Saturday, January 3, 2009

Day 87/365 - At the DC Neujahrskonzert

The Neujahrskonzert, or New Year's Concert, is a traditional Viennese performance of the music of the Strauss family and other Austrian composers held annually on January first. DC's version of this tradition is part of a series of coordinated concerts across North America called Salute to Vienna and it's held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts a few days after New Year's. This year it was held tonight and I went.

I'd never been to this before, but I'd been wanting to for a while. It's not just a classical music concert, it's a sort of performing arts sampler platter. In addition to the philharmonic part (btw, if your last name is Harmonic then I think you should be required to name your child either Phillip or Phyllis), there are arias from Austrian operettas and excerpts from ballets. The Kennedy Center used to stage a similar 'survey class' each year as part of the Kirov Festival, but they haven't done that the last few years. Bummer.

Tonight's performance was held in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and featured the Strauss Symphony of America, ebullient guest conductor Sascha Gotzel, the Budapest Ballet, and a pair of ballroom dancers. As you can see from the photo, my seat was in one of the stage boxes. I'd never sat up here before but it's very cool and I'm definitely going to keep this in mind the next time I attend something at the Concert Hall. It's kind of like a home plate seat at a baseball game, minus the annoying netting. You're right on top of the orchestra and you can't see much of the rest of the crowd, so it's like they're performing just for you. Plus from that vantage point you can really see musicians' technique and the conductor's facial expressions (*cough* not to mention having a great view of the soprano's cleavage and the dancers' legs *cough*).

I really enjoyed this concert. It was light and joyous and lively and it had a great mix of performance pieces. The part where the conductor conducts the audience's applause during the 'Blue Danube' encore might seem a bit cheesy or contrived, but it's actually quite fun. The New Year's Concert/Salute to Vienna is certainly worth keeping in mind when next January rolls around, especially if you can luck into getting a seat in Box 60 like I did. Then it's just pure awesomeness.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Day 86/365 - Break Out

I think my 365 Project has been good for me in a couple of ways. First, it's gotten me to play around with my cameras and try some experimental shots that I might not have considered otherwise. Second, it's motivated me to 'get up, get out and do something' on days when I might otherwise have just been content to stay at home. Like today, for instance.

After getting sucked into the 'Bones' marathon yesterday, I nearly got trapped by the 'I Love Lucy' marathon today. I swear, sometimes I think couches were invented by television manufacturers, broadcasters, and snack food companies in order to snare us into consuming more of their products. Or maybe that's just me. I didn't want to shoot another photo of something laying around my apartment today, though, so I decided to go hit a museum and grab some grub. I did stick around on the couch long enough to laugh myself silly at the 'Vitameatavegamin' episode of Lucy, though. That one is one of my all-time faves.

I was debating between checking out either the Newseum or the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, and I finally decided to go with the cops and robbers. I love old gangster and g-man movies. That was one of the reasons I rented a tommy gun when my brother and I went to a shooting range in Las Vegas last winter. Man, those things are heavy.

It costs $19 to go to the C&P Museum. I think $13-14 would be a more appropriate entry fee, but the place was pretty full so I'm guessing they aren't feeling any pressure to cut their rates. The museum was pretty interesting. It covers the history and tools of crime and punishment from medieval torture implements up to modern computer crime. A lot of the museum's display objects are replicas, but they do also have some nice original artifacts, such as guns used by various members of the James Gang, the State of Tennessee's former electric chair Old Smokey (creepy, btw), and one of John Dillinger's getaway cars.

That's it above, a 1933 Essex Terraplane. It's weird how you used to be able to open up the windshield in order to get a breeze while you drove. I remember once watching a documentary on Depression-era bandits that explained why they were almost always able to outrun pursuing lawmen -- they spent their ill-gotten gains on high-power, high-performance automobiles like this one and most local police departments made do with rattletrap old beaters. Ford Motor Co. even took advantage of Dillinger's use of their vehicles as a sales pitch by stating that the police would only catch him once he stopped driving their V-8s. Maybe they were right, because this Terraplane is one of the last cars he drove.

It's a bit odd that I broke out of the soft prison of my apartment just to go and browse a museum dealing with the penal system, but it wasn't a bad day out. Plus it gave me a chance to swing by Matchbox for a late lunch/early dinner. Yum! That's definitely not prison food.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day 85/365 - Brand New Year, Same Old Me

The new year got off to a very lazy start in my kingdom of one. I spent the entire day on the couch watching tv and taking naps, plural. Ahh, it's good to be the king.

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 84/365 - New Year's Wii

I've never really liked big parties or crowds of strangers, so my New Year's Eve celebrations tend to just involve hanging out with family or close friends. Last year my friends Chris, Desiree and I ordered Thai food, played Yahtzee, listened to music, and watched the ball drop on tv. This year, we played Lego Batman on their Wii, Des made some yummy Venezuelan food for us, and we watched the ball drop on tv.

It bears little resemblance to the definition of "New Year's Eve fun" as put forth by movies and television, but I love it. Why spend the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new with a bunch of random strangers in a ballroom somewhere when you can be in a cozy living room with people you care about and who care about you? That's the way to start the new year off right.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 83/365 - Next to Normal

Next to Normal is a musical with a bit of a convoluted development history. It opened in New York off-Broadway to reviews that were generally positive, albeit with some reservations. It was because of those reservations that the play migrated south for the winter to be retooled and restaged. It's currently being produced by Arena Stage at the Crystal City performance space that was pressed into service to tide them over until renovations are completed on their home theatre on DC's Southwest Waterfront.

I went to see it tonight even though I had misgivings about going. The play is about a dysfunctional family dealing with mental illness, so unlike most fare offered by theatres around the holidays, it's not exactly cheery and uplifting. Generally I'm opposed to paying to be depressed for two hours, but the reviews of the reworked show have been uniformly glowing and Ticketplace had half-price seats available and the theatre is literally a block from my apartment. So, I went.

As far as musicals about mental illness go, I think it's about as good as you're going to get. I don't know whether I could recommend it or not, but it definitely wasn't a waste of time or money. Despite the fact that I was predisposed to not liking it, I found the story very poignant, gripping, and compelling. The songs were serviceable but, with the exception of one that's refrain was 'I Miss the Mountains,' largely unremarkable (judging by the program none of the songs appear to have actual titles, which should be a tip-off as to how memorable they are). The performers were strong actors, but middling singers with thin, easily frayed voices. The orchestra was quite good. Arena's Crystal City performance space isn't terrible, but given that the seating area is pitched at a very shallow angle and the stage is rather low, you spend a good portion of the play watching the back of the person's head in front of you rather than the actors.

So, much like the critics who reviewed the play's first run in New York (who, unlike me, actually know what the hell they're talking about), I'd have to say that Next to Normal is good, with some reservations.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Day 82/365 - Tourorists

Tourorist (toor-or-ist) noun - a particularly annoying tourist.

It was fairly warm out again today and given that hardly anyone was in the office (and especially given that I really didn't feel like doing any work), I went for a walk on the National Mall. Normally when I do that I just do a loop from the American Indian Museum down to the American History Museum. Today though I went all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial and back. Yep, not a whole lot of work got done today. Well, not by me anyhow.

There were loads of tourists out on the Mall. For the most part the tourists that come to Washington aren't too bad. Generally I only find them annoying when they're getting in the way -- such as when they stand on the left of the Metro escalators or when they come to a sudden stop at the top/bottom of escalator in order to get their bearings, meanwhile the escalator keeps moving and people start piling up behind them. I really hate that. That and when they let their obstreperous offspring treat the poles inside the Metro cars like jungle gyms.

I frequently wonder if the locals find me annoying when I go somewhere on a trip. I try to remember to avoid doing the sorts of things that would aggravate me, but I'm sure I slip sometimes and cause them to shake their heads and mutter under their breath about me like I do about our tourists.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Twice on Sunday Bonus Photo(s) - Special Guest Host

The subject of this week's photo from my archives is Chewie, my friends' miniature Australian shepherd, as he looked last February at their Super Bowl party. And, as a special added bonus for this week's Twice on Sunday feature, we have a photo journal chronicling a day in the life of my friend Desiree -- Chewie's 'mom' and a lawyer turned professional dog walker. Take it away, Des!

"A Day in the Life of Desiree" Slideshow

(P.S. -- If you still haven't gotten your fill of doggie cuteness, the The Littlest Wookie link on the sidebar will take you to Chewie's blog)

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Day 81/365 - Endangered Species

It's December 28th.

It's 70 degrees.

I'm wearing shorts.

I'll enjoy spring weather when it's actually spring. Right now, I want winter back.

Global warming sucks.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)