Friday, August 26, 2016

If I Was a Drink

When planning an all day adventure, it's essential to pick a partner open to following your lead to create the perfect storm.

First, I need someone willing to knock off a quick five miles walking along the river, not to mention someone eager to climb rocks, remove shoes and cool down in one of the James' many natural Jacuzzis situated between rocks and created by the rushing water fed by nearby falls.

Someone who agrees that the second a snake is spotted - even a five inch one- it's time to move on.

Second, it's essential I have someone willing to cross state lines to eat lunch, and by lunch, I mean eat crabs until we can't eat anymore.

After a brief and soul-sucking stretch on I-95, we took Route 301 up past Fort A.P. Hill, through Port Royal and Dahlgren and landed in downtown Pope's Creek, Maryland at Captain Billy's Crabhouse.

And unlike my visit there last June, this time we ate outside on the deck overlooking the Potomac River and the bridge that had brought us there. Five other tables were occupied when we arrived and we outlasted them all, including a couple who sat down after us, only to rethink their decision and move indoors.

Amateurs.

Everything about being there was ideal - the jet skis buzzing by with rooster tails arcing behind them, the noisy birds atop almost every post on the nearby docks, the especially white clouds in the sky - including our 22-year old waitress, Brittney, who's lived in that area her entire life, making her skittish about moving to Short Pump to live with her boyfriend.

She's tempted only because then she'd have access to Olive Garden and the Cheesecake Factory. Honestly, we wanted to kidnap her and bring her back to Richmond with us, if only to show her (cue music) a whole, new world.

Instead, we ordered crabs, steamed shrimp and coleslaw and began the slow process of eating a lunch that would take a couple of hours to finish satisfactorily.

Although we differed on a few points - I don't use malt vinegar or a knife and we remove the smallest legs at different points in the process - both of us grew up being home-schooled by our elders in Advanced Crab Eating for Connoisseurs.

Few attain our level of mastery.

The afternoon passed in a haze of claw cracking, view admiring (and a bit of boat envy when a couple set out in the boat we'd been hearing bang against the dock since we sat down) and contentment, with just enough of a breeze to keep flies away.

Only the music - modern country with an occasional classic rock artist like Steve Miller or '90s throwback such as 311 - could have used some improvement, although I was having such a wonderful time I found myself somehow sucked in by a Brad Paisley song.

If she was a drink, she'd be single barrel bourbon on ice
Smooth, with a kick, a chill and a burn all at the same time
She's Sunday drive meets high speed chase
She ain't just a song, she's the whole mixtape

I can't say if I'd have even noticed the song if I hadn't been so happily eating crabs on the river on a summer's day, or perhaps southern Maryland is just a place where such a song fits.

By the time we bid Brittney farewell, the early dining crowd was beginning to arrive, our hands still reeked of crabs despite multiple washings and we knew our clothes were more than a tad ripe.

Not ashamed to admit more than a couple hunks of crab landed in my bra and on the chair next to me once my hands and mouth got going.

The drive back down 301 was relatively uneventful except for when it was highly dramatic, but my partner in crime called for reinforcements and Super Bruno not only saved the day, but teased her about her crabby breath before sending us on our way.

Third, and perhaps most importantly because it would be at this point (8 hours into our adventure) that most people would falter, I require someone who sees the value in a completely unique experience, even if it is after a long day and situated 35 miles in a different direction.

And that's after we got home, cleaned up and changed. Coincidentally, we'd both chosen flowered dresses for our rendezvous in Goochland.

Lickinghole Creek Brewery was positively packed when we drove up its dusty, red clay-covered driveway to join the throngs there for pick-your-own sunflowers. Okay, probably just as many were there for beer, given the lines.

But we were there to gather armfuls of free flowers with which to brighten up our city apartments and remind us of a fabulous day.

Walking towards the fields, we saw an artist busy at his easel capturing all the yellow flowers nodding around him and passed scores of people clutching bouquets of sunflowers.

Pegging us for new arrivals, a woman advised, "Go to the back rows!"

The sum total of my experience working in fields harvesting involved picking strawberries, which, I'm here to tell you, bears little resemblance to cutting flowers taller than me.

Unlike low-growing berries, sunflower fields are tall and dense and once you hack your way through fields of squash and melons to get to them, it's sticky hot, even just before sunset.

Which is not to say that being surrounded by so many flowers under puffy, pink-tinged clouds as dusk settled in wasn't worth every drop of sweat that rolled down the back (and front) of my sunflower-printed dress, because it was.

But so is having a partner who thinks a day that begins on the rocks, moves out of state and ends in a field is just as wonderful as I do.

Brad would say she's the whole mixtape.

Simmer Down

You never know where the surprises are going to come from.

I saw Hitchcocks's "Rear Window" on the big screen for the first time in 2009 and then a second time in 2011. Tonight I saw it again but with two major differences: I was outdoors and I was seeing it with a whole passel of people who hadn't seen it before, much less heard of rear window ethics.

Ever.

During dinner at a nearly empty Garnett's (there was a woman who'd dropped off her youngest at college and was having cake to help her deal with the trauma), I read the New York Times Magazine issue from December 15, 2015 (still not entirely sure why it remains in the reading box nine months later), mainly because the cover story was called "The Lives They Led" and was about obscure and notable people who died last year, so it was kind of fascinating.

And while I'd read that singer Leslie Gore of "It's My Party" fame was gay, I'd had no clue so many of her songs were about feeling like an outsider because of it.

I'd had no idea that there was a woman known as "Dust Lady" because of a haunting photograph taken shortly after the towers fell on September 11.

Or heard of Lee Israel, a two-bit writer who apparently faked a slew of correspondence by notable dead writers, a scam that led to a book deal about her literary thievery.

All dead now.

Showing my server a '60s photo of a mother and son sitting on a NYC stoop, a lit cigarette in her hand, I commented that you'd never see an image like that today and she agreed. "There's a simplicity to that that doesn't exist anymore. If they did it now, it would be so much more staged looking, so much less natural" she was sure.

Okay and there would also not be a cigarette in her hand.

Dessert consisted of a stranger's leftover frosting (she thinks icing is too sweet) and by the time I left, every seat was filled except mine. And despite everyone having someone with them, I made sure to return the magazine to the box in case others needed dinner company like I had.

Then I went undercover with the Baptists, as I do every August for their Classics in the Courtyard series. Just another heathen in a folding chair at First Baptist.

Trying to look unassuming, I began setting up my chair in the second row, only to have a woman ask me if I was with the James River Hikers. I admitted I wasn't, not sure if I needed to move my chair. She let me stay after I shared that I walk multiple miles every day.

The film had barely begun - Jimmy Stewart's window shades were just starting to roll up and Hitch had not yet cut to one of the many shots of the thermometer showing 90+ degrees - when I overheard a guy behind me ask, "Is this a murder mystery or a love story?" to which his friend replied, "Kind of both."

Kind of superfluous was the captioning, which I had to assume was on in case people couldn't hear all the dialog, but I'm pretty sure everyone there could hear the foghorns, whistles and cars beeping, so why did the captions need to show that inane information, too? It was just annoying.

It was not only an ideal summer flick, but a pretty great outdoor movie with all its references to heat. Beads of perspiration on Jimmy's face. A couple sleeping on their balcony. A composer mopping his studio in his boxers. Everyone's open windows.

As always happens when you're screening outdoors, the world becomes part of the experience. A cool breeze picked up just as it began raining onscreen and ended when it stopped.

As unfortunately also happens, glitches gum up the viewing. When the woman screams because she's discovered her little dog has been strangled, the screen froze, as if in horror.

Once we could have handled, but it kept happening, causing repeated pauses to correct it. Behind me, the "Rear Window" virgins were salivating to find out what was going to happen next.

Since I already knew that much, I focused on admiring the freeze frames of Grace Kelly, each one of which was utterly gorgeous, no matter where the frame settled.

All the starting and stopping was making for running commentary from behind, as in, "No, no, Lisa, get out of there!" when she was trapped in the murderer's apartment, or the clueless guy who saw Jimmy grabbing his camera bag for flashbulbs and whispered, "I hope he has a gun!"

Truly, I was amazed to hear so many people commenting as if this was their first time watching "Rear Window." How is that even possible in a crowd that definitely skewed pre-MTV?

When our hero mentioned needing a drink, the guy behind me said, "I need a drink, too. This is too much suspense!" Cover blown.

Not likely to happen with this crowd, friend. In any case, tonight proved that you haven't seen Hitchcock until you've seen it with the Baptists...and a few covert heathens.

And, yes, there will always be suspense.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Never Too Hot to Handle

Allow me to brag for a moment.

July 2016 was the hottest month on record according to NASA, weather.com and just about every other science nerd institution that pays people to monitor such things in hermetically sealed buildings across the country.

Certainly in Richmond it was a scorcher.

Yet, for the 24th year in a row, I eschewed air conditioning. It's not like I don't have central air retrofitted to my 1876 apartment, it's just that I've never turned it on in seven plus years of living here. For the other 17 years of living as Mother Nature intended during summer, I chose to live in un-air-conditioned residences.

My reasons are myriad, but let's start with how unnatural it is to be cool and comfortable in the south during the summer. You may be able to separate yourself from your body's natural responses, but I can't. I actually like that feeling of sweat working its way down my chest or back.

What air conditioning devotees (who, in a Venn diagram, overlap almost entirely with cell phone owners) refuse to acknowledge is that by being in climate-controlled spaces so much during the summer, your body's ability to deal with heat is severely compromised.

Even long-time friends who've accepted this eccentricity of mine aren't above looking at me with disdain, say on a patio or rooftop bar, and saying some version of, "You're not even sweating, are you?"

No, I'm not because my body is acclimated to dealing with heat, just as yours was at one time.

It's not like I don't sweat because I am slick with it after walking six miles every morning in this weather, but I also walk four miles an hour, so I'm not exactly lollygagging, either. But sitting outside, having a drink in 90 degree weather? That's hardly sweat-worthy once you're used to your apartment thermostat climbing to (occasionally above) 95.

Embracing summer would be reason enough for living outside societal norms, but the benefits pile on far beyond my preference for summers more reminiscent of those from my childhood.

My July electric bill was $38, how about yours? My carbon footprint is smaller than my actual footprint (although I don't exactly have petite feet) and I'm among the few who aren't contributing to global warming for the sake of sweater weather in July and August and, being an old hippie, that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

But, honestly, I turned my back on A/C to enhance the quality of my life.

When I looked at this apartment initially, every window was painted shut and I immediately told my landlord-to-be that I wouldn't take it unless every window opened easily and had screens. Already pegging me for a long-term rental gem, he accommodated. Two years ago, he had storm windows put in so my 19th century windows were a bit more air tight during polar vortexes.

Open windows are like porch sitting; they involved you in the goings-on of your neighborhood.

I hear people riding bikes a block before they pass my windows, their voices projecting ahead of their tires. Snippets of pedestrian conversation and car music drift up from the street (hearing Al Green blasting from an open car window has been known to cause spontaneous harmonizing ), along with the hum of cicadas at night and birds in the morning.

Granted, I also hear the trash truck on Wednesdays, the neighbor's hound alerting his parents to people in the alley and VCU's catastrophic siren, but, really, that's all just part and parcel of city life, like dings on your bumpers from daily parallel parking. If you want to feel isolated from the world (and maintain pristine bumpers), move to the suburbs or country.

And did I mention the perks of living without A/C beyond your physiology, the planet, your wallet and neighborliness?

When the mercury climbs precariously high in my apartment, I take that as summer giving me permission to wallow in it. That means cool showers, heat naps with three fans pointed directly at me, reading in my north-facing bedroom or on the shaded balcony and ice cream, lots of ice cream.

It means that there are times when I don't do anything at all because it's simply too hot. Summer was like that when I was a kid and it's still like that.

I ask you, what other season extends such glorious goof-off opportunities?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dropping Anchor Late

Even if you don't arrive at the Bay until after 4:00, August cuts you some slack.

There's still just under four hours to get your beach on before a day as exquisite as this one winds down to a close.

If you're like me and unaccustomed to setting up an umbrella that late in the day, you might be as surprised as I was that the shade produced was several yards away from the umbrella, which looked like some kind of abandoned totem far behind our chairs.

Science, never my strong suit.

Actually, late afternoon is ideal if you want to catch the maneuvering of a flotilla of sailboats (which, as it happened, I did) that convened and set sail right in front of us shortly after the work day ended.

Instead of happy hours, these avid sailors seemed to be having regatta hours.

And while it was totally cool seeing them circle and crisscross in front of one another, I found it most engaging when they lined up across the horizon, tilted at identical angles and looking for all the world like a synchronized swim team performing some sort of graceful choreography as they heeled in unison.

Oh sure, I spotted some luffing here and there, but for the most part, it was an impressive show of rigidity, at least in sails.

The military presence made itself felt repeatedly with helicopters buzzing the coast, jets overhead and the occasional hovercraft producing an ungodly racket and forcing up enough spray to look like smoke on the water down by the Bay Bridge Tunnel.

That late in the day, you're also bound to see industrious souls out in the shallow depths (which is actually awfully far out given that it's the bay) casting nets. Just standing in the water, I spotted more than a few blue crabs scuttling along the bottom, so it couldn't have been too difficult to net a few dozen with minimal effort.

If only I'd had a net.

Eventually, we walked down to Mac's Place to join the locals on the sunny bayside patio, the kind of rustic place that puts no effort into decor or furniture because it's all about location, location, location.

Wisely, we took a table in the shade, but still with a fine view of the brilliant blue bay, the boats and, if you squinted, the Eastern Shore, only to overhear the two old duffers at the next table order a couple of Fireballs.

Silly me, I thought Fireball was something only young and stupid college kids drank, but apparently aging beach locals are also fond of it as prelude to their Budweisers.

These guys had randomly stopped by Mac's while out on their bikes, reminiscing about when the joint had been called the Ship's Captain and had been even seedier than it is now.

That alone is worth pondering.

When one guy's phone rang loudly and he went to answer it, his buddy mocked him, saying in an effeminate, whiny voice, "Yes, dear?"

I get that not everyone wants the little woman to know he's at Mac's Place.

Today's superior weather ensured that the patio was soon completely filled with a lot of people who looked like they could be Jimmy Buffet fans (and, yes, that's a judgement), but perhaps that's just what long-time locals look like in these parts.

Lots of leathery tans, lots of tank tops. Too much long, wind-blown hair and a couple of porn 'staches. Just another night at Mac's.

Dinner matched the setting with steamed spiced shrimp and spicy fish tacos full of cabbage slaw that took far longer to arrive than they did to eat, but we'd arrived just as the masses did and fortunately, were in no hurry.

Our server was MIA when we wanted the check, but neither of us complained about sitting there watching the last of the golden light transition to the pinks and violets of impending sunset set against blue-gray cirrus clouds streaked across the sky.

Walking back to our beach chairs, we saw a guy come out of the water with a fish in hand, but no fish-catching apparatus in the other. Judging by the satisfied look on his face, we figured he'd simply snatched it out of the water.

That's a serious bay pro. Me, I just figured out the best time to hang out. I've nailed that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Epitome of Vague

Don't tell me what the poets are doing, especially now that the Tragically Hip have played their final show.

Don't go anywhere near campus unless you're prepared to experience the larva stage of the class of 2020 working their way out of the cocoon. These fresh recruits - un-tattooed, unable to navigate street crossings alone, un-pierced, unaware of how boldly they stand out - will burn your corneas.

Between Broad and Grove on Harrison this evening, I passed a woman in hip-hugger bell bottoms complete with studded leather belt, cropped jean jacket and cropped white shirt, a vast expanse of midriff reminiscent of the Britney Spears era glaring white in the late day sun.

Then there was the blond California girl type in cut-offs so short you could see the half moon crescents of her bottom airing out with each long-legged stride.

Mark my words: by the winter holidays, both of these girls will have moved beyond these ensembles to something more befitting Richmond's arty college city aesthetic. They will eventually look back in amazement at how they dressed early on.

Don't expect me to agree enthusiastically about how wonderful this weather is just because the humidity is way down and the high temperature was barely mid-80s. To people like me, this weather feels like Fall and I am not the slightest bit ready for Fall.

Not even a little.

Don't be surprised when you hear from your oldest and best friend after years of radio silence and you find that she's still the same yin to your yang she was when you first met in college. Just to be sure, I check her vitals.

And, yes, I still get wet when a souped-up Stingray or Mustang goes by. Love you.

That's my girl.

Don't take me to My Noodle & Bar and complain they we ordered too much food (no one ever says that about the wine, do they?). Two appetizers - pork dumplings and tempura shrimp and vegetables - and four entrees should be doable for four people.

And while I managed to lick the plate of my broccoli and chicken in brown sauce, not another entree was polished off, leaving me to accept who the hearty eater in this group is.

For that matter, don't tell someone who doesn't like staying on the oceanfront that he's invited to your oceanfront cottage next August, because he'll refuse you (I saw it happen). But ask me, an oceanfront devotee, and I'll give you my RSVP immediately.

Outdoor shower, enormous L-shaped deck facing the ocean? Oh, yes, I'll be there, for as long as you"ll have me.

Hilariously and unexpectedly, my acceptance changes everything. Even someone who prefers to reside a bit further back can't stand the thought that I might get yet another shot at beach time, causing him to decide he will come after all. Should be a great rotating party with guests coming and going all week.

Wow, by then I'll be agog again witnessing the incoming class of 2021. Tragic, perhaps. Hip? Unlikely.

Here's to a whole lot of poetry and ocean time before then.

Going to the Rec

Jackson Ward, the more I get to know you, the more crazy about you I am.

While today was officially my second visit to the new Black History Museum located in the former colored troops' armory, it was my first actually taking in the exhibits, although the upstairs galleries were closed because they're installing the next temporary exhibition right now.

A small group of people who'd arrived just before I did joined me to watch a 30-minute film about the neighborhood narrated by people who'd resided, gone to school and lived their full lives here.

Several of them recalled when the armory had been used as a rec center and enlargements of old black and white photos on the wall spoke to the nights it became a destination for mixers, socials and dances, with the women wearing stylish '40s and '50s strapless dresses with full skirts and tulle petticoats.

One woman recalled growing up on St. James Street, skating the block and playing outside all day with the dozens of other children who lived there, while mothers carried out their domestic duties indoors.

Another talked about what a big deal it had been to him when Armstrong High School had gotten a black principal. Oliver Hill, Jr. recalled seeing his mother walking a picket line to integrate Miller and Rhoads' tearoom.

But my favorite source was the man who ticked off where the businesses of life used to sit in J-Ward. He said there were two grocers, one at Clay and Prentice (a street I've never even heard of) and one at Brook and Clay.

Given what I know about Brook Road's legacy as a shopping route for farmers in the county, I wasn't at all surprised that Brook and Clay was also the site of Max's Drug Store (as opposed to Standard Drug at First and Broad), John D's Bar, Cameron's Service Station and Hall's Bar, the latter a tad further up on Brook.

This guy reminisced about taking dates to High's Ice Cream Shop at Second and Clay after church services. Several people mentioned Ebenezer Baptist and Sixth Mt. Zion as hubs of local activity.

Hill, who'd been part of the integration of Chandler Middle School, remembered being appalled at then-Virginia social studies textbooks, which portrayed slavery as a benign institution where everyone was just one big happy family.

Right, except some members of the family were bought and paid for.

Walking out of the auditorium after the film, one of the men looked up at the ceiling and said, "This used to be my old gym."

As I was soon to learn in the galleries, the armory had been converted to Monroe Elementary for colored kids in 1898, used as housing and a recreation center for black troops during WW II and used by various schools for its gym and facilities after that.

Many of the displays are touch screen, using old photographs, prints and drawings along with narrative to explain important eras: Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Massive Resistance and Civil Rights, although being of an age, I'd just as soon look at the objects framed on the wall as on a lighted screen,

Let's face it, few things resonate the same on a screen as the actual object does. Looking at a leather slave collar with metal rings and a lock is a far more visceral (and disturbing) experience and one I agreed was best seen in real life.

Lean in when it gets uncomfortable, that's the advice I took away from the race relations round table discussion I went to at this very building last month.

But photo choices were strong, too, like the one of a black man with his toddler on his shoulders holding a protest sign reading, "President Johnson, Go to Selma NOW!" which spoke volumes compared to the picture of white kids protesting busing on Franklin Street in 1970, looking like petulant racists-in-the-making.

One thing that stood out about the Civil Rights era scenes was how nicely dressed the protesters were. The male VUU students at the sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter wore overcoats and hats. You don't even see that at the symphony or opera anymore.

In the word nerd category, I was delighted to discover that J-Ward once had a resident and business owner (a shoe store at 506 E. Broad) at the turn of the century named St. James Gilpin, whose name wound up both on a street and public housing.

I wasn't entirely surprised to learn that a mailman named Victor Green had written something called the "Green Book for Black Travelers," listing out by location beauty salons, night clubs, restaurants, service stations and lodging that welcomed (rather than embarrassed or refused service to) black customers.

That said, I was incredulous that the book was still being printed as late as 1966. Except I shouldn't have been because of a story I'd heard at a history lecture a while back.

When LBJ and Lady Bird moved into the White House, they needed someone to drive their beagles from Texas to Washington and the black staffer they asked to do it expressed concern about where along the route would be safe and willing to lodge a black man, much less a black man with beagles.

So 1966, yea, our ugly past really is as unfortunately recent as that.

But what the galleries at the beautifully renovated Black History Museum really demonstrate is what a rich neighborhood I live in and how important it is to acknowledge the people, buildings and businesses that helped shape the fabric of Richmond.

I may be nothing more than one tiny little thread in that, but hearing the stories and seeing the photographs seems like a most excellent way to begin the leaning-in process.

Jackson Ward for the win.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Moment of Truth

You know how it feels when you lose somebody you cared about deeply, someone you thought was the one?

Yea, well, Billy Christopher Maupin knows that feeling, too, only he's got a far better singing voice than you do and he's a whiz at mining soundtracks for musical gems to tell the highs and lows of trying to navigate the world once you've been smitten.

So quit yer whining.

The Camel was the setting for his cabaret, "This Fish Needs a Bicycle," an evening of history ("I was a virgin until I was 19"), self-reflection (resolving to be okay with being single) and observation ("I'm always hitting on straight guys"), accompanied by Tristan on guitar and Joshua on keyboards, punctuated by show tunes and obscure character-driven songs.

Occasionally a random dancer appeared to great effect, like when long-legged Emily began shimmying to "Sister Kate" right up the aisles between the tables to the stage.

As long as they were songs about missin' a feller, lovin' a man or muddlin' through heartache, he was all over it while nattily clad in a red blazer, black shirt and cuffed pants.

Barefoot, naturally.

From Oklahoma's "I Can't Say No" to a torch song such as "The Man I Love" to "Down With Love," with a Cher imitation (not just voice, but hair flipping as well) smack dab in the middle of a killer medley, it was pretty easy to see where  this boy had channeled his feelings after his last big romance had ended.

Acknowledging his constant companion, stage fright, he promised to do one more song before the break, during which we were instructed to get a drink, order some dessert and avail ourselves of the bathroom, which he also planned to do.

Just as he was about to hop off the stage, he realized his error, sheepishly saying, "Oh, yea, the song."

Of course he'd told us about the romance that had spawned the evening earlier, because that's what lovesick people do after they call the whole thing off.

But their heart will go on, and in this case that meant the trio returned after a break (BC in a different blazer) only to start, stop and restart a song before realizing that their juju was off. "Okay, I'm just gonna go out and come in again," he said and once he did, all was well in the world of sung emotions.

BC brought up acoustic guitarist Psalm Swarr because at his request, she'd written a song about his breakup, telling him if he didn't want it, she'd sing it herself. Between Tristan's slide guitar and his harmonizing with Psalm and Emily, the heartbreaking song was rendered achingly.

There were songs about why people fall in love (can you say hormones? how about convenience?), future chances and endless optimism.

Things got a little emotional when he talked about getting really good at "hiding from life," but he also shared his attack plan: (F*ck that!" with enthusiasm), simultaneously citing Auntie Mame's advice abut life being a banquet while letting drop that Mame was one of his dream roles.

It never hurts to let people know what you want, said every kvetching mother ever.

When he came back for an encore, he asked the sell-out crowd, "One more?" and someone yelled out, "Ten more!" just before someone else laughing instructed, "Calm down there!"

Reaching in for a prime nugget with which to close the well-sung show, he pulled out Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Something Good" from "Sound of Music" and performed it like his life depended upon it.

Or at least his heart. The good news, he'd already sung, is that love is going around, heck, it's practically in the air.

Best to keep your resistance low.

Moaning and Needing

The young handsome friend put it best: "You had me at Loire."

Admitting that his top three wine regions are Loire, Rhone and Piemonte, he was one of six who said yes to joining me at Camden's for a Loire wine dinner with echoes of my summer vacation there just last month.

Man, a lot's happened since then.

Oysters Chenonceau - fried local oysters over corn cakes with housemade ham and sage aioli - kicked things off with Grenadiere Muuscadet 2014, but in my  mind, I was back at Chenonceau looking out a castle window to see a stand-up paddleboarder working his way down the river toward me.

I was happy to hear Holmes let slip that while combing the stacks of his vinyl collection recently, "Valley of the Dolls" fell out of the stack. That's the kind of unexpected treasure he doesn't want us to know he has, but will no doubt launch our next record-listening party.

The prize for the freshest-tasting course went to Cherrier Menetou Salon paired with house-cured (not smoked) salmon with a killer gremolata that made the wine and fish sing and Gruyere crisps.

For entertainment value between courses and knowing full well I'd shock the table, I shared my day spent deep in the bowels of the West End at Bugstock, leading to a discussion of how un-developed the East End is despite its proximity to downtown.

Holmes knew why. "I tried living in Varina and there was absolutely nothing to do. Nothing," he informed us, although that was 1974, so surely it was even less desirable then. Still, I gave him points for trying to be a pioneer.

The next wine - Pierne Prieur Sancerre Rose - was deemed the holy grail, partially because two of my female friends had never had a Sancerre Rose (Beloved was actually moaning while the Lovely One summed it up with, "I need more Roses like this").

Don't we all?

We lapped it up happily with a charcuterie plate heavy with housemade country pate, local prosciutto, housemade pastrami and pork confit, leading to spirited conversation about mustard's place at the pinnacle of the condiment pyramid. I even overheard whispering about a mustard museum.

The chef instructed our table sotto voice not to eat all our food with the Rose because we were being treated to a bonus secret wine he had received in error from a trip to Chateau de Miniere.

Bulles de Miniere Rouge was a gloriously fruity dry, dark red sparkling wine that immediately enraptured the handsome one, especially with the confit, and turned off Pru who generally loves anything French. Go figure.

Vacations were a big topic between courses, so we heard about an upcoming Las Vegas adventure (Penn & Teller and rock climbing), a Northern Neck getaway to replace one abruptly canceled (two meals already planned) and the trip that had me pea green with envy (not that I wouldn't have loved either of the others as well): four weeks in South Africa over the winter holidays.

Sigh.

Plates of roasted lamb lollipops atop fingerling sweet potatoes (a new obsession for me) with a salty tapenade to complete the sweet/salty dynamic accompanied by St. Nicolas de Bourgueil l'Elegante 2012 and my plate was notable because I had an extra pop to make up for being inadvertently shorted on the charcuterie.

And, really, can a girl ever have too many lamb lollipops?

The wine, made with 25-year old vines, got us reminiscing about how when Beau had joined our group, he'd been a California Cabernet Sauvignon kind of a drinker. "But I learned the error of my ways," he admitted bravely, but with a grin.

Holmes shocked everyone by pulling out his pocket antique collection, namely his flip phone, and sharing that it was a hand-me-down. "Why would anyone give you that phone?" Pru wanted to know, but some questions have no answers.

Others, such as, "Are you buying the Sancerre Rose?" were immediately answered with, "A lot!"

The final course - very French - was a cheese plate with herbed chevre, French 60% cream Brie, housemade farmer's cheese and the ideal sweet note, a housemade almond cookie, With those delights we sipped Domaine du Clos de L'Epinay Sparkling Vouvray, reminding me of several meals that began with these stellar Loire bubbles.

"Brie with wine and figs doesn't suck," the handsome one noted in the evening's funniest understatement.

As usual, some of the best lines of the night came courtesy of Holmes late in the wine drinking meal, as in, "Was Funky Joe ever even in a closet?" I'd like to say I recall the answer, but it may have been swallowed up by the table's laughter.

Which is exactly why I usually have my friends at "wine dinner." Loire was just icing on the cake.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Now and Zen

Cue Todd Rundgren's "We Gotta Get You a Woman" to set the scene (which, incidentally, the DJ did play).

Now imagine a field full of vintage Volkswagens, mostly Beetles, but rounded out by dune buggies, campers, Rabbits and, amazingly enough, the front of two Cabriolets welded together so there were two separate front seats/dashboards/steering wheels/hoods, each facing the opposite direction.

Crazy, man.

As you might guess, I didn't find this land of the mellow anywhere near home, but somewhere out in Henrico County that took  me deep into the land of endless planned communities, mega churches that gleamed with newness and high schools on steroids: Twin Hickory Park.

But I'll come clean here: I'd have driven in any direction for Bugstock 2: Deja Vu.

My youth was completely in bed with the German car makers, meaning I went in hopes of seeing Bugs of my past. And did I ever.

There was an eye shadow blue '70 Karmann Ghia, impossibly shiny and pristine, that reminded me of my first boyfriend's father's car. His Dad was a writer, a glamorous profession in my eyes, but he was also a populist, so it only seemed right that he drove a sporty car of the people, albeit a more sedate mustard yellow.

A VW Bus with louvered windows, a Humphrey/Muskie bumper sticker (1968, kids, look it up) and another that read, "!Just go around!" brought back that week after my car died and before I bought another, during which a friend loaned me his Bus. I loved the high perch, but always felt like I was going to topple on curves.

It was weird sticking my head into a mint green 1966 Beetle, only to get a noseful of new leather (pleather?) instead of the requisite vaguely moldy smell that every VW I ever owned (there were four) and every VW I ever rode in (too many to count) wafted from deep in its leaky recesses.

While Jefferson Airplane played, I admired a bright red '70 Beetle, the same color as my boyfriend's Bug, the car I learned to drive on. Or, more accurately, the car I learned to pop the clutch on coasting downhill.

Whatever works.

The Bug owners at Bugstock 2 were into it, with lots of vintage luggage (my favorite was three matched red leather suitcases atop a roof rack), lunch baskets - both wicker and red plaid - and thermoses (think Coleman, Vagabond and, yes, Thermos brand) inside and on top.

Tied for most surprising to me were a '68 VW Woody with a back window that looked like a ship's window (VW made Woodys? Where was I?) and a tan'57 Beetle sedan with a metal tube-like "thermador car cooler" attached to the passenger window. A fellow Bug fan informed me it was a primitive air conditioning device.

Most disjointed was seeing a 2016 Jetta, so far removed from my five-speed '84 Jetta as to be completely unrecognizable. One of the rarer cars was a '67 red convertible Cabriolet because VW had only made that particular model that year.

And, then, cue singing angels, like Venus rising from a clam shell, there she was. My car.

Well, not my car exactly, but a '66 blue Beetle identical to the one I'd bought for $600 (financed through my local Citizens Bank of Maryland), driven with abandon, with the same windshield where I'd discovered anonymous poetry and mash notes and then mourned when it was cruelly stolen from my apartment parking lot.

Except the one today was way shinier and better kept-up than mine had ever been.

I couldn't help but communicate my excitement to the owner, who completely understood because his first car had also been a blue '66 Bug, hence the purchase. When I commented about some of the new car smell VWs I'd been disappointed by, he chuckled and said, "If you're into moldy car smells, stick your nose in there."

Into? Well, not into, just...deep breath, ahhhh, yes, that's the ticket.

I told him that part of the reason for the damp smell in my VW had been the green metal window box full of plants I grew in the well behind the back seats, using the back window like a greenhouse. Pretty groovy, eh?

Let's just say he was impressed. "You don't look like you were from the Flower Child era," he said. We bought our Bugs a year apart, it turns out. I could drive this car blindfolded, I assured him. Know all the parts.

Kindred souls about the car that shaped us both, we just kept walking around it and discussing all the memories. Really, I was trying to walk away, but it was hard. Finally, I pulled out my digital camera and asked him to take a picture of me in front of my youth.

"Oh, wow, one of these!" he exclaimed as if I'd just pulled out a Brownie camera. He couldn't make it work, so instead he offered to use his phone. Feeling nervy, I asked if I could sit in the driver's seat for the photo.

Just as he's setting up the shot, a woman walks by and says, "That's going to be a great picture. It looks like a magazine cover the way her shirt matches her lipstick in that blue car!" My only regret was that my new cut-offs (the first I've worn since that era) were inside the car.

He took a couple while I got reacquainted with the angle of my arm and hand on the gearshift and the all too familiar dash board.

Sliding out with the muscle memory of youth, I thought it was finally time to introduce myself given his kindness, offer up my email so he could send me the pictures and thank him profusely for making my day.

His face lit up. "My wife had something else going on today, so I'm going to show her this and say, look what happens when you're not here," he joked. I hope she laughs and I hope he sends me the photos.

My parting shot was reminding him that my stolen blue Bug could have had a crazy life before ending up being restored and sold to him three years ago and wouldn't that be seriously poetic?

Kind of like time traveling to the '70s, going to a park in your cut-offs and rediscovering a relic of your youth.

You have no idea how much I can dig it.

So Many Pleasant Memories

I have tonight & Friday night plans, but all other nights are wide open for drinks somewhere cool. That's the first date request. The second is a DC art date to see William Merritt Chase AND Romaine Brooks. PLEASE!
Can't wait to hear from you, sweetheart.

And I couldn't wait to say yes to a DC art date soon enough, so it was barely after 9 a.m. when my date collected me and we headed north.

Once inside the city limits of my birth place on a breezy, sunny day, good native vibrations found us a parking space a block away from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Waiting at a corner, an 89-year old woman got out of a car to join us in crossing the street, explaining that her husband dropped her off because he wouldn't enjoy the museum like she would. Given that she was an artist and a former docent at the museum, she was probably right.

Turns out he was her second husband anyway, the first having left her in the late '70s when that was the thing to do ("I had three friends whose husbands also just walked out"). She'd made the best of it, but it hadn't been easy and it had necessitated her compromising how much time she could devote to art.

She wished us a good visit and we took off for the third floor. Walking across a brilliantly colorful floor mosaic, a guard approached us asking where we were from. When we said Richmond, he inquired if we knew the state's three names. We didn't.

"Virginia, the Commonwealth and the white boys' state," he said unexpectedly. We were still processing that when he leaned in and said, "Now someone's coming up from Arkansas to rule us." Was this some kind of crazy Trump supporter?

"What just happened?" my date asked, as confused as I was as we scurried away. Why would a security guard be talking to us about such things? Had we crossed into the Twilight Zone and not known it?

All was right with the world the moment we stepped into "The Art of Romaine Brooks" exhibit, full of Whistler-indebted canvases in muted shades of black, white and gray portraying androgynous-looking women and well-dressed upper class lesbians of the early 20th century by an American ex-pat.

"White Azaleas" from 1910 showed a pale nude reclining on a huge couch, much like Manet's "Olympia," but bolder because it was done by a woman at a time when it was unheard of for women to assert non-traditional views of their role.

And these women depicted were completely non-traditional, I can assure you.

The show made a case for Brooks' fashionable and daring portraits of androgyny being associated with the so-called "new woman" during a time when sexually independent women projecting new and visible lesbian identities post-World War I was becoming more commonplace.

Drawings filled one gallery, all done for Brooks' unpublished memoir, to be called "No Pleasant Memories," surely the most miserable and accusatory memoir title ever, although the drawings were fascinating, often done in a single line.

There was so much estrogen in that show that you could almost feel it pulsating off the walls. We both loved it, although probably for different reasons.

Leaving the cocoon of the museum behind, we walked a few blocks to the colorful Bantam King - sibling to Daikaya - for lunch. Black and white Japanese comics on front walls, bright blue and green plastic trays on back wall and bathrooms that read, "WC: Kings, Queens, Errbody."

Best bathroom sign ever.

Our server was eager to share his spiel (and the fact that he's a finance major), disappointing us only when we learned that it was too early for fried chicken.

Not to worry, we dove into a killer starter, meatydumplings with chili oil, followed by bowls of chicken ramen. I chose miso broth loaded with dandelion greens, white onions, chili threads, soft-boiled egg and then added fresh corn while my date went with shoyu ramen, creamy with garlic and ginger.

All that was missing was a plate of fried chicken, but that's what future art dates are for, no?

From there, we motored to my old 'hood, Dupont Circle, and the William Merritt Chase retrospective at the Philips Collection in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the man's death.

Words aren't nearly good enough for the 40+ years of artistry we saw today, but I'll try.

First off, I learned that Chase and I are kindred souls on the subject of home decor. His philosophy was to think of walls as a canvas, with real life objects taking the place of color on them, something I've done for years.

With the darker palette of Frans Hals, Velazquez and Manet, Chase demonstrated his indebtedness to both Whistler and Singer Sargent in canvas after canvas as we swooned.

His portrait of Whistler as a fop had caused a rift in the men's friendship, but Edward Steichen's sumptuous sepia-toned photograph of Chase showed him to be just as big a one with a top hat, fur-trimmed overcoat, cigar and walking stick.

In a case were some of Chase's family albums, full of circa 1900s blue-tinged cynotypes of his children on the lawn and house details such as a staircase and candlelit outdoor dining table.

Behind me, a man spotted the albums and said, "These photo books look like my Mom's," and I knew before I turned around that he had to be an old duffer.

Hands down, my favorite was "The End of the Season," showing a lone woman sitting at a small wooden table on the beach near other tables, all with the chairs leaning in on the tables to signify that summer business had ceased. Down on the shore, a few people gathered.

You could almost feel her wistfulness about the change in season, a feeling I echo.

"Sunlight to Shadow" showed a well-dressed man staring into his teacup while nearby, a woman lounged in an elaborate hammock, looking away from him, the two clearly not speaking, supporting the notion that the canvas' original title had been "The Tiff."

Absolutely delightful was "Washing Day," a backyard scene of four lines covered in wet clothing with a laundry servant in a bonnet hanging more.

You could almost hear the sheets flapping in the breeze.

One of the most unique features of Chase's paintings were their unusual titles, such as "I Think I'm Ready Now," a portrait of a young woman from the back, facing a mirror. Left hip thrust out, hairbrush in hand, the train of her pink dress gathered behind her, it was obvious she rushed for no man.

Another, "May I Come In?" showed a woman in hat and muff entering from behind a door, the back of which was covered in paintings. He face reads as curious and sociable, so why wouldn't he let her come in?

Chase, we learned, was a devotee of still life paintings and considered unsurpassed in his portraits of fish, which he managed to make look believably shiny, wet and slick. The subject matter of "Just Onions" may have been lowly, but the rendering was so realistic you could almost smell them.

By the time we finished admiring and studying the 70+ works, we were both totally enthralled with what we'd seen. My only regret was that we didn't have enough time to look at it all again.

We compromised by stopping at Teaism for ginger lemonades (they'd just sold out so I tried iced mint tea while my date went with today's iced tisane, an African berry blend), along with the house specialty cookies, chunky chocolate pecan salty oat cookies, each weighing about a pound each.

"I'll never be able to finish the whole thing," my date insisted, but we sat there chatting and watching the street theater of R Street long enough that never became history.

I don't travel with those who can resist big flakes of sea salt on top of chocolate cookies.

Driving up M Street, my date pointed to 2400 and shared a story about a couple whose first apartment had been in that building. "All they had was a mattress on the floor, but the first night they were there, they laid on that mattress and watched a storm roll in through the big window."

I can see such an experience boding well for the future of the relationship.

Further down in front of the State Department, we passed Navy types - sailors in white bell bottoms and officers in tan summer uniforms - marching and chanting behind their leader up 23rd Street.

It was only once we got on 395 that we opened up the floor to new topics and my date shared a story of recently finding out that a friend and his wife had a decidedly poly-amorous bent.

The wife wanted to have an affair with a woman (who also had a wife, not to mention two other girlfriends), so husband agreed because he knew it would make her happy. That they sometimes had three ways didn't seem to bother him at all.

As you might imagine, opening a can of worms like poly-amorous relationships made for non-stop conversational fodder all the way down 95 and almost too soon, we were home, our art date a rousing success.

Now, about those drinks someplace cool...I have a few ideas.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Here We Go Loop-de-Loo

They're baaaack!

Three of the female variety stood in front of me at Steady Sounds.

My favorite had long, curly red hair tied up in a black scrunchee, a black and white striped t-shirt over black shorts and low-top white Converse, but she won my heart with her violet cloth bag which was a copy of the original cover of Virginia Wolf's "A Room of One's Own" worn earnestly and un-ironically.

Three, or maybe it was four, of various sexes, all talking over top of each other like in a Robert Altman movie, spilled out of a house on Marshall Street as I walked home from the record store.

I heard one laughing voice asking, "Did you have fun today?" while another squealed, "Where are we going now?" and a third exclaimed, "I had so much fun today!"

Pure, unadulterated exuberance.

Three of the male persuasion of varying heights and one female with a skateboard awaited on the corner of Clay and Harrison.

Clearly new to city life, they were so hesitant as to be paralyzed about crossing the street, despite the red light that kept me from moving until they did, so I waved them across, garnering grins and thank yous. Their mothers would be so proud.

You guessed it, Richmond is suddenly lousy with incoming gringos freshmen and you can barely swing a dead cat without hitting one so inevitably when I leave my apartment, there they are.

As opposed to my three-block walk, Philly quintet Honey Radar said it took seven hours to get to Steady Sounds, which seemed to be a surprise to them but is really just common sense to anyone who knows I-95 on a Friday (especially during the summer).

Walking in, the first friends I saw there were the living room show hosts, still recovering from the high of Wednesday evening's show and the requisite celebrating that followed. On the other hand, they were there.

The band's catchy sound was short, jangly (hello, three guitarists), lo-fi and, at least one friend heard Guided By Voices influences as we listened to older stuff and songs from their new album. Most songs didn't so much end as fall away, as if their attention was already on to something else.

Midway through their set, the store owner slid a couple of beers across his counter in the direction of the long-haired guitarist (as opposed to the other two with wholesome short hair) who, without taking his right hand off the guitar used his left to give his benefactor a thumbs up, open the beer one-handed and take a swig before returning to the song.

That's talent, folks.

Even so, the in-store performance at Steady Sounds was merely the appetizer for the show at Hardywood that became my next stop.

I found the photographer minus his cute wife at a picnic table outside, chowing down while inside, the crowd was summer-small, meaning I scored a table and chair with no effort at all.

Kenneka Cook had just begun playing when I arrived and while I'd forgotten her name, immediately I recalled first seeing her al fresco at the Valentine's music in the garden series. Using her rich voice, she layers it with beat boxing until there's a full-bodied soul song with harmonies coming out of one woman.

"This is one I wrote the words to but not the music," she teased. "You'll recognize it." The theme to "Mission Impossible" turned out to be not only familiar but also a fine music bed for her songwriting.

Extroverts are always happy when the break between music is full of company.

I was soon joined by a dapper friend and comedian, fiendishly attired in sunglasses, a seersucker jacket with a pin on the lapel and a harmonica in the pocket. Occasionally he'd withdraw a black handkerchief and dab dramatically at his forehead and neck like a true Southern gentleman despite his Indian heritage.

He wasted no time trying to make me laugh, explaining how refers to Hillary Clinton. "I call her Hi C, but I know that's not a good name because no one likes Hi-C," he deadpanned.

When I responded, "Well, they like it better than Tang," his eyes grew wide and he laughed because he though its was so hilarious.

Hilarious to the point that he later told the story to another friend, with attribution, of course (despite me telling him he could use it), assuring me, "I don't steal jokes, well, except for that once and that was from a magazine article."

We all understand situational rationalization, don't we?

A musician friend came over to say hello and ask how my summer is going, to which I said it's been fabulous.

Her surprised look was followed by admitting that she tends to focus on the lame parts rather than the great bits when asked about her summer. Wednesday I'd been asked the exact same question and had responded the same way, only to have that friend lament, "Maybe mine has been fabulous and I just don't say it."

Why the hell not?

When Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots" began playing, my body took over but I also told Mr. Dapper that I was the only one in the room who not only knew the song title, but the artist.

Not content to believe me, he pulled out his phone and moved toward the speaker to Soundhound it, but I insisted on telling him what it was before he could tell me what his device said.

 Just then I spotted a nearby woman dancing just as hard as I was to it.

Naturally, she was soon added to my circle, saying she'd forgotten Patrice's name despite dancing to it like it was 1982 again.

Originally a native Richmonder, she'd spent 20 years living in Miami Beach and when I asked what lured her back, she put it succinctly. "I'd gotten too old for clubs, I was too young for Century Village, so I came back because Richmond got hip while I was gone."

On that topic, the photographer and I discoursed long and hard after he told me about a couple of record compilations his record label is putting together along with photographs, show flyers and video archives that trace the arc of the rise of RVA's scene the past seven years.

Well, butter me up and call me a biscuit because there's a project I intend to get behind 100%.

A big reason I'd come tonight was to hear Nelly Kate do her looping magic with voice, keyboard and knobs, which she did despite technical difficulties that would have beaten a lesser artist.

The haunting songs, though produced similarly to Kenneka's, sounded like they were from another universe, but her set was too short considering the gap between shows now that she's living out of town for a while.

She called Dave Watkins up to join her for one song before ceding the stage to him and his dulcitar looping magic. Guitar geeks and guys in general made up the front row, all agog at Dave's mastery with his handmade instrument.

Once he was finished, I got a sweaty hug and a chance to chat with him about summer, which must be close to over because there are three parties on my block tonight which is a sure indication that they're back.

But ask me how my evening went and I'll tell you it was fabulous. Because it was.