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Polar Bear Plunge

Many have called me crazy, but for the second year in a row I will be wading into Lake Washington on Tuesday morning to start off the new year. It all started last Dec. 31 with a friend’s suggestion, and after a bit of hesitation, I joined the throngs (many in costume) at Matthews Beach for a bracing start to 2012. And to answer the questions I get most often; no, you don’t jump off a dock — you walk into the lake; to get the official patch, you have to immerse yourself (put your entire head under water); and yes, it’s very, very, very, very cold (

Doug Knoop, Seattle Times staff

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‘Downton Abbey’s’ Maggie Smith

No one does withering sarcasm and delicious snootiness better than Lady Violet Crawley. And no one, but no one, is imaginable as this grande dame of the wildly successful dynastic British TV series “Downton Abbey” (which airs its third season in the U.S. on PBS starting on Jan. 6) other than the revered British actress Maggie Smith. Smith can raise a pinky, curl a lip and roll her eyes, deliver a bon mot and flaunt her regality with the best of ’em. In Season 3 she goes toe to toe with another richly upholstered and wickedly outspoken matron, Texas heiress Martha Levinson (played by another leading actress of a certain age, Shirley MacLaine). But in any battle of wits and wiles, no one bests Maggie’s Lady Violet. She’s as formidable a presence as Downton Abbey itself.

Misha Berson, Seattle Times arts writer


Video art

Algerian artist Neïl Beloufa’s two video installations at the Henry Art Gallery provide wildly contrasting takes on urban life, and they’re fascinating. One of them records citizens of Vancouver, B.C., who all but declare the place paradise. But their rapture — projected through a curious, multi-screened prism-like set-up — feels a bit suspect. The other is a study in paranoia as five speakers comment on aerial shots of an event in an apartment-house neighborhood. Is it crime? A terror conspiracy? Nothing at all? This is creepy, funny, disorienting stuff by an artist who deserves a full-scale show here. Part of the Henry’s “En plein air” exhibit through Feb. 16, 2013 (

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer

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