Monday, April 24, 2017

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I'm a firm believer that talking makes everything better.

It's a big part of why I've gotten behind the uptick in community conversations. Let's see, just in the past few years I've been to conversations on neighborhoods, racial issues, bike lanes, public art and tonight, VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art.

Since the ICA doesn't open until October, the staff is busy now holding these meetings to try to determine what the community wants the building with three floors of gallery space but no permanent collection to be and how it can be an asset to the community in a bigger way.

Already, they've identified their target visitors: VCU students, VCU faculty and staff, local teenagers and, wait for it, the curious-minded. I'm thinking I fall squarely in that last category. They've already come up with some clever ideas like using students as gallery attendants and tour guides, free admission and offering tours tailored to the specific interests of small groups.

The size of tonight's crowd was lessened considerably by the chilly temperatures and pouring rain I slogged through to get to the main library, but as facilitator (and fellow restaurant critic) Matt concluded, we were a small but mighty group. Step one was finding a buddy and learning enough about them - name, reason for coming, last memorable museum experience - to be able to introduce him or her to the rest of the audience.

Getting information out of strangers has always been one of my strong suits and former New Yorker John made it easy for me, offering up all kinds of personal information (and envy when he admitted he's already been to the Smithsonian's Black History Museum twice!).

From there, the group worked on lists of issues that matter to Richmond (and the country in general), finding that there was a lot of agreement on key trouble spots, with racial relations, poverty and education being the main themes that emerged.

But as you'd expect, coming up with ways in which the ICA can actively engage with the community on those issues was more challenging. How to get people who don't usually seek out art to come and take part in larger conversations? How to use the new building and all its space to best serve art lovers and art lovers in the making?

The discussion was fascinating because of the group's diversity. Several people mentioned the need to change the historical narrative by finally addressing issues of reconciliation. As one mover and shaker pointed out, New Orleans is probably the only U.S. city with more to atone for than Richmond.

A woman who hadn't known about tonight's meeting but just happened to be at the library provided a real life example of some of the issues at hand when she explained that she lives in the county but is dependent on public transportation, which makes it tough for her to get to cultural events and institutions after dark. I guarantee you, no one else in the room would have mentioned that point because it wouldn't have occurred to us.

And I'd even go so far as to say that that's a big part of what the ICA and all of Richmond's culture-focused organizations need to think about. How do we as a city get everyone at the table so that the voices are not so homogeneous? Is it realistic to expect people struggling with survival issues to weigh in on art?

On the other hand, is it fair for kids to reach adulthood without ever getting to experience the power of art as a force of change and an inspiration for mind expansion? I'll never forget my first school field trip to the National Gallery of Art and how profoundly it affected me to discover that such a place existed, free and open to the public, with such marvelous wonders to be seen and experienced.

Wouldn't it be grand if the ICA could provide that to kids whose parents would never make culture a priority or even adults who see museums as something for other people but not them?

The curious-minded think so. If we talk long, hard and honestly enough, surely we can make it a reality.

Backwash and Extreme Cooties

The beauty of my day would be all the people who supplied what I need.

There was the friend willing to walk to Big Secret at the crack of dawn (10:50) for sandwiches from Nate's Bagels, thus ensuring us first place in the line.

I took my everything bagel with a schmear of scallion cream cheese and he took his baker's wife on an everything bagel before we made our way to Saadia's Juicebox for the first offering of the Mozart Festival.

Situated on a cushion on the floor with a skylight view of a treetop blowing in the wind, we heard a flute duo, the Chamber Chicks ( a quintet of woodwinds) and an octet arrangement originally written for six and since transcribed for eight, because, as one of the oboe players noted, it was obvious something was missing.

More cowbell oboe. Two were added.

There was the IT geek friend willing to assess my computer needs with only a few instances of mocking my ancient computer, slow Internet and complete cluelessness when it comes to ram and operating systems. Fortunately, he determined my needs are small and easily satisfied.

Then there was the sextet of friends - couples, all - who gathered with me for a Rhone wine dinner at Camden's, one which began as a lesson on E Guigal (a winery and negociant, notable for being hands-on and not the silver spoon types) and ended up as conversational free-for-all after all the other guests had vacated the premises.

In between, we ate like we were hiking the Appalachian Trail, beginning with Comte, house baguettes and toasted walnuts accompanied by a Cotes du Rhone Blanc with a mouthfeel so soft, the friend with the green eyes said, it was like a pillow she wanted to sink into.

From the newlywed about her husband's house improvements: "He got wine drunk and ordered bidets."

A Rose from Tavel played up the sublime smokiness of house-smoked N.C. trout peeking out under a micro-green salad with champagne and caper dressing.

From the Claudine Longet fan about our server, the VCU Prof: "She used to make us martinis the color of moonlight."

Everyone was ga-ga for housemade sausage with wilted spring greens (their bitterness a stellar counterpoint to the sausage's richness) paired with Cote du Rhone rouge

From the musician who'd called me last week about Robyn Hitchcock's appearance at Plan 9: "Matthew Southern Comfort's is the best version of "Woodstock."

"Hermitage" made roasted ham and sage-stuffed pork loin shine and the friend who'd returned from South Africa with 21 bottles of wine in his suitcase deemed it his favorite wine of the night.

From the man with the dangling ears: "That's a civilized mob if they get paid in Rose."

Not that anyone at the table had any room left, the final course of sour cream-topped lamb stew over dumplings served with Chateaneuf du Pape was magnificent - earthy, rich and more than capable of standing up to lamb even by this late point in the festivities.

From he who shall not be named about how people pre-gamed before the wine dinner: "She ate lasagna and I did tequila shots."

I did nothing of either sort, but as we've established, my needs are small and easily satisfied. Just not often enough.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Flirt, Swoon, Use Your Womanly Devices

When your evening begins somewhere luxe, you don't anticipate it ending in an industrial corridor.

Our quartet arrived in the rain at Spoonbread Bistro, were shown to a table in the center of the room and immediately began social intercoursing, at least until we noticed the restaurant steadily filling up. Pros all, we knew it was best to order before the masses did.

The Four Graces Pinot Blanc wet our whistles and amuse bouches of spicy pimento cheese tarts whet our appetites. My companion's order changed once our ginger-bearded server announced that softshell crabs were in the house, while I stuck with a gift-wrapped salad and scallops with corn pudding and bacon drizzle.

The scared and profane part of the discussion began when the friend eating frogmore stew admitted he had shown up for Easter dinner with nothing more than a bouquet of flowers and a cherry pie, completely unaware that Easter was a gift-giving holiday.

Au contraire, he discovered, as we heard tell of Easters past with presents as varied as a BB gun and a Matchbox racetrack because apparently not everyone celebrates resurrection simply with black jellybeans.

And P.S., if anyone's going to bring me flowers and pie, please make it blueberry.

Tonight, mine was the rare case of dessert remorse because the 24k gold leaf carrot cake with maple icing my companion ordered was downright spectacular, certainly more alluring than the chocolate I'd opted for. Will I never learn?

We had no remorse about our choice of entertainment with "Something's Afoot," a murder mystery musical spoofing Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" that, according to director Tom Width, Swift Creek Mill had produced 25 years ago. Not to point out the obvious, but I did a lot of things in 1992 that I'd just as soon not repeat now (one incident involved lemon drops and that's all I'll say about that), but Swift Creek had no such compunction.

Adding drama to drama, he also told us to check out the creek because the water coming down from under Route 1 was battling with the roiling water from the rain on this side, making for some mighty agitation. Of course I trooped outside during intermission with my willing accomplice to see nature's churning spectacle.

The story of guests being invited to an English lake country manor house for a weekend was all kinds of fun with French malapropisms ("Quelle fromage!"), a maid with a pitch-perfect Cockney accent, multiple unlikely death scenarios (poison dart, missing step, falling shield) and near-constant laughter at the top-notch cast's delivery.

Jacqueline Jones was made for the role of Miss Tweed (in a tweed suit, natch), all efficiency and suspicion, while it was impossible not to keep an eye on John Mincks' every move (casually at the fireplace adjusting his junk after fondling a fellow guest) as the crafty nephew trying to secure his inheritance.

Not for a second did the play let us forget it was all one big device, never more evident than when one guest tells another, "We'll leave as soon as it's climatically possible."

The four of us left once the play was smoking its metaphorical cigarette, only to get right back off the highway when we saw a sign for a crash ahead. The nearest exit took us on a soul-less stretch of road that put me closer to Philip Morris than I'd ever been, involved some screaming at a perceived dangerous moment (it wasn't) and, at one shoddy point, was described as resembling a cow path.

Big deal. Once you've been serenaded about getting a rash from a man with a ginger mustache, it takes a lot more than Commerce Road to sour your night.

Besides, no one wants their evening to end before it's climatically optimal.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Lines Are Open

Move around the dial enough and you'll see and hear all manner of goings-on.

Setting out for my morning constitutional, I got three blocks before spotting a neighbor and one of Sunday's Mozart Festival organizers hanging signs.

Or, more accurately, hanging one measly sign, a process that involved upwards of six plastic zip ties, a long-winded story about City Hall's inefficiency in supplying said signs and his plans to meet the mayor for a drink to suggest improvements to the process.

Resist, man.

When his festival partner-in-crime had recently told him there'd now be a Nate's Bagels pop-up at the festival, he said his first reaction had been, "F*ckin' Karen!" knowing I'd originally suggested the idea and it meant more work for him. The way I see it, someone had to be the one to remind them to get rolling on my Sunday breakfast plans.

Arriving at Second and Grace moments after a car had hit a pedestrian, the woman was still sprawled in the street as the driver tried to move her car and park it to check on her victim. If there's one thing you don't want to see as you start your six-mile walk, it's someone else on foot bested by machinery.

(in Elephant Man-like voice) I am not a walker, I am a person.

By afternoon, I was at Reynolds Gallery to see "Donato: Fresh," a career-spanning look at Jerry Donato's paintings done in such far flung places as Paris and Hatteras, Italy and the Bowery. What I recall about the artist from the times our paths crossed at bars, parties and openings was how Chicago he was (all attitude), how Italian (insouciance oozing out of every pore) and how talented (this show).

In service of my hired mouth, a musician accompanied me for a late lunch listening to early Joni Mitchell and discussing open tuning along the way.

If you've got too many doubts
If there's no good reception for me
Then tune me out
Cause, honey, who needs the static?
It hurts the head

There was never any doubt I'd find my way to some of the 15 group readings comprising Richmond's first literary crawl which, like a Rose crawl (with which I have plenty of practice) has no fixed start or end point. I couldn't get rid of the friend who dropped by after work early enough to make the first reading at Babe's, but I managed the second at Chop Suey, along with 40 or so other bibliophiles browsing the shelves until the reading began.

Brilliant doesn't begin to describe the reading's premise, which used Roky Erikson's 1981 album "The Evil One" as a starting point for a book of short stories, each written using a song from the album as inspiration. In what may be the ultimate mash-up of my interests - be still my heart - this was a literary cover album.

And, as host Andrew pointed out, today was Iggy Pop's birthday. What better day for a literary crawl?

Five of the book's writers read their stories, sometimes over the sound of pouring rain, other times with an accompaniment of kids screaming outside on Cary Street. As you might imagine, the stories were all over the place, from observations that the smell of a woman's body reminds some men of the smell of bread to comparisons between campers kissing and sea lampreys sucking.

From there I crawled to Quirk Hotel for a reading billed as "The Originals," which seemed to mean authors who've been doing this a while reading from new work.

Unfortunately, Quirk had installed the crawl group in the lobby and between loudish music on the speakers and the conversation and laughter of a busy bar and dining room, first reader Dean King had to shout to be heard while holding someone's cell phone flashlight so he could read the too-small font of the chapter he was reading about the "self-defeatingly stubborn" John Muir and his journey.

When he finished, the Man About Town, seated next to me on the loveseat whilst sipping a pink cocktail, whispered, "I want to know where John Muir was going!"

After much (self-defeatingly) loud talking by one of the organizers during Dean's reading, the woman managed to secure a meeting room downstairs for the group to move to and off we traipsed to the relative peace and quiet of the Love and Happiness Room.

There David Robbins read from a new work on Israel, specifically from a poignant passage that took place at the liberation of Buchenwald, which he cleverly dedicated to Sean Spicer. On a somewhat related note, "Burning human flesh is a pretty good appetite suppressant" came from Howard Owen's sixth novel about a night reporter at a Richmond newspaper that was not the RTD, one where local references - the Devil's Triangle, VMFA, Sheppard Street and Patterson - abounded.

Phaedra Hise referred to herself as "the token non-fiction writer" and read a piece about raising pigs at Autumn Olive Farms, one I'd already read in the Post, with one notable exception. Her editor had cut the final sentence and tonight she included it, a satisfying moment for anyone who knows the pain of seeing her words cut.

And as people know, f*cking Karen has so many of them. But remember, when there's no good reception, tune me out.

Honey, no one needs the static who doesn't want it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Ghastly Menace

Fritos are not just for food anymore...and other cautionary tales from  April 20.

Visiting the Northern Neck today came with the added bonus of my oldest nephew being there as well as getting to explain the genesis of the holiday 4/20 to my Mom while my Dad and nephew chortled mightily. Mom just rolled her eyes.

It was over a lazy lunch on the screened-in porch that we began discussing the significance of Fritos in the cosmic scheme of things. Family law dictates that liverwurst sandwiches can only be served with Fritos, and despite not having liverwurst today, we were having Fritos. Nephew pointed out that they were the heaviest chip because of all the oil, which makes them handy when he's hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Fritos can be used as emergency fire starters, he informs us, like oil-soaked kindling sticks you can buy. Tor prove his point, he lighted one - not even a Scoop, just a regular one - right there at the lunch table. It flared at the touch of a match, impressing us with its instantaneous flame.

I only hope the Girl Scouts know this.

It was a gorgeous day to be at the river - all kinds of fragrant flowers and bushes in bloom, the water half a dozen shades of blue - and an unexpected opportunity to be learning which snacks are flammable. I'm always happy to learn.

Keeping the holiday theme going, I put on my flowered rubber boots to walk over in the pouring rain to Coalition Theater for "It's a Wonderful Plant," a comedic take on a world without weed (see: Frank Capra, spinning in his grave) and an outgrowth of the "High There!" live comedy series - I'd seen three humorous episodes - they'd done.

The boots ensured that no puddle was too deep to ford, no downspout too powerful to stick my foot under, no uneven juncture of the pavement unworthy of exploration. Granted, a few overly-zealous splashes did result in some interior boot splattering, but, truthfully, I brought that on myself, and my feet were barefoot inside the boots so what did it matter?

No need to worry about a lot on 4/20. Better to laugh.

With a guardian angel trying to earn his bong, "It's a Wonderful Plant" made a strong case for rollin' and bowlin' over reading "Cat Fancy" magazine and praying with your family, which is apparently what happens when people don't have weed. Oddly enough, in a world without pot, people use McDonald's coffee to alter their reality and things are really tense, making for some pretty hilarious sketch comedy.

And once live comedic actors have reminded you that the world is a better place where the devil's salad is served, any earnest 4/20 celebrant (or, ahem, any pathetic student of popular culture who hasn't seen it) really has no choice but to head to the Byrd to see a late screening of "Reefer Madness."

Like me, the ballet dancer (who moved here last Fall from Charlotte and is loving Richmond) in front of me in the popcorn line was a "Reefer" virgin and, like me, she was there as a student of cultural history. Where I was able to blow her mind was in telling her that even when I was in college, this was a very old and dated cult classic film.

"Wow, I had no idea it was that old," she marveled, with no clue of the implication there.

The sheer melodrama of a black and white 1936 church-made piece of propaganda about the violent narcotic and unspeakable scourge that was destroying the fabric of American youth had those of us in the audience howling in laughter just reading the introduction. And my goodness, when we got to the scenery-chewing histrionics of the low-budget actors, the crowd's younger members were groaning and giggling in agony at the remnants of old-school silent-era over-acting.

Now that I think about it, it sounded a lot like the uncontrollable laughter that the film said was the first effect of using the demon drug.

Once I'd had the full range of 4/20 experiences, I could wade through the sticky air to go home. Walking past my neighbor's porch, he called out asking how I was doing tonight. Great, I told him, because it feels like a warm summer night and I love that. "You can't ask for more!" he called as I rounded my garden.

Unless it's for more Fritos, I can't. I don't.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rather Than Alone and Pointless

The Facebook hive was working overtime when a bearded DJ threw out a simple enough inquiry.

Anyone going to the Robyn Hitchcock show tonight at Capital Alehouse?

The comedian immediately came back with the smart-assed, "I'm sure someone will be there." A fellow movie/music fan replied, "I'm going. Does this make me uncool?" A favorite music couple weighed in, saying, "In discussion now...we may be there."

The music writer/DJ lent his gravitas by sharing, "Never seen a bad - or even so-so - Robyn Hitchcock show. He's a treasure." Two different friends said they were sure it wouldn't sell out, yet I had a feeling they were way off the mark on that.

From a friend who told me he planned to go then opted out because he was "tired" (easily the most over-used middle aged fallback known to man), I got this: "He is hilarious. I saw him with the Egyptians in like 1986."

What? And you don't want to see how he and his live show have held up over the past three decades? Good god, man, is your curiosity completely shriveled?

Easily my favorite came from a guy I didn't even know, but whose affirmative answer could have been my own. "Alone and pointless by my moldering self I'd be otherwise." Also in lockstep was the guy who said simply, "mememe!"

Personally, I'd bought my ticket over a week ago and I joined the line snaking out of Capital Alehouse's door around 7:10. The problem was the doors weren't yet open despite a published door time of 7 p.m. The young host did his best to move people through once they finally opened, but by then he was facing an onslaught of people wanting to get into the sold out show.

As I finally passed him, I took a second to compliment his handling of the middle-aged mob, thanking him for gracefully wearing so many hats simultaneously. Just as I finished expressing my appreciation, a man just ahead whirled around and said in an overly loud voice," Well, I don't think you're doing a very good job. These doors should've been opened 25 minutes ago."

The host apologized to him for the wait but it wasn't enough. "This is all part of the experience and we didn't want to waste it standing in line!" After an awkward pause, a nearby woman reminded him that it wasn't the kid's fault and the cranky guy got crankier, saying he was telling him so he'd tell his boss and it wouldn't happen ever again.

Clearly he'd never been to a show at Cap Ale before. There's always a line.

The good news was that being solo meant I got seated with an existing table directly in front of the stage. The people there, a Robyn Hitchcock fan who'd seen him in '92 and her Dad, a poet who greeted me and told me he loved my hair, graciously welcomed me to their humble table.

They immediately proved their worth by sharing the reason for the line forming outside: Robyn Hitchcock had been meticulously setting up his merch table (which he later referred to as "dodgy merch"). Knowing the artist, what fan would complain about that?

Our table was complete when another singleton was dropped off by the hostess and he turned out to be a former photographer who had already seen Robyn at least four times. He's lost count. One of those shows was delayed starting because Robyn had insisted all the band members wear actual waffles on their heads to sing "Wafflehead."

"I think they used Eggos or something," he recalled.

We chatted non-stop for a while, ordered food and the lights dimmed as it arrived. The poet leaned in and stage whispered, "I can't see my food! Get out your lighter!" I reminded him that cell phone flashlights have replaced lighters and he was showing his age.

Nashville duo Cale Tyson (a long, tall drink of water who cherished sad songs) and Pete (bearded and less extroverted but killing it on lead guitar and harmonizing vocals) took the stage to sing songs offering romantic advice ("If you're going to love a woman, you're gonna be blue, and if you love a man, you're going to be sad and that's the truth"), pick-up lines ("I love you like the sunset, And all your drinks are on me") and lamentations about the foolhardiness of putting your own picture on a t-shirt ("I've sold 35% fewer t-shirts than when they just had my name on them").

Then Robyn Hitchcock came out with his fabulous white hair wearing a navy and white polka dot shirt to reminisce. "The last time I was here was in 1992 at the Flood Zone. My eyesight's not as good as it was then, but I think most of you were there then."

My friend had been correct; this guy was hilarious. His offbeat ruminations and occasionally surrealistic storytelling aided by his fast-processing mind ("I've got a cough, but it's really inspiring") meant between songs was as fully entertaining as the songs, which is truly saying something. Smart guy humor at its best.

Simply put, I don't think I have ever laughed at a music show more than I did tonight. Loudly, at times.

Besides singing a wide range of his catalog, from gems such as "My Wife and My Dead Wife" to "When I Was Dead" to his newest "I Want To Tell You About What I Want," he sipped a cup of good coffee and posited that, "A lot of being alive is all the things you can cram up into your mouth."

He was particularly clever with his requests to the sound guy, Joe, before many of the songs, such as asking him to put "a little sparkle dust" on his guitar so it would sound like a well-played 12-string. Or he wanted his voice to "move in a heavenly arena." One time he wanted his guitar to sound like "George Harrison, double-tracked" and another, "Graham Nash, triple-tracked." Once it was, "I want it to sound like David Crosby is singing harmony with me." Perfectly reasonable requests.

Joe made them so.

Ever the gracious Brit, Robyn thanked the audience for the listening room-like environment, specifically "for not discussing all the many thoughts in your head while I'm singing." I don't think it would've occurred to any of the devoted crowd to speak while this man sang or spoke.

He encored with "Mad Shelly's Letterbox" and a reworking of what he referred to as "an old folk song" done by his original band, the Soft Boys. The pointed "I Wanna Destroy You" had been updated to include a verse railing against Fox News. Actually, he asked for a pox on them, netting cheers and applause.

"I hope to see you again before another 25 years!" he said by way of farewell, causing the boisterous crowd to give him a couple of standing ovations. The uber-fan next to me turned to talk, comparing this show to the four previous he'd seen and insisting I immediately go buy the Soft Boys' "Underwater Moonlight." Will do.

As I'd expected, the line at the dodgy merch table was sizable.

Note to the doubting Thomases who showed their pessimism in the hive: the show was not only sold out, it was standing room only. Those who opted out missed out.

When my friend had decided to flake, he'd messaged me saying, "Sorry. Have fun." Pshaw, my response was not to apologize to me because the loss was his, not mine. I'd just seen that proven.

In fact, the evening was probably best summed up by the guy who'd earlier answered the hive query with a simple "I wish!"

Luckily, my moldering self didn't have to.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Fly Room

When you go to the beach in April, you've got to be adaptable.

The sunshine and heat of the first two days gave way to a very different sort of Tuesday, with strong winds off the ocean and when I say strong, I mean I gave up trying to walk on the beach after about two minutes of trying and I am not a walking quitter. It was just too much, too strong, too chilly.

Or perhaps it was the contrast. Leaving the comfort of bed after going back to bed after breakfast to read for a couple of hours - discovering through Springsteen's book that the time I'd seen the band had been on the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" tour, a fact I hadn't ever known since I wasn't a fan and went solely because my then-boyfriend insisted I needed to experience "The Boss" - and then take a nap (less than four hours after getting up) stands in stark contrast to battling 20 mph winds, feeling cold droplets of swirling surf and having to actually push my body into the wind in pursuit of movement.

Dedicated I am, but thanks, I'll take a pass.

Embracing the cowardly but still cardio-friendly path, we dumped the beach for the Nature Conservancy on the Sound side of the Outer Banks, where we walked three of the trails - two of which ended up at the sound, although with different vistas - under filtered sunlight from the tree canopy above.

It only amounted to a 4.1 mile trek, but included a girl in a bikini suggesting we visit her family's alpaca farm in Moyock, a slithering snake far bigger than I would ever want to see while walking and, as always when walking these Conservancy trails, the near-distant sounds of a shooting range.

Once again, off season languor meant that our servers at We Got Your Crabs had plenty of time to share their life stories with us. The young one was discussing a ridiculously handsome guy ("Is he fixin' to marry to her?"), while admitting she'd never give up her own boyfriend, even for someone so good looking.

But she was happy to drool.

The older one got into a chat with the local on the stool next to me, so by default, me, and they were soon caught up in a conversation identifying her cousins, Daddy, brother-in-law and what sounded like 20 other people it turned out they had in common.

Spare me, the Outer Banks are such a small town.

In the meantime, we downed oysters from nearby Edenton before I began dissecting my first steamed crabs of the season and my seatmate worked on a pound of steamed local shrimp. The wet and bedraggled brown paper on the counter looked like it had been through the war by the time we pushed ourselves away.

On Wednesday, two different people - the server who greeted us at the door and the chef who came out at the end of the evening - claimed to remember my previous visits to the Salt Box Cafe, despite having eaten outside on the screened-in porch both times.

Even if they were lying, it was a brilliant PR move.

Since that wasn't an option this time, we took up residence at the bar to tuck into crispy spicy green beans, an arugula and poached pear salad with goat cheese and nuts, creamy curry soup with garbanzo beans and a ridiculous amount of crabmeat and an entree of tilefish with Brussels sprouts.

You might expect a person wouldn't be able to down a large goblet of chocolate pudding with caramel sauce after so much dinner, but you'd be wrong.

For that matter, you might expect all kinds of revelatory conversations over three days of pure goofing off, but you'd be wrong again. Just a little lightness on the edge of beach.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Off Season

Because Bollywood before the beach makes sense when you think about it.

Knowing I had a full Saturday itinerary of getting stuff done - taxes, an interview, cleaning house - I hadn't made plans to go out until 10. When a friend inquired about my availability, I told him he was free to join me for the Gypsy Room's inaugural Bollywood evening.

Although he knew nothing of the style of music and while he said he hadn't danced since he stopped drinking, his main sticking point with my plans was the hour. "Go out at 10?" he asked incredulously. "That's what we used to do when I was young." Ouch.

I pointed out that that statement alone was proof positive he was old, that I'd been to these before and they were always great dancing and a stellar time. Trying to be game, he said yes, probably with all kinds of misgivings, but yes. He at least knew of DJ Carlito's legendary Bollywood dance parties, for years at Cous Cous, then at Balliceaux and now underneath Vagabond. He even knew Carl, which may have emboldened him a little.

Because we arrived semi-on time, the crowd was small (us and a few other duos who were not millennials), but the sounds were perfectly on point ("This music's all about the beat," my friend observed, stating the obvious) and within the hour, the room was nearly full.

Full, but not diverse. The Gypsy Room had become ground zero for well-dressed brown millennials, with a couple of middle-aged Indians observing from the safety of couches. Since Friend and I had seats at the bar, we had terrific sight lines for the mating rituals that were unfolding around the room.

He was curious about how someone signaled interest in someone else, since it was clear that assessing and making moves was part of the ritual that preceded the actual dancing. And DJ Carlito was hitting all their hot buttons, playing the kind of Indian pop songs that not only had the crowd singing along but, in some cases, doing coordinated hand gestures and moves.

They all knew things we didn't because we have no family or cultural ties to the music, just an appreciation for how infectiously danceable it is. As a result, we spent far more time talking (I was told I dress "eccentrically," but I took it as a compliment) than dancing while the well-dressed millennials got down tonight and, who knows, perhaps looked for an alternative to an arranged marriage.

It was funny, early on, Carl had mentioned that he was wondering if he'd pull a big crowd since he hadn't done a Bollywood night in so long, so he wasn't sure people would still dig it. And while it was completely different than the more diverse groups I'd seen at the old events, it looked like people still want to dance to that music, especially in such a dimly lit room on a Saturday night.

Nine hours after getting home, I was packing for a short beach trip and on the road before noon. The sole fly in that ointment was that it was Easter Sunday so many of the usual stopping points were closed due to Christianity being pushed on a country that supposedly separates church and state. And don't get me started on waking up to Google wishing me a Happy Easter. So not appropriate, guys.

Since getting here, life has been reduced to the essentials: a couple of walks, enjoying the constancy of waves hitting the beach through open balcony doors in two rooms and a diet likely to induce gout by mid-week (or so my Sister #2 would claim, after eating seafood 12 of 14 days at the beach and immediately getting "the gout," which sounds so Henry the VIII it's hilarious).

Frog Island Seafood delivered fish tacos and shrimp salad, Ocean Boulevard meant fried oysters and a special of sheepshead with local purple-tipped asparagus and N.C. shrimp over heirloom grits and tomatoes and from the Blue Moon Café, a crabcake sandwich a Marylander could get behind, thick and loaded with discernible hunks of backfin and little filler.

Best of all, two of the three meals were eaten outdoors at wooden picnic tables with the wind having its way with us.

It being April and all, servers are longing for the summer season to begin (ka-ching!), but as visitors, we can appreciate the more languid pace and the extra effort staff make for people now that they won't possibly have time to bother with come June and July.

Come to think of it, that's when I'll be back. But for now, it's all about the ice old ocean being off-limits, leaving hours with nothing to do but read (currently: "Born to Run," by Springsteen), dissect passersby on the uncrowded beach from the balcony and goof off with a capital "G."

You see why I had to get the Bollywood out of my system first.