Sunday, February 28, 2010

Getting My Film Fix and Hearing about Hemp

Inebriating the public at the Wine Expo kept me too busy today to attend the Independent Film Fest at the Byrd Theater.

Luckily for me, tonight was the monthly Project Resolution at the Firehouse Theater, so I was still able to get a healthy dose of independent film making before the day was over.

You never know what you'll end up seeing at P-Res, but since it's always entertaining, I'm willing to take that chance every month.

Local filmmakers bring their shorts (5 minutes and under) to be shown and discussed and the evening ends with the P-Resentation, a longer format film chosen to be featured.

After each screening, the filmmaker explains his goals and process and the audience shares their opinions and critiques.

Given the make-up of the audience (mostly film geeks) it's always enlightening to hear what they have to say.

"Assassin's Promise" was an example of guerrilla-style filming, made in one day with no money.

"Pantheon Black" was a trailer for a movie that has been five years in the making and is finally approaching completion.

"The Artie Lange Driving School" was film of a stand-up comedy routine shot at Cafe Diem.

We saw a promo piece for a moving graphic designer, Charles Bevan, demonstrating a sampler of some of his best work.

"Rel-A-Tiv-I-Ty" was another guerrilla style project made by the same director, but a different crew; the story, written in an hour, was a perfect example of telling a story concisely.

The P-Resentation was Eric Miller's "Taste the Blood of Frankenstein," a 23-minute piece divided into chapters and absolutely hilarious.

His next step is submitting it to film festivals. Turns out that most of the crew were people he had met through P-Res.

Another benefit to attending are the announcements letting people know about interesting upcoming events, usually film-related, but not always.

Tonight we heard about Hemp Fest in Monroe Park on May 8th. There will be acoustic music and rallying for legalization.

And, much like during the Civil War, if you're too busy to attend such an important event, it was suggested that you send a substitute in your stead.

Coming up April 17th at the Byrd will be a 2:00 screening of "The Taint."

The filmmaker displayed the flier and explained the premise of the film.

"The water in the town is turning men into misogynists who want to kill women by crushing their heads."

Before the audience could even get their heads around that plot line, he finished with, "It's a comedy."

Now that's a film I don't want to miss.

Such is the pleasure of attending Project Resolution.

Pouring for the Drunk at the VA Wine Expo

Because volunteering once already this weekend wasn't enough, I did it again today only for a radically different event than the Handmade Bike Show. Today I poured at the Virginia Wine Expo, also at the Convention Center, but full of inebriated people instead of awed bike geeks.

It's fascinating pouring wine for people at an event like this (I did it for Cardinal Point Winery at least year's event, too) because the attendees run the gamut form wine snobs to novices and everything in between. And the later in the afternoon it gets, the less people care about what they're drinking or learning. The increasingly frequent sound of a wine glass crashing on the concrete floor brings up cheers every time it happens.

Three different people came up and asked if they could sample the wine to erase the taste of burnt rice in their mouth (apparently a nearby food table had overcooked the rice and palates everywhere were suffering for it). One girl walked up, put her hand on her hip and asked me, "What have you got with at least 2% sugar?" Clearly she knew her palate and wanted no part of tasting beyond that.

One guy came up to the table, called a friend and told him where he was. After liberal use of colorful language, he hung up and apologized. "Sorry, but I love dropping the f-bomb. And I'm inebriated, so I really like dropping the f-bomb." He then introduced himself to me and the other pourers and even an innocent bystander.

My favorite was the group of five who definitely had a buzz on and were greatly enjoying tasting and shooting the breeze with each other. I had to keep reminding them what we were doing and bringing them back to the moment. Finally, one woman looked at her friends and, clearly perplexed, asked them,"How ARE we getting back to Powhatan anyway?

Ma'am, I don't even want to think about that.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Corny Dinner at Bacchus

"YOU'RE not my wife!" said the handsome man in the bar stool next to me at Bacchus. No, actually his wife and her friend had vacated the bar some time before and moved to a booth. My friend and I had taken their place and he was just now pausing in his conversation with the other husband to notice her absence. "Thank you for noticing I'm not your wife," I told him, "but shouldn't you have noticed sooner?"He sheepishly admitted he should have and slunk off to the booth with his friend.

Bacchus was mobbed when we arrived around 8ish so when we asked to place our order, the bartender ominously told us we could, but that it was going to take a long time to get our food. I think he was hoping we'd give up and go, but I insisted we remain optimistic despite his doom and gloom prophesy and we were rewarded with a reasonable wait time for our meal.

I ordered the lamb sausage and white beans with a side of roasted sweet white corn. It's the dead of winter, so if you're putting corn on your menu, I'm curious how good it's going to be. My friend wanted the pork shank and sauteed spinach. Next to us was a vegetarian couple obviously on a date and when our meat dishes were mistakenly set down in front of them, they were not happy about it (I'm guessing it was mainly the huge pig shank that repulsed them so). They wouldn't actually touch our plates with meat on them, so the bartender came back and moved them in front of us.

My dish looked a bit like pale but upscale Beanie Weenies, with fat little slices of sausage dotting the white beans underneath. The flavors were wonderful and I was tucking in with gusto when I noticed the man to my friend's left ogling my plate. "Is that the lamb sausage?" he inquired, his tongue practically hanging out of his mouth. I confirmed that it was and asked if that's why he was staring longingly at my plate. Seems he'd been considering the dish and once he saw it, he was sold. He apologized for his rudeness, thanked me for helping him make his decision and promptly moved to a booth, presumably to enjoy his own plate without anyone salivating over it.

My side of roasted sweet white corn was a standout. Recently cut from the cob in large chunks of kernels, it was lightly buttered, incredibly sweet and tasted like summer. I didn't come close to finishing the generous-sized bowl of it and to make sure it wasn't just me, I offered a taste to my friend, who swooned over it. She ate more of her shank and spinach and then ordered herself a bowl of that corn; that's how good it was.

I was close to forgoing dessert, what with being so full after beans and sausage and corn, but my friend was counting on sharing something sweet with me. Early on in our friendship, she informed me that one of her favorite qualities about me is that I always order dessert, with no bogus talk of regrets or "being good." I let her choose and she wanted apple crisp with vanilla ice cream, which I did enjoy. Apple crisp is a childhood dessert for me, easy to make and one that uses ingredients we always had around, but that doesn't make it any less pleasurable on a cold night.

But nothing, least of all oblivious husbands, repulsed vegetarians and salivating diners, was going to top that corn tonight. Ah, the pleasures of an ear in February. You just can't beat it.

Lamplighter Lunch and a Western

I believe it's called creative reuse when you take a former garage and make it into a coffee and sandwich shop.

I've been by what is now Lamplighter plenty of times when it was the garage and it doesn't look all that different now because cars were parked everywhere out front as if waiting to be serviced.

It was so crowded when we arrived around noon today that some people were actually huddled out there eating and drinking.

We got a perky greeting from one of the owners, who told us to take our time at the counter perusing the paper menu.

When my friend asked for the breakfast menu, I grabbed one of the laminated menus from the holder on the wall, causing him to ask her why it was laminated.

"So you can lick it," the owner said laughing, which my friend pretended to do.

"I can't say that to just anyone," she teased. I already liked the place a lot.

My friend had only been awake for 20 minutes by the time we arrived, so he was looking for breakfast and a huge coffee.

For me, there was a nice selection of paninis, sandwiches (including sweet-tooth sammies like pb &
j and Fluffernutters), salads and soups.

He ordered the egg sandwich with Capicola, provolone and tomato and by the time he finished enjoying it and his mondo coffee, was starting to feel human.

When I spotted a Muffuletta (salami, Capicola and provolone with olive tapenade)) on the menu, that New Orleans classic, I had to get it to see how close it was to the original sandwich.

It was grilled, which is not usually the case and not made on the traditional round, flat Sicilian bread, but most of the required ingredients were there (no mortadella) and it was absolutely delicious and way bigger than I needed.

It came with a side of fruit salad, which was a perfect sweet contrast to the saltiness of the sandwich.

I loved their bike emphasis, with a picture of a tall bike on the to-go cups, and bike delivery service.

Their website is tallbikecoffee.com, which makes for a very Richmond association (those sculpture degrees in use!).

Today at least, though, we saw no bikes locked up out front, but it was only noon.

Afterwards, we got nerdy over at the Historical Society for a VMFA showing of "Sergeant Rutledge," a 1960 John Ford movie about the Buffalo soldiers.

I don't know that I've ever seen a John Ford western, or any western for that matter, but this one had all the kinds of scenes I'd imagined they would: Indians, gunfights, damsels in distress.

The difference was this was about the court martial of a black soldier, considered one of the finest of the Buffalo Soldiers, for accusations involving a white woman (naturally).

Of course, it was seen through the prism of 1960 and in technicolor, so it was only so honest, but most of the audience appreciated the noble depiction of the soldiers in the film.

Afterwards, there was an interactive panel discussion of the movie and African American history.

The audience, including a motorcycle group called Buffalo Soldiers, was quite verbal on both topics.

It turns out that the film only played in RVA for one week and even so, it was at the National Theater, a segregated movie house.

The RTD ads for it showed no black actors, only a couple kissing, probably so as to not offend a genteel audience.

I was genuinely surprised to learn that it hadn't shown at any of the black theaters in Jackson Ward where it would have almost certainly garnered a huge audience.

Buffalo Soldiers: thank you for your trail-blazing efforts.

I only hope we are teaching our youth about your contribution to history...and not just during African-American History month.

And Lamplighter: definitely worth a return visit for the great vibe, interesting choices and because we were too stuffed to try any of their alluring pastries.

And because I never know when I'll have a craving to lick a menu. Don't judge.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm One of the Un-Inked

If you get eleven women together for a dinner party, how many of them will have tattoos?

Five.

How many of them will have at least three tattoos? Three.

How many of them will have parents who still don't know about their tattoo? One.

How many of them will have left their home state (S.C.) because tattooing was illegal and gone to a neighboring state (GA) to be tattooed? One.

When we weren't discussing ink or displaying body parts, this group was opening endless bottles of wine and eating a fabulous repast prepared by both tattooed and ink-free women.

Our meal began with a multi-cheese course, hummus, and a lentil salsa that dazzled everyone with its flavor and texture.

Then we adjourned to the dining room for Chicken Marbella (chicken quarters with prunes, garlic, olive oil, capers, olives, wine and brown sugar), superbly seasoned roasted veggies (red pepper, onion, eggplant, potato and probably something else I'm forgetting), Hungarian sweet and sour braised cabbage and bread.

Dinner talk centered around wedding vows, crying at such ceremonies, the use of "till death do us part" and the difference in dating younger men and men with some life experience behind them (the latter were the clear favorite).

We also touched on how to try on wedding dresses in front of your mother without revealing your tattoo (see above).

As you would expect in a room with nothing but X chromosomes, most of the guests chose to try both desserts, one a delicate but creamy rich citrus cheesecake and the other an obscenely rich multi-layered chocolate torte.

Between the two offerings, close to a dozen eggs and a pound of butter were sacrificed, not that anyone was keeping track, except to justify coming back for seconds.

With the exception of me and one other woman, everyone else at tonight's soiree works in the theater world.

So they're stylish, project well and tell great stories, but our evening was completely drama-free.

Maybe it was just the huge amounts of food and wine we consumed while dishing on girly subjects that kept everyone placated.

Maybe it was the thickness of the estrogen in the air. Maybe Cyndi Lauper was right.

Something must explain why the hostess' boyfriend was afraid to come home while we were all still there.

Smart men know their limitations.

RVA: Center of the Bike World This Weekend

I am a lucky girl.

I could have just paid to see the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and been awed by the state of the art of bicycle making in 2010.

Instead, I volunteered and was assigned to be a photographer's assistant, allowing me to not only see the show for free, but also spend hours behind the scenes chatting up various fascinating bike- makers from all over the world.

Like everyone else, I was excited that the event was going to be held in RVA this year.

When I saw the lists of media attending to cover the show, they ranged from the mundane and mainstream, USA Today and the RTD, to Canadian Cycling Magazine, Bike Talk Radio and Fixed Gear Gallery with everything from NPR to Cyclelicious in between.

I was lucky enough to be assisting Brad, the photography half of the team that publishes Urban Velo magazine; I couldn't have chosen a more pleasurable assignment.

We spent the afternoon talking bike polo (he plays for Pittsburgh's team, so we both know a couple of the guys on RVA's team), the perks of working in publishing and, naturally, bikes.

Sometimes it was my job to return bikes to the show, but mostly it was my responsibility to entertain bike- makers when they brought their bikes back to be photographed.

It was amazing.

I saw a stylish tandem made by Calfee Design on which the shop had been given carte blanche on the paint job by the customer.

Apparently that doesn't happen much and the owner acknowledged going a little crazy with the custom painting and it was just beautiful.

The bamboo bike from Bamboosero out of Santa Cruz was painted by an artist in New Zealand using henna ink.

The frame was so smooth, artistic and beautiful as to be sculptural.

They use artists from places like Ghana, Uganda, the Philippines and New Zealand to create their one-of-a-kind bikes.

The owner of Dominguez Cycles, from St. Paul, told me it had been an easy winter there; they only had about three feet of snow piled up at home at the moment. I guess everything's relative to what you're used to.

He'd brought an unusually colored, but short, red bike that he'd built for his wife.

The color was an exquisite shade of lipstick red, not bright or deep. Of course, she had a helmet to match.

The owner of Kirk Frameworks Co. out of Montana told me he began designing and building skateboards as a teen and segued into bike-making.

I asked what it was like living in a state like Montana (total population 900,000 people) and he bragged that his city had 30,000, so it was one of the larger ones, which meant it had a symphony, a ballet and other cultural amenities. There'd have to be something, wouldn't there?

The delightful owner of Shamrock Cycles was from Indianapolis and I asked him where the name came from.

He said, "I considered Pasta Cycles or Sausage Cycles, but they didn't have the right ring to them." Smart ass.

Actually, it was about his name, so we bonded over shared heritage. He was an O'Donnell, as is my mother, and we agreed that there's something lucky about meeting another O'Donnell.

He also said that Indianapolis is more of a road bike town than a mountain bike town, so that you know.

Probably my favorite conversation was with Ton of Vittorio Fietsen in Holland.

I couldn't resist talking to him about the surprising pictures and videos I've seen of girls riding their bikes in Holland with cute high-heeled shoes and fashionable clothes on and wanted to know if it really was that common,

Laughing, he said it was, but qualified it with, "But they're not the best biking shoes!"

He also said that the average person there has three bikes.

I asked what he thought of Richmond and with his succinct European sensibility, he summed it up. "Garish hotels and not enough bikers."

Amen.

As if all the backstage conversation didn't make my day, strolling the show reminded me what being a female at a male-dominated event can do for the ego.

In the middle of a bike discussion, one of the guys from Mosaic Cycles in Boulder looked down at my legs and said, "Awesome tights!"

Strolling another aisle, a guy informed me that,"That color is magnificent on you!" referring to the day-glow yellow volunteer t-shirt I had on; maybe it was the contrast with the black I was wearing.

I got more flirtatious smiles and greetings from out-of-town bike people than I should have, but I figure they were just looking for someone to show them the town once the show ends for the day at 6.

Which I would be very good at doing and I could practically guarantee that they'd leave with a great impression of what our fair city has to offer beyond the obvious, but I'm already booked.

With any luck, they'll discover all RVA has to offer on their own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Anything Goes at Avalon

Tonight was the last night of my Modern Romance class, so I finally discovered what happens after the First Kiss, True Love, and Broken Hearts.

And the final stage of a modern romance is...drum roll...anything goes!

As I can attest, you can go through those first three stages and any number of outcomes are possible, good, painful and bad.

My plan going forward is to revel in the first two categories, skip the third and replace anything goes with a happy ending.

But, of course, we're talking about architecture here and tonight's class was about the years 1980-2000, the period representing the death of modernism's dogmatic point of view and the opening up of numerous viewpoints.

We'll call it post-modernism; it's the years when the focus was on how architects shifted from an emphasis on problem-solving to an attitude of opportunity finding.

Like in a relationship, it was all about how you look at these moments when they present themselves.

This week's after-school snack was at Avalon with a friend who wanted to discuss architecture, romance and fancy food, a category he thinks Avalon falls into because of the abundance of ingredients listed for each item on the menu.

Personally, I like any place that offers small plates and since he always defers to my choice of restaurants, he just has to sift through the menu for dishes that don't contain something on his "will not eat" list, like beets and Brussels Sprouts.

He did so as the bartender opened a bottle of the Fantail Pinotage for our quaffing pleasure.

Okay, so Avalon does use long-winded ingredient descriptions.

My salad read as: watercress with golden raisins, blackberries, crispy toasted pumpkin seeds and Hooks 1 year bleu cheese chunks with nutmeg vinaigrette.

I just asked for the blue cheese salad and let it go at that.

My friend ordered the deconstructed tuna sushi roll: ginger sticky rice wrapped in a wasabi pickle slice and ahi tuna with carrot coulis and a soy, rice wine gastrique.

Then he turned to me and asked, "Why they gotta deconstruct it and what does that even mean?"

I explained, knowing the man had a point about the overly descriptive names, but both dishes were excellent so what's a little extra reading?

Then we both moved on to the Chorizo course.

He followed seafood with seafood, namely the Littleneck clams with Spanish Chorizo and fennel in almond, pine nut and sherry broth with focaccia.

The broth was incredibly rich and creamy, and ideal for soaking the bread in; I know because he insisted I try it.

My plate of richness came in the form of Spanish Chorizo over saffron Israeli cous cous with Parmesan cheese.

Luckily I'd had the sense to order the small plate of this and not the entree because it was decadent.

Dessert was sharing the chocolate rum pate with berries while discussing other restaurants.

He and a date had been to a play I'd recommended with a pre-performance dinner at, of all places, Bill's BBQ behind CVS.

I made a limeade crack and he was quick to tell me about the new bar at Bill's, where you can now enjoy your limeade with the refreshing addition of gin, vodka or rum.

He questioned the owner about the origin of this brilliant stroke, only to be told, "People been doing it in their cars for years, so why not us?"

Don't you just love the corruption of a Richmond tradition?

Limeades all around!!

A Windy Walk to the Urban Farmhouse

Yes, it is windy and cold outside, but at least it's not snowing (yet), which was cause enough for my friend and I to walk from J-Ward to the Slip and lunch at the Urban Farmhouse Market and Cafe.

We were both curious about their commitment to both urban renewal and good food from local sources.

The space is beautiful with incredibly high ceilings and cozy love seats sandwiched between tables.

When we arrived shortly after 12:30, there was only one two-top free, which we grabbed, but within a half hour, the tables had turned over completely.

Lots of creative business-looking types came and went while we lingered.

It's one of those places where you order at the counter, take a seat and wait for your name to be shouted out, which makes me want to come up with a more creative name for myself next time.

I ordered the Turkey and Sesame with Fresh Scallions (with ginger garlic aioli, toasted sesame seeds and fresh organic scallions) and my friend got the Lemony Ceasar Salad with free-range chicken with their house made egg-less Ceasar dressing.

She was especially pleased that walnuts replaced the usual tired croutons in her salad. I enjoyed actual sliced turkey breast rather than deli turkey on my grilled sandwich which came with carrot sticks and potato chips, no doubt to balance each other out.

The large windows made for a delightfully sunny meal and really opened up the corner space.

I was amazed to find that the ceilings were just as high in the bathroom; I can't say I've ever been in a bathroom with walls easily four times my height.

Add in colorfully tiled walls on the lower third and an enormous window and it was a pretty spectacular bathroom experience, if you're into such things.

Apparently I am.

Although they had an assortment of desserts like cookies, brownies and candies, we opted to go around the corner to Shockoe Espresso, me for a slice of chocolate cake with coconut icing and her for coffee.

I was surprised to learn that their desserts came from Garnett's which explained why my huge piece of cake was so well done.

Coconut + chocolate = dessert nirvana, at least in my world. Can you say Samoas?

Walking home and into the wind on shadowed streets wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the walk east had been, but we detoured into Ghostprint Gallery to check out their latest show "Italian Art &Design."

There were some striking ceramic relief pieces in colors too beautiful to describe, as well as vintage Italian pieces from the mid-twentieth century.

One was a wooden bar cart with swans for handles connecting the wheels and trays. Another was a lacquered goatskin coffee table with a built-in well for an ice bucket; it was incredibly groovy circa 1960.

Chairs of various styles and materials looked more like sculpture than furniture.

Most of the pieces looked like they would have been right at home in an urban loft right around the time the cultural revolution was taking off.

Walking the last few blocks home in the wind, my friend thanked me for helping her wile way a rare afternoon off.

Hell, I'm practically an expert when it comes to creative time use, even with a wind advisory that would have kept saner people inside.

But then I've heard sanity is overrated.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Of WIne and Being Read To

Once upon a time back in the late 90s, I had a boyfriend who liked me to read to him, so he'd pour a glass of wine and we'd lay in bed and night after night, I'd read a book of his choosing. He was slow reader, so that was part of it, but mostly he just enjoyed hearing someone else read to him. I thought of him tonight as I spent an evening drinking wine and being read to.

I met my most hipster-like friend for wine at Ipanema (where else?) and to catch up since we hadn't gotten together since before Christmas. I went with the Beyond Sauvignon Blanc out of Constantia, South Africa, an area I've visited and one which produces superior white wines. My friend presumed I was drinking white wine in hopes of Spring coming soon ( a girl can wish, can't she?). We had a lot of ground to cover, he and I, in terms of what we'd each been up to for the past two months and then I had to run. He accused me of using him to fill an empty interim period, but actually he had canceled on me last week, so I felt no friend guilt and left.

I wanted to catch the Richmond Shakespeare Second Tuesday staged reading. I know it's the fourth Wednesday, but snow had rescheduled things a bit. It's a great deal; they gather actors to do a show using minimal scenery, props and rehearsal and it's for one night only. While I've never been to one of theirs, most staged readings I've attended were essentially seated actors rising when they read their lines. In this case, the action was staged (although they did hold their scripts throughout; it is a reading after all)) with a fair amount of physicality and interaction. And the extremely reasonable cost of admission ($15) entitles you to wine with the reading.

Tonight they were doing The Merchant of Venice, notorious for its perceived anti-Semetism, an attitude which clearly made the audience uncomfortable in places (there were a lot of students there tonight). More striking to me was the glaring and obnoxious superiority of the Christians in the play. But it's Shakespeare, so there was also hidden identities, lovers wanting to be together and wonderfully comic characters. And of course, beautiful language, like, "Choose me and risk everything you've got." But is he referring to marriage being a gamble or just to a drastic turning point in life?

I would have been satisfied with just wine and being read to and ended up with even more. For one thing, they had dessert; the chocolate sponge cake with cherry whipped cream filling was to die for. And while I wasn't stretched out in bed, I didn't have to do the reading either.

I think my former BF was on to something.

Bountiful Lunch at Balliceaux

My plans to meet a friend last night at Balliceaux had to be postponed until lunch today, but given the gloomy skies, it was a great day for lunch out anyway. Since she'd never been but had heard about the very un-Richmond-like decor and interesting food, we did the full tour of the renovated space first and then covered as much of the menu as two lunchers could hope to.

The damp and cold outside made us suckers for soup; I had the split pea and Italian sausage and she savored the creamy seafood stew with rock fish, oysters, bacon and fennel. In fact, she was so inspired by the stew that I expect she'll be making some of her own very soon. Not me, I'll just enjoy the efforts of other soup makers.

Choosing a sandwich was more difficult, so we settled for our top two favorites and agreed to split them so we could each have half. I wanted the Morta Torta, consisting of shaved Mortadella with melted Raclette (like Swiss, the server told me, but with more of an assertive personality), and pickled peppers on crusty bread. Served warm, it was a salty, fatty, flavorful delight.

She got the shaved leg of lamb with arugula, red onion and pommery aioli, also on a roll. The arugula and red onion added the perfect punch to the lamb, although we both agreed that the lamb being so cold detracted a bit from the overall effect. Still, it was delicious, just not quite as good as it would have been at room temperature. Both sandwiches came with mountain o' fries, crisp and salty and unnecessary, but then we didn't have to eat so many of them, either. Perhaps it was the discussion of the secret sex signal that distracted us from noticing how many we ate.

But we did have to have dessert and with only one chocolate option, our choice was pre-determined. The mocha torte was cake and mousse covered in chocolate ganache and served with berries and hazelnut ice cream. The thick coating of ganache would have made whatever was inside irrelevant, but actually it was lovely and the ice cream's unusual flavor was worth experiencing with the torte.

My friend was amazed at the transformation of Bogart's Back Room into the sleek 60s light-filled destination that it now is. Despite my raves about the shows back there, she admitted that it's unlikely she'd be back for late night music, but I feel certain she'll want to add Balliceaux to our Ladies Who Lunch List of worthy destinations.

I'll just have to remember not to make dinner plans on days that we end up at Balliceaux for lunch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Garnett's Sets the Tone for Music Done Right

"I feel like I just ate in your kitchen," the departing customer said to Kendra, owner of Garnett's moments after I sat down at the bar. That compliment just about sums up what a comfortable place this months-old restaurant is; as for me, I still haven't tried every single sandwich, so I was back to cross one more off my list. Besides, I knew Mac missed me.

Tonight it was the turkey with Swiss, bacon and coleslaw on rye bread that caught my eye and while it was almost too thick to get my mouth around, I managed. The beauty of this sandwich was the contrast between the sweetness of the cole slaw and the saltiness of the bacon. One of my favorite bearded regulars came in and ordered a BLT with a fried egg...and a side of a grilled cheese. I remember my first time eating at Garnett's a guy had a side of potato salad with his sandwich and then ordered another side of potato salad for dessert. I've also seen people order an extra side of those fabulous pickles; Garnett's has that kind of effect on people.

It's also a place where you're a fool not to order dessert; theirs are better priced than any place else in town, except for perhaps Black Sheep, and they're outstanding. Tonight I had yet another variation: chocolate cake with coffee icing. I don't even drink coffee and I thought it was wonderful; imagine how coffee lovers would swoon.

Like several other customers who came through Garnett's while I was there, I was headed to the Michaux House for this month's installment of the Listening Room. I arrived early enough to secure good seats for me and the two friends who were joining me. The well-trained audience was in their seats and hushed by 7:59.

The Colloquial Orchestra was up first, a local super group of sorts, made up of Chad of The Florentines, Matt of the Low Branches and Louisiana Territory and Dave Watkins ("I'm just Dave Watkins," he told us). Unusual instruments were the highlight here; Chad played the bouzouki, Matt the baritone ukulele and Dave the dulcitar.

The first song, all instrumental, was highlighted by Dave singing into the body of the dulcitar, causing it to resonate. From my vantage point, he appeared to be kissing his instrument, but the sound he produced was almost as good as a kissing sound. Another song, Pangea's Revenge, was introduced as "for all you hopeless romantics out there," and the lyrics were shown on a screen for a group singalong. Or, as Dave put it,"So you can't talk at the Listening Room, but no one said you couldn't sing." Those three stringed instruments playing together was truly a thing of beauty.

Up next was singer/songwriter Dean Fields, who while tuning his guitar, told the audience that "I wrote this song for banjo. This is not one." He entertained us with stories in between songs ("I wrote this in a bar in Raleigh. That paints a picture, doesn't it?") and explanations (about the song Dandelion Rain: "I find humidity inspiring.") He described the Listening Room environment as a reminder of how all the songs were written: simply and with just him and his guitar. Favorite lyric: "You pray the waiting's worth the next in line." So true. He closed with a song called Imitations, describing it as the first song he ever wrote that he didn't think was garbage. Not even close, Dean.

I wasn't at all familiar with local band The Thirds, a four-piece tonight, who began by telling us that they didn't have any good stories to tell, so they were just going to play. With two guitars, bass and keyboard, they also informed us that they were"kind of a rock band most of the time." Their stripped down acoustic sound for the evening may not have been rock (or, more appropriately, indie rock), but those keyboards and synthesized sounds elevated the music to something compelling. My friend found the vocals Death Cab for Cutie-like, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective; I liked the guy's voice and phrasing. Favorite lyric: "Chemical reactions that I can't explain/I'm way too old for this."

Without going all superlative on you, the Listening Room never disappoints; the organizers continue to bring in talented musicians to an atmosphere that encourages appreciation. Dean wisecracked with, "How you guys doing? Oh, yeah, you guys can't talk," which drew a huge laugh from the attendees. And, as always happens at these shows, midway through, a section of the strung-up lights broke free of their mooring and dropped, to the surprise of the band and delight of the audience. Like respectful silence during the show, it's one of those things you can always count on at the Listening Room. Fortunately, it doesn't make a sound when it happens.

Burping Added Nothing to the Music

Monday nights can be slim pickins for something interesting to do and then there's a Monday night like last night, with multiple good choices and it's just a matter of deciding where you want to be and what you want to hear. In my case, a friend suggested Cous Cous for Larry and His Flask with a couple of interesting openers, so my decision was made and the Camel and Balliceaux were forgotten.

Since we weren't meeting until 9:30, though, I had plenty of time to visit 27 for dinner and to catch up with one of my favorite waiters. I started with the Morli Neri Chianti and the good news from my friend that he'd just been accepted into graduate school at Columbia, surely cause for celebration.

He recommended the Moules Marinieres (P.E.I. mussels with homemade white wine, shallot and cream sauce) because it was a new preparation for 27, who usually offers a red sauce of some kind. They were savory and delicious; sopping up that cream sauce with a whole lot of bread finished my meal beautifully.

Of course I had dessert, but I at least tried something new. It was the Bombe: passion fruit, mango and raspberry sorbet wrapped in a white and dark chocolate shell. The delicacy of the sorbets with the necessary chocolate (at least in my case) was everything I could have wanted in a dessert. I did share with a member of the staff since he'd never had it.

With shows at Cous Cous, I like to arrive before the crowds to secure a stool for protection. Inevitably it gets mobbed in there and a stool at least ensures that I can only get knocked into from one direction. I'd heard great things about Larry and His Flask's talent with their punk/hillbilly sound. I was expecting to see a certain local Americana singer and, sure enough, she was the first person I saw on arrival. She'd already seen them (of course) and highly recommended them.

Opening was Tom Vanden-Avond & Soda and, I have to tell you, this guy's voice sounded whiskey-soaked and amazing. He could have been singing anything with those pipes and it would have been a pleasure to listen. His fiddle player (Seabass, as he referred to him) added hugely to the sound, which would likely be called alt-country since he's from Texas, but probably owes as much to Dylan.

Next up was Chris McNew and by this time the place was hopping. And by that, I mean everyone was talking loudly non-stop, making it difficult to hear the music. I know that this is how shows at Cous Cous are, but it always annoys me anyway. Even the musicians acknowledged that drunk people just want to talk loud. The guy next to me couldn't stop talking about being dumped; his ex was there with her new guy and it was killing him. One guy belched so incredibly loudly in my companion's ear that it was worthy of comment, not that the burper cared who he'd offended (or noticed the looks of the surrounding onlookers).

So I'm ashamed to say that by midnight we abandoned the crowd for another destination and never got to see Larry and His Flask. I can only hope the Oregon group will be back through again so I can hear their hillbilly folk punk, preferably somewhere where the audience is actually there to appreciate the music. They played a house show last time they were in rva and I'll bet that audience was way more attentive than last night's.

I know it's lot to hope for, but I'm guessing the musicians would be on my side and, in a perfect world, they'd demand attention of their audience. At the very least, guys, get as drunk as you want during the show, but just shut up about it so I can hear the music.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Be the Change You Want to See

Today was the 50th anniversary of the day that 34 Virginia Union University students staged a sit-in at Thalhimer's lunch counter to protest segregation. Richmond Center Stage was unveiling an historic marker to commemorate the occasion, complete with official speeches and one of the original Union 34 members speaking. It was something I wanted to witness.

About an hour before the event, the rain began. It occurred to me, did I really want to go stand in the cold rain for the sake of a marker? Staring at the steady rain, I wanted to smack myself. These 34 students had been willing to step up and be arrested to call attention to injustice and I was worried about a little rain? I put on my raincoat, grabbed my umbrella and headed down to 6th and Broad to pay my respects to people more courageous than me. As Shakespeare wrote and Center Stage's Jeff Sadler quoted, "What is a city but its people?" This person needed to experience this event.

Due to the weather, remarks were kept brief, except for those by Elizabeth Johnson Rice, the representative of the Union 34. She told of trying to start a commemorative march for the event back in 2004; her starting point was a phone call to the Richmond Police. She told them who she was and that she'd marched and gotten arrested for it in 1960. "Can I start a march again?" she asked. And, lo and behold, the policeman told her it was a great idea. It was at that march that she'd fortuitously met Elizabeth Thalhimer Smart, the granddaughter of the man who'd owned Thalhimer's at the time of the sit-in, and the woman who , with Rice, unveiled the marker today.

Standing in the crowd under a sea of black Center Stage umbrellas during the presentation, a man told me he liked my floral umbrella. I thanked him and told him it was just a thrift store find. "It's a happy umbrella," he told me. A happy umbrella for acknowledging a happy occasion: the progress made in Richmond toward a more equal society.

Black Sheep, Camel and Mad Music

Yesterday was one of those practically perfect days for so many reasons. It's hard not to be happy about temperatures close to 60 after the winter we've been through. I used every excuse in the book to be outside throughout the day and after a while, even the beagle was wondering why we were going on our tenth walk of the day.

So you take a warm day like that and finish it with a terrific meal and amazing music and, well, just stick a fork in me; I'm done. If there's a way it could have turned out better, I don't have the nerve to imagine it.

My companion and I deliberately chose a dinner destination to which we could walk, so we strolled over to the Black Sheep behind a weed-scented cluster of guys, obviously enjoying the night air as much as we were, just in a different way. At the Black Sheep, we were put at the middle two-top, the better to observe the room and feel like a centerpiece.

Because the soup du jour is always outstanding at BS, I can seldom resist it and last night was no exception. We both got it, a chili variation with white and red beans and cilantro. Oh, it was good. He followed with the lamb kebab (Moroccan-spiced skewered grilled leg of lamb over buttered Israeli cous cous with a chickpea stew); he said it was one of the most satisfying meals he's had in ages and the bite he offered was out of this world.

I opted for the pomegranate-molasses poached dried figs over locally grown organic arugula with Belgian endive, toasted walnuts, bleu cheese and an aged sherry vinaigrette. I told myself I was being virtuous getting a salad, but the richness of the figs, walnuts and bleu cheese belied that while at the same time being the ideal counterpart to the peppery arugula and bitter endive.

Post-dinner we went to the Camel to see Frank Turner, as did a fair number of others, like us, incredulous that we were getting this guy on a Sunday night in Richmond. He's currently on tour with Flogging Molly and had a free night and some savvy promoter snapped him up for us. You may know him as the former lead singer of post-hardcore band Million Dead, but since they disbanded he's an acoustic-based folk/punk singer.

And is the man ever passionate! Whether it's an anti-love song, a lament about not growing up or a song dedicated to a former love who was "deeply disturbed," the skinny Brit sang with such enthusiasm and meaning that there was no doubt where the songs were coming from. He feels especially strongly about there being no separation between the audience and entertainer (he disdains referring to himself as an artist) and encouraged singing along (referring to us as his backup singers) and pulled an audience member on stage to do a harmonica solo. His excellent band was deservedly acknowledged repeatedly by the singer.

The audience was made up of die hard fans; most people knew every word. A lot of WRIR DJs were there, a testament to Frank Turner's talent by those who really know and love music. I met a woman who spent her summer vacation in England, traveling from town to town, following Frank on tour (obviously much easier to do in a country the size of England than here). That's the kind of people this show attracted. The singer said he expects to be back through rva in September; honestly, you'd be a fool to miss a chance to see this guy live.

A weekend that begins with seeing Mission of Burma with 100 other people and ends with an intimate show by Frank Turner is a stellar one by any city's standards. That's it's happening these days in rva is a gift, one which I'm happy to tear the wrapping off and enjoy. I'm feeling lucky for a whole lot of reasons lately.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Woo Me with Words

Tragedy is the stuff Saturday nights are made of.

In this particular case, I'd been given two free tickets by a friend for tonight's performance of Othello at Center Stage and couldn't find anyone who could or would go with me.

While not a tragedy, it was certainly a shame, not that it stopped me from going to take in a play that begins as a great love story but really centers on bigotry, obsession and revenge.

It was my first time in the Gottwald Playhouse of Center Stage, although far from my first time seeing Richmond Shakespeare perform.

I'd been one of those in attendance at their Linden Row performance of Much Ado About Nothing back in the '90s. I have long been a regular at their shows.

Tonight I was lucky enough to have been given second row center seats, so I was close enough to see the actors spit, which I find satisfying for some reason.

I also knew two of the actors in the play which always adds to my enjoyment.

And despite having seen many of Shakespeare's plays done repeatedly, I'd never seen Othello preformed live before.

This production is a collaboration of Richmond Shakespeare and the African American Repertory Theater and is part of the Acts of Faith Festival RVA does every year.

Early on, Othello is accused of having used tricks or witchcraft to win the love of Desdemona and marry her.

He's forced to defend himself and explain how his wooing won her over on its own merits.

He had me completely convinced with one simple line of his self-defense, "She'd come again and with a greedy ear devour up my discourse."

That's absolutely true. When we keep coming back to hear more of what you have to say, we're definitely interested, no coercion necessary.

But as we all know, Othello is a great tragedy, so there was much sinister plotting and revenge schemes and far too many people ended up dead or maimed by the play's end.

The beauty of theater over film or television is that I don't have to see the blood and squeamish types like me appreciate that.

The crowd was diverse and included several of the former students who participated in the '60s sit-in at the Thalhimer's lunch counter and they were given a round of sincere applause.

Much to my surprise, there were some Shakespeare virgins sitting right in front of me.

I know because the man boasted to his date that he was going to go right home and update his profile so everybody would know he'd been to see a Shakespeare play.

I'm just making a wild guess here, but I'm thinking he's probably not the type who has female greedy ears coming back to devour his discourse.

A Morning of Italian Fim and Food

It wasn't my first time at the Italian Film & Food Festival, but it was the first time I attended the first showing of the day. I met a friend (and his friend) there, someone who works in the restaurant business and wouldn't normally choose to be anywhere at 10:30 in the morning and who desperately needed wake-up caffeine.

Luckily for him, one of the sponsors of the fest was Caffe Espresso so he ordered an Italian coffee from the very Italian proprietor (dark curly hair, dashing scarf). When asked what I wanted, I declined, saying I don't drink coffee. "You don't drink coffee?" he asked, clearly appalled. "That's not Italian!" Even given my Irish heritage, I somehow felt like a failure to this man.

The food part of the morning was a surprise since I'd always gone to later screenings and they couldn't very well serve dinner before noon. We were treated to two kinds of soup, one a veggie lentil and the other a chicken stock-based soup with egg and Parmesan; both were terrific. Accompanying that were Prosciutto and cheese on rolls, smoked salmon and cream cheese with capers on crostini, hard-cooked eggs in a tuna cream sauce and a rich little dessert, which I was told consisted of an almond cookie dipped in egg and covered in phyllo dough and baked. It was a perfectly lovely Italian breakfast.

We were seeing Fists in the Pocket directed by Marco Bellocchio from 1965. Made at a time when post-war Italy was still adrift, it was a very dark film. It was Bellocchio's first film, made on an extremely slim budget by a young anarchist searching for his way in the film world. The movie about a highly dysfunctional family was all about subverting institutions: the family, marriage, the church, even the confessional.

Considered part of the Second Italian Renaissance, the film was considered at the time to be the start of a new era in Italian film. Given the heavy plot, complete with epilepsy, blindness and murder, it must have been shocking when it came out. But it was 1965, so there was a 60s party scene, complete with stylish young people dancing to current music and clearly part of the "in" crowd.

The last minute of the film was completely improvised by the lead actor, the anti-hero who was considered an Italian Brando. It was an incredibly powerful way to resolve the family drama and no doubt difficult for audiences at the time. Bob Ellis from VCU introduced the film and said that when he first saw it, he found it to be the most excruciating and depressing film he'd ever seen.

That said, it was absolutely worth getting up early to see on a Saturday morning. Bourgeois dysfunctional families may not be a new topic, but in the hands of a serious Italian talent like Bellocchio, it was riveting. Breakfast from the kitchens of Mam Zu's. Edo's Squid and 8 1/2 only made it more irresistible. It truly was a feast for all the senses.

That's When I Reach for My Revolver

Could there be a more incongruous show than Mission of Burma at the UR Commons? How is it that the post-punk pioneers who influenced everyone from REM to the Pixies to Nirvana ended up at such an unlikely location? And why is that campus like the Devil's Triangle?

My girlfriends and I started at Mezzanine for dinner and wound up on the heated patio due to a full dining room and half an hour wait inside. We made a meal of an array of starters: fried risotto balls with Parmesan and broccolini over marinara sauce, kale salad, Mobjack Bay oysters, noodle-wrapped shrimp, a beet stack with goat and bleu cheeses, and Portabella pizza (with the mushroom subbing for the crust).

There was enough of a variety of flavors and textures to satisfy all three of us. Cocktails accompanied the meal and a chocolate mousse with toffee bits finished it. We joked about the difference in this pre-show meal compared to what we might have had before a concert in the past, but no one was complaining, either.

We piled tightly into one truck for the trip and, armed with GPS assistance to help us locate the Commons, we eventually found not only the building, but a front row parking space. Walking through the automatic doors though, we were met by a surprisingly small crowd enjoying openers the Amoeba Men. It was striking how few people were there.

When I ran into an acquaintance, I lamented the lack of advertising for this show; a guy passing by agreed heartily and said he'd written to the RTD's music critic to lambast her for not even acknowledging the show. My reaction was, would she even know who Mission of Burma was? That made him laugh, but acknowledge that it was unlikely.

Fortunately, by the time MOB came on, more VCU and city types had arrived, but the crowd was still nowhere near what it should have been. As was to be expected, a fair percentage of the crowd was of an age to have owned Mission of Burma on vinyl. There did seem to be some UR students there; I heard a group discussing Husker Du, so they obviously knew enough to be there (although they were agog when a friend told them that she'd seen Husker Du in '85). The UR crowd could be best summed up in the attire of the student standing in front of us: a yellow popped-collar polo shirt with a flannel-lined hoodie over it. Enough said.

I could complain about the sound op who was clearly out of his league despite precise direction from the band, but I'd rather focus on how enjoyable it was to hear the energy, tape effects and hooks of the band. Their sense of humor and obvious pleasure in what they were doing didn't hurt, either. At one point, they told the audience, "Now more songs to dance at prom to." As if, but it gave the devoted in the audience a chuckle.

An incongruous meal before an unlikely band's performance at an incongruous location...that's the beauty of Richmond on a Friday night.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Comfort Lunch with the Employed

Today was laid-off lunch at Comfort, which meant my friend and I got together to commiserate about the pleasures and perils of being unemployed and unattached. She had been surprised by the Inverse Automotive Repair rule, with which I was well familiar. Your car can be reliable and trouble free for years, but once you lose your job, it will slowly start to reveal its growing problems. My car has been in the shop a half a dozen times in the year I have been laid off, more than the five years beforehand combined. Hers just recently started showing its weaknesses for which she was completely unprepared. I tried to be reassuring, but apparently cars just know the worst time to require service.

On the other hand, my friend was all aglow about the quantum leap her love life has taken during the same period. Seems that an old friend who for years had been inordinately fond of her finally got around to making his move, resulting in a fast-forward start to an extremely promising relationship. Only about six weeks in and they were already marveling at their compatibility and comfort level with each other. She even guiltily admitted to having hopes of something long-term with this guy and judging by the perpetual grin on her face, he seems to be making her incredibly happy already. I could relate.

We did a mock day-after-Thanksgiving sort of leftover lunch, she with the roasted turkey sandwich and me with the ham sandwich (hot, with Swiss and spicy Bourbon orange spread). She went with mashed potatoes for her side, which I completely understand, but my leftover- day sandwiches require chips and Comfort's homemade chips are terrific.

It was definitely a Friday lunch crowd, with our fellow bar sitters enjoying mixed drinks, mimosas and beer, possibly to kick off the weekend, possibly to get through the afternoon at work. No doubt you can guess which it was for us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

From Frittes to Ringing Ears

My ears are ringing because of the New Rock Church of Fire. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

They were just fine when I met a friend for drinks and frittes at Can Can late this afternoon. At our last few meet-ups, he had been abstaining but apparently a couple of prolonged periods of being snowed-in with his two young'uns had sent him back to drink. As we sat on our stools directly in front of the breads and pastries, we were both amazed at the continuous stream of customers coming in to buy baguettes, loaves and such; my friend was so inspired that he purchased one to take home himself.

We both love people-watching at Can Can for the sheer variety of humankind that frequents the place. I had competition in the terrific tights category today, with several servers displaying unusual patterns worth admiring. As we prepared to leave, I offered our stools to a familiar face from the Virginia Museum who looked about to burst. Seems he'd made an important acquisition for the museum today and was about to have a drink to celebrate; there's nothing quite like the excitement of a true art geek. We were leaving our seats to worthy bottoms.

Then I was off to my Modern Romance class for part 3: Broken Hearts, 1960-80. That period was all about when things don't work out, which in this case means bad buildings. Much of the architecture of this period is eminently forgettable, the Whitney Museum in NYC being a perfect example. Luckily, there was the occasional reprieve like the Sydney Opera House to keep architectural hope alive; even during the period of broken hearts, it's essential to know that something better will come along. Next week is the last class and I, for one, am hoping for happy ending.

My last stop was The Camel to meet my music buddy Andrew and see three bands. Except that the bill had been extended to four bands because of an unexpected band traveling through town. I'd wanted to see Benvolio, once part of We Know, Plato! and a guy with a beautiful voice and mad piano skills. It was different hearing him without the backing of a band, but no less enjoyable. He closed with a haunting version of "Hallelujah."

He was followed by the New Rock Church of Fire, a DC band who had been a last-minute addition to the bill. I should have been warned when they began their set by saying "Earplugs are available up front." My complaint with them wasn't how loud they were but how poorly mic'd they were; the vocals were all but lost under the instruments. It's a shame when all you can hear is noise, not music. Fortunately, there was a guy in a plaid shirt dancing in a way that defies description to every note of the noise and he provided excellent entertainment value to the audience behind him, compensating somewhat for what was being done to our ears.

From that outpost of suburbia, Fairfax, we heard Kid Architecture and in comparison, their set was beautifully mic'd. Incubus-like vocals with Editors-like guitars and Coldplay-like keyboards, their volume was eminently more listenable. They even brought free CDs with which to woo the crowd; Andrew was particularly taken with the CD's title, PhilosoRaptor.

I've seen headliners At the Stars on numerous occasions and recommend them to fans of Brit-pop. They usually include a cover in every set and tonight's was a superb version of The Railway Children's "Every Beat of the Heart," a terrific song, even if it is a couple of decades old. I did have to wonder how many in the audience even knew it was a cover, though.

Not that it mattered, really. It was the perfect song to end the evening with and my bleeding ears enjoyed every single word.

Box Lunches and Dishing on the Dead

Who doesn't like being invited to lunch? And even better when it's a stranger doing the inviting; there's no telling who the other guests will be or what will be served. And when the invitation is based solely on my blog, my hosts have no idea what to expect from me, either. It's kind of a wild card lunch all around.

I'm a long-time fan of the Virginia Historical Society's noontime Banner Lecture series. After blogging the last one, here, I got an invitation to come to lunch with the speaker and assorted staff members and guests before today's lecture. Perhaps it was my rant about wanting more female-centric topics or maybe they just thought I'd be a sparkling addition to their lunch bunch, but in either case, it was a most gracious invitation and I accepted.

On arrival I was introduced to the group, which included, among others, today's speaker (and author of On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery) Robert Poole, the President of the VHS, Paul Levengood and Phyllis Galanti, wife of local P.O.W. Paul Galanti.

Homemades by Suzanne provided our appropriately Southern boxed lunches; I chose the chicken salad on a crusty roll, fruit salad, a deviled egg and, the piece de resistance, a slice of Red Velvet cake (highly coveted among the dessert choices, which also included key lime pie, apple pie, chocolate pie and carrot cake). There was even an Andes mint to sweeten the breath pre-lecture.

Conversation during the lunch was fascinating with so many history lovers in attendance. Poole told us about how the eternal flame came to be created in a 24-hour period before JFK's funeral. Once Jackie decided she wanted an eternal flame on the day before the 1963 funeral, the logistics of creating such a thing had to be dealt with; eternal flames did not exist. A make-shift solution was devised to get through the funeral and then the actual permanent flame constructed later.

Likewise, we learned that due to the overwhelming increase in visitors to Arlington Cemetery after JFK's burial, his body had to be moved in 1967 to a better location to accommodate the crowds. It seems that visitors were even absconding with the gravel in the walkways for souvenirs. I don't think most people had any idea that the President's body had been dug up, much less moved. Not surprisingly, the cachet of being buried at Arlington also shot up exponentially after JFK.

As it turned out, another perk of being invited to lunch is a front row seat for the lecture; I could get used to this kind of treatment. Poole's talk on Arlington National Cemetery was enlightening, to say the least. The Arlington property, which began as the Lee family plantation subsequently became a Union Army encampment, a slave refugee, a paupers' cemetery and ultimately a symbol of reunion and healing after the Civil War.

Although the first body was buried at Arlington in May 1864, it didn't become a National Cemetery until June, but as Poole pointed out, it's army policy to do first and make it official later. In fact, the Union Quartermaster deliberately had bodies buried in the garden of the plantation and within view of the manor house in order to discourage any possibility of the Lees trying to reclaim their home after the war.

And the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? An unidentified soldier's body was placed in the tombs for each of the wars up until Vietnam to represent the soldiers who made the greatest sacrifice for their country. But when it came time to memorialize the unknown soldiers from the Vietnam War, DNA testing was being used to identify bodies; as a result, there is no body in that memorial. It's a sign of the times; no one has to remain unidentified anymore.

Obviously, Arlington Cemetery is not a limitless space; consequently family members are being buried vertically now, digging deeper and stacking subsequent loved ones on top of their spouse or family member. The plan is to acquire another 70 acres from nearby Fort Meyer and with greater use of the crematorium facility, Arlington hopes to have the capacity to bury until 2060.

Perhaps in the old south, discussion of the dead was not an appropriate topic of conversation after the noonday meal. Today's lecture about how Arlington cemetery helped the North and South to repair shows just how far we've come and, fortunately, with our Red Velvet cake intact.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Admire my Nachos, But Don't Drown Out my Guitars

Ah, 821 Cafe, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. For the ever-changing affordable art on your walls. For providing wildly different newspapers for my reading pleasure; five minutes' worth to read the entire RTD and 20 minutes' worth for the NYT Food & Dining section alone.

For being the creative magnet that you are, which tonight attracted Americana singer and ukulele player extraordinaire Alison Self and collage artist Adam Juresko. For the delightful clientele always eager to mingle. The girl who sat down next to me couldn't make up her mind between pasta and nachos. "Well, I'm getting the nachos, if that helps," I told her. "Perfect! I'll get the pasta and I can just admire your nachos." See why I love this place?

After my bohemian meal, I set out for the Singelton Center for some musical enlightenment in the form of the VCU Guitar Festival, celebrating the music of Mexican composer Manuel Ponce. Active in the first half of the twentieth century, he's notable for his melding of classical and Mexican folk music and when he wrote for solo instruments, it was guitar and piano, the only instruments on the stage tonight.

Even with no familiarity with Ponce's music, the performance was notable for the beauty of the guitar playing and the approachability of the music. Its popular folk roots shown through, making it as much an expression of Mexican music as classical, although you'd never have known it by the guy directly behind me snoring and snorting throughout. People in rows four and five in front of me kept turning around to see who was drowning out the delicate guitar playing. I wanted to reach around and thump his leg to wake him up, but I knew my mother wouldn't approve.

When I saw Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela and their rhythmic and fast acoustic guitar playing at the National a while back, their "acoustic metal" made me eager to hear a greater variety of guitar playing. So when the opportunity presented itself tonight to enjoy an evening of music I don't often hear, much less for free, I was all about it. Unlike Snorer Guy, who will never even know what he missed.

Of Many Men and Moviegoing with Poe

I have discovered the place for an unattached girl to eat lunch if she wants to be completely surrounded by men.

City Dogs in the Slip.

Waiting at the bar for my friend to arrive, I looked around the place and noticed that except for the servers and me, everyone in the place had a Y chromosome.

Since I was the one who had suggested City Dogs to my (male) friend for lunch, I'm not sure what this says about me, but it was glaringly noticeable.

There were 13 dog choices, not including the corn dog nuggets which I consider beneath mention, although sure enough, a guy came in, perched on the stool next to me and ordered them.

I had the Coney Island Sabrett Dog (chili, mustard, onions and shredded cheese) and my friend had the Boston Dog (sauerkraut, bacon and relish) and we shared an order of onion rings.

Next to us, two guys started with beers and shots before moving on to their dogs; theirs was a manly lunch for sure.

Afterwards, our destination was the Poe Museum for the Poe Goes to the Movies exhibit of posters and memorabilia from Poe-related film projects.

In several cases, there were movie posters from multiple countries for the same movie. 1963's The Raven, for instance, had U.S., Czech and French verisons.

Notable was that Jack Nicholson was in that film and pictured on one of the posters; he looked so young as to be almost unrecognizable.

Along with the posters for The Murders in the Rue Morgue was a letter from Universal Pictures sending stills of the soon-to-be-released 1932 film to the Poe Museum for display.

I was fascinated to see that the letter was signed by Joe Weil, the Director of Exploitation. Is that a great job title or what?

I'm willing to bet that there are no more officially titled Directors of Exploitation in any field in 2010.

The poster for the 1968 version of Spirits of the Dead billed itself as "Edgar Allen Poe's Ultimate Orgy," an apt come-on for that free-wheeling period of the sexual revolution.

The film starred Brigitte Bardot, scantily clad on the poster, but also featured an early appearance by a very young Jane Fonda in a small role.

For whatever reason, Brigitte and Jane must have seemed the perfect embodiment of a Poe orgy in the sixties.

Promotional materials for the films that were sent to theaters provided a chuckle (references to the "French wench" in one) as did a Vincent Price doll, commanding in a cape inside his little box.

Price appeared in so many of the Poe films that he will forever be remembered for those types of roles, but who exactly would want an action figure of him?

We found it vintage funny.

We finished up our visit with a short film version of The Tell-Tale Heart upstairs in the tiny room under the eaves.

A chilly and dark spot, it was ideal to digest our dogs and enjoy our last taste of Poe for the day.

"Dissemble no more...It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday at Acacia

Not that I have any intention of going without, but the concept of one night devoted to eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of Lent holds a lot of appeal, even for a heathen like me. Call it Shrove Tuesday or call it an excuse to overeat, but count me in.

My evening of excess began at the Belvidere at Broad, where I met a friend for a drink. The latest addition to the wine list was the Osborne Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet, a worthy match for the grilled tenderloin and onion canapes we shared while sharing stories. Nothing starts an evening of eating off quite as well as red meat. I knew how good they were, having had them before, but their flavorful goodness was a surprise and delight to my friend. Then she was off like a shot to be with her boyfriend.

Afterwards, I was meeting another friend at Acacia for dinner. Although I'd received an e-mail from Acacia about their Fat Tuesday drink specials (Cocktail a la Louisiane, Sazerac, Brandy Crusta and Bramble), I was not prepared for the madness that greeted me at the restaurant. On arrival shortly before 8:00, there was not an available seat in the house. Or at the bar. In fact, there was a 20-30 minute wait for a table or to eat at the bar. Clearly the good times were already rolling.

While we would have preferred the bar, a table came open first and we took it. Fortunately, it was in the side room and I say that only because of the din in the main dining room. With its hard surfaces, it always tends to be a loud room, and with tonight's capacity crowd, even more so. Our cheerful if overwhelmed server wisely brought us our wine posthaste and even offered his approval of the choice of the Honig Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, a steal at $21 since it was half-off wine night, too.

Looking to eke out as much fat from my dinner choices as possible, I began with the creamy lobster soup with bacon and winter veggies. Oh, it was creamy and oh, it was rich and we all know the bacon rule. I followed that with the sauteed grouper swimming in a pool of garlic herb butter sauce and with stone-ground cheddar cheese grits on the side. The last thing I managed to down was the root beer-spiced creme brulee. Although I'm not a soda drinker, root beer is hands-down my favorite kind, so I loved the novelty of combining its distinctive taste with my requisite dessert.

It felt like we had inhaled our rich dinner, but by the time we walked out of our cozy back alcove, the restaurant had cleared except for the bar patrons putting on their coats. Of course, it was almost 11:00, late by the dining standards of most Tuesday nights in rva, but then it wasn't just any Tuesday. It was a night to eat until we were ready to pop and call it Mardi Gras.

Gras, indeed.

Turning Japanese at Niwanohana Sushi (I Really Think So)

Sometimes you need to revisit something you haven't experienced in years, just to find out if the memory matches the current reality. Of course, that opens the door to possible disappointment, but thinking that just because something once gave you pleasure it still could is nothing if not presumptuous. You don't know until you try.

So with last night's cold and rainy weather yet again, my dining partner and I headed down to the Slip to Niwanohana Sushi in the space that was Hana Zushi forever. In fact, when I first came to Richmond, HZ was the only authentic Japanese restaurant to be found and had been a favorite of my friend's when I first met him back in the 90s. The weather was dictating a big bowl of soup and we were counting on Niwanohana to deliver.

Since it was a Monday night, the place was quiet, with only one customer at the sushi bar when we arrived. Unfortunately, once she finished eating, she apparently got bored with herself and got on her phone, filling the room with a personal conversation neither my friend nor I cared to hear. Why don't people realize how rude this is? I don't think it was just us; I can't think of anyone who enjoys hearing someone else's phone conversation while they eat their miso soup and salad.

We tried focusing on the music, but it seemed to be an endless loop of the Goo Goo Dolls' greatest hits and that got a bit tiresome. Luckily our food shortly arrived and we got to the business of eating, first with a Futo Maki roll. Next up was Nabeyaki Udon/Soba Soup and it really was just what a person should be eating on a cold and damp evening, full of chicken, surmi, onion and those lovely noodles; the accompanying tempura shrimp were the perfect dipper.

The restaurant was graced with the presence of a foursome, loud and gregarious, and I might have made a smart-assed observation or two about them when they entered, but it didn't take long for me to be proven right. Minutes after taking their seats, they began singing country songs...loudly. As in, serenading the other seven of us in the restaurant. True, I do have a bias against country music, but I can't imagine what made these people think that such behavior was socially acceptable. I'd have told them to take it outside, except they were all much bigger than me. Especially the woman. Luckily, their food arriving superseded their need to be annoying and we got a reprieve.

Slurping our noodles through theoretical conversation about the differences in how men and women perceive friendship, the choice of being struck blind or deaf and other such important issues fortunately pushed the other guests to the background, leaving us to enjoy our meal.

As to conclusions drawn about revisiting the past, sunshine and lollipops aside, it would appear that occasionally the new reality can actually surpass the memory. Even with the Goo Goo Dolls and country music for a soundtrack.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Greetings to the New Brunette*

I'd be the first to acknowledge that Valentine's Day is a construct.

If I'm in a relationship, I'd want attention every day not just on the Hallmark-approved day.

But when you're not in a relationship, VD severely limits what you can do, going out-wise.

My original intention was to go to the Black Valentine's show at Cous Cous, mainly because a friend, Julie Karr, was performing and had told me some of the songs she'd chosen to sing and it sounded like fun.

Then I heard that there was also going to be a bachelor auction and although I had no intention of buying a guy, it promised to have great entertainment value.

And then out of the blue, an old friend offered to make dinner for me and why in the world would I not take him up on that?

It's amateur night in the restaurant world, but a talented friend in the kitchen sounded like a terrific way to spend the evening without all the annoying corniness.

All I had to do was provide wine (ostensibly my excuse for going to the tasting at River City Cellars Friday; thanks for the able assistance, Julia) and choose the music (one of my very favorite assigned tasks anyway).

How easy was this?

So while he effortlessly (or so it appeared) prepared the veal and multiple side dishes, I lounged around, sipping wine and offering conversation.

I'd heard a great two-degrees-of-separation story from the '90s about him just the night before and I couldn't wait to share that.

Reading the Post yesterday morning, I had learned just how shuttered things had been for a week up there due to the snow.

Since he lives in NOVA, I wanted details about how entirely life had been shut down up there, while life had marched on down here thankfully.

The meal was superb as was the conversation and I think I did a pretty decent job with the music, although our similar taste makes that pretty much a given.

Better still, I awoke this morning to a Moss-Covered Stone Heart mix, full of music for hopeless romantics, a category I have fallen into practically since birth.

And, yes, it had "Slow Show" on it.

A meal, a meandering conversation and a mix; it doesn't get much better than that.

*with props to Billy Bragg and, yes, on the mix.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Letting the Good Times Roll in J-Ward

As a long-lapsed Catholic, it was two things that alerted me to the upcoming season of Lent.

The first was Bistro 27's chef Carlos asking me last week what I'd be giving up for Lent ("Lent," I told him) and the second was the invitation to my neighbors Bob and Steve's annual Mardi Gras extravaganza tonight.

These guys turn Jackson Ward into New Orleans for a night every year and they do it right.

The party starts at 4:00 is all I'm saying.

Beginning with the ornate decorations on their house and continuing in to the foyer, where masks, crowns and beads await incoming guests, this is a party of excesses.

Forget the copious amounts of alcohol (and I bet a lot of the guests will have forgotten it until they wake up tomorrow morning; Larry, I'm talking to you), the multiple rooms of food are obscene.

Of course there's gumbo and rice and king cake. It would still be a great party if that's all they had.

But, no, there is a to-die-for sausage and cheese dip, carved beef, turkey breasts, cocktail shrimp, assorted cheeses, untold vegetable dishes, breads of every kind, crudites, even cocktail wieners. I think I counted five desserts.

I've probably left out at least a half a dozen items, but there were just too many to keep track of.

Someone, not me, but someone initiated a discussion of the J-Ward restaurant scene and I was happy to chime in with my thoughts.

I had just missed neighbors Julie and Dave, the owners of the Belvidere, but I shared my opinion of their place with those who had not yet tried it (shame on them; it's right in the 'hood!).

Tarrant's delivery service was highly touted and 27's cuisine praised. One guest actually knew the Tarrant family and shared some local history with us.

Not long after, the baby was found in Bob's homemade king cake, but luckily not by me since the recipient is supposed to wash all the wine glasses and by then we were on our fourth box of glasses, if that tells you anything about the scale of the partying.

Next up was a short walk to Gallery 5 for the opening reception of Sleight of Hand II, a national juried contemporary craft exhibit.

The opening had been postponed from last week and three musical acts were to play tonight: Gills and Wings, Brad Doggett and Thomas Coleman.

As I walked in, the members of Gills and Wings were standing outside trying to finalize their set list.

"We're gonna figure this out," one of them said. That would be good, I thought.

The array of crafts was definitely more art than crafts,which was the whole concept behind the exhibition.

The pieces pushed the concept of what a craft is and most would be perceived as art objects rather than something utilitarian.

I had just missed the awards ceremony when I arrived, but the pieces were subsequently labeled with their awards for the interested viewer.

There was no shortage of unusual materials and thought-provoking imagery; the only shortage was of stereotypical "crafts."

But then, when is Gallery 5 ever stereotypical?

The DJ downstairs was actually spinning records, always a pleasure to see and hear, but his extension cord extended into the bathroom, making it impossible to close the door for privacy.

I'm no prude, but it didn't seem wise to use the facility with the open door, so I just stood there, trying to figure a solution.

Luckily a guy came along who had no problem going with the door open a crack while I averted my gaze and when he finished, he offered to hold the door so I could go in private.

He got a little too into his job, though, and when I went to leave, he hung onto that doorknob like a champ.

Just before it got weird, he felt my tug and released me.

Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Bruising the Moneymaker

Murphy's Law of snow, at least as it applies to me, is exactly what you'd expect.

I went for my usual four-mile walk down Grace Street yesterday, still having to navigate around mounds of crusty snow and ice.

For the first time in ages, though, there were long stretches of cleared sidewalk, but still interrupted by ice and snow piles.

No doubt as a result, there were more of my regulars out and about.

About to step off the curb over an enormous pile of icy snow, a car started honking furiously at me just as I crested the mound.

I jumped visibly, and almost lost my footing, but didn't; it was Pedro, one of my favorite waiters, who claims to see me everywhere, but never says hello.

Finally, he had.

Further up Grace, and trying to negotiate an icy patch, I hear my name shouted from across the street.

I slide a little, but don't fall, as I look up to see who it is and answer back.

When I run into him last night at Ipanema, he asks if it was that morning he had seen me.

Perhaps if I'd actually taken a dive, I'd have been more memorable.

And then there was the Crooner, the guy on the bike who always sings to me.

Only this time, he approached me from behind, singing "Hey, there, lonely girl" and almost running me off the sidewalk.

He's got to find a new theme song for me; I'm anything but lonely.

But maybe that's the only song he knows.

The point here is that despite a still-treacherous walk yesterday, I remained upright.

So why then when out walking the dog less than a block from home, did my equilibrium desert me?

The beagle was answering nature's call and in an instant, I was headed to the ground.

Somehow I managed to both twist my ankle and land on my knee.

I could feel the ice dig into my kneecap as I landed.

One frickin' block from home.

And while this probably wouldn't be a problem for most females (a girl told me last night that she has her "winter coat" on, not having shaved her legs since before Thanksgiving. TMI) at this time of year, for me it is.

I awoke to a small cut and large pink bruise forming on my knee this morning. I could wear pants to hide it, except I don't wear pants.

I could wear a skirt or dress to cover my knees, except I don't own any that long.

Looks like I'll have to resort to using opaque tights for camouflage for a while,which unfortunately eliminates some of my most fetching ones...and just before Valentine's Day, too.

Such a shame.

But isn't that how Murphy's law works?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Six Hours, Six Stops

The cancellation of February's First Friday Art walk because of the weekly weekend storm meant that it didn't take much to get me gallery-hopping tonight.

Adding in a few other activities, I planned an evening that began in Carytown, swung through the Fan then up to Church Hill and ended back a half mile from my house.

Tres convenient.

Any good Friday evening starts with a wine tasting and tonight River City Cellars was also doing a (Gearhart's) chocolate tasting in honor of St. Valentine's Day.

The place was packed, but I needed a bottle of wine for an upcoming dinner, so it wasn't just about quaffing wine and scarfing good chocolate.

Okay, it was mostly about that, but they were pouring, among others, the Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato, which paired divinely with the dark chocolate.

I got the wine I came for and a little of those heavenly Charlottesville-made chocolates.

At Chop Suey, I checked out Adam Juresko's latest show, "Flight of the Rat."

As an added attraction, Adam had also painted a mural on the wall of the staircase leading up to the second floor, which added some personality to the trip upstairs.

I already own one of his works and I was curious to see how the new work differed from what I had.

As always, he'd found fresh imagery to use throughout his collages; he may be eccentric, but the work is always interesting.

And then for something completely different, I went to Glave-Kocen Gallery on Main Street to see the "Click" Invitation Photography exhibit, showcasing local photographers like Scott Elmquist, Jay Paul and Ash Daniel.

The problem was navigating the gallery: clearly this was a see-and-be-seen event and chatty, well-dressed cliques impeded the progress of those of us there to actually see the photographs, some of which were well worth seeing.

By the time I'd finished looking at everything, I couldn't wait to escape that crowd.

Starving by now, I stopped at Pie for pizza and was greeted by the owner.

My first choice, the Cured Meat pie (garlic, Fontina, mozzarella and soprasetta) was sold out, so I ordered it with sausage instead of soprasetta.

There was some mis-communication, though, because I got a red, not white pizza, but the red sauce was so thinly spread that even I couldn't object.

The thickly sliced sausage was excellent and more than made up for the tomato presence.

And best of all, a nearby table was discussing a local food blogger's rants. Delicious!

Then I drove up the big hill to Eric Schindler Gallery for "z-black series," acrylic paintings by Scott Phillips.

The man wields paint densely and color lavishly.

There was a sense of vibrancy in his brushstrokes that made every object, every sky, everything undulate, almost van Gogh-like.

I fell particularly hard for probably the least colorful painting in the show, but unfortunately, although well-priced, it just wasn't in my budget.

My final stop of the evening was at Ipanema for some wine and girl talk; my friend had suggested I come by so that we could dish about her work life (crushing at the moment) and my social life (having a really good time lately).

She kindly pointed out that it was way more satisfying to hear about what I was up to face to face rather than just reading it on the blog, especially for the edited material.

And lest I make it sound like all we did was gab, we did discuss my local art collection; like me, she appreciates how much talent there is in this town.

So it wasn't a true First Friday since there was driving involved and I'd never have seen that Glave-Kocen crowd in J-Ward, but tonight had all the components of an art-driven evening with enough wine, food and conversation to keep me from complete art immersion.

Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but a Friday night calls for considerably more, especially for us innocent bystander types.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

True Love and Bouchon

If it's Thursday, I must be at my Modern Romance class and tonight's topic was true love.

Last week was about that giddy first kiss stage, but tonight we moved on to something more substantial, namely true love.

That stage where reality sets in, compromises are made and love deepens. You know.

Of course, this modern love class is all about architecture and tonight we covered 1930-1960.

After the exuberance of movements, manifestos and the shock of the new in the first 30 years of the last century, the next 30 were all about the socially-driven architecture of Europe rebuilding after the war versus the capitally-driven need for commerce in the U.S. (now there's a surprise).

Luckily for us, many European architects came here to share their talent on our soil.

From the first exhibit of modern architecture at the MOMA in 1932 to the flying exuberance of the TWA Terminal at JFK, this was the period when compromises were made to the realities of economics and site, while still creating landmark buildings.

You know, the Seagram's Building and the Empire State Building and although the Guggenheim Museum was built at the tail end of this period, it clearly represents no compromises with reality whatsoever, but such is its charm.

Tonight's after-school snack was at Bouchon, where I was joined by my extremely hungover friend.

 She was slow to order, but I dove right into their bar menu, a steal at only $4 per item.

I had the pork rillettes with toasted baguette slices and gherkins, along with the Portabello stuffed with ratatouille, spinach and Gruyere.

The rillettes, made with pork shoulder, was everything it should be: rich, fatty, salty and addictive.

The mushroom, which came with a side salad, was a perfect combination of veggies and cheese.

I definitely wasn't scoring any points with my arteries tonight, but, oh, was it good.

The owner surprised us with dessert, apparently thinking my friend could use some rich ice cream to coat her stomach and ease her malaise.

I don't expect she'll drink that many cosmos again in this lifetime.

Topics on the table tonight were stalking exes, overly late nights and Valentine's Day plans and even a hungover friend has strong thoughts on all three.

What we didn't get around to discussing tonight was true love, despite my new-found knowledge on the subject.

No need to jump the gun; I'm still processing what I learned last week about the first kiss stage and all the ensuing giddiness.

Twitterpation, if you will.

That's more than enough to process for the time being.

Houston, We Have Closure

Since I don't ever wear jewelry (hell, I don't even have pierced ears; find another woman who doesn't), I don't get many invitations to go to jewelry shows.

But this morning, a friend called to invite me to join him at the What Is Your Heart Made Of? show at Quirk Gallery, a VCU jewelry sale to benefit victims in Haiti .

As he pointed out, this was not like typical jewelry; this was the kind of unusual, almost sculptural jewelry that was as much about being admired as being worn.

Admiring I can do; it's wearing that I find impossible.

The array of necklaces, rings, earrings, pins and even cuff links was a tribute to the imagination and talent of VCU Craft/Material Studies students.

There were brooches made of fur, rings with ornamentation that extended up several inches, necklaces that resembled looking glasses, with tiny images inside.

It was not like ordinary jewelry, made, as it was, with unusual materials, colors and detailing.

I even tried on one necklace, just to show my friend how ridiculous it looked on me. He denied it, but ended up agreeing that I just can't pull it off.

Browsing Quirk's market afterwards is worth mentioning for the offbeat items I found, which is saying something since I don't like shopping (except for food and wine).

The "Indie Rock Coloring Book" cracked me up. There was a a Broken Social Scene maze, a connect-the-dots to find Stars and MGMT's psychedelic playground to color...even finding all the birds in Devendra Banhart's beard, no easy task.

I must know someone who needs this coloring book, if only ironically.

Their card selection was unique, to say the least.

My favorite? One that said, "Houston, we have CLOSURE."

There's a card I can think of a use for and I hadn't known till today that closure cards even existed!

Then there was the "Fortune Telling Book of Names," a resource to uncover the future, and who can resist a peek at what's coming?

Broken down by girls' names and boys' names, it provided only one fortune for each name, so if you're not ready for a glimpse at your guaranteed future, better not to look.

As for me, I couldn't resist seeing what my name foretold:

You will be reunited with an old friend who will quickly become a new lover.

I warned you.

Don't look if you don't want to know.

But I just may have a new favorite place to buy cards and the odd gift.

Richmond Noir: Andrew Slept Here

If you've read this blog more than once, you're undoubtedly noticed I'm very into two things: writing and Richmond.

So the publication of a new anthology of local writers called 'Richmond Noir" had me from the first announcement.

Tapping fifteen diverse local writers, each of whom celebrated a different Richmond neighborhood and produced a short story in the noir vein, the editors have compiled a love letter to rva's hard-bitten side.

That means hard-boiled characters, evocative moods, desperate situations and any of the multitude of variations that have developed in that genre in the past 50 years.

"Richmond Noir" is part of a series, begun with "Brooklyn Noir," and was three years in the making. Today at the Library of Virginia,editors Andrew Blossom, Brian Castleberry and Tom De Haven talked about the project before readings by four of the writers.

I was pleased that we got to hear writer Megan Saunders share her Jackson Ward tale of drugs and jazz at the Hippodrome.

Interestingly, Dennis Danvers' story of Texas Beach was part noir, part 21st-century topical. All the excerpts we heard sounded worthy of a full read.

The writers got to pick the neighborhood they wrote about, so many neighborhoods are included in the book: Hollywood Cemetery, of course, Manchester, the East End, Oregon Hill, the West End, the Museum District, all the obvious choices except the Fan. But then, how noir-like is the Fan, really?

 Just saying.

One other thing had attracted me to this project and that was editor Andrew Blossom. Andrew was the prior long-time occupant of the apartment in which I now live.

When I moved here in March, my landlord bragged that a really talented writer lived here before me.

Since then, we have run into each other repeatedly, at parties, shows and, of course, at Chop Suey where he works.

We share anecdotes about the charm and unusual qualities of a space we both know well.

Not that I'm bragging, but just so you know, Andrew slept here first.

That's what I want him to inscribe in my copy of "Richmond Noir."

I can only hope that his talent with words has rubbed off on me as a result.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Easy Rider at Capital Ale House

Get your motor running? Head out on the highway?

How is it I had never seen this classic movie before?

Beats me, but if Cap Ale was going to show it on a big screen, I was going to grab a friend and eat dinner there to see it.

Lookin' for adventure and whatever comes our way.

Not being a beer drinker, I tend to frequent Capital Ale House only when they give me some sort of reason to be there.

A film, for instance, Richmond Jazz Society on occasion, some of my favorite local bands (Ilad, Marionette), even waltzing lessons once.

But not beer.

I'd had a bit of convincing to do to get my friend to eat there, though.

Seems he'd had a couple of so-so meals there and wasn't sure he wanted to risk another.

I assured him I'd steer him right and he genially agreed.

Besides, he'd never seen Easy Rider on the big screen and his interest was piqued, too.

I had the Crab BLT, an enormous sandwich on ciabatta bread with ailoi standing in for the standard mayo.

The crab salad was thick on the bread and the bacon was applewood smoked and thickly cut.

Think of it as a BLT on steroids.

My friend was leaning toward a burger for safety's sake when I told him that several friends have raved about the lamb burger (seasoned ground lamb topped with feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, relish and mint jelly), something you don't see on many menus in Richmond.

It was a thing of beauty on arrival, so much so that he was reluctant to put the top bun on it and ruin the artistry of the toppings.

He loved it.

I'd broken his string of mediocrity at Cap Ale; mission accomplished.

The movie portion of the evening fittingly began with a cartoon and a Looney Tune at that. A Star is Bored told the story of Bugs making a movie with Daffy as his stunt double.

Predictably, bad things kept happening to Daffy; he lost his feathers, his bill, was blown up, shot at, crashed in a plane, you name it.

Remind me, why don't we show cartoons before movies anymore?

Despite knowing some of the cultural references to Easy Rider, I knew very little about the film's story or specifics.

And actually that made it so much greater the pleasure to experience it for the first time.

The sheer youth of the actors, the breathtaking scenery of the West, and even a New Orleans that looked unchanged from the Depression.

The snapshot of another era: communes, anti-hippie sentiment, laissez-faire attitudes, sixties jargon.

And classic music as a powerful backdrop to it all.

Groovy and dig it aside, the philosophy expounded by the two main characters was simple and timeless and I found it natural to relate to it.

Talking to Billy about life and what he may have aspired to be, Captain America says, "I never wanted to be anyone else."

I know exactly what he meant.

Me, either.