Sunday, March 31, 2019

At the think tanks: Women and China's Revolutions

Gail Hershatter talked about her new book, Women and China's Revolutions at the Washington History Seminar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The past two centuries of women in China were briefly outlined last Monday at a presentation at the American Historical Association and Woodrow Wilson Center’s Washington History Seminar.
Gail Hershatter, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Cruz and Chinese history scholar, presented key findings from her latest work, Women and China’s Revolutions.

Dr. Hershatter is the former president of the Association for Asian Studies and has written several other books.

When she entered the Chinese history field in the 1970s, Dr. Hershatter had few associates devoted to the topic like she was. Times have changed, but still, information about women in China is not readily available.

While she described the past plights of rural Chinese women, Dr. Hershatter showed pictures of them at work, busy sewing, farming, and making shoes for their families.

Some women had to work double-shifts cleaning and cooking, embroidering, working in the fields (with children on their backs), and weaving at home, often without electricity which did not arrive in some Chinese villages until the 1970s.

That any woman would walk out on her husband was unconscionable. Mothers-in-law depended upon their sons' wives for help with housework and other family responsibilities like caring for elderly relatives, raising children, and helping earn money.

In the past, women could be sold by landlords and were forced into marriage managed by third-parties.

China's two marriage laws have ostensibly ended these practices.

The 1950 marriage law stemmed from the May 4, 1919 movement which gave women equal rights and ended feudal traditions.

China's 1980 “marriage law" has gradually morphed into the “divorce law" since it guaranteed the right to divorce and outlawed unequal gender treatment.

The 1980 law changed the age of marriage to 20 for women and 22 for men which the 1950 law stipulated as 18 for women and 20 for men.

The use of money or gifts as a condition of marriage was outlawed.

Women were and are important for China's economy.

Dr. Hershatter briefly touched on the 1000-year-old practice of footbinding which continued well into the 20th century
.  The reasons for the torture tradition are still debated.

She interviewed elderly women whose feet were bound, pictures which may be found in Dr. Hershatter's book. 

Next up for the Washington History Seminar is on April 1 when Sarah Igo presents The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Movie review; 'Gloria Bell' is one heckuva waste and terrible also

Oh, my!  She grasps at air, contemplates brushing her teeth, petting an ugly cat and/or smoking a joint. Julianne Moore in the awful Gloria Bell by FilmNation Entertainment

I swear this the last time I'll spend time and money on any movie which has a differential of 50 degrees awful(!) between the critics' and audience's ratings at Rotten Tomatoes.

The audience (44%, positive) is always right. The critics (94%, not a typo) are always wrong, but I am supposing the latter likes to reward their friends in high places.

It is practically inconceivable that a movie could be more zzzzz than The Favourite (British spelling, por favor) or that dreadful cat movie, but this one had made it to the Top Three list.

Delete from this pathetic re-run of bedsheets, Julianne Moore singing songs in her car (please! One or two scenes were okay, but 45?), the same dancing scenes (like we ain't never seen smoky dancing scenes?), and breasts (a new record for most!  A man wrote and directed Gloria Bell, surprise!), and you're left with nuthin' much, save men are cads. 

Who knew?

We need to spend 90 minutes of movie time to learn that?

Why, Miss Moore, age 58, would stoop to this level, I suppose, rests on the articles that appear several times yearly bemoaning the lack of acting parts for aging females. What else is she supposed to do? 

Maintain some class, that's what! 

Dear Readers, take my words for it and ignore the paid critics in this sad tale, one critic who compares Moore to  "wrap[ping] herself in the role like a soft shawl." Yup, a "soft shawl" all right, one that's been picked up in the nursing home and used for rags after it was mistakenly dragged through the mud when it was dropped in the unpaved parking lot when Aunt Fanny stumbled and fell out the car door as her belongings were gathered for her residency in the death house. That's how good this movie is.  And not a comedy!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

'Fallen Angels' fly high in Herndon's hit

 Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, left, and Teresa Spencer in Noel Coward's Fallen Angels at NextStop Theatre Company/Photo by Lock and Company

If NextStop's Fallen Angels were on Broadway, the show would last for weeks and weeks because theatergoers would demand it.  One can only hope these "angels" fly longer than intended in Herndon.

I had a "presentiment" I would like itExpectations, exceeded.  

It's charming, it's fun, it's a delight.

Two married women lament their passionless marriages (five years) and dream about the one-time lover they both shared (at different times) before they got married.  


While their husbands (John Strange and James Finley who treat their wives like pets) take off on a golfing trip, Julia (Teresa Spencer) and Jane (Elizabeth Anne Jernigan) spend an evening together, drinking and eating and drinking (mostly) reminiscing about their long lost lover who has written he is coming to town.

As the evening wears on, the ladies gradually get sloshed and wind up crawling on the floor and over and on each other. 

They talk, they sigh, and they dream about Maurice and what was, and what they hope to be!

The more she drinks, the longer and more drawn out are Julia's words which complement her demeanor and attitude, thanks to the artistry of Director Abigail Fine and Ms. Spencer, who also serves as dialect coach.
Julia and Jane interlock arms and with their hands, the two become entangled like long vines spreading across the stage.

Sliding from a chair onto the floor with her arms and legs intertwined, Julia is a circus act worthy of Houdini.

At one point last Saturday night, the top of one of the liquor bottles fell impromptu to the floor and while the ladies looked for it from their seats at the dining table, Saunders, the maid (Lorraine Magee), never missed a beat or a moment to scoot under and around the table, hunting the lost top.  

Meanwhile, above her, the actors almost lost it which the audience certainly did. 

The time is 1925 when playwright, Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973)
wrote Angels (soon to celebrate its centennial!). Since he never married and his homosexuality was not publicly revealed until after his death, how did Mr. Coward know so much about married women? 

Angels' costuming by Moyenda Kulemeka and the setting by Emily Lotz are quite fitting, darling, for the era and presentation of residents of an upper-class London flat.

The rich are different from you and me.

An elegant chandelier flanked by two lantern lights on the walls hangs center stage near a velvety Victorian settee. On the side stands a baby grand piano which adds to the mood and refinement.
When the ladies' talk turns more romantic as they recall the past, lighting director, James Morrison, dims the lights to a soft hue which quickly change and brighten when life interrupts.
The phone rings. 

Someone knocks on the door.  

Maurice?  Is that you? Please come in!  Please come!

Is he a figment of their imaginations? A miracle mirage whom these dreamy travelers believe they see in their desert of life?

Will you come, my Prince in Shining Armour, my darling, and rescue me from my boring existence?
Suspense builds.
Reid May, sound director, effectively makes noisy, unseen vehicles stop on the street outside the curtained window where the women quickly rush to see who it is. 

It could be Maurice getting out of a car!  Maybe? Perhaps?
Meanwhile, females in the audience silently plead for Maurice to show and give a glimmer of hope that Prince Charming does indeed exist.   

The transitions from sophisticated ladies to tanked trollops match increasing audience laughter, a tribute not only to the fine acting by Ms. Spencer and Ms. Jernigan but to Ms. Fine's marvelous directing which keeps the actors in constant motion.

What a delight to attend theatre and have a good time. To not be depressed about the "state of things" like many contemporary playwrights leave us

Going to the theatre is a bit like going on a blind date:  You are not sure of what he looks like nor how charming he may be until you get there and a few moments pass. Vulgar language, grey sets, and harsh scripts leave me depressed and downfallen. 

Not a good date, not like the good time I had with Fallen Angels.

The 1925 British censor unenthusiastically let the script pass to the stage, convinced there was no such thing as upperclass women who engaged in premarital sex, let alone, God forbid, thoughts about it while wed!

Not so in Amsterdam where the censors knew better and banned the show after a few performances.

In her program notes, Ms. Fine writes that this may be the first production of Fallen Angels in the Washington area.

Also in the cast is Robert Pike. 

Other creative team members are: Hollyann Bucci, assistant director; Alex Wade, propertiesClaire Turner, Cathy Reider, Suzy Alden, scenic painters; Nicholas J Goodman, stage manager; Hollyann Bucci, Marilyn Lopes, Kate York, assistant stage managers; and Jonathan Abolins, electrician

What:  Fallen Angels 

When:  Thursday through Saturday nights at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Through April 7, 2019 

Where: NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA 20170 in the back right corner of Sunset Business Park, near the intersection of Spring Street/Sunset Hills Road. Right off the Fairfax County Parkway. Lots of great restaurants nearby.

Lighted, free parking: Available near the door.

Admission: General admission tickets start at $35. Buy online or through the box office at 866-811-4111.

Duration: About two hours with one intermission

Rating: G

For more information: 703-481-5930 or

Friday, March 22, 2019

At the think tanks: the Romanian Ambassador to the United States

George Maior, Ambassador of Romania to the United States, speaking at the Hudson Institute, March 19, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie

"I am a diplomat," said George Maior, ambassador of Romania to the United States, answering a question about NATO at a talk he gave at the Hudson Institute Tuesday.

"NATO functions well despite differences," and its members "have values and common interests. We should work for creating harmony" rather than talk about disagreements, said Mr. Maior, 51, whose nation in January began its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Europe faces "many challenges on a global scale," Mr. Ambassador said.

The E.U.'s main concern is the upcoming departure of the United Kingdom from its ranks, a topic of utmost interest at the Hudson.

Ambassador Maior said the E.U. will "remain just as strong without the U.K." but countries in north central and Western Europe "really, really consider [Brexit] a great loss," and "we must face this pragmatically."

The U.K. exit can become "lose, lose" for the E.U. and the U.K.

High on the agenda at a May summit will be E.U.'s future, said Mr. Maior.

At the crowded afternoon session, Mr. Maior addressed the relationship between the E.U. and the U.S., stressing the importance of cooperation and "shared values."

"European and American destinies have always been and need to be interconnected" to "benefit both."

The U.S. and the E.U. share "a great track record" which "has made a difference to people around the world."

Europe "needs more, not less" U.S. involvement in Europe, based on the agreement of the Transatlantic Partnership, the ambassador said.
On left is Walter Russell Mead of the Hudson Institute with George Maior, Ambassador of Romania to the United States, at the Hudson Institute, March 19, 2019/Photo by Patricia Leslie

After Ambassador Maior's remarks, there was time for a few questions and answers, some about Turkey, which, moderator Walter Russell Mead noted, is "an important part of Romania's economy."

"From NATO's point of view," said Ambassador Maior, "Turkey's presence is vital for the alliance." 

And how about reported human rights violations in Turkey?

"We are concerned everywhere in terms of the rule of law and human rights."

He labeled the area around the Black Sea, "a region in turmoil," affected by the war in Georgia and Russia's "illegal annexation" of Crimea.

A man who identified his organization as the Russian News Agency asked about missiles in Romania which belong to the U.S.*

"I do not agree [with the question]," Mr. Maior said. The missiles do not belong to the U.S. "but they are a NATO project" for protection for Europe against missiles from the Middle East.  "They have nothing to do with Russia."

The ambassador talked about 45 minutes in this chapter in the institute's "Ambassadors Series."

*When it woke up this morning, missiles were on Russia's mind. See comments by the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, at the Stimson Center, March 4, 2019.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Trumps came to church today

A spring bouquet is coming to St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

Melania is of slighter build and thinner than she appears. She was wearing what looked to me like an ivory-colored, double-breasted coat dress.  

The Trumps arrived 10 or 15 minutes early for the 11 a.m. service at St. John's, and I did not see them enter the church and never saw her face.

They sat almost shoulder-to-shoulder in the "President's Pew" (where all presidents sit when they attend St. John's) with a woman (Secret Service?) at the end of the row. Trump leaned over and exchanged pleasantries with the woman from time to time, and she smiled.

He never took off his (dark blue or black) overcoat during the service, at least while I was there.  (I left the service early since I had already attended the 9 a.m. service, but I wanted to see the Trumps at 11 a.m. since word traveled fast at church that they were coming this morning!)

When he first sat down, Mr. Trump looked all around the church, up, down, and straight ahead.  The Trumps struck me as lovey-dovies (!) since they, or rather he exchanged words often with his wife, leaning over towards her several times before the service began.  She sat ramrod straight.  

From my vantage point five rows back, I could not really see Melania since someone had the nerve to sit in front of me (!) and block my view, but I could easily see Trump.

He is a big man.  

At first, I do not think he sang the hymns, but towards the end, he may have been singing with the rest of us.

He held the bulletin with the hymns in front of him and looked down, and I think I saw his mouth moving. However, in true Episcopalian fashion, he may have just been mouthing the words or barely whispering them.  We don't have much of a reputation for singing in the pews.

Until my view was blocked, I do not think she sang. 

The Rev. Bruce McPherson, the interim rector, delivered a sermon about St. Patrick (Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody!) and the obligations we have as Christians to speak up against hate speech, no matter where we are, what line we are standing in, or who is around us.  He said this was hard to do, and admitted he had passed up many opportunities himself, but in the wake of New Zealand, we need to speak up.  

It takes courage, he said, but that is what leadership is about. 

At the beginning of his sermon, he said something about a fox which, he said, does not have the connotation now that it had then.

It was the same sermon the Rev. McPherson gave at 9 a.m. so there was no hidden meaning for the Trumps, like I suppose some might suspect.

When you are the center of attention and are used to lecturing those around you rather than being a listener, I imagine the roles are hard to swap.  

After two or three minutes of the sermon (about 15 minutes long, in the usual Episcopalian tradition), Trump seemed to fidget a little, looking a little left, a little right, and for a half-second, I wondered if he would get up and march out, but soon he became enamored by the content, as were the rest of us, and he listened.  

There were no sounds. Everyone was glued to Rev. McPherson's words. Including at least one of the three agents who sat in the row behind the president and Mrs. Trump.

From the pulpit, Rev. McPherson said that he admired the Islamic faith, and he quoted this line from Islam:  "You are God, and I am not."

It was an excellent sermon, and I hope we all go out and follow Rev. McPherson's advice.

Every Sunday at church when we say out loud "the Prayers of the People," the same lines are said: We pray for "Donald, our president," members of the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, and peoples of nations who are experiencing extreme difficulties, such as those in Venezuela and in New Zealand.

During silent prayers today, someone said out loud (which anyone can do but it is rare in the silent Episcopalian custom for anyone to say out loud anything alone at St. John's), "we pray for Donald and our nation."
Before the Trumps arrived, the Secret Service brought in the dogs to scope out the place, but I was at a meeting upstairs and missed them, which I really wanted to see! Maybe, the next time.

Rather than orange, I would call Donald's hair color,  suntanned blonde.  If you have seen her photos lately, you have noticed the blonde streaks in Melanie's hair.

Were you there?  What else can you add? Maybe it's not appropriate for me to write about their "personal time" at church, but the way I look at it, anytime the President of the United States goes public, it's our, the people's, time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bravo! Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 'Scheherazades'

Sani ol-Molk (1814-1866), Scheherazade and the Sultan, 1849-1856/Public Domain,

Bravo!  Bravo!

That was the response from the sold-out, standing audience at the conclusion of two Scheherazades played by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Listeners were spellbound by Scheherazade.2 by John Adams (b. 1947) and Scheherazade by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908).
Mr. Adams wrote Scheherazade.2 for his longtime friend and collaborator, Leila Josefowicz, the BSO guest artist who was Scheherazade at the concert.
Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Like Rimsky-Korsakov's composition, Scheherazade.2 was thrilling and captivating, almost as if the audience became peeping people, witnessing private, dangerous events.

Fortunately, although contemporary, Mr. Adams's Scheherazade.2 lacked harsh clashes and stifling pauses which afflict many modern works.  

Both Scheherazades are poignant masterpieces, played with large orchestras, using almost the same instruments with the addition of Mr. Adams's celesta and cimbalom.
An Arabic manuscript of the 1001 Nights by Unknown/Public Domain,

In both performances, the cello and bass captured the tensions and fears caused by the sultan, evident throughout the music which contained agonizing combinations, as the imaginary, ruthless dictator practices torture, but gradually succumbs to the magic of Scheherazade.  

Ferdinand Keller (1842-1922), Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar, 1880/Public Domain, 

Wearing a sleeveless, colorful tunic, Ms. Josefowicz played her violin with gusto, occasionally stomping her foot, standing in the shape of a Z, mostly perpendicular to the audience and adjacent to BSO's conductor, Marin Alsop, who complimented Ms. Josefowicz's ability to perform without notes.

Sometimes the violinist threw back her back as if to taunt her invisible captor, the 15th century sultan.
According to legend, Scheherazade (also called Shirazad, Shahrazad, and Shahrzad) was the name of the last bride of the murderous sultan who, over 1001 nights, killed 1001 women, one by one on their wedding nights, fearing their unfaithfulness.

That is, until the last bride, Scheherazade, who regaled the sultan night after night with stories and endings she left until the next night and the next and the next...for 1001 nights.  By then, the sultan was enraptured and made Scheherazade his queen to live forever in the pages of 1001 Nights.

At evening's end, Conductor Alsop recognized the principal musicians, the soloists in the Rimsey-Korsakov, the first violinist and concertmasterJonathan Carney who played like it was his last concert, and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski, another evening star among many.

Indeed, Rimsey-Korsakov brought my friend and me to tears, emotionally wrought by his compelling Scheherazade.

For both composers, their creations began with art.

Mr. Adams visited the Monde Arabe (the Arab World Institute) in Paris where he saw renditions of cruelty and  brutality inflicted upon women beginning with illustrations from the 15th century. (Additions from the 21st century: Trump, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Kraft, Bill O'Reilly, Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, Tucker Carlson)

On International Women's Day weekend, Conductor Alsop called Mr. Adams "probably the biggest feminist I know."

Wikipedia says Rimsey-Korsakov had an interest in the Orient and the pictures from 1001 Nights helped drive him to his greatest composition.

Although Rimsey-Korsakov's version ends happily with Scheherazade able to prolong and save her life through her marvelous story telling, Conductor Alsop said Mr. Adams's composition leaves it up to the listener to decide the outcome.

In which case, (thank you, Mr. Adams) with her bow, Scheherazade pierces the throat of the cruel dictator whose streams of blood turn into coral snakes which the heroine rides to the torture chambers. There, snake-strangled guards loosen their grips on chamber keys which our heroine scoops up and unlocks prison doors, freeing all captives. 

Together, the former prisoners and Scheherazade leave the Earth to ride on, ride on the snakes in majesty up to the heavens where they alight from the rocket snakes to step upon starry skies and to this day, wink at us nightly from their pedestals in the universe.

Meanwhile, continuing their journeys, the corals speed through the universe to their temporary residency on the planet Mars, which to this day is known as the Red Planet.
Sometimes, as it were, these kind beasts are yet called upon to awake from hibernation and be born again, to render aid to those on Earth, and descend upon legislators in Annapolis, Maryland who disavow the Bravo Symphony Orchestra's financial needs.  

On Earth, the rocket snakes embrace the people's representatives whose skin turns coral red as they become servants in the kingdom of Daniel Sultan, a worse destiny, not yet known.
So ends the tale of a thousand and one nights of pleasure with the Bravo/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  

You see what music and art can do! The beat goes on

Next up for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra:  

Appalachian Spring March 14 at Strathmore, March 15 and 16 at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, and  

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix March 22 and 24 at the Meyerhoff, and March 23 at Strathmore.