Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bumpersticker: No Music, No Life

It was pure poetry.

I'd worn my 2006 Pete Yorn "Nightcrawler" t-shirt - the one with holes under the arms from so many sweaty walks, so admittedly worse for the wear after a decade of use, but still the lightest and most breathable shirt I own - walking this morning and when I got in the car to go meet my dinner date, Yorn's "Life on a Chain" came blaring out of the radio.

There are no musical accidents, so I took it as a good sign that after a day tied to my desk writing on deadline, the night would be a fine one.

Because Pete Yorn never lets me down.

The plan was to meet in the atrium of the VMFA, which I always approach by cutting through the Early 20th century European art galleries -  home to French Modern and German Expressionism - an impossibility when I found them closed, the walls bare of art.

Since I'd been under the impression that they were permanent galleries, I made a beeline for the members' desk to get the scoop. "Off-view until September 28th," the knowledgeable staffer informs me, with no further explanation. Hmm...

Pondering what could be going on with the art between now and Wednesday, I almost ran into my evening's companion, only to hear that he'd been killing time waiting for me playing Frisbee outside with a stranger, at least until museum security told them the obvious: to knock it off.

We weren't hurting anything, he protested. Boys will be boys, I suggested.

Since he hadn't been to the VMFA since his Grandmother used to take him (we're talking decades), he put me in charge and I promptly led him to the outstanding "Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott" photography exhibit for a shared interest in that era.

Make no mistake, I know how to show a newbie our museum.

From there, I led him to see the glorious American works that make up the new McGlothlin wing and while he had no existing knowledge of the brilliance of John Singer Sargent - or why some of those smaller genre scenes are so atypically Sargent - he strode across the gallery intent on contemplating what I consider a prime jewel of the collection: Julius Leblanc Stewart's "Yachting the Mediterranean."

Part of his attraction was the precariously heeling and enormous sailboat, but he was polite enough to listen to the reasons for my affection for the piece, which had little to do with the boat itself.

Since we still had daylight left, a walkabout seemed in order, and we took off through the sculpture garden, only to hear my name called out repeatedly from the balcony of Amuse.

A friend waved enthusiastically from above as we headed out to stroll around the Museum District where I lived for 13 years and he harbored happy memories of long-ago visits to his great grandparents house on Floyd Avenue.

One story he shared involved his great grandfather, a railroad engineer, and the multi-acre farm he owned a couple miles away, and how once he'd run into cows on the railroad tracks, only to realize they were his own.

Funny, not funny, if you know what I mean.

Ever the devoted tour guide (and, perhaps, over-sharer), I took him to see my hands-down favorite screened porch/side yard combination, explaining that while I'm very much a compact, city townhouse type, I have for 23 years found that this particular yard gives me a zen-like sense of porch perfection.

The house that porch is attached to, though, is large and appeals to me not at all. "What if you didn't have to take care of it?" he asked. I still don't want to occupy that much space on earth, I explained, a philosophy he shares despite living on three acres (but in a renovated house that maintained its original footprint, a fact I find impressive).

Further up Floyd, I randomly glanced at a couple with a baby sitting on their front porch and realized it was the people who'd lived across the street from me for 13 years. Calling out their names, they came over to greet us carrying their first grandchild and bringing me up to date on their six kids offspring.

Of course the youngest has just moved back home while he goes back for his master's degree.  Millennial children: gone but never for good.

A block or two up, I spotted a basket tied to a white picket fence with a sign offering up sage and bay leaves. "Take some, PLEASE!" the sign entreated. Grabbing a glossy branch of bay, I thanked the couple on the wide front porch.

"Take more!" she called with a grin, although a woman known for infrequent dinners at home only needs so many fresh bay leaves, you know?

Can Can was mobbed and noisy, so we moved on, opting for Belmont Food Shop and two stools at the very end of the bar, which was lively with Friday night revelers.

It wasn't long before we met the two next to us and dug into their story.

Together 20 years, used to live in Lynchburg, now live in (formerly groovy) Mount Pleasant (parkside condo purchased in 2001 before the real estate bubble priced such things out of their range) and in town for a wedding, staying at an Air BnB on Colonial. Last time they were here, they'd stayed at an Air BnB directly across from Belmont Food Shop but not eaten here, a faux pas they were correcting tonight.

Delightful dinner companions, in other words.

Our food was out just a few beats ahead of theirs, allowing us to eat and continue the conversation about what a dead town Lynchburg had been when they'd both worked at Randolph Macon Women's College and how wildly improved it had been when they'd gone back a couple of years ago.

Part of that, we all agreed, came about solely because crazy Christian Jerry Falwell finally kicked the bucket, leading to spirited conversation about how his son may be even scarier.

Then the unlikeliest and most amusing of sentences came out of my friend's mouth - "I have several Jerry Falwell stories if you care to hear them" - and we were off and running with his hilarious anecdotes.

Turns out he had a close friend who used to live next door to Falwell, resulting in a couple of engaging stories, one involving stealth painting of pot leaves on the evangelical's car (no repercussions) and another with a pie directed at his face (jail time).

Then food arrived and talk ceased.

Warm gougeres got us started, followed by an amuse bouche of cured salmon with trout row, then I had crab and avocado over an insanely flavorful smoked tomato coulis, followed by wrapped, smoked bluefish with frisee.

Dinner was followed with another walk, this one in darkness, as we chatted about the weekend and his plans to hike to a waterfall and get together with fellow musicians to jam. Me, I'll be trying to make a few more deadlines, so not nearly so enjoyable as his.

"Are you going to write a book?" he'd asked me, early in the evening and apropos of nothing.

Fair question, but who doesn't have a book in them by this age? Unless, of course, you prefer your life to be off-view.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Spasms of Honesty

You know how they say a person knows within the first ten minutes of a date whether or not they're going to like the person?

Hello, "Rapture, Blister, Burn," the latest production by 5th Wall Theatre.

I probably knew in less than ten that this was a play I was going to relish based on an early lively interchange about how women's lives have changed since the '70s. It was terribly satisfying hearing so many references to feminist history and theory (Phyllis Schlafly, Betty Friedan), many of which got metaphoric amens from the mostly female audience tonight.

Oh, yes, bring it on. I have some thoughts on this matter.

Let's see, a play billed as "a witty, unflinching look at gender politics?" Yes, please.

Hmm, a play about a woman's so-called choices of sedate marriage and family or go-getter career woman with attendant swinging social and sexual life? Most definitely.

Because, the truth is, at some point probably everyone wonders about the life not lived.

In this instantly intriguing play, Cathy, a sexy scholar who's written books on pornography and horror film theory and Gwen, a stay-at-home Mom in a less-than-ideal marriage - the two roommates until one left for London and the other married her ex-boyfriend and settled down for a life of penniless domestic tranquility - reunite and decide to try out each other's life.

Because that's an option for most people. Not.

Never mind that this means that the four-year old gets packed off to live with pot-smoking Dad and his hot professor girlfriend while Mom takes the Broadway-loving older son to live in Manhattan so she can go back to school finally.

Plot issues aside, all the discussion of feminism, relationships - "Relationships are an exercise in illusion" - and how women's behavior is perceived is the stuff of dream women's studies classes or consciousness raising groups minus the hand mirrors.

If a woman chooses the career fast track, how much must she compromise to succeed? Is it wrong (or even possible) for family trackers to outsource the homemaking part? What about out-sourcing the child-raising part? Has online porn replaced desire for real sex in middle-aged men?

With a decidedly strong cast, the play covered three generations, making for expansive conversations about how each handled the restrictions (or lack thereof) placed on her at a particular juncture in time.

The millennnial, Avery (of course, because no millennial is ever named Linda or Donna or - gasp - Karen) played by a pitch-perfect Aiden Orr, can't conceive of why 60-something Alice couldn't have gone to a dance when she was young simply because she didn't have a date.

But what if you'd just gone, she presses? Well, that just wasn't done and that's the way it was, she's told and you can tell by Avery's reaction that such a notion is beyond her comprehension because she has no understanding of how differently the world was ordered before she was born.

How people would "talk" about women stepping out of tightly circumscribed roles. Why a woman would not do something she wanted very badly to for fear that it would sully her reputation. That there was a time when "hooking up" meant being called a slut.

In the pet peeves category, the play also touched on millennial Avery's uninformed take on the ongoing struggle. "Yea, I believe in those things but I don't self-identify as a feminist," she says, almost nonchalantly.

Even after years of young women telling me this, I still cringe every time I hear it.

Call me a product of the '70s, but everyone, and I do mean everyone, should self-identify as a feminist, if for no other reason than forward progress of the human race. End of discussion.

My fellow feminist and I used intermission to begin our own discussion group of the topics raised, so of course we stayed after the play ended for the talkback with cast, dramaturg and director.

It was only mildly depressing when a millennial woman asked how it's possible for two empowered people to give enough ground to make a relationship successful.

Tip #1: stop referring to yourself as empowered and decide if this is a person you're willing to occasionally compromise with or not because every successful relationship is going to require it.

Love and alcohol dupe you into thinking average people are great.

A big part of the beauty of "Rapture, Blister, Burn" is how winningly it points out that not everyone has to want a relationship, either.

For those who do, the life-experienced voice of Cathy sums it up best:  My middle-aged observation is that, in a relationship between two equals, you can't both go first.

My middle-aged observation? It's all about exercising that illusion...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dance the Night Away

You know what this world needs? More female-fronted bands, that's what.

Proof positive presented itself tonight with three bands at Strange Matter representing Richmond, Denver and Athens, Georgia and a wildly enthusiastic, albeit not as large as it should've been, Wednesday crowd.

Do you remember twenty first night of September?
Before you go cold like December
All you saw was a cloudy day...

Greeting me first were a couple of guitarists lamenting Richmond's tardiness to shows, something they said they didn't see when touring other east coast cities. In those magical places, if doors were at 8 and music at 9, people began arriving shortly after 8 and were fully in place when the first band took the stage.

Mind you, they were telling me this at 8:45 when I was among the very few non-band members in the room. But they also mentioned the absence of simple amenities for bands - rooms to stow gear and change, food - basically just good hospitality.

The kind of thing I would never know, being a non-musician.

I heard about opening band Positive No's tradition of pre-show Jagermeisters and when I wondered aloud about the choice of shots, got testimonials.

Matt recalled a night when his stomach was badly upset just before their set and the Jager calmed it (well, it is a digestif) and Kenny told of a night he was flat out beat, yet felt completely energized afterward.

It's hard to argue with the restorative powers of a good shot, no?

Tracy, the queen bee of Positive No, came over looking fabulous, as always, in a brightly colored tunic and make-up that would have done the mod era proud, and the best smile in the room. Her energy glowed.

The good news was she had a friend in town from Seattle, a musicologist she called him, and she wanted to introduce us because she thought we'd hit it off conversationally. Conversation, we agreed, could be bested only by sex and even better when they go hand in hand.

Positive No's set was partly bittersweet because it was bassist Matt's last show with the band, meaning I had to drink in as much of his excellent playing as possible, while appreciating the visual of his curtain of hair obscuring his face when he really got going.

Luckily, I can continue to revel in Kenny's killer guitar playing.

The band's pop strength is catchy hooks, fuzzy guitars, changing dynamics and the pull of Tracy's voice as she dances, bounces and totally inhabits any space not occupied by a bandmate. Tonight we even got a few new songs, a real treat for someone who's seen them as often as I have.

From the stage, she talked about deciding to move to Seattle the year grunge (i.e., Kurt Cobain) died and then introduced her Seattle friend from the stage.

By the time their excellent set ended, the room had finally filled up nicely. Afterward, I saw a guy buy the band's album and shyly take it over to Tracy to sign, looking for all the world like a devoted fan boy.

After a quick trip to the loo (graffiti: It's not always easy to smile but it's easy to drink beer ~ a drunk Mac Mac), I approached the Seattle visitor to let him know that Tracy thought we'd have conversation and music in common, notwithstanding his second concert ever being Van Halen.

Oh, the things we overlook for the sake of conversation.

Without so much as asking my name, he followed Tracy's directive ("But of course!), asking where we should talk and accompanying me to my spot near the sound booth so we could dive into shared musical interests, why he's back in Virginia for the election cycle ( a thing he does every four years) and our shared disdain for arena shows.

Then Denver's Dressy Bessy took the stage to show us how many influences they could channel with singer Tammy's endless energy at the forefront. Well matched with Positive No's boundless energy, I could also see them on a bill with Tacocat.

Mixing the energy of punk with the girliness of pop and a smidge of twee, the band delivered a solid set with Tammy's left leg constantly in motion dancing, pointing, twisting and kicking for emphasis.

"Are you excited about seeing Pylon Reenactment Society?" she asked the crowd. "We are! They're our heroes, too, so we'll be geeking out as much as you guys!"

The visitor and I used the break to expand our conversation, talking about venue histories and our own musicality (mine being none). He admitted that music was not in his purview until punk and hardcore came along and it no longer mattered that he didn't really have the chops to play.

Just as the next band was getting set up, he looked at me and wondered aloud if we'd even introduced ourselves or had just jumped into conversation. Oops. Intros were made.

The headliner was Athens' Pylon Reenactment Society, a band built around the seminal Athens band Pylon that had come out of the same scene that birthed REM and the B52s, both of whom have repeatedly acknowledged their debt to Pylon.

But founding guitarist Randy died a few years ago, so the band no longer considers themselves Pylon, but a reenactment of them, done in the spirit of Pylon with its original lead singer.

Let's put it this way: it was more than enough reason to be at a Wednesday night show.

Singer Vanessa seemed clearly overwhelmed with the rampant love and fandom in the room, saying, "One guy here told me that his first show at the 9:30 Club was Pylon! I guess I shouldn't talk about it, but thanks so much for coming out!"

Years gone by aside, certainly her particular style of singing and phrasing was as unique and compelling as it had always been.

From there, we were treated to punchy vocals, distinctive melodies and, for those of us who recall the Athens scene, reminders of how fresh their sound of jangle pop via Gang of 4 was to our ears back then...and now.

Vanessa still does her arm waving, body bending style of dancing, continuing the evening's trend of non-stop movement both onstage and in the audience. She called up Tracy and a fan onstage for one of the last songs, making for a room full of dancers on and off stage.

They may be reenactors, but Pylon's spirit was as alive and enthralling as ever.

Walking home at nearly 1:00, it was a full-on party on Grace Street with Ipanema's patio full, people cruising the streets, shouting across them to have conversations, cars with windows down and music blasting and a general vibe of fun.

The whole city feels it when estrogen times three is on a Wednesday bill. Girl power must be in the air.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lost and Found

That moment when the universe deigns to help a sister out.

After driving through pouring rain to Williamsburg, I find my handwritten directions, alas, woefully inadequate, making me quite certain I will never make my lunch date at Cochon on 2nd in a timely manner.

There's just one thing to do and only my lack of twigs and berries allows me to do it: I pull into a 7-11 to ask for assistance in finding the restaurant.

Just as I walk through the door, I hear an incredulous, "Karen?" from behind.

Like a guardian angel from a heaven I don't believe in, there stands one of Richmond's most gifted actresses - as gobsmacked as I am to find a familiar RVA face in a convenience store in the 'Burg - on a lunch break from her gig at Colonial Williamsburg.

When I share my navigational dilemma, she whips out her phone, shows me a map of the 'hood and walks me through the quarter mile jaunt to my destination.

Dazzling me with her stage-worthy smile, she sums up our serendipitous encounter. "It was divine timing!"

As it turned out, it was also divine eating - Asian-inspired Moody sticky ribs followed by a mammoth Wagyu burger with Cochon bacon and extra-sharp Cheddar, neither of which I was able to finish - although probably not for her since I happen to know she's a devout vegetarian.

Not so much me and a couple of hours passed with stellar conversation about shared D.C. roots (his, technically, were Northern Virginia, should I be inclined to judge), the value of waiting until you have some life experience to decide what you want to be when you grow up (again, both of us) and the pleasures of gardening (why do so many of us come to growing roses late?), before finishing out with Sally Sue's buttery lemon poundcake.

Talk, eat, talk, eat, talk some more. Now that's some divine rainy day time spent right there.

For the record, I was able to get home without assistance, thespian or otherwise.

Setting Sail on the Oregon Trail

Conclusion: apparently if I'm drinking Elizabeth Chambers wines, there are cookies involved.

The connection was set in stone last summer after missing the originally scheduled appointment and showing up with locally-baked cookies as a peace offering for tardiness.

As it turned out, baked good were hardly necessary given the laid back attitude of our Oregon come-here pourer, who gushed about mossy rooves, gray skies and a wine scene small enough to be groovy, unlike California, from whence she'd come.

And, of course, the micro-boutique wines had been fabulous, so my hand was in the air when I got an invitation to an Elizabeth Chambers wine dinner at Camden's. Pru and Beau, being devoted fans of the pinot noir grape, were my date.

Tucked into a table amidst cartons of grape juice from various winemaking regions, we happily held court, with both the wine rep and the winery rep stopping by periodically to school us on what had been poured, why it was significant and how it fit into the winery's repertoire.

Beginning the evening with Silvan Ridge 2014 Pinot Gris paired with watermelon and tomato salad with feta and micro-basil felt like a summery rebuke to the damp, gray skies outside, so sunny was the salad and wine combo.

And, really, it only takes one glass of Pinot Gris to get a party started when I'm seated with these two. After a spirited discussion, Beau leaned over to Pru, smiling, saying, "Did I hear you say I was right?'

Without so much as missing a beat, Pru came back with, "You'll never get it in writing!" True as that might be, I've no doubt that just the satisfaction and memory of her words will live on in perpetuity for him.

It was while we sipped Silvan Ridge 2013 Pinot Noir that our wine rep explained the 1979 medallion on the bottle's label, touting the winery as one of the oldest in Oregon. When he spoke of earnest young people moving to the area in the late '70s to work the soil and eventually grow grapes, I felt the vibe.

So these were hippie types who moved up from California looking for fresh, cheap dirt, eh? The wine rep laughed and said I'd nailed it, mentioning that in the early years, the hippies focused on growing, with no clear sense of what.

"Then they'd take a bottle of their finished product to the nearest agriculture school and ask for an analysis. They'd say, tell me what we've got because they had no idea. For them, it was all about the dirt and the growing." Yea, yea, they probably had terrariums, too, and plants growing in the back of their VW Bugs, just like I did.

Far out, man, that's an interesting way to launch a state's wine industry.

We enjoyed the light red wine with grilled asparagus wrapped in housemade ham over local greens and goat cheese creme fraiche, a dish that got high marks all around and a gold star for the ham.

But the wine that Pru and Beau were instantly enamored with was Elizabeth Chambers Cellars 2013 Winemaker's Cuvee, a Wine Enthusiast 93-point selection with notes of French oak and a lingering finish.

"We want this one, don't we?" Pru asked of Beau after she'd finished her first sip. While Beau is known to be among the most agreeable people on the planet, his heartfelt agreement seemed to come more from an appreciation of the elegant and complex Pinot Noir than a slavish desire to please the little woman.

It was served with pan-roasted Pacific salmon over beet carpaccio with poached Black Mission figs, which inevitably led to a fig discussion given the passion Pru and I carry for figs of any stripe. The recent planting of a fig tree at her Church Hill manse has not yet produced fruit, but we continue to be hopeful given her great success raising figs when she lived on Mulberry Street.

Segueing from fruit to body parts, Pru explained the weenus to us, pulling on hers and sharing that  a person's age could be determined by their weenus. Is it dark or red, dry-skinned or pliant, or, god forbid, nothing more than an unappealing stop for a pair of lips kissing up a woman's arm?

You make the call.

Like a pair of prize fighters slugging it out, in the fourth round Elizabeth Chambers 2012 Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir took on roasted Hudson Valley duck breast with fingerling potatoes and mixed roasted olives, the fat and saltiness standing up to the sturdy, tannic and expensive ($52 a bottle) wine for a most-evenly matched round.

One wouldn't be half as good without the other.

Because Beau was wearing a black t-shirt under a cream-colored button down, Pru called him on it, leading to a discussion of one of the silliest fashion accessories we could think of: dickies.

I'm not gonna lie, I had a couple in middle school, but I can't recall that they lasted much later than when the hippies started growing grapes in Oregon.

"When are the dickies coming back?" Pru mused to no real answers.

Just when we thought dinner was finished, dark chocolate cookies with sea salt arrived and my night was complete with the sweet being the final punctuation to a long, savory sentence. I, alone, had two.

By then, the room was noisy with wine-lubricated conversations, including ours which ranged from '70s decor - green and silver bamboo wallpaper, mirrored walls with distinctive gold filigree designs on the mirror tiles - to misheard conversations.

Referencing her favorite hippie chick's new-found passion for weed brownies and holding up her own chocolate cookie, Pru observed the contrast, noting, "There's no pot in here" and took a bite.

Beau, whose years in the Navy ensure that he only hears half of our conversations and who'd conveniently forgotten his ear trumpet, replied, "Yes, it is warm."

Say goodnight, wine lovers. It's already Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Here I Go Again

I'll just be blunt about it: without the food angle, there'd have been no art.

My weekend away was set in motion two days after returning from France, when an email arrived July 12th notifying me of another in the Smithsonian's culinary lecture series (so far the series had rewarded me with evenings listening to Anthony Bordain and Ruth Reichl), this one called "Mid-Atlantic Cuisine on the Rise."

As a life-long resident of the mid-Atlantic (where every grade school child had to study the history and bounty of the Chesapeake Bay), my interest was piqued not only by the topic but by the chefs discussing it: Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen (where I'd enjoyed a lovely meal a year and a half ago) and Jeremiah Langhorne of the Dabney (where I haven't eaten, but will).

So, with a primary stated purpose of learning - regional focus! culinary history! chef humor! - I could then concoct a well-rounded couple of days in support of my food curiosity and slide in a little art as long as I was in the neighborhood.

Or so I told myself as I set out to fill up 48 hours with all tomorrow's fun.

Stop #1 for lunch was brasserie Le Diplomat, because an outside table on a sunny afternoon is the best kind of welcome back to my hometown, even when spoiled kids and incompetent parents are just on the other side of an open window.

That the meal involved an exquisite warm shrimp salad with lemon buerre blanc and mesclun that I will surely dream about in days to come only added to the welcome back vibe.

Dinner was a dream, set at Kinship, which was clearly styled by a designer with an eye for subtlety and style and lit with hanging pendant lights and recessed lights so as to be completely flattering to my fair sex, no matter her age.

But I'd have eaten a torchon of white mushrooms in the dark, so fabulously conceived was this dish, but then I'd have missed the gorgeous purple tones of huckleberry gastrique on which it sat next to baby beet and wild mushroom salad.

Never - at least in my experience - have mushrooms tasted so much like duck liver.

Green and white striped tzatziki terrine of grilled octopus with dill-lemon vinaigrette was far lighter in flavor and rosy yellowfin tuna tataki felt very regional with spring onion and butter pickle salad with shiso tempura for crunch over a chilled bowl of dashi - a kind of Japanese stock - gelee to tie all the flavors together.

Agreeing with the woman at the table next door who had raved about it, I only managed to score a bite of pan-seared lamb ribeye with crispy eggplant, patty pan squash and green tomato chutney, but it was a mighty fine bite.

Our server scored high points for his relaxed attitude, patience and humor (when asked if he had a spiel about the menu, he said yes, "But I'll give you the colloquial version") as he came and went throughout the night, appearing out of nowhere with exactly what we needed before we even asked for it.

Full or not, I wasn't leaving Kinship without dessert, savoring whipped chocolate nougat with every bite, but probably most impressed with the one-two punch of whipped creme fraiche under a drizzle of espresso caramel, although the incredible smoothness of chocolate sorbet didn't hurt, either.

After a meal like that, there's not much more you can do beyond sleep for ten and a half hours and get up and go see some art in the pouring rain.

At the National Portrait Gallery,"In the Groove: Jazz Portraits by Herman Leonard" delivered stunning black and white photographs from the '40s through the '60s of iconic musicians.

A young Quincy Jones in a sporty striped shirt, pencil in hand, sheet music spread out in front of him, appears to have been caught mid-studio session. A still life of Lester Young includes all the sax player's essentials - his instrument case, his porkpie hat, sheet music and his lit cigarette atop an empty Coke bottle -  suggesting that he's just momentarily stepped away.

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, "Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl van Vechten" provided a sepia-toned history lesson of handmade gravure prints from a series of significant black figures of the Harlem Renaissance such as James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Richmond's own Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, strikingly shot shirtless.

It's not that art is exhausting or anything, but lunch necessarily followed at breezy, blue and fish-focused Drift on 7th, with a voluble server who admitted that on this soggy afternoon, he wanted nothing more than to be home, curled up with his dog.

Instead, he went out of his way to ensure that we enjoyed our lunch of tuna tartare with avocado and crispy shallots, fish tacos and fish and chips along with the palest of pink Provence Roses to wash it all down, but he was still probably glad when we finally moved on so he and the pup could be reunited for a rainy day nap.

Bar Pillar had barely opened its doors when we stopped by for a pre-lecture glass of bubbly before high-tailing it to the main event, the mid-Atlantic cuisine lecture.

Washington Post food section editor Joe Yonan moderated Spike and Jeremiah's discussion of what mid-Atlantic cuisine is - a combination of what grows here, how the local people have used those ingredients for centuries and, duh, the Chesapeake Bay - so we're talking oysters, crabs, rockfish, country ham, apple butter, sorghum, lima beans and peanuts.

And corn, of course, since we made full use of what the Native Americans taught us about growing and cooking corn after stealing their land.

Both chefs were wildly enthusiastic about their insistence on only using ingredients from the collection of eco-systems located within 150-200 miles of their restaurants.

Unfortunately, that local sourcing didn't extend to the wine glass and both admitted to a huge carbon footprint when it came to their wine lists.

For shame, gentlemen, although Spike did allow as how Virginia wine has made huge strides since his first 1991 restaurant.

On the food front, he laughed about how "older people love their shad roe" but how few today would embrace terrapin or canvasback duck on a menu.

Talking about the over-abundance of eel and snakefish and trying to find uses for it, he said that even commercial fishermen are reluctant. "They'll say, I don't know why you'd want to eat that!" he laughed before Jeremiah called salmon "the bane of my existence. I hate having to have salmon on my menu!"

It's a sentiment I share.

Both showed their testosterone by rhapsodizing about working with fire - Spike uses a wood-fired oven, Jeremiah a wood-fired grill to cook everything - which inevitably brought us back around to the evening's theme: "It all comes back to pizza."

What man doesn't agree with that?

As for the female vote, my favorite quote of the evening came from Spike and was heavily seconded by Jeremiah. "Chefs learn by failing." Can I get an amen on that?

Since we were already on the Mall, we headed up to Barrack's Row and EatBar for dinner, a place where an entire wall is covered with thousands of cassette tapes in boxes and represent the gamut when it comes to music. As in Oingo Boingo to White Snake, with a list of juke box album offerings on the back of the menu.

Music and food, my kind of place.

Argyle Brut paired perfectly with Trinidadian chicken wings, batter-coated and pulling off spicy and sweet at the same time, while the most obscene award went to ham fries, which combined  potatoes, ham, chili paste and balsamic-glazed pearl onions for a rib-sticking indulgence that sent me straight to the tomato, corn and winter savory salad with buttermilk dressing in penance.

A fair amount of my attention went to the juke box (why not, it required no cash outlay?) where I played everything from the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" to Paul Westerburg's "Dyslexic Heart," with a somewhat protracted tangent about who produced Bowie's "Modern Love" (Nile Rodgers) after I played that song.

And why? Because my food curiosity is matched only by my music curiosity, which is roughly matched by my art curiosity.

Wait, did I mention the Spanish singer/guitarist and drummer/percussionist we randomly caught at Rumba Cafe? It wasn't planned, but there's always time for for some things. I can sleep in Richmond.

Consider that the colloquial version of the story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Heavy on the Old Bay

GOD, tell me what I am doing wrong! Love, d 
~ note written in black Sharpie on back of Pick 4 lottery card found on 3rd Street

We'll call it a personal best: I saw four films today.

There was the morning walk to Movieland to see "Stir Crazy," party of their ongoing Gene Wilde tribute series. Walking down Leigh Street with Mac, we passed the crab guys I've passed a hundred times, only today I stopped to check crab prices.

When I explained that I'd walked by his crab stand all those times, Mr. Jimmy chuckled and said, "I know that's true. I've seen you in your hat walking by a whole lot of times. When are you coming back for crabs?"

Fair enough. But first we had a 1980 movie to see and while several lines of dialog were still lodged in my brain  - "Carry me back to ole Virginny" for one and "We bad!" for another - I had no memory that Sidney Poitier directed or that the film began with Gene Wilder singing "Crazy" to a jazz combo accompaniment.

And don't even get me started on Gene Wilder's pink Izod shirt and sweater tied over his shoulders or the pink bandana jauntily tied around his neck while he's doing hard labor on a rock pile.

But mostly it was a fabulous Gene Wilder vehicle, his character a trusting, optimistic cornball capable of turning us into laughing fools with his delivery.

Warden: I have good news for you.
Wilder: My wine magazines came?

Needless to say, we left with a renewed appreciation of Wilder's genius and a trip down Memory Lane as I commented on Kiki Dee singing over the closing credits.

Mac: Who's Kiki Dee?
Me: She did a duet with Elton John called "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
Mac: Ohhhh, Kiki Dee.

After a shared lunch in service of my hired mouth, Mac abandoned me for men and dogs while I made my way to the Bijou for my next dose of Afrikana Film Fest, this time the documentary "Hip Hop Fellow" about, that's right, DJ/producer/professor 9th Wonder, aka the Hip Hop Fellow at Harvard.

As far as I was concerned, this was the most compelling film being shown because it had never occurred to met that Harvard would have such a thing. Turns out they've got an actual hip hop archive and I don't even know which to be more impressed by.

Walking up 3rd Street, I saw Afrikana's photographer appear from around the corner and immediately train her camera in my direction, snapping and laughing as she went. We're both in on the joke.

It was a full house for "Hip Hop Fellow" and why not when the film did such a fine job of explaining how his research shows hip hop bridging gaps between generations while developing a greater appreciation for sampling?

9th referred to what he does as "hip hop archaeology," an apt descriptor considering the way he'd dig deep into a classic hip hop album to identify every single sample used, whether it was 10 or 30 because he sees samples as a way of introducing younger audiences to older music  they either missed or dismissed.

Scholar and literary critic Kenneth Gates explains in the film, "Sampling is what Western literature is all about. Look at T.S. Elliott, Melville or James Joyce's "Ulysses" which is stolen from "The Odyssey. We call it the art of literary license."

Ahem, aka sampling.

9th Wonder talked and took questions afterward, deflecting one about how slow Richmond is to embrace its own musical talent. "That's every city," he said. "They didn't like Jesus in Jerusalem."

So how could I not return for the afterparty later, knowing he was going to DJ it? Film, talk, hit play...a practically perfect trifecta.

First, there were crabs scored from my Leigh Street boys and eaten on the wrought iron table in the backyard with Mac, then back to the Bijou for the equivalent of French New Wave 101, first with "The Red Balloon" and followed by Truffaut's "The 400 Blows."

I know it probably sounds like I was cheating on the Afrikana Film Fest, but I'd already seen "Miles Ahead," tonight's main feature, and, frankly, my film history could use some basic French classics like these two.

Bijou co-founder James explained that the Bijou planned to "show some dog films to show you how a director got to a certain point," asked for a show of hands of who hadn't seen tonight's (me and quite a few others) and let the films speak for themselves.

"Just remember," James said after the first film. "The Bijou is a place where you can come see balloons die." It's also where a friend complained about all the distraction of people rattling their popcorn bags during the film.

It's a lot of things, so remember that instead.

Filmmaking aside, both were intriguing looks back at the landscape of Paris and France in the late '50s and given my trip there a couple months ago, I was wide-eyed, looking for familiar buildings and street signs.

Aching glutes aside, it had been a pretty wonderful day.

But the night wouldn't have been complete without that afterparty and I managed to arrive shortly before 9th Wonder took over DJ duties and proceeded to absolutely kill it for the next three hours.

When he took the stage, he looked out and said, "Let's move these tables outta the way to get things going. We're gonna be dancing."

The man was not lying.

A favorite couple came in, danced a bit and headed home, waving as they threaded their way through the crowd. I stayed put near the back where it was slightly cooler plus I could dance in place and survey the room.

From the stage, the MC suggested we meet our neighbors and find out what their favorite film had been this weekend, but my neighbor hadn't made it to anything except the afterparty. But my next neighbor over had also seen the documentary, making for lively conversation about how it had impressed us and how thrilled we were for the rare DJ experience to follow.

Then there was the music, most of it unfamiliar to me while the rest of the room knew every word to the samples and full songs he played.

But the room went electric when the first few strains of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" came on, soon to be followed by MJ and Prince and eventually, even the Eurythmics, before returning to what I didn't know but could dance endlessly to.

Eventually, my fellow documentary dork came over and asked how I could go to the film, hear 9th speak and not be in the center of the dance floor where he was.

It was like he thought I was doing something wrong. Like d in his message to GOD.

The Afrikana Afterparty is where you come to dance wherever you want to.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Kissing Like a Bandit

Because ultimately, don't we all gotta have it?

But  first of all, we gotta have that indefinable "thing."

Sitting in the Grace Street Theater waiting for the second installment of the inaugural Afrikana Independent Film Festival, the three of us - full as ticks after fish tacos at Asado - were seriously grooving to Afrikana's usual excellent pre-show mix (see 1985's "Oh Sheila") when "Wishing Well" came on and all our faces lit up.

"Terrance Trent D'Arby," my photographer friend announced authoritatively and his girlfriend immediately leaned over close, rubbing up against him, saying, "I love this man" because he'd known the artist's name.

Of course, in my perfect world, all men would recognize the sound of Terrance Trent D'Arby. It would be a fine way to separate the men from the boys.

We agreed that everyone needs their person to know certain things and he'd just scored big by knowing that one. But there's no way to know what your potential person needs you to know and therein lies the rub.

Seeing Spike Lee's first film, "She's Gotta Have It" on this, the 30th anniversary of the film, delivered a fascinating look at the '80s (white socks almost up to the knees, jumpsuits, Jane Fonda-era workout gear and men in gym shorts), female sexuality (I recall from seeing it in the theater what a huge deal the depiction of a black woman's sexuality was) and the very beginnings of the indie movie genre.

I can't recall how the black and whiteness of the film registered in '86, but tonight it felt right for the time, meaning that the interlude in color with singing and dancing amounted to an unpleasant reminder of bad '80s cliches.

For that matter, the audience cracked up at many of the cheesy '80s details throughout, but then, it had already been established that few in the audience had ever seen the film on a big screen, being far too young.

Which means that for them, the film's message of societal acceptance of female choice when it comes to number of partners must seem ridiculously obvious since they've never known any other reality.

For those of us seeing it 30 years later, it was a poignant reminder of the long arc of the double standard.

Because whether they're concurrent or consecutive, we shes of the world do gotta have it. Fact.

Bidding goodbye to the "sleepy" (perhaps a euphemism for "needing to have it") couple, I did a fast walk to Comedy Coalition for "Live from the Pacement," a variety show staged by trombonist/percussionist extraordinaire, Reggie Pace.

He and co-host Aaron sat in chairs with a revolving colored lamp on the floor casting patterns on the wall and welcomed an odd assortment of guests, to great hilarity.

Josh told online dating and Tinder ("The shallowest dating app ever") stories, asking for a show of hands on who's used Tinder, only to find a model couple there who'd met on the shallow app. In his own experience, he'd learned that nerd girls date for life because ~ spoiler alert, he said ~ to them, they don't see any difference in one guy from another.

From my vantage point of seniority, I could challenge that but I won't.

We got music from jazz guitarist Scott Burton, keyboard player Larry Branch and Reggie playing his smorgasbord of percussion, after which he pocketed his triangle. That led to a discussion of how John Popper wears a bandoleer to hold all his harmonicas and a side story about a man who carries his pacemaker in a similar vest.

It was real variety with potato jokes courtesy of comedian Katie as Mrs. Potatohead (What's the difference in mashed potatoes and pea soup? Anyone can mash potatoes), interpretive dancing (Josh: "That was proof that the girls in "Napoleon Dynamite' do grow up") and, in a more serious vein, a gorgeous flute rendition of "Winter Spirits" by Lauren Serpa.

"That was beautiful and now we're gonna ruin it," Aaron said, introducing Jim as Eleanor Gasm, who had the ability to read people's sexual histories by touching their foreheads.

Touching a couple's foreheads, she announced, "They don't love each other." To a guy with a peculiar high-pitched laugh, "You're going to die alone." To a guy about his date: "She likes the goatee, but lose the mustache." Her: "No, it's the reverse, lose the goatee."

To the crowd, "Who's willing to go home with someone here tonight?" No hands raised.

When he got to me, he touched, asked how I was doing tonight and announced that I was looking for two men. No one said Eleanor was always right.

The two guys next to me got highly uncomfortable when he asked how long they'd been dating (a month) and then if they'd done it yet ("We're not going to talk about that," the more uptight one said).

Man of the evening Reggie expressed amazement that Eleanor was polling the audience on their sex lives, noting that things had taken a turn for the worse. That was actually one of the best parts of the evening: watching Reggie as audience member onstage (when he wasn't performing), squirming and laughing along with the rest of us

Before the night was over, there was a hot dog break with three costumed hot dogs and a riff on "Rapper's Delight" done by Reggie's "father" in a bad fake mustache and high voice ("My boy is so talented!").

The collection of hosts and performers on the stage eventually came up with a takeaway for the evening: Things can always get worse.

Now there's a mantra for a Friday night.

To prove it, the show closed with "Barb" in a glitter vest and wearing rollerblades, entreating people to join her in karaoke, including a Dido tune which evolved into a rousing group singalong.

Because sometimes you gotta make do when you gotta have it and can't.