Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sir Duke-era Dating

Say it's the late '40s.

You want to take your date out for an evening she'll appreciate without breaking the bank.

Probably you find a good, reasonably-priced restaurant to take her to.

If you're particularly clever, you go to some place like Garnett's, where they have a date night special every night from 6-9:00.

You impress your date with a lovely summer, easy-drinking wine like Gabriele Rause Vin de Gris, which just happens to be part of the date night package.

Both of you choose an entree to enjoy while you listen to appropriately literate, hook-laden music from Jason Collett, he of the uber-talented collective Broken Social Scene.

Needless, to say, your date is enchanted.

You finish the meal with the black and white cake with coffee frosting

It's the kind of frosting that is more fat than sugar, but since it's just after the war years, everyone's still in the habit of not over-using luxuries like sugar.

You linger, finishing the wine until the moon is fully high in the sky.

Wisely, you'd already planned to walk to your next stop, Ballcieaux for the RVA Big Band.

Because, let's face it, the war's over and it's time to celebrate.

Dancing cheek to cheek with a woman is a pleasure you lived without for too long.

You steer your date to the back banquette, which you share with another couple sitting very close.

The bandleader informs the crowd that it's the bass sax player's birthday  (she looks impossibly young no matter what her age) and one of the trombone players' last nights with the big band.

Suddenly, you and your date are sharing not just swing music, but a couple of special occasions.

Does she sit a little closer because of it?

All around you, other tables are eating, drinking and watching the band.

This is the norm at a club with a live band in the late '40s.

The bandleader dedicates the next piece to Doug Richards, a local musician who also teaches in the VCU Jazz Studies program.

In all likelihood, most of the musicians in the big band have studied under him at one time or another.

He is the eminence gris. albeit a toe-tapping, thigh-slapping, head-bobbing one in a bar stool.

"This is Far East Suite," the bandleader says. "Doug Richards made sure I heard it a long time before I would have otherwise."

You realize that if your date is not impressed by this exquisite Duke Ellington composition, she's not worthy anyway.

As luck has it, she swoons over it, her legs keeping time with the music.

By the time you walk the five blocks back to the car, you feel certain she'll say yes to another date.

She does, as surely as the Allies beat the enemy.

It's good to be dating circa 1946.

Easy and with a swing beat.

Monday, July 30, 2012

By Cock and Pie

"Wait till you see me in my doublet sweating my heiney off."

If that isn't an invitation to experience Shakespeare in the courtyard of Agecroft Hall, I don't know what is.

And it wasn't even said to me, merely overheard.

As if I needed more incentive, it was the closing night of "Merry Wives of Windsor," the weather was decidedly less July-like than usual and a friend had been called a standout in the cast.

We picnicked on the grass behind the grand house, with a view of the James and a series of trains chugging along the riverside.

Members of the company's young troupe, calling themselves Lord Moxley's Players, wandered from picnic to picnic, offering to do monologues.

When it was our turn, I chose Kate from "Taming of the Shrew" and heard Kate lament her fate as Petrucchio's soon-to-be wife.

Waiting in line to enter the courtyard, I spoke with some first-timers to Agecroft and Richmond Shakespeare.

When they asked me where the best place to sit was, I didn't hesitate.

The front row is my favorite because it allows me to see the actors spit, both literally and figuratively.

As proof, spit began flying during the first scene,

That's what I'm talking about.

I spy entertainment in her. She discourses, she carves, she gives the leer of invitation.

Personally, I would be flattered if a man spied entertainment in me.

The story of the large and boastful knight Falstaff wooing two middle-aged wives who in turn trick and degrade him is one of my favorites, mainly for the substance of the characters.

The appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning glass!

The role of Falstaff is key to this play and Todd Schall-Vess nailed it, doing buffoonery and humanity equally well.

It's so easy to overdo the role and leave the audience uncaring about Falstaff, but that wasn't the case.

After he is dumped into the river with the laundry and comes out sputtering and sneezing, a tiny fish comes out of his nose (mouth?) as he blusters about such indignities.


Can I love her? I hope so.

The entire cast was assured, no doubt partly a function of this being the fourth week of production.

Evan Nasteff as the French Dr. Caius managed to be hysterical and dashing at the same time.

Use your art of wooing. Win her to consent to you.

That particular line was followed by a flock of geese flying over Agecroft, honking in the dark blue almost-night sky.

It was a sky that eventually changed over to a moonlit one which we enjoyed from the veranda during intermission.

I assure thee, setting the attractions of my good parts aside, I have no other charms.

Guitar and cello music came courtesy of Matt Treacy, whom I've seen at Richmond Shakespeare's staged readings.

He managed to imbue any kind of scene, comical or fighting, with just the right musical emphasis.

I must advance the colours of my love.

If ever a play focused on the art of wooing, it's this one.

Watching men, young and old, try to win the affection of the objects of their affection (or at least, lust) was probably the equivalent of a chick-flick.

And while I don't go see those, I'd happily watch Shakespeare's characters woo and charm any night of the week.

Sure, partly it's the language ("I rather will suspect the sun of cold than you of wantoness"), but also the humor ("I'll no pullet sperm in my brewage").

And all from the front row where twice actors gazed into my eyes to deliver their lines.

No rom-com at a multi-plex is capable of giving me that distinct pleasure.

Have I lived to stand at the taunt of one who makes fritters of English?

Have I lived to savor a talented cast who woo with language on a moonlit night?

I hope so. After all, there is entertainment to be spied in me.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mercy Me!

"Allow yourself to be changed by the experience."

So said the bathroom wall at Pasture where they were doing their first-ever Mercy! Heavy Soul and Funk Dance Party.

I love the idea of restaurants re-purposing themselves after dining hours, so I couldn't resist stopping by for some bubbles and heavy soul.

As I sipped my Vinho Verde, I felt hands squeezing my shoulders and unexpectedly there were two friends.

"We were driving by when I saw you walking down the street and I said, I know that walk! Let's follow her," he said, explaining away their stalking me right into Pasture to say hello.

It seemed only natural to tell them to stay and hear the vinyl stylings of Troy and Marty, knowing that they remembered a world before mp3s.

So they ordered cosmos and we dissected their restaurant experiences tonight (the first was an epic fail and the second not up to usual).

Next thing I knew, the modster walked in (looking groovy, as always) with his girlfriend and we took some time to marvel over the array of DJs spinning around town tonight.

After they moved on, the boys and I went back to full-on attention to the music, which was spot on.

Did I recognize the songs being played? I did not.

Well, except for a brief remix of Hall and Oates' "She's Gone," which also got the attention of chef Jason Alley who asked to see the actual 45 record.

Did I hear classic soul stylings that exactly matched the era of the best soul music? I did.

Next thing I knew, I heard my name being called only to find a friend I'd known years ago who had since moved to Florida.

The last time I'd seen her a couple of years ago, she'd recently been cuckolded by her husband and said she had just reconnected with a Londoner she'd known in college.

They'd set off on a  road trip to see if they were compatible.

Looking at her, I knew the answer before I asked the question, but I had to ask anyway.

Yep, living together in Florida and still wildly happy together.

But she had an addendum to the story.

After our last meeting, where I'd heard her fairy tale story of moving on after a disastrous end to her marriage, she'd met up with a friend the next day to tell her the news.

Midway through, the friend stopped her. "I read about this on a blog today," she informed my amazed friend.

While I hadn't used names, the story was easily recognizable, especially for anyone hearing it directly from the source.

My friend was a little amazed at my reach, but not half as much as a few days later when she tried telling a coworker about what had happened and she, too, said she'd read it on my blog.

"So apparently you have a wide readership," my friend laughed.

I was just happy she could laugh about it, but I reminded her that the story she'd told me had been one of the most romantic I'd ever heard

And considering this was back in my heartbroken, no dating period, I remember being bowled over to think  that anyone could find such love and luck with someone she had known twenty-some years earlier.

They just hadn't explored it well enough then and now they were, to great success.

What blogger worth her salt wouldn't have shared that kind of romance?

I like to think I'm at least worth my salt.

Once we caught up, I returned to my friends at the bar, both of whom were finding a lot to like about the music being played.

First of all, nothing sounds like vinyl, and if you can't get into vintage soul (lots of horns and harmonies, and, post-disco, string arrangements), part of you is already dead.

I ran into others I knew - a beer rep looking to dance, a local chef looking to share opinions - and we talked about the Richmond restaurant scene ("It's the next wave of new restaurants that'll decide how Richmond goes," he predicted).

A few people were starting to dance in the aisle between the bar and booths, but for the most part, by the time I left, full-on dancing hadn't happened.

But it was the first Pasture dance party attempt after adding the sound baffling to the ceiling, so it was more of a trial run.

I'm looking forward to the next one as much for the excellent music as for the random people I run into there.

After a hot afternoon at the river and a warm evening making ice cream, all I'd set out for was wine and funk.

Instead, I'd followed the advice of the bathroom sage and allowed my evening to be changed by the various experiences delivered by Mercy!

After a busy Saturday, you take your wisdom where ever you find it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Get Out Your Peeler

Following the instincts of generations of Richmonders since Byrd saw the bend, I spent a July afternoon on Belle Isle.

With sandwiches from Nick's Market ("You don't want mayo, we don't give you mayo"), half of a perfectly ripe cantaloupe and an enormous bunch of red grapes, we found a shady rock and spread a beach towel.

With the burble of the rushing water nearby, we'd scored a sweet oasis away from the families and hardbodies

We'd purposely waited for late afternoon, knowing it would be easier parking and less competition for good rocks.

The people watching as we ate was superb.

It's a lot like the Folk Festival. Everybody comes to Belle Isle.

There was drama: two hat boys facing off in overly loud and inane obscenities, like "You Church Hill, pregnant f**k-off!" said to a guy.

Physical comedy: the guy walking slowly into the river with a cup of beer in his hand, only to go head over heels in a slippery spot. Bye bye, beer.

Adventure: rafting parties going earnestly by only to take a rock break a few yards ahead.

Curious: two guys walking their bikes through the river's edge, carefully staying in the water.

And heartwarming: a young mom sitting herself down in shallow water with her baby on her lap and doing endless water play to his great delight.

Since I'd been at the Rappahannock just this week and recalled how warm it had been, I was eager to compare the temperature of the James.

Right about the same, which is to say mighty warm.

We moved closer to rushing water, hoping it would be cooler, but mostly it just knocked into us, making us lose our footing.

Current aside, we stayed in for a good long while just enjoying being immersed in the wet.

Meanwhile, the crowds continued to disperse as the sun moved lower.

Eventually I put my shorts back on over my bathing suit and we ambled back over the footbridge, emitting that damp essence of summertime wet bodies.

I got asked about my evening's plans but hadn't decided yet. We'll see, I said.

Coming home, I was greeted by the pile of peaches I'd recently picked, here.

It was like being figuratively hit over the head by the back of my Richmond grandmother's hand (not that she ever did such a thing).

And just like that, instinct kicked in and I peeled off my shorts and began peeling peaches for ice cream.

They were so perfectly ripe that the skins came off almost in one piece, all but begging to be peeled.

It was 7:53 and there was still enough light in in the kitchen window to make peach ice cream.

And people ask me how I can love summer?

Until you've stood in your kitchen making peach ice cream wearing a bathing suit and covered in sticky peaches and cream plus sweat and river water from an afternoon at Belle Isle, you haven't experienced one of a Richmonder's distinct summer pleasures.

Who needs an apron?

And how many generations of Richmond woman have used a warm Saturday evening in July to make peach ice cream?

I think I may have figuratively proved my southern woman chops to my long-gone grandmother today.

But I also happen to think that if she had a choice of feeling boastful about my practicality or having a bowl of my peach ice cream, no one would ever hear about me from her lips.

Never underestimate the power of peach ice cream. Or how much of it will end up on your bathing suit.

My Weekend Opening Ceremonies

If I should have been home watching the Olympics, no one told me that.

So naturally I wasn't spending my Friday night in front of the TV (not that I have one).

Scene 1, in which I watch the chaos that is preparation for a bridal dinner party at 27.

The mother of the groom arrives less than an hour before the dinner with sixty little boxes of chocolates inscribed with the happy couple's name and instructs the staff how and where they are to be placed.

Good luck with a mother-in-law like that, honey.

Meanwhile a friend of the sous chef stops by, making a hell of a fashion statement.

"Anyone ever tell you that you look like an extra from Mad Max?" he is asked to make a point.

Taking it as a compliment, the guy responds, "No, no one, but that's awesome!"

Moral: be careful who you insult obliquely for they may hear a compliment.

Scene 2, in which we take shelter from the storm.

With a fierce-looking storm about to break overhead, we scuttled up to Amuse for their panoramic window views.

Dark clouds loomed, fading sun outlined the windblown trees and rain fell without us even noticing.

The balcony was understandably closed and the bar was three deep. Half of RVA, it seemed, was at Amuse.

We established a beach head at the far end next to the absinthe drip (foreshadowing) and ordered a bottle of Urban Uco Torrontes.

I promised the Viognier lover that it would deliver a floral nose, a hint of sweetness and a refreshing finish and did it ever.

Friends who are leaving for Las Vegas Sunday joined us for spirited discussion of the virtues of Neil Young ("Why doesn't he do Canadicana instead of Americana?"), how the Byrds went country and the eternal question, Rubber Soul or Revolver.

Noshing selection was left to me and I chose rabbit pate with apricot, dill pickle slices and pickled turnip on crostini.

Even he who hadn't had rabbit or turnips was impressed with the earthy pate.

We'd come to say farewell to a friend and favorite bartender who eventually joined us on the fun side of the bar.

Absinthe drips were prepared, arriving unusually dark green, a sure sign that a generous drip had been poured.

There really is nothing like the feel of absinthe as the green fairy winds its way through your veins.

Before long, texts were arriving demanding to know why I wasn't at my next stop so we break camp for new adventures, the bartender and I.

Scene 3, in which we did not sample Shockoe.

The bartender and I drove down to the Bottom to meet a friend at 2113 and between it being a restro-lounge and tonight being part of Sample Shockoe, we expect a Friday night mob scene.

Instead, it is seven people at a bar and dance music pumping loudly.

Our waiting friend glares at me for my tardiness and I order a Don Julio.

Nearby, a trio is discussing ex-wives although they don't look like the ex-wives types. But then, who does?

We talk about the local dining scene until we decide we want some food and exit stage right.

Scene 4, in which we discuss religion on a deserted street.

Arriving in Carytown, we head to Don't Look Back, where I run into a bast from my past.

He sits down next to me with an enormous grin on his face, clearly surprised to see me there.

When I meet his girlfriend, she is full of compliments and already knows things about me.

Moments later, one in our group gives DLB the thumbs down (the bass is loud and thumping) and we proceed up Cary Street.

It's not that late and yet nothing much is open. But the heat is absent and the night feels cool and lovely.

We pass a couple where he is telling her about how awesome the food at the Eatery is and the three of us laugh over the dirty grease smell that defines the Eatery.

Nearly at the end of Carytown, we finally stop at Doner Kebab when we see the vertical spits with meat on them.

It was as if a chorus of angels suddenly began singing hallelujah.

Inside the brightly-lit and tiny restaurant, we order two shawarmas: one chicken, one beef/lamb, both on fresh pita bread with creamy yogurt sauce.

We take the food outside to a table to ravage it.

I taste the intensely-flavored chicken variety my bartender friend has ordered and am an immediate Doner devotee.

The patient one and I share the overstuffed beef/lamb shawarmas, with me handing it back to him with lipstick on it.

It's a good friend who will eat your lipstick prints.

Once our Turkish fast food has hit our stomachs, we all feel full of life again and conversation ensues.

As a group of women in head scarves ate nearby and couples came and went with food, we inexplicably found ourselves knee-deep in a discussion of Catholicism versus Protestantism.

Organized religion versus individual spirituality.

Literal bible reading versus interpretation.

As a card-carrying heathen at a table with a Christian-raised man who's done missionary work and an Indian-born man who labels himself neither an atheist nor an agnostic, but with a profound doubt about a higher being, it was fascinating.

Fortunately for us, Doner is open until 3 a.m. so we sat there in the light of the spit trying to unravel life's mysteries until about 2:15.

Scene 5, in which I hugged a friend not knowing when I will see him again

I knew once we left I had to drop off my departing friend and say one last goodbye. He moves halfway across the country in a week.

But if ever there was a satisfying final night with a friend, this had been it.

Hmm, I wonder how things went with the Olympics.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Nerds R Us

You think you know someone and then they show up in a bright yellow Scout to fetch you.

On the other hand, the literary reference on his license plate was so incredibly well-conceived that I felt reassured that he hadn't changed all that much.

It had been ages since we'd seen each other and he had all kinds of new milestones (another degree, turning 40) behind him since we'd last lunched.

I suggested C Street in Carytown since I'd only been in for drinks and he agreed, saying that he knew one of the sous chefs.

Walking by Guitar Works, we saw musicians of various ages playing loudly on the porch while passersby lingered to listen.

Band camp, perhaps?

At C Street, an enormous bridal luncheon of women in flowered dresses was in progress, making us happy for a table down the hall.

"Will you think me a Troglodyte if I order a burger?" he asked.

In fact, I'd expected it. Even at 40, his favorite foods are still burgers and pizza.

And while I love both, he's got six feet and three inches to spread out that kind of eating and I've got less than five and a half feet.

So I chose the shrimp salad spinach wrap which, will not exactly overflowing with shrimp salad, benefited from the marinated cherry tomatoes and dill in it.

He'd recently been going through the hoop jumping of the job interview process, including one with several local steps followed by the company flying him to NYC.

There they said that he didn't have enough experience, a conclusion he said could have been easily reached during any number of conversations here.

Ah, the challenges of seeking work. I remember its frustrations well, here.

In fact, it was part of the reason I finally gave up and opted to work for myself despite the poverty level wages of it.

So I'll never drive anything as cool as a bright yellow '75 Scout with a ragtop, metal framed windows and a shiny silver glovebox.

But even the economically-challenged can appreciate a good literary reference when they see one, albeit on a license plate.

J.L. Finch? On a Scout? Frickin' brilliant.

It takes a certain kind of nerdy mind to think up stuff like that.

Even better, he ordered the sesame soy slaw for its alliteration.

Truly my kind of friend.

A Just So Story

Just to be clear, I wasn't worried.

But I was interested, so I invited a literary-minded friend to join me at the VMFA for "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rudyard Kiplng."

We began at a packed Best Cafe for a glass of wine and the LKB Trio before moving on to something a bit more challenging..

Their first ever literary studio, it was given by Dr. Jennifer Foley, whose wit was exceeded only by her knowledge of Kipling.

Honestly, when I heard during her introduction that she'd read all the Penguin classics, I was impressed before she ever opened her mouth.

Proving that Kipling was right when he said, "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten," Foley told us some good ones.

Like how Kipling was named based on the place where his parents courted: Lake Rudyard.

She wasn't clear if "courted" was a euphemism, but I have my suspicions.

How he wrote a novel and had a nervous breakdown immediately afterwards. "It was sort of the thing to do at the time," Foley joked.

About his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, the youngest recipient at only 42.

And all about what an imperialist he was, not surprising since he was born in India, Britain's crown jewel of a colony, to British parents.

But even that was no excuse for his attitudes (Really? "The White Man's Burden"?), at least according to Orwell, who called him "aesthetically disgusting."

And that's where the "learning to love" part came in because so many people wrote off Kipling for his dated views.

By all accounts, his marriage was a happy one, making me wonder about his assessment, "For the female of the species is more deadly than the male."

I don't want to have to defend my sex here, but that's a tad harsh, isn't it?

But obviously he had a clue about women because he also said, "A woman's guess is much more accurate than a man's certainty."

You can be sure that's a quote I'll consider pulling out again in the future. Thanks, Kip.

After a talk so interesting I now feel compelled to read Kipling's "Kim," my friend and I parted ways, she to rest a sore body part and me to have dinner with a friend.

Approaching Acacia, a couple stopped to ask the valet about what there was to do in Richmond.

I could have walked on but you know I didn't.

Insinuating myself into the conversation, I heard him talking about battlefields and cemeteries and noticed the couples' eyes glazing over.

Once they explained that they were in from New York and only for the night, I took charge.

Walk down two blocks and up to Grove to the museum for jazz, I suggested. Then come three blocks back and stroll Carytown for window shopping and a drink or bite.

Boom. Done.

They offered up visitor gratitude, smiling and shaking my hand.

Nothing like a good deed before dinner and a little South African Chenin Blanc.

Once my friend arrived, stressed and with lots to discuss, we wasted no time in ordering.

I'd been told that velvet softshells had been procured earlier today and that was enough for me to decide.

Yellow tomato gazpacho with a blue crab claw was cool and refreshing.

Flounder ceviche Peruvian-style had an avocado puree and crispy shallots on top. Creamy, crispy, spicy and cool, it hit every button.

Sauteed velvet softshells (three!) with fried green tomatoes, grilled corn relish and lime cumin creme fraiche was a testament to summer flavors.

And ordering so many dishes was a testament to my stupidity.

After a starter of fried oysters over slaw, Friend got butter-poached lobster over housemade tomato and spinach pasta.

I insisted he eat half a softshell because I wanted a bite of his poached lobster, but also because I knew there was no way I was going to finish all of them.

And I didn't, meaning dessert was not even an option.

My friend cheered up and regaled me with tales of visiting Nashville and staying on the top floor of a hotel which had only one other guest: Ringo Starr.

Now I know where the ex-Beatle spends his Fourth of July holiday every year.

Since I'm always at the beach that week, I guess I don't have to worry about running into him.

My friend said it was no big thing to share a floor with Ringo, but I'm guessing he's told everyone he knows.

And you know what Kipling said about a woman's guess.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Out of the City and Back In

It was meal as mini-vacation.

Four of us drove down and met up with three others in Topping for an afternoon at Merroir.

The date had been set for weeks, so the absolutely perfect weather was a bonus.

We'd still have gone if the forecast had been 100 degrees, but fortunately it wasn't.

Because we arrived before the trio, we claimed the shadiest picnic table nearest the river and the monumental pile of oyster shells.

I went over to say hello to the chef before we all walked over to the dock to admire how green the water was.

And then our true purpose kicked in.

People gotta eat (and drink).

Our smiling server remembered me from my visit three weeks ago, impressing me with her customer recognition skills.

She approved of our choice of a bottle of Wimmer Gruner Veltliner, delivering it in a gallon bucket with an old label proclaiming, "Pittman Bewdley Brand Rapphannock Oysters, Lancaster, VA."

It was the ideal touch to set the tone for our afternoon of seafood eating.

Unable to wait for the trio to start slurping, we got a dozen to tide us over, mixing and matching three kinds of oysters (Rapphannocks, Stingrays and Old Saltes) with three kinds of house made sauce, cocktail, tomatillo cocktail and to-die-for red wine shallot mignonette.

If we'd left after just that part of the adventure, it would have still been noteworthy.

The sky was bright blue, the water a deep green, the breeze non-stop and the shade of the big old tree delicious.

Soon the trio arrived and we all got to eating in earnest.

My partner in crime and I made pigs of ourselves with no apologies.

He at first shunned the lamb and clam stew for fear it would be too heavy a dish, but I insisted and we were rewarded with a cioppino-like broth loaded with ground Border Springs lamb and local Old Salte clams.

I don't think he even minded me being right once he tasted it.

The smoked lamb ribs with peach barbecue sauce were bone-sucking good and one in our party even pilfered a rib from his beloved's plate when she wasn't looking.

Angels on horseback kept the oyster theme going for us, albeit with bacon, which we all know makes everything better.

I felt like we had to try the stuffin' muffin, a tribute to the chef's mom's recipe for using up leftover oyster stuffing after Thanksgiving.

Balls of stuffing were flattened, grilled and covered in a bacon and onion cream sauce for a carb fest that tasted like the holidays even on a July day.

We closed out with a pound of steamed Outer Banks shrimp cooked with celery, onions and Old Bay.

By that time, our group had downed three bottles of wine and untold food.

After a while, I lost track of what others were eating in my own feeding frenzy.

Boats came in and out of the marina, a blue heron sat on a nearby dock and everyone agreed that the river vibe had reduced us to creatures completely relaxed, at times even incoherent.

Less than an hour and a half from the city and we might as well have been in another world.

After gorging, we all wandered down to the dock to dangle our feet in the impossibly-warm water and consider a dip.

It was obvious no one wanted to get in our cars and return to the real world.

For some of us, doing so was possible only because we intend to go back very soon. Very soon.

So back we went over the two bridges and westward home.

The only needs left to be satisfied were dessert and entertainment beyond nature.

We took care of both neatly with a trip to Ipanema, meeting up with another couple still making the river to city adjustment.

Foolishly after an afternoon of much wine and seafood, I ordered the brownie a la mode and my seatmate the apple berry pie a la mode.

Not surprisingly, neither of us did justice to our desserts, but managed to down the Durant White that accompanied them.

Before long, the music for which we'd come began in the form of Friends of Mine, the latest DJ night courtesy  of Jamie, he of the former Blood Brothers before one bro split for NYC.

The idea is that he'll share turntable rights with a different friend every week and tonight's was Cassie Jane.

If tonight was any indication, I'm going to like these friends of mine, who leaned heavily on early '60s rhythm and blues to get the party started.

From the smooth soul stylings of "I'm Your Puppet" to the urgency of "In the Midnight Hour" to the forgotten "Putty in Your Hands," it was a rock solid night of music.

I mean, come on. "Heat Wave," "Piece of My Heart" and the always-classic "Little Bit of Soul"?

People should have been dancing on that beautiful new bar with that kind of music being cranked out.

It was a long way from a picnic bench by the Rappahannock, but if we had to come back to the heat of the city, this was the way to end it.

Leave it to friends of mine to put an exclamation point at the end of a stellar day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Start With a Song

It was all about the ampersand at the Listening Room tonight.

Just for the record, that's thirty one listening rooms and I've only missed one.

The only hitch tonight was that despite my early arrival, an interloper was in my seat, but I adjusted easily by moving to the front row and carrying on.

Birds & Arrows, a band I first saw in September 2010, was on first, but minus their cello player.

"So we're missing the 'and," guitarist Andrea said, acknowledging that the trio was a duo tonight.

After the first song, she had to tune her guitar, causing drummer Pete to tease her, "You got all Pete Townsend on that song."

They sang several new songs, like the lovely  "Coyote," mentioning how nice it was for them to get to play songs they'd just learned.

Because the Firehouse Theater is currently staging "Rocky Horror Picture Show," there was a large cage onstage.

"Sorry our go-go dancer couldn't make it," Pete joked.

That's something I'd have killed to see at the Listening Room.

They closed with a  Peter Gabriel cover, but not before Andrea admitted she had begun working on another cover this afternoon with her ukulele.

"You know that song 'Josie's on a vacation far away'?" she asked rhetorically. "Pete's already tired of me practicing it, but it's one hell of a well-crafted pop tune."

For tonight, we heard their stellar cover of "San Jacinto," knowing next time it'll be the Outfield.

As a bonus, and at the end of their set, they kissed.

It may have been a Listening Room first.

Favorite lyric: "Safety can break your heart."

Before introducing Philly's Honey Watts, emcee Chris exhorted the crowd to buy listening room t-shirts by pointing to Jonathan and saying, "We have a lovely model."

Basically, Jonathan opened his button-down shirt and flashed his listening room t-shirt at us, but we got the idea.

The duo of Honey Watts featured guitarist Catfish, whom I remembered being impressed with last time I'd heard him.

I was tonight as well, as was a photographer friend who leaned in and told me how much he was loving the guitar sound.

When an audience member asked where the band's name had come from, vocalist Liz smiled.

"My mind," she said.

She went on to say, "Because of the other bands here, we're gonna be Honey and the Watts tonight. But I want to be the watts."

Favorite lyric: "Stars sent down little blueprints for our souls."

Last up was Charlottesville's The Hill and Wood, who began by saying, "We'll start with a song and get to know each other."

My favorite way to get to know someone.

I was lucky enough to already know them from a show at the Camel in May.

There I'd fallen for their chamber/folk pop, well-written songs, keyboards and girl/boy harmonies.

Tonight was just as good without the annoying drunk bar crowd.

In fact, leader Sam mentioned how intimidating it was to be playing for a rapt audience for a change.

"Shouldn't you guys be talking or something?" he said in jest.

No, we shouldn't, not when we could be listening to such well-crafted music, like the exquisite "First Time."

There was a song sung in rounds, overlapping vocals and showing the group's strength in having four singers.

"We're just gonna keep playing the hits," Sam said  before playing "The Call," and mentioning the new Brooklyn-made video for it.

All too soon, their set was over.

Favorite lyric: "I've been given the chance to give in all the way."

Personally, I'd been given the chance to hear three exceptional bands with a side of Dixie Donuts.

Considering that chance came after Lee's fried chicken and before a discussion of Henry Miller and Roald Dahl at Ballcieaux, I'd say the evening was a lovely model for how to savor a Tuesday night.

Not to mention that it satisfied a good part of my soul's blueprint.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

The guy with the bottle of wine approved of our Monday.

Not that I need other people's approval, but he offered it up unsolicited.

Anyway, "pretty good" is probably in the eye of the beholder, but on a hot Monday, it's hard to beat a drive to Charlottesville for an easy escape plan.

Stop #1 was Chiles Peach Orchard, passing Beagle Gap (causing me to think of my dearly departed beagle) on the winding country road that led to the orchard.

Between the cloud cover and a light breeze, it was actually a fine day to pick peaches, so we started in the main orchard where the fruit of yellow peaches was more accurately a reddish blush-color.

We agreed that the view of the rows of trees leading up and over the hill was positively Italian looking.

The trees were loaded and, with no one else in sight, we began picking fruit, intending to use it to make peach ice cream once it ripens.

It's a no-brainer; I've seen grown men go weak at the knees at the mention of peach ice cream.

Next we walked up the road a bit to the orchard where we could pick donut peaches, those lovely heirloom varieties that, to quote a peach-lover, "are smaller and cost more but are totally worth it."

Even with my peach allergy which limits how many and how often I can eat them, I'll still eat a ripe donut peach this time of year.

What's a swollen tongue and an itchy mouth when compared to the sublime taste of a ripe peach in July?

By the time we finished picking, we had nearly ten pounds of fruit and a light rain had begun so we got ourselves back to the Chile's store for cover.

Next thing we knew, it was starting to thunder over the mountaintop, so we decided to stay put and enjoy a fresh peach milkshake on the store's porch.

Sitting at a picnic table under an umbrella facing the mountains drinking peaches and cream and watching a train thread its way through the mountainous track in a steadily-falling rain is top-notch goofing off.

Eventually, we made our way to the car and set our sights on nearby King Family Winery, no easy task in what became a driving rain.

After a short roadside stop to wait out the worst of the thunderstorm, we made it to King just as another storm began pounding the polo fields.

It didn't bother us. We'd wanted to get some wine anyway (Crose Rose and Loreley), so we decided to do a tasting in the meantime.

Since our last visit for a polo match in early June, the new Viognier and Chardonnay had been released, thus providing the justification for a thorough tasting.

As a bonus, our pourer had a just-opened bottle of the 2009 Petit Verdot which he deigned to share with us.

I know it's not a grape everyone can get into, but it suits me in that way that Pinotage or Norton does.

We mentioned the train we'd just seen at the orchard and were surprised when he said he knew nothing of any nearby trains.

What? We'd been there for an afternoon and we knew about them. How could he not?

Luckily another employee walked out then and overheard us.

And he had the scoop on trains in the area.

Seems that one Claudius Crozet had been responsible for engineering the tunnels through the Blue Ridge to allow trains to cross the mountains.

The town of Crozet had grown up to house the workers who built the tunnel (before dynamite, it should be noted), he said.

So there was our mid-afternoon history lesson.

Our pourer asked where we were from and what we were doing and upon hearing our itinerary, observed, "Peaches, wine and food. Sounds like a perfect goof-off day."

It got even better when we left King Family to head into Charlottesville, passing through not one but two rainbows, one so low it appeared to be coming out of a nearby grove of trees.

We followed the end of the rainbow to Star Hill Park for happy hour on a blanket-covered bench in a deserted grassy field.

And while there were munchies, it soon became clear that our farm labor activities required more sustenance, so we drove to the downtown mall.

Agreeing to make one full loop of the mall before choosing a dinner destination, we took our time looking in shop windows and at menus before deciding on Citizen Burger Bar.

Honestly, it was as simple as I liked the way their hours were written on the white brick wall outside.

Sometimes, I'm so easy.

But I must have been hungry, too, because I was willing to overlook one of my pet peeves, the annoying four screens over the bar.

And that was before I heard that the music was all grunge, all the time, with only one side trip to Counting Crows.

Veritas sauvignon blanc allowed us to keep drinking local.

A wedge salad was notable for its Neuske's bacon and roasted garlic cloves.

Unlike at Burger Bach where  the choices are "pink" and "not pink," here we had those two options plus "red."

And since it was grass-fed beef, we went red.

The Citizen burger had Gruyere cheese, black onion, rosemary aioli, iceberg and tomato on a brioche bun and getting it "red" had been the right call.

By the time the music got to Screaming Trees, we were ready to go foraging on the mall for dessert.

Splendora's Gelato lured us in and I went all Italian all the time with two scoops, one of Bacio (chocolate hazelnut crunch) and one of Stracciatella (dark chocolate flakes in cream).

If it sounds like a lot of butterfat, it was, but some people got a whopping four scoops, so I could have been far more indulgent and fit right in.

Driving home with the sky full of stars, so much easier to see so far out, was the perfect ending to a day where the hardest thing we'd done was pull fruit off of low-hanging branches.

There's a metaphor there, but I'll leave that for the non-goof-offs to figure out.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blushing Brides and Basic Bitches

Romance yielded to a cruel, cruel summer.

Friends recently returned from a romantic trip to Italy where they were married and tonight they celebrated with all of us who didn't make it across the pond for the wedding.

The celebration was held at the Roosevelt, so Virginia wine flowed and the buffet table groaned with Southern delights.

Fried chicken sliders and Gabriele Rausse Vin de Gris may be the most sublime reception food I've ever tucked into.

The highlight of the night, besides so many people I rarely see in one place, was the slide show created by the blissfully happy looking groom.

Throughout the evening, images of Italy played on the restaurants wall: colorful boats in a harbor, winding, cobblestone streets, hillside towns, everything that makes Italy seem like a desirable destination.

But once everyone was pleasantly lubricated, we saw the true work of art, a visual testament to what Italy does to two people in love.

The pictures of the bride, whether in her white dress or a t-shirt and shorts, were exquisite.

Maybe it was the Italian light, maybe it was the thrill of marrying her handsome hunk of man meat by saying "Si" instead of "I do" but every picture of her was drop-dead gorgeous, no matter how or where she was being photographed.

Let's just say guests cheered and clapped every time her radiant face showed up on the wall.

And, yes, the far fewer pictures of the groom showed a clearly happy man, too.

After hours of celebrating, things began to wind down and my date and I got ourselves to a very different kind of revelry.

It was the Ghost Light Afterparty at Richmond Triangle Players.

You know, where a roomful of theater types and lovers spend five or so hours singing whatever they want for the amusement of us non-singing types.

This month's theme was "Cruel, cruel summer" and the stage was appropriately set with a beach umbrella and several brightly-colored beach chairs.

Since we'd missed the first couple of hours, everyone was pleasantly tipsy when we arrived to buy a bottle of Rose' and slid into our third row seats.

How tipsy? When the stellar accompanist Ben asked, "Can I do the other song?" after a rendition of George Micheal's "Faith," host Matt laid it down.

"You can do whatever the hell you want."

And therein, my friend, lies the beauty of the Ghost Light Afterparty.

Everyone does whatever the hell they want.

We got to hear "Broadway is not just for gays anymore!" from the 2011 Tonys.

We're asking every hetero to get to know us better, oh...
So put down that Playboy and go make a plan
To pick up a Playbill and feel like a man
There's so much to discover with your different sex lover

Yes, even we breeders had a reason to enjoy a night of Broadway.

Susan Sanford was the night's guest because of her impending departure.

At one point, she took the mic and said of her last role, "Spring Awakening, neither spring nor awakening. Discuss," and went on about her business.

She, along with hosts Matt and Maggie, wore large purple flowers in their hair.

Composer Jason Robert Brown was described as "the love child of Stephen Sondheim and Billy Joel" and it was meant (mostly) as a  compliment.

Tonight we even got comedy from Mary, who warned the crowd, "This is raunchy as hell if you're easily offended," before going on to explain the concept of the "basic bitch."

Come on, we've all known a few.

DeeJay sat while Audra sang "Popular" to him, shaking his head "no" when she sang, "You'll be good at sports."

Not likely.

Some of the cast of the new Joe Jackson musical opening next month did "Love Got Lost" with violin, cello and a stellar vocalist.

Susan did a mad-lib to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," substituting (what else?) Richmond, Virginia.

She joined Anthony, BC and David for a "Seymour-off," pointing out that despite the song "Suddenly Seymour" being done at every GLAP. there had never been any female representation.

"I'm bringing the female," she warned.

We got a white girl rapping Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" with dancing back-up singers, male and female.

Now, that's a rare treat.

In a nod to the evening's theme, Garth Brooks' "That Summer" put in an appearance and Liz did Cole Porters' "Too Darn Hot."

Late in the night, host Matt observed to no one in particular, "It's so hard to hold on to a drink and do the things we need to do."

That's life, sweetie.

Before we knew it, GLAP was ending, the dance music came on and bodies began gyrating everywhere.

The only thing missing was a finale of "Hit Me Baby One More Time," so I'll just have to hope to be hit next month.

Otherwise, it will be a cruel, cruel summer.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Life Emits a Symphony

It may have been the ultimate compliment.

"I admire you for being true to who you are and living your life the way you want to. Lots of people talk about it, but not many actually live it."

So that was me being true to myself by going to a mid-afternoon poetry reading by Grant Cogswell.

The audience was especially small and, as one attendee noted, "Not many people go to poetry readings...even though poetry is meant to be read aloud."

Which was exactly why I was there.

Grant's perfectly cadenced voice made listening to poems from his new collection, "The Dream of the Cold War" (which he called "a long series of secret measures where no one had an original thought") a real pleasure.

"Time moves too fast for a thing to represent itself," he read from Luna Park.

His Seattle roots showed in Pacific Bell with "We're freer in places where clouds move like paper boats in a  bay."

His humor shone when he explained that he'd he submitted a poem to the group Poets Against the Iraq War ("I wanted to call it Anti-war Poem but that would be like putting a label on an apple that said 'food") as well as his empathetic side (""And the dead are expressed in mathematics.")

And my favorite line?

Sunset emits a symphony.

Who wouldn't want to have a poet read that line to them?

Don't look at me.

I stayed true to myself by visiting my neighborhood record store, Steady Sounds, for their monthly "Summer Sounds Steady" show.

It's the second in the series  but this time the crowds were bigger because of the Saturday artwalk going on.

The first band, Little Smoke, was a self-described lo-fi, bedroom pop quartet who looked too young to sound as good as they did.

Energetic drumming, two guitarists trading leads and songs like "Makeout Anthem" meant we were having  as much fun listening as they appeared to be having playing.

Nashville's Ttotals were a garage duo with enough reverb and '90s-sounding energy to be the perfect balance to the sunny youth of the first band.

I laughed out loud when the drummer announced, "This one's new so it might be terrible. We'll have a panel discussion afterwards to decide."

No panel and not even close to awful.

After much consideration, I'm not sure my friend's compliment included my devotion to food, but if not, it should have.

This is the last week I had to meet him for dinner before he moves to Colorado.

We met at the bar at Aziza's to talk about everything: tequila menus, Stellenbosch, manual labor and meat glue.

Doing so required Man Sauvignon Blanc because we're like-minded in our devotion to South African wine

The first thing we decided was to eat so that we'd ensure hardening our arteries before the night was over.

Cashew-encrusted whipped prosciutto with thin slices of summer melon and honey/olive oil emulsion melted in my mouth.

Pan-seared foie gras with homemade granola and peaches was easily the most unique foie gras re-imagining I'd ever come across.

The chewy oats and fresh peaches gave it almost a breakfast-like feel to set off the richness of the foie gras.

My pig face and pickled mushroom terrine sandwich on sourdough rye bread with turnip creme fraiche arrived on its side, but our server explained that it should have been standing at attention.

Ah, terrine, how do I love thee? Besides, who doesn't love a good pig face sandwich?

As we devoured everything in front of us, my friend told me his theory of successful relationships.

According to him, you either find that special someone young and grow together (see: my parents and his) or you wait until you're fully formed and then find someone who suits that person you've become.

Well, that explains what I've been doing.

His wisdom belies his tender years.

By unspoken mutual agreement, we got a cream puff to share, my friend telling me that his family rule is that whomever cuts the food in half  must allow the other person to choose which piece they want.

I guess we never had that rule in my family since there were six kids.

The evening lasted far later than we anticipated (we both had later plans), probably because the conversation was so enjoyable and we got more wine.

We finally said goodnight but only because we agreed to meet up one last time before he goes.

It would have been easy to have gone home then; it had been a full day and I'd already enjoyed poetry, music and dinner.

But in order to stay true to me, I couldn't resist just a little more music.

So I joined the throngs at the Camel for some Charm City talent.

I walked in to rowdy rock with a hint of '90s alt-rock in the form of Dope Body and their manic lead singer Andrew.

A guitarist friend immediately said, "I can't decide if I love them or hate them," but by the end of the set, he was acknowledging, "That's the best band I've seen in ages."

He said it was partly the interesting guitar work but for me, it was all about the pure energy of rock music, a sense of humor that shone through in their three-minute songs and Andrew spazzing out wildly as he sang.

The crowd, tentative at first, finally gave in and did their best vertical moshing to show their appreciation for the band's effort.

But what I'd really come for was Future Islands, another Baltimore band, but one that turned the room into a dance floor with their smoldering synth-pop.

A lot of that smolder comes from lead singer Sam's voice which roars and croons, depending on the song.

For "Lighthouse," he said, "Last time we were here, we played this song for the first time," and, judging by the crowd's reaction, a lot of them had been at that last show.

Sam was a gregarious performer, sharing tidbits about nearly every song ("This is 'Cotton Flame' about my girlfriend Kate") and sending the already-dancing crowd into a frenzy when he said, "This one's called 'Walking Through That Door.' It's a southern song."

I could point out that considering the band was originally from North Carolina, probably all the songs are southern songs, but that would be nit-picking.

And honestly, I was having way too much fun to nit-pick.

The Camel was essentially a dance party tonight and every song started the frenzy anew.

And I admit I wasn't immune to it. Come on, synths beg for dancing or is that just my '80s roots talking?

One girl trying to make her way past me said as much when she walked by saying, "It's very hot in there" and pointing to a clutch of dancing people.

Sam wasn't immune, either, saying, "I'm the rainmaker yet again. I leave puddles where ever I am."

It was true that he was soaking the stage with his sweat, somewhat of a problem since he almost slipped on it several times.

As they began playing a new song, Sam said, "Check out that fat bass line," which we did right up until the last song when the bass player broke a string.

"You can't play bass with three strings?" he asked, no doubt hoping to finish up the sweaty show and cool off somewhere.

After an appeal for Dope Body's bass, Sam killed time waiting for it to arrive by singing a capella.

The dancing crowd was having none of it and cheered when the bass arrived.

"Okay, so I learned a capella doesn't fly on a Saturday night," Sam laughed before launching into their last song.

It was "Little Dreamer," and he justified it by saying, "This song is about someone I still dream about. Maybe you have someone you dream about."

It was the ideal last song, showing off his crooning skills and allowing the dance party to end on a slow dance.

I held onto my dreams, like they could run from me

And to my departing friend I would say, that's how you stay true to yourself and live your life the way you want to.

For me, that's holding on to poetry, pig's faces and dance music.

You see, it's easier than you think if you really want to.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Andare a Pescare

I was invited to a cocktail party with a travel theme.

The wine was Anjos Vinho Verde, tasting of grapefruit and apples.

With logos of KLM and SAS for decoration, the conversation was all about how much time is required to prepare for a trip, how much napping should be done upon arrival and how enthusiastic a reception a woman might get in certain Latin countries.

I think I got some bets placed on me succeeding at that.

We noshed on Caprese with artichokes on baguette slices and fresh melon balls to keep up our strength for what was to come.

Once the wine kicked in, the conversation began to range off-theme and to music, not surprisingly given the soundtrack.

Somehow a discussion of what superior lyricists older men and writers can be led to discussion of The Police.

I shared how a former boyfriend had once told me that "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" was the most ardent tribute to a lover imaginable.

Someone else recalled seeing The Police on the "Ghost in the Machine " tour in 1982.

The best I could offer was seeing Sting on the "Dream of the Blue Turtles" tour in '85.

To the best of my abilities, I shared my memories of that late summer evening at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

And, forgive me, then I became a 21st-century creature and looked it up, finding  a Washington Post review of that very show I'd seen.

I'd bet anything that I'd read it the day after.

It was mind-blowing to be reminded of the details of that long-ago night.

Let's face it, at that point, he was just going out on his own so the jury was still out on a post-Police career.

Would the public even care?

Reviewer Richard Harrington said that Sting had proved that night that he was "an arresting pop presence even outside the context of the Police."

Now that sounds like a "duh" moment, but not so in 1985.

Of his songs, he wrote,"Often built upon sinuous melodies, they are ambitious both lyrically and thematically."

Don't forget, this was before Sting the Activist with a capital A. Sting = causes was not yet a given.

And the review also reminded me about which Police songs Sting had performed that warm night.

"Every Breath' needs to be as starkly arranged as it was originally perceived [and] did not benefit from a fleshed-out arrangement."

In other words, don't mess with the Breath.

Clearly we were still taking our Police songs very seriously in 1985.

Not so tonight.

Music chit-chat yielded to theater-goer watching from a fifth floor window.

A couple of us made a game of guessing whether people walking toward the Virginia Repertory Theater were going to "Spring Awakening" or not.

Good thing we weren't betting.

It was funny when we saw a guy walking that way when all of a sudden, he darted behind a tree, not once but twice.

Trying to ditch a boring date? Unhappy at being dragged to the theater on a Friday evening?

Nope, just one of the theater's valets trying to sneak up on his fellow car-parker.

After a bit of street voyeurism, some of us decided that ice cream was in order and that meant Bev's.

Coldstone was within walking distance, but who wants to support a chain?

That point was driven home when I arrived first and waited for my partner in ice cream to catch up.

A woman eating a cone out front saw a friend walking by and explained why she was there.

"We just came from Mama Zu and we're so stuffed. But I told Mom and Dad," she said gesturing to the older ice cream-eating duo in nearby chairs, "That you can't come to Richmond and not go to Bev's."

A girl about to open the door to Bev's looked at her and said, "I haven't been here since 2005."

Aghast, the stuffed woman guided her roughly towards the door. "Go! Now!"

She did.

Inside, I tried one of tonight's special flavors, dirty chocolate, described as a triple fudge chocolate.

No additions, but a deep, rich chocolate fudge taste.

I was a little sorry I'd only ordered the kiddie size cup.

My fellow party-goer had been smart, getting a waffle cone of chocolate almond three times the size of my measly scoop.

Lesson learned.

We sat for a while and watched the Byrd crowd exit and saunter to their cars.

Once finished with our summer treat, we strolled the neighborhood, nostalgic because it was one in which we'd both lived back in the '90s.

To our surprise, new houses and even a new garage had been built.

A hand-written sign on the screen door of Tom French Flowers read, "Gone Fishin'."

Now there's a worthy summertime occupation.

Everyone knows "gone fishin" is just a euphemism for "gone to someplace more relaxing and pleasurable for a spell."

After tonight's travel-themed get-together, I can't wait to hang out my own hand-written sign.

It'll be my euphemism for "Off trying to prove that I can be an arresting presence even outside the context of RVA."

The jury's still out on whether or not I'll succeed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mini-Dress Balloon Fail

As a card-carrying dress wearer, of course I was intrigued by a lecture called "The Silk Dress Balloon."

Part of the Museum of the Confederacy's brown bag lunch series, the topic was handled by Bryce VanStavern with facts and humor ("Welcome to the Museum of the Confederacy's brown bag lunch series," he said. "There are some good smelling lunches in here").

Call me ignorant, but I hadn't known that hot air balloons were used during the Civil War, much less that they dated back to 1783.

The idea was apparently foreign to people back then, too, with one 1783 observer asking, "What good is it?" after seeing one demonstrated.

"What good is a newborn baby?" responded the always pithy Ben Franklin.

VanStavern told us about early balloon efforts and the military's distinct lack of enthusiasm for their usefulness.

Part of that indifference may have been the problems inherent in them.

Trying to get a balloon up in the air 1,000 feet to get it out of firing range of the enemy's gunshots could not have been easy or pleasant.

Not surprisingly, the area just above the tree line was referred to as the "danger zone."

What was even more surprising was that not a single balloon got shot down during the war.

After hearing about various predecessors, we finally got to the infamous silk dress balloon only to learn that it wasn't made of dresses at all.

I'm not gonna lie; it was a bit of a buzz kill.

Turns out it was made with $514 worth of dress silk, which represented all the maker could find in a fabric store at the time.

As even I recall from history lessons, shopping options were rather limited during the war.

With only so much fabric, the balloon was much smaller than normal and probably named "The Gazelle" for its lithesome figure.

But with its heavy fabric and use of coal gas (the Confederacy had no hydrogen), it could only stay aloft for a pitiful three or four hours instead of the usual several days.

Still, they managed to use it for reconnaissance during the Seven Days Battle, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Somewhat pathetically, the Gazelle ended up mounted on a tugboat, only to be captured when a Union boat sent cannon fire its way and the men jumped ship.

The Gazelle had flown for a brief eleven days, not exactly an illustrious career for a balloon, even way back then.

But it lived on because Union troops labeled it a "silk dress balloon" and cut it into pieces to be passed around along with the legend of it.

150 years later, there's a piece of it in the Smithsonian.

I was blown away to find that the only other known piece was in the room with us for today's lecture.

I'll be honest; it wasn't too impressive, faded as it was.

But VanStavern showed an image of it with its original colors recreated digitally and no doubt about it, it sure had been pretty.

So while it hadn't actually been made with dress donations off the backs of devoted Confederate women, it was still an awfully unique balloon.

Probably not as unique as if I tried to make a balloon out of my dress collection, but then given the "danger zone" length of my dresses, the resulting balloon would end up looking like a toy balloon even next to the under-sized Gazelle.

Good thing I don't have to sacrifice for the cause.

It's Time for Us to Celebrate

The new moon delivered me all kinds of unexpected pleasures this evening.

Walking into Bistro 27 for dinner, I found the only other occupant of the bar to be a familiar face.

I'd expected a solo meal and instead had an erudite and cultured friend next to me.

A former actor and opera singer who is as devoted to art and conversation as I am, he seemed as glad for the company as I was.

Over tuna tartare and scallops wrapped in bacon with lentils, I told him about all the recent theater I'd seen, knowing he'd not only love to hear about it, but also have insights.

He did, describing how cast members would gather to see certain scenes in a play night after night.

I was flattered to hear that he'd read my piece in Style Weekly about the French street photography show at VMFA and was on his way to see it after dinner.

After telling him what I'd liked about Woody Allen's new film, "To Rome, with Love," we dissected "Midnight in Paris," a favorite of us both.

We even discovered a shared passion for simple oceanfront vacations with an emphasis on open windows and outside showers.

Amazing how much you can cover between bites with only a couple of hours.

A discussion of the museum's Maharajah exhibit led him to recommending the "Flashman" book series (notable for the Flashman anti-hero, who had only three good qualities, one of which was fornication), which took us right up to the bewitching hour.

Then he was off to the VMFA  for street art and I to Gallery 5 for music.

Everyone was still in mingling mode when I walked in, so I joined a group for chatter.

A friend immediately told me she'd seen me on my walk recently and instantly recognized my gait.

"You've got the cutest switch in your hips," she said, explaining how I was so easy to identify near the Siegel Center. "I just plod."

I'm sure she doesn't but she does know how to maneuver a batteau and I don't and that's far more impressive.

Before long, we all moved upstairs to see Dave Watkins open the show.

I took a seat on the floor against the wall and Dave began his magic with his electric dulcitar and many looping pedals.

Barely one song in and the scientist came over to share my section of wall with me, sliding down to the floor next to me.

He sat his bag down, pulled out a bottle of water and then with a sly grin, pulled out a large candy bar labeled "dark chocolate with chili," holding it up so I'd see it.

It's certainly not the first time I've been at a show and he's offered me chocolate out of the blue, but I appreciate the gesture anew every time he does it.

He broke off a nice-sized square and I savored my heat-laced chocolate while I listened to Dave layering sounds of dulcitar strumming, tapping on the body, blowing into it and wailing on a drum.

When he did his one and only song with lyrics, "Pangea's Revenge," I saw a couple of people singing along in the audience.

His surprise tonight was covering Mogwai's "Helicon 1," with the warning, "There's going to be fuzz" and Joon Kim on violin.

Oh, there was fuzz alright and this fuzz-lover couldn't have been happier about it.

The crowd, which had grown to near capacity during his set, applauded thunderously afterwards, but not quite topping fuzz level.

During the break, I was talking to people when a photographer friend whizzed by.

"I gotta go now, but I want to talk about the movie!"

I've seen two this week, but given his predilection for dance parties, I'm guessing he wants to discuss last night's "Shut Up and Play the Hits."

And honestly, I'd like nothing better than to talk about LCD Soundsystem with another fan.

For Antlers' set, the lights were lowered to more atmospheric level, the better to suit their ambient, drone sound.

Which was actually pretty interesting for me, since it was in direct contrast to my unforgettable first Antlers experience.

Flash back to 2007 and the Silent Music Revival was being held at Rumors Boutique.

The place was packed, not only every square inch of the store, but the sidewalk outside as well.

Inside where I was, Antlers played an incredibly loud set while organizer Jameson rushed around with a roll of toilet paper, offering wads with which to plug our ears.

Even so, it was awesome music that took the silent movie being shown to another whole level.

Tonight's show had no drums or guitars and the volume required no adjustment, allowing me to get an update on the band's sound.


During the break, I complimented a friend on his natty attire, so different than his usual monochromatic uniform.

Smiling sheepishly, he said, "Well, I have someone dressing me now."

Judging by how much better he looked, it didn't take much figuring to guess that it was a girlfriend.

Bingo! He admitted as much.

And he's not even the first newly-attached guy I know to be suddenly looking far more attractively dressed.

Funny how that works.

Fashion statements acknowledged, we then got to tonight's stars, Lobo Marino, because it was their CD release show.

That fact was particularly salient to many of us in the room because we'd been in that very room on March 29th  when Lobo Marino had recorded that CD.

It was a homecoming of sorts.

Unlike last time I'd see them play, Laney was no longer killing her knees and back playing her new harmonium.

Instead, she'd made a cloth-covered stand for the instrument and used a pillow to kneel on when playing it.

They began their first song only to stop short because they couldn't hear each other and Jameson may have been singing a bit off key.

Moving closer, Laney said, "Okay, everyone, in the key of C!"

Everyone was Jameson, so it was a pretty funny moment.

They played a lot off the new album, including the lovely "Young and Old," which included Joon on violin, Dave on dulcitar and Mark on bass.

The winds carry our kites
When we are old, when we were young

Jameson talked about being on tour so much, since they are about to leave on an extended tour that will take them on a square-shaped route around the U.S.

"People have one of three reactions when we say we're from Richmond," he explained. "They say they know what a cool scene it is. Or they ask where it is because there's a Richmond in every state - Richmond, Indiana. Or they say, GWAR!"

As shining examples of RVA's cool scene, we couldn't do better than having these two represent.

They also deserves kudos for the variety of sounds they make.

And I'm not even talking about their basics: drum, guitar, accordion and harmonium.

Both Laney and Jameson wore anklets with bells that they shook for sound.

For one song, he played the drum with the end of the guitar's neck while he strummed the other end.

And he played a mouth harp, causing many smiling faces in the audience for its distinctive twang.

He also played a painted metal vase, having hammered the bottom so that when he played it, it had a steel drum sound.

That's some creative music-making.

Before doing two of their older songs to close, Laney apologized, saying, "I didn't mean to flash you. I usually play more accordion."

In fact, her floor-length silver floral dress over a black tank top was the essence of bohemian chic and no one had seen anything inappropriate.

Or at least no one is saying if they did.

After closing with the perennial favorite "Animal Hands," people flocked to the merch table to buy the new CD, "Kite Festival."

Naturally I was one of them since I'd been there for the recording, but I was still in for a surprise.

Inside the CD was a square of onionskin-like paper, the top of which proclaimed, "Lobo Marino Community Recording Project."

It was covered in names and drawings, a reproduction of the sheet we'd all signed that magical March night.

Let's just say it was a thrill to see my name.

And a complete surprise.

Somehow I've been lucky enough to have had my name on two other albums by local artists, but it's still an undeniable kick every time it happens.

Tonight it was the last of my unexpected pleasures and one I will be able to revisit every time I listen to the new album.

Like right now under a new moon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Every Day I Write the Book

Tonight was all about saying so long, farewell.

The first adieu was only temporary since Bistro Bobette isn't going away, just on vacation.

But they're doing it French style naturally, which means closing this Sunday and not reopening for over a month.

What a civilized way to handle summer.

So we slipped in early so I could prove to my partner in crime that they have the best hot dog in the entire city.

But first I had to kiss the Frenchmen: bartender and chef alike.

We caught their 5:00 drink special hour which fortified us to be told that they had no hot dogs in house.

Apparently Sausagecraft, who makes the dogs based on Chef's recipe, are also on vacation.

But I am nothing if not adaptable, so we instead got the portobella stuffed with ratatouille, spinach and covered in swiss cheese.

It was as delicious a way to get a plate full of veggies as any I've had lately and with all that cheese, especially satisfying.

The pork and veal pate's richness was perfectly set off by the pickled vegetables, grainy mustard and cornichons, ensuring that each bite formed a complete range of complementary flavors on a toasted baguette.

I always enjoy the music at Bobette, but I could tell tonight's was a different station than the usual Pink Martini.

The Saint Germaine station was a tad more sophisticated and nicely suited an early evening summer meal at a local French bistro.

By the time my rose' glass was empty, we had to be going so as not to miss a one-time shot.

Showing at Movieland tonight only was "Shut Up and Play the Hits," a documentary about LCD Soundsytem's final show at Madison Square Garden.

Besides the outstanding concert footage, particularly appealing to someone who never got to see them live, the documentary provided a look at the 41-year old behind the sound.

The man who decided to disband the group at the height of its success.

The man who, after playing a sold-out show last year, comes backstage and asks his manager, "Did we not just pull off a high school play at Madison Square Garden?"

But make no mistake, it was nothing like a high school play.

A better description would be frontman Murphy's own words. "We're the best LCD Soundsystem cover band ever," since his records came first and a band was only assembled much later.

The band, including the additional musicians for that night, was incredibly tight.

The songs are satiric ("Losing My Edge"), thoughtful ("All My Friends"), feature big names (The Arcade Fire, Reggie Watts) and are so dance worthy I never stopped moving in my seat during the show footage.

But then, that's what fans love about LCD Soundsystem.

It's dance music par excellence and the MSG crowd moved non-stop through three sets, two encores and 29 songs.

Personally, I'm also a huge fan of Murphy's voice, hearing a crooner who just happened to have chosen to do stellar synth-pop for dance-crazed fans.

By the end of the film, it was clear that even Murphy had some regrets about reclaiming a normal life and giving up a successful band.

If they're smart, up and coming dance bands will take Murphy's lyrical advice: "Then it's the memories of our betters that are keeping us on our feet."

Guys, if the memory of LCD, definitely a better, doesn't keep you on your feet, check your pulse.

As proof, when we walked out of the theater, I felt as let down as if I'd just seen an amazing concert and was immediately plunged into regret that it was over.

How else to recover but with some live local music?

Goldrush was doing a combination homecoming/going-away show at Six Burner.

Which means they hadn't played at 6B in well over a year and are about to leave on a mid-west tour.

You say goodbye and I say hello.

We arrived in time to score bar stools in view of the stage area and took the first bottle of Gavi that came our way.

As violinist Treesa and bassist Matt quickly finished up their dinner next to us, people began to stream in for the show.

By the time they began, the place was packed and the owner was beaming.

No doubt beer and small plate specials helped, too.

We couldn't resist the mussels with bacon and garlic in a Gruyere and wine sauce, even though we'd just eaten a couple of hours before.

Or maybe I just needed something savory after downing a box of Milk Duds at the theater.

The group had no drummer tonight, but I've always liked how much easier it is to hear Matt's upright bass when there aren't any drums, so I didn't mind too much.

Talking about their upcoming tour with a stop in her hometown in Kansas, Treesa noted that Prabir has more Facebook friends than there are people in that town.

Yikes. And no doubt true.

They rolled through new material (always a pleasure since I've been seeing them for years now), a few old songs  (would it be a Goldrush show without Prabir singing about rolling one?), tequila shots and their idols.

Goldrush are constitutionally unable to play a show without doing the Beatles and tonight we got the ubiquitous "Eleanor Rigby" (second time this week I've heard it live) and they closed with "I Am the Walrus."

By midnight they finished, saying a fond farewell as they head out on the road.

So to Bobette, I say a bientot until September.

To LCD Soundsystem, farewell and thanks for the memories. Everybody dance now.

To Goldrush, good luck and good fun, as if I need to tell you guys that.

And that's enough good-byes for a while.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Number, Please

Really, despite my Washington birthplace, I'm just another Virginian at work.

So why not take a gallery walk at the Virginia Historical Society to escape the heat and hear about the exhibit "Virginians at Work"?

Our guide Chris was on the education staff and was knowledgeable and full of stories he'd heard from previous tours, making him a terrific person to shepherd us through the many objects in the exhibit.

He began by explaining that Virginia had been founded, not for the sake of religious freedom (good god, no; you had to be an Anglican!) but as a business venture.

They may have called the participants "adventurers," but the fact is, they were financial investors, plain and simple.

It wasn't until 1624 that the king started noticing how valuable the company was becoming and promptly made them a royal colony.

I was fascinated to learn that Virginian Cyrus McCormick had no luck selling his newly patented reaper to Virginia planters because they didn't need it.

Why would they with all the slave labor they had?

Fortunately, the mid-west farmers didn't have the same problem.

When Chris showed us a wooden corn sheller contraption, he said a visitor had told him that his uncle had lost part of his arm in just such a device and stuck his own arm down the chute.

I was one of several females who openly winced at that mental picture.

He said another visitor recognized the nearby straw cutter  from his youth and held up his thumb, minus the last joint, to demonstrate why.

"And back in those days, there were no recalls," Chris said. "The companies figured if you bought it, you knew how to use it."

Boy, those were the days.

We heard about the massive debt Virginia took on to build an elaborate canal system, only to see it replaced by railroads for moving goods.

Then there were the hundred or so companies making cars in Virgina, many at a time when the state had one of the worst road systems, mostly rutted dirt.

Fortunately for safety's sake, there were reflector rings, large piece of red glass on a piece of jewelry that a motorist wore on his finger to make his turn signal movements more visible to others.

Bicyclists, take note.

Another delight was an old photograph of two of Richmond Police's bike patrol astride their cruisers in 1942.

I have to admit, I was amazed to learn that the bike patrol had begun in 1900.

You can imagine my thrill when I saw my neighborhood represented in the exhibit.

On display was the magnificent hearse of A.D. Price, the premiere funeral home in African-American Jackson Ward.

With large windows on the sides and back, red velvet curtains inside and gold fringe all the way around the outside, it was the grandest possible way to go to the cemetery.

I mean, if you had to go.

I was just as excited to see an old telephone operator switchboard because both of my grandmothers had been switchboard operators, one in Washington and one in Richmond.

What I hadn't know until Chris told us was that back in the day when telephone service was beginning, the phone company originally hired young men to be operators.

As he pointed out, how customer-service oriented are most teen-aged boys?


Once the companies had grown tired of the young men fighting with and yelling at people on the phone, they wisely began hiring young women for their superior skill at handling customers.

I remember thinking as a child how unlikely it seemed that not one but both of my grandmas had been operators their whole lives.

But Chris explained that women's options in the '20s and '30s were pretty much limited to teaching and nursing until men's jobs began giving way to women, much like those two professions had.

Likewise back then, secretaries were men and called clerks until women started taking over that menial task, too.

So while I might have come to the gallery walk to get out of the heat, I ended up having one of my eternal childhood questions answered.

Thanks, Virginia Historical Society, for giving me a reason to think of New Grandma and Old Grandma today.

P.S.: The neighborhood hearse was pure gravy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Do for an Evening

If you're going to go to dinner with a husband, always pick a happily married one.

They make the best company because they have no agenda.

Besides, it had been months since we'd gotten together and he'd missed celebrating my birthday with me.

And we can't start the lead-up to his birthday until we finish celebrating mine.

Okay, so that's my rule, but he graciously went along with it.

I've no doubt he tolerates such peccadilloes solely because I'm not his real wife.

His busy schedule had left no time for new restaurants, so that was priority one.

We decided on Deco in the Museum District once we heard about the Sicilian street food part of the menu.

The tiny bar has backless, red Lucite stools and while they didn't look particularly comfy, we were wrong.

Hubby and I decided they fit our backsides awfully well.

He got his usual heavily bruised martini and I went with a glass of Analissa Pinot Grigio while I heard tales of our time apart.

Biggest laugh goes to the knife skills class he taught where he sliced his finger open and had to staunch the blood running down his arm out of sight of his eager pupils.

The scar was impressive.

Eventually, our server asked if we wanted to order and did we ever.

A look at the menu and there it was, a selection of small plates featuring the kinds of food you'd find on the streets of Sicily.

That's when our server lowered the boom, informing us that they were out of all of them except the salad and the olives.

No meatballs, no arancini, no chickpea fritters or battered cauliflower.

"Where do you want to go to eat?" the borrowed husband asked, not willing to settle for pasta or an entree.

No longer would red Lucite cradle our butts.

Since he was still in the mood for small plates, I suggested Six Burner, knowing he hadn't been in since they went to an all tapas menu.

As a bonus, it was half off wine by the glass night and my favorite man in pumps was bartending.

Some things are just meant to be.

After scoring some Gavi and another bruised martini, this one with three olives on steroids, we began ordering.

Hubby was all but salivating over so many interesting flavor profiles on the menu.

Our first must-have was the crowder peas, butter beans and Hubbs peanuts in sorghum molasses.

Toothsome beans and crunchy peanuts in a sauce best described as sweet and heat made for a dish both us could have eaten a lot more of.

Based on my last visit, we got the huevos rancheros-style calamari with Mexican chorizo and quail eggs.

For the second time, the combination of spicy calamari and sausage with melt-in-your-mouth soft-cooked eggs was irresistible.

Bluefish with sauteed shitakes in sorrel sauce took me back to the Friday dinners of my childhood where we alternated rockfish one week and bluefish the next.

But let's be clear here, my mother never did anything half so interesting as this dish of succulent mushrooms married to beautifully strong-tasting bluefish with a mild (and very green) sorrel sauce.

And then came the nerdy part of the ordering.

Being a language geek, how could I not choose something that came with an adjective?

King mackerel with awesome Spanish chorizo succotash proved why the modifier had been required.

Yes, the mackerel was delicious, firm and meaty, but that succotash was to die for.

The mixture of butter beans, corn, grape tomatoes and okra tasted like a summer vegetable stand had exploded in our mouths.

Add chorizo to it and we were practically swooning over the party we were chewing.

Completely stuffed, we could only enjoy the dessert menu in audio form.

But I knew I'd made the right restaurant choice when he started talking about bringing the wife there.

Soon, very soon.

If there's one way to ensure a husband enjoys a night out, it's by providing a completely different experience for him than his wife would.

With this particular husband, that's by eating absolutely everything, being an extrovert and not expecting him to call me by 10:00.

I'm only good at it because I can send him on his way at the end of the night.

Hell, I'm a natural for the role of occasional wife.

Light Envy

I'm hearing an an awful lot about Italy lately.

Friends recently returned from a couple of weeks there and are still glowing from it, raving about it and recommending it.

With that in mind, a hot afternoon seemed like the ideal time to motor to the Westhampton Theater and see Woody Allen's "To Rome, with Love."

When I asked for two tickets to "To Rome," the ticket seller said, "Alright, if you want to," disdain dripping from his voice.

When I asked if he'd seen it, he got adamant. "I don't like Woody Allen and I don't like some life choices he's made."


How about you just hand us the tickets and keep your editorializing to yourself?

Shaking that off, we headed upstairs and took front row seats.

The movie was as convincing as my friends had been about Italy.

Between lingering shots of the architecture and the city's uniquely beautiful  light, it'd be hard to walk out without at least dreaming of a visit to the land of adultery and ruins.

As a Woody Allen fan dating back to college, I got a kick out of Allen's role in the movie.

Once again, he played himself.

So he worried about airplane turbulence, questioned food he was offered and tossed off one-liners that made me laugh out loud.

"You want our little darling to marry into Eurotrash?" he asks in all sincerity when he meets her handsome Italian fiance.

Not necessarily, but I want Woody Allen to say things like that.

Like "Midnight in Paris," the movie is basically a love letter to a city and its people.

Of all the many subplots and threads dangling from there, I especially enjoyed the one about the young architect being tempted by his girlfriend's best friend.

It wasn't so much the tempting that amused me as the Alec Baldwin character, an older architect, who advises the young man along the treacherous path to adultery.

With his years of experience, he is the voice of reason as the young man falls under the spell of the erratic, glib and out-of-work actress.

Each time he warned him of what the woman was doing, whether throwing out one line of a poem to indicate familiarity she didn't have or making up lesbian encounters to get him hot, his advice came from the mind, heart and lips of a guy who'd been there.

We should all  be so lucky as to have such an alter-ego/ghost/other self.

And, good god, Penelope Cruz has to be the most beautiful woman on the planet and I hope Allen never stops using her in his films.

If ever there was a woman I wanted to gawk at, it's her.

As a call girl who teaches a young newlywed how to properly make love, she undoubtedly left that poor guy wondering, "How did I get so lucky?"

Parts of the movie were downright ridiculous, like the Joe Average guy who ends up being hounded by the paparazzi (simply for being famous) and liking it.

Parts were funny in that Woody Allen-literate kind of way, with references to psychoanalysis, Rilke and Freud.

Everyone cheated on their wives (it was Italy, after all), all the women, old and young, were beautiful and Woody Allen never stopped with his self-deprecating shtick.

In other words, it was a thoroughly enjoyable Woody Allen movie.

And if I wasn't 100% sure I needed to visit Italy before I went into it, I'm quite certain now.

The requisite post-film discussion was done at the revamped Ipanema, positively beautiful after its recent renovation.

Walking in, the soft glow of the new light fight fixture globes reflected softly off the blond wood bar.

That's right; the dark, rec-room-like vibe of Ipanema is passe.

As in, so 1998 and so gloriously 2012 now.

Welcome to my favorite dessert and cocktail lounge, it seemed to say.

The well-lit back bar is sleek and black, vintage lamps adorn both ends of the bar and the tabletops are now a soft shade of dove gray.

There are even a couple of new two-tops, one near the front window and the other where the bench used to be.

I'm betting that those become the most desirable seats in the house: out of the way but with great views of the action.

A paisley curtain (made by a poor writer) hangs near the front and in the back, a green stenciled wall provides a homey touch.

We were there for wine and dessert and my choice was Vinho Verde and Mexican chocolate pie.

The music was set to Spotify (starting point: Future Islands) so we enjoyed Helio Sequence and XX, among others.

In other words, the music was as cool as the vibe.

In other breaking news, Ipanema now has paper menus so the era of the chalkboard menu is on its way out, much like paper library cards and corner traffic lights.

But don't worry, kids, Mondays are still $2 draught nights, so by 10:15, the place was awash in fresh-faced customers looking to find their beer goggles on a budget.

If they're lucky, their inner Alec Baldwin will give them advice about the members of the opposite sex who strike their fancy, saving them from unnecessary and potentially awkward life lessons.

If not, they can make their mistakes and learn the hard way like the rest of us did.

And, chances are, once they learn their lessons, they'll want to find someone with whom they can go to Italy.

Who wouldn't want to be seen in that light?

Monday, July 16, 2012

What is the City but the People?

Never let it be said that my tastes aren't diverse.

There's the emo lover in me.

She's the reason I was at Plan 9 for an in-store performance by Derek Evry, a pop/punk musician from Arlington.

Think Jimmy Eat World or even Green Day.

The first half of his set was just him and an acoustic guitar and included a stellar cover of A-ha's "Take on Me."

As my companion noted, "He's brave to do an acoustic cover of this."

And yes, I love No BS Brass band's instrumental cover of the '80s classic, but slowed down and with only acoustic accompaniment, it was a truly beautiful song.

He even got the crowd to join in on the chorus and a surprising number of people did.

Drummer Ben joined him for the second half of the set and it was then that I turned around to see it pouring rain through the open door.

We hadn't heard a drop over the music.

The music got louder and fuller with Ben's drumming and included a song about playing shows ("Tell Everyone") and Derek's comment, "On this one I get to play riffy stuff instead of just rhythm guitar."

You know, riffy stuff. It's a musical term.

Both guys were excellent musicians and despite the volume, sounded terrific.

By the time the music stopped, so had the rain. I picked up a couple of albums and we were off to 821 Cafe for eats.

Although I am devoted to 821's black bean nachos, I went renegade and got the smoked salmon instead.

I thought it would go better with my iced tequila since 821 isn't much of a wine place.

Delivering my plate, my server (a former Sprout favorite) apologized for the absence of pita.

Instead I had wheat toast points, which were a fine vehicle for the enormous slab of smoked salmon, dill cream cheese, capers and red onions on my plate.

Really, it was an appetizer for two and I was only one.

So, nutritional needs met, we moved on to Virginia Repertory Theater at Willow Lawn.

Okay, let's just call a spade a spade: Barksdale.

Tonight was a gender-reversed exploration of "Coriolanus," a Shakespearean tragedy I'd never read, much less seen produced.

Nay, your wit will not so soon out as another man's will; 'tis strongly wedged up in a blockhead.

The story of a celebrated warrior who refused to exploit his war wounds and victories for political gain was fascinating on a number of levels.

First, there was the A-list female cast playing all the male roles.

Twenty five women and four men.

It's not the odds I'd want in the real world, but onstage for Shakespeare, it made for a singularly distinctive theater experience.

He is a lion that I am proud to hunt.

Susan Sanford was commanding and funny in the tile role, much as she was "Spring Awakening," which I'd seen for the second time yesterday.

Having seen her perform and enjoy herself at the Ghost  Light Afterparty several times now, I had to laugh out loud when her line was, "Have we no wine here?"

Her occasional "huh?" added contemporary touches to her couplets.

But then so did the cell phone exchange between her and her enemy.

Let her alone, lady, as she is now, she will but disease our better mirth.

The story of a disgruntled people who cast out their warrior leader because of the way he treats them had particular resonance during this, an election year.

No Shakespearean tragedy is short, but the pacing on this one kept things moving and never lagged for a moment.

Before I knew it, Coriolanus had been victorious, dumped by his people, embraced his enemy (Molly Hood, as always strong, as Aufidius) and won back over by his tearful mother (a magnificent Alan Sader as Volumnia).

For certain, drops of salt have always been part of a woman's arsenal.

I know; I grew up with five sisters.

So, while I've seen some first class female drama in my lifetime, last night's was right up there.

I can only hope that director BC Maupin continues to charge ahead with his intent to produce the Bard's entire canon with gender-reversed explorations.

Count me in for watching girls take over boy parts.

You can take that any way you like.

The evening ended with music at Balliceaux because after great tragedy, I needed a little Brazilica.

Amazingly, I got world class stuff with Quarteto Olinda, four Brazilian guys on their first tour of the U.S.

That's right; they'd payed the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center and now they were in Richmond.

I won't even bore you with my usual "is this a great town or what?" lecture, but there it is.

Kudos to the Virginia Center for Latin American Art for sponsoring the event.

The group's music, forro de rabeca, is based on the Brazilian folk fiddle, which I was surprised to see is played not on the shoulder and under the chin, but from just in front of the armpit.

And tonight it was played by Claudio in a vibrant orange flowered shirt, singing in Portuguese and moving his hips most seductively.

My partner in crime and I got our cold beverages and took seats on the back of the second booth so as to see all the dancing and the energetic band.

The four piece had that fiddle, a drummer, percussionist and, most surprisingly, an electric bass.

The percussion was zydeco-like and all four musicians traded vocals which were almost like chants.

And the crowd responded by dancing up a storm.

Toward the end, pairs of dancers would lock hands and other couples would dance through the "tower" of their arms.

After that, boys lined up on one side and girls on another, and people danced through the middle, Soul-Train-like.

The best way I can describe it is to say I felt like I was at a Brazilian hoedown.

I especially liked a song called "Carolina" maybe because I could imagine them singing "Karina" instead.

But at the end of their exuberant second set, it was time to bring the party to a close.

Reading phonetically from a piece of paper, bandleader Claudio said, "This is the last song. Thank you very much.We will see you next time."

But they gave that last song their all, blending traditional, rural Brazilian music with the unmistakable strains of "Eleanor Rigby" throughout.

Frickin' brilliant.

It was a closing masterpiece that put an exclamation point to a day that began with exuberant emo, fought its way through an estrogen-soaked tragedy and spit us out on the other end with a Brazilian dance party.

And all without having to disease my better mirth by driving to the Kennedy Center.

What blockhead wouldn't take advantage of such a smorgasbord on a Sunday night?