Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Viola da Gamba for Dummies

It's not as hard as I would have thought to find someone to go hear Bach with me.

I offered up wine and cheese (and not just any cheese, but my favorite, Taleggio, and to an Italian yet) as an incentive and was able to find a willing music-lover to go to the Modlin Center with me to hear the "Three Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord."

Yet again I got sucked into that labyrinth of a campus but we managed to get excellent seats fairly near the front despite a good-sized crowd and our last minute arrival.

With no real idea what a viola da gamba was, I appreciated the soloist taking the time to explain about the six or seven stringed instrument once so popular in Renaissance and Baroque times and now largely unknown.

I'm sure part of that is the gamba (legs) part of the instrument. Holding a stringed instrument the size of a cello between your legs with no stand under it has got to be quite an inner thigh workout.

Likewise for finally learning that the harpsichord is a plucked and not struck instrument. Clearly my musical education ended after elementary school's autoharps and "This Land is Your Land."

Despite being surrounded by the walls and stage of Booker Hall, I found myself transported to an 18th century drawing room and the kind of entertainment that might have been put on for a small group of friends and family.

All three sonatas were beautifully performed by visiting soloist Lisa Terry on viola da gamba and UR's Joanne Kong on harpsichord, with the last one being the most affecting.

Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't recognize Bach unless I had a program.

But reading how rarely these sonatas are performed, it seemed like a stellar opportunity to go hear them.

And isn't it about time I did?

When they were over, Terry invited the audience to come up and see the instruments and ask any questions.

A student, and probably a music student, made his way up on stage to ask if he could play it for a minute and she happily handed it over.

In doing so, she told him that the elaborate wooden scroll at the top of the viola was not original to the instrument.

"It should be a fat lady's face, but I didn't like that," she explained. "So I had an English scroll put on instead."

Women like that don't have any trouble getting a guy to go hear Bach with them.

The rest of us work with what we've got...and augment with Taleggio.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mirror Ball Lunch

You think you know a friend.

She's someone you see all the time at music shows, so you know you have that in common.

The two of you have talked about a mutual preference for warm weather and the cute clothes that go with it.

But when you meet for lunch at Crossroads and really get to talking, you discover that you have The Trifecta in common, too.

Over her grilled cheese and your BLT (both on the server-recommended sourdough), you lunch with someone who knows exactly what it's like when life decides to clobber you not once or twice, but three successive times.

And yet here we both were.

Still, it's rare to find someone who can relate to losing your job, your partner and your health before you've even had time to get up after the previous loss.

For her, it all happened in a two-year period; for me, it was a mere eight weeks.

So with techno music blaring (she said, "I feel like there should be a disco ball in here," and she's a dance party fanatic), we talk about how life's 1-2-3 punch had changed us.

Consensus: life is way too short.

She used to be a perfectionist and now she's far more laid back. I used to be an early riser and now I go to be a couple of hours before I used to get up.

We both cherish the free time that our reduced incomes allow for. We welcome the challenge of living on less and enjoying life more.

Neither of us can be bothered to sweat the small stuff. And once you've been run over by the triple play of life, it's all small stuff.

So if you see us at the show tomorrow night, we'll be the ones grinning like we've got the greatest lives around.

The way we see it, we do.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Atta Boy

It's a wonder everyone isn't sick right now given the see-saw rhythm of the weather this January.

And of course some people are.

Like the one who canceled our 3:00 plans this afternoon with the message, "My head is all stuffed up again and my throat feels scratchy. I think I should stay in and load up on the Vitamin C and chicken soup."

Well, that's what a smart invalid would do.

Instead, after I wished him a speedy recovery, I get another message asking where we might walk to get him some good chicken soup.

In Jackson Ward, folks needing home-like food go to Mama J's where a sign hanging over the kitchen door says "Home."

So I met the incapacitated one on an agreed-upon street corner and we walked over to Mama's for some life-giving chicken and rice soup for what ailed him.

Me, I got a plate of fried chicken with cole slaw and a corn muffin because nothing's wrong with me except a chronic case of the hungrys.

I'm not sure if it was the lively crowd at the bar where we sat, our personable server looking out for us or just the anti-inflammatory properties of chicken soup that help mitigate the miserable side effects of a cold, but the unwell one seemed a tad further from death's door by the time he finished his soup and half his sandwich.

Or perhaps it was partly my amusing tales of how some men woo a woman the first night they meet her.

Or how some young men can let a great girl slip between their fingers even when she shows up at the most unlikely of locations.

Whatever the reason, when offered one of Mama J's decadent cakes, I was all ready to demur when the congested one said yes to the butter cream cake.

It was a great choice for me since that's one of the few of Mama's cakes I haven't had.

I've never heard anything about the medicinal effects of a four-inch thick slice of layer cake but I can easily see where it would have beneficial psychological qualities.

Although I seem to recall that sometimes just having good company can be enough to make a person feel better.

Between soup, cake and non-stop conversation, I'd say our interlude at Mama's was better than a trip to the Doc in a Box for the patient.

And certainly for the invalid's finger-lickin' companion.

Welcome to Salon G

Some people I can have fun with no matter what the circumstance.

So even when it's impossible to get the server's attention, even when the restaurant is out of not one but two of the wines we tried to order (one bottle, one glass), even when after asking for a food menu we are never given the chance to order food, we persevere.

After all, we haven't gotten together in three weeks and we are just happy to be in each other's company.

Still, it rankles to have so much go wrong when we choose a place I had previously written off but decided to give yet another chance.

Sometimes I am too forgiving.

After the painful process of getting wine and then being ignored right up through trying to pay the check, we knew enough to vacate the premises.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times and I need never return to your establishment.

And yet the evening was redeemed almost immediately.

With a short drive to Bistro 27, we entered a bustling dining room, found two stools at the bar and were greeted enthusiastically by the handsome bartender who'd gone from being a long-hair to looking like a male model with his freshly shorn locks.

They weren't out of the wine we wanted (Pont de Crillon Cotes du Rhone), 27 guy was in the stool next to me to say hello (and ask me about Happy Hour at the Hipp) and the bartender said, "The Chef and I were just saying last night that Karen hadn't been in for a while."

Truth is, I had been in less than two weeks ago, but neither of them had been working so my visit had gone unnoticed except by my partner in crime who was not there to act as my witness tonight.

Unlike at our previous stop, we had no problem ordering and by that point in the evening, only the Wagyu Kobe-style beef cheeseburger was going to do it for me.

A juicy burger smothered in Fontina and mushrooms and an abundance of fries paved the way for conversation about making your feelings known in a relationship, taking off one's bra immediately when it gets a red wine stain and how 36-year old men are old enough to decide with whom they want to sleep.

Don't get us started because we just feed off of each other and we have opinions about everything..

After dinner we pulled in some fresh meat to join the conversation about restaurants good and bad.

By the time I drove my friend home, we'd moved on to a discussion of the kind of place we would open if given the opportunity.

Let's just say it would involve scintillating guests, well-priced wine that was always in stock and attentive servers. A small plate menu and a traditional menu. Not a single TV screen. Lots of couches.

And great music, always the perfect music.

People would come, not to chat with the person they arrived with, but to be part of a bigger discussion of ideas and philosophy and art.

Friend and I would facilitate by introducing worthy conversational partners and tossing out discussion points.

Yeesh. Give a couple of bookish types some Cotes du Rhone and next thing you know they're fantasizing like a couple of schoolgirls.

That is, when they're not laughing uproariously at themselves.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Absinthe for Modern Masters

You go to the VMFA with a person in 1992 and next thing you know, they're expecting you to go again in 2012.

And yet, it's hard to know where to start when showing someone the museum  for the first time since pre-renovation.

It seemed easier to start with the present and work back, so Mocha Dick got our attention first before heading into the 21st Century galleries.

With only two days left to see it, I made sure we checked out "Modern Masters: Sean Scully and John Walker," an exhibit of monumental paintings and a dozen colorful photographs.

It was interesting because Scully was born in Ireland and Walker in England, despite the fact that both are now long-time U.S. residents.

Walker embraces his English past with enormous paintings of the Maine coast, evoking a sense of wind and water and even including local mud on the canvas.

Scully, on the other hand, goes for the opposite of his homeland, preferring to paint the colors of Moroccan tents and photograph Santa Domingo's bright, sunny colors.

From there we moved on to the 20th-century American galleries to fawn over Thomas Hart Benton's Colonial brides and swoon over a color poet's depiction of bohemians.

We lingered in front of "The Underworld," a painting of the occupants of NYC's early subway: a showgirl and her protector, an immigrant family, a messenger boy.

Once we reached the art saturation point, it seemed only logical to go upstairs to Amuse and see how we could be amused there.

Greeting me on the corner of the bar was the absinthe drip, long absent since the Picasso exhibit left last year much to my disappointment.

I couldn't have been more pleased to see it returned to its rightful place and full of iced water, awaiting a call to the green fairy.

But first things first. We found an Italian wine on the menu that was irresistible. Tormaresco Neprica, a blend of Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cab Sauvignon, was intensely colored and softly balanced.

I'm finding a lot to like about Italian wines lately.

There was only one other person at the bar, a guy with whom we chatted about the weather (a weather wimp, he'd wanted to ride his motorcycle but the rain had put him off) and he was followed by another lone wolf, this one with a tiny diamond earring and Chuck Taylors.

Both regulars, the bartender told us after they left.

I was glad to hear that Chef Greg was back in the kitchen after being gone to help with the birth of his little one.

Since every first time visitor to Amuse is required to get the mussels and Surry sausage dish, we did so for my friend's sake, but augmented it with a cheese plate that had some spectacular Humbolt Fog on it.

A friend who works at Amuse shared a story about a girl he'd been dating, someone I'd seen him with at Balliceaux last month.

Apparently he had lost interest in her once she put him in a headlock.

Oh, well, easy come, easy go.

Dessert arrived in the form of a lovely sticky toffee pudding but the real treat was the arrival of the green fairy.

There was never any doubt that I was having a drip, but my dining companion decide to give it a shot, too, convinced that the appeal was the process of watching the water drip through the sugar cube.

Not so, I explained. The attraction is the unique effect that absinthe has on one's mood and the sweet level of contentment it brings.

Sipping our absinthe in the manner of 19th century artists like van Gogh, Hemingway and Toulouse-Lautrec led to a discussion of Pernod, which, while similar, is not made with wormwood.

To be scientific about it, we ordered a Pernod (which came with a carafe of iced water) and proceeded to sip it in an attempt to compare it to absinthe.

Not even close.

The nose was far more delicate, the effect less unique. And, to be honest, I missed the little bit of sweetness that the sugar cube had imparted.

The bartender had a ready solution, dispensing a packet f raw sugar into the Pernod and stirring it in.

Okay, it was better that way, but still couldn't hold a candle to the absinthe.

And so we were back to the traditional absinthe drip, the only one in a Richmond restaurant and as integral a pleasure of the VMFA as the Golden Hare.

After all, it's not enough to just visually experience the art. One must imbibe like the artists in order to fully appreciate the mindset from which they came.

In a parallel world, we would have then gone down to "The Underworld" and joined the late night people for a ride home on the subway.

Absinthe on our breath, yes, but with a pleasing contentment about the hours spent at the museum.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Relatively Speaking

When it comes to taking a road trip for lunch, it's hard to beat a 70-degree January Friday.

Destination: Bistro Bethem in Fredericksburg. Company: my aunt, who, at barely twelve years older than me, is more of a friend than an aunt.

Let's just say I once dated a guy older than she is.

Our relationship is based on our similarities (my father, her brother, wishes we would both get married and settle down), a love of good food and wine and the ability to talk for hours.

She comes from Warrenton, a shorter drive, so she was already facing the sunny front window and enjoying her wine when I arrived.

Our handsome young server, a Mary Washington student, brought me a glass of Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha because if a spring-like day in late January doesn't call for rose, I don't know what does.

For lunch, I went with the braised pork barbecue with Virginia-style sauce (tomato-based) and slaw on a branded (with a "B") challah roll and a salad of mesclun.

In a lucky happenstance, I'd worn a dress with a low-scooped back, allowing me to eat my 'cue and sip my rose while feeling the sun shining on my back.

On January 27th, no less.

Which isn't half as interesting as the tidbits divulged about my parents by my aunt during the dessert course, where we indulged in the coconut cake of which we both are so fond.

She knew where all the bodies were buried.

My father and his army buddy lived in an apartment in the basement of my mother's parents' house in Washington?

Scandalous.

My father's first wife found a letter from my mother to my father while they were still married?

Holy shit, batman.

She told me about my Dad bringing my Mom to Richmond to meet his family despite my Grandfather's prejudice about Catholics.

I'm telling you, I heard all kinds of juicy information that neither of my parents had ever let on.


She shared that my father thinks he's the luckiest man alive because he found my mother and married her all those years ago.

Tell me something I don't know.

Small wonder he's always pushing marriage at my aunt and me.

He hit the jackpot And he's smart enough to know it.

So to that we, the unmarried, toasted.

So Doggone Willing

A friend is fond of telling me that he's scared to go places without me.

Considering his time living in London, Paris and Maine, what he means is that he's scared to do things in Richmond alone.

So when he suggested we check out Happy Hour at the Hipp, I was more than happy to spend some time at J-Ward's newest social gathering with him.

He had some concerns that he'd need to wear a bowtie and he doesn't own one, but I assured him that the event didn't require one.

That said, there was a lot of cologne in the room tonight.

I had not a clue what to expect, so the valet parking, the crowds of well-dressed people, the booming bass of the club DJ and the abundance of friendly men came as a bit of a surprise.

In the short time waiting for my friend to arrive, three guys introduced themselves and I heard a club mix of "Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye."

It's not every day I sit in a darkened bar with dance music playing and everyone checking each other out.

Once I had company, we got a table and tried to order drinks. My friend's order of a sidecar slightly flummoxed our server who had never heard of such a drink.

While he went to discuss it with the bartender, my friend and I played catch-up with our lives.

He told me about the problems of band members who lose sight of the bigger picture and the satisfactions and frustrations of researching family genealogy.

I told him about receiving unexpected warnings (beware!) and being made to laugh.

After the first couple of hours, a band, Doors Wide Open, replaced the DJ.

Of the smooth jazz quintet my friend dryly observed, "I know they're good, but it sounds like the Weather Channel."

Not long after, though, he also commented that the sound mix was crystalline clear.

Unlike some places his band has played and where I've heard bands (the Camel), the sound was stellar.

We decided to take ourselves next door to Ettamae's and on my way through the lobby, a man stopped me and said, "Hey, you're 27 girl!"

By the same token, he was 27 guy; we'd run into each other eating there on several occasions.

It's s small world in Jackson Ward.

At Ettamae's we took the table right over the oven so we could smell my friend's pizza baking as we chatted and sipped our Septime Malbec.

We picked up a discussion we'd begun a few months ago about the state of his relationship.

He continues to tell me about his dissatisfaction and I continue to recommend that he change what isn't working for him.

"Right," he said as if summing up our talk. "So you're willing to come home and get in my bed so she can find us and walk out?"

Not exactly, although I see where that would be helpful in expediting the end of things for him.

We parted ways on Second Street, him to go home to a girl who is not satisfying his needs and me to meet a friend for dinner at Arcadia.

I'm inclined to think that my evening had more possibilities than his.

My friend was well into a bottle of Kila Cava when I arrived and she and the bartender were already buds.

Buds enough that he already knew a few salient facts about me. Before long, I knew a little about him, too.

Like he was recently out of a long-term relationshop and still understandably hovering on the fringes of a personal life.

I empathized with his being in that place because I inhabited it for several recent years.

He turned out to be a terrific asset to our girltalk, adding in the male point of view and offering advice when we solicited it.

He explained how some guys need a long time to start over after being out of the dating game. How some have a tough time admitting their feelings. It was all very enlightening coming from a man made wiser by love.

At my recommendation, Friend had the chicken thighs with spaetzle and I chose the rock shrimp mac and cheese with aged Gouda cream sauce.

And because it was a lot of arduous talk about guys, we also got the Yukon Gold and sweet potato fries with truffle oil and sea salt.

While we were carbing out, the bartender told us about his parents' long-time happy marriage, then distilled down his relationship goal for once he gets back in the game.

"I want someone I can chase around when I'm ninety," he said simply.

Now there's a worthy goal.

So I guess it's not too far-fetched to say that my goal is to find someone who wants to chase me around when I'm ninety.

But he can't be scared to go places without me. That role is reserved for a certain good friend.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Call Me a Leaver

"You are such a Q and A leaver," a fellow history nerd observed abut my departure after today's Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society.

And I'm not, at least not usually. But, in my experience, the VHS crowd's questions don't usually grab me.

The lectures, on the other hand, frequently do.

Like today's topic, "Abolitionist Art and the Slave Trade" by UVA's Maurie McInnis.

Using Englishman Eyre Crow's painting "Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia" as a starting point, the lecture painted a realistic and heartbreaking story of the local slave trade.

I was fascinated to learn about RVA's slave trading area on Wall Street near 15th Street, between Main and Franklin.

Close to churches, retail and government, the buying and selling of human beings took place in close proximity to every other aspect of daily life here.

McInnis showed images of long-gone buildings, newspaper ads for slave sales and sketches done at them.

We saw the blood-red flags that were hung outside buildings to indicate that a slave auction was taking place.

Significant was that Crow's painting depicted blacks not in the stereotypical, caricature way but as individuals.

Instead of the usual theatrical scene of the auctioneer, his painting depicted well-dressed slaves waiting their turn to be sold.

Well dressed because the sellers almost always bought new clothes for their human chattel so as to get the best possible price for them at market.

Needless to say, this insider's look at the abominations going on here were endlessly enlightening to the Brits in the mid-19th century.

To a 21st century audience, it was just a compelling yet disturbing look at an unfortunate chapter in our history.

And while I didn't stay for the Q and A, I did make an unlikely friend beforehand.

An older man sat down next to me and with a few questions, I learned that he used to write for a weekly newspaper.

Presently he's collecting the bon mots put on church signs to speak to passersby.

He told me a few he'd seen and I shared a personal favorite, "If you drink a fifth on the third, you may not see the Fourth."

He liked it so much he wrote it down, laughing and asking where I'd seen it.

It had been on a church I'd driven by last summer on the Northern Neck near where my parents live.

Not only did he know the tiny town where they live, he'd actually been in their house years ago.

I was aware that lots of people had been in the house because of stories we'd heard from locals since my parents bought it in 1985.

"If you go up to the third floor," he said with the familiarity of someone who had," You can see what a well-made house that is. And the view of the river there, well, you can almost see to Urbanna!"

It's been barely over a week since I was on the third floor of my parents' house looking out a window at the Rapphannock River and here sat a man who knew that view from that exact same spot.

So, yes, James, I am guilty of skipping out on the question period.

But what was I going to hear from the audience that was going to top meeting a stranger who'd admired the river view from the exact same place I'd done so many times?

I could say that for me Banner Lectures are all about what happens before and during the talk.

And, yes, next time I promise to stay for the Q and A.

My Sun and Shadow Salon

When I grow up, I want to curate.

Doesn't matter what. I'll curate music shows, maybe a few gallery shows, you name it. I just like the idea of being in charge of deciding what's interesting.

So you can see it was only logical for me to end up at the Anderson Gallery for the curator's talk about the outstanding new sculpture show.

Michael Jones McKean, sculptor and curator for "you, you sun and shadow" was giving an overview of the exhibit by showing images of the pieces as we sat in one of the galleries.

In a perfect world, we would have followed him around the galleries as he talked about the actual pieces, but there were far too many people there tonight for that to be possible.

Revert to Plan B.

Instead we sat and stood to hear his thoughts on the challenges of assembling a collection of objects in this space in this building in this city.

Looking every inch the intense young sculptor that he is, McKean talked about the ego blow of getting told no when he requested a certain piece for the show.

He told of the weekly meetings over the course of a year with the Anderson director to keep her abreast of his curating progress.

Or, as he put it, "We'd have these rap sessions and we'd just be freewheeling."

That's the kind of enthusiasm I want going into the curatorial process.

During the Q & A period, someone asked about the correlation between McKean's own work and the pieces he chose for the show. Did it represent something he had not yet achieved?

"There's some jam inside the works that I want to taste," he explained with a metaphor only an artist could deliver so quickly and sincerely.

Walking around the show afterwards was a fascinating look at the state of contemporary sculpture.

Delicate river twigs were woven into a small geodesic dome.

The figure of a  man levitates off the floor, feet in the air to greet visitors to the gallery (per the artist's instructions).

Pedestals appear to be recognizably square only to have completely unexpected sides when viewed all the way around.

A mix tape is made out of the dust of every bone in the body.

That, I would venture, is a collection of incredibly interesting stuff. That's why I want to curate.

While looking at the show, a guy I'd met six months ago came up and re-introduced himself.

He made my night by telling me that he's been reading my blog ever since. In fact, he said it had inspired him to get out more and do some of the stuff I'm always writing about.

Even better, he said I sound like I'm always having fun. How's that for the most random compliment a blogger could hope for?

With that kind of good will floating my boat, we bid farewell to art and hello to Lemaire's crowded bar.

By the time we made one loop around the bar two stools had opened up and we made them our own.

With a minute to spare, we scored a bottle of one of the Discovery wines, the Renoto Fuedo Maccari Nero D'Alva/Syrah blend full of dark fruit and tannins and we were set.

In the course of drinking the bottle, we discussed the age-old "but is it art?" question. There were some pieces in the show that challenged my companion's concept of art, making for some lively conversation.

At one point, two girls walked by teetering on impossibly high heels and I said something about it to my trusty sidekick.

Moments later, a guy came up to us and commented about how the girls couldn't even walk in those things. I offered up proof that, with enough experience, you can walk in anything.

Likewise, with enough experience (and I may be approaching that point), I figure I could curate any number of things.

People would be my first choice. I'd like to assemble a salon of interesting types to join me for conversation. shared witticisms and storytelling.

And you know why? Because there'd be jam inside of each person and I'd want to taste it.

See? I'm already talking like a curator.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Side by Side

J-Ward Girl shouldn't have to work outside her jurisdiction.

But when a friend (one of my favorite people to talk music and guys with) who lives in Church Hill tells me she still hasn't been to the Roosevelt, I feel duty bound to fix that.

It's not like they've got a glut of places to eat on the Hill, either.

Strangely and for the first time, when I walked into the restaurant, it was empty. I'd never seen it empty.

That lasted about five minutes and then they were off and running, but for a moment it was like a parallel universe where everything looks the same but is somehow very different.

Although my friend and I had planned to just have a drink, we gave in to the menu.

I got tonight's special of fingerling potatoes, cucumber, lump crabmeat and poached shrimp with honeydew/vanilla dressing, enjoying the unusual combination.

Despite allergies to practically everything, my friend ended up with a grilled Belgian endive salad with pears and pecans that disproved her assumption that she'd be unable to find things to eat there.

This is why I need to get my friends out of their houses and show them the bigger world.

I'm doing it for their sakes.

Once I'd finished introducing her neighborhood  to her, I left to meet another friend in sore need of a symphonic evening.

And I sure didn't need any affirmation that the Singleton Center was where I wanted to be tonight.

It wasn't rocket science. It was the American debut of "Bon Seni Variations" composed by VCU's own Doug Richards. A commissioned symphonic piece based on Turkish folk music and jazz. Several of the soloists had also played at the premiere in Turkey.

Not to make presumptions, but there was a reason the local jazz DJ, one of the best sax players and my favorite jazz drummer were all in attendance.

I said the same thing to them all before the performance. "Too good to miss, isn't it?"

Beginning with a singer doing an a capella version of "Bon Seni," that theme went on to weave in and out of the composition in various alterations by the VCU Symphony.

The soloists traded off with the orchestra and the whole thing was a layering of Middle Eastern sounds so dense you couldn't hear it all.

Not that I didn't try.

When it ended, the crowd was on its feet and rightfully so. What an interesting piece of new music had been dropped in our collective lap on this January night.

You could tell that many people must have come solely for Richards piece because the almost-full crowd had thinned a bit after intermission.

Which was too bad because they missed Dvorak's tribute to Native American and Negro music, the "New World" Symphony.

The man can call it a tribute to whatever he wanted, but it sounded like that Romantic music that my friend in the symphony is always mooning about.

Let's just say Neil Armstrong took the "New World" symphony to the moon with him for a reason.

But if I was going to write an essay on "How I Spent My Tuesday Evening," I'd start with the national premier of a Richmond-written symphony.

Right here in Richmond.

Friends don't let friends miss that sort of thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Once Was Enough

It was all about the paradox of intimacy aggressively explored.

After setting the tone with some soft and dark fruited Franco Serra Dolcetto d'Alba, it was time for some art.

And not just any art, but a retrospective, "Dancing with the Dark," a career-spanning look at the work of painter/printmaker Joan Snyder from 1963 to 2010.


UR's Harnett Museum was having a curator/artist talk so not only could I see Snyder's work but I also got to hear her talk about it tonight.

Striking in black and purple with her curly white hair, she explained how she created pieces that read from left to right like a piece of music.

Her colorful works often included words and female imagery, whatever that's supposed to be.

But her talent was in exploring intimacy, sometimes aggressively and sometimes very sweetly.


During the talk, she blew off minor details, leaving them to the curator to fill in, but spoke passionately about her work.

That feeling was echoed in an etching called "My Work...1997" in which a scattering of words surround a central heart-shaped form above the declaration: “My work has been absolutely faithful to me.”

Apparently she's repaid that fidelity with her own devotion and an exhaustive catalog.

During the Q & A afterwards, a student asked her if it was easier to work in a large or smaller format since she's done both.

"I can do anything," she answered honestly. For an artist who didn't even start creating until her senior year of college, that's quite an arc of a career.

Walking the galleries after the talk, the development of her talent was clear in the chronological progression.

Life events were incorporated into her work. 

Things like giving birth, her first affair with a woman and a tribute to her current partner ("My Maggie") chronicled her life.

And the colors! She sometimes printed the same print but the colors used on the drawing varied widely, giving completely different feels to essentially the same piece.

The show was the largest retrospective of her work ever done and by the time I took in everything, it was dinner time.

Since we were in an area I don't often frequent, it seemed like the perfect chance to check out the recently-relocated Phil's and see how it had fared in the short move west.

Not as big, still too many TVs, a bar of what looked like neighbors and regulars and the same reliable menu.

As long as you can still get a vodka limeade, I guess it's the same old Phil's.

We kept it simple (what else, it's Phil's?), me with the (square) fried cod sandwich and my partner in crime with the Reuben (and an unfortified limeade).

He's a real slow eater and our server (who looked original to Phil's) kept trying to take his plate away from him before he was finished.

Eat and go, that's just how they roll at Phil's.

We lingered long enough to have a piece of French silk pie and cringe at the local radio station playing (seriously, commercial radio in a restaurant? it's not fair to do that to people trying to eat!).

For the final chapter of the evening, it was mix tape time again, these two courtesy of Richmond's best band photographer and his main squeeze.

His was a compilation of some of the bands he'd most enjoyed shooting in 2011 (Dum Dum Girls, Netherfriends) and hers was songs she loved in 2011 ("Civilian" and "My Terrible Friend") and, whoa, my first time ever hearing a Beyonce song.

I love having friends who make great mix tapes and give me copies.

Hearing other's people's music taste is so revealing, so intimate, even when you think you know them.
It takes a special kind of friend and a lot of other good music on the mix to make me listen to a Beyonce song, even once.

As I'm learning, there's a first time for everything.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Suitor Lessons Now Available

How much can fit into a twelve-hour escapade?

A scenic drive down Route 5 on a monochromatic day with the most sublime silvers, greens and browns coloring the landscape.

The final hour of the forty-painting exhibit "Seeing Colors: Secrets of the Impressionists" at the Muscarelle Museum at William and Mary.

French highlight: Pissarro's "Snowscape with Cows at Montfoucalt" for its ability to convey cold and capture the exquisite winter light.

I get chilled when it drops below 65 degrees and I wanted nothing more than to be standing on the street in front of the house in the painting.

American highlight: John Singer Sargent's "Portrait of Ralph Curtis on the Beach at Scheveningen" because he was such a fascinating man and it shows in his every beautiful brushstroke, no matter who he's painting.

And grains of sand in the painting? That's my kind of intensity.

Must-see companion show at the Muscarelle: "Modern Masterworks on Paper: Cezanne, Munch, Bonnard and Friends," a show of prints every bit as interesting.

By the time we finished, the show was officially closed at its only mid-Atlantic venue.

And we still had that beautiful drive back through winter fields and forests.

A supper of seafood chowder and wine at an undisclosed location.

The final night of the Israeli Film Festival at the JCC.

"The Matchmaker," a coming-of-age story set in Israel during the Six Day War, showed love and lust of several age groups: teens, dwarfs, middle-aged Holocaust survivors.

Favorite reference: "suitor lessons" where men seeking matches were given coaching by a woman to make them better at wooing others.

Question: could we still use such an instructor? Discuss amongst yourselves.

The last course: Analissa Primitivo with double chocolate cake and chile chocolate cinnamon pie at Ipanema.

Because after feeding the eyes and ears, it was essential to feed the nose and mouth.

Finishing up with a new mix, a "Goodbye Mix," that includes everything from Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye" to the Beatles "Hello/Goodbye."

Biggest surprise/most eclectic choice: Petula Clark's "Kiss Me Goodbye."

And then you look up when the mix ends and it's been half a day.

Twelve hours and all you've done is take a road trip through the fog, see a departing exhibit of tradition-bending art, take in a 2010 film nominated for seven Israeli Academy Awards, make dessert and wine your evening meal and listen to a swan song of a mix.

Funniest line of the day: "People live like this?"

Rhetorical, of course.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

No More Ill Than a Molting Canary

Life was easier in the '40s.

If you were fat, single and unhappy, all you had to do was have a mental breakdown and go on a cruise and, voila, love would arrive.

Or at least that's the way it went down in "Now, Voyager," the latest instalment of Bette Davis Month at Movieland.

Because I'd never seen it, I was unprepared to see Davis as the frumpy, unwanted spinster daughter with enormous eyebrows that no doubt kept men from looking at her.

She was certainly no "Jezebel."

Her mother was one of those characters  so evil that I could only hope she'd die off and leave her poor daughter in peace (but not before telling her, "Every woman wants a man of her own." Oh, really?).

Once we got past the reinvention of Davis' character and she left on a cruise, things got good.

First of all, that was the time to go on a cruise. Her room aboard the ship was bigger than some hotel rooms now.

People dressed for dinner, met for breakfast (where he promised to greet her as "Miss Vale" and not say out loud that he loved her) and sipped cocktails while playing shuffleboard.

She met a man, unfortunately married, but obviously the love of her life and the words and kisses flew.

Her: I'm not going to struggle with you.
Him: No telling what primitive instincts you might arise.

Hell, I'd kiss a guy just for saying that.

This was the movie where he repeatedly lights two cigarettes, handing off one to her as a sign of, what, shared passion? Smoker's breath?

"I'm still horribly in love with you," he tells her at a party. Not terribly in love, but horribly. The best kind.

The kind where you kiss her through her veil because you can't take the split second to move it.

But this was one Bette Davis movie without a happy ending, so they didn't get the moon, only the stars.

And you know why?

"Some girls aren't the marrying kind."

Hey, don't judge us.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Toast to the Mallet Master

No one wants to be informed  that they're giving the toast as the bubbly is being poured.

But as the oldest daughter, that responsibility fell to me.

I'd driven up to suburban Maryland, a place I despise, solely because today was my Dad's birthday celebration and it's a big year for him, one that ends in a zero.

Because of that, pretty much my entire extended family was in attendance. All five sisters with husbands and children, aunts, uncles, the whole gang.

I honestly can't recall the last time we were all in the same place.

And while I have no need to do it again anytime soon, the chaos of so many people eating, drinking, looking at old photographs and just catching up was great fun.

I especially enjoyed an album of photos from my Dad's youth because he grew up here in Richmond.

There were shots in front of their house on Colonial Avenue, in front of the Richmond Dairy where my grandfather worked and even a newspaper clipping of my Dad as one of "five husky youngsters playing at Humphrey Calder Playground."

Even funnier, there were photographs of me and my sisters in nearly identical little girl dresses (why would you do something that corny with six girls?) as well as of us with bad 80s hair.

It's astounding how big our thick, straight hair got during those years.

My brother-in-law pulled out a long-forgotten picture of him and me and our respective main squeezes at the time sitting on the dock at Kerr Lake after water-skiing (more correctly for me, after attempting to water-ski).

Did I ever look that impossibly young? Yes, apparently I did.

Hours into all this strolling down memory lane and catching up, my bossiest sister (#5) decided it was toasting time, to be followed by (hazelnut/chocolate) birthday cake time.

As I'm helping her pour dozens of glasses of Blanc de Blanc, she leans in and says, "You're doing the toast."

When the competitive sister (#3) hears this, she hisses, "How come you're giving the toast?" as if I've usurped her job or something.

She does consider herself Dad's favorite.

To my defense comes the most introverted sister (#2) who says loudly enough so that even the  non-family members can hear, "Because she's the OLDEST!"

I do not once in my entire life remember being introduced by one of my sisters that it wasn't with the clarification that I am the oldest.

Just in case there was any doubt.

So with no time to prepare something well-thought out, cameras were turned on and I stood up to toast a man who has shaped the woman I became.

"You talked to us. You listened to us. You taught us to play croquet. To the best Dad any six daughters could ever ask for."

Brother-in-law #3 waited a beat and then raised his glass to my Dad.

"And that was a lot of listening!" he said to great cheering.

But what smart man doesn't want to listen to the talkative females around him?

And my Dad has always been a very smart man. Which makes me a very lucky daughter.

Smoke Over Blue Moon

It was a mere 56 years of music from start to finish tonight.

Appropriately, we began with the VMFA's sold-out screening of  the documentary, "Elvis '56," followed by a panel discussion.

Yes, sold out. It's become perfectly clear too me that this town is full of Elvis fanatics. Me, I'm just a documentary dork, but this crowd came for The King.

Organizer Trent Nichols got things rolling saying, "Welcome. I think I saw Elvis sitting over there." From behind me I heard some middle-aged woman say exasperatedly, "I wish."

In fact, it was local rocker Wrenn Magnum, magnificent in his black pompadour and period-appropriate duds.

The 1987 film was outstanding, eschewing the usual talking heads that dominate a documentary and instead showing clips from the dozen TV appearances he made in 1956 as well as many of Alfred Wertheimer's photographs taken during that ten-day period when he shot 2500 images of the then-unknown Presley.

I was thrilled with the narration of the film, which was done by Levon Helm in his distinctive Arkansas accent.

The panel included Wertheimer, who noted that after a flurry of interest when he took those pictures, they were basically forgotten until Elvis died in 1977.

Since then, he said, a week doesn't go by that someone doesn't contact him about using a photo or ten. That one gig has become his life's work.

"I'll be on this job when I'm dead," he said without a trace of irony.

As someone who didn't keep up with Elvis' music, I'd have to say the highlight was hearing his cover of "Blue Moon," truly a thing of beauty.

I say that as I sit here typing and listening to it.

From the museum, we left for Cellar Door. That's not the royal we; I was in the company of a DJ since it's National DJ Day and all.

Tomorrow is Squirrel Appreciation Day and I'll try to celebrate that, too, once I figure out how best to do so.

With a bottle of Santa Julia Malbec, a Pumphouse (grilled cheese, spinach and tomato), a bowl of the Rope Swing (Peruvian chicken soup with quinoa, veggies and pasta) and a plate of Romesco (artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and olive tapenade on crostini), we had plenty to occupy us.

By the time we finished all that, it was time to high tail it to Strange Matter and the best free show bill I've heard in a  long time, including lots of my favorite music from a cave.

Walking in, a guy I know only by the way he introduced himself to me last year ("I'm an old rocker"), came up and said to me, "I knew you'd be here."

Yea, there's a big surprise.

Snowy Owls played their best set yet (no less than four other people said the same thing), getting the show off to a pitch-perfect start.

Super Vacations, a psych-punk quintet I'd been told I'd like, came next with their fast and short songs. I did like them, although not so much the singer's habit of tossing beer cans into the crowd.

White Laces, this time playing as a quartet (I've seen them as a duo and trio, too) and doing lots of new material, expertly played to my taste with loads of reverb and bass.

Old Rocker complained about too much reverb, but I begged to differ. No such thing.

After their set, I ran into Kyle, leader of The Diamond Center on my way to the bathroom.

He gave me a sheepish look and explained that he wouldn't be playing his twelve-string tonight.

I have to assume he was warning me since I have been known to gush every time I hear him play that thing.

"I thought, 'Oh, no, Karen's here and I'm not playing it," he said apologetically. "But I'm playing the Rickenbacker."

For the record, I'd be the last to complain about hearing a Rickenbacker and I told him so.

"Someday I'll have a Rickenbacker 12-string and we'll both be happy," he said.

I can't wait.

Until then, I was more than happy with their smoke-laced set of psychedelia, the closest musical thing we have to a non-drug-induced high in Richmond.

It was quite a leap from Elvis' "Blue Moon" and yet a perfectly natural progression.

On today of all days, I'm sure any of the DJs at the show (and there were many) could appreciate the beauty of it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Well-Oiled Bearings

I can only aspire to be the Mary Boykin Chesnut of my era.

Her detailings of Richmond's social scene during the Civil War are a window into another period and the way people spent their free time.

Kind of like what I do every day, except without the hoop skirts and muddy streets.

I learned about Mary at today's Brown Bag Lunch talk, "Social Life in the Confederacy," given by Kelly Hancock at the Museum of the Confederacy.

That's where I heard how President Jefferson Davis, known as somewhat of a tightass, allowed himself to become "unbent" at White House socials.

How he continued the tradition of New Year's Day Levees, a tradition borrowed from the British, with the public invited to share in the festivities and the Armory band playing.

I loved hearing about Varina Davis' 19-year old sister, described as "having a keen sense of humor and being exceedingly clever."

No doubt those attributes contributed to her two broken engagements and the out-of-wedlock child she had by the age of 28.

And the man who finally corralled her? He was described as moving "into and through the most elegant or simplest assemblages on natural rubber tires and well-oiled bearings."

If I had any intention of being buried, I'd want that on my tombstone.

Mrs. Standard, a local 40-something, was known to have a home which came nearer to the salons of Paris than any home in Richmond (or America, for that matter), according to a gentleman who visited there many times.

She was also known to collect the best and brainiest men and was considered to be a "she who must be obeyed."

She, along with other affluent Richmonders, lived on Franklin Street (she near 8th), a grand place where soldiers would parade themselves when they got new uniforms.

Mrs. Randolph (a dark-eyed brunette) held "democratic suppers," which had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with everyone bringing a dish.

So, yes, that would be a Major General walking into the party clutching a jar of brandied peaches.

The Mosaic Club flourished despite no officers and no rules; it was all about music, talk and improv, described at the time as "the clashing of bright minds in hospitable and cultural homes."

And parlor games were apparently very popular.

Hancock described one as starting with two hats, one filled with slips of paper with unusual words and another with questions written on them.

Guests drew one of each and then had to create a story, poem or song using both the question and the word.

Call me shallow, but I was fascinated by the stories of the fun and frivolity that went on in this town against the backdrop of war.

And I was impressed by Mary Chesnut's devotion to her diary-keeping.

She was lucky, though, she didn't have to get home from a show at 2 a.m. and sit down and write it up right then.

Even so, I hope my stories of Richmond's social life are half as interesting to people a hundred years from now.

And if not, hey, this dark-eyed brunette did her cleverest.

Not the Betting Kind

"You bet your tights it will sound awesome," I was told.

I didn't have to. A musician friend had invited me to a house show at the Montrose Heights Potluck Palace (also known as his home) and I had responded by saying, "Sounds awesome!"

He told us all that it was going to be one of the best shows of the year and he's a guy who knows what he's talking about when it comes to music.

So rather than betting my tights, I put them on, made a pesto, roasted red pepper and bacon pizza and rode with other J-Ward friends to the East End.

The potluck offerings made for a smorgasbord of taste delights: seafood casserole, vegetarian chili and jalapeno cornbread and a decadent mac and cheese.

Even better were the desserts: apple pie and ice cream, Country Style Doughnuts (come on, we were in the neighborhood) and drumsticks of the ice cream variety.

As a friend noted, "I love parties where people bring ice cream." I agree, which is why I had a Drumstick.

And a doughnut.

Self-restraint goes out the window at a good house show.

While we ate, P.J. Sykes played DJ with his turntables spread out on a  Star Wars sheet-covered table (his wife said the sheet was from 1983 and his childhood), dominating the living room visually and sonically.

P.J. is an inveterate record collector, sometimes buying entire collections of mostly crap solely for the one or two treasures he finds among them (tonight it was the "space" record).

Playing first was C.J. Boyd, who'd had a tough week.

He'd just come back from a European tour where his electric bass had been stolen, the one he'd learned to play on and had had for eighteen years.

He ended up getting arrested at an Occupy Congress event while trying to defend a fellow protester who was being roughly handled by the cops and now he was just happy to be out of jail.

"That's what life's about, adjusting to shit," he said philosophically.

He played upright bass and electric bass (a friend having donated his since he no longer played it) and sang, layering both.

His music was downright trance-like, very intense.

Following him was Netherfriends, a band that sounds plural but really just showcased the multi-talented Shawn playing guitar, drum pad and Casio keyboard.

I'd checked him out online beforehand and been impressed with what I'd heard.

A friend at tonight's show had seen him play at the Hopscotch Festival last year and assured me I was in for a treat musically.

Lush and hooky songs aside, could this guy dance!

Even confined by his instrument set-up, he danced up on his toes James Brown-style, put his palm out to accentuate a lyric (stop in the name of showmanship!) and generally turned his multi-layered sound into a full-on performance piece.

"You gotta fight for your right to party," he reminded us in song.

My friend and I were a little put off by the people who didn't come into the room for his set but kept talking loudly in the other room.

"They're just rude," she said dismissively.

And the loss was theirs. I don't think they realized what an amazing show was being put on in the living room while they chatted away throughout his set.

The last slot was filled by tonight's host, Dave Watkins, he of the looping dulcitar and the endless variations of sound he can create.

Somehow my friend had never seen Dave perform, so I watched her sit transfixed by the intricate melodies and harmonies he created.

When he promised that the next song would be kind of weird, a friend took that as a cue. "I'm gonna sit down for weird," she said, taking a place on the floor.

But weird to Dave is music to the ears of an audience and anyone who can make music blowing into his stringed instrument is a somebody I want to hear.

Even more so when he arranges a dinner, invites out-of-town musicians to come play at his house and I'm on the guest list for the unfolding of it all.

Not only did I not have to sacrifice my tights but I also got impressive music and unexpected Country Style doughnuts.

You know, they say that's what life's about, adjusting to shit. Tonight's shit was stellar.

Adjusting was a real pleasure.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blood Brothers Let It Bleed

It began, innocently enough, with the story of a gold cocktail dress.

So right there you know it wasn't my dress.

A friend and I met at Lemaire to partake of well-priced wine and so that she could tell me about the dress she'd finally found for a big party this weekend.

Nothing about my upcoming weekend requires a cocktail dress, so I had nothing dress-related to share.

Still, we started with a bottle of Rias Baixas Albarino while listening to tales of the James Beard Foundation dinner recently held at Lemaire.

Judging by the storyteller's face when describing Chef Bundy's butter-poached Rappahannock oysters with Kite ham, it was clear we'd missed quite a meal.

We took that as a cue to order and I chose the smothered Broken Arrow Ranch Bandera quail with stone-ground Ashland grits, rainbow chard and "sawmill gravy."

Because, you know, if I'm going to get my sawmill on, there's no place like Lemaire. I kid because the succulent little bird with the gravy-covered grits was very much a take on comfort food.

We befriended the guy sitting next to us when he noticed that my girlfriend hadn't finished her scallops.

I explained that she's just picky and that the seared jumbo sea scallops with white beans and escarole in ham hock broth were actually quite good unless you were eating them and dreaming of a big old steak like my friend was.

He turned out to be a new visitor to Richmond from Philly, here on business and eager to hear more about the dining scene.

We talked about our local strengths and then shifted the talk north. He was fascinated to learn that I'd been to Morimoto in his home town and we compared impressions of their tasting menu.

A woman at the end of the bar overheard us talking and chimed in to  get some foodie talk, too.

She was a citizen activist, here from godforsaken Northern Virginia for the duration of the Gen Ass, and eager to find authentic (her word) local restaurants.

By the time I wrote down the first three that she needed to try, I was inviting her to join our little ad hoc group.

Meanwhile, at the far end of the bar, I spotted a friend ordering wine and within moments another came into Lemaire for a burger.

It was one of those nights where I had all kinds of company, familiar and new, with no effort on my part whatsoever.

Just sit here and they will come, Karen. Why, I think I will.

Gradually the business travelers had to leave to go to bed and it was time for me to say goodnight to my girlfriend and go find some music.

At Ipanema, the music was going strong when I arrived with sidekick in tow, and the guy at the door stopped me to ask for my ID.

"Really?" I asked. "You really need an ID from me?"

At the point, two of the staff sitting nearby looked at him and instructed, "She's fine," which was code for, "Dude, she's plenty old enough."

The bartender, a former Sprout friend, high-fived me in greeting and then was gracious enough to pour some Primitivo for us.

The attraction at Ipanema tonight since I'd already eaten was the Blood Brothers, Jamie and Duane, playing the vinyl that they love so well.

If anyone is concerned that the music of the sixties isn't being properly revered, they obviously haven't heard these two modsters trading turns on the turntable.

Longtime friends, they try to outdo each other with their choices. You'll see one pull an album out and just hold it in his hands for a second, trying to determine if it's got the perfect next song to play.

It was when they played the Stone Poneys' (featuring Linda Ronstadt) "Different Drum" that the crowd in the room lost their shit desire to gab and began dancing.


You and I travel to the beat of a different drum
Oh, can't you tell by the way I run
Every time you make eyes at me.


And of course once you get the crowd dancing like that, you have to play just the right thing to follow it, in this case the Spencer Davis Group, a good match energy-wise but not nearly as recognizable to the crowd.

Still, it was a well-made choice, a skill set the Blood Brothers have in spades.

We heard girl groups ("Be My Baby") and bad boys ("Get Off of My Cloud") and the floor had dancers as often as not.

Coming out of the bathroom, a guy recognized me but he had to tell me his name before I knew who he was.

It was an enthusiastic member of Team Sex, a bicycle collective known for their speed in scavenger hunts whom I hadn't seen in ages.

The people you meet after answering Nature's call.

But there were lots of familiar faces in the crowd of vinyl and/or sixties music-lovers. The pastry chef, the server from a favorite wine bistro, several DJs.

From the end of the bar, the Blood Brothers spent the evening pushing out tunes to keep sidekick and I happily ensconced on a bench watching the parade of humanity whilst sipping our earthy red wine.

Did I mention how cool they looked doing it and how much fun they were obviously having?

Cause I know it was obvious how much fun we were having listening to them. Who needs a gold cocktail dress when you've got the Stone Poneys?

Or the Blood Brothers?

You cry and moan and say it will work out
But honey child, I've got my doubts
You can't see the forest for the trees

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You Just Had to Be There

It was like a meeting of the Elvis fan club.

The group of people who gathered at the VMFA for the "Conversations: Elvis at 21" talk today included multiple people still plenty passionate about the King.

The speakers were photographer Jeffrey Allison and musician Terri Allard and they weren't so much lecturing as nurturing a conversation with the audience.

"Some of you are all about Elvis," Allison noted right off the bat. "I saw some blue suede shoes." And it was true.

Allison, also the Mellon Collection Educator, talked about what gave the photographs in the exhibit their definitive look.

Wertheimer was using a Leica SLR, the images were framed as he shot (so there was no cropping in the final prints) and he used only available light.

The quiet of the camera and the absence of flash meant that the photographer could be almost invisible to his subject, making for more naturalistic photos.

But it was during the audience's participation that the true fans showed themselves.

One spoke of her vivid memories of having seen Elvis at the Mosque.

"I tried to go onstage and tear his shirt off," admitted the middle-aged woman in the blue suede shoes.

"We were complete maniacs about him," another said without apology.

Yet another remembered her family being recently stationed in Japan and hearing Elvis on Armed Forces Radio and the effect it had on her.

One said that she recalled Elvis coming to her high school in a small town in Arkansas to play when he was barnstorming around the South developing his following.

In every one of their voices, you heard the passion of a true fan who had lost none of her enthusiasm for the long-dead singer.

Elvis has been recognized for having been an unusually focused man at 21, but his long-time followers are certainly no less so today and I guess I hadn't realized that.

Allison asked what other singer had achieved as lasting an effect and a response of "Michael Jackson" was all but shouted down.

To the devoted, Elvis is apparently the real thing and no one can be acknowledged in the same breath as the man.

Many of the people in the audience were following up the talk with seeing the show, but since I'd already seen it, I headed west for lunch.

I was meeting a friend in the restaurant business who's always eager to eat places he hasn't (and surprisingly, he hasn't eaten at a lot of places).

That's how I'd introduced him to Ettamae's and Stella's. Today it was Black Sheep, although I'd originally suggested Amuse.

It would have been terribly convenient for me, but he shot that down because he was coming in work clothes and wanted someplace he considered more casual.

Like everyone else, he was charmed by the place, ordering the Falldorf Salad, a creative take on a Waldorf salad with clementines in addition to the usual suspects, and a Diet Cheerwine.

Then there was me, the feminine one, whose delicate appetite demanded that I go to the opposite extreme with the Green Eggs and Lamb.

The eggs were baked with Derby Sage cheese and spinach and the two large links of lamb sausage gave me all the salty I could hope for to accompany the sweetness of my Abita Root Beer.

That would be sweet, as in sugary. Unlike several of my male friends, I disdain diet sodas.

Everyone decides which real things are important to them. Imagine hanging on to that devotion for fifty years.

I might not be in the Elvis fan club, but I'm hugely impressed by anyone who inspires long-lasting passion.

Just to be clear, though, I have no intention of wearing blue suede shoes to prove it.

Pickin' and Grinnin' to Sangiovese

You can try keeping me in by inviting me to dinner, but that doesn't mean I won't suggest going out at some point.

Which is to say that after the veal and the bottle of Mulderbosch Rose were savored near an open window (yes, on a fine January evening), I made a case for adjourning to Carytown Bistro for a little bluegrass.

I've been told that I can make a very convincing argument when I want to.

Since it was my first time there for music since it changed from Bin 22, I didn't know how much of a crowd to expect.

The place turned out to be nearly full with a lot of people standing to hear Tara Mills (Charlottesville) and Chloe Edmonstone (Asheville) play their bluegrass.

They'd rounded up a local bass player and part-time RVA mandolin player to round out the sound and shoehorned themselves into the alcove up front.

The reluctant contingent and I got glasses of the Tuscan Il Bastardo and managed to grab a couple of recently available seats in a community booth right up front.

The set featured the violinist Chloe and the bass player Zach each singing lead vocals  for a song, changing up their sound considerably.

Chloe's voice reminded me a bit of Allison's, always a good thing.

Josh Bearman of the Hot Seats arrived during the break, convenient because he was on next.

In his defense, he'd just finished his shift on WRIR, so it wasn't like he'd been dawdling.

But he and band mate Allison Self, who've dubbed themselves Sweet Fern, know exactly what they're doing and the two launched onto their set effortlessly.

Josh is a master at stage banter, one very funny and superbly talented guy.

Allison's big, beautiful voice was made for "old timey" music and between her ukulele and his guitar/mandolin, they pulled off a stellar performance, only resorting to a lyric sheet for the encore demanded by the audience.

With a Carter Family cover, songs about tried and true love as well as one about being a single gal, there was a little something to make everyone happy.

Which was a good thing considering I'd dragged the dinner party with me out into a balmy sixty-degree night to partake of a little mountain music.

Doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice to me.

Fortunate are those I can convince to join me. Dessert can always wait.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Talkie Type

How often do you see a silent movie two nights in a row?

But then how often is there a brand-new silent film at the movie theater?

After seeing the previews for "The Artist" several times, I was pretty sure I'd enjoy it.

And I did, except for the man with the oral fixation chewing loudly on a plastic straw one seat away.

Just for the record, that was after he'd polished off a sandwich (wrapped in foil), a canned Diet Coke and a king-size fountain soda

But I digress.

After all the silent movies I've seen in the past four-plus years at the Silent Music Revival and James River Film Society events, I've actually seen a fair amount of silent film.

I mean, I'm no Jameson Price, but I've probably seen more than your average bear.

But I think the most recent one I ever saw was 1948 and even then, it was highly unusual to make a silent film that late.

So of course a French film director decides last year to make a black and white silent film tribute to Hollywoodland.

Count me in.

The hero looked like a matinee idol (and had the greatest smile in his eyes), the photography was exquisite and the music perfectly attuned to the scenes.

I know Kim Novak is upset about them using a snippet of music from "Vertigo" but it didn't bother me.

The romance was suggested but never developed, only hinted at.

But you should have seen the way they smiled at each other Oh, it was romance.

What I was curious about was what the audience's reaction to seeing a silent film would be.

Besides hearing every cough (and straw chewer), you clearly heard comments ("That's a gun") and reactions (a woman's audible gasp when the hero carelessly stepped off a curb and almost got hit by a car).

Everything unfolded but not with words, only with movements, gestures and nuance.

Which I can (and did) totally appreciate as far as telling the story went.

But no words? In a romance?

In a movie, fine, but that would never fly, at least for me, in real life.

If you're going to go romantic, it's got to be wordy or just shoot me now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Postcard from Puerto Rico

Much as I enjoy attending, I can't begrudge the cessation of the Silent Music Revival.

You see, the organizers are going to Puerto Rico for a few months.

They have the loveliest habit of up and going away for months at a time to work and live in other countries before returning to Richmond.

So tonight's event was the last one for an indefinite amount of time.

To commemorate such an auspicious occasion, Jameson chose a perfect marriage of film and music.

A 1926 movie, "Now You Tell One" starring Charley Bowers played while Nick Coward and the Last Battle improvised a score.

NC & the LB did a superb job of matching their music with the story of a Liar's Club competition and the man off the street who's brought in to spin a tale.

No surprise, he wins the gold.

Afterwards, he swears his story is true, tells a man he loves his daughter (she turns out to be his wife) and is eventually chased by the broom-wielding husband right up until "Le Fin."

Good old twenties slapstick circa Buster Keaton, but by a far less well-known comedian.

I was happy to see that there was a good-sized crowd since no one wanted to miss their last chance for a while.

Being a seasoned veteran, I knew to get there early and grab front row seats while also allowing enough time to say fond farewells to the soon-to-be departed couple.

And while I hate to see them go, I can't help but envy people who are leaving below freezing temperatures for sunny climes.

For people who will be wearing shorts while I continue to layer and wear gloves.

For people who will write music based on where they are and the experiences they're having.

For people who always come back to this city energized and ready to make music and things happen.

Wait a minute....

Hell, if I had any sense, I'd be joining them.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Little Night Music

I played a mother surrogate tonight.

It's not like it sounds. My friend Holmes has three season tickets to the Symphony. He usually takes his girlfriend and his Mom.

But Mom's in Florida at the moment, so I was runner-up for the pleasure of dinner and Masterworks.

We met up at Arcadia, took our positions at the bar and had a splendid time drinking the Cline Cashmere Red Blend and catching up.

Because they're inescapable these days, we began with the deviled eggs, here served over basil gremolata.

Holmes continues to insist that $6 for three egg halves is a bit much, but it seems to be the going rate all over town.

I started with the apple and arugula salad with candied walnuts, bleu cheese and cider apple vinaigrette, regretting only that the kitchen was over-generous with the dressing.

The black tiger shrimp ceviche over polenta with shaved greens and orange curry oil, a dainty portion, followed, but it was the girlfriend's Braveheart Black Angus strip steak that stole the show.

We also gave a nod to the obscenely rich potato pave with thyme and Parmesan.

As we sat there enjoying our food, the bartender popped a bottle of bubbly and Holmes commented, "It's like a woman sighing."

For a guy who was told by a date once to watch "The Notebook" because he wasn't romantic enough, I found that sentiment quite poetic.

It also led to us getting glasses of Cava to accompany our chocolate torte with chocolate gelato.

The torte oozed butter in the best possible way and the gelato was sticky with the heavy creaminess that defines good gelato.

Good thing we had the crisp-tasting Cava to cut that richness.

We barely made it up to Center Stage after lingering over our final course but managed to slide into our seats minutes before showtime.

When the concert mistress walked out to begin things, Holmes commented, "How does she play in those shoes?"

She did have on cute shoes, no doubt about it. But when you have to wear conservative black onstage, your shoes are your only outlet for razzle-dazzle.

I usually defer to him on musical matters since he's a talented viola (and guitar) player, but  before I could do so, he went on, "And look at the third chair's shoes!"

Hers were the tallest of stilettos and yet she seemed to have no problem whatsoever playing her instrument.

The program was definitely an interesting one, beginning with Piazzolla's extended tango in five parts, "Tangazo," written in 1968.

I loved everything about it: the knocking on the violins, the tapping of the bows to the instruments, the alternate slow and quick tango pace.

I'm sure that that was an analogy for something.

Applauding afterwards, I turned to Holmes to rave about it and he responded, "He should have scored a Bond movie!"

Yea, a Bond movie's seduction scenes, for sure.

Next up was the featured player of the evening. Guesting was guitarist Jason Vieaux on Rodrigo's "Concierto de Arnjuez for Guitar and Orchestra."

When Vieaux walked out in an open-collared black shirt, Holmes sniffed, "Man, if I'd known, I'd have left the bolo at home."

In fact, he looked quite dapper in his black shirt and black bolo, a gift from his absent mother.

The piece went back and forth between the soloing guitar and the orchestra, highlighting Vieaux's virtuosity.

During intermission, I ran into local rocker Prabir with his Mom (clearly good sons take their Moms to the Symphony) and learned that they'd been as thrilled with that first piece as I'd been.

Prabir said he'd been eagerly anticipating hearing it ever since he found out it was being performed tonight.

Okay, good, so it wasn't just my overactive glands responding to the seductive music of an Argentinian from a family of Italian immigrants.

We returned to Bolcom's "Commedia for (Almost) 18th--Century Orchestra," written in 1971 and based on the idea that the bite of a tarantula can only be relieved by music.

With its unexpected sounds and references to traditional classical music, it offered something for every taste.

Conspicuously absent during the piece were the concert mistress, the second violin and the cello soloist, all of whom reappeared at the end of the piece, having played their parts off-stage.

Just a composer's idea of comedy, I'm figuring.

Last up was Mozart's "Symphony No. 39," which meant nothing to me but thrilled Holmes since he'd heard No. 40 performed before but never No. 39.

I only wish my musical savvy extended to knowing which Mozart pieces I've heard played live.

Hell, I'm lucky he even deigns me worthy to accompany him given my appalling lack of classical music knowledge.

More realistically, I'm lucky Mom's out of town every January.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Faithfully Yours in Fantasy

Faith can mean so many things.

I used to consider it a supreme act of faith that my 90 plus year old neighbor planted bulbs every Fall, fully expecting that she'd see them bloom come Spring.

Once you've had your heart broken, certainly falling in love again is an act of faith and people do that all the time.

It's that range of definitions of faith that make up the fifteen productions in this year's Acts of Faith Festival, which previewed tonight at the Empire Theater, right here in lovely downtown J-Ward.

Some choices are obvious, like "God of Carnage" or "Jewtopia" while some require a closer look to figure out the faith connection.

"Always...Patsy Cline"? Er...? "Ain't Misbehaving"? Um...? Okay, "The Tragedy of Macbeth," sorta, kinda.

Tonight's preview offered brief snippets of all the plays, hopefully whetting the audience's appetite for seeing the full productions.

The brief scene from Henley Street's "Lord of the Flies" reminded me how unsettling that book had been back when I read it in school.

"Shakespeare and Galileo," which I actually saw when it was first produced at the Carpenter Science Theater, imagines that Shakespeare went to Italy and met the great scientist.

This one was obvious. Galileo's description of the moon was the perfect melding of art and science, aka a higher power.

There were plenty of humorous moments, too.

We were told by the director of the Seminary Shoestring Players from Baptist Theological Seminary that he'd started the group because, "I thought it was a good thing for students going into the ministry to learn how to act."

Major laughter greeted that remark.

Likewise there was tittering for Cadence Theater Company's scene from "August: Osage County" where the woman says, "Men always say crap like that, as if the past and future don't exist."

You guys know better, right?

Despite most people probably not even noticing, one moment that brought a smile to my face was during the Patsy Cline song, "Walking After Midnight."

Instead of a band, she had a pianist accompanying her tonight and for sheet music, he was using an iPad.

That's right, touching the screen periodically to go to the next page of music to play a song from the fifties.

He must have had faith that technology wouldn't fail him in the midst of the performance.

And while I'm a card-carrying heathen, one thing I appreciate about the Acts of Faith Festival is that they have talkbacks for every play, inviting audience members to share their take on the issues presented in the plays.

So it's safe to say that once the festival begins, I'll catch a few of the plays and maybe even share my opinion with a roomful of strangers.

I moved from faith to fantasy by going to Eric Schindler Gallery for the opening of Lily Lamberta's new show "Pageant Style Puppetry and Folk Art."

Lily is the brains and talent behind All the Saints Theater Company and the fantastical puppets and masks used in the Annual Halloween and May Day Parades, two events I love participating in.

Her fanciful mounted heads look down from walls oozing personality like no actual stuffed animal ever could.

"Grandma Forest" had lace eyebrows."Watchman of the Woods" had a burgundy velvet head wrap with tassel.

"Winter White Caribou," the piece I coveted, was extravagantly feminine, pink, lacy and with delicate twig antlers.

From the front brightly lit gallery room to the second room represented a colossal shift in mood.

In that space, Lily had crafted a luminous shrine to her parade works. This, I knew, was Lily's world.

Enormous puppets, heads, hands and skulls hung from the walls with fairy lights strewn around them.

Familiar faces from past parades looked down, including George Washington, whom I remembered from the Founding Fathers-themed parade.

It was here I found the artist herself, dressed in a short black taffeta prom dress and cowboy boots, looking like she was having the time of her life among the capacity crowd.

But she didn't seem in the least surprised about all the people raving about her work, snapping photos of it or that she'd already sold three pieces.

And why should she? As far as I can tell, being an artist is a full-time act of faith.

Ardently Pursuing Health

You'd be surprised how many Frenchmen want to walk around with lipstick kisses on their cheeks.

Or maybe you wouldn't.

A friend and I walked into La Parisienne during high lunch mode. The place was positively bustling with activity and after the sharp windy cold, it felt warm and inviting inside.

The owner walked up to greet us, offering his cheek for a continental greeting. Being a regular customer, I obliged.

Today's frigid temperatures made Zee Onion Soup too appealing to pass up and my friend shared her frites and mac and cheese, so there were carbs galore.

Midway through our meal, the owner came back for a second kiss on the other cheek, much to the amusement of the two lawyer types at the adjoining table.

"He's your blotter," one observed. Indeed.

A belated Christmas present from my favorite Gemini came in the form of a book, "The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink" along with a card saying, "It's hard to pick out a gift for the woman who has read everything."

As we sat in front of the south-facing window, my friend noted that she liked this place so much because it was so cheerful and I knew what she meant.

Let's just say that it wasn't our first lunch there together.

We talked about couples and finances, emotionally unavailable men and married couples with open marriages.

And, for the third time, the owner came up looking for a replacement for the lip print that he had inadvertently wiped off.

He must have read the same article in  today's "The Telegraph" that I had.

The science reporter confirmed that it's far healthier to greet someone with a Continental kiss than a handshake during cold and flu season.

Still, if I'd known how much kissing I was going to do at lunch, I'd have brought along extra lipstick.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Love Letters and Longing

If only all evenings could start with unabashed romanticism and end with lust.

The love part was courtesy of a VMFA lecture, "My Faraway One: The Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz," given by Sarah Greenough, who edited  a book of the same name.

The couple were extensive letter-writers (25,000 pieces and barely  a tenth of them went into the 800-page book) and their output detailed life when they were apart, the development of artistic ideas and their thoughts on other artists.

When they met, she was young, disarmingly frank and had a strong sense of independence.

I'm quite sure I would have liked her.

He was married, established in his career and absolutely besotted, sometimes writing her two and three times a day with some letters 30-40 pages long.

Now that's what I call smitten.

I loved hearing about how they described their longing, both physical and emotional, for each other in great detail.

Georgia wrote, "I'm getting to like you so tremendously that it scares me some times."

The full frontal nude photographs he took of her before they got physical (on what he called "Virginity Day") were gorgeous despite the understandable tension in them, given their unconsummated love.

Greenough was a terrific lecturer, imbuing the letters she read with the passion and longing with which they were written.

She said she'd debated whether or not to include the explicit sexual references (a rare dilemma for an art historian, she laughed) and decided that given how important their sex life was to them both, it was a requirement.

Hearing portions read aloud, it certainly warmed up the room nicely for this attendee.

So with that for foreplay, I moved on to Richmond Triangle Players to see "2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter's Night" with the handsomest theater critic I know.

The two-actor play (both from NYC, although one was British) was a one act story set in 1987 at 4:30 a.m.

In bed, naturally.

Kissing and grabbing each other all the way, two guys have left a club and gone back to one's apartment to have sex.

Which means that the play got off to a fine start with full frontal male nudity, delighting the mostly male crowd.

I do think I was one of a very few females in the audience who also enjoyed it.

The story centered around the eternal one-night stand dilemma where one person just wants to leave afterwards and the other wants to talk about feelings.

The eighties references were fun; the visitor looks at his host's CDs (New Order, Bronski Beat, Erasure and "the ever-popular Material Girl"), only to squeal "Ooooh, the Carpenters!"

They reminisce about watching "Dynasty" on Wednesday nights and getting home at 10 a.m. from Saturday night club outings.

And of course they discuss AIDS and their fond memories of a pre-AIDS social life. You know, because it's 1987.

For a play about one-night stands, it had enough universal truths about love and relationships to make it mostly relatable, no matter the orientation.

Mostly anyway.

Can't say I could relate to the explanation of what a guy wants ("In the following order, you want me to slap you, f**k you, love you"), but that was probably just me.

And, okay,"Strength is sexier than weakness" resonated for my team, too, on some level.

But not like a Steiglitz letter.

"You have given me, I can't tell you what it is, but it is something tremendous, something overpowering that I feel as if I had shot up suddenly into the skies and touched the stars."


You don't write that to someone you want to have a one-night stand with.

Dirty Poem Inspiration

Poe said "The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world."

Operating from that premise, author John Milliken Thompson gave a talk at the Library of Virginia about his new book, "The Reservoir" about a young (and pregnant) woman found floating in the city reservoir in 1885 and the sensational trial that followed.

Working from an actual murder case, Thompson researched extensively to learn about the case, only to realize that because the characters were obscure people, not much was known about them.

Well, that's just a challenge to a writer (who referred to himself as a "haphazard plotter"), so he took it upon himself to imagine the thoughts and conversations of the people involved and the search for the seducer.

"Search for the seducer," is that a great phrase or what?

So his book is a fictional telling of real people's stories, minus the "dirty poem" that was central to the case ("Pretty raunchy," he grinned. "We've got nothing on them back then.").

He said his editor had referred to it as "In Cold Blood meets Cold Mountain."

And while I'm not much of a fiction reader, the "romance wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an historical crime story" sounded pretty fascinating.

A lot of the people in the audience, many of whom had read the book already, ate their lunch as he talked.

I held out to meet a friend for midday eats at the Franklin Inn, home of the best $3.95 burger in town.

He was late so I sat at a table with my back to the front window with the server noting, "You have a good spot there in the sun."

Indeed I did and the old-fashioned peach-colored roses on the table smelled almost as  pretty as they looked, so the wait was actually very pleasant.

So of course I gave him a hard time for being five minutes late.

We caught up over lunch and I heard tales of cookie parties (a friend was counting on me to be there and I let her down...for music), venue parties ("Everyone was plastered by 9:00") and potential jobs (his and he wouldn't take it if it was offered, apparently).

There was even gossip about former co-workers.

With no seducer in sight and my own haphazard plotting skills, it was not exactly a poetical ending to my mid-day interlude.

But then, no beautiful woman had to die, either.

Rainy Nights and Wednesdays

To quote a bad '80s song, I love a rainy night (or day for that matter). You just have to have a plan, a blueprint, if you will.

Trusty sidekick suggested udon at Akida and I suggested free jazz at Balliceaux. Next thing you know, we had a plan.

Clearly we weren't the only people craving Japanese because when we walked in, there was only one open table.

The chatter around us was noisy; next to us it was low-key and all in Chinese and behind us, it was girl talk ("So after a couple of drinks, he asked me to go to Puerto Rico with him and, like, that would have been so cool, but I just met him, so how could I?").

Sidekick had been correct; the damp weather was perfect for soup. He went with the seafood variety and I did yard bird, slurping noodles shamelessly.

Once the place began to clear out, we realized it was probably getting close to show time and headed over to Ballcieaux.

We needn't have concerned ourselves. As I've learned, jazz musicians work on jazz time, which has no relevance to actual time.

Our timely arrival did garner us the couch and with a couple of glasses of Monferrato "Bricco del Conte" we got comfortable with our liquid Italian and did some people watching.

Glows in the Dark was a new experience for him, although he'd heard me rave about their Mondo Italia Dance Party nights.

Tonight's set wasn't drawn from Italian crime movies, but, as always with this band, movie music reared its head with some arrangements from John Carpenter movies.

Our plush seat turned out to be a liability when Reggie Pace was doing the percussion thing since he had his back to us.

That may not seem like a big deal, but seeing that guy play triangle is a treat.

For most ear-catching tonight, I'd have to go with Scott Burton's guitar on "Manhunt," which you'd have had to have heard since my musical vocabulary is insufficient to describe why I liked it so much.

Full disclosure: during the break, I inadvertently scrambled Sidekick's brain with a little nothing of a statement.

Headlining was HighLife, a band that described itself as "coming from New York or Ohio," except that then someone yelled out "Or Waynesboro!" which was apparently where the lead singer was from.

What was most interesting was that before they began playing, they rolled out "blueprints" which supposedly provide the flow of the music and the band takes it from there, improvising along.

HighLife did a full-on audio assault, playing without stopping for a good 45 minutes making discordant sounds, beautiful music and everything in between with non-stop drumming, trumpet, sax, bass and guitar.

After an introductory part full of noise (no other way to put it), they moved into a groove, best signified by the bobbing heads of the Glows musicians watching them.

It wasn't hard to tell that they liked the direction the band was going in.

When the audio onslaught ended all at once, I had t assume that they'd finished every stage of the blueprint.

Once again, Sidekick admitted to some brain scrambling, this time from the music.

Udon, funky free jazz and scrambled brains. If that's not a recipe for a rainy night, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Skinheads and Bacharach

I'm quite sure I'd never heard Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" performed live before.

But then I'd never been to the Canal Sessions at Current (at the Hat Factory), where acoustic resigns supreme on Tuesday nights.

The last time I'd been in that space, it was to hear local band At the Stars, so it had been a while.

It wasn't crowded, so we grabbed a table with a view, ordered malbec and black bean nachos and settled in for some acoustic goodness.

Tabb Justice did some covers by Elvis Costello and the Clash, as well as some (very funny) original stuff, including a song about the girls who work the Chamberlayne Avenue corridor.

Let's just say glands were mentioned.

He was the one who'd pulled out the Bacharach chestnut and done a decent job with what could be called a cheesy song.

Donna Contessa and her twelve-string acoustic guitar began with Joni Mitchell (including the sublime "A Case of You") and went on to Joan Baez and Shawn Colvin.

Paul Pearce played his guitar with conviction and a beer nearby.

He got props for doing "Take the Skinheads Bowling" and a few hollers of support when he chose to cover Husker Du.

We heard another brief set from Tabb when he returned to do an original song about a guy called Brother Love whom he used to live over twenty years ago.

Apparently Brother Love saw the world through rose-colored glasses and Tabb did not at the time, resulting in a song to that effect.

Perhaps most interestingly, Brother Love happened to be in the audience tonight.

I didn't see any rose-colored glasses, though.

The show closed with a duo of Sean and Andre who covered everything from Cage the Elephant to Oasis.

With any luck, Brother Love went home and listened to "A Case of You" to restore his rosiness.

If he was smart. And he looked like he was.