May 7, 2012
Tuesday, May 8 Carolyn Morrow Long
Carolyn M0rrow Long, conservator at the American History Museum, will be signing copies of her two books, Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House and A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau. Both nonfiction books explore the myths surrounding infamous women in New Orleans. Madame Delphine Lalaurie, a wealthy society matron who had to flee the city after rumors that she abused her slaves started to spread. On the other side of the spectrum, Marie Laveau, the “voodoo princess,” became legendary for her charisma and charity in caring for yellow fever victims and condemned prisoners alike. Long traveled the country to untangle the roots of these stories and separate truth from sensationalism. Free. 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. American History Museum.
Wednesday, May 9 Encore Chorale: A Spring Concert
Enjoy a lunchtime performance by the Encore Chorale for Older Adults, directed by Jeanne Kelly and featuring baritone David Williams. The concert features lively renditions of pop songs, including “When I’m 64,” “Rockin’ Jerusalem,” “Shenandoah,” and Gilbert & Sullivan show tunes. Free. 1:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Thursday, May 10 The Unknown Aaron Burr
He was a Revolutionary War hero, a prominent New York politician, and a U.S. vice president, but Aaron Burr is best remembered today as the villain who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Discover the full story in this talk by Pulitzer Prize finalist and best-selling author H.W. Brands, whose new book, The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr, depicts a man ahead of his time, tragically ensconced in political scandal. Brands draws on Burr’s extensive, witty correspondence with his daughter Theodosia to trace the arc of Burr’s scandalous political career, but also includes the touching story of a father’s love for his daughter. $20 for general admission, $15 for members. 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
September 14, 2011
If you are taking classes at one of the area universities and need to study, but you are looking for a change of scenery, the Smithsonian Institution offers some quiet, study nooks.
Kogod Courtyard: In the Donald W. Reynolds Center, which houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kogod Courtyard is a 28,000-square-foot space with seating, free Wi-Fi and a Courtyard Café. Designed by Foster + Partners, a world famous architectural firm, the courtyard is covered by a wavy, 900-pound, glass and steel canopy. I suggest staking out a study spot here if you are sick of your stuffy library, dorm room or office, because with loads of natural light, ficus, black olive trees and water scrims by landscape architects Kathryn Gustafson and Rodrigo Abela, it at least gives you the sense that you are outdoors.
Lerner Room: Maybe natural light is something I crave working in a cubicle, but another bright space is the Lerner Room, on the third floor of the Hirshhorn Museum. The room, on the north side of the ring-shaped museum, has a panoramic expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows that offers visitors a great view of the National Mall. A curved couch positioned in front of the window makes it a perfect place to curl up with a book, and there are also large tables, which make it a great work space. Enormous Sol LeWitt drawings, one in color and the other in black and white, on the room’s other two walls also give it a cheery atmosphere.
Mitsitam Cafe: The native foods from the Western Hemisphere’s Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and Great Plains cooked up at the National Museum of the American Indian’s highly-rated Mitsitam Cafe certainly draw crowds. But if you don’t mind the clamor of diners, or you actually work better with some background noise, then the cafe, with lots of seating and Wi-Fi, can be a nice place to study. Bonus: the traditional frybread makes for a sweet snack.
Enid A. Haupt Garden: Sick of the quad, but in need of some fresh air? Visit a Smithsonian garden. There are several along the stretch between the Hirshhorn and the Freer Gallery on the south side of the National Mall. My favorite is the immaculately-kept, four-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden just behind the Smithsonian Castle—and just above an underground complex that includes the National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the S. Dillon Ripley Center. Bring a blanket to spread under a large shade tree, and your laptop. There is free Wi-Fi. On a hot day, you can always retreat to the Castle Café.
Luce Foundation Center: This space on the third and fourth floors of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is a library of a different sort. The museum keeps more than 3,300 pieces of art from its permanent collection in large glass cases, and coins and jewelry in layers of drawers. If you take up post at one of the tables in the center, perhaps you want to time it with an Art + Coffee event that includes a brief talk or tour of the center with coffee and tea. Occasionally and usually on Wednesdays through Sundays, at 1:30 p.m., the center hosts a tour and talk, with complimentary coffee or tea, followed by an acoustic concert by a local musician.
Update 9/23/2011: This post now includes additional information about the Kogod Courtyard.
April 21, 2011
It’s difficult to hear the phrase “TOPGUN” and not immediately have F-14 Tomcats zooming around in your brain against a rocking Kenny Loggins soundtrack. For most of us, the epic 1986 movie, Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise as fighter pilot “Maverick” and Anthony Edwards as his trusty co-pilot “Goose,” is the beginning and end of our knowledge of the Navy’s elite specialized fighter training academy, the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Instructions Program.
CDR David Baranek, USN (Ret.), actually lived the TOPGUN lifestyle as both a student and an instructor–yet not as a Maverick, but as a Goose. An F-14 radar intercept officer (RIO), Baranek whose callsign was Bio, eventually became commander of his own F-14 squadron.
Now the 20-year Navy man adds author to his credentials, with his recent book, TOPGUN Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death, and Hollywood Glory as One of America’s Best Fighter Jocks.
The book details stints at TOPGUN, his deployments, and the part that he played in the film Top Gun. “I wanted to go back to that time and talk about the things I worried about and not do it from hindsight,” Baranek said.
Illustrations were easy to come by, since “Bio” always carried a camera with him on his flights. As a result, he was able to capture images of some of the Navy’s finest 1980s airpower from an intimate perspective. Check out a gallery of some of his shots here.
“Bio” will be at the National Air and Space Museum this Saturday, April 23, signing copies of his book, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.. I spoke to him about his time at TOPGUN, how he might have gotten the finger from Tom Cruise, and if he, as Maverick and Goose did , still feels the need–the need for speed.
You were an F-14 radar intercept officer (RIO), like Goose was in the film. What were your primary flight responsibilities–and were you capable of piloting an F-14, if necessary?
The primary flight responsibilities are spelled out in the F-14 operating manual. Those are navigation, communication and operating the weapons system. When the F-14 was designed, because of parts of its mission and state of automation, they still needed one guy to make the radar be most effective. In addition, the RIO shared responsibility for the safety of the airplane. And if we were in a dogfight, I shared responsibility [with the pilot]. He’d keep track of the people he could, and he’d hand people off to me. In terms of piloting the plane, that’s easy. One, the Navy did not train RIOs to fly. And two, the F-14 had no flight controls in the back seat. That was not an option.
Calm, cool and in control, that’s the stereotype of the fighter pilot, right? What was the tightest spot you’ve been in?
I thought you were going to say the stereotypical image was obnoxious, arrogant and loud [laughing]! The biggest adventure I had was when I ejected from an F-14 landing on an aircraft carrier. But the situation lasted one second, so there was no time to get nervous…
As a former graduate and a former instructor, what kinds of things were done to really push the buttons of pilots selected for TOPGUN?
You get all kinds [laughing]. Most pilots and RIOs are good. They respect the instructors and know that they have things to learn. Of course they bring confidence, but they’re mature enough not to be offensive. But every once in awhile you get a student and he’s ready to take on his TOPGUN instructors, too [chuckling]. I have to tell you, TOPGUN instructors can handle that stuff! You’re coming into their arena, and although they appreciate a good enthusiastic fighter pilot, you’ve got to know your limits! They can put people in their place. If you don’t get the message the first time, they’ll do it again.
During your time as air-to-air combat instructor, what was the most important advice you passed on to your students?
For me, one of the things I tried to emphasize was that you’re not supposed to just sit in the back seat and play with the radar and talk to the pilot. There are times when you need to be directing things on the radios. You need to be assertive.
As an RIO, regarding the type of pilot you’d rather fly with, are you a Maverick guy or an Iceman guy?
I flew with a lot of talented pilots, and I have to say that I’m a little bit selfish. I liked flying with a good pilot who does his job. A lot of flying, especially back then, is pretty boring, so you want to fly with a pilot who’s funny and entertaining, so you can tell stories [laughing]. So kind of like with a personality of Maverick, but a flying style of Iceman.
So is that why you started taking pictures, because you had time to kill during flights? (view image gallery here).
I just got that from my father. I started taking pictures in grade school, and it’s something I picked up. It was a few years after I started loving airplanes and wanting to fly. We all flew the same mission and had a lot of time in the plane, but some guys just never carried a camera. It just didn’t interest them.
You were on board for some of the aerial stunts in Top Gun–so was that you onscreen behind one of the black helmets in one of the enemy fighters?
[laughs] The close-ups were of pilots [not RIOs]. In terms of flying the black jets, I’m pretty sure that it’s me in the scene where Maverick is flying inverted above the MiG [Tom Cruise's character, "Maverick," gives the finger to the pilots in the enemy MiG while flying above them, upside-down.]. I went out there and flew that mission. But we filmed that, and later I found out that one other RIO did that, also.
And how did you help Paramount with the dialogue?
A pilot and I went up to Paramount for two days. We looked at the film clips over and over again, and we helped one of the film editors to stitch clips into logical sequences for dogfights. And the main purpose was to tell Paramount what they [pilots and RIOs] would be saying in situations. We just sat there and looked at the film and the pilot and I started talking to each other…And a lot of that was dialogue for the flying scenes of the movie. But then they threw in a bunch of Hollywood stuff, too… “You hook ‘em, I’ll fry ‘em?” Come on! That’s Hollywood writer stuff! [laughing]
Now with the increase of unmanned drones, do you think dogfighting is dead?
It’s hard to say. People have been predicting that for decades now. Nowadays there seems to be less dogfighting… I think it’s going to be awhile before we can turn everything over to unmanned vehicles. They’re great for some missions, but they can’t do everything. As long as you’ve got humans in tactical airplanes, they better be prepared to meet enemy airplanes. We’ve got to be ready to face a lot of countries around the world, and as long as they have fighters with people in them, we’ve got to be ready to duel with them and defeat them. I think dogfighting is going to be around for at least, certainly 20 more years–probably 50 more years.
It appears that most of your experience was in the F-14. Is there another particular airplane in which you’re still craving some quality flight time?
[Laughs] The planes that I want are gone. I always loved the F-8 Crusader, but you have to be a pilot to fly that. I loved the Air Force F-106. Just a huge, powerful, beautiful plane. But you have to be a pilot for that, and those are retired, too. One of these days I’ll get up in a biplane and that’ll be fun!
December 1, 2010
First Aircraft Moved to New Hangar: This week, AirSpace reports that the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was the first aircraft to move into the Udvar-Hazy Center’s new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. Designed in 1938 and manufactured in 1942, the scout bomber flew in World War II. The Air and Space Museum’s plane is one of only a handful still in existence. The plane is scheduled to be restored over the course of the coming year, along with several other aircraft that will soon move into the new hangar. Later in 2011, the mezzanine level of the hangar will open so that visitors can see the aircraft refurbishment in action.
Patti Smith Wins National Book Award: Singer Patti Smith, perhaps best known as the “Godmother of Punk,” just won the National Book Award for her memoir, Just Kids, which chronicles her friendship with photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The Archives of American Art blog has a sound clip of Smith reading at a 2008 benefit, or your can hear her on NPR.
Twain Galore: It seems that in addition to Around the Mall’s post honoring Mark Twain’s would-be 175th birthday, a couple other blogs around the Smithsonian have paid their own tributes to the 19th century American author. Face to Face has posted some of their favorite Twain quotes as well as Edwin Larson’s 1935 portrait of the writer. The Smithsonian Libraries blog has a list of further reading straight from the Smithsonian’s collections.
Flamingo-Keeping: Now on the Smithsonian Science homepage, a video from the National Zoo features footage of the Zoo’s 61-bird flock of flaming pink Caribbean flamingos. Sara Hallager, flamingo keeper, says the birds are extraordinarily social animals (their squawks can be heard in the background). She discusses how she and the other keepers prevent inbred chicks during mating season by putting different colored bands on the flamingos’ feet to keep track of who’s who.
National Museum of “Dad-Trolling”? The web comic XKCD has proposed a new Smithsonian museum that specializes in enabling fathers to tell little white lies to their children. Click on various parts of the museum’s floorplan and see what waits inside the “Hall of Misunderstood Science,” “Regrettable Pranks: An Interactive Experience” or the “Rotunda of Uncomfortable Topics,” among others.
October 26, 2010
Last week at a media preview for “Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings,” the Sackler Gallery’s new exhibit, chief curator Massumeh Farhad pulled back the black gallery doors to allow a group of journalists into a dimly lit lair of ancient manuscripts and gleaming silver loosely reminiscent of Aladdin’s cave.
The exhibit is centered around the thousand-year-old, 50,000 verse Persian epic poem, Shahnama (pronounced shah-nah-MEYH), a blend of mythology and Persian history. While there are no talking parrots or diamonds in the rough, the text offers its own brand of fantasy that Farhad likens to Shakespeare and Grimms’ fairytales.
“It’s the most popular text in Iran. Nearly every household has a copy of the Quran and a copy of the Shahnama,” says Farhad.
The narrative traces the history of Iran through the 7th century Arab conquest, focusing on the exploits of 50 different Persian monarchs. The poet Abul-Qasim Firdawsi wrote the epic over a period of 30 years, during which time the ruling local dynasty, the Samanids, permitted cultural and artistic expression to flourish. But by the time the poet finally finished in the year 1010, the Samanids had been overthrown by a Turkic dynasty from Central Asia, the Ghaznavids, who cared little for the arts. Still hoping to be rewarded for his 30 years of literary labor, the poet petitioned Mahmud, the king, showing him his 50,000 verses. The king responded with an insulting reward that was but a pittance for his work. A despondent Firdawsi proceeded to drown his sorrows in beer at a local bath house.
The king lived to regret his decision. Ten years later, Mahmud reread the text and immediately sent a caravan of camels loaded with precious indigo to Firdawsi the poet as a peace offering, but it was too late. As the camels entered Firdawsi’s town, they ran right into a funeral procession. The poet was dead.
“For every king to rule, they had to have ‘farr’, the divine rule to kingship,” says Farhad. “The Shahnama deals with the moral consequences of becoming too proud and forgetting who you are.” Each Persian king who came after the infamous Mahmud commissioned his own copy of the text, which became an emblem of the divine right to rule.
Starting in the 1300s, these royal copies were illustrated with opaque watercolors, gold and black ink. The illustrations—so intricate as to warrant the use of a magnifying glass—make up the majority of the exhibit, which is also punctuated with a 16th century full manuscript of the epic and several silver and bronze vessels from the 6th and 7th centuries.
After an introductory hall, the exhibit is divided into two sections, one focusing on history and the other on myth. The former largely offers the story of Alexander, the Macedonian conqueror, who despite his imperialist spirit is nonetheless described in the Shahnama as a just ruler. The mythological section features morality tales of kings who lost touch with their roots and thus lost their divine rule, their farr. These are often populated with mythical beings; one folio on display depicts a Harry Potter-like hippogriff. (“J.K. Rowling must have seen a copy of the Shahnama,” insists Farhad.)
Despite the ancient objects in the exhibit that give the sense of having only just been unearthed, Farhad says the poem is still relevant today. “I think it’s because of the universal themes of truth and honesty that resonate, whether you’re Iranian or not.”
“Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings” will be on display at the Sackler Gallery through April 17, 2011.