Intrepid Pup

Ode to a Duke

Duke Ellington Memorial

Word had it there was a new statue in town. It was no April Fool’s Day joke, so Tavish the Intrepid Pup was on the case. Our trek on Sunday, April 1, 2012, took us to the intersection of Florida Avenue and T Street, N.W. in Washington, DC, where we found the recently-installed memorial to DC native son and jazz legend Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899 – 1974). Entitled Encore, the 20-foot stainless steel sculpture on a granite base is the work of artist Zachary Oxman, whom DC’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities selected in a design competition. A work crew had gingerly craned the sculpture into place on Ellington Plaza just a few days earlier on March 29th. It depicts Duke Ellington at a piano, the keyboard of which soars upward like a melody itself. Ellington is perched on an oversized treble clef adapted from Ellington’s own handwritten musical scores.

Ellington’s childhood was spent in several different family homes all in the vicinity of Howard University. He began taking piano lessons at about age 8. As a teenager he worked as a soda jerk, and at age 14, he composed his first original score, Soda Fountain Rag. Because Team Tavish can’t resist a good canine reference, we have to add that this song became more commonly known as Poodle Dog Rag, taking its name for the Poodle Dog Cafe, a Georgia Avenue establishment where Ellington often played. Ellington left DC for New York in 1923 but frequently returned for performances, contributing to a vibrant African American music and theater scene in DC that also featured the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Pearl Bailey, and Cab Calloway. In his lifetime Ellington composed more than 3,000 songs (think Take the “A” Train, It Don’t Mean a Thing, and Mood Indigo) and gave some 20,000 concerts in the United States and abroad. For a city that proudly claims Ellington’s roots and has several things Ellington—among them: the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a robust Ellington collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and many references along Cultural Tourism DC’s Georgia Avenue/Pleasant Plains and Greater U Street Heritage Trails—it’s high time there’s a statue for him, too.

Dogging the Details

38°54′55.96″N,  77°1′14.37″W
Duke Ellington Plaza, Washington, DC

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansAfter viewing Encore, we continued on our walk eastward down the block into the LeDroit Park Historic District, an architecturally and historically significant subdivision dating to the mid 1870s. The excursion earns a “1” on the Wag-A-Meter as it’s pleasant and easy to take everything in within a short distance. An unexpected bonus on the return was that we discovered Bistro Bohem at the corner of 6th Street and Florida Avenue, N.W. Drawn by the Czech flag flying above the entrance (a member of Team Tavish has Czech heritage), we stopped to take a look at the menu posted outside. Much to our surprise, a man burst through the door moments later and enthusiastically rushed to pet Tavish, who loved every minute of it. Turns out that this vizsla-phile is a former vizsla owner and none other than Bistro Bohem founder Jarek Mika. We happened to catch Mika in the gap between the lunch and dinner shifts on just his 10th day in business offering a modern twist on classic Eastern European cuisine. We plan to return to the restaurant sans the Intrepid Pup, but in the meantime, it was refreshing to see that Mika had completely renovated a rundown, vacant building. When we said we’d just been to see the Ellington statue, Mika agreed that it’s already proven to be a nice addition to the streetscape. As sculptor Oxman noted in his original concept for the Ellington Encore piece “[The treble clef] is used as the entry to a musical score, just as this sculpture represents the gateway to this community.” Truly this is neighborhood experiencing a rebirth. Nearby Shaw’s Tavern has recently re-opened under new ownership. A block of condominiums is being developed incorporating the brickwork facades of the original storefronts. And, finally there’s the historic 1910 Howard Theatre. Once the “largest colored theatre in the world” drawing to its stage such icons as Booker T. Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Duke himself, and later, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, Aretha Franklin and others, this arts landmark had languished in neglect upon shuttering in the early 1980s. In the wake of a $29 million restoration begun in 2010, the Howard Theatre will be celebrating its grand re-opening on April 12, 2012. Indeed, as Ellington might say, it’s enough to get you “in a sentimental mood.”

“Knowledge is the Prime Need of the Hour”: Women’s History Month and Mary McLeod Bethune

 

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

Every March the United States officially observes Women’s History Month—an outgrowth of both  International Women’s Day and, in 1981, a congressional resolution for a “Women’s History Week.”  In recent years the month has been ascribed a theme, with March 2012’s being “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.”

One who personified this theme through her own works was Mary McLeod Bethune (1875 – 1955), daughter of former slaves, educator, key political influencer, and founder of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. The Intrepid Pup recently visited two sites, both in the nation’s capital under the aegis of the National Park Service, to learn more.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House is tucked within a row of stately townhomes in a residential section of northwest Washington off Logan Circle. For the price of $15,500 in 1943, the property became not only Bethune’s residence but also the official headquarters for the NCNW. The site has been administered by the Park Service since 1994. On the day of our visit, we were welcomed by a college undergraduate serving in the Park Service’s Student Career Experience Program. She invited us first to listen to a recording of Bethune speaking at an event in 1955 just a few months prior to her death. Hearing Bethune’s actual voice was a good introduction to someone we previously knew very little about, and it gave us the impression of a strong yet humble woman with a commanding presence. The ranger gave a brief orientation on the highlights of the home’s history, encouraging us to explore the rooms and interpretive displays on the first two floors. She checked on us several times to answer our questions. We had the house to ourselves that weekend afternoon. Just beyond the reach of the tour bus throngs on the National Mall, this historic site is not a high-traffic destination. Yet contributing to its appeal is the very fact that in providing a personal, intimate experience it is in marked contrast with its crowded counterparts. Our knowledge and appreciation of Bethune expanded exponentially as we uncovered details about her upbringing in poverty and perseverance in starting Florida’s Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls (now Bethune-Cookman University)  in 1904 fueled only by desire and $1.50. It seems fitting that today the university offers a master’s degree program in transformative leadership. It was also fascinating to learn of Bethune’s role in championing African American women’s involvement in the war effort and of her official capacities in the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman administrations.

Mary McLeod Bethune memorial in Lincoln Park

About a mile and half away from the Council House as the crow flies is Bethune in monumental form. Sculpted in bronze by New York artist Robert Berks (1922-2011), the statue grouping emphasizes Bethune as educator, literally and figuratively imparting her legacies to a boy and girl. Around the base are inscribed excerpts from her last will and testament which Bethune also holds in her outstretched left hand. The oft-repeated refrain “I leave you…” is completed by such powerful concepts as “hope”, “a thirst for education,” and “racial dignity.” The monument itself has an interesting history. It’s located in Lincoln Park 11 blocks due east of the U. S. Capitol Building. Book-ending the rectangular plot of open space maintained by the Park Service are the Bethune memorial and, sited directly opposite, the famous Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln (also known as the “Emancipation Grouping”) which was paid for entirely by freed slaves and sculpted by Thomas Ball in 1875.  The original intent had been for the dedication of a Bethune memorial to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, but the entire project was delayed. With funding from the NCNW, the Bethune monument was ultimately unveiled in 1974 on what would have been Bethune’s 99th birthday. Adding the Bethune memorial to the park also resulted in turning the Freedman’s Memorial 180 degrees so the two groupings would face each other.

If the Bethune memorial’s roughly faceted, somewhat abstract style looks familiar, it’s because Robert Berks sculpted several high-profile pieces. In DC alone, one can most readily see other examples of his handiwork in the 22-foot seated Albert Einstein memorial (1979) outside the National Academy of Sciences and in the 8-foot, 3000-pound bronze bust of John F. Kennedy (1971) gracing the Grand Foyer of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In a city dotted with literally hundreds of statues, monuments, and memorials, Berks’ Bethune sculpture represented the first honoring a woman (let alone an African American woman) installed on public park land in the nation’s capital.

Dogging the Details

38°54′29.31″N,  77° 1′50.29″W
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, Washington, DC

38°53′23.19″N,  76°59′21.13″W
Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Lincoln Park, Washington, DC

wag-a-meter set at 2There is no fee charged to explore the Bethune Council House. While dogs understandably aren’t allowed inside, the neighborhood itself has sidewalks and is great for dog-walking.

Lincoln Park is exceptionally dog-friendly and what earns this Bethune-themed expedition a “2” on the Wag-a-meter.  In fact, the park’s entire center concourse is basically one big unfenced and very popular dog run. So long as your dog plays well with others, it’s among the top spots to rub noses with the canine denizens of Capitol Hill. During our visit,  Tavish encountered 3 weimaraners, a doberman, a rottweiler, a basset hound, a Wheaton terrier, a miniature greyhound, a Boston terrier, and a shepherd mix.

Important to note is that Lincoln Park is not an officially-designated city dog park. There are trash cans, but bring your own your poly bags to clean up after your dog.

A Blossoming Tradition

100th anniversary cherry blossoms

Think spring in Washington, DC and it’s synonymous with cherry blossoms. For a fleeting few days the frothy, confectionery splendor of more than 3,700 blooming cherry trees transforms the already-stunning National Mall and Memorial Parks. What makes 2012’s vernal display all the more special is that it marks the centennial of the gift of 3,020 trees from Japan. With this 100th anniversary comes an unprecedented five weeks (March 20 – April 27, 2012) of celebratory events throughout the city, ranging from concerts, special exhibitions, and performances highlighting Japanese culture, to fireworks, a kite festival, and the annual parade. The Cherry Blossom Festival, which has been an annual event in some form since 1935, today partners with the National Park Service, which in turn is offering its own activities and special ranger talks from March 24 – April 15, 2012.

The trees themselves are likely among the most scrutinized and closely monitored in the country. Tracking green buds, florets, and peduncle elongation, the National Park Service keeps meticulous data on the five stages of blossom development. While there are multiple types of cherry trees in the park, the most prevalent is the Yoshino, so the Park Service defines peak bloom as specifically being “when 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino Cherry trees are open.” The historical average predicts the peak bloom date to be April 4th, but Mother Nature is notoriously fickle. A cold snap or a warm spell can move that date significantly in either direction, and once the blossoms are out, all it takes is one good gusty thunderstorm to toss all the pink petals from the trees.

Seeing the blossoms with the Intrepid Pup has become an annual tradition, but getting to the trees can be an adventure unto itself. The Metrorail system or biking are by far the best bets, but if you’re bringing your dog along, you’ll have to find an alternate means of transportation. Parking anywhere close to the Tidal Basin during the peak of the blossoms is a fantasy, so consider parking further away and walking back. Pedicabs seem to be a viable option, as we saw a lady and her pug zip by in one on our own most recent walk en route to the blossoms.

Bear in mind that while the outdoor venues of the National Mall and Memorial Parks are dog-friendly, you must keep your dog leashed at all times and prevent your dog from entering the Tidal Basin waters or any of the pools or fountains. As a general rule, dogs are not allowed in the inner sanctum (i.e. where the statue is) of any memorial, but Team Tavish has found that simply asking a park ranger for clarification on the boundaries is both appreciated and avoids any unnecessary confusion. And, as it turns out, many of the rangers really like dogs. The ranger we met at the Jefferson Memorial last week has been with the National Park Service for more than 20 years and was genuinely pleased to see us out exploring the monuments and blossoms with Tavish. Though the ranger regretted that she couldn’t permit him past the exterior columns on the façade, she went out of her way to give the Intrepid Pup a commemorative 100th anniversary cherry blossom pin bearing Paddles the beaver, a Park Service cartoony “mascot” that otherwise cautions visitors not to pick the blossoms. Opportunistic beavers have long tried to gnaw on the cherry tree trunks, but the ranger confided that the mesh barriers one sees around the cherry trees are good deterrents and that she had seen more raccoons and foxes than beavers so far this spring.

Dogging the Details

38°53′06.39″ N, 77°02′11.27″ W
National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, DC

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansAs mentioned above, if you don’t already live in the DC area, timing your visit to see the blossoms at their peak can be an inexact science. And be prepared to do miles of walking to fully appreciate them. For these reasons, the festival gets a “2” on the Wag-a-meter.

The Yoshino cherry trees concentrated around the Tidal Basin seem to attract the greatest flocks of blossom-gazers, and the narrow 2.1-mile walkway encircling the water’s edge can become quite congested. If you or your dog aren’t fond of pedestrian traffic jams, you have a couple of choices. Either plan your walk for the early to mid morning or late afternoon hours on a weekday (the lunch hour and nice weekends bring out tourists and locals) or stray off the well-beaten path. The Washington Monument grounds are much more open, absorb a lot of people, and boast numerous cherry trees representing yet another gift from Japan, this one to Lady Bird Johnson in 1965. Or, just a short distance east of the Jefferson Memorial you’ll find access to Ohio Drive, SW. This road and adjacent sidewalk loop 4.1 miles around East Potomac Park and Hains Point, and the whole way is lined with cherry trees! While your vistas from here won’t be of the monuments, you will have lovely views of the Washington Channel and the Virginia banks of the Potomac River. It’s on this route that you’ll discover completely different species of cherry trees: Kwanzan, Japanese weeping cherries, Takesimensis, Yama-zakura, and a single Okame cherry tree. There’s also an interesting grove of cherry trees on the golf course—land once a research area for the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—that likely represent the oldest anywhere in the park. Although 1912 is commonly cited as the year of the gift of the celebrated trees, Japan actually first sent 2,000 trees to Washington two years earlier in 1910. Sadly, those trees arrived with infestations, and after unsuccessful treatments, President Taft—at the recommendation of the USDA—ordered that they all be burned. It appears, however, that the precious few in this outcropping miraculously survived.

Finally, be sure to bring a camera. Pale pink cherry blossoms against granite memorials and a clear blue sky ought to be on your “bucket list” of backdrops for great family photographs.

 

Intrepid Pup Bracketology

Basketball icon

Every March, members of Team Tavish dutifully fill out their NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets. It’s a time of mild angst and giddy anticipation. Stats are weighed, websites consulted, gut instincts tapped, and alma mater loyalties tested. It’s all in good fun but never has it resulted in a Team Tavish member actually winning an office pool or even securing temporary bragging rights. Alas, for all the data and firm convictions, inevitably there comes a point in March Madness when the outcome of a single day’s games dashes all those careful selections asunder.

Old habits die hard, though, and Team Tavish members did still succumb to the individual rituals of bracket-picking this year. Nevertheless, it was also decided that it was time to introduce a new, less predictable, element to the mix:  Tavish, the Intrepid Pup. Forget hours of ESPN coverage, Sports Illustrated analyses, Selection Sunday, and the opinions of Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps. Tavish would have none of it, and he was going to make his picks his way. Let’s just say that lots of dog treats were involved (specifically, Milk-Bone® biscuits and Milo’s Kitchen™ Chicken Meatballs), but the process was otherwise as unbiased as could be. As proof, you’re invited to watch this brief video (click link to view in YouTube or otherwise see below) of the Intrepid Pup making some of his selections:

Completing the brackets was done over the course of three days so Tavish would neither lose focus nor overindulge during any one sitting. While sports analyst wisdom prevailed in some picks, it more often seemed that Tavish had an affinity for, well…the underdogs. But hope springs eternal, and who doesn’t love a Cinderella team? So if 16th seed LIU Brooklyn really does pull off the upset over  #1 seed Michigan State in the first round, then Tavish will likely be the only soul in the country to have predicted it.

Welcome to a world where Detroit goes to the Sweet Sixteen, St. Bonaventure advances to the Elite Eight, and Southern Mississippi breaks into the Final Four!

How do your picks stack up against the Intrepid Pup’s? Enjoy the Madness!

Intrepid Pup Bracketology

 

Save

Save

Catching Some Rays at the Public Observatory

 

National Air and Space Museum's Public ObservatoryWith all the recent talk of feisty solar flares amping up the activity of the Northern Lights and having the potential to wreak a little havoc with power grids and GPS devices here on Earth, the Intrepid Pup turns his attentions to the firmament. And what better place to whet one’s celestial appetite than the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum?

Except…we’re directing your attention not to the museum’s exhibition galleries that are literally among the most visited in the world but rather to its lesser-known but not-so-little nub of an astronomical observatory that rests upon the museum’s outdoor east terrace right on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

The Public Observatory Project (POP) is the tangible manifestation of a dream long-held by Dr. David DeVorkin, the museum’s senior curator of astronomy and space sciences. To know DeVorkin is also to know that he’s an enthusiastic proponent of making astronomy accessible. “The Mall has its monuments,” he wrote back in 2009, “What it needs is a portal, a portal to the universe.” The idea was to put a telescope where people—slews of them!—already are, thereby igniting interest in astronomy among casual observers. It didn’t quite take an act of Congress, but it did require a dedicated project team and approvals from the museum, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission. Dream became reality when the observatory opened in October 2009 to coincide with the International Year of Astronomy. The observatory’s workhorse is a 16-inch Boller & Chivens telescope re-purposed from Harvard-Smithsonian’s Oak Ridge Observatory in Massachusetts, but staffers also keep several smaller hand-held telescopes at the ready for visitors. The observatory is free and open to the public, though operating hours are highly weather dependent, so check POP’s Twitter feed for updates. For daytime viewing, you’ll be training the telescopes to look at moon craters, the phases of Venus, and yes,—with the aid of safe solar filters—sunspots! Now you can see for yourself what the sun is up to.

 

Dogging the Details

38°53′16.26″N, 77°1′6.67″W
Public Observatory, Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansThe observatory scores a “1” on the Wag-a-meter as it’s pretty darn accessible. Parking during the day can be problematic as there are no big public parking lots close by, but there are metered spaces along Independence Avenue and side streets, and the L’Enfant Plaza and Smithsonian Metro stations are both within easy walking distance.

Alas, your dog can’t hang out in the observatory and would likely have trouble peering through the telescope’s eyepiece even if he could. Yet if you’re out on a walk with your dog, there are informative panels to read on the observatory’s exterior, and when the observatory is open to visitors, astronomy educators are often right by the door and will gladly field your questions.

If you happen to go stargazing on one of POP’s special nighttime observation evenings, ask the staff if you can take a gander at Canis Major (a constellation representing one of the great hunter Orion’s dogs)…and tell them the Intrepid Pup sent you.