Saturday, July 31, 2010

Who's That Man in My Room?

Staying in a house with eight guys has to be a little like living in a frat house, even with my sister here to help represent. The huge TV is always tuned to some sporting event (thankfully usually with the sound turned down), the drinking is pretty much non-stop and there's always someone willing to do the heavy lifting (umbrellas, beach chairs, multiple coolers).

After we got back from the Lucky 12, I finished my blogging with all good intent to hit the sack. But no, the others started rolling back and there were going to be festivities on the deck; my presence was requested. Cigars and shots of Jameson were involved (okay, neither of those for me). But by about 1:30, I was toast.

I think my eyes closed when my head hit the pillow and I got 45 minutes sleep before I heard something in the room, which was what must have woken me up. I was too tired to look; the room had two twin beds and no one was bothering me in mine. Granted, I wasn't dressed, but it was dark.

Just as I was falling back to sleep the snoring started. Man snoring, loud and long. I had no idea who had appropriated the other bed in my room, but his snoring was obnoxious. I don't mind sleeping with a snoring guy if he's my guy, but I wasn't even sure which of the seven this was (I had, however, ruled out my sister's husband).

I wanted him to roll over and hopefully stop making noise but how to make it happen? I couldn't roll him over since I didn't know who it was and we weren't occupying the same bed. I settled for slamming the bedroom door after going to the loo. It stopped the snoring briefly before it resumed.

Bone tired and desperately needing sleep, I waited for another lull in hopes of being able to fall back asleep. The last time I remember seeing the clock was 3:20. That's two nights in a row now for 3:20.

When I woke up this morning, the bed was empty. Upstairs at breakfast was also very frat house-like with a room full of hungover guys mainlining coffee, bacon and sweet rolls. It didn't take long to establish who my snoring roommate had been. He's the most hungover of all today.

I'm the most tired, so I will get that beach nap today or die trying. And chances are I won't even care if one of the boys decides to snore on the beach next to me.

But only because I'll have the ocean to drown him out.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Beach House Chatter

That beach nap I was counting on so much never quite happened.

Oh, I made it here just fine and spent the afternoon on the beach with my sister and brother-in-law and their seven guy friends (why they have nothing but guy friends is a sociological study in and of itself), but things were too social to sleep.

If I'm only here for 48 hours, it's too tempting to talk rather than catch up on sleep.

Like in RVA, storms had blown through yesterday, resulting in a very breezy afternoon on the beach, with a choppy surf perfect for windsurfing.

The ocean was dotted with brave souls hanging on to their "kites."

We're staying almost on top of the Nags Head pier, so it was fascinating/terrifying to watch the windsurfers maneuver around the pier without slamming into it.

By the time we got cleaned up (and while I was happy they had an outside shower, it's under the house, so there was no sky view, much less sound of surf) and ready to go out, it was after 8.

We took two cabs to the Red Drum for dinner and gradually took up the entire bar, stool by stool.

I ended up next to a tipsy local who shared the very sad story of the love of his life dying unexpectedly from a heart attack six years ago.

He has a new girlfriend, but she's not the one.

Asking about my love life, he gave me all kinds of advice about how to proceed.

We decided to make Lucky 12 our last stop because it's a block from the cottage.

The music was decent, the drinks reasonable and I had seven new housemates to talk to.

Highlight: one of the guys telling me, "You'd never know you two are sisters" and he wasn't talking about our looks.

I feel obligated to get some sleep tonight since tomorrow is a full day and my last day here, so one of the guys walked me back.

Sitting here on the deck with the ocean two houses and a road away, it feels a world way from last night.

The music isn't nearly as good, but I have loads more company, some new to me, some familiar and all talkative.

And I do love to talk.

Lunching on the Intercoastal Waterway

Almost six hours at the National last night plus barely three hours of sleep meant that a beach nap was seriously in order today. Conveniently, I had plans to leave this morning for the beach to visit my sister and her husband and their gaggle of male friends for a couple of days. Tired eyes aside, I hit the road as soon as I got up, eager to stretch out on the sand and make up for last night's brevity.

I got as far as Coinjock before I decided to stop for lunch. Mainly I needed a Coke (not being a coffee drinker but in serious need of caffeine) but it was late enough in the morning to qualify for lunch. And actually I was hungry.

As kids, when my Dad would drive us to the Outer Banks, he always made some sort of joke when we passed the U-R-Next barbershop in Coinjock on the inter coastal waterway. In subsequent years, an overpass was built and Coinjock's marina added a restaurant; I knew because of a billboard I'd pass. Today I got off there to see what Coinjock was looking like these days. Could that barbershop still be there?

The wooden restaurant did indeed sit right on the waterway and had a nice deck outside, the perfect place to eat, caffeinate and watch the fast-moving water go by. The menu informed me that Coinjock was an Indian word for mulberry, although in modern times, there have been no sign of mulberry bushes.

My server LeAnn, a lifelong resident of Coinjock and nearby Grandy ("I've lived my whole life on one side or the other of this water," she told me), brought me my Calabash shrimp sandwich and Coke in what seemed like no time at all. Maybe she could see how needy I was.

The enormous pile of lightly battered fried shrimp on a sesame seed bun with house made cocktail sauce was just what I needed, but the three Cokes were lifeblood themself. The homemade chips came with their own Ranch dressing for dipping. Life was good at lunch.

LeAnn told me that the water can move in either direction or be completely still; since it has no current, it is completely at the mercy of the wind. I enjoyed its sound rushing by me as I sat outside eating with the beach-bound as well as locals.

When I asked LeAnn about the "new" overpass bridge, she deferred to an older couple, locals who could answer my question since she didn't remember a time when it didn't exist. Before they left, they came over to wish me a good trip. And LeAnn confirmed that not only does the U-R-Next barbershop still exist, but she still takes her boys there for their buzz cuts.

Legend has it that kids around there use to pay Ring Around the Coinjock Bush, at least according to the informative menu. My guess is that they didn't always have buzz cuts though.

But only because the U-R-Next Barbershop hasn't always been there.

Hit by the Unexpected at the National

I didn't expect to be at the National for 5 3/4 hours. so I'll do the abridged version of a really interesting night full of unexpected surprises.

Doors were at 7 and NYC's the Postelles were to take the stage at 8.

They didn't bring their garage pop to life until 9:00, then played a tight, energetic set ("I hear Beach Boys and Green Day chord changes," a friend observed) and were gone before we knew it.

Twin Tigers set up immediately and disappeared for the longest time.

When they did come back, it was to apologize for the delay and play that dream noise/wall of guitars/ shoegaze sound of which I'm so fond.

I saw people move to the lobby and insert earplugs, but I loved it from the first distorted chord and wished their set had been longer.

Then more waiting,

Finally someone important came out and told us that after playing Letterman, Interpol had tried to catch their plane, only to be delayed by all the thunderstorms and tornadoes.

They got as far as Newark and sat.

And waited.

They were, he said, "on their way and should arrive by midnight."

Anticipating a surly crowd, he offered refunds to those willing to give up a midnight Interpol show, sure to be a rare treat.

I wasn't going anywhere except to the upstairs bar to kill an hour by getting a snack.

The bar was mobbed with those choosing to stay, but after ordering I ran into the unexpectedly charming lead singer of Twin Tigers, Matthew, talking to some fans.

When he finished, I asked him (what else?) what he was listening to these days.

First thing out of his mouth was Beach House, ensuring an instant bond and much satisfying follow-up conversation (Van Halen was also mentioned, but I didn't dwell on that).

I ran into a guy I'd met at the Spoon show who gave me a hard time because I'd never contacted him ("I gave you my card and suggested we be friends," he accused. "Did you ever contact me? No.").

I detected some resentment on his part, but frankly, he hadn't even stayed for the entire Spoon show.

Very telling. I met a guy who told me his mother had once slept with Peter Buck of REM. TMI?

By the time we heard the crowd applauding as Interpol took the stage, my new friend asked me what I was doing after the show.

"You want to talk music some more?" I asked (his response was funny, direct and completely unbloggable), heading to the floor while he went to the band's merch table.

It was clear Interpol wanted to reward the stalwart for their patience.

They kicked off in high gear and didn't let up, playing equal amounts from Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, much to the crowd's delight; newer material was interspersed throughout.

Aforementioned lead singer, a rabid Interpol fan, reappeared.

Interpol did two encores, a first in the three times I've seen them play.

They apologized repeatedly and thanked us for staying.

They played harder than I've ever seen them play and the devoted repaid them with adoration and enthusiasm.

Late starts, midnight snacks, failed friendship accusations, a much extended night, maternal sexual revelations and a musician handing me a napkin with his phone number on it (offered with a funny but unbloggable comment).

And my personal favorite: music from a cave.

It doesn't get more unexpected than all that...even for me and my random life.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where the Meatloaf's Cold and the Skirts are Short

When I got to Ettamae's Cafe today, the smiling staff said that my party was waiting for me upstairs. Except that I didn't have a party; I was just meeting my friend. They suggested I go on upstairs and wait in comfort and they'd send him up when he arrived. "How will you know which one is my friend?" I asked. They seemed confident.

Turns out they were right because my friend had brought a guest so I did have a party waiting for me up there. And we turned out to be a meat-loving party, finally deciding on the shaved rib eye and grilled onions on a sub roll (me), the kielbasa with sauteed onions and peppers on sub roll (guest) and, after much discussion, Dad's meatloaf sandwich on white bread (friend).

I say "much discussion" because my friend asked if the meat loaf would be hot. Yes, our server told us, it would. Friend wanted cold meatloaf, like when you have leftover meatloaf in the frig and make a sandwich with it the next day.

Our server said it could be cold. Friend didn't want to be too much trouble, and said he would eat it warm if it was easier. Our server went in search of cold meatloaf. I think servers have a name for people like him.

And when the sandwich came, the first thing he did was touch the meatloaf and grin, "Cold!" I put out an exploratory finger and then decided against sharing my germs. He slathered ketchup on his meatloaf and took a bite, looking like a happy camper, even complimenting the excellent white bread.

The bread was thick, the meatloaf was thick and he ended up finishing only half his sandwich. Both guys were quite satisfied with Mom's potato salad while I thoroughly enjoyed my rib-eye sandwich with a side of fresh fruit salad.

This particular friend likes to tease me about the lack of devices in my life. Asking if I had an iPod, he was nonetheless surprised to learn that I didn't (I think he expected my love of music to override my disdain for excessive technology). "No TV, no cell phone, no iPod," he detailed to our guest. "She could practically be Amish."

"Well, except for the way I dress," I reminded him, as I sat there in my fitted light blue /olive/cream colored flowered linen dress.

"Yea, you'd have to dress in all one color," he acknowledged. I raised my eyebrows. "And...?"

"And they couldn't be so short."

Well that certainly wouldn't do, nor would the Amish reluctance to being forward or assertive work for me.

What good would it be having all these opinions if I couldnt force them on others?

Dying for Some Action

For the second time in just over two weeks, I heard an outstanding cover of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark." But that came after the sad poetry and the sad love songs.

My evening began at Chop Suey Books for the Dream Horse Press book tour with a SRO crowd of poetry lovers. First up was Kyle McCord from Des Moines reading from his new book Galley of the Beloved in Torment. Beginning with "Necessary Evil" and through a parable that began "A man drank a bottle of bleach" to "Everything is Gathering," the evocative nature of his poems was a thing of beauty.

Saying that he wanted to write a poem about the moon, that most over-used of images, he decided instead to write a conversation with the moon. "Out on the veranda, moon, you fall into another drink." That could be my favorite moon imagery ever, except that an old boyfriend once wrote me a poem invoking the moon as a metaphor for me, so McCord's moon poem will have to come in second in my book.

Keith Montesano read next from his new book Ghost Lights and his firm, strong voice carried his words to the audience, many of whom knew him personally. One poem suggested waking up his lover and wiping the sleep out of her eyes to inquire,"Is everybody in favor of getting romantic?" (Me, raising hand, "Um, yes?").

I was particularly touched by his "Elegy for an Unknown Drummer," a tribute to Ra-Ra Riot's late drummer John Pike. Amazingly, when Keith asked the audience who knew the band, no one else did. Favorite line; "Poetry can never replace a house show."

Following such beautiful spoken word, I went down to the Canal Club to meet Andrew for some sung word. Singer/songwriter Jane Carrey opened the show and was perhaps a bit nervous. "I'm way too Canadian to make a joke," she explained after a failed attempt at humor.

Asking how many death metal fans were in the audience, one person clapped, but then who would expect there to be much overlap between Matt Kearney fans and death metal fans? It was her way of introducing "Sexy Man in a Death Metal Band," surely destined to become a classic.

Matt Kearney was sans band, having only another guitarist/vocalist with him, Tyler.It made a big difference, though, in fleshing out the sound for his heartbreak songs, his lost love songs and his missing you songs. A girl could get sad listening to that kind of stuff for long.

It was a seated show and the intimacy of the room made for a great listening room experience (thanks, Andrew, for inviting me). It was Matt who eventually covered Springsteen, inviting an audience member to come up and "drum," that is, tap his foot on a 70s Samsonite hard suitcase with a mic inside. It was home made percussion at its most creative.

After the show, we decided to stroll over to Rosie Connelly's since neither of us had been there in some time. The bar sitter next to me, clearly a regular with his ponytail, beard and gregarious nature, was welcoming and wanted to know where we'd been. I told him, leading to all kinds of music talk.

He'd just been to see Smashing Pumpkins at the National last week, as had Andrew, so they compared notes. He recommended Zoso, the Led Zeppelin experience band and a personal favorite of his. We'd both been to the Peppermint Lounge and so discussed that venue. He raved about Porcupine Tree's recent show here. You just never know where you'll find good music talk (and, I might add, one of the best selections of high-end tequila in the city).

I can't decide if I am just dancing in the dark or if I just want to be.

I'm dying for some action
I'm sick of sitting 'round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction
Come on now, baby, give me just one look

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Revolving Barstool, or Next!

Story of my life: I went out for a drink and met a restaurant owner. Again. How do they find me?

After my massive meat lunch, I wasn't much in the mood for dinner, but a glass of wine sounded good so I went to Secco. There were two seats at the end of the bar and I took one. The other was to be filled with a revolving cast of talkative couples who would sit and chat for a bit and then move on to a table. Easy come, easy go.

Because the menu promised a Vino Verde unlike any other, I went with the Casa de Mouraz Mica Vino Verde and was rewarded with far more minerality than is typical. My first couple were most enjoyable conversationalists, charming and funny. We got in a discussion of a red wine described as having overtones of bacon. "Bacon makes everything better, " I offered. "Not if you've been a vegetarian for 20 years," she laughed.

Although they go out a lot, they had a tendency to go to the same places so she asked me for a restaurant recommendation for afterwards, I suggested Sprout knowing they could please her and still give him his meat. Interestingly, she asked if I was single and inquired as to how frequently I got asked out when I was out. Let's just say it happens.

Meanwhile, in a vain attempt to mitigate the meat feast earlier, I had the mixed field greens with Caramont chevre, pistachios and lemon thyme vinaigrette. It was a very good salad and I felt better for finally having added a little greenery to my body today.

My next couple and I debated relativity. I asked him if they lived in the neighborhood and he said no. "So you couldn't walk home if you had to?" I inquired. No. When he asked where I lived, I said it would be a two-mile walk for me home. All of a sudden, he was correcting himself. "Well, it's only a mile and a half for me, so I could walk it." It was funny how it became walkable for him once he learned I was willing to walk further. Must have been the competitive type.

Looking for something new, I ordered the Benaza Godello based on its promise of peach and zestiness, both of which delivered. About then Farouk walked in with friends, a sure sign he was not working behind the bar tonight. That's when I was introduced to the owner of a Warrenton eatery, Carl.

He too was raised in the DC area, so we compared growing up stories, of being the minority in our high schools, our still-in-love parents and the importance of the journey, not the destination in life. His parents live in Berlin and since I'd just seen an exhibit of street art from Berlin, we got into a great discussion of art and culture. Even better, he's as much a music fanatic as I am, except he also does music production. Once he discovered I knew Thievery Corporation, we were off and running.

When Farouk realized that it was my mix being played, he made a point of going behind the bar and turning up the volume for all to hear. It was great because that enabled Carl to use my song choices as jumping off points for musical discussion (hearing the National on the mix, he asked, "So you were a Joy Division fan?" Bingo). You couldn't have shut us up.

Coincidentally, at the start of the evening, I had met a girl who had just returned from eight years in Italy. She's looking for an apartment in Jackson Ward for herself and her 15-year old dog (been there, done that, got the heartache for it) to no avail.

I was telling her about all the wonderful things that have changed in RVA since she left (the VMFA, Center Stage, the National) and when I asked why she'd decided to return here, she said simply, "I missed Richmond. It's so great here."

Craig's List having failed her so far, I promised to keep an eye out for For Rent signs in the 'hood and let her know what I found. Vacating her bar stool, I'd told her to send in a talkative replacement, preferably a nerdy guy looking for friendship. "I'll look for glasses or a guy reading a book, " she promised.

And in comes a restaurant owner who's into music and makes a point of enjoying life. Wait, that's not nerdy friend material...or is it?

Finger Lickin' Good, Not Crazy

A friend had recently commented to me that,"Hey, it's been a year we've been not dating," an interesting way to acknowledge our year-old friendship. But he's been an enjoyable and reliable friend to me and that alone is worth celebrating. So I suggested going out for ribs today.

Unfortunately, he already had lunch plans. Fortunately, it wasn't long before his lunch partner canceled on him, so we headed up the hill, following our noses, to Ronnie's Ribs. But what to choose for our picnic lunch? So many slow-cooked meats to choose from and being hungry wasn't helping the decision making process any.

And there at the end of the menu was our solution: The Sampler. Three slices of slow-cooked brisket, a couple of slow-cooked chicken wings, pulled pork BBQ and a half pound of hickory-smoked ribs with a sandwich bun and a roll. My friend asked if it came with any sides and the guy said, "Nope just meat." Good enough. With the addition of a side of Ronnie's cole slaw and four Wet Naps, we had all we needed for our picnic.

Up to Libbie Hill Park we drove and spread out the food on a picnic table overlooking the bend in the river. With the cloud-covered sky, non-stop breeze and the sound of the fountain flowing behind us, we had easily the most wonderful lunch spot in all of RVA today.

We saw a boat and a jet-skier on the river. We heard train whistles un-muffled by humidity. We saw a mockingbird doing a warm-up dance pre-flight. At one point the breeze got suddenly cooler and I actually got goose bumps. I pointed to the ones on my arm to show my friend and he pointed to the ones on my legs. I'd forgotten how great it feels to be cool.

Yet again, I proved my lack of femininity by finishing first. We licked our fingers clean before resorting to the Wet Naps. All that meat had made us a bit logy, so we sat there for a while just enjoying the view and talking about my friend's recent attempts at sorting through the dating pool (he was advised, "Date anything that moves...once."), an endeavor I can't really give advice on.

He wanted coffee afterwards, so we headed to Globehopper. We lamented the fact that we were too full for dessert (Aziza's being in the neighborhood and both of us so fond of their cream puff), but just meat makes for full picnickers.

Until, that is, we spotted the chocolate marshmallow cookies under glass on the counter. I suggested we share one and my friend insisted we each have our own. We took our cookies and his coffee to their back patio and settled into wicker chairs under the trees and within view of the kissing bench (so Victorian!).

The cookies were fascinating for their absence of visible marshmallow, although we could easily taste where the marshmallows had melted into the chocolate/chocolate chip dough surrounding them. I ate mine slowly, admiring the pockets of missing marshmallow, while we continued our dating discussion.

It was such a sweet finish to our meaty meal, but not quite as good as my friend's words. "You make it hard to find people to date."

But he wasn't fooling me. He just wants to be my friend because I'm not crazy (his words). It certainly isn't for my dainty feminine appetite.

Sex and Crime at Balliceaux

The Violent Professional. The Executioner. How to Kill a Judge. Loaded Guns. The Last Round. Italian cinema, sexy and crime-ridden, was the inspiration for the music played by Glows in the Dark at Balliceaux tonight. Perfect music for a full moon and perfectly done by a band with a penchant for movie music.

With the screen behind them showing clips of those movies and more, GitD's guitar/trombone/sax/drums/electric bass combo provided the coolest, the most vicious soundtrack to a montage of bare breasts, shaggy-haired men, car chases, aviator shades, struggling scantily-clad women and bad moustaches the 70s ever saw in Italy. It was completely awesome.

Using the original music as a launching point, the group romped through featured horns, sinuous bass lines and kinetic drumming that galloped along with the endless shoot-outs and sex. It was all they could do to keep up with the non-stop on-screen action.

And speaking of action (or maybe the full moon), I ran into a local photographer who wanted to rant about my former employer, Media General ("Tom Silvestri and Glen Proctor need to go!"), a Uruguayan who came to RVA via San Francisco, Denver and Chicago ("Richmond is the friendliest place I've ever seen") and another of the laid off masses ("A friend suggested stripping in the interim and it's paying the bills for now"), all of whom were eager to chat (at the very least).

My beverage of choice tonight was iced Corazon and I splurged on dessert (coconut cake key lime trifle) as a means of escaping conversation with a nearby and overly friendly bar sitter in a pink polo shirt. One of their new offerings, the dessert was the closest thing to a true trifle I've seen in a while and it got several admiring comments.

I told the Uruguayan that he was actually the second of his countrymen I'd met in RVA, having made the acquaintance of a charming winemaker last fall with whom I correspond, here. Without sharing his name, my new friend guessed not only which grape had impressed me, but which winemaker as well. We both got a good chuckle out of that ("We only have 13 wineries," he explained).

As for the charming guy I met as I was paying my bill, he complimented my haircut, asked probing questions about my job status and told me about what goes on in a place where guys, not girls, are removing their clothes to admiring comments and cold hard cash. We moved outside as our conversation continued, him asking for the best way to contact me for future conversation.

"You smell good, " he said.

"I don't wear any smell," I told him.

"Well, you've got something," he insisted.

I don't think it's me, so it must have been the effects of the full moon. That or he got all riled up watching so much sexy and violent Italian cinema with such magnificent music.

Let's just say it was that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Front Row for the Silent Music Revival

I'm a regular at the Silent Music Revival, so much so that I get called out if I miss a month. I was at the beach for the June installment and my absence was duly noted. The next morning, I got an e-mail from Jameson, the organizer of the event, checking to make sure everything was okay with me. He assumed something had to be wrong because I hadn't been there.

The Silent Music Revival is a can't miss event for me for several reasons. The combination of a vintage silent film and a band improvising a score is irresistible to a film and live music lover such as myself. The event is free. It's held at Gallery 5, within walking distance of home. And Jameson is one of my favorite people, a knowledgeable film geek and talented musician. That's a lot to draw me in.

Tonight's screening began with an animated Prohibition short, espousing the evils of drink. Tonight's band, Amazing Ghost, provided a rousing score to this hilarious morality tale. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be drinkers or they'll dance and carouse instead of attending temperance lectures at Soda Pop Hall. It's true.

The main feature this evening was Erno Metzner's 1928 film Uberfall, about the string of events that befall a German man who finds a counterfeit coin, only to have a run of bad luck from then on. Although considered avant garde, the film does have a narrative, albeit a depressing one (it was banned by German censors in 1928 for being so demoralizing).

Downer or not, Amazing Ghost did an amazing job creating a soundtrack to the series of unfortunate events that overtake the main character. The keyboard and other-worldly vocals provided just the right touch of tension to match the visuals. When the film ended, they continued to play for a while longer, as if refusing to release the audience from their spell.

I'd gone alone but found plenty of friends in attendance, so four of us (including one of the guys in AG) headed to Tarrant's afterwards for some liquid refreshment at the hands of a familiar bartender ("Vino verdhe?" he inquired on arrival) and to discuss upcoming music events. We were momentarily distracted when Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" came on; it seems to be one of those songs everybody reacts strongly to. Interesting, that.

Two of us cut loose and began a leisurely walk back through the Ward, enjoying temperatures that had to have dropped 20 degrees since earlier. It occured to me that I'd been to movies three times in the past 35 hours, probably a record for me, like this heat.

But the fact is, I'd have gone to the Silent Music Revival even if it hadn't been in air-conditioned comfort. It's that good.

And now I know: Jameson takes attendance.

Too Cool a Mockingbird

Like generations of Southerners in the summertime before me, I went to the movies today for "air conditioned comfort" and because the theater would be "cooled by refrigeration" like the banners outside theatres used to promise.

And don't you just know I had to pick a suitably hot and Southern film to see, namely To Kill A Mockingbird, set in un air-conditioned Alabama in the1930s.

Let the fanning begin.

Not only had I never seen TKAM on the big screen, I'd never seen it at all.

I've read the book at least three times that I can recall and read plenty about the film's cultural significance, but that was about it.

Movieland was showing it for their Movies and Mimosa feature and I honestly was looking for a couple of hours of cool air.

To my great delight, the details of life in the South in the summer were all there.

Open windows with barely moving curtains.

Men with wet underarm stains on their shirts.

Foreheads glistening in close quarters.

Wrinkled cotton and linen suits and jackets.

Men fanning themselves with their hats while women in hats used fans.

A block of ice in front of the courthouse, chips of which were to be used inside for cooling purposes.

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I accept being a sweaty mess because I chose to live in the South and summers here are hot.

My windows are open 24/7 and the curtains are often still.

When I get back from my morning walks, my t-shirt has more than just underarm wetness.

My forehead glistens under my bangs and my normally straight hair curls where it meets my moist neck.

I tend to wear cotton knit dresses so as to not show the inevitable wrinkling that comes with heat and woven fabrics.

And I even have an Art 180 paddle fan I keep nearby (I once took it to an outdoor wedding and got envious stares from other dripping guests).

But the block of ice I hadn't thought of.

Maybe that'll be my next summer coping mechanism.

Surely the original occupants of my 1876 house made do during a hot spell and the women back then wore a lot more clothing than I do.

One habit we probably have in common is an afternoon nap in our undies, stretched out under the ceiling fan with the shades drawn.

I may even try employing a chip or two of ice this afternoon...you know, in the best Southern tradition.

Solo at Mint

I am a mixologist's nightmare. If I'm going to drink anything besides wine, it's going to be good tequila on ice, so no mixing skills are required. Still, when I want to talk mixology and sip a good tequila, I usually go to down to Mint to visit with Bobby. He's guaranteed good company and I always enjoy our food/restaurant/spirits discussions (the things I learned about gin tonight!).

Given today's heat, my lethargy prevented me from heading down to the Bottom until 9ish. It was still 98 degrees but there was a nearly full moon rising in the sky as I drove east, so there was hope for a drop in the temperature sometime soon. At least that's what I told myself.

Bobby greeted me enthusiastically and the few bar patrons were waiting for a table, so they soon left, leaving me alone at the bar. I ordered Cazadores Reposado, a tequila Bobby had introduced me to, on ice and opened the menu. The heat had sapped my appetite but tequila on an empty stomach is just foolish and I knew better.

Just as I was scanning the menu, a server came up and informed Bobby that the kitchen had 86'd several items, including two of the appetizers I'd been considering. No problem because the Hudson Valley fois gras with pineapple preserved lemon jam, rice paper crisps and balsamic beef jus reduction was still available. Bobby said he thought it was Julep's finest appetizer, validating my choice.

Bobby was right. The seared fois gras was silky and rich and the chunks of pineapple in the jam a sweet balance to the savory. I could taste what an indulgence it was and I enjoyed it more so for it. I followed that with the southern spicy lobster spring rolls with chipotle/lime aioli. Nothing could have been better than the fois gras, but the lobster rolls had great flavor and a killer sauce, so I was more than satisfied.

I love it when Julep morphs into Mint. The white tablecloths are stripped away, the shades are lowered and the music goes from low-volume big band and swing to higher volume alternative. Now that's the way to create a drinking ambiance with attitude.

Meanwhile Bobby wanted me to taste his espresso martini, enhanced with citrus to cut the coffee flavor; even a non-coffee drinker like me had to admit the beauty of the flavor combination. I moved back to Cazadores afterwards and we jumped into conversation about his favorite local bars, the difference between mixology and just combining flavors to make a cocktail and my continuing love life issues. He even gave me a heads up on some new bars on the horizon.

Bobby is starting to do Wednesdays at Fanhouse, taking his cocktail magic on the road, if you will. His mad skills are sure to elevate the atmosphere and crowd at this new gathering place on the Robinson corridor. I've been in there for drinks before, but never with a master behind the bar. All of a sudden, Wednesdays in the Fan are looking up.

I may not need a mixologist's master blending skills, but a good conversationalist is invaluable for a solo diner/drinker. Besides, if he doesn't have to make drinks for me, he has more time to talk.

Let's get my priorities straight here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

12 Films x 48 Hours in One Afternoon

For me, part of the appeal of the 48 Hour Film Project is how very local it is. Certainly I appreciate getting a reading on the state of local film making, but honestly it's a kick to see short after short where I recognize buildings, neighborhoods and people. RVA is one of 80 cities that participate in the 48HFP and its unique look makes it a prime background for any kind of film.

Well I had to get over that at today's screening. Of the 12 film shorts shown at the 1:30 screening, not one featured a recognizable city location. This is the fourth year for the project in Richmond and my fourth year attending; it was the first year I didn't see the Richmond I know anywhere.

There were no alleys and no VCU. No Church Hill, Jackson Ward or Fan. No high-ceilinged city apartments. No familiar businesses or streets. No James River. Instead what I saw were a lot of suburban neighborhoods and houses. Williamsburg was well represented. The films could have been shot anywhere, which was very different from past years.

On the other hand, the audience was by the far the most diverse I've ever seen at these screenings, both in age, ethnicity and the surprising number of children there. I also heard many people walking into the Byrd today saying that it was their first time inside the vintage movie palace. So all that was good.

I know from friends who've done the 48HFP in the past that it's grueling to make a film in that short window of time. Perhaps some of the past attendees were unwilling to subject themselves to that torment yet again. I did hear one guy say that it was his third time entering and second time finishing, a fate that probably meets at least a few filmmakers every go-round. The deadline is firm.

When organizer Ellie St. John kicked things off, she noted the number of children and reminded the audience that this is an independent film festival, so nothing is censored or rated. Even more important, she went on to say that that's the way they like it, so some material wouldn't be appropriate for young ears. And it wasn't.

One of the funniest shorts involved a fetishist who wanted to plan a party for his partner, a horse. His, er, outfit involved a strategically-placed furry creature (instead of a fig leaf) which he stroked throughout. Not kiddie stuff, but hilarious.

So all in all, it was an interesting afternoon of films that ran the gamut from practically professional to less so (in one, the credit read "Directed and edited (poorly) by..."). I just wasn't expecting an afternoon in suburbia, but such seems to be the evolution of the festival here, at least in the films I saw. There was a second screening for the rest of the entries.

What matters is that one film will go to the national level to compete with the top films from the other 79 cities. I, for one, hope the winner will have at least some recognizable Richmond elements in it.

It's not about showing off, but this is a city with a lot of visual personality. I'd like to see it show up in our entry to the big time.

RVA represents, so to speak.

Street Art, Shoegaze and Strangers

Every now and then, a girl's got to cross the river...always, mind you, for a good reason. Tonight's incentive was Strassen Kunst, an exhibit at Artspace of ten graffiti artists whose work was painted, stenciled and projected on the walls, along with additional photographs of graffiti art from Berlin.

There was even a model of a graffiti artist in process, clad in a black hoodie and jeans, holding a can of spray paint (which fell mid-opening, amusing the artists in the room. "His hand went dead," one explained. "You know that feeling?").

Because so many of the images were from Germany, it was only natural that the occasional tag in English caught my eye. Among my favorites; "Smiling makes me thin" (great concept), "Catalonia is NOT Spain" (but what do you really think?) and "Too. Much. Thought." (a sin I am often guilty of). Some of the canvasses were floor to ceiling, impressive for their presence in the room, but even so, scaled back compared to buildings and walls as canvasses.

Seeing the proliferation of street art in Berlin, a city which would have been a blank canvas after the wall came down, was a thoughtful reminder that sometimes the best use of derelict and deteriorating buildings may be sanctioned public art. It's something I'd like to see addressed in RVA.

Heading back to the city, traffic was halted at the south end of the Mayo bridge for a flock of geese crossing. They took their sweet time about it and I could see drivers around me getting impatient. I just sat back and enjoyed watching their leisurely saunter and nipping antics with each other. It was still about 97 degrees so I understood them not being in a hurry.

Further up and waiting at a light, I saw a group of skateboarders practicing tricks over the canal walk. From the back, one looked awfully familiar and when he turned in profile, I saw it was one of Ipanema's low-key bartenders whom I know well. He must have felt my eyes boring into his back 'cause he turned and waved hello. And speaking of heat, skateboarding today? That's dedication, man.

I deposited the car in the Ward and walked over to Gallery 5 for music, eager to hear the Diamond Center again. I love their shimmery shoegaze sound (with two standing drummers even!) but they were having sound issues due to sweat. Taking a moment to fix it, the lead singer said, "This is the part of the show where I should probably entertain you, but I'm so awkward at it. Like now."

After their set I ran into Prabir (he and the Goldrush were playing later) and he showed me his current reading material. It was a thin red booklet called The Art of Kissing and published in 1936 with illustrations. Prabir said he'd taken it from a girl's nightstand in order to study it. He seemed to think I'd be interested and, okay, I was.

With chapters on French kissing, electric shock parties and lip size, there was a lot of information in this handy guide. I read it cover to cover during a set break and it generated a lot of conversation for me, as you might imagine. Here's a tip, guys: arrange it so that the girl is up against the arm of the couch for easiest kissing maneuvering.

Matt, bass player for the Goldrush, had earlier promised me a better sound mix for their set (in past shows his bass has been inaudible behind the drums, something he and I detest) and it wasn't an empty promise. When he waled on his giant bass I could hear it in the back of the room near the bar (where I'd taken up residence since it was the only place in the room where the air conditioning could be felt). If you're going to be a four-piece, all four instruments should be heard. Finally they were.

Walking home past Crossroads, a neighborhood place that must have been a nip joint in a previous incarnation, men were milling about everywhere. One guy said to me, "You're not done for the night are you?" and another, calling down from the stairs that lead to the second floor, said, "Are you coming up to join us?" I declined both offers, but appreciated the thoughts.

I was within a block of home when my former Whiskey Wednesday neighbor appeared on the sidewalk. After having moved to the Fan a while back, he missed the Ward so much that he's moved back. I'd told him that that would happen; once Jackson Ward is in your blood, nothing else will do.

Personal validation aside, it was still good to see him and hear about his latest antics, including a trip to West Virginia for the All Good Festival. Endless jam band performances and a cornucopia of drugs available (LSD and pink mushrooms seemed to be the crowd favorites, he told me) seemed to be the hallmarks of this obscure festival. Or perhaps it's just obscure to me because I'm not a jam band fan.

When I finally made it home, it was to find a message from a stranger complimenting my Facebook picture (it has a lot in common with my blog profile picture) which he'd found through random surfing. "Do I know you?" I wrote back challenging his nerve.

But just look at my blog posts...or my life. Random could be my middle name.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Soulful Lunch of Chicken and Waffles

Whenever possible, I try to incorporate sweet into my salty.

The quintessential example of this is the soul food staple that was my lunch today: chicken and waffles.

Chicken we heard and smelled being fried up after we ordered it.

A waffle on which every single square was filled with butter (oh, yes, I used every bit of butter given me in that little cup, unlike my health-conscious friend) and then saturated with syrup. Oh my, my.

I had suggested lunch today to a friend and he had suggested Leigh Street Bar & Grill over in Carver.

He tends bar and one of his regulars had raved about the place and since it's only a few blocks from home, why not?

The menu ranged from Angus beef sliders to the fishbone fillet seasoned with Creole spices to a spicy shrimp salad over greens.

But the menu was forgotten when we saw the chalkboard chicken and waffles special and we both ordered it from our smiling server.

Moments later the chef came out of the kitchen to introduce himself and tell us about a couple of specials; one was a grilled salmon with sauteed peppers and the other a turkey burger with sauteed onions, peppers and cheese.

We were immovable, though. Tempting as they looked (he showed us pictures on his cell phone), we wanted sweet and salty.

The satellite radio was tuned to an R & B soul station played at a volume that allowed us to appreciate every bass line, every booty call lyric. Absolute perfection.

Meanwhile, there was serious frying going on in the back.

Our plates arrived with the chicken steaming and the waffle a crispy golden brown (which I immediately smeared with all that butter while it was hot).

The four large wings bore no resemblance to those pitiful specimens so often seen on a wing platter.

We just grinned at each other in anticipation. Let the eating begin.

When we finally took a break from chowing down and looked up at each other, he'd finished his entire waffle and two wings.

I'd finished 3/4 of my waffle and 2 1/2 wings.

But it was time to stick a fork in us because we were done, so we each got boxes to take the remaining wings with us for later snackage.

Breakfast and dinner. Sweet and salty. Protein and carbs.

Chicken and waffles may be the closest thing to plate perfection a girl could hope for at lunch.

My, my indeed.

At Long Last: Catch-Up Date at Aziza

Sometimes the best date in the world is a couple. In tonight's case, it was a couple of omnivores like me whom I'd randomly met by sticking my nose into their dinner, here. Despite numerous e-mails and one quick drink in the interim, this was our first real date. We'd been planning to meet up for an extended meal since we'd met, but vacation and a broken hand had intervened.

I suggested Aziza because I had yet to try the pizza and I had every expectation that it was going to be a treat. Come on, we're talking about the largest pizza oven in RVA (it goes back 7 feet!), one designed to cook bread as well as pies. And then there's the source of the crust; if anyone knows dough, it's Billy, right?

When I arrived my dates were already present and in place at the front table in the window. Oh, good, now I could display my back to passersby. We began with, what else, a bottle of Vino Verde and for the manly one of the group, a Lebanese beer. Thirsts quenched, we asked our server for recommendations for small plates.

Taking our cue from someone who knew, we got the yellow tomato gazpacho (the jalapeno elevated the soup to something out of the ordinary), the tuna carpaccio, roasted beet and orange salad with coriander vinaigrette (leading to a discussion of proper borscht-making from someone who knew) and the prosciutto, fennel and grapefruit salad (the acid cut the salty meat nicely).

When it came time to order our pizzas, I got called on first and ordered the white (garlic, Fontina, oregano and chili) with hot sausage from Belmont Butchery. You should have seen the look on the manly one's face. "That's what I was going to order!"

Seems I'd stolen his choice and, as a dining pro, he knew he couldn't order the same thing. I felt a teeny bit bad but offered to share as much as he wanted. Mostly I was pleased not to hear the "meat on white pizza?" refrain again.

Womanly one got the mushroom and onion pizza (shitake, crimini, caramelized onions) and he who had had his pizza choice stolen from under him got the proscuitto and arugula (cow Mozzarella, proscuitto di Parma, Manakintowne arugula) with...wait for it...Belmont Butchery's hot sausage. I guess he showed me.

All three pizzas were excellent and, best of all, each had a completely different flavor profile. We discussed how they didn't feel interchangeable and the difference was more than just different toppings. There was a completeness to each that defined the pizzas' flavor combinations. The menu says that "Aziza's is the first pizzeria in Virginia to achieve RGP (really good pizza) recognition." I couldn't help but laugh, having a good idea of whom they're teasing with that statement.

The male half of my date is an extremely organized type who had brought a list of the topics to be covered during our meal. It had taken so long for it to finally happen that he'd not wanted to miss any of the myriad topics we needed to discuss. Laugh if you will, but it was a great way to cover a lot of ground in getting to know each other better. And in between prescribed topics, the tangents were many. Four plus hours passed in the blink of an eye.

Because no one should go to Aziza's without ending with their noteworthy cream puff, we did. I'm inclined to say that three people is the perfect number for sharing that over-sized pastry. I've eaten one all by myself, but I should have done penance for it and you know I didn't.

Afterwards, we went back to admire the oven up close and to talk to the prince of the pizza, letting him know how much we'd enjoyed our trio. Then we checked boxes to make sure we were all taking home our own pizza for leftovers, said good night and parted ways.

I've already gotten an e-mail from the manly one telling me he got my pizza by mistake. He wanted me to know in advance so I wouldn't be disappointed when I opened the box tomorrow.

No disappointment here. I'll look forward to whatever my surprise leftover pizza turns out to be almost as much as my next couple date.

And with couple dating, there's none of that awkwardness at the end of the evening-- should I or shouldn't I? I say this like I go on dates and actually know, but I've heard. Anyway, a group hug and I'm gone.

Gosh, I wonder if they'll want a second date?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting My Fix and Being Called Out for It

My recent fortnight at the beach had killed my bedside book stack, a state that brings on the shakes in an avid reader. Serendipitously, I was at the main library yesterday and noticed the used book sale. The sign said it all: Fill a Bag for $1.00, so even if I could only find a couple of books of interest, it was going to be easy on the pocketbook and at least lessen the tremors.

With no great expectation of finding much, I began going through the shelves, bypassing the fiction for the kind of offbeat stuff I like to read. Bingo! Timebends: A Life by playwright and bombshell hubby Arthur Miller promises to be full of the kind of twentieth century social history that I so enjoy reading.

Who Walk Alone first caught my eye because it was an older hardback book, so worn that I could barely read the embossed lettering of the title. Opening it, I found an explanation of what the book was about, namely the story of an American soldier who returned from the Spanish-American War in the Philippines and years later became a leper living in a leper colony. What do I know about lepers? Okay, my interest was piqued.

And then there were the women. My most recent choice (1987) was folk singer Judy Collins' autobiography, full of old black and white photographs of her friends, lovers and fellow musicians.

Slightly older (1979), but in the same pop culture vein, was Notes by Eleanor Coppola; the dutiful wife accompanied her director husband to the Philippines for the filming of "Apocalypse Now." She was supervising a documentary about the making of the film and this book is her notes taken during the process. Sounded good to me.

More fascinating women followed, including Conversations with Katherine Anne Porter, A Bess Streeter Aldrich Treasury, and Reprieve: A Memoir by dancer and choreographer Agnes DeMille; all looked promising.

There were a couple of other selections, but I won't bore anyone further with titles. And I feel safe in assuming that I would indeed bore any other human being because of the conversation I had with the library lady when I took my books to the counter to pay up.

"Thank you so much!" I enthused. "I can't believe I got all these books for $1.00!"

"No, thank YOU," she replied pointedly. "Nobody else would have taken those books off our hands. We ought to be paying you the dollar."

Wow. Literary nerdiness confirmed by a perfect stranger.

Time to take my bag of books and leave quietly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If Only They Were Single

Clearly I haven't been out walking in my neighborhood lately, a fact made apparent to me on my way to dinner tonight. Strolling down the street, two different neighbors asked me where my trusty companion was and it turned out they were referring to the beagle.

It's been 2 1/2 months since I had to have him put down and neither neighbor knew about it. It was bittersweet having to explain it all again and especially twice. My evening began with a couple of big sighs.

Likewise, I hadn't been to 27 since a couple of visits early in June (one involving record wine consumption, but that's another story), so I got the royal greeting on arrival tonight. The place was busy, with one full dining room and a 13-top expected any moment. Already at the bar was one of my favorite downtown servers and a wine rep, so I had immediate company. Things were shaping up nicely.

Chef Carlos teased me about my recent absence, making me feel missed and appreciated, while bartender Dave gloated over having seen me twice in the same night recently. I ordered a glass of the ubiquitous Broadbent Vino Verdhe, and began my night out with a toast to the beagle.

Considering this endless heatwave, my first course was just what the meteorologist ordered. Carlos delivered a summer soup sampler with two chilled delicacies. The avocado with roasted corn was rich and creamy (he claimed it had only a "little bit" of cream) with most of the fatty richness coming from nature's butter, the avocado. The other soup was a fresh-as-summer gazpacho, making for a lovely contrast. I went back and forth from acidic to creamy, rich to tart, enjoying how well the two complemented each other. Both tasted out-of-the-garden fresh.

Meanwhile I'd found a Pennsylvania native with whom I discussed all things Richmond. Like me, he's a transplant who has blossomed in the capital of the Confederacy. Unlike me, he's a talented pianist. He's the first person I've met who'd been to the museum as many times as I have. He was a conversational godsend and I delayed my next course enjoying all the talk.

I then tucked into the classic Caesar salad with anchovies while hearing about what's been going on in Carlos' world, both personal and professional. I shared some of my better vacation stories with him (the interested restaurant owner saga, in particular, really tickled him although he thought I should have taken it in another direction). It was satisfying to be back at my neighborhood joint.

With my next course of escargots, mushroom caps gratin and Pernod, Carlos suggested his favorite white, the gavi di gavi and it was a perfect pairing. Although not always a fan of Pernod (I think it is often too dominating a flavor), in this case it was heavenly: subtle and fragrant. For me, enough butter is the main escargot requirement and these mushroom caps sat in a pool of it.
After soup and salad, this was going to fill me up in the best possible way.

Which meant there was no room for dessert, but my evening eventually ended on a sweet note anyway. As I was preparing to leave, Carlos, the physically demonstrative one, gave me a kiss and a hug and admonished me to be back in my barstool again soon.

And Dave, the verbally demonstrative one? "Karen, you know I love you like a fat kid loves cake."

Color me satisfied on all counts.

In Less Than a Hot Minute

I went to the airport to pick up a friend and naturally the flight had been delayed. I'd wisely brought a book and read for a while, then strolled around, alternating frigid terminal walking with the heat of the great outdoors.

During one of my very warm walks, I came upon a guy getting out of a cab who almost fell into me as he exited the vehicle. Glancing around, he asked me, "Are you lost?"

"Not lost, just looking for someone," I explained, smiling at his assumption.

"Too bad it isn't me," he responded smiling back suggestively.

Total time from cab stopping to hitting on a stranger: less than ten seconds. Welcome to RIC, sir.

Flip-Flops and Folded Tongues

Thing 2 showed up at Lemaire in flip-flops, but as the bartender pointed out, the new Lemaire is fine with footwear of any kind (a far cry from the old days indeed).

It was our first get-together post-beach and Thing 2 wanted all the details of the subsequent Things (and meals), apparently finding my blog posts insufficient for all but the broadest details.

Besides $2 beers, Lemaire's special tonight was white or red sangria for $5, but it seems they have great specials practically every night and that should definitely be a draw.

For nibbling, we ordered a cheese plate with Humboldt Fog and Midnight Moon, fruit, crackers and bread.

At only $3 per cheese, it's a steal of a deal.

Because of the mix of hotel guests and locals, the crowd can be a variable one, but we had so much to discus that we never got around to chatting up other bar sitters, although we still managed a fair amount of people watching and discussion.

Thing 2 appropriated the check when it came, eager to prove a point to a certain Anonymous commenter. I just laughed; point taken.

Tonight's music adventure was very much something completely different.

A friend and I went to the Camel to hear live music played to accompany Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Honestly, I'd forgotten what a violence-fest T &a J cartoons were - so much pain, so many broken teeth, knots on heads, burnt fur and swallowed explosives.

In the pre-politically correct era, clearly anything went as long as it was animated.

The audience (okay, me anyway) enjoyed many laugh-out-loud moments during the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons and the score, complete with Reggie Pace's trombone sound effects, was a treat.

A few of Brian Jones' crashing drum beats actually caused me to jump out of my seat, surely a satisfying audience effect for him.

When we'd arrived at the Camel, Brian had been outside cooling down after the first family-friendly show at 7.

He said the kids in that audience had been raucous, delighting in both the cartoons and the music.

His own daughter, he said, had even ended up sitting on his drum, not the most desirable effect.

There was no telling how an audience with the benefit of alcohol might react.

After a handful of cartoons and an intermission, the band improvised music to some of the short films of Stan Brakhage.

Since his work has no narrative and for the most part is experimental, the music followed suit.

At times driving and super-charged and at others, languid and unfolding, I admired the musicians for being able to watch and create simultaneously.

Brakhage's work did not have the most compelling visual elements, so the music was key.

Between sets, we talked with several musicians and learned all kinds of interesting musical facts, in particular, "You have to keep your tongue in shape."

Childish as it was, my friend and I laughed at the implications of that statement and imagined the conversations that could be inferred from it.

To demonstrate our silliness, or perhaps ignorance, not one but two horn players showed us tongue workouts; one even accordion-pleated his tongue.

It was truly an amazing thing to see.

And that was the free entertainment part of the evening.

The paid part was even more impressive.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Romance on the High Seas

Just because I'm not yet ready to date doesn't mean I'm not fascinated with braver friends who are.

Tonight I met up with a girlfriend at Olio for dinner and to hear about her impending romantic dating adventures on the left coast. The food was great but her man plans were even better.

After having consumed copious amounts of barbecue yesterday, I was in need of a green dinner and found it in the form of a turkey, avocado and apple salad with a side of corn/chickpea/green bean/tomato salad.

My friend, trying to eat healthier (a stage I am well past) or perhaps concerned with upcoming body revelations, opted for one of the specials, a walleye and mahi mahi burrito with mango chutney in a spinach tortilla, when what she actually wanted was the prime rib sandwich special.

Never settle, friend.

I'd tell you about the bottle of wine we had, but it disappeared so quickly I never even noticed what it was (kidding...a pinot gris, but whose I couldn't tell you).

Dessert was a shared molten chocolate lava cake for the sake of a diversion during the sharing part of the evening (or perhaps I'm sublimating my feelings in food).

I have to admit I was enthralled by the details she was sharing.

My friend is shortly leaving for California to rendezvous with a man she met while on a business trip there a few weeks ago.

They randomly met one night and talked non-stop until 4:30 a.m., always a good sign (would that I had someone I wanted to talk to until 4:30 in the morning).

The next day, she barely made it to the airport before calling him and suggesting that she return for more conversation in a few weeks.

He was impressed that she'd offered. She was impressed with his bravado ("I'm not scared of you," he told her, clearly indicating that he was).

They have developed a plan whereby she's going to fly 3,000 miles to have a 2 1/2 day date aboard his rather large sailboat.

For propriety's sake the boat has two staterooms, both of which, he informed her, now have clean sheets.

The plan is to spend the days teaching her to sail and when the appeal of lessons wears thin, he wants to cook for her.

Thoughtfully, he's laid in a case and a half of her favorite wine and cheeses for their happy hour pleasure.

They even like the same music, no small matter in my humble opinion.

I knew my friend was excited about the potential of this tryst when she told me about all the new clothing she'd bought for it.

She is only a year out of a six-year relationship that ended unexpectedly and this is her first foray into throwing caution to the wind and just letting whatever happens happen.

I am in awe of her nerve and only wish she could share it with me.

Over a final glass of wine across the street at Bacchus, she told me how excited she is about the great unknown potential of this adventure.

She's afraid to be optimistic and end up disappointed, despite all indicators being positive.

I was trying to be a cheerleader, encouraging her to finally open up and let someone in, especially someone who'd already asked if he could kiss her (she said no).

Not that I have any right to tell anyone what to do in the romance department, but I felt like she needed the bolstering.

Even if I can't put myself out there yet, I want to know someone who can.

And then maybe she can tell me what the secret is. At the very least, it's like sneaking a peek at a romance novel, something I would never do otherwise.

Even at this stage, the appeal of happily ever after is still incredibly strong.

My friends haven't teased me about being hopelessly romantic all these years without reason.

It could happen...couldn't it?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Like the Painting, Only with Fewer Clothes

When I threw my bag in the car and hit the road at 8 a.m., it was a beautiful 75 degrees.

I was headed to the Northern Neck for a "Sunday in the Park with George" idyll at Belle Isle State Park.

I'd been invited by a recent acquaintance, the only one I would know at the all-day bucolic gathering.

It sounded like it had all kinds of potential and the only thing I'd been asked to bring were mix CDs. It looked to be a day of meeting new people and who knew what else, definitely my kind of day.

An hour into my trip, rolling down Route 360 listening to the Joy Formidable, I had a flat tire.

I pulled off to the shoulder, perched on the guardrail and waited for assistance.

It shortly arrived in the form of Bud and his able young assistant Sonny, introducing themselves and asking how they could help.

The first thing Bud requested was that I back up my car and angle it further off the road.

"Last time I stopped to help someone, a car ran off the road and hit me...sent me 75 feet in the air and I didn't walk for three years."

Immediate guilt and awe. This man was truly a good Samaritan to have even stopped to help me.

They made quick work of the change, told me my flat tire looked fine and that it was probably just a nail and I was back on the road in no time.

In little more than half an hour I was pulling into Belle Isle State Park, a place I'd never been, looking for a group of people I did not know.

My host had invited an eclectic group of people from DC to RVA; the food included BBQ, grilled corn and crabs (for a change I went more in the BBQ direction than my usual crab obsession)and there were endless things to do: swimming and boating on the Rappahannock, yard games (I'd forgotten how much fun badminton can be, but bocce ball: fail), even dancing...everywhere from atop picnic tables to the little beach.

I'd brought a variety of mix CDs since I knew nothing about the crowd who would be listening to them.

I went as far back as a sentimental favorite, Beach Mix 2003 and as recent as Still Naive 2010, but also brought Amazingness mix, Car mix #2, Philly mix 2007 and Vacay mix 2008 among others, trying to cover every possible base.

I was unsure about the reaction I'd get to The Ghosts that Haunt Me mix, but, played late in the afternoon, it totally worked.

In a brilliant stroke, our host had asked a photographer friend to set up his camera on a tripod, framing river, sky and trees.

As guests moved across the camera's frame throughout the day, he took endless shots of us, mimicking the composition of Seraut's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte.

None of us had parasols or top hats, but the random groupings of people captured in his lens were no less picaresque for it.

Luckily, I'd brought my newest and most fetching hat (thanks, N).

Early in the evening, 6ish probably, it was clear that storms were rolling down the river and we relocated to the large screened pavilion to watch the lightening show and stay somewhat dry (none of us having a parasol, after all).

The rain poured for quite a while cooling things down nicely after an incredibly hot afternoon and when it finally let up, we began to pack up and say our goodbyes.

To George I expressed my sheer pleasure in having been included in the day's revelry.

Driving out of the park, the road was literally steaming and out of the mist hopped several little rabbits.

Near the equestrienne parking area (!), I saw a cautious deer peering out of a burnt and brown cornfield.

As I drove back toward Richmond on my doughnut tire, I had a constant display of jagged lightening bolts ahead, but the air coming in my car windows was cool and refreshing.

Passing through Aylett around 8 p.m., a sign said that it was a beautiful 76 degrees.

In twelve hours, the temperature had come full circle.

But I'd be the first to admit that the scorching heat in between hadn't dampened our pleasure in the least.

We had wisely been more scantily clad than the original Sunday in the Park with George attendees (not a single bustle noted).

And, if I do say so myself, we undoubtedly had a far superior soundtrack.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Enchanted Evening

Tonight was one of those nights where the company was so good that we could have been anywhere and had a rollicking good time.

It was the inaugural outing for my bialy-pushing friend Gregg, the girlfriend I would marry if she were a man and Mac the Magnificent, one of my absolute favorite chefs in RVA.

We were a foursome to be reckoned with.

For reasons I won't go into, we decided to meet at Bellytimber.

We ordered a lot of food: romaine salad, sweet potato tots, torta (this one was my choice: Logan's hot chorizo, queso blanca, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and lettuce on a house made roll), red curry shrimp pizza with cilantro and mint, duck confit pizza with red onions, cheddar, cilantro and hoison sauce and one of tonight's specials, chicken tamales with corn salsa.

Everyone tasted everything just to have an opinion for discussion's sake.

We were a bit limited in our drinking because they were out of good tequila (to my amazement and disappointment) and the white wine list consisted of two chardonnays, a sauvignon blanc and a pinot grigio.

Sadly, the music was so low as to be inaudible.

But the company was outstanding, with talk of a recent wine outing (look at me! I'm bottling wine!), an out-of-this world meal at the Ashby Inn in Paris, VA (the hot and cold cucumber shot alone was worth hearing about twice) and more food talk than most people would consider normal...or care to subject themselves to.
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From there we walked the two blocks to Six Burner where we were enthusiastically greeted and all was made right with the world.

We were immediately treated to two enormous bowls of chocolate mousse to make up for the recent past and happily found that the featured white wine was a Portuguese Vino Verdhe.

Martinis were bruised, Meyer's Rum made drinks brown (ah, youth, mine at least) and the Portuguese ruled.

Life was good again.

We got into a foodie discussion with a nearby couple because the woman said she ate absolutely everything...except beets.

The men in our party did their best to make serving suggestions, but she wasn't budging on her beet hate.

As her mate said, "In all these years, I've never seen a beet cross her lips."

Clearly our cooking-savvy men were not going to change her mind about beets tasting like gasoline. End of beet discussion.

When we finally broke camp, it was only because we were the only non-staff members in the bar.

This get-together had been months in the making but once in progress, we all agreed that it must become a regular event.

Our senses of humor mesh beautifully and our interest in food/restaurant talk could not be tolerated by most others, so we ended up being the perfect quartet.

And not to be underestimated are the pleasures of a boy, girl, boy girl evening.

No matter which way I turned, there was always someone offering me great conversation or a witty bon mot.

Even the insincere compliments, and there were many, were worth hearing. My blue dress and I can take what you dish out.

I think I may have just joined my first mutual admiration society.

A Sunny Saturday in Two Parts

Part One, in which I was told, "Our delivery guy thought you had great legs."

A friend and I had made plans to meet for breakfast at Ettamae's Cafe followed by a walk to the VMFA to see two new exhibits.

A simple plan, really.

Except that upon meeting up in J-Ward, my friend realized he'd left his wallet at home.

And last night he'd left his sunglasses at the restaurant where he works.

So we began our Saturday morning with a walk to his new digs, which worked out well because I hadn't seen the new apartment yet, followed by sunglasses retrieval.

Only then did we go to breakfast.

Thankfully I'd had a banana before leaving the house is all I'm saying.

Having so enjoyed lunch at Ettamae's the other day, I was just as pleased with breakfast today.

I had a couple of eggs perfectly cooked (as Holmes says, "Not everyone has a way with eggs.") with three strips of bacon, buttered toast and homemade strawberry jam.

My friend had one of the specials, French toast stuffed with bananas and blueberries with a raspberry and blueberry sauce.

We agreed that a couple of the other specials, namely the meatloaf eggs Benedict and the kielbasa, onions and pepper eggs Benedict had a lot of hearty appeal, too.

Having already criss-crossed the Ward several times before sitting down to breakfast, we practically inhaled our food, or at least it seemed that way to us.

Our server even made a crack about my friend all but having licked his plate clean.

I think I left two scraps of crust on my plate and only because I'd run out of that wonderful jam.

As I told my friend, this is the first year in well over a decade that I didn't go strawberry picking and make jam with the spoils, so I was especially appreciative of someone else's efforts to give me fresh strawberry jam, something I didn't expect to enjoy because of my own laziness.

My breakfast was a mere five bucks, so I can foresee Ettamae's becoming a frequent breakfast spot for this neighbor.

I've already decided who my next breakfast companion will be because I can see his hearty appetite being quite satisfied there.

And musically? Green Day to REM, so no complaints from me...on any score.

I like you, Ettamae.

Part Two, in which I was told, "You're like a drug with no bad side effects."

Afterwards we walked to the museum to see "Chuck Close: People Who Matter to Me" and experience the recent installation of Jun Kaneko's colossal ceramics in the sculpture garden.

We were thrilled to see how busy the museum was at 11:30 in the morning, positively buzzing.

This renovation has been like a spark to the city and I get excited anew every time I walk into it.

Part of the reason for my enthusiasm is what the renovation has dropped at my doorstep.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art has just opened an exhibit "Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration," a show I would surely have driven up the soul-sucking 95 to see pre-renovation.

Instead, a sunny walk puts me in front of two dozen Close works spanning 1974 to the present.

And the Corcoran show would have cost me $10 plus gas and parking.

I can't speak to that show, but the exhibit at VMFA is stellar, with Close works in every medium from tapestry (absolutely amazing and I defy you to recognize it as tapestry on first glance) to large-format Polaroids, even daguerreotypes and pulp collages.

Because Close is a portrait artist, we see images of many of his artistic friends and patrons, always with a photograph having been the starting point.

The variety of processes used is mind-boggling, as is his habit of working up close and not standing back to view a piece in total until the end of the process.

The man may be 70 but his ability to capture the essence of a person is timeless.

After so much up close art, we headed outside to inspect the new sculpture garden, which is on its way to being the talk of the town.

The monumental blue three-ton head by Jun Kaneko is a stunner.

You can't help but touch its ceramic finish and I couldn't help but wish I'd seen it lowered into place.

It invites a walk around.

Nearby are eight totem-like forms, each about 9' tall and with a different overall design.

They are referred to as dangos (meaning dumplings, which, for some reason, delights me) and there is such a variety in how they have been painted that each one feels like a completely new experience, despite the identical forms.

I was fascinated to learn of the industrial kilns they were fired in and for weeks (!) at a time.

It's ceramics on a scale I could not have imagined but which invite lingering as I made my way around the garden.

Toto, I don't think we're in Richmond anymore.

But of course we are and therein lies our great good fortune.

Every time I've gone to the VMFA since the reopening, and this was my fifth time, I completely forget that I'm not in a big city museum.

No, I'm in a big town museum, the state museum of Virginia, and it's the gift of a lifetime to RVA.

Art geek that I am, I intend to slowly unwrap it every chance I get.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Road Tripping to Eat Lee's Skate

I've made no secret of my devotion to Chef Lee Gregory (formerly of Six Burner), both to his cooking and his low-key personality.

I was truly bummed when he left RVA for western pastures, here.

So it was an easy decision to drive to Charlottesville to meet a friend there and have dinner at his kitchen-of-the-moment, Blue Light Grill tonight.

It was also Restaurant Week (also known as Amateur Week; call it what you will), but I didn't let that deter me.

As it turned out, despite the downtown mall being mobbed like I've never seen it, BLG was actually quite civilized during the dinner hours we were there.

I began my evening by catching up with Lee as he worked in the restaurant's open kitchen.

What I wanted to know, of course, was when he'd be coming back to RVA and he told me what's happening on that front.

And of course we talked about food, glorious food.

I have to give C-ville credit; if all the restaurant menus for Restaurant Week are as creative and extensive as BLG's, they've got us beat hands down in that department.

Four appetizer choices, six entrees and three desserts, with a price tag of $26.

Pairings were available with each course; a flight was $20.

And Lee's imprint was all over the menu (pork belly, BBQ, bleu cheese/red cabbage slaw) so that made me happy to see.

Friend got the three Virginia oysters on the half shell with cuke mignonette and I started with the crab hushpuppies with red pepper honey butter.

The hushpuppies were full of crab and when smeared with that sweet butter, a truly indulgent first course.

I'd considered getting the beet and goat cheese terrine with apple puree and pistachio brittle, except a few questions to our server revealed that it wasn't a true terrine.

Drat the luck.

The entree choices ranged from veggie crepes to BBQ beef short ribs (oh, I was sorely tempted), but I couldn't resist the pan seared skate with green beans, fingerling potato salad and almond brown butter.

It's so rare that I find skate on the menu that I have to have it when I do.

Friend got the grilled mahi mahi over white bean, pork belly and mussel ragout and as good as it was, my skate was the star of the evening with its slivered almond crust and to-die-for potato salad.

For dessert my friend, not a dessert person, ordered the trifle with buttermilk pound cake, fresh local peaches and lime mascarpone.

I skipped over the chocolate panna cotta with bourbon/caramel sauce for the butterscotch goat cheese custard with apple puree and was complimented by our server for having chosen the dessert Lee considers his best.

He'll get no argument from me on that. It was heavenly.

So here's a thought: why not take a page from C-ville's book and move RVA's Restaurant Week to summertime, too?

It seems like a far better time to stimulate independent restaurant business than October when patrons already seem more plentiful.

Who knows, it could even become an anticipated component of the staycation, at least until this interminable recession lets up.

When I went to leave, Lee asked me what I was going to do next.

Music was a possibility, I told him, or perhaps a drink.

I started raving about the food I'd eaten, but he shrugged it off, thanking me again and again for coming in to see him.

"I'll be back, " I told him, taking my leave.

He knows I mean it; his answer was a big smile from under the red baseball cap.

My devotion is still firmly in place.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Music Wasn't Live, But It Was Mine

News flash: I did not go hear live music tonight for the first time since I got home from vacation. Instead I listened to a mix of music which I had created while I ate, drank and talked the night away (imagine!). I'm guessing that Richmond's live music scene went on without me tonight and if not, I'm hoping someone will notify me otherwise.

I decided to spend the evening at Secco but after my last frenzied visit, had the sense to arrive early enough to score a bar stool. It wasn't my favorite stool, but it beat standing all evening and dodging servers. Naturally the first thing I noticed when I sat down was that the music was too low, but before I could even say anything, I saw Julia go to the stereo, put on the Karen mix and up the volume. I took that to mean, " let the evening begin."

I glanced down the bar and noted four glasses of pink to my right, a sight I rarely see at a local bar. Accordingly, I asked Farouk for the 2009 Cuilleron Syrah Rose "Sybel" VDP de Collines Rhodaniennes, if only to add a fifth pink to the bar landscape. With it I ordered the panzanella, a personal favorite during tomato season; it's such an ideal use of ripe tomatoes and old bread.

All at once I noticed that the music had disappeared, or at least the volume had dropped noticeably and asked Farouk where the music was. Dramatically clutching my hand on the bar, he said earnestly, "You are my music." I rolled my eyes and he went over and re-upped the volume, abandoning the high drama.

I was ready for a cheese course by this point and took Julia's recommendation to try the quadrello di bufala, a rustic, semi-soft Italian water buffalo cheese and with it a 2009 Chateaux Prodeaux Ban de Rose. 100% mouvedre, it was promised to be intense and ageable, two things I personally aspire to. It was indeed a lovely combination and I can't remember the last time I had water buffalo anything.

There was a girls' night out group next to me and a buxom late arrival, when handed the wine list, immediately handed it back without so much as a glance at it and said, "Got any Sauvignon Blanc?" prompting a look of disbelief on Farouk's face, but he nodded. "Gimme one of those," she requested. Somehow I think the wine bar experience was being wasted on her.

As usual, the place was hopping before long, hosting everyone from the musical Prabir and friend to a couple of nuns. Julia and I talked about the beauty of reading vacations, her new found love for liver and why dresses are cooler than pants on sweltering days, even for tomboys, and those are just the topics I can mention.

For my last course, I had a glass of the Crivelli Ruche di Castagnole Montferrato to accompany the fried squash blossoms stuffed with burrato over pecan wood-smoked tomato sauce that an earlier bar sitter had recommended. The light-bodied red put a nice period to my string of pink without taking my palate too far afield. It was a happy ending to an extended and satisfying meal.

I'm not sure that anyone else appreciated the Karen mix quite as much as I did tonight, but perhaps music isn't as central to their enjoyment as it is to mine. It's a fine thing when you have your chosen music waiting for you on arrival at your local wine bar.

Even better when the food and wine are as well done as the soundtrack. Go team.

Getting Fresh at Sprout Market & Cafe

I may have just eaten the most locally-sourced meal of my life and it was doubly delicious for knowing that almost all of its ingredients came from Virginia. Yes, I had returned to Sprout Market & Cafe after being tempted by their menu while attending a music show there the other night. I brought along a hungry friend, a food lover who wanted to hear all about what I'd read on vacation, and I was set.

I was hugely flattered when the owners recognized me and welcomed me back. How do they remember one person out of the many who visit their restaurant? Do you have to have a good memory for faces to even be in the restaurant biz? I will say it made for a lovely way to be greeted on arrival.

Friend and I perused the chalkboard menu (I teased them about their Ipanema-style menu) before doing a walkabout to check out the renovation. Jamie told us that the building was originally a police precinct station (the holding cell is in the kitchen) and we admired the magnificent doors, windows and woodwork in the place.

The front dining room had several tables occupied, so we opted for the "VIP lounge" as Jamie referred to the back room. The tables, booths and the wall between the room and the kitchen were fashioned from pallets, making for a space both green and economical (or "free," as Jamie pointed out). Full of light, the room had a great vibe and we enjoyed being its sole occupants.

Neither of us had been able to resist the sauteed beef with salsa fresca sandwich made with cow from Avery's Branch Farms in nearby Amelia County. We differed only in our choice of sides; he went with the local melon salad (local 'lope and sugar baby watermelon), but I was completely taken with the corn, okra and tomato salad and had to have it.

Our sandwiches were made incredibly flavorful with Sprout's own salsa fresca (available in the case for sale) and the perfectly-cooked tender local beef on a crisped and herbed ciabatta roll. I'm sorry an Amelia cow had to die for my sandwich, but it certainly was worth it from where I sat.

And the local white corn, okra ad tomato salad tasted like the ingredients were picked this morning. I insisted my friend taste it so that we could talk about how amazing it was. When Jamie asked how I liked it, I raved and he began telling me which farm produced each vegetable, naming towns I've never heard of, but clearly owe a debt of gratitude to.

After qualifying for the clean plate club, we were asked if we wanted any chocolate c- and before the poor guy could get the word cake out, we nodded enthusiastically. If the local sandwich and sides were this good, we needed to know about dessert. Besides, this is a friend with whom I always share dessert and he knows it.

When the chocolate cake arrived, adorned with local peach slices, it looked like your typical chocolate cake, a thick slice with generous amounts of chocolate icing. But this was Virginia cake, made with local butter, milk, eggs and, yes, even local flour. And it was very good chocolate cake, dense, dark and, best of all, local. The peach slices were perfectly ripe and even given my peach allergy, I couldn't resist eating half of them. So my mouth will itch for the rest of the afternoon; it was well worth it.

In a matter of a mere two days, Sprout has impressed me with a free music show and a stellar lunch. Pus, they're making it very easy to eat locally and that's no small thing either.

And I can tell you from experience, it only take two visits for them to recognize you. Friendly. local, fresh, what's not to like?