Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
For decades the science fiction genre has long excluded the female demographic. Although it is unclear why, one can perhaps assume that women’s exclusion was rooted within misogynistic sexual and gender-based viewpoints. What IS clear, is that Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time was unique for its time and a welcomed surprise enjoyed by all audiences, later winning the John Newbery Medal in 1963. Over fifty years later, it seems only fitting that Emmy Award-winner Ava DuVernay would be chosen to direct the re-adaptation as the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of over a $100 million.
The sudden disappearance of NASA scientist Dr. Alexander Murry (Chris Pine) has caused havoc on both his children Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) as well as his wife Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). This leads to gossiping among peers and bullying by classmates. The Murry family endures as best they can until three celestial visitors – Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) – come to help. Asking what appears to be the impossible, Meg, Charles Wallace, and a classmate Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) seek to find Dr. Murry, who has been missing for the last four years.
Traveling through time and space by a process called tesseract to Uriel, a planet billions of light years away, the three children join Mrs. Whatsit, a spunky, form-changing character who interacts well with the children; Mrs. Who, a great linguist who recites insightful quotes when she cannot find her own words; and Mrs. Which, the most omniscient of the group. After arriving in Uriel, each child is made aware of their special talents. Calvin, a supportive, fearless boy whose agape love for Meg, is quite remarkable to watch as he unfolds. Charles Wallace, a telepathic genius with an extensive vocabulary, is extremely poised for his tender age of five. And Meg is a mathematic wiz, who, like many adolescent girls feels awkward about her appearance due to her curly, brown hair and large spectacles.
As the search begins for Meg’s father, the children encounter an evil darkness cast by the “It,” who rules from its planet called Camazotz. The It’s purpose is to cast confusion, jealousy, anger, fear, and pain throughout the world. Realizing that her father has been taken by this entity, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin embark on an unforgettable journey.
The cinematography and use of color in this film is superb. From the use of aerial photography to the use of cinemagraphs, DuVernay takes the audience on a magical journey. More importantly, slogans such as “Be a Warrior,” and encouraging teaching moments that acknowledge “all hair is beautiful,” and to “embrace your faults,” should resonate well with both young girls and boys of all colors, backgrounds, and religions. Although L’Engle’s strong beliefs in the Christian faith didn’t rear as strongly in the movie as it did in her book, DuVernay does an excellent job of taking a timeless classic and turning it into a stunning re-adaptation.
Food Glorious Food! Do you love taking photos of your food and posting them on Instagram? Want your photos to look even better? Professional photographer Jai Williams gives tips on making your food photos look more appetizing. Click to listen.
Food Glorious Food! Do you love taking photos of your food and posting them on Instagram? Want your photos to look even better? Professional photographer Jai Williams gives tips on making your food photos look more appetizing.
A part of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), St. Croix was purchased by the United States in 1917. On March 31, Crucians celebrated their centennial transfer day. Warm and inviting, this island is full of unexpected discoveries and long-lasting memories. See some of our favorite moments of faces, food, and festivities! Click through the slideshow below. For more information, go to the website for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
When the National Portrait Gallery scheduled an extensive renovation of the museum’s “America’s Presidents,” the exhibition briefly closed from February 26 through March 23. A temporary exhibition has now been installed in the west gallery on the second floor and will remain on view until September 4. The newly restored gallery space will reopen on September 22, 2017.
“America’s Presidents,” the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, is the museum’s most popular exhibition, so a seven-month closure was ruled out. “We don’t want to get letters from school groups saying they are disappointed that they didn’t get to see the presidents,” said David C. Ward, senior historian and director of scholarly programs, National Portrait Gallery. The temporary home for the nation’s 44 presidential images offers visitors a special treat: two woodburytype portraits of former President Barack Obama by Chuck Close. (Obama’s official portrait for the museum has yet to be commissioned.)
Also on display in the space is “Hindsight Is Always 20/20” by contemporary artist Luke DuBois. Working with the state of the union addresses of 41 presidents, ending with George W. Bush, DuBois created “word clouds,” pulling words and phrases from these speeches and arranging them like an optician’s eye chart. The result is a snapshot of what major issues occupied each president as he addressed the nation.
Refurbishing the permanent exhibition, as well as setting up its temporary home, is “an enormous undertaking,” according to Ward. “We’ve been open for ten years, and there’s been a desire to redo the exhibition, from the lights to the historical context,” he said. Besides the 44 paintings, the show also includes a priceless bust of George Washington, housed in a glass case that requires proper security precautions. Still, Ward said the museum’s staff was up to the challenge. “You don’t want to get bored as curators,” he said.
David C. Ward
Ward, who is a walking encyclopedia on presidential history, led a press tour through the temporary exhibition on March 23 before it opened to the public. Besides sharing insights and anecdotes about each president, Ward explained the complexities involved with structuring and maintaining such a popular exhibition. Each president, for example, has his portrait in the exhibition, no matter his place in history. “Franklin Pierce, a mediocre president, is given equal stature to Lincoln,” Ward said. “James Buchanan, considered the worst president, sat in office in the winter of 1860-1861, when the south seceded.” Although Lincoln was elected in November, he was not inaugurated until March, making Buchanan “the lamest of lame ducks.”
The passage of time often changes the public’s opinion of a president. Harry Truman, for example, was not well liked while he was in office. “Truman now gets high marks,” Ward said. “He is seen as a progressive Democrat who was also a straight shooter.” On the flip side, Andrew Jackson, popular while in office, is now vilified for his “belligerent masculinity,” and deplored as an “Indian killer.”
Theodore Roosevelt, who was governor of New York, was distrusted by the party leadership who wanted him out of the state. “They made him vice president for William McKinley,” said Ward. Of course, after McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt became the nation’s 26th president. “You think history is orderly, but often it is based on caprice and contingency,” Ward noted.
While many of the portraits in the exhibition are part of the museum’s collection, others are borrowed from other institutions or on loan from private collectors. Sometimes the right portrait of a president just isn’t available. After the museum received a letter objecting to Dwight Eisenhower’s portrait that showed him in a military uniform, the museum had to search for a replacement. The one now on display came from Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter, and shows the former president in a blue business suit.
The White House selected Robert Anderson, one of George W. Bush’s Yale classmates, to create the portrait of the 43rd president. The painting shows Bush in an open neck blue shirt relaxing at Camp David. Not all presidents are pleased with the results of the artist’s efforts. Lyndon B. Johnson called his portrait by Peter Hurd “the ugliest thing I ever saw.” That painting, meant to be Johnson’s official White House likeness, now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
And not all artists like their subjects. That was the case with Norman Rockwell who was charged with painting Richard Nixon. According to Ward, Rockwell limited the time he had to spend with Nixon by substituting a friend’s hand for that of the 37th president.
When “America’s Presidents” reopens on September 22, Gilbert Stuart’s “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington will be back on view, according to Brandon Fortune, chief curator, National Portrait Gallery. In the temporary space, another Stuart portrait of Washington is on view, showing the first president in the black velvet suit he wore on formal public occasions. Fortune said the portrait shows Washington “at his most human.” She also singled out Abraham Lincoln’s portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy which depicts the 16th president in a contemplative pose.
When the newly refurbished gallery opens on September 22, the space will boast improved graphics and lighting. Interactive touch screens will allow visitors to explore each presidency. There will also be a new website and a new edition of the museum’s book of presidential imagery.
Chances are the museum’s most popular exhibition will be even more popular come September.
Jai Williams and Charlene Giannetti spent six months visiting 40 plantations in Virginia, taking tours and talking with the families and the professionals tasked with caring for these historic properties. Their new book, Plantations of Virginia, has just been published by Globe Pequot Press. Virginia has produced eight presidents and three of those – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison – were Founding Fathers whose leadership and inspiration were critical to the birth and success of the new country. Their homes, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier, remain the crown jewels and should be experienced by every American for their historic value.
But there are many other plantations worth a visit, including the grand mansions located along the James River. Like so many other areas of the country, Virginia has become focused on preserving its history, which, in many cases, involves saving and restoring these homes and surrounding grounds. These “works in progress” have fascinating stories to tell.
Jai and Charlene talk about what became for them a transformative journey, researching and writing Plantations of Virginia.
How did the two of you come together to write this book?
Charlene: About five years ago, my husband and I began dividing our time between New York City and Alexandria, Virginia. Although we had lived in Washington, D.C. in the 70s, we hadn’t spent much time in Virginia. So we began to explore Virginia’s history and a great deal of that history, particularly about the Civil War, can be discovered by visiting plantations. Our country continues to grapple with slavery’s legacy and that issue certainly played out in the state’s plantations.
Jai: I’ve lived in Virginia for quite awhile now and you are subconsciously immersed in history wherever you go. After visiting various plantations with my mother over the years, I began to realize that the tours were often glorified to be ones of “happier times” for all and additionally some narratives were specifically left out. I felt that those stories needed to be told, even if briefly to include all persons involved in plantation life.
How did you select the plantations you visited?
C: Of course we had to include the crown jewels – Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier – the homes of our Founding Fathers. We also knew we wanted to visit the plantations along the James River, including Westover where the HBO miniseries John Adams starring Paul Giamatti was filmed. Andrea Erda and her family still live in this magnificent home and she was very gracious showing us around and talking about Westover’s history. After that, we broadened our search to every corner of the state and were rewarded with some amazing finds, including some plantations that are now mere shells but being renovated in order to preserve their history.
J: Virginia is thriving with plantations both publicly and/or privately owned. Others listed in text were either no longer standing or unavailable to contact, although the information stated as such. Because of this, a list was compiled and we reached out to each plantation individually to ask their permission to come and tour, photograph, and write about their history.
Can you tell us how you gathered your information?
C: Before each visit, we read all the information that was available in print and online. We took the tours, some provided by volunteer docents others by historians with extensive knowledge. We learned not only about the specific plantation, but about how the home and its inhabitants – both the family and the slaves – were affected by the Civil War. We also focused on the architecture and, if the structure was being restored how that work was being done. The amount of research involved in these restorations is amazing and those who work on these projects are truly design detectives.
J: Sites like the National Register of Historic Places as well as the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Historic Register were researched alongside information provided by each plantation’s docent, website and text. To make sure that the information was correct as some reports were written in the 60s, 70s, and 80s on the aforementioned sites; we provided each plantation with a copy of the text before we submitted it to the publisher for a final fact check.
Jai, You took the photos for the book. Can you tell us how you approached that part of the assignment?
J: With the exception of a few plantations such as Montpellier, Mount Vernon, etc., photographing each plantation was therapeutic. At times, being in a place that held so much untold history felt heavy, especially as the book developed. Regardless of how each story was told by the docents, capturing the house, its interior, and grounds, my goal was to provide each reader with an opportunity to draw their own inference based on the text. Furthermore, shooting towards the end of the year (autumn/winter) removed, in my opinion, the lightheartedness sometimes conveyed when these same places are shot during the (spring/summer).
It seems these plantations are now used in different ways. Can you explain?
C: Many are strictly preserved as historical sites and attract thousands of tourists each year. Families still live in some of these homes and we were fascinated that young children were being raised surrounded by such rich history. A few have been turned into inns or operated as bed and breakfast places. These provide another experience for those who wish to truly immerse themselves in history. And then there are those that are being brought back from rubble, determined individuals on a mission to preserve history.
J: While others have been turned into event places and offices for staff.
What was the most surprising discovery?
C: For me, it was what I learned while touring Montpelier. The home of James and Dolley Madison had passed through many hands and was last owned by Marion du Pont. With each owner, the buildings and grounds underwent dramatic changes. When Marion died, her heirs transferred ownership to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization that vowed to return Montpelier to what it had been during Madison’s lifetime. Visiting Montpelier, I learned more about Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution and the Architect of the Bill of Rights. And his wife, Dolley Madison, was a huge celebrity in her time and the first President’s wife to be called the First Lady.
J: Two things: First, that many tours would either omit or gloss over the slavery aspect. However, plantations like Poplar Forest, Sully Historic Site, Monticello and a few others give dedicated slave tours in addition to their regular tours. Hopefully, other plantations will consider adding something similar as there is interest and to tell the whole story, certain voices cannot be omitted.
Secondly, how interconnected plantations were in Virginia. Numerous owners built or inherited more than one plantation over the course of their lives, particularly among those considered Virginia royalty such as the Carters, Berkeleys, and Tayloes.
What did you discover about the slave experience at these plantations?
C: Learning about a slave’s life on the plantations was always the most sobering part of the journey. How a slave was treated varied depending upon the plantation’s owner. We heard many horror stories which brought to mind scenes in the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave. It was disappointing to realize that Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, despite their battles for independence and human rights, all kept and never freed their slaves. The Marquis de Lafayette, who was instrumental in helping America win the Revolutionary War, couldn’t understand how his fellow patriots and friends were slave owners.
We also found that slavery continues to be a difficult topic in the state. While some of the plantations were very upfront discussing this part of their histories – many had special exhibits and even asked for the public’s help in locating descendants of slaves – others said they preferred we skip that part of their stories. Of course, we didn’t and that often meant digging deeper for the facts.
J: There are many narratives left to be discovered.
Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier are perhaps the most visited plantations in Virginia. What should people focus on when they visit these three sites?
C: There’s so much to focus on with these three plantations. Plan to spend a full day at each. Monticello and Montpelier are close together so spending a weekend in that area of the state will allow, not only enough time to see these homes, but also provide a side trip to Virginia’s wine country. There’s even a bed and breakfast featured in the book- The Inn at Meander – where you can stay. The guides at Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier are very knowledgeable, so taking the tours is a must. Ask questions! We never found a query that stumped one of these guides. Besides learning about the actual buildings, visitors learn about these three figures who had a major impact in setting up our democracy (including, of course, the Electoral College!)
J: Visit their libraries! There is so much information available to those interested and although you may have to set up an appointment, it is worth it.
Many of these plantations have undergone serious renovations. What is involved in restoring these homes and grounds?
C: Meticulous attention to detail. We were impressed with the amount of research involved. Experts are consulted about paint colors, fabrics, and the materials used inside and outside the home. Sometimes help comes from unexpected places. During one renovation, a mouse nest was discovered in a wall. The creature had used a piece of the home’s original wallpaper for its bedding. The restoration team was able to recreate that wallpaper for an authentic look.
J: Colonial Williamsburg is often used as a standard for checking information, dating objects, etc.
How were these plantations affected during the Civil War?
C: Virginia was in the thick of it during the Civil War. Many homes were occupied, sometimes by Confederate forces, but also by Union soldiers. What often happened was that the family would flee, leaving behind slaves to manage the property. When the families returned after the war, they often found that their homes had been virtually destroyed. Some were rebuilt, others abandoned.
J: As the economic tide changed, many homes were unable to recover and were either sold for meager prices or left behind altogether. Sadly, many were used as hospitals in which floors were painted black to cover the blood-stained wood to grounds being used as unmarked cemeteries.
Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown
Do any of the personalities you write about in the book stand out?
C: I didn’t know very much about John Tyler, who became our 10th president after the death of William Henry Harrison. Tyler named his plantation “Sherwood Forest,” seeing himself as a latter-day Robin Hood. He had two wives, his second wife, the much younger Julia Gardiner, was the daughter of a New York senator. Although Julia turned down his first proposal, after he saved her during a tragedy on a naval ship, she agreed to marry him. A slave owner and Confederate supporter, Tyler would never be recognized for any of his contributions to the nation until 1915 when Congress build a monument in the cemetery where he and Julia are buried.
J: A few such as Patrick Henry who lovingly dealt with a wife who was mentally ill. Or William Berkeley who was exceptionally cruel to his slaves. And of course John Hemings who was an excellent carpenter.
What do you hope people will learn from reading this book?
C: After reading about the history of these 40 plantations, we hope that people will be inspired to visit many of them. We’ve grouped them together geographically, so spending a weekend in one area will allow for visits to several. Reading about a plantation’s story beforehand will allow a richer experience once the reader actually sees the real thing. We hope our book will start people on a journey. We applaud the many dedicated professionals who are working so hard to preserve these buildings and their stories. We can’t move forward until we truly understand where we have been. And the timing has never been more urgent for all of us to educate ourselves about this part of our nation’s history.
J: Whether you are passionate about history, architecture, slavery/slave accounts, or military involvement there’s something for everyone in this book. More importantly, to the public institutions and private families who make a conscientious decision to keep Virginia’s rich history available to all.
How did writing this book affect you?
C: I’ve always loved history and researching and writing this book has fueled my desire to learn even more. I was most affected by the people stories. We take so much for granted, our access to clean water, food, heated homes, health care, convenient transportation. Despite the grandeur of many of these homes, living was often a struggle. So many women died young in childbirth. We also heard many times of women who had died of “a broken heart.” (When that term was used to describe Debbie Reynold’s death, we were reminded that tremendous grief can indeed take its toll.) Living through the Civil War was horrific. So much destruction, so many lives lost. It was never easy to hear stories about how slaves were treated. It brought home how much work we still have to do to mend race relations in our country.
J: Realizing that intersectionality is a necessity for progression to occur in a country that so many people from all walks of life call home.
Photos by Jai Williams Top photo: Tuckahoe Plantation
“A Change is Gonna Come” was released on December 22, 1964 by Sam Cooke. Soulful as well as insightful, Cooke’s lyrics have resonated with the black community for over half a century. On September 24th, 2016 the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) held its dedication ceremony with notable guests such as Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) who fought Congress unapologetically for 15 years for the museum to come into fruition. Both President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, alongside former President George (who was instrumental in signing the museum bill back in 2003) and Laura Bush joined together to commemorate this once in a lifetime moment. From the thousands watching on the National Mall to those sitting at home or streaming live on the NMAAHC’s app, no one could deny the excitement, admiration, and sense of solidarity.
Leading up to the dedication, a select few were able to preview the museum before it opened to the public. However, for me, I wanted to wait and see it with the one person who means the world to me…my mom. Securing the coveted time passes almost a month in advance was the least I could do for her. On September 25th we arrived early to be greeted by gridlocked traffic, street closures, tight security and extremely long lines. Yet we were not deterred. We entered hand in hand, knowing we were in for an awakening in mind, body, and spirit.
Our first (and my only stop for that day) was the Oprah Winfrey Theater. There, Ava DuVernay’s voice on August 28th played recalling the importance of that particular day throughout African American history. Events ranging from Emmett Till’s death to the March on Washington flashed across the screen. A reminder for some, an introduction to others. Leaving my mother there for a photo assignment had to be one of the hardest things for me; yet the stories she told when we met later that night left me in awe of all that I had missed.
Luckily, someone was nice enough to give me two additional tickets for the very next day. Call me selfish, but I longed to see with my own eyes all that I heard. Once again we encountered long lines and tightened security, on the other hand the gridlocked traffic and street closures had thankfully dissipated. Once again we walked hand in hand through those heavy glass doors, however this time we started together on the lowest level which represented the transatlantic slave trade. It took us four hours to navigate. When we arrived to the second level…we stopped. It was a difficult decision. Nonetheless we made it. Not only to savor and digest all we had observed, but to take time and reflect.
Upon our departure, a 95 year old woman awaited with her family to board an elevator up to the entrance level. While waiting a bystander who happened to be the singer Betty Entzminger began to serenade her with “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Holding hands the two exchanged this poignant moment that we along with others were allowed to witness. Snapping a photograph, I begin to tear up for many reasons. I thought of my grandmother who is also 95 and hoped that she too will get to see this milestone with her own eyes. For my mother who grew up in Alabama during some of the most turbulent times in America’s history. But also for all the beautiful faces, both young and old. Never had I felt so safe in a public space. Never had I felt the overwhelming positive energy of so many people who looked in some capacity like me. I cannot wait to go back, and will try to at least once a month. Although Cooke’s lyrics still strike a powerful chord, Lonnie G. Bunch, Founding Director of the NMAAHC, captured my sentiments exactly…”This building will sing for all of us.”
Photos by Jai Williams
Jai Williams’ book, The Plantations of Virginia, will be published by Globe Pequot Press February, 2017.
I’m a fan of meat. Yes, probably the most prolific statement I’ve made to date. But let’s be serious here, that’s not what this post is really about. It is about the exact opposite, a 100% plant based, Israeli fast-casual restaurant called Shouk (pronounced “shook”). A noun described as a modern eatery and market that offers a new take on comfort food as per their website has been around for a few months now and the buzz hasn’t died down.
There’s something about knowing that the food prepared is good for you; yet most importantly possess flavor. Choose from either a pita, rice and lentil bowl or a salad. Out of the two sampled, the cauliflower selection with its white and roasted brown hue mixed with a chopped tomato and scallion medley delivered. An addition of creamy tahini which serves as a light binder and a mildly spicy jalapeno oil enhances the sandwich. The other we enjoyed was a pita packed with sautéed mushrooms, cauliflower, and spinach all tossed in a vinegary amba tahini, a Middle Eastern mango-based condiment.
Sides include polenta fries and a trio of dips accompanied with fresh baked pita bread. Both the cashew labneh and hummus appear equally silky in texture but not over whipped to loosen their hold. The peaked, mulberry colored beet tahini is worthy of its own post. Be sure to taste Shouk’s house-made harissa. Thick but spreadable, you can’t go wrong.
If citrus forward drinks suite you, try their herbaceous rosemary lemonade, yet be aware as it sometimes can be overly tart. Discouraged? Don’t because the sweetened almond delight is a happy place you’ll want to explore any time of the year, especially during the summer. Owner Ran Nussbacher also offers various retail food products centric to the region like a Palestinian fair trade sun-dried tomato caper spread. While only opened for less than half a year, the popular eatery among plant-based and meat eaters alike doesn’t disappoint. They say not to reinvent the wheel which Shouk doesn’t attempt to do, but it may change your opinion of a palatable option sans meat.