Muddling through somehow

Theater” by William Greenway. Via Lori. “Like the neighborhood kind / you went to as a kid, full / of yellow light and red / velvet curtains and everybody / there, friends, bullies throwing / popcorn, somebody with red hair.”

Weather Systems” by Barbara Crooker. Via Lori. “Sugar maples, little fires in the trees, every blazing gradation / of orange to red, and this makes me think of you….”

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” by Elizabeth Alexander. “…digging in the clam flats / for the shell that snaps, / emptying the proverbial pocketbook.”

Gilly’s Bowl & Grille” by Corey Van Landingham. “As for the beer, I bring my own. I haven’t touched / another human / in twenty-three days, not even someone’s palm / passing my change.”

Excavating life’s mysteries

Been meaning to transcribe these quotes from Springsteen’s Ties That Bind documentary, on the making of The River. It’s a simple doc: one part archival footage, one part singing songs and sharing thoughts outside, one part doing the same inside. But I appreciated the perspective on this decade in one’s life.

On your 30s:

By the time you’re 30, you’re, you know, you have a clock that’s ticking. You’re definitely operating in the adult world. And I know I was thinking about all of these things by that time — relationships, their success, their failure — and because of my own personal history it was a mystery to me how people were successful at those things. And really the writer’s life is sort of excavating those mysteries.

On the value of the personal in all writing:

It’s always public and personal, I guess, simultaneously for me. I don’t ascribe to myself any great political conscience or social conscience for that matter, but I always believe I’m trying to write my way out of some box that I found myself caught in when I was younger, or my self or my parents caught in, so really most of the writing I’ve done, it’s always personal in some way. And then it connects to the outside world, and connects to issues of the day, but it begins as a personal conversation between me and myself about something that is still digging at me from either my past or the present.

On writing one’s way through life’s blocks:

I was thinking about how to make these things more than aesthetic ideas in my own life, you know? How do I practically live a life like this, where I make the kind of connections that I’m very frightened of, but I feel that if I don’t make, I’m going to disappear or get lost? A creative life, an imagined life, is not a life. It’s merely something you’ve created, it’s merely a story. A story is not a life. A story is just a story. So I was trying to link this stuff up in a way where I thought I could save myself from my darker inclinations by moving into an imagined community where people were struggling with all those things in a very real way.

Recent food and film winners

1. The good cheer and brightness of the golgappa at Bindaas in Cleveland Park, with friends Carlos and Meghvi. Avocado plus pastry, how can you go wrong? Writes Tom Sietsma of the dish: “My pals of Indian heritage are inevitably charmed by the golgappa, sheer puffed biscuits the size of quarters, with holes in the top that hint of their fillings. A traditional well might include tangy water, chickpeas and mint, which can make for messy eating if you don’t treat the liquid salad like a single shot. [Chef Vikram] Sunderam gets around the problem by using creamy but solid avocado, along with sweetened yogurt and date-tamarind chutney, in his golgappa, one of several featured chaat (savory snacks).”

2. The smoked paprika casarecce at Sfoglina in Van Ness. The menu describes it as “lobster, octopus, Amalfi style,” and no dish since our Amalfi honeymoon has taken us back there so dramatically. That pasta beat the other two we tasted, but barely. The restaurant is beautiful (“The restaurant is a girl,” says the owner, Maria), and we left feeling every dish on the menu is probably delicious.

3. Paterson with friend Darren at E Street Cinema. A great movie about poetry! Of all things. Not only is the movie about poetry, but it feels like poetry, slowing you down and finding moments to be weird while keeping your focus. It’s also a celebration of the most fascinating kind of poetic life to me — the poet who has a day job. Bus driving, in this case. Poetry magazine has a good audio interview with Ron Padgett, whose Alone and Not Alone I really liked last year, and who was the poetry consultant and wrote all the poems for the movie.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life at the Miracle Theater on Barracks Row, the night before the night before Christmas. The town had emptied out, and the theater was only a quarter full or less. Everyone laughed. Everyone got quiet. The movie held up in glorious fashion. Lori had a bad cold, and we still had a great time.

NSO trombones + a go-go band

This made my day the other night. The National Symphony Orchestra’s “In Your Neighborhood” program came to the Hill Center, bringing two NSO trombonists, two guest trombonists and a go-go band.

The only video I can find from the event is this one, and the sound isn’t great. But you get the idea, back and forth between the trombones and the band, including through this Imperial March, and later they all came together for a big finish. Will post it if/when I find it.

‘If you were an elephant’

A surprising and welcome essay today in The Guardian.

You’d be a communitarian. Relationality would be everything. It’s not that you couldn’t survive alone, although there would certainly be a survival benefit from being a member of a community, just as humans live longer if they are plugged into a church, a mosque or a bowling club. Yes, at some level your altruism might be reciprocal altruism, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, or kin selection, where you are somehow persuaded to sacrifice yourself if your death or disadvantage will preserve a gene in a sufficiently closely related gene-bearer. But at a much more obvious and important level you’d be relational – joyously shouldering the duties that come with community – because it made you happy. Why do elephants seek out other elephants? Not primarily for sex, or for an extra arsenal of receptors to pick up the scent of poachers, or because they assume that the others will have found particularly nutritious food, but because they like other elephants.

In the Dupont Underground

The pictures only begin to capture the oddness of the old streetcar tunnels beneath Dupont Circle. Graffiti covering the platforms, the short-lived and then transient-camp food court, two-thirds of the tour in darkness, interspersed with light shows and the balls from the Building Museum pit.

The tour provides the flashlights. You wear closed-toe shoes and watch out for stray metal. If you have serious asthma or similar issues, consider a mouth-and-nose covering. The guy who walks at the back of the tour and ensures no one disappears wears one. I felt okay, but the flashlights make the dust and dirt and trashed-plaster wreckage clear.

We followed up the tour with playoff football at Buffalo Billiards and a board game at Kramerbooks. (The board-game bar — who knew there was such a thing — was, to our surprise and to the bar’s credit, too full.) These activities felt nicely normalizing. After you get a glimpse of the end of civilization, surrounding yourself with people feels warm and helpful.

Here’s one of the light shows.

A video posted by Patrick Cooper (@btrpkc) on

And here are plenty of pictures.

Continue reading In the Dupont Underground

Capitol view

Watching the Obama helicopter depart the inauguration.

It’s been something to see inauguration- and march-goers come and go from the Airbnbs scattered around the neighborhood. All kinds of signs carried down the block — and a huge New Mexico flag. Salt trucks blocking the road up to Union Station before Trump’s inauguration-eve dinner there. Big hair and black Suburbans waiting for each other. John Elway’s taxicab video taking place a few streets over. Lots of sirens passing by our place when other roads across the Hill are closed off. Signs quoting Martin Luther King Jr. popping up in many neighbors’ yards.