Friday, May 25, 2012

Always Dance First

There were myriad things I learned at the new VMFA exhibit, "Maharaja: The Splendors of India's Great Kings."

That a king fulfills his duty through patronage of poets, musicians, architects, artisans, craftsmen and, unfortunately, religious foundations.

If only we could work arts patronage into a democracy, we'd be all set.

That some people are so wealthy that they have tent hangings.

Because what maharaja out on a military expedition could be expected to sleep in a tent with no hangings on its walls? 

It's simply not done, my dear.

That the ancient Indian custom of "being fully adorned" made rubies and emeralds on a dagger or dice seem necessary and not ridiculous.

That a dervish was a wandering mystic who taught Islam and lived on alms.

And here all I thought dervishes did was whirl.

That widows were excluded from auspicious events.

Because, I guess, with a dead husband you might as well be banished to your home.

That there is no bathroom in the "Maharaja" exhibit.

Fortunately, when I asked a guard he took pity on me.

"Well, you're not supposed to leave once you're in, but come with me. I'll take you and get you back in."

And damned if he didn't wait patiently at the bottom of the steps while I used the facility and escort me back.

That if the royal army is being attacked at the fort, the women will decide to commit mass suicide to join their doomed warrior husbands in death.

But they will dance first. Surely there's poetry in that.

That instruments were to be decorative as well as functional, like the bowed string one that resembled a standing peacock.

No wonder music flourished.

That for Indian women there were sixteen adornments (sixteen!) that she should always wear, including things like rings, necklaces, hair ornaments, bracelets, perfume and kohl.

Epic Indian womanhood fail for me since I employ none of those, unless you count eye pencil as kohl.

That Indian royals were serious about their board games.

One elaborate piece housed eleven games with two storage drawers. Almost makes me want to pull out Parcheesi.

And the number one thing I learned at the "Maharaja" exhibit tonight?

That you can't see it all in one viewing. 

My fellow art lover and I gave up after three rooms so as not to have to rush through the hundreds of artifacts of Indian royalty.

I can't wait to go back, but by that time our stomachs were in control.

Upstairs at Amuse, we joined the lone couple on the patio and put on the VMFA sunglasses we were offered.

With the sunset making our faces glisten, we savored the amuse bouche, a vanilla turnip with beet confetti. 

The former beet hater actually moaned at its simple perfection.

I noticed that the menu is looking very Indian-inspired right now, so we took advantage of it.

Cava provided the bubbles while we began with a summery-tasting salad of Manakintowne greens with mango, papaya and Caromont chevre with strawberry vinaigrette.

Suddenly we'd gone from two occupied tables to six or seven as the sun sunk behind the Pauley Center.

The Indian  theme kicked in with the curried lentil croquettes with yogurt and harissa, dense little crusty balls that were also showing up on multiple tables near us.

Ditto for the naan bread pizza with pork belly, buffalo milk Parmesan, green scallions and a mound of arugula on top.

The red pepper and harissa sauce complemented the pig to perfection, making it as good a pork belly pizza as I've ever had.

But, yes, it was my first.

Now that the sun was a mere glow and our new lime green sunglasses superfluous, we decamped to the bar, where a small vase of pink roses added a charming touch.

Our purpose was twofold: dessert and a couple of absinthe drips.

The lovely bartender had been alerted to our presence and the drip was well-filled with iced water when we took our stools.

Still running on birthday week fullness, I voted for the orange crepes with lemon mousse to accompany our visit from the green fairy.

Because if you're going to try to get away without the sixteen adornments of womanhood, and I am, it's best to be with someone drinking absinthe, in hopes they may not notice.

But you never know. It's really just a roll of the ruby-encrusted dice.


  1. I'd been thinking this exhibit sounded like something I could skip, but you convinced me otherwise, Karen! We can't wait to go now.
    Thanks for sharing again.

  2. Hey, I can't wait to go back and finish seeing it in all its excess!