Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grace Street al Fresco

So much to do, so little time.

Despite a to-do list of epic proportions, I stepped out for dinner with the best kind of companions.

The kind who not only call you a "control  freak," but who also get left off guest lists and couldn't care less, either.

We all met up at Ipanema where the mid-'70s temperatures lured us to the empty patio to check out the new "Steal This Wine List," a section of six distinctive higher-end wines priced ridiculously low ($30) to entice wine lovers.

Our opening wine was never up for debate, though. My friend was determined that we all try a wine she'd fallen in love with.

As it turned out, she was absolutely right about this one.

In fact, Ips was the second place at which she'd tracked it down, having already enjoyed it at Enoteca Sogno.

It was the 2011 Occhipinti SP68 Bianca Sicilia, a beautiful wine with an aromatic floral nose and the complexity of a red.

You know sort of like the mild-mannered secretary who finally takes off her horn-rimmed glasses and shakes out her hair and becomes a tiger in bed.

That kind of white wine.

Discussing it later with a friend inside, he observed, "Yea, I was blown away by it. That's a white?"

Accompanying our Sicilian on this lovely night were several dishes off the new menu.

There was a salad of mixed greens with apples, radishes, red   onion, walnut, smoked bleu cheese with a rosemary/white wine vinaigrette boasting contrasting flavors and plenty of stinky cheese.

It also made us feel virtuous before the spud fest that was to come.

The chalkboard had seriously tempted me with a tease of brandade, which sounded amazing although I had no idea what it was beyond cod and potatoes.

Turned out to be a puree of salt cod and potatoes and came with a Pecorino layer au gratin and enough bread to carry huge spoonfuls of the savory dip-like concoction to our mouths.

It was a perfect example of simple ingredients elevated to a dish much greater than the sum of its parts.

Meanwhile, conversation flowed as we heard stories of crashing cabinets, broken lighting and sheepish looks from a favorite couple's day.

Ours had more to do with hunting and gathering so was far less dramatic.

With wine #1 long gone, we moved on to the essence of a good autumn wine, the Bernard Baudry Chinon "Grezeaux," an earthy Cab Franc that had both minerality and fruit.

Now we were two for two, having found two stellar (not to mention, under-priced) wines new to us.

We moved on to oil-poached shrimp with turnip and potato puree, sauteed spinach and an herbed butter, truly a triumvirate of complementary flavors.

Who says a pig-lover can't find plenty to demolish at a vegetarian restaurant?

Along with our rapidly emptying plates, on the table were such topics as Campanile views, Ghostbusters look-a-likes and '90s music.

Fair warning: don't tell someone whose youth was spent in the '90s what songs are worthy of a '90s mix.

Because it will get ugly.

Best line of the evening, "I'm pretty positive I never said, 'The problem with you is anything."

Ain't love grand?

It had been early when the four of us had gathered, but as the evening wore on, Grace Street got livelier with people beginning their Saturday night.

Since there's no reason to eat at Ips and not have dessert, we went with apple cinnamon cake a la mode, mainly to ensure that we exploded on the patio.

The subtly flavored spice cake had the best kind of frosting, the kind that's more fat than sugar and leaves you feeling indulged rather than in diabetic shock.

Of course, by then we were in a food coma anyway.

It put me in mind of that old Italian proverb, "At the table with friends and family, you do not become old."

Not sure how much of that is the food or wine but I'm almost positive it's got something to do with all the laughter.

Besides, old is in the eye of the beholder.

Even Better Than Fitting In

Left to my own devices, I can find all kinds of ways to be odd man out.

First it was at Cap Ale House for Pop! the kickoff party for Pride Week RVA.

And while I'm proud of plenty, I don't think I'm exactly who they had in mind.

First thing in the door and it was pretty clear that busy hands had been at work transforming the stolid space into more of a club feel.

Photo station to the right (props: boombox, hats, chains, guitar and no, I did not), big screen straight ahead (aforementioned pics, some now with speech bubbles) and spoken word poet onstage.

The chattering competed with the mingling to make hearing poetry challenging over the clinking of martini glasses with blue contents.

It was easiest to stay rooted in one spot to let people discover me on their way to something else.

Princess Di wanted to discuss his German. A couple of restaurant types were on their way to Heritage. The host was ebullient over the turnout.

Tonight was a double whammy, one part pride and one part publication.

GayRVA's first magazine premiered today and as a contributor to "G," I was eager to see the finished product to which I'd contributed.

Fabulous.

It would be impossible to kick off Pride Week without a drag queen and we had one in the large persona of Sharon Husbands, she of the waist-length curls and plus-sized booty.

After a song, she accepted the "G" award for "Drag Queen  Most Likely to Cause Drama on Facebook."

Me, I try to avoid drama whenever possible.

Subsequent awards were announced and presented so that we could get to the fun, namely DJ Amy Alderman playing her trademark house music.

Listen, I've been to Cap Ale enough and tonight was by far the most interesting iteration of it I've ever seen.

Even if I do play for the other team.

Not content to be a misfit in only one place, I moved on to the Republic for a show.

I've got a friend who's played in a U2 cover band for years and I'd never seen him play.

Last week he'd made me write this show down in my date book so I could finally correct that.

Tonight I was going to experience Even Better Than the Real Thing.

So here I was at the Republic, a venue I've always hated because it was a smokey, eye-burning hell, only now the smokers were on the other side and the non-smokers on the stage side.

I wonder what took them so long to figure that out?

The show was in full swing when I arrived, so I slid in near the back with a good view of the stage.

I'm the first to admit that I'm no U2 fanatic; I appreciate the talent, the band's growth over the years and their place in the pantheon of rock music.

But I've never seen them live (does "U2 3-D" count? No, I didn't think so) and I don't know the words to every emotive song.

That's where I was different than everyone else around me.

More than a few people shouted every word at their mate.

Imagine Munch's "The Scream" with another figure facing it screaming right back.

The couple in front of me not only sang every note but knew when the pauses were during which they could suck face.

Their timing was impressive.

Right before the band started one song, I heard two people trying to guess what song was next based on actual U2 show sets they'd heard live.

"Yea, but the seventh time I saw U2, they followed it with (fill in other U2 song here)," one insisted like he was the keeper of the U2 discography.

So, yes, people were trying to forecast songs based on their previous actual U2 shows.

Hell, I couldn't compete with that.

I could admire the well-executed "One Love."

I could fly my Irish flag.

"This is an Irish drinking song, so if you're Irish or drinking now, you should like it," "Bono" said.

I qualified and I did like "Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World."

People danced at the bar, in front of the stage and on the way to the bathroom.

There was even dipping and finger kissing/blowing going on.

It was a party.

"Beautiful Day" took the crowd over the edge (har, har) by changing "See the Bedouin fires at night" to "See the Republic on a Friday night."

Let me assure you, U2 fans eat that stuff up.

That song also gave my friend a chance to show off his mad skills and effects as befits a man wearing a knit cap and playing guitar.

The crowd dancing was uncontrollable at this point but I stayed tucked away as the band and part of the crowd began moving from back to front.

A hippie-looking guy with waist-length hair and a long beard joined the foursome in front of me, informing them, "This is one of the worst bars in Richmond for dancing."

The way he said it, it was apparently fact.

I listened, so I know that his complaints were with the crowd ("the ballet clique and the moms") and the thoroughfare nature of the dance area in front of the stage (it is the only path to the bathrooms for the barflies).

Clearly if you've seen U2 seven times, you want to be able to dance to a really good U2 tribute band, too.

I had no such problem.

As we learned on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other.

But as I'm sure some wise drag queen once said, no one said I had to fit in as long as I was having fun.

Drama-free fun, of course.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Coo Coo Ca Choo

You just never know how things are going to blow up on you.

One minute I'm walking into 2113 (where they've just added a sinuous partition to separate the dining area from the bar) and the next someone is asking me if I'm with the Ad Club.

As it turned out, I think my friend and I were the only two non-advertising people in the bar for the next hour and a half.

But that was okay because advertising types are a fascinating group to watch network (so much intensity! so much self-awareness!), especially with alcohol.

As non-networking types, my friend and I discussed important topics of our own like how music must never be far away no matter where in your home you are.

She mentioned how tired she is of hearing '90s music everywhere (despite the fact that it's the decade of her youth) now that it's become the new oldies.

It made her feel my pain, that of the multiple decades of old music I've had to endure for years.

As her mother put it, "I never need to hear The Doors again."

Amen, Mom.

When we parted ways, the adsters were in full swing talking to each other while looking around to see who else they needed to connect with.

Walking toward the Poe Museum, a guy said hello and, "I like those shoes."

Diversity Thrift, three bucks, I said, clearly impressing him with what look like espadrille wedges from the '70s.

Since when do men notice shoes?

Tonight was the Poe Museum's monthly Unhappy Hour, an evening of music, drama and film with liberal doses of corny humor, male humor and band humor.

It was a gorgeous night to be in a brick-walled garden inhaling soft, warm air with a nearly full moon above.

Walking into the Poe garden, I saw that Goldrush (all clad in black Kronos Quartet-style) had already begun playing so I found a spot against a curved tree trunk.

When they finished their song, Treesa spotted me and Prabir said hello via the microphone.

"This one's for you, Karen," he said. "This isn't about you, Karen but I wrote it right around that time we discussed this situation and you agreed and I agreed, so here we go."

Let's just say the lyrics had something to do with, "Thank you, thank you, but I am a mess, so thank you."

Ah, yes, that messy period.

"This one's called 'Tyrannasaurus Rex. Ma'am, this is dedicated to you," he said pointing at a woman in the third row. "Nothing personal."

During the song, the Man About Town showed up and when I went to hug him, he lifted me clean off the ground with his bear-like embrace.

An inquiry into his state of being resulted in, "Better now."

With the fountain burbling behind the trio of Goldrush, they played "Eleanor Rigby" before excusing themselves.

"We're going to take a break but stick around and be unhappy," Prabir exhorted.

Why come to Unhappy Hour if not to be maudlin?

Next up was Ryan Lee unburdening his soul with Poe's short story, "The Black Cat," done partly as a dramatization and partly as a reading.

While it was easy to get lost in Poe's language ("Evil thoughts became my soul intimates"), modern reminders abounded.

Motorcycles roared down Main Street. A helicopter whirred overhead. The museum's a/c unit cranked on and off.

Lee's performance ended with him portraying the guilt-ridden murderer of the story, on his knees in the grass and sobbing.

"I hope you're all thoroughly miserable now," the museum's director said afterwards.

I passed the subsequent break discussing with my seatmate hanging heavy winter coats with metaphors about the tensile strength of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Granted, it was more hysterical than unhappy.

Goldrush returned to do "our most macabre song about why you should love people."

I'm not sure how macabre a song called "Kiss and Make Up" can be considered but the crowd went along with it.

"This one's for Karen, so she can have more bass," Prabir said a second time, surprising no one more than me.

A tease of a few notes had my seatmate humming the melody of "Mrs. Robinson" before they launched into a Goldrush standard, "Roll One."

Mid-song, Prabir says, "Here's what you came for," and gestured to Matt who did a very fine upright bass solo.

The song "Don't Worry" had M.A.T. cracking, "That's the Romney/Ryan theme song."

There was a song dedicated to the Indians in the audience ("I guess it's a self-dedication," Prabir cracked only to have a guy yell afterwards, "I'm Hindu!") and a song for Christians.

You know, the classic, "Jesus Christ Loves His Beans and Rice."

It was getting harder and harder to stay in unhappy mode.

Their closer was a rousing and rocking cover of "I am the Walrus" and looking around, I was reminded that after almost 50 years, everyone likes the Beatles.

When they finished, some guys took their place in the center of the garden with what looked like a big, black parachute.

Nope, it was way better - an inflatable movie screen.

That's right, something that inflated in seconds and rather resembled a moon bounce grew right before our very eyes until it was touching tree branches.

"Now it's a party!" Man About Town joked.

Screening was "The Persistence of Poe," a film by Christine Stoddard about the Poe/Richmond connection.

Full of fabulous old black and white photographs of the city in the 19th century, the documentary was still in the "rough cut" stage but I found it full of fun facts about Poe's life.

When the film mentioned Poe's first love, the older Elmira, my companion leaned in and murmured, "Mrs. Robinson."

Clearly we had a motif going.

When the film ended, it wasn't like the house lights were going to come up so everyone sat there momentarily.

I mentioned that I thought we should hang around and watch the screen deflate.

"I don't want to talk about deflation," M.A.T. quipped.

Not at middle age anyway, I responded.

"Touche!" he roared, throwing back his head and laughing his distinctive laugh.

The museum's director instructed us all to come back in October for the next unhappy hour.

"Next month's theme is 'The Mask of the Red Death,' so everyone will be dropping like flies," he deadpanned.

I can hardly wait for the misery of it all.

Where the Path May Lead

Sometimes you need someplace civilized to map out your journey.

Amour Wine Bistro seemed more than up up the task.

I ran into a photographer friend outside on the sidewalk, shooting away.

After a discussion of Perry Ellis shirts and much laughter on my part about grown men discussing fashion, we moved on.

I feel constitutionally unable to start any evening at Amour with anything but Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose, so why fight it?

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake.The great affair is to move" ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

The new Wine Spectator magazine immediately claimed my attention with its focus on Italy, so it took a few minutes to even look at the menu.

A vegetable terrine was irresistible with layers of yellow pepper, arugula, cauliflower, red pepper, zucchini and a cool, smooth mouth feel.

Tarte flambee served up bread with white cheese, caramelized onions and bacon, the quintessential sweet and salty.

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." ~ Henry Miller

For the next course, we changed grapes, going for two different ones: a Touraine sauvignon blanc and Des Gras Moutons muscadet sevre.

Both shone beautifully with frog legs wrapped in bacon, and our second bacon of the evening.

This led to a discussion with the Frenchman about how bacon preferences are rooted in childhood.

I trace mine back to my mother keeping a can in the kitchen cabinet filled with used bacon grease which was delightfully emplyed to flavor almost everything from eggs to vegetables.

You never really outgrow a taste for that.

If it sounds like all we did was eat and drink, let me assure you that we were busily working on journeying as well.

How many hours in a day? How many must-sees to be seen? How much walking to be enjoyed?

"Travel and place impart new vigor to the mind." ~ Seneca

The Frenchman offered his wisdom, suggesting no plan is best and I assured him any plans were minimal and subject to change.

A cheese and charcuterie plate followed, the Olli salame and prosciutto sublime.

I was reminded of the Italian chef Fabio Trabocchi at Fiola in D.C. once telling me and my dinner companion that it was the best American-made cured meats he'd ever put in his mouth.

Goochland, you done us proud.

For dessert, we each got a different red wine to go with our chocolate creme brulee with sea salt.

There was the Chateua Puy Sarvain Bergerac (Merlot and Cab Franc yummy) and Chateau de Gaudou Cahors 2009 (a juicy Malbec).

Not satisfied with mere chocolate, my companion then tucked into an apple tart tatin with Calvados for pouring over and sipping with, truly a classic French dessert.

Despite the food and wine coma we were in, much had been accomplished during our prolonged stay and bidding adieu to the Frenchman, we gathered up our books and notebooks and wandered out, one step closer to the journey.

It was all terribly civilized.

"The journey not the arrival matters." ~ T.S. Elliott

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Loved It to Death

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

We'll paraphrase "old" and instead say "longtime" as in I met up with a friend of more than a few years at Mint.

I would never say she's old but our friendship certainly is.

Surprised to be the first person at the bar, the bartender informed me that I wasn't, that a group had just left.

My bar stool wasn't warm enough to prove him right.

My friend soon joined me and we took advantage of happy hour, she with a bourbon barrel stout and me with an Italian Cabernet.

We had so much to talk about, important stuff like ghettos, butt plug orders and trips to Paris, before we even looked at the menu.

It came down to pulled pork johnny cake "tacos" and a lobster corn dog with peach basil mustard sauce.

The tacos I'd had before so knew I liked the pig/slaw combo but the dog was new to me and, like I told my friend, how can you go wrong with what is essentially lobster meat and a crusty corn muffin?

That's right, you can't.

After discussing how we plan to end our lives, we parted ways on Main Street with plans to meet up this weekend.

Properly fortified with red wine and extensive laughter, I made the short drive to the Firehouse Theater for this month's Listening Room curated by WRIR's Eric Walters.

This was the "something new" part since I hadn't seen any of the bands before.

Emcee Chris took the stage sporting a new haircut and looking very handsome.

He admitted to being a tad unprepared with his announcements, seeking some information from the audience.

"It takes a village," he explained about using the crowd for specifics. "This first guy is the Michael Phelps of the Listening Room. This is his third Listening Room in a row and his fourth in a year."

It was Michael Coleman, drummer of Nettles and Hill and Wood and he began by saying that he had just made his Kickstarter goal today.

It must have been a good omen for him because his set was spot-on, his voice soulful and heartfelt.

With Rusty also playing guitar, Michael went through several of the songs from his upcoming album, including the title track "Precious Time."

Acknowledging Rusty "makes me sound so good," he told of how he'd met Rusty at a show and how "he basically forced his way into my musical world."

"I called the next morning," Rusty joked along. "I sent flowers."

I say if a guy's going to force himself on you, that's the least he can do.

Their guitar interplay was beautiful on "New Beginning," but it was "Never Let You Go" that provided  my favorite of his lyrics.

I've been making choices I've never made

It had been during Michael's set that I'd felt chilly and put on my sweater. Without a word exchanged my buddy in the next seat, Andrew, handed me his hoodie for my (presumably chilly) legs.

There was my something borrowed.

During the break I scored my second Dixie doughnut and saw a guy I was sure I knew but couldn't place.

Fortunately he recognized me too and made the connection, resulting in a blast from the past for both of us.

Knot Boxes played next and they were a trio of mandolin, fiddle and guitar.

Lead singer/guitarist Rebecca had a quiet voice and demeanor but her sidemen shone with enthusiasm as they played their takes on traditional and original songs.

"We arrange or derange them our way," Rebecca  said to laughter.

When she turned to Eric for the key and he told her E flat, she grinned at the crowd, saying, "At the Listening Room the audience hears everything."

We do and we like it.

Eric also shared that, "The name of our band is Knot Boxes and we formed two days ago. We're very excited about it."

Several musicians expressed how impressed they were that the band had recorded and mastered their album only two days ago and were selling it tonight.

Favorite lyric: "I bet your sad heart is breaking every moment I'm not there."

By the time Chris took the stage to introduce the last band, the crowd had thinned. "The level of musician ship is very high tonight," he said, stating the obvious.

It was about to get higher with Brooklyn's Jus Post Bellum, a quartet who had just played live on Eric's show.

"Eric hosted us on Wide Ear Folk and it was the first time we all played together on the radio," guitarist and vocalist Geoffrey said, looking quite dapper in a black hat. "We're getting off to a spoiled start on our several weeks' tour."

Bass player Daniel had a dramatic and distinctive way of flinging his arms to his sides in between playing his parts. Drummer Zach had a magnificent head of red curly hair. Vocalist Hannah sang like an angel in red lipstick.

They played several songs from their album of folk-tinged history songs, things like, "Be Each Man Judged," the title track, "Devil Winter" and closed with "That Old Pine Box."

At one point, Geoffrey consulted with the others about the next song before telling us, "We're having a band fight right now."

"Very quietly," agreed Daniel smiling.

Favorite lyric: "I only want you to love me to death."

When their dynamic set ended, the crowd went crazy clapping.

At least those left went crazy for having seen such talented musicians playing a distinctly different sound, one of lyrical melancholy with a sense of history, a truly unique sound.

This is where I get on my soapbox.

I am a big proponent of the two-band Listening Room for one reason only and it has nothing to do with  me.

It's because when there are three bands, it's inevitable that a good portion of the crowd leaves during the break before the third band.

It happened again tonight and it's a real shame that any music fan in Richmond missed hearing Jus Post Bellum because it was getting late.

And there, people, is my something blue.

Other than that, it was a happily-ever-after kind of an evening.

The kind to which I will always say "I do."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's the Best

I can't be everyone's guide to Jackson Ward, but I do what I can.

Tonight I introduced a relative newcomer to Catherine Street.

Catherine Street is the back side of my block, it extends into Carver and it was originally an alley.

Most blocks of it are now actual streets, but not all.

It's narrow, some houses are quite old and many very new and parts of it look like the kind of places where you don't cross someone's property line without knowing them personally.

A guy walked aimlessly down the street behind us. singing, "Can I tell you how much I love you?"

Now there's a soundtrack for a walk.

Plenty of C-Street residents were sitting on their porch or in their backyard and I nodded as we passed.

And (drum roll), it's got a duplex with a living porch roof.

That's right, the entire roof of the porch is planted with low-maintenance plants that insulate sound and temperature, siphon off rain water and do practically every other honorable environmental thing possible.

I consider it the highlight of Catherine Street, which was my reason for sharing it with someone.

The walk back eventually led us to dinner, but only after a discussion of why people of a certain age can't accept current bands that sound like the bands of their youth.

Let's just say that unkind things were said about A.F.I.

Bistro 27 was having a typical Monday night and we caught the end of it, taking seats at the mostly empty bar and ordering more Tempranillo, the wine that had originally led us down Catherine Street.

"Look what the cat dragged in," I heard a friend call to me.

We did a catch-up session about his new place, the frustration of people who don't know how to do their jobs and big spenders.

I was delighted to hear that the music was swinging nicely, set to the "Blue Jazz" station on Pandora and delivering a little kick, a little romance and some stellar vintage horn playing.

The meal began with two kinds of ravioli - lobster in sage butter sauce and beef/Fontina in a tomato cream sauce.

If there's a better house-made ravioli around here, I haven't had it.

Dinner was chicken, roasted shallots and artichokes in a lemon butter sauce, a classic dish so perfectly executed as to be a standard-bearer.

A couple joined us at the bar, him leaning in to her ear and kissing it a lot and her saying things like, "I need to have some corsets made."

Some?

Suddenly I felt lacking for having made it this far in life without ever owning a corset and here she is needing multiples.

Dessert was the only answer.

Bosc pear poached in Merlot with vanilla gelato and succulent blackberries the size of jawbreakers distracted me from my undergarment failings and provided a sweet richness that would have rendered me non-corset material tonight anyway.

Not that I ever was.

Fact is, I want someone who could love me un-corseted.

And, yes, that's a metaphor.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Sunday Kind of Love

First rule of Sunday: start high and get progressively sillier.

You really couldn't start much higher than a dazzling audio vision like "Koyaanisqatsi," the 1983 film about life out of balance with a Philip Glass soundtrack.

Sitting at UR's Modlin Center with a roomful of people willing to forsake a crystalline late summer day and the NFL for a non-narrative movie with only one word in it (the Hopi chant "koyaanisqatsi") surely qualified me as both a music and film nerd.

Unfortunately, not everyone in attendance was as enthralled with the movie as my companions and I were.

Directly in front of us was a UR student who moved constantly and restlessly from side to side in his chair, his head always in his hands as if he needed to hold it up.

In front of him, a kid napped through the whole thing.

Personally, I find the visuals of nature followed by technology followed by cultural references and eventually decay to be a meditation on the planet.

And of course, on the late '70s, early '80s when it was shot.

Like the billboard in Times Square advertising, "Sony Betamax."

And the beauty of implosions, long a fascination for me.

I am one of those people who got up at the crack of dawn to watch the old Times Disptach building imploded  back in September '98.

The film had image after image of implosions, truly a combination of science and beauty.

But if you've seen the film, you know how tense the score and images make you by the end of the film.

We stayed for the talkback with UR's music director and the remaining devotees of the film for some additional insight.

Afterwards, the four of us dined at Don't Look Back, discussing the film and its two sequels, neither of which I've seen.

A Frito pie and Herradura Reposado helped clear my head of the apocalyptic vision we'd just seen on the big screen.

And, honestly, where can you go after apocalypse and Fritos but to the Ghost Light Afterparty?

This month's event was called "Sha-GLAP," leading me to suspect a '50s theme.

Walking in to a room full of poodle skirts, bobby socks and ponytails, I knew I was right.

My date guessed that there's be some '60s, too, and a chat with co-host Maggie confirmed this.

The decades may change, but the GLAP is essentially a piano bar with members of the theater community taking the stage to sing whatever the hell they want.

As co-host Matt said tonight, "If you wanna sing a song from Les Mis and then talk about how much you hate Les Mis, that's fine."

Maggie explained the housekeeping issues, including a plea for some appropriate music. "We do appreciate some theme-i-ness."

And we got theme-i-ness almost at once with the marvelous Wonderettes (currently in production at Swift Mill) doing "Son of a Preacherman," complete with choreography and praying hands.

And we were off and running.

Part of the drill at GLAP is always Mad Libs set to a song of the period and we were warned that two Mad Libs were now in circulation and to feel free to contribute any dirty words we cared to to the project.

"F**k hasn't come up and we only have one penis," Miss Mad Lib informed us.

"One penis is never enough," Matt quipped.

Lamentation gave way to opera as Stephanie and Ingrid got up and sang a piece from "Tales of Hoffman."

"Last month we had "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Matt laughed. "And now we have opera. That's what Ghost Light is all about."

Maggie sang "Let the Good Times Roll" with Matt on shaker balls, providing my favorite lyric of the evening, "Love can be such a swinging thing."

Warning us that, "This could be tragic, but we welcome tragedy here," Matt did "On Broadway" (with back up singers), even changing the lyrics to "On Broad Street" and ending with jazz hands.

We like jazz hands at the GLAP.

Elizabeth jumped decades and did "Sweet Baby James,"  Peter did a soulful version of "Let It Be Me" and Sarah did "Stand By Me" with an impromptu group of backup singers and shakers almost upstaging her.

The Wonderettes returned for a beautifully-executed "Mr. Sandman" and an hysterical "Lollipop" that included a take-off on a Saturday Night Live skit that had one of the Wonderettes wearing prosthetic tubes with doll arms attached.

Georgia was the brave one to sing the first Mad Lib to "It's My Party," full of innuendo and trash talk ("It's my party and I'll masturbate if I want to").

When Matt spotted Evan looking very much like Buddy Holly, he burst into Weezer song, "Ooh,we, ooh, you look just like Buddy Holly and Karen, you're Mary Tyler Moore."

Not gonna lie, it was my first musical shout-out from the stage and I could get used to it.

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" got the bongos and shaker treatment.

One of the night's highlights was Katrina singing (with flowers in her hair)  and Iman beat boxing to "Killing Me Softly."

It was the kind of sublime moment that you just had to be present for.

The TheaterLab group did "Summer Nights" from "Grease" and Evan added a mean tambourine to that.

Then it was intermission, meaning pizza time and Matt instructed, "Crank up that tuna-age!" so we had music to munch by.

Sarah did "Freddy, My Love" before raffle winners were pulled.

One prize was a bottle of malbec and Maggie read from the bottle's label that the winemakers selected from grapes that were 47 years old.

"That's so old!" Maggie exclaimed.

God, yes, 47, that's practically deathbed material.

Paul did a sweet version of "In My Own Little Corner" from "Cinderella," complete with high drama and an abrupt and unexpected ending, at least for him.

"That was very unceremonious and I loved it," Maggie observed.

Katie got Mad Lib duty this time and hers came with a warning at the top saying, "This is filthy."

Sung to Grease's "Sandra Dee" it included phrases like "pink velvet sausage pocket."

GLAP is not for the faint of heart, kids.

Nick did a rousing rendition of "If You Wanna Be Happy" with the sage lyrics "never make a pretty woman your wife" and three guys on heartfelt backup vocals plus bongos.

The crowd, now well lubricated, got vocal, testifying as Carla sang Streisand's "Evergreen" to shouts of "Come on!" and "Go, girl."

In a nod to the mood, she even changed a lyric to "Every day I am tipsy."

Katrina got called back up next, prompting her to say, "Oh, great! I have to go after Carla!"

Oh, great was right as she did "Stars and the Moon," noting midway through, "This song makes me cry."

Meanwhile you could have heard a pin drop in the room as everyone listened intently.

Even as our own bottle of Rose got lower and lower, Matt acknowledged, "I just accidentally chugged my bourbon and ginger and there's so many words on this page," before singing the hilarious "Therapy" from "Tick Tick Boom."

Paul did a song requested by Annie, saying, "To all you Glappers who have nothing better to do on a Sunday, there's nothing better than love, so here's "A Sunday Kind of Love."

Once again, he finished unceremoniously, getting many laughs for it.

The last song was "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" with Carla, Matt, Maggie and even Evan shaking his moneymaker tambourine along with everyone else who couldn't resist joining in the last big singalong.

Conclusion after nearly five hours of Glappage?

If it's love, if it really is, it's there in his kiss.

That, and I'm happy to concede that I have nothing better to do on a Sunday evening than let tipsy theater people sing to me.

Where else on earth am I going to be able to relive my youth singing along with a roomful of people to "Good Morning, Starshine"?

Only at GLAP, my friends, only at GLAP.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Stop, Thief!

Good god, how low will people sink?

Even after six plus years of walking Grace Street daily, I can still be surprised.

Like today in the middle of hell block, I saw a colorful sign looking stained and crumpled on the sidewalk.

At the top in blue it said, "FINDING AMADEUS" with a hand drawn sketch of a fish colored light blue underneath it.

In big red letters under that it said, "I REALLY LOVE MY FISH, BUT NOW HE IS GONE!"

In smaller print at the bottom, the aggrieved party wrote, "If you have any information regarding this disappearance please write a letter and put it in the mailbox for 1115 W. Grace."

Kind of breaks your heart, doesn't it?

My question is, was Amadeus stolen from inside someone's apartment?

Was the poor fish pilfered whilst catching some rays in a bowl on the front porch?

Who the hell steals a fish, much less a named one?

But then just as I was questioning the neighborhood's lack of decency, I walked by a guy in a wheelchair who said, "Here comes the most beautiful and sexy woman on Grace Street. Have a great weekend, hon!"

It didn't make up for Amadeus, but it helped a little.

But if he turns out to be the fish thief, I'm going to give up on humanity altogether.

Barefoot and Punjabi

How crazy is it to have a program for a dance party?

Our initial intent was to fuel up for the evening ahead at Secco.

It was on the way to UR, there are always such an array of (affordable) wine choices and the food is reliably awesome.

Case in point: a lightly fizzy wine from Spain not yet on the menu, Avinyo Petillant (the name means "wine with a prickle") with a highly aromatic nose and loads of effervescence.

There were some lovely new items on the menu, like a Tuscan kale salad with Asian pears, oyster mushrooms, 3-year Gouda with pumpkin seeds and oil that delivered the hearty flavor of kale dressed in its prettiest fall flavors.

I coveted the lentil soup with ham hocks and creme fraiche, finding the pig element to be what made the dish sing.

Next to us, a young woman tried flirting with food talk to some nearby guys only to be corrected when she informed them that, "You know, pate is illegal in California."

"You mean foie gras?" one of the guys politely corrected her, grinning at me but allowing the girl to continue to fawn.

House-made smoked paprika sausage with vinegar collard greens was a perfect balance of heat and tang, addicting almost in its complementary flavors.

Because we were short on time, we finished with more Petillant and a cheese course of Blue del Moncenesio because it was promised to be a "dense, smokey, meaty bleu."

Not to mention Italian.

They weren't lying. With a creamy mouth feel and a fairly assertive taste, it was a stinky cheese lover's dream.

We all but inhaled the cheese in order to take our stinky breath to the Modlin Center to see Red Baraat.

Billed as combining a New Orleans street band sound with Bollywood tunes and a go-go beat, I had decided it was a must-see.

In fact, when I'd gotten the tickets, the ticket seller had asked if I wanted assigned seats in the balcony or general admission in the orchestra pit.

Are you kidding?

If the Modlin Center is expecting enough dancing for Red Baraat to negate the need for seats, you bet I want general admission.

Walking in to a Beatles soundtrack, we saw no one standing down near the stage.

Okay, so we'll take seats in the front row and see what happens.

I had to laugh at being handed a program on my way in.

True, it had some information about the band's history in it, including that they were as likely to  be found "throwing down at an overheated and unannounced warehouse party in their Brooklyn neighborhood" as at  Lincoln Center.

But there's not a lot more you can say about this kind of performance in the pages of a program.

A friend came by shortly, telling us of his amazement that the audience was filling up the seats in the back of the theater and not the front.

Not us. We were close enough to see the band sweat and spit.

When Red Baraat took the stage, they were missing one member, so they were down to only eight.

It was still a lot of musicians: soprano saxophone, trumpet, bass trumpet, trombone, sousaphone, drummer, percussionist and leader Sonny playing dohl, a double-sided north Indian drum he wore slung over his sweaty shoulder.

Sonny explained that "baraat" referred to a procession that happens for a wedding in India and their first song was "Today is My Best Friend's Wedding Day."

It wasn't long after that when Sonny instructed the audience to stand.

Next he directed us to move forward and fill the empty space in front of the stage.

Then the band began playing and all hell broke loose.

All of a sudden, the pit was filled with people of all ages dancing wildly to music drawn from Punjabi rhythms with a ferocious horn section that brought jazz and funk into the mix.

By the second song, I knew my shoes had been the wrong choice and deposited them on my empty chair in the front row.

Back down in front, I saw an Indian-American friend busting his best Bollywood moves, a sight I never thought I'd live to see.

It was pretty impressive.

I said hello to WRIR's DJ Carlito, the orchestrator of the popular Bollywood dance parties around town, telling him I knew he'd be there.

The rest of the evening was pretty much a dance party, pure and simple.

Oh, sure, we heard raucous, we heard sinewy, we heard hard-core sousaphone, but never did the beat waver or the dancing crowd stop moving.

I only hope the seated people up in the balcony were having a fraction of the good time we were having down in the pit, but I really don't see how.

As the evening progressed, the temperature went up with all the sweaty, dancing bodies and I couldn't help but think that it was the Alice Jepson Theater's first-ever dance party.

May I just say how satisfying it was to be dropping sweat at a venerable location like UR?

I had told my date just before the show began that I wished we were seeing Red Baraat in an overheated warehouse instead of a stately theater.

Wrong.

By the time the energetic show ended almost two hours later, my shirt was stuck to my back, my hair was wet at the roots and anyone looking at me would have thought I'd been in an overheated warehouse dancing all night.

But you don't get a glossy program at a warehouse dance party, now do you?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Politics, Poetry and Pub Music

Starting at church apparently leads me down the path to vaudeville.

Tonight the Virginia Historical Society presented its 20th annual J. Harvie Wilkinson, Jr. lecture by journalist Juan Williams at First Baptist church.

Last time I'd been there had been for "South Pacific," a romance but also a story of racial prejudice.

Tonight's offering was less musical, but had a lot to do with his book "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years 1956-65."

Different mediums, similar topics.

The actual topic was "Virginia and the Characteristics of American Leadership," a platform from which Williams shared all kinds of interesting stories.

First he cracked wise, though. "As someone who writes books about history, I am just happy that all of you showed up. And I'm happy to speak in any venue where Charles Krauthammer can't interrupt me."

He went on to observe, "You are an older, mostly white audience. Many younger people don't know the history of the civil rights movement like this audience."

Isn't that the truth?

I would make a similar analogy that many younger women don't know the history of the women's movement.

But enough of my soapbox.

He told anecdotes of having afternoon tea with Thurgood Marshall after the judge had returned his phone call only to have the Washington Post's receptionist think it was a prank call.

After Marshall called back, speaking to publisher Katherine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee, Williams eventually made contact and set up the meeting.

He talked mostly about how ordinary Virginians had stood on principle despite not always having the law on their side.

"It's a time of tremendous change in Virginia," he told us. "There's a pride in what's possible."

I couldn't have put it any better myself.

Forsaking history for poetry, I went to meet a fiend at the Grace Street Theater for poet Katherine Larson, winner of the VCU Levis Reading Award.

Before he arrived, I chatted up a woman a few seats away, noting about the students in the theater, "They look like babies, don't they?"

"Yes, they do. I can't believe I ever looked that young, " she agreed. "But you look like a baby, too."

Presently my friend arrived so I didn't have to talk to a woman with vision issues any more.

"I've never seen this many people at a poetry reading," he observed looking around.

It was an unusually large poetry crowd, I'd agree.

A large-scale painting of Larry Levis stood by the stage in honor of the VCU poet for whom the prize is named.

Larson read her poetry not from her book, "Radical Symmetry," but from sheets of paper, saying, "I'm still not used to the way my poems look in the book."

She didn't have a strong reading voice and I wondered if everyone in the room could always hear her.

Because of her work as a scientist, there was sometimes a noticeably logical/observational side to her poetry.

And some of it was just beautiful phrasing.

In "Low Tide, Evening" she writes, "She is suddenly aware of her desire for him across the table."

"Love at 32 Degrees" was part of a long-form poem with some very scientific references as well as the evocative, "As white and quiet as a woman's slip on wooden floorboards."

I was struck by "Every time I make love for love's sake alone, I betray you," a turn of phrase I'm still chewing on.

She dedicated her last poem "Risk" to her husband, at home with their teething baby, and it provided my favorite line of the reading.

"You haven't much time. Risk it all."

Advice for the ages.

Poetry yielded to conversation and then music at Balliceaux.

Over an unnamed drink created by the bartender for him, my friend told me of his latest dating adventure as we waited for entry to the back room.

We agreed that sometimes it's better to focus on what someone brings to the relationship and not on what they don't bring.

Finally admitted to the back, we were joined by a third, making two musicians and me for an eclectic night of music.

First up were the Richmanian Ramblers, those masters of gypsy-flavored Romanian music.

They'd even brought lyric sheets for those of us who wanted to sing along in Romanian.

It could also be called "pub music" (in fact, it said that on the Facebook invitation) and it wasn't long before one of my two musicians noted, "I wish all music made me feel this good."

How can you not feel good with songs of sheep and drinking?

The combination of upright bass, accordion, clarinet, violin and guitar doing folks songs both profound and hilarious impressed both my first-timer companions.

Listening to Antonia's exquisite voice and Jason's clarinet, the two dominant sounds of the group, is enough to make a person want to start dancing Romanian-style, hands clasped on each other's shoulders.

Their set was too short, but even so I knew it was way past Antonia's bedtime, so I understood.

The Two Man Gentlemen Band took the stage with banter, enthusiasm and a whole lot of outstanding musicianship.

Oh, yes, and seersucker suits.

According to a friend I talked to during the break who'd already seen them, "They're the real deal."

With only upright bass and tenor guitar, they made, as they pointed out, enough sound to be two and a half men ("Would you believe it's just two guys up here?").

My bass-playing friend attributed that to the multitude of notes coming from the bass player's flying fingers, saying, "That's the charmer."

The guitar player on my other side was just as impressed with what the guitar player did with only four strings.

Me, I just loved their oddball lyrics, things like, "I love you but your feet's too big."

There was a song about reefer and one about how they liked to party with girls.

Another was about pig ("My girl tastes like pork chops"), after which Andy, the guitar player inquired, "You girls didn't appreciate that?"

Sure we did.

"You make me swoon when you cross the room" got a background chorus of ahhs that made the song for me.

A swing dancing couple got right up front and tore up the floor as the band got looser.

"Chocolate Milk," as good a song topic as any I guess, got an a cappella treatment at one point.

By the time their set was winding down, everyone was a fan of their retro vaudeville swinging sound and they knew it.

"We're the only authorized dealer of two-man music," they told us, tongues firmly in cheeks.

Before the final song, "Fancy Beer," Andy asked of the crowd, "Do you want the big finish with the John Mellencamp flourish and the samurai finish?"

We did, resulting in leg kicks and overblown arm gestures befitting the close of a show that had won over everyone in the room, including the musician to my right who'd stayed only because of how impressive the band's musical chops were.

By the end, he was hooting and hollering with the rest of the room, including my friend the bass player, who kept thanking me for bringing him out to see two such wonderful bands.

The way I see it, we haven't much time.

Better to be out risking it all with history, poetry, gypsy music and vaudeville while we can.

Let us not forget, it's all about the pride of what's possible.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Only Sorority I'd Join

It was an estrogen-fest of the highest order.

While today's luncheon at Plant Zero to celebrate Belle's 2012 Women in the Arts included some men (husbands, co-workers, publishers), it was mostly my people.

Even better for me, I'd had the privilege to interview and write the profiles for all six honorees, here.

And if that sounds like work, let me clarify that it was a real pleasure to meet six such interesting women and spend time talking to them.

Besides, freelance writers don't get invited to big glorious mid-day meals all that often.

After plenty of time to mingle, we all found our assigned tables and the eating began.

Asian salad with chicken, sweet potato biscuits with apricot butter and rice pudding kept everyone's mouths occupied for a short time before the main event.

Publisher Jason Roop began the proceedings by saying, "I see that someone put an empty chair up here. Whatever that means."

It meant a good laugh for all the artsy types in the room.

One by one the honorees were called up to accept their award and say a few words.

Janine Bell of Elegba Folklore Society began by quoting Gil Scott-Heron and got empathetic applause for saying, "Shameless plug! The Amazing Race has until 6 p.m. tonight."

She closed with, "I invite you to embrace the spirit."

Sonya Clark, chair of VCU's Craft/Material Studies program, started by gazing at the crowd. "Look at this roomful of people," she exhorted. "We need this."

She was right, as a gathering of people devoted to the arts, it was an impressive showing.

Her enthusiasm for the local arts scene came through in her statement, "I am never, ever bored here," a sentiment I second.

"Embrace creativity as a community," she closed.

Li Jian, VMFA's east Asian curator was aglow today since the luncheon coincided with the long-awaited opening of her Japanese, Chinese and Korean galleries at the museum.

Speaking about the museum, she respectfully acknowledged, "We're very honored for all the support we receive," inviting everyone to come check out the museum's outstanding collections.

Philanthropist True Luck shared her optimism, saying, "Giving back to the community is a universal opportunity." She would know given her years of work for the Visual Art Center.

"My wish for all ages is to take advantage of art. The VMFA is the crown jewel of museums."

I couldn't have clapped louder to show my agreement.

Photographer and teacher Georgianne Stinnett offered congratulations to all the women in the room.

"I feel like I'm in this really cool sorority," she said and I could see just what she meant.

Earlier I'd met Georgianne's mother, a delightful woman who'd come to see her daughter honored.

Georgianne thanked her late father and present mother and I could only imagine how proud my own parents would have felt in the same situation.

SPARC's Erin Foley-Thomas told of her parents' concern when she opted for a career in the theater, their fear for her financial instability.

There was much knowing laughter about that familiar sentiment.

Erin shared stories of her parents' support and the mentors who had been instrumental in shaping her career.

One teacher, she recalled, told her, "Don't waste time doing things that doesn't speak to your heart. An idea is only as good as the action put behind it."

Being a theater person, Erin's speech was effortlessly and enthusiastically delivered, making her a hard act to follow.

Jason returned to the podium to make a crack about financial instability, reminding the audience that journalists were included in that starving artist category.

And how!

Luckily, all that was left was thanking the Belle staff, which turned out to be a gift for me when I heard my name read as the writer of the profiles and even some applause in reponse.

As good as that kind of recognition is, and it is, the best part of the event for me was having several of the women I interviewed tell me how much they'd enjoyed talking to me and how they'd gotten a sense that we should be friends.

Between that and Georgianne's mother inviting me to come visit her, I couldn't care less about my financial instability.

I know how lucky I am to be doing something that speaks to my heart.

Not to mention getting a free lunch.

An Evening with Silent Bob

I figure at the rate I'm going, I'll be caught up on my cultural literacy by 2020.

The only problem will be that by doing that, I'll have missed out on the next eight years.

But I can't worry about that.

As part of my effort to catch up, I found myself at the unlikely location of Bottoms Up for a staged reading of "Clerks" by 9:55 Comedy.

It was a fundraiser for the Fan Free Clinic and billed as "a chance to see 'Clerks' as it was never intended."

How better to see it?

This is the group that regularly does stand-up at Pie and while I'd heard from a friend that it could get pretty hilarious, I'd never checked it out for myself.

Instead, here I was ready to watch a bunch of comedians act their way through the 1994 Kevin Smith classic.

About which I knew next to nothing, making me the exception in the room.

My partner-in-crime (for the grasshopper must experience the new with a worldlier one) and I took a table in the second row.

Settling in for the long haul (a day at a convenience store) we ordered a bottle of Camelot Pinot Noir.

Since it had been years since I'd been to Bottoms Up, I had no idea that they now did anything but their trademark thick crust pizza.

I saw that my namesake pizza, the Karen, was still on the menu and made a case for ordering it based on its ingredients: sausage, onions, spinach and ricotta.

Hell, I'd like that combo no matter what the dated woman's name was on it.

A large spinach salad with bacon and eggs tided us over and suddenly there was a clown called Vulgar standing in front of the room and removing his clothing.

You know, because that's what clowns do before "Clerks," it turns out.

By the time he was down to a vest, short shorts and fishnets, the reading was beginning.

He returned periodically to hold up signs setting the scenes ("catharsis," "denouement" and the like) and make some absurd commentary like, "Rage against the machine, bitches!"

It was laugh-out-loud funny coming from a man with a clown smile painted on his face.

As a first-timer, I had no reference point for the original, but I found lots to laugh about.

This group of comedians was acting their way through this 1994 script (when, I'm guessing, most of them were still in elementary school) like hilarious pros.

I was surprised to see a non-comedian friend in the production, although he's an actor (albeit one who'd stepped in at the eleventh hour) so last-minute line learning was well within his capabilities.

He played multiple characters, including one as a customer who reacted to hearing how many times clerk Dante's girlfriend had orally pleasured other guys.

"Thirty seven!" Dante tells him.

"In a row?" he asks incredulously. The room roared.

After our Karen pizza, we indulged in a brownie sundae while watching the travails of the mid-90s lifestyle in Jersey.

Not far into the reading, I realized that a lot of the people sitting around us were saying every line out loud.

Every line.

Things like, "Aside from the cheating, we were a perfect couple" and the recurring "Bunch of savages in this town."

Listening to the slacker jargon of a generation, I realized that I was seeing "Clerks" in a perfectly appropriate way: low key, D.I.Y and in a roomful of people who loved it.

Considering these were non-actors except for one, they did a surprisingly good job of pulling off the reading.

Dante was suitably passive, Randall's smarminess was a thing of beauty and the drug dealer Jay was so over the top cliched and funny as to be an act unto himself.

But credit goes to the entire ensemble because for a story that takes place entirely in a small store, it never lagged for a minute.

And at the end of the evening,  $200 had been raised for Fan Free Clinic.

But more importantly, much more importantly, I'd finally added "Clerks" to my cultural touchstones, although, granted, nearly two decades late.

"I'm not even supposed to be here today!" Dante laments over and over.

Got it. Finally.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Only Weakness

Everybody has a story. It's that simple.

Tonight's story began at UR for the screening of  "To Render a Life: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the Documentary Vision."

It was being shown as a tie-in to the "The Social Lens: Photographs by Dorothea Lange and Her Contemporaries" exhibit which I'd already seen.

When I walked in and took a seat, I was immediately invited to move closer to two other attendees, so I did.

Hell, if strangers want me to sit closer to them, I'm happy to.

The woman's face looked familiar, so I used a few well-placed inquiries to find out why.

Turns out she's lived here nine years, is on the board of Firehouse Theater so I had no doubt seen her at performances.

One story down and the movie hadn't even started.

The film's purpose was two-fold: to consider the classic 1941 book "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" by James Agee and Walker Evans and to document a present day family living in rural poverty.

So in 1988, filmmaker Ross Spears spent three years documenting a family living in abject poverty just twenty miles south of Charlottesville.

Using excerpts read from Agee's book, he set the scene.

We see a Harvard class hearing a lecture about the wonders of the book (and since this was 1988, none of the students texted or looked at their phones) from a teacher whose class is at capacity every year.

We see the Washington Post's book critic, Jonathan Yardley, talk about why he doesn't like the book.

Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the New York Times, talks about its significance.

But the heart of the film comes from the three years the filmmaker spent with an extremely poor family documenting their lives from 1988 to 1991 and interspersed with readings from Agee's book about the poor rural families he and Walker Evans documented back in the 1930s.

Evans' intent as a photographer was always to stay invisible and Spears does the same.

With a voice reading from the book about the distinct smell of poor, white Southern houses, the camera glides over shots of roaches and flies on food and furniture.

It's disturbing and it's factual.

As one social documentary photographer says during the movie, "Taking pictures of suffering is a way to scream."

The film could have been construed as one long scream.

The family followed in the film lives off of one part-time income with no running water or indoor plumbing (and this is 1988).

Except for the father who did a lot of manual labor, they're all overweight, some approaching morbid obesity.

Both the husband and wife have missing teeth and she's only 48 and he's 55.

Their faces look so much older, clearly a result of a hard life.

But like the social documentarians of the '30s, this is what people look like when they live these lives.

And I'm betting that to the students in the room, 1980s poverty was as obscure to them as 1930s poverty.

After the film, the director spoke and took questions.

Ross Spears admitted that he'd grown close to the family he'd filmed and gave us updates about them today.

One woman said, "Thank you so much for this film. I wish everyone I know could see it."

I've no doubt that that was the same feeling expressed by people who saw the 1930s photographs of people scraping through the Depression.

When asked how difficult it had been to get the family to agree to the long-term shooting schedule, Spears was clear.

"Everyone has a story to tell," he said, "And they want to share it. Social documentarians are fortunate enough to be there when it happens."

Satisfied that I had what it takes to make note of what's happening, I left the labyrinthine UR campus for Church Hill.

Despite the later hour, The Roosevelt was hopping when I arrived but a kind soul let me take the one empty bar stool next to him.

Bartender T. offered up some Gabrielle Rause Vin de Gris, but I let the rainy weather dictate a red, opting for White Hall cabernet franc.

The guy on the stool next to me turned out to be a childhood friend of the kitchen brotherhood, so one of them introduced us and I now had company.

When his pork shank with buttermilk spaetzle in a mustard sauce arrived, he was generous enough to share a bite.

Since when do I take pig from a virtual stranger? Since, I don't know, always?

Next he offered up a bite of his flap steak with cheddar bacon mashed potatoes and housemade A-1 sauce, which I was just as happy to avail myself of.

Naturally when my beef shanks and gnocchi arrived, I offered him some, too.

In return, I asked him for his story, gleaning that he lives in Roanoke, was here on business and always has a good time when he's in Richmond.

While I was eating my cheeseburger (cheddar, bacon onion jam), a first for me at the Roosevelt, a guy a few seats down the bar caught my attention and began a conversation with me.

He, too, was drinking the White Hall, but unlike my Roanoke neighbor, he didn't offer me any of his food (tonight's special, the grilled tuna) because he'd already finished it.

A few well-placed questions and I knew he lived a couple of blocks away, hadn't been in the Roosevelt in months and came from upstate New York.

We chatted enthusiastically about how rental properties tie you to an area, the benefits of learning a trade (say, electrician) and how much there is to do culturally in Richmond.

In a comical moment, one of the sous chefs walked by saying, "Key lime pie, it's my only weakness."

I doubted that, questioned him and discovered that it's his only food weakness.

I overheard a guy saying he was going to the nearby market where they carry, "Head wraps, cigarettes, Dom Perignon and cell phones."'

Sounded like a hell of a market selection to me, but when asked, said I didn't need anything.

When he returned, he had a tale of seeing three, well, never mind, but he had a story.

Because everyone does and we all want to share ours.

You could say telling my story this way is my only weakness.

Okay, it's the only weakness I'm going to admit to tonight.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rock and Roll Will Never Die

I admit it, I'm one of those people who has little use for classic rock.

Maybe it's an age thing, but I have no interest in hearing songs I've been hearing for decades.

But I still wanted to see "Neil Young Journeys."

While I'm not a rabid Neil Young fan, I am a fan and I did see him many moons ago (okay, the '70s) as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

But on a Monday night at the Westhampton, there were few fans to be found.

Fact is, it was me and three middle-aged men.

There were so few of us that you could hear crickets chirping.

And I don't mean that metaphorically; there were clearly crickets in the theater.

The Jonathan Demme-directed documentary begins appropriately in "a town in north Ontario," much like Young did.

Driving around his hometown before the show, he points out the school named after his father.

Hilariously, he tells a story of where and how he blew up a turtle (firecracker in its butt), chuckling and saying, "So my environmental roots are not that deep."

It's the kind of low-key humor he uses throughout the film.

But there are sober moments, too, especially when he's shown singing "Ohio" and clips of the Kent State massacre are shown over him.

The footage of peacefully protesting and then terrified running college students is still deeply disturbing.

The shot ends with individual photographs of the four victims and their lifespans, much like tombstones.

It was touching that Young still makes a case for certain causes.

He seems so comfortable in his own skin, even for  66-year old who's smoked a lot of weed over a long period.

Following his brother to the site of their childhood house, he praises him. "My brother is driving the perfect speed, not too fast, not too slow. It's just beautiful."

I am also one of those people who appreciates a well-paced and not overly fast drive.

The scenes of him driving around his hometown before playing a show at Massey Hall are interspersed with scenes of his show that night.

It was just Young with no backing musicians but with plenty of instruments: multiple guitars, a piano and organ, not to mention our house crickets.

And his voice was in fine fettle; he hit every note on "After the Goldrush," pumping the organ in accompaniment and giving me chills for how much his voice resembled what I'd heard all those years ago.

While I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised at a magisterial version of the classic "I Believe in You," I think all of us were sure we'd hear "My My, Hey Hey" and we did.

Demme's camera angles were often interesting or odd (duh), giving us the bottom half of his grizzly face, his open mouth or peeking around instruments.

Because it had been so long since I'd seen Young live, the film was like an almost-concert, giving me the sense of having seen him again.

When he leaves the stage at the end of the show, he goes backstage where he sucks orange slices, gulps coffee and drinks part of a beer.

It wouldn't be my choice of post-show indulgence, but the man moves lithely and without any of the cumbersome effort of some people his age.

He encored with "Walk with Me" and the seminal "Helpless" before pulling the plug on his amp and walking offstage to thunderous applause.

Even the credits provided entertainment.

One said "Burgers and Fries provided by In-n-Out Burger."

Always credit your burgers.

A musical experience like that requires post-film conversation, so just after the rain surprised everyone on the streets, we ducked into Ipanema for wine and desert.

Normally I avoid the sausagefest at Ips on Monday night, preferring to let boys drink draughts with their own kind, but it worked out fine.

We got pear/blueberry pie a la mode and a bottle of Franco Serra 10 Dolcetto d'Alba at the far end of the bar.

The medium-bodied wine had light tannins, balanced acidity and a nose of red fruits, making it the ideal wine to transition us into slightly cooler weather.

But rather than finish it amongst the suds drinkers, the bottle followed us home to the porch and a view of the lightly falling rain.

A view, yes, but the sound of the rain was lost to crickets chirping.

Only Neil Young can compete with the sound of crickets on a September night.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Existential Dread Done Right

With classical music, it's important to set the tone.

So you can imagine my surprise upon walking into UR's Camp Concert Hall for a lecture on composer Philip Glass to hear Michael Jackson blaring from the speakers.

Don't stop till you get enough. Don't worry, I won't.

And if I was a tad surprised, I imagine the largely blue-hair audience was, too.

On the other hand, I was thrilled that UR is doing a Philip Glass festival that will include the man himself coming here.

Here.

Two members of eighth blackbird, UR's ensemble-in-residence, introduced the film, each saying as little as possible.

Minimalists musicians apparently are also minimalist talkers.

"Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts" begins with Glass' annual tradition of riding the Cyclone at Coney Island.

I have to think that that's a 75-year old man worth knowing more about.

The filmmaker followed Glass for over a year as he wrote a symphony, premiered an opera,  and scored a few films (we heard from Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese).

Hilariously, at one point Glass' phone rings and he glances at the caller ID. "Oh, it's Hollywood," he says, ignoring the call.

Not surprisingly, a man so talented is a challenge to live with and by the time the movie starts he is on his fourth wife.

"And then I came along," Holly Glass says of her arrival in his life after his having been "sad for years" over the death of his previous wife and soul mate.

Imagine how brave a woman would have to be to try marriage with a thrice-married man.

She's funny about his idiosyncrasies ("Philip keeps everything. He's kind of a hoarder") but also accepting of those realities ("I hope we never have a fire in this house").

After having seen paintings of Glass done by artist Chuck Close at the VMFA a couple of years ago and seeing Close speak at the museum, I got a kick out of seeing Close and Glass reminisce in this film.

They talked about NYC's amazing art scene back in the '60s and '70s, back when Glass was still playing house shows.

WTF?

I could barely wrap my head around the idea of seeing Glass play one of his minimalist compositions in someone's living room, but photographs proved it was so.

"Everyone was high, the audience and the musicians," we were told.

But so what?

At a performance in a park, a man came up and started banging on Glass' piano as he played, shouting "Stop, this is not music!"

The guy doing pianus interuptus was none other than a music teacher offended by the new sounds.

Not that Glass cared (actually he was amused). In fact he even told the camera that if people didn't like his music, they could listen to something else.

He said it cheerfully and sounding quite truthful.

And he never stopped doubting that his muse would arrive. "As you get older, you get confident it will come. But it doesn't come if you're not there waiting for it," he warned.

But he made it clear he did not want his muse arriving at night and interrupting his sleep.

The director of the film "The Thin Blue Line" nailed it when he said, "Philip does existential dread better than anyone."

Is there a higher post-modern compliment?

He had his own praise for one of his music teachers. "She took me from being a Julliard graduate to a composer."

I have no doubt it was her greatest accomplishment.

The documentary was fascinating as a look at a driven and talented man still vibrant at 70+ by a filmmaker with almost unlimited access to him and those close to him.

Sometimes even uncomfortably so, like when his wife teared up admitting how hard it was to put up with his absolute devotion to music and the different directions their lives were taking.

Not surprisingly, in the ladies' room after the film, I heard three women discussing whether or not he'd divorced wife #4 since the film was made.

"I'm going to Google it as soon as I get out of this bathroom," one woman said with determination.

Inquiring minds want to know.

And still looking quite good for an old guy, too, not all that different from the Close paintings done in 1969 when he was in college.

He admits that he has "a lot of music left in me, so I better take care of myself," but unlike a lot of men his age, he actually does it.

And even after seeing him being mortal, making pizza and playing with his toddlers, I had to acknowledge he wasn't like most of us.

"Music doesn't have to be imagined," he explained. "It just has to be written down. I just listen."

Wow. So it's all in there and he's just the vehicle.

As far as I was concerned, the only problem with the film was that Glass is a mumbler and at times it was difficult to decipher his words.

One couple walked out after the first five minutes and the couple in front of us kept asking each other, "What did he say?"

By the time it was over, I had a whole new appreciation for Glass and any woman brave enough to take him on.

Full of Glass love, we then faced the dilemma of where to eat on a Sunday early evening.

We ended up at Stuzzi where the a/c was inappropriately cold (necessitating seats near the pizza oven) and  where a football-watching group was just breaking up.

Given that factor and today's cooler weather, I betrayed summer and jumped ship for red wine, enjoying a Sangiovese's warming qualities.

We combined courses with a roasted mushroom, soprasetta salami and arugula pizza, downing the greens first.

I'm not a fan of red sauce, but occasionally I dip my toe in that pond and Stuzzi's red sauce of San Marzano tomatoes did the job tonight.

As we ate, a guy left his date alone at their table to come to the bar and ask that the Redskins game be put on.

My date and I discussed how that might have felt to his date, or whether she even cared.

Not that it was any of our business.

But after two hours of watching unlimited access to Philip Glass, I was still in full-on nosy mode.

And as far as relationships go, just as curious as the women in the bathroom about Glass' current marital status.

Although there's no way this existentialist could end up wanting to marry a four-time married man.

Seriously. No matter how much music is in him.

I'd Do Anything

When Plan A falls through, it's lucky that Plan B so easily takes its place.

My road trip plans with me playing fifth wheel to a favorite couple were replaced with an anniversary celebration at my neighborhood record store, Steady Sounds

To celebrate two years in the 'hood, they had scheduled bands and DJs playing until 8:00.

Somehow, by the time I made it over there to meet up with a girlfriend, it was almost 5.

Where does a beautiful sunny afternoon go?

Our intent had been to check out Steady Sounds' current art show by P.J. Sykes, friend and band photographer extraordinaire.

And it was impressive; there were photographs of the Love Language, Superchunk, Cloud Nothings and Daniel Johnston, among others.

There was even one of Win Butler at the Arcade Fire show in Charlottesville last summer where I'd run into P.J. and his cute wife on possibly the hottest night ever to see an outdoor show.

It made me happy to see that several had already been sold.

As someone who's bought two of P.J.'s photographs myself, I wasn't really surprised.

While we checked out P.J.'s show, we listened to a DJ playing covers of classics like "Starry Eyes" and "We Got the Beat" while an unknown band set up.

"I love that we don't know what we're about to hear," my friend enthused.

It turned out to be Buffalo's Lemuria, a band I hadn't seen since late 2009 at Gallery 5.

Their website is lemuriapop.com, if that tells you anything. And it should.

With a punk power pop sound augmented with dual vocalists of both sexes and unbridled enthusiasm, they played an energetic set that captured everyone in the room.

The band cites the Lemonheads and Superchunk as influences, so fans of '90s indie pop (okay, me and all the kids in the room born that decade) were bound to get off on them.

Both obvious fans (singing every word) and newbies (becoming fans as they heard them for the first time) had the store packed for their brief set.

We left afterwards for 821 Cafe and my favorite black bean nachos with a thrash soundtrack to accompany them.

Some things just don't need to be improved upon.

Everyone I knew was busy tonight, so instead of music, I opted for a last-minute movie.

And not just any movie, but a post-mumblecore film that went a long way toward redefining the cliched romantic comedy genre.

"Your Sister's Sister" had all the mumblecore characteristics - improvised dialogue, believable characters and limited budget - but so convincingly conveyed a sense of real life that it was easy to forget these were actors, not real people.

The story of a 30-something guy who didn't really have his life together but was willing to address his shortcomings for the sake of the right woman was at times funny but also poignant.

He didn't come to that realization until after he's had a one-night stand with her lesbian sister, so that complicated things a bit.

Naturally that transgression was brought on by, what else, too much tequila and I'm here to say that I think tequila gets a bum rap as the go-to bad spirit.

 Just for the record, some of us are quite capable of drinking it without making foolish errors in judgement.

But I digress.

I laughed far too loudly at a scene reminiscent of one from my own life (Leo, you know what I'm talking about) and felt the veracity of a relationship where people who've known each other for years haven't recognized their romantic potential.

But mostly it just felt like life, where witty dialogue and unfortunate things come out of the same mouths.

And best of all, it had a totally inconclusive ending that didn't explain a single thing.

Just like real life...or Plan B.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tell Me Something Good

It was long, but it was worth every minute of it.

First there was Eat ("We'll cook, you eat!"), the new concept that's taken over at Pescado's China Street.

We took seats at the bar during happy hour, scored some Chilean chardonnay from the witty and small-scale bartender and took our time with the witty and large-format menu.

There were so many intriguing sounding choices that it took a while, but we eventually settled on two.

PB & J was a take on panzanella with mixed greens, sliced red and green grapes, toasted brioche and Thai peanut vinaigrette.

It definitely delivered the requisite sweet and salty promised.

The Dog House was a Sausagecraft sausage on a Flour Garden bun, topped with caramelized onions, broccoli rabe, pickled mustard seed and roasted tomato aioli.

The broccoli rabe was a tad toothsome for eating on the sandwich and we were inclined to think its savory bitterness overpowered the sausage, so we removed it and ate it like a side (which it also is on the menu).

The remaining combination was outstanding, the sweet onions and the pungent mustard seeds ideal complements to the dog.

We barely finished that before beating feet to Strange Matter for Hoax Hunters' CD release show and lots of familiar faces.

The duo of Tyrannosaurus Awesome opened with their usual energetic guitar/drumming and non-stop aural assault.

In my next life, I'll be a drummer so I can have arms that well sculpted.

Hoax Hunters took the stage and thrashed that thrash they do so well.

Despite a recent cold, P.J.'s vocals sounded spot-on and, as  always, his on-stage persona is fierce and completely unlike his usual mild-mannered and droll photographer self.

By the end of their set, he'd knocked over his mic stand and was on the floor, but still playing.

That's thrash at its best.

I lost my date at that point but made my way to Balliceaux for the Hi-Steps.

Like everyone else, I had no idea who the Hi-Steps were, but I knew to expect old-school soul.

On arrival, I found a mob of P.Y.T.s mingling and trying to be seen at the front bar.

Eschewing that scene, I paid my cover and went to the back room where I found a slightly older and definitely more interesting crowd.

Turns out that the Hi-Steps is a group of RVA's best known jazz players led by saxophonist Jason Scott.

People like Cam Ralston on bass and Pinson Chanselle on drums.

At the bar to get a Cazadores, I ran into one of the band, trumpet player Bob Miller (Fight the Big Bull, Bio Ritmo) who looked even more dapper than usual in a pale blue polyester suit.

I learned later from his charming wife that she'd bought it for him as an Easter gift.

He had to have been the hit of the Easter parade in it.

But all of the band were sharp-dressed men: Cameron in his harlequin vest, Jason in his monochromatic dark blue, singer Brittany in a long skirt.

From Bob I learned that the group was planning to play a variety of soul music from obscure to hits and a lot in between.

Also that they had lost their singer a week ago and had to scramble.

The band hadn't been sure how many people might show up tonight.

"Well, you heard about it," Bob pointed out.

As I told him, when certain musicians send me an invitation, I pay attention.

Rising local superstar Matt White showed up to see his friends play, causing quite a stir.

When he said hello, I couldn't resist teasing him about his recent "Rolling Stone artists to watch" mention and inquire about Hopscotch, the festival he'd played last week.

I'd seen Prabir, he of the Goldrush, in the front room and he soon joined me in the back along with a girl (who still said things like "Life is so awesome!") and a record label guy from Jersey.

We were a motley crew.

During the band's first set, we heard classic soul music, and although none of the songs were familiar to me except one ("Ain't Too Proud to Beg"), they all had that smooth soul groove and people began to dance.

Jason had told the crowd that that was the idea.

With trumpet, trombone, sax, electric bass, keyboards, drums, guitar and a male and female singer, they had every component required for delivering R & B.

A DJ friend was particularly taken with their rendition of "Get Out of My Life, Woman" with its slower intensity.

Just before their last song, Prabir observed that they needed to tear it up before the break to ensure everyone stuck around for the second set.

"Second sets are the best," he said knowingly. "But it's time to give 'em the cheese plate."

The band played a high energy number that seemed likely to leave people wanting for more.

During the break, I spoke to Jason, the group's mastermind, who admitted that he'd gotten the idea when he saw how popular the soul DJ nights were.

Why not play the classic soul repertory live, he thought. "But I didn't know the music at all, so I went to Spotify and started looking for artists and songs, some I knew and some I didn't and picked from that."

And for their second set, they destroyed it.

Songs like "It's Your Thing," which had people dancing within the first few notes.

"Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher" and "Tired of Being Alone" were well received, but when that big old bass line began for "Tell Me something Good," Prabir and I about lost it.

There was the quintessential song of the evening for me.

The brass, having no part in it, began to dance in place, getting as funky as the dancers in front of them and bass player Cameron's head got a workout grooving along.

When I heard the band begin "Try a Little Tenderness," with its quiet intro, I turned to Prabir and said of the suddenly-chatting crowd, "They have no idea what's about to happen."

Grinning maniacally, he nodded. "No, they don't. It's gonna be awesome."

When the song finally broke open, the room exploded as people began dancing, flailing and shouting with the energy of the song.

After they did "Chain of Fools," I asked a bartender friend what he thought of the band.

"I couldn't see them at first and when I heard that singer, I thought she was an old black woman," he said. "When I finally saw she was a young white girl, I couldn't believe it! They're great."

Likewise, Charles Arthur on guitar and vocals had done a stellar job on the songs where he sang lead.

"This is our first show ever," Jason informed the crowd before their last song.

Judging by the amazing musicianship (they'd only had one rehearsal), ideal variety of known and unknown material and enthusiasm emanating from them, I'd say the Hi-Steps are going to be the big must-see act this fall.

Think about it.

Live soul music performed by some of the top musicians in town.

Mad energy for nearly three straight hours.

I'd suggest you wear your dancing shoes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

They Don't Know How Far We'll Go

It's not just about the art, it's also about the improvement in the scenery.

Every day I cross Broad and Belvidere and, no question, the southwest corner is underwhelming.

Surface parking lot, architecturally unimpressive apartment building, shabby Chinese take-out.

Translation: I am completely stoked for VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art to take over that corner.

And while anyone with any interest at all has already seen the rendering of what it will look like, tonight I got a more in-depth peek at what's to come.

Opening at the Virginia Center for Architecture was "Steven Holl Architects: Forking Time."

For the uninitiated, Holl is the creative force behind the design of the ICA.

On display were a row of watercolor sketches of the new 38,000 square foot building and a series of study models of it, all explorations of the architect's design journey.

It's an enlightening exhibit for the insight it gives into the creative process over time.

Words are scribbled on the sketches, showing the thought process as things were worked out.

I learned that there will a double front to the ICA, one on the B & B corner and one from the sculpture garden.

Guess which one this visitor intends to use.

You got it; I'll be making my entrance through the garden and (wait for it) "thinking field."

How wonderful is that?

Sure, there are other stand-out features: a reflecting pond of recycled water, a cafe, a 243-seat performance space and four "forking" galleries, each with a different feel and focus for the ever-changing exhibitions of the new.

Simply put, the ICA will capture the energy of contemporary art.

And, as arts dean Joe Seipel said at the opening tonight, "It'll be an incubator for new art."

Almost as importantly, this Jackson Ward resident will get to walk by it every single day on her daily constitutional.

I can hardly wait for 2015.

Once I finished dreaming about the future, I went off to the National for some dream pop, courtesy of Baltimore's Beach House.

And if you don't know what I mean by that, consider this exchange between two Facebook friends.

Him: If anyone needs two Beach House tickets for tonight, let me know.
Her: Don't tempt me. I need sleeeep.
Him: Beach House is LIKE sleep.

Humor aside, I prefer to think of them as melancholy songs with woozy keyboards and insistent drumming, a sound of which I'm very fond.

I'd seen them as openers back in 2007 and must have liked what I heard because I can't even remember the headliner.

Then I'd had a ticket to see them back in May in Charlottesville and hadn't gone, so I was owed a night of Beach House.

Tonight I collected.

The most surprising part of the evening was only seeing two people I knew (one of whom hadn't been to the National since I took him to see Dashboard Confessional back in December 2010!) and both only near the end.

The opener was Dustin Wong, a guy with a guitar and lots of pedals.

"This is my first show playing with Beach House," he said. "It's a real honor to be here."

His endless looping of various guitar sounds brought to mind my friend Dave Watkins, who plays dulcitar and loops in a similar fashion.

Coincidentally, Dave was playing a show tonight, too and while Dustin was good, he's no Dave Watkins, if you know what I mean.

And if you've ever seen Dave create layers of sound, you do know.

I watched the crowd slowly won over by Dustin as they became intrigued by so much sound coming from one guy.

A long break followed but I held my ground in front of the sound booth for the main event.

When Beach House arrived onstage, it was with little talking.

As a trio, they were lined up at the front of the stage.

It was great to have the drummer especially so close to the crowd since that's usually the musician relegated to the back.

The band did a lot of alternating of their most recent  album "Bloom" and their defining previous album "Teen Dream."

The crowd greeted the second song "Norway" with a roar.

Singer Victoria's voice sounded even more languid than it had on the original.

Just a few songs in and two things were apparent: there wasn't going to be any direct light on the band and there wasn't going to be much between-song chatter.

Everyone in the room seemed willing to accept both.

Victoria was playing her keyboards in the center of the stage and often bending forward to do so, leaving her long hair to trail the keys.

In a burst of unexpected connection, she asked, "How is everyone doing? This is our first time in Richmond. And that's the end of my story."

No attention hog, that one.

She had unusually expressive hand gestures; if one or both hands weren't involved playing, she was making dramatic gestures with them as she sang.

Stevie Nicks would have been proud.

Their last song, "Take Care," had every couple in the room in full-on sway and/or kissing mode.

Stand beside it, we can't hide the way it makes us glow
It's no good unless it grows
Feel this burning love of mine

Once they left the stage, the crowd clapped insistently for a longer than usual time until they returned.

"10 Mile Stereo" put everyone over the edge with its galloping intensity and hopeful lyrics.

The heart is a stone
And this is a stone that we throw
Put your hand on this stone
It's the stone of a home you'll know
They say we will go far
But they don't know how far we'll go

"Thank you for everything," the succinct Victoria said afterwards.

For their last song, the lights finally focused onstage so we could see Victoria and her band mates end our evening together.

It was only while playing her keyboard ferociously then that Victoria dropped her head and began twirling that long mane of hair in a big circle.

Mad audience reaction and then, boom, it was over.

Hard to believe anyone thinks that's like sleep.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't Cry Over Spilled Wine

Sometimes childhood dreams do come true.

I have no doubt that at some point a sweets-lover like me wished for a dinner of all desserts.

Surprise, surprise, tonight it finally happened.

The place was Amour Wine Bistro for a five course dessert and wine pairing menu created by Amour's chef Rob Hamlin and Veronica Perez of Petites Bouches, the source of RVA's best macaroons..

How over the top does that sound?

We took our assigned seats and soon met the couple who would be our dinner partners for the evening.

Our server offered us a Kir Royale, but we declined.

The guy at the table next to us did the same, putting it succinctly, "No, I can't. Last time I had five courses here, I left toasty."

Yea, that.

And then we began the slow ascent from savory to sweet.

The first course was a pear soup with goat cheese fritters and a Normandie Cidre Bouche de cru "Duche de Longueville."

Owner Paul clarified that this was not cider for kiddies, saying, "Of course it has alcohol. Everything in France has alcohol."

I'd had the cider before (for brunch with a crab crepe) but never had it in the traditional presentation of a stoneware mug, which did make a difference.

The soup was thick and fruity and everyone was understandably enamored of the fried goat cheese fritters.

Next came a fois gras creme brulee, easily the most unique dish of the meal.

It was served with an Alsace Gewurztraminer "Pierre Sparr 2008," a spicy wine that paired beautifully with the richness of the foie gras.

After a course involving liver, we naturally needed a palate cleanser.

Faux vanilla parfait with chocolate sauce looked the part in a skinny cordial glass but was really Parmesan whipped cream with a balsamic reduction.

It definitely quieted the room as everyone tried to figure out what it was.

The prize for largest dessert of the evening went to a vanilla tart facon Pierre Herme, a decadent disc of vanilla-infused mascarpone atop vanilla and rum-soaked ladyfingers and finished with a white chocolate glaze.

The mascarpone was so exquisitely flavored that it didn't even require something underneath although the ladyfingers were a big hit with the men at the table.

Given its size, we took our time eating it with a white Vouvray Moelleux "Le Margalleau" 2009, a late harvest gem with a delicate sweetness.

By this time, the full restaurant was well-lubricated and snippets of conversation began drifting our way.

My vote for the funniest goes to the table behind us, where I heard, "It was a lot like Barcode, but not as tragic."

I immediately knew exactly what he meant.

We had another palate cleanser, this time a Sauternes sorbet and an extremely creative way to combine dessert and drinking.

Passion fruit mille feuilles was a take-off on the classic mille feuilles dessert.

A passion fruit cream was layered between puff pastry and accompanied by mango jellies.

We savored its tangy flavors with a sweet Muscat de Rivesaltes "Chateau de Caladroy" 2010.

The menu had been vague about the last course, other than to say it would be "something impressive for the eye and taste buds."

If that sounds grandiose, it was also spot on.

A parfait glass came looking like a piece of modern sculpture.

At the bottom were Barona chocolate pearls.

Halfway up the glass was a Valrhona cocoa-dusted housemade marshmallow with a chocolate-coated pretzel twig speared  through it for easier retrieval.

Further up was a disc of hardened chocolate the exact width of the glass.

On top of that  was raspberry puree (which was released when we broke the disc) and whipped cream.

It was the dessert that elicited the most oohs and ahhs.

With it we drank Beaujolais Villages "Joseph Drouhin" 2009, a dry, refined and silky red perfect for the chocolate we were inhaling.

By this point in the evening, no one was feeling any pain and we heard a crash as someone lost control of his wine glass.

Did the clumsy/inebriated one break stride eating his chocolate?

He did not.

As he continued his assault on it, the person across the table from him reached over and began sopping up the spilled wine while the spiller continued eating.

Did anyone fault him for this?

We did not.

When you finally get your youthful wish for five courses of dessert, what's a little spillage?

Childhood dreams can come true
It can happen to you

Let me warn you, though, you'll be in a food coma afterwards.

But once you can move again, you'll know.

It will have been well worth it.