Thursday, March 26, 2009

Poetry and Politics

At last night's Poetic Principles reading at the Virginia Museum, the audience was treated to the pleasure of hearing Peter Orner read.

Orner is a Chicago native who grew up in a politically-inclined family.

Naturally, this turned him off to politics for many years, until he realized that Chicago politics, in particular, was some pretty interesting stuff.

His political poems commented on the state of the city's politicians, while offering insight into the peculiar nature of these people, good and bad.

Orner's perspective is unique; he got a law degree, tried one case and lost and decided to go back to what he knew: writing.

Which is fortunate for those of us who are readers and listeners, as the small group last night sat enthralled to the man's voice and words.

When everything in your life is a wreck, poetry can make it all feel better.

That's poetic principle number one.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Real Wine on a Sunday Afternoon

How better to start the week than with wine?

River City Cellars' latest offering was a Sunday class in Natural Wine, which translates to biodynamic and organic wines, with an emphasis on sustainability.

Most of the wine producers we tasted are small producers: 1000 to 4000 bottles a year.

We were told that using these viticulture methods produced wines with either Flaws (if you listen to the wine critics) or Personalty (if you listen to wine lovers).

Naturally, most of these wines are produced in Europe, so everything we tasted was from France or Spain.

Their long tradition of wine making gives them the edge on new ideas and methods apparently.

Everything we tasted, from the Tissot Cremant du Jura NV to the Texier Cotes du Rhone Brezeme Rouge 2006 displayed interesting qualities.

The wine reps (wine geeks, actually, who claimed they spent 95% of their time thinking/talking about wine) were enthusiastic guides as they convinced us that additives and treatments put into wine are there to suit the desires of critics, consumers and Beelzebub.

So, yes, they were a bit biased, but in a good way and their real wine promotion was contagious.

After all, if we care about what we eat and where it came from, shouldn't the same apply to what we drink?

Hold your answers until after you finish your wine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

An Evening of Passion

The VCU Flamenco Festival brought the Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company to the Singleton center last night for an impassioned performance.

If you've seen flamenco music performed, you know that the beat of the dancers' feet is an integral part of the music.

These three dancers brought incredibly powerful footwork to their dances, while at the same time using their arms and bodies to convey the imagery of the songs.

I only wish I had the ability to move my feet and body so sensuously.

The musicians consisted of a percussionist, a flamenco guitarist and a vocalist (who, as it turned out, also danced).

Clearly we were not the only flamenco fans in Richmond since the house was close to full.

 Or perhaps it was the extremely reasonable $15 ticket price, thanks to the underwriting of VCU.

Once again, I am grateful for the array of culture VCU brings to me Richmond.

In any case, it was a passionate and fiery performance to beautiful Spanish music and by the end, the entire audience was on its feet.

As Charlie Moeser, who teaches flamenco guitar at VCU said, "Ole! And wow!"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What Did You Miss Last Night?

This was my second year for the Black Maria Film and Video Festival at the Grace Street Theater.

It's an outstanding chance to see some of the best short form film being made currently and last night did not disappoint.

The highlight was the Grand Prize Selection, Nora. a narrative/dance film shot in South Africa.

It told the story of Nora Chipaumire, a dancer who was born in Zimbabwe in 1965 and now lives in NYC.

The film interspersed modern dance with the story of her life.

Nora's dancing was mesmerizing, as was the majestic African scenery and the film ended with silence at its brilliance from the audience before rapturous applause.

One of the quirkier films shown was The Death of Grandma Gladys, Kate Lain's photographic tribute to her great-grandma.

The pictures show a woman almost always dressed in men's clothes and sometimes kissing another woman.

From these images, Lain tries to draw conclusions which ultimately become a discussion of post-structuralism.

Funny and intriguing at the same time.

This film fest, which travels the country showing a different program in each city, is a once-a-year treat for RVA.

For five bones, it's an evening of superior film making for film geeks.

Even the female ones dressed in men's clothing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

DYOB* Wows the Crowd

I avoided the rush and waited until tonight to check out the new Bowtie Theater; I'd heard it was crazy-busy last weekend when it opened. Understandably, too, given that we city dwellers have had to drive to the counties for movies once we've seen whatever's at the 2-screen Westhampton (which I do love for its art film focus).

I'd read months ago that Bowtie would not show commercials, only trailers, which is a nice touch. I'm sure, for many, the attraction is the alcoholic beverages served in the concession area. My favorite innovation? You get to dispense the butter onto your popcorn yourself (DYOB)...now that's a sure way to please the customer!

I went to see Frost/Nixon because it leaves town tomorrow and I've been meaning to see it since, well, since before I got pneumonia. It was an in-depth look at the process leading to the infamous TV interviews and a sobering reminder of what a cultural shift in America's perception of the Presidency Watergate was.

Not surprisingly, everyone in the audience, like myself, was of an age that lived through the break-in and eventual resignation of Nixon. Of course, we were young and idealistic then and we were now viewing the film with older and wiser eyes and much more life experience, not that it softened my opinion of the man...even a little.

Photographing the Past

"When History Becomes Art" was the lecture topic today at the VA Historical Society and the lecturer was Denise Bethel, director of the photography department at Sotheby's in New York (and originally a Richmond native). Her stories about how they acquired some of the 19th century photographs to be auctioned off were fascinating, mainly because so often the donors had no idea of the value of the pictures. And the values? Back in the 90s, daguerreotypes were going for $20,000, sometimes even $50,000 if they were particularly notable or unusual. These days, she informed us, they can easily go for $100,000 and up each, some even reaching into the millions and many end up in public collections for all to appreciate.

But the glimpse they provide of lives lived long ago make them worth every penny, it seems to me. One was a shot of the US Capital with the second dome in place after the first burned. Another was a composite of every member of the Virginia General Assembly during Polk's administration. A photograph of a renowned surgeon showed him with his hand on a baby's skeleton and a model of a wax heart in front of him. Fascinating stuff.

The shift from photography as a means of documentation (people, buildings, projects) to an art form in and of itself was the underlying theme of the lecture and ties into the current exhibit at VHS, "Photography in Virginia." It's definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

When Richmond gets 6-10" of snow, like we did Sunday night into Monday morning, it's an occasion. First, when you only get this much snow every 7 years, it's easy to forget how beautifully snow transforms the landscape. The wind was strong during the snowstorm, so it found its way into nooks and crannies, highlighting architectural details and framing shapes. Birdhouses had white-covered rooves and perches. Rose and azalea bushes had snow on each leaf. The cross beams on fences were horizontal accents in white.

But the highlight of the snow had to be the 3' snow penis I spotted Monday afternoon on the hood of a car. It was surprising and amazingly accurate in detail. Sadly, when I went back to take a picture of it a few hours later, the car had been moved. I told people about it, but they wanted to see it. Oh, well.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I spotted a truck with not one, but two snow penises (one on the hood, one in the bed of the truck) announcing itself! Is this the 21st century snowman or snow angel? Was there a memo about snow penises that I missed? One I could write off as a freak thing, but three and I think I see a trend. I'm sure this says something about our culture, but I don't care to think too hard about what it might be.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I Love Lily!

Saturday night I spent at Gallery 5 for the All the Saints Theater Company's Spaghetti Dinner and Show, organized by one of my favorite people, Lily Lamberta. Lily is the amazing artist who creates all those larger-than-life puppets, like the ones in the Halloween parade and the mounted heads made entirely of recycled materials in her recent one-woman show at Metro Gallery.

As usual, the evening starts with a buffet dinner of spaghetti, spinach, fresh bread and aioli made by Lily and company. Then everyone re-convenes downstairs for several hours of entertainment. Chris Milk's Huckiddy Puppet Theatre's performance had no puppets this time, but was dark, funny and thought-provoking, as usual. Or maybe it was just its topic of "my life sucks" that appealed to me specifically. The hilarious Herschel Stratego had everyone laughing with his clever songs about women, vegans, stalking and girlfriend rules (and his fireman pajamas were a nice touch). Punk Sinatra's goldfish in a bowl alone was worth the price of admission.

The headliner was DC's Son Cosita Seria, a high-energy trio who played traditional Son Jarocha music (essentially country music of the people). It only took about two songs before chairs were cleared and the audience was stomping, dancing and swaying to the mixture of Spanish, African and indigenous music filling the space. I don't think there was a single person in the room not smiling ear to ear.

Food, a variety of entertainment and dancing...now that's a recipe for a great Saturday night.

Wine Me Up

The Virginia Wine Expo got a new volunteer this year when a friend suggested I help out at the Cardinal Point Winery table Saturday afternoon. Sure, why not? After all, we unemployed types have no reason not to volunteer some of our abundance of free time. Well, that and I would be paid in wine.

The expo opened at 11:00, but only for those in the trade, which meant it was extremely slow for the first two hours. But holy crap, Batman, once the public was allowed in at 1:00, we were slammed. It didn't help that Cardinal Point's Cabernet Franc Reserve had won the Gold Cup the night before, but a surprising number of people who stopped by the table told me that they had been to the winery and had liked every single wine. Quite a testimonial.

So, I got a crash course in CP's wine offerings and began to pour and talk like I knew what I was doing. The A6? A blend of 61% oak-aged viognier and 39% steel-aged chardonnay. The Rockfish Red? A summer wine, an easy-drinking Beaujolais style picnic wine that might even woo some white wine drinkers. And so on.

Many tasters were wine novices and then there were the really obnoxious wine snobs. My favorite was dressed like a woman, but she sure came cross like a man in a leopard-print blouse and informed me that one wine was "accessible...for the uninformed." Give me a break! Then there were the husbands and boyfriends who would flirt with me as their women stood behind them sipping. A couple of them even winked as they left, like we'd made some sort of intimate connection.

After 5 hours smiling and pouring, I left with 4 bottles of wine and probably all kinds of new smile lines. But I had been too busy to focus on all the crap that's been going on in my life lately, so, in some ways, it was the ideal way to spend an afternoon. And plenty of wine for the future...