Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ambassador Gnehm talks Persian Gulf monarchies at GWU

Sunday, March 25, 2012

'The Louvre' at the National Gallery of Art

Samuel F. B. Morse, Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–1833
oil on canvas, Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection

A small portion of the collection from the Louvre may be found in one large painting at the National Gallery's West Building closest to the Fourth Avenue entrance, steps from the tranquil East Garden Court, in a hall gallery all by itself.  It is entitled Gallery of the Louvre.

The painter was Samuel Morse (1791-1872), yes, that Samuel Morse, the same person who developed the Morse Code for telegraphs and a co-inventor of the telegraph itself, who began his adult life as a painter. 
Have your seen this marker on the side of a building in downtown Washington?  Where is it? /Patricia Leslie

Like so many artists of varying genres, Morse had to fund his passion of composing historical painting by doing what comes financially rewarding, in his case, making portraits.  While working on one of the Marquis de Lafayette in Washington in 1825, Morse received the chilling news that his wife was ill in New Haven.  By the time he reached home, Lucretia Pickering Walker was dead. 

A central figure in the Gallery of the Louvre which Morse painted a few years after Lucretia's death may indeed be she.

The large painting is filled with Morse's recreation of 38 masterpieces found at the Louvre which he "re-hung" in one of the Louvre's grandest galleries, the Salon Carre.  Morse made his Louvre piece into a workshop where students studied and copied paintings, much like they do today at the National Gallery of Art

His painting of the paintings is not drawn to scale, said tour leader Peter John Brownlee, the associate curator for the Terra Foundation for American Art, chief sponsor of the exhibition and the owner of the work. 

A viewer will immediately wonder about the yellow veil which covers the painting, caused, said Mr. Brownlee, by resinous materials Morse used to produce richer colors, and by the layers of varnish the artist applied for quicker drying.

Morse did not identify any of the people in the painting, however, the experts have.  The couple in the center is likely the artist resting his arm on his daughter's shoulder, and to the right of them, a solitary woman, perhaps the deceased Mrs. Morse or a student. In the left corner are, most likely, Morse's friend, James Fenimore Cooper and Cooper's wife and daughter, and in the left foreground, another artist friend, Richard Habersham.

Standing in the center background at the entrance to the Grand Hall with a little girl and talking to another artist friend, Horatio Greenough, is an unidentified woman who bears resemblance to Marge Simpson with upswept hair, fashioned pyramid-style. (Homer would be proud Marge made it to the walls of the National Gallery of Art.)

Some of the works Morse copied were drawn by Claude Lorrain, Raphael, Titian, Antoine Watteau, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Simone Cantarini.  It is a totally stunning work which I have been to personally visit only three times, and I always make sure to chart Gallery on my daily (well, almost) walks through the National Gallery to see what new details I can uncover.  There are many!  And it is fun.

Mr. Brownlee describes Gallery of the Louvre in a handsome eight-paged color brochure provided by Terra Foundation and available at no charge in the gallery.
Samuel Morse's Gallery of the Louvre at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./Patricia Leslie

What:  Samuel Morse's Gallery of the Louvre

When:  Now through July 8, 2012, every day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., Sunday

Where:  West Building, National Gallery of Art, Fourth through Ninth streets, NW, on the Mall

Admission:  No charge

Metro stations:  Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, L'Enfant Plaza, and/or ride the Circulator

For more information: 202-737-4215

(Update) A "must have" for Morse fans:  Samuel F. B. Morse's Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention, edited by Peter John Brownlee, Terra Foundation for American Art, distributed by Yale University Press, 2014

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ladies: Do not change your name

Rose Sanderson trumpets independence on February 10, 1913/Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress

Eight years! Eight years it took to get my birth name back. Today is a red-letter day!

It was harder for me to get my name back than to get a divorce (amicable) or get married (amicable).
Bring on the champagne. I could have drunk a bottle and danced on the counter top at the DMV, I was so happy.
Hours and hours it took; papers and papers, but the DMV supervisor approved everything at last, after my near meltdown when my birth certificate, my new Social Security card, the court papers, were almost rejected because they were not "official" enough.

Not "official enough"?
What's wrong with this picture? It took lots of time to assemble all those documents, return to the court in another state, write for an official copy of my birth certificate in another state, and put them all together.
But there was the official stamp on the back of the court document which saved me, and I was good to dance.
Ms. Thompson, the wonderful DMV agent, never married (we talked), never knowing what it's like not to have your own name, never knowing the time and headache of trying to get your name restored, looked shocked when I suggested a toast and a jig to independence on her counter top.
For my new driver's license picture, I could not mask my constant smiles which required about 15 shots before one finally popped up with a blank stare and eyes open wide. (The mental light from the prospect that I was mere seconds away from becoming officially ME was dazzling.)
The whole scenario reminded me of my hours-long trip to the Social Security office, and the waiting, waiting, waiting, worrying, worrying, worrying, that all my paperwork would be insufficient to convince that office that my name change was sanctioned by the court, and I could officially get my birth name back on my Social Security card. The young SS woman did not hesitate a second before she stamped "approved," and I beamed joy and wanted to leap across the desk and kiss her on her cheek.
I used to tell my daughter: "Do not ever change your name." (She didn't listen.)
I used to tell my daughter: "Do not ever get married until you are 30." (She listened.)
On the campaign trail in West Virginia in 2004 when I was an organizer for John Kerry, I worked with a young woman, Caroline Rose. Have you ever heard a more beautiful name? I used to tell her: "Caroline, don't ever change your name."
Bring on the champagne! Celebrate and drink a toast to us. I am free to be.
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Pentagon Memorial is a sad and lifeless monument

The Pentagon Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Have you been? Is there any memorial which is more uninspiring? 
What is the difference between a memorial and a cemetery? The Pentagon Memorial dedicated to the 184 victims of the September 11 plane crash at the Pentagon is certainly not a place to visit for hope or encouragement.
It is not a structure which adequately pays tribute to and memorializes those who died on that wrenching day.
It is a monument with no link to the strong and energetic nation which briefly united and came together to work to fight evil.
When you stand and look at the Pentagon wall which the American Airlines jet struck, the memory of the photograph forever etched on your mind comes into immediate view: the firemen and rescue workers unfurling the gigantic American flag down the side of the building.
Where is that spirit that energized the nation?
It is not to be found at the stone and gravel heap which sits below the once damaged wall.
The Pentagon Memorial is a cemetery on a faraway, barren planet.

The Pentagon Memorial looking toward Crystal City/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Rather than celebrating the lives of those who died in the Pentagon crash, its effect leaves a visitor dispirited and unmoved.
What a contrast to the arrival of springtime in Washington, D.C. with colors bursting out all over the city.
What a contrast to Arlington Memorial Cemetery with its evergreens and grass.
What a contrast to the soaring Air Force Memorial on the hill nearby which lifts a viewer higher and higher into the great beyond of exploration and wonder until the mind returns to earth and realizes the ground beneath is a paved graveyard on a desert of brown and grey pebbles.
In the distance (center) is the Air Force Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The Air Force Memorial/Wikimedia Commons/User.Noclip

A stainless steel bench, a "memorial unit," not intended for seating, is dedicated to each victim. The benches are built over small rectangular pools of flowing water and pointing in one of two confusing directions. Their design suggests buried tails or rudders of airplanes. A suitable reminder? 
The Pentagon Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Depending upon whether the victim was at the Pentagon that day, a bench with the victim's name points towards the building, and if the victim was on the plane, the bench points to the plane's path into the Pentagon.  The names of family members who also died at the Pentagon September 11 are listed at each bench, but their names are obscured by scattered pebbles which have been kicked and blown into the water.
Family members of Zoe Falkenberg whose names are obscured by pebbles, all September 11 victims of the Pentagon crash/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Years of birth segregate the victims (aged 71 to three years). How are their ages related to the events of September 11, 2001? They didn't die based on their ages.
This memorial seeks to accomplish too much and fosters confusion.
Of 20 or so area residents I queried about trips to the memorial, only one area resident had visited, and her assessment matched ours ("bland" and "lifeless"). Remarks at Yelp show some of the same impressions. Compare residents' lack of interest in the Pentagon Memorial to those who have visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial which opened last fall, more than three years after the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial on September 11, 2008.
It is time to change the ineffectual design and make it more than the concrete cemetery it is now.
The Pentagon Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie

How much would it cost to change the pebbles for grass which would not hide family names and would offer a respite of color?
How much would it cost to plant flowers?
Private donations could fund expenses. Rather than dead bushes and trees which show no life for much of the year, what about evergreens which are...ever green?
Eighty-five trees, dedicated to no one, says an information sheet, will eventually provide a canopy of shade over the site, but for now, they are long sprouting sticks in a grey, monotonous mass of desolation.
Perhaps the only time to visit this memorial is at night when darkness hides the drab grey and brown landscape, and reflected light offers glimmers of life
The "Memorial Unit" or bench dedicated to Zoe Falkenberg, age 8/Photo by Patricia Leslie

At the entrance to the Pentagon Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The September 11, 2001 victims of the Pentagon crash/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Friday, March 16, 2012

Veterans' services see possible funding cut of 9%

Participants in the 2010 Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. carried photos of troops who gave their lives for service for the United States/Patricia Leslie

At the Center for American Progress last week a packed audience sat and listened intently to a discussion about the plight of American veterans who need jobs and services. 
Unless Congress fails to act and compromise on the debt ceiling, services for veterans will be cut 9.1% this January.  Troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to bring about 100,000 veterans home to the U.S.

On a CAP panel to discuss veterans' needs were Tom Tarantino, deputy policy director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Koby Langley, Corporation for National and Community Service, and CAP's Lawrence Korb.

Mr. Tarantino held the microphone the most, meaning he talked the most, too.

We do a great job of training troops for combat, Mr. Tarantino said, but transitioning from military to civilian life and finding a job, is very, very difficult for many servicemen and women.
It is time to train employers how to hire veterans.

Most employers "have no idea what a military resume is." Veterans sometimes omit their service dates for fear of being tagged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The present generation of employers is the first which has not served in the military, a contributing factor to lack of veteran hiring. Modern employers "look at (military) service as a 'black hole,'" Mr. Tarantino said.

When Army captains in their late 20s leave service, some find jobs as interns because employers do not understand their military resumes.  U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan number 2.4 million; 5 million saw duty in Vietnam.

At the presentation, the Veterans Administration came in for sharp criticism for its continuing poor treatment of female service members who are the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population. At the VA women are often treated like spouses rather than members themselves.

The VA is not a very welcoming place for women vets, Mr. Tarantino said, describing a scene he witnessed at the VA Medical Center in Washington where a female service member had to almost get physical before she convinced a staff member she was a vet and not a spouse.
Programs are needed to educate veterans about the hazards of payday lending and about for-profit schools, some which have low completion rates.

It was good to see attention devoted to veterans and reminded one audience member of a recent "military night" at a Capitals hockey game at the Verizon Center when armed forces shared more of the spotlight than usual, and wounded vets played hockey in-between game periods. The hearts of the silent crowd ached as fans watched with admiration, the wounded warriors without legs shoot pucks from specially equipped sleds. And hoped they would be the last.

One of CAP's briefing papers available at the presentation listed alternative expenditures to the 60% defense budget growth over the last 10 years:

$ Instead of $25 million for one Trident II nuclear missile, why not spend it on a proposed cut of $23.3 million for veterans training and employment services?

$ Instead of $468 million for six V-22 Osprey helicopters, why not spend it on a proposed cut of almost $410 million for energy assistance for low-income households, one in five which has at least one vet?

$ Instead of $7 million for 54 active-duty personnel in Europe and Asia, why not spend $6.8 million on proposed cuts to housing for homeless veterans?

$ Instead of $35 billion on half the cost of Defense Department overruns, why not spend $38.6 billion on proposed cuts to veterans' services?

Money for people, not weapons, not things.

Monday, March 12, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Parade, Washington, D.C.

Some of the many dancing children in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Washington, D.C./Patricia Leslie

Scenes from a lovely day on Constitution Avenue in our nation's capital where everyone had a good time and the wearing of the green was de rigueur. Maybe it was a big green stovepipe hat or a large hair ribbon, a green headband with rhinestones and glimmering jewels with two shamrocks bouncing around on a head, a large elf's ear, huge green sunglasses, a green, sparkling necklace, a green gown, or green leashes worn by prancing Irish terriers, all seen amidst the harmonies of fire truck sirens, bagpipes, and the always happy Celtic music mixed in with Bolivian sounds (?), and did you ever know that Metro had so much emergency equipment?  The Nationals' George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson came out to join the festivities and walk, but where were the Washington Capitals?  Over at Verizon getting ready to take out Toronto.

The Hurley School of Irish Dance/Patricia Leslie

The military is always sharp and precise/Patricia Leslie

The O'Neill School of Irish Dance/Patricia Leslie

There go the flag girls from Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Maryland/Patricia Leslie

Little people (from Bolivia?) danced to the music/Patricia Leslie

Meanwhile, over at Ireland's Four Courts in Arlington, the Northern Virginia Firefighters' Emerald Society Pipe Band made merry for the people/Patricia Leslie

The Northern Virginia Firefighters' Emerald Society Pipe Band/Patricia Leslie

Monday, March 5, 2012

'Joan of Arc' dazzles Baltimore Symphony Orchestra audience

Hermann Stilke (1803-1860). Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake (1843) Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg/Wikimedia Commons

Powerful, stunning, and intoxicating.
Those are some of the adjectives which come to mind remembering the exceptional concert at Strathmore Saturday played by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in commemoration of its "women who take risks" series and the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc born in 1412, perhaps on Epiphany, January 6.
The music for the Voices of Light Baltimore premiere was composed by Richard Einhorn (b. 1952) performed to accompany the screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent movie, The Passion of Joan of Arc, about Joan's trial and interrogation, her torture, imprisonment, and burning at the stake.
From recorded words in the trial, the judges asked Joan: "Are you in a state of grace?" "Are you Satan's creature?" and, to the guards, "Go, prepare the torture chamber."
The film was released a few years after the Catholic Church, which had ex-communicated Joan as a heretic, canonized her in 1920.
Most negatives and prints of Dreyer's film were lost in two fires, however, a Danish version was discovered in 1981 in a mental hospital in Oslo, Norway. In 1988 composer Einhorn "idly poking around in the film archives of New York's Museum of Modern Art  stumbled upon the movie and after viewing it "walked out...shattered" and immediately began writing his piece about the maiden, according to program notes.
It took Einhorn six years to complete Voices  which includes actual words from the trial, lots of medieval "misogynistic poetry," and her own writings. 

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society under the direction of Tom Hall added immensely to the production which never ceased to be haunting and ominous throughout the 90-minute presentation of 15th century music and frequent Gregorian chants. Church bells tolled intermittently.
Joan of Arc's birth place, now a museum,  Behind the trees is the church where she worshipped/Wikimedia Commons
The program quoted Einhorn who said Joan loved bells whose sounds seemed to speak to her.  The composer traveled to her home village, Domremy, France, where he recorded church bells for use in his score. At the film's end, they ring to toll her burning at the stake, and a man cries out "You have burned a saint!" Police seize weapons to beat unmercifully the hundreds of people who had gathered and wail in anger and sorrow, mourning the loss of an innocent person.
Joan was 19 when she died at the stake on May 30, 1431.  Her remains were burned twice more and then tossed in the Seine.
The entire musical rendition was captivating in its beauty of a tragedy. Renee Jeanne Falconetti starred in the film as Joan, a performance critic Pauline Kael called perhaps "the finest ...ever recorded on film." Ms. Falconetti never acted again.   (Watch the full movie here in French with English sub-titles.)
Soloists on Saturday were expert, and all were making their BSO debut: Julie Bosworth, Janna Critz, Tyler Lee, and David Williams. In the orchestra, drums, flutes, and strings got a heavy and much-appreciated workout.
At the evening's conclusion, the two teen-aged boys who sat beside me and never moved during the show, rose slowly from their seats, smiled softly and said, yes, Joan of Art was a remarkable person.  They were as captivated as the rest of us by the masterpiece they witnessed on the stage.
Six hundred years after Jeanne d'Arc, and we are reminded how little times have changed as we see in the halls of the United States Congress a similar jury of patriarchal white men sitting in judgment over women while Rush Limbaugh attempts to burn with his venom, a Georgetown University law school student.
Bravo to the prescient BSO for choosing risky women to feature this year. What would the judges think of an orchestra headed by the capable and erudite Marin Alsop? Shocked that a large city orchestra is headed by a woman, the first conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellow award and named last year to The Guardian's list of Top 100 Women? Congratulations, Ms. Alsop and the BSO on another stellar production.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ambassador Dennis Ross is zzz at GWU

Ambassador Dennis Ross speaking at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University/Patricia Leslie

He may be diplomat extraordinaire, but speaker extraordinaire, he ain't. I guess we can't have it all.

Ambassador Dennis Ross, formerly of this and that, is terribly smart and refined, evident in his address to a packed 150 person (more or less) SRO crowd Tuesday night at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, one of my very favorite places to visit in this town (after the National Gallery of Art, natch).
He is knowledgeable, to be sure, confident and cocky, justifiably so.
His talk was entitled: "Challenges Ahead: America and the Middle East," but his monotone and lack of inflexion is on par with a row of humming refrigerators at the Home Depot.

That I'd had only five hours sleep for each of the two preceding nights contributed no doubt to my short naps while he talked, and thank goodness I was not so fast asleep that my body leaning over in the chair did not fail to jolt me from slumber when Ambassador Ross's tone crept higher than usual.

(On several occasions during the talk I was just glad I had not grabbed the leg of the young man sitting oh-so-close-next-to-me, to regain my balance before I fell upon the floor.)

What did the good ambassador say? Most of my words in my notes are scrunched together which is what happens when I sleep and write at the same time. They look like this: xzvxwpymnvxw but all squeezed together.

I don't think he said anything new really, delivering one of his stump speeches, but he likes sanctions and think they are effective although they take a long time to work.
Ambassador Dennis Ross speaking at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University/Patricia Leslie
Citizens of Middle East nations who have revolted have found solace in their mosques, Ross said, where they enjoy freedom of speech and assembly. In contrast to the regimes which have been and are being overthrown, the Muslim Brotherhood has identity, legitimacy, and lack of corruption, permitting the voices of the people to be heard. But the people have expectations and the  Brotherhood "must find a way to deliver" soon, i.e., build houses.
One thing is for certain: The pathway to the Middle East's future is a known unknown. Who would have guessed?

I recall being impressed by every single question posed by the students in the Q and A which followed, but, unfortunately, at this point my notes were nothing more than blobs of ink which I can't make out to list.

The event was sponsored by the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies which presented the Security Policy Forum.

A few minutes before the good ambassador began speaking, my colleague Rashid called and offered me free tickets (near the ice!) to the Caps game. The Caps are My No. 1 Favorite Team, but, no, I told Rashid, I was at the Elliott School for International Affairs at George Washington University to hear Ambassador Ross's important talk which I absolutely was not going to miss.
I missed it all right: I missed one of the best games of the season. In the last period, Troy Brouwer erased the Caps' two-goal deficit with just moments to spare and tied the game to take it into OT when the now hot and flashy Ovie came roaring back, shot the puck between the legs of the New York Islanders' goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, and bam! Just like that! Victory snatched from "the jaws of defeat." 
And that's the choice I made. 
Ambassador Dennis Ross speaking at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University/Patricia Leslie