Sunday, September 26, 2010

The First Rule of Eye Contact

Who better to go to my first Festival of India with than a handsome Indian and his non-Indian girlfriend? It's funny because my friend's interest in Indian food is dwarfed by hers, but then she also thinks she was an Indian in a former life and he's about as Westernized as they come.

More than one person made the analogy that walking the aisles of the festival was like walking the streets of Bombay: slow, circuitous and frustrating.

On the plus side, the people watching was excellent and the parade of Indian dress a real treat (and sometimes hilarious, like the guy in traditional Indian garb but with spiked hair and pink Crocs).

So what did my native host choose for us to eat? Chicken curry with rice and naan, pav bhaji (smooshed mixed veggies with chopped onion), vada pav (potato patty on a roll), chaat papdi (chickpeas, potatoes, tamarind sauce, cilantro chutney, onions and small pieces of something pita-like), samosa chaat, medhu vada (rice dough donut with coconut chutney and a veggie soup which they were out of) and to drink, mango lassi. Of them all, the chaat papdi was probably my favorite.

Desserts (he and I love our sweets) included coconut burfi, rasgolla, ras malai, kheer and ladoo, all of which seemed to have sweetened condensed milk as an ingredient (or rosewater). The coconut burfi was my favorite, but if you knew me, that wouldn't surprise you.

I noticed as we sat there that every time I made eye contact with a male Indian, old or young, he gave me a big smile, so I asked my friend what was up. "It's because you're white," he explained, "and you're making eye contact." I blame my extroversion, but I was unprepared for so many grinning men.

I left the convention center stuffed and headed to Westover Hills for All the Saints Theater Company's Benefit Spaghetti Dinner and show. Obviously I'd already eaten (or, more accurately, overeaten), so I arrived just in time for the entertainment, always eclectic at these events.

The extravaganzas used to be held at Gallery 5, but now the group has constructed a backyard theater in the combined space behind two houses and it's charming.

The colorful curtains are strung between two trees and the front piece for the stage is brightly painted images and patterns. The keyboard is surrounded by a fake cardboard shell mimicking a grand piano. It's all over the top and wonderful.

The show began with musicians playing and a trio of dancers who pulled people from the audience to dance with them onstage as the singer sung. Next, the Amazing Shelly Skye contorted her body into unimaginable positions and a young boy shouted, "She does too much yoga!" There was a comedic sketch about a torch singer desperately trying to sing despite multiple mishaps.

Punk Sinatra did a paper mache storytelling and All the Saints told the haunting tale of "The Judge" accompanied by their own trio. Bread and Puppet Theater out of Vermont did a cabaret, there was flag dancing and accordion playing and the audience enjoyed all kinds of puppets under the night sky.

Joke of the night: Why did the hippie drown? He was too far out. Har-har.

Capping off the night was the final installment of Ipanmea's 12th anniversary celebration and upon arriving, one of the servers welcomed me back and warned that, "Last night was classy, but tonight will be trashy."

What that meant was that tonight DJ Dodie would attract a much larger and younger audience and it would end up being a serious dance party.

Which worked out just fine, because the farmer, his date and two friends came in and suggested we all move to the patio while we still could. It was the right decision for many reasons, not the least of which was a divine breeze that kicked up and blew skirts and hair.

A friend was there on an online date and when he went to get drinks, she asked me what I thought of him. "You ought to try the online dating thing, " she enthused. "It really is a great way to meet guys you'd never meet otherwise."

Easy for her to say; she was enjoying a first date with a nerdy-looking reader with whom she acknowledged chemistry. But I knew her point was that it's been 19 months and I'm overdue.

One of the farmer's friends turned out to be just the sort of person who holds my interest in conversation; born in RVA, lived in Ireland from college on and recently moved to Providence to teach at Brown. Now let's see, what can we talk about?

Over the course of a couple hours, we covered the changes in the Richmond scene since he was here last, the difficulty in dating a non-reader and, naturally, all things musical.

It turned out that we were both fans of Swedish pop and Lykke Li makes us both giddy. Even better, he didn't know of the Shout Out Louds, so I got to recommend a band, always a source of satisfaction from one music fan to another.

He was also as big a post-rock fan as I am and that yielded some great Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros show comparisons. Now that's the kind of random conversational partner I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, the dance party inside was reaching fever pitch and trying to make it through to go to the bathrooms was at best challenging and at worst touchy-feely.

I did enjoy hearing remixes of classic 70s dance music, but the patio was reaching critical mass, so I decided to say my good nights and left, heading up bustling Grace Street, my mind going in multiple directions.

(Online dating? Really? Is that where this is going?)

La, la, la. Indian food and cabarets. That's what I'm thinking about.

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