Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sweet Bird of Youth

It's not every night you admit your days on the back of a motorcycle wearing nothing but cutoffs, a tube top and flip flops.

I may forever be trying to educate myself to compensate for that kind of youthful stupidity.

In the first of a two-night art nerd-athon, I went to the annual Mellon lecture at VMFA.

Either the number of art nerds is increasing or the topic was hot, because the lecture sold out.

Degas' "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen" was what got everybody going.

Lecturer Richard Kendall was the well-spoken Englishman who had gone so far as to cut up copies of Degas' preparatory drawings for the sculpture in order to figure out the artist's thought process.

For Degas, it was all about "legs that didn't move" (as in the artist moved around the model) and a bold new sculptural realism that had some critics crying, "Ugly!"

Kendall's sense of humor showed in remarks like, "Imagine this when you're practicing ballet in your bedroom tonight," when showing us a sketch of dancers' feet positions.

Like practicing ballet in my bedroom is what I'd want to be doing there at night?

The lecture ended with Kendall thanking the audience and all at once the lights came on.

You don't get to ask questions at a Mellon lecture. Just ask any art nerd.

Which was fine because I had a friend to meet for dinner and, as it was, my stomach had growled throughout the lecture.

I walked into the Magpie to find a decent crowd at the small bar. Walking the length of it, I took a seat near the end.

Only then did the friend I was meeting wave and say, "Hi, Karen" from his perch at the other end of the bar.

Yes, he saw me walk right by him and let me do it for his personal enjoyment.

Once I got a glass of Arido Malbec, he asked me what I'd been up to.

I mentioned how much I'd enjoyed Bootleg Shakespeare the other night, knowing that owner Tiffany is a big theater fan.

Next thing I knew, the guy sitting on the other side of me joined in, recalling his bootleg experience two years ago.

You never know when bar talk will turn into a theater roundtable.

The Magpie had just switched to their new Fall menu, so there were some tempting new choices like Rappahannock River Oysters 5 Ways.

But after last night's bi-valve extravaganza, I was moving more in the land direction tonight.

Fried butternut squash gnocchi with smoked Gouda and apple sauce was an interesting take on autumn flavors. The flavors of the sauce nicely complemented the crispy fried gnocchi.

Braised beef cheek in lobster broth with charred scallions and baby carrots was listed as a small plate, but easily made a meal.

The cheek was fork-tender and the richness of the broth elevated the veggies to something out of the ordinary.

I feel certain even young veggie haters would change their mind about clearing their plates if they were served them in lobster broth.

Since we'd arrived later, when the kitchen closed, we eventually had Chef Owen regaling us with stories of his childhood hunting trips.

There were only three rules on the trips. You had to be at least ten years old, no females, and no gambling (too many guns and too much alcohol to risk it).

In his family, it was a rite of passage to learn to cut up what you killed so at age eleven he found himself being told to slice open the deer he'd shot.

He laughed telling us about how he cried, not because of having to slice an animal open, but because he was throwing up so much at having to do it.

There's a visual most eleven-year olds will never have.

Even so, he said he wouldn't change a thing about his childhood. Including zipping his younger brother into a sleeping bag and throwing him down the stairs.

My friend shared that he told his younger brother that Crisco was icing and the poor kid took a huge bite. Owen was impressed with my friend's big brother brilliance.

It was one of those rare times that I was just grateful I grew up with five sisters.

Owen remembered that the stack of Playboy magazines at the hunting lodge was taller than the toilet they sat next to.

Heady stuff for a boy, no doubt.

I remember my father's stacks of Playboys in a bin in our basement. We girls didn't consider them particularly heady.

Sister #3 had the right idea, though. She sold a dozen or so of them to boys in the neighborhood, sure my father would never notice their absence among so many back issues.

She wouldn't have made a dime if we'd had brothers.

And I certainly wouldn't have let any brother of mine tell me how stupid I was for wearing so little on the back of a motorcycle.

Ah, youth.

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