The Rodin Museum & Joseph Fox Bookshop


We went to Philadelphia for a two day work thing that had the first day unexpectedly cancelled, so we found ourselves with an unexpected free day in Philly.

Living in DC spoils an art lover. Most of the city’s best museums (which are some of the finest in the world, I would argue) are free. You get used to not paying for access to great art. Which does bring up some interesting issues: by making it seem like creative works should be free, are we devaluing the labor of artists (as has already happened online, particularly with writing and journalism); or are we making the arts more available to underserved communities? Just to put my own thoughts into this, I would point to the model of the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, which is free to residents of the county wherein it resides (Wayne County, if you’re interested). While that wouldn’t apply to museums like the National Gallery of Art nor the Smithsonian, since they are treasures for the entire country, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about various models.

But my point was that it has made me cheap and I couldn’t help but notice that the Rodin Museum had only a ten dollar suggested donation (per adult), whereas most other museums were charging twenty. Also, a large selection of Rodins was not something I could readily see in DC, whereas a large selection of (for example) Impressionists is something I can see back home.

It’s not a large museum, but it’s in  classy, Art Noveau looking building and filled with interesting pieces and has a beautiful garden with some larger pieces – though it was raining cats and dogs all day long, so we weren’t in the best form to appreciate, for example, a large bronze of the Gates of Hell.

A little later, we trod through the rain to the Joseph Fox Bookshop. I knew nothing about it, except that the Yelp reviews sounded promising.

It’s a very small bookstore, but it makes up for that by being exceptionally well-curated and giving a lot of space to smaller presses to publish (drum roll, please)… good books.

For example, the NYRB and Pushkin Press were amazingly well-represented (those are two presses that you can buy almost any book they publish and be confident that it will be awesome).

Naturally, I bought something. In my case, a recently re-published in book form long essay by Marcel Proust: Chardin and Rembrandt.

 

Yayoi Kosuma


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There were five rooms (or five self-contained installations, if you prefer) and we only got to visit three before being escorted out (the museum was closing; we weren’t misbehaving, though there was some temptation, on account of our understandable frustration at the long lines preventing us from seeing them all).

The documentation around it, filling up the spaces, was filled with absences. There was the tiny, pink haired octagenarian that Kosuma is now and the provacatrix of 1960s ‘happenings’ and various forms of installation and performance art, but nothing in between those two periods.

While almost certainly not the curators’ intentions, it makes a bit of conceptual sense. Rather than infinity, I saw smallness and absence. Mirrors hiding cramped spaces. It was a joyful exhibit, no doubt – don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t see infinity.

Simone De Beauvoir’s Office


Or a replication/re-creation thereof.

And a brilliant idea by the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Second Sex is brilliant and I have read The Mandarins at least three times, but when I first read about this exhibition, I didn’t put two and two together and realize that it was right here in Washington, DC. It was just coincidence that we happened to visit the museum that day.

As you can see, I got a kick getting my picture taken while sitting at a re-creation of her desk.

While much of the stuff were merely examples of things from her study and not actual originals, there were two handwritten pages from The Second Sex, which is pretty awesome.

A friend is a security guard there and she took me to see a marble statue and when I looked at the name, it was by Sarah Bernhardt, the famous actress of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage – who was, apparently, a skillful sculptor in her spare time.


The museum is a beautiful building inside, to boot.

Happy Independent Bookstore Day!


Kensington Row Bookshop

A few highly recommended local bookstores (with the exception of some university bookstores that are run by Barnes & Noble, there are no chain bookstores in DC) around the area that you might want to consider visiting in honor of Independent Bookstore Day. If you live in the area. If you don’t live in the area… well, use your phone. You can do all sorts of things with your phone these days. Google something. Or Yelp it. Don’t make this my problem.

Politics & Prose: Kind of the godfather of local indie bookstores. It’s got a really nice poetry section; second only to Bridgestreet Books, in that respect. Also, go downstairs and check out the discounted books – walk down and make a sharp left.

Bridge Street Books: I already mentioned the poetry section, which is both large and well-curated (with an eye towards promoting contemporary and conceptual poetry). It’s also really big on leftist/critical theory type stuff, filling it’s current affairs, lit crit, philosophy, and politics shelves with books in that vein. Curation, really, is the key to what makes this place great.

Kramerbooks: It’s not my favorite, in terms of the selection (not a small selection, necessarily, just not always my cup of tea), but… c’mon. This place is an institution. Gotta love it.

Busyboys & Poets: Up there with Kramerbooks and P&P in its locally iconic status. Lots of stuff on grassroots organizing, race, immigration, economics, etc. Not just liberal, but activist in nature. Technically, it’s run by Politics & Prose. For years, it was run by an awesome nonprofit called Teaching for Change and I didn’t realize that had changed until I looked up the website for the bookstore. Now I’m feeling kind of bummed out.

Capitol Hill Books: This is my neighborhood bookstore. Quintessential, piles of books in danger of collapsing on the perusers. Funky and friendly. But don’t piss off the owner.

East City Bookshop: A relatively new bookstore with some really comfy places. A little mainstream for my taste, but some excellent curation in its small poetry section.

Upshur Street Books: This place is out of the way for me, but it’s worked really hard to be both a neighborhood and citywide cultural touchstone. A focus on works by writers of color and great symbiosis with the bar next door, which regularly holds book/author themed happy hours.  Selection is small, though.

Second Story Books: It’s almost big enough to get lost in and has lots of really (and sometimes pricey-ish) old tomes, as well as offering legitimately rare, antiquarian books.

Kensington Row Bookshop: Not actually in the District, but in the cool little antique row area of Kensington, Maryland. Lots of events and a great focus on kids.

Soju


Let me take a step back and explain. My better half was out of the country, managing family matters for nearly six months, while I was living the bachelor life, last year; and then again for a little over two months, this year.

During that time, she started watching Korean soap operas. Because she was watching them, I started watching them too (also, peppering my Korean viewing habits with some ultra violent action movies). Now, we watch them together, though our tastes differ slightly.

In those soap operas, characters drink a lot of soju, a clear, malted liquor, similar to sake, but with a much rougher feel. At it’s best, it’s taste could be compared to a combination of the flavors of vodka (real vodka, not whatever flavored garbage they’re selling to college kids with fake IDs) and sake. At it’s worst, it tastes like something that could power your riding lawnmower. I like it, either way.

I like it, but it can be damnably expensive. Schneider’s in DC carries almost everything, but it’s soju options consist of an overpriced ($33.99) bottle or a Japanese brand that costs less ($17) but whose taste is more on the lawnmower fuel side. Presumably, I could go to an H Mart (a Korean grocery store chain), but I mostly go to one in Montgomery County, Maryland, where local laws don’t allow the store to sell alcohol. I could go to Virginia, I suppose, but my better half and I were walking around the edges of neighborhood when we passed a liquor store that had a Korean looking fellow behind the counter and another Korean looking fellow chatting with him. We went inside and were directed to nice looking bottle of $9.99 soju. Haven’t tried it yet, but it looks very promising.

The man behind the counter told use that soju had become wildly popular in Korea again because of the same soap operas that turned me onto it. Twenty years ago, only old men would have been seen drinking, but now, because it featured so prominently in beloved television shows, people everywhere in the country were quaffing unhealthy quantities.

So, I guess the point is, I am as shallow as a Korean soap opera buff. Hurray for me, I guess.

It’s A Brave New World, As They Say (I Think That My Father Used To Say That, Even Though He Was Never A Particular Fan Of Aldous Huxley; For Myself, I Think That ‘Crome Yellow’ Is An Underrated Novel If You Want To Read Something By Him That’s Not, You Know, ‘Brave New World’)


Perhaps it is because I (and other residents of the District and, indeed, almost everyone in America) have been protected by what has become a comforting layer of incompetence that covers everything he does like a bulletproof vest whose actual purpose is to protect everyone around the wearer.

Or maybe it’s because he’s never here and is busy inflicting himself on the patrons Palm Beach County’s Mar-A-Lago retreat for the super wealthy.

More likely though, I have been deluding myself.

After all, I have spent my career trying to make things better for this country. More specifically, I have spent more than a half decade helping to make tangible improvements in the lives of several groups working people in the DMV (that’s DC, Maryland, and Virginia). And this administration really has no time for that kind of thing. Insofar as they have an interest, it is in seeing that kind of work stopped.

Because his comforting incompetence has stalled so many of his priorities (so many of them hilariously and depressingly opposite from those he campaigned on), I haven’t had to think too much about the ways they would devastate the lives of my friends, my family, my neighbors, etc.

I assume the United States of America will survive this. It seems an article of faith. We survived a Civil War. We survived moral blights like chattel slavery, Japanese internment, and a mixture of accidentally and deliberately genoicidal actions towards native peoples, and while we didn’t come out as well as we might have hoped, we did come out a little better, surely. Of course, that ‘we’ is a white people ‘we.’ A reminder of an easily slippery slope. unless you somehow think American Indians came out better for my ancestors arriving and eventually founding this country, in which case, you are too stupid for me to even bother trying to sell you a bridge or mineral rights of a magazine subscription.

That easy slope is why he is so dangerous, too, right?

And maybe I’ll be fine, because I’m white and male and straight. And maybe my person of color better half will be fine because she will be protected by my beneficent aura of whiteness.

Or maybe we are all simply f–ked.

Choral Works At The National Cathedral


First of all, I was glad to see that nets were gone at the Washington National Cathedral. For a long time, post-earthquake (which was in 2011 or 2012, I think), there nets strung up inside the Cathedral to protect visitors and worshipers from falling bits of cathedral. While appreciated, from a safety perspective, it took away a bit from the sense of awe, grandeur, and general aesthetics.

The last time I saw a concert here, it was period pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, composed or performed for the French court (and played using period pieces). The music was beautiful, but the acoustics just swallowed the orchestra’s sound (maybe it was the nets).

This time, the sound just soared wonderfully. It was the cathedral’s resident chorus, plus New York Polyphony (an all male vocal quartet), a guest soprano soloist, strings (roughly the size of chamber music orchestra, which is to say, larger than a quarter, but smaller than a full orchestra), and the cathedral’s own organ.

The selections were actually dominated (marginally) by either pieces by contemporary composers or else by pieces arranged by contemporary composers. With a few, arguable, exceptions, they were religious works – often liturgical. I say arguably, because one of the works set some stanzas by Whitman to music and, especially in America, Whitman could be considered to be almost religious.

That said, there wasn’t as much variety among the pieces as I might have liked. At a certain point, one Ave Maria starts to sound like another. That being the case, I could make the argument that they might have been better off taking a longer piece by someone like Tallis and playing that as the entirety of either the pre- or post-intermission half.