Saturday, August 25, 2007

A View from the Corner Office

By late afternoon today, the heat index had reached 106 degrees. By sundown, however, a thunderstorm arrived with little advance notice. Here is a shot taken from the third floor on the northwest corner of 15th & U Streets, NW. The building in the lower right of the shot is Extra Space Storage at 1420 U Street, NW. It has to be at least 100 years old, although they renovated it last year.

Friday, August 24, 2007

U Street Poetry Scene

Today's Washington Post had a great article about the U Street poetry scene.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Weekend To-Do List: Plan Party; Brush Up on Local History

Although I’m not in the market for custom-printed keychains, giant pink stuffed bears or bulk quantities of fake dracula teeth, I stopped at Monarch Novelty at 1331 14th Street, NW, this morning to chat with the store's owner, whom I often pass on the street.

If you decide to venture inside and under the 53-year-old painted wooden sign, you may find that Monarch has a decent selection of standard party decorations, like balloons, streamers and signs, along with party handouts, like hats and noisemakers, at prices lower than you are likely to find anywhere else in the city. I asked what they have for Halloween parties, and was shown a gold-fringed “Happy Halloween” banner and bags of small, inexpensive toys to pass out to trick-or-treaters instead of candy. What a great idea.

While most of Monarch’s business comes from bulk sales to churches, law firms and schools, I’m told that they do a fair amount of walk-in retail business. The most popular selling items are large rolls of double-counting tickets, which churches and PTAs use for raffles. They also do custom printing on those goodies you pick up at conferences, like business card holders, pocket calendars and tote bags. One firm had coffee mugs printed with the citation to a case they had just won.
Monarch carries an interesting stock of buttons from the 1960s, which it acquired from A.A.A. Novelties, after that store was demolished to make way for construction of the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Monarch is not a high-tech operation. They still use a rotary telephone. Orders are taken on a pad of carbon paper.
The business is family-run and has been in operation since 1941, when it was in a house on 1st Street, NW. Monarch later moved to 2020 Rhode Island Avenue, NE, before relocating here. It has been at its current location on 14th Street, NW, for 53 years.

Monarch Novelty Company
1331 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005-3610
hours: Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm; Saturday 9am – 1pm

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Construction Update

The first photograph is of the construction pit that flanks the former Paradise Liquors site at 1900 14th Street, NW (the corner of 14th and T Streets, NW) to the north and west. It looks like the construction firm is in the process of laying a foundation. The other photograph is of the storefront that remains intact at the corner for historic preservation reasons. I liked the urban feel to it, from the dirty glass block, the iron bars, the padlock, and the signs plastered over the glass door, which probably was never washed since it was installed. A writer for the Washington Post observed almost two years ago that the at-the-time impending closure of Paradise Liquors was emblematic of the ongoing transformation of the neighborhood.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Morning Mystery: Did They Bolt?

Regulars at the Jolt ‘n Bolt at 18th and T Streets, NW, had a jolt this morning. A completely new staff was behind the counter. JnB is probably the closest thing we have to an East Village café. The outdoor patio is ideal for reading the Times with a smoothie and a bagel on a sunny day. It’s never crowded in the morning, and they open earlier than most other cafés. They also have real bagels. The new manager assured me that Helen is on vacation and that the new staff is only filling in while she is away.

Jolt N Bolt Coffee and Tea House
1918 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Sale Today at Ruff and Ready Furnishings

At 1908 14th Street, NW. This chair is too fabulous for me, but it looks like a very good deal, for the right person.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sparkys' R.I.P.

Here's the sign in front of Sparkys' mentioned in an earlier post. Despite the sign, they were not open today. What a loss for the neighborhood. They knew how to make really great espresso.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sparkys' -- What's the Deal?

After fueling many a weekend morning and, more recently and without explanation, reducing its hours of operation, Sparkys' Espresso Café on 14th Street near S Street, NW, is slated to close. A sign on the door says that they will reopen on June 28th and 29th for a party. It also says that Sparkys' will move to another location, which they decline to disclose, and focus on vegetarian dishes. Where else can one sit in a wobbly metal chair while nursing a bitter caffe americano?
Night time photo of neon sign at used car dealership, 14th and U Streets, NW.

Sparkys' Espresso Cafe
1720 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Local Green

On June 2, 2007, the U Street farmers’ market opened on the expansive sidewalk in front of the Reeves Center. The market has become quite popular already. It is open Saturdays, from 10:00am until 2:00pm, and will run until November 17, 2007. If you miss it on Saturday, the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market, located at 22nd and P Streets, NW, is open on Sundays from 9:00am and 1:00pm. The Dupont market is larger, but the U Street market has almost the same level of variety. As one commenter remarked “you can find grass-fed goat sausage at one stand at the U Street market; if you go to Dupont, you'll find three stands that sell it.” Shown below is a mix of braising greens, including chard, endive, napa cabbage, and other things, grown at Tree and Leaf farm in Loudon County, Virginia. Buy a pound (they shrink when cooked) and add them to a stir fry or sauté lightly and mix with garlic, onions and fresh egg pasta, which also are available at the market. U Street Farmers' Market
2000 14th Street, NW
at the corner of 14th & U Streets
Washington, DC 20009

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Where to Find Vegetarian Lunches

I was so hungry when I got home this evening. Best DC Supermarket at 1507 U Street, NW, now open until 9:00pm, recently started selling those pret-a-manger vegetarian lunches, like fake Thai chicken and macrobiotic noodles, which I used to pick up at Yes! Organic Market. Some of them are quite good.

Monday, June 11, 2007

It's Fine Upstairs Too

Last weekend also was the opening of Mahogany Restaurant and Lounge at 11th and U Streets, NW. If you approach from the west on U Street, it’s the building on your left with the piano keys running horizontally along the side. The downstairs is home to Bohemian Caverns, an inviting setting for jazz music -- like Blues Alley but without the hassle of Georgetown. Some of my favorite artists play at both.
The upstairs had always looked a bit stuffy. That’s changed, however, and for the better. On Saturday, June 2, Mahogany’s owners were gracious enough to host an early evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, which they advertised in the Washington City Paper. It was a chance to see the new, renovated space and catch up with some of our neighbors. A jazz trio played in the background, and the picture windows in front were opened, sweeping in a light breeze and the sound of U Street, which is musical in its own right. Waiters passed around samples, including an amuse bouche of gazpacho. I became a lapsed vegetarian to try the rest (oh, the lengths we go to), but the simple, meaty crabcakes and hot fried catfish made it worthwhile. It was the perfect finish to a productive Saturday.

Bohemian Caverns / Mahogany Restaurant and Lounge
2001 11th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Saturday, June 2, 2007


Champagne flowed freely and attractive designer-types mingled effortlessly around the corner at the opening of RCKNDY (pronounced “rock candy”) last night. For several months, the neighbors and I had been scratching our heads over what would become of the vacant space in the middle of the block on U Street between 15th and 16th Streets. A couple of weeks ago, when a crisp window covering with the words “RCKNDY" and "coming in June 2007” in a minimalist mid-centuryish motif covered the display windows from floor to ceiling, blocking any view of the inside, the suspense became unbearable. This weekend it ended.

The smart window papering, it turns out, was a glimpse of things to come. The space inside, which is triangular in the back and bathed in natural light despite being on the first floor and surrounded by taller structures, was opened up and made inviting by several sitting areas and accent walls that complement and reinforce the candy pink and umber motif. What’s extra nice is that the renovator/designer took advantage of the original, unusually shaped structure, rather than dividing it into smaller rooms, as is being done to so many of our neighborhood interiors.

RCKNDY sells home and office furnishings attuned to urban spaces. Items I liked most were: a casual couch in a linen-y umber-colored upholstery that would look great in a room with a steelblue accent wall; a bevy of wall clocks on one wall; Phillipe Starcke-ish, duochromatic printed bed linens; candelabra made of two translucently-colored plexiglass plates; fruit bowls woven out of a tropical, textured, multi-hued wood; and a patchwork rug of black and white cow hides. The attention grabber when you first walk in, though, is the extensive display of Alessi household gadgets (pictured above), which are works of art and seem to be accessible only in museum gift shops. Rest assured, you now can save yourself the hassle of waiting in line at the crowded Met store or hauling in your luggage the Anna G. Corkscrew you picked up on Lincoln Road.

1515 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Friday, June 1, 2007

Life is short. Eat only fine chocolate.

Have you spent a summer evening peoplewatching on the patio at Larry's Lounge but not visited Biagio Fine Chocolate? It's worth the walking down those stairs. I miss Sticky Fingers, the vegan bakery that occupied the space before, but Biagio has free samples, and isn't fine chocolate supposed to be vegan? The staff members are a chocolate fountain of knowledge, so much that they can describe the differences among chocolates depending on the country where the beans originated. For connoisseurs, they even sell single-plantation chocolate. If you can try only one piece, I recommend the chocolate made with cayenne pepper.

Biagio Fine Chocolate
1904 18th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bike Repair Shop Opening Soon

With all of the cyclists shooting down 14th Street during morning rush hour, it won't be long before a bike shop opens between Columbia Heights and downtown. I snapped a photo of this soon-to-be former video storefront at 1320 14th Street, NW, on my walk home today.

I haven’t mustered up the courage to bike into work again just yet. I still am recovering from my injuries after a tangle with a Metrobus last October. In a nutshell: I was in the bike lane heading north on 9th 11th Street at G Street, NW; the bus driver tried to get a head start on a right turn; the middle of the bus hit me and knocked me off of my bike; the bus dragged my bike half way up the block before a bystander persuaded the bus driver to stop. My bike has been fixed, and Revolution Cycles (all the way over in Georgetown -- not a convenient location for downtown cyclists) assured me that it’s roadworthy again. You should see my helmet, which got banged up. I'm glad I was wearing it. It probably saved my life.

Update: I incorrectly stated 9th Street, NW. The accident occurred on 11th Street. Thank you JS for alerting me to the error, which I have corrected. To ride northbound against the one-way, southbound traffic on 9th Street, NW, near the old convention center site would be pretty darn foolish.

Washington Area Bicyclist Association
1803 Connecticut Ave, NW, 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: 202.518.0936

If You Are in the Market for Fine Second-Hand Furnishings, Also Try

. . . this place,
L & N Super Thrift Store
1830 14th St NW
Washington,DC 20009

It's a half block south of Ruff and Ready Furnishings. (See May 12, 2007 posting.) Thank you homeimprovementninja.

Just don't try NU2U Furnishings at 1830 14th Street, NW. It closed down. Buh-bye.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More About This Later

Here is the excavation project I referred to in my posting about Ruff 'n Ready Furnishings, at the corner of 14th & T Streets, NW. It is placarded for a D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board license renewal. More about it in a future posting.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

In the Garden District

The unpleasant heat and humidity of a Washington, DC, summer provide the perfect environment for a lush, colorful garden. I’m fortunate to have a postage-stamp plot in front of the house and space on the back patio for potted plants galore. Today the warm weather and forecasted evening thunderstorms made it the perfect day to work on the garden.

For plants, supplies and advice, your best bet is Garden District at 14th and T Streets, NW. And the best part about GD is their advice about gardening and philosophy of gardening. Two years ago, the owner advised me to try an exotic long grass that grows along the roadside all over the Midwest but is fabulous in an oblong pot on an urban patio. Last year, when I asked about flowering plants to add color, GD talked me into several species of leafy, non-blooming annuals that produced a melange of luscious leaves in various shapes and sizes and in shades across the red and green spectra.

GD’s prices probably are on par with other garden stores in DC. A trip to a large home improvement chain superstore in the ‘burbs to save a buck really won't. First of all, GD deals in quality. Secondly, have you ever had to ask for advice at one of those big chain stores? Thirdly, a trip to the 'burbs requires a car. Which is another great thing about GD: They have a fleet of wagons on loan so that you can haul your goodies back home.

In gardening, as with most things in life (unless you are dull-minded and do only dull-minded things), there is no absolutely right or wrong way to go about it. Even postage stamp gardens present innumerable possibilities and limitations. Because it's almost impossible to account for all of the variables that affect a garden, such as weather, soil composition and depth, animals, and sunlight, it's hard to know, from the start, what works best. Rather, you have to be willing to undertake some trial and error, and give it a couple of years.

Garden District
1801 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Ruff But Ready for Whut?

Don't you love this building? It houses Ruff and Ready Furnishings, at 1908 14th Street, NW. They are having a sale; everything in the basement is discounted. I hope that it doesn't have anything to do with the extensive digging project next door (not shown).

Power, Passion, Poetry

El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea de El Salvador, which performed last night at Georgetown University’s Gonda Theatre, is not your cookie cutter modern dance company. The company’s founder and director, Miya Hisaka Silva, has choreographed, danced, directed and taught everywhere except Antarctica.

The company's style skews more classical ballet-oriented than most. My favorite piece was Al Final . . . Tu Ausencia (In the End . . . In Your Absence), a pas de deux, which probably had the most classical elements in last night’s program. The audience favorite, however, was the world premier of Moments of Reflections, performed by the male dancers, set to a piece that the late James Brown narrates rather than sings.

Each and every one of the dancers (only one is Salvadorean) is accomplished in his or her own right and has an individual style. As a group, they lacked the tightness, of say, an Alvin Ailey or Phildanco. I suspect this is because they may not have not danced together long. That, coupled with a couple of surprise music stoppages and house lights being turned on in the middle of a number, gave last night’s performance a dress rehearsal quality. Tonight's performance should be well worth seeing, though.

El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea de El Salvador
Gonda Theatre
Georgetown University
36th and O St. NW
Washington, DC, 20036
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Tickets: $20-30/General Admission; $50/Sat. evening ticket + Post Performance Reception.
Call 202/687-ARTS or

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Benefit of Living in DC

A couple of weeks ago, we received our income tax refund check from the District of Columbia. We had filed our DC and Federal tax returns a little early, but not that early -- the first week of April as I recall. It was a huge surprise to receive the DC refund SO promptly. Of course credit is due not only to Mayor Adrian Fenty (pictured above, at far right, shaking hands with a supporter at the January 2007 inaugural ball) but also to the Chief Financial Officer and the tireless employees of the Office of Tax and Revenue. THANKS GUYS!!!
In the meantime, we await our tax refund check from the Feds . . . any day now.
Photo by Maya Bernstein.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Dress

Several readers have asked me where I obtained the dress in the photo to the right. Two summers ago I volunteered at the Villa Terrace biennial fundraiser in Milwaukee. The theme was “The Great Gatsby.” Before I jetted to Milwaukee, I was lucky to find the perfect dress nearly across the street from our house at Nana in Washington, DC. At the time, Nana was in a basement in the last in a row of converted row houses at U Street and New Hampshire Avenue, NW. Last year it moved to the first floor of a town house a few doors east. It’s one of the hip boutiques in the U Street corridor. I don't know if they still sell vintage, though.

The 1930s black and pale pink silk and lace gown was priced right ($60) but needed a bit of work. Following the salesgirl’s advice, I took it to the cleaners across the street, where the tailor made it fit.

I completed the outfit in Milwaukee at an antique store in the historic Third Ward , which stocked a trunk full of black and white dress gloves in various lengths. Here are some photos from the ball. Please join us for Gershwin in the Garden this year on July 21. Any suggestions on what to wear?

1528 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum
2220 N. Terrace Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Garden Shot

Here is the garden in front of our house, shot at 7:45 this morning. The weather forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 82 degrees.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Peter & Wendy at Arena Stage

Just returned from Peter & Wendy at Arena Stage, which was outstanding. If you do not go to the theatre often, make time for this one. You may want to get your tickets soon. I have a feeling that it will sell out.

Peter & Wendy is a version of the play or musical Peter Pan (which I've never seen) told through the unconventional media of story telling, a live celtic music ensemble and bunraku and shadow puppetry. This sounds like it would be an assault on the senses. However, the minimalist staging, combined with the deftness of Karen Kandel, the narrator, who also provides the voice of all of the characters, ties it all together. She plays that role until May 27, 2007. After that and until the show closes, another actress takes over.

My theatre buddy remarked that Peter & Wendy would be suitable for a 10-year-old friend of hers, and indeed there was a handful of children in the theatre. In my opinion (and it is my blog, so there), starting at 7:30pm and lasting three hours, Peter & Wendy might be asking a bit much. Plus, it's intense.

Peter & Wendy
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Sales office 202.488.3300

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This Is So Cool

Tonight I went to my first DC Bloggers meetup at RFD and had a great time. There were about 30 of us. I met a pharmacy technician who blogs about . . . working in a pharmacy. Way cool. I also met the author of Latest Obsession (hi neighbor!), and Brokekid, who turned me on to twitter. I know someone with the initials J.M. who would love that. Also check out Broke Kid for the best of YouTube. The author of The KingKab Review and I had a thoughtful discussion about films and reviewing films on blogs. Finally, the author of District Matters, who covers District of Columbia politics and neighborhood issues, inspired me to update my blog more often.

It's started already. Blogs are becoming the primary means of obtaining news and information and soon will overtake conventional news media, i.e., on-line versions of print newspapers, radio and television.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

White Blazer

Today I did the unthinkable: I bought a white blazer. The owner of one of my favorite and most trusted local boutiques, Caramel, convinced me to take the plunge.

So, what’s the big deal? For us DC professional women, the most important question to ask when buying clothes is not
"Will it be in style for the next couple of seasons?" nor is it "Does it make me look slimmer?"
Can I wear it to the office?

To that end, I recommend Caramel across the street from Results Gym on U Street. Caramel is located at Ground Zero of Hip and Trendy, but it is neither pricey nor snooty. Caramel sells distinctive pieces by lesser-known designers, for men and women, and that can be worn to the office. By "the office" I mean Washington, DC, offices, where the goal is to instill confidence based on your creativity, intelligence and good judgment -- not your fashion iconoclasm.

My mission today was to find a blazer to match the long skirts and jeans I wear to work in summer. I envisioned something in basic black, a solid neutral or small pattern that I could slip into in case of an unscheduled meeting or chilly walk home. Caramel had all three options. There was something enticing about the white blazer, however.

White outerwear, I am convinced, is a fashion industry conspiracy to bamboozle us into buying more clothes. White doesn’t just show dirt easily, it advertises the details of one’s personal life: the wayward ketchup quirt, the greasy muffin leaking out of the paper Au Bon Pain bag, the ink from the newspaper carried to work. Dry cleaning solvents cannot restore a white article of clothing to its original fabulousness. (More about dry cleaning solvents in a future posting.) After a few wearings, you have a stained and shabby coat, and voila! madame has no choice but to get a new one. For that reason, I have never bought anything white, except for shirts to wear with a few indefatigable ten-year-old black and navy suits set aside for court dates.

So why did buy a blazer in white, the most impractical of all colors (if white is a color at all)?

A white blazer is bold. It symbolizes a fresh new start. It reminds me that I am expanding my horizons, questioning self-imposed conventions, exploring options I never before considered. And with a pair of tailored beige dress pants and heels, it looks sophisticated.

Coincidentally, I start a new job, in a new field, in two weeks.

Plus, Sarah, the owner, informed me, the blazer is machine washable.

Bold move, but practical.

1603 U Street, NW
Washington, DC

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Except for the past three Thanksgivings, I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years. So I rooted for the vegan/vegetarian fine dining establishment Vegetate, which recently won a hard-fought liquor license battle. Full disclosure here: I, along with several hundred neighbors, two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and two District of Columbia City Council members, was part of the effort that recently and successfully opposed the expansion of a local nuisance establishment’s liquor license. Read more about it here. After that experience, I sympathize fully with anyone who has had to appear before the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Anyway, I finally tried Vegetate last night. My vegan in-laws went several months back and said it was ho-hum. So my expectations were modest. But I loved, loved Vegetate. Note that Vegetate does not take reservations for parties of fewer than six. So my three friends and I agreed to meet there at 7:00pm. That was the perfect time to arrive. We got a table right away. The food was outstanding.

For starters, each table gets a shot glass of crispy marinated string beans, instead of bread. Yeah, it doesn’t sound appetizing, but they are yummy!

The wait staff were knowledgeable about food and wine pairings. I ordered a glass of medium-bodied cab from the short but well-chosen wine list. Be warned that wine is not generously poured and they serve it in stemless glasses, which make it hard to determine how much wine is left in the glass, especially in dim lighting. But stemless is the trendy new thing. It works well with red wine.

I ordered the sesame tofu, but after my spouse ordered the same thing, I changed my mind and opted for the grilled portabello mushroom served with a garlicky-smelling root vegetable puree (can’t remember what it was) with crispy browned onions on top and a side order of collard greens. If you’re like me and don’t like a huge dinner, the portabello (marketed as a "small plate") was ample. The side order of collard greens was crunchy and flavorful. They were sauteed lightly – not boiled to death and permeated with pork fat like in typical southern cooking. The cab complimented my meal quite nicely. Moreover, almost everything on the menu was vegan. Vegetate offers a handful of items that contain dairy products or eggs, and they are clearly marked as so on the menu. Hubby’s three slabs of thick sesame-encrusted tofu steak were reportedly outstanding. Must have been – no offer to share. My buddies ordered the sweet potato and black bean tart and a side of fingerling potatoes, all of which was so good they did not offer to share either. We ordered a side of pommes frites, although they clearly were on the menu to appease the unadventureous.

For dessert, the four of us agreed on the vegan chocolate cake topped with passion fruit sorbet, which the waitress said was so rich it would be wise to share. We’re glad we did. Although it’s tiny, it is the richest chocolatey thing I ever tasted. Salt sprinkled on top of the tangy sorbet gave it a nice kick.

It took a while for our dinner to arrive and seemingly an eternity for dessert. Some would find this a shortcoming. But I actually preferred having a chance to catch up with friends and talk about the elections and our jobs between courses without feeling rushed.

The atmosphere at Vegetate was minimalist and pleasant. The lighting was low and inviting. The grassy green accent walls soothed. My only complaint is that the music (expertly spun house and dance tracks) was too loud.

All told I don’t agree with the reviews concluding that Vegetate is overpriced. Our check came to about 100 dollars for all four of us, and that included drinks for three. By D.C. fine dining standards, that's more than reasonable. I highly recommend Vegetate, even if you are not vegan or vegetarian. Couldn't we all stand to eat more vegetables?

1414 9th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Check Web site for hours.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Red Onion Records and Books

While out running errands on 18th Street today I popped into Red Onion Records and Books across the street from the Jolt ‘n Bolt.

Red Onion reminds me of a serious college town book store. The location appears to be a former bare-bones basement efficiency apartment. There is no café or cutesy décor. But I'm here for the books. Any lack in quantity (and I think that may change) is more than compensated for in quality. I acquired a few almost-new paperback novels released within the past two years and by acclaimed authors for pretty darn cheap. Purchases are bagged in recycled bags. Cool!

Also worth browsing is an LP collection from the 70s and 80s. This stuff is not available on i-tunes. Maybe it's time to acquire that turntable. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable too.

If you are a reader who lives in the Adams Morgan/Dupont/U Street area, you owe these people a visit.
Red Onion Records and Books
1901 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Check Web site for hours.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Off Topic Posting

This posting has nothing to do with books or theatre but with my friend's sports blog. From a very early age, my dream was to be a professional hockey player. I love ice skating. I'm fast and aggressive on ice. Where I grew up, we were fortunate to have a public ice rink at the county park. Among the burnouts it was the cool place to hang on weekends. In high school, I acquired a pair of Bauer Turbos, boys size 5, the coolest skates of the day, which lasted me 10 years. Unfortunately, ice hockey was not an activity young ladies were encouraged to pursue in that time and place.

This posting is a tribute to my old friend Eric McErlain, who doesn’t need my help on the public relations front. Eric encouraged me to was receptive to my idea to join his amateur league (which I was too busy to do because of law school and a demanding full time job) and advised me on the purchase of my Rollerblades in 1996. While the dream of NHL stardom is a long faded memory, I look forward each weekend to an 8-mile blade on the Capitol Crescent Trail, something I would not have taken up without Eric’s encouragement. So here is a link to Off Wing Opinion.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mark Parascandola at Nevin Kelly Gallery

I'm far from unbiased here, so I'll be brief: Mark Parascandola's first gallery opening at Nevin Kelly Gallery on Thursday, Feb. 15 was a success, despite the biting cold.
Mid-Atlantic Art News
Nevin Kelly Gallery Blog
Mark Parascandola Blog

Double Vision: The Photographic Work of Mark Parascandola and Yanina Manolova is at Nevin Kelly Gallery, 1517 U Street, NW, and runs until March 11.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Orquestra Ashe at Duke's City

Just walked in the door from a night of Afro-Cuban salsa with Orquestra Ashe at Duke's City down the street. First of all, my dance partner and I need some dance lessons. The one-hour lesson two years ago at Chief Ike’s -- and no offense to Chief Ike's, which offers great basic salsa lessons on Saturday nights on a drop-in basis -- doesn’t cut it here. The salsa tonight was rueda, where an announcer calls out the steps, like square-dancing. The rueda dancers provided a lesson at Duke’s at 10:30pm, but we just missed it.

Orquestra Ashe was phenomenal. For their tight sound and repertoire, which includes classics from Buena Vista Social Club and innovative pieces interspersing soul samplings with salsa (an engaging mix of Just the Two of Us to a salsa rhythm comes to mind), the twelve band members are surprisingly young. In terms of skill, they probably rival the bands that play in Miami at Lario's and the clubs on Calle Ocho. Plus, Cuban salsa is a rare treat in Washington, DC, where we don’t have a large Cuban community.

Orquestra Ashe opens for SI*SE at the Black Cat, 1811 14th Street, NW, on Saturday, February 24, 2007. It’s probably worth it just for the opening act.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gem of the Ocean

Tonight my theatre buddy and I saw August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at Arena Stage. We’ve been season ticket holders since the 2003-03 season. Our tickets are for preview night, which on some nights is like a polished dress rehearsal. The director typically sits a few rows behind us, takes notes and works on last-minute de-bugging – all of which makes the evening more interesting. Ticket prices are cheaper on preview night too.

Gem of the Ocean is a history lesson about the post-Reconstruction northward migration of African-Americans to communities such as the Hill District in Pittsburgh. It chronicles the experiences of one household’s members as they adapt to a life of freedom, i.e., citizenship, but under crippling economic exploitation. The protagonist, named Citizen, a destitute new arrival from Alabama, finds refuge in the home of 285-year-old Aunt Ester and employment at the local tin mill. In a subplot, one character tries to return to Alabama to rescue his sister, who cannot make the risky trip north on her own because of economic pressure and organized efforts to prevent African-Americans from leaving Alabama. After a bucket of nails is stolen from the mill, the local law enforcer (it’s unclear whether he works for the company, the state or is self-appointed), Ceasar, a self-hating African-American who inflicts terror on the household under the guise of upholding the law, chases down an accused mill employee. The accused drowns himself in the Monongahela River, at gunpoint, “to die in truth” rather than be falsely accused. The real culprit, overcome with guilt, reveals himself and seeks redemption from Aunt Ester.

The play until then is capably acted and easy to follow if you pay attention. (To the high school students sitting across the way from us who slept through the entire First Act: you missed out.) What follows probably is supposed to be “experimental,” and it makes great use of Arena Stage’s sophisticated lighting system. Aunt Ester announces that she and her cohorts will take the culprit to the “City of Bones” at nightfall so that he may redeem himself. The cast performs what must be a religious ceremony, at the City of Bones, a graveyard. According to the program notes, Citizen is cast into the hold of a slave ship, the “Gem of the Ocean,” and experiences the slave’s voyage to the new world. The ritual seems to incorporate African elements, but I’m not sure what exactly goes on. The program notes don’t explain it. That would have been helpful.

This is the second August Wilson production I have seen at Arena, and both were long. Wilson is not a word economizer. Sometimes the dialogue sounds artificial, stilted. Then again, the play takes place in 1904. Plan to spend at least three hours at the theatre.

Gem of the Ocean runs until March 18.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Theatre Pick - The Countess

Definitely grab a sweater and see The Countess performed by the Washington Stage Guild at Arena Stage at 14th & T Streets, NW. The play, by Gregory Murphy, is about the events leading up to the 1853 breakup of influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin’s marriage to Effie Gray, and the role of John Everett Millais, one of the founders of the pre-Raphaelite movement, which advocated a return to artistic purity. Ruskin probably is best known for defending a libel suit against James Whistler, which is chronicled in the 1992 book A Pot of Paint. Ironically, Ruskin championed the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and invited Millais to spend the summer with him and his wife in the Scottish highlands. In this day and age, the events in the play would provide ample tabloid fodder. Actress Sunshine Capelletti, who plays wife Effie, looks every bit the part of the pale, exotic auburn-haired beauty idealized in pre-Raphaelite painting and steals the show.

The focus is on the acting. The WSC doesn’t have the budget of the more established regional theatre companies. The actors make do with costumes that don’t look entirely “1850s.” There’s only one set. Yet, they pull it off splendidly. It's a shame that the theatre was only 1/3 full this Friday evening. Seating is open, so arrive early. We had the front-row. If you go to the theatre only once between now and February 4, this is the play to see.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Blade on the Capital Crescent Trail

Yesterday I went roller blading up the Capital Crescent Trail for the first time in weeks. Good thing, because it’s snowing pretty heavily today. I take the approximately eight-mile stretch that runs mostly uphill through the woods and along the Potomac River from Georgetown to Bethesda. The trail one the best things about living in DC. This time of year is especially a treat, because the trees are bare, which allows you to see through the woods, and the trail is nearly empty, even on Saturday. The down side is that it's cold outside. So, you have to overcome your inner couch potato and just do it! You'll be glad you did. Any fellow bladers and cyclists who can’t stand the clueless fair-weather and weekend joggers and walkers who waddle two or three side-by-side or stop in the middle of the trail to chat? Yeah, me too. On the other hand, most of the serious cyclists, the ones with the racing bikes and gear, are fast but courteous.