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.

The Rules of Pizza Club

The first rule of Pizza Club is that the dough must come from local supplier Pizza Tonight. Up until now, that had meant Pizza Tonight at home.

Ipanema changed all that tonight by inaugurating a monthly Pizza Club event featuring a host of vegan and vegetarian pizzas on PT's superior crust.

As someone who had been invited to the original Pizza Club several times and never been able to go, I was finally getting the chance to taste what all the hoopla was about.

Friends were already at the bar when I got there, so it was up to me to dive right in with them. Deciding which pizza to order was the hardest part, so I took care of the easy part by starting with a glass of Cono Sur Viognier.

I was sorely tempted by the pizza with mussels, caramelized onion and garlic but the lack of cheese sent me to the classic instead (tomato, basil, Mozzarella). A friend was in the middle of one and it looked scrumptious.

Ipanema had scratched entrees for the night, so the menu was limited to pizzas, salads and appetizers.

All around me were pizza eaters; a roving photographer snapped these beauties as they were delivered to their eager recipients. My guess would be that they're Facebook-bound, like every other picture taken these days seems to be.

One bite told me why my friends had long tried to get me to Pizza Club the Original; this dough makes a perfect crust, chewy and flavorful and supportive of its toppings. My friend had only been able to finish half of hers but I'm not ashamed to say I devoured all of mine.

Although a person who eats an entire pizza shouldn't need dessert, I was unwilling to pass on tonight's special offering of caramel gelato.

Served at the perfect temperature (not too cold or hard), each bite felt like a chewy caramel melting in my mouth. It was an unexpected and indescribably wonderful finish to my meal.

By about 9:30, the crowd began to dwindle as people left to go home and watch the Academy Awards, telling me that it was time to head over to the Camel for music.

As I walked up the sidewalk, I could hear music from within and a friend approached me, as if to warn me. "It's original, but it's classic rock," he informed me.

The Velvet Marias were mid-set when I walked in and it was true, the music was about as innovative as 1975, but the musicianship was strong and they had a room full of devoted fans enjoying every note, so I was clearly in the minority.

After a long breakdown and set-up, Marionette played, although they had microphone issues throughout their set. It was frustrating to the audience because they usually have such an outstanding sound, so I'm sure it must have frustrated the hell out of the musicians. Still, it's always good to hear them play.

Tonight's headliners were Athens, Georgia's Futurebirds, young but steeped in Southern music of the past. Or put another way, they'd be the perfect band to open for My Morning Jacket and get in front of a lot of likely converts.

My friend and I figured a lot of the audience for Drive-By Truckers fans, which is not a slur on that band but a euphemism for saying it was comprised of hat boys, frat boys and really bad white dancers who appreciate well done Southern rock. You know, the kind who yell out obscenities about guitars.

There was a lot to like about their sound, I have to admit. Three guitars, bass, pedal steel (always a pleasure to hear live), drums and multiple vocalists made for a rich sound that was not just southern but sometimes spiritual and even psychedelic. They had certainly done their homework listening to the music of their region's musical forefathers.

After all that pizza and gelato, I was just grateful that my only assignment was to show up, stand up and soak up the southern psychedelic sound.

Because the second rule of Pizza Club would most certainly be to avoid the couch after eating or you will surely find yourself asleep before you know it.

Dozing off isn't an option when you're surrounded by so much to see and hear. For instance, when you're listening to a glorious song like "Battle for Rome" amidst a room full of people trying desperately to find the beat.

Sleep through that, I dare you.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Bribes

A person can go to a nonfiction reading expecting part memoir and part travelogue and end up with something much closer to home.

Chop Suey was hosting Peggy Sijswerda, discussing her book "Still Life with Sierra: A Memoir." In quest of a fresh start, the author, her husband and young sons had moved to the Netherlands in the late 90s. They soon discovered that what they were hoping to find didn't exist.

It was the accidental death of their two-year old daughter that sent them first to a dark house in the Netherlands and then off camping throughout Europe seeking a new definition of home, but more realistically working through the grief process.

The reading got a late start due to Carytown being warm day-busy and swarming with people; no doubt attendees were struggling to find parking spaces. I happily parked four blocks away and enjoyed the stroll over.

When it finally began, and with a decent-sized crowd at that, the author led off by offering a box of Virginia Beach chocolates, she said, in hopes of bribing us to buy her book; I took a dark chocolate with cornflake crunch that was stellar.

There were several writers in the crowd, all curious about this kind of creative non-fiction, a genre spanning the likes of John Hersey's 1946 classic "Hiroshima" and Dave Eggers 2000 "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."

Sijswerda teaches creative writing at ODU and her book began life as her thesis in graduate school. She started the process of writing the story in 1998 and only got it published last August, significantly, the twentieth anniversary of her daughter's death.

And while she acknowledged the progress she had made in accepting the tragedy and folding it into who she is now, she also said that it's still very much with her.

As it is for anyone who has ever suffered a loss of that magnitude. To allow it to wholly define who you are means to give up on truly living and who wants to become that person?

Certainly not me.

No Blushing Here

"You know who in here I wouldn't want to see naked?" I asked my server at Rowland tonight.

The laugh attack I caused him almost made him choke.

"No one has ever asked me that before," he gasped, trying to put his best professional hat back on as he leaned down for the answer. "Who?"

Despite every single table being full when I arrived around 8:30, the bar was a little sparse and while a couple eventually settled on the other end, it remained that way.

It worked out fine because the three servers gave me more than enough conversation throughout the evening.

I know you're not supposed to drink alone but with no nearby barsitters, what's a girl to do but order some Anton Bauer Gruner Veltliner and make the best of the situation?

My server told me that he can only drink one glass of this grape before the green berry fruits start to wear on him.

I don't have that problem and enjoyed a glass before even considering my food choices.

Although the unique butterbean cake is a given at Rowland, I listened to the specials just in case something grabbed me.

That tuned out to be a wise decision because I was completely taken with the description of one of them.

Seared scallops and grilled lobster chunks over savory corn pudding laced with thyme butter sounded too good to pass up, so I didn't.

I was enjoying a piece of crusty bread dipped in their signature garlic-infused olive oil with roasted garlic (presuming that I wasn't likely to be kissing anyone tonight, drat the luck) when the main event arrived.

I had so made the right choice.

The dish was decadently rich, from the sweetness of the abundant scallops and lobster to the creamy, butter-drenched corn pudding and the nice acidity of the wine paired beautifully with it.

Luckily, the wine police were not watching my consumption tonight, unlike last night.

My check arrived five minutes before the show I was going to see was to start ("Well, it's just not that far," my server grinned by way of explanation) but that's what happens when you tell people what your plans involve.

Over at Sprout, the crowd was forming for the Allison Self and Jail Swerves show.

I've seen Allison enough to know not to miss her infrequent performances because she has a huge voice unlike any female singer in Richmond and a knack for choosing the ideal vintage material to showcase it.

She did some standards like "Good Night, Irene" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," utilizing harmonica player Andrew Ali, as talented a player as any who only took up the instrument a year and a half ago.

When we spoke during the break, he explained, "I want to be the old guy playing harmonica on the porch."

He's got a long way to go to old, but his talent is as evident as his passion.

Allison explained her affection for old music, saying that her grandmother always told her, "The deader they are, the more you like 'em." She admitted as much.

After her well-done set, seriously enhanced by Andrew's accompaniment, they were joined onstage by the Jail Swerves for a song.

Covering Lucille Bogen, Allison belted out what she called a dirty song, the classic, "Shave 'Em Dry," originally recorded in 1935.

The extremely X-rated lyrics are more graphic than you can imagine and probably way more so than most of the listeners in the room with the big black X on their hands could have fathomed.

Some of their faces were priceless in reaction; many looked stunned.

After a huge ovation, Allison left the stage and the punk hootenanny Jail Swerves kicked into the Clash's "London Calling."

It was a major cultural shift.

No voice could have wowed after Allison's raucous, big-voiced set, but the quartet of banjo, fiddle, guitar and upright bass (and occasional accordion) was fun and energetic and also employed Andrew's talent.

Periodically throughout their set, they would pass out tambourines to the crowd, always carefully collecting them in a laundry basket after each song.

Minor threats also aided the collection efforts.

"If you keep these instruments, you are going to hell," the lead singer told the crowd.

After a rousing cover of "Tainted Love," the band insisted on leading the crowd into the other room to try to engage the bar crowd.

Like the Pied Piper, people fell in line and followed for the one-song set near the bar before dutifully returning to the back room.

Proof positive that for some people, it's easier to play "follow the leader" than hear seriously raunchy lyrics. With any luck, they'll grow out of that.

Now if f*ckin' was the thing, that would take me to heaven
I'd be f*ckin' in the studio till the clock strike eleven

And that was by far the least objectionable part of the song.

Kudos to Allison for sharing this vintage listener favorite with Richmond on a Saturday night.

It was truly an amazing thing to hear, naughty bits and all.

Made me sorry I wasn't getting kissed...or more tonight.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Picking Up Chili, Not Husbands

Here's what I would consider a small perfect storm: a new CD arrives in the mail moments before I leave for a mini-roadtrip to the far reaches of Hanover County. What could possibly be better?

I was off to the Frog Level Volunteer Fire Department to pick up chili made by their firemen to benefit the building of the Dawn Library. And now I had Yuck's young but mind-blowing take on 90s indie music to make the trip so enjoyable that I wouldn't want to stop driving.

It wasn't my first time trying to do my part to get a library in a community that desperately wants one; I was there last summer for a community fish fry, here and had a lovely time dishing with the locals and eating fresh-fried fish until I was stuffed.

Today's fundraiser was just a pick-up event instead of a group gathering. What I hadn't realized when I'd first seen the "Chili Sale February 26" sign a few weeks ago on my way to Fredericksburg was that you were supposed to pre-order your chili. Oops, rookie mistake.

So when I got out of my car and was greeted by the trio taking payments, their first question was how many quarts I'd ordered. Just as I began to blather about not knowing I had to pre-order, Evelyn recognized me and said, "I ate with you at the fish fry! How are you doing?"

She was right and it was flattering to be remembered. I guess it's hard not to stand out when you're a Richmonder in Dawn, but being recognized also got me chili despite my lack of pre-ordering.

The ladies asked if I'd noticed that they'd broken ground on the new library (I hadn't) and told me to look for it on my way back down 301. Then I was instructed to drive down to the window to retrieve my firemen's chili, Dawn-style (chunk, not ground, meat with beans).

Pulling up at the window, two women of the three people at the counter also recognized me and were delighted that I'd come up again. "You need to move up here! Do you have a husband keeping you in Richmond?" the enthusiastic Pat asked. "We need you here!"

I laughed, saying that it wasn't a husband keeping me in Richmond. The older gentleman at the end of the counter removed the toothpick from his mouth and laconically said, "Wouldn't be hard to find you one around here." The toothpick went back into position, but he was grinning.

The women made sure I'd been given the flyer about the upcoming pancake dinner, also to benefit the library. I'm thinking of asking some friends to join me for the scenic ride up and the carbohydrate-heavy dinner for a good cause. I know it'll be a good time.

Chances are Yuck will still be in heavy rotation for those inclined toward dreamy melodic ballads ("Sunday" could easily still be on endless repeat by then) as well as noisy rockers ("Georgia" just makes me feel so happily 1993). Fair warning to any potential shotgun rider.

And for anyone on the lookout for husbands, I hear they have a surplus in Dawn. Personally, I'm all about the pancakes and the charming company.

The Scoop is in Her Lingerie

As any righteous Southerner could have explained, the way to go would have been to have had biscuits at this morning's first screening of the VCU Southern Film Festival.

Instead there were donuts and pastries for those willing to be at the Grace Street Theater by 10 a.m. The woman next to me expressed surprise that more people weren't there and I suggested that 10 is a tad early for many people on a Saturday morning. Somehow she was surprised to hear that.

Showing was an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel "Sanctuary," called "The Story of Temple Drake." We were told that we were seeing one of the very few copies of the film left floating around.

The story of a hedonistic Southern girl who lets boys go only so far was also the story of a strong female character who adapted to circumstance as she needed to.

When one of her suitors pressed her about marriage, he said, "Will you be honest with me, honey? Man to man?" and it didn't seem the least bit out of line to refer to her that way, nor did she question it.

Her troubles began when her drunken date crashed his car because he was going (gasp!) 60 mph on a dark road and they were forced by bootleggers to their nearby hideaway. Frightened by the roughness of the men and the potential for personal danger, Temple wants to escape

Naturally there's a raging thunderstorm going on and it's so tough to escape through the woods when you're wearing a bias-cut satin evening dress and matching evening coat. And running in sequined shoes is all but impossible.

So she stays and ends up witnessing a murder and being raped; it was the rape that made this film so controversial when it was released in 1933. For all I know, even the scene of her in her underthings was problematic, although it was a treat to see the beautiful lingerie of that era.

On a related note, her family's servant (very much a Mammy-like character) had noted while ironing a slip that if her guardian grandfather wanted to know what was going on with Temple, he should take a look at the condition of her torn lingerie. Scandalous stuff no doubt.

There were the usual period-specific references, as when her father's death in "the World War" was mentioned. No numbers necessary as there'd only been one.

And women were the still thought of as the weaker sex, evidenced when her admirer, the lawyer Benbow reminded her, "You're a woman...but you're still a Drake." The phrasing made it clear that her girl parts were a serious handicap and that only familial duty could be her salvation.

And it was and she redeemed herself in the end, telling all, but at great personal cost. She fainted, tumbling to the floor, right in front of the entire courtroom. The End.

My guess? She was probably weak from not having had a biscuit or two for breakfast.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shirtless Men and Fooling the Wine Police

Picasso fever swept the Friday Film series at VMFA tonight and, for a change, the event was packed.

Showing was "The Mystery of Picasso," a documentary from 1956. The screening began late because of the multitudes still in line buying tickets for it. Where were you people when "Blow Up" showed? Or "Pretty Baby"?

Tonight's film was preceded by a slam poetry performance by Slam Nahuatl, a group I've seen work their magic before. Riffing on Picasso's Blue Period work "Old Man Playing Guitar," they told a story of an artist having his heart broken by a woman and then trying to paint her from memory.

His heartbreak turns the portrait into that of an old man playing guitar with the ghostly image of the women's face emerging from the man's neck, left behind from his earlier effort to recreate his love's portrait.

It was a moving three-person performance and I'm quite sure the first slam poetry for many in the audience. The group will return to interpret another Picasso work at a future Friday Film screening.

The film was inspired, to say the least, and featured Picasso painting on special canvases with the filmmaker's camera on the other side, capturing every stroke.

The Director of Photography was Claude Renoir, grandson of Impressionist Pierre August Renoir and son of director Jean Renoir. No art cred there.

Most notable was that every one of the twenty pieces created for the film was destroyed after filming, so the only way to see these works is in this movie. And let me assure you, the only way to see this film is on the big screen.

Picasso, ever the macho man, creates these works shirtless, in nothing but shorts and sandals, and at age 75 at that. And, at least in black and white, he didn't look half bad for a septuagenarian, not that I've seen any shirtless before.

Watching the artist's creative process was illuminating in every possible way. One sketch began life as a fish, scales and all, soon morphed into a chicken and eventually ended up as a black cat's head. And visually, it made sense at every stage.

At one point, Picasso tells director Clouzot (the "French Hitchcock"), "I need more ink," and is shown taking out a large bottle of India ink to add to to what he had been using, all while the camera is stopped.

Another time, he tells him, "I have to go deeper and take more risks," and redoes the work entirely to his satisfaction. Finishing, he tells the director, "It bothers me that viewers will think it took me ten minutes to do that." Clouzet informs us that it took five hours.

The time lapse sequences allow the viewer to see what the artist does to add and subtract from the picture during the course of its creation.

There was a collective groan from the audience when, after constructing a beautiful sunny beach scape, it was colored over entirely under a wash of blue. No one could have regretted the omission had they not seen it before its disappearance.

And that was the beauty of the film. Watching a master's vision develop on screen allowed a priceless look into the creative genius of the man. He saw the outcome of each piece even as he was adjusting it entirely throughout.

Not every attendee was quite as taken with the film as I was, however; the guy next to me sank down in his chair and snored throughout the movie and his wife sat upright and dozed.

Fortunately, they woke up before the Q & A period and both asked questions, no doubt to make themselves feel better about their inability to stay awake.

Afterwards, I decided to stick close to home for dinner, so Bistro 27 won the hypothetical toss. The place was jammed when I arrived around 9 and the bar crowded with a handful of wine reps who'd come from the Wine Expo down the street.

Bartender Ron asked me what my liquid pleasure was and when I said, "Tempranillo and water," he responded, "Of course. I should have known." Well, then...?

Looking for something I hadn't had before, I chose the duck confit salad with a crispy duck leg confit on cold saffron potato and frisee salad with a red wine vinaigrette. Then I got the stuffed squid full of baby shrimp and scallops in basil tomato sauce over grits, which I'd had and knew I loved.

The duck confit leg atop the salad tasted as good as it looked and the guy next to me couldn't resist asking what I'd ordered when he saw me eating it.

As I told him, it was definitely worth trying. I gave him and his girlfriend a sample on a plate just to prove my point, so I got to hear that I was right from two strangers.

They were new to me, but have lived in the neighborhood for two years (down from upstate NY) so we had lots to talk about in terms of the hood, restaurants and finding amusement in RVA. I love that they are carless by choice and also that they are thrilled by what is within walking distance and bus routes.

Once the dinner rush ended, the chef joined me for some wine and conversation, asking about how my working and dating were going, with the emphasis on the latter. It's great; I've got love life suggestions coming from every corner these days.

After a couple of hours in my stool, one of the wine reps looked over at me and said, "I just don't know about you. You've only had two glasses of wine all evening." Suddenly he was the wine police and I was being charged with insufficient consumption.

It is to laugh. You can rest assured, I did.

The Corner of What?

It was a multi-cultural evening beginning in the deep south, stopping briefly in China and and settling into 70s-era Italy for the duration.

To kick off VCU's Southern Film Festival this weekend, author Charles Shields was giving a talk ("Let's keep this more of a conversation," he said right off the bat) about his book "Mockingbird: An Intimate Portrait of Harper Lee" at Fountain Books.

Audience members shared their first memory of reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" and they varied widely; some people fell in love with Scout's character while others saw Atticus as the memorable one.

I only first read the book ten years ago and I remember being struck by how very Southern small-town it was, probably because it depicted a world so different from the one in which I was raised.

Shields got some fascinating input for his book, especially about the interpretation of the Scout character.

Harper Lee described Scout, who was based on her own childhood persona, as "Too hard for the girls" and the Truman Capote character of Dill as, "Too soft for the boys," making them both misfits and kindred spirits.

A lesbian fan of the book told Shields that, "Scout is enough to make any girl-loving girl's heart go pitter-patter." That is high praise indeed.

Shields is speaking again Saturday before the screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at Grace Street Theater, but I knew it couldn't possibly be as intimate as a Fountain Books talk. There's something about sitting in evangelical church folding wooden chairs to hear about Southern literature that just feels right.

Walking up Cary Street in the rain afterwards, I peeked out from under my red umbrella when I heard the unmistakable sound of accordion playing in front of Bistro Bobette; it was the guy I'd met there recently who plays in the restaurant on occasion singing and playing his heart out.

It was delightful seeing and hearing him on the sidewalk and under a streetlight on a rainy, reflective evening. Don't tell me Richmond has no charm.

I ducked into Peking for some take-out (hot and sour soup, Hunan pork) to bring home and devour while I knocked out a writing assignment before going out again.

My fortune cookie laid it out for me: Love is just around the corner.

Dinner demolished, story submitted, I made my way to Balliceaux for the Mondo Italia dance party with Glows in the Dark. This free jazz group is a long-time favorite of mine, but tonight they were doing something they'd never done before: not improvising.

Like the last time they did something similar, here, there was an Italian film showing behind them, this time 1977's "The Big Racket." But this time, guitarist Scott Burton had actually arranged all this 70s Italian movie music, so there was no noodling.

His musical choices were inspired and the group well-rehearsed. Trombonist Reggie pace also played wah-wah guitar and percussion, Cameron Ralston was on electric bass, John Lily on sax and Scott Clark on drums.

We were even treated to Eddie Prendergast of Amazing Ghost doing lead vocal on one very disco-sounding song and he was a show stopper with his smooth delivery and near-dance moves. The crowd went crazy, but so did the band. It was a highpoint in an evening of stellar moments.

The idea behind not improvising had been to keep the music going for the sake of dancing, but it took a while for people to get started actually dancing and then it was just a few people.

It was a shame because the music was so danceable, so very 70s groovy with big old bass lines that made you move almost involuntarily. Nobody does movie music better than Glows in the Dark.

I had a great vantage point from the settee by the bar and my musician friend Marshall, who'd been with me last night, joined me there again tonight. At one point, trumpeter and funnyman Bob Miller came over to say hello to us.

"Have you guys moved since last night?" he asked, half in jest. Well, we're wearing different clothes so we must have, we told him.

Hell, I'd been through Alabama and China before he found me back on that settee enjoying 70s grooves Italian-style while gunfights and bad moustaches played out on the wall.

There could not have been a more amazing experience going on in RVA tonight. If I wasn't going to turn the corner and find love, Balliceaux was the place to be.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Don't Worry, He Didn't Inhale

As I stood in the lobby of the Virginia Historical Society's lobby waiting for my friend to arrive, a man came through ranting about how bright it was in the auditorium. "I need extra sunglasses!" he yelled disgustedly.

Okay, so it was brighter at today's Banner Lecture than usual, but that was because C-Span's Book Talk was recording the event. In fact, the president of the VHS even told us to be on our best behavior because of it. This crowd? I think you can count on them being good.

He also reminded us to turn off our cell phones so as not to be embarrassed on national TV and still, somehow, a phone went off mid-lecture. Really, people?

The topic was "Inventing George Washington: America's Founder in Myth and Memory" by Dr. Edward Lengel. He began by talking about how the young country was plunged into grief at the death of the great, white father.

In an effort to fill that loss, a mythology began to be created to keep Washington's spirit alive. One of the first and most mercenary was Parson Weems, who contacted a publisher suggesting that stories about GW were the way to go.

"Parson Weems saw the dollar bill in George Washington long before George Washington was on the dollar bill," Lengel observed. After much audience laughter, he acknowledged, "Thanks. I made that up myself."

Weems was apparently the first in a long line of people who tried to capitalize on GW, including P.T. Barnum. Lengel touched on GW's spirituality (not the devout Christian some have painted him as), possible pre-Martha loves like Sally Fairfax (the best ever colonial porn name), and the large number of missing papers from GW's extensive writings (Martha burned all their letters for privacy's sake).

Let's face it, even the tourism industry co-opted GW for profit (if the man had really slept everywhere it was claimed he had, he couldn't have spent a single night at war or at Mount Vernon).

And because we are a people who like to tear down what we build up, he discussed the post-World War I years when attempts to discredit the man were rampant. He swilled gin! He smoked cigars! He relaxed by smoking pot! He made passes at women! He blundered his way through the Revolutionary War!

After our history lesson, Friend and I went to Stronghill for lunch, which worked out well because he'd never been there. He loved the Art Nouveau feel of the place, admiring the langorously-figured mural and coveting the enormous chandelier.

With my sniffles continuing, I was all about some soup and they had a doozy on the menu today. It was a duck confit and black-eyed pea soup with carrots, onion and scallions. Yes, please.

The duck stock made for an incredibly rich broth which was full of duck, beans and veggies. I'm ashamed to say that I tore through it without ever offering my friend a taste, something he later pointed out.

I also had the wedge salad because it was a different variation than the classic bacon/bleu cheese. This had a decadent housemade Caesar dressing with Parmesan crostini on the side and was delicious, crispy and creamy at the same time.

I didn't taste my friend's roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions, fennel slaw and Monterey Jack cheese (despite being a huge fan of sandwiches with slaw on them) but I may have helped myself to a fry or seven (only because he offered, mind you).

We talked about the difficulty in deciding what to see this weekend given that there are two film festivals going on. He shared that a mutual friend is sleeping around on his wife, never what you want to hear about someone.

He's a bartender and told me about the large group of salesmen who had come in at 4:30 yesterday and not left till almost 11:00, talking business the whole time. Such dedication to career is no doubt made easier with the aid of a large bar tab (On the company? We'll guess yes).

When we finished, my friend was off to thrift, hoping to find a vanity stool for his honey with which to surprise her. Me, I was off to address these sniffles which must not come between me and my upcoming plans.

That may involve a nap, but not in a bed where GW slept. My historical curiosity extends only so far.

Swedish Pop Rocks

People who go camping are really intense. That's what was on the TV screen when I walked into Lemaire this evening to meet a friend.

My only basis for agreeing with that sentiment is that a few years back, I had a date with a guy and we were chatting about something unrelated when suddenly he said, "Do you camp? Cause my ex-wife didn't camp and I love to camp." Fairly intense, I thought. First and last date for sure.

My friend was running late so I went ahead and ordered a bottle of Sicilian wine, the 2006 Fuedo Maccari ReNoto Nero d'Alva/Syrah, so her glass was filled and waiting for her when she arrived.

It had been a month since our last date and she'd had both flu and a crisis of relationship in that time. But what she couldn't wait for was details of my recent dates, so we alternated with our stories until we both knew everything that had happened in the other's world.

One of the funniest moments was when a suit walked directly up to us, stopped a foot away and made an abrupt right turn, apparently having just realized that he didn't know us after all. We looked at each other and laughed out loud.

As usual for the two of us, the discussion lasts as long as the bottle and cheese (tonight Midnight Moon and Humbolt Fog) do before we both have places to be, but not before I've been thoroughly grilled.

My plans were at the University of Richmond for a screening of The Desert of Forbidden Art, a documentary about a secret art museum in Soviet Uzbekistan where, in defiance of the KGB, a driven and dedicated curator assembled an enormous collection of paintings by avant-garde artists who settled there after the Russian Revolution in 1917.

This man was such a fanatic about collecting the forbidden art that he made twenty 1700=mile trips to take the art he bought from Moscow to Uzbekistan. Interestingly, most of the artists have no name recognition because of the Soviet government having banned them.

To an art history lover like me, this documentary was fascinating, made more so by all the archival film and still footage the government had taken, stored and forgotten. It fleshed out the historical parts of the film in such a compelling way.

The director, Amanda Pope, took questions afterwards and told of years of trying to get the money to make the film.

Once she saw an out-of-print book of the museum's contents, she was driven by a desire to have Western documentation of the extensive collection for fear that something may happen to the outlying museum and its unparalleled collection; Islamic fundamentalists have been known to destroy art in the region.

The film was a sobering reminder about the role art plays in culture and a gift for the look at some of the magnificent canvasses, many of them never before seen. It'll be interesting to see what kind of response the film gets once it is in theatrical release (it premieres in NYC this weekend).

From the far reaches of UR, I drove to Balliceaux for music, parking the car on Hanover and heading down the street. I was stopped in my tracks in front of Pie by their sign touting avocado nachos- $6. Sold!

I'd never heard of such a thing, but I'm a big avocado fan and a certified nacho lover, so I was game for something different. Inside, there was only one other couple downstairs and I was invited to have my choice of tables.

In no time at all, my nachos were in front of me and showing plenty of sliced avocado throughout. They also had jalapenos, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and the requisite cheese and sour cream, but it was the nature's butter that made these special.

I didn't recognize the music, so I had to inquire of my personable server what it was (DJ Shadow) and that led to a most excellent discussion of music and photography. We discovered we have a mutual admiration for Swedish pop and even exchanged recommendations.

It makes my day when that happens. As I write, I'm listening to Mike Snow at Adam's suggestion, reveling in being introduced to music I'm seriously enjoying because of a chance encounter with another music lover.

At Balliceaux, Ombak's set was already audible when I walked in, but I stopped to chat with Austin who's enjoying rubbing my face in the fact that he's seeing Beach House this weekend and I'm not. I have seen them, but not since "Teen Dream" came out; I adore that album and would love to hear it played live.

Also at the bar was musician Marshall and I made the colossal error in judgment of throwing my arms around him.

Within seconds I was sneezing and he asked, "Are you allegoric to cats?" Um, yes. His jacket was covered in cat hair it turned out and I continued to react to him even as we went into the back room for music.

Ombak is so full of A-list musicians that listening to them is like being privy to a master class. Everyone - Hooten, Jones, Kuhl, Pollard and Ralston- is so amazingly good that it's fun just to watch them eyeball each other as they take off in unexpected musical directions.

Brian Jones was playing Chris Farmer's drum set (Chris was headlining) and noted that it was fun to watch Brian play his set and have to make adjustments throughout because they weren't his usual drums.

I pointed out that given his virtuosity, Brian probably enjoys the challenge of it and both Chris and Marshall agreed.

Farmer's drumming, played to recorded tracks, is hard hitting. A video of a train passing over a camera on the tracks played repeatedly during his first song; it seemed like an apt metaphor for being run over by the sheer amount of energetic sound he produces.

Eventually my sneezing became a royal pain and I excused myself, satisfied at having heard some outstanding music after a delicious take on an old favorite dish, following a moving and revealing documentary once I parted from my friend and some important girl talk.

Just don't call me intense because I don't go camping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ISO Wednesday Lunch Date

I got a hankering for a road trip lunch today but couldn't think of a single friend who has Wednesdays off. Not that that stopped me, but it's always nice to have company for a sunny day drive.

And one of my favorite drives is out Route 5, so I picked up Main Street at 14th and made Charles City Tavern my destination. Yeasayer was blaring, plantations were passing and all was right with the world.

I love the charm of the tavern, even more so in warm weather when you can eat on the screened-in porch; when the hostess asked me where I wanted to sit, I left the choice to her. She put me in the sunny eastern dining room with an older couple at a nearby table.

They were looking at a map and discussing Jamestown as I listened to the specials and checked out the menu.

I decided on the soup du jour (potato, cheese and country ham) and bubble up (cheese and bacon open face sandwich) and a salad (Virginia apples, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, craisins, artisan lettuces with honey raspberry vinaigrette).

Musically, we were firmly in the 60s and 70s with the likes of Barry White, Edwin Starr and Jerry Butler serenading us from speakers above. It was perfect.

I couldn't resist asking the couple about their map searching. I learned that they'd lived in Midlothian for two years and were on a day trip to Jamestown for no better reason than a sunny drive. They were tickled to hear that I had been motivated for the same reason. Now we were friends.

I'd noticed that the curtain on the window by their table had been pulled up and anchored with salt and pepper shakers.

It was for the light and the view, they said, so I did the same with my curtain, revealing a view of the fields and an outbuilding. It wasn't quite the porch, but it was much more pleasant.

They asked where I was from and I asked the same of them. He answered "The Northern Neck" and she "Warrenton," so I made a leap of faith and asked if they'd met online. They had.

"Have you tried it?" he asked enthusiastically. I explained I had some trepidation about the whole concept of online dating ("But why?" he asked) and suddenly they became the poster couple for it.

They warned me about the pitfalls, talked about the variety of people on dating sites and assured me I'd be very popular online.

Our food arrived about then, and I was happy to let that topic die. They, too, had gotten the soup and we all thought it was stellar, chock full of country ham (more ham than potato chunks) and peas.

The bubble up was delightful, a variation on my favorite 2 a.m. snack of late (tallegio and bacon grilled cheese), although this version was topless.

My salad featured some beautiful lettuces and an abundance of apple matchsticks and did a fine job of balancing the richness of the soup and sandwich.

Afterwards, we got to talking about the Northern Neck and I recommended the Lancaster Tavern to them as worthy of a day trip meal, especially with the original jail and courthouse just across the street for touring.

Once again the map came out as we established exactly where the tavern is and they said they appreciated the recommendation.

As I put on my coat, I thanked them for their company. "Go online!" he told me, returning to the subject of dating. "It's not scary and it works! Look at us! Just don't give them your phone number right away."

"And meet in public places," his charming mate chimed in. "You're going to do very well online at your age, sweetie."

Jeez, they knew I was single on sight and now they'd figured out my age. I had a sense that if I'd walked out of the room and immediately walked back in, they would have disappeared, having accomplished their do-good mission.

I'm a little hesitant not to listen to the blissed out couple I randomly met in the middle of nowhere.

What if they were the reason I took that road trip lunch today? Stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trying to Tryst the Evening Away

Feeling a tad nervous tonight, I figured a stop for a bit of food and wine in familiar environs would be a good way to relax into the rest of my evening.

So I went to Six Burner, also the destination for an awful lot of other people tonight. I did get a chance to see Beth Marchant's show of works after Picasso; they were uncanny for their similarities to the originals. We'll call them cover paintings, like cover songs.

When I was asked what my wine preference was, I asked for the Warwick Pinotage, only to be told that it was no longer the featured red.

It was a good time to put on my pouty face because the wine rep who carries it was sitting at the bar. More is on order, I was told.

A zinfandel was suggested, tasted and rejected and I ended up choosing the Concannon Petit Syrah. Not nearly as good a pairing with springbok as the Pinotage would have been, but then I wasn't having springbok tonight.

Enjoying the roasted beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios in balsamic vinaigrette, I considered the sugar toads, but went with the fluke sashimi (with chicharron, ponzu, red plum, horseradish and bacon powder) instead.

The dish demonstrates why I want talented people to cook for me. The fluke and pork rind combination came together on the plate as if they were meant to be partnered, with the ponzu positively sop-worthy. I savored my first bacon powder, wondering how in the world such a thing is conceived of, much less made.

Tonight it was the staff who kept me entertained because there were no other bar sitters. It worked out well because I got to hear about a breakup that resulted in a reunited couple and who doesn't love a happy ending story?

The owner was telling me about some of the Picasso specials various restaurants have come up with and I had to wonder how many blue drinks Richmond will have for the next three months. Just a thought, folks, but it may have been more appetizing to focus on the painter's Rose Period.

I got to hear a long-time service industry employee get on her restaurant soapbox and tell me her interpretation of how things should be in terms of menus, staff and ambiance. She thanked me for listening and I thanked her for sharing her informed opinions; it's how I learn things.

From there it was on to Patrick Henry's to meet a recent acquaintance for some extended conversation. When he'd suggested it, my first thought had been that it would be perfect in that we could be alone in a roomful of people I wouldn't likely know.

Wrong. Ten minutes in and we had one of my music buddies stop by the table to say hi. My new friend's neighbors came in. Forget discretion in this town because there is no privacy when you're out and about.

But that's fine because the visitor returned to his table, the neighbors ignored us and we had the rest of the evening to discuss all kinds of things amongst ourselves.

It went so well that I wondered why I'd ever been nervous about an evening of talking. Or maybe I mistook anticipation for nerves.

Look at me, actually anticipating. That's progress with a capital P.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wet Judges and Raw Oysters

Me: Any interest in meeting for a drink?
Friend: Interest.
Me: Where/when?
Friend: 6 at non-smoky Avalon.

The Avalon descriptor is a holdover reminder because I used to limit our get-togethers there because of the noxious amounts of smoke that hung at bar level back before the smoking ban made it a tolerable place to go.

My friend is a lawyer, so when I inquire about his day, I get a detailed account of the case in which he's recently been immersed; words like sanction and discovery are thrown around and once again I find myself admiring his ability to sort through so much crap and make a convincing case.

When he tosses off the name of the U.S. District Court Judge who ruled so favorably for his client, I realize that I have sipped tequila and had some fascinating conversation with that judge in the shallow end of a pool at a get-together in Lexington, Virginia.

Not surprisingly, my friend was quick to acknowledge that the judge probably made for excellent company outside the courtroom, wet or dry.

I recall a man who was willing to drive to the nearest ABC for good tequila when he learned that that was what I drank and returned to tell me some wildly amusing courtroom anecdotes. Enough said.

From the legal to the delectable, my friend and I got off on the topic of raw oysters. The best we'd shared came with little balls of Meyer lemon sorbet as the only accompaniment and they were sublime, but we also made a case for hot sauce, mignonette and fresh squeezed lemon.

At issue was that not enough places in Richmond reliably have raw oysters. I told him about Rappahannock River Oysters, a place my Northern Neck-residing parents continue to keep in business.

The reasons are my Dad's voracious oyster appetite (not to mention when his favorite daughter visits) as well as for gifting. One day you're craving and the next day they're arriving. It's nearly instant oyster gratification.

Audio talk followed and while much of it comes across sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher to my ears (wah, wah, wah), one line did jump out at me.

And I quote," You know, back before transistors, there were transformers and they were the cat's ass." And he said it with such sincerity.

I understood the premise but not the specifics of that statement but I still thought it was funny as hell. I stopped him and repeated it, thinking he'd hear how ridiculous it sounded, but he looked at me bewildered. That's an audio geek for you.

After such a stimulating evening of conversation and libations I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at 821 Cafe on my way home. And, boy, did I surprise them.

Despite it being $2 burger night, my server looked at me and presumed that I'd want my usual black bean nachos. And I did, but I just couldn't allow myself to continue being that predictable.

So I ordered a big salad with protein on top, shocking her as much as me. The ironic part is that for years all I ever ate at 821 was a big salad, but it's been easily a couple of years since I'd gone that route. But she didn't know that.

She just thought I'd lost my mind or been supplanted by an alien (who are you and what have you done with Karen?).

I probably should have just told her, "You know, back before nachos there were big salads and they were the cat's ass."

Wah, wah, wah.

George from a Pew

To celebrate our first President's birthday, St. John's Church was having a Washington re-enactor give a talk today.

Of course, tomorrow is actually his birthday, right? Well, actually no. One of the first things Mr. Washington cleared up was that he was born on February 11, but back when we were on the Julian calendar.

When England joined the rest of the world in switching to the Gregorian calendar, it added eleven days to the year and his birthday moved to the 22. Two minutes into the talk and I've already learned something I didn't know.

From the front pew, I had a prime viewing spot of the general's Fairfax militia uniform as he shared bits and pieces of his life. He told of learning surveying by reading books and using his deceased father's tools, a show of initiative that's hard to conceive of now.

He spoke about being sent to the northwest territory ostensibly to negotiate with the French, but really to spy on them. No one talks about Washington the spy.

I did find it fascinating that when he was assigned to lead troops during the Revolution, he had no experience commanding a navy or men with artillery or even soldiers on horseback and felt completely under-qualified for the job (sounds like he was). This was Washington, the inexperienced.

Describing himself as the least intelligent and least educated of all the participants at the Constitutional Convention, he said he just stood back and let wiser minds do the heavy lifting.

Of course, he also noted that the "suit" they were crafting for the chief executive of the new country seemed to be exactly his size, not a typical one for the time.

And all he wanted to do was go home to Mount Vernon and be a gentleman farmer. Add in Washington as unambitious, but with a duty to do what his countrymen expected of him.

As a performance, the Washington re-enactor's vocabulary and clipped speech seemed accurate to the period, with no concessions in terms of word choices for the younger members of the audience, something I really appreciated.

And even though it's the 21st and not the 22nd or even the 11th, there was birthday cake and lemonade afterwards.

Just the kind of easy-to-eat thing that a man with bad dentures could have gummed. Now I would be referring to Washington, the one-toothed President.

No one tells you this stuff in fourth grade Social Studies.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Power Napping Before Beer-Thirty

I was a Nollywood virgin before tonight. Okay, to be honest, I didn't even know there were Nollywood films before tonight.

Maybe that's why the University of Richmond does their International Film Series in the first place. Perhaps they realize that there are oblivious types like me out there who need to be educated and they set out to do it on a weekly basis.

Being shown was Arugba, a 2008 Nigerian film that was part romantic comedy, part social commentary, part public service announcement and overwhelmingly, a moral tale. Governments are corrupt and politicians self-serving. Got it.

The award-winning film was made by a leading Nigerian director as an allegory about the current state of Nigerian politics and culture. To this American, it was striking for its heavy-handed health lessons (AIDS testing good, infant dehydration bad) and love/hate relationship with the U.S.

References to Obama being elected (and shown speaking on TV) underscored the effect this had on blacks worldwide, but they were tempered by things like a dance number espousing native African traditions over superficial American ways.

And much to my surprise, there were several colorful dance numbers that combined Western style hip-hop sounds and delivery with native African style dancing and costumes.

Contrast that with one of the main plot points being about choosing a ceremonial virgin for the traditional masquerade festival, which sounded rather archaic to me.

But there was a touch of modern humor when one of the town elders addressed the crowd saying, "I greet the virgins and those that can never be virgins again."

Not long after I sat down in the theater, a guy came in and sat next to me and his friend eventually joined him. He mentioned that he didn't have high hopes for the film because, "The synopsis sounded dull. I don't really like African movies." So why exactly are you here then?

Within fifteen minutes, he was slumped in his seat snoring next to me. Fortunately, his friend waited until one of his snorts woke him up, they conferred and decided to exit stage right.

Squeezing by me, the snorer leaned down and apologized, "Sorry, just didn't like it. We're gonna go have a beer. Wanna join us?"

I'd make a disparaging remark here, except that four other people got up during the course of the movie and left, too. I'm not sure what they were expecting from a Nigerian film, but whatever it was, clearly it wasn't being delivered.

They might want to consider getting used to seeing more Nigerian movies, though. According to the pre-film speaker, in terms of sheer number of movies being produced, it's now Bollywood, Nollywood, and then Hollywood. Number three and hanging on by our collective fingernails.

Whoa. That gives virgins and those that can never be virgins again something to think about, I'd say.

My Sins Found Me Out in Ashland

If art and writers are placed at the center of the universe, I will go on a Sunday afternoon.

That meant a short drive up Route 301 to the Flippo Gallery at Randolph Macon for the opening of "Artists and Writers II," a biennial invitational exhibit of collaborative works between, duh, artists and writers, even when they're the same person.

Which was the case with comic book artist Dash Shaw, whose monochromatically blue and green panels of a dating adventure opened the show. I was especially taken with the panels of a couple discussing their pasts.

Him: When I was in college, I was with a 33-year old.
Her: What did she teach you?
Him: There are things that are illegal in certain states that women really enjoy over the age of 30.

I was the only one who laughed out loud at those panels, admittedly, but I was in a cluster of people all of whom appeared to be under 30.

The Susan Singer/Valley Haggard collaboration involved Singer taking over 300 nude photos of Haggard and from them producing three paintings which hung in today's show, surrounded by two lists of words.

One held negatives (fat, cellulite, lard ass, thunder thighs) and the other positives (luscious, curvy, voluptuous, goddess), demonstrating the mental progress Haggard made about her body over the year they worked together.

Man-about-town Harry Kollatz collaborated with Amie Oliver for a series of paintings that included some of Harry's scribbles over the past fifteen years. The paintings of coffee cups, flowers and Harry were all done in beautiful winter shades of white, gray and black.

Oliver had traced over Harry's jottings to achieve words on canvas, my favorite being "I have lived long enough that my sins have found me out." A painting of Harry's ubiquitous hat was overlaid with, "C'est ne pas Harry," for a touch of humor.

Poet Joshua Poteat and architectural historian Roberto Ventura came together for a series of panels called, "For Lucy and Yard Sale," based on a news story about a homeless man's murder and the friends he left behind. The thematic nature of the piece was based on railroads, since the friends had hopped trains together.

Lines from one of Poteat's poems were used on wooden panels for a site-specific installation and some also had bits of the news story on them; the proceeds of the sale of the individual pieces will go to the Daily Planet.

I was so taken with a line of poetry on one of the panels that I immediately found the gallery's director and bought it.

While I'll have to wait until April when the show closes to collect it, I look forward to having a piece of poetry on my wall, especially one purchased for a worthwhile and local cause.

The opening was packed and most people stayed for the reading afterwards. Haggard began with ruminations about the self-exploration she'd done during the course of the project.

She said the end result was the ability to allow her insecurities to coexist with her body's past (six surgeries, six miscarriages and one child) in a peaceful and gentle way.

Harry put on his actor's hat (that is, voice) for a reading from old journals of random jottings and overheard conversations; thus we heard things like, "You have to be young, stoned and have good bowels to make art." He spoke of seeing graffiti saying, "Jesus is a gay Boy Scout" in three different handwritings.

Josh Poteat read his previously-written poem, the one that had resonated so strongly when they began their site-specific project. It's the second such piece he's done with Ventura and they hope to do more.

And I got to hear the poet read the line which had compelled me to buy a piece of art in Ashland when I had no intention of doing any such thing.

There is an agreeable sound here, under the thistle...

Not that craving words and art could be considered sins, at least not in my (illustrated) book.

Being Turned On at the Camel

Guy: What do you want a shot of?
Girl: Um...uh...uhhhhhh...I want a shot of whatever.

Luckily, there were also musicians and Beatles fans in attendance at The Camel tonight in addition to shot seekers.

It was a late-starting show because of an earlier comedy show. It was after 11 when Lightfoot from DC took the stage, mentioning that it was their drummer's last night with the band before he leaves to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. Seriously.

Fuzzy Baby followed them and made everything right with the world again. There's just something about the sound of a tuba and songs about instruments mating that makes a person appreciate the pleasures of Saturday night.

It was about 12:45 when Prabir and the Goldrush finally gathered their forces for the billed "I'd Love to Turn You On" show to include any number of Beatles' covers.

They did some original stuff first, including a kick-ass new song, before going back to the music of a band who broke up at least a decade before most of the people in the room were even alive. Just an observation, mind you.

It wasn't enough that they they were covering the Fab Four; they also had special guests join them throughout the evening. People like horn man Lucas Fritz, bar wench Melanie Rasnic, guitar player Kevin Wade Inge (of Horsehead) and Gallery 5 director Amanda Robinson all added to the musical mix.

When the tuning up portion of the show dragged on, Prabir explained, "All the songs we're doing, the Beatles never did live. Now we know why."

A sampling of what got covered: "Got to Get You into my Life," notable for Lucas' horn, a truncated "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,"and "I am the Walrus," brilliantly executed on Kevin's guitar and with the audience helping out on the coo-coo-ca-choos, "Fixing a Hole," a personal favorite already, totally unexpected tonight and now memorable for Amanda's version, "Eleanor Rigby," always beautiful because of Matt's bass playing and a rip-roaring take on "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" again by the awesome Amanda.

When the set closed, Prabir invited all the musical guests as well as Justin and Molly of Fuzzy Baby back up on stage for the final song. I was expecting "All You Need is Love" but instead we got the perennial Generation Z favorite "Bohemian Rhapsody."

We may have started in the 60s tonight, but we finished squarely in the 70s with the whole room singing along and swaying unevenly.

Proof positive that the Beatles' music lives on...and old Queen never dies, especially in a room full of people doing shots of whatever.

Guy: Here.
Girl: What is it? Doesn't matter. I don't care.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cafe Ole: Slugs and Salamanders

Slugs need food, too.

I say that because I accomplished next to nothing today, making me feel very lazy and yet by late afternoon, all I could think of was where I wanted to eat lunch.

I've no doubt that my sluggishness arose from two of the last three nights being 3 a.m. bedtimes.

What with today being the weekend, though, I corrected that deficit by getting up, having breakfast and taking a windy walk before crashing for a two-hour nap.

And I don't know about you, but I always wake up from a nap hungry, so when I arose around 3:00, I found myself headed to the new Cafe Ole in Carytown still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

Since I'd never patronized Ben and Jerry's, it was my first time in that space with its great panorama of C-town's street theater.

And today's sunshine had brought out a full cast of characters human and canine.

With the Arcade Fire's new album "The Suburbs" blaring overhead, the place had all the entertainment I could hope for.

I was disappointed to see that the wall menu had a paper sign over the nachos portion saying "No Nachos."

When I inquired as to why nachos were not yet available (I mean, come on, the ingredients are all over the rest of the menu), I was told it was because they don't yet have a salamander.

This became a teachable moment because I didn't know about Salamander toaster ovens.

My server explained, "They're expensive and we just opened, so we gotta pay the electric bill before we buy anything else new. But nachos are definitely coming."

Whew.

So I had to move beyond the nachos portion of the menu for my late lunch.

Although I didn't see them on the menu, I took a chance and asked if they had fish tacos; they were always my favorite item at the downtown Cafe Ole.

Bingo!

I ordered a couple of those, found a window table and settled in to read the Washington Post article about the competitive eating club at University of Maryland (my alma mater).

Frankly, I found the idea of a school-sponsored club centered around overeating pretty repulsive, but who am I to judge extra-curricular activities?

My tacos arrived, full of blackened tilapia, fruit salsa (pears and mango, but I was told it changes), and chopped lettuce with a honey/chipotle sauce; they were surrounded by Ole's signature chips (fried in peanut oil the sign boasts) and house salsa.

It had been easily a year since I'd last had the downtown location's fish tacos and these were just as good as I remembered. It occurred to me that down there, you could only get them on Thursdays.

And, come to think of it, why weren't they listed on the menu at all here?

Enquiring minds need to know, so I went up to the counter to ask.

Turns out they only serve fish tacos in Carytown on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays.

So I'd just lucked out in ordering them today.

The girl did say that they were sort of planning to add them to the menu soon and possibly even daily.

I told her I was glad for my random good luck in having inadvertently stumbled in on a fish day.

"Oh, good!" she said, sounding relieved. "I thought you were coming up to say you were allergic to tilapia or something."

Not a chance.

Slugs eat everything, honey.

Following the Muse

Not to belabor the point, but I saw 176 Picassos tonight for the second time in, oh, 33 hours. According to one of my accompanying friends, it'll take three visits to fully wrap one's head around so much Picasso.

So tonight was number two for me. Afterwards, with no expectations whatsoever, my couple date and I headed upstairs to Amuse. Just in case.

I'd checked Opentable.com and they didn't have a thing available tonight, but as long as we were there, the sensible one among us suggested trying.

Would you believe we got three low-slung chairs and a cocktail table within five minutes? My friends jumped on the list of Amuse's Cubist cocktails (one friend got the Guernicava; get it?)while I ogled the absinthe drip on the bar.

You read correctly. A glass vessel with iced water inside had four spouts from which water could be dripped over a sugar cube resting on a slotted spoon into a glass of absinthe underneath. One look at that thing and I knew I had to have one.

But not without some food in my stomach first. My couple date ordered cocktails while I got a glass of Rose. For eating purposes, we chose sauteed duck livers (with apricots, brandy and crostini), grilled halloumi (with beignets and preserved lemon jam) and mussels with Sausagecraft Della Nonna (in garlic butter with grilled bread).

We had so much food that our server had to bring us an additional cocktail table to accommodate it all. The mussels and sausage were superb, easily our favorite of the three. And who doesn't enjoy a good duck liver (I know, I know, the people who are afraid of sardines and sweetbreads)?

Not surprisingly, Amuse was mobbed with people standing even at the end of the bar. From our comfy chairs, we could see the long line of people waiting, tickets in hand, for Picasso. As a security guard had told me earlier, "It's going to be crazy for the next three months."

My absinthe arrived with its distinctive smell and artistic references to the absinthe bars of 19th century Paris. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate having just seen the Picasso show again than with the green fairy.

After much deliberation, dessert was sticky toffee pudding with ice cream and an apple and cinnamon Napoleon, the former being the standout, although both were delectable.

All of a sudden, we looked up and the restaurant was all but empty and the one remaining table contained the VMFA's director and several curators, who probably weren't likely to be asked to leave. Unlike us.

It was so late that my favored Boulevard entrance had been locked and I was forced to use the new entrance. It was the only jarring note of an otherwise delightful evening (I am wholeheartedly committed to that Boulevard door now).

My dates headed home to catch up on sleep while I headed to Balliceaux to hear Miramar play boleros; you don't need a date to enjoy romantic music.

A Miramar crowd is very different from the crowds at most of the shows I go to there because of its enthusiastic fan base. Nonetheless, I ran into lots of people I know, most notably the handsome Colombian scientist I'd met there last month.

He made a point of telling me that my blog is now on his Favorites; I feel fairly certain that this is a 21st-century come-on line, but I'm not entirely sure, so I took it as a compliment.

Miramar's slow-tempo romantic music is always a pleasure to hear despite not understanding Spanish. Introducing a song, lead singer Reinaldo said, "We're trying to go from sad romance to angry romance." That's the natural progression of romance anyway, isn't it?

As the band was winding down and I was walking out to leave, I noticed a guy sitting in a chair near the front of the restaurant. "Kind of far from the music, aren't you?" I teased, about to step outside.

Next thing I knew we were having a protracted discussion at the front bar of dating young (and how young is too young?), dating foodies (I'm fine with dating just eaters) and settling instead of moving on. The bartender suddenly announced that everyone had three minutes to finish all drinks.

We agreed that far more conversation is to be had. Forget about not talking to strangers. The lesson here: never count an evening over until surrounded by my own four walls.

Oh, yes. And never pass up a good absinthe drip. You never know where the green fairy will take you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Digging for Date Details

With spring fever hitting Richmonders hard today, my friend and I knew better than to think we'd be able to eat outside given our delayed start on lunch.

So we went to Lulu's toward the end of lunch hour, knowing we'd be assured of an indoor seat. We'd gotten such a late start because my friend had spent the morning dozing off and on because of a recent cold. I'd finally called him around 12:45 wondering if our plans were still on.

Given the short period between him getting out of bed and our arrival at the restaurant, the first thing he asked for was coffee. Our server, who had pink flowers in her hair ("I'm not a real blond and the flowers are from the Dollar Store" she informed us), inquired if he wanted sugar.

He requested the packets of fakeness instead. "He's trying to hurry up and get cancer," I told her, because I always tease him about using that crap. "Aren't we all?" she smirked. Um, not really.

He ordered the beer-battered fish and chips with mashed peas and I got the house-smoked chicken, mixed greens, avocados, toasted pecan salad with citrus-herb vinaigrette, knowing full well that my friend would share his fried goodness.

My salad was both more and less than stated. The greens weren't mixed but they were all pea shoots, something I love. And it was full of unbilled citrus segments, both orange and grapefruit. It was a perfect meal for a 75-degree day.

Friend's fish and chips were beautifully battered and fried up and I gladly gobbled up the three proffered pieces. Apropos of nothing, a nearby bar sitter shared a joke with us about male and female brains (let's just say it had to do with the male brain calling to the female from south of the belt line).

From that opening, my friend segued into what I'd been up to lately. I rambled off a few of the more interesting things I'd done recently while he gazed at me expectantly. "So what have you been up to?" I asked in return.

"What about your all-day DATE?" he about burst out, referring to the other day, here. Ah, so he'd read my blog and was testing me to see if I was going to share the "details not forthcoming" parts. "Where'd you go? How did you like him? Did you kiss?'" You know, the stuff girlfriends are supposed to ask you.

I guess I should just be satisfied that he reads the blog in between our lunch outings, which have gotten far less frequent now that's in love and cohabitating with a terrific woman.

When our flower-bedecked server asked if we wanted dessert, we did the standard comedy routine where he shook his head yes and I shook mine no. "Since when don't you want dessert?" he asked. Okay, we'll look.

Nothing caught our eye, although my friend had been coveting the Twizzlers our server had next to the register. When she asked if we wanted something, I told her that my friend wanted some of her Twizzlers.

And don't you know when she brought him his second cup of coffee, she brought a ramekin full of Twizzler bits too? I'm not a fan, but he insisted I have one. Biting into what felt like soft plastic, I asked him, "What exactly do you like about these things?"

"The waxiness," he beamed. "And how artificial they taste." Our server overheard and came over to high-five him on that one.

"I love the waxiness, too!" The nearest comparison they could come up with was wax lips, but both agreed that Twizzlers have the advantage because, "You can't swallow wax lips."

While some people were lunching in the sunshine, I was watching a convention of Twizzler nerds. God, I love my life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yes & No: Hundred Dollar Wine and Sweet Tea

They had me at "Taste a world-class wine for peanuts." They were Barrel Thief and every so often they open a bottle of $100 wine and pour tastes for five bucks until it's gone.

I've never had a hundred-dollar bottle of wine, so I decided to do something about that this evening. Being poured was a 2004 Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie, a 100% Syrah from the northern Rhone. I swirled, I sniffed, I tasted. I liked. Now there's a surprise.

It was intense, with sort of a charred herb aroma and beautifully balanced, the kind of wine you'd want to drink with lamb or some kind of beast right off the grill.

Two women had come in to taste not long after me, so I got to hear their reactions to the wine and have a bit of social interaction.

One said, "It sure doesn't taste like Virginia red wine," providing the kind of informed opinion that made the rest of us laugh out loud.

No, no it doesn't. Our pouring host suggested that perhaps it's because we don't have the sixty-degree angled slopes where the grapes can bake in the Rhone sun.

With no lamb in sight, I couldn't see any reason not to go ahead and order a second tasting, to the amazement of the pourer and the women. When am I likely to have more of this wine? Okay, then.

That fine start to my evening was followed by dinner and live music at Olio, an event I've attended a few times in the past and always enjoyed.

Tonight's performer was the one and only Meade Skeleton, whom I knew of but had never actually seen or heard.

A good number of tables were occupied when I arrived and Meade was in full voice, so I sidled up to the counter to decide what to order, choosing the Italian picnic sandwich for its house-roasted turkey, Granny Smith apple slices, fig jam and Tallegio cheese with garlic aioli on a baguette.

As I waited to order, owner Jason riffed on our last encounter, here, by asking me to move aside so he could greet another newcomer instead of me. There's nothing like a smart-assed restaurant owner to ensure my devoted business.

To go with my sandwich, Jason recommended a bold white or light-bodied red and I deferred to his choice, the Montpellier Pinot Noir, with berry flavors and a nice acidity. It was a lovely accompaniment to my picnic baguette.

I've been on a Tallegio jag lately, having bought a pound and using it to make Tallegio/bacon grilled cheeses whenever I need a little something to tide me over(night).

I usually pair it with a Honeybell or a clementine to offset the sandwich's richness and it's heavenly at 2 a.m. when I need a bedtime snack after a long night out when dinner is a distant memory. But I digress (yet again).

So, yes, Meade Skeleton sang his heart out while playing keyboard, blessing the audience at every turn, but rarely looking at us, his devoted fan base.

He played all his classics, like "Sweet Tea" (an ode to a beverage I detest) and "Hipsters Ruin Everything" as well as some interesting covers like "Your Cheating Heart" and "Daydream Believer."

He even played one of the two jingles he wrote for a commercial contest for Folger's Coffee. He mentioned that his group, the Meadow Street Band (so named because they all attend Tabernacle Baptist Church), had been unable to join him tonight. I didn't even know Meade had a band; I thought he was just a keyboard whiz with a reverence for Elvis.

But then, I don't really know much about Meade except what I'd read a few years back on his blog, most of which had to do with his opinion that RVA's music scene was not receptive to his musical stylings.

And then there was that whole "Is Meade Skeleton a real person or just a parody?" online debate for a while. Oh, he's real, alright and I'm here to say that he was in fine voice tonight.

He told the audience, "Olio has great food, but not if you're on a diet like me," his weight being a subject I recall he blogged about often.

The irony there was that during the break, he had the traditional dieter's snack of a Coca Cola and bag of chips instead of one of Olio's superb salads. Hey, I'm sure it's not easy maintaining a country singer's figure on the road.

Good thing he couldn't see me scarfing down a chocolate souffle with more wine during his second set (they'd just run out of the pistachio gelato yesterday or it would have been even more obscene). I wouldn't want to be a bad example for someone trying to do the right thing.

No indeed. I want to be a good example for someone trying to do the fun thing.

Especially the fun stuff that only costs peanuts.

Picasso's "Cute" Period

If Richmond gets much cooler, all our heads are going to explode. The good kind of explode, but explode nonetheless.

Yes, I'm talking about the Picasso exhibit that's opening at the VMFA Saturday to the public or Friday for members. And if you're not yet a member of the VMFA yet, all I can say is why in the world not?

You do know that members see special exhibits for free while everyone else will pay a $20 admission? That's fine for out-of-towners, but not for locals who should know better.

But about the show. In case you don't already know, it's eleven galleries of Picasso for a total of 176 works spanning his entire career. RVA is the only East Coast venue for this exhibition. You have just under 90 days to see the show.

The show is arranged chronologically, which allows the visitor to see how Picasso's style shifted throughout the years, based on world events (wars, movements), women (muses, wives and mistresses) and his interests (classical painting, photography).

When you walk into the Cubist gallery, it's clear how the man rewrote the language of modern art with his new style of non-representational figures. The collection of photographs is almost an exhibit within an exhibit and begs a long look for a peek behind the legend.

There are pictures of Picasso's sculpture grouped on the steps of his house, shots of him drawing with his children on the floor, him and friends out at a cafe and pictures of his masterpiece "Guernica" in progress. It's a riveting look at the life behind the paintings and sculptures.

My favorite of the 176 is a piece as un-Picasso like as any I've ever seen. "The Bathers" from 1918 in Biarritz has elongated figures in a picaresque seascape that is completely unlike the monumental figures in the nearby works.

"Oh, I love this!" a woman squealed when she saw it. "It's so cute!" I don't think cute is what Picasso was aiming for and I certainly didn't see cuteness.

On the other hand, it elicited a strong reaction and no doubt the artist would have been pleased with that. I spent ten minutes in front of it and went back twice and it still wasn't enough.

Which is just my way of saying that the crowds are almost as much a part of the exhibit as the art. Know that going in and it's easier to enjoy yourself around the inevitable.

So be sure to allow enough time to linger when something captures your eye, because it will happen. This is most definitely not a show to be rushed through. Also, it's a huge show, so pace yourself.

And when you're finished, head upstairs to see the other major show, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, for which we are the only U.S. stop. The crowds will be much smaller and the art every bit as significant; it just won't be Western art.

Then consider going next door to the Virginia Historical Society for An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia, the most compelling exhibit about this period as has ever been mounted in RVA.

It's about at that point that your head is likely to explode, but it will have been completely worth it.