Morning Thoughts ($1.21)

Newspaper Thought 1. I knew the NY Times couldn’t hold onto their new format, putting page 2 news on page 7 (see earlier posting), although they stuck to it for two days. Today, I see that there is news creep at the Times, and they have a full page of news on page 6. Of course, they have moved their page 6 ad to page 7, so the third page of news remains on page 8.

Newspaper Thought 2. I see that Howard University has decided to make its campus daily web-only. As no one under the age of forty seems to read newspapers in print any more, perhaps this is a better idea than it seems to be. It is certainly cheaper. I wonder if other universities will (or do) do the same.

Automobile Thought 1. Michelle and Jonathan flew to Denver yesterday. Last night, I received a phone call. Their rental car turned out to be a Prius. So far, so good. They had just left the airport and were on the freeway. They got a little concerned. They had figured out how to turn the car on and how to steer it, but their question was: “How do we turn this car off?” Should I have let them figure it out themselves?

Automobile Thought 2. A relatively new blue Subaru parking on our block has had a chronic problem with its alarm system going off. When it happens, you hear 29 loud beeps, a short silence (I guess you don’t actually hear the silence), 29 more loud beeps, another short silence, and 29 final loud beeps. I assume we are talking about 3-4 minutes from start to end. Several nights ago, it happened early in the morning. Then twice during the day. And then the night before last, starting at about 3 a.m., it happened four times before 6 a.m.

Unclear what can be done. We have told the police. The car clearly has a right to be there. We live on a block that has apartments at one end, and houses at the other. I like it when the apartment dwellers park in front of the house. It’s like we are having company that we don’t have to entertain. But they really should mind their manners.

Last night, no sound. That was good, but I couldn’t sleep anyway. And then, at about 7 a.m., when I had a chance to sleep another hour or so, another horn blared out, as it has on Tuesday and Wednesday. We assume that our neighbors across the street (who are French) are in France for an Easter holiday. But no one told the school bus driver, who has come by each morning, sat with engine idling, and then given two very loud honks before moving on.

Music. While I thought I made an exceptionally good cup of coffee this morning, it was not quite enough to keep me going. It helped, though, when WETA played a recording of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with Wilhelm Kempff at the keyboard. Why don’t I try to make a note each time I hear a recording that I think exceptional? Maybe this is a start.

Food. I passed by the new Chop’t salad shop on Connecticut Avenue, as I do every morning. I once had a carryout salad, and it was pretty good. But I don’t like the place for at least two reasons. First, the name. Clearly, chop’t is not a word, and never will be. It doesn’t even look like a word in any language. And how should it be pronounced? I actually don’t know: to rhyme with klopt (also not a word), to sound like “chop it”, or to be “chop-T (like Ice-T)? Equally importantly, they have painted the walls (all visible from the street) the sickest shade of green that they could find. I want them to move on to a side street far removed from my daily path.

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How Do You Decide What to Wear? (1 cent)

I feel a great sense of accomplishment, as yesterday I wore the same clothes to (a) go to synagogue, (b) visit with friends at the home of their mother, (c) have lunch at an Italian restaurant, (d) read a book, and (e) go to a Mardi Gras (I know the date is off) party at the Eastport Democratic Club in Annapolis, where Little Red and the Renegades were playing.  It can be done.

More details?  This is a scholar in residence weekend at Adas Israel, and we went to hear Professor Rachel Elior of Hebrew University speak (Edie went back to hear her this morning, but I needed my morning coffee).  She was very interesting, speaking about the Levites (the tribe of Jacob dedicated to taking care of the Temple and ritual objects), stressing that Aaron the High Priest (brother of Moses) was not the first in his line, but that his lineage could be traced back to his great grandfather, and then forward to the destruction of the Temple.  She talked about how the then current high priest would determine which of his sons would inherit the position, with the remainder of the sons joining the remaining Levites in their job of taking care of ritual objects and ensuring that ritual was followed.  They were not permitted to work, they had no land in a society which was agricultural, and they were expected to study and teach (everyone, at least all the males, was literate) and to be supported by the community.

Our friends Harriet and Vance are in from Michigan to help their mother, our friend Charlotte, who has been battling severe pain from her arthritic condition, begin to prepare her townhouse in Burke for sale.  Difficult all around.  But we spent the afternoon with them, including a mediocre at best lunch at an Italian restaurant in Burke where we have been several times before with Charlotte and at least once with Harriet.  Is it called Bella Vista?  Perhaps.  It has a view of the local Walmart.

Then, after a return to the District and a brief rest, we regenerated, picked up our friend Ellen, and drove to Annapolis where the Eastport Democratic Club (of the Maritime Republic of Eastport) was having their annual Mardi Gras festival with Little Red and the Renegades (“They call me Little Red, but my real name is Tom”) were playing, this time with support from members of another local band, The Grandads.  Everyone was, as they say, in fine fiddle.

The only problem:  We got home well after midnight (and at 2 o’clock a.m., we were under instructions to spring forward an hour, which we did).

Good Food, Bad Food

We had two nights worth of carry-out from Shanghai Garden.  Good food.

I had lunch today at Lalibela, the Ethiopian restaurant at 14th and P.  I had always had and enjoyed their vegetarian dishes.  Today, I tried a chicken dish (with cabbage and a hard boiled egg).  Bad food.

Quick Takes: Other Doings

1. The movie: “Mephisto”, directed by Istvan Szabo, at the National Gallery Saturday afternoon. Was it as good as “Taking Sides”, which we saw two weeks ago? Maybe it was; it was very, very good. Won the 1982 Oscar for best foreign film. Starring Klaus Maria Brandauer as Hendrik Hoefgen, Hamburg actor in the 1920s, whose goal is to make it big in Berlin. A member of a left wing political theater in Hamburg, he becomes, when the Nazis take over Germany, the favorite of the Nazis and the head of the Prussian State Theater. A movie about what it means to be an actor and to have theater as your life, and the important relationship between theater and politics, how your politics can director your theatrical enterprises, and how your theatrical enterprises can themselves be redirected by the politics of others. Brandauer did a fantastic job playing a role that was composed of many roles. You saw him on stage, and you saw him playing Hoefgen, a meek individual who, in his private life as well, was always playing one role or another. Based on a novel written by Klaus Mann, Thomas Mann’s son (who committed suicide in the south of France), based on the true story of his brother in law.

2. The book. I finished The Orientalist by Tom Reiss, and recommend it extremely highly. The story of Lev Nussimbaum, also known as Essad Bey, also as Kuban Said. Jew, Moslem, author. A man of mystery, writer of best sellers in Europe during the 1920s, when many Jews were looking east to their oriental roots, and others looking to escape their Judaism through adventure, rebranding, and sometimes new faiths. Nussimbaum died of Reynaud’s Syndrome while still in his thirties in exile in Positano, where he was penniless (he was for most of his life wallowing in money, either his parents or his wife’s) and known only as “the Moslem”. Beautifully written and researched. Learn about early life in oil-rich Baku, the escape across the Caucasus when the Bolsheviks took over, Constantinople, Paris and Berlin, when they were home to Russian emigrant communities. Meet the Nabokovs, and Freud and Einstein, and George Viereck, and Werfel and Zweig, and even Joseph Stalin who, as a young man, was a friend of the Nussimbaums in Baku.

3. The game. Toronto beat the Caps 3-2 in a just awful game.

4. The restaurant. Another great meal at Jaleo (no need to repeat was has been said before; this place is very consistent)

5. The exposition. The antique flea market at the Dulles Exposition Center. Just too much stuff. So many exhibitors, packing and unpacking and setting up and packing and unpacking. Big stuff. Furniture, for example. Fragile stuff. Hundreds (no, thousands) of glass and pottery pieces. Want post cards? Probably a million there. Vintage clothes? Old kitchen supplies or hardware? So much. There was one political ephemera dealer who most have had 40,000,000,000 buttons (more or less). Where do they get it all? How much of it do they really think they can sell?

All in a Day

1. The Book. I finished Paolo Maurensig’s short novel, The Luneburg Variation, and found it a worthwhile read. It takes place in Vienna, probably in the 1970s. Businessman Dieter Frisch is found dead, shot at close range in the temple. It appears to be a suicide, but Dieter Frisch gave no hint of being on the verge.

Flash back: Dieter Frisch, the young German master chess player, and Tabori, the young Austrian/Jewish master chess player. The early 1930s. The Nazis. 1938, Germany invades Austria. Kristallnacht. The rivals, Aryan and Jew, play to a draw in an important match.

Flash forward: German concentration/work camp. Frisch, the German officer. Tabori, the Jewish prisoner. The prisoner is saved because the officer wants to play chess. But it is a bargain with the devil.

The war ends. Time passes. Tabori returns to Vienna, an emotional wreck, hanging around chess halls, not playing. Frisch doesn’t play either, but becomes a successful banker. Both remain obsessed with the game.

Tabori has a young disciple. On his deathbed, he tells the disciple to find Frisch, and tell him what has happened since the war. He does. Frisch dies.

It’s a short book, compelling. Probably even more so if you understand the many specific references to specific chess games and plays.

2. The Play. “No Child”, a one-woman, one-act play that closes today at the Woolly Mammoth. Extraordinary performance the actor/writer Nilaja Sun, based on her experience as a part time drama instructor at an impoverished high school in the Bronx. She plays herself, the principal, the teacher, the janitor and the entire class. She is spectacular.

The play itself is a tragedy disguised as a comedy. How could the state of American education and culture fallen so low?

3. The Exhibit. Today was also the last day of the Marcel Breuer exhibit at the National Building Museum. Breuer was Hungarian Jewish Bauhaus architect and furniture designer. He started as a furniture designer, setting the mark for German modern furniture (of wood, leather, steel and aluminum) in the 1920s. In the 1930s he turned to architecture. His American projects include high rise buildings in Boston and Baltimore, the HUD and HHS buildings in DC, churches, synagogues, private houses and more. His specialty was the use of concrete as a building material, and designs which incorporated various geometric forms placed together often in unexpected ways. He has always been a favorite.

4. The Lunch. Camille’s, across from the MCI Center on F Street. A casual place for lunch. You order at the counter, they call your number, you pick up the food and carry it to your table. It is not expensive. It is slow. It is not very good.

5. The Dinner. Nela, a Mediterranean (read Lebanese) restaurant on N Street in Georgetown. It is pricey. I found it quite comfortable. It is fairly large. They have a fish special daily. Usually whatever white fish they can find, cooked whole, filleted for you, and served in a garlic broth with fresh vegetables. Today’s fish was bronzini. It was spectacular, and compares to the sea bream at Beni Dagim in Jerusalem.

Food

Ok, here goes.

Pumpernickels’ poppy seed bagels with Hero organic raspberry jelly. That’s the best.

Cosi’s signature salad but without the cheese (tastes like it is missing something), but with their warm Etruscan whole grain bread. That’s pretty good, too.

Tuna steak sandwich at Cafe DeLuxe in Bethesda, with French fries! That’s good.

Special Chinese New Year’s dinner at Shanghai Garden featuring duck rolls, chicken/rice patties, and a red bean tart. Good as well.

Greek salad with feta cheese and chicken from Capitol Grounds. Not bad.

And a few vodkas.

Those are the past two days.

Two Restaurants, Two Books, a Play and Congratulations (3 cents)

Restaurant #1. Bistrot Lepic (upstairs in the wine bar). A very nice dinner on our anniversary. Heidsieck champagne was the highlight of Edie’s, and an extraordinary dish of scallops served on a bed of broccoli mousse with shaved ginger the highlight of mine.

Restaurant #2. Merkado. This time, it was three of us. Tilapia, chicken enchiladas and a seared tuna “salad espana”. Not elegant, but quite good. Waiter in training. Thought that serving a salad for two was appropriate, but that it would cost extra to divide it on two plates (as opposed to giving that task to the diners). Disappeared, and came back apologetic.

Book #1. Another one that has not been read in the last 50 years, There is No Truce by Rudolph W. Chamberlain. An unknown book by an unknown writer, and the biography of an unknown man, Thomas Mott Osborne. Published in 1935, Osborne was a progressive reformer politician, from a rather patrician family in Auburn, New York, who served as mayor of Auburn for several terms, had a number of chances to rise in the New York Democratic Party (thwarted by an uncontrollable urge to keep fighting Tammany Hall), member of the New York Public Service Commission regulating state utilities, proponent of summer camps in lieu of military reform schools for tough children, and eventual proponent of and practitioner of prison reform as warden of a penitentiary in Auburn and then Sing Sing. Correct thinking, if sometimes too uncompromising, he had his softer sides as well. Active in theatrical affairs from his school days, including his years at Harvard, he continued his theatricality, but in an atypical manner. He would disguise himself in various manner of strange (at least to him) dress, and go out on the town playing his roles to an unsuspecting public. Sometimes in the company of other masqueraders. Late to marry, he had several children in great rapidity, but his wife died very young, and he did not rewed. Probably gay, he certainly led a life style indicative of strange sexual interests (one of his masquerade buddies being a much younger sculptor who lived in his house, for example), but back in 1935 (he lived from 1858-1926), no one would dare suggest it.

Would I suggest you read this book? I wouldn’t go out of my way looking for it, I guess, but if given to you on a slow boat to China, you would not be wasting your time. An interesting guy who did interesting things. An insight into New York politics and society of 75 years ago. Well written, containing some memorable lines, none of which I remember.

Book #2. This one I recommend very highly. Equally unknown, I am sure, it is the memoir of Katherine Harris von Hogendorp, titled Survival in the Land of Dysentery. Harris (that is who she was then; it was pre-von Hogendorp days) was an extremely talented young woman from Baltimore, a pianist and singer who attended the Curtis Institute and had a promising career before her, when (during World War II) she, like so many others, put everything on hold, and became an American Red Cross Girl, stationed for almost two years at a secret American/British air base in the Indian jungle, where her job (and that of the two others with her) was to entertain the troops, serve them coffee, and make them as comfortable as possible. In the 1990s, living in Baltimore, she decided to take a course in creative writing. She discovered that people were interested in hearing about, and reading about, her two years, 1941-1943, helping the troops keep India out of the war, and regain lost territory in China. The book is only 150 pages long. It is a fascinating book. It shows how (fairly) ordinary people lived in an extraordinary time, how they coped under very difficulty conditions, and what they accomplished. And the concept of sacrifice (and I am not sure that they even thought about it in that manner) is so different from what you find today, when we are in another war, and so different from what it was like during Vietnam. For any number of reasons, this book should be read. I kid you not.

5. The play. We saw David Mamet’s “Speed the Plow” last night at Theater J. I am not a Mamet expert, and had only glanced at the mixed reviews. Here is what I think.

This is a short, 3 act play (about 90 minutes in all). The story involves a movie studio in Hollywood. Character 1 has been promoted to head of production. Character 2 has optioned a well known actor and script, but only for a very short time. Thus he needs Character 1’s approval very quickly (and Character 1’s approval then needs to be ratified at one higher level) . Character 3 is a temporary secretary, only working in the office for a few days.

The basic premise is that the script being brought by Character 2 has no socially redeeming qualities but would most likely make a handsome profit, and that Character 3 (who reads a silly book about redemption and the end of the world as we know it, and radiation as the stepping stone to further evolution, all as arranged by God) seduces Character 1 and convinces him that he should make a movie from that book, even though it might not make money, because it is socially redeeming.

What did I think? I thought that the dialog in the first act (fast paced, stylistic) was very clever. I thought that Character 3’s excitement about this downright nutty book was appealing and amusing (in a good way). I thought that the third act was an abomination. This climatic scene, where Character 1 has to make a choice between money or principles (hard to make this choice when the principles are so vacuous), and between old friend and sycophant, on the one hand, and presumably insincere young woman on the other, I thought pretty well destroyed the play which, until then, had some promise.

As to the production itself? I thought the play was well directed, and the set looked and worked well. I thought that each of the three actors almost had it, but that almost having it is not the same as really mastering the part. I thought this was too bad, because they did come close. That is, until the third act. At that point, as I don’t think anyone could master the third act, I really didn’t care any more.

6. Congratulations. Congrats go to cousin Randy for the release of Randy and the Radiant’s first CD. See http://www.bornagainhippies.blogspot.com.

Good salads, bad fish, no coffee and loud music (2 cents)

I was concerned that we were going to be the oldest at the Teapacks concert last night by far.  We may have been the oldest, but clearly not by far.  In fact, the audience although not extremely large, ranged from toddlers to us.  I would guess that the median age was probably mid to late 30s.  Our table neighbor suggested that the Teapacks were very popular in Israel 10 – 15 years ago, and that a lot of the audience were their fans then.

I don’t understand why the music needs to be so loud.  When playing the same music on a CD, no one would reach this decibel level.  The problem is that it drowns out much of the subtlety of the music, and certainly makes the words (irrespective of language) hard to understand.  In fact, Kobi Oz, the Teapacks lead, announced that one song would be in Gibberish, “so it doesn’t make any difference if you don’t know the language”.  It might of been Gibberish, but it could just as easily been the English or the Hebrew.

The words, which Oz writes, are very clever (of course, I take that on faith, since there is so much I couldn’t follow).  And much but not all of it expresses strong social positions.  In addition to “He’s Gonna Push the Button” (see the Youtube clip below several posts), there is a song trying to determine what is more important, peace or food.  The song is “Salaam, Salami”.  There is another song about the capitalists taking over the world, with a great line that reads something like “Go ahead and sue us, our lawyers work like snails”.  And there is a pounding song that attacks the audience directly:  “You’re so dumb, you’re stupid, stupid, stupid, and all we do is make money off of you.”  The audience loves it.

There was quite a bit of dancing.  Or maybe not.  Because the dancing seems to be bouncing.  You stand in front of the band, you do whatever you want with your hands (you can just let them hang, you can wave them back and forth, you can do anything) and you bounce like you are on a pogo stick.  You can do it with a partner, with your friends, by yourself.  You don’t even need to know if you are dancing with anyone.  Perhaps this is the way it is at all rock concerts now?

The members of the six man band (guitars of various types, drums and a keyboard/accordianist) look like you would expect them to, more or less.  Tall, thin, motley dressed, never been to a hair salon.  But Kobi Oz, who is the lead, and who sings ALL of the songs (it was a 90 minute set) is a small bundle of energy.  Small = maybe 5’2″  Bundle = compact, non- angular  Energy = rapid, kinetic, frantic, uncontrolled, awkward, graceful movement, without even a hint of slowing down.

The venue (State Theatre in Falls Church, right on Route 29) is quite nice.  I was told that they often have up to 700 people for a concert and, for the reggae and a few other concerts, they remove the tables and can fit in 1000.  (I assume that none of them is the fire marshal.)  They have a rather complete menu and friendly servers (“No, no, you’re not the oldest person we’ve ever had here, are you kidding?”), and the ceasar salad and the guacamole were first class, but watch out for the frozen, one-size-fits all salmon, which was dry and tough and not possible to really eat.  And their coffee brewer was broken, or so they said.

I’d go back to the State Theater, but would be a fish out of water at most events, so probably won’t.  But some upcoming programs seem interesting.  Anyone want to go with me to see Girl in a Coma?

Rock Creek at Mazza

Bob, Nona, Edie and I had dinner at Rock Creek at Mazza, a relatively new up-scale restaurant at Mazza Gallerie, on the third floor with the AMC movie theaters, so that you walk out to the smell of popcorn. For a fancy place, the restaurant is fairly uncomfortable, and the staff a bit stuffy. I must admit that the venison (served medium with just the right amount of Swiss chard, mushrooms and turnips) was delicious. The first course “market salad” was nothing out of the ordinary. For a drink, a salad, a main course and a cup of coffee (all but the coffee for two), the bill was $100. Again, the venison was delicious. But when set next to the price, and the general lack of comfort, this is not a restaurant to go back to.