Saturday, March 12, 2011

Far Be It for Me to Spill Anyone's Beans

"You didn't see me here," she said in all seriousness as I took the stool next to her at Amuse's bar.

My plan had been to slip into Amuse for some solo wining and dining before the Black Maria Film Festival downstairs at the VMFA. Instead I stumbled on a friend's girlfriend doing a stealth visit to the museum, one which she had no intention of sharing with her beloved.

I can keep a secret.

Actually, it was a lovely surprise to have the company, although bartender Stephen is a reliable source of interesting conversation. In fact, picking up from a food conversation we had had some months ago, he told me he was preparing to put in a small veggie and herb garden and we discussed that for a bit.

My friend was already enjoying an off-menu wine selection, Jongieux Mondeuse, recommended for its Pinot Noir-like qualities. I was all about some rose and mussels with house made sausage, garlic and butter; this dish is so well executed that I could probably eat it every time I'm at the museum.

As we sat chatting, a good friend walked in with his wife and son to have dinner. He came over to say hi, compliment my hair (I know, what?) and we agreed to meet up next week for dinner.

Conclusion: Amuse is not a good place to go if you are looking to keep your whereabouts private.

But back to the stealthy one. After swearing to never reveal that I had run into her today, I used my bad influence to convince her to join me in a glass of absinthe, her first, after we finished eating.

We watched as Stephen placed our sugar cubes on the slotted spoon and started the iced water drip into our glasses of absinthe. Within moments, the sun had dropped low enough in the sky that it bathed the room in late afternoon light all around us. The absinthe fairy was making her presence known in the room it seemed.

When our drips finished, he set them down in front of us, we looked up at him and at the same instant both saw the reflection of the sunset in the mirror behind the bar.

It was a take-off on the Manet painting, "A Bar at the Folies Bergere," where the barmaid stands in front of the bar mirror which reflects back the crowded room.

We saw not only the faces of the diners, but also this brilliant sunset slipping behind the Pauley Center. I told her that it was a sign that we were meant to be sitting there sipping absinthe and watching the sun set in a bar mirror. Happy Friday indeed.

Her first absinthe experience was as transformative as mine had been. The heady scent, the giddy after affects and the overall sense of gaiety makes it unlike any other spirit's qualities. Or maybe we're just suckers for absinthe.

The Black Maria Film and Video Festival, a thirty-year old event (with this being my fifth year of attendance), was filling up fast when I got downstairs. Organizer John Columbus pointed out that even in this age of youtube, filmmakers still want their work shown in real time in front of a live audience. And here we were.

The program, which showed only eleven of the fifty or so films culled by a jury from the 600 submissions, travels the country. There was everything from animation hand-drawn on celluloid ("House Bunny") to a 60-year old's first film with its Escher-like staircases ("Pinburgh") to a film where the animation was done with fabric and stitches ("The Stitches Speak").

One of the most charming pieces was "Mrs. Buck in Her Prime," about a 104-year old woman who still plays piano at church because, "Playing keeps me limber." Her attitude undoubtedly had a lot to do with her longevity. "I'm having the time of my life!" she exclaimed in her purple suit and piano scarf.

There was enough time to show a bonus film at the end of the program and we were treated to the truly weird "Burning Wigs of Sedition," a campy high seas adventure with singers and dancers that ended with an orgy.

Columbus reminded us that the jury, not him, had chosen it, not that anyone was complaining about seeing it. It was definitely a highlight.

From simulated sex (I think) to blue-eyed soul, I finished my evening at Balliceaux for the Eli "Paperboy" Reid show.

But the show couldn't start until the diners in the back room got out, so I camped at the front bar and enjoyed a piece of four layer cake (amaretto genoise with chocolate butter cream and slivered almonds) until it was safe to go to the back room.

Even then, it took a while before all the tables, chairs and bar stools were cleared out and the show could start. By the time a couple of friends arrived, they said the line to get in snaked through the restaurant and out the front door. I was glad I already had my ticket.

After a showy intro, Reid joined his band onstage and with a James Brown-like shriek (the first of many), began giving us his white boy soul. His band The True Loves were spot on; there's nothing like a horn section to bring it all home.

There were obvious fans in the crowd, including a large group occupying the back table who had driven down from DC to see Paperboy. I heard a fair amount of singing along and saw a lot of dancing ("Bad white people dancing," as my friend noted).

Every few raucous soul numbers were punctuated with a slow soul song, the kind that would have gotten the slow-dancing couples on the floor at a dance. In between, there was a whole lot of shaking going on.

The show was fun, the band was stellar and opinions were mixed on Paperboy. One guitarist friend said, "He didn't fully own the sound, but he was good," and another guitarist opined, "They're a really good cover band." A horn-playing friend said, "The rhythm section is incredibly tight."

As the guy who held the door open for me when I went to leave said, "That was eight dollars worth of entertainment." And so it was.

As a non-musician, I enjoyed the sounds of vintage soul reinterpreted by a 27-year old white boy. It didn't change my world, but it was a thoroughly different way to end a wide-ranging Friday night.

And I don't have to keep any secrets about the people I saw there tonight, at least, not that I know of.

Just the same, you'll note that no names were used in the writing of this post. Just in case.