Sunday, March 26, 2017

Getting Along for Good

Have we made no progress in 25 years?

That could have been the theme for TheatreLAB's production of "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992" about the Rodney King beating and ensuing riots and also my first foray into verbatim theater, a genre I didn't even know existed.

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith had used interviews with people associated with the events - everyone from the police chief to King's aunt to a Korean woman whose husband was attacked - as a way of gathering monologues for the one-woman show.

I had gathered up a favorite photographer who also remembered the historic events so I'd have a companion to discuss the play with afterward. No point in going with someone who was in elementary school during the seminal events.

Fortunately for the audience, that one woman was Katrinah Carol Lewis, a fierce presence who with each monologue and minimal costume change managed to display a different take on the crucial events, each distinct, memorable and tragic in his or her own way.

It was while she was playing a Mexican sculptor that the audience nervously laughed when she said, "I'm not a racist. I have white friends," one of those decidedly uncomfortable moments for anyone who recognizes how common that particular justification is despite its meaninglessness.

On the other hand, it was infuriating to hear one of the white jurors at the trial (of the cops who beat King 56 times in 81 seconds) say she felt like a pawn used to get a non-guilty verdict. That the juror later got a letter from the KKK - thrilled at the verdict and inviting her to join - drove the point home most unpleasantly.

In a sign of the times, more than one character made disparaging comments about Jesse Jackson. Oh, Jesse.

Lewis' convincing Cornel West character explained the difference between "optimism" and "hope," the former being secular, and the latter based on nothing, and also predicted that if whites could experience black sadness, it would be overwhelming for them.

No doubt. As it was, the incredibly well-acted play was overwhelming for its unfortunate reminder that there can be no progress until, as Rodney King pleaded, we can all get along.

Props to TheatreLAB for the win, both in thoughtfully choosing a piece of theater that's as relevant today with #blacklivesmatter as when it was written and for the assured execution by Lewis.

Sadly, we still need all the optimism and hope we can get.

Use Me Up

Life is a sunny Saturday with cake at the end.

My morning can be summed up as the epitome of soulful spring in Jackson Ward: a guy on Marshall Street washing a car with "Girl, I Wanna Shake You Down" blaring as I walked by. Another was driving down Clay Street with all his car windows down blasting Bill Withers' "Use Me Up." All my apartment windows open so I could share Donny Hathaway with the neighbors, too.

My afternoon took me to the Bijou, past a guy on Broad Street who inquired if he hadn't just seen me at Kroger, proving that some people pay far more attention to their fellow shoppers than I do.

The film that lured me inside on a gorgeous spring day was "Neruda," a biopic ostensibly about a communist poet going underground when communism was outlawed, but actually more of a poetic dream that allowed the director to take us on a journey through brothels and political meetings, orgies and snow-covered mountains as a driven policeman makes it his mission to find the poet.

To write well, one must know how to erase. ~ Neruda

Weird, but utterly entrancing and sometimes as enigmatic as poetry can be, it was a film that left the small crowd - including a musician there on what she called a "lady date" with a girlfriend - dazzled with the beauty of its cinematography and the sheer pleasure of watching the story of how a talented man indulged his every whim, with little regard for consequence but laser-focused desire on seeking out his own stimulation, whether physical, intellectual or emotional.

My evening began at Pru's manse on Church Hill with bubbly on the screened porch before dodging the green-clad masses of the Church Hill Irish Festival to make it down to the Slip and Bistro Bobette for a proper French birthday celebration meal in her honor.

Actually, feast might be a better word because of everything that landed on our table, was Hoovered up and whisked away by our young server, who quietly informed us that not only was it his first night there but we were his first table.

We promised to be gentle.

Out first were bowls of cream of asparagus soup, a cheese and charcuterie plate and ahi tuna tartare, followed by monkfish medallions, two kinds of beef including beef wellington for the birthday girl, and, for me a special of scallops with celery root galette with roasted garlic crema, all washed down with a Sancerre recommended by the barkeep who greeted us with hugs and the intel that a good friend of mine was downstairs at a private dinner.

When I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned to find said friend looming over me, and soon chiding me for not responding to his recent email, one which I'd mistaken for a mass email (it wasn't, apparently). Still, it was wonderful to see him.

And while I heard two Grand Marnier souffles being ordered, I missed out entirely by heading to the loo, where I ran into friends along the way and chatted a bit too long, returning to see empty plates. It mattered not because we were heading back to the manse for dark chocolate cake with ganache (lovingly made by Beau), and far more my dessert speed anyway.

That the evening was so beautifully temperate ensured that we all set up camp on the candlelit porch again, this time for bubbles, birthday cake and present-opening, a highlight being the exquisite absinthe fountain Beau had bought for his beloved. As much artful as functional, the winged woman holding up the glass reservoir with four taps exuded feminine energy and was a thing of beauty at the same time.

In the interest of testing out the new apparatus - and the new wormwood leaf-shaped absinthe spoons - Beau filled it with ice water and we all set our taps to drip over the Granddaddy of absinthes, Vieux Pontalier, mine being the slowest by far because of how much I enjoy the lead-up to the arrival of the green fairy.

Once she'd arrived, conversation reached new levels. On the subject of a former boyfriend who'd told me he dreamt of eating my belly for dinner once I'd gone to the other side, Pru observed, "Other cities donate their bodies to science, but in Richmond, we donate ours to local chefs."

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Beau took issue when we pointed out his tendency to titter, claiming he was actually guffawing (as if), finally agreeing that he perhaps did giggle a bit. Neither Pru not I saw that as preferable. "Neither a titterer nor a giggler be," he quipped.

Impossible, we discovered, when you find yourself at an eight-hour birthday soiree. To party well, one must know how to go where the green fairy takes you. Preferably, without tittering.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Living for the Possibilities

Despite my Mom's predilection for it, I find worrying a waste of time.

Last night, I went to bed feeling guilty - which is first cousins with worry - knowing I had two play tickets for tonight and no date, although not for lack of asking. This morning, I woke up to a friend's message announcing that he was a bachelor for the weekend because his fiancee was out of town.

Woo hoo! My invitation was immediate.

If you're buying, I'm flying. Can I buy you some supper?

See? the universe seemed to be chiding me. Brief as it had been, all that late night obsessing was for naught. Lesson reinforced.

Like a good date, he gave me my choice of restaurants and I wanted My Noodle, preferably in a booth with a curtain. I got both. Like past men I have taken there, he fell in love with the green curry I highly recommended and the server seconded. Win/win.

Walking down Lombardy, we passed a long-time friend of mine who never even saw me, necessitating a brief dressing down on the sidewalk. I got home to a message with the subject line: "I'm an ass." He's not, just apparently oblivious, but now there's an apology (or perhaps guilt?) drink in it for me.

And I had on the fuchsia lace tights, too, so I wasn't all that easy to miss.

Tonight's gorgeous weather made the walk to Virginia Repertory downright delightful and we arrived early enough to have plenty of time for conversation before "The End of War" began.

We were only a few minutes into his dissertation on all the sex he got before his girlfriend left for the weekend when we noticed there was a man onstage, moving about on the incredibly immersive set of a bombed-out Berlin circa 1945.

But wait, there were still 15 minutes to curtain. What was up?

Interrupting his mention of the third time in 12 hours, I pointed to the man, raising my eyebrows. "He's either part of the show or psychotic," my friend surmised. Since we were in the second row, if the guy were to pull out a gun and begin spraying, we'd have been prime targets.

Since my friend is bigger than I am, I inquired if it would be okay for me to use him as a shield if such a thing went down. Without missing a beat, he whined, "Aww, but I'm getting laid a lot, so I've got more to live for."

Truth. That's the hardest I've laughed in weeks.

It was also the best possible thing to do before a very serious play about the hard choices people - embattled Russian soldiers, a desperate German woman, her adult daughter who was a female cellist with little empathy and a Jewish man hidden in a cellar - make in wartime.

At intermission, my friend had a slightly stricken look. "Just a little light Friday night entertainment," he quipped.

I can't say enough good about the sobering effect of the set or the projections of bombings, concentration camps and the general mayhem of war, even the eerie hues projected to convey mood. They were as much a character of the play as the actors.

And speaking of them, Nick Aliff nailed his part as a Russian killing machine so entrenched in the non-stop slaughter that he begins to see the ghosts of all his victims and eventually decides once they arrive in Berlin that he just needs the war to stop.

Tragically, as his comrade-in-arms points out, one war ends and the next one begins immediately (sort of like meals at my mother's house).

Which is exactly why my friend is brilliant for getting laid as much as possible right now. No telling what's on the horizon.

But I can tell you this much: whatever it is, I'm not worrying about it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Moonrise, Moon Set

If I had ever been here before, I would probably know just what to do - sound of record scratching - oh, wait, I do.

At the Foxygen show at the National the other night, a friend had observed that he used to go to a show and know most of the people there, at least recognize them. Not so any more and partly, we decided, because of the growth in the breadth and width of the scene.

Tonight was proof positive, with long-familiar musical faces in spaces that didn't exist 9 or 10 years ago and performed for only a few familiar faces.

Beginning the evening with the inaugural Southside Listening Room at WPA was hardly negotiable given my seasoned status with the original Listening Room series all those moons ago. That long-time friends Lobo Marino were not only organizing and curating but also performing second sealed the deal.

After establishing myself in a stool near the door next to a woman eating blueberry pie, a friend spirited me away ("You wanna be in the middle of everything?") to a seat right in front of the opening band, Swamp Trees. They said they hadn't played in a while, which may have had something to do with the toddler in green overalls whose Mommy was singing lead and playing ukulele and accordion while her bandmates were on guitar and drums.

Their set was short, but they managed to include both their newest song as well as the first song they ever sang as a band, exhorting the audience to sing along.

Let it in, let it out. Did we ever.

People kept arriving and while a few of them just got baked goods boxed up to go, most scored a treat at the counter and found somewhere to sit down and watch Lobo Marino's set. Whereas I had been "in the middle of everything" before, the duo took up far less room and the now-empty space in front of me was immediately claimed by a dozen people sitting cross-legged on the floor, some with coconut cream cake between their legs.

Unlike at the original, though, no hard and fast talking restrictions were announced, an opening two older women at the bar annoyingly took advantage of, despite that at least a third of the room was already so far into the music that their eyes were closed as they completely gave themselves over to Lobo Marino's soul-stirring world beats and damn fine harmonies.

Because I've been going to their shows for years, I always appreciate new material and tonight it was a song from their upcoming album recorded amidst the renovations on their urban farmhouse on southside.

"It's about remediating vines on your house and remediating vines in your mind," Laney pronounced.

When Jameson made a joke about how some neighbors were already referring to them as the "hippie house," Laney quickly shushed him. "Don't say that! Then we'll be the self-proclaimed hippie house!"

I'm pretty sure I've been referring to them, in the most complimentary way of course, as happy hippies for years. It's something I admire them for: trying to live the Foxfire life that young people in the '70s were and succeeding with a lot of it.

And they play great music. With Laney on harmonium, the rhythmic movement of her bellowing hand attracting the toddlers in the room, drummer Jameson pulled out his banjo for a song, his ankle bells and mouth harp for a couple others, as they took us through songs new and old.

Personally, I never tire of going down that path with them. When Jameson took out his mouth harp, he said it was to play exit music but who was going to leave while he did that?

Finally the bakery wanted to close and everyone headed out, my destination being the Gypsy Room at Vagabond to see a full band version of Yeni Nostalji.

Walking up Broad Street, I saw there was a show at the National. It was Minus the Bear, a band I'd seen 7 years ago at the National amongst a predominately male crowd.

That explained why I was seeing so many guys of various ages. Passing a couple of the middle-aged variety, the looked over repeatedly, probably surprised to see a woman in the vicinity. Then they looked some more. When I said howdy, they said hello and one inquired how I was doing. Good, I said, moving along. "I can see that!" one called after me.

Get out much, buddy?

About to go in Vagabond's door, I spotted two young women dressed like it was 1985 in cute little metallic dresses with combat boots and hair bows and I immediately told them how good they looked. "Wow, thank you!" they said. "You look good, too."

Adorable and polite, what a combination. As if they weren't already going to do well at a Minus the Bear show with ten men for every girl. Have a blast, girls. I did.

Not for me moody math rock tonight. Instead, I descended the stairs to the dark, atmospheric Gypsy Room for Turkish pop and love songs, tonight a quintet with Larry Branch working his keyboard magic to give the music a distinctive lounge vibe. It was very cool.

There was a large Turkish contingent at a big table and the bar was mostly full, but I snagged a stool near the end, next to a woman explaining that she was there because she'd been speaking Turkish and a man had recognized it and told her he was the drummer in a Turkish band. She'd even snagged a date whose Turkish was far better than hers.

I've seen the band as simply as just Christina and the guitarist Vlad, so having drums, bass and keys tonight was a real treat. Besides, if Dylan went electric, why shouldn't Yeni Nostlji?

Once they began playing with Christina's muted vocals in Turkish, her fluid hand gestures and the band smoothly accompanying her, the room's booker leaned over and whispered, "I think Quentin Tarrantino would like this band." He wasn't far off.

They did a lot of original material, along with a very well-known pop song from 50 or 60 years ago, and, lo and behold, some of the people in the room were rapt, singing along on the chorus. Two of the songs were written by Evrim, who used to be in the band before his bakery kept getting national awards and he was too busy to play Turkish music despite his ethnicity.

A loss to the music world, definitely, but the trade-off is stellar bread.

Christina, ever the low key charmer, announced that there were sheets of paper on which she'd hand-written Yeni Nostalji's pertinent information, in case anyone was interested in following them or finding out more. The entire room was disarmed.

I just don't necessarily know all of them anymore. And the scene rolls on...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Don't Want Diamonds

Baby Boomers, they're not just for hating on anymore.

Just when I'm starting to believe the consensus that Boomers have ruined the country, I am reminded of my allegiance to them.

Not just because I'm one of them, but because out of the Boomer generation came the hippie radical types who were committed to taking on the work of making the world a better place. Groovy as that sounds, I don't think we breed that type much anymore.

Additionally, I'm the worst kind of lapsed Catholic. I'm a heathen.

But despite having been mostly raised Catholic - being baptized, making my first communion, getting confirmed - I had very little exposure to nuns. Oh, sure, I've heard the terrifying tales from people who went to Catholic schools (my parents were public school supporters), but none of that happened to me.

So my opinion of nuns was pretty much based on other people's experiences and not especially good.

I'm rethinking all of that now for the simple reason that I saw the documentary "Radical Grace" at the Virginia Historical Society. Because the screening was co-sponsored by St. Gertrude High School, the VHS curator who introduced the film was obligated to read a message from the school first.

Essentially, it said that the school supports the Catholic church's bishops and that their directives must be obeyed, a statement that meant little to me at that point and everything by the end of the film.

Focusing on three nuns who have committed their lives to fighting, one as a social justice lobbyist working to get the ACA passed so the poor and marginalized will have health care, one a church reform activist trying to move the needle on women being deacons in the Catholic church and one who works with ex-cons trying to get back on track.

In one scene, she even provided dating advice, telling the men, "Find yourself a decent woman who'll be your best friend. If she wants diamonds, dump her."

That these vocal women are doing their thing in street clothes out in society did not sit well with the U.S. bishops who accuse them of being radical feminists. As if. That the nuns not only swear but use you-know-who's name in vain surprised me big time.

Proving that the church needs to be part of the social fabric of the country to be of real service to those less fortunate, the nuns were tireless and enthusiastic about moving their agendas forward, even when risking being censured or kicked out of the church.

A group hit the road as "Nuns on the Bus," making stops all over, including at the 2012 Democratic convention and Colbert's show where huge, mostly supportive crowds greet them at every stop, although it's deeply disturbing to see a man yell at one of the nuns that she's as bad as a pedophile priest for not siding with the pro-life contingent.

Mac and I looked at each other incredulously and spitting mad after watching him say something so venomous in front of a camera.

Not gonna lie, I teared up more than once watching as these brave women continued fighting for their causes despite the whole of the Vatican insisting they cease and desist. In the Catholic church, women must be silenced and bishops must be obeyed. Radical feminism indeed.

Apparently this was why St. Gertrude was making their stance clear to all. Puh-leeze.

An especially satisfying element of the documentary was that so much relevant happened during its filming. The ACA passed and we got a new pope with more modern ideas, proving change is possible.

But the defining feature of the nuns' work was how they hung in there. These nuns weren't religious fanatics, they were old hippies trying to change the world by working for the causes that mattered to them.

Part of me wanted to cheer their outdated optimism with my own.

Mac and I left the VHS to walk 7 blocks in the windy cold night to Amour, where a Burgundy wine-tasting was going on. Leaving them to their learning, we dove into simple suppers: mine of French onion soup and a winter salad and hers of a decadent cream of mushroom soup and then a warm salad with duck confit.

Someone humorous thought it would be funny to Instagram pictures of our practically licked clean plates, but we talked him out of it.

Meanwhile, the wine tasters were looking ahead to the next tasting of Loire valley wines and the man with the house in the Loire wanted to know where I'd stayed when I'd been there last summer.

All I wanted was to sip my Madeira and savor salted dark chocolate creme brulee with side cars of raspberry, strawberry-lime, coconut milk and melon pastis sorbet.

As it happened, a radical Boomer feminist can polish off dessert and reminisce about France at the same time. It will not be captured on Instagram, however.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Leader is You

Of course it was the familiar faces, too, but you can't overlook how much I enjoy theatrical types.

As I discussed with three different friends at the National, tonight's Foxygen show was a no-brainer for multiple reasons besides it was a beautiful night to be out.

Let's see, to start with, the trio was being backed up by members of the Spacebomb Records house band aka some of the best jazz cats (don't look at me, that's what they call each other) in Richmond, from the 5-piece horn section to the well-known rhythm section of Pinson and Cameron to the incomparable Trey Pollard on guitar, the very same who'd done the arrangements for the new Foxygen record.

That alone would have gotten me there, but I'd also heard singer Sam refer to the duo as "just theater kids," and history shows I'm a  fan of onstage over-wrought millennial stage drama tunes (hello, how many times did I attend the Ghost Light afterparty just to hear such people belt out show tunes?).

A third reason that several of us also acknowledged was that it was only a $15 ticket and happening a Tuesday night where it was easily the most interesting thing going on in town tonight.

My favorite reason came from a fellow Yo La Tengo fan who said simply, "I love to dance." Enough said.

In any case, ding, ding, ding. We have a winner, folks.

The opener was Aussie Gabriella Cohen who came out alone, admitting she'd been worried she'd be late because she was still changing her blouse. She's apparently wearing a lot of blouses on this tour and tonight's was a stand-up collar, puffy-sleeved, cream colored one with lace trim, very Victorian and/or '70s, depending on your point of reference.

She tried to tell us she  just wanted to come along as Foxygen's roadie, but they insisted she get onstage. Since she used to be the singer for the Furrs, she's obviously got some experience, although one friend thought she came across as not quite ready for prime time.

This was an interesting comparison since just before the show, I'd heard a snippet from a 1994 interview with the Dave Matthews Band, not long after they'd gotten their first record deal. Besides sounding incredibly young and excited (and not ready for prime time, either), they'd played "Ants Marching" right there in the studio and the passion and freshness of it was evident compared to how it undoubtedly sounds live now.

Sometimes, not quite ready for the big league is exactly when you most enjoy a band.

After the first song solo and an acknowledgement she worshipped Johnny Cash, Gabriella was joined by her band whom she immediately introduced, a nice touch, I thought. The quartet's songs were a combination of neo-country/western and girl group with lots of effects on the voice  and guitars and a bit of underlying garage.

"Do you all live here?" she asked of the enthusiastic crowd. "Have you been to Australia? Do you want to?" When the crowd cheered, she laughed. "Do you think we all surf?" She rolls her eyes. "Not much."

Banter was minimal - "This is another song" and "Thank you" - and the other guitarist added her lovely vocals to Gabriella's, as did the bassist on occasion. "This is our last song which is a good thing because then you can hear Foxygen!" Maybe, but in the meantime, I was totally digging the screaming post-punk guitar behind lyrics like, "Why don't we get together?"

During the break, I heard from my musician friend about the satisfactions of teaching guitar (students noodling between lessons) and from a photographer friend about being smitten by someone who'd last significant other was an illustrator for the "New Yorker." Tough act to follow, man.

When he bemoaned the difficulties of a long distance relationship like the one on which he was embarking, I reminded him that if a long-distance one is better than none at all, he might want to keep his bellyaching to himself.

Then the lights went down and I lost my friend to the front rows so he could dance with the mob while I stayed directly in front of the sound board, shielded from behind and with a good view. Also, plenty of room to dance.

Foxygen came out, which meant three faces I didn't know and eight I did. When I think back to that first time I ever saw Trey Pollard at a Listening Room in 2010, I couldn't help but think how cool it was to see him as part of this.

Singer Sam, a theater kid if ever there was one, came out in a skinny white t-shirt and jeans with Todd Rundgren-like hair (short bangs, long hair), round sunglasses and all the moves. There was posturing, there was drama, there was showing off with kicks, mic stand manipulations and fists in the air.

And that was just in the first song.

He introduced the girl singer as Julie and her job, it appeared, was to flip her hair, dance in syncopation with Sam and sing back-up or harmonize while looking cute. She nailed it. On the second song, he sang, "I left my heart in San Francisco" and she sang back, "That's okay, I live in L.A."

Three songs in and the band's influences were clear: Bowie, Queen and a lot of Mick Jagger's dance moves. A friend heard prog rock influences while I heard psychedelic.

Potatoes, potahtoes.

"A lot of local boys on stage tonight," Sam shouted enthusiastically, referring to a group of musicians mostly older than himself. Too funny. "Give it up for the Spacebomb crew!" he directed and the crowd did.

With each song, we got another massive dose of theater kid drama, whether guitarist/keyboard player Jonathan's screaming guitar solo, one foot on his bench, the other on top of the piano, or singer Sam acting as much as singing, helicoptering his arms and dropping and catching the mic.

We heard songs that were Queen-esque and others that invoked ABBA big time while the bubbly crowd bopped four colorful balloons (no doubt supplied by the band) into the air. There were costume changes, during which the band competed: Jonathan's exuberant piano playing versus a percussive onslaught in return.

Then we also had a song called "Where the Red Fern Grows," which I'm quite sure refers to an old children's book title, and wildly theatrical-sounding songs with multiple-part arrangements that allowed Sam to pull out his best deep voice for emphasis.

So. Much. Drama. It was fully fabulous.

My musician friend concluded at the end that he'd liked about 65% of the songs we'd heard. Personally, I'd liked 100% of the overwrought songs that winked at themselves and and reached for grandiosity while eight of the most talented musicians I know backed them up.

Not only did I want to give it up for the Spacebomb crew, but we Yo La Tengo fans love to dance.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Crank Your City

How many Richmonders does it take to change a light bulb?
Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to talk about how great the old bulb was.

I bet I hadn't been in Richmond a month when someone told me that joke as warning for how resistant to change people here were. So why did that joke come to mind at tonight's community stakeholder meeting about bike lanes in Jackson Ward?

Since I seldom bike anymore, my interest in the meeting was as simple as my interest in anything related to J-Ward: I've lived in this neighborhood for over a decade, so when something's going on here, I'd like to at least be informed. That's why I went to meetings about the bus rapid transit, why I attended sessions about the Maggie Walker statue and why I was present at weekly charrettes about re-imagining Brook Road.

Arriving at the Speakeasy behind the Hippodrome, I headed for a table with two young guys I didn't know, the better to meet others. One was involved in bike advocacy and the other was a VCU journalism student required to attend a city meeting and report on it. That he also used to bike-deliver for Jimmy John's meant he understood the dog in this fight, too.

In no time, he was asking my name and noting it in his memo pad so he could quote me in his piece. Yes, I'd like to see dedicated bike lanes in Jackson Ward.

Council woman Kim Gray opened the meeting by saying that some local business owners had contacted her with serious concerns about the proposed bike lanes on First (which connects the city to Northside) and Second (which connects the city to Southside) Streets, fearful that dedicated bike lanes would be the death knell for their businesses. She empathized completely.

Ugh. I knew right there that this was going to be a long meeting.

The bike guy from the city was admirably even-keeled despite the adversarial vibe coming off half the room as he explained that the city was considering applying for a DoT grant that would provide 4 federal dollars for every $1 the city spent in doing a feasibility study and, assuming it made sense, creating bike lanes on those streets.

He made it very clear that the two streets would retain parking on both sides of the streets, with one of the current vehicular lanes being converted to a dedicated bike lane, a change already established as doable because of the limited amount of traffic on First and Second Streets that could be easily handled in one lane.

Heaven help me, that's when the moaning, beating of breasts and general lamentations began.

Business owner after residential owner took up valuable microphone time to whine about how difficult it can be to park in J-Ward. Several even had the gall to say that they expected to be able to park in front of their home at all times.

My question is, why on earth are you living in the city if you aren't happy unless you can park easily? Do you also complain about the dings on your bumper where parallel parkers have grazed your bumper with theirs in tight spaces? Give me a break.

As if their myopia about the addition of bike lanes (despite studies having proven that business increases and profits go up when bike lanes are added) wasn't enough to make me want to knock their heads together, consider this.

Mr. City Bike Guy made it quite clear that tonight's meeting was solely for the purpose of gathering opinions about whether or not to even apply for the grant, and if they did, part of the funds would be used to do a study to determine if the lanes would be best placed on those two streets or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, we've got all these people whining about how inconvenienced they'll be in their cars if we put in bike lanes.

Never mind that people speed terribly on both those one-way streets, making them extremely unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, a situation that would be addressed with only one lane for cars because they'd have to slow down to the speed limit. It's called traffic calming and Floyd Avenue's bike boulevard has proven it works.

One speaker had the gall to complain that her customers wouldn't be able to (illegally) double park and run in to get something if there was a bike lane. Boo hoo.

Fortunately, there were a goodly number of cyclists of all ages there to remind some of the change-resistant that not everyone bikes for recreation. Plenty of people bike for transportation (20% of Richmond residents don't have a car), a proposition that can get pretty dicey given the lack of respect for cycling in the Ward.

I listened to question after question and it was apparent that many people really just wanted to maintain the status quo and ensure that cars remain top priority, while greener options like biking and walking take a backseat.

Finally, I raised my hand just to ask the question that would make sure everyone was hearing correctly: putting in these bike lanes wasn't going to take away parking spaces.

How many stakeholders does it take to accept change see the potential of adding bike lanes to under-utilized streets without sacrificing parking?

Looks like Jackson Ward is okay with being the burned-out light bulb. What a shame.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Venus with Peaches

In search of the divine within an hour, we nailed it.

I happen to know that the last time I saw so many Botticelli paintings was at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence back in October 2012, going on five years ago. As far as I was concerned, I was overdue for some masterful early Renaissance artwork, so the love story was a bonus.

Our first destination was the Muscarelle Museum to see "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine," a show so important that it will leave Williamsburg in two weeks and move on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. With no invitations to Boston currently pending, I thought I'd best get myself down there.

Walking into the dimly-lit exhibit with wine-colored walls, we encountered a mass of humanity clustered in front of a docent leading a tour of the exhibit in the most droning voice possible. Fortunately, they soon moved on to the next gallery so we could concentrate on the work of the man to whom Botticelli was apprenticed, Fra Filippo Lippi, and ascertain how the master's style influenced the younger's.

But where things really got good was in the second gallery, full of his exquisite mature works such as "The Madonna of the Loggia" and "Madonna and  Child with the Young St. John the Baptist" (although I'm not going to lie, I'd have far preferred to be seeing them in the Uffizi) and the breathtaking "Venus," which has never been shown in the U.S. before.

Like ever. How fortunate was I that someone was willing to ensure I saw it during its brief visit?

No, no, not his "Birth of Venus," this was just "Venus," although both paintings are clearly of the same woman and today I learned her name: Simonetta Vespucci, a cousin-in-law to the explorer Amerigo Vespucci we've all heard of (I say "all" presuming schools still teach such things).

Was Botticelli in love with the great beauty who was already married to a nobleman? The very male docent said there's no proof of passion unless you count the painter's request to be buried at her feet, which he was after she died at 22.

Allow me to get on my estrogen soapbox here and say for the record that if a man wants to be buried at a woman's feet, there's about a 100% chance he's madly in love with her. Art historians, you may quote me on that.

Looking at "Adoration of the Magi" with my 20th century eyes, all I could think of when I saw the limited palette of reds and blues was Paramount Studio's mid-century Vista-Vision, where everything looked red or blue.

I ask you, how many people could look at a Botticelli and see a connection to "White Christmas?" You're welcome.

The final gallery held Botticelli's later works and I'm not going to lie, once church reformer Savonorola took over Florence, forcing artists to burn profane art in the bonfires of the vanities (and, no, I hadn't known what historical event that term referred to until today) and create instead religious paintings, Botticelli's work suffered.

No one should have made that man abandon his depictions of the beautiful Simonetta.

My art lover and I continued on to the Gabriel Archer Tavern for brunch because what could be better than a drive down a grape vine-lined road after our immersion in all things Italian? The view continued as we ate and drank in a dining room with windows for walls that also looked out on trellised vines.

A wooden box reading "William Byrd Brand Peaches" set on a ledge nearby, a reminder that we were solidly in colonial territory.

Toasting the lovely Simonetta and her talented admirer with Wedmore Place Cremant and Wessex Hundred Petit Verdot, we had a most un-Renaissance meal that began with fried chili chickpeas and concluded with double chocolate hazelnut mousse, with all manner of quiche, salads and heartfelt conversation in between.

By the time we finished talking and sipping, a front had moved through and the gray humidity had been replaced with a fierce wind and a serious drop in temperature, making it more appealing to get in the car than walk the vineyard.

Homeward bound, we were barely 20 minutes in when a sign warned us of a crash ahead and traffic all but stopped. A car with New York license plates sped by us on the shoulder, was soon followed by a police car with his lights on and by the time we caught up to them, the driver was out of the car and listening earnestly, hands in pockets, to what the cop was saying.

That guy's response to the inconvenience of stopped traffic had been a poor one while we were making the most of it, especially after I was handed the driver's phone and told to choose any playlist that appealed to me, an offer I never refuse.

It took us almost an extra hour and a detour through downtown Sandston to get back to Richmond, but when you're conversing pretty much non-stop and listening to a mix called "As Time Goes By," it's pretty divine and you really don't.

Notice that it's going by, that is.

Situational Extrovert

"I'm not going to go to a movie by myself!"

So says the titular character in "Donald Cried," this weekend's brand spanking new film (it only opened in D.C. Friday and here it is already at our little arthouse theater) at the Bijou, and with sufficient disdain to make it sound like going to the movies alone is akin to going to prom alone.

Not that I'd know, since I didn't go at all.

As it happened, I heard that line sitting in the theater where the only other two occupants of the first row with me were, like me, at a movie alone.

I don't get it. You're not supposed to talk during a movie anyway, so why is going alone such a cringe-inducing option? Besides, when it's just me, I always get to choose which movie to see and when.

Before tonight's screening even got started, I joined the three solo film-goers in the lobby - two familiar, one new to me but nothing that an introduction didn't take care of - to talk about (what else?) movies, while the Shins played on a nearby turntable.

One admitted he has a habit of devoting entire Tuesdays to catching up on mainstream movies at Movieland, although he learned early on that if you start with something heavy like "The Green Room," you'll have zero emotional energy left to stay for further screenings.

He also assured me that I'd appreciate "Logan" even with limited testosterone and no interest in the "X-Men" franchise whatsoever, although he didn't fully convince me. Being guys, they seemed to think that because it's Hugh Jackman's final turn as Wolverine after 17 years, that's reason enough.

If you've got a "Y" chromosome maybe.

And on the subject of holding on to a man's younger self, tonight's screening of "Donald Cried" provided a tragicomedy about a 30-something man-child still living with Mom who has more unresolved issues than could possibly be dealt with in 90 minutes, many of which were exacerbated by his former best friend metalhead coming back to town when his Grandmother dies.

Because apparently boys will always be boys, there was the requisite rough housing, snowball fighting, weed smoking and thinly-veiled, long-simmering resentments bubbling up. It seems certain things don't change for some people no matter how old they get.

That first time director Kris Avedisian wrote the screenplay and also plays Donald (as one guy tonight said, "Because who else could fully inhabit that part and make him seem human?") only added to the believability of the character and his stunted life.

That he shot it in a crowded snow-covered suburb that felt formless and constrained mirrored the lives led by those who had stayed there.

But the strength of the film was that it wasn't a continuous pity party for Donald (though he certainly deserved some) because so often the audience's sympathy landed squarely with his best friend Pete, who while seemingly more successful in a conventional sense, had a fair number of issues of his own.

And that's not even counting dealing with Donald after two decades.

Much as I appreciated the movie, I had no frame of reference for it since I'm not from a small town and I've never once run into someone from my 1000-person high school class since graduating. So afterward, back in the lobby and talking about what we'd just seen, all three of these guys attested to returning to their small towns to find former classmates virtually unchanged since high school.

They knew guys like Donald, while I didn't. The movie necessarily resonated differently for them, especially the one headed back to a small town in Colorado soon.

So, let's see, how many movies have been made about men resisting growing up? Let's start with "Peter Pan" and go from there, shall we? Man-child fascination aside, what I'm truly curious about is, are there actually still grown men who wouldn't think of going to a movie solo?

I have to say, the three tonight represented well for those men who can not only venture into a darkened theater alone, but for those with civility as well. When we left the theater, I asked if anyone was walking my way and wound up with company for all but the last two blocks.

Sure, I could have walked by myself. But why would I not want to continue a conversation with a guy capable of solo movie-going?

Apparently, they're not as commonplace as womenfolk might hope.