✔ Pick of the Pack
Exhibit: 'Samurai, the Warrior Transformed'
During World War II, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania named Chiune Sugihara signed thousands of Japanese visas for Polish Jews who had lined up outside his embassy, desperate to escape the Nazi purge. Sugihara's superiors had told him to stay out of the conflict, but his samurai honor told him otherwise. The military history of Japan's samurai is book-ended not by violence, but by diplomacy and civil service. The class' origins date back to the eighth century, when samurai were civil bureaucrats, and not yet warriors. In the early 20th century when Japan had fully embraced modern warfare, the samurai would return to their civil roots. "Samurai: The Warrior Transformed," at National Geographic explores the nonmilitary roles of the samurai throughout Japan's history. In a way, the samurai have always had two roles. The country's first trade agreement with Mexico, for instance, was struck by a shipwrecked Mexican diplomat named Rodrigo de Vivero and a Japanese shogun — in 1609.
Closes Sunday at the National Geographic Society, 1145 17th St. NW
Author talk: Jeff Shaara
Michael Shaara, author of "The Killer Angels," left some big boots for his son, Jeff, to fill. The elder Shaara's historical novel about the battle at Gettysburg was adapted and made into a critically praised film. So Shaara the younger wrote not only a prequel to his father's novel ("Gods and Generals," which also was adapted), but a sequel, "The Last Full Measure." Mr. Shaara then turned his attention to other wars. But he just couldn't stay away from America's defining war, and is now out with "A Blaze of Glory," about the Battle of Shiloh. This isn't exactly new territory — John Shelby Foote wrote about Shiloh more than 20 years ago. But newness isn't what makes Mr. Shaara's Civil War tomes bestsellers. Instead, it's the depth of the characters (both conscripts and commanders) and the intense humanity of the battles. As for why Mr. Shaara returned to the War Between the States after a long break: He said in a recent interview that fans of his work were tired of hearing about Robert E. Lee. So "A Blaze of Glory," as well as the two novels to follow (it's a trilogy, naturally) are set in the war's western theater.
Mr. Shaara reads Thursday at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Exhibit: 'Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women'
After nearly two centuries of conventional memoirs (starting, of course, with "Walden Pond"), it was only a matter of time before the genre jumped its own boundaries. In 2000, Marjane Satrapi gave us "Persepolis," a memoir in the form of a graphic novel that told the story of her coming of age in Iran during the revolution. Then it was like a dam broke: In quick succession we got Craig Thompson's "Blankets," Jeffrey Brown's "Clumsy," David Smalls' "Stitches." The graphic-novel memoir now has its own subgenres, one of which is on display at the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. The exhibit title "Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women" is a play on words. "Graphic" stands for the medium (this is what serious people call serious comic books), as well as the content of some of the comics. But it's not all NC-17. Sarah Lightman's work, for instance, is familial and funny, such as her rendering of a bag of oatcakes with the caption, "Oatcakes fill the silence when my friends don't call."
Through Sept. 2 at the Washington District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW
Exhibit: 'Mark Rothko: Seagram Murals'
The story behind Mark Rothko's Seagram murals is almost too bizarre to believe. The famed modernist painter was commissioned to decorate a room at the Four Seasons hotel in Manhattan. Rothko loved the idea so much that he painted 30 pieces instead of the seven that were commissioned. Then, at the last minute, he came to the conclusion that the Four Seasons was too bougie for his work, and withdrew. The National Gallery of Art acquired some of the pieces from the failed Seagram project in the 1980s, and has them on display. The Seagram pieces aren't typical Rothkos, which are bright, like the eponymous "Orange, Red, Yellow" that sold for $87 million earlier this year. These, by comparison, are dark — burgundies, maroons, reds — and rare.
To Aug. 15 at the National Gallery of Art's East Building, between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Ave. NW
Class: Drop-in belly dance instruction
Committing to a fitness routine isn't just about personal discipline, it's also about money. Joining a gym means being on the hook for a year's worth (sometimes more) of monthly debits, whether or not you work out, and harsh early termination fees whether or not your gym works out. Add in the cost of a personal trainer, and suddenly 50 minutes of exercise a day is costing you a couple hundred a month. There's an alternative not just to the gym, but to committing big bucks to working out. The Joy of Motion Dance Center in Bethesda offers one-time classes for the curious. This weekend, plus-size belly dancing legend Miasia ("to see her perform is to know the power of a real woman's body," her biographer claims) can walk you through the basics of the tummy tango. It's good for you, more spiritual than Zumba and less militant than a spin class.
Sunday at Joy of Motion Dance Center in the Air Rights Building, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 180E, Bethesda, Md.