Monday, June 3, 2024

June Swoon


    It's transition month - out with spring and into summer, Blasts of heat and cold, sun and rain. AC or a fan? Unavoidable sense of time moving on. 

Friday, May 10, 2024



      An ongoing debate. Will it ever end? I.E .  The ongoing subtext of caution as seen in the unpredictable behavior of people regarding other people masking. Because (says one friend) I assume they have Covid.. No, they are just being cautious, says another friend. Maybe I carry one because I might be in a crowd where I can't be sure everyone has their vaccines up to date, I say.


    Meanwhile, joyful and even educational opportunities abound in post-pandemic DC. 

Among the latest and perhaps most impressive is the opening of Folger Theatre's new play on May 7, a startling original adaptation of Ovid's classic 'Metamorphoses' (by way of Mary Zimmerman's translation), with the first all-black cast in the august institution's history. It is also a chance to see an impressive work of art as you climb the stairs from the lower level public reception and exhibit area to the theater and the Great Hall just beyond. "'Cloud of Imagination' is a hanging light sculpture composed of hundreds of paper forms glowing fiber optical fibers - a metaphorical piece (of course - who would expect otherwise in a poet's home) by German artist Anke Neumann. 

Consider it homage to art and ideas set in motion (and on paper) in this temple of artistic endeavor (containing more of the bard's first folios than anywhere else) - finally opening to the public  next month after four years of renovation.  And consider the choice of a play about  Greek myths and gods an apt one  given that the fact that the building's namesake, Folger Shakespeare Library, drew on such sources for much of his work. As for the lavish over-the-top production itself, what would the bard say? (Beyond 'the play's the thing and all the rest of us mere actors .....) He might be tempted to shout, to sing, instead so impressive is the talent on stage (so beyond words?), endearing and engaging. Much will be made of the director's surprising decision not to have an authentic body of water in place on the stage itself - traditionally is a central feature around which the action moves. But choreography and props, such as a  rustling trail of blue--green fabric, make a fine substitute.  After all, the play's theme, like the title itself ,"Metamorphoses,' is about change - all the vagaries of human nature often god induced. Satirical, comedic, even horrific at one point: a man driven out of control by his appetite can't get enough so he takes a knife to turn himself into a meal. Not meant for viewing by babes.


River Daze: Aboard the Anacostia Riverkeepers Alliance boat

A cloudy casually drippy day in late May - perfect for a few curious water-loving adventurers seeing a part of Washington's shoreline from the district's 'other river.' This was not your usual isn't it lovely tourist trip. For two hours, invited guests were treated to an expert's knowledge of the best and worst of a river's fate over the years (sewage flow and billion dollar attempts to correct pollution, etc.) as well as information on buildings that line the banks. Chief among the latter was/is the great green glass headquarters of DC Water, whose job it is to watch over this tributary  spilling eventually into the great mid= Eastern watershed. 'Trey' was our leader, our historian. He made sure we noted ,too, the presence of the new Frederick Douglas Bridge that rolls majestically like a steel ribbon from DC SW to Anacostia beyond. (Above) and the original home of the FBI in an Art Deco tinspired facade brick building now converted into luxury apartments (above), the public and private facilities of historic Washington Navy Yard,  the osprey and eagle nests hither and yon, past the first Black yacht club in the country dating back to 1945.

 "DC was never a swamp. It was a series of hills," he asserted at one point. It remains so as a far view of the US  Capitol in the distance proves.The colors of the water beneath us were ever changing as weather changed throughout two hours. But in a way the most suprising face was kept to the last: real news! The nonprofit group is sponsoring what will be a first free controlled public swim in the river if conditions allow. A target date is June 29 this year, with backup dates should they be necessary. Slots filled up immediately when the announcement first went out. To quote from the organization's web site:

"This is the first time in over 50 years that residents will be able to legally swim in the Anacostia River, a tributary to the Potomac River and part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The event celebrates our region’s progress towards restoring the Anacostia Watershed and protecting it from pollutants and other runoff that impacts water health and quality. Restoration of the Anacostia began in the mid-1980s and was accelerated by the formation of the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership (AWRP) in 2006, led by COG and made up of local, state, and federal agencies, environmental organizations, and private citizens."


And this update to the Folger 'coming out party' in June (officially Friday 6/21): That timed-entry passes are recommended to see the building and special exhibits planned. Guests who choose to do so receive expedited entry on busy days, while others without passes might have to wait in line. They can reserve for June 21 through the end of September on Folger's website -

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Spring Fling


    Spring takes some getting used to, especially when preceded by days of rain. Then suddenly we get wind and gradually the sun leading to one or two full days of Vitamin D. Along with it comes the kwanzan trees, a more hardy longlasting version of the fabled Washington brand. Now mid-month one very special specimen stands guard over three and a half backyards on Capitol Hill,  a treat to behold and worthy of the name 'Gloria.'  She is a flirtatious plant, flinging her limbs about in spectacular fashion, seemingly free as the birds that nestle within.

    And of other positive scenes: a memorial service inside the National Portrait Gallery on a Saturday morning before the museum opened. The man honored had once been the Gallery's head, bringing it into the 20th century so that, in words of the current director, Kim Sajet, "he redefined the world of national portraiture and allowed us to include living beings. Daughter Gillian Pachter spoke fondly of her father as "good at telling lives,"  an indelible portrait himself of a person fiercely committed to humanity. "He made portraiture not about yesterday but about today and tomorrow" said Lonnie Bunch, founder of the Museum of African American History and Culture currently head of the entire Smithsonian itself. Above all, this self-described flaneur ws "living just in the moment wherever I am." He made sure that life included abundant travel, adventures galore, and, above all, no regrets. Son Adam aptly remembered a father who never forgot to give his children 'mad money' for their travels, so they could enjoy pleasures sought and enjoyed without guilt. So dedicated to the humane, the feast of friendship, the man for some reason never learned to drive. Which, in a sense, is the very definition of a flaneur, a wanderer who takes chances and makes every moment his own.


    PS Nothing in  what follows is especially about spring doings except how an increased number of visitors to the capital city during school break time can impinge in coincidentally ways about how we locals go about our everyday life. For this Eastern Market home owner, such activities recently included a trying task  - cleaning a Baratza model coffee grinder. It is no mean feat to tackle this device, first to take it apart and clean the inner pieces, then figure out how to put it back together again. Two other people tried their hand at the task and none  succeeded in making it work again. So I lugged it several blocks away to the Peregrine Espresso store to get sympathy and possibly some help. But not even the  barista on duty knew what to do. I was told to return in two days' time after  the morning rush hour  when the owner could try since it's likely she had the same product at home. That I did, waiting while she did her best = unsuccessfully. The first time the first day another customer suggested I call the manufacturer who could supply me with a tool to take out the part that was now stuck. Or likely I could send the thing back and have it made whole again by 'customer service.' But on my second day at the coffee shop another stranger walked in and saw what was happening and got to work. In a very few minutes my machine was working again. How could this friendly stranger  just have happened by. He was visiting DC from another Washington - the state - and even better he boasted, he was from the Yakima Valley, one of the country's most fertile agricultural areas. He told how: millions of years ago rich soil from  Montana was deposited there ...and so on.The encounter was a serendipitous exchange, so different from  the fractious momentous doings taking place inside the nation's Capitol building only a mile or so away. 

Long live serendipity and the importance of making each moment count. Now a segue to the name of this blog: Urbanities. Being urbane takes many forms,  one of which surely is being able to recognize and appreciate when the moment matters. The word urbane too often infers 'citified', 'polish' or 'suavity' - on the negative side. But a person can be urbane in a rural world as well. A question of attitude...


    The news drives odd even irrelevant subjects to ponder IF and when a person can't relate in any personal way. Call it trivialization, if you may. It is also defensive action in the face of impotence. I cannot relate to the hysteria on campuses across the country where pro-Palestinian voices seem to refuse to consider Hamas' proclamations of the need to obliterate Israel. At the same time those same students might as well be supporting Putin and his stated aims of obliterating an independent Ukraine.

    So I take refuse in worrying about Secretary of STate Antony Blinken and how he must be coping. How he bears up under jet lag, even how does he manage to refrain from smiling. Serious is His Business for sure. Stalwart.  This is, admittedly, a useless waste of my emotion. But it's not exactly looking on the bright side either.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

March Blows In


    And my camellia bush blooms,  slowly. Now about six out of a potential hundred or more. March days move forward  slowly, not wanting to raise hopes for the world.

    So to dispel the gloom (and gray rain), I tackle the mundane - which is to try making a friend of sorts whenever I'm  indulging in  commonplace and mostly frustrating household tasks. Like finding a solution to a window roller shade that will no longer roll. This involves a trip to Home Depot where my request for help with two domestic matters of little consequence produces just that: no immediate result. Just to make the tasks not seem quite so futile I challenge myself to engage on a human level (a little smile, a patient approach, a 'we are in this together' attitude). Instead of surly (I'm told 'we don't do that' at first try) when I'm breaking up a group of women employes talking together to get an answer, I strive in a small self-satisfying way to create fellowship. I come away with the name of a firm that will do it, providing I show interest in buying another shade. My second mission is to locate what may be called a food waste storage can, otherwise known as future compost. A genial man whom I meet walking the aisles volunteers to lead me to a shelf where a possible container might be found. Instead, we find a pail without a lid. He spends several minutes in the search. We conclude  he earnestly and sympathetically agrees: nothing like that at the Depot (which doubles as a waiting place for out of work hopeful handymen bunching in groups) is useless and together we come up with the local hardware store where personnel answering my question (about where and what is a likely source for this object) by phone include the store's owner.

This is a sermon on how somewhat trivial chores can matter. I had to be taught to think 'common sense' . The lesson came from a fellow in the hardware store (where a sign read 'no ski masks allowed') who logically enough suggested unrolling the shade to see what might be in a label on the bar holding the fabric. Yes, there it was, my last name and the date of my last encounter with the maker of the shade.

    While I'm thinking basics - chores, camellias and such - I keep regressing to the habit acquired most severely during the pandemic: following carefully every day's New York Times Cooking column. The recipes with their reassuring vibe - yes, you can do it if you can read - and the calmly satisfying photographs attached. How and why they mattered so much in getting through a day - some lodestar, escapist fantasy of being able to cook and eat well.

    That's one reason but probably not the only one. The organizing fetish is a cover, an excuse, to imagine actually accomplishing something in the face of doubt. The effort is its own reward.

PS The prospect of turning a mix of unlikely ingredients into something digestible, even worth digesting, is another reward. Even, somehow, when results fail. Take cauliflower, green olives, almonds and feta for example. Suspense reigns throughout the trial... which is graded on a 'nice try but' level. So on to the next experiment: chicken thighs, dates, sweet potato and plenty of spices.


    Another food story that also is news. Of a sort that at least patrons of Folger Shakespeare Library will welcome. After waiting through four years of renovations and suspense about a reopening date (now set for June 21 this year), hungry friends and supporters of the immensely impressive  and handsome edifice on Washington's Capitol Hill will surely welcome the invention there (really a reinvention) of a well-supplied cafe in the Great Hall. Anyone familiar with the museum-library-theater complex should take a look at the lively scene imagined in this photo. Better, too, take heart in the democratic way the cafe space was named. "Crumble and Quill' was crowdsourced publicly and voted on dramatically enough down to the last ballot. The name surely will stand out among more common cafe titles of the town. A great salute to the wordsmith indeed.

    Sherry surely. And crumpets?

PS Any  devoted Folger fan might have noticed that I transposed  the name of the new hangout: It should have been Quill & Crumb. So kudos to those who caught this. Or was it my subconscious wanting to trick a reader?

    Or this, from the department of Never Underestimate Variety in an Urban Setting.

    Twice this week (the last of March 2024 forever.....), we attended two events of an extremely different nature that were free and open to the public (with registration), thereby again proving how an informed life (free email distribution) helps make an interesting life.
    Journalist Bill Press has a gig of sorts that  finds him periodically interviewing people of interest at the Hill Center on Capitol Hill. One requirement seems to be the subject at hand must have wide appeal and often has a book just published that an author or speaker hopes to publicize. Yes, copies of books are on sale at the site. Thus did Alex Prud'homme come to write "Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and  a History of Breaking Bread at The White House." Not irrelevant is the fact that his great aunt is/was the great cook and memoirist Julia Child (he helped her produce her 'My Life in France.') Undoubtedly, he knows a good table and a good story when he is at or around one.  True to form, he could and did entertain with anecdotes true and believed about dining habits of political and social notables. He told of quirky tastes and reasons for them, reputations of White House chefs, how and why dining traditions are  enshrined in those hallowed quarters. How 'gastro diplomacy' works. 
    A day or so later I attended a big band concert at - why not? - the Martin Luther King Library, by the 44-year-old  LGBTQH however you wish to combine the letters Jazz Band who call themselves "the Different Drummers." Certainly a different way of applying a familiar expression - to march to the tune of a different drummer. The timpani were all women but members were all ages and backgrounds, as was the talent: Japanese born horn player who could make his language a rhythmic force said aloud and another younger man (on another instrument) whistling in jazz style.Oh, to hear audience appreciation like that at every entertainment event in this city...


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

February Frolic


The famous Folger Theatre above. See below.

     Best keep an open mind. February does not have to be the low point of a dismaying year in the world (wars and worry about wars, moral and political). Much else is conspiring to distract your attention,  with thoughtful' and  polished  in-person options.

    For instance, the DC History Center's 'Book Talk" on February 23 is titled 'The Rise of Uber in DC." How did authors of that book come up with such a seemingly innocuous title when they are, it appears, calling out Uber's success here  as 'a symptom of urban weakness and low expectations from local city politics.' The event drew an audience of nearly 100 representing (at a glance) varied ages and backgrounds. Katie Wells and Declan Cullen are the book's authors, taking a critical look at the power of corporate wealth to sway local government bodies (read here DC Council members of yore) for favorable legislation that ends up, in their words, as a 'disrupter' to the public's need for enlightened transportation policies. The team of two had spent years following 35 men and women and their experiences as partime drivers for Uber. The outcome wasn't satisfactory in most cases, even when workers such as the fulltime officer  making $53,000 for the DC Housing Authority who could not escape the need to work two jobs - as government employe and UBer driver - to maintain a family. "We do not take care of each other enough," as an urban entity, the authors noted.

.    A controversy of sorts but not one recognized by those who favor the ease and convenience of ride sharing/personal control ways of moving around without having to worry about finding a parking space.

    Ah, but this is deceptive because Uber/Lyft/others can be expensive, and the rider has only minimum control - though offered some choices  - of price.

     It' was certainly an unusual look at an unusual  city. To ease any disturbing revelations, the Center  recommended that attendees stick around for Apple's 'Friday evening DJ series, 6-7:30, taking place in the same building. (The former Carnegie Library is an historic building set in a welcoming park on one of Washington's most well trafficked areas. And note! The building is easily accessed on the Metro's green and yellow lines, Mt. Vernon Square, a few blocks away. Access for disabled patrons is provided  and broad sidewalks ensure easy circulation for pedestrians.)

    Another tack might be: Uber's existence also speaks as a mirror of diversity in a city whose population and traditions are often cited as  having a 'Southern' (read: white) cast. DC also is known as Chocolate City though statistics of late question the relevance as gentrification moves on. Drivers are often from so-called minority states and cultures. Their accents do not often lean 'South.' Would a recent ride going from Dupont Circle to the Navy Yard on a Thursday evening count as typical? 

     The passengers included a woman visitor from Puerto Rico on the last few days of her stay. Her speech was strongly accented - German - reflecting her original home. It was her first time using the Uber App that her host had strongly suggested she  experience for this and any other future trips to cosmopolitan areas where Uber has invariably made inroads. The driver was a friendly Virginia  native with a slight Spanish inflection in his voice. His family had come from a Latin American country before he was born and it turned out in a very few minutes of conversation that he was interested in possibly moving to San Juan - for the climate and for less expensive daily living. He  quizzed his customer on that last point, having heard her  volunteer that she had been in PR for 40 years, first as an employe of an international company and now as a retiree widow with a grown daughter. She chose to live in a small town on the southwest of PR so was well versed and happy to share information. He asked quickly about the availability of a university and the best modes of travel back and forth to and from the US.

    No names were exchanged but he noted the name of her town and the passenger in turn said she would welcome him if he came.

    Not quite a United Nations moment but perhaps revealing in its own way.  A true cross section of the greater Washington area that can offer much more in quiet ways than  politics in the headlines. Next week a chance to attend a National Archives event - hosted by the NA Foundation - free as many such are not to mention activities in perpetual motion at the fabled Smithsonian buildings on the Mall.  


        Enlightenment comes in various packages - and often deceptively as 'entertainment.' Thus, Folger Shakespeare Library's theater production of  "Where We Belong" a one-woman autobiographical show, that explores in 85 compelling minutes the many contradictions in both our celebration and dismissal of native (indigenous) cultures.  Indeed, our inability, as she notes, "to take care of each other." Alone on stage, the playwright and scholar Madeline Sayet, a member of the Mohegan tribe, shows physically and emphatically the importance of stories to the human condition.  She begins by reminding the audience that they occupy land once inhabited by a tribe that was led by female chiefs. As 'chief' the actor - portraying several characters, including her mother - assumes a contemporary storyteller stance wearing boots, jeans, a colorful patterned jacket and plain loose blouse. Much of what she describes in words and gestures are the limitations of borders, the hardships of colonialism,   the difficulties of overcoming prejudices and ignorance.To do so, she takes on the status of a blackbird - her name in the seldom spoken Mohegan language -who in flight, in the sky makes borders disappear. The  set is a combination of ever changing light and cloud formations, abstract shapes above and below the sky, as Ms. Sayet portrays the difficulties of coming to terms with lost  traditions and inheritance. Through March 10, in association with Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Prejudice and exploitation are  wars against The Other, the Different  the Stranger. Wars seldom make peace but only give rise to new grounds for battle. Both between people and nations.

    It's worth noting how many talented women have assumed executive/director roles currently in Washington DC arts across the board. In museums and theaters and institutions of renown, the  shift has been something of a revolution. And along with the 'trend,' is recognition of these women's  diverse careers and backgrounds. Salut!


   Also on the home front, where safety issues and crime are upbeat in many people's minds: Witness the increase in 'safety' personnel in and around Metro stations. Possibly, too, in changing attitudes of Metro personnel towards customers using the system.  I had rushed out of my house recently, hurrying  into the Eastern Market station  when I realized I had brought with me, instead of my 'senior pass' the DC Library card and several $20 bills. (Because I wasn't expecting to spend more than that on whatever plans I had that night. And because of scare stories about people and car jacking, holdups with guns by teenagers, not to mention paranoid homeless and crazy souls, I left ID and credit cards behind.)  Lo to my surprise I couldn't even buy a card/ticket for my roundtrip excursion because the automatic system only takes $10 or below. I had a deadline; I was stumped, until the employe in the cage rescued me by allowing me to go through the gate free and saying he would call ahead to the person in charge of my intended stop  where I could get help. Somehow this worked - that someone was really informed in time and could reconfigure somehow the machine that would return a $10 card with change in ten dollar coins. Yes, Sacajawea was going to be my travel mate that night. (See: The worth of certain such coins on the market.)

So polite they were, too. So non-threatening.  So goes the urban lover's high wire existence. I walk gingerly these days, given all the warnings to 'be careful,' 'stay safe.' Who could not when there are 'ghost' police cars parked in public places that are empty of a driver. Does this mean pedestrians are free to get into one of these in case of imminent danger? No sign is attached...

Monday, January 8, 2024

A January Thaw?

                  Can there be a thaw when there hasn't been a cold snap in months or recent memory, whatever is longer?

    But it is classic to look for one, maybe even to make one up in one's mind (which is the memory part after all). So I chose yesterday the magic number 7, which also happened to be my double digit birthday (yikes, yet again...), to go on a rant.

    What is a rant, exactly?  Perhaps it is whatever a person chooses it to be. I took the sound of the word over any meaning (that, if examined closely, is likely negative). I was embarrassed to be so old in the numbers game and was overcome with guilt. How come I'm still alive and reasonably sound in mind and body when others have met their maker, gone south, whatever.  It was possibly circumstantial that I felt compelled to go social, to make the case for making friends out of strangers if only for a few minutes. I stopped a young woman from reading a book in a bookstore because she had picked up the title of 'Fire' on a bright red jacket.

     How come? I asked her. that is a provocative title and did you reach for it out of some felt need? Fortunately she wasn't taken aback but answered with a small smile: Well I'm majoring in the environment, she said immediately. So this seems pertinent. Aha, a connection. I saw she was with a group and didn't persist. 

    Upstairs in another shop above the bookstore I was waiting for some prints to be made of one of my grandchildren's drawings. I had superimposed on it some words of cheer thinking she might use it as an invite for an upcoming birthday. (Indeed, her father said she would like more of them for just that purpose. Or maybe he suggested that to her, no matter.) I was intent on explaining why I was doing this and wanted the other woman in the room to know it. That began a short discussion on grandchildren, on how and when they learn to speak and interact with the world. Another contact that drew the attention of the sales clerk since I let it be known that my namesake grand was in Montana. Lo and behold, the clerk had lived in the state, knew all about it, was immediately engaged. 

    It's so easy to create conversation if you, the initiator, are at ease with yourself. But that is another story and has nothing to do with birthdays...and a rant, by the way, can be any determined action for any purpose. At least in my book.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

December Descends...


    With a tsunami of Things to challenge our perception of what exactly  is our tolerance of  too much: too much to give and probably too much to get if you are able to participate in such exchanges. Why presents to and fro anyway? Are they thanks, reminders, guilt-reducers? Do they really count in the long run of family and social life? Growing older and thinking this way tends to put one in the category of curmudgeonry. So be it, and long live the 'jerks' who challenge the conventional but often mindless way of doing well, things.

    Well, sure, I can go on - that we are certainly living in changing times and bringing up and following tradition (tree, song, gifts, etc.) is a way of asserting oneself in the face of such troubling but inevitable facts. AI and ChatGBT are roiling our way of life in all ways.  The more things change, the more they stay the same - but the same is what?  We talk glibly of 'reality' and being able to recognize such a seemingly stable factor in our lives.With this new universal promise/threat hanging over us, how are we going to determine what is real and what is not?  How to grasp the concept and still feel stable?  Like challenging currents and high waves in a roiling sea, how do we keep our heads up?

    A rollercoaster ride at least has an endpoint in sight. The ocean seems unlimitless but we can see borders, banks, beaches - barriers on land. Is staying sane, however that is interpreted, ever possible when we live under constantly questioning true vs false and might be lose sight of why that matters?

    If the outcome (whatever that is) looks perilous, each moment is going to count all the more. Living in the moment, aware of others (and other things) around us, surely will help.

    Though unlikely as it is that my sermon will have any impact, maybe I can at least be thankful that I care... So hats off to contemplation, celebration, community and care.