Monday, November 3, 2008

DC Recap

My trip to DC was a whirlwind.  Quite literally, as it was one of those "you-shoulda-been-here-last-week, it was beautiful" trips.  It was cold.  Freaking cold.  And whirlwindy.  Little dust devils of fall leaves everywhere.

I arrive on Friday night and take a taxi to the hotel.  Ten bucks.  A nice change after all the $40-50 LA and NY cab fares I've racked up on the book tour.  The Capitol Suites, a block or two from the Folger, the Supreme Court, the Capitol.  Unfortunately, I got in late.  Like, 10:30.  No bar or restaurant at the hotel as it was a long-term stay type place, so I asked about restaurants.  Was told, up to Pennsylvania Avenue, turn right.  Jokes about "I've had enough of the right on Pennsylvania Ave." flood through my mind.  Well, Pennsylvania Ave. SW on a Sunday night at 10:50 pm is like downtown LA used to be before its Renaissance.  Nothing like those bars where they made deals on West Wing.  Absolutely nobody there, but a few homeless, and a very few skanky bars with skanky clientele.  I finally found one place (which shall remain nameless) that would reluctantly serve me a cheeseburger.  A local, first thing when I walk in, insults my jacket.  If you know me, you know that insulting my jacket (I have a bigger collection than anyone who lives in SoCal has a right owning) will put me off the establishment away.  I actually walk out, only to find NO other food for blocks.   I come back, tail between my legs, have that cheeseburger.  I'm sure it had been spat on, but I was starving.  It sucked.  Okay, it was called the "Tune Inn."

I take an Ambien to counteract the time lag, but still don't fall asleep til 3.  Next day I wake up at noon, shower, and get a lovely breakfast from Le Bon Cafe next door.  This place is excellent, by the way.  Great coffee, great pastries, nice little cafe vibe.  It's raining, and I haven't brought any rain gear. (72 degrees, mostly sunny!) has failed me again.

I go to the Folger.  It's deserted, in the rain on a Monday a week before the election.  I walk in to find an empty Folger, just one woman talking to the stage door guard.  I tell the guard my name, that I'm reading there tonight.  He says to the woman, "clearly you should talk to him."  She's a reporter from All Things Considered, getting people to read the witches scene from Macbeth.  He declines, but I accept.  You can hear the result here.  meet my contact, she shows me around.  The theater has a nice setup for "Henry IV P. I," and I'll be reading from a podium on the stage. 

It looks fantastic.  I meet Betsy Walsh, who will take me for a tour of the place.  It's stunning if you've never been.  The most extraordinary collection of Shakespeareana in the world.  Bizarre that it's in D.C., though; an Elizabethan building wrapped in a neoclassical shell.  I have an English friend who is very angry indeed that all their stuff is here.  But that, I say, is how empires roll.  I do not mention the Elgin Marbles.

The best part is the vault tour.  I have some other pics, but I promised not to publish 'em!) Two stories down, behind the vault door, there are their special collection stacks.  They have, count 'em, 79 copies of the 1623 First Folio.  Since these go for anywhere from 2 to 6 million a copy, depending on their condition, this is one pricey pile of old books.  They have one out on display, for those who are allowed in the inner sanctum (me!  Nyah nyah!) to fondle.  I fondle it.  It's a very nice copy, probably closer to six mil than two.  I look at my favorite bits.  She points out fun publishing arcana to me.

I also see other things of note: A first-English-edition Don Quixote.  The only known quarto copy of Titus Andronicus.  Queen Elizabeth I's very own Bible. (yes, hers... it's in a sumptuous, very old binding, with the ER seal on the front). The famous Edward de Vere bible with his notations and markings. (This is one of the pieces of evidence that Oxfordians use... "many of his highlighted passages appear in Shakespeare's works!"  Guess what, I've seen it now and DeVere highlighted, like, every other verse, and most of the famous ones, for large swaths of the Good Book. It would be nearly impossible for these NOT to appear in Shakespeare's works.)  There were also original copies of several of the book that in my novel, William's friend Richard Field brings from London, including a copy of Anthony Munday's anti-Catholic screed with the long title.  I notice that it had quill-pen margin notes that looked contemporary.  I wondered whose they were... she said she'd try to find out. This was, seriously, the most fun I've had looking at books on shelves, ever.

I go back to the hotel and work on my presentation for a bit.  It's a prestigious gig, and I don't want to suck in any way.  I arrive at the librar at 7:00.  It looks deserted.  It's raining outside, and miserable.  Anyone who's ever done a book tour knows this feeling.  It's one of those readings where no one is going to show up.  I wait in the Founder's room, under the debunked Ashbourne Portrait of "Shakespeare." 

I'm going over my notes, when my handler comes in and says, ready to go?  It's exactly 7:30, and these things never start on time.  "Are we going to another room?" I ask, and she says "yes, we're going to another room."  My handler is 7 months pregnant, and a little fuzzy.  I guess she thought I mean, am I doing the reading in here, because when I grab my tea and my splayed out notes, she leads me directly into the theater... where there are about a hundred people waiting!

This is a good turnout for readings, trust me.

I begin my shtick... much revised, this time, so I have no idea how it'll go.  I begin theatrically, saying nothing but opening to page one of the book and reading the first three paragraphs.  "Elizabeth I's left tit" and "boner" both get big laughs, and when I stuffily say "good evening and welcome to the Folger Library," that gets a laugh too.

The whole thing goes great.  People are engaged, laughing, nodding.  I read, and lecture, and because it's DC I've skewed the whole thing towards politics.  My digs on McCain and REagan get mostly cheers, some friendly boos.  That's good.  My references to Guantanmo and torture... a little chilling.  I open up to Q&A and the questions are smart and and engaging.  I get asked about the best Mexican restaurant in LA, and "Why do the Angels suck?"  "Because they're from Orange County," I reply.  More cheers and boos.

At then end of Q&A, I say, I don't usually do this, but since it's the last night of the tour... I will attempt to break the world's record for the fastest solo performance of Hamlet.  There's a great set for Hnery IV, with a cool thrust, so I use that.  I get a guy in the audience to time me.  Of course I break the record, to much applause.  No boos.  But then I realize aloud, damn, I skipped Ophleia's drowning scene.  So I take the water glass from the lectern, throw it in my own face, and melt.  Yes, I improv-ed a new encore, on the spot.

I sell a couple dozen books in the foyer afterwards, a nice, healthy line, all full of people I don't know who have already paid $12 for the evening.  In short, it went really well, and they want me back "anytime."

The next day, I woke early and walked, in a bitter cold, windy, nasty day, from my hotel near the Folger down the Mall from the Capitol Building -- which was a construction zone, they're already building the dais for Inauguration Day -- the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR memorials.  The Jefferson Memorial was inspiring.  The FDR monument is highly underrated, a beautiful series of waterfalls and courtyards, each representing one of his four terms.  The sculpture of the soup line from his second term is stunning.

At the Lincoln Memorial, I made a wish for our friend Mackey with a penny he gave me, and tossed it into the reflecting pool.

Then across the Potomac to Arlington Cemetery, which I was curious to visit after reading Connie Willis's <a href="">Lincoln's Dreams</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

After five miles, I came away with chapped lips and, yes it's true, a renewed love of country. Washington's a bit stolid for my taste, all that marble, but hey, I could make Scalia jokes a half block from where he dispenses "justice" without getting arrested, and that's encouraging. And there is nothing to humble you like a twenty foot statue of, and the extraordinary mind of, Thomas Jefferson.

The last thing I did was to cozy up to the bar at the Capital Grille, where those West Wing deals were all being made.  I had a half dozen delightful Blue Point oysters, talked hockey with the guy next to me, had a bowl of chowder before heading to Reagan National Airport.  (YCK)

My trip to DC went very, very well.

1 comment:

Jeni said...

Hello im Jeni Green im Bobbie Greens daughter juanita ewens grandaughter. you met my mom at my aunt Lauras funeral (SHE WAS TAKING ALL the pics) i was looking on here about shakespear and my mom told me who you were anywho if u want to get contact with me or my mother
my email
my moms is--
P.S. loved lelo and stitch