Friday, August 22, 2014


In a perfect world, a man would write me poetry every night.

Since that isn't the case, I take it where I can get it.

Tonight, that began at the Criterion with a fellow film fan and a whole lot of buttered popcorn.

In many ways, the striking new film "Boyhood" was poetic, shot over the course of 12 years and a 2 3/4 hour (watch out, millennials, you'll need a full attention span for this one) plea to look more closely at your own life.

Will do. Happily.

The always fascinating Richard Linklater spent the past dozen years shooting scenes for a film where a young boy ages in real time. It's a marvel to watch.

As those of us who have done it know all too well, growing up is hard to do.

Make no mistake, this is not a traditional story with an arc and a fuzzy resolution; this is life as it unfolds, messy at times, often confusing and always riveting.

Adorable young kid becomes pimply adolescent and eventually, soul-searching college student. It's completely believable because we've all lived it.

And lest you be put off by the concept of a nearly three hour movie, let me assure you it passes so quickly you'll feel like a teenager at your first party when your parents show up.

What, already?

Believe me, you've never seen anything like this tour-de-force chronicling the life of a boy as he navigates a sister who sings Britney Spears to him, an alcoholic stepfather, being bullied, first love and leaving home for college.

Watching so much happen as a real kid ages is nothing short of amazing.

So what do you do once you've been bowled over by a landmark film?

Eat, drink and discuss it ad nauseum, natch.

After the movie and a bathroom break, we landed at Lucy's for dinner, finding a favorite bartender behind the bar.

"So, is it a Rose evening or more of a tequila night?" he inquired earnestly. Some people know me so well.

Rose in hand, I moved on to Bibb lettuce wraps of sour cream shrimp salad, a light and savory dinner to balance out the bucket o' popcorn I'd inhaled earlier.

Music was varied - lots of Simon & Garfunckel, CSNY and Cat Stevens - as we got into a discussion of the bartender's talent for haikus.

Naturally, I had to try to convince him to show up for Balliceaux's haiku nights rather than just blasting his haikus to the (as he called it) "Twitters-phere."

Why waste such poetic talent on the ignorant masses when you can have a small but fascinated live haiku audience?

My date offered me a bite of his outstanding pork loin with mustard jus and sugar snap peas as we listened to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and discussed wine, the eastern shore and looked at maps of Chapel Island.

The chef eventually came out, regaling us with tales from the tomato dinner a few weeks ago (veal stock that never simmered, oh, my!) and why catering-style plating is best.

Late in the evening, the bartender handed both me and my date a haiku, each written about us.

Woman about town
Bon vivant extraordinaire
The Karen Newton

I won't say that can't be topped, but it's been a while since anyone tried.

Here's hoping someone gets the ball rolling again.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Trekking down to the river for the umpteenth time this summer, I already knew I'd end up wet, listening to the rushing water, enjoying the breeze.

Once there and sitting on a rock, legs submerged up to my shorts, the light bulb went off. I'm pulling a Frederick.

I'm dreading summer ending. It's why I'm at the river - different parts, but close enough to hear and experience - almost every day.

One of my all-time favorite children's books was written by Italian artist Leo Lionni and told the story of an eccentric field mouse and his chatty field mice friends.

Other mice industriously spend their summer gathering grain and nuts for winter, but not Frederick.

Oh, no, Frederick has other ideas. He sits on a rock and the other mice chide him for his laziness.

"I do work. I gather sun rays for the cold, dark winter days," he tells them.

Another day, he gathers colors for when winter is gray. Still another he gathers words because winter days are long and gray and he knows they'll run out of things to say.

That's precisely what I'm doing.

My windows have been open since April when I first threw them up (not even closing them while I was at the beach for a week) and since I don't use air conditioning, my electric bills are negligible this time of year.

Fruit ripens practically overnight on my dining room table and conversations waft up from the sidewalk below morning, noon and night.

I hear rain before I see it.

And on these daily walks down to the river, I sit on a rock like Frederick did and absorb the sound of the rapids, of bird calls, of children screaming in delight in the water, of a summer breeze through the trees.

Because one again, summer is flying by and I'm trying with everything I have to store up the warmth of the sun, the bright colors that will soon fade to Fall and the interesting and kind words I get from friends and strangers.

Summertime..and for me, the living just doesn't get any easier or more wonderful than this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Get On the Right Thing

The invitation promised wistful, haunting, hip, exotic and playful.

Aspiring to all those things, I invited a friend to meet me for dinner and the show. Perfect, she said.

Planning to park once and party twice, I chose Aziza's for dinner, knowing how fond she is of the pizza.

Come to think of it, who isn't?

We were the first people in and took the table in the front window, which lasted just as long as it took for the sun to make a greenhouse of the restaurant's glass.

Wine (procured after she was carded at 35) and menus in hand, we moved to a shadier table, and no longer limp from the heat, the music caught my ear - early McCartney, so early my friend didn't even recognize it.

But then it was "Beth" by Kiss and you better believe she loved that. I was all about the Spinners' "Rubberband Man." Then Fleetwood Mac's "Say You Love Me." The O'Jays' "For the Love of Money."

Boston. Earth, Wind and Fire. Elton John.

I'm embarrassed to say we couldn't imagine what the starting point had been for the station, so we had to ask.

Duh. It was as simple as, ta-da, the seventies! Hunger had clearly dulled our brains.

Pizza took care of that - hers a margherita and mine a white with pancetta - as we discussed discos, Dallas versus Chicago (no contest) and how much her Mom had liked Wham! in the '80s.

By the time we finished gabbing and munching (I had a pile of pizza bones stacked high on my plate), we needed to hurry down the block to Globehopper or risk not getting a seat.

We snuck in the back door so we could score wine and sweets,only to find a rapidly growing crowd filling the little coffee shop from the front and back.

I saw plenty of familiar faces, including the J-Ward neighbors who had been kind enough to save us seats at the front table, and after buying a Rice Krispie treat to put the sweet ending to our dinner, we joined them up front.

My neighbor told a funny story of offering to make any dessert for her daughter's date and his request surprised the heck out of her - Rice Krispies treats.

We all have our soft spots (or chewy spots, as the case may be)/

Playing first was Uc (which means 3 in Turkish, a reference to the number of members) doing traditional Turkish music with guitar, drums and lute.

Actually, I didn't know it was a lute but my dinner date took a picture and sent it to her husband who supplied the answer.

Technology, satisfying curiosity 24/7.

I found myself taken by the traditional dance songs they played from western Turkey and influenced by Bulgaria. Before long, a woman stood up and began dancing, her long, tiered skirt sailing around her legs as she twirled and shimmied.

My friend turned to me. "I would have to be so drunk to do that."

On the following song, another woman got up and danced fluidly, an incongruous sight when a pack of people on Segways breezed by the big windows behind the band.

Toward the end of her dance, she danced over to a man at the bar and kissed him, so we're assuming they knew each other.

Either that, or Turkey is a far friendlier country than I ever realized.

When the woman stopped dancing while the music was still being played, the band wound the song down immediately.

"Why play when they stop dancing?" the lute player asked rhetorically. He had already explained to us that most of the dance songs had no real names; they were just referred to as "dance song from XYZ."

For the last song, the lute player switched to drum and with two drums and guitar, finished their set with a percussive flourish.

During the break, two teachers (and members of the crew of the Lady Slipper batteau team) joined our table for a spirited discussion of public education and a new charter school in Chesterfield County for girls, where one of them will teach.

By then, Globehopper was so overflowing with humanity that I feel safe in saying the fire marshall would have shut it down.

After working on tech issues with the sound system, Yeni Nostalji, a band that plays vintage Turkish pop classics from the '60s and '70s, was ready.

Although I've seen them several times now, tonight was the first night as a quintet with the addition of Rei on drums and Marlysse on keys.

Announcing that they'd begin their set with a pop song from Istanbul, guitar player Evrim explained, "Everyone wants a piece of this song because it's so beautiful. Like our vocalist, Christina."

That would be corny except it's absolutely true and she looked perfectly lovely tonight in a green lace top and fitted black skirt, her long, dark hair framing her face.

"We are here for your listening pleasure," Evrim said as Marlysse put on sunglasses, upping her cool factor even more. Tim the bass player, ever the pro, just smiled widely.

The sound system was giving them feedback problems and Christina inched toward the front door, announcing she was taking her mic and moving as far from the band as possible.

"Because I forgot deodorant," Evrim joked. "Like most Turkish men."

Major laughter.

Giving us a hint at the lyrics, Christina said, "Turning, the whole world is turning, except you back to me," before singing it in Turkish, a song that had all the emotional drama of a Petula Clark classic like "Kiss Me Goodbye."

But so did all the songs, which Christina worked dramatically with hand gestures and such dynamics in her voice, so unlike her hushed, understated delivery in her other band, Low Branches.

For the three friends with me who'd never seen her in this band, it was a revelation to see her so animated and assertive in her singing.

Evrim joined her, trading vocals and dueting with her, while also providing the comic relief between songs.

"A man goes to get his palm read and the reader wants to see her line on his hand, but it's not there," he said explaining lyrics for the upcoming song and then paused. "Oh, no, I gave it away."

Christina dedicated a song to Evrim's baba (father), saying, "He played guitar on the recording of this song from the '60s. He's not here tonight, he's in Turkey."

"If he were here, he'd be weeping," Evrim said.

There was one song where Christina read the entire lyric in English before singing it, beginning with, "I wish I were drunk to forget you for a second," and then launching into the song.

Midway through, Evrim called out to the capacity crowd, "Raise your glass if you got 'em!" and practically all of us did.

The music was fabulous, the band's sound so much fuller with the two additional musicians and about the only thing I'd have changed about the evening would have been to dim the lights and put candles on all the tables, as if we were in some subterranean Turkish club circa 1966.

You know, some place haunting, hip and exotic. Everyone would want a piece of that, especially me.

Staking my Territory

So I'm becoming this great explorer, discovering new things with every new walk.

Today I set my sights on Great Shiplock Park, a chance to see the half bascule bridge and walk the Capital Trail.

Starting out mid-morning, I was walking due east, not the easiest route that time of day.

At 18th Street, I picked up the Capital Trail, thrilled that it wound underneath the train bridge to provide shade.

An Amtrak train rattled by overhead, headed to Newport News. I know this only because of how much I've taken the train this summer.

Given the cloudless blue sky, I wasn't exactly thrilled when the trail moved from under the train bridge to along Dock Street, completely unshaded and more than a little steamy after the comfort of the shaded trail.

I passed two large men out getting their exercise, both sweating profusely, but both taking a moment to smile and say good morning.

Looking both ways - as the sign instructed-  to cross the train tracks, I was suddenly in Great Shiplock Park, which appeared considerably spruced up since I'd last been there maybe six years ago.

New to me were recycling containers and a PortaPotty, both thoughtful additions.

Just then, one train car rattled over the tracks I'd just crossed.

But it was when I crossed the canal that I realized I had new territory to stake.

I was now on Chapel Island, so called because an Episcopal chapel was situated there until 1741 when St. John's was built on Church Hill.

How crazy is that? A church on an island between the canal and river? Who knew about this?

After that, the sign said, it was home to a fishery, Mrs. Jane King's ice house and William Trigg's ship-building business.

Since I'm all about some island trail walking, I set out on the wide, gravel trail only to stop dead in my tracks when I saw a black and gold snake sunning itself in the trail eight feet ahead.

Not that anyone was around to hear me, but I said something along the lines of, "Oh, no, get out of here!" which the snake ignored until I picked up a handful of gravel and tossed it in his direction, causing him to slither into the underbrush.

Bugs I can do (well, squash, and the spiderwebs were rampant - clearly this trail isn't walked often or the spiders are just unusually industrious) but snakes I want no part of.

Once he scrammed, I kept on, amazed at this little island I'd never heard of. There were even a couple of boat ramps.

When I got around to the other side, I could hear the river and it soon appeared through the trees.

I found an overlook, although not very high, with a couple of rustic benches, a marker and a view of a guy in a boat trolling along the shoreline, fishing rod in hand.

Naturally, I did what any explorer would do. I threw my arms in the air and yelled to the river that I was queen of Chapel Island. No, really, I did.

But it was also a learning experience because according to one of the signs I'd read, you can even catch blue crabs in this part of the river, where the river is tidal (although not salty).


Walking back around the trail, I marveled at this brand new-to-me island only 2 1/2 miles from my house. I can't wait to show it some of my favorite walkers.

After retracing my steps on the Capital Trail, more pleasant with the sun on my back, I opted for my favorite way to cover the distance from 14th to 5th Street (despite having to walk further south to catch it): the pipeline walkway.

It's amazing how much shorter those nine blocks seem when walking on a shady trail with the river on both sides of me.

Of course, my first stop was the little sandy beach where I ditched my shoes and socks and waded out into the river up to my shorts, a reward for my feet and legs for the first three miles of the walk.

Heading back up the hills away from the river, I felt pleased as punch with myself for having made a discovery today.

Some queens send out explorers; others do the exploring themselves.

Me and Mrs. Jane King, women for the ages.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Downtown Soulville Cobbler

The cheese let us down, so we had to punt.

Pru had been dying to join me for not so classic movie night, so we made plans that tonight would finally be the night that she'd get to join me for some classic cheesy film.

So you can imagine her disappointment when I checked on the film only to discover that tonight's installment wasn't happening.

We were too late to catch an early movie and Pru gets up too early to attend a late one, so we found ourselves without plans.

That's where the punting came in. When all else fails, there's always the fallback: eat, drink and be merry.

Off we went for our second foray to Metzger, where unlike last time, we found a civilized room not so full we felt guilty for lingering.

When I chose the light and crisp Anton Bauer Rose, Pru followed suit, trusting me on this one.

As we sipped our pink and looked over the menu, we both noticed the stellar music playing, vintage soul worthy of doing the pony or the frug to, but not a single recognizable song in the bunch. Outstanding.

It's rare I'm so taken with the music in a restaurant when I don't recognize it, but this was classic '60s obscurities that made us both want to dance Hullabaloo-style on our bar stools.

We were told it was dollar oyster night, something I would ordinarily jump on, but that dozen I'd had after breakfast had done me for the day.

A girl doesn't need an oyster overdose.

After hearing the specials, we chose squash blossoms stuffed with housemade herbed quark with tomato puree and a divine side salad of baby sliced zucchini in dill creme fraiche.

The dish was absolutely killer and that zucchini salad was so incredibly delicious it could have stood on its own.

Meanwhile, I heard about and saw pictures from Pru's annual river retreat, a long, debauched weekend of food, drink and laughter.

If only she'd remembered to bring underwear.

Next came a summer bean salad of green beans, kidney beans, rye berries, cured duck breast and quark, a unique combination not seen just anywhere.

And if it sounds like we were being overrun with quark, remember this began as a night devoted to cheese, so we had no problem with it.

The sausage board brought all kinds of Sausagecraft deliciousness to enjoy with grainy mustard: earthy Amerikrainer with sharp cheddar cheese and pickled cherry peppers, grilled franks and rough-hewn Nuremberg.

By the time the board was down to the last piece of frank, I deferred to Pru who refused on the grounds that she'd reached an elegant sufficiency.

Never one to give up on eating when dessert can still be had, I inquired about the sweet possibilities.

But it was when the bartender came over to suggest that we have more Rose and wait for the blueberry cobbler to come out of the oven (a mere ten minutes more, we were promised) that I pulled rank and said yes to the wait.

Unbeknownst to Pru - who assumed my devotion to chocolate precluded all other desserts - I am devoted to cooked blueberries, whether in pie, cobbler or crisp form

When the steaming hot dish of lusciously-colored cobbler arrived, we were warned to wait lest we burn our tongues.

It wasn't easy and the minute scoop of ice cream barely held its own against the heat before we dug in.

Well worth the wait, my only quibble would be that it was more crisp than cobbler, although, truth be told, I prefer crisp to cobbler, so it was a score for me.

Ditto the music, which was delighting me with every new-to-me song that played. Thanks, Mr. Fine Wine.

Some cheesy movie nights just weren't meant to be and sometimes that's a good thing.

An Aphrodisiac of a Morning

It takes a damn good reason to get me out of bed before 9, but oysters and wine will do it.

Governor Terry McAuliffe was holding a celebratory press conference on the front lawn of the Executive Mansion announcing the creation of the Virginia oyster trail.

Because a lot of Virginia's seven oyster regions share watersheds with many Virginia wineries, it's a tourism match made in heaven.

Let's face it, this is nothing I didn't already know first hand, having been to so many Virginia wineries and having visited so many Virginia oyster businesses in the pursuit of writing articles about all aspects of oysters: farming, home gardening, restaurants, shucking and selling.

Still, why would I turn down a chance to be eating bivalves and sipping wine a mere half an hour after breakfast?

After the speeches by the governor, secretary of agriculture and first lady, I moved on to the morning's real agenda of slurping and sipping.

One of my goals for September is to make it to Chatham Vineyards on the eastern shore, so I began with Cherrystone Aqua Farms oysters sublimely paired with Chatham's steel fermented Church Creek Chardonnay.

As a bonus, a guy with the Virginia Tourism Board gave me a recommendation for the best fried chicken on the eastern shore, so my Chatham trip plans were further enhanced.

I do so love a good salty oyster with a wine grown by the sea ("What grows together goes together," the first lady quipped), so I kept my salinity streak going with Ruby Salt Oyster Company from the lower Bay, eastern shore and paired with Trump Winery's sparkling Rose, a beautiful expression of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Not to brag, but I was two for two.

In my quest to hit as many oyster regions as possible, I also tried Shore Seafood oysters from the upper bay and Johnson & Sons from Tidewater.

The award for fattest oysters went to Ward Oyster Company from the lower bay, western shore and paired with Stinson Chardonnay, a winery I'd visited on a snowy day back in January 2013.

Give me heat over cold any day.

By then, between the oppressive morning sun and wine and oysters after breakfast, I was feeling a tad rich (or should I make that randy?) but soldiered on for one last sentimental stop at Windmill Point Oyster Company.

It was just last Monday that I'd visited Windmill Point for the first time and while all we'd done there was walk the beach, I at least had a frame of reference I wouldn't have had before then.

Naturally, my first question of the oyster farmer was why it was called that and if there had ever been a windmill.

Chuckling, he said he didn't know but that the plan was to build one on their property...eventually.

For those keeping track, that's six of the seven oyster regions because I didn't feel the need to eat at the Rappahannock River Oyster Company since I already do so often (see: last Monday at Merroir).

So there you have it: me up early, working a press conference, meeting the governor ("Thanks so much for coming") and slurping down a dozen oysters and three wines before 11:15.

Not a bad start to the day, eh?

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Lifetime Ago

It was a night for tacos and commemoration.

We were the first people in Boka Tako Bar where tonight's empanada special was scallop and bacon with ancho remoulade, an irresistible combo with Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc.

He followed that with the Gauntlet, the best order for anyone who's a first-timer at Boka (which he was), while I chose my own trio (not my first Boka rodeo): fish, crispy pork belly (my fave of the three) and chorizo and stuffed myself silly .

With a solid soundtrack of Interpol, Pinback and Band of Horses playing, we watched as the place filled up almost entirely. I know the one time I arrived at 7, the place was standing room only.

I won't make that mistake again.

Bulging at the seams and with hungry diners waiting for our booth, we took a walk around the block in the sultry evening air so humid it felt heavy before driving over to the Byrd.

The James River Film Society was doing a celebration of Robin Williams' life by showing "The World According to Garp," a film I hadn't seen since it opened in theaters in 1982.

When I'd suggested it to my date, I loved his response. "Always up for a John Irving creation!" Like me, he'd enjoyed many of Irving's books and resulting films.

There was a decent-sized crowd, nowhere near full, but I'm not sure how well advertised the benefit screening was.

No question, the movie has aged well and the performances - Williams', Glenn Close's and John Lithgow's - still resonate, although it's one bad '80s costume after another.

And because it's based on a John Irving book, it's full of the kind of odd occurrences (Garp and his new bride looking at a house to buy when a plane crashes into it) and characters (a pro football player transsexual, a kid discussing getting glass eyes to coordinate with holidays ).

As always, I reveled in the cultural details: nurses wearing white uniforms and caps, wall pay phones, kids thinking being taken out to dinner was a big deal.

Oh, yes, and kids didn't wear seat belts, whether in the back seat or up front in Mom's lap.

Most telling about cultural shifts was the scene where the child Garp is pretending to be a military pilot on the roof of the dorm. When he slips, hanging from the roof and calling for help, students and teachers come running.

One adult yells to the students to get their mattresses quickly to put under the roof line in case Garp falls.

I can't help but think that the same event today would elicit two very different responses: calling the fire department and taking pictures instead of just problem-solving to handle the situation at hand.

One of the most striking things about Robin Williams was not how young he was (31), but how lithe and agile he appeared, even playing a teenager believably. Most of my memories of him are as a solidly-built (and extremely hirsute) middle-aged man.

Before the movie, manager Todd Schall-Vass said that given the range of his career, truthfully they could do a whole week of showing classic Robin Williams movies (not that they were planning to).

Absolutely true. I'd hope for "Dead Poets Society" and "Fisher King" as numbers two and three.

But what I'd really prefer is for us not to have a reason to commemorate him yet.

But the last line of the John Irving novel warned us. "In the world according to Garp, we're all terminal cases." Sadly.

Better to remember Robin Williams' last line in the film.

"I'm flying."

Follow the Rip Rap

I'm becoming a regular. Today's walk took me to southside again.

This time, I walked down 14th Street, spotting the green Google earth mapping car along the way.

With a red camera mounted atop a column on the roof of the car, it looked a little like a colorful bug with a long neck.

I'm actually that geek who had wondered how all those Google Earth photos were taken.

Taking my chances, I trespassed to walk alongside the floodwall on the north bank before heading across the Mayo bridge, so different from the other bridges I've walked because of its heavy stone sides and relatively low height.

I expected to see a few fishermen, maybe James "Cowboy" Smith, the guy who'd told me he'd caught more catfish in the James than anyone else, but the only people on the bridge were guys toting bags of cans to the recycling station.

Everyone's got to earn a living.

Once on the other side, I climbed the ramp to the overlook on the western side, disappointed that I didn't see a path anywhere.

Somehow I'd expected this to be easier than it was. All I wanted was a trail.

Of course, all I had to do was cross under the bridge to pick up the floodwall walk and while parts of it were marked slave trail, I didn't take it all the way to the Manchester docks.

That's a walk for another day.

A line of geese swam along side me as I made my way, honking occasionally to jolt me out of my reverie.

Coming back across the bridge, I passed a shirtless guy, ear buds around his neck, who greeted me.

"Has anyone told you today that you're beautiful?" he asked apropos of nothing. Nope.
"Well, you are."

People say the nicest things to sweaty women.

Rather than retrace my steps home once over the bridge, I took the ladder down to the pipeline walkway at 14th Street and came back along the river and over Brown's Island.

Moms with young children were picnicking while people in business attire walked the perimeter on their lunch hour.

A train chugged by on the upper track and the man riding shotgun waved down at me.

Another successful foray into new walking territory. Next!

Clap My Hands

Who wouldn't want her Sunday to begin with an affair to remember?

It would be a juicier blog post if I'd been the one having the affair, but it was Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in the 1957 (back when money was called lettuce and women called tomatoes) romance classic of that name.

Buying my ticket at Movieland, I could guess which people in line ahead of me were headed to the same flick: all the women.

I saw only one man in the entire theater and he was old and coughed through all the romantic scenes.

The story couldn't have been more basic: two engaged people - Nickie and Terry - meet on an ocean liner (where they regularly get telegrams) and fall madly in love.

Oh, to have been alive during the golden, glamour days of ocean liners as the preferred method of trans-Atlantic travel!

Sure she tries to fight Nickie's charm with lines such as, "My mother told me never enter a man's room in months ending in R." But he's irresistible.

Her favorite beverage is pink champagne, making her my personal hero, never more so than when they decide to abandon the nosy people at the bar. She dips a finger in her champagne and dabs it behind her ear as she leaves with Nickie.

It must be effective because they're soon goo-goo eyed about each other.

Moral of the story (as stated by Nickie's French grandmother): There's nothing wrong with Nickie that a good woman couldn't fix.

With that information to fortify me, I left for a date myself, albeit not on the USS Constitution.

My date had chosen a progressive meal beginning with wings on Starlite's patio and Tom Jones' "Delilah" on the speakers (followed by Player and Rush - explain that connection to me).

We chose Secco next, hoping to hit the sweet spot between brunch and the evening crowd and with the exception of a large party who'd brought a child (to a wine bar, really?) who was now sprawled on the floor beside the imbibing adults ignoring her, we succeeded.

Taking a page from Terry's book, we ordered Lucien Crochet Pinot Sancerre Rose, as beautiful to the eye (later, a nearby table had to know what we were drinking) as on the palate.

Pru will be so envious, eager as she's been to sip pink Sancerre.

To accompany such loveliness, we had housemade herb sausage with apricot puree, smoky goat cheese-stuffed squash blossoms and Grayson cheese while the music ranged from Talking Heads to Prince to the Police.

But the topic of the hour was the soundtrack to "Fading Gigolo," a treasure trove of '60s Italian and French jazz which I'd fallen hard for when I'd seen the movie and which the owner had just gotten from Plan 9 Records.

Swoon-worthy romantic music.

Our final grazing spot was Level, a place I'd been several times but one he'd never set foot in, so we noshed on spicy Thai tropical shrimp (points for the mango and asparagus) and an angry drago roll stuffed with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna and sliced papaya.

We were the only table for most of our meal until two other couples arrived to give the staff something to do.

Only then, after five hours of eating and talking were we ready to go to the show that was the primary reason for our date in the first place.

Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah was playing at the Camel, making for a stellar opportunity to see a band that could play a far bigger venue in a small one.

Just so you know, they are the band that made my friend Andrew want to be my friend.

Years ago, we were driving to a video shoot and discussing music and when I mentioned bands I liked, it was Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah that made him sit up and take notice of my musical taste.

To him, they were the band that established my musical bona fides. All these years later, we've been to scads of shows together.

So the band holds a special place in my musical heart.

Colin and Caroline played first and we stood in the back to watch this local duo cover MGMT ("Kids"), Disclosure ("Latch") and do a few original songs.

Anticipating a crush of people soon, I had the brilliant idea to take up residence on the top of the back-most booth where we were out of the fray with room for our bevvies and a sight line over the heads of the crowd.

Short girl score.

CYHSY's lead singer Alec Ounsworth did a solid solo set next and the tragic part was how many people talked loudly through his set, probably oblivious to who was playing, namely the leader of the band they'd paid to see.

After playing "Yankee Go Home," appropriate because he said he was headed back to Philly tonight, he told the noisy room, "These aren't songs the band is going to play," but it didn't seem to shut anyone up.

I know the Camel isn't a listening room, but, sheesh, you'd think people would want to hear the music.

Now, when Alec and CYHSY came out, it was a different story.

From the first notes, the band played the herky-jerky indie dance pop that the fans had come to hear.

In no time, the room was dancing and singing along, totally enthralled with every song the band did.

The first song of theirs anyone remembers, "Is This Love?" got a wildly enthusiastic reaction, as did "In This Home on Ice" and "Gimme Some Salt."

People were doing call and response on "Satan Said Dance" and, yes, dancing just like the devil said to.

Tonight was the final night of a three week tour with no days off and the band sounded as tight as you'd expect after playing for 21 days straight.

Even better, despite it being nine years since that first album, they appeared to be having a lot of fun playing. Bass player Matt especially was fun to watch as he smiled and danced as if he were having a ball.

For that matter, so was I. The only thing missing from my all day affair was putting a little Rose behind my ears.

There's always next time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lucky Me

The first rule of the Down Home Family Reunion is you don't leave.

That is, if you live in Jackson Ward, you don't want to risk giving up your parking space because chances are, you won't easily find a replacement in the neighborhood all day and night today.

Fair enough. After a wildly busy week (I was away five of the last seven days), it didn't take much incentive to keep me in the 'hood for food and music.

All afternoon long, cars had been driving down Clay Street, music blaring into my open windows, for the most part classic R & B such as Roberta Flack and Rick James.

People were gearing up for the show.

Bound for the Rogue Gentlemen down Leigh Street, I got a backside view of the stage and Proverbs Reggae Band giving it their all for the crowd.

Walking down St. Peter Street past endless lines of cars circling the block for non-existent parking spaces, I saw a cop at the end near where the street was blocked off.

Pointing out that at least he could hear the band despite not being able to see it, he said, "I've been working this festival for ten years and I like it fine from right here."

Amen, brother.

At the Rogue Gentlemen, I found the bar empty and took a stool at the end where the music (Killers, Black Keys, Kooks) was easy to hear.

Starving after this morning's nearly seven mile hike, part of it along the Northbank trail, I proceeded to order far too much food.

Lemon verbena tomato gazpacho with pressed melon, pine nuts and buttermilk got me started on solid footing with the exquisitely melded flavors of summer.

A man came in and sat down at the bar around the time my pork crepinette - a good-sized flattened sausage patty - was delivered.

Vermouth-soaked cherries complemented the saltiness of the sausage and a soft-cooked quail egg added richness.

On the side was frisee with speck and pistachios, making for a decadent plate of food.

Midway through tucking into it, my sweet corn agnolotti showed up and I immediately switched over to that for fear of overindulging in pig and not being able to fully appreciate the little dumplings.

Floating in a pale orange sea of paprika butter and ringed with heirloom yellow cherry tomatoes and sprinkled with Pecorino Toscano and bits of guanciale (cured pork jowls), wonderful flavors all, it was the purity and sweetness of the summer corn in the agnolotti that was the undisputed flavor star of the dish.

As it should be.

Like the tomatoes and melon in my soup, there is no better time to be savoring them.

Walking home, I saw that people were arriving in droves to add to the already teeming crowd, so I went to get my chair and join the other music lovers in the park.

It was between sets so Al Green was blasting from the speakers and I found a place to set up with an unobstructed view.

People watching was great because so many people were styling for the festival and despite it being held in a field, there were lots of high heels.

After a while, a guy came over and asked if I was ready for the show.

Telling him I was, he said, "You look comfortable. I like to see that!"

Not long after, a woman came by passing out fliers reminding people to vote (not that I ever forget).

Then the guy came back to ask if I was alone and although I told him I was waiting for a date, he took that as a cue to stand behind me and tell his friend what a terrific singing voice he had.

To prove it, he began singing.

You must be a special lady
And a very exciting girl

The Elegba Folklore Society's dancers and drummers performed next and then there was an unexpected lag for Ray, Goodman and Brown.

After all kinds of delay tactics, MC Micah "Boom Boom" White admitted that there had been some mis-communication and that the band, who had been here earlier, had thought they were due at a much later time than they actually were.

The good news was they were just arriving, but with set -up and sound checking, it was practically 11 when they took the stage.

Their set had supposed to run from 9:30 to 11. Oops.

"It's been a long time since we played Richmond," singer Billy "Get Down" Brown told the crowd. "We used to play DJ's Supper Club!"

A woman in the crowd corrected him. "TJ's Supper Club. And I was your waitress!"

With a full band behind the three singers, they took us back to the days of love songs, even doing the synchronized hand gestures and dance steps to every song.

They'd been introduced as the band who were originally called as The Moments and known for their incredibly tight harmonies.

Their mouths were barely open before it was clear that all three voices were still spot on.

Referring to Barry White-like songs that women love, Billy said, "All you gotta do is sit on the bed and drop the needle on the record and let Barry sing. Then I say, take it off, baby. Well, we got a song just like that for the ladies here."

He wasn't lying. From "With You" ("loving you is easier than breathing") to "Look at Me" ("I'm in love") to "Lovely Way She Loves," it was music made for scoring.

When someone in the golden circle yelled out a request, he said, "Yes, honey, we're gonna do that. We're gonna do two way street and three way street."

Given the band's late start, I think everyone in the crowd was worried that they'd have to cut their set short.

The woman nearest me about lost it when they kicked into "I Don't Wanna Go," but everyone seemed to have their favorites.

"Special Lady," the song the guy had been serenading me with earlier, got the full singalong treatment with men and women doing separate parts.

Things got groovy when all three singers were introduced by name, zodiac sign and birth city,

I was impressed that Kevin used to sing with Luther Vandross but also bowled over that Billy's voice still hit those notes on the hits I recognized.

The crowd, meanwhile, danced and even sang along like they were back in high school.

Of course, the most reaction came for "Love on a Two-Way Street" and people began singing at the top of their lungs.

"It's the Richmond Tabernacle Choir!" Billy said as we sang and an extended arrangement took the song long past the three-minute mark.

It was a shame we only got a 45 minute set, but life's not always fair. Killer harmonies helped make up for fewer songs.

As I made my way toward home among clusters of people dragging chairs, I heard more than one ask a companion, "Where did we park?"

Happily, some of us didn't have that concern. We'd never left the 'hood.

Down home is right here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stylish Self Control

I'm not most people's first choice for going to a museum.

You see, I'm that art geek who can spend six hours looking at art with only a half hour for lunch and a couple of bathroom breaks.

Luckily for me, I happen to know someone who can do the same.

Even better, Moira's an artist, so she can fill me in when I see a term I don't recognize, like casein paint, which we saw a surprising amount of today.

Where to start with a day filled with so much fantastic art that my head is still spinning?

"An American in London: Whistler and the Thames" at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery set the bar incredibly high right off the bat.

Over 80 works - paintings, drawings and prints - detailed the changes going on along London's Thames river during the period Whistler lived there.

Looking at a print, suddenly there was a little boy in front of us holding up a magnifying glass to more closely examine the highly detailed picture.

Sure enough, the gallery had a whole rack of glasses, the better to see the minute detail of Whistler's work, and two of them were soon in our hands.

At one point, after reading about Whistler's second mistress, Moira turned to me and said, "Okay, we need a really great biography of Whistler now."

Don't I know it.

It was almost too much to take in, from his colorful early works to the later impressionistic ones that had the art critics in a tizzy over their near abstraction. And the man's use of color - blue particularly- was nothing short of breathtaking.

After a walk through the Smithsonian Castle garden, we ate lunch in the cafe, inhaling chicken salad with dried cherries and arugula and double chocolate cupcakes while people watching.

My favorite was the woman who looked like a pack animal, her belt strung with a fanny pack, a seat cushion, a bag from the museum's gift shop and on the back, a small stuffed dog. Heaven only knows what was hanging from that belt by the end of the day.

Next stop: National Gallery of Art where we made a beeline for Titian's "Danae," on short term loan from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

The sensual image of Danae awaiting a visit from Jupiter with Cupid at her side was stunning and a reminder that beautiful women have curves.

Walking in to "Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In" was like walking into an old beach house; you could practically smell the salty air.

"Wind from the Sea" was the centerpiece of an exhibition where every painting and sketch featured images of windows, spare and elegant and in many cases, open to a gentle breeze causing tattered lace curtains to flutter.

Many paintings showed the bedroom windows of Christina Olsen, the crippled woman who became his model for so many years.

We agreed that the work, sometimes bordering on abstraction, often a study in tonality, proved that while Wyeth was considered old-fashioned in his time because of the emphasis on action painting and abstract expressionism, that was far from the case.

I found it especially fascinating to look at the studies that preceded the paintings to see how he reworked compositions, deleting elements until he'd achieved the most possible with the least number of elements.

Andrew, we hardly knew ye.

Then it was on to our third American of the morning, although this one accompanied by a Frenchman.

"Degas/Cassatt" was a feast for the eyes, covering the period when the older, established French master took the younger American female artist under his wing.

Cassatt's art has such a decidedly female bent - subject, palette, handling - that I couldn't help but respond to it instinctively.

Included was the VMFA Cassatt, "Child Picking Fruit," and we both felt a little local pride at seeing it as part of this landmark show.

If I could have left with one piece, it would have been "Woman Bathing," a color drypoint showing a woman in a striped robe stripped to the waist on a patterned rug surrounded by the bluest of walls.

So feminine, so beautiful.

About "Young Woman Picking Fruit," Degas had written, "No woman has a right to draw like that," a major compliment that only sounds like a sexist remark.

Hands down my favorite Degas was the series "Mary Cassatt at the Louvre," showing Cassatt from behind, dressed stylishly, leaning on a walking stick, the curve of her waist and hip quite provocative.

You can tell from her intent gaze at a painting that this is an educated and intelligent woman who also happens to be very attractive.

And she is, by far, the most feminine of all the women depicted by Degas in the show.

By now our heads were spinning from all the wonderful things we'd seen.

Did we take a break? We did not. Instead, we headed directly to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery for more.

"Modern American Realism" covered the period from 1910 to 1980 and contained a lot of artists who are just now getting the recognition they deserve in addition to the expected Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence and Paul Cadmus.

And, just so you know, there was a lot of casein paint used during those years.

One of the most whimsical was Philip Evergood's colorful "Dowager in a Wheelchair" showing an aged, fat woman being pushed by a nubile, fresh-faced young thing down a bustling city street circa 1952.

No, she did not have a fanny pack or seat cushion strapped to her wheelchair.

It was a stellar show and strong reminder of how many artists were sticking to realism through the years of abstraction and pop art.

Our final museum was the Portrait Gallery for "American Cool," a photography show that attempted to define coolness, defined as "stylish self control."

Some of the photos were just plain extraordinary: Carlos Santana at 25, all soft eyes and full lips; Jimi Hendrix at 25, shot by Linda McCartney, with a sly grin on his face; an atmospheric Allen Ginsburg photo of William Burroughs from 1953.

Some of the galleries had video of the people in the photographs and early footage of Chrissie Hynde reminded me how gorgeous she was in the '80s with her great haircut and comfortable sexuality.

Paul Newman was gorgeous at 34 and Marvin Gaye was intense at the same age. Willie Nelson was downright handsome.

At the end of the exhibit was a list of people who had been considered for the exhibition and deemed not cool enough.Sort of a wannabe list.

The guard made a joke that his name had been mistakenly left off.

And our final exhibit (drum roll, please) was "Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction," an array of mid-century portraits done at a time when portraiture was considered old, dull and very uncool.

These works were anything but.

Here we found a Warhol portrait of Jamie Wyeth, Andrew's son, as well as a Jamie Wyeth portrait of Warhol.

We'd been at this art thing so long today that motifs were starting to repeat themselves.

It was time for happy hour.

Needing to process all that art, we got ourselves to Mockingbird Hill, a sherry and ham bar that welcomed us with sunny stools and a flight of sherries labeled "Dias Baccanalia," a fitting Friday descriptor.

Dias Bacus "Ria Pita" Manzanilla was paired with olives. Grant "La Garrocha" Amontillado, probably my favorite of the three, came with peanuts.

Spanish hand-carved Mangalica was magical ham from a wooly pig, fatty and cured to perfection.

The final sherry - with a hint of cherries and screaming to be an after dinner sipper -was Gonzalez Beass "Christina" Medium Olorosa paired with chunks of walnut brittle.

That's right, Christina sherry. Now art was following us into the bar.

It was time for our art bacchanalia to end and return to Richmond.

Degas knew. No women have a right to take so much pleasure from art.