Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm Gonna Be an Optimist about This

I don't often make the rounds on Saturday night.

But when a friend suggested a progressive evening, and pink at that.I signed on for the sheer novelty value of it.

I chose a thrift store find my friend Pru had procured for me (for a whopping $3.50) and made my way to our first point of congregation, Pasture, mainly because one of us had never been.

The music was safe- "Under Pressure" and "Safety Dance"- and the service was wildly variable considering the bar wasn't that crowded. One of the guys observed that men seemed to merit better service than women.

Not much I can do about my girl parts.

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
cause your friends don't dance
And if they don't dance
Well, they're no friends of mine

The five of us made the most of a couple of bottles of Le Petit Balthazar, a Cinsault Rose the color of pink diamonds while crowds filled the tables and booths around us.

We tried a few nibbles - chips and dip (the chips being stellar) and meatballs with redneck romesco, more or less so-so.

Holmes told us about his post-tax day revelry, which involved alternating whiskey with tequila, as sure a recipe for disaster as any I've heard. Today they'd spent lunching on the Potomac.

Before we knew it, it was time to hit Rappahannock, where we fell hard for Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose, a wine I first had back in 2011 and bonded with immediately for its earthiness and delicacy.

A blog reader had been so taken with my prose about Peysarrol then that he'd commented about it, forever bonding us on the subject of great Roses.

After Old Salte oysters, my personal favorite, oysters and pearls (Rappahannock oysters with trout caviar) and wood-grilled octopus in piquillo pepper sauce with blood orange that had the Frog and me in raptures, we had to conclude that the food far surpassed the service. A pity, really, especially considering the noise level in the room.

If you're going to be noisy, at least be efficient.

One in our group opted for the Thibaut-Jannison blanc de Chardonnay, a perfectly beautiful expression of Virginia sparkling, offering me a taste and cementing my opinion of Claude's talent with bubbles.

Yes, ma'am, I could drink that all night long. But tonight was all about the pink.

We eventually abandoned Grace Street for Manchester, since the Frog had proposed Camden's as our final resting place and we were all about following his lead.

Someone has to be in charge or we'd forget all about the dining portion of the evening.

We arrived to find the last of the leftovers from Legend Brewery's 20th anniversary celebration, a drunken lot if ever there was one.

Ignoring the slurring remains, my party of five headed straight for the wine cases, choosing three sparkling Roses to accompany our dinner.

All three of the women in the group are rabid fans of bubbly pink, meaning we were suckers for the chilled array we found waiting for us.

Monmousseau Brut Rose kicked things off as we discussed the perils of Easter on Parade, the upcoming restaurant week and how to get to Merroir. Hint: not Route 360.

We got the party started with appetizers of seared scallops followed by roasted pork with banana, a perfect pairing of sweet and savory.

The lovely Monrovia Farms beef was all over the specials menu and two in our group chose the Monrovia Farms pot roast, reveling in the long-cooked and flavorful meat and veggies.

When we moved on to Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace, I decided on steak frites, a bavette of bottom sirloin with horseradish sauce, fries and a salad, a sweeping representation of all the food groups on one plate.

With the Killers and Bastille playing overhead, we tackled our final bottle of Gruet Brut Rose, an ideal pairing for our chocolate pate with walnut crust, a necessity for the women in the group and of negligible importance to the guys.

But if you close your eyes
does it almost feel like
nothing's changed at all?
Does it almost feel like
you've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

I usually try to keep Saturdays to a dull roar, unwilling to join the weekend amateurs, but sometimes you just gotta put on a $3.50 dress and let it your pink freak flag fly.

Especially when you don't want your friends to leave you behind.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Apples in Stereo

Never buy apples on sale or cider at the store.

How do I know? Because Professor Apple said it was so.

Tom Burford is Prof Apple, an expert on apple cultivation from Amherst County, Virginia and the author of a new book, "Apples of North America," the source of his talk tonight at the Library of Virginia.

I was surprised at how many couples were in attendance, but perhaps that was because it wasn't just a talk but also a cider tasting with Blue Bee Cider and Albermarle Cider Works.

Fact: it's far easier to get your significant other to do something cultural when there's drinking involved.

Waiting for the talk to begin, I overheard a woman discussing her upcoming Rose party Monday. She was instructing one of her guests to wear the same gray sweater he'd worn last year, the better for them to hold up glasses of Rose against to compare hues.

You know, salmon versus strawberry pink versus pale cherry.

Forget the gray sweater, I've never heard of a Rose party in April. I'm going to a couple, but they're both in June. Could this be jumping the Rose gun?

The editor of Richmond Magazine came in and said hello, asking where I was off to after the talk and tasting, because she was certain I had additional plans. When I told her dinner, she said I didn't have to tell her where and I didn't.

Charlotte of Albemarle Cider Works introduced the professor, saying his work had inspired them to start a cider operation. She told us Courtney from Blue Bee had apprenticed with them for a year before starting her urban cidery.

It was becoming clear that the cidery world is just as incestuous as the restaurant or music community. And at the heart of it all is Tom Burford, aka Professor Apple.

"I would bet everyone of you here likes apples a lot," the Professor said. "Else, why would you be here?

He started with a little history about how apple seeds had been brought to Jamestown in 1607 (European honeybees arrived in 1611) to plant, not for eating, but for cider.

The Virginia soil turned out to be so fertile that apple trees flourished and they were soon grafting to duplicate the particularly tasty apple trees.

That's when the best part came, as the Professor took us through the really tasty heirloom apples, so many completely new to me.

Arkansas black, the new kid on the block in 1870, Ben Davis, one of the most promising apples of the future and Black Twig, which I've not only picked myself, but the Prof called one of the great apples in America.

There was the Cannon Pearmain, an old historic Virginia apple he told us to keep our eye on, the Grimes Golden he described as the sugar apple that makes fabulous brandy, Harrison, the most desirable cider apple and lost for many years and only rediscovered by the Prof in 1989 in New Jersey.

So it turns out that those little Lady Apples I thought were purely decorative make exquisite cider and vinegar. The Lowry, he said, deserves to be brought back. The Newtown (or Albemarle Pippin) is such high quality it's used to make "Sunday cider," special stuff, in other words.

Pilot is the apple of Nelson County, Northern Spy makes the best pies and Ralls is the apple of Amherst County, planted by Jefferson at Monticello.

Roxbury Russett is the oldest named variety, Smokehouse is a great frying apple (and what his mother was picking when she went into labor with him) and Virginia Hewes is considered one of the best in the world for cider.

And the Winesap, well that's a classic apple perfect for brandy.

Dizzy at the array of apples we'd just learned, someone asked the Professor's favorite. "My favorite eating apple is the last one I ate," he claimed.

He should know. This is a guy who had introduced heirloom apple varieties to New England the West Coast, France and Senegal. His passion for apples and identifying and preserving long-lost varieties made him a fascinating speaker to listen to.

To close, he implored us to seek out heirloom apples, go to farmers' markets and orchards and help support bringing back apples that taste good instead of the dreaded red or golden Delicious, an apple I've refused to buy or eat most of my life.

Our brains newly full of apple info, he dispatched us to the cidery tasting just outside the lecture hall doors, like a 3rd grade teacher sending the kids off to recess after a morning's lesson.

Since I've been to both cideries, I limited myself to one tasting at each: Albemarle's Jupiter's Legacy (because it uses Black Twigs, natch) and Blue Bee's Aragon 1904, which tastes one step removed from champagne to me.

I have to say, as book talks go, this one rates right up there with the moonshine author at Chop Suey, here. Say what you will, but tasting aids make learning more fun.

Thanks, Professor Apple!

Walking in to Magpie for dinner didn't look promising. Every bar seat was taken, but I was told I could waste a three-top by sitting there, a position that always makes me feel guilty.

Still, I wanted to eat, so I did, hoping a stool would open up soon and I could move.

I ordered a glass of M. Lawrence "Sex" Brut Rose, only to find that the clamorous table behind me had gobbled up the last bottle. Clearly there would be no sex for me tonight.

My server graciously suggested a Cremant d'Alsace instead and I was happy to make the shift from Michigan to France.

An amuse bouche of caramelized onion puree with a lump of blue cheese and bits of cocoa crisps was presented, one perfect bite to whet the appetite.

One of tonight's specials was bacon-wrapped rabbit country pate with rhubarb ('tis the season) jam and housemade pickled vegetables and since I was already sipping bubbles, pate seemed like a natural.

I'd only taken a few bites, slathering the pate thickly on toasted crostini, when two guys arrived for a later reservation to find that their table was not yet free.

Here was my chance to assuage my guilt about taking up a three-top, so I invited them to join me. They pretended to protest for a minute, worried that they were intruding on my evening, and then six more people walked in and they gratefully accepted my offer.

Explaining that they needn't feel obligated to converse with me, the one not getting the drinks was having none of it. "No, we're extroverted, so we want to talk to you." Well, now, this was going to work out just fine.

Thomas and Joe were on their second date and as charming as they could be. After procuring beverages, we proceeded to share information about restaurants we liked, where we lived and how they liked life in Richmond, both of them being fairly recent transplants.

"What's an attractive woman like you doing eating dinner by herself on a Friday night?" Joe wanted to know.

Who you calling attractive, I wanted to know.

They were intrigued by the many faces of Helen's, how different it is for dinner versus late night or brunch. Joe insisted that the Hill Cafe has the best fried chicken in town, a fact I doubted. Thomas wanted to know about all the cheap eats deals I could share.

Before long, I had a talker on either side of me, asking questions and providing answers to mine.

I inquired if either got out to hear much local music and  got nothing, but Thomas offered that one of the friends who was joining them was a singer in a band.

When the duo arrived, I was introduced as their new friend, one who had saved them from having to stand in the middle of the restaurant with nowhere to go. Forget the gratitude, I wanted to know which was the musician to start that conversation.

"What local bands do you like?" he asked me, testing me. When I mentioned White Laces, he said they used the same producer and an immediate bond was formed in that way that music-lovers do when they find someone who likes a band they do.

We moved on to venues when I said I regularly frequented Gallery 5, the Camel and Strange Matter and Thomas said he'd never heard of Gallery 5.

It is my un-sworn duty in life to school people on the finer points of Jackson Ward's diverse offerings, explaining to him that if he'd been to Comfort- and he'd told me he had -then he'd been a mere block from the venue.

When the server came to get them to lead them to their table, we all said heartfelt thanks for the company and conversation.

I'm not going to force myself on anyone, but I'm not going to waste a three-top if I can help it, either.

Never buy apples on sale, cider at the store or turn away perfectly good company. Professor's rules.

Just Like Heaven with Chandeliers

It's not about the bands, it's about the momentous occasion.

Richmond now has a mid-sized venue, something it's been sorely lacking, and tonight was opening night.

When a friend inquired if I was going to the new Broadberry tonight, I asked the same of him. Nope. "I am, among other things, registering my disapproval of them being so goddamn predictable in their booking," he wrote.

Here's the thing, my friend. What matters about the Broadberry is not what bands play the night they open their doors.

What matters is all the bands that can now play Richmond because we have a venue the right size to attract their audience and fill so they don't skip over Richmond and go to Charlottesville.

So quit yer bitching.

After feeding my hired mouth, that's where I went, happily finding loads of familiar music lovers there.

The music writer offered me some of her candied bacon and observed, "All our people are here.". The theater lover complained that he hadn't seen me since Hardywood back in January. Then there was the bass player saying, "My goal is to get Karen to grin." Plus the dimpled drummer, the multi-instrument playing physicist, the lovely hospitality manager. All my people.

And to a person, they all said they were there to celebrate that we have a new venue.

The former Nu nightclub means that the new Broadberry retains far more glitz than your average venue. Four massive chandeliers hang along one wall and the lighting system over the stage is worthy of a drag queen's catwalk.

There were tables and chairs, already filed with seated people, all along the length of the extensive bar with a pit up front for those who wanted to stand to see, hear and dance to the music.

And, perhaps most impressively, there were people of all ages there, a far broader age range than a Camel or Strange Matter show. A really good sign.

While talking to Goldrush's handsome bass player, bandleader Prabir came by, set lists in hand. When I tried to look at them, Mr. Bass insisted that the songs be a surprise.

'There are no surprises in a Goldrush set," Prabir corrected him, a statement I can agree with, having first seen them back in 2009.

The band took the stage and after the first number, Prabir proclaimed, "That's the first song ever played at the Broadberry." As a girl near me noted, the sound was good.

"Anyone bummed about missing the lunar eclipse Monday?" science geek Prabir asked of the noisy room. "We 're going to play a song that says f*ck the clouds!" and played "Pale Blue Dots."

After playing "Roll One," he finished by entreating the audience, "Roll one more, folks. Let's legalize that shit. Let's also legalize critical thinking."

Let's. It's statements like that that and that he uses phrases like "your kith and your kin" in his lyrics that make him a Richmond treasure.

When their set finished, a musician friend walked by and we talked about his upcoming outdoor music series starting up again in a few weeks.

I went to a bunch of them last summer in Scuffletown park and this summer he's expanding the series to all kinds of things, not just music. Ah, the pleasures of outdoor performance.

Prabir wandered by after that, complaining that there weren't enough girls at the show. I pointed out a few within easy reach.

"That one has Daddy issues, that one has three exes, that one can't even pronounce my name," he said, eliminating them all. I suggested he eliminate anyone who didn't understand the phrase "kith and kin" but he told me not to be hasty.

A friend I rarely get to see was sitting at the bar and called me over, surprising me by telling me how much he liked my writing. "I love reading you because you make me feel like I'm there," he said. "All the details you include, the way you talk about what you saw and heard makes it so real." I could have kissed him.

Instead I thanked him and told him I was going back up closer to the stage. "Of course you are," he said grinning.

Black Girls took the stage next, a far more assured band than when I first saw them at Sprout in February 2011.

Just back from a tour of the southeast, with tonight's show being the final night of the tour, the singer asked, "Hey, Richmond, we've been on tour. What's new? Nothing? Cool!" and then launched into a tight set no doubt honed by this recent set of dates.

Two guitarists, bassist, drummer, keyboards and singer, they were all sweating by the third song. Their influences are interesting, shot through with '60s soul, Steely Dan, '70s rock and somehow making it all sound dirty. Snuff rock, they call it.

"Time to get a little looser," the singer called out, hoisting his plastic cup of red wine. "If we don't start now, the night will be over before you know it." Dancing in place began in earnest at this point.

The crowd was thick by now, at least up near the stage where I was and a very short friend and I were continuously being bumped into and stepped on.

A guy with a gorgeous red beard and piercing blue eyes came by me twice, the second time looking me right in the eye and saying, "I just came by to step on your toes again."

Do what you have to do, my friend.

Finally after a string of upbeat songs that had some people all but pogo-ing, the band slowed it down, bringing in a trombone and trumpet for a song I'd have slow danced to if I'd had a date.

They couldn't leave us there, though, so there were two more upbeat danceable songs, including one where one of the guitarists got down into the crowd ("If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!"), getting everyone all aflutter.

During the second break, a blogger I'd met a while back joined me, leading to some satisfying music talk about the evolution of soul music, the sheer amount of information available on the liner notes of older albums and the pleasures of flipping through record bins, even if, like me, you don't have a turntable.

Describing his record buying habit as "being so far down the hole, he can't see daylight." he was excited about finding an original Supremes album recently. Needless to say, he was bowled over when I mentioned still having all my old Supremes albums.

Soon after, No BS assembled onstage, minus Reggie Pace who's out of town and whose smiling face and enormous energy were missed and David Hood who was apparently quite sick tonight. Of tonight's bands, this is the one I've been following the longest - since 2007.

Drummer Lance Koehler took charge, instructing the crowd, "We need that rumpus to be shaking!" and taking off with enough brass to ensure that that happened in short order.

One girl, perched on table, danced with every part of her body while sitting down. Most of us just danced in place as Bryan Hooten took the mic and rapped the next song.

"This is like heaven," Lance yelled. "We have chandeliers, we have beer! Here's to the Broadberry!"

It's a toast worth making. We've entered a new stage of Richmond's music scene and it's exciting to think of what's to come.

Tonight wasn't about predictability, it was about celebrating all the bands who will play there in the future.

You can be sure I'll be there with all my kith, getting my toes stepped on and enjoying every moment.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On the Slow Track

Some days just go down easily.

Today I drove to the northern neck, passing a gas station sign that read, "Coming soon, Spring!" and an insurance office sign that said, "Life is a roller coaster. Enjoy the ride!

Promises and advice, what more could you ask of a road trip?

My destination was Warsaw to spend the afternoon with a furniture maker, a man who lives on the 800 acre property his family has owned since the 19th century.

He asked if I was up for a walk and we set off to see wood and trees, past bamboo groves planted by his grandfather.

He told me that they were most striking after a snow, when they were bent from the weight of it and the scene resembled a Japanese print.

My only complaint as we meandered around looking at drying trees, stacked boards and the ruins of the original house built in 1840 was the wind, which was fierce.

When we headed back toward the house he spent 15 years building to replace the old farmhouse, his mother came out to offer us razzleberry pie with ice cream.

Make no mistake, she hadn't baked it for us, but for her two old St. Catherine's school buddies who'd come to lunch.

Never one to turn down pie, much less razzleberry which I'd never had and needed to know more about, I answered yes for both of us.

Turns out razzleberry pie is made with raspberries and marion berries and she was one of those women who makes a crispy, buttery crust, so the unexpected mid-afternoon dessert was a real treat and we finished the interview with our tongues stained purple.

After an easy drive home, I found a message from my date tonight, changing the time we were meeting at the Roosevelt.

Just as well since I needed a good clean-up after traipsing through the back forty (or 400).

When I got to the Roosevelt, the joint was jumping, but I found two empty stools and sat down to wait for my friend.

I'd brought Sunday's Post travel section, knowing I'd get there first and figuring it would give me time to catch up on my reading.

The magnificently-bearded bartender Brandon was good enough to bring me the Virginia Fizz I was craving while I followed the story of intrepid travelers intent on having breakfast in London, lunch in Paris and dinner in Barcelona, courtesy of a new higher speed train.

Spoiler alert: lunch at Gare de Lyon's Le Train Bleu was by the far the highlight. Crispy pig and escargot terrine would have won my heart, too.

Maybe it was reading about that meal, but it wasn't long before I realized that I wasn't going to be able to sip bubbles indefinitely without sustenance.

Razzleberry pie only takes a girl so far.

To tide me over, I asked Brandon for a snack of crostini with ricotta and Charlottesville honey and he delivered not only that but tales of his recent move, characterizing his shift from the Hill to Carytown briefly and back as the "Church Hill shuffle."

As in, people try to leave and can't. The Hill has a hold, apparently.

My friend showed up at last and we moved to stools on the far side of the bar, away from the fray.

Starving, we ordered quickly, both starting with salads of roasted beets, smoked bluefish, "everything" crema, horseradish and pickled onions.

I've had many an everything bagel, but it was my first (but hopefully not last) everything crema, the assortment of flavors tying together the beets, fish and greens to perfection. Friend and I were particularly taken with the caraway notes in the crema.

Because the restaurant was so busy and several people had babies with them (don't get me started), we had to lean into each other to gossip and share stories, a sacrifice we were more than willing to make to catch up.

I was seeking her advice on taking a selfie, something I need to do for an assignment and clearly something with which I have no practice, asking her to recommend filters and effects. She's the kind of wise ass friend who tries to tell me about one that makes you look enormous and another that ages you, neither of which hold much appeal. I may be a Luddite, but I'm not a complete idiot.

No doubt I'll be able to figure it out. If I can take pictures of others with my camera, I ought to be able to shoot myself this once.

With another glass of Fizz to cut the richness, I dove into a bowl of gnocchi carbonara with spicy Surry sausage and al dente peas, only to look up and see a friend coming through the door.

It was the singer and fan of sad folk songs I know and she was obviously on a date with the handsome man whom I'd heard about when we'd had brunch recently.

Given the shortage of available stools, they had no choice but to sit beside us so I tried to stay hidden behind my date so as to not cramp her style. Besides, I'll hear the details later if she wants to share.

While my date enjoyed peanut butter pie (I'm not a fan but helped her with the whipped cream), the chef came out and chatted with us while he enjoyed a beer and making us laugh.

Fully fed, lubricated with bubbles and laughing at dry humor from a Beard nominee.

Some nights require no effort on my part whatsoever.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stand Back, Eternal Feminine

Two things were certain tonight: death and taxes.

Actually, it was a tax relief party at Nacho Mama's Boulevard Bar and Grill, an offshoot of Nacho Mama's in Carytown.

Owner Raoul was hosting the party, meaning that bass-heavy dance music was pumping when Pru and I walked in and endless pictures were taken throughout the evening.

When I questioned having to smile for the phone yet again, Raoul lectured me about the importance of self-promotion. No doubt his, not mine.

The tequila menu was more limited than I would have expected for a Mexican place, but I cut my tequila teeth on 1800 and I'd take it over overpriced Patron any day, which I did. Twice.

A DJ was playing full-on 21st century disco, meaning club versions of songs as unlikely as Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back." Hysterical.

Just to prove he knew a little disco history, the DJ even played a thumping version of "MacArthur Park," although not Donna Summer's, but easily one of the sappiest and stupidest songs ever written.

Someone left the cake out in the rain? Who does that? Who writes that?

Despite the pouring rain and falling temperatures outside, people kept arriving (including several Carytown business owners), to celebrate and the bar got really loud while I took advantage of a tax relief deal on flautas.

While enjoying a nicely spiced chicken version Pru told me about a fabulous website she'd found for cute, inexpensive clothes, a company that unexpectedly, she found, also carried rubber lingerie.

This was relevant mainly because, oddly enough, a co-worker had e-mailed her today asking if she knew anything about buying a vinyl bustier. She knew enough to school him on the use of corn starch with vinyl clothing and directed him to her new favorite website.

I'm lucky to have such knowledgeable friends.

With the pool visible through the wall of bar windows, everyone was raving about what a terrific place that's going to be once summer arrives and the pool is open.

Margaritas and scantily clad people, an easy way to go from 0 to 60 in no time flat.

Eventually we had to leave the still-expanding party to make an 8:00 curtain at Richmond Triangle Players. I've been spending a whole lot of time in Scott's Addition lately.

Waiting for the play to begin, I learned a new term when Pru told me about the stash of books she'd scored at the recent main library sale (36 books, $35). I'd skipped the sale because I haven't finished reading the last stack I'd gotten at the library's book giveaway (13 books, $0).

She and a co-worker (not vinyl guy, though) have a long-standing tradition of taking the afternoon off to go to the book sale and then to lunch at Chez Foushee.

In fact, that was the last time I'd seen her, as I was leaving Foushee with a friend after lunch and they'd been arriving.

These two are such accounting nerds that they actually keep colored spreadsheets, with listings for TBR ("to be read," the term I learned), what they've read and what they're looking for in terms of books for others.

They're so hardcore they also don't hesitate to buy a hardcover version of a book they already own in paperback. Okay, I can understand that one.

It's the optimism of that term - to be read - that I was so taken with. If I ever started my own list of TBR, I fear it would consume me. And, honestly, in some cases, I don't even know something needs to be read until I stumble upon it. One of those thirteen books I'd picked up, "Last Train to Memphis," would never have been on my list and I wound up positively enthralled with it.

And while we're on the subject of readers, it's a good thing Pru and I fell into that category because Henley/Shakes' production of "Wittenberg" presumed a literate audience and tossed out erudite witticisms and insider jokes like nobody's business.

It all hinged on that old saw, reason versus faith. Yes, that.

The play revolved around Hamlet and his senior year at Wittenberg University (before his father dies and he ascends the throne), Dr. Faustus, a devilishly provocative teacher of philosophy and Martin Luther, a theology professor who's seriously questioning the church. The fourth character is called the "eternal feminine" and plays every female role.

How brilliant is that assemblage of characters?

There's a local dive called The Bunghole, where Faustus plays some "light lute" and sings "The Seeker" and entreats the crowd to "take care of your bar wenches."

Meanwhile, Martin Luther is aghast at the church's selling of indulgences as "get out of jail free" passes for sinners, using drink to self-medicate as he questions his faith. "Seventy three books in the bible! Know how many mention alcohol? 72!"

One of the most hilarious scene is a tennis match between Hamlet and the unseen Laertes, playing for Paris University. Wearing a white doublet tennis ensemble for the ages, Hamlet lobs the imaginary ball and jabs at his foe with physical grace and biting wit.

One scene began under low light with one character on his knees and the other sitting in a chair beside him, although the motion of his head was not immediately identifiable for what was happening. A few seconds in and someone in the last row said loudly, "Oh!" alerting everyone to the on-stage oral action.

Hello, we were at Richmond Triangle Players.

Laughs continued when Faustus nails up Martin Luther's doctrine, thereby starting the Protestant reformation and pissing off Luther who hadn't planned to share it. He adjusts.

Once Hamlet gets word that his father has died, he has to return to Denmark (and we know where that's going) and Faustus tells him to question everything. "I don't want to end up hearing about the tragedy of Hamlet," he warns. Oops.

Faustus is taking a sabbatical to go "underground" and Hamlet counters by telling him to think before acting so his life doesn't become a cautionary tale. As if.

Our night of intellectual theater ended back at the Bung Hole with Faustus singing "Que Sera, Sera" and the eternal feminine chiming in with "Let it Be."

The beauty of the play was that everybody in the room already knew how the three stories were going to end up right from the start. We knew because we're readers.

Which may or may not explain my favorite quote from the play. The world is a book. Those who do not travel read only a page.

Absolutely true. But the only thing harder to make than a TBR list would be a TBV list.

Besides, I've got no faith in my ability to make a spreadsheet and no reason to try. Que sera, sera, no?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lunar Fairy Tale

It's a shame about the blood moon.

You look forward to something all week and then a little thing like a cloudy sky eliminates any chance of seeing the lunar eclipse and you have to adjust.

Make new plans and move on with your life.

So even though I'm not a steakhouse kind of a gal, when a friend invites me to dinner at Morton's the Steakhouse, I'm happy to go.

We ignore the cookie cutter looking dining room and sit at a bar table fronting Virginia Street so I don't have to see the TV.

When I ask for a glass of the Jean Luc Colombo Rose, the loud-voiced bartender tells me he can't serve it to me if I like Roses. Oddly enough, he will serve me a glass of white Zinfandel. I order a split of Prosecco instead.

The music is cheesy beyond belief, easy listening versions of songs like "Come Together" with its urgency stripped out of it, "The Girl from Ipanema" sounding like a deodorant commercial and Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That," minus its buoyancy.

Is this really what corporate types want to hear while they eat a $65 steak?

A woman arrives and takes a table near us, no big deal except that the bartender begins chatting her up (here on business, staying at the Omni, lives in Montreal) and her voice sounds like she was huffing helium before walking in. It's Betty Boop in the flesh.

It's a high-pitched squeaky thing that is almost as loud as the bartender's. There are moments when the two of them are talking across the room and I can't hear a word my friend is saying, despite the fact that he's a foot away.

I'm dying to turn around and ask her what business she's in with that distinctive voice, but my friend tells me not to and we move on to dinner.

He's invited me because he wants me to share a rib eye with him, mercifully the 16 ounce and not the behemoth 22 ounce. I insist on greenery to mitigate the inevitable artery clogging so we begin with chopped salads and have grilled asparagus with balsamic with the hunk o' meat.

The rib eye turns out to be a disappointment, full of fat and gristle and hardly befitting its price tag. My friend is clearly disappointed.

Although our server suggests key lime pie or carrot cake for dessert, he allows us to order chocolate layer cake instead, leading me to believe he doesn't feel as strongly about the cake as he did the Rose.

One bite in and my friend says, "Out of a box," and I have to admit there's nothing to recommend it except that it's got real whipped cream next to it and it is chocolate, albeit pretty average chocolate.

Fortunately, we have spent the time not just eating, but talking and catching up, so my trip to a steakhouse has not been a complete waste, even if it has confirmed what I already knew.

That said, years ago I enjoyed many excellent meals at The Palm in D.C. so I will at least allow that not all steakhouses are created equal. In fact, my friend assures me I would be wild about Butcher and Singer in Philly.

Perhaps.

He was ready to go home after dinner, but I moved on to Balliceaux to see NYC's Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess.

I got delayed when I ran into an acquaintance at the front bar who'd been wondering why his texts to me had come back to him. I reminded him that I am cell phone-less and thus un-textable.

Seems he'd recently smoked a rotisserie chicken after injecting it with bacon fat and had wanted to invite me over to enjoy it with other like-minded bacon fat lovers.

He put my number back in his phone and promised to call, not text, next time. By the time I got home tonight, he'd already left me a message to prove he had my number and would use it in the future.

That dilemma taken care of, I got a Cazadores and found a seat in the back room just as the band started up.

Jessy, the leader, played washboard, cymbals and sang in a beautifully powerful voice, while three bearded guys provided accompaniment: an upright bass player, a guitarist and a guy who played banjo, clarinet and sax.

When she sang "Shine On, Harvest Moon" in her lovely, languid voice, I think everyone in the room knew we were hearing something special.

"We drove up from Rock Hill, South Carolina today," Jessy said. "It's been a long day, so thanks for coming out on a Monday. It is Monday, right?" From there, they went on to discuss what song to play next. "We don't have a set list," she explained as if it mattered.

They did "Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," compelling two couples to take the floor and begin expertly swing dancing.

Warning us that we were about to see a small disaster because they didn't know all the words so they'd have to whistle instead, they began Louie Armstrong's "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" with whistling until the sax kicked in and the room began applauding.

Earlier I'd noticed that the guy nearest me had no shoes on during their set but when they took a break after a song about a dead girlfriend, he found shoes and went up to meet the band, along with a bunch of the dancers who wanted not only to buy the band's CDs, but get them autographed as well.

I just stayed where I was and watched, resulting in a man coming up to me and saying, "Anyone who watches so intently must be a musician." You hate to disappoint people, but I had to admit that I don't have a musical bone in my body, that I'm just a big fan of music.

"Well, you must be a true fan because you're not drinking," he observed, pointing to the glass of water next to me. I pulled my empty Cazadores glass out from under my chair and admitted to Prosecco at dinner.

He told me he'd just eaten at Dinmor and I asked if he meant Dinamo. Affirmative. Seems he'd been driving down Cary Street and spotted it and gone in, knowing nothing about it, but thoroughly enjoying his squid ink fettuccine with calamari and shrimp.

The band returned and he took the seat next to me. A girl with a trombone appeared and sat down next to the stage.

Jessy introduced her as Martha, saying she was a new friend they'd met outside during the break and she happened to have her trombone with her so they'd invited her to sit in.

The banjo player gave her the key and they began playing "Louisiana Fairy Tale," and then invited her to move her chair up on stage with them.

"It's like a promotion," Mr. Dinamo said.

It was while they were playing "Chinatown" that he leaned over and pointed out that Martha was playing off-key. I asked him if he thought she knew that. "She's ultra-confident if she does," he said.

While the band was trying to decide what to play next, Jessy commented on how large the crowd was for a Monday night. "None of these people have to go to work tomorrow," my new friend said before asking me what I do.

He was tickled with my response because he's a scientist turned writer who's five years into writing a book about people and why they do the things they do. "If I send you a few chapters, will you rip it apart for me?" he wanted to know.

If it's as mediocre as my steakhouse dinner, I'll be glad to.

The Hot Mess closed with a spirited rendition of "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" with poor Martha still off key but with everyone -musicians and audience- clearly having a fine time on a Monday night.

Plenty good enough to make up for missing the blood moon. And no, sir, I don't mean maybe.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wading Through the Pollen

Reason #734 I love my neighborhood.

When I walk over to talk to a gallerist about the new show in her gallery, after dispensing with business we end up talking about the recent Psychedelic Furs show we both enjoyed so much and move on from there to discuss the documentary about the 1913 Armory show we both watched at VMFA Friday night.

Cold Richard Butler be any more attractive with that voice, those glasses, that agility? Could the film have been more poorly done with that Teddy Roosevelt impersonator, that inappropriate music, the absence of full size painting shots?

Not that I needed affirmation that the Furs' show was out of this world and the film trite and poorly done, but it's satisfying to dish anyway.

Walking back I almost trip over a couple I know coming out of Steady Sounds He's a musician and she's an artist and we walk a block together chatting about an upcoming show before they turn off.

Crossing Marshall Street, a car veers over and it's the Magpie's chef, Owen, saying hello. Half an hour later, I've heard about his trip to NYC to cook at City Grit and how impressed everyone there was with Richmond's emphasis on and execution of farm to table.

They raved about the Anderson's Neck oysters, the Autumn Olive Farm goat, the way he made up staff meals for everyone.

There's that gracious southern hospitality again.

Even better, we talk about the fabulous restaurants they stumbled on to eat themselves - a French place where most of the clientele was French-speaking, a Korean place where they sat on the floor on cushions and got what he called the best service of his life.

Midway through our conversation, I feel dogs sniffing at my sandals and hear a painter and former restaurant owner and friend say, "Hi, Karen!" as he strolls by with his animals and waves at me.

The chef and I linger longer as he regales me with stories about his hipster hotel (record player and pencil sharpener standard), astronomical bar tabs for very little booze and how glad he is to be gone from the Big Apple's Type A personalities, all of them on their phones constantly.

I feel certain he has impressed the big city types with his superb food and genial personality and he confirms that many people on staff told him personally that they plan to road trip to check out Richmond's food scene, of which they continue to hear so much good.

I go out to work on an assignment and end up talking to all kinds of talented friends.

Just another four block walk in Jackson Ward.

The Moon Again, Waxing

Lucky me, I am awash in poetry this weekend.

Not all of it is the traditional kind. Today I cut armfuls of lilacs, my favorite flower, and now it's perfuming this room as the open windows waft that beautiful smell toward me.

Ever since I was young and smelled lilac for the first time, I have been entranced by its scent which somehow induces a sense of euphoria in me, as if all wonderful and romantic things are possible.

It's the poetry of scent, pure and simple.

I left my lilacs to join a roomful of people at Chop Suey to hear Ryan Kent read from his collection, "Poems for Dead People" to the musical accompaniment of a guitar.

So, yes, every poem read in his deep, sonorous voice was about a dead person, whether someone he knew or someone he read or heard about.

"Little Black Dress" was about the suicide of Jagger's girlfriend, L'Wrenn Scott, Even the way you die is in vogue.

Some subjects were dear to him -"The Family Will Receive Friends" was about his father's death while "You Better Apply Cream" finished with a recommendation about hemorrhoid cream.

Mid-reading, he paused to take a sip from a wine glass of clear liquid, holding it up and noting, "This is vodka."

Not that it mattered what it was.

I love the imagery of "Slowly Going Death" - The conga line of entitled white people - and the phrasing of "You are Everywhere" - A place where light goes to die.

His poetry was sharply observed with definite undercurrents of 21st century cynicism and before reading his last one, he said, "Okay, I've got one more and then we should probably go get drunk next door."

Everyone else may have joined him for that, but my hired mouth and I had places to go and meals to eat at a place I knew of but had never been, despite its long-time presence.

Then it was on to the Ghostlight after party at Richmond Triangle Players with tonight's revelry taking a decidedly literary bent. The theme was a gender-reversed Shakespeare's birthday celebration (abridged). Inside jokes abound there.

Last month's GLAP had been cancelled and I'd been away the month before, so it felt like ages since I'd come for a night of show tunes, drinking and pizza. Will.i.am was pure icing on the cake.

Tonight we were in for a huge treat, a reprise of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised), a three-man show I'd caught last month at the JCC, here, and spent the evening laughing my ass off.

Tonight, we only got Act I, but even so, I was in the enviable position of having one of the actors fake vomit on me, another offered me a head pie during Titus Andronicus and during Julius Cesar, one stopped by and inquired how I was doing as he made his way down the aisle.

Because we were at Richmond Triangle Players (whose tag line is, "If we don't do it, who would?") there were lots of RTP jokes about nudity (we only got partial) and inferences, like when the actors were discussing not doing Coriolanus and one cracked, "We're at RTP and we're not going to do the anus play?"

No one ever said GLAP was highbrow entertainment and that's why we like it.

After a break to get more libations, the second half began with a man standing up in the audience and taking the part of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, making his way toward the stage, only to be answered by a woman with a drink on the other side.

I would rather listen to my dog bark at a crow than hear a man swear that he loves me.

They turned out to be actors from Bard Unbound, a fairly new group who takes Shakespeare off the page and off the stage and into non-traditional places. In this case, that apparently meant to a roomful of people drinking and carrying on.

Host Maggie started talking about the gender reversed Shakespeare series that Billy Christopher Maupin has been doing in Richmond for years now (I've seen almost all of them and it's been fabulous seeing all those women onstage in men's parts) and next thing we knew, Molly Hood (with her crstalline elocution) was taking Benedick's part and BC was Beatrice and by total coincidence, they played the exact same scene the first two actors had.

Except this time he was a she and she was a he.

I would my horse had the speed of your tongue.

Of course, after two such stellar Shakespearean scenes, we had to come back to earth, or at least earth in the GLAP world, when host Matt explained that he and Maggie had dressed as prescribed for a gender-reversed show, meaning gray scale with one pop of color.

That led to a tangent about how Matt's parents finally understood him enough to end him a gift of Cabernet colored skinny jeans and boxers decorated with roosters (or cock boxers, as he enjoyed calling them), which he was wearing.

Somehow, this was a segue to them reminiscing about last month's GLAP, scheduled for St. Patrick's day (they even had Lucky Charms and milk on hand), but unexpectedly called off when RTP lost power.

The story was a lead-in to them singing Eddie Grant's 1982 hit "Electric Avenue," a song they had been buying the sheet music for when I'd walked into GLAP tonight.

Why plan ahead when flying by the seat of your pants is so much more fun?

Anyhow, about to begin singing the song, Matt said, "If you know this song, you're a step ahead of us because we don't."

Didn't matter. Pianist Sandy can play any music put in front of her and what Matt and Maggie lacked in knowing the song, they made up for in volume and enthusiasm.

We heard lots of songs from Shrek: The Musical tonight, along with reminders to go see it in the next two weeks before it closes.

Matt decided to do a ballad and there was some low level grumbling, but he's got such a fantastic voice and the song he chose, "Better Than I," from 2007's Joseph: King of Dreams came out beautifully.

Jacqui, a GLAP virgin, did Someone to Watch Over Me, and although I met her years ago, I had no idea she could sing so well. The things you learn at GLAP.

Things were getting pretty silly by then - alcohol will do that- and the last couple of Shrek numbers we saw had their fair share of asses and men playing women to the hilt.

Before you could make an another anus joke, Matt yelled that it was time for pizza and a dance party and all hell broke loose as "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" came on.

"Oooh, I love Madonna!" the woman near me squealed (and I didn't correct her) as I downed a slice of pepperoni pizza.

I like Madonna. I love poetry and lilacs.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Way I Do the Things I Do

I took a walk on the warm side, looking for some adventure.

Eager to check out the new Lamplighter on Morris Street, I made a bee line (actually more like a "J" line) to find the green space out in back of it crawling with people, sitting, standing, stretched out on the grass.

Inside were almost as many people but what was notable about both contingents was the diversity. It wasn't just the hipster crowd  from Addison Street, it was young and old, hip and not so hip.

I said hello to a few familiar faces before spotting an icon from my childhood: chocolate meltaways, under the glass of the counter.

Meltaways were something I'd found in my Betty Crocker Cooky Book (back when we apparently spelled cookie that way), a cake style brownie, iced with butter cream frosting and covered in a thin layer of dark, unsweetened chocolate.

back during my teen years when I'd discovered the recipe, they seemed like the height of fancy cookies.

Lamplighter sold two versions, one with mint butter cream with which I was familiar having made that variation and raspberry, completely new to me.

Memories were lighting the corners of my mind.

I bought the mint version, took my little bag and headed back outside leaving the caffeine-starved masses to their fixes.

When I got back over to Harrison Street, I ran into musician Prabir, also a J-Ward resident, pushing his bike to Harrison Street Cafe for some vegetarian breakfast.

When I told him where I'd just been, his first question was whether or not the full hipster crowd had followed. Hearing that I'd found a much more diverse one, he considered changing his plans.

"I'd like to be a guest blogger on your blog sometime," he mused."Write about the stuff you don't," which probably means from the vegetarian point of view.

Taking to the idea, I suggested a "he said, she said" post after he goes to Lamplighter and he began to nod.

"I think you just changed my plans," he said, smiling and taking leave of me. We'll see what comes of that.

Walking by Rumors boutique, I spotted the cutest dress on the mannequin and stopped to look at it so I could listen to the Temptations singing "The Way You Do the Things You Do" coming from the store.

Posted in an empty shop window nearby was a VCU crew poster so clever I laughed out loud.

Row like you stole it.

I'm sure on some level, that's not the right image for a school's team, but I found it brilliant.

Walk like you want to get a good story out of it, that's my motto. It's so easy.

A Message for You

This was a week without enough time in it.

A reader recently commented that he didn't know how I had enough time to post as often as I do. I don't know, either.

Just this past week, I had lunch at a Salvadorean restaurant, but not enough time to blog it.

I spent a couple of days in Annapolis and never found a moment to write about it all - some fine meals, fabulous conversations, the scent of the night air from the Severn river- not to mention train rides where I was forced to play "quiet cop." My only reward was the handsome man sitting next to me who whispered, "Good job!" after I silenced the loud talkers.

Today began with a phone call from Steve, the knowledgeable man with the lisp who is replacing the windowsills on the front of my 1876 apartment, letting me know he'd arrived to begin work. Me, I was just beginning my day.

With him working on the roof of the porch below, I had a constant voyeur looking in my front windows as I went about my day in full view of him.

Occasionally, he'd ask me to plug in one of his tools or refill his water bottle, but basically I just tried to carry on like there wasn't a man merely a screen away.

I hope this doesn't mean I'm okay with being watched.

After a most productive day writing, I intended to enjoy a reading at Chop Suey, passing the hordes stuffed into the Baja Bean patio in the early evening sunlight, all but shoulder to shoulder. No, thanks, no patio is worth that.

At Chop Suey, I was greeted by Andrew, notable not only because he was reading from his new book tonight but because Andrew was the occupant of my apartment before me.

I didn't know him back then, but once I moved in and learned his name, I made a point to say hello. You'd be surprised how many times we've talked about this apartment and our distinctly different experiences in the exact same space.

Taking a seat near the back of the store, I soon had hands over my eyes as the poet greeted me, looking lovely as always, barelegged in shorts. A poetry power couple sat down in front of me.

Tom DeHaven read first from a book he'd written back in 1986-87 and thought he'd lost until his wife recently rediscovered it as they began packing for a move.

Interestingly enough, the book, "Painters in Winter" was about many of the same artists as the documentary I'd seen last night. Funny how often those kinds of coincidences happen.

William Glackens is following me and I like it.

The reading began with chapter one about John Sloan, a talented painter scratching out a living doing commercial freelance work (with "payment delayed on a whim" - tell me about it) when he wasn't sitting in the back room of his apartment studying the lives of strangers through windows in the building behind his.

Now you know where the Ashcan School got their inspiration.

Fed up with the publishing industry, Tom is publishing his book online chapter by chapter.

Next Andrew took the stage to read a story from his short story collection, "I've Got a Message for You and You're Not Going to Like It," one of eleven that he wrote over a period of ten years.

It was called "The Skunk Ape of Legend" and concerned  a smelly skunk ape who impregnates a girl named Sara Marie.

Referring to the narrator getting his shoulder busted for the second time, he wrote, "My body told the weather like a goddamn almanac." Now that's a great line.

The moment the reading ended, I left for the Grace Street Theater to see "Phantom of the Operator," a documentary about telephone operators.

I said hello to the James River Film Fest guys on my way in, got a seat in my favorite row and motioned for the man about town to join me, which he did.

He'd seen "Hamlet" at the Byrd this afternoon, a film I'd have loved to have seen if I hadn't been neck-deep in work.

Tonight's documentary interested  me hugely because both of my grandmothers were telephone operators for their entire working lives, part of the thousands of women who made careers of the jobs originally held by teen boys...at least until Ma Bell determined that they had no sense of customer service whatsoever and replaced them with estrogen.

As the company put it, "Women submit to management easily." Well, we did, at least.

Director Caroline Martel used vintage corporate film footage to trace the development of women as operators, women who were given physical exams as part of the interview process and hired to work until their wedding day.

I don't know about the men in the audience, but I could tell which decades the footage came from based solely on the women's clothing.

We saw Victorian footage, all the women looking like variations on a Gibson Girl, Roaring 20s operators with their flattened breasts and shapeless dresses and mod '60s girls in mini skirts, long hair and fake eyelashes.

Just so you know, the '60s was also the first time we saw any non-white women as operators.

Teaching the women, and by default, that meant my grandmothers, the importance of putting a smile in their voices, using good emphasis (no monotones!), a moderate rate of speech and a controlled volume, they created a legion of same-sounding operators, the precursors to automated speech.

Of course, eventually women began to be forced out of the industry as automation replaced them and the film raised a fascinating point: When did we start seeing all technological developments as human progress?

While she used the royal "we," I really don't include myself in that group. I'd be the first to say that just because we have the technology doesn't mean we have to use it.

Look at me - no cell phone, no TV, no cable, no air conditioning. A Luddite, to be sure.

And absolutely no guilt when I'm too busy having a wildly enjoyable time to stop and blog about it.

Can I get an amen?