Nine Inch Nails went on tour but they did not have D.C. on the schedule, which was rather alarming. So I had to look around for a place to see them. By the time I learned Trent was touring we had missed the Philly show. The next closest place was Blossom Music Center located somewhere between Cleveland and Akron. It was about a five hour drive, so why not?
It might as well have been the moon.
D.C. is our bubble. We live in our bubble and we know our bubble. We like our bubble. When we leave our bubble it can be disturbing and this was one of those times. It is a given that when you are going to see Nine Inch Nails, there will be a lot of people there dressed in black with heavy eyeliner and belts with spikes. Okay, whatever. But when you go to see Nine Inch Nails in an exurb in Ohio, you also get, well, Ohioans living in their own bubble. That bubble includes people who smoke, yikes! There were also lots of rural folks dressed in t-shirts, jeans and ball caps. It seemed incongruous to the Goths also in attendance. Everyone was drinking a lot. And I mean a lot. There were more vendors selling alcohol than food.
This was also our first experience with a no bag or clear bag policy. When attending a concert, I always take a small purse to carry essentials, glasses and such, no bigger than about 10 x 10. They stopped me and gave me a no go on the bag. Seriously? Yes. It was too large. The most you could carry was a small wallet. The bag also had the audacity to be black instead of clear. If my bag was made of clear plastic, it could be the size of carry-on luggage. So long as they could see inside of it, size did not appear to matter. I walked back to the car wondering what to do. I found a clear plastic shopping bag which I stuffed my things into, thereby allowing the world to see what I carry around in my purse. It was annoying but I had no choice.
I had never heard of a clear bag policy so I checked the oracle of all knowledge. The Google told me that the clear bag policy had been implemented first by the NFL during early COVID. It meant no one had to touch a bag. The powers that be a pain in the neck soon realized that no bags kept the lines moving. So now every venue is adopting the no bag or clear bag policy. If you have a medical reason to bring a bag in, there is a separate line for you that is far away and akin to being treated like a leper.
Needless to say, the no bag policy pisses people off but the people who own or operate these venues know that it is going to save them a ton of money not having to search bags. So the policy is not going anywhere any time soon. (I ended up buying a few size compliant bags as well as a clear bag for future concerts.)
But I digress—back to Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor grew up north of Pittsburgh on the way to Erie. In that area, Cleveland was the place to go to be a rock musician and that is where he ended up. So for him it was like coming home. On top of that, NIN was being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and it was going to be a special show.
The place was packed. Every seat was sold. Usually we swap out our ticketed seats for accessible seating at concerts. No dice. There were no accessible seats to be had.
There were two opening acts—Nietzer Ebb, who I had never heard of but kind of enjoyed because the music is basically Teutonic drumming and chanting, and Ministry whose set was ear splitting in a not very interesting way.
Now finally NIN. I have seen NIN many times and I hate to say it but it was not an interesting show. It seemed disjointed. The lighting was weird. Instead of discreet cameras to show the people on stage up close, he had people on the stage with video cameras getting into the musician’s faces for the big screen. It was intrusive.
Maybe all of his Hollywood soundtrack work is making him less intense. Because of the Hall of Fame ceremony, he had a bunch of friends backstage, old band mates, who he brought out to play with him at the end. Maybe that was distracting. Maybe it was because we were not in our bubble. Whatever was happening, it was not that good.
After the show, we really wanted to get the heck out of Ohio.
I love Fat Freddy’s Drop. Who? They are a band from New Zealand and they jam. Trying to encapsulate their music is not easy because they don’t follow any consistent pattern except for a great beat, great horns, and a velvet voiced singer. They are a reggae, electronic dance, chill band with some jazz thrown in. Did I mention horns? The awesome DJ Fitchie is the master of the beat. The horn section is even awesomer. I love them. I can’t stress this enough.
We discovered them when we were on vacation to New Zealand in 2005. That was quite a trip—bungy jumping from the Kawarau Bridge (changed my life), a plane ride to walk on the Mount Cook glacier, black water rafting (through a cave), abseiling into a sink hole. It was an incredible trip.
With all that, I still remember first hearing FFD—we were having breakfast in a café in Rotorua and we heard this music that perked me right up. Oh waiter, who is that playing? Fat Freddy’s Drop ma’am. They were a new band at the time, but I came home and bought up everything they had released. My favorite song. Go here.
In all these years, we have never seen them live because they do not tour the U.S. We have heard various reasons why but, no matter. To see them live we had two choices—go to New Zealand or go to Europe. As COVID kept us locked up, and Fat Freddy kept dropping music, I turned to Matt and I said, “When this is all over, we are going to Europe to see Fat Freddy.” I watched and waited. When would the covid restrictions end and they would announce a tour? Finally, at the end of 2021, they announced a tour and I got to work. I bought tickets for three different cities—Paris, Lisbon and Zurich. The dates were close together and it seemed like we could make that work.
Matt’s job is to figure out the travel schedule and it became clear that we had to jettison Lisbon. There was no way to get to the next stop without plane hopping. So we cut it down to Zurich and Paris. Neither of us had been to Switzerland and Matt had never been to Paris. We were up for it.
On July 9, off we went. First stop—Zurich. Switzerland has never been on my list of places to go. It’s a hard place to pin down. There are three different areas of influence and language–German, French and Italian. They are known for neutrality and secrecy. You’ve got the Alps and chocolate and watches. Tina Turner lives there. So we had no expectations. We were just focused on seeing FFD.
Turns out, Zurich is a pretty nice place, located on Lake Zurich, a large and lovely body of water, surrounded by the Swiss Alps.
This is the German part of Switzerland and the town built around the lake is made up of an array cuckoo clock houses—painted stucco and wood with slanted roofs and gingerbread wood embellishments. The very hilly old town has cobblestone streets lined with quaint buildings and old churches. Zurich is also a very rich town with lots of boutique shops. Being well-educated Europeans, most everyone spoke German and English.
We spent one day wandering around the old town and on a boat ride around the lake. It was a warm sunny day, nearly perfect weather. Zurich is a very pedestrian-centric city. People walk everywhere. The town is also quite hilly. But because of Matt’s medical limitations, Matt has a mile in him for the day. That is it. We have to figure out how to see what we want to see without walking for miles. Boat tours are good. For Zurich, we had to Uber to where we needed to be and then walk a bit. No big deal. We do a lot in our own way.
Our hotel had a roof top spa pool. (No cameras allowed.) This was just crazy wonderful. The pool had calm waters and raging white water. We went back and forth between bursting bubbles, then calm waters as we looked out over town with the green hills and mountains behind. We also had a spa day, because why not?
Then came Fat Freddy’s Drop day. We have traveled for concerts in different cities in the U.S. But now we were dealing with a concert in Europe. Would it be different? At dinner, we asked our waitress whether concerts started on time. She said, “If it says 7:30, it starts at 7:30. Not 7:29, not 7:31.” They are Swiss right? Watches and all? So we got there on time. She was wrong—this was Fat Freddy’s Drop. They don’t know what on time means.
When they finally took the stage, we were pumped. It was standing room only, but we had accessible seating which meant we were on a platform and could see over everyone. For a short person like me, that was perfect. We jammed for two hours. Good Lord, we were both grooving into nirvana. And then the trombone player, Joe, who is just a mad man, came out in his underwear playing a tuba. We nearly lost our minds with joy. Look at this!
Oh man, great show! These are two people who just had a great time and you know what? Everyone there had the same glow.
After the show, I had Matt post on FFD’s Facebook page. We got a “chur,” New Zealand’s way of saying “cheers.”
Now it was time to head to Paris. We were going to do the whole Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Versailles, Musee d’Orsay thing. Plus, working our way around to restaurants we wanted to try. By coincidence we were also going to be there on Bastille Day. So we did some planning around that. The schedule was just packed.
Bastille Day was a bit of a bust. There is a Bastille Day parade down the Champs Elysees that is a bit like the military parades you see in Russia or China. No offense France but do you really need tanks, jets, Humvees and marching troops to celebrate your day of independence? Okay, the jets are cool. Everyone loves a good flyover. I guess it shows some restraint that they kept the missiles in their silos. (After Trump attended Bastille Day, he wanted to have tanks roll down Pennsylvania Avenue on the 4th of July. The response was unanimous. Everyone said, not in D.C. We don’t do that weird military thing. We know what kind of military we have without marching it down the street.)
Between COVID and the fact that there had been a terrorist attack in France a week earlier, the security around the parade made D.C. security look lax. Miles of roads leading to the Avenue were closed off to entry by the public, protected by large men carrying machine guns. We walked and walked and walked (well, Matt scooted and scooted on his knee bike) but they just kept telling us to go around until we had gone around so far we were a very long way from the parade route. We ended up in a dead end with hundreds of others milling around trying to understand what happened. We decided to head back to the hotel. On the way, we saw some helicopters and a glimpse of a fighter jet but not the famous red, white, and blue contrails.
No worries though. We would still celebrate the day. I had secured tickets to a hotel restaurant with an unimpeded view of the Eiffel Tower for the nighttime fireworks. That was fun.
The rest of the time was spent doing all the tourist things—Versailles—packed back to chest and no one masked. I just kept looking up. Great ceilings.
We were there for the dancing lighted fountains and fireworks spectacular.
I saw Neptune my nemesis.
Musee d’Orday is the home of Impressionist Art, which is so popular they decided to just devote a museum to it. Rightly so. It was hard to enjoy the art with so many people milling about but I did manage to get a few photos without someone’s head in the way.
At the Louvre we tried really hard to tick off the highlights, but the elevators were not all working, and Matt could not manage the many stairs. (I carry Matt’s knee bike up and down stairs when there is no ramp.) One break came with the Mona Lisa where the crowd was a good fifty rows deep.
Yes folks. This is what it is like to see the Mona Lisa. This is actually a line that snakes up to the painting. This is like waiting for a Disney ride. But, seeing Matt on his knee bike and carrying crutches, a museum docent hurried us to the front of the line, right in front of the entire crowd about ten feet from the painting.
Ah, that’s better.
But our favorite time was our afternoon visit to a local café where we ate sea urchin tamara, something that seemed quite popular, we saw it on many menus, and champagne. I think we did this every day we were in Paris. Matt decided we would drink champagne when we could because they keep the best for themselves. Tamara is a Greek spread usually made from caviar (or roe) and cream. You might see jars of it in specialty stores selling Mediterranean groceries. Someone thought it would be fun to use sea urchin instead of roe. We wholeheartedly agreed. (We are total sea urchin fanatics.)
Then Fat Freddy’s Drop day came. I did not buy handicapped seats because at the time, it was not necessary. When we asked for them, they acted like Matt was trying to get one over on them. One woman asked him if he really could not walk. He pointed to his crutches and said, really? Maybe this is a thing in Paris—people pretending to be disabled. But they were skeptical. We had to insist that we be given accessible seats.
We spent the next two hours bopping and singing.
Here we are after the show. Have you ever seen happier people?
Our time in Paris was over. Thanks Fat Freddy for a great time
I am a proud member of American United for the Separation of Church and State. It is an organization that seeks to keep religion out of government. They are very busy. (Disclaimer: Just to be clear, I have no problem with people being religious. I think people should believe whatever they want. That is what I call freedom of religion and in this country you can even have faith in a flying spaghetti monster (pastafarianism). What I do have a problem with is people telling me that I have to agree and accept their religion as controlling.)
Ever since Mitch McConnell packed the Supreme Court with conservative justices, it has been a heyday for protesting. Many people don’t really follow the Supreme Court. Let me give you a primer. Six justices, five men and one woman who are devout conservative Catholics, now control the court The three liberal justices are women, religion unknown. The reason we know the religion of the six conservative justices is because their religion plays a very big part in their decision making when it comes to cultural issues. With their majority, these six conservatives feel quite free to foist their religion upon us. This trend has been going on for a while, but it is now gaining full steam. They are being primed to do so. Look at this article about how a conservative religious group has been grooming justices to be “bold.” And they are.
First up was a case from Maine regarding the use of tax payer dollars to fund religious education. Maine had a problem with the availability of schools for kids living in rural areas. It created a program to pay tuition for those kids to attend private schools if that was the only option for an education. A parent wanted to send her kid to a religious school, for religious instruction, even though other private schools were available. The State declined on the ground that the state law prohibited tax dollars being used to support a nonsecular school.
The Supreme Court said Maine’s policy was discriminatory to the religious school and a violation of freedom of religion. The State of Maine is now required to provide tuition to any parent who wants to send their kid to a religious school. This decisions follows an earlier one that held if a state provides subsidies for families to have their children attend private schools (think vouchers), they have to fund religious schools as well. So will it now follow that if a State funds any public education that it has to provide the same funding to religious schools? Do you agree that your tax payer dollars should be used to fund religious schools? I have no doubt that argument is coming.
Next was the case of the football coach who wanted to pray at the 50 yard line. If you think you know the facts, you do not. To hear them tell it, all he wanted to do was say a quiet prayer after a game. To the contrary, this coach was praying aloud and proud in the best Christian way possible, at the 50 yard line, and encouraging others to join, including the young boys on his team. When parents complained, the school told him to cut it out. But they did not fire him. They agreed he could pray silently after the game but not as a public display in relation to the game. When he persisted, the school put him on paid administrative leave. They felt, as a school employee, he was violating the separation of church and state. They did not want him coercing the players, some of whom were not Christians, into prayer. Instead of agreeing it was not proper to make these kids uncomfortable by requiring them to participate in a prayer, the coach sued claiming he was fired for wanting to take a moment to say a silent prayer.
Americans United put out a call to show up at the Supreme Court on argument day to show support for the school. I went very dutifully carrying my homemade sign.
There were also a few people there in support of the coach. I saw a pastor and a flock of kids on the steps praying to the Lord God to smite the heathens. One gentleman had a sign that said “let him pray.” He was trying very hard to interrupt the AU press conference. I figured he wanted a fight and I was ready to go at it with him. But AU is made up of some very polite people. They don’t like confrontation. They told me to leave him alone. Oh, I so did not want to leave him alone. But I had my say and went on home knowing full well what the court was going to do (and they did).
The court reasoning can be explained this way–if the coach had been saying something non-religious, like “Black Lives Matter,” no one would have said anything. That was his free speech right. But since he was saying something religious they shut him down and that was a violation of his right to free speech and religious discrimination. Never mind separation of Church and State. That is out the window.
That brings us to the day in May when the Supreme Court’s abortion opinion draft was leaked. Like every sane woman, I rushed to the Court to protest.
Protesting does not really do much good but it sure does feel good. And people are so very clever. Here is my home-made sign:
So what does this ruling have to do with religion? Well, at least three justices are adamantly opposed to abortion of any kind on religious grounds–Alito, Thomas and Barrett (who was brought up in a the fundamental religious sect (cult)). Throughout the opinion, Alito uses anti-abortion terminology such as referring to a fetus as a person that requires protection. He calls the issue a moral one that involves the life of an unborn child.
Alito is a bitter man who watches way too much Fox News. He believes that the “progressives” are out to suppress “religious liberty.” Apparently the left is trying to force people of faith to conform to their secular amoral views and he is going to fight back. That is what the abortion ruling is about. Alito has argued for decades that Roe was wrong and had to be overturned. He finally got his chance and he took it.
There is so much going on in the opinion that it is overwhelming in its ignorance–lots of cherry picked facts and illogical reasoning. I never know if people get the gist of what the court does when it reasons, but in this case, the court concluded that if there was to be such a right or any right under the Constitution it either has to be express–of course abortion is not expressly mentioned in the Constitution–or it can be implied but only if it can be shown that the right is based on tradition and history. In other words, if abortion was okay when the Constitution was written (or at the latest when the 14th amendment was written in 1868), then it is okay now. If there is no tradition of allowing abortions then there could not have been any intention to protect it as a right.
As you can imagine, there is no clear answer here. Abortion has been with us as long as there have been women. But Alito went all the way back to medieval times to determine if abortion was accepted. He cited many men who had opined on it. Among others, a religious scholar who not only thought that abortion was a sin and had to be punished severely, he also believed that witches should be executed and that wives can never be raped by their husbands. Fun huh?
Despite the fact that pro-rights advocates brought forth a lot of evidence that abortion was long accepted if it occurred before what was called “quickening,” Alito declared that information irrelevant. Fancy words to say those facts are inconvenient and have to be ignored. Then he went on to show states had long defined abortion as a crime. That was not all states mind you, just some. Many states had no laws at all, i.e., they did not have laws to prevent abortions, making the historical record mixed at best. Not to Alito. The evidence as he saw it was overwhelming that abortion was not accepted in society. With that the right to an abortion–really the right to privacy that includes abortion–is dead.
Everyone needs to contemplate this reasoning because it is going to be used to declare many laws unconstitutional in every walk of life. It has already started with guns. The court just held that since there was no tradition dating back to the Constitution, of prohibiting people from engaging in self-defense by carrying a gun, then there can be no law that prohibits the public from carrying of a gun for self-protection now. So if you were allowed to own a musket for self-defense in 1789, you can carry a pistol right now, no questions asked. The absurdity of these tests is something to behold.
No doubt, this term will lead to more protests. There are a lot of contentious cases coming. I am ready, armed with my Sharpee marker. I’ll think of something clever.
While I have an interest in the Civil War, Matt is a Revolutionary War buff. He is particularly fond of the Marquis de Lafayette. Without Lafayette’s money, talents, or influence with the King of France we would be Canada. Briefly, Lafayette convinced France to join the War against the British and we needed their help badly. They sent a fleet and helped us win the Battle of Yorktown, which led to the British surrender. Lafayette commanded troops at Yorktown as well.
Lafayette was also the son George Washington never had. Only 19 when he met Washington, he served as an aide to Washington and later as one of his generals. They were so close, Lafayette named his son after Washington. When Lafayette returned to France after the War and France fell into revolution, Lafayette’s life became endangered and he sent his son to America to stay under Washington’s protection. Lafayette had an enthralling life and it is hard to summarize its entirety here. This is a guy worthy of a mini-series.
America was so in love with this hero of the Revolution that he was invited to take a farewell tour of America in 1824-1825, on the 50th anniversary of the British surrender. This tour brought out throngs. He even passed through Fayette County, my home county in Pennsylvania, which is named after him.
As a Lafayette fan, Matt joined the American Friends of Lafayette, a group dedicated to honoring Lafayette. Every year they put together a Lafayette tour to visit places significant to Lafayette and the Revolutionary War. This year it was West Point.
This seems to be the year of engaging West Point. The Grant birthday dinner included a busload of cadets and now here we are at West Point.
West Point is in the Hudson River Valley. Here is a vantage point. It really is beautiful there.
And guess who merits a statue? My man. U.S. Grant.
Grant was a West Point grad who certainly did not excel except in math and being a great equestrian. Many of his friends would become Confederate generals and they did not think there was too much to worry about when he became a general. I mean after all, Robert E. Lee graduated at the top of his class. Who could beat that? Well, a guy named Grant. Persistence. Moving forward. Always moving forward. After a particularly bad defeat he said, “Well, we will whip ’em tomorrow.” I hope they teach that at West Point.
Another guy we know and love has a statue there. The General–George Washington that is:
I am not from a military family so I am not really familiar with the military way of life. My mom was a WAAC for a year during WW II, but that was it. She loved being in the military and she really wanted me to join up. She thought I would make a great general. God knows I’m good at ordering people around and I am really good at things like logistics. But it was not for me. I am not really a joiner of groups. I don’t like uniforms. (The closest I ever came to a uniform was wearing a business suit, which is in effect a type of uniform. Even that I pushed back on.) I don’t take well to being told what to do. I am not the kind of person who can just sit there and take being yelled at. Plus, the hours are lousy. So I have a hard time imagining military life from a full perspective. But the school was nice, the grounds and setting lovely.
The Lafayette connection to West Point is a Revolutionary War connection having to do with the discovery that Benedict Arnold, who very nearly handed West Point over to the British, was a traitor. As described in one magazine article, as Washington, Lafayette and Hamilton were getting ready to have dinner with Arnold, they learned of his betrayal.
“In another room on the same floor Lafayette was washing up when Hamilton suddenly burst open the door. He begged the Marquis to attend instantly on his Excellency. Lafayette sprinted down the hall to find Washington trembling with emotion. “Arnold has betrayed us!” Washington cried out. “Whom can we trust now?”
Flexner, Benedict Arnold: How The Traitor Was Unmasked 1967
So we toured places that were related to the traitor Arnold, how they hunted him down, and the trial of those who abetted the treason. Everyone on the trip knew the entire story. On the other hand, I am not schooled in Lafayette lore or Revolutionary War lore. I’m really not good at remembering history. So much of the facts were a jumble for me. But it was a part of New York I had never visited with people who seemed very nice.
Afro-beat is something I love so this band is right up my alley. If you know Fela Kuti, then this is in that genre. Chopteeth is a local band we discovered at the local strawberry festival a few years ago and we try to see them when we can. This time the show was at The Hamilton, a restaurant/night club in downtown D.C. They have bongos, horns, and guitar all with an African rhythm for a dancing feel good show. I am always happy after I see them. You can’t not be. The music is just fun. Here is a video to get a taste of it. I adore that bongo player.
June 3 – Kool and the Gang and The Time. This was an interesting show. Matt wanted to see The Time. Kool and the Gang was kind of an afterthought. They were both really good. You don’t realize how many hits Kool and the Gang had until you watch them go through their catalog. “Celebration” which we all know from sports events. “Jungle Boogie,” which they turned into a riotous dance jam. Hollywood Swinging. The list goes one. Good time was had by all.
June 18 – Trombone Shorty and his Voodoo Threauxdown Tour at Wolf Trap. Okay okay. I love horns. I especially love the trombone. I think it goes back to Frank Demond from Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I loved that guy. Interesting fact–my husband is a trombone player. I did not know that when I married him. But yep, he is a musician.
So seeing Trombone Shorty is a no brainer. And man can this guy play trombone. And trumpet and tuba. And drums and organ. Holy moly. Troy Andrews a.k.a. Trombone Shorty was a child prodigy. He started playing the trombone at the age of four and was leading a band by the age of six. How is that even possible?
The Threauxdown was a mini-festival that we pretty much missed for a lot of reasons, mostly that I was having a bad day and just could not get focused. So we missed the other bands playing on the tour. But we did see Mr. Andrews and he just blasted that trombone for two hours of dancing fun. His music is funk and contemporary New Orleans jazz. What does that mean? Whatever Shorty wants it to. He plays all sorts of music, mostly funky or jazzy funk, but he stretches boundaries. Here is a sample.
I have hearing loss in my left ear from a blast of music I took at a concert several years ago. They tried but there was no saving the hearing. I am not deaf but there is a distinct loss for some ranges (mostly Matt’s range. I can never hear what he says). To prevent further loss, the audiologist wants me to wear ear plugs at concerts. Normally I do. But they muffle horns and that was not welcome with this band, so out came the ear plugs. I had to hear that groove!
June 19 – Tears for Fears. This was a full concert weekend. Tonight we saw Garbage (yes, that is the name of a band) and Tears for Fears. Matt’s pick, of course. Garbage was way more interesting than I expected. Very punk and I like that. Tears for Fears is very pop. I’m okay with it and I think I knew maybe one or two songs. But mostly I just played with my phone.
Sometimes I read about something and just say to myself, self, we need to do that. This is why we went to see Free Style Love Supreme. A show created by Lin-Manual Miranda, its an improvisational hip hop show. I read that Christopher Jackson, who will always be my George Washington, was going to participate. Oh, Chris Jackson, who has the voice of an angel and, in my view could sing the phone book and make it sound great. [Aside: Does that statement mean anything in today’s world? What else is boring but if a person sang it, it would be interesting? Get back to me.] So, why not?
I had no idea what to expect but off we went. I am not a hip hop fan but this was hilarious. The premise is that the singers/rappers and a beat boxer involve the audience, asking them to tell them stories or suggest words that the improv group then turns into a song right there. In this one, they sang about toothbrushes among other fun turns. What a great time. There is a documentary about it, which I have not seen but now very much need to.
I have a thing for Ulysses S. Grant. I am not sure how I fell into this rabbit hole but I am sure it had something to do with Father Abraham (that’s Lincoln). I love Lincoln for many reasons. He was funny and wise. He loved his boys and yet they died breaking his heart. He was given a task that no mortal could really solve and he did the best he could only to pay for it in the end. I have read many biographies about Lincoln and Grant would show up as his favorite general. Well, if U.S. Grant was Lincoln’s favorite general, there must be something there. So I started reading about him.
Grant’s reputation has been tainted for a century largely because of the revisionist history of the Lost Cause. He beat Robert E. Lee so he had to be villanized–the story is that he was a drunk who did not care about his men and corrupt and incompetent as President. But now historians are taking a deep dive and it is clear that Grant was perhaps the one of the greatest tacticians in war, his troops loved him, he was modest, humble and probably too trusting of his friends. He was the President who pushed Reconstruction and tried hard to carry out Lincoln’s hope to rebuild the South and give former slaves the freedom they deserved and to ensure they had their full rights. That did not go over too well in the South, as you can imagine. He was the first to deal with the Ku Klux Klan. He put them down with military might.
Grant was small in stature and he had little patience for school. So he did not do well at West Point. He had two talents–he was a horse whisperer. His relationship with horses was legendary. He could ride any horse, even the most difficult. His favorite was a beautiful war horse named Cincinnati. He was know for eschewing military clothes, favoring the garb of a private. When he travelled to Washington to see Lincoln, he did so by himself without much fanfare. Once he showed up at the Willard Hotel, acting like an average guy just after Lincoln had named him Lieutenant General of all the armies. He was trying to check in but he had no reservation. They were giving him the run around as if he were a pauper trying to get an expensive room. Someone suddenly realized it was Grant and murmurs went through the hotel that the General was in the lobby. He was mobbed by well wishers.
After he finished two terms as president, he went on a world tour and was feted wherever he went. His tactics as a General were studied worldwide.
For a lot of reasons after his presidency, he was perpetually in need of money. He was never very good at business. But he was a good writer and he was convinced to write his biography. Mark Twain learned about this and sought to publish the book himself. Being an admirer, Twain wanted to make sure Grant got as much money as possible from the deal. Grant went to work writing. But the worst thing happened. Grant developed throat cancer, likely driven by the cigars he constantly smoked. (He puffed day and night.) He eventually died a horrible and painful death from throat cancer. Twain got the book published and it is considered one of the best military biographies ever written. I’ve read it. It is clear and concise, as you would expect.
So I am kind of a fan.
In April, we went to New York to see a concert at Radio City Music Hall (Matt needed to seen A-ha, a band from his youth what I am not really familiar with but that is a different essay).
With an afternoon free, Matt asked me if I wanted to go to Grant’s Tomb. Well, hell yes! So we taxied to Harlem–122nd and Riverside Drive. Officially known as the General Grant National Monument, this is the largest mausoleum in North America.
Both Grant and his wife, Julia, are buried there. The tomb spent years in a decrepit state, graffiti covered and neglected. It was restored in large part due to the work of Frank Scaturro. As a college student at Columbia University, Scaturro volunteered to be a guide at the Grant Monument. He found it to be in serious need of attention and began a solo effort to have the Park Service and Congress fund a restoration, the most important being to secure the place from vandals in off hours. He eventiually prevailed.
But even now, we found a monument in serious need of attention. The plaza in front needs serious work, many stones are loose or broken. The building looks like it needs a good cleaning all the way around. There is a horrible art project from the 1970’s that may have seemed like a good idea at the time but really needs to go. And for our purposes, the monument is not handicapped accessible so I had to carry Matt’s knee scooter up the stairs.
When we arrived, a ranger was talking to two women about Grant and the Civil War. I started listening and nodding along. Then I joined the conversation. Three women gabbing about Grant and Lincoln. It was nerdy and fun. It turned out that these two women did not know each other. They happened upon each other in the building both interested in what the ranger had to say. We talked and talked that poor ranger’s ear off until it was time to close the place. We helped him close up and walked away still talking.
One of the women mentioned that the bicentennial of Grant’s birthday was coming up and there was going to be a big dinner in his honor. I said, well, let’s just look that up on the old internet. And I found it in about one minute. The Grant Monument Association was throwing a party–a dinner and “colloquy” between General David Petraeus, and Ron Chernow and Ron White, both Grant biographers. (The Grant Monument Association was originally responsible for getting the monument built. It was rekindled by Scaturro when enough people agreed the monument needed repairs, protection and just some TLC. I have since joined.)
I looked at Matt and asked whether we could get back to NYC to go to the dinner. It would be a weeknight. He said we would make it work. So I bought tickets to the dinner and we were set. We said goodbye to the ladies and went on our way.
Two weeks later, April 27, it was time to celebrate Grant’s birthday. There was a wreath laying ceremony and celebration to be held at the monument in the morning, and then the dinner would be later that evening. We caught the early train to NYC and cabbed it up to the monument.
We took our seats. The monument was bedecked in the colors.
As we waited, a woman from NYC’s public radio asked to interview us about why we were at the ceremony. We told her we were from DC, which impressed her greatly. We travelled all that way to celebrate Grant’s birthday? Yes. She asked us what our feelings were about the fact that Grant did not have a great record on race. I proceeded to give her the history of President Grant including his fight to preserve voting rights for former slaves and his taking on the Klu Klux Klan. She did not know any of this. She asked how I learned all this and I answered, “I read books.” I mean, geez. What kind of question is that?
The ceremony began and we were entertained with a military color guard, speeches by politicians, generals, and Grant’s great-great-grandson, Ulysses Grant Dietz.
After the proceedings we were getting some snacks and we saw one of the women, Dakota, from our first visit. We waved and asked, do you remember us? She could not believe we came back and we were going to the dinner! Too hilarious.
We said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. The dinner was to be held at the Union League Club, one of those old school men’s clubs that has been around since the 1800’s. This club was formed as a break away group when the original Union Club refused to denounce the Confederacy.
Just for fun here are the rules on “decorum”:
On weekdays, until Friday at 4:00 pm, jackets are required for gentlemen and appropriate equivalent dress is required for women throughout all areas of the Clubhouse. Athletic shoes, hats, flip flops, cut off or short shorts, tank tops, or crop tops are not permitted anywhere in the Clubhouse or Terrace Café, at any time throughout the year. Jeans are not permitted on weekdays. Ties are required only during dinner hours in the Mary Murray Room and Lounge and at evening committee events, except where the event announcement states otherwise. Jackets may be removed when playing billiards. Blazers and ties are available for members and guests to borrow while visiting the Clubhouse. Starting at 4:00 pm on Friday through Sunday evening jackets are not required but are encouraged.
SATURDAY & SUNDAY Members and guests are expected to dress in a manner respectful of the membership and the Club. Collared shirts are required for men, and jeans and trousers must be in good condition.
MEMORIAL DAY THROUGH LABOR DAY On Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day members and guests may wear dress (e.g. Bermuda style) or golf shorts in the Clubhouse. Jeans are also permitted on Friday evenings starting at 4:00 pm, between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Members are at all times responsible for ensuring that their guests are aware of and comply with the Club’s dress code. Private event hosts may, at their discretion, permit “business casual” attire in those rooms rented exclusively for their event. Jeans are not permitted. Hats and coats must be checked in at the Coat Room on the Ground Floor or kept in overnight rooms.Hand luggage is not permitted in the Union League Café, Bar & Lounge, Main Dining Room, Mary Murray Room, or Main Lounge. Members and guests going to or from the outside to overnight rooms, the Fitness Center, or squash courts are not required to comply with the dress code but are expected to be respectful of the Clubhouse, the membership and our guests. Proper attire is to be maintained in the Presidents’ Room. Jackets may be removed upon entry.
You know, when I read this code I think, hey, I wish more places had rules like this. This is the way people used to dress. No more. I am so sick of seeing people in shorts and t-shirts in the theater and in restaurants. It is so not approriate. But that is the basis of another post.
So off we went to the Union League Club to have dinner and see a colloquy.
The dinner was populated with what looked liked elderly men, military types, and young West Point cadets. At dinner we had three cadets at our table. In the old Stephen Colbert fashion, I asked if Grant was a great general or the greatest general. They did not get the joke. I am afraid to think they were too young to remember. But the cadet did admit that Grant was a fantastic general. I can’t say I remember the dinner itself. I think the food was good for a banquet kind of dinner. Mostly it was about watching General Petraeus ask questions.
It was interesting to listen to the historians discuss Grant but I did not really learn anything new. But hey, I was there just to celebrate his birthday. We need more attention to be paid to Grant. I will do my best.
The kite festival was back after a two year hiatus. The Kite Fest starts off the Cherry Blossom Festival. People converge on the Mall around the Washington Monument to celebrate kite flying. Everyone tries it. Even me. At least once a year I break out our kites and give it a go. The wind is excellent around the monument and the area is clear of buildings and trees, so it is generally safe flying.
As we approached the Mall, we were puzzled because we did not see very many kites in the air. As we neared the monument, the reason became quite clear. The wind was howling. It was as cold as a winter’s day. There were numerous kites mangled on the ground or stuck in kite eating cherry trees.
Undaunted I decided to try my kite. It was a double box kite and it was going to go far fast. I managed to get it into the air, but it was the wrong kite for the weather. I was wrestling with it as it bounced around on the air currents. Then one terrific gust, and boom, the kite string broke and the kite was gone. It dove to the ground like a kamikaze and then rolled right into the kite competition area. Oops! I ran after it, but it kept rolling. I finally caught up with it about a half mile later when someone stopped it and folded it up. Well, so much for kite flying. We turned to leave and the sky before us was filled with dark gray clouds. Even though it was the end of March, snow and sleet pummeled us as we made our way another half mile to the car. That was pretty miserable. Such is the weather in D.C. It can be 80º and sunny one day and 30º with snow the next. That’s okay. It makes life a bit more interesting.
Is it because we no longer go go go? Is it because we are settled in our ways? Why do the days fly by with nothing to show for it? But doing the little things we do gives us some structure and maybe allow us to have brief moments of just being aware.
I took the cat to the vet and then we drove around town while I ran errands. This is not momentous. But for those few hours of being in the car with a tiny cat was very much in the moment time spent. I talk to her and she looks at me with resignation very much wanting to get home where it is safe. I understood where she was coming from. I tried to explain to her that it can be fun being out and about. She was not convinced. I did not really believe it either. So we went home and another day passed by.
These disappearing days add up until you find yourself saying “I can’t believe it is March.” Thomas Mann had a theory about time that I think is true. Have you ever noticed that a week on vacation feels like a month? His theory was that the routine of life, the sameness, compresses time–it goes by quickly because it is always the same. But that sameness also makes yesterday feel like last year. Can it really be that we celebrated Christmas three months ago? it feels like a year ago.
But when you go on vacation, routines are interrupted and things are new. Time then slows down because it has a new orientation. Sensations are different, what you see and hear is different. Your routine clock changes. I think he is right about this. It is the routine, or rut if I am being honest, that makes time fly. The only way to slow time is to open up to new things.
Protests were breaking out everywhere and I just had to join in. I drew up my poster. I had heard about the Ukrainian soldier who had told the Russians to go fuck yourself and well, that poster just write itself.
We drove down to the Russian Embassy and the protest was in full swing. We somehow ended up in the car parade so Matt waved the poster out the passenger side window while I drove along. When we came in front of the woman leading the crowd with a bull horn, she saw our sign and said started chanting, “Putin, go fuck yourself.” Putin, go fuck yourself.” Everyone joined in and waved at us as we passed by. It felt good giving support.
Unfortunately, there was not a parking space to be had so we swung down to the Ukrainian Embassy to see if there was anything going on there. It was quiet with just a pile of flowers out front. By the time we got back to the Russian Embassy, the crowd had dispersed. Good times!