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Monday, April 15, 2013

Of Fonts, Bananas and Crossword Grids

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Well, there aren't many benefits of being ill for a week, especially when one works from home. (Before I continue, fear not, dear reader. My plague appears a virulent form of the common cold.). I suppose one sunny side is that the indoor time has not inured me to the wave of summer weather that has recently befallen our nation's capital. The reason that is good news is I am heading to the Baltics at week's end, where temperatures are currently in single digits. And even though said numbers are in Celsius, it's still going to be pretty chilly.

But I digress, as I so often do.  Before I head out on a trip, I like to stock up on books. Being an old-fashioned gal when it comes to my reading, I prefer my ABCs in print rather than in E-form. Fortunately, prior to contracting the wayward germ that has waylaid me, I had purchased a number of books, both from local bookstores (good for me) and Amazon (I am not totally out of date, after all). So, I read three books in six days and will provide an extensive book report on my favorite, called Just My Type (this type is New Times Roman, Italic 12), in my next post. The brilliant book on fontspenned by Simon Garfield, is a fount of information and entertainment.

But again, I digress. Blame the lingering fever. Given the avidity with which I read (I often down a 350-page book in one day), I am always thrilled when I find books that truly capture my imagination. Interestingly, the ones that do so most often are non-fiction, which some snobs might say are less creative than fiction. But I beg to differ.

In my favor is the old saw that truth is stranger than fiction. But beyond that, the fact that I often opt for histories of arcane subjects (The Toothpick; The Phone Book (not the actual phone book, but a book about the phone book); The Yugo; White Bread) ups the quirk quotient.

Before this post becomes a novella, let me list the three lovely books that kept me entertained through coughing fits, running noses (well, one runny nose), and various aches and pains.

1. CrossWorldOne Man's Journey into Americans Crossword Obsession, by Marc Romano (a history of crossword puzzles and profiles of some famous--and not-so-famous--fanatics)
2. The Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, by Dan Koeppel (a worldwide romp covering the sexless banana from the time of Adam and Eve through today) and
3. Just My Type, by Simon Garfield

Both CrossWorld and Banana are less than 300 pages, which make them appeeling (sic) for coast-to-coast flights. Just My Type is a little longer, but it contains more pictures (although the images in ? are mostly font types).

In case you think I am crazy in recommending Just My Type, let me offer up a brief serving of what you will learn.  Do you know what an interrobang is Did you know that the & combines the letters E & T (from et, which paired with per se & and = ampersand). Want to learn what's underneath the iconic typography of the London Underground? Curious as to why Gotham (see below) was selected as Obama's campaign type? Then you are just the type to read this book. A full review to come.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New International Flights out of Washington, DC

Recently, when trying to book a non-stop flight from Moscow to Washington, DC, I learned that United had stopped running from Russia. In lieu of the only non-stop option (Aeroflot), to which I said nyet, I opted for a one-stop through Frankfurt.

Nonetheless, in looking at the options, I discovered that for those who say da to the Russian carrier, starting on June 8, there will be three non-stops weekly between DC and Moscow from which to choose. Udachi.

Other new international flights between Washington, DC and far-flung points include Etihad Airlines' daily non-stops from Dulles to Abu Dhabi. That route started on March 31. On June 17, Brussels Airlines will sprout up with IAD-BRU flights five days a week.

Heading south, United starts weekly Saturday service between Dulles and both Guatemala City, Guatemala and San Jose, Costa Rica on April 13.

Going north, United is adding Saturday and Sunday non-stops between Dulles and Vancouver starting June 8. United starts seasonal daily service to Quebec City on August 27. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Canvassing Philadelphia

This portrait of Philadelphia's art scene appeared in last weekend's Washington Post travel section.

Smack dab in the middle of Philadelphia sits one of the most significant cultural miles in the United States. The 5,280-foot stretch between City Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a major center
 for art, architecture, science, and public sculpture.
Framed within the mile are the Franklin Institute Science Museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the newly renovated Rodin Museum, which contains the most extensive public collection of the sculptor’s work outside of Paris. When the city edition of the Barnes Foundation opened in May 2012 (after the collection’s relocation from nearby Merion), Philadelphia's magnificent mile, located along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, became all the more compelling. Sketch the collection of the nearby Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts into the picture, and you’ve got the palette of a cultural dynamo. 
The Spring Collection
A fine place to start a cultural tour of the city is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As the collection has more than 300,000 works, it’s smart to narrow your focus. This spring, the museum explores Journeys to New Worlds. The exhibit highlights rare examples of Spanish and Portuguese Colonial art, and illustrates cultural exchanges between those countries and their colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. For something a little more whimsical, The Art of Golf is a revealing study of the sport’s history, popularity and representation in art. It runs through July 7.

The Barnes Foundation’s move into Center City has been a big boon to the Philadelphia arts scene. Celebrated for its depth, quality, and unique art displays, the collection is known for its works by European and American masters of Impressionism, post-Impressionism, and early Modern art. From May 4 through September 2, the museum mounts an Ellsworth Kelly show. This is the Barnes’ first contemporary exhibition since 1923.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts hosts its Annual Student Exhibition from May 10 through June 2. Then, on June 27, a Jennifer Bartlett retrospective opens. The 40-year-career survey showcases paintings and sculptures combining abstract and representational styles.

Art at Sunset and Around Town
Why attend a plain old happy hour when you can celebrate the end of the week with a mix of music, food and fine art? The first Friday of every month, galleries in Old City, Fishtown and Manayunk celebrate independent art. Friday Night at the Barnes offers a lively mix of music, lectures, and food tastings, while the Philadelphia Museum of Art turns down the lights and turns up the tunes for Art After 5

The art scene extends far beyond the magnificent mile.
A multi-platform audio tour, called Museum Without Walls, features the city’s public art and outdoor sculpture. Also worth exploring are some of the city's 3,600 murals. The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has a variety of tours of the colorful walls found throughout diverse neighborhoods. 

Not to be missed, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is home base for the citywide Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts 2013. From March 28 to April 27, If You Had a Time Machine  will (figuratively) transport audiences through time via artistic presentations. Music, theater and visual arts will be used to trace ideas of past visionaries, to examine current cultural trends, and to fast-forward into the possibilities of what’s yet to come. Some of the events are free and many are family friendly.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Traveling Chill

'Tis a far, far better thing to travel with a chill attitude than to get bent out of shape about flight delays, missed connections, and checked luggage with the potential to go AWOL. To wit, today I was awakened from my Idaho beauty sleep by a 4:50 AM MDT wake-up call. By 5:03 AM, I was on a shuttle to the Boise airport to catch a 6:19 AM flight.This would put me in Denver with two hours to spare before a flight to National (DCA) in Washington, DC. Alas, at 5:10 AM, already on my way to the airport, a message came from United saying the first flight had been delayed an hour. Knowing that I had cut it close to make the 6:19 flight, and knowing that I still had an hour to connect in Denver, I actually breathed a sigh of relief.

But as the delay stretched to 8:00 and then 8:30, I knew, intrepid veteran travel journalist that I am, I needed a Plan B to get to DC. There were no other non-stops to DCA, so I investigated non-stops to Dulles (IAD). While getting home from IAD costs $77 by taxi versus $5.00 on Metro from DCA, my first choice was still an IAD non-stop versus a one-stop to DCA through Chicago arriving five hours later.

However, choosing another airport could create a wrinkle which would cause most to furrow a brow. You see, I had checked luggage. Normally. I would travel solely with a carry-on for a nine-day trip. But as I was heading to snowy Sun Valley, I had to bring three pairs of boots (one Cowboy, one pair of knee-high Uggs, and one pair of sexy heels), plus a pair of flip-flops which doubled as workout shoes. Confused? Just suffice to say that the heavy-duty footwear would not enable me to fit in my carry-on. Nor would it allow my wardrobe to fit in there, either.

And so, la dilemma. Where would my checked bag go if I went to another airport at the last minute? Would it go to DCA? Would it make it to IAD? Or would it end up spending quality time at Denver International? For all I knew, there was a possibility it could enjoy an exotic trip to China. Frankly, whatever way United opted to orient my luggage, well, I just didn't care.

Now, I grant you, I was heading home, so it was easier to be chill about being sans luggage than if I were outbound. Then again, most people, had they had the adventure with United's missing luggage department as described in the link above, would not be so easy breezy. But looking like a Cover Girl (wearing a leather skirt and aforementioned sexy boots), I had to maintain my nonplussed mien, even upon discovering in Denver that I indeed missed my DCA flight. A useless gate agent directed me toward a long line at customer service, but I bypassed the advice and said line, by marching my sexy boots right over to Gate 43, from which Plan B was launched.

Dressed for success, I made the flight just as it was boarding. True, I was assigned a middle seat. But, it was in the Economy Super-Plus section. so I was happy as a potato. As I write this prose, I am in-flight and not a bit peckish about my bag. If it shows, it shows. If it doesn't, hasta manana. And that, mis amigos, is what traveling chill is all about.

Postscript IAD 6 PM EDT: I don't know how this happened, but the bag made my flight.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Confessions of a Film Festival Virgin: Part I

Apologies, dear readers, for the recent dearth of posts. My time has been spent hobnobbing with the hoi polloi at the Sun Valley Film Festival. That's Sun Valley, IDAHO...not, as many mistakenly believe, Iowa nor Utah.

Yes, this idyllic little burg, which is quickly becoming my home away from home (without an actual home, of course, unless a local millionaire would like to adopt me), successfully hosted its 2nd annual film gala last week. Not the monster of Sundance, nor the long lines experienced in Santa Barbara, this little event is most accessible to the film festival acolyte.

I will have more detailed reports in upcoming posts. You'll see pictures (stills, not movies); hear about my adventures with award-winning filmmakers; and you will be regaled with my homages to the magic of Sun Valley and Ketchum. No K'vetchuming here.

Meantime, please give a listen to my report on the Sun Valley Film Festival at www.aroundtheworldradio.com/aarchives.jsp. Click on segments 2 and 3 of the March 14 show.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Token Over the Line

(Why is the iron on Dame Street?)

Few Monopoly fans seemed steamed when the iron token was summarily dismissed this winter. However, this new wrinkle left me feeling flat. But in other countries, the pressing news about the ironing board most people. Why? Because, as I discovered by studying the 25 Monopoly boards that cover my walls, most foreign games have never used the lowly household appliance as a token to begin with. 

Indeed, my in-depth investigative reporting from the walls of my house ferreted out the following: Only 20% of my games (including Ireland, seen at right) sport the iron. Neigh, many European and South American boards replace the iron with a guy on a horse. Por ejemplo, Argentina, France, and Hungary all opt for a hunky horse-bound hero.

Some of my newer games, circa this century, not only have no iron, but have replaced some of the other standard tokens through the course of modernization. For example, both Canada and Denmark replace the battleship with an airplane, and the shoe with an in-line skate. Several countries are also opting to add a cell phone (albeit the old-fashioned fold-up version versus an iPhone) in lieu of the hat. 

Some international versions of the game, for want of materials, proper molds, or a larger manufacturing budget, replace tokens with standardized plastic game pegs. Confusingly, the Tunisian version employs plastic horse heads (resembling a chess knight versus the one in The Godfather). Even more confusingly, I bought the Tunisian game in a souk in Marrakesh. It was not until I returned to the U.S. of A. that I realized something was rotten in the state of Denmark. 

But I digress. Back to the pegs. Some of the games designed for kids also employ pegs, perhaps for fear that a small dog or a miniature thimble can be easily swallowed by a ravenous child. My Brazilian Banco Imobiliario Junior is such an example. I would love to wax on about the adult Brazilian, but unfortunately, when I asked the concierge at the Rio de Janeiro Marriott to track down a game for me there (as I was on a tight schedule), she came back with the darn kids version. Perhaps she thought I was on a thong-string budget. At any rate, other games that incorporate pegs are either knock-offs--Jordan, Poland--and/or relics of Communist days of yore--Yugoslavia, Romania.

The game that takes the cake in terms of its tokens is that of Italy. My Italian Monopoli board, circa 1985, features among its tokens a candlestick, a bottle of chianti, a cheese shaker and a mushroom. All of the miniatures are crafted from wood and painted with vibrant colors.

In an upcoming post, I will detail the differences in money. But let me say here that I am distressed that my most recent purchase does not even include cash. The Canadian version circa 2012 instead uses credit cards and some electronic gizmo that looks like an old Texas Instruments calculator. No Canadian dollars? That's just loony.