Sunday, May 20, 2018

Planners Gotta Plan

As weekends away go, it had everything.

A fair amount of rain, yes, but also my first time on the National Gallery of Art's East Building rooftop terrace (yes, the one with the bright blue rooster sculpture) overlooking Constitution Avenue's puddle-slicked lanes. To the right, the Capital seemed close enough to touch.

Truth is, I've been devoted to the National Gallery since fourth grade and it can still thrill me with something new or different.

Art, natch, with the NGA's "Cezanne: Portraits" - surely never did a man repeatedly portray his wife in such a dour manner -  and the captivating newish Calder Gallery where I saw Piet Mondrian's influence on Calder's painting for the first time. The lighting in the gallery masterfully cast shadows on mobiles and stabiles, in many cases (see: "The Rearing Stallion") rendering shadows that looked quite different from the source.

Let's just say the Calder fan with me was transported.

There was the new-to-my mouth neighborhood of Del Ray where we sipped Hillinger Secco Rose at the Evening Star's atmospherically dark lounge and ate in a former house, now the farm-to-table (and French) Del Ray Cafe, which got bonus points when it seemed that every server spoke multiple languages, depending on which table they were speaking to. Or perhaps my head was turned by the chocolate beignets with orange creme anglaise accompanied by glasses of Port.

That's my kind of final course.

This trip definitely had fog. Walking toward the mall mid-morning, we found the Washington monument so shrouded in fog that its top third appeared lost in the atmosphere. Later, at Hank's Oyster Bar for Montand Brut Rose, gazpacho and tuna tartare, TV screens showed us an eerily foggy racetrack with horses being trotted out at Pimlico.

My Dad would be so proud if he knew I saw even a few minutes of one of his favorite sports. I mean, what girl-child doesn't remember going with her father to get a copy of The Racing Form from the drugstore?

Succulent cobia collar (and a charming server from Ukraine) were the bright spot at Vermilion, a place that could take itself a lot less seriously but is too self-involved to realize such a thing. At least the company was superb.

Architecture came courtesy of a private tour of the Pope-Leighey House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian (one story, affordable, small) houses, a tour given by a man so deeply involved with the house that he'd made some of the furniture reproductions in the house.

There were many things about the house that impressed me, not the least of which was a screened porch complete with screened roof that the original owners had used as a place for the kids to play while Mom cooked dinner. Child cage, screened porch, potatoes, potahtoes, call it what you like. It was a magnificent outdoor room.

I was told I got the star treatment when our guide opened up the dining room's two corner windows - yes, they were floor to ceiling windows - out into the yard. Apparently, most visitors don't get those windows opened so they can walk out them the way god and Frank Lloyd Wright intended.

We'll call that good birthday karma, although not mine.

A driving tour of mid-century modern neighborhood Hollin Hills provided an up-close look at what happens when a neighborhood association takes pains to insure that such concentrated housing stock stays true to its origins. House after house looked pretty much as it had been designed in the '40s, a startling reality in 2018.

As a fan of complementary colors, I found the bright yellow car parked in front of a low-slung purple house with clerestory windows especially fetching.

A meandering drive down the Parkway and along Route 1 (please, can we just take down those Jefferson Davis Highway signs and be done with it?) landed us in Fredericksburg by mid-afternoon, where we first tried out a rooftop deck before switching to the patio for the sake of being able to order brick oven pizza and wile away the hours discussing baseball, feminist writers and the definition of romance.

When our server discovered there was a birthday celebrant at the table, she offered up the traditional birthday cannoli (you know the one), a kind offer, but one which neither Taurus nor Gemini had room for after an elegant sufficiency of two pies, an arugula salad and a memorable weekend.

Next step: rinse and repeat.

I'm doing my best to hang on, but it's looking like it's going to be a wild ride. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sea Shell Millionaire

It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Say you're laying in bed at night and hear the distinctive sound of seashells hitting together just outside your bedroom.

It's not entirely unlikely, even in an urban jungle like Jackson Ward, because on my March foray to Cape May, Mac and I had scoured the Wildwood beach, with me scoring 17 sand-crusted conch shells which I loaded into a couple of found bags and toted home like a true tourist.

Since returning from Wildwood two months ago, the bags o' shells have been sitting on my balcony awaiting their fate. When I did my big Spring cleaning of the balcony last week, I'd moved the bags off the balcony and on to the first floor roof adjacent to the balcony to get them out of the way.

Of course, then I'd promptly forgotten about them, at least until Sunday night around midnight when I'd been awakened by the sound of shells banging against one another.

It certainly wasn't enough to get me out of bed to investigate, but I did glance out the bedroom window (which overlooks the balcony), only to see nothing unusual. One could say that darkness and uncorrected vision didn't make it any easier. If there was a roof prowler or seashell thief out there, they were tucked out of sight, and since I take getting my 9 hours of sleep pretty seriously, I gave up caring.

Imagine my surprise then when I went out on the balcony this morning and spotted the bags of shells ripped open with seashells scattered around the roof. Climbing over the railing to retrieve them - my first time walking on that roof since I moved in 9 years ago - I couldn't help but wondering who could have possibly taken most of the shells out of the bag.

A cat? My neighbor? A wild critter? That last one isn't quite as unlikely as it seems since I once woke up to find that some animal had climbed onto my balcony and removed cans from the recycler, presumably to lick, and left them sitting on the balcony floor. My neighbor's bathroom window faces over that same little roof and I noticed the window screen was sitting on the roof instead of being mounted in the window, so was he (or his goofy girlfriend) a suspect, too?

Beats me.

I finally knocked the New Jersey sand out of the shells and lined them up along one side of the balcony, sort of a repeating motif of long-gone animal homes, all fully intact and most still displaying their opalescent salmon-colored interiors. Souvenirs of a post-Nor'easter beach vacation that required gloves, hats and long pants but delivered long, windy walks, gingerbread architecture and tasty local oysters.

All I can say is, if I go out there in the morning and the shells are rearranged, I should probably have some serious concerns. But if something happens worth investigating during the next 9 hours, I make no guarantees.

Let us not forget what that wise sage Betty White once told us: "Get at least 8 hours of beauty sleep. Nine if you're ugly.

I don't want to brag, but last night I got eleven. Sleep before seashells because a woman's got to have her priorities straight.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Life You Choose

We're going to have to start calling me a very bad blogger.

Believe me, I started out with all good intentions at the beach last week. Then, as four guests were replaced by one bearing flowers, time became a precious commodity and blogging was replaced by endless oceanfront conversations.

When I got back Sunday, I barely had time to shop for and make Boursin-stuffed mushrooms (Pru's suggestion, natch) to take to a South African wine tasting patio party at Beckham and the Beauty's house.

The wines - souvenirs from their month-long honeymoon - were fabulous, starting with a magnum of Waterford Estate Sauvignon Blanc we agreed we could have sipped right through until sunrise. For something completely different, next came a viognier, Bloemcool Skilpadrug, particularly appealing because it was made at Fairview, a winery I'd also visited, as was Fairview Broken Barrel Red Blend boasting Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Tannat and Shiraz and pretty much an ideal pairing with our host's obscene Derby pie.

It hasn't helped that my week away at the beach meant that I had double the deadlines to meet this week, not to mention housecleaning, grocery shopping and all the other business of life to re-establish life in the city. The satisfaction I achieved mopping the floors of a week's worth of pollen (via open windows) alone was worth the time spent on menial labor, though I probably should have been writing.

Monday meant a trip to the Byrd House, aka the Graduate rooftop bar, where the view of the Jefferson Hotel is nothing short of breathtaking and you can all but look down on the Manchester Bridge like an osprey might. My favorite planner and I followed that with dinner at Saison Market surrounded by the raucous and the comedic, not that we paid attention to any of them.

When Tuesday rolled around, it was girlfriend time, so Mac and I headed to Rapp Session for smoked bluefish dip, Old Saltes and a catch-up session. Not long into the conversation, she said that she'd been reading the blog, saying it was blatantly obvious how happy I sounded, even going so far as to point her finger down her throat for smiling emphasis.

This is especially funny because if you knew Mac, you'd know she's the kindest person in the world. So while she made clear she's terribly happy for me, she couldn't resist doing it with teasing.

The thing is, I knew I'd been sounding deliriously happy going into beach week, but I wasn't expecting others to notice. And now, after a much anticipated reunion, I'm not fit to blog about anything but how unbelievable it is that I find myself in this enviable position.

Truly, madly, deeply happy and with a forecast of lots more to come. Let's get real here, I'm far too effusive and annoying to blog right now and not bore people with how wonderful my life is.

While being introduced to Pru's dog-walker, she mentioned the euphoric state of my love life, causing the woman to unexpectedly congratulate me. I thanked her, but explained that it had been a challenging, convoluted path to wind up where I am now.

Her response was immediate. "Was it worth it?" was all she wanted to know.

Completely doesn't begin to cover it. I would have done whatever it took to get to this place at this time.

See how obnoxious I am? Truly sorry, it cannot be helped. As Lady G likes to say, I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Never has the Outer Banks felt like a private beach. Until this week.

The weather is glorious: sunny, deep blue sky, highs in the upper '70s and lightly breezy. Practically perfect beach weather, right? Yet, the fact that it's the beginning of May means that the vacancy rate around here appears to be somewhere around 95%, as compared to Summer.

I'm not complaining, but it's awfully strange. You can look up or down the beach and see no more than a handful of umbrellas against the brilliant blue-green of the ocean. Typically, the sounds of kids screaming - because little ones somehow sense that the ocean will drown out their shrillest squawks and they're right - is a constant, but not this week. People-generated sounds are rare.

And get this. Not a single one of the infrequent cars that pass by on the Beach Road are blasting music or booming bass, leading me to believe that only low rent tourists are guilty of that particular kind of noise pollution.

Walking down to Wink's, the quintessential beachfront market, as high tide approached was like walking in uncharted new territory. I've been walking that stretch of beach for decades, but it's unrecognizable since the beach replenishment was done over the winter. Enormous tidal pools and a seriously wide beach have replaced what used to be an uncomfortably narrow stretch of sand that resulted in high tide waves licking the posts under some cottages. Looking like decoys, small seabirds stood up to their skinny ankles (if birds have such things) way out on sandbars.

So. Much. Beach.

Inside Wink's, a place that barely changes from decade to decade, the clerk came across as someone who long ago lost interest in her job and now merely shows up to suffer fools unhappily. A far cry from the kindly cashiers who used to strike up conversation with anyone willing. "Where y'all from?"

Yesterday we'd gone to John's Drive-in, so today we made do eating at home so we could spend most of the day on the beach reading to our heart's content. The only time we didn't have tomes in hand was when we had grub in hand, making for a day of simple pleasures, the last one for my companion who returns to the real world (and off-the-chart pollen levels) tomorrow morning.

Not me. I've got 3 1/2 days of vacation, plenty of wine and Espolon and another guest yet to enjoy before I have to breathe the yellow dust of allergy death in the city.

Until then, you'll find me right here on the quiet beach, ready for anything. Let the next chapter begin...

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Well-written with Juicy Bits

With May's arrival, there are no problems except where to be happiest.

For right now, I'm plenty happy at the beach doing very little. Before I left, Beau asked if I'd be doing any work this week and when I told him absolutely not, he'd been impressed. "Wow, not at all?" The extent of working this week is occasionally responding to an email with a quick "I'm on vacation" or "Send that info to my editor." Vacation with a capital "V."

Instead of working, I am reading morning, noon and night, totally indulging my need to read and making everything else secondary to that. It's delicious.

Today's read is "Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller" by Mary Dearborn, chosen from Chop Suey Books for the cover blurb: "Serious, scholarly, well-written and studded with juicy tidbits about Miller's eccentricities ~ L.A. Times.

Scholarly and studded? If that doesn't scream "read me!" I don't know what does.

My introduction to Henry Miller came courtesy of my 11th grade English teacher Mr. Crabill (completely uncool because he wore white socks with black shoes) who, on the first day of class, wrote the names of all the authors we could choose from to read for his class. Next to Henry Miller's name was an asterisk, so naturally I had to ask what that meant. "You have to have a note from your parents if you want to read Miller," he explained curtly.

Naturally, I went home and secured such a note from my Mom, who'd always said we could read what we wanted, as long as we were reading. Little did I know that his books had been banned in this country until a dozen years earlier.

I'm not sure what age would be best for a young woman to pick up Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," but I do know it was fascinating reading for a 16-year old who was curious about, well, almost everything and definitely mesmerized by how casually depicted the many sex scenes were. Twenty years ago, I circled back and read more Miller - "Letters to Anais Nin," "Crazy Cock" - so when I spotted the biography, it struck me as just the kind of person I wanted to immerse myself in while beach reading.

Reading this fascinating biography only reinforces my loss at not stopping at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur when I had the chance. Regrets, I have a few....
Then there's eating, of course.

Unlike yesterday, my beach crew and I gathered our forces enough today to make it to the Salt Box, one of my favorite restaurants here and, happily, open even during the off season. I could say I was disappointed that the screened porch doesn't open for another 10 days, but a lovely salad crowned by a massive, breadless crabcake, French Rose and mocha mousse made up for it.

My daily constitutional, now that's a different story. I'm still getting used to walking on a beach unlike the beach it has been since I began coming down here as a child. This past winter finally saw Kitty Hawk having beach replenishment done and the result is a finer grained sand with fewer shells, notable in that it's far more challenging to walk on. 

Don't get me wrong, this narrow strip of beach desperately needed more width, but it walks differently, a fact I would know. 

Still, I'm not saying it's a problem. It's the first of May and I've been told that I'm owed an April, which is about to be repaid at the beach, the happiest of places to collect.

Or, as Miller put it, "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." I'm looking intently and liking everything I see. 

May, you already got a hold on me...

Monday, April 30, 2018

Let the Countdown Begin

Getting into the beach groove here is as easy - and ultimately comfortable - as putting on an old pair of shoes.

The last to wake up, I ate breakfast on the porch watching the morning sun sparkle over bottle green water, then walked north to check out the Southern Shores beaches. I could count on two hands the number of people on the beach along the way.

A shame because the weather was glorious, a real switch from yesterday's breezy cool.

The day was spent on the beach reading, first the brief "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School," followed by Art Buchwald's 1993 memoir, "Leaving Home." I grew up reading his columns in the Washington Post so I was curious about how a Jewish kid from NYC wound up being a humorist in the nation's capital.

Lots of foster homes, an entrepreneurial spirit and a stint in the Marine Corps was apparently enough to do it. His self-deprecating style makes every anecdote he shares seem both hilarious and vaguely relatable, which is laughable given how he was friends with so many politicians and celebrities while I have nary a famous acquaintance to my name.

The little plane that flies over the beaches pulling a banner for a local company seemed a bit forlorn today, the banner dragging precipitously low, even considering the scarcity of people on the beach to see it.

Go big or go home, buddy. Drag that thing like you mean it or just stay in the hanger.

When I wasn't reading about Art losing his virginity to a hotel maid after his shift ended, I was stretched out on my beach towel napping like I hadn't slept 9 hours last night. The thing is, you don't even have to be tired, it's just the sun and the sound of the surf and next thing I know, I'm waking up with a crick in my neck.

Later, in line at the Food Lion, I wound up behind two guys I immediately pegged as locals.

The first, a surfer dude-looking guy with long blond curls and a very tan face, ended his transaction with the cashier by saying, "Thanks, my dude," and offering up a half-hearted peace sign. The second, shorter haired but just as tan, needed no more than a six pack and a steak, but informed the cashier he was crabby after a long day doing roofing.

My guess is that they come for the questionable glamour of OBX  life, then when life becomes mundane they end up just another clich├ęd middle-aged man shopping alone at the grocery store.

I might just be over-thinking that, though.

I haven't done a single thing today that I haven't done here scads of times before, yet that's the beauty of it. With the entire house open to the ocean, we're all just letting the sound of the surf reset our souls to full-on relaxation mode.

As for gratitude for my unfolding beach week, I can't even say, "Thanks, my dude" because I  orchestrated the whole thing myself. The best part is when I booked this trip week last Fall, I had absolutely no clue where my life might be by now.

So instead I'll say, thanks, Adjustment Department, for making everything dovetail so beautifully. I finally got this.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

RC Cola and a Pink Moon

Unofficially, Summer has been kicked off.

Friday night's dinner at Flora was winding down when one of the managers overheard me telling Pru and Beau a story involving Jello shooters at the Free Love Nursing Home, spurring her to tell me about the latest thing on their late-night drink menu: Jello shooters. And not your average vodka and fruit variety, but a Pimm's Cup Jello shooter, complete with tiny bits of cucumber on top. A grown-up shooter.

We'll take three, please.

The ample shooters were every bit as refreshing as you'd expect, but given that a Pimm's Cup is Pru's official Summer drink, it seemed only right to toast to my upcoming favorite season as part of the shooting.

Mind you, this was exactly what we womenfolk needed after a lengthy explanation to Beau about why the phrase "the rabbit died" is synonymous with getting pregnant. Pru, incredulous that he'd never made the connection between the two phrases, was gobsmacked when he said it seemed illogical to think that rabbits had ever been sacrificed for the sake of a pregnancy test. What else, she queried, could the phrase have meant?

I've since asked three other men if they understood the phrase's meaning, only to discover they were as unaware as Beau. Mars and Venus, I tell you what.

Pru put it most hilariously by asking Beau, "Oh, you think the doctor's office should have a rabbit hutch out back?" when he mused about the inconvenience of nabbing rabbits for testing.

After seeing Cadence Theatre's production of "Appropriate" about a family so dysfunctional it made all of us feel better, Pru was moved to observe, "Not the play I want to die in." One can only hope to have that choice.

Back at Pru's manse, we met up with Hotdog, an old family friend who'd flown in from Arizona while we were at the play and had been awaiting our arrival. The goal was to add him into our wide-ranging porch conversation - which only concluded shortly before 2 a.m. - while listening to music from 1969, the year he'd graduated high school.

That meant everything from the Beatles to Norman Greenbaum. "I wonder if he'd have had more hits if he'd changed his name?" Pru mused.

That kind of late night meant the morning came quickly, all the more so because I'd promised Hot Dog that he could walk with me after he'd emailed asking if I'd take him on a fun walk. The "fun" part was undoubtedly meant to convey that he wasn't up to another serious walk like the one I'd taken him on during a previous visit when I'd led him all over Manchester and back, to the tune of 6+ miles and a man who needed a nap afterward.

Today's was far more circumspect in length, less because of his request than that I needed to get back to pack my car and head out to the Outer Banks. That's right, it was another chance to set Summer in motion by returning to the little cottage I rent every year.

Hot Dog was good enough to help me load my car up after the walk and then Uber whisked him away and I headed to the ocean, stopping only at Adam's Country Store for an RC Cola (which the owner was kind enough to open for me) and a bag of local peanuts.

I enjoyed both as a I drove, following an older Jeep with faded OBX license plates, a bumper sticker that read, "Local as it gets" and another sticker that said "Tunnel Pass."

When I got to the bridge in Currituck, it turned out to be a throwback crossing because the old span is being renovated, meaning both directions are traveling on the same bridge, which is how I remember getting to the Outer Banks as a kid, but not in recent decades.

Then I got to the cottage, the same one I've been staying at since the early '90s and, yet again, time has marched on. Every year, the real world (the 21st century one) encroaches a little more on my favorite cottage, this year evidenced by a keyless entry (no more going to the realty office to pick up keys) and a new window a/c unit in the living room (bedroom units were put in 4 years ago, much to  my dismay).

Clearly I'm the last person on earth who wants a true old school beach experience sans TV, conditioned air and phone.

Today was cool, but the ocean breeze was stellar - briny and brisk - and the sky so dark blue it almost hurt your eyes to stare at it. The cottage next door is occupied, but most of the ones around here are not, making for an especially low-key start to Summer at the beach with my usual crew.

After a late dinner, everyone headed outside to admire the full moon aka the pink moon that signals the start of a new season, one I've been eagerly awaiting. Some might say that the only thing missing was Pimm's Cup Jello shooters with which to toast such a gorgeous night sky.

Personally, I'm not wishing for a single thing with my best Summer ever beginning. My invisible bumper sticker reads, "Happy as it gets."