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27 November 2015 @ 05:09 am
I spent 3 nights in Montevideo.

First day, I did a free walking tour in the Old City.

Second day I went to Andes 1972 Museum, which is about the famous plane crash and the 13 men who survived it. Then I walked around the new city. I bought yarn at the Manos factory outlet, but did not find anywhere to buy Malabrigo,

Yesterday I went to Colonia. I explored the historic area for a couple of hours before taking the ferry across to Argentina.
23 November 2015 @ 01:01 pm
Vacation stop #1 was Panama City.

I did the most obligatory sightseeing, I.e. Miraflores Locks (but no ships when I was there) and Casco Viejo (World Heritage site).

I could have used one more day to go to archaeological site of Panama Viejo and to the new Biomuseum. Seeing as it's convenient to connect at PTY when flying from North to South America, I am likely to end up here again.
19 November 2015 @ 03:19 pm
I went up to New York the weekend before last, almost entirely for theatre going, though I did also walk around to several of my usual midtown touchstones (and spent some time in the genealogical research rooms at the library, after petting Patience and Fortitude). Since I’ve gone to the theatre a couple of times down here since then, I figured that it made sense to focus on that, especially as I have some broader thoughts on musicals as a result of what I’ve seen recently.

Brief Travel Notes: The train up got delayed by a switch problem near Baltimore, followed by having to wait for other trains once we got off schedule. The train down was delayed by a medical emergency. Amtrak appears to be competing with the Metro to annoy me.

I cashed in a bunch of Marriott miles to stay at the Algonquin. This was a definite splurge, but well worth it. My room had a quote from Dorothy Parker on the door, which was a nice touch. The bed was comfortable and the room was quiet. The toiletries were Beekman 1802 – very luxurious. The included continental breakfast was excellent, offering a choice of a standard option (croissant, date nut bread, and English muffin, plus a small cup of fruit), a bagel with cream cheese or lox, or oatmeal. I’d still say my favorite New York place to stay is The Library Hotel, but I can’t get that with points, nor am I normally willing to pay for it.

Rothschild & Sons: This was the show I actually went up to New York for, having backed it on kickstarter. I know the original only from its cast recording, so I can’t speak to all of the changes for this version. The most obvious one is making it one act. That included increasing the role of Gutele – along with completely removing Nathan’s romance with Hannah. The song I know was added ("He Never Listens," with music as well as lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) was very effective on illuminating the relationship between Mayer and Nathan. A song for Gutele ("Just a Map") was restored from an early draft of the show and emphasized her fears for her sons. "In My Own Lifetime" remains the stand-out song of the show and is simply one of the most powerful musical theatre statements of all time, with particular relevance in these times (alas). The performances were uniformly excellent, with Robert Cuccioli as Mayer and Christopher M. Williams as Nathan particularly notable. My one complaint is that it was hard to follow how much time had elapsed between events. My understanding is that the original version had some sort of indicator (signs maybe) that told what year it was.

Something Rotten: When I was looking for something to see that evening, I had several options. A few friends had seen this show and said it was very funny, so it’s the one I chose. Well, it is funny, but it’s not very sophisticated humor. The show I’d compare it to is Spamalot. The premise is that brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are trying to compete with Shakespeare in the world of London’s Renaissance theatre scene. A seer explains musicals (with amusing references to a lot of well-known ones), but then has a near miss on what Shakespeare’s greatest hit will be. So they end up working on a musical called Omelette. The main thread isn’t bad, but I was annoyed by a few of the side plots. For example, Nick’s wife is an early feminist (and gets a reasonably good song, "Right Hand Man") but gets nothing but mockery for her views. Even worse is the treatment of Shylock, which relies entirely on Yiddish stereotypes. Overall, the show was diverting enough, but the annoyances suggest that there are better ways to spend your entertainment dollar.

Cake Off: This was the second new musical playing at Signature Theatre and was one I was excited about because Adam Gwon wrote the score. I should also note that it was part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, with a book by Sheri Wilner and Julia Jordan (based on a play by Wilner). Jordan also co-wrote the lyrics (with Gwon). The show involves the Millberry Sugar Cake Off of 1996, with men competing for the first time and the prize money raised to a million dollars. Rita Gaw and Paul Hubbard are competing face to face, with announcer Jack DeVault providing sexist commentary along the way. I’m pleased to say the show was a hoot. The songs advanced the plot and revealed character – exactly what songs within a musical should do. The humor was tempered with some poignant moments, e.g. the song "Less Like Me," in which Paul muses on what he wants for his son. The performances were outstanding. I always have high expectations for Sherri L. Edelen and she exceeded them in her performance as Rita, whose dreams of a science career were turned to the chemistry of cooking. Todd Buonopane was a sweet and somewhat lost Paul. But the performer who completely blew me away was Jamie Smithson, who played not only Jack, but two (female) minor characters. "You Can’t Have This (Round Three)" was one of the comic highlights of my theatre-going this year. This sort of show is exactly why I subscribe to Signature.

Kiss Me Kate: Finally, I saw this familiar Cole Porter musical at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I’ve seen it before and I find it more and more problematic every time. There is some great music, but little of it has much to do with what’s going on. ("So in Love" is a notable exception.) The songs for the play within a play are better in that respect, but they are not, in general, the strongest pieces of the show. The most famous songs ("Too Darn Hot" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare") are pretty much filler. And, of course, there is the whole sexism of the plot. There were fine performances all around – with particularly excellent dancing from Robyn Hurder as Lois Lane and Clyde Alves as Bill Calhoun, but I can’t get past the dated premise. My dislike of farce probably doesn’t help.

What I Want: The ideal show has: 1) a witty and non-sexist book, 2) a plot that makes some sort of sense, 3) songs that advance the plot and/or tell us something about the character. I wouldn't mind a few great dance numbers thrown in, but short of West Side Story there are few shows that can do that without having the gimmick of a character who is already a performer. I can be entertained with a lot less, but I am dreaming.
10 November 2015 @ 02:56 pm
I’ll write up my weekend trip to New York separately, but here is the rest of the catch-up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Al Molinaro was a character actor who, among other things, played Murray the Cop on The Odd Couple. Fred Thompson was an actor and senator. Helmut Schmidt was the Chancellor of West Germany in the late 1970’s. Allen Toussaint was a major New Orleans musician.

New Job: For anyone who hasn’t heard yet, I am going to be moving to a new job (within the same company) in a few weeks. I will be working on early development activities for the next generation Navy communications satellites. It should be a good challenge.

I should note that this wasn’t a matter of any particular dissatisfaction with what I’ve been doing. While I hate the building I work in, the people are fine and the work is fine. It’s just that I’ve been here over four years, so was ready when an appealing opportunity came up.

Girlstar:This new musical at Signature Theatre had a talented and energetic cast and an interesting concept. There’s a fairy tale sort of opening which gives the back story of a pair of twins (boy and girl). The girl is immensely talented, but a jealous older sister uses a magic liquid she’s found to steal that talent and store it in the belly of her pet snake. And, of course, without talent, one dies. But not before having a daughter, who is then raised by the brother and protected from music by him. Now that daughter is all grown up and ready to seek her aunt, who is the music producer, responsible for the careers of every major star.

What doesn’t get explained is why the aunt can’t use the talent herself, but needs to put it into her girlstar. There are two other stars who mysteriously die to give the girl her voice and her dancing moves, making her ready for a big concert. Everything goes bizarrely wrong, but maybe there is a happyish ending after all.

The problem is that the story doesn’t quite follow the way fairy tales are supposed to work. Overall, a lot of stuff happens out of sheer convenience, instead of making even a limited amount of sense. That’s a pity because there’s some enjoyable music. It’s really a waste of a particularly talented cast, with Donna Migliaccio giving an excellent performance as the evil aunt and Desi Oakley as the sweet niece not sure of what is happening to her.

Halloween: We had a house concert / swap for Halloween. It was a lot of fun. I told "Ida Black," which went over okay though I don’t think I told it especially well.

Knitting Group: I am officially a quarter of the way through this afghan I intended to finish by about March.

Book Club: This session’s book was Euphoria by Lily King, which is a fictionalized story about a thinly disguised Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson. I think having been to Papua New Guinea (and, specifically, the Sepik region – in real life, Bateson worked with the Iatmul people) did help with it. The ending of the novel, however, annoyed me.

Lost Keys: Somehow, my house keys disappeared. My best guess is that they fell out of my bag when I was pulling out my badge for the bus. And, of course, I got home from book club after our complex office was closed. The weather was dreadful, so it took a while for the locksmith to get there. Not the end of the world, but it’s annoying.
06 November 2015 @ 03:20 pm
I hate to write this sort of non-entry, but I am just completely swamped right now.

I'm transitioning to a new job (within the same company) and that entails both a lot to do and a lot of mental energy.

Last week included seeing Girl Star at Signature Theatre, going to a Halloween storytelling event, and knitting group.

This week included book club, a lot of household stuff, election day, and losing keys.

And I am off to NY for the weekend.

Bottom line is that I am busy and stressed.
03 November 2015 @ 10:44 am
I'd been planning to get down to Norfolk and Virginia Beach to do some volksmarch events. My friend, Lynn, was hosting a storytelling house concert in Norfolk the weekend before last, so that provided a perfect excuse.

The downtown Norfolk walk was a mixed bag. There was a long, dullish stretch going up to Doumar's, which is known for having the oldest ice-cream cone machine in Virginia. I can't question that claim, but I will say that their vanilla ice cream is pretty dreadful. (I often order vanilla at these sorts of places, because it is more of a quality test. Looking at yelp after the fact suggests that people seem to like the butter pecan.) The better parts of the walk involved historic houses (and churches) and, of course, the waterfront. The overall highlight was definitely the Armed Forces Memorial, which has reproductions of letters sent by soldiers from various wars (from the American Revolution through Vietnam) shortly before they were killed. It's both moving and tasteful.

As for the house concert, Lynn opened with an entertaining story about a ghost tour in Savannah gone wrong. Then Kim Weitkamp told two sets. The first was about aging and laps and relationships and all that good sort of everything and nothing but warm and cozy. The second set was the more seasonal one, with a really creepy piece about a man who unknowingly married a boo-hag, followed by the story of a cemetery keeper and his fate. All in all, it was an excellent concert and well worth the trip.
In the morning, I drove over the Virginia Beach and, despite somewhat gloomy weather, did the volksmarch there. The section along the boardwalk (really a concrete path) was excellent, especially as I do love walking along the ocean front. But it was a long ways to and from that section and, other than briefly passing the aquarium and watching the harbor seals swimming in their outdoor tank, that was just tedious.

I also got stuck in fairly horrendous traffic on the way back, just crawling along most of the way from Williamsburg to Richmond and then again from Spotsylvania to Occoquan. It took a good hour and a half longer driving home than it had driving down.
29 October 2015 @ 11:04 am
Lots of catching up to do, not all of it in this one entry. But let us get started.

Celebrity Death Watch: Hal Hackady was a lyricist. In addition to Snoopy!!! The Musical, he wrote the lyrics to "Let’s Go, Mets." Of course, that’s the theme song from 1986 on and is not nearly as good as "Meet the Mets," but such are the times we live in.

Joshua Wheeler was the first American soldier to be killed fighting ISIL.

Esther Geller was an artist, who I only know about because my father lived with the family of another woman of the same name in Detroit when he first came to the U.S. and the Bostonian artist came up when I googled for the Detroit one.

Ted Ingram was the world’s oldest paperboy, dying at age 95. I would have thought that attaining such an age made him a paperman. Along similar lines, Edythe Kirchmaier was, at 107, the oldest known facebook user. Apparently, she had brought a few new wrinkles to social media.

Finally, the puzzle world has suffered yet another huge loss with the death of Henry Hook. He was one of the constructors who played a large role in the transformation of crosswords from memorization of obscure words to word play and the clever themes that lead to aha moments.

Out of Mourning: Yahrzeit for my mother was the 15th, so I am officially no longer in mourning. That allowed for the theatre-going binge which is one of the main things I have to write about. It would also allow me to go clothes shopping if I could manage to find some time to do so.

Theatre Binge, Part 1 – Moon Over Buffalo: I have a friend who is from Buffalo, New York. Therefore, she wanted to see a show called Moon Over Buffalo which was being done by St. Mark’s Players, a community theatre group on Capitol Hill. I should have done a little more homework before agreeing to come along. The play was written by Ken Ludwig, whose work is generally not to my taste. In short, I dislike farce and particularly dislike farce with theatrical settings (in this case, a repertory group on tour in Buffalo). And I really really hate humor that depends on a character being drunk. On the plus side, it was well-acted and I will give a particular shout-out to Lauren Devoll as Roz.

Sonoma: Before the farcical evening, we had dinner at Sonoma, a wine bar on Pennsylvania Avenue. They have a good happy hour deal, which would have been an excellent option. Except it is only available in the lounge and that was closed for a private event. So we ordered off the regular menu. I got a funghi pizza which had too much cheese and was too salty. We split an order of crispy Brussels sprouts, which were excellent. That used to be a vegetable I wouldn’t eat, but then a couple of years ago, I was coerced into tasting some and they’re really quite nice as long as they aren’t overcooked. But, overall, based on the pizza, I’d say there are better options for dining on the Hill.

USA Freedom Walk Festival: This festival is an annual Volksmarch / International Marching League event, which offers walks of varying distances (from 6 kilometers to a marathon) for three days in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC. I did the 12K walk on Saturday. The route was an excellent one, through Georgetown, up to the National Cathedral, and winding back on natural surface trails through Glover Archbold Park. I usually think I know the city pretty well, but this took me through parts of it I rarely or never get to, as well as some familiar ones (e.g. Embassy Row). I wish I’d had time to do one of the Sunday walks, but I had too much stuff to do at home.

Theatre Binge, Part 2 - And the World Goes ‘Round: My second theatre binge outing was to see this Kander and Ebb revue at Creative Cauldron, at ArtsSpace in Falls Church. What a lovely little theatre! And it’s only about a 15 minute drive from home. I was expecting this to be amateurish community theatre, but it isn’t. It was directed by Matt Conner, who is well-known (at least locally) as a musical theatre composer and the five cast members have all appeared with various local professional theatres. There were many familiar songs, but also some less so. Notably, I had not heard "Pain," a song about what choreographers do to dancers, before. The staging was also excellent. Overall, this was a delight and I will definitely go to future shows here.

Theatre Binge, Part 3 - Mark Russell at Fords’ Theatre: Next up was seeing PBS comedian Mark Russell perform at Ford’s Theatre. He’s been doing his mix of jokes and music parodies, mostly about politics, for a long time. The current crop of candidates makes for lots of opportunities for this sort of shtick and my only real complaint was that his show was rather disconnected. His best joke of the night was that Steven Spielberg is making a movie about Hillary Clinton. It’s going to be called "Saving Private E-mail."

By the way, as I was entering the metro to go home, I ran into an old friend, who had also been at the show. It was nice to catch up a bit as we waited for our respective trains.

Co Co Sala: Because of its proximity to Ford’s Theatre, we had dinner at Co Co Sala. We should have made appoint of telling the waiter we had theatre tickets, as the pacing was unnecessarily slow. I started with a glass of prosecco. The beet salad was disappointing, as it needed something more acidic. The tuna tartare was better, with a spicy dipping sauce. I ordered the cupcakes for dessert, not realizing this would be three full-size cupcakes. So I ended up bringing two of them home. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but I have had better meals there.

A Brief Note on Washington: I was at a symposium part of last week. Who knew it would be so much more complicated to get into the Commerce Department Building than it is to get into a Senate Office Building?

Theatre Binge, Part 4 - Beautiful: The final stage of this recent theatre binge was seeing Beautiful: the Carole King Musical at the Kennedy Center. I’m not a big fan of jukebox musicals and probably would not have chosen to see this on my own, but there was enough of interest this season for me to do a Kennedy Center theatre subscription. The book is pretty thin – teenage pregnancy leads Carole King to marry songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin. Their marriage goes wrong, but her career works out. There’s a parallel line on the relationship between their friends and rivals, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The main thing is that the show is full of music that is sure to bring a nostalgic smile (and maybe some silent mouthing of words) from pretty much anyone of my generation. Let’s just say that every 50-something woman I know owned a copy of King’s album, Tapestry. There were earlier pop songs, some of them of the "I didn’t know they wrote that" variety. All in all, this was enjoyable fare and I was able to forgive it the lack of depth, e.g. a bare hint at the issue of white songwriters writing for black musicians.

More to Come: I made a trip down to Norfolk and Virginia Beach last weekend, but this is long enough already, so that will wait.
15 October 2015 @ 02:26 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Jack Pressman was a rabbi who, among other things, co-founded American Jewish University, formerly the University of Judaism. This is of some personal significance, since that was where I went to the first storytelling event I ever attended and found out about this whole wonderful community. (I also used to sometimes attend the Library Minyan at Temple Beth Am, which was Pressman’s shul.) Brian Friel wrote plays, notably Dancing at Lughnasa. Paul Prudhomme was a chef, who popularized Cajun food.

Technological Frontiers of Space: This year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series is about space, so I felt semi-obliged to register for it. The first talk was a week ago Tuesday and was by John Logsdon, the former director of GWU’s Space Policy Institute. Unfortunately, he focused almost entirely on human spaceflight. I understand the interest in that, but the emphasis on human spaceflight gives an entirely misleading perspective on where we are, from both the technology and policy perspectives. For one thing, human spaceflight is less than half of NASA’s budget. Using the FY16 budget request, NASA’s overall budget is $18.5 billion and the human spaceflight part is $8.5 billion. It’s not so simple to get at what the National Security Space budget is (both because of classified programs, but also because things are tracked in ways that don’t necessarily break out space), but 30 seconds of google suggests it was about $27 billion in 2011.

Logsdon’s point is that we haven’t had a strong space policy since the Apollo days. But I think NASA has been pretty clear all along about aiming for Mars (again, from the human spaceflight perspective). In the meantime, the growth of unmanned space is huge. GPS is, of course, the killer app for space, but one can’t neglect the impact of communications satellites and weather satellites.

I’m hoping that the future talks in the series will have a broader view. I am not, however, optimistic since most of the speakers are either from NASA or the emerging commercial world.

Trip to Los Angeles: I made a quick trip to Los Angeles to go to lunch with people I worked with 25+ years ago. It also functioned as a semi-mileage run, of course. We were at PF Chang’s in Torrance, so the food was not exciting, but the company was good, including our department head from way back (who has long since retired) and a guy who was a summer intern and later abandoned our world to go to medical school. The latter was the other non-local attendee, as he lives in Minnesota. Anyway, there was lots of good conversation, so it was worth the effort.

I also got together with another friend for dinner. In between, I walked a bit on the Strand, but it was too bloody hot to do much of that. The car thermometer had claimed that it was 102 in Torrance. Sheesh.

The travel was not too annoying, though it was tiring. Also, I watched a particularly bad movie on the way home. (I knew it would be bad, but I can’t resist a vampire musical. And it was included in Amazon Prime.)

Speaking of Amazon Prime: I binge watched Better Off Ted and I really wish it had lasted more than two seasons. The Veridian Dynamics commercials (especially in season 1) are brilliant. And I have been looking for opportunities to use the line "more brains than a zombie Thanksgiving."

Grapevine: Last night was The Grapevine, a storytelling series at Busboys and Poets in Takoma. Last night was Jason Nkwain, a performance poet, and Laura Simms, an internationally known storyteller. Jason’s material was a mixed bag. Some of it wasn’t my sort of thing, but I was very favorably impressed by a piece called "Have You Ever Seen an African Dance?" Laura had an interesting and very entertaining blend of personal material and parts of a Romanian folktale. For what it’s worth, I told "Lyle and the Ghost" at the open mike part of the evening, because it’s the only really short ghost story I know. That is, if you can call it a ghost story instead of just an excuse for a really awful pun.
14 October 2015 @ 04:43 pm
Too busy to write, hence this list of what I need to write about.

  • Too much discussion of space is focused on human spaceflight.

  • The rules I used to follow about what is too short a trip to be worth taking were actually good for me, but sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

  • There are movies so bad they can't even become cult films. Some of those involve music. And vampires.

  • My to-do list includes: a) some travel arranging, b) getting a couple of visas, c) reducing the resemblance between my living room and a used bookstore, d) assorted shameless self-promotion, and e) something else I can't remember at the moment. Oh, also, total world domination, because that is always on the list.

Er, yes, I may be a bit stressed right now.
01 October 2015 @ 02:58 pm
Goals: I have not yet given up on my goals for 2015, but I haven’t done a hell of a lot regarding them, either. I did a little bit more afghan square knitting and a little more Bible reading (like maybe about 4 pages).

I did sort out some genealogical info and, more importantly, partially figure out how I want to file various papers related to that. I have a tree up on geni.com, though I am not really impressed with it as a tool. But a start is a start, right?

I also did 3 Volksmarch events. There would have been more, but the weather has not really cooperated.

It wasn’t quite so explicit a goal, but I’ve also made a dent in the chaos that is my house. Given the crappy weather forecast for the weekend, I am expecting further progress then.

Admirable Restraint: Nobody is allowed to bring electronics (cell phones, tablets, even fitness bands) into our suite at work. So we have this big red box at the front desk for people to put their stuff in. I guess that there was too much stuff for just one box, so this week a second big red box appeared.

I have managed to resist the temptation to go out and buy several small red boxes to scatter around the two big ones.

Strange Theory re: Ear Worms: Songs with titles referencing the names of celebrities are particularly likely to infect me. It is possible that mere lyrics involving celebrities are sufficient. The infectiousness has no correlation with how much I do or don’t like the celebrity. This may also explain why I went around singing "David Duchovny, why don’t you love me?" for much of 1999.
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