Archive for the ‘history’ Tag

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.


Theater Day and Evening

Hit three theatrical events yesterday.

Signature Theater/Target day had musical performances from upcoming shows: The Hollow, The Boy Detective Fails, Hairspray, Xanadu

Went upstairs and watched a master class in dance. She broke down simple moves from Hairspray so the students could try to keep up. Later she told us that there would be double and triple the moves that we saw in the production number.

After watching roller skaters doing dance moves in the parking lot in the 100 degree heat, we had enough.

Went to Fringe Festival and saw Alice, a play that humanizes the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Sometimes it felt a little more like a history lesson than a drama but…

Later that evening went to see the fifth of six versions of the Match Game at Studio Theater. Great fun with the celebrities of Washington trying to outraunch each other.  Michael O’Sullivan, Tim Tate, The Sweater Sisters, Mark Lewis, David Catana, and Rick Klein did really well. Almost reminded me fondly of the old game show from the 1970s with its double entendres, puns, titillation. Good job done by all!!!

Baseball, Tourism and Masculinity

First panel went to today featured talks about the evil George Steinbrenner, the selling of baseball as the national pasttime during the Great Depression, and baseball games as cultural healing in the aftermath of September 11.

In a room filled with Yankee fans or ex-followers it is amazing the venom for the owner. We concluded that he did many horrible acts and was took much of a control freak to be a good owner.

I appreciated the talk on marketing and look forward to the book that will discuss how baseball marketing changed over the years and seemed to succeed mostly during times of tumult in the nation.

As someone who travels around the world, I love to hear about differnt ways in which things are marketed to tourists. 19th century novels offered pictures of the world to rural female readers. The owners of the Red Sox have to modernize Fenway Park yet try to retain a sense of place and its history.

Movies, History, Critics

Did you grow up watching Siskel and Ebert? Ever wonder about the power of critics to make or break a movie?

Go see For the Love of Movies an excellent documentary about the world of film criticism from the beginnings of the silent movie to today’s multiplex.

The movie informs you about the people and the scope of the opinions that they wrote in the major newspapers, magazines, fanzines and finally in emags and on blogs.

It is particularly fun seeing clips from movies and learning more about Hollywood publicity. Would have liked to know more about how much money, time and resources is spent on wooing “critics” to come see movies before they are even released to the regular movie critics?

Hollywood has always had its publicity hoopla and its Hollywood bohemians who were promoted in order to sell movies and the movie industry.

Critics lose their mojo and their audiences and new approaches to reviewing movies rise up. This happened in the late 1960s and again in the 1990s. Beside editing like music videos what else changed in the style of movies in the early 1990s that led to a new way of reviewing movies?

Kennedy Center: India

Go take a day this month and go down to the Kennedy Center. There are a ton of plays, panels, talks, and art exhibits to see focused on India.

Saw play last night about a 19th century actress Nati Binodini who flourished as an actress after overcoming her start in prostitution.

One of the most interesting things was Reena Saini Kallat’s art piece Falling Fables.

Made of rubber stamps that carry the names of monuments and sites considered historically important that are decaying or eroding, the piece raises issues about loss, architecture, history. 

The government of a country can only have so much to spend and its private citizens can only contribute so much cash as well, choices have to be made about what kind of effort needs to be made to save buildings. India also needs to save its tigers and they cost money to keep the habitats available to them. How much money ought to go to each.

New Delhi Travel article that discusses the loss of monuments follows:

Sundance, Park City Part II

Advice from long-time Festival goers:

Don’t get in the lottery for a pass: you can’t control what type of pass you get so you can’t be sure what movies you will see

You don’t need to buy individual tickets for movies: Do the Waitlist: which means get to a theater venue where they will be showing the movie you want to see 2 hours early and pick up a pass with a number. One half hour before the movie, get in a line according to the number on your pass. It is rare that you won’t get the chance to buy a ticket and see the movie.

Top movies: Gun Hill Road: a group of Latinas cried they were so moved. On The Ice: seeing Barrow, Alaska, at the closest point to the Arctic Circle. The Flaw, a systemic look at the economic meltdown. Shut Up Little Man, a comedy with heart. Catechism Cataclysm, one friend said they nearly pissed in their pants they laughed so hard. Rebirth, a touching look at 9/11. Another Earth, raves about honesty. Black Power Mix Tapes, a unique view of this era.

Poorer Showings: Lord Byron,  put a person to sleep; I Melt With You, the 15 people I talked with said hated when referring to this movie.

Park City Museum was a great pleasure. History of mining is there with a great slice of the mountain in front of you in the first room. In the second room you stand on a lift and step into a tram (subway car) that they used to transport the first sets of skiers to the top of the mountain in the mid-1960s.

The building is part old City Hall, part police and fire station as well as the old library. Remnants of these buildings are visible today. Most exciting is stepping into the old jail. You can walk into an old cell; you can look at a video book and hear the stories of five criminals that used to be housed in the space.

Discovering the history of the ski industry of Park City was fabulous. First, a mining company tried the endeavour and failed because they did not know how to appeal to the customer base. Others from Aspen took over but the industry solidified in the 1990s but still places like The Canyons went bankrupt two years ago.

Salt Lake City In One Day

Arrived at 10 am and walked into the tourism office, the capital building during the late 1800s. Known now as the Council Building, it sits directly across from the new Capitol at the top of the main hill in the city.

The young guy behind the counter advised to see all but Saltair, the old amusement park built on the edge of Salt Lake.We dashed up the hundred steps to the capitol. The Renaissance building from 1915 is made of gorgeous marble. The doors are so heavy they are a workout to open. The rotunda has murals of Brigham oung, General John Fremont, and other important figures in Utah history.

The University of Utah was plugging its ten years of research projects, so all these cute young men and women, dressed snappily, stood  beside easels holding descriptions of their research projects. We followed a tour up to the old Supreme Court chambers, painted in very bold colors.

Next, we walked down State Street past a gorgeous  bed and breakfast called Inn On The Hill.

The houses on the other side of the street were modest, but had cool elements, like sharing a staircase.

We made it to Temple Square and walked into the South Visitors Building. My partner used the computer to find his ancestors but mine did not show up. We saw a model of the famed cathedral and the history of its construction from Young’s vision, through the quarry operation to bring over the stone.

We saw the old Assembly Hall, which is a fine modest building that has a gentle slope to enable all to see the nave. White wood pews filled the eyes on both levels of the building. We scooted over to hear the organist perform the noon time show at the Tabernacle. The number of choir seats is astounding, as amazing to me as the building’s acoustics. We heard two John Philip Sousa marches and two other pieces before leaving for the nearby Arts Center.

The Arts center had pieces from Sundance. James Franco’s work from Three’s Company headlined other video and 3d installement pieces.

We ate a wonderful lunch at Vicsovio’s onMain Street and scooted over to the Moshe Safdies public library. A glorious building that harks to both the architect’s Salem Massachusetts Museum and the new Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms building in Washington, DC.

We met up with a grad student at Uof U down at his place near Rt 80. We had a blast and found out that there are many gays on the Salt Lake City police department’s staff.

Next we drove across to the west side of town to see the Rio Grande Train Depot. Here the archives, historic preservation and related works share office space. There is much memorabilia in the display cases, ranging from old tickets to uniforms. The Rio Grande Caffe is a blast from the past–luncheonette and diner.

Went up the street to the Union Pacfic Railroad Depot, which is a large unoccupied space available for rent. Next was Gateway Plaza. Reportedly developed by the LDS Church, it is an intriguing attempt to bring commercial shops, nightclubs and restaurants to this long neglected area. I enjoyed seeing the Utah Jazz’ arena across the street.

We ended our trip on the east side of town. First we looked at the historical Trolley Station, which has restaurants and a Whole Foods. We continued driving to Sugarhouse part of the city, 9th and 9th. New Age and cafes mix with one old movie theater in a neighborhood not to miss. We left at 7pm.

Book Festival Fever

Lines of people carrying red book bags filled the National Mall. A co-worker stood the back of a long line holding the hard cover his grandson wanted signed. Grandma and grandchild luckily sat in the tent listening to the author’s talk.

This Library of Congress National Book Fair draws big name authors in history and biography, poetry and prose, fiction and mystery.

All these police motorcycles stood around the history and biography tent. Men in suits with dark sunglasses and hearing devices stationed around the perimeter, a few giving me odd glances. I reached the entrance and saw a swarm of people. Applause broke out and Lara Bush took the stage.

The tent stretching from 4th to 5th streets had tables filled with hundreds of books for sale. Since I have a book on sports in DC, I was interested in the biography of boxer Ray Robinson and saw a few other baseball and other books that caught my eye.

C-Span TV covers the event and holds the interviews with authors on its Booktv. The schedule includes:

Laura Bush, Spoken from the Heart

David Remnick, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People

Wil Haygood, Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson

Evan Thomas, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898

Adele Logan Alexander, Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)Significance of Melanin

James McGrath Morris, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power

Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life

Interesting to me was the fifteen tables where authors signed books at hour intervels. The large number of people who waited up to two hours to get a single signature shows me how strong celebrity culture is in the US.

Historian of Sexuality in Gent, Belgium

Architects, historians, religious people can find three full days of activities in Ghent. The St-Baafskathedraal – St. Bravo’s Cathedral is a Gothic beauty with some amazing stain glass windows. The organ is enormous and the crypts are fun to explore.

The painting Adoration of Mystic Lamb by Van Eyck is in a separate section. They will soon be doing restoration work so we felt lucky to see it.

While the Belfry tower has been updated several times, I still enjoyed seeing the collection of ancient bells. The Harbor has many restored buildings in it which the boat tours openly discuss.

Many parts of the city were restored before the World’s Fair of 1913.  Still the Patershol neighborhood has much of its working class character. Many ethnic groups live there now and we ate at a good Indian/Pakistan restaurant.

The Grote Meat market is a humongous building that places you back to the Medieval Ages.

The biggest debate for our group involved the Castle of the Counts. While one person saw it as a vision of the Middle Ages by late 19th century people, another enjoyed the tour and the movie interpretation that they supplied. I thought the castle had amazing materials, such as torture devices, and while it had some elements of artifice, it still contained architectural elements that made you understand how people lived and used the building over its many centuries.

Most impressive to me is the Beguine women who lived in the city from the mid 1300s until the late 1960s. This group of women had three large housing complexes in the city and we visited two of them. Here’s the most intact one.

The buildings, which at that time still lay outside the city boundaries, were endowed for pious Catholic girls (begijnen) who wanted to live in a religious community but not in the seclusion of a convent. They devoted themselves to the care of the poor and sick. In a “Begijnhof” they were not called upon to abandon their personal freedom and could leave whenever they wished. They had their own accommodation and were not required to renounce personal possessions. When Amsterdam went over to Protestantism the “begijnen” had to make their church over to the English Presbyterian community and hold their services in secret in a small chapel opposite the church. The Begijnhof was turned into almshouses but the “begijnen” retained the right to be buried in their “old” church.

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The Value of Local History

The Washington DC Studies Conference this weekend drew several hundred people to wide ranging talks on stories of the nation’s capital.

Pennsylvania Ave around 1905

The event took place in the city’s Charles Sumner School, one of the first public school buildings erected for the education of Washington’s black community.

Sumner Museum & Archives


Presenters ranged from professional historians and architects to long-time residents. Historian Kathryn Smith opened the conference with a discussion of the need to tell local and federal DC stories together. Histories about local people and activities empower residents and convince the citizens in other areas of the country and the world of the value of the place.

Social and community history capture the stories of people in their everyday lives and give us a rich and deep sense of place.

Conferees told of the Berry Farm community and the Underground Railroad little known places.

I learned about the prevalence of particular kinds of crimes in the 19th century and about plans of builders to establish communities with the style of houses they built near the city’s Soldiers Home in the 1910s.

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