Washington’s Summer Weekends


Weekends in Washington are unlike weekends anywhere else in the country.

Sure, things happen in New York. Sure, there are picnics, festivals, election campaigns and the odd soccer or baseball game. But no other place has quite the flavor of this city we call home.

You want politics? We have politics. In this year of living dangerously, the Washington, D.C. Democratic Party, on the local level, held its straw poll (and a candidate forum) at Howard University last Saturday. The results were both surprising and, perhaps meaningful.

You want sports, and its power to make you forget about everything else? We had a major league debut of a true phenom, a natural just last week. Stephen Strasburg finally came up from the minor leagues for a stunning debut, then followed it up with a road appearance in Cleveland on Sunday, which was followed almost as closely as the World Cup.

Almost spontaneously, this city (so international, so worldly, so sports nutty) got into the spirit, the joy and the celebratory nature of this huge international sports event, which happens every four years and included an early showdown between the United States and Great Britain. Everywhere you went, there was soccer.

On Saturday and Sunday, the city’s gay community, already dizzy with the passage of the gay marriage legislation earlier this year, celebrated with its annual Capital Pride parade and festival, which drew thousands of people.

And let’s not forget the Seersucker Social last Saturday.

And the news doesn’t stop here either: there’s more to come. Think Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Ballet Across America, Fringe Festival, Bastille Day and the World Cup, which continues for another month. The U.S. plays Slovakia next. Strasbourg is here to stay.

And, oh yes, MAN it’s hot out there.

It probably wasn’t the best of Saturdays for Mayor Adrian Fenty, a stand-up guy, who attended a funeral for a local musical legend and heard boos in the crowd, something that also happened at the candidate forum held at the city’s Democratic Party straw poll gathering.

The boos were bad manners. The results of the straw poll could be fairly called bad news, although what they foreboded is anybody’s guess in the early part of June.

For the record, challenger and city council Chairman Vincent “Vince” Gray, who is also starting to kick up his fund-raising, won the mayoral straw poll by a big margin, with 703 votes to Fenty’s 190. Former television reporter Leo Alexander received 75 votes.

Gray had more votes than any other candidate running for anything, including at-large Councilman Kwame Brown, who led the race for Gray’s open chairman seat by 585 to 329 votes for late-comer and former councilman and mayoral candidate Vincent Orange.

Gray’s supporters took a leaf out of Fenty’s game book when they showed up with large numbers of blue Gray signs in the morning, an early jump that Fenty supporters, who showed up in the afternoon, couldn’t match. That’s what happened at the earlier Ward 8 straw poll, when Fenty campaign signs swamped Gray’s, leading to a close win for Fenty, according to reports from the DCist and the Washington Post D.C. Wire.

No surprises elsewhere as Shadow Representative Mike Panetta won narrowly; Eleanor Holmes Norton swamped Douglass Sloan for delegate; Harry Thomas squeaked by often-time candidate Delano Hunter in Ward 5; Jim Gray swept aside challengers Jeff Smith and Bryan Weaver in Ward 1; Phil Mendelson won big over Clark Ray, who’s been campaigning forever for an at-large council seat and Tommy Wells looked good in Ward 6.

These straw polls involve party stalwarts, so the fact that Gray can get this much support in a race that will be decided by the Democratic primary in September may indicate he’s gaining some traction. Or that Fenty’s style still sits badly with some people. Either way, it’s good news for Gray, who still trails mightily in the all-important cash-on-hand total, but is increasing his fundraising bottom line.

Man, these are not the best of times. Maybe not the worst, but it isn’t good: the muck in the waters of the gulf, daily pictures of pelicans, birds and animals weighted down by crude oil, the mounting casualties in Afghanistan, floods in Oklahoma and Arkansas, a skeletal, shaky economy, an oppressive Washington summer and the Salahis apparently rewarded for their mischief.

Times like these, sports, no matter how much you might complain about ridiculous salaries, team owners and commercialism, retain their redemptive power.

Back on June 8, one man, a kid really, just about got people in Washington to stop talking about anything except the fact that in making his major league debut for the Nationals (yes, the Nationals). Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates, allowed two runs and four hits in a little over seven innings. He belonged to us, right here in Washington, and even people who didn’t know a double play from a bourbon double talked about him, including people who hate sports.

Strasburg figured strongly in a Washington-magic weekend, when a lot of people were checking out what was going on in Cleveland, where Strasburg took the mound against the Indians, and, in spite of a wobbly problem with control, won his second game, striking out eight in five-plus innings. The kid was for real.

More people might have been paying attention to baseball last weekend, except for the fact that something else was going on, and seemed to be happening right here in town if you happened to be trying to get around Dupont Circle last Saturday afternoon.

The World Cup, which happens every four years somewhere in the world, kind of snuck up on Washington, as the world’s best soccer teams gathered in South Africa and began play in a 90,000-seat stadium in Soweto, where the real fight against apartheid had begun.

Saturday afternoon happened to be when a halfway decent United States team took on the heavily favored British squad. At the Dupont Circle fountain, two big jumbo-tron screens had been set up, and from the looks of things at least a couple of thousand people, many of them wrapped in country flags or beer logo T-shirts, showed up to cheer on their respective teams. Nobody won and everybody won, the two teams tied 1-1, thanks to a great American goalie, and to the British goalie (not so much). For the U.S., which plays Slovakia next, the tie wasn’t at all like kissing your sister — it looked like a winner.

The World Cup, a further tribute to the efforts of South Africa’s great-man-of-history Nelson Mandela, has attracted worldwide attention. Here in the District every restaurant and bar, and no doubt embassy, is tuned in. On early Saturday morning, you could walk the length of bar- and restaurant-heavy 18th Street in Adams Morgan and see brunchers and breakfasters at places like La Forchette, Tryst and the Rumba Room watching Nigeria and Argentina square off (Argentina won, 1-0).

The World Cup continues for the next several weeks. Check your local restaurants and embassies and see what’s going on. Strasburg is scheduled to pitch this Friday and again five days later.

Reports had it that over at least 100,000 people showed up to line the streets for the annual Capital Pride Parade, a festive, noisy, quite over-the-top occasion that took place amid a much changed atmosphere for gays and gay rights.

Another group of thousands showed up Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the Capital Pride festival took place. The spectacle included outrageous costumes and a performance of “Chicago.” The annual festival, which celebrates the lives of gay, bisexual and transgender men and women in Washington, was held in an atmosphere where the tide was turning on gay marriage, recently made legal in the District by the city council, although major struggles lay ahead across the country.

Amidst all the Saturday morning soccer madness and Pride celebration in the District, it didn’t seem strange that when you drove home an army of people on bicycles should be passing through.

They were dressed in boaters, bow ties and long Victorian dresses with prim blouses, riding their bikes. One man was smoking what appeared to be a 19th-century pipe, and some were riding in bicycles built for two. Several yelled things like “tah-tah” and “tally-ho,” so we assumed it was some kind of English revenge thing, as if BP wasn’t enough. But we assumed wrong.

It was actually a group of local fans of dressing well and past time periods, called the D.C. Dandies and Quaintelles, participating in their Seersucker Social Bike Ride and Lawn Party at Hillwood Museum. Previously the group had held a Tweed Ride, with proceeds going to Arts for the Ages. Jolly good show.

During the summer in D.C., every weekend and many weekdays are to be calendarized. Here’s a few things to look for in addition to the World Cup and Strasburg sightings.

We celebrate the Fourth of July and Independence Day, but the French version is Bastille Day, which just might have something to do with the French Revolution. On July 10, La Maison Francaise and the Comite Tricolore is holding a Bastille Day celebration, with chefs from some of the top restaurants in Washington participating, including the Plume, Café Du Parc at the Willard Hotel, Ici Burban Bistro from Sofitel, the Ritz Carlton, Brasserie Beck, 2941 Restaurant, Bastille Restaurant and others. Lots of desserts, of course, and live entertainment. General admission is $85. For more information, go to www.houseoffrancedc.org.

It’s not too early to start thinking about the Capital Fringe Festival 2010, a nearly month-long extravaganza of cutting edge theater from all over the country, and probably the world. Sort of the world cup of the theatrically strange, unusual, weird, funny, young, fresh and new.

You can expect nearly 150 performances in venues all over the city July 8-25. More on this in coming issues. We just thought you should be warned. It takes a tough theater fan to make it to as many shows as possible.

Once again, the folks at the Smithsonian Institution will hold their far-ranging festival celebrating the cultures of many lands, and in this year’s edition, of the Smithsonian itself.

The festival will be held on the National Mall June 24-28 and July 1-5. Lots of music, food, crafts and performances will take place at this year’s event, focused on Asian Pacific Americans (“Local Lives, Global Ties”) and the “Smithsonian, Inside Out.” Visitors are invited to look at how things work at the institution in four areas of concentration or challenges: “Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe,” “Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet,” “Valuing World Cultures” and “Understanding the American Experience.” The festival will also focus on Mexico and will hold a special tribute to Haiti.

The Kennedy Center will hold a special performance program focusing on dance companies in the U.S. called “Ballet Across America” this week through June 20. It features: Houston Ballet, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the fabled Joffrey Ballet, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, Ballet Arizona, Ballet Memphis and the Tulsa Ballet.

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