Thursday, March 20, 2014

A 32 Hour Ohio Trip

Viewing the Presidential Planes gallery from the entry to SAM26000. I could definitely get used to this view.

Just before 7:00 AM Sunday, Dan & I bundled into the Element for a quick trip to Dayton. (Mason was boarded in a home provided by FlipFlop dogs, a wonderful service which I heartily recommend to dog owners.)

We arrived at the National Museum of the United States Air Force around 10:00 AM, giving us some time to look around before boarding a bus to another section of Wright-Patterson Air Force base.

The World War II hangar displays planes and other artifacts from the war. Not just American planes, including the Bockscar, which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, but German and Japanese planes are included as well.
Plane nomenclature was not politically correct in the 1940s.

After about an hour, we headed out to view the Presidential Plane and Research & Development hangars. Billed as the Presidential Airlift, the former contains several prominent planes used by Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.

The Sacred Cow was a modified Douglas C-54 Skymaster which carried FDR to the Yalta conference in 1945. (The aircraft which took him to Casablanca in 1943 was a modified Boeing 314 flying boat, but the Secret Service was leery of that model’s poor safety record and mandated a better plane for further Presidential flights.) The entry way to the Sacred Cow was short and I banged my head as I entered it. That was not something FDR would have had to deal with as there is an elevator that lifted him, in his wheelchair, from ground level to the flight level. As I walked through the fuselage, I was struck by how modest the interior was. The CEO of even a mid-size company would have more luxurious accommodations today.
The entryway to the Sacred Cow. Watch your head.

FDR's accommodations on the Sacred Cow were very modest by today's standards.

As the presidency grew, the Sacred Cow was outgrown and Harry Truman commissioned a C-118 Liftmaster, which he christened the Independence and outfitted with a color scheme which presaged today’s Air Force One. The plane had better accommodations, including a multi-line intercom.

The Presidential plane continued to grow as Eisenhower commissioned a Lockheed C121 Constellation, named the Columbine III by his wife Mamie, after the official state flower of Colorado. I suspect Mamie Eisenhower had a hand in decorating the interior of the plans as well, outfitted with chintz sofas and drab colors – no style at all. (I didn't bother taking a picture.) 

SAM26000, a modified Boeing 707, is arguably the most famous of the Presidential Planes. Jacqueline Kennedy recommended the designer who came up with details including the font on the exterior (based on the font used on the Declaration of Independence), along with the exterior and interior color scheme – both of which have been carried over into the present day Air Force One. First used in 1962, SAM26000 was seared into our national memory in archival films of President and Mrs. Kennedy exiting the plane to a cheering Dallas crowd On November 22, 1963 - with his coffin being carried onto the plane a scant three hours later. Members of President Kennedy’s staff had to remove four of the seats and saw away part of the bulkhead to accommodate his coffin.

I found the R&D hangar to be less interesting. Most of the aircraft were one-offs which never got put into actual production – and probably shouldn’t have made it past the drawing board. Viewing some of the bizarre looking planes, I could only muse at the huge tax expenditures for the military-industrial complex. It served as a reminder that while the United States spends more on the military than the next ten nations combined, we still can’t provide full health care for those who serve – to say nothing of countless uninsured civilians.

From the museum, Dan & I went to a concert with the Dayton Philharmonic, led by Neal Gittelman, at the Masonic Temple - a beautiful building containing a lovely hall with fine acoustics. The music included Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 - with my friend Zsolt Bognár as soloist - and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

In my opinion, the C minor is the greatest of all Mozart’s piano concertos. It’s highly innovative, with an opening theme which covers all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. The central Larghetto is one of the few slow movements in a Mozart piano concerto which doesn’t need embellishment. The finale, a theme and variations, is among the darkest movements Mozart ever wrote, and the minor key ending is a rarity in a piano concerto. The whole work carries an emotional resonance that most of the other piano concertos, beautiful and finely written as they are, lack. Zsolt played the cadenza by Hummel, which Rubinstein also used – although the elder pianist trimmed a few bars toward the end. Zsolt’s performance was very fine, exquisitely scaled and balanced, with just the right amount of dramatic tension and pointed phrasing. The Dayton Philharmonic is a fine regional orchestra, with a surprisingly strong string section.

If there’s any piece of classical music one can refer to as overplayed, it’s Beethoven’s 5th. Not merely is the 5th overplayed in terms of frequency, but often it’s over-interpreted. For example, there is a phrase in the third movement where Beethoven indicates a ritardando toward the end. In too many performances led by too many conductors (who shall remain nameless), the pulse starts to slow early on in the phrase, well before the spot in the score where the composer placed the ritardando indication. In effect, the conductor is telegraphing Beethoven’s punches! I was relieved to hear that Maestro Gittleman interpreted the work as indicated, as did Toscanini before him. The work on the whole was briskly paced, with a riveting finale.
Zsolt signing copies of his CD after the concert.

After a relaxing evening and good night’s sleep, Dan & I headed to the Book Loft in Columbus. This is the kind of book store I’d have loved to work in, rather than the purgatorial chain store where I wasted four years of my professional life. The set of historic pre-Civil war buildings, with its 32 rooms of books and cubby holes, is the ideal place to browse away one’s day. After shopping there and leaving with an armful of literary booty, we strolled the German Village neighborhood. It’s ironic that, even as I have embarked upon more distant travel recently, there are nearby regions I have not explored. My parents used to regularly take the family to Columbus when I was a young child to visit my great aunt and her husband. But I can count the number of times I’ve been to Columbus as an adult on the fingers of one hand. It’s a lovely, ideally sized city, which I intend to visit more often. Indeed, from what I’ve seen were it not for my job and the Cleveland Orchestra, I could well envision myself living in Columbus.

We arrived home in South Euclid a few minutes before 3:00 pm, St. Patrick’s Day. A whirlwind trip!

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