Monday, February 28, 2011

Collector with an Appetite

In my own small way, I am an art collector, buying local art that I want to live with. This in no way makes me a member of VMFA's Collector's Circle, but I'm always happy to attend their lectures, even if I don't exactly fit in.

Waiting for the lecture to begin, the woman of the very proper-looking couple seated next to me looked over and spoke to me. "I love your stockings. They're just beautiful, but they couldn't possibly have come from Richmond! Look, Charles, aren't they wonderful?"

Her husband dutifully looked. In fact, he did not look away as I considered how to respond to this woman's presumption. The fact is, I have tights from Vienna, London, Berlin and Barcelona, all compliment-worthy, but these were from Target.

Not that Charles seemed to care. She finally had to clear her throat and give him "the look" to return his eyes to the forward position. Maybe wifey needs her own Target tights.

Tonight's lecture was "Worshipping Love: The Mighty Aphrodite" and speaking was Dr. Christine Kondoleon from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Her talk was a preview of the show that will open there this autumn on the same subject. The way I saw it, I stood to learn something new about not only art but love.

Where else but in Boston would an early 20th-century collector set out to collect classic Greek and Roman art with an emphasis on choosing erotic pieces for the sole purpose of educating refined Boston society? This man, Ned Warren, became my hero for the evening.

Naturally the MFA reacted to his acquisitions by promptly storing them all away in the museum's Reserve Collection deep in the bowels of the museum so as not to offend gentle people's sensibilities. Now finally, it will be coming out for closer inspection...and through next Valentine's Day (how romantic!).

So that you know, the lecture didn't focus solely on erotic art; the large exhibition (150-some pieces) will display a host of beautiful images of Aphrodite, Eros and other love-related gods, many of which we saw on slides tonight. Kondoleon was an enthusiastic speaker, a real geek for the classics and a pleasure to listen to.

She finished her talk with a lesson for the ages. "There are never victors in love games, only victims." Now there's a moral worth staying up late and obsessing over.

With those words ringing in my ears, I beat feet for Secco and some dinner. The tables and sofas were all occupied, but there was plenty of room at the bar for a singlet. I'd seen on Facebook that Julia had just ordered cases and cases of Rose in anticipation of spring, but currently there's only one on the menu so I asked for it.

The Cuilleron Syrah Rose "Sybel" was just what I needed after ogling sculpture of over sized genitalia, tasting of subtle strawberries and flowery on the nose. Nothing too challenging here, just loveliness.

My supper began with smoked farro salad with shaved carrot, raisins and almonds in garam masala with orange blossom honey creme fraiche.

I wouldn't know where to start raving about this dish. Maybe with the contrast in textures (creamy farro, crunchy carrots sticks) or the complementary flavors (smokey grain, sweet raisins and dressing)? I left not a grain.

A non-couple twosome came in and took seats near me and within minutes we were talking, first about pneumonia (he brought it up) and then about dating around and restaurants (again, at his initiation). Doesn't anyone want to discuss world peace with me?

I needed to follow up that superb first course with something just as terrific and the house made venison sausage with cannelini beans and stewed tomatoes fit the bill nicely.

When it was brought to me, it was with the comment, "You're ordering all the best things tonight." God knows I do my best.

Props to Chef Tim for making his own sausage, with its subtle depth of flavor and divine with the beans and flavorful tomatoes. We try not to think about the Bambi part.

I accompanied it with the Chateau Muser "Jeune Rouge," the Lebanese blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Cab of which I've become so fond.

There was a guy on the other side of my conversational partners and he seemed to be looking my way, even smiling at me sometimes and when I went to the bathroom he looked about to speak as I passed, but didn't. Missed opportunity or lucky break, I guess I'll never know which.

My arm was twisted into getting dessert with the usual strong-arm tactics ("Were you thinking of dessert?") because of a new item, the vanilla bean pizelle (made in house) and chocolate hazelnut gelato (ditto) sandwich. That's right, a gelato sandwich.

It was incredibly good. The pizelle rounds are made on a pizelle maker the same way Italian grandmothers have always done. With a thick round of gelato inside, it was pure pleasure to pick up my dessert and eat it like a kid on a summer day.

I managed to avoid dripping any on the object of Charles' attention, but I still don't think I'm Collector's Circle material.

Even so, I think I've got the worshipping love part down pat. All hail the mighty Aphrodite.

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