Walking Through History, Past, Present and Future
One thing about living in Washington, or maybe even in the modern world, there’s always something going on. There is something to look forward like a birthday or a holiday, something to look back on like the 57th Inauguration, something to celebrate, like Groundhog Day. For every month of the year, the calendar is pretty much full, if you choose to fill it.
February, for instance, is Potato Lovers Month and Umbrella Month. It is Black History Month or African American History Month. It is Creative Romance Month and Condom Month as well as Friendship Month, and that includes the celebration of Flirting Week and birthdays galore and special days every day of the month, just about, from Morgan Fairchild’s birthday (Feb. 3), to Thank-a-Mailman Day (Feb. 4).
You get the drift. In this issue, we celebrate February for our readers, by concentrating on love and history, if you will, specifically, we’re going to take a look at Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), the birthday of presidents, specifically, that of Abraham Lincoln and the presence of history in our city and daily lives, and the celebration of February as Black History Month with its accompanying round of events, commemorations and celebrations. It is a fact that in this city, especially, remembering the past allows us to anticipate the future more fully.
Our cover photo is of Barack and Michelle Obama in their inaugural night glam and glory by former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly. In many and most ways, the Obamas embody the themes of our February story. As a couple and as parents, they are very much about the essence of Valentine’s Day which is love both romantic and familial. As the first African American president and first lady, first and second terms, they are giant figures in the stream of American history as well as African American history, and their presence adds to the enrichment of our daily lives as citizens in a city embraced by history.
ST. VALENTINE’S DAY
It is probably fair to say that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, as couple and parents, represent many of the qualities and virtues that sell Hallmark Cards, inspire a rush to the flower stands, give rise to a man going to Jared Diamond, make us think about couples and parents and the subject and celebration of love.
The inauguration revealed those aspects about the Obamas and not for the first time. Here were the daughters suddenly grown into adolescents and near-teens, acting like older and younger sisters under the beaming eyes of their parents, fooling around, texting, and look at that couple coming down the stairs there in the glare of a gala, Obama’s killer-watt smile at high, courtly beam, the tux, the red dress, the white bow tie, she serenely proud, billowing, what a rush of a date night.
They bring evidence of the love and romance in their lives to the public regularly. It is speculation, of course, but you guess that they’ve had their rough patches because politics is not an arena for starry-eyed beginners, but you also guess that their relationship is one of deep and shared love and respect, and got-your-back loyalty and pride. While both are husband and wife with guy and gal things, they are total grown-ups as parents.
In terms of glamour, the Obamas give Camelot a run for its residue of dazzle and razzle and youth and kids. Their elevation to the White House seems to have strengthened them as a couple, it has been an addition as opposed to an imperilment. They appear to do honor to the idea of love.
The rest of us have to do what we often do at times like these—forget our workaholoic tendencies, and appreciate the fact that someone other than the face in the mirror or our pets love us. If you are loved, and share a love, how to show your appreciation of the person you so nonchalantly introduce as your better half? Praise, wine and dine, kiss and give a shout out, buy roses, Godiva, cupcakes and a little shiny bauble from somewhere, if not Jared’s.
Do something, besides dinner and champagne. Here are some suggestions: go to a movie.
Specifically, go to the “Screen Valentines: Great Movie Romances” at the American Film Institute Theater, a series of some of Hollywood’s classic romantic movies which will move you, make you laugh and make you cry, running from Feb. 1 through March 14.
Some of the films include “Ninotchka,” a 1930s movie billed as “Garbo Laughs," in which the Great Greta, playing a dour Soviet commissar is wooed and led astray by American Melvyn Douglas; “A Man and a Woman,” the classic example of French sensuality starring Anouk Aimee and Jean Louis Tringinant; “The Way We Were,” in which passionately opinionated New York Jewish princess Barbra Streisand and rabble rouser meets blonde golden boy Robert Redford in his prime. There are more—go to the AFI website for details.
It was always Hollywood to which we looked for guides to the joys, sadness and perils of love: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was Oliver’s epigram for his lost love, but don’t try that one on your girlfriend or you’ll be sorry. And my favorite love line from a western: Wyatt Earp, smitten with a school teacher, asks a bartender: “Hey, have you ever been in love?” to which the reply is “Nope. I been a bartender all my life.”
You could check out the Washington Ballet, Feb. 13 to 17, at Sidney Harman Hall in the Harman Center, where the company’s “L’Amour (love, baby . . .) features three sensual, sexy, hot and love-stuff dances. That would be “Dangerous Liasons,” a world premiere choreographed by David Palmer; “Opposites Distract," a company premiere choreographed by Elaine Kudo, and “Under Covers,” a world premiere choreographed by Amy Stewart. It all sounds like various reflections on the sexual and romantic and sometimes darker sides of love.
Or you could go where he goes: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” That would be our good swain Romeo upon discovering Juliet. You will hear those lines again, but in a somewhat different context at the Signature Theater’s production of Joe Calarco’s play “Shakespeare R&J,” in which students at a repressive and all-male Catholic boarding school go against the rules and begin to “perform and act out” the forbidden Shakespeare play with dramatic results. This "Romeo and Juliet" is modern, or as Calarco says, “wildly passionate and sexy.” At Signature, Feb. 5 through March 3.
Don’t forget, in fact, to give your dog a Valentine’s Day treat. Their love for us is, after all, and unlike that of anyone else who might love you, unconditional. (February is Responsible Pet Owner Month)
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Just by being who and what they are, Barack and Michelle Obama stand at the center of Black History Month, and the president, in his speech and looking back on the thousands-strong multitude understood the historic nature of where and how he stood, knowing he would not be in that place again. When he was elected and inaugurated for the first time, I suspect much of Washington’s overall, day-to-day citizenry re-discovered themselves as neighbors after all. In Adams Morgan, my friend and neighbor Mickey Collins, who often regaled me with tales of U Street glory days of the black community, told me how sad he was that his aged mother had not lived to see the election. Then, I was sad also that Mickey did not live to see the results of the second election.
Black history is neither an overlay nor a background noise in Washington, D.C., the city which we inhabit. It belongs to everyone who lives here, not just in traditionally African American neighborhoods but the entire city, now changing in its makeup, but always rich in a permanent history. We have a network of black churches and congregations, we have Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial, we have the Frederick Douglass Museum in Anacostia, we have slave and church cemeteries and the steps of the Lincoln Memorial which is as much a shrine to the memory of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech as it is to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. And we have all that jazz everywhere.
Some people have argued that with the election of Obama, we are living in what’s called a post-racial era, yet the subject of race is always on the mind like a prayer and an unanswered question. At the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, there will be an exploration of the subject with “Race in America: Where Are We Now,” an arts and ideas weekend with panel discussions, films and performances of David Mamet’s play “Race,” Feb. 16-17.
Here are some events to watch out for, including the Feb. 2 Black History Month Family Day at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.
On Feb. 14, THEARC at 1901 Mississippi Ave., SE, the DC THEARC Theater will present two free performances in honor of Black History Month, featuring “Harriet Tubman: The Chosen One,” a 45-minute play performed by Gwendolyn Briley-Strand, taking the audience on one of Tubman’s 19 journeys on the Underground Railroad.
In addition, such institutions as the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the D.C. Public Library, the Anacostia Community Museum, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, and others will hold special events throughout the month of February.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE CIVIL WAR
February is the month we celebrate the birthdays of both President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln, but it is Lincoln, the Civil War president and the Great Emancipator who resonates most strongly during the years of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. While we look to the past and hear echoes of Lincoln’s words as spoken by Daniel Day Lewis in the hugely popular film “Lincoln,” President Obama will address a joint session of Congress with his annual and much-anticipated State of the Union address on Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12.
We are by now almost reflexively calling Washington a divided city in terms of the governing classes, but when the Civil War began in 1861, those divisions were searing, real and often bloody. Washington, itself, became at times a city under potential siege as well as the seat of power.
Our museums especially have focused on the Civil War. You can go to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art for “The Civil War and American Art” to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery (inside the National Museum of American History) for “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” and “Torn in Two,” a geographic and cartographic approach to exploring the causes and memories of the Civil War with political cartoons, photographs, prints and maps at the Ford’s Theatre through Feb. 24.