Sunday, April 29, 2012

Living It Up Among the Dead

Think a cocktail might raise your spirits? Or any spirits abiding in Congressional Cemetery in Southeast DC? Corpse Reviver #2 was the featured drink served up recently on the historic grounds at an evening reception for Garrett Peck's book THE POTOMAC RIVER.(The cemetery sits along the Anacostia River, once called the Eastern Branch of the Potomac.) Gin, Lillet vermouth,  orange liqueur and a touch of absinthe. (The cemetery always promises some lively if entirely sober and silent company, including  J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa, Tip O'Neill, and a philanthropic brothel owner named Mary Hall who once conducted business on what is now the Museum of the American Indian at Independence and Maryland Avenues.) I was hoping to meet some of the people with whom I might be buried someday, being a purchaser of space in the Cemetery's so-called Green Section that features a biodegradable finale. (No metals, no chemicals, only a wooden box.) still has openings...and a new book available from Arcadia press.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What the octopus knows....

...and what we humans can learn from nature about how better able to defend ourselves in the world. No small order but one tackled by marine biologist Rafe Sagarin in his book "Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease." Apparently, the skin cells of this creature are attuned to externals threats in the environment similar in ways to methods employed by the humble ground squirrel. The squirrel can audibly signal enemies that it is on to their game so beware. (In the case of rattlesnakes, which can't hear but  are sensitive to heat, the squirrel can heat up its tail as a warning device.) The lesson for humans is to ramp up methods of perception by deploying multiple sensors  - to be proactive rather than reactive. "We focus too much on failure," says the author/lecturer Sagarin. Animals have built-in warning systems that humans ignore to our peril (ie.animals changed behavior in advance of the Katrina disaster ).DARPA - the Defense Department research arm - smartly issues challenges asking leaders ahead of time how to solve a problem before it arises. Like Steve Jobs apparently managed to do to get results that have made Apple perhaps the 'safest' investor stock on the planet... All this and more at  AAAS April 5. Just another 'harmless' discussion of high quality on DC's daily calendar. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reading For Professionals

So what are you going with yourself these days? Ah that old refrain tossed out to the recovering journalist and part-time loafer. Suppose I say that "I read." Then my polite interrogator undoubtedly asks what I am reading while thinking  that he/she had better go refill her/his glass. The luxury of having time to read, to pick among the great choices available and know at the same time you are helping support a worthy profession, even helping keep public libraries alive. Could the decision by the Pulitzer jury this week not to award a fiction prize  have helped in a perverse way to  raise the profile of the rejected candidates? Every book is a journey, the cliche goes. Author Darin Strauss had a strenuous personal journey writing his memoir "Half A Life" about how an accident as a teenager changed his life. He was driving a car that killed a high school classmate when she seemed to deliberately turn her bicycle into his path. You will have to live your life on the double to make up for her, the girl's parents told him afterwards. He is now father of twin boys after writing an earlier book about the famous Siamese twins Cheng and Eng joined at birth. The New York author-educator (a teaching post at NYU) spoke at a benefit function April 18 on behalf of 826DC (see, the local branch of the national urban nonprofit started by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, etc.) to tutor young people and encourage creative writing at all levels.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

DC's Ambidexterous Dentist

Dr. Steven Kaufman, a specialist in the periodontal trade, has talents well beyond preserving and implanting the oral outcropping of our precious skeleton. When in rhythmic fashion  he picks his way through uppers and lowers at exam time (3-4-2-6 etc), he might just be counting notes since he is also an accomplished trumpet player. (Ambidexterous can mean "exceptionally dexterous") One of his venues outside his jazz-infused downtown Washington office is Maryland's Glen Echo Park where he sometimes toots his horn on Saturday nights. Check He once was one of four trumpet players in a band called the Doc Dikeman Jazz Ensemble that recorded a CD labeled "Swing Session" - the Doc being a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Dentistry and, according to record notes, a performer during his Duke University years with the "famous" Duke Ambassadors. This was a band that Les Brown had directed five years early, say those same notes. (See line drawings of famous jazz artists here on my blog.)  Kaufman says this particular band is no more but the memory lingers does fame by association. After graduation from Duke, 'Doc's band had performed one time alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. Not to brag but yes to relish-the-memory-of, I was able on best behavior to 'sketch' live up close DG as well as many others in the  pantheon.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pilates Pilgrims

Yes, we trek regularly on the road to well being - acolytes of 'Father Joe P,' Joseph Pilates, founder of what he called Contrology with its not-so-startling premise that 'physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.' Maybe that was new (even revolutionary) back in the 30s and 40s. To give the guru credit, his 1934 book was called YOUR HEALTH and drew on the Greek idea of 'a balanced body and mind.' The RETURN TO LIFE THROUGH CONTROLOGY published in 1945 had a co-author and set out principles and philosophies as well as a list of exercises pertinent to his regime. The latter are best done under supervision of trained personnel, one of which in Washington is Pure Joe Pilates Studios (a satellite studio is in Reston, Va.) One woman who has been coming here for "oh, 10 or 11" years began with a bad case of scoliosis, a spinal condition. The studio also has treated an 18-month-old child with a muscular condition (the muscles needed loosening), an 81-year-old man in good health, and Parkinson patients. The secret to success for most participants, needless to say, is concentration and constant repetition. No 'medicine' other than exercise seems guaranteed to prolong life these days...or so experts seem to attest.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Not so Strange an Interlude

Good - even amazing - theater can keep Washington patrons in their seats beyond the normal 10 p.m. rush to the door as proven by the current offering at Shakespeare Theatre Company's presentation of Eugene O'Neill's 'Strange Interlude.' It was Michael Kahn's stated gift to himself to tackle what was originally a nine act play - first shown in 1928 - and get permission to edit it down to three and a half hours. "For me it is a search for happiness," MK said in extensive remarks at a dinner preceding the April 2nd formal opening. "O'Neill explored theater the way Shakespeare did,' influenced by  Freud, Jung and Joyce. Characters speak to one another and then in a masterly directorial way say aloud what is in their mind. 'You get to know characters inside and outside; the texture of the play is thought...' Guess what? Program notes say that O'Neill was undergoing psychoanalysis and reading Joyce's Ulysses during the writing of the play. Never underestimate the power of the unconscious and, for readers interested in understanding the psychodynamics of the creative mind (and biology's input), order up Eric Kandel's new book, 'The Age of Insight.'

Sunday, April 1, 2012


That's how Ari Roth, indomitable artistic director, referred to the recent spate of highly popular Spinoza-centered events at Theater J, including a sold-out day-long symposium on the philosopher who dared think for himself across the grain of an orthodox society in 17th century Amsterdam. Spinoza was the forerunner of Darwin, an independent thinker ostracized from his (Jewish community) society for daring to question. The April 1 Sunday morning chamber reading of "Spinoza's Solitude," a play-in-progress, showed the splendidly self-effacing man living alone with only a dog for company. Recall Harry Truman's line about 'if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,' to imagine (granted, a stretch) an updated message. Special note: That production had some terrific actors all including two graduates of DC's graduate Academy for Classical Acting - Daniel Flint and Will Cooke, class of '09. (   

a National Museum of Language

With all the babble that goes on in Washington in the name of language, perhaps it isn't  surprising that such an institution  should exist here. But as museums go, it is something of a misnomer. Located in three small rooms in an office building at 7100 Baltimore Ave. in College Park,  Md., NML is a part-time volunteer-run place, open Tuesday and Saturday and the first and third Sunday afternoon only. (See Go in the side door and look opposite a dentist's quarters. Admission is free.  There is an indirect connection with the nearby University of Maryland campus (example: the donation of some costume dolls from a faculty member to help represent Spain in a section on Romance languages). Ah, but the aims are high: "to promote a better understanding of language and its role in history, " etc. Come touch a piece of real papyrus (early form of paper); spell words in different languages on a computer; try your hand at Chinese calligraphy. Annual memberships available. ($20 for a student or senior).
We went on a whim, my friend and I, and chanced upon some other whimsical operations along  Rte 1: an Art Deco Unisex Barbershop (in the plainest of plain buildings on that decidedly eclectic highway; a trompe l'oeil Gothic-style architectural mural; the "Taste" restaurant, which we didn't try, opting instead for Plato's diner, advertising "best" crabcake and most "famous" everything else on a menu that incorporates as many cultures as can be found (it seems) in the NML. Leave it to the Greeks, this is the hangout of local politicians and it claims to stay open 24 hours on weekends (for cops AND robbers no doubt). Good homemade soups; five-inch high cheesecake; top-notch service with outsize servings.