Thursday, September 18, 2014

Get Out! - The Events Column

C&O Canal photo by Thomas S. Mann
We wanted to share some events and activities that list members might be interested in. Have a great weekend -- and week beyond, too. If you know of an event that the 14,000+ members of the Cleveland Park Listserv should know about, email us at events @

Peggy Robin and Bill Adler
Publishers, Cleveland Park Listserv

Thursday, Sept 18 from 6 - 9 PM, Newark Street Dog Park K-9 Friends Happy Hour at Jake’s American Grille, 5018 Connecticut Avenue NW. Enjoy happy hour drinks, free snacks, and games in the “Boiler Room” downstairs, or relax on the dog-friendly patio with your canine pals. This event is organized by the Newark Street Park K-9 Friends, an all-volunteer group that maintains the dog park at the corner of Newark and 39th Streets.

Thursday, September 18 from 7:15 PM - 8:30 PM, Attorney General Candidates Forum, presented by the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. Join us at the Cleveland Park Library, 1st floor meeting room, for an opportunity to vet the candidates for DC's "top cop". All 5 candidates (Lorie Masters, Karl Racine, Edward Smitty Smith, Lateefah Williams, and Paul Zukerberg) have confirmed their attendance. The library is at the corner of Connecticut Avenue & Macomb Street. More info at

Friday, September 19 from 7 - 9 PM, UNCENSORED: The Preview Party. Celebrate the freedom to read, express and create as the DC Public Library kicks off Banned Books Week. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library's Great Hall will transform into a gallery space as we unveil works of art by local D.C. artists pertaining to the theme of censorship. Join us for an evening of uncensored fun including art, specialty cocktails inspired by banned books, and live music. Individual Ticket $50; Host Ticket $250 - a benefit for the DC Public Library Foundation. RSVP: or call 202 727 1183. At the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW.

Saturday, September 20 at 11 AM, Historic Chevy Chase DC Walking Tour, beginning at the Avalon Theater, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW, (one block south of Chevy Chase Circle). We will take a look at the historic commercial structures along Connecticut Avenue and also at the some of the historic residential structures on the side streets. The Avalon Theatre, in cooperation with HCCDC, will be offering coupons good for a discount on ice cream at the Avalon Cafe to participants in the tour. For additional information on the HCCDC tour visit The walking tour is free and everyone is welcome. Reserve your place through Cultural Tourism DC (CTDC): or if you can’t reserve, you can just show up at the appointed time and place. More info on other CTDC tours at:

Saturday, September 20 from 11 AM - 5 PM, Palisades Village House Tour 2014. View some of the most beautiful and unique homes in the Palisades area! Vintage, traditional and contemporary houses will all be featured. All proceeds benefit Palisades Village, an organization that helps neighbors stay in their homes as they age. To purchase advance tickets, go to or call 202-244-3310. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 day of tour (purchase at Our Lady of Victory Church, 4835 MacArthur Blvd NW.

Saturday, September 20 from 12 noon - 7 PM, The 2014 H Street Festival, spanning 10 blocks of H Street NE and featuring over 200 businesses, restaurants, community organizations and merchants. Come down and enjoy great food, drinks, music, contests,kids’ activities and more! This year’s Festival will offer more entertainment than ever before, featuring more than 500 performers and artists on 14 staging areas spread throughout the event. Performances will range from jazz, pop and gospel music to fitness demonstrations, a “skills on wheels” performance and interactive art displays. For those who come hungry or thirsty, the Festival will feature over 70 food vendors, food trucks and restaurants serving up meals from all corners of the world. Festival-goers can also visit the beverage gardens located along the festival route to sample the many available libations. The Festival will take place between the 400 and 1400 blocks of H Street NE. Much more info about dozens more activities at:

Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 6 PM, The Fourth Annual Park After Dark Fundraiser will be held under the stars in the C&O Canal National Historic Park at the beautiful Historic Great Falls Tavern. Enjoy live music, great food, libations, unique auction items, a campfire, and much more! Tickets are $175 per person ($125 of that price is a tax-deductible donation to the C&O Canal Trust) available at

Saturday, September 20 from 10 AM - 4 PM and Sunday, September 21 from 1:30 - 4 PM, Cleveland Park Library’s Annual Fall Book Sale. Books of all kinds, plus VHS tapes, cassettes, vinyl records - FREE! Most books half-price on Sunday. The Cleveland Park Library is at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Macomb Street.

Sunday, September 21, 10 AM - 4 PM, ZooFiesta, Un día de diversión animal para toda la familia. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage month at ZooFiesta. See animal demonstrations and learn about animals native to Latin America, such as golden lion tamarins, sloths, Andean bears, and anteaters. Meet Zoo experts and learn how they are working to save these species and more. Family activities include animal feedings, arts and crafts, musical entertainment, educational activities highlighting conservation research in Central and South America, and authentic gourmet cuisine at a Latin American inspired food bazaar. Free and open to the public! At the National Zoo. More info:

Sunday, September 14 at 10 AM, Kidical Mass DC & Kidical Mass Arlington meetup ride:
the incredible adorability of Kidical Mass Arlington will cross the bridge and join forces with the amazing delightfulness of Kidical Mass DC to circle the Washington Monument….and eat cupcakes! Meet at Stanton Park on Capitol Hill (West side, about where the Google Maps dot is). Distance: 2 miles (one way). More info:

Monday, September 22 at 7 PM, Back to School Night for Non-Parents. This evening is for all those who would like to weigh in on the debate about DC public schools but don’t have a child in the system. People will respect your views when you can show that you know something about how your local public school works. Come to this Back-to-School Night and let a DC public school teacher guide you through a typical child’s day at that school.You will not only learn about the curriculum and teaching methods in use but you will pick up some essential multisyllabic educational jargon (“experiential-based learning,” “multiple modalities,” “synergistic pedagogy”), so that others will think you actually know what you are talking about. Location: Your nearest local public school - but if you show up, they just might be holding a real Back-to-School night for parents and you will be embarrassed to discover that this is the weekly fake event.

Tuesday, September 23 at 10 AM. José-Luis Orozco puts on a fun and exciting family concert in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Children will sing, dance, clap and laugh while learning basic language and literacy skills that engage them in an interactive musical experience. For all ages. Free. At the Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW. More info:

Tuesday, September 23 from 7 - 9:30 PM, Chefs for Equality event featuring top chefs and mixologists from dozens of area restaurants, offering food and drink creations, showcasing multi-tiered wedding cakes, with music and a benefit auction. Tickets $150 at At the Ritz-Carlton, 1150 22nd Street NW.

Wednesday, September 24 at 7 pm, Washington journalist/author Don Fulsom will discuss his book Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President, in the meeting room of the West End Interim Library, 2522 Virginia Avenue NW. Free. More info:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Happy 200th Birthday, S-S B!

Photo by George Henry Preble (public domain)
by Peggy Robin

Tomorrow, September 14, is National Anthem Day, and this is THE BIG 200!  On this day in 1814, while held prisoner aboard a British warship, Francis Scott Key wrote the immortal poem, “The Star Spangled Banner” that was to become (in another 117 years!) our national anthem. From the deck of the ship as he watched the British fire repeatedly upon Fort McHenry, his words poetically captured what he saw “by the dawn’s early light.”  At the battle’s end, “our flag was still there” – and we are singing about that battle still. But the lyrics go on to ask Americans to reflect upon the meaning of the flag and whether it continues to stand as a proud symbol of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It may well  be the only national anthem in the world to end with a question mark. (“Does that star-spangled banner still wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”)

Now some of you at this point may object, “That’s not right. Our national anthem does not end there. It has three more verses.” Well, that’s technically correct. But at official events, ball games, and many other large public gatherings, the music and the singing always stop after the first verse. How many of us can sing the other three?

If you want to join a small minority who can, start memorizing from Verse Two, here: That second verse is mainly a restatement of the account of the battle in the first verse, ending with yet another expression of surprise that as the sun came up, the flag was still visible. That’s all well and good.

Now we come to the third verse. And here we come to a problem, a part that does not sit right with our modern –less bloodthirsty, more egalitarian – sensibilities. That third verse is essentially devoted to gloating about the number of people killed on the other side. Key is not just happy that so many enemy lives were lost, but is sneering that among “that band” whose “foul footsteps’ pollution” has now been washed away by bloodshed, were many foreign mercenaries and freed slaves (“hirelings and slaves”), now gone to the “gloom of the grave” with the star-spangled banner waving “in triumph” over the land where they died. Ugh.

The fourth verse goes on to proclaim that God was firmly on the American side (Key calls America a “heav'n rescued land” and praises, “the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation”) and then lays down a theologically-based justification for future American wars of expansion: “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’” (Lest you think I’m out on a limb in my interpretation of these latter verses, I offer this line-by-line analysis by a blogger in Fort Worth Texas:

I don’t mean to put a damper on the 200th birthday celebration – just to suggest that we focus on the verse we all know and can sing together without hesitation. Let’s celebrate the Anthem that ends with the question …and leave it at that.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Get Out! - The Events Column

Photo by Thomas S. Mann
We wanted to share some events and activities that list members might be interested in. Have a great weekend -- and week beyond, too. If you know of an event that the 14,000+ members of the Cleveland Park Listserv should know about, email us at (events @

Peggy Robin and Bill Adler
Publishers, Cleveland Park Listserv

Friday, September 12 from 9 - 11 PM, City View Party on a rooftop deck under the stars, to celebrate the opening of the DC Shorts Film Festival. At Carroll Square, 975 F Street NW. Tickets $20 + service charge, online at or at the box office - Use Promo Code CP2DCS for $2 off ticket. 21+ only. Light refreshments and special selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages included. More info:

Saturday, September 13 from 11 AM - 3 PM, Fall Book Sale hosted by the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library. Fiction, nonfiction, kids’ books, cookbooks, specialty books -- 50 cents to two dollars (more for collectibles). At the Tenley-Friendship Library, 4450 Wisconsin Avenue NW.

Saturday, September 13 from 12 noon - 5 PM, The annual Taste of Georgetown celebrates its 21st year, offering creative tastes from more than 35 of the neighborhood’s best restaurants, as well as an expansive Craft Beer and Wine Pavilion and live entertainment. For the second year, teams led by some of Georgetown’s hottest chefs will face off in the Georgetown Chef Showdown, testing their culinary skills during the Iron Chef-style Competition judged by DC’s top food experts and media. Family-friendly entertainment includes bocce ball courts, hula-hooping, face-painting and balloon-animal-making. Advance tickets, $5 - $50 at or available on-site at K Street along the scenic Georgetown Waterfront. This event is hosted by the Georgetown BID and benefits the Georgetown Ministry Center’s services supporting the homeless.

Saturday, September 13 from 12 noon to 6 PM, The 17th Street Festival hosted by Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, with kids’ activities, pet zone, art zone with over 50 artists, vendors, high-tech displays, musical acts, dance performances, drag shows, and more. Free. On 17th Street between Riggs Place and P Street NW. Visit for info.

Saturday, September 13 from 1 - 4 PM, Chevy Chase DC Day, featuring free ice cream, a scavenger hunt, moon bounce, story time, face painting, magic and balloon animals by Clown Judy, and more! Free. At the Chevy Chase Commons outside the Community Center, 5601 Connecticut Avenue, NW. For complete details visit

Saturday, September 13 from 8 - 11 PM, Grand Bash for the DC Shorts Film Festival. Spend an evening with filmmakers and film lovers at the U.S. Navy Memorial, complete with night views of the Archives and Capitol. At 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Tickets $20 + service charge, online at or at the box office - use Promo Code CP2DCS for $2 off ticket. 21+ only. Light refreshments and special selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages included. More info:

Sunday, September 14 from 12 – 7 PM, Adams Morgan Day Festival, featuring three stages with more than 25 performances of reggae, soul, salsa, dance and much more, including legendary Chuck Brown Band, Feedel Band, dance company Batala, Marcus Johnson Trio and many others. Arts on Belmont will feature local paintings, graphics, photography, sculpture, crafts, and jewelry. The Kids Carnival will include a moon bounce, face painting, and a show with Radio Disney. Hundreds of local nonprofits, “green” exhibitors, vendors, and businesses at the oldest running neighborhood festival in Washington DC. Free. On 18th Street between Columbia Road and Florida Avenue. More info:

Sunday, September 14 from 12 noon - 7 PM, Ethiopian New Year/Wildlife Festival with food, arts and crafts, music, activities for kids, a beer garden and more. The focus of the event is on wildlife conservation in Ethiopia which is home to a huge number of unique and critically endangered animals - learn more at and Festival flyer at Free. At Freedom Plaza, 14th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

Sunday, September 14 at 2 PM, “The Legends and Lore of DC” book discussion series will focus on Reveille in Washington, DC by Margaret Leech. This classic book on Washington, DC during the Civil War era was published in 1941 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History the following year. Preeminent Civil War historian Dr. James McPherson wrote the introduction for the book when it was reissued in 2011. Free. At the Cleveland Park Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW. See for more info.

Monday, September 15 at 12:30 PM, “The Problem of La: A Discussion of Musical Homonyms.” A panel of musicologists consider the problem embodied in the lyrics to “Do Re Mi,” from the Sound of Music. In that composition, every note in the scale is represented by a homonym, beginning with DO (a deer, a female deer), and continuing in sequence to RE (ray), MI (me), FA (far); SO (sew), until we come to LA, which alone among the notes is presented sans homonymic pairing. LA appears to be a pure musical note without parallel in the “real” world. TI, by contrast, is readily transformed into “a drink with jam and bread.” We complete the scale by returning to DO (doe). Distinguished professors of music theory tackle this question that has perplexed scholars and singers alike since November 15, 1959 when the song was first performed on the New York stage. At Smithsonian Associates S. Dillon Ripley Center - tickets $89 ($79 for Smithsonian members) - reserve at 

Tuesday, September 16 from 6:30 - 8 PM, an introductory class on spoken Welsh, presented by Knowledge Commons DC. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychweryndrobwllllanteisiliogogogoch — with words like that, who wouldn’t want to learn Welsh? (Most Welsh people, sadly.) As a Celtic language, Welsh is vastly different from any Germanic or Romance tongue. Speaking it will make you a linguistic badass. This class will cover the basics of spoken, colloquial Southern Welsh. Free. Reservations required - visit In the reading room of the Petworth Citizen, 829 Upshur Street NW.

Wednesday, September 17 from 12 Noon to 2 PM, “Orange Is the New Black” receives an award from the Constitution Project. Piper Kerman, author of the memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, will be present to accept the award and will participate in a Constitution Day panel discussion focusing on women in prison. The Constitution Day Project is hosted by the law firm of Arent Fox LLP. Free, but reservations required. Location: 1717 K St NW.

Wednesday, September 17 from 6:45 - 8:15 PM, “Dressing DC for the Small Screen.” In this conversation about fashion, Washington, and how the two intersect on a hit series, hear from costume designers Jenny Gering (The Americans) and Tom Broecker (season one of House of Cards). While Gering designs costumes for KGB spies working undercover as suburbanites during the Reagan years, Broecker had a very different task in designing for a series set in the present-day, centering on the ruthless, cunning Congressman Francis Underwood and his ambitious and his equally conniving wife, Claire.Despite working on different series separated by more than three decades, hear how both designers take inspiration—and some liberties—from real Washington fashion past and present. Kate Bennett, fashion editor of Washingtonian magazine, moderates the discussion. Location: S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. Tickets $25 - $30 at .

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Still Life With Robin: I Just [Verbed] Here to Say...

Photo by Mariordo via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

In a household with four licensed drivers and just one car, I have lately become a more frequent user of alternative forms of transportation: Car2Go, Uber, UberX, and Capital Bikeshare, as well as those old standbys, Metro and taxi. (I was about to type the cliché “old reliables” but stopped myself when I realized that neither Metro nor DC taxis can accurately be covered by that phrase). I haven’t yet used Lyft, Hailo, or Zipcar. I won’t go into the plusses and minuses of each of these variants versus the private car; my purpose today is to consider the efficiency of language in supplying a concise verb for the mode of transportation involved.

A couple of examples that I have actually used: “I Metro’ed to the dentist.” “I Ubered back home from the restaurant.” If I want to express the past tense for my use of Car2Go, it’s not quite so easy. I could never say, “I Car2Go’ed home.” Even worse would be “I Car2Went….”

Lyft has not taken off in this area in quite the same way that Uber has, and I am guessing that part of the problem may be its lack of a handy verb to describe the action of taking Lyft. People just don’t say they “Lyfted” someplace the way they say they “Ubered.” Even the more normal-sounding phrase “I got a Lyft” is likely to be misinterpreted as its more conventional meaning: “I was offered a ride by a friend.”

Of course, I could be overstating the utility of having a brand name that doubles as a verb. The taxi industry has not appeared to suffer from the need to say, “I took a taxi” – four words -- rather than “I taxied” (a verb that summons up an image of an airplane moving slowly on its wheels along a runway). As for Car2Go, what’s wrong with saying, “I used a carshare service to get here”? Why, nothing at all, and it’s not as if using taking an extra half-second to describe the means of arrival will slow you down in real life. 

Still, every time you do use a branded verb like Uber, you are conveying the impression that Uber is one of the standard ways to get from one place to another, just like Metro-ing, driving (your own car), walking, or biking. You might even say, “I Ubered to the job interview” when you actually arrived by Lyft. Or MyTaxi. Or RideJoy, Sidecar, RideScout, or whatever new service comes down the pike (literally, in this case). Language often adapts ahead of reality. We will know that’s true when we are finally able to beam to some other location. We’ve had that verb for a means of transport since the crew members of the Starship Enterprise first traveled that way back in 1966….


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Get Out! - The Events Column

Photo by the National Zoo

We wanted to share some events and activities that list members might be interested in. Have a great weekend -- and week beyond, too. If you know of an event that the 14,000+ members of the Cleveland Park Listserv should know about, email us at events @

Peggy Robin and Bill Adler

Publishers, Cleveland Park Listserv

Friday, September 5, from 5:30 - 8:30 PM, Alliance Francaise of Washington hosts an open house (Portes Ouvertes) to introduce its fall programs and give Francophiles a chance to meet and mingle. Free (adults only). At 2142 Wyoming Avenue NW,

Friday, September 5 from 11 AM - 3 PM, Capital Harvest on the Plaza: Live cooking demonstrations and vendors of locally grown food. Free. At Woodrow Wilson Plaza in front of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Saturday, September 6 from 10 AM - 3 PM, It’s International Vulture Awareness Day at the National Zoo. Learn all about these misunderstood scavengers including the vital role they play in a healthy ecosystem and the threats to survival vultures around the world face. This fun, educational event will feature keeper talks, educational activities for adults and kids, and special animal demonstration featuring our vultures. At the Cheetah Conservation Station at the National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW. More info:

Saturday, September 6 at 3:30 PM,  Author Talk: The History of Rock Creek Park. The author & Interpretive Park Ranger Scott Einberger will discuss his new book, "The History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness and Washington, DC."  Free. At the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, 3260 R Street NW,

Saturday, September 6from 12 PM to 4 PM, It’s the 6th Annual Doggie Day Swim, put on by the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, at 3 public pools: Upshur Main & Kiddie Pool (4300 Arkansas Avenue, NW); Francis Pool (25th & N Street, NW); and Randall Pool (South Capitol and I Streets, SW). Admission is free, however all dogs must have a valid, DOH-issued DC dog license, to enter the pool. For more information on how to obtain a dog license, visit the DOH Dog License website. Licenses will be issued on site, however dog owners must have all the required documentation (proof of rabies and distemper vaccinations; and proof of spaying/neutering) and fee payment (money orders or personal check accepted – no credit cards or cash). Limited capacity: 75 dogs at Upshur Pool, 75 dogs at Randall Pool and 150 dogs at Francis Pool. For more information on locations and rules, go to

Monday, September 8 at 7 PM, Klingon vs. Elvish vs. Esperanto: A Debate Among Speakers of Invented Languages. At this three-sided debate we will hear first from a speaker of Klingon (who will be wearing ridged forehead prosthetics and a black wig obtained from the wardrobe department of Star Trek: The Next Generation, next from a speaker of an Elvish dialect who is under the delusion that he looks just like Orlando Bloom in LOTR, and finally from a.speaker brought up in one of the rare families that uses Esperanto as its native language. Each speaker will debate entirely in his own preferred language. Simultaneous translation will not be provided, nor will anything be provided, because this is the weekly fake event. At the LInguistic Society of America, 1325 18th St NW. For more information see and   

Tuesday, September 9 from 2 - 4 PM, Iona Senior Services “Live Well in DC” series presents "Rights and Resources in DC." Representatives from the Office of People’s Council will discuss current community projects in DC and their importance. Attendees can expect to learn more about energy efficiency, updates on DC utilities providers, and the legal issues with new alternative energy suppliers. Free, but please RSVP at or by calling (202) 895-9448 . At Iona Senior Services, 4125 Albemarle Street NW.

Wednesday, September 10 at 6 PM, A Taste of Spices. Learn about the history of spices from the important  trade in pepper from the Middle East to the Far East along the Silk Road to  today's modern international palate. A variety of popular and some obscure spices will be discussed to raise your awareness of their history and uses, so the next time you stroll down the spice aisle in your local grocery store, you will know the secrets in those little canisters and jars. Tasting to follow program. At Dumbarton House, the Belle Vue Room, 2715 Q Street NW. Tickets $15 - $20 at - reserve by September 8th.

Wednesday, September 10 at 6:45 PM, “Star Trek’s Never-Ending Voyage: How TV Future Became Real Life Present,” lecture by Margaret Weitekamp, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum. Tickets, $20 - $25 at At the S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW.

Wednesday, September 10 at 7 PM, District of Change: Making Schools Better for DC. Over the past few years, public education in D.C. has been transformed - from IMPACT rating for teachers, to school closings, to boundary and feeder changes, to major facilities improvements, to an explosion of Public Charter Schools. Have these attempts to close the achievement gap worked? Are D.C. schools better? Join moderator Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, in discussion with panelists: Scott Cartland, former principal, Janney Elementary School (Ward 3), current principal, Wheatley Education Campus (Ward 5); Alexandra Pardo, executive director, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School (Ward 8);  Andria Caruthers, principal, West Education Campus (Ward 4). Free, but please rsvp for this event at At the MLK, Jr. Library, 901 G St. NW. More info:

Thursday, September 11 from 12 noon to 7 PM, Green Living Expo DC. Meet the nearly 50 exhibitors who will be on hand to help you discover why D.C. is steadily becoming the model of a sustainable city. Green businesses, energy-saving devices, green roofs, locally grown food, urban forests, urban biking, and green infrastructure are just a few of the featured topics and services that will be available. You can consult with environmental experts while enjoying demonstrations, live music, and local food. The event also includes panel discussions, speaker presentations, activities for kids ages K-12, and an eco-bike tour around the Van Ness campus and the surrounding communities to highlight leading examples of urban sustainability. This free community event is held at the University of the District of Columbia (Van Ness & Connecticut).

Thursday, September 11  at 7 PM, Book discussion: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith (UK). The Belseys, a mixed race family from the UK, move to the Boston suburbs for an academic exchange and become entangled by family tussles, scholarly sabotage, and political rivalry, all told in Smith’s ribald style of hip satire. This book won the Orange Prize, a global award for women’s fiction, in 2006. This is the first event of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library’s Fall 2014-Winter 2015 book discussion series, led by Phil Burnham, George Mason University  professor of literature. The Cleveland Park Library is at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Macomb St NW. More info: The series will continue on the second Thursday of each month.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Still Life With Robin: National BookFest 2014 - Better Without Grass

Book Festival Poster 2014
by Peggy Robin

I bring you a report from this year’s National Book Festival on the advantages of life indoors. I am so glad that plans for the restoration of the grass on the National Mall resulted in relocation of the BookFest to the Washington Convention Center this year. Not only does it give the Mall a chance to regenerate the greenness of our nation’s lawn, but it gives book lovers a relief from so many things that distracted from enjoyment of books, authors, readings, cooking demonstrations, and other delights of the festival – and those distractions were:

- Those giant, perpetually roaring fans, needed to keep circulating air under the BookFest’s heavy outdoor tents.
- The dust and gravel, continually stirred up by thousands of trampling feet.
- Over-amplified sounds from competing events -- especially problematic when a tent for an event with music or film was placed too close to a tent for an author reading poetry in a soft, subtle voice.
- Intense sun glare quickly that left you blinking idiotically as you emerged from the shadowy grayness of a tented canopy, or the fuzzy gloom that enveloped you as you stepped out of the bright sunshine into the grayness inside a tented author pavilion.
- Those flimsy plastic chairs lined up too close to one another under a tent – and there were never enough of them, if a bestselling author was at the podium.

In contrast, I offer a top-ten list (Letterman-style, from number ten to number one) of the things I like most about the move indoors:

10.  Easier access to events when they’re all together in one big building rather than spread out over several city blocks outside.
9. Convention Center chairs are padded and wider than the usual outdoor folding chairs.
8. When an author event is so popular that all available seats are taken, it’s fine to sit cross-legged on the carpet off to one side. You can still see and hear quite well from that vantage point.
7. The weather inside is always fine; it can be 100 outside or the middle of lightning storm, and the BookFest will not be affected.
6. The book signing lines are well laid out and it was easy to find the right line for the right author at the right times, as the maps and schedules in the BookFest brochure made it easy to plan your day (that is, easier than it was when you’d have to dash from one book-signing tent at 11:30 AM to another at the far end of the Mall at noon.)
5. The book-selling section was spacious and well lit, with wide aisles and books neatly stacked on separate tables by category (unlike the crowded tables piled high with books under a sweltering tent in last year’s BookFest on the Mall) – so it was a snap to find and buy any particular author’s work.
4. Far superior access for handicapped patrons (I saw lots of wheelchair users able to get to events without apparent difficulty, something that was not so easy on the often muddy or rutted paths of the Mall).
3. Food was available in a few different areas, with adequate seating….but if you didn’t like the offerings from Convention Center vendors, it’s a short walk to down 7th Street to a good selection of both fast food places and sit-down restaurants of all kinds.
2. Sound check -- in the spacious salons of the convention center, you can hear the featured author speaking over sound equipment amplified to the right level for the room.

And now to the Number One Reason why the Convention Center is the best place to hold the National Book Festival, instead of outside on the Mall: Real bathrooms, not port-a-potties!

So, here’s my take-away. Yes, let’s fix the Mall. Let’s come up with a workable plan to keep the large expanses of green grass, but let’s also create better walkways, make it more accessible for the disabled, and still find a way to accommodate large demonstrations, and all the massive annual events like the Fourth of July celebration, the annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, and the quadrennial inaugural crowds. But after we do all that, let's still keep the National Book Fest indoors. Reading is not an outdoor sport!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.