The National Book Festival put together by the great folks from the Smithsonian Institution took over the National Mall this past week. As always, this well-attended festival is kind of a national reminder of the value of books and the great benefits that come from reading. I will admit, though, that in the era of Tweeter, Google+, Instagram, and Facebook, book reading as a national activity is not what it used to be. Most of us can be considered “occasional” book readers at best, even when technologies like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad have made acquiring and reading book about as easy as it can be humanly made.
But having recently returned from Paris, something very interesting caught my attention during this book festival. This was the contrast between the French and the American attitudes to book reading. The French as a whole are considered some of the most prolific book readers in the world, and when I say books, I mean the hardbound, physical, nice-smelling books we grew up with a generation ago in America. Walking the streets of Paris, book readers were everywhere holding books of all sizes while sitting at outdoor cafes or at the local park benches. No doubt their “bookworms” reputation is well deserved. But what I did not see in Paris were electronic book readers. Not one. Nada. Zip. In contrast, if you removed the bare-bones Barnes & Noble tent from the National Book Festival, there wasn’t a physical book pile to be seen anywhere (at least that I could find while walking around). And here is where the contrast with France appeared most evident: in the reality that digital distribution and consumption of books in America is rapidly overtaking the tired, brick-and-mortar sales model that appears to be alive and well in France. Old world vs. new world? Not sure, but while this distinction doesn’t mean that Americans are reading any less lately, it surely seems to point to the fact that most of us are not going to be flipping pages a-la-France these days. For most of us today, a walk to the local bookstore these days involves logging in to a digital book seller online and never hearing the friendly “great book” comment from the bookstore employee. Maybe this sort of human interaction is not needed these days, or maybe online reviews are a good-enough substitute for the old bespectacled clerk. Who knows. All I know is that if they could replicate that great book smell that hits you the first time you open a brand-new book, then that would be something. Ahaaaa! Well, in the meantime, I’m not going to hold my breath.
This was a very busy weekend in the Washington, DC area, with everything from the colorful Capital Pride Parade around Dupont Circle to the huge Girl Scout celebration at the National Mall. From the look of it, you wouldn’t have discerned that this was also a weekend of miserable hot weather in our Nation’s capital, with temperatures soaring past 90 degrees the entire weekend and high humidity adding fuel to the fire, so to speak. However, as always, the diverse population in the area made for some interesting photography, and I was pleasantly surprised that people in general were quite comfortable with posing for photos. This was welcomed news, as my intention over the weekend was to capture some of the everyday people in the area relaxing during these hot summer days. A few of them are depicted here, and as you can see, there are a lot of good-looking people in DC that if it were not for festivals and bright, sunny days, would remain anonymous to us all. I’m glad they chose to come out this weekend.
With chants of “Don’t filibuster our cookie dusters,” participants in the Million Mustache March in Washington, DC made their voices heard all the way from Capitol Hill to the White House today. These proponents of The Stache Act (otherwise known as the Stimulus To Allow Critical Hair Expenses) gathered within a stone throw of the Capitol Building to exchange stories and commiserate with those who according to their glossy information package, bear the brunt of “The current limitation on the deductibility of mustache grooming supplies and accessories, as well as the taxation of the additional earnings of the Mustached Americans…” Judging from the crowd and the sheer enthusiasm of everyone present, this is indeed a movement that could shake the existing “facial-hair-barren U.S. Congress” to its roots.
Central to their tax argument are their contributions to the environment. Their scientifically-proven arguments make it clear that there is “…inarguable proof that owning and operating a proper mustache reduces shaving, thus reducing the use of water, shaving cream, and environmental harmful chemicals found in after-shave lotions and tonics. Additionally, reduced nasal drainage caused by breathing harmful airborne pathogens are effectively filtered through mustache fur, thus limiting the amount of dangerous carbon dioxide reaching the ozone layer.” What’s more, “… the cookie duster can act as a natural warming device, allowing the Mustached American to reduce dependencies upon artificial heating devices and save vast quantities of energy during cooler months.”
Before the crowd made its way to the White House they were asked who was the last mustached occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As if expressing a collective cry of solidarity, the boisterous crowd answered in queue “President Taft.” To which a distinguished gentleman sporting a Kaiser-like curly mustache added: “And there hasn’t been a good President after that. Coincidence?” Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Just happened to drop by the Washington Mall to see what was happening this last day of March and you would’ve thought that half the country was there enjoying the wonderful spring weather. In less than a mile downtown you could find everything from a kite festival to bands playing by the Washington Memorial to the National Walk for Epilepsy. And this being Washington, there was also the inevitable demonstrator carrying a sing reminding us to repent before we all end up in hell somewhere. But what really struck me about today was that notwithstanding the gloom and doom we hear in the news all the time, people out there at the Mall seemed very happy indeed. As the music blared from the stage near the Washington Monument, a sea of activity was taking place at the kite festival, with children and grownups vying for space while trying to challenge the wind with their colorful creations. Without a doubt, this was spring at its best, and it was indeed nice to see our nation’s capital enjoying itself for a change.
A week after returning from the spa-like atmosphere of Switzerland I find myself with my camera in the somewhat different, but incredibly colorful world of the food truck scene. These two worlds could not be more different. Where Switzerland was like a massage for the soul, the Washington Food Truck Festival was nothing short of a full-court press on your appetite. Gone were the Lavaux wines with their youthful, fresh acidity and the thick fondues dripping with the yellow manna that is the Gruyere cheese, but who needs that anyway when you have hot dogs covered with crispy french fries and dripping sharp Cheddar cheese accompanied by some good California vino. But more than that, who could imagine that food coming out of the side of a truck could be so good after all. Lobster or shrimp on a bun? You got it. And if you think that all cheese sandwiches are created equal, then you ought to check out some of the trucks that specialize in that great American staple. So, here I was, camera in hand, and being reacquainted with everything that can be piled on a wobbly cardboard plate to be enjoyed at a picnic table while listening to reggae music on the background. I couldn’t help but think that the Swiss could also learn a thing or two from us.
Washington, DC is a city of rituals. Drive into the city at any time from spring to fall and you will surely encounter seasonal festivals, parades, or cultural displays by the Smithsonian Institution all over the city. It simply never ends. But just as area swimming pools are beginning to open for the Memorial Day weekend, the largest of these summer events descends on the city like some sort of thunderstorm. That event is the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day ride, and it is not only big, but also one of the greatest display of American patriotism and remembrance in the country. Keeping the memory of our Vietnam War veterans and those who were prisoners of war, or went missing in action, year after year, the event traditionally revolves around the many war memorials that lay scattered around the Mall as if soldiers taking cover on a battlefield. It is a time to remember, and what better place to do it that among those silent reminders of the great price our country has had to pay to be the nation it is today.
But not everyone seemed happy to see the masses of noisy motorcycles roaring into town on a hot, sunny summer day. The week before the event I had a conversation with someone who had obviously never served in the military and who was complaining that the city was about to be taken over by a bunch of bearded, scruffy Harley Davidson types. This person obviously could not be more uncomfortable with their presence, and nothing I said apparently made any difference. But for those of us who served our country and endured the sacrifices that came with that service, this was an opportunity to spend some quality time with those who during their youth put their money where their mouths were and stood that line in faraway lands like brothers and sisters in defense of an ideal. They certainly don’t cut the same svelte figure as when youth was on their side, but the fire that made them serve their country when all the chips were down has never left their eyes, or their hearts. During the day, as I walked past endless rows of shinny motorcycles bearing the American flag, all I could think of was of the famous title to Lt. General Hal Moore’s bestselling book, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young.” Yes we were my friend. Yes we were.
Once a year photographers of all kinds gather in Washington, DC to attend the week-long photographic festival that is known as PhotoWeek DC. This gathering is a mere three years old, but considering how many photographers hang around this town, it is hard to believe that nothing of its kind existed in DC. Lectures, workshops, and exhibits abound, not to mention plenty of networking opportunities for photographers. This year the main venues are located at the Corcoran Gallery and at Georgetown, which are great places to visit unless you decide to drive. The parking around these venues is extremely limited and none of those parking attendants roaming the streets of DC will ever cut you any slack. Metro is not exactly convenient either, and while you can definitely walk there from the closest Metro stations, these facilities are definitely at the far-end of your patience meter. Having said that, the first day of this event was quite good. From what I could tell, two photographic trends dominated this day at the Satellite Central location in Georgetown: photo books and multimedia storytelling. There were books everywhere, and quite good ones if I may say so. The presentations were also great. Lots of tips for aspiring photographers and great access to the professionals who were presenting their photo stories in a variety of formats. The folks who put together this festival are definitely on to something great, and as long as they keep bringing presenters like Brian Storm of the famous MediaStorm multimedia production studio in Brooklyn, NY this whole festival will continue to attract a growing number of followers.