It’s Greek to Me (21 cents)

I am walking down H Street in Chinatown, DC.  There is a young couple (or at least a couple of young people) walking parallel to me, each pulling a suitcase on rollers.  They are talking to each other in a totally unintelligible language.

I try to figure out what it could be.  They are white; look like they could be from Nebraska.  That allows me to potentially eliminate a large number of possibilities.  They have light brown hair, and don’t look very Mediterranean; they clearly don’t look Middle Eastern.

The language doesn’t sound like a Romance language.  I know it is not a Slavic language.  Or a Scandinavian language.  Is it Estonian, I wonder?  Or Lithuanian?  It’s not Hungarian.

So, I ask.

“Portuguese”, they say.  Portuguese?  There was nothing in it that sounded Romance (I already said that, I know).  How could it be Portuguese.

It turns out that they are also fluent in English, without a trace of an accent.  They look at my reaction when they told me that they were speaking Portuguese.  The young man responded to my surprise:

“It’s a very difficult language, he said.  Don’t even think about trying to learn it.”

Should I have been insulted that he thought that Portuguese was beyond my ability to learn?  Or should I have felt good that he thought I was in the market to learn new languages?

Do I know any Portuguese at all?  I know Janeiro = January.  And Rio must mean ‘river’.  Somehow I remember that good = bom.

It’s a start.

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The Savages and the Numbers

“The Savages” is a terrific movie. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are extraordinarily believable as the daughter and son of an estranged father with dementia. This is a realistic movie, with sadness, humor and a good dose of sibling rivalry. Their father has been living with his girl friend of 20 years in Sun City, AZ. Linney lives in NYC and Hoffman in Bufallo. She is a playwright who can’t get published, and he a college history of theater professor specializing in Berthold Brecht. When their step mom dies, Hoffman and Linney move their father to a run of the mill nursing home in Buffalo, and try both to get along with their lives but not abandon their father. Linney and Hoffman (named, Peter Pan like, John and Wendy) have their own relationship problems. Hoffman is afraid to marry his Polish girl friend, who returns to Krakow when her visa expires, and Linney has a long term relationship with a married director. The feeling is that their problems are caused by the miserable parenting which they received from their father and their (living, but nowhere to be seen) mother.

We recently saw “Away from Her”, also about dementia, focusing on the spouse; “The Savages” focuses on the children. But the situations are, in most respects, quite similar. And both movies quite good.

The numbers:

The Savages – 8 in the audience

The Atget and Lange movies – 17

Rabbi Sam – 75

Josh Lefkowitz – 100

Outdoor NHL game in Buffalo – 70,000

Two Beautiful Days in a Row (3 cents)

For the second January day in a row, the temperature hovered around 70 F. I took advantage of the good weather to go to the dentist.

I also went to the National Gallery, to see two short movies about famous photographers, Eugene Atget and Dorothea Lange. I am used to seeing the large theater at the gallery with hundreds of people in it for the free weekend movies. On a Tuesday at noon, I was one of 17 viewers.

Eugene Atget (1856-1927) was of course a very well known early French photographer, whose pictures chronicled Paris over a period of decades. The film, only ten minutes long, simply provided a montage of some of his best known work, with soothing background music by Erik Satie.atget_organ_grinder.jpg

Dorothea Lange died, at age 70, in 1965. The thirty minute movie showed her, during her last year, preparing a large retrospective exhibit to be shown in New York. She was very alert, recognized that she was fatally ill (she had been ill with one thing and another for twenty years) and looked much older than 70. The film was prepared by National Educational Television and presumably shown around the country at that time. I can’t say that I thought the film particularly professional, but the chance to see so many of Lange’s photographs of depression-era America, of rural Ireland, and of the middle east made everything worthwhile.lange.jpg

I also had a chance to revisit the Hopper exhibit, which closes on the 21st. This time, I was able to join a docent tour, being led by a very well spoken art historian. This too was worthwhile. The thing about the Hoppers is that I believe you could pick almost any one of them, and stare at it forever. His portrayals of people in their isolation (whether in a bedroom, an automat, an office or a bar), of architecture (whether Victorian houses, lighthouses, or New York tenements). His use of light, his concentration on geometric forms, his vivid colors, his ability to meld detail with simplicity–all very unique and distinctive, whether he is working in oils, or in water colors.

I wish the Hoppers could stay at the gallery. Why don’t paintings become free agents, like baseball players?

The Three Day a Week Man

So what did I do on the first Monday when I didn’t have to go to work?  First, because the weather was warm, I walked the mile to Pumpernickel’s, bought a bag of bagels and a cup of coffee, and actually sat outside eating a bagel, drinking the coffee and reading the paper.  Then, I walked the  mile back to the house, put the bagels in the kitchen, put my laundry in two Safeway bags, and walked the half mile to Zips, paid $15.10 to get my shirts and slacks washed and cleaned, and walked the half mile back to the house.  Then, I got dressed and spent the morning working on the book business.  Because I am having trouble accessing the on-line banking for the new book business account, I left home around noon, walked another half mile to the Metro, rode to Dupont Circle, left the train, had a quick lunch and went to the bank, only to discover that no one can quite figure out why the bank’s system is not letting me in (they and I are both try to solve the problem).  From there, I walked to Metro Center, I thought to get a senior citizen Smartcard, but I learned that first I have to get a senior citizen ID card.  I applied for the card, and will await it in the mail.  Then, back on the Metro to Van Ness, and another 1/2 mile walk to the house.  It was now about 3, and for the next 90 minutes or so, I pretended that I was still a lawyer and tried to keep a couple of clients happy.  We then went to dinner at Hank’s Oyster Bar (I’d give it a B/B+, pretty good) and then went to see a play-in-development at the Theater J Incubator Series, “Rabbi Sam”, a one-man, ten character, full length play which, when it is fully developed, will be quite something.

Rabbi Sam is a visionary, trying to shake Judaism out of its old ways, and create a new American Judaism, which will blend country and religion.  He has been recently hired by a California congregation (obviously by a very close vote) and runs into trouble from the older board members, for whom his brand of preaching is a threat, and who wants to fire him.   Is the audience naturally on Rabbi Sam’s side?  No, he is a very ambiguous character.  You want to be for him, but you don’t quite understand him, and therefore don’t quite trust him.  The creator of Rabbi Sam, Charlie Varon, plays all the roles with great aplomb.  Afterwards, there was a very interesting audience talk back, which brought up the many strengths (and weaknesses) of the play, in a most sophisticated manner.

Baltimore, Nairobi and Prospect Park

Perhaps it’s writer’s block. Most of today was spent working on the new book business. Go to the arichard blog and you will get a flavor of what is going on there.

We did drive to Baltimore to see Hannah’s friend Josh’s one man play, which was entertaining, but probably much more for an audience of 20-somethings that for me. It’s an autobiographical piece about his five year relationship with Anneka (at least that’s what the name sounded like to me) in Brooklyn. Reminded me of Annatepka, the shtetl locale for Fiddler on the Roof (at least that’s what the name sounds like to me). They were having some relationship problems while moving ahead with their acting and writing/acting careers, and all I could think of was: Why didn’t they ever call their parents? That’s what my kids seem to do when they have problems.

At any rate, I thought that maybe I should write an autobiographical piece about retirement, make it a terrifically funny show, filled with clever alusions and off-beat thoughts, and see how it plays to 20-somethings.

My guess is that, while Josh could fill the 100+ seat performance space in downtown Baltimore on a Sunday evening, I would have more trouble.

We did stumble upon a wonderful Indian restaurant in the 800 block of N. Charles Street, called (weirdly) Indigma. An open samosa with spinach, potatoes and mild spices, cauliflower soup (she), spinach salad with hard rice (me), grilled vegetables and rice (she), tilapia in a spicy red sauce (me) and a little halva (we halved the halva) for dessert.

Our waiter, Keith Minah (spelling?), a Kikuyu recently arrived from Kenya to study chemistry at Morgan State, was a very nice young man, a bit worried about his family (father an electrical engineer, mother a tour guide company owner in a country without tourists), and told us quite a bit about his tribal customs (e.g., if your parents are from different tribes, you are of your father’s tribe, but if your parents divorce, you live with your mother and have no further contact with your father’s family; if you are the oldest son, your name (Minah) is that of your paternal grandfather, while the second son takes the name of the maternal grandfather; you are circumcised at about 15; etc)

The restaurant is just about 3 blocks from Center Stage, on Calvert Street, a multi-stage facility that seemed quite comfortable.

What Have I Been Up To?

No books, no theater, no movies, no restaurants.

Working on the new book business, giving a d’var torah at synagogue this morning.

Dinner at synagogue last night, lunch at synagogue today, dessert party with synagogue members tonight (new rabbi candidate being interviewed)

Watched the Caps beat Montreal in overtime 5-4.  Watched the Redskins lose to Seattle in an odd game that could have gone either way and ends the Redskins season.

Dinner at home tonight.   Veggie burgers and salad.

Low key all around

The Bethesda Caucus

Nineteen of us get together this morning at 8:30.  We are all older males, retired or partially retired, educated, (mostly) professionals, Jewish.  We do not all know each other well.

We sit around a large circular group of tables.  Ballots are passed around showing the names of all of the declared Democratic and Republic candidates, plus Michael Bloomberg. We vote for one, and turn the ballot in.

We go around the table and each has several minutes to talk about whom they are supporting.   Some people are quite eloquent; others, not so.  Some people can’t stop talking; others come right to the point.  Some people express concern about ALL of the candidates, settling on the lesser of evils.  Some express satisfaction with a large number of candidates, concluding that to choose one is difficult.  Very few are so closely wedded to their candidate that they say that their mind is unchangeable.

Everyone agrees that both Clinton and Obama are very intelligent.  A large number of people respect McCain.  Everyone is afraid of Romney and more afraid of Huckabee.  Fred Thompson is not mentioned; neither is Chris Dodd. On the other hand, Al Gore was mentioned.  He was mentioned at least twice: first, I wish he would run, and second, everyone who knows him says that he would have made the worst president imaginable.

After introductions, explanations and the first vote, the caucus only lasts about an hour.  That is not long enough to do justice to the process.  But at 9:50 a.m., we cast the second ballot.  While we cannot tell how many individuals changed their vote (for example, if A changed from Clinton to Obama, and B from Obama to Clinton, it would not show up as a change), but there were about six votes different from those at the first ballot.

The diversity was surprising.   The leader was Clinton – 6 votes.  John Edwards came in second – 4 votes.  John McCain and Barack Obama tied for third with 3 each.  That leaves one for Guiliani, one for Bloomberg and one for Richardson.

It was fascinating.

Congratulations to Kenya (ten cents)

My congratulations to Kenya which, as a result of riots and murders following the most likely highly flawed election last week, has succeeded in supplanting Iraq, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan from the front pages of the world’s newspapers.

This is no mean feat!

My best to Kenya for a continued healthy, prosperous, happy New Year.

Happy New Year, Readers

We had a nice, quiet New Years Eve.  I was in charge of the food, and I must say that the fish stew I made (with turbot and cod) was A++.

We watched two movies that we had missed during their theater runs – “Sicko” (with all of the extra short features on the DVD) and “Away from Her”, with Julie Christie, Olympia Dukakis and Gordon Pinsent.  “Sicko” is an excellent documentary, although clearly it is picking very selected examples to make very specific points (which it then generalizes), “Away from Her” a very touching movie about the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease on a long married couple.  “Away from Her”‘s three leading actors all put in extraordinary performances, perhaps most of all Pinsent, whom I don’t remember ever hearing of before.  (My fault, I am sure, not his)