Guerrilla poetry at Farragut Square, Washington, D.C.

June 2018.  This is the only part of Washington, D.C. that can truly remind me of New York City.  (The diverse array of “food trucks” help quite a bit.)  The people there, however, seem far more likely to make eye contact and begin a conversation.  (I briefly chatted with a nice photographer who took a couple of poetry mini-books home with her.)

I’m proud of that last shot you see of pigeons alighting the park’s namesake — even if it is a little fuzzy and even if I only snapped it by chance.  David G. Farragut was a Southerner who nevertheless served heroically as an admiral in the Union navy during the Civil War.  He coined the famous phrase, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”  Maybe I’m only demonstrating my ignorance here, but I didn’t even realize that torpedoes were really a thing during the Civil War, even after seeing the C.S.S. Hunley at Charleston, South Carolina as a kid.

 

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Warrenton, Virginia, Labor Day Weekend 2016 (3)

 

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All The Pretty Horses!  (That’s a James Patterson reference, by the way.)

This pretty girl took a shine to me instantly.  (I was surprised, as I thought horses were generally shy around strangers.)  I wanted so badly to pet her, but I elected not to cross onto this person’s property in order to do so.  I am told Southern people take certain things very seriously — and two of them are property lines and Second Amendment rights.

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This eastern rat snake (or northern black racer?) elected to join our party, or he at least ventured near it, where he was expertly plucked up by one of our group.  (You’ve got to lift them from just behind the head, so that they cannot bite you.)

Forget that narrow-fellow-in-the-grass bull@#$% you heard; this mamajama was KAIJU.

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Watching “Captain America: Winter Soldier” on the big screen on the side of a barn!  And then “Civil War!”

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Tinypup!!

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OMG — COOLEST BIRTHDAY CARD EVER!!!

From a dear friend and her family!!  It unfolds into a “Captain America: Civil War” poster!  (I feel certain her boys had a hand in picking this out.)

You know you’re a weird guy when the posters you love at age 44 are the same as those you would have loved at age 14.

The question the poster poses can only be purely rhetorical, BECAUSE OF COURSE I SIDE WITH CAP.

 

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My review of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is nearly everything I hoped it would be; it’s easily on par, if not better, than the first two “Avengers” movies.  (And I can’t help but think of this as the third “Avengers.”  Yes, Cap’s name is in the title, but this is necessarily an ensemble story about the divided superteam.)  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

I honestly just need to be very vague in this review … this is such an eagerly awaited film, and I want to be extra cautious about spoilers.  No, there are no twists in the movie, but there are surprising character and plot elements.

The movie surprised me in a couple of ways.  One, this film appears to follow the original 2006 comic book crossover only very loosely.  (I have not read it, but I know the story.)  There is no “Superhero Registration Act” that would directly affect countless people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s much narrower than that — a demand by the United Nations for direct oversight of The Avengers.

Two, this is definitely the darkest and most adult outing with The Avengers so far.  Don’t get me wrong — the levity and gee-whiz comic book fun that is the MCU’s trademark is still there, and it’s no Christopher Nolan movie.  But the movie’s central story device is set in motion by the question of who should be held accountable for civilian deaths.  And so many individual major characters are motivated by grief or rage.

This is notable throughout the film, for example, in the characterization of Tony Stark, and his portrayal by Robert Downey, Jr.  He’s no longer a wisecracking billionaire playboy who all the guys want to be.  Instead, he’s a troubled, pensive leader who often seems out of his depth.  We watch as his team and the events surrounding him spin out of control, and we no longer want to trade places with him.  He’s more sympathetic.  But he simultaneously fails to engender the viewer loyalty that he so quickly and easily won in every other Marvel movie he’s appeared in.

And yet … he isn’t, as I had suspected, a cardboard adversary for Captain America’s underdog to stand up to.  There are some sad things going on in his life, both during the events of this movie and in “Iron Man 3” (2013), and his failings and poor decisions are perfectly understandable.  (I won’t say more, besides that viewers will definitely get a different spin on “Iron Man 3” after this movie.)  And Downey displays a great range in playing this far sadder Tony.

One character in the movie even makes a quip about “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and it feels like a meta reference, as that film is regarded as the darkest in the “Star Wars” original trilogy.  (And their are story structure similarities as well.)

But don’t get me wrong — “Captain America: Civil War” still brings loads of fun.  It’s an effects-laden, geeky, hero-against-hero, superteam gangfight that is straight out of every Marvel fan’s dreams.  (And, needless to say, it’s far better than its analog this year from DC.)  Tom Holland might be the best Spider-Man yet.  The action is damn pleasing, and the one-liners made me laugh out loud.  (“Made ya look.”)

The bromances (including the broken ones) seemed real to me.  I found myself liking and caring about … Winter Soldier, of all people, and I kept hoping things worked out with his friendship with Cap.  (Sebastian Stan impressed me in the role for the first time.)

What didn’t I like?  Well, I had some small criticisms.  I submit that Black Panther was a complete misfire.  The character concept is boring (he’s an African Bruce Wayne), he seems like an ethnic caricature, and he absolutely is shoehorned into the plot.  When his tough female subordinate physically threatens Black Widow, he smugly opines that a fight between them “would be amusing.”  It felt creepy and sexualized, and maybe like something out of a 1970’s blaxploitation film.  He’s also pretty blandly played by Chadwick Boseman.

Spiderman, too, seems shoehorned in as fan service.  I loved seeing him in the movie, but i wish he’d been written in differently.  (Would Stark really recruit a highschooler to combat seasoned soldiers, one of whom is a superpowered psychotic assassin?)

Next is a criticism that is just a matter of personal taste.  I myself would have preferred a movie that was even darker.  Just think for a minute about the basic story.  We have civilian casualties driving the world’s governments to seek control over its superheroes — then the heroes themselves fighting each other with what must at least be considered possibly deadly force.

That’s a story pretty much brimming over with pathos, if you ask me.  But the movie underplays those plot elements considerably.  We hardly see the civilian casualties that are supposed to drive the plot — and when we do, they’re glimpsed briefly in news footage.  And all but three of the heroes (Tony, Black Panther and Winter Soldier) display any of the anger or sense of betrayal that you would expect from a violent “civil war” among former friends.  And it is violent … members of either faction fire missiles at, or try to crush, their opponents.  Does the MCU’s characteristic banter belong anywhere here?

Finally, this could have been an idea-driven movie like the latter two “Dark Knight” films.  But only Cap and Iron Man seem to genuinely fight about ideology.  Others fight according to personal or professional loyalty, personal revenge, or just because they are a “fan” of either Cap or Tony.  And neither does the script articulate their positions especially well.  Wouldn’t it be perfectly in character for Cap to quote Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin?  “Those who would exchange their liberty for a little temporary safety” and all that?

Oh, well.  I’m probably asking too much from a superhero movie.

This was a hell of a lot of fun.  Go see it.

 

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Monet, the Dutch Masters, and Mussels. Ya gotta love D.C.

Here are just a few more shots of Washington, D.C. and the National Gallery of Art this past weekend.  As I’ve lamented already, most of my photos did not turn out, so I am stealing many from my more talented friend.  If any of the shots below appeal to you, rest assured that they are not mine.

I’ve come to understand that I simply do not enjoy Monet and Van Gogh as other people do.  Their appeal is lost on me entirely.

But I damn sure enjoy Vermeer and Rembrandt.  Even to an utterly unschooled like my own, the Dutch Masters’ method of rendering light was amazing.  I told my friend that it almost seemed that sections of these paintings had light coming in from behind them … as though there were a hidden bulb beneath the canvas.

And I might have loved the incredible, sweeping, ethereal, dreamlike-but-detailed vistas of the American paintings even more.

That last shot should be recognizable to Civil War buffs, or even just those who can appreciate great war films.  It’s Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1897 memorial to Robert Gould Shaw, who filmgoers might remember being portrayed by Matthew Broderick in “Glory” (1989).  It’s huge.  It actually is an immense sculpture that takes up an entire wall, and is much larger than you might understand from its inclusion during the closing credits of the film.

I am precisely the sort of weirdo who enjoys “people watching” too.  And it’s easy at the Gallery, as visitors are so often occupied entirely by their objects of interest.

That gangly looking guy embarrassing himself in the video you see is me at the Canadian Embassy.  (Do we really need embassies with Canada?  We’re so chill.)  The sly Canucks have actually incorporated an … echo chamber into the building’s superstructure.  I know that sounds nuts, but it’s true.  If you stand withing that domed structure, it sounds as though every word you speak is amplified down at you.  It’s actually really incredible.

I was lucky enough to be treated by a rather generous friend to dinner afterward at La Belga.  It is a fantastic Belgian restaurant in the gentrified Eastern Market area above the Capitol, and it’s modeled after traditional European sidewalk cafes.

Good lord!  The “Mussels Diabolique” there were just … too damn good to describe.  They were the best mussels I’d ever had.  And that says a lot from a Long Island kid who grew up on seafood, working or chowing down in seaside restaurants.  Really.

Go there.  You’ll thank me for the recommendation:

http://www.belgacafe.com/

 

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World War I-era Mary Washington College in photos

The first group of photos here is from the “Bulletin of the State Normal School” in 1915. The last one was captioned “The Cannon Pits.”  Wikimedia Commons, from which I took all of these, often includes the original yearbook texts.

I wonder if the mounds of dirt we see as “the cannon pits” here are the same ones that still existed in the woods just south of Bushnell Hall in 1990.  I lived at Bushnell my freshman year and wandered over there a few times; it hid a nice vantage point overlooking William Street heading downtown — it was where I smoked my first cigarette.

A few of the kids said those mounds were the remains of Civil War gun emplacements; at least one reported speaking with a ghost.  The site was overgrown and entirely unrestored when I was a student.  Are these the same?

 

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This photo was taken from the 1916 “Battlefield” yearbook.  This is “the Dramatic Club,” and the caption for the photo appears to include a reference to the World War I occupation of Belgium by Germany: “Since its organization, the Dramatic Club has presented, on an average,two plays a year. The proceeds have usually been given to the Deco-rative Committee to be used in decorating the School. Last year, one-third of the proceeds was sent to the Belgians. The aim of the Club is to studyas well as present plays. We have joined the Drama League of America, from which we hope to gain beneficial results.”  

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These photos are taken from “the Bulletin” in 1917.  I get the sense my “Generation X” alumnae studied slightly different curricula.

The girls in 1917 also had a far more generous assessment of the City of Fredericksburg than the kids that I remember:  “Its climate is ideal, and we know of no city that has a more favorable health record. It is progressive in its government, and has recently adopted thecommission form of government. The city is favored with superior telegraph and telephone facilities, ample mail service, water supply,gas, electric lights, and all the usual city conveniences.”

Here’s what they had to say about their dorms: “The buildings, as the photographs show, are large, convenient, and handsome, and are equipped with all modern conveniences for the comfort of the students and the work of the school. The dormitoriesare of the Ionic and Doric types of architecture and are the shape ofthe letter H. The students and several members of the faculty livein the buildings. Every students room is well lighted and ventilated.In fact, there is no dark room in the building except a few rooms used exclusively for storage purposes.”

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