Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Vietnam Sight: Ho Chi Minh Museum

After days traveling around Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta and then to Hanoi, I had my fill of Ho Chi Minh.

Yes, the man led an independence movement. He lived an austere life which is too often rare for leaders. He believed in the value of the national state and the need for people to lead their own country.

However, after seeing hundreds of posters, placards and billboards as well as his image on every bill, I had enough. Or so I thought.

We went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and I was surprised.

The top floor is not simply a series of artifacts to tell Ho Chi Minh’s life. Nor is it filled with text that describes the key moments. Instead, the floor is split up into exhibit spaces, eight in all, the chronicle Minh’s life. They break his life into segments and surround them with larger ideas that occurred during the decade, such as Post-Impressionist Paris, Marxist thought in Russia, modernism in Europe, and the fight against fascists during World War II.

These ideas are told in a very environmental manner. They’re art installations, in the tradition of the 1970s art scene.
You walk through spaces that show you modernism, or show you Paris during the last decade of the 19th century. You not only see these ideas but you feel them as you walk through the spaces.

The area covering the independence fight against the French and Americans appears within the section that features this look.

One reviewer summarizes some of my perceptions about the museum:

The whole thing is utterly anachronistic, and sort of mind-blowing, which is to say, something you absolutely must see to believe. It’s hard to imagine what contemporary Vietnamese who visit here would make of the place. Small children may subsequently suffer from very confusing dreams for years to come.


Bummed Yankee Fan

I watched and felt the disappointment. But I’m already sick of all the tired columnists and reporters in the NY Daily News, NY Post, and ESPN who can only see Yankee failure and not Detroit’s success.

Love to see one of the reporters hit Benoit’s nasty sinker that he threw to ARod to strike him out in the seventh. The best ARod could have done was foul it off his foot. Maybe he could have done that but this year he didn’t. That doesn’t make him the main reason the yankees lost.

At least there are a few columnists who can see more clearly.

“A lot of people at Yankee Stadium were enraged at A-Rod … those people are idiots”

Oct 7, 2011, 9:40 AM EDT

Alex RodriguezReuters

We had a nice little burst of Yankees rage this morning, with writers who blamed everyone (A-Rod) for everything they could think of, never once acknowledging that (a) the Yankees, on the whole, out-pitched and out-hit the Tigers in the series; but (b) sometimes the ball just bounces the wrong way for you and anything can happen in a five game series.

Larry Koestler of The Yankee Analysts, however, supplies us with a healthy dose of sanity this morning, putting the Tigers victory over the Yankees in reasonable perspective. He notes that A-Rod was likely still feeling the effects of his nagging injuries, and notes that the numbers bear that out.  He notes that A-Rod wasn’t the only hitter who stunk up the joint. He also takes the seemingly crazy position that, hey, the Tigers actually won this series, it wasn’t simply a matter of the Yankees losing it.  Credit Max Scherzer and the Tigers’ pen for (mostly) limiting the damage and preventing those big Yankees innings we all assumed would happen last night.

This may be less satisfying for all of you than blaming A-Rod.  It does, however, have the added benefit of being true.

RFK Stadium: 50th Anniversary

Columnist Tom Boswell offered an interesting piece on RFK Stadium at its 50th anniversary. When the Dc United gets a new place to play there will be little need for RFK Stadium. Will it be another big blowup event like the demolition of Veterans Stadium in Phladelphia and Three Rivers in Pittsburgh?

Thomas Boswell
Thomas Boswell

RFK Stadium: After 50 years, it’s still personal

View Photo Gallery —  RFK Stadium, which turns 50 years old this week, has a special place in D.C. sports lore. The stadium’s days as home to D.C. United are likely numbered, as the club is looking to build a soccer-specific stadium somewhere in the D.C. region.

By , Published: September 30

RFK Stadium never got the love it deserved. The stadium was in
the wrong part of town. (Mine.) It never entirely beat the rap. That didn’t keep it from being, over a lifetime, my favorite structure in Washington.

For me, it even tops the Capitol. If you were a kid growing up in Northeast Washington in the ’50s, that is a mountainously high hurdle because, back then, the Capitol grounds were perhaps the biggest, best playground in the world.

Former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs talks about his favorite memories from RFK Stadium, where the Redskins played until 1996. The stadium turns 50 this year.

Former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs talks about his favorite memories from RFK Stadium, where the Redskins played until 1996. The stadium turns 50 this year.

Fifty years ago this Sunday, when RFK opened for its first Redskins game, the west side of the Capitol, looking down the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, was a scene that cannot be imagined today, or perhaps even dreamed of as part of our future. Families spread beach towels
for picnics. My parents would come with a jug of ice tea
and sandwiches, and my
friends and I would have the
run of the place (until we
couldn’t run another step).

For a kid who lived just a 10-block walk away, it was like having access to the backyard of a billionaire. You could play hide-and-seek amid groves of huge trees so dense that, from a few feet away, you might be invisible.

Then, when you got a little older, you could rocket down the steep sidewalk on the Constitution Avenue side on bicycles or skates, scattering adults who might have been senators. It really is Capitol Hill. None of us could even coast our bikes all the way to the bottom. At some point, you flew so fast (usually standing on the pedals) that you got scared and just had to tap the brakes.

Cops? They only chased you if you played ball in the alleys. The Capitol grounds belonged to America. How could you deny kids?

And when it snowed, my God — go on, tell me all about your hill.

That’s the astronomically high “emotional investment hurdle” that any new destination had to surpass to get top billing in the Kid World of my youth.

Then, miraculously, the unseen but suddenly benevolent forces of the adult universe opened that huge snow-white spaceship of a stadium with the wavy architectural lines that still make almost every other design in town look old-fashioned. Yes, you can call it a formative experience. In fact, it’s possible that I still haven’t overcome it. I’m lucky it wasn’t a pool hall.

* * *

To grasp what having a big-time stadium just a bike ride from your house meant in those days, consider this: When RFK (then named D.C. Stadium) opened, the NFL and major league baseball had as much “mind-share” among me and my peers as all forms of entertainment combined would hold now for a teenager. We had rock ’n’ roll. We had the Redskins and Senators. And we had any game we could invent, such as “chase” across the roofs of a block of row houses with gaps between some of them.

Yes, as longtime Washingtonians know, basketball was always hot at the grass roots in the whole region. But in a town with no NBA or NHL teams, and where college basketball was still dormant, the glamour was condensed in the Redskins and Nats — separate, but pretty darn equal in our hearts.

Both teams had been great once — Sammy Baugh, Walter Johnson— but both had been lousy long enough that “bad” was their identity. These days, with a thousand amusement choices, losing matters. Then, they were yours, and you absolutely loved them regardless. The snide child hadn’t been invented.

So to us, the new stadium didn’t provide proximity to rotten teams. It put our heroes in our laps.

However, though I grasped it slowly, I eventually realized that ballparks and stadiums are also among our most personal places. Our memories may be of teams, games or rock concerts, but they are also, perhaps primarily, about those who went with us. And what it meant to watch together.

For example, I didn’t realize that baseball on summer nights was an emotional sanctuary. Then one night my mother, who had a stressful job as a congressional speechwriter, said, as a full moon rose over yet another awful Senators team, “This feels like being in church: the ritual, the peace.”

My father was the Redskins fan. He also had helped found the union at the Library of Congress. For my birthday, he took me to a Redskins game. Strikers surrounded the front gate with “Unfair” signs. My father, I’m certain, never crossed a picket line.

I said, “Let’s go home.” He said, “Go in.” So we did.

Even stadiums that get bad-mouthed as much as RFK for being out-of-date and insufficient cash machines for team owners last for decades and span generations.

When my son was the same age that I was when RFK opened, I took him, and his best buddy, there for a symbolic occasion — but not a game. It was his first rock concert — an all-day festival, with a huge mosh pit in front of the stage. We sat in the upper deck behind high schoolers passing their joints. My rule was: Come back every hour. They did. But in the end, we did more talking about all the things they’d seen than any music played.

* * *

My favorite RFK memory isn’t the return of baseball in ’05, or any World Cup game or U2 concert. It is, as it should be, an instant of Redskins glory, but with a personal twist.

On Dec. 31, 1972, for the first time in my life, a Washington team had a chance, with one more victory, to play in its sport’s ultimate game — in this case, the NFC championship against the Hated Cowboys. (Little known fact: That is the official name of the Dallas franchise.)

The Post’s Dick Darcey, the best newspaper sports photographer of his time, knew the Redskins so well that they sometimes swore him to secrecy, then told him parts of their game plan so he could be in the best position to get shots of key plays. For Dallas, they had scripted a bomb up the right sideline from Billy Kilmer to Hall of Famer Charley Taylor but wanted to save it for a pivotal moment. When the time came, Dick had a tipster.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins led, 10-3, at the Dallas 45-yard line. A score for a 17-3 lead would be a Cowboy crusher. In the press box, one of our writers said: “Look at Darcey. Here it comes.”

Carrying equipment that seemed to weigh as much as he did, Dick was sprinting from midfield, where all the other photogs were, toward the north end zone. He got to the goal line just in time. Kilmer threw it about as far as he could. Taylor beat his man by a stride. And Darcey snapped one of the best Washington sports shots ever taken, with the ball on Taylor’s fingertips just as he’s about to run straight off the page and into your breakfast cereal bowl.

When a stadium stands for 50 years and hosts several teams in various sports, and even has a pope drop in for visit, there are a multitude of memories that we hold in common.

And we grip them as passionately as Joe Gibbs, who loved the raucous place so much I thought he would cry when Jack Kent Cooke built a much bigger but less advantageous home for his team. What are we going to do without those sections of lower-deck seats that bounce up and down, he’d ask “Mr. Cooke.” And how can we duplicate the volume that rumbles out of an upper deck that sometimes seems to move like a minor earthquake as the crowd stomps and sways?

The answer, of course, is that you can’t. The past is gone. And it wasn’t better. Just different. Besides, come on, be honest: By the time the 21st century arrived, the place was often a dump compared to modern norms.

What remains unique — but entirely personal to each of us who remembers RFK — is the people with whom we shared the place, the stories that belong only to us, not merely to the public record.

As athletes often say when a world title is won: “They can never take this moment away from us.”

We get to say the same, except it felt like we had a million of ’em.