Being the documentary dork that I am and given my fascination with all the South African exhibits going on in RVA at the moment, I was a sucker for an evening of South African documentaries at VMFA's Friday Films series.
Leading the double feature bill (and deservedly so) was the 1966 documentary, Miriam Makeba Live at Bern's Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden. Filmed for Swedish television, the film was pretty much a straight performance by Makeba at the height of her powers. The setting was a magnificent 19th century theater/club oozing with the kind of glamour that no longer exists.
Tonight's audience treated the film like it was watching the real performance, clapping after each of Makeba's numbers (some in Afrikaans, others in English), except that we were sitting in a museum theater and the original audience was in a club-like theater, seated at tables with candles burning and drinking cocktails. That is to say, nothing like tonight's experience.
Except for the power of Makeba's voice and the charisma of her personality, and both were undeniable as we watched her performance. She was wearing an actual leopard skin dress given to her by the President of Kenya and her undulating hips echoed every rhythm of her songs. Her backup trio (from the US, St. Thomas and Brazil) was exceptional, low-key and completely supportive.
The second documentary was African Jim, made in 1949 and the first film with an all-black South African cast. The film was not terribly sophisticated with its stereotypes and cliches, but it did reflect the optimism of post- World War II South Africa before apartheid became the rule of the day.
I found it especially interesting since most of the action took place in an all-black nightclub, something that did not exist in South Africa in 1949. Of course, such a setting provided the perfect place to showcase African talent to the greater world and there was a lot of that.
And, as unrelated as it was to the point of the film, my favorite shot was of a herd of springbok running through an open field. I know from experience what delicious carpaccio springbok makes, but they are also beautiful runners and jumpers, so I tried to focus on that.
After the films, we were told there was a small "dessert," an 8-minute interview with Makeba in white go-go boots, a hip 60s outfit and an African headdress. She answered questions about singing protest songs (something she rarely did once she was exiled from South Africa, preferring to cater to her audiences' taste) and then sang one. She was truly mesmerizing to watch. I can think of no one with that kind of musical presence today.
Afterwards, I debated where to go have a bite and a drink and took the lazy approach by heading home and staying in the neighborhood. Driving by Bistro 27, Chef Carlos spotted me from inside and waved, so I parked and planted myself at the bar.
He suggested the Albaliza Temperanillo/Garnacha and who was I to argue? I generally defer to the Brazilian's superior wine palate and he knows my taste well enough to order for me. With it, I ordered the local pork and duck pate served with gherkins, spiced mustard and toasted baguette slices. It did the job of a late supper and a post-film snack, so I was more than satisfied.
Meanwhile, he wanted to brag about his Restaurant Week menu, sure to be a hit with foodies and frequent restaurant diners alike (stuffed quail and osso buco: neither often seen during the dreaded RW). He wanted new restaurant recommendations from me but I had only one contender for his limited time and he was impressed enough with my description to commit to Tuesday to check it out.
We got off on a tangent about Full Kee and the delectability of their varied menu, like ducks' tongues and beef tripe soup. Given our similar tastes, we decided on a field trip to Full Kee together to eat the stuff that none of our usual dining partners will eat. Report to follow.
Meanwhile a colorful group had come in to drink, so I moved a stool over to give them room. One girl's tights were so notable that I had to ask from whence they'd come. They resembled a pair I'd gotten a lot of mileage and compliments out of last winter, and now that I know her source, I'll be scoring a pair or two sooner rather than later.
Tights aside, they were a cocktail drinking group (unlike me) but bartender Ron convinced me that I needed to try their Cucumber Citron drink and it was, well, cool as a cucumber. I'll just never understand why people drink cocktails when they could be drinking fine tequila on ice, but that's just me.
And therein lies the problem. What are the chances there's someone who'd appreciate a tequila-sipping, tights-wearing, pate-loving, long-winded, music-obsessed documentary dork?
As my Richmond grandmother used to say, "Slim to none and Slim just left town."
He probably went to South Africa for that carpaccio.