This Week On Metro Connection: Spring Fling (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Week On Metro Connection: Spring Fling

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we here at the show are celebrating because guess what's coming up dear listeners, spring.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Yep, the first day of spring is March 20th. And here at MC HQ we are pretty excited about that fact. So we're calling today's show, Spring Fling, and bringing you stories about getting outdoors, getting our hands dirty, getting some sun, even a bit of all three.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

We'll get a jump on the growing season with a guy who's been gardening since he was just a sprout.

MR. KENNETH MOORE

I have this gardener's haze, where I see something really interesting and I have to get it. And then I get it and then I say, oh, no, what do I do with it now.

SHEIR

We'll head out on a local waterway to study a vanishing fish.

MR. FRED PINKNEY

This is female, very swollen belly there. So she has not spawned yet.

SHEIR

And we'll travel to Jamaica, without leaving the D.C. region, with a new children's show featuring the songs of Bob Marley.

MR. NICK OLCOTT

A children's musical using Bob Marley music? I thought, are you out of your mind?

SHEIR

But first, since we're talking about spring, in less than a week, the District will be launching the big, blowout celebration of the season, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, commemorating the 3,000 cherry trees the mayor of Tokyo gave to Washington, D.C. back in 1912. From March 20 through April 14, visitors will encounter all sorts of cherry related cheer, from cherry inspired foods to cherry-blossom yoga.

SHEIR

Now, traditionally you might associate D.C.'s infamous cherry blossoms with the Tidal Basin. After all, that's where you'll find more than 3,700 Yoshino Cherry trees, with their delicate pink-white blossoms surrounding the 107-acre reservoir. But the Tidal Basin isn't the only place to see flowering cherries this season. Among other spots in town, the U.S. National Arboretum has about 1,600 cherry trees, representing around 450 varieties.

SHEIR

And starting this Monday, the Arboretum is offering visitors a self-guided tour of those trees. It's called, "Beyond the Tidal Basin: Introducing Other Great Flowering Cherry Trees." I recently met up with Margaret Pooler, who's been breeding plants at the Arboretum for 16 years. And she gave me a sneak preview of some of the tour's sights.

SHEIR

So exactly what kind of flowering cherry is this?

MS. MARGARET POOLER

This tree is an Okami cherry tree. And this one is special because it's one of the earliest blooming ones that we have. You can see today it's not even mid-March and it's almost in full bloom now. Everything else is still brown, but here they are, giving us this hint that spring is just around the corner.

SHEIR

Can you describe this shade of pink? I'm not sure really how to describe it.

POOLER

Well, the Okami and some of the other ones are a blossoms are kind of a darker pink than what we're used to seeing in, like for example, the Tidal Basin cherries. And part of that is because one of their parents, it's a species called Prunus Companulata, the Taiwan Cherry, that has a really dark, deep pink.

SHEIR

Should we move on to the next spot?

POOLER

Yeah.

SHEIR

All right. So which tree are we looking at now?

POOLER

So this tree is kind of an interesting one. It's called Autumnalis Rosea. And it's special because it blooms in the spring, with all the rest of the flowering cherries, and you can see it's got lots and lots of flower buds on it right now. They're still pretty tight because it's not an early one. But what's neat about it is that it also flowers in the fall, not nearly as big of a bloom as the spring bloom, but it does give a pretty decent fall display. So it's kind of nice. One year, I think it was in full bloom at Thanksgiving, so visitors who happened to come by here then got to see a Thanksgiving flowering cherry.

SHEIR

Not something you'd expect.

POOLER

Definitely not.

SHEIR

Once it does bloom what do the blossoms look like?

POOLER

The blossoms are a kind of light pink, whitish with pink tinge, semi-double. That means they have somewhere around maybe 20 petals per flower, as opposed to the true doubles, which are like the Kwanzan that you see, the popular Kwanzan cherry. That's a true double, where it's got, you know, upwards of 25 or more petals per flower, versus the single blooms, which are only five petals. Yoshino cherries are a good example of that.

SHEIR

I suspect that when most people or when a lot of people think about flowering cherries they have one particular image in their head. So this is just amazing for me to hear about and see so many different varieties.

POOLER

It is. It's pretty amazing. I think if you walk by research collection, which is also one of our stops on the tour, you really can see all in one place, that diversity of flowering cherries. Because any time during the month-and-a-half that we have this tour going on, you'll see things that are just coming into bloom, things are in full bloom, that have finished bloom and are already starting to set seed. So you'll see every stage of bloom, plus different habits, everything from short, shrubby plants to tall tree types. Different colors, from white to deep pink that we talked about. So, yeah, I think this is a great way to just really come to appreciate all that flowering cherries have.

POOLER

Okay. Well, I'll show you one more. It's a weeping cherry that when you come to the Arboretum you really can't miss if it's in full bloom because everyone's going to be flocked around it.

SHEIR

So kind of like a weeping willow, but with the cherry blossoms?

POOLER

Exactly. Exactly.

SHEIR

All right. Let's go. Okay. There aren't any blossoms on these yet, but they are stunning.

POOLER

Yeah, even without being in bloom, even when all you see are branches, just the silhouettes of these trees are absolutely amazing. When they're in full bloom they're just beautiful, white cascading petals that when you're standing under there, you know, you can imagine the effect. And a few blossoms fall around your head and it really is kind of magical.

SHEIR

What's the tree's official name?

POOLER

Officially, it's Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula', meaning pendulous, the weeping.

SHEIR

So, Margaret, given that you've been working with the cherry trees for so long here at the Arboretum, what would you say is the significance of the cherry tree to D.C.?

POOLER

Well, I think that cherry trees are special, especially in Washington, D.C. for a couple of reasons. One, I think they're so constant and predictable. So in Washington, you know, for example this year we've got sequestration and we have continuing resolutions and all these things that no one knows what's going to happen. But we do know those cherry trees are going to bloom, no matter what. So I think that's kind of a comfort to a lot of us.

POOLER

And I think also in D.C., we tend to get so busy and so overscheduled and go-go-go, that the cherries, you know, they're only in bloom for a week or maybe ten days and so it kind of forces you to just pause, take a break from all that and stop and enjoy them, because they're not going to be there very long.

SHEIR

That was Margaret Pooler of the U.S. National Arboretum. You can check out the self-guided tour, Beyond the Tidal Basin: Introducing Other Great Flowering Cherry Trees, staring this Monday. For more information and to see photos of many varieties of flowering cherries, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Okay. So we're going to stay on the subject of plants for this next story, but we're going to head inside. That's the primary domain of Kenneth More, a Washingtonian who's dub himself the Indoor Gardener. And as Emily Berman recently found out, that title is pretty spot on.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

Kenneth Moore's first apartment in the District was a studio in Mount Pleasant. He picked it because of all the windows. It would be the perfect place for a garden.

MOORE

I was growing lettuce. I was growing beans and peppers. And I had 9-foot-tall tomato plants. I tried eggplant, but that did not work so well.

BERMAN

He nailed 2x4s into a rectangle, filled it with rocks and soil, then planted stalks of corn, which wasn't really a great idea.

MOORE

And I would come home and my furniture would be covered in yellow corn pollen.

BERMAN

And sweet potatoes? Turns out they grow really fast.

MOORE

They are so vigorous that I could not untwine them from my blinds.

BERMAN

He had dozens and dozens of plants growing and out of all of it…

MOORE

I got enough tomatoes and peppers that I made pasta sauce twice to have one bowl of pasta. And I got two baby ears of corn.

BERMAN

That's it. And you'd think, that's kind of disappointing for months of hard work and basically turning your apartment into a garden, but this was just the most recent incident in a long line of underperforming gardens. The first was when he was 4 years old.

MOORE

We lived in a townhouse in Laurel. And my father built a garden box out of 2x4s. I was the one who decided when to plant things and what to plant. My parents just let me go to town.

BERMAN

He got the idea to garden from a book called, "Every Seed is a promise," which he loved.

MOORE

I read that all the time. I made my mom read it every night. I learned how to read so I could read that book myself.

BERMAN

Moore's dream was to be a farmer.

MOORE

I had dreams of bringing two carrots and one cucumber to the grocery store so that they could sell it. And I thought I would get rich with those two carrots and one cucumber.

BERMAN

By the time he got to high school, his interest in plants had broadened. He studied biology in college, but found that his idea of getting rich by farming probably wasn't going to bear fruit. So he works in communications. And when he's not working, he's gardening.

MOORE

If you'd like to put two or three seeds in each.

BERMAN

Two or three.

MOORE

Two or three, yeah.

BERMAN

We're on the floor of his apartment, planting super frying peppers.

BERMAN

This is going to be painfully obvious for me to say, but these look like pepper seeds.

MOORE

Yeah.

BERMAN

Like seeds you would find in a red pepper or something.

MOORE

Exactly.

BERMAN

Okay.

BERMAN

We finished planting and Moore sets the tray of pots onto one of his plant shelves. It's a 6-foot-tall bookshelf with grow lights, misters and plants top to bottom. There's even a fish tank full of orchids.

MOORE

It's only a 20-gallon fish tank, so I can't fit a ton in there, but there's about 45 plants.

BERMAN

There are plants on his window sills and planting gear neatly stacked up the walls of his basement apartment. All together, Moore estimates he has more than 150 plants and an emotional connection to each of them. Such a strong connection, in fact, that when he got a job offer in 2010 to move to Saudi Arabia, the plants came with him.

MOORE

I brought about 100 plants to Saudi Arabia in my gym bag.

BERMAN

He had passed all the USDA inspections to take plant cuttings out of the country, but on his way back he kind of skipped that part.

MOORE

The USDA knocked on my door and they asked if they could come in. And I said, yeah, yes, of course. And I'm like terrified. And came and confiscated my plants.

BERMAN

He didn't have any illegal plants per se, but because they hadn't been inspected they needed to be burned. Later that year, the feds returned to his apartment after he thought he was buying seeds from Indiana. Turns out, they were from India, but it's all just an experiment Moore says.

MOORE

It's something to try. It's something to figure out how to do and how all those things that I use in the day-to-day world are made.

BERMAN

Even with a remarkably high kill rate, which on the whole is about 50 percent, Moore says he's entering this spring planting season ready to learn new lessons and make new mistakes. I'm Emily Berman.

SHEIR

To see Kenneth Moore's picks for his favorite seed stores and garden shops in the region, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a break, but when we get back, an ecological mystery in our local rivers.

PINKNEY

The two rivers that are doing really poorly are the Severn and South Rivers right near Annapolis.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

ANNOUNCER

WAMU news coverage of labor and employment issues is made possible by your contributions and by Matthew Watson, in memory of Marjorie Watson. And support for WAMU 88.5's coverage of the environment comes from the Wallace Genetic Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of farmland preservation, the reduction of environmental toxins and the conservation of natural resources.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." With the first day of spring just around the corner, we're calling this week's show, Spring Fling. So this hour we're getting out and about and exploring all the springtime goodness the D.C. area has to offer. Earlier in the show we moved beyond the Tidal Basin and checked out some D.C.'s other cherry trees. And in just a bit we'll hear about the Yellow Perch whose spring spawning numbers have been going down. First though, it wouldn't be spring in D.C., without the annual global culinary showdown, The Embassy Chef Challenge.

SHEIR

The 2013 challenge took place Thursday night and the winner was crowned by the 2012 champion, 35-year-old Chef Viktor Merenyi, from the Embassy of Hungary. A few days before Viktor stepped down from his throne I met up with him in the embassy kitchen for a little bit of conversing and a little bit of cooking. I was joined by Missy Frederick of Eater D.C., the local food blog with which we produce our regular series, "Eating in the Embassy."

SHEIR

Viktor has been cooking in the U.S. for four years now and he says he has one primary goal when whipping up dishes for the ambassador and his guests.

CHEF VICTOR MERENYI

Usually the people thinking about Hungarian cuisine, it's fatty, spicy, always pork inside. And that's my job, show to the people stuff that are different. We have beautiful lakes, beautiful freshwater fish. We have four seasons in Hungary, so always changing the ingredients. Also, different areas in the countries with different cooking methods.

SHEIR

Can you give some examples of traditional dishes from different parts of the country?

MERENYI

For example, two days ago I made the gulyasleves soup. Usually inside the gulyasleves soup, a pasta, like dumplings and the cubes cooked meat.

SHEIR

Are there other foods that you grew up eating, that when you make them here you alter them a little bit?

MERENYI

I like to follow my grandmother's dessert. It's really sweet part from the childhood. It's really famous, the strudel, in our country. And you can play with the stuffing to the strudels here. So for example, two days ago also I made an apple strudel, but I put inside some black poppy seeds. So it's made a totally different way, a bit healthier way. And keep the traditional way also.

SHEIR

Here in Washington -- you've been here, you said, four years.

MERENYI

Yes.

SHEIR

Are there places you can go to buy special ingredients or restaurants where you can get real Hungarian dishes?

MERENYI

To find the Hungarian ingredients in D.C., that's the biggest challenge than the Embassy Chef Challenge. Actually, four or five location I need to visit after I find everything. Here in D.C. you can't find Hungarian restaurants or typical Hungarian dishes. Some Central European restaurants try to do that, but they follow their way, their cooking method. I can tell them if they want.

SHEIR

What about beverages?

MERENYI

Beverages, we will make our wines. So special wine, is coming from Hungary. And the palinka. Palinka, it's real, real nice. A kind of spirit. It's made from fresh fruits. You can find 15 or 20 types. A bit strong, but it's okay.

SHEIR

I was in Budapest last year and I had prune and I pear.

MERENYI

And which one do you like?

SHEIR

I think I like the pear a little more. I don't know. They were both delicious. Strong, very strong.

MERENYI

For me the pear. Pear, it's working more than the prunes.

SHEIR

So should we start cooking or do you--are there other things you want--

MS. MISSY FREDERICK

I think we can start cooking. That would be great.

SHEIR

Yeah.

MERENYI

We can start cooking. Beautiful. So what we will cook today, like dessert. Palacsinta, it's a Hungarian pancake. It's totally different than American pancake. The Hungarian pancake is really thin. The ingredients for the pancake, it's flour, milk, egg and some soda water. So we just put the flour inside to the bowl, some egg. We need some salt. This will be a dessert, but a small amount of salt. Egg inside. I just put now milk. Stir it well and now the soda water.

SHEIR

So it's not the least bit lumpy. Yeah, it's very liquid.

MERENYI

Yeah, that's why the pancake is so thin. A couple of seconds to heat up the pan. And we use usually olive oil or corn oil or vegetable oil. The traditional way, they use pork fat. But here in the embassy, what we really would like when the guest finishing, don't feel the, Oh, I am totally -- I can't move and I need to sleep a couple hours.

MERENYI

So I just brush with oil. And if you use this pancake, another different way to the dessert and if you put walnut cream, cook the walnut cream inside and cover with chocolate sauce, that's our famous Gundel pancake. And in the restaurant they put palinka on the top and flame it. So when it arrives to the guest, the pancake, it's nice, blue flames. And also with the palinka flavors around. Oh, it's so good. That's all. So a couple pancakes ready. Would you like to try the pancake?

FREDERICK

Yeah, I'll try one.

MERENYI

This is a sour cherry compote and I just cook with sugar and cinnamon and vanilla and a small amount of powdered sugar on the top. When you need to make elegant, because the guest eats first with their eyes. And after the second they will taste it.

SHEIR

That was Chef Viktor Merenyi of the embassy of Hungary. To see photos of the chef at work visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And stay tuned because this summer's Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, is all about Hungarian heritage. So each day on the National Mall, Viktor and his crew will be serving up 10,000 portions of Hungarian food. That's a whole lot of goulash. You can find more information about that big event on metroconnection.org, too.

SHEIR

Chef Merenyi mentioned the fish that abound in Hungary. And this next story is about fish, too, though these fish aren't quite in abundance. Not anymore anyway. In a few western tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay the yellow perch's springtime spawning isn't quite going as planned. Environment reporter Jonathan Wilson has the story.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

It's just after 9:00 in the morning on the South River just outside of Annapolis, Md. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists are tossing dozens of fish back into the water.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

The batch, which was caught in nets left overnight in the shallows, is mostly made up of catfish and white perch. That's why they're going back into the river. Fred Pinkney, the senior member of the team, is looking for yellow perch, stouter fish in the bass family that can grow 10 inches long. Pinkney finally spots a female in the bottom of the bucket, the greenish-yellow coloring and the dark vertical striping is unmistakable.

PINKNEY

This is a female, very swollen belly there. So she has not spawned yet. You can see how wide her belly is and when we go back to the laboratory, you should be able to get a really good look at how many eggs are contained within this one fish. So this is exactly the stage that we're looking for.

WILSON

The eggs are key. Pinkney and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are trying to figure out why yellow perch egg hatching success has dropped from 80 percent in the 1950s to less than 10 percent in the past decade. And that's despite decades of bans on both commercial and recreational yellow perch fishing in many local rivers.

PINKNEY

So the two rivers that are doing really poorly are the Severn and South Rivers, right near Annapolis.

WILSON

The team is under a bit of a time crunch. Yellow perch only spawn for three to five days each spring and water temperature can affect when and how fast everything happens. The scientists would like to collect 20 fish, 10 females and 10 males. But on this morning, they only get five fish, all female. Three of the five have already ejected their eggs. Pinkney says that isn't necessarily a bad omen for this year's hatch. It's just a bit frustrating.

PINKNEY

It's mostly luck of the draw. It's tricky with temperature and, you know, we had the warm weekend and then it got cool and it rained. And it's just hard to figure out what's going on.

WILSON

The team decides to reset the nets and come back in a few days, but they'll bring the five fish back to the lab to collect egg and tissue samples.

WILSON

Vicky Blazer is a fish pathologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. She and her colleague, USGS biologist Luke Iwanowicz, are waiting for the yellow perch back at the Fish and Wildlife laboratory.

MR. LUKE IWANOWICZ

This right here is the spleen. So fish have spleens, just like we do.

WILSON

They'll take samples of the kidney, liver, brain, and reproductive organs and the tissue will be examined at the molecular level for abnormalities. The team will pair that data with water chemistry results from the past year and hopefully, get a clearer picture of why yellow perch are losing their ability to reproduce. The scientists would also like to test the tissue samples for chemical abnormalities, but there's just one problem.

MS. VICKY BLAZER

We currently do not have funding to look at the contaminant analysis, so they'll go in the freezer and we'll hope for the best.

WILSON

Blazer does have theories about what contaminants they'll find in the yellow perch tissue whenever that analysis is done. She says she expects to see classic, legacy contaminants like PCBs and mercury or the banned pesticide DDT, but she also thinks they might find evidence of contaminants that have popped up on the environmental radar more recently.

BLAZER

We haven't thought that much about the hormones that all of us excrete or that are used in things like birth control or hormone replacement therapy, all the pharmaceuticals that people are taking now that are getting into the aquatic environment and also into fish.

WILSON

It's also possible that a single contaminant isn't to blame. Environmental scientists around the Bay have spent the past decade studying the level of urbanization around local Chesapeake tributaries and how it coincides with certain fish populations. There's mounting evidence that once urbanization reaches a certain level, just 10 percent pavement versus natural soil, the drainage and chemistry changes to adjacent waterways are too much for fish to handle.

WILSON

Fred Pinkney says, unfortunately, the yellow perch reproduction problems are likely connected to what's happening or what could soon happen to other types of fish.

PINKNEY

Perch is an indicator of the level of development within a watershed. And so other fish species tend to track along in terms of numbers when the perch go down.

WILSON

The scientists will find out about the water chemistry results in the next few months. But that contaminant analysis, which could help solve the mystery of the yellow perch once and for all, will have to wait for funding. Luckily, the tissue samples can last for years in the freezer and Vicki Blazer says with the current federal budget situation, they may have to. I’m Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

You can learn more about the yellow perch study and see pictures of the fish on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

For many colleges and universities in the D.C. region, springtime, of course, means spring break. But even though school is out, a lot is happening in the world of higher education, from budget crunches to an upcoming Supreme Court decision on affirmative action and admissions policies. Kavitha Cardoza recently spoke with Scott Jaschik, editor of the website, Inside Higher Ed, about the big changes coming for colleges and how these changes may affect students, staffers and professors here in the D.C. region and around the country.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

Everyone's expecting a decision soon on the affirmative action case in front of the Supreme Court.

MR. SCOTT JASCHIK

It's a huge issue. It's 10 years since the Supreme Court last took up the issue of affirmative action in higher education and there is a chance that they could bar colleges from considering race and ethnicity in admissions. Just about every college association has filed briefs asking the court not to do so. But many other groups and individuals want the court to ban affirmative action. The case comes out of the University of Texas, but it could affect all of higher education depending on what the judges do.

MR. SCOTT JASCHIK

The reality is that there are some colleges and universities, the elites, where they use affirmative action very heavily in admissions, so for them it would affect who gets in. Many other colleges and universities, that may not have competitive admissions, do use consideration of race and ethnicity in awarding financial aid, in special summer programs to recruit students, all kinds of outreach efforts. Even community colleges, for instance, many community college graduates, who are more likely than others to be minorities, benefit from affirmative action in transferring to four-year institutions.

CARDOZA

Do we have any idea on how it might go?

JASCHIK

If you look at the questions that were asked during oral arguments, it didn't look good for affirmative action. I could count only three justices whose questions suggested support of affirmative action.

CARDOZA

A lot of universities have signed on to the massive online open courses or MOOCs. Anyone can take these courses. They're free, but they are usually not for credit classes. And I know many university officials are excited about being able to reach millions more students, but they're also keen to figure out how to make money off MOOCs.

JASCHIK

Very quickly there's been a push to award credit for MOOCs because they've been very popular, as you said, hundreds of thousands of students per class. So the universities are looking at ways to award credit and to get paid in the process. Now, there are some concerns, though, because if you look at online education generally, not all students are as likely to be successful as others. Generally, very experienced students, highly disciplined students, well prepared students, they tend to do well online.

JASCHIK

Students who are, say, first generation of college, who are at risk to dropping out, who haven't established good study patterns, they are less likely to do well online. So there is concern that by relying on MOOCs or large online courses generally, to provide too much of an education for not well-prepared students that it could end up hurting students. And maybe we're going to figure out interesting ways so that MOOCs can help a broad range of students. I'm not sure we're there yet.

CARDOZA

At least once a day I get a press release about someone promoting STEM, that's science, technology, engineering and math education. And this has been a big emphasis of the Obama administration. What are universities trying to do to promote STEM education?

JASCHIK

They're trying to do everything they can. One of the things colleges and universities are trying to do is to get the message down to the grade schools. Because if you don't take the pre-college track and stick with math, serious math and science in high school, you basically can't all of a sudden decide you want to be a biologist as a freshman in college. You basically are closing doors or certain options early.

JASCHIK

Another thing they're trying to do is to improve science education. There's sort of a revolution going on right now in science education. Many people think the traditional lecture format is deadening and discourages people from science and takes away what's exciting about science. So there's a lot of effort right now to change those introductory courses, so there's group work right away, so that students are working on practical problems, not just memorizing formulas or equations, that that will engage students more and they'll see the excitement of science.

JASCHIK

One of the other issues in science is that there are severe gaps in who goes into science. The numbers are so striking that one college can make a huge difference. For instance, we reported this year that Clemson University has six African American tenure track professors in computer science. Now, you might not think that's a huge deal, but that's 10 percent of all the African American computer science professors in the United States. And what that means is that you don't have minority students going into fields that pay very well, that are crucial to the future of our economy.

JASCHIK

Many universities are relying on foreign talent for their math and science programs. And that can be a great thing. You build a global community, but because our immigration laws are such that, currently at least, a talented foreign graduate student who comes here is basically kicked out upon earning a PhD. They don't necessarily nurture the U.S. economy the way many people would like to see our talented STEM graduates do.

SHEIR

That was Scott Jaschik, of Inside Higher Ed, speaking with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza.

SHEIR

Up next, expanding D.C.'s world of yoga.

MS. SARIANE LEIGH

The message that I'm sending out is not about, I'm just black, you're black, let's practice yoga. It's about, I understand being discriminated against. I understand someone judging your body. I know what that feels like.

SHEIR

That and more is 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 celebrating the coming season with a show we're calling Spring Fling. In just a bit we'll feel the burn as we swing by Anacostia for some spring training. And now that we've sprung forward for daylight savings time we'll meet the Washingtonian whom you could refer to as Father Time. But before we get to all that…

SHEIR

…we're going to head to Glen Echo, Md., a.k.a. Jamaica.

SHEIR

This song you're hearing may sound awfully familiar. As might this one…

SHEIR

And this one…

SHEIR

These three tunes by legendary reggae artist Bob Marley are among many you'll hear in Three Little Birds, the world premier musical opening this weekend at Adventure Theatre Musical Theatre Center. The show is written and choreographed by the theater's artistic director, Michael Bobbitt.

MR. MICHAEL BOBBITT

A friend of the theater knew Cedella Marley's manager.

SHEIR

Cedella Marley is Bob Marley's daughter.

BOBBITT

And suggested that we reach out to her because Cedella has written a children's book called, "Three Little Birds." And after brainstorming a little bit, I thought wouldn't it be great if I could infuse the musical with Bob Marley's music.

SHEIR

The book tells the story of Ziggy, a shy boy who’s more than happy to just stay home and watch TV, until his trickster friend, Nansi, convinces him to embark on a daring adventure across the island. Before adapting the book for the stage, Michael Bobbitt had to secure the rights for Bob Marley’s musical repertoire. And actually, that task, he says, wasn’t too challenging, but two things were. One…

BOBBITT

I had to sort of comb through the catalogue and figure out what songs were appropriate for children’s theater.

SHEIR

And two…

BOBBITT

I had to create a story and figure out how the songs play in the story.

SHEIR

In the end, though, Bobbitt says both undertakings came surprisingly easy, especially the second.

BOBBITT

We were staging the finale and I’m like, it’s almost like he wrote this song for this play, but it wasn’t. It was written just to be a song.

SHEIR

Can you tell us what that song is?

BOBBITT

It is called "Smile Jamaica." And it just starts with celebrating Jamaica and what Jamaica is, which is basically the essence of the play.

SHEIR

So what is it like directing a piece that is so, like, entrenched in Jamaican culture. Not only is the set going to reflect that, but the costumes, the dialect.

OLCOTT

Yeah, will thank goodness we had a wonderful, wonderful dialect coach helping us on this.

SHEIR

Nick Olcott is the show's director.

OLCOTT

So he really brought the flavor of the islands to it. And the set designer and the costume designer had to do a lot of research into the colors and the looks of Jamaica.

SHEIR

Among the most stunning costumes in the show, are those of the title characters.

SHEIR

So where do the three little birds come in?

OLCOTT

Well, that's from a Bob Marley song, "Three Little Birds," who come to deliver the message that everything's going to be all right. So don’t you worry about a thing because every little thing is going to be all right.

SHEIR

Olcott confesses that when Michael Bobbitt first approached him about directing the play…

OLCOTT

I thought, a children’s musical using Bob Marley music? Are you out of your mind?

SHEIR

But, like Bobbitt, Olcott soon found the combination was a match made in musical-theater heaven, children’s musical theater heaven, to be exact.

OLCOTT

And I talked to friends of mine who have young kids and they said it makes perfect sense. Kids love reggae music. The beat is just infectious. So everyone who likes reggae music is going to want to see this show because they’re beautiful arrangements, you know, in six-part harmony.

SHEIR

Lewis Feemster is among the actors who get to belt out this six-part harmony. And he says sure, Bob Marley’s songs are bound to get everyone in the audience bopping, but not just because they’re catchy. They also have these timeless messages of hope, liberation and love.

MR. LEWIS FEEMSTER

I mean, if you look around D.C. now, people have changed some of the One Way signs to One Love. So, like, there’s still that kind of like spirit that Bob Marley is able to just kind of bring out in people.

SHEIR

Adventure Theatre artistic director Michael Bobbitt says that spirit is a prime reason he decided to make Three Little Birds the third show in the theater’s African-American Adventure series, highlighting African American culture.

BOBBITT

I really started looking through the canon of works that exist in the children’s theater genre for books that celebrate the culture, where race is not a plot point. And so this idea of Three Little Birds came up and even though Jamaica is not an American province, certainly Bob Marley and reggae have influenced a lot of African American culture.

SHEIR

In fact, they’ve influenced many cultures and Michael Bobbitt hopes this brand new musical will influence Washingtonians to head to Glen Echo and know that, at least while they’re sitting in that darkened theater, every little thing is, truly, gonna be all right.

SHEIR

Three Little Birds opens this weekend at Adventure Theatre Musical Theatre Center. You can see photos of the characters and learn more about the play, as well as Cedella Marley's book, on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

So spring is often seen as a time of renewal, right? Not just in nature, but in our homes. Think spring cleaning. And in our bodies, think spring training. You'll see a bunch of Washingtonians out and about these days, all walking and jogging and biking to get and stay fit. You'll also see a bunch of them shedding their shoes, and unrolling their mats, to engage in a little bit of yoga. Thing is, though, the geography of yoga in this region, if you will, is sort of, kind of, limited. But as Jacob Fenston tells us, local yogis are working to change that.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

If you Google "yoga studio Washington, D.C.," the pins drop in clusters across the city's posh neighborhoods.

LEIGH

Can you guys in the back come up to the front?

FENSTON

But here east of the Anacostia River, yoga studios are non-existent. So these yogis are gathered in a church, mats laid out on the linoleum tiles. The class, as usual, is packed.

LEIGH

Take a deep inhale through the nose, and just kind of bring yourself into class.

FENSTON

Sariane Leigh has been teaching yoga in southeast D.C. since 2005, under the name Anacostia Yogi.

LEIGH

Strong inhale...

FENSTON

Back then, she says she was the only teacher east of the river, and still she's one of just a handful holding regular classes here.

LEIGH

Releasing exhales.

FENSTON

While yoga's popularity has been growing across the country for the past two decades, it's still a relatively narrow slice of the population that practices. Seven in ten yogis have higher ed degrees, three quarters are white. That's according to recent studies by Yoga Journal.

LEIGH

Inhaling new beginnings.

FENSTON

But in this yoga class, I am the only white student. It's the first time in my ten years of practicing I've ever been the minority in a yoga class.

LEIGH

I have always been in a situation where I've been the minority.

FENSTON

Leigh says growing up, going to college, going to grad school, she was used to sometimes being the only black woman in the room.

LEIGH

So for me, the interesting thing wasn't being a minority, it was how I felt in a yoga space.

FENSTON

When she started going to yoga classes in Northwest D.C., she expected to feel welcomed, warm, and fuzzy. But that's not how she felt.

LEIGH

I've had some very uncomfortable experiences in yoga studios, where I couldn't believe that this was a healing space, a sacred space, but I could feel and sense, and even hear comments from people, that were, to me, racist.

FENSTON

So she started teaching classes in southeast, where she lived.

LEIGH

The message that I'm sending out to people is not about, I'm black, you're black, let's practice yoga. It's about, I understand being discriminated against, I understand someone judging your body. I know what that feels like, so I can help unpeel that, I can help undo it.

FENSTON

Part of the yoga disparity is of course related to wealth and poverty. More white people, more people in Northwest D.C. have more disposable income to spend on things like yoga. But that's just part of the story. Dana Smith runs a studio in upper Marlboro, where 98 percent of her students are black.

MS. DANA SMITH

There are very wealthy people here, they just, they don't know how yoga can be relevant. And that's where I come in.

FENSTON

She opened the studio back in 2003, because when she'd tried to get friends and family to go to yoga, they wouldn't do it.

SMITH

A lot of them look at things like Yoga Journal, and they look at the studios in D.C., and they don't see representation.

FENSTON

These days, Smith has a steady business going, and she's looking to expand the studio. But she says she still has to dispel myths people have about yoga.

SMITH

They think that yoga is a religion, that if they are Christian, that they have to lose a part of that in order to practice yoga. And I tell them, no that's not true, yoga is a health system. It works with whatever you believe in.

FENSTON

Yoga comes from a Sanskrit word that means, "to unite." But that's not always what happens when a yoga studio opens up in a divided neighborhood.

MS. JASMINE CHEHRAZI

I know it looks bad sometimes for us to pop up in a neighborhood, that it might be a sign of things changing.

FENSTON

Jasmine Chehrazi is the founder of Yoga District, which runs four studios in Northwest, and one on H Street Northeast.

CHEHRAZI

But I'm really hoping that instead, it's a symbol of integration, that we can all do this practice.

FENSTON

Three of the Yoga District studios opened in neighborhoods that were in transition, but at early stages of that transition. For example, when a studio opened in Bloomingdale in 2009, it was still a rough area, where staff would get robbed after class. Now it's a totally different place.

CHEHRAZI

We definitely probably were part of that change. I read Craigslist ads for apartments in Bloomingdale, where they say, one block from the Yoga District studio, one bedroom for $1800.

FENSTON

Chehrazi tries to make her studios as inclusive as possible, and initially she was very idealistic about bringing people together, rich and poor, black and white, through yoga. In Bloomingdale, she tried to get the guys who hung out in front of a corner store to come to class.

CHEHRAZI

You know, I was like, come on, guys, come on, come on, it's $10 or less, nobody turned away for lack of funds. Just come, please come. But they were like, no, no, no. They wouldn't come.

FENSTON

Sense then, Chehrazi has decided that if people won't come to her, she'll go to them, doing yoga outreach and free classes all over the city. Meanwhile, back in Southeast, Sariane Leigh is finishing up class.

FENSTON

In the front row, Said Chesnut is rolling up a baby blue yoga mat. He's been practicing for about two years, and he says it actually doesn't really matter if the teacher looks like you, or who's on the mat next to you, or what your friends think.

MR. SAID CHESTNUT

First thing you get is, oh, you just go for the girls, and that sort of thing. And I tell them, you know, really, once you really get into the class and really get focused, you forget about who's in the room.

FENSTON

I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

So it's been nearly a week since we official sprang forward, and moved our clocks ahead an hour. And that's made us here at "Metro Connection" think a lot about time, and how we keep track of it. Well, turns out, one of the people tasked with that very job lives and works right here in D.C. Demetrios Matsakis heads the Time Service Department at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Jocelyn Frank recently met up with Matsakis for this month's edition of D.C. Gigs. And she found out that to keep time from running away, the Time Service Department is locked up pretty tight.

MR. DEMETRIOS MATSAKIS

Now we're entering though one double locked door. And now if you look inside through this glass, you see what looks like a giant water heater. The parts cost about $600,000 for this clock. They consist of lasers. The technology behind it was the subject of maybe four or five Nobel prizes. It's a rubidium fountain. Atoms inside are treated just like a water fountain. They are shot up, and they come down, and they fall down, sprinkle down. And on the way, they are interrogated to get their time. One of these can measure time frequency to 16 decimal points. Therefore, you are now looking at the most precise operational instrument -- measurement system ever built by mankind.

MR. DEMETRIOS MATSAKIS

My name is Demetrios Matsakis. Some people call me Father Time, other people say I'm one of the time lords, which would be all the people around the world that do this. But my official title is Department Head of the Time Service Department at the Naval Observatory. And that's what I put down on my forms. I have no business cards.

MR. DEMETRIOS MATSAKIS

Here we maintain about 100 atomic clocks, and we use those clocks to measure those clocks to measure the time. I don't wear a watch, I never have worn a watch. I consider myself very punctual, but other people might not think so. There's a term called fashionably late, and sometimes that's appropriate.

MR. DEMETRIOS MATSAKIS

We're not entering in the chamber. Okay, this temperature is a little high for humans in here. This is a maser that generates a signal that it syncs, it's five megahertz. And some people think that's the master clock, but when it gets fed into the auxiliary output generator, it gets shifted by a little bit to generate five megahertz. So other people think that's the master clock. You have the output of another box, which generates one pulse per second, and other people think that's the master clock. But really, the master clock is everything together, including the humans, and the security guards that protect us, and the taxpayers that fund us.

MR. DEMETRIOS MATSAKIS

So I guess we are all on edge. Equipment breaks, that's why we have redundant equipment, so there's always something going. The master clock itself, the components that I showed you, have failed. They failed three times since I've been director. Two of the times, I was on an airplane, waiting to take off, and the other time, I was on my way to my son's marriage. People went and they dealt with it.

MR. DEMETRIOS MATSAKIS

I think of this movie, I think it was called "Ted and Somebody's Excellent Adventure," where they are wandering around time. And first when they're wandering, they see themselves coming back from the future, and those coming back from the future project great confidence, which inspires them, the original people, to continue. And so here we are struggling to understand what science is about, where the world is going, we can project great confidence to the world, but really we're just all struggling along, trying to figure out what's going on.

SHEIR

That was Demetrios Matsakis of the U.S. Naval Observatory's Time Service Department, speaking with reporter Jocelyn Frank. If you have a distinctively D.C. gig you think we should feature on the show, let us know. Send an email to metro@wamu.org, or send us a tweet, our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Jonathan Wilson and Kavitha Cardoza, along with reporter Jocelyn Frank. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Robbie Feinberg. 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" is from the album Title Tracks by John Davis, and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing online any time. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll dive into the world of design. We'll check out the plans for a new monument to D.C.'s godfather of go-go, we'll learn about Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who not only designed dresses for Mary Todd Lincoln, but designed ways for freed slaves and wounded civil war soldiers to have a better life. Plus, we'll chronicle the rise of a certain structure you'll find all over Washington's urban landscape.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

There's some that move up and down, there's some that move to the side to side, there's some that have lights, there's some that don't have lights, and then there's some that are just immovable.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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