of Mary Garden.

Compare the pictures above with that at the Mary Garden Web site.

Signs posted at the garden's two entrances announce to visitors the plight of Mary Garden which lies between the Hirshhorn Museum and the Arts and Science Building on the Mall:

"It will take time and quite a bit of replenishment to rehabilitate the Garden"

Dotting the garden are bits of yellow and purple flowers poking their heads from the few remaining bulbs bursting from the ground and from tree buds.

Despite the bare ground, walking along the curving path through the garden is still a pleasurable exercise.

On May 25, 1988 the Smithsonian Institution's Women’s Committee laid a plaque on the Independence Avenue entrance in honor of Mary Livingston Ripley who spearheaded the creation of the garden on land originally designated for a parking lot. She was married to the Smithsonian's eighth Secretary.

Last summer on its wee 1/3 acre plot 1,260 varieties of plants grew at Mary Garden, say the signs which carry optimistic wording that the Earth can rejuvenate itself. Yes, it can.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Sparkling Universe at Air + Space

By the Queen of Free

Most of the lecture was over my head, but the delivery and visuals were fascinating, informative, and beautiful.

Did you know that one of the goals of the International Year of Astronomy (did you know it is celebrated this year?) is to have "everyone" (i.e., everyone) look through a telescope? It is one means to commemorate "400 Years of the Telescope" which happened to be the title of an intriguing film presented last Thursday night at the National Air and Space Museum preceding a talk by Dr. Sandy Faber, "The Milky Way: Why We Need Her (her?) and How She (she?) was Formed." (Is this like hurricanes which used to be perpetual "she's"?)

Had standing room been available, that's what it would have been at the IMAX theatre which was loaded to the universe with young and old for the event. We had to squeeze in tightly to fit everyone in. (It was heavenly seeing so many turn out for a female scientist.)

However, the constant seating of latecomers and the chatter by the staff marred the screening of the film and the Q + A before Dr. Faber's lecture which made it difficult to hear everything. Please, Air and Space: Do not seat latecomers and interrupt the presentations!

Anyway, the Smithsonian official (did not catch his name since it was hard to hear) who introduced Dr. Faber actually quoted Wikipedia, providing more credence to the online encyclopedia. Imagine, a scientist with a Ph.D. uttering “Wikispeakia” out loud. Saying he consulted it. Yeeks!

In a Q+A session before the lecture, Dr. Faber said a tough part of her math studies was "complex variables." Hmmmmm. "We are the children of 'quantum fluctuation,'" she noted. Hmmmmm.

In her unassuming, down-to-earth manner, Dr. Faber said the Milky Way is a band, not curved as photographs commonly suggest. Because of city lights, many have never seen it. The Milky Way is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere.

More facts from Dr. Faber: The universe began about 14 billion years ago with the “Big Bang.” Our sun and planets are about 4.6 billion years old. No two galaxies are alike. Spiral galaxies are flat. Except for dust, stars are very far apart.

The light from the Milky Way is 100,000 light-years across! To shed light on a light year, Dr. Faber mentioned the sun's light takes 8.5 minutes to reach Earth; Jupiter's light is 40 minutes away. (In lay terms, a light-year is the distance light travels in a year or approximately, quoting Wikipedia now, ahem, almost 5.9 trillion miles a year (300,000 kilometers/second). Reflected light from the moon reaches Earth in 1.2 to 1.3 seconds.)

The accompanying film and photographs she presented made you feel like you were peering out from a wide convex front window of a space ship that you calmly steered at a cool trillion MPH while floating and zooming through the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion and Crab nebulae. (Actually, we would have been going much faster.)

There now, do you have an idea about the size of the Milky Way?

Did I get everything right? No? You are invited to make corrections and/or additions, too.

The lecture was part of the third annual John Bahcall Lecture Series made possible by the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Hubble Space Telescope Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Faber is from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Thanks to all the sponsors for a gorgeous, enlightening evening! (Some information was received; better than none!)