Notes from Washington, DC; March 1998

Text by Michael Broschat, with Melissa Meier

We’ve had an inquiry or two about the state of our journal (which most of us have seen over the past few months). We’ve had some time to think about what it was, and what aspects of it we could continue, if any. DC is still a major tourist destination, and we suppose we can yet offer a word or two on what we’re seeing here, with some belief that you will find it useful. As always, let me (Michael) know, if you’d prefer to be dropped from the address list. Anyone who’s new to the list and wants to see what came before (the journal from November 97 describing our trip East), drop me a line, and I’ll send it to you.

One thing I’ve noticed changing, and it is not a welcome one, is that we’re less interested in the “monuments.” You know, those things we all go to first when we come as tourists. There are, probably, hundreds of museums in this area, and I’d dare to say that each offers at least something of interest to anyone. We’ve only visited a few. More and more, our adventures take in the activities of the area, rather than just a physical destination.

Take dancing, for example. It turns out that there’s a decent size (partner) dance community around here, as certainly makes sense, but that was not easy to see for a long time. I think that we’re used to the remarkable focus that the Dills bring to dance in the Seattle area. Well, we finally happened upon a large event, which then led to others, etc. The large event was (and is) a Sunday afternoon waltzing session at the Spanish Ballroom of Glen Echo Park. This national park is a former amusement park, located in the Rock Creek Parkway area that, ultimately, borders our very neighborhood. Unfortunately for us, Glen Echo is several miles on the other side of the park, but we got there. The Spanish Ballroom is probably the largest ballroom we’ve yet seen, and it’s a beauty. That is, it was built to be so. Time has hit the ballroom (and the entire park) pretty hard. The floor, though, is simply wonderful, and that’s because a small group of volunteers refinished it in the past couple years. And, there’s a campaign to save the park from its possible destruction. Anyway, back to the dancing. Ostensibly, the waltz afternoon is for learning, but most people were there as we were: to waltz in the ballroom, knowing how already. Still, the number of people who’d obviously just begun was significant, and further reflects the interest in social dancing that we saw so clearly in the Seattle area.

At that event, Melissa picked up dozens of fliers announcing this and that other dance event, and that led to our beginning “lessons” in some Scandanavian dances with a couple from Seattle, of all places (Frank Brown and Elaine Murakami). That’s a much smaller group, and it takes place in yet another part of Rock Creek Park, a cute little log-cabin lodge with a nice but small dance floor inset into the normal flooring. We’ll continue with that, and attend whatever of the local dance events we have time for. A nice discovery. It was fun, too, to see that dance people are the same everywhere. We could almost give names to each of the people we saw, at both events. Good people, or, as Gary would say: “Pure, mostly.”

We continue to visit the Kennedy Center for various entertainment activities. Not only is it across the street from where Monica Lewinsky lives (at the Watergate), but all kinds of performers do their thing there, and it’s an easy walk from our house. Recently, we saw Georgian Dancers perform (the Georgia that was part of Russia). Wow. Last weekend, we heard Chanticleer there (more on a capella music later), and today we’re off to hear some Finnish music. There’s also a wonderful movie theater there that shows “art” films--old films and foreign films. “Mr Smith Goes to Washington,” with Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur, was not only wonderful but especially interesting to see in the town in which it was filmed. It also kicked off a Jean Arthur phase that I’ve been exploring, and we’ve since seen the video version of “Mr Deeds Goes to Town,” with Gary Cooper. One evening, I followed Melissa down to the Corcoran Institute of Art (near the White House), reading a biography of Jean Arthur while she attended some lecture. Directly across the street from the Corcoran is the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Hall, where, the book told me, Mr Smith had been given its premiere on such-and-such a date so-and-so many years ago. It was roundly and heatedly condemned by the horrified senators and other public officials who saw it, one Southern senator saying that it was the very kind of thing that could lead to a Communist takeover of the United States. The book’s author went on to say that the French chose to show it in Paris as the last foreign film allowed by the Nazis. Time has given the nod of historical affirmation to the film over its critics, and it’s a pleasure to see again some 50 years later.

Valentine’s Day took us to a German restaurant, Cafe Berlin, which serves as a good reminder of how much foreign food there is in this town. Not surprising, of course, when you consider that English is a second language for, it would seem, most of the people who live here. As we walked to a subway afterward, we passed through Union Station, the remarkable train station we’ve mentioned before. The restaurants/cafes in this place were absolutely packed at about 9 o’clock that evening. Every chair was taken (many are placed in the large public areas of the station).

A capella music. You know, where people sing without instruments. I’ve always liked this kind of music, but for various reasons we’d gotten into a fixation on the Yale a capella group called The Whiffenpoofs, even back in Seattle. Dwight Marsh, a friend and local Yale graduate, told us of an upcoming concert by that group for the Yale Club, and we all went to McLean to hear same. Wonderful beyond expectation. Not only were they marvelous group singers, but their youth and transience (Whiffs sing for only one year, their senior year) give them a spirit and attitude that no commercial group could keep up for more than a few months (nor could they get away with it, I suspect). A most refreshing evening. The last song of any Whiff performance is their famous song that includes the words “We’re poor little sheep who’ve lost our way..,” and by tradition any former Whiffenpoofs in the audience can join them. It was a remarkable sight to see the core group of what?--21-year olds? standing next to men who reached into their late 80s all singing a song about giving their all to singing:

We will serenade our Louie while youth & voice shall last,
Then we’ll pass and be forgotten with the rest.

Last weekend, we heard the San Francisco group called Chanticleer, which is a capella music Writ Large. A very sophisticated group that sings really old music and really new music, with some familiar music thrown in to please the crowds. Remarkable. And, last night, at Wolf Trap Park in Virginia, we saw The Bobs, a West Coast a capella foursome I’ve followed for several years. Wolf Trap is best known for its summer outdoor music events, but during the non-summer times, it has a very nice facility made out of barns, seating some 300 people only, for music events that are better served by more intimate surroundings. The chairs can even be cleared away for dances. Guess that figures, being barns.

Our house being located not far from the Virginia border, it was an easy walk the other evening to a very modern building in Rosslyn (the other side of the Potomoc from where we live) where we saw a wonderful production of a Moliere play _in French_. They used technology that derives from simultaneous interpretation (basically, your own radio receiver) to allow those of us who are French-impaired to follow this excellent production of a very old comedy. This is the kind of thing that so benefits from having large enough resident foreign populations that it is possible to find actors and other necessary folk to create and stage such impressive (to the non-foreign residents, especially) events.

The weather is definitely turning into spring. Buds are bursting, and the ambient temperature is always warmer than the admittedly warmer-than-normal winter weather we just passed through. Birds are more evident, even in this very urban location, and their songs are new to our ears.