Observations from Home: The Silver Spring Day Off Edition

Bikes in Silver Spring

The flowering of bicycles in downtown Silver Spring

If you don’t read anything else in this post, go to the bottom and watch the last video.  Morgan James is beautiful and has a wonderful voice, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off the Tambourine Man.  He’ll bring you up, no matter how down you are.  And you’ll thank me for it.

Now, on to the rest of the post.

I seldom take a weekday off where I’m at home in Silver Spring.  Yet after working about 20 weekends in a row (perhaps I exaggerate), I decided to take today off and make it  a three-day weekend.  It was interesting to be around downtown Silver Spring and see the following:

Bikes are sprouting up everywhere one looks. First it was the Capital Bikeshare stations that arrived in downtown.  But in the last month, we’ve been inundated with the new dockless bikes, and today was the first time I walked around town and had the sense that they are EVERYWHERE!  (At least if you walk around the condo/apartment heavy downtown.)  They look beautiful (especially the LimeBike), but it will be interesting to see how they stand up to the winter in the capital region.  Nonetheless, I was standing next to the NOAA building and was able to capture in one glance a transportation planner or urbanist’s dream scene:  shiny new Metro trains rolling into the Silver Spring station, bus after bus pulling out of the transportation center, pedestrians, bicyclists, and—of course—cars (and more cars).

Coffee shops are everywhere. Where there are bicycles and canyons of condos and apartments (say, along East West Highway downtown), there will be coffee shops.  When you have the largest concentration of Ethiopian residents in the metro region, you can also be pretty certain that it will be good coffee. While we have the standard chains, Silver Spring has some terrific independent shops.  Today, while out walking, I went to Kefa Cafe (one of the city’s institutions) for a morning coffee and chat with Abebe. Always a pleasure.  In the afternoon, I strolled up to the Bump ‘n Grind, along the aforementioned East West Highway condo canyon.  There was a class underway in one portion of this hip shop, which is also a vinyl record store.  Ah…the Revenge of Analog!

The Fillmore

The Fillmore, Silver Spring

Finally!  The Fillmore has an act I recognize!  Ever since The Fillmore opened in downtown Silver Spring, I’ve been waiting for an act that I recognize.  I get that this isn’t a venue for folks my age (yes, I was hoping for the Birchmere North), but it would be nice to see a name on the marquee every now and then that I recognize.  I’m just not that into “Death from Above” or “Elevation Worship.”

Well, it finally happened.

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is coming to the Fillmore on November 26th!  Not familiar with Postmodern Jukebox? Well, neither was I until a few months ago when I stumbled across their fantastic video of All About That Bass.  At 31 million (and counting) views, they have a ways to go to get to Meghan Trainor’s 2 billion views (can that be right?!)  But I prefer the Postmodern Jukebox version.

The home page for Postmodern Jukebox describes their work as “Gramophone Music in a Smartphone World” and that’s a perfect description.  If you’re like me, you’ll get sucked into their wonderful videos (and then the spinoffs of their wonderful musicians, like singer Morgan James, who does a terrific version of the Beatles Come Together with a great trash can drummer.  You have to watch it to believe it.)

So last night, I found Morgan James singing I Really Don’t Care with Postmodern Jukebox.  As wonderful as she is, you won’t be able to take your eyes of The Tambourine Guy.  Trust me…you want to watch this one!

If I knew that Morgan James AND The Tambourine would be part of the show in Silver Spring, I would be there!

Nice day in downtown.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road: The Vacation Reading Edition

I’ve now been back from vacation for two weeks, and have finally decided that I am not going to find the time to write lengthy posts on each book I checked off my summer reading list.  So I’m resorting to my trusty “Observations from the Road” formula, to give you short takes on the four books I read over those two weeks.

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott

Hallelujah Anyway:  Rediscovering Mercy — Shortly before leaving on vacation, I picked up this book by the popular author Anne Lamott after seeing several short quotes attributed to her work.  Candice’s reaction was, “You’re reading Anne Lamott?” and I understand that sentiment. Yes, she is crafty and crotchety, and she has a “perfectly calibrated NPR appeal” which can grate on some. But yes, I am.  She’s funny and a bit snarky, both traits I enjoy (when I agree) and she’s a very good writer.  She’s also brief (a quality I’m enjoying more as I plow through 500+ page works).

This is a book about mercy.  She wanders a bit in getting there, but in the end there is a good bit to take away from this small collection.

“Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves—our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice….the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”

“Kindness towards others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all.  Do you want this, or do you want to be right?  Well, can I get back to you on that?”

It’s the attitude in that last line that led me to respond to Candice, “Yeah, and I’m enjoying it.”

The Only Rule

The Only Rule is It Has to Work

The Only Rule is It Has to Work —You knew there had to be a baseball book in the batch…and you would be right.

This is a story of what happens when two numbers guys—Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller—get the chance to run an independent minor league team for a season.  Both worked at Baseball Prospectus and were eager to see how their sabermetric theories might play out in real life.

This is a fun read, in part because both are good writers and they have a good story to tell.  (They switch back-and-forth in writing chapters, which you get use to.)   For part of the season, they move slowly in implementing their theories.  But after they make the bold move to fire the player/manager who pushes back on many of their suggestions, changes come more quickly.  There’s the added bonus of having their team—the Sonoma Stompers—become the first professional team with an openly gay player.  Sean Conroy’s story is just one example of how the authors blend metrics and human interest in this funny and informative book.

Everybody Lies

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Everybody Lies:  Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are — This was easily the most interesting book of the four I read over my vacation, and I picked it up after chatting with a seat mate on a recent plane ride who gave it a strong recommendation.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a social scientist who is using new, big data sources to uncover hidden behaviors and attitudes.  He notes that Google searches are a type of “truth serum” because we undertake those searches anonymously and tools such as Google Trends can tell us what people—in huge data sets—are really thinking.  “In other words, people’s search for information is, in itself, information.”  And as Stephens-Davidowitz explains, “The power of Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else.”  That’s true about race, politics, and especially sex.  People lie about all three things when taking surveys, but they don’t lie when searching for data in the anonymity of their living rooms.  The recent acknowledgement of the rise of white nationalism in the main stream media was something that Google searches predicted in 2008…on the night Barack Obama was elected president.  There were more searches using the “n-word president” than “first black president” in some states.

This book has much to recommend it, and much that is disturbing to know about ourselves and our fellow citizens.  There is great analysis, excellent storytelling, and witty writing throughout.  I could go into so much more here, but suffice it to say that this book will change the way you view the world.

Architecture's Odd Couple

Architecture’s Odd Couple

Architecture’s Odd Couple:  Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson — Hugh Howard’s 2016 work on the intersection of two of the 20th century’s best-known architects is an interesting read that ultimately falls short of making its central case:  which is that each architect was greatly influenced at a key point in his career development, by the work of the other.  It is a hard argument to make given that Wright was a stunningly original innovator and one of the world’s great designers.  Johnson was more of a shaper of architectural tastes whose work doesn’t reach the breadth or depth of Wright’s.  (Full disclosure:  I work for an organization, the National Trust, that owns houses designed by both men.)

Nonetheless, there is much to like and take away from Howard’s work.  The focus on Johnson’s breakthrough with the MoMA architectural exhibition that helped introduce Modernism to the American public, while alienating Wright in the process, makes for great reading.  The descriptions of Wright’s designing of his masterpieces—Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum—as well as Johnson’s conception of The Glass House, are compelling and showcase Howard’s writing skills.

Fallingwater

Fallingwater (photo credit: DJB)

At the end, Howard’s conclusion gets it right.

“Rather against his will, Johnson evolved into one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important public admirers.  As a man who worshiped the zeitgeist, he found that his old nemesis’s ideas retained remarkable vibrancy.  As he came to recognize the importance and the value of their odd alliance, he also grasped that Wright’s work transcended style and even time.  Though it rendered his work inimitable, Wright’s genius was, quite simply, of a greater magnitude than Johnson’s.”

“Today, more than half a century after his death, Wright remains America’s best-known and most admired architect.  By the time Johnson died, barely a decade ago, he had become what he himself disparagingly called, ‘the famous architect.’ With his death, his fame began to recede; inversely, Wright’s clearly grows.  Yet their connection, in death as in life, enriches our understanding of both grand men of American architecture.”

Once you read this book, you’ll be ready for another field trip to New Canaan, or Bear’s Run, or Spring Green, or New York City to see the works of these two men.  And that’s reason enough to pick this one up.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (Or the “Has It Been Six Weeks Since I Was in Milan?” Edition)

Villa del Balbianello view

Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como

In mid-September I published a post from Milan that promised “Lake Como and more still to come.” Next thing I know, we are pushing toward Halloween and the things I’ve wanted to post have been piling up in my brain.  So with the first open weekend in about six weeks, I’m going to catch up by using my trusty “Observations from…” catch-all post.

This edition will include photos from the second and third days of my quick trip to Milan in September for the Executive Committee meeting of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO).

Speaking of Lake Como: 

Lake Como is beautiful.

Lake Como panorama

Lake Como panorama

We were there to visit the Villa del Balbianello, a property of FAI, the Italian National Trust.  Commissioned in the 18th century by Cardinal Durini, the villa “has hosted literati and travellers up to the time of its final owner, the adventurous explorer Guido Monzino.”  Throughout the house are travel mementoes and art objects from his 20th century life.

Villa lakeside entrance

View of the Villa del Balbianello from the lakeside entrance

 

Villa del Balbianello writing room

Villa del Balbianello writing room

 

Travel momentoes

Travel mementoes and awards

 

Garden view from Villa del Balbianello

Garden view from Villa del Balbianello

This is a remarkable home in a stunning setting.  It is easy to see why this is FAI’s most popular property.

Villa e Collezione Panza – Contemporary art in a historic villa:  As the day turned from bright blue to rainy gray, we stopped at FAI’s historic Villa Panza to view the contemporary art collection of American artists that had been assembled by Giuseppe Pana di Buomo beginning in the 1950s.

Villa Panza courtyard

Courtyard of the Villa Panza

The villa’s windows open onto a wonderful Italian garden, making for a beautiful setting for more than 150 pieces of American contemporary art.  While our National Trust in the U.S. has several historic sites that serve as settings for contemporary art (e.g., The Glass House, Chesterwood, Kykuit), many of my colleagues on the INTO Executive Committee were surprised to see the juxtaposition of old and new.

Skyscape at Villa Panza

James Turrell’s Skyscape 1 at Villa Panza

 

Villa Panza artwork

Villa Panza artwork, historic and contemporary

 

Villa Panza parlor

Villa Panza

The Last Day (and Supper) in Milan: 

We spent the last day in Milan touring some of the city’s most famous buildings and sites.  The Duomo and square are wonders of Italian architecture.

Duomo towers

Duomo towers in Milan

 

Milan Duomo

Milan Duomo, looking across the great altar

 

Duomo details

Duomo details

The Galleria, also on the Duomo square, is a hub of commerce next to the spiritual center of the city.

Galleria hall

Galleria hall

 

Central skylight in the Galleria

Central skylight in the Galleria

And finally, thanks to the good folks at FAI, we were able to acquire much sought-after tickets to see the Last Supper.  The experience – with only 30 or so visitors allowed in the room for 15 minutes – is very moving and satisfying.  The stewards of this priceless treasure could teach the Vatican Museum – with the over-crowded and wholly unsatisfying Sistine Chapel experience – a thing or two.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

 

This was a great bookend to our time in Rome in the spring, with many thanks to FAI and my colleagues at INTO.  Milan is yet another international treasure, and I’m delighted I had the opportunity to see the city through the eyes of our Italian preservation colleagues.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (Or “The Deer Isle’s Locally Sourced Food and Music” Edition)

Yellow Birch Farm Dinner

With our fellow diners at the Yellow Birch Farm dinner on Deer Isle

During our first week on Deer Isle in Maine, we have jumped enthusiastically into the local food and music scene.  Sometimes the outing was planned.  At other times the opportunities were serendipitous.  But isn’t that how we are to live?

This is one long “Observations from the road…” post, which could be titled “My, Maine has so much to offer in locally sourced food and music.”

Our first two encounters with food and live music were unplanned yet set the stage for our visit.  Upon our arrival at Pilgrim’s Inn last Sunday evening, we saw someone carrying a guitar into his cabin.  After meeting Richard Perlmutter and his wife Judy the next day and determining that he did – in fact – have a guitar with him, we agreed to meet up after dinner on Monday for an impromptu jam session.

Serendipitously, we found that the Whale’s Rib Tavern was open for dinner at the Inn on Monday (we had mistakenly thought it was closed both Sunday and Monday evenings), so we quickly booked a reservation and had the first of what has become a string of terrific offerings over this past week.  I had the halibut, which was so wonderfully tasty, before we joined Richard and Judy in one of the cozy gathering places at the inn.

Fish from Whale's Rib

Fresh local seafood from the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

Now, had I known that Richard has won multiple Grammy and national music awards, was the founder of the remarkably successful Beethoven’s Wig choral group, and has played professionally his entire career, I might have been less inclined to offer to sit down and play a few folk and popular tunes.  But as far as I knew when we started, Richard was this very easygoing and friendly person who had a nice little parlor guitar and a Martin mandolin that he was carrying with him on a “tour that’s more vacation than tour.”  To bring you up-to-date, here’s how Richard’s website describes his work:

Beethoven once said, “If my music had words it’d be a lot more popular.” His wish has come true!  Modern day “co-writer” Richard Perlmutter has added lyrics to Beethoven (and Bach, Mozart, et. al) that have propelled the works of the old longhairs to the tops of the charts, and introduced them to new audiences everywhere.

Despite the fact that he’s forgotten more music than I’ve ever known, the four of us – joined about halfway through by a family visiting from Ireland – had a delightful time playing tunes and trying to remember lyrics.  (Lesson #1:  Always bring a fake book.)  Over the course of our first 36 hours on the island, we had met the man who produced the first Nickel Creek album (when they were ten years old), played Irish tunes on the mandolin for a gentleman who loves to attend sessions back in Dublin, and had the first of several wonderful meals.  What could be better?!

Deer Isle has limited restaurant offerings, but there are several that are very, very good.  Whale’s Rib Tavern has never disappointed – for either breakfast or dinner – and we heartily recommend it for those visiting the Downeast section of Maine.  Everything is locally sourced, and the menu offers just enough for everyone to find something appealing.  We have discovered a number of favorites, but the Blue Hill rope raised mussels, roasted garlic cream, and fried leeks (especially those friend leeks) are extra tasty.

Mussels

Mussels with fried leaks at the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

Our second evening of combining exceptional food and music came about because Candice had spent time online to scope out things to do around the island.  Stonington has both an excellent farm-to-table restaurant that overlooks the working waterfront and an active music venue across the street in the historic Opera House.  But before we made it to either one on Friday – when we had reservations – we discovered a wine tasting at Water’s Edge Wines that helped jump-start the evening.

Living in the moment, we took the time to chat with the owners – Ken and Bette Kral – while sampling some excellent wines and cheeses.  Along the way two ladies joined us at the shop and in the course of our conversation we found they – like us – were heading to Aragosta for an early dinner.  Hillary and Yvonne had been classmates in a New England boarding school some 25-30 years earlier and were spending the weekend together to catch up and enjoy Deer Isle.  Over the course of the next 24 hours we ran into them three times (it is a small island) and by the time they left to head home on Sunday we were sharing life stories and hugs in the parlor of the Pilgrim’s Inn.

Lobster ravioli

Lobster ravioli, a signature dish at Aragosta, after I’ve taken a bite or two!

The daughter of a gardener and a chef, Aragosta’s Chef Devin Finigan grew up in the kitchen and the garden in nearby Vermont.  The offerings at Aragosta are wonderful.  Candice and I split a serving of Blue Hill Bay oysters, the signature lobster ravioli and the Old Ackley Farm duck (with house gnocchi, confit, blueberries, Morgan Bay Farm bok choy and green coriander).  What a terrific meal, made all the more remarkable by the view out our window.

Stonington Harbor

View of the Stonington harbot from Aragosta

But our Friday was not yet complete, as we had tickets to the Deer Isle Jazz Festival at the Stonington Opera House.  The opening act was a terrific group of high school musicians from the George Stevens Academy.  Then they were followed by Dafnis Prieto’s Si o Si Quartet.  Oh. My. God.  What a talented musician.  What an incredible group.

Dafnis Prieto

Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet (photo credit: Stonington Opera House)

Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto has received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and numerous prestigious commissions and awards, all honoring the originality and craft of his work as a composer, bandleader, drummer and educator. Prieto has entered the top echelon of a new generation of artists blending Cuban and American traditions to achieve fresh aesthetic goals.

The Si o Si Quartet features longtime Prieto collaborators Manuel Valera on piano, keyboards, and melodica; Johannes Weidenmueller on Bass, and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor and soprano saxophones, bass melodica, and percussion. Si o Si is a thrillingly multifaceted ensemble, with an orchestral richness to match its rhythmic complexity and breathtaking energy.

I am not generally a “drum solo” fan…but I could have listened to and watched Prieto all night long.  He was so musical, so full of energy, and yet so seemingly effortless in his playing.  Valera stayed with him on the piano and filled out the quartet sound along with Weidenmuller.  Apfelbaum’s sax work was terrific.  I was – to put it simply – blown away to be hearing this level of music in a town of a few hundred people at best.  We met a couple at the Pilgrim’s Inn the next morning – easily identified as a jazz fan by his Downbeat t-shirt – and it turns out they have been coming to the jazz festival for years.  I just love these small summer festivals that draw such incredible musicians to such beautiful – and inspiring – places.

So Saturday rolls around and once again the serendipitous meets up with the planned.  As we were pulling into the inn after lunch, I noticed a couple of guys under a tent with guitars in hand, and remembered that the community bulletin board had a notice about “bring your instrument and play” time on Saturday afternoon next to the post office.  I joined Jim, Mike, and a third player who came later, and we worked through bluegrass and country music standards for about an hour.  Jim was “practicing” for his regular gig at 7 a.m. in Stonington at the “Church of the Morning After” – a jam session with fishermen along the waterfront.  He encouraged me to join them, but I noted that 7 a.m. services were for folks who didn’t really have a “Night Before” – and we had plans.

At virtually every restaurant on Deer Isle, we’ve seen local providers, such as 44 North Coffee (a wonderful coffee roaster right around the corner from the inn), and Yellow Birch Farm.  These local providers are keeping the best chefs supplied with locally sourced food.  And Saturday night we had plans to see those two things joined at a farm dinner at the Yellow Birch Farm.

We joined 13 other new friends (an amazing seven of us from the Washington area – including three who live in the Watergate, where my offices are located, a long-time National Trust supporter, and a couple who found rooms in local houses for the Si o Si Quartet and all the other performers at the Opera House).  We began with cocktails, followed by a farm tour and a wonderful two hours of food and conversation.  Held in the 19th-century barn that is the Greene Ziner Gallery, we were surrounded by beautiful artwork by farm owners and artists Missy Green and Eric Ziner and fortified with a fresh and well-prepared dinner.  Halibut was the main course, but I was especially taken with the tomato tart and the blueberry (of course) dessert.

Dessert at Farm Dinner

Dessert at the Yellow Birch Farm dinner

As we rolled out a bed this morning to attend church at St. Brendan the Navigator Episcopal Church (what a great choice of a saint for the Deer Isle community), we wondered what this week will bring.  But we’ve already made new friends, heard new music, and tasted some of the best of the bounty of Maine.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (The Celebrity Sighting – Obscure Music – Edition)

Aoife O'Donovan at Red Wing

Aoife O’Donovan

I have been on the road forever it seems.  So here are a few “Observations from the road…” posts which are – as always advertised – quirky and perhaps not ready for prime time.  You’ve been warned.

Celebrity Stalking:  True story.  As I was walking through National Airport earlier this afternoon following a flight back from Chicago, I noticed two young ladies carrying cases for a guitar and mandolin.  I had been focused on getting something for a late lunch before rushing to the office, but my brain did engage to the point where I said to myself, “That sure looked like Aoife O’Donovan – and I bet that was Sarah Jarosz with her.”

At this point you may be asking yourself, just who are Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz?

Well, for music lovers who veer away from the Taylor Swift variety of music, they are two-thirds of one of the most terrific – yet widely unheralded – music groups today:  I’m With Her. (And no, they are not connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign.  They’ve had the name for a couple of years.)  Sara Watkins – known to most as the female fiddle player and singer in Nickel Creek – is the third member of the group, and they gave a terrific performance last year at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival.

I quickly turned into the celebrity stalker, following them down the escalator towards ground transportation.  As they were headed into the women’s restroom (I’m not making this up), I called out “Ladies!”  Aoife, who was trailing, turned back, and I caught up and said, “I’m so looking forward to your Kennedy Center concert tomorrow night.”

Jarosz and O'Donovan

Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan at Red Wing 2015

She smiled and asked if I was on her flight.  I told her no, that I had just seen the two of them walking through the airport and wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed her music.  We exchanged pleasantries for 30 seconds or so, then I turned to catch my cab.  I refrained from saying that her “Oh Mama!” is the first song on my playlist about half the mornings when I listen to music while walking or exercising.

When I was a barmaid you were my mead
When I was a brave knight you were my steed
When I was so lonesome I wanted to cry
you came to me in the night…
You cried oh mama sing me a love song
pour me some bourbon and lay me down low
and ooh baby my poor heart is breaking
I feel the ground shaking right under my feet just put me to sleep

I’m With Her is playing with Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, plus Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer on Friday evening at the Kennedy Center.  I’ve had my tickets for weeks.  Should be a terrific show.

The Humidity Tour (or perhaps The Whiskey Tour):  In the past two weeks I’ve traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Houston, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois – with a couple of brief stints in Washington thrown in the middle. Just about every one of those cities experienced major thunderstorms or otherwise violent weather while I was there. One of my colleagues quipped that I was on “The Humidity Tour!”  After about 145% humidity in Houston on Tuesday (only a slight exaggeration), I agree.  Perhaps some band would like to take up that for the name of their next jaunt around the South.

I’ve also been fortunate to find a few good bourbon bars while on this tour.  The best was probably Husk in Charleston (thanks to colleague Greg Kidwell for the recommendation).  Edgar’s Proof and Provision at the Georgian Terrace Hotel (across from the Fox Theatre) in Atlanta wasn’t bad. And while Andrew and Candice made plans to take me to Jack Rose here in DC for Father’s Day, a freak power outage changed those plans.  We’re scheduled to return on this coming Sunday, and with 2,687 bottles of whiskey on the wall, I can’t wait!

A Walk-Off for #20:  While in Houston, I took advantage of an Astros home stand to visit number 20 of the 30 Major League Baseball ballparks in my quest to see them all.  Minute Maid Park is a relatively new park in downtown Houston (and surprisingly urban in feel) with a retractable roof and excellent sightlines for baseball.  (That roof was needed on Tuesday evening.  Did I mention the humidity?)

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park – Now two-thirds of the way through my MLB ballparks quest!

The Astros were playing the LA Angels – the second time I’ve seen these two teams in the last three weeks.  But where all the fireworks happened in the first inning in Anaheim (with back-to-back jacks by Trout and Pujols), this time the Astros waited until the bottom of the ninth to load the bases and then get a walk-off, two-run single.  It was a great night of baseball, and now I’m two-thirds of the way through my bucket list of MLB ballparks.

To celebrate, let’s pour a bourbon and wrap this up with Aoife’s acoustic version of “Oh Mama!”

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road (Or the “While I Was Out of the Country” Edition)

Dolci Cafe

Dolci Cafe – a taste of Italy in Takoma Park

It turns out that the world continued while I was on sabbatical for six weeks.  We returned on Monday afternoon and caught up with chores on Tuesday, while simultaneously trying to keep our Italian buzz alive.  Pacci’s Pizzeria here in Silver Spring and Takoma Park’s Dolci Gelati Cafe certainly helped in that regard!

In checking the news here in the states, I also discovered a few things that caught my eye.

Baseball season has begun – When I left the country, spring training was underway.  As we returned, our Washington Nationals were jumping off to a 12-4 start and are currently in first place in the National League East.  I know, I know:  it is early.  I also know they have feasted on the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.  But a win in April is as good as a win in September, and if they expect to do anything this year, the Nats will need to feast on the teams in their division who aren’t very good.  I have tickets for Sunday afternoon’s game, and can’t wait.

On the plane ride home from Rome, I was also able to catch my own personal spring training viewing of the movie Bull DurhamBest Baseball Movie. Ever.  I’ve watched it dozens of times, and the story of Crash, Nuke, and Annie never gets old.  Yes, I did laugh out loud at the quotes, including one of my favorite lines that Annie uses in describing the talented but clueless Nuke (which has the added advantage of being true):  “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.”

And this little piece is among my favorite scenes:

[Larry – the coach – jogs out to the mound to break up a players’ conference] Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?

Crash Davis:  Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster?  [Jose nods]

Crash:  We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.  [to the players]

Crash: Is that about right?  [the players nod]

Crash:  We’re dealing with a lot of shit.

Larry:  Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.

Priceless!  Play ball!

My home state is in the running for the “What are These Guys Thinking?” award – Tennessee, which has NINE state songs, had a group of legislators pushing to name the Bible as the State book.  Jeez.  What, were they worried that Mississippi was going to run away with this year’s award?  Before the Governor vetoed this bill, Gail Collins wrote a classic column:

Amid all the truly awful things state legislatures do, one of the rare bright spots has been the naming of official symbols. Who was ever made unhappy by the designation of a state rock?

Tennessee, alas, is screwing up the record. The governor is currently trying to decide whether to sign a piece of legislation that would put the Bible on the list of State Things, alongside the salamander (amphibian), milk (beverage), honeybee (agricultural insect), raccoon (wild animal), several variations on the theme of state tree and flower, and nine — nine! — official state songs. The last of which, adopted in 2011, was “Tennessee.”

The next question you’re probably asking is why it took nine tries for Tennessee to get a song named “Tennessee,” and the answer is that it actually has two. You have to admit that’s pretty inclusive. On the other hand, picking the Christian holy book as a state symbol seems simultaneously divisive and unnecessary. Not to mention sort of disrespectful to the Bible, which doesn’t usually get included on the same list as the salamander and the smallmouth bass.

My father’s work on earth is not yet done.  He needs to fire off another of his classic letters to the editor to the local newspaper reminding his fellow citizens that Baptists (and they are all some type of Baptist in Tennessee) practically invented the separation of church and state (before they decided in the 1980s that they kind of liked bossing around other people who perhaps had different religious beliefs from them).

The endless Presidential campaign continues – No, the election didn’t magically end while we were gone.  They are talking about the same things they were when we left.  I could write a lot about the campaign, but I’ll just quote from one of my favorite websites:  Margaret and Helen – Best Friends for 60 years and counting.

I saw an interview with a gay, black Republican congressman from Georgia who is supporting Rubio. I think that makes him a unicorn.  But anyway…  The reporter pointed out that Rubio doesn’t recognize the congressman’s relationship with his same-sex partner. The congressman responded by saying that was ok because neither did his mother.  Now if that ain’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  Well it was, at least until I watched that debate.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Roots music is alive and well, if a bit quirky – I really missed playing guitar when I was in Rome, but I was glad to at least see a couple of articles about roots music while I was there.  Upon my return, the New York Times had a nice appreciation for singer/songrwriter John Prine that I recommend.  Prine – who turns 70 this year – has an amazing facility for finding just the right words, on topics serious and not-so-serious.  Such as “Jesus:  The Missing Years.”

It was raining, it was cold, West Bethlehem was no place for a 12-year-old…”

The world is a strange place, and we depend on writers like Prine to help us through.

More to come…

DJB