Then And Now (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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This Week On Metro Connection: Then And Now

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And the other day, we realized, much to our chagrin, that summer with its languid, lazy pace is suddenly almost over. I gotta say we're still puzzling over exactly how that happened. And as we sort it out, we're making today's show all about the passage of time. We're calling it Then and Now. And over the course of the next hour, we'll dip into the "Metro Connection" archives and meet a woman who's been something of a piano prodigy ever since she was seven, which, for the record, was nearly 93 years ago.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

We'll join a local scientist in Panama to find out what sorts of frogs used to live in the jungles there and what's being done now to prevent their rapid disappearance. And we'll visit a pilgrimage site held sacred by the Piscataway nation of Native Americans. But first, we're gonna head out to Culpepper, Virginia to a place dedicated to preserving the past and at this place, the present sounds a lot like this.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

And this...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

And this...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

It even sounds like this.

MR. ROBERT CRISTARELLA

Actually can't play it much more than that, a defect in the cylinder makes the needle start jumping out like crazy.

SHEIR

So we've got all these hums and buzzes and clicks and now we've got cylinders from the early 1900s.

CRISTARELLA

Well, actually, 1913, this particular cylinder.

SHEIR

Okay. Cylinders from 1913. At this point, you've got to be wondering, what exactly is going on here? Well, these are just some of the sounds being made as scores of archivists and engineers, like our cylinder guy, Rob Cristarella, race to save our countries audio, visual history through preservation. And they're doing it in a half million square foot facility literally built into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its name is kind of a mouthful.

CRISTARELLA

The Library of Congress, Packard Campus for Audio, Visual Conservation in Culpepper, Va.

SHEIR

Is there a sort of an acronym for that?

CRISTARELLA

We usually just referred to it as the Packard Campus.

SHEIR

Fair enough. Mike Mashon heads up the moving image section at the Packard Campus. So he knows all about those first three sounds we just heard. One...

SHEIR

A 1915 romantic comedy shot on 28mm film, being transferred to more durable 35mm. Two...

SHEIR

A two-inch quad video tape of "The David Susskind Show," being transferred to digital. And three...

SHEIR

...a 3/4 inch video tape, in this case early episodes of "All My Children," being transferred to digital by, I kid you not, a robot. The Library of Congress Packard Campus maintains the world's largest collection of film, video and sound. The library also houses the copyright office. So between the 30,000 items Packard receives for copyright each year and the numerous materials sent as donations.

MR. MATTHEW BARTON

We have roughly 1.2 million moving image items and about over three million sound recordings.

SHEIR

As a total radio nerd, I just got so excited when you said that. That second guy, the one who made my heart go pitter-pat, is Mathew Barton. He's Packard's curator of recorded sound. Like those old wax cylinders which engineers are working to digitize. So this black cylinder I'm holding up, when did this date back to?

BARTON

Oh, probably sometime between 1898 and 1912.

SHEIR

Seriously?

BARTON

Yeah.

SHEIR

I just started shaking when you said that.

BARTON

Then you better let me hold it.

SHEIR

Okay. I seriously need to stop geeking out here. But it's hard because the Library of Congress collects and preserves all kinds of amazing sound at the Packard Campus.

MR. MIKE MASHON

We've got 78s, LPs, 45s.

SHEIR

Not to mention a zillion kinds of tape, even Player piano reels. And if this next tidbit doesn't make your heart go pitter-pat, I don't know what will. The Packard Campus facility where all these millions of materials are being stored is actually a cold war bunker. I am not joking. Here, Mike Mashon will back me up.

MASHON

The original facility that was here was owned by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va. It was built in the 1970s. And at its peak, it stored $3 billion in coin and currency which was going to be used to restart the U.S. economy East of the Mississippi in the event of a nuclear war.

SHEIR

See, told you I wasn't joking.

MASHON

And in 1997, the Packard Humanities Institute purchased that.

SHEIR

That's Packard as in David Woodley Packard, the philanthropist son of Hewlett Packard's co-founder.

MASHON

With the idea of converting it for storage for the moving image and sound recording collections along with some preservation laboratories.

SHEIR

In July 2007, Packard donated the campus to the Library of Congress. His donation tied with Wolf Trap as the second biggest private sector gift the Federal government had ever seen. The biggest is the Smithsonian Institution. And now, as a result, we have this massive multi-storied, mostly underground, labyrinth of preservation labs, recording studios and concrete storage vaults. Okay, it's a little chilly in here.

MASHON

39 degrees Fahrenheit, 30 percent relative humidity.

SHEIR

But then, how else are you doing to preserve a 124 vaults of nitrate film?

MASHON

Each one of these vaults holds roughly 1,500 cans of film. Now, why do we have such small vaults? Should a fire event occur, you might lose an entire vault, but you wouldn't lose your entire collection.

SHEIR

See, nitrate film was all the rage until 1951 when cellulous acetate took over. Nitrate is highly flammable. It creates its own oxygen. So if it catches fire, not even water will put out the flames. Thus, when it comes to nitrate, fire equals bad.

MASHON

Film history is full of sad stories of nitrate collections that were lost because of fire.

SHEIR

Very, very bad.

MASHON

A lot of Swedish film history was lost because of the nitrate caught on fire, it was bombed during World War II.

SHEIR

And as recently as 1978, a fire at the national archives in Suitland, Md., obliterated 12 million feet of film.

MASHON

Because when the fire department showed up, in order to release pressure in the building, they opened up the vault doors which allowed the fire to spread from vault to vault to vault which is exactly what you're not supposed to do.

SHEIR

That sad event taught the Packard folks a lot about fire safety and prevention which Mashon explains after leading me into one of the studio collection vaults.

MASHON

We’re going to go into one of our Columbia vaults here.

SHEIR

It's nice and chilly, of course, lined with shelves of cubbies, each holding two film canisters. In the event of fire, there's a chimney to help funnel smoke and overhead water sprinklers to help -- wait, didn't we just say water can't put out a nitrate fire?

MASHON

So what's the point of having water sprinklers in here?

SHEIR

What is the point of having water sprinklers?

MASHON

I'm really glad that you asked, Rebecca. Let's say a fire event does occur. A wall of water is released that would coat all of the shelves that you see in this small vault. And it would allow the fire to sort of burn out within the cubby.

SHEIR

So you might lose like a reel or two.

MASHON

But you wouldn’t lose anything else in the vault. We fear fire much more then we fear water.

SHEIR

But the other thing they fear at the Packard Campus, Mashon says, is time. So many of the video and audio recordings they've collected have a shelf life. I mean, 28mm film degrades. Two inch quad video tape wears out. Cylinders get damaged. That's why it's so important to get all of this stuff cataloged and preserved.

MASHON

And we're not preserving it for the sake of preserving it. We want people to be able to hear and see what's gone before.

SHEIR

Because then, Mike Mashon says, not only might we figure out who we were and who we are, but maybe, just maybe, who we might become. You can see photos of the Packard Campus and find a schedule of the free screenings they offer there on our website, metroconnection.org. You also can hear some rare original sound recordings from the collection, including Eleanor Roosevelt's radio address, the night before her husband's day of infamy speech and the climax and aftermath of the Joe Louis, Max Schmeling boxing rematch of June 22, 1938. Again, it's all at metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Our next story is also about conservation, but of the more environmental kind. Last year, environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour joined local researchers on a trip to Panama to document the effort to rescue some increasingly rare amphibians. And, as he discovered, much of this research happening thousands of miles away actually started in our own backyard.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

In a darkened room in Panama Summit Zoo, keeper Angie Estrada is about to open some very special packages.

MS. ANGIE ESTRADA

It's been a long trip for them so we're trying to do things quick and not stress them out any more.

BEN-ACHOUR

Wrapped inside wet balls of moss are six endangered frogs. A field team spent weeks searching for them in a mountain forest where human introduced fungal plague has caused mass die-offs.

ESTRADA

Okay. Are you ready? So this is the first frog. I don't know what it is.

BEN-ACHOUR

Estrada carefully teases away the strands of moss until a tiny hand with four little yellow fingers appears.

ESTRADA

Is he alive? Damn it, he's not alive.

BEN-ACHOUR

Not only is this frog dead, it's not even the especially rare one she was hoping for.

ESTRADA

But it's like what we expected to happen with Kittredge. It's moving too fast.

BEN-ACHOUR

Rescued frogs and their prodigy can now be found in zoos from Germany to Panama. Some are the last of their kind and exist only in captivity. Reid Harris is a professor of biology at James Madison University in Virginia.

DR. REID HARRIS

But these amphibians remain susceptible so even if you're able to breed them in the lab, you can't really put them back into the rainforest because the Kittredge fungus is still there.

BEN-ACHOUR

And while thinking about this problem and doing research in Virginia's George Washington National Forest, he noticed something in the salamanders he was looking at.

HARRIS

The females would actually squirm through the eggs periodically. If the female or the parent deserted the nest, fungus would take over the nest fairly soon and there would be virtually no survival of the offspring.

BEN-ACHOUR

Harris' observation eventually led to the discovery of a bacteria on the skin of the salamanders. That bacteria protected the animals against fungal attack.

DR. VANCE VREDENBURG

When I heard about that, when my colleagues and I heard about that study, we immediately got in touch with Reid and said, well, maybe that could help explain what's going on out here in California where we have these mountain yellow-legged frogs that are dying from this fungus.

BEN-ACHOUR

That is Vance Vredenburg at San Francisco State University. The yellow-legged frogs in the Sierra Nevadas were experiencing the same kinds of die-offs as in Panama.

VREDENBURG

When I started working on this problem, we had 500 or so populations remaining of these frogs. We're down to less than 80 populations left. So they are just dropping like flies.

BEN-ACHOUR

But he found a few small populations of frogs that survived and on their skin, he found the same protective bacteria. He isolated it in the lab, grew broths full of it and gave it to more frogs up in the mountains.

VREDENBURG

Basically, we just captured individual frogs and then we just give them a little bacterial bath. So we -- it looks like soup.

BEN-ACHOUR

And...

VREDENBURG

And it worked, yes. I mean, it looks like it worked. I went up there in mid-July and saw, I think, 23 frogs. That was it, just 23 frogs. But of those 23, every single one was an experimental frog that got bacteria in 2010.

BEN-ACHOUR

Those results are encouraging for Brian Gratwick, a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian.

MR. BRIAN GRATWICK

This is the only tool that we can think of at the moment that has a lot of promise in allowing a frog to be reintroduced back into the wild and survive Kittredge.

BEN-ACHOUR

As Gratwick speaks, he swabs a bright yellow Panamanian golden frog in a lab in Front Royal, Virginia. Graduate students at Virginia Tech sifted through 500 species of bacteria on surviving frogs from Panama looking for ones that fought Kittredge. They found 50. Now they're hoping one of those will stick to the golden frog, which is believed to be extinct in the wild.

MS. KAREN LIPS

I'm quite skeptical. Having seen what I've seen in the past 20 years, I can't imagine anything is going to be the miracle cure.

BEN-ACHOUR

Karen Lips is a researcher at the University of Maryland who was among the first to document die-offs. She says it's unlikely anyone will be spraying bacteria from a plane and it's not clear if the bacteria will be passed from frog to frog in the wild, though there is some promising research in that direction.

LIPS

Big scale, I mean, I think we have to depend on Mother Nature, on evolution and, you know, hope for the best and do everything we can to sort of stack the deck on the side of the frogs.

BEN-ACHOUR

In other words, these microbes discovered on the backs of salamanders in the Appalachian Mountains may buy amphibians around the world just little bit of time. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

To see pictures of frogs getting bacterial baths and to get your very own frog ringtone, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a quick break, but in just a minute, we visit a sacred Native American site on the banks of the Potomac River.

MS. GABRIELLE TAYAC

I do hope that people will come out and experience the site and open your eyes to a different way of seeing what's already here.

SHEIR

That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today's theme is Then and Now and we're playing a bunch of our favorite "Metro Connection" stories about how time keeps rolling along. This next story goes back centuries, millennia even, all around the Chesapeake Bay and along the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers.

TAYAC

So the site where I'm taking you is a very significant place.

SHEIR

We're on the banks of the latter river now in Accokeek, Md. with Gabrielle Tayac.

TAYAC

I'm a historian at the National Museum of the American Indian and I'm a member of the Piscataway Nation.

SHEIR

A Native American tribe that historically was one of the region's most populous and powerful. The name Piscataway, did the people take their name from the land or did the name of the land come from the people?

TAYAC

The people are so highly identified with their place that they take the name from the place. And Piscataway means where the waters blend.

SHEIR

We're above the waters now on a boardwalk in Piscataway Park and as you stroll over wetlands teaming with wildlife...

TAYAC

There's a bald eagle flying right there. You guys see it?

SHEIR

Oh, wow, yeah. Yeah. As in most parks, you'll see all sorts of signage about the animals, the plants, the recent project to restore the shoreline...

TAYAC

But there's very little about what the Native American history is. And this is really one of the most important sites on the East Coast and is in continuous practice as a pilgrimage site.

SHEIR

But Tayac is among those fighting to change that because this place...

TAYAC

It's called the Accokeek Creek site or Moyaone.

SHEIR

...was the Piscataway's central chiefdom at the time of European contact. Though Gabrielle Tayac, whose Uncle is the Piscataway Indian Nations present hereditary chief, says the settlement predated that contact.

TAYAC

This place has been occupied for at least 11,000 years.

SHEIR

Quite a bit.

TAYAC

That's how far the archeology goes back.

SHEIR

Nowadays all you see here, basically, is a big field with a sweat lodge.

TAYAC

You can see it's made out of saplings and heavy blankets.

SHEIR

But back then...

TAYAC

It would've been a stockaded village. People living in Piscataway called them witch huts that were covered in weeds that were the domed roofs. And large extended families lived together in a matrilineal way.

SHEIR

They also lived very seasonally. And this connection to the land, to the earth is reflected in their seasonal ceremonies, all of which involve that sweat lodge, by the way. There's the mid winter ceremony in February.

TAYAC

A long time ago, they would be in hunting camps. And so then they would want to come back together.

SHEIR

The awakening of Mother Earth in April.

TAYAC

Which talks about us fulfilling our original instructions to be stewards and caretakers of the earth so Mother Earth will fulfill her responsibilities and bring things back.

SHEIR

Then the autumnal green corn ceremony...

TAYAC

And that gives thanks for all of the harvest and the corn coming in.

SHEIR

And November's feast for the dead.

TAYAC

To remember our ancestors and let things go back into rest.

SHEIR

Speaking of ancestors, Moyaone wasn't just the Piscataway's principle village, it also was a burial ground.

TAYAC

They are in what they call ossuary burials that are hundreds to over 1,000 years old, all throughout the landscape. But because they've been there for so long, if you don't see them, they don't look like cemeteries.

SHEIR

Although one burial site...

TAYAC

I'd like to take you over to the grave site, let's go walk over there.

SHEIR

You will see it's next to the sweat lodge and marked by a tree.

TAYAC

So this red cedar tree, we call the tree of life.

SHEIR

Planted by Gabrielle Tayac's grandfather, Turkey Tayac, a Piscataway leader, activist and herb doctor.

TAYAC

Turkey Tayac planted this tree in 1976 on top an ancient ossuary where there are hundreds of people buried below us, from ancestral times.

SHEIR

And Turkey Tayac is actually buried there, too, making him the only Native American buried in a national park after its creation. But that burial didn't come easy. See, in the 1960s, Turkey supported the creation of Piscataway Park on one condition...

TAYAC

That he could be buried here and that his people could always come here freely for cultural and spiritual purposes.

SHEIR

He and the secretary of the interior shook on it and in the 1970s, as Turkey grew ill and sensed the end drawing near, he went back to the interior department, but they had no record of the agreement.

TAYAC

And he was really shocked because he was born in 1895 so he thought making a verbal agreement and shaking on it was enough. But they never signed anything.

SHEIR

So Turkey began lobbying for his own burial at Moyaone. When he died in 1978, his children and grandchildren took on his cause.

TAYAC

And we were told that we would have to get an act of Congress passed in order to have him buried in a National Park.

SHEIR

They put Turkey's body in a mausoleum, but they didn't back down. Letters of support came pouring in.

TAYAC

And finally the act was passed in 1979, a year later. And he was buried here.

SHEIR

Of course, what happened at that burial is another story, one Gabrielle Tayac, who was 12 at the time, remembers well. It was a chilly gray November day, she says, sleet was streaming from the sky and when the funeral procession reached the gravel road that leads to the park, the park service and the land owners up the road refused to let the hearse go by.

TAYAC

And we had an act of Congress, but there was so much racial animosity down here during that time period. Things have changed. You know, things are better, but they did not want to comply.

SHEIR

So Turkey's family and friends did the only thing they could.

TAYAC

They had to hand-carry the casket from all the way up the road...

SHEIR

And since then, at every feast of the dead, that precession is recreated. A burial shroud is carried down the road to the tree where people hang little red bundles of tobacco on the branches, each bundle representing a loved one who's died.

TAYAC

And when the wind blows, it carries the prayers up to the spirit world to intercede for you. So it's like a place where life and death converge. And it's not sad or creepy, you know, it's really more about making a connection back.

SHEIR

Back to the earth, to your ancestors, to your roots. And Gabrielle Tayac says she's proud of her Piscataway roots, even if, after years of disease, colonization, war and assimilation, the tribe's numbers aren't what they used to be. Tayac's also proud of the fact that in January, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley issued ground breaking executive orders giving the Piscataway formal recognition as a distinct people. And Tayac says that's a huge move. As for Moyaone, one day, achieving more recognition, she says she feels more and more people are coming to understand the true meaning of the place.

TAYAC

You're not just walking on a field and it's not just a stand of trees. This is so rich with life and ancestral deep time, the way you might find in the caves in France. And it's just a matter of changing your perspective and start to open your eyes to a different way of seeing what's already here.

SHEIR

To see pictures of Moyaone and to learn more about the Piscataway Indian Nation, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

All right. Let's head across the Potomac now for another story about ancestral roots. Northern Virginia resident Tim McCoy always knew his ancestors had been part of the Myaami tribe of Oklahoma. But he didn't know a lot about their traditions. That's because many years ago, the last speaker of Myaamia died. Now, McCoy is working with fellow members of the Myaami tribe to revive this lost language. Jessica Gould visited the McCoy family to hear what it's like to bring a language back from the brink.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

On a suburban street in Fairfax county, a father is playing catch with his sons. It is a quintessentially American scene with a distinctly Native American sound.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

For the past four years, a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution has been teaching his children Myaamia, the language of the Myaami tribe of Oklahoma.

MR. TIM MCCOY

My name is Tim McCoy, or I could say (speaks foreign language) .

GOULD

McCoy's ancestors were Myaami tribe members, but growing up, he says, he never heard much about his families heritage because no one had the words to describe it.

MCCOY

The last first language speaker of Myaami had died and there was no one who knew Myaami. No one even knew if there were any records of Myaami.

GOULD

In fact, languages across the globe are disappearing all the time. Joshua Bell is part of the recovering voices program at the Smithsonian. And he says 50 to 75 percent of the worlds languages will probably fade away over the next 80 years or so.

MR. JOSHUA BELL

And at that rate, it's about one language disappears every 14 days.

GOULD

Native American languages are especially at risk.

BELL

Eighty-nine percent of all these languages are in danger of becoming dormant and no longer used.

GOULD

And Bell says, that's worrisome because when a language goes, a groups history, culture and traditions often go with it.

BELL

When you lose that, it's the equivalent of taking Shakespeare's corpus out of all the libraries.

GOULD

For years, it seemed that might happen to Myaamia, but it didn't. Daryl Baldwin is director of the Myaamia Project at Miami University in Ohio.

MR. DARYL BALDWIN

The actual research into the language began around 1988 with a gentleman by the name of David Costa who was in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley.

GOULD

Baldwin says, Costa reviewed centuries of documents in order to piece together the language. Then the tribe partnered with Miami University to promote its culture through scholarships and summer camps.

BALDWIN

But it's a healing process for this community to get back a sense of who they are and to be able to value and honor their ancestors.

GOULD

Now, they are websites, talking dictionaries, even iPhone applications to help parents teach Myaami words and traditions in their homes. And Tim McCoy says similar things are happening tribes across the country.

MCCOY

Linguists like to call languages like our extinct. And as long as there's documentation out there and as long as there's a community that's interested in that, a language is never really extinct, it's just sleeping, it's just waiting for its voice.

GOULD

So every day, McCoy, his wife and his two sons, sing songs in Myaamia.

GOULD

Then they say a traditional poem.

GOULD

Even the dog answers Myaamia commands.

GOULD

McCoy says, he just wants his children to have the chance to connect with their culture.

MCCOY

Our kids are obviously multi-ethnic, you know. My wife has German background. My own family has Scotch-Irish background, Italian background. But as we like to say, when they get older, if they decide they want to know about their Scotch history, they can go to Scotland. If they want to know about their German history, they can go to Germany. If we don't keep Myaami culture and Myaamia as a language alive, where will they be able to go?

GOULD

And Zach McCoy, who's 10, says carrying on Myaami traditions makes him feel special.

MR. ZACH MCCOY

It's really cool because you feel different every day.

GOULD

But Tim McCoy says, his family is actually a lot like other families in the neighborhood and throughout the region.

MCCOY

There's a lot of bilingualism and trilingualism in the Washington, D.C. area. Many of them speak a language from Africa or Central America language. We just happen to speak a Native-American language.

GOULD

And one day, he hopes, that won't be rare at all. I'm Jessica Gould.

SHEIR

You can learn more about the Myaamia Project at Miami University and the recovering voices program at the Smithsonian on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Now Tim McCoy's story is all about trying to revive something, in this case a language that has nearly disappeared. Well, our next story is about a woman who's been holding on to something tightly for 92 years. Ruth Antine started piano lessons when she was 7 years old. More than nine decades later, she's hardly missed a day with her 88 keys. Emily Friedman brings us the story.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

Ruth Antine wakes up around 3:00 in the morning. She gets dressed, hooks her music bag on her walker and heads downstairs. There's a room in her retirement home that has a TV, some chairs and a piano, and, by no later than 5 a.m., she's sitting at the piano, ready to begin.

MS. RUTH ANTINE

Here's some of my audience. Shall we wait till they come in?

FRIEDMAN

Three more residents stream into the room. Breakfast just finished, so this is when the concert usually begins.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1

Hello.

ANTINE

Welcome, welcome. And they all have their favorite pieces, see? That's when you know. I started -- I was a little over seven. I remember the exact day. And, before I knew it, I was giving concerts to -- everybody knew that I played the piano, and they asked me to play. I'd play. That's all. I don't remember even being nervous about it.

FRIEDMAN

Antine was a child prodigy. She didn't do regular kid things, like play in the street in her Brooklyn neighborhood or go grocery shopping with her mother because she was always practicing.

ANTINE

Somebody wanted me to go on tour, and my teacher said, she should not do that. It won't be, in the long run, good for her to show off because it shouldn't make a big thing of being young 'cause the idea is to know how to play well.

FRIEDMAN

Instead of touring, she stayed in school and performed all over New York City. By her 20s, she was one of the first women to receive a master's in conducting from Yale. She helped write books on music theory, created a program for music therapy and, all the while, performed hundreds of performances, thousands of songs.

ANTINE

I don't know how many, many, many things I played, almost anything that anybody would want.

MS. ELYSE VINITSKY

My name is Elyse Vinitsky, and I have an incredibly special aunt, Ruth Vinitsky Antine. Aunt Ruth, do you remember anything about the accident?

ANTINE

No. I don't. See, I've -- I just know I forgot everything.

FRIEDMAN

Two years ago, Antine had a stroke that wiped out almost all of her repertoire. There were piles and piles of sheet music in her mind, and the notes had somehow slid off the page.

ANTINE

Even now, I just learned an early sonata of Beethoven, "Pathetique." Can't get this part, haven't got that part. I have to practice, practice, practice.

FRIEDMAN

She had had a stroke before, 30 years ago, after which she was told she'd never play piano again, but she did. Now, two years after her more recent stroke, she's relearned more than two hours of music. In some ways, she says, she's better than she ever was.

ANTINE

Every time I play, it's a real experience to me. And I think that that somehow, that communicates.

FRIEDMAN

She performs a concert every morning for anyone who wants to listen. It's an older crowd, she says, and though she introduces each song with a story and a little banter, it's pretty common to see people nodding off.

ANTINE

And sometimes they'll applaud me, and then, afterward, they will fall asleep. I told them if they don't fall asleep, they get their money back. So that really means that it's okay to fall asleep.

FRIEDMAN

Ruth's niece, Elyse, says, after the stroke, Aunt Ruth doesn't get all the notes right. But, she says, that's not really what it's all about.

VINITSKY

Do you remember the story about Leopold Godowsky? A woman came up to Leopold Godowsky after a concert and said, how can you play the piano with such small hands?

ANTINE

And he said, what makes you think we play with our hands?

FRIEDMAN

Ruth says, even after 92 years playing, there's always something to learn, something to practice. And if you're lucky, there's always someone to hear you play. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

To see photos of Ruth Antine at the piano, head to our website, metroconnection.org. After the break, demonstrating the past and present of video games.

MR. CHRIS MELISSINOS

My greatest hope is that everyone that comes to visit this walks away with a greater understanding that video games are more than they believed them to be when they came in.

FRIEDMAN

It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week, we're dipping into the "Metro Connection" archives and zipping around between the past and the present with a show we're calling Then and Now. We'll kick off this segment by heading back to an era I know I remember fondly and here's a hint. By any chance, does this sound familiar?

SHEIR

How about this?

SHEIR

Or maybe this?

SHEIR

Gosh, hearing that music takes me back.

MELISSINOS

It sure does. Although not that far back, right?

SHEIR

Well, how you choose to answer that particular question posed here by video game developer, collector and all around whiz Chris Melissinos, depends on how far back you think 1985 is. That was the year Nintendo released the now iconic video game Super Mario Brothers.

SHEIR

In case you haven't guessed, the other two themes you heard just now belong to Pac Man...

SHEIR

...a classic that takes us all the way back to 1980 and Myst...

SHEIR

...an adventure game initially released in 1993. They're among five games you can actually play on super-sized screens in the Smithsonian American Art Museums new exhibit, The Art of Video Games.

MELISSINOS

And these games were selected because they did something unique within their era or they changed the way developers worked or the types of games they created.

SHEIR

Melissinos curated the exhibit which features a total of 80 video games, mostly from his personal collection, and covers a span of 40 years. Here's the thing, though, he isn't trying to show the artistry of video games to visitors.

MELISSINOS

I think initially, they expect to come in and see as we do have up in here some beautiful pictures of the game play.

SHEIR

What Melissinos is trying to do is focus on...

MELISSINOS

...the entirety of video games as an art medium. So in that sense, it's one of the very first exhibitions to tackle video games and art in that matter.

SHEIR

Because the way Melissinos sees it, video games represent a beautiful fusion of all forms of art, be it...

MELISSINOS

Painting.

SHEIR

...or...

MELISSINOS

Sculpture.

SHEIR

...or even...

MELISSINOS

Music and narrative. So in that, video games provide the greatest variety, the greatest opportunity to tell the widest breath of story, the widest narrative of any other medium that we have at our disposal today.

SHEIR

But the key to making this particular medium work, he says, is interaction.

MELISSINOS

Because it doesn't become art until the game is actually played.

SHEIR

A point that's strikingly demonstrated by one of the first instillations you encounter when you enter the exhibit. I'm really intrigued. Over here, I'm looking at three side-by-side screens showing pictures of people -- actually no, they're moving. So these are people being filmed, let me guess, as they're playing video games?

MELISSINOS

Correct. So this piece is called Gamer Faces. And the idea was, we set up a high definition camera and focused on people as they played in a room by themselves.

SHEIR

The people include males and females of all ages, shot mainly from the shoulders up. Some stare intently, others talk to themselves or back to the game. This one boy keeps jumping up and down.

MELISSINOS

You don't see people react this way when they read a book, view a painting, even watch a movie. You may get people to jump at certain points, you may get people to cry at certain points, but you do not see this full kind of release of themselves.

SHEIR

And this release has been going on since the days of the Atari VCS.

MELISSINOS

A lot of people know it as the Atari 2600. That is not its original name. It's the Video Computer System.

SHEIR

And it's on display at another room of the exhibit which shows the evolution of video games through 20 gaming systems, from early elementary offers like the Atari and ColecoVision. That one looks so familiar over here on the Commodore 64, that top one with the ladders.

MELISSINOS

Jumpman.

SHEIR

Jumpman. To more recent complex innovations like the Wii and PS2. And since the gaming systems snake along the four walls of the room, by the time you reach the PS2, it actually is right next to our very first gaming system.

MELISSINOS

Exactly. And so by standing in that one corner of the room, you're able to see just how far we have come in the medium of art that is video games.

SHEIR

But what you're also able to see, Melissinos says...

MELISSINOS

Are the echoes of design that started at the Atari VCS and are even present today in the era of the Playstation 3.

SHEIR

Such as?

MELISSINOS

Well, in Uncharted 2, when we see Nathan Drake in a jungle environment, reaching for a vine and we see Pitfall Harry on the Atari VCS in a jungle scene, reaching for a vine, we realize that those core mechanics have persisted for 40 years.

SHEIR

What has changed, he says, is the platform or more fittingly for an exhibit titled The Art of Video Games...

MELISSINOS

The Canvas, the brushes that artists have had to paint the environment in which those mechanics occur.

SHEIR

Now, of course, Chris Melissinos knows not everyone would be quite so keen to whip out such artistic metaphors for video games. What would you say to the parents who say I don't want my kids playing video games. I want them out playing, you know, with real people, in the fresh air?

MELISSINOS

What I would say is to not be dismissive of them on the face. Chances are, many parents that are listening, remember a time when video games were important to them. The ones that grew up in the '70s and '80s and they remember the first time they saw Pac Man or the first time they played Pitfall or Donkey Kong and understand that the games their kids are playing today are just the descendents of the games that we grew up on. Playing games is part of what it means to be human, it's how we find competition, it's how we find cooperation.

SHEIR

And it's how we find creativity, or so says Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, a video game hero who has a quotation stenciled on one of the exhibits walls. Can you read it?

MELISSINOS

Sure, it's video games foster the mindset that allows creativity to grow.

SHEIR

Do you agree with that?

MELISSINOS

Absolutely.

SHEIR

And it's Chris Melissinos' ardent desire that by the time people exit the exhibit, whether they're die hard gamers or not, they'll agree, too.

MELISSINOS

I hope that everyone that comes to visit this walks away with a greater understanding that video games are more than they believe them to be when they came in because they are, because they are.

SHEIR

You can catch the Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through September 30th.

SHEIR

Now, if you've spent a fair bit of time playing video games, you may have tried one of those high speed racing games, you know, the ones where you whizz around the Indianapolis Speedway or some other track at speeds of like 120 miles an hour. Well, in the real world, 120 miles an hour is actually not unheard of when it comes to illegal drag racing. And that's the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B." Back in 2008, eight people lost their lives during a drag race in Prince George's County, Md. This past March, Martin Di Caro returned to the crash scene to find out what's been done in recent years to slow drivers down.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

A bouquet of flowers, a small American flag and a white cross are planted in the grass median of this four lane highway. But residents along route 210 in Accokeek don't need to see a roadside memorial to remember what happened here four years ago. It was unforgettable. A large crowd had gathered, late on a February night, to watch a drag race on the highway. Eight people were killed when a car plowed into the spectators.

MS. MARILYN RANDALL

It affected me greatly because of the business that we have. The police cut off my driveway and customers could not get down. Customers were turned away.

CARO

Marilyn Randall owns a kennel nearby. She's also a member of the Greater Accokeek Civic Association.

RANDALL

I'm sorry that they died, but why were they doing it?

CARO

You don't have to travel far to get the answers to that question. At a nearby high performance auto parts store, shelves are loaded with shiny parts and expensive products made for one thing, the addiction to speed. Video monitors playing endless loop of race cars burning rubber and blasting clouds of exhaust.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

It's the excitement, I guess. It's no different than being somebody you see on TV, like the running of the bulls. It's just the excitement of being there. It's the -- I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that it's not legal.

CARO

That fellow is the manager here and he asked that his name and the name of his business not be used on the radio because he didn't want to be identified with an illegal activity, one in which he used to participate.

1

It was a thrill. It's an adrenalin rush. It's excitement, that's what it is. It's strictly about the excitement.

CARO

What made you stop?

1

You get older, you get responsibilities, you get families, you get things you could start losing if you get caught. I mean, it's not like it used to be. The police used to come out and tell you to go away, now they'll take your car.

CARO

He says, a lot of his customers race their cars legally at the Buds Creek track in Mechanicsville but he knows he probably sells parts to customers who race on public roads. In fact, he knew all eight victims from the 2008 incident as customers in his store. But he says he's not responsible for what customers do with their products. And it's hard for him to really criticize drag racing, even after what happened on route 210.

1

Going on the beltway at 5:00 tonight. Go up route 5, go down route -- go down Indian Head highway on a Saturday. I've had motorcycles pass me at 130. I mean, everybody around this entire area drives like that, constantly.

CARO

Before the tragedy on route 210, he says, there were drag races almost every night of the week in the county, but that has changed.

1

I don’t hear many more racing around here. You actually have to go north of here, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, to street race anymore. I mean, I'm sure there's some going on around here, but not like it was before, not every weekend, three or four different spots.

CARO

What happened?

1

I think people are just scared. They knew a lot of people that got hurt and they don't want to be involved in it anymore, plus they know the police around here are cracking down on it.

CARO

Police say, aggressive driving, drag racing included, is still a big problem here. Prince George's County Police Major James Harper drove me to the scene of the 2008 drag racing deaths. This stretch of road is a flat straightaway.

MR. JAMES HARPER

We're turning around, heading back northbound on Indiana Head highway.

CARO

So I can see why this would be enticing.

HARPER

There are no other traffic lights. There's no speed humps.

CARO

Major Harper says, police efforts have reduced, but not eliminated, this dangerous illegal behavior.

HARPER

You might hear from some of the residents that, you know, there's been a decline, but we've used rebel message boards to put messages up. We've used the traditional methods speed enforcements, writing citations, but also, just a presence, just a presence here.

CARO

The county police also partner with the Maryland state police on aggressive driving patrols. State police lieutenant Roland Butler at the Forestville Barracks says, government grants pay for additional patrolling that target the most dangerous drivers.

LT. ROLAND BUTLER

Really we try to concentrate on that, with somewhere between two to four troopers or officers out there patrolling the roadways, looking for those groups congregating in areas that are just totally unusual.

CARO

Law enforcement efforts may make a different with ordinary law abiding citizens but our reformed drag racer says, if the risk of death in a high speed crash doesn't stop someone, getting a ticket or even losing a driver's license may not be a deterrent either.

1

I mean, if you went back to Henry Ford's plant, when the first two Model T's rolled out, the two guys leaving that factory, raced them out of the factory. It's just the nature of men in vehicles.

CARO

Drag racers aren't the only ones who pay the price for their high speed driving, the people who share the roads with them say they're at risk, too. One resident here used to call this stretch of route 210, the Indianapolis Speedway. I'm Martin Di Caro.

SHEIR

And now our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door to Door," we visit Cherrydale in Arlington, Va and Northeast D.C.'s Michigan Park.

MS. ROXANNE CARTER

I'm Roxanne Carter, native Washingtonian living in Michigan Park area. Michigan Park is really located from Otis Street Northeast around toward the Brooklyn Metro Station to Allison crosses over to 18th off of South Dakota. Basically from one block to the next, the houses are so different and unique. You have a large backyard, you have tree-lined streets. The parks around, you have the monastery, a lot of unique places around especially Catholic institutions.

MS. ROXANNE CARTER

What I can remember about playing as a child around here was every yard had some fruit trees. Now you had peaches, pears, apples, people had grape vines. It wasn't always African American. When we moved here I guess I would consider it kind of being diverse because it was starting to change and so blacks were then able to buy homes. It went through its transition where basically, I guess, probably about the '80s or '90s you saw more African Americans and now you see a changing going, you know, a little more diverse. So going back to like it was when we moved over here in the '60s.

MS. MAUREEN ROSS

My name is Maureen Ross. I'm the president of the Cherrydale Citizens' Association in North Arlington and I have lived here since 1987. Cherrydale starts at I-66 on-ramp for going west near Kenmore Street on Longley Highway and stretches up to North Utah Street. We have people still in Cherrydale whose descendents are from the 1700s and we have the oldest volunteer fire department in Arlington. I think the first desegregated fire department as well.

MS. MAUREEN ROSS

We have lovely bungalows and we have a lot of front porches. It's a sweet little neighborhood each house looks different. We don't have cookie cutter houses. Our list serve is wonderful. During a huge snowstorm a neighbor put on list serve that she couldn't get out of the street to get her husband to dialysis and a bunch of us immediately got involved. Between shoveling and getting the county involved we got him to dialysis.

MS. MAUREEN ROSS

Cherrydale's like a small, cute little neighborhood yet we're right here in Arlington and we're a stone's throw from the capital. You can go see anything and then come home to your own quiet little neighborhood and not be in traffic. It's just a nice little spot.

SHEIR

We heard from Roxanne Carter in Michigan Park and Maureen Ross in Cherrydale. If you think your neighborhood should be a part of "Door to Door," just send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook. That's facebook.com/metroconnection.org and to see a map of all the doors we've knocked on so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro's Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Emily Friedman, Sabri Ben-Achour, Jessica Gould and Martin Di Caro. Our acting news director is Meymo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Bennin. Jonna McKone, Lauren Landau and Raphaella Bennin produced "Door To Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts,'' and our ''Door To Door'' theme "No Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and Facebook links. You can read free transcripts of stories and if you happened to miss part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing by clicking the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we bring you a brand spanking new show all about power. We'll ponder whether political position really is the key to dominance in the District and head to Prince George's County to see what happens when you're culturally in the majority, but politically in the minority.

SHEIR

Plus, a new play ponders the great power and great responsibility of being a real life superhero.

1

This play really is asking a lot of very complicated psychological questions underneath the butt-kicking in spandex.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir. Thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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