I thought I'd gone to the VMFA for the Collector's Circle lecture, "The New Art of Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" to make up for my last heartbreaking visit there.
You see, when I visited Boston in Fall 2008, the museum was closed for renovations and I'd been terribly disappointed at missing the chance to see their world-renowned collection.
So naturally I wanted to come hear about the $504 million dollar expansion that had thwarted me and now housed the premiere collection of American art.
In one of those unlikely coincidences that define my life, I ended up sitting next to and conversing with a woman who had been born in Hampton, VA but lived 40 years in Cape Cod and then Plymouth and had just moved to Richmond. She said she moved here because she missed Spring and said it was gray in Plymouth until Memorial Day.
She was there out of guilt; she hadn't been to the Boston Museum in 20 years and it was half an hour from her house. A poker face is not my strong suit; I'm sure my amazement was written all over my face.
So she was taking the opportunity to get a preview of the enormous new wing as an enticement to make it to the museum the next time she's up there. I certainly did my best to further guilt her into it.
Together we listened to Dr. Elliot Bostwick describe the 3,000 new pieces the museum had acquired since 2001, making for a collection that spans the art of the Americas from 900 B.C. to the twentieth century (including a blank bowl Jackson Pollock had painted while he was undergoing detox and Jungian therapy).
She showed pictures of workers dissembling period rooms from the old addition, numbering and photographing them, only to painstakingly reassemble them in the new wing. Numbering bricks, no wonder the museum had been closed when I was there.
After the lecture, my new friend thanked me sincerely for the art pep talk. Just doing my job, ma'am. Now on to some nourishment after all that enlightenment.
It had been ages since I was at Stuzzi and since I was right there, I set my taste buds for pizza. I walked into a full bar except for one seat and the guy next to it extended his hand toward it in welcome.
Debating over which salad to start with, my seatmate, the stranger, suggested the arugula with shaved Parmigiana while I picked a glass of wine.
There was no decision to be made about the pizza because it was $1 Margarita night, so the bartender automatically assumes everyone at the bar is there for that. And actually, everyone was, so why shouldn't I jump on board?
I have to say, my salad was spot on, a generously-sized serving of peppery arugula, not overdressed and loaded with fresh cheese. My pizza arrived before I could finish it and I kept right on with my salad because it was too good to stop. Besides, pizza doesn't have to be hot to be enjoyable.
The stranger turned out to be a musician in a local band I'd seen at, of all things, a raucous and raunchy Christmas show (he'd been the baby Jesus) at the Firehouse several years ago. He asked if I'd been at the performance where he got naked, but, alas, I hadn't. I'm sure I would have remembered that.
The turnover was constant at the bar as people came in, ate their Margarita with their drink and left. Soon a wine-lover and her beau sat down on the other side of me and she was all about me having a glass of her wine
Since it was Masi Costasera Amarone (and $75 a bottle), I was only too happy to oblige her. It didn't hurt that it was my kind of wine, with nice acidity, soft tannins, good structure and a long finish. If you insist, I will drink your lovely wine with you. And she did, so I did.
It was at that point, as the lightening was flashing non-stop, that I had the pleasure of my first Zeppole doughnut with custard and strawberry sauce.
Being a heathen, I was unfamiliar with the traditional St. Joseph's Day cake, made and served on March 19 and available from then only until Easter.
The owner told me that in NYC and Italy, people wait in lines at the bakeries to score these taste delights during their limited availability.
The fried dough had been sliced in half and an ample amount of custard spread between the halves with a thin topping of strawberry glaze on top. The former stranger who now knew me by name gallantly volunteered to help me finish it.
Before the zeppole completely disappeared, the sky opened up and the rain fell so hard we couldn't see across the street. Despite having finished dessert, it didn't seem like a wise time to exit the building.
Luckily, I got more incentive to stay, this time from a guy at the end of the bar who asked if he could buy me a Limoncello. To his great surprise and delight, I had never had one; he got one promptly delivered to me and one to my amazed seatmate ("It's wearing the dress, isn't it?" he wondered. Hell if I know).
There's a lot to recommend sipping what tasted like an alcoholic Lemonhead while watching a downpour from inside a dimly-lit pizza joint. The Red Hot Chili Peppers soundtrack was all wrong, but overall it had been an evening of surprises from all these people I didn't know.
Once again, I must have on my stranger magnet without even realizing it.