Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rural Retreating

Rest assured, if I had any white shoes, skirts or dresses, I'd have stayed home and spent the weekend packing them up.

But since I don't wear white - looks awful on me - that left me free to accept an invitation to the country for the long weekend instead.

First order of business after a bountiful breakfast: an all-day pool party under a bright blue sky.

The wine was free-flowing, the memories stretched back to living in Church Hill before it was chic and just about everybody ended up in the water at some point.

I especially liked the high-spirited guy who kept cannonballing in an attempt to knock others off their floats. If not water hi-jinks at a pool party, then when?

Our host had apparently started his own partying before the guests arrived, so he dropped out for a while to take a nap, returning to his chair unobtrusively as if he'd never been away...except for the creases on his cheek.

One trio took an expedition into the woods, returning with a 6' black snake in hand, choosing not to bring it into the pool area only when I made my snake feelings clear to all.

Don't harsh my mellow with a black snake, y'all.

Mid-afternoon, swimming and snake handling paused for lunch of pizza (our host had made his own crust, our hostess had chosen all the vegetable toppings from her abundant garden), lasagna, corn on the cob and kale salad (despite the creator acknowledging that she had not massaged the kale, it was stellar).

Also, wedges of watermelon, because it could be construed as un-American not to bookend the summer with watermelon on both Memorial Day and Labor Day.

As was probably the case at holiday celebrations all over the Commonwealth, there was a fair amount of chatter about our former first couple and their unsuitability for the governor's mansion.

We had a consensus that not a single person anywhere ever needed to see pictures of our former first lady headed into the federal courthouse with a camel-toe courtesy of her polyester pantsuit.

After much laughter courtesy of multiple empty bottles of wine, we went the rural retreat route for a low-key evening of grilled t-bone steak, a salad that could been the poster child for the holiday weekend (corn, tomatoes, red onion, basil and balsamic, the second and fourth from the cook's gardens) and crusty bread slathered with Irish butter enjoyed on the screened-in porch surrounded by Chianti bottles housing burning candles,

Our musical point of departure was Teddy Pendergrass, making for some excellent R & B tangents as the evening dancing and conversation progressed. Some might say we were workin' it.

Teddy, now there was a man who looked far too good in white to pack it away, no matter what the holiday.

My Labor Day hero.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Time Makes You Bolder

Fleetwood Mac and summer just go together.

My best friend and I saw them play two nights at the Capital Center in 1977 on the "Rumours" tour. Even know what I wore both nights (we won't talk about the mauve and lavender tube top and cut-offs).

Fast forward 37 Augusts and tonight I was right up front at Hardywood for the latest in the Cover to Cover series to see "Rumours" played start to finish by a bunch of theater people I have seen both onstage and at the ghost light afterparty many times.

But his time, it was personal. These songs are the soundtrack of my misspent youth.

With terrific songs to work with and a crack band, including for the first time, Brian Cruse, a bass player I first met when he was in Marionette and have since seen in many guises (tonight he oozed the '70s in a white leisure suit and shades, his waist-length hair down for the first time I'd ever seen), each song was a testament to its immortality.

Audra doing "Dreams"? Everyone sang along. Nick killing it on "Never Going Back"? Lindsey would be proud.

Before "Go Your Own Way," Hedwig (no Angry Inch), aka Matt, came out in full regalia sipping a beer and spitting it out on my right sandal.

I couldn't have been more honored.

It was hotter than hell in Hardywood, the crowd was huge and boasted all ages and the smell of sweat permeated the room by the time we heard Katrinah do the sublime "Songbird."

Someone handed me a cluster of miniature pink roses, apropos of nothing.

Maggie sang "Gold Dust Woman," directing the line, "Rock on ancient queen" directly at Hedwig, who returned it with a hip cock and look of his own.

The encore necessarily had to feature earlier and later stuff. Rhiannon set the Stevie fanatics (easy to spot in their stylized version of '70s dress) on fire and while I was happy to hear "Landslide," I'd have preferred "Silver Springs."

An '80s song followed but since I'd long since abandoned the Mac by then, I barely recognized it. But I did get both the first Stevie Nicks solo albums when they came out.

So while Stevie's "Edge of Seventeen" wasn't what I would have chosen to play as the closer for "Cover to Cover: Rumours," it was a crowd-pleasing, rabble rousing finish to a very hot, sweaty Fleetwood Mac kind of a night and I sang and danced along to every note.

Just not in a mauve and lavender tube top and cut-offs...although they might have been cooler.

Of Zephyrs and Chocks

Love in dishevelment, or, another visit to the northern neck to see Mom and Dad.

Three months after a tree taller than their house came down in a storm, eating a hole in the third floor roof and dispensing with other windows and siding, they are still in a much smaller cottage a quarter of a mile away.

Their house's renovations have finally begun, but with at least a couple of months of work ahead, they're in for more adjustment to the pleasures of smaller digs.

My Dad is okay with piles and a certain amount of visual disorder (says he knows which pile everything is in) while Mom prefers stuff to be out of sight.

As we set the table for lunch today, she telling him to get his debris off the table, he suggested she embrace more dishevelment in their lives.

She made a face and he defended himself, saying he'd read a book called "Love in Dishevelment" (no doubt a '50s pulp mystery) and some of it could be applied to life.

What he was trying to say was that it wasn't realistic for her to think he's going to abandon dishevelment. She tried using me as a witness, claiming I'd have no part in dishevelment. I pleaded the fifth.

Yes, these are the conversations I have with my parents.

In other news, I conquered the Merry Point!

After multiple past attempts to ride the Merry Point ferry, today was my lucky day to ride the two-car, six person cable ferry.

Show up at the end of Ottoman Ferry Road and the ferry will take you across the Corrotoman river - where I'd seen dolphins two weeks ago (none today) - in the blink of an eye.

It was on the other side upon arrival, so I waded into the river (very warm and very clear) and watched the ferry chug back over, reaching down to feel the cable vibrate as it approached.

Then it was my turn.

A car followed me on and, just like that, we were at limit. Ignoring a sign back on land suggesting ferry patrons stay in their cars, I got out.

What, the captain (the man who put chocks behind my tires) is going to make me walk the plank if I don't?

It was the kind of afternoon as sunny and clear as they seemed when you were at recess in third grade, a glorious day to be on a ferry even for a short time.

But that was long after lunch and hours spent on the front porch ogling nature with the people who spawned me.

A brilliant electric blue bug looked fake, a hummingbird showed up only to find the feeder empty (refilled it) and my Dad commented, "Ah, a lovely zephyr," (knew that it was wind, didn't know westerly) when it got breezy.

We took a field trip to the front yard to admire and discuss the two positively artistic lightening rods on the roof of this cottage they're staying in, all glass balls and sunburst-like toppers.

A practical necessity rendered to please the eye.

My parents suggested I go look at the cabin, a tiny place on the property where the owner stays when he doesn't have guests that warrant using the cottage (the one my parents are borrowing).

It was a place for one person, preferably a short one: low, 6' ceiling, pre-1940 Westinghouse refrigerator (shorter than me), one main room and a bedroom.

And if that person were me, I would revel in all the windows (the kind that open toward you, not up the wall) and a screened porch with a swing, a picnic table and a view of the creek shaded by a tree I couldn't hug half of.

A good place to write a textbook, apparently (owner just finished one), but also one with two boats in the yard and plenty of places to do nothing. But small, very compact.

Some might see it as a breeding ground for dishevelment.

As my Dad is sitting there at the table watching my Mom and me prepare lunch, set the table and bustle about, he acknowledges his lazy demeanor but tries to make a case for it being situational.

"People worry if your mother dies before I do that I'll starve to death," he begins his tangent. Hard to say where it might go. "I may grieve to death, but I'll certainly be able to feed myself."

And that, I'm pretty sure, is love in dishevelment. Hell of a role model.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Take Five

Some nights are all about the simple pleasures.

I set out to check out L'Oppossum, eager to see how the former Pescado's China Street had been transformed.

When I expressed my preference for the bar over a table, the two gentlemen at the host stand assured me that the bartender would be friendly.

That was an understatement. He not only recognized me from eons ago, but even inquired about a mutual friend of ours.

There's really no escaping your past in this town.

Settling into the end stool, the first thing I noticed was all the interesting art on the wall interspersed with "Star Wars" plates. Behind the bar, I spotted a stuffed possum and a painting of Nick Cave.

It was a pleasure to see a restaurant that bore no resemblance to the current restaurant decor trend.

The second was the music, everything from Helen Reddy to the Delfonics "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) with nary a cliched indie tune to be heard. Absolutely delightful.

The trio nearest me at the bar were soon replaced with the casually dressed director of the VMFA and his wife about the time my pale pink glass of fresh and fruity La Galope Rose Comte arrived.

I was told they'd sold out of nine bottles the first night they were open. Could it be that we are finally becoming a Rose town? Be still, my heart.

Apparently the director and his wife had been there before because I heard her tell the bartender that they were positively smitten with the place, rating it their new favorite.

Since it was my first visit, the menu was a blank slate to me so I began with the obvious: the el dorado low rider, a lobster taco with tomatillo sauce and decadent guacamole.

While there was the option to add the chef's surprise, I opted out of adding tonight's surprise of foie gras, not really needing my arteries to close down before Labor day.

Once I opened the conversational door by inquiring about the about music, the bartender boldly walked through, providing endless opinions and observations about music past and present.

I admire a man who appreciates a good pop song, no matter the genre.

We covered his first show (the Kinks), his thoughts on Television's first album, his recommendation of Comasat Angels and memories of early Cure.

At one point, a man came to the bar, credit card in hand, to order a beer. Seems he'd ordered a beer from his server at the table, but hadn't the patience to wait for it to arrive.

"I need a beer now," he clarified. "I'll still drink the one the server brings me." Off he went, beer in hand.

Man, that's some serious jonesing for a beer, friend.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I was being asked what I wanted next. His suggestion was to get something I wouldn't want to share in case my next visit involved a companion.

Good thinking. I ordered escargots a la ham biscuit, which was exactly what it sounds like: a plate of escargot (and greens) with a ham biscuit adorned with, that's right, an escargot.

Proving I am my Richmond grandmother's granddaughter, I pulled off a piece of biscuit, slathered it with butter and devoured it to assess the biscuit worthiness.

Before long, it was just me at the bar, leaving the bartender to make drinks for tables and in between, chat with me.

About how Wilco started out aping Gram Parsons. How 20-somethings don't even know who Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers are. About what pop gems the Strokes wrote.

I considered death by chocolate, but instead had another glass of Rose to accompany the music talk.

After anticipating a quick, solo meal, I'd been having such a terrific time talking with my fellow music lover, I'd completely lost track of time. Hours had passed and I now had somewhere to be.

Of all the unlikely places, it was with the Baptists. Just don't tell them I'd been imbibing.

I arrived at the courtyard at First Baptist on Monument, already knowing the drill for how this works.

Although tonight was the first of this year's courtyard classics I'd attended (and none last year because they were all cartoon movies), I've seen plenty of movies in the shadow of this church during other hot August nights.

Out host made sure everyone who wanted popcorn had gotten some because, he said, movies are more palatable when you're eating popcorn.

After a prayer of thanks for the nice breeze (I abstained), we were on to a 1954 MGM cartoon called "Dixieland Droopy" about a dog (a beagle, perhaps?) named John Irving Pettybone who loves Dixieland music.

Only problem is no one else does so he keeps getting kicked out of places like the "Good Rumor Ice Cream" truck for playing his Dixieland record.

After the record is broken, he lucks out by having a flea band take up residence in his tail and play non-stop Dixieland.

It was hysterical when the dog tells the flea band to "take five" and they hop off his back and approach some smoldering butts on the street, puffing away during their break and then going back to play.

Thus warmed up, we moved on to the main feature, a Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz classic called "The Long, Long Trailer."

Taking place in the pre-interstate era (1954), the story follows the newlyweds as they buy a trailer and car in which to honeymoon and then live happily ever after.

In a nod to the crowd, it had subtitles so you didn't have to listen too hard to understand the dialog.

Since I spent a good part of my childhood watching reruns of "I Love Lucy," I expected this to be similar so I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn't.

That said, their character names were Tacy and Nicky, but we'll let that slide.

But here Nicky was an engineer (not a bandleader) and Tacy wasn't quite as zany, unless you count hoarding rocks for the future garden she planned to plant once they arrived in Colorado, their goal.

It was very '50s, of course, with Tacy (frequently in hat and gloves) lobbying hard for the trailer purchase (by the way $5,345) so that, "No matter where were are, I could make  home for you."

Aww, how sweetly Eisenhower years is that?

And speaking of that, all the roads were two lanes, policemen directed traffic at intersections and parking lots cost fifty cents.

While it wasn't "I Love Lucy," there was still plenty of physical humor such as Nicky hilariously fighting with the trailer shower head and Tacy trying to make a fancy dinner while the trailer is being pulled.

When she tells Nicky she's making beef ragout and a Cesar salad, he says he'll get out the Roquefort.

"Only boors use Roquefort," she corrects him. "Everyone knows it's Parmesan." Did everyone know that in 1954?

There's even a too cutesy scene of the two of them motoring along, Tacy stretched out on the giant bench seat of their Lincoln convertible, singing a song called "Breezin' Along."

That's how you know they're in love.

Well, that and Nicky says, "You could make me happy living in a cave." Doubtful, but we got his point.

The climax comes when they have to go over an 8,000 foot mountain and Nicky tells Tacy to jettison all the stuff she's been collecting, which of course she doesn't do.

During scenes of the trailer being pulled along high, narrow roads on the edge of a cliff, the crowd around me got vocal.

"Oh, my word!"

"Uh oh!"

"No, no, she's in trouble now!"

When the clouds are the ceiling in your outdoor movie theater, I guess it's just fine to talk to the characters in a fifty year old movie.

I didn't, but I'd also unexpectedly spent a whole lot of conversation at dinner, maybe all I had for the evening.

Doubtful, but you get my point.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Days of Flies and Deer

Curiosity about a building I'd seen was all it took.

The Virginia Historical Society's banner lecture was "Sheltering Arms: A Legacy of Caring" given by Anne Lower from her book of the same name, out this year on the 125th anniversary of the hospital.

If it weren't for one of my walks having taken me down Clay Street across from the Valentine where I saw a handsome three-story building labeled "Sheltering Arms," I doubt the lecture would have piqued my interest.

Lower had my attention immediately when she explained that the original St. James Episcopal Church had been in Jackson Ward before moving to the "west end," over on Franklin Street in the heart of what is now VCU.

I couldn't have been more surprised to learn that Episcopalians had once gathered in J-Ward.

That was relevant because Rebekah Peterkin was the daughter of Reverend Joshua Peterkin of St. James church and she was the founder of Sheltering Arms.

With the limited powers of a 19th century woman, she convened her sewing circle to help establish a hospital for needy patients in the city.

Their first building - Clifton House on 14th Street - located behind the governor's mansion was donated and opened in 1889.

Lower made it sound like a community effort with doctors volunteering their time and bringing their own instruments, even painting walls, while farmers donated food and hunters donated deer.

Women, of course, donated time and endless fund-raising efforts.

After Rebekah died in 1891, the hospital was moved to the stately Grant mansion on Clay Street, the handsome building that had first caught my eye.

In the old photograph Lower showed, nurses wore floor-length white uniforms and she told us that they lived on the third floor of the mansion.

We heard about the formation of the Florence Nightingale Auxiliary and their community efforts - scout canned food drives, the Bal du Bois ("the most beautiful of parties," Lower called it), sorority fundraisers - to keep funds and goods coming in to Sheltering Arms.

Showing a picture of the operating room on Clay Street, Lower pointed out the three big windows, "Opened for fresh air during surgery, but also letting in flies because there were no screens then."

She said the windows had a great view of the countryside looking east.

That's the kind of details I go to these lectures for. Imagine a time when  operating rooms were open to views and flies!

The rest of the history interested me less - the move to northside where they no longer delivered babies or did surgery, the decline in need for free care once Medicare was put into law and how Sheltering Arms reinvented itself as a rehabilitation facility.

All well and good.

For me, I have a new appreciation of the Grant Mansion and next time I walk by, I'll try to imagine those long-skirted nurses working and living in that lovely house.

I'll probably even try to figure out which windows were the operation room ones so I can envision the view.

And then when I get back to Jackson Ward, I'll completely suspend belief and try to imagine Episcopalians in my neighborhood.

It must be true. I heard it at a Banner Lecture.

Three for Three

Triple booked tonight and it was worth every bit of the to and fro-ing.

First was the cocktail party at a friend's house.

The occasion? Her Mom is visiting from Mexico in anticipation of the two of them flying to Bermuda, where she lived for 11 years, next week.

Nice trip if you can get it.

Actually, I've been to Bermuda and had a fabulous time, but that doesn't stop me from envying my friend her upcoming time there.

Her Mom was delightful and droll, never more so than when she observed her two-year old granddaughter in a tutu and a cropped Ramones t-shirt and deadpanned, "I bet she's never even heard the Ramones."

She shared a news-making story from her days as a curator, raved about her 14-year old seat mate on the plane ride and was wearing fabulous jewelry she made herself.

An interesting mom altogether.

After far too much Rose, cheese and figs and deviled eggs, I said my goodbyes to make stop number two, joining two girlfriends at Balliceaux.

Tonight was their first time experiencing Hand to Hand Haiku and by the time I got there, they'd already nabbed a front row table and had beers in front of them.

It was an unusually small crowd tonight but there were still plenty of combatants to follow host Raven Mack's opening monologue about the 1300 sonnets he's writing.

He was kind enough to read us two of them.

Then it was on to round one between Ryan, who characterized his haiku writing as stupid and John, who called his straight bullshit.

I've seen Ryan compete before so I already knew the constant in his haikus is the use of the word "dude."

Dude, this neighborhood
suffers from a serious lack
of Blue Oyster Cult

Like that. Except John won. Like Raven, he's got a terrific voice and an interesting look, so he's one of my favorites to watch compete, even when he doesn't win the match.

Round two brought Paul who referred to his haikus as "Appalachian filth" and the defending champion Amy, who called hers "written a few minutes ago."

I have to say, the room about lost it when Paul read this one.

New Volvo driving
old white ladies with butt plugs,
pucker lips, hate me

Later, he told me he was writing about the women he sees at Ellwood Thompson who always make a point to scowl at him.

Amy was no slacker either.

Home girl burnt her lip
on the joint's hot spot.
Blunt force trauma.

As one of my friends put it, "I didn't expect haikus to be so funny."

Oh, but they can be.

There's always a death match that pits host Raven against a worthy challenger and tonight's was Rebecca, who read a haiku called "Skin."

Our greatest asset
gives us the ability
to touch and be felt

Just as good and all too relevant for my friend was one of Raven's.

By day, mild mannered
state administrator.
By night, depressed.

Eventually, Rebecca ran out of haikus so they went to free-styling, making up haikus on the spot for the judges (of whom I happened to be one), a mighty impressive thing to witness.

Raven won again, taking the pink game cock (yep, you read that right) trophy back home with him for the umpteenth time, but the man can write haiku about masturbating with peppermint soap and how tingly it feels, so he truly is the master.

Usually the death match is the end of the evening, but tonight John and Amy returned to fight it out until John ran out of haikus and conceded.

Luckily, he's talented and tenacious, so he frequently comes back.

After the match ended, we sat and chatted for a while, planning our next date and trying to convince one of our friends to go see "Boyhood," a film two of us had loved.

Somehow, we got on the subject of people who don't pay attention to music and how foreign and unpleasant a world that would be for us.

We sat there preaching to the choir before breaking camp so one could go home to bed, one to have another beer and wait for her boyfriend and me to go to a show.

Now there's a surprise.

As if a great bill on a Wednesday night wasn't lucky enough, I found a parking space directly in front of Strange Matter.

Inside, I found a clutch of WRIR folks, a music writer and a drummer, but all in all, far fewer people than I'd anticipated.

Playing first were hometown heroes White Laces, although playing as a trio tonight instead of a quartet, and doing lots of songs off their upcoming October release, "Trance."

Did I miss the keyboards? Yes, but that's not to say that their smart, guitar-driven sound wasn't fully satisfying to hear, as always.

From the lead single, "Skate of Die" to the album's final cut, "Strangulation Blues," their set was yet another reminder of how far this band has come since I first saw them at the courtyard during the artwalk four years ago.

Watching them, it feels like a big deal to have witnessed their steady ascent to where they are now.

During the break, I talked with a friend about the challenges of freelancing, glad to hear that her frustrations mirror mine and it's not just me.

Then the room began to fill with smoke as Sisu's smoke machine kicked into overdrive.

They also had video showing behind them and two perfect sets of bangs, courtesy of Sandy and Jules of the Dum Dum Girls.

It's Sandy's band and the music is psychedelic, full-bodied and dark with plenty of reverb.

Loud, too, but not as loud as it would have been if the drummer hadn't put his red plaid flannel shirt over his drum before playing it.

Being visual creatures, lots of guys seemed to be taking pictures of the lovely Sandy shredding her guitar.

At one point, I looked over at the door and all I could see was a solid haze of smoke and no door at all.

After their set ended, I talked to a friend about why more VCU kids weren't at the show and with the drummer of the Shangri-Lords about the stellar set of theirs I'd seen at the pool party the other night.

Turns out he and the bass player have been girl group fans for years and finally got to let their inner girls out via this band.

As the crowd began to filter back in, San Diego band Crocodiles took the stage and began an audio assault laden with echo, one of my favorite sounds.

It was music from a cave, full of guitar distortion tamed into something wonderfully energetic and danceable.

A drunk girl in front of me wrangled a guy to dance with her, producing hysterical results as they managed to dance off beat for the next five songs, stumbling into each other and everyone around them without ever moving in relation to the music being played.

But at least they were dancing, as was most of the room to Crocodiles' catchy, noisy psych-rock with the kind of guitar work that calls to mind all those post-punk bands of the mid-aughts that I loved.

Just another Wednesday in River City.

While some might lament the serious lack of Blue Oyster Cult, I'm calling it a damn fine evening.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Floating Above It

There is no end to how small a town this can seem.

It happens all the time - I see a gallerist or restaurant person in the grocery story and they're so out of context that it takes me a sec to place them.

How there's never more than a few degrees of separation between anyone in this town.

Case in point: I am meeting a friend at his house and while waiting for his girlfriend to show up, he puts on a cassette tape of a band he was in back in the late '90s.

I spot a familiar face. The woman singing in the band is someone I knew a lifetime ago.

Funny how that happens.

Once his beloved arrived, we strolled over to Pomegranate, a neighborhood restaurant for them but one they'd never been to.

I consider it essential to know about any restaurant that I can easily walk to and from. I was assisting them with research.

On the way, I spotted Bertha, a woman whose backyard had backed up to mine for the 13 years I lived on Floyd Avenue.

Bertha had been old when I'd moved there in 1993 and I knew she'd lost her husband of 70-some years just a couple of years ago.

But there she was, sitting on the porch of the house she'd moved to during WW II.

Even though I moved away eight years ago, she remembered me almost at once and hugged me, eager to chat.

It didn't take long for her to brag about being 93 (she doesn't look a day over 80) and I asked her point blank if she attributed part of her longevity to her long, happy marriage.

She did and admitted she still misses him every day. "I was lost without him," she said.

It was a kind of wonderful flashback talking to Bertha after so long. Our lives had been intertwined for over a dozen years.

She'd lent me her lawn mower before I had one (her husband always reminded me not to cut the lawn in flip-flops), taught me how to make squash fritters with the abundance she grew at the rear of my back yard and was, in general, the neighborhood busybody.

When my friends started ahem-ing to get me off her porch and walking to Pomegranate again, I hugged her goodbye.

"Come back again soon!" she admonished as I re-joined my dinner companions.

You know, I think I will. That's a woman with some great stories and I'd like to be the one to hear them.

When we got to the restaurant, every patio table was taken, but there was plenty of room in the main dining room which was suffering a wilting sonic attack from a group of  30-something women catching up on each other's lives.

Let's just say I heard the words "wedding" and "pregnancy" a lot.

We massed around the end of the bar so as to hear one another talk.

From bread served with salty high quality butter to salad to ravioli, blue fish two ways and twice fried quail over mashed potatoes, my friends were seduced by Pomegranate's food.

At one point, he compared her satisfied food moans to those of Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally," high praise indeed.

The closer was Pomegranate's version of bananas foster and, for the chocoholics among us, chocolate pate with figs and berries.

When our server delivered the chocolate pate, he was quick to point out the locally grown Black Mission figs.

Took them off of somebody's tree, didn't you? I inquired.

"We totally did," he said quickly and honestly.

I'm just happy to eat figs; I don't worry much about whose tree they were plucked from. Call me old school.

The pate tasted as if it had been made with that same decadent high fact butter as we'd been slathering on bread, meaning the rooves of our mouths were soon slick with fat. Mmm.

Friend pointed out that the bananas foster didn't taste as if it had been lit (he's cocky because he'd made four of them in a night once), but was nonetheless exquisite in its rich banana creaminess.

By then, not only the patio had cleared out, but the final trio of the get-together threw in the towel and went home to their pre-fab lives.

We were the last. Walking home down Auburn, I pointed out that a block away, my father had been born.

That was a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

After my friends went home to their beds and early wake-up calls, I made one last stop at Cary Street Cafe to hear Fear of Music.

Josh Small did a couple of songs to finish out the opening set while I joined the people began pouring in.

Spotted a restaurant manager, a bartender, an editor, a banjo player and who knows who else among the expectant looking crowd.

Once the all-Talking Heads extravaganza began, it didn't take long for the room to become a mass of people dancing or at the very least, dancing in place.

All except three I saw, who inexplicably managed to remain stationary while some of the danciest music since Kool & the Gang (whom David Byrne once earnestly cited as the band's main inspiration) tried to wind its way into their body.

I don't understand. When you're hearing "Psycho Killer" or "And She Was" or "Drugs," the human body just wants to move.

Didn't we prove that back in the '70s?

A friend was charmed when a guy began filling the room with hundreds of bubbles raining down on the dancing masses, an effect I might have seen in a couple other decades.

She and I have been saying for ages that we were going to schedule a night out together and here we'd shown up for the same late show on a Tuesday night.

When the town's small enough, you don't even have to make plans. We're just not that big and it's kind of grand.

I'll say it loud and proud...I guess that this must be the place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Off the Chain

Took a new walk, tried a new dog.

While I've been doing lots of new to me walks lately - I did the floodwall west Friday, ending up in the SunTrust parking lot on southside, and Randolph and the cemeteries there Saturday (even heard gun shots followed by a bugle playing "Taps") - today's jaunt had two major things going for it.

The historic nature of the slave trail, heartbreaking as it is, and the practically perfect weather, sunny, breezy and absent humidity.

I walked all the way to the Manchester docks where I met three gentlemen fishing and shooting the breeze.

They suggested I join them but I politely declined.

Coming back, I decided to circumvent the last part of the walking trail and instead clambered up the rip rap to access the bridge and save myself quite a few steps in the process.

Despite not being the clambering type, the good news is I neither dropped my keys nor scraped up the moneymakers.

Back on terra firma, I took the pipeline walkway, did a leg soak and climbed the hills home, where I immediately picked up the phone and called a friend for lunch.

A six mile walk will give you an appetite no matter how much breakfast you ate.

Last time we'd gotten together for lunch, he'd been in the midst of a terrible, awful, no-good day but today's mood was considerably sunnier.

Making our way through gaggles of VCU students with not a clue how to navigate crosswalks, sidewalks and streets (one young twerp stood in the right lane of Broad Street to light her cigarette), we ducked off of Broad and into Unleashed Gourmet Hot Dogs, dodging cold drips from the air conditioner over the doorway in the process.

Inside, it was cool, empty and a laundry list of imported and housemade hot dogs greeted us. A server at Empire had turned me on to this place, raving about the quality of the dogs.

My only complaint? Not one was named after that noblest of breeds, the beagle, nor was a picture of a beagle among those hung on the walls for decoration.

I'd call that a gross oversight.

When I asked the owner what was so great about his dogs, he boasted of importing some and making others.

"They're the best," he said. 'Let me know after you try one."

Friend went straight for the English pointer, a smoked sausage with roasted pepper, sauteed onions and honey mustard while I selected the Mutt International, a crisp-skinned oversized wiener that snapped when I bit it, with beer-roasted barbecue pulled pork and cole slaw riding atop it.

Both of us were impressed with the non-traditional rolls, more a crusty, toothsome bread pocket than a typical bland hot dog roll.

Russian potato salad, bright red with beet juice and a nice tang, went down easily as we sat at the window counter and watched the colorful street theater of Harrison Street parade by.

"So?" the owner called to us from his perch behind the counter.

Mighty fine dogs, sir, we answered and he beamed. "I told you!"

Now just hang a picture of a beagle on the wall and this place'll be practically perfect.

And, I might add, only a short walk from home.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Running into the Sun

Sometimes you feel fortunate just to have been asked to take a road trip on a certifiably gorgeous day.

And then it just keep getting better.

Our first goal was lunch and Tanglewood Ordinary presented itself just as the driver acknowledged he was hungry.

And the family dining outpost, with its bottomless fried chicken and sides - cole slaw, biscuits, cornbread, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, black eyed peas, green beans - plus a second protein (in our case, pot roast), more than took care of some growling stomachs.

Our server, Zach looked to be about twelve, but since he delivered our Zorin Prosecco, I'm going to assume he was older.

I couldn't have been more surprised at the music, which began with Marvin Gaye and went downhill, but perhaps that's a function of starting at the top.

There's a particular charm to eating in a restaurant that's part rec room, part simulated log cabin and part home on the range while the Spinners' "Rubberband Man" is playing overhead.

Fully stuffed on wings and legs, my affable date and I soldiered on to First Colony Winery.

The purpose was a complete wine tasting, but my ulterior motive involved my previous visit to First Colony last November.

Then, I'd seen piles of rushes, part of the supplies to build a new thatched roof on the winery.

Today, nine months later, the bodacious new thatched roof was a thing of beauty, topped by a weathervane of a chicken, turning with the wind.

And not just lovely because of the use of age-old thatching techniques but because of the quality of the workmanship on the roof.

It wasn't just a run of the mill thatched roof, it revealed itself in three different ways.

One part of the roof was just rushes, neatly trimmed at the end, over the line of the house. Another part was like a cross-section, a side cut view of the rushes.

But the most intriguing section was purely decorative, with an "X" under a half curve, one after another, patterned along the roof line.

If only I could have seen part of the process to make that happen.

On the deck off to the side of the tasting room, a band called Mid Life Crisis did a credible job with songs such as "King of the Road" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" to a rapt, wine-swilling crowd and a couple of dogs.

Inside the tasting room, we'd timed it perfectly and the bustling crowds soon dissipated and we had the room to ourselves.

Moving through what our taster called the "porch pounders" - Chardonnay 2012, Rose 2013 and the Zephyr blend - also known as easy-drinking summertime wines, we savored Petit Verdot 2012 and marveled at Claret 2012, surprisingly not cloying despite 3% residual sugar.

Afterwards, we retired to the deck under the trees with the masses, glasses of the refreshing and fruit forward Rose to nourish us.

Couples danced and the rest of us watched as the band demonstrated why they always end up staying past the time their set ends: people are having too good a time to stop.

But we had bigger fish to fry and once our pink was history, headed up the hill to Blenheim Winery for our final goal and the main event.

It was my first farm to table Hill and Holler dinner and it was a doozy.

Chef Kyle Bailey of D.C.'s  Birch and Barley and Church Key was preparing food while the entertainment was to be Jackson Browne.

Kind of a big deal.

I'm not sure I would have even said I was a fan, but an opportunity to see him live - especially at this point- seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was over the moon at having been invited.

Despite every attendee having been warned not to wear heels, there were dozens of women who ignored the advice and, as a result, spent the evening taking mincing steps in platform and spike-heeled shoes on a field of grass.

For the record, I wore flats.

The view was magnificent, looking out over a valley and toward mountains, everything especially deeply colored as dusk set in.

After a period of mingling (looking at old books in the library, talking to someone I knew ages ago, chatting up a stranger) with butternut squash soup with creme fraiche being passed, we took our seats under a canopy, all 140 of us.

Seems they'd tried to cap it at 100, then 125 and finally pulled in the reins at 140.

The only thing I can say in their defense is that it was a benefit for the Environmental Working Group so it was all for a good cause.

Next to me was Tom, a biologist, who quickly introduced himself and told me his age and his wife's name. Across from me sat the husband of a woman with the Environmental Working Group, while he worked with the Chesapeake Bay administration.

Looking around, the crowd was decidedly un-Richmond looking. In fact, most people looked so D.C., very self-important and busy.

As a native Washingtonian, I can make blanket generalizations like that about my people.

Everyone had barely found a resting place when Jackson himself took to the stage.

Looking remarkably like he did in the '70s (or at least pictures of him), the dark-haired Browne said, "I'm just going to sing three songs and hope they go with the wine pairings."

As if "Baby Blue" and "Looking East" wouldn't go with any wine. Pshaw.

His voice sounded amazingly like it did on the radio back in the day when Jackson Browne was on the radio, so it was no small thrill to hear him.

His encore was (duh) "Runnin' on Empty."

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

And then, poof! He was gone and it was farm table time.

Everything was served family style and first came cool pickled watermelon rind and marinated radish salad with arugula.

Panzanella, one of my favorite summer dishes, of Bellair Farms tomatoes, fresh pulled mozzarella and garlic with toasted bread came fast on its heels and both were paired with Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

With the deep blue of the sky fading to dark, we were served earthy gemelli with ground lamb, roasted peppers, cumin and yogurt, paired with Pollak Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2012.

A bit of conversation and I soon learned that the man across from me lives in Takoma Park, that last bastion of hippiedom in Maryland, although he seemed the antithesis of loosey-goosey hippies.

To go with King Family Meritage 2012, we had succulent roasted farm chicken with sweet potato and okra followed by beef tenderloin with eggplant and oyster mushrooms.

By this point, people's eyes were starting to glaze over with so much food and wine and beer (shucks, I didn't even mention the Blue Mountain Brewery selection that was also paired with that last course) being delivered regularly.

The pros among us persevered.

Dessert was pound cake with local peaches and cow's milk ricotta, served with a glass of Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold cider.

As you can imagine, by this point everyone was everyone's friend and the decibel level under the canopy had grown quite high blotting out the stillness of the landscape around us.

Everyone was still a little bit high about having just seen Jackson Browne perform and certainly the lovely meal and generously-flowing wine didn't hurt the vibe any.

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don't know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that'll be alright
If I can get you to smile before I leave

I don't know about anyone but me, but my smile was ear to ear long before I left.

Color me fortunate and then some.