Shakespeare In Quarantine


This weekend would normally be the Shakespeare birthday celebration at the Folger. But, you know. Pandemic.

Tomorrow is his actual birthday, but it just makes me sad. I just don’t miss that celebration. And now. Ugh.

The things I miss. Museums, libraries, bookstores.

True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870


This is not actually about the exhibit, True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, which I saw briefly at the National Gallery of Art. I was with my daughter, so leisurely examination was not really an option.

But I was listening to a Modern Art Notes Podcast, which was mostly about the DC artist, Renee Stout, but also about that exhibit, and I felt overwhelmed by what we have lost. I cannot go see it.

I can’t go to the library or the bookstore, either.

Death tolls are rising and the federal government, which should be leading the response, is, of course, incompetent. There are competent people there, but they are being undermined by the clown car.

But it was that podcast and knowledge of the culture that I can’t participate in, which felt so crushing in that moment.

‘Julian’ By Gore Vidal


JULIANA reminder that, as wonderful a public personality and intellectual as he was, he was also a fantastic writer. Julian, while not as brilliant as Burr, captures so many of the strengths of the public Vidal.

The philosophy within Julian is, of necessity, I think, the sophomore year dorm room variety (not freshman, but not folks who are more than half way through their philosophy B.A.s). Novels are rarely deeply philosophical and we should not expect them to be. Perhaps only Plato could have done both successfully.

The anti-religious Vidal is naturally sympathetic to the anti-Christian Emperor Julian, but he also gently mocks the protagonist’s own adherence to pre-Christian Hellenic paganism. But the depiction of a time when education meant, primarily, an education in philosophy and history, seems so wonderfully idyllic to a person like me (even if sanitation was undoubtedly worse). The various teacher-philosophers of Athens and Antioch are used to portray an achingly attractive milieu. And, in today’s climate, the idea of a leader who surrounds himself with leading philosophers sounds wonderful.

Narratively speaking, the best innovation is the form. It is a correspondence between two former teachers and devoted followers of the (real) Emperor Julian. Libanius wants to publish the memoirs of Julian, which he acquires from Priscus, who managed to grab them in the aftermath of Julian’s death during his military campaign in Persia. As the memoirs are copied and sent to Libanius by Priscus, you also see the annotations and notes of Priscus (defending himself against supposed inaccuracies and raging against some of the rivals for Julian’s ear). Then you see Libanius’ occasionally outraged remarks about Priscus’ parsimony and puffery. It’s a fantastic depiction of gossip and literary politics among intellectuals and semi-celebrities and you can imagine that no one does it better than Vidal.

Books In The Field

That was the title and subject of an exhibition (now closed – I caught it on its penultimate day) at the Society of the Cincinnati, housed in the Anderson House, near Dupont Circle.


That was the title and subject of an exhibition (now closed – I caught it on its penultimate day) at the Society of the Cincinnati, housed in the Anderson House, near Dupont Circle. The Society focuses on Revolutionary War history (Cincinnati comes from the Roman general, Cincinnatus, who you can look up on your own, but which connects to George Washington both resigning his commission and also only serving two terms). The books in question are the books used by Continental Army soldiers and officers during the war against Britain – mostly, as you might expect, books on military strategy and exercises and on medical/surgical techniques.

I am a sucker for exhibitions about books. I love looking at old books.

I will admit, it was a struggle to really linger over the volumes because my little one, unsurprisingly, is less enthralled by such exhibits than her father. I didn’t even try to complete a tour of the house later. But I hope to go back some day and see it all (the next exhibit is on Alexander Hamilton who is, of course, having a bit of a moment).

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.

What We Can Learn From Poets (According To Cicero)


Greatest Movie Fight Scenes


  1. Flash Gordon beats up Ming’s guards using kung-football
  2. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in the Coliseum
  3. The Crimson Pirate leads the Spanish soldiers on a merry, if circular chase
  4. The greatest fight scene featuring an ex wrestler in an alley in a Marxist science fiction allegory
  5. The man with no name (Clint Eastwood) avenges his mule’s shame
  6. The Dread Pirate Roberts duels Inigo Montoya left handed
  7. William Holden, Dirk Bogarde and a Gatling gun (’nuff said)
  8. Strike me down and I shall only become more powerful than you can possibly imagine 
  9. A plane, an archaeologist, and a bald German mechanic
  10. From Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to House of Flying Daggers, all those bamboo forests are just ripping from A Touch of Zen