Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slowdancing to "Don't Dream, It's Over"

The perks of having a long-time girlfriend is that no matter how long it's been, you just pick up where you left off.

So after many weeks apart, we met up at Bistro 27 to do what girlfriends do.

Namely, talk about boys.

We talked about the ones we know now, the ones we knew way back when and the ones in between.

We talked about the early stages of love, frequency of compliments and the importance of shared interests.

It'd probably have made a good Oprah episode.

I got there first and was slurping Tempranillo and munching 3-minute calamari when she arrived to join me.

We were both a little surprised at how quiet the restaurant was tonight, assuming that everyone else wanted to get out as badly as we did.

Because she's an artist, I could happily bore her with tales of all the Italian art I'd seen and hope that she not only knew what I was talking about, but thought it sounded fascinating rather than endless and boring.

She did.

We shared bacon-wrapped scallops over butter-cooked lentils and tried to move off-topic to discuss the Vermeer show I'd seen, but that led us back to a boy she'd once dated who channeled Vermeer.

It really was all about boys tonight.

Chocolate mousse effectively ended our evening as she headed home to her husband and I set out for Movieland.

VCU Cinematheque is on hiatus for the next few weeks, but I was missing my usual Tuesday night film fix.

And while I didn't get an obscure foreign film, I did get a well-acted, well-written coming of age story set in the early '90s.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" managed to be warmly evocative of a period most of us would just as soon forget while also bringing in some incredibly dark issues.

At one point, our hero Charlie says that his best friend shot himself last May.

A guy in my row immediately said, "Well, that's not funny."

But the movie wasn't a funny take on high school, it was a more realistic one.

As a major bonus, it had a strong musical component.

And while there were some musical cliches (Bowie's "Heroes" which none of the characters knew) there were some less obvious choices, too.

Like Cocteau Twins' "Pearly Dew Drops Drops." The Smiths' "Asleep."

There was even musical humor, like when they're at a dance and "Come On, Irene" comes on and the girl says, "Oh my god, they're playing good music," and grabs a guy to dance madly to it with.

Did we really think that song was good in the early '90s? I don't remember that.

There was a character named "Ponytail Derek" who made his girlfriend mixtapes ("He makes me one every week!" she said in boredom) with hand-painted front covers.

I have received many mixtapes from many boys in my life, but not one ever had a hand-painted cover on it.

But then, I was a wallflower.

One of the characters even made a mix of big love ballads, with awful songs like Air Supply's "All Out of Love" and I know for sure no one liked that song ten minutes after it came out, much less ten years.

Because the movie came from a book and the author also wrote the screenplay, the result was a story that kept to the simple truths of the book rather than the overblown machinations of Hollywood.

Why doesn't our hero come right out and admit his feelings to her?

 "I've been making her mixtapes so she'll know how I feel."

Ah, youth, when boys made girls mixtapes to tell them how they felt.

Why do nice people pick the wrong people to date?

"Because we accept the love we think we deserve."

And because when his unrequited love gives the budding writer a typewriter, she has typed the words, "Write about us."

"I will," he types back.

What could be more romantic than that?

Be still my heart.

I may be long past high school, but never past the euphoria of possibility.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Get a Kick Out of You

 It wasn't only me who found new ways to be efficient this storm day.

Facebook was rife with people touting their bubbling pots of chili, their lentil soups, their clean houses, their full wine cellars.

Better still was the one spending his day listening to Debussy. Another was on her way to a hurricane hot tub gathering. One even extolled the thrill of an afternoon spent reading a book.

Me, I played it closer to the vest.

I slept in till 11. I finished an assignment due Thursday. I rearranged some furniture and pictures.

But the perfect storm had found me in need of a couple of basics- milk and toilet paper (and not to stockpile but to use immediately) - so I went to the grocery store for supplies.

It wasn't a madhouse, no one was rude and I was in and out in short order.

Cruising through the Fan, I saw that the expected stalwarts were open.

Starlite. Bamboo. Three Monkeys..

No doubt they'll make bank tonight.

But as the afternoon wore on and status after status told me that practically every regular restaurant would be closed, I wised up.

Call me cliched, but I made a batch of chili.

As it was simmering, I saw the good news.

Belmont Food Shop was going to be open tonight.

It wasn't close enough to walk, but it was open.

Score.

When we rolled up, we saw only one person at the bar.

He turned out to be a neighborhood dweller and seemed happy for the company.

We got our drink on with Skeleton Blauer Zweigelt because it's always nice to have a good Austrian wine when a monster storm is parked overhead.

The music was just as perfect as our first time, coming in circa the '20s and '30s.

We were just there to snack and talk to strangers, so we began with mushroom soup with tamarind and tarragon, good but overpriced.

The standout was the smoked bluefish dip with apples, celery root, tarragon and housemade crackers.

Lumps of the creamy dip dotted the plate with bitter and spicy micro-greens in the center to balance the dish's sweetness.

Our new best friend was full of anecdotes and attempts to connect.

He told of seeing lightening arc 50' in the air and make the hair on his arms stand up despite being a considerable distance away.

We heard about weapons testing at Dahlgren but he wouldn't provide details due to security reasons.

He said that he'd been a musician back in the '70s when there were 400 venues for music in Richmond.

400 and then boom! Half of them closed, he said.

He might have also mentioned how he doesn't get out much anymore and spends all his time home alone watching TV.

Oh, he was a character, all right.

And when you run into someone like that, you know you could sit there on a stormy, rainy night and talk about nothing and everything with a stranger all night long.

It doesn't have quite the same ring as a hurricane hot tub party, but no one was inviting me to one of those.

Besides, I had my own storm day obligations.

That chili wasn't going to eat itself.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Freckle on the Nose of Life's Complexion

For those not afraid of going out tonight, the message was clear.

Come in out of the mist and sing show tunes, the wind seemed to whistle.

Of course the only wind that would whistle such a thing is the one coming from Richmond Triangle Players for the Ghost Light Afterparty.

No surprise, it was a costumed event.

And while I'm not particularly the costume type, I made an exception and costumed my leg.

Others were far more creative.

Along with green hair and appalling make-up, host Matt Shofner wore a black leather mini-dress studded with squares of glass, claiming that they were from the mirror ball at Stonewall's in New York.

"I got it for my Lady Gaga show in New York," he explained as if there could be no other reason for having such a dress, but after a few drinks referred to himself as "a lipstick lesbian vampire something."

He was something alright, but his wasn't the only standout.

No, at this party were the unlikeliest of guests: Anne Frank and Hitler, two gods of wine, Carmen Miranda, Twiggy.

Starting the show, he pooh-poohed the impending hurricane, saying, "Allow me to introduce you to the real Sandy, our Hurricane Sandy," meaning the very talented accompanist Sandy, tonight wearing a fetching witch hat.

Matt referred to the impending weather event as "The Mist" as he moved around the stage, made spooky with candles, skulls, decapitated dolls and sculpture offering up human sacrifice.

Yep, just another night at the GLAP.

And by the second song, co-host Maggie Roop was doing interpretive dance, so it was another good night at the GLAP.

Things got rolling in the holiday spirit with the "Adams Family Theme" done with much audience singalong and finger snapping.

But the tone of the evening was defined by a Lady Gaga song that immediately had almost everyone singing and before long dancing.

The Scream Queens (currently performing at Pine Camp Cultural Center) sang a song before taking audience volunteers for a screaming contest, which went to a scream-off before a winner was chosen.

It's not often you get to hear people do their full-on bloodcurdling scream five feet in front of your face.

After another song, they screened their reel, "Full Moon Slumber Party" and you can probably guess that it didn't end well.

But it was the first time I'd seen film at the GLAP.

Matt sang "Sugar Daddy" while passing the hat for tips for Sandy, acknowledging afterwards, "Okay, we've done more tragic things than that at GLAP."

The man speaks the truth.

Annie got up to sing "I Can Do Better Than That" and her fine performance had the benefit of two pianists as Ben joined Sandy to "noodle around" on the high end.

Noodling is all but guaranteed at GLAP.

When Louise got up to perform in her Civil War-reproduction dress (it looked like something Scarlett O'Hara had worn, although she said it had been her grandmother's), Maggie announced  that, "Louise is going to grace our stage with a monologue."

To be more precise, she graced the stage with a story about the maggots that had climbed up her father's dog's butt and how her Dad meticulously stuck his fingers up the dog's butt to retrieve them all.

"And the dog lived longer than my Dad. Now that's love."

Our second monologue (maybe the Mist had people wanting to wax poetic?) came courtesy of Bill, who said he would do an impression of a one-armed blind man counting change.

Let's just say the wordless punchline involved him unzipping his pants so something other than his fingers could feel the money.

Some people felt it was the highlight of the evening.

Maury replicated the first song he'd sung in a 3rd grade production of "H.M.S. Pinafore" a capella.

It was "Buttercup" and he had to shout down some friends, yelling, "Shut up!" to allow him to put his game face on.

Around the time the pizza arrived, the costume contest began.

The six finalists were Jessica Rabbit (who won Best Butt), Hitler and Anne Frank (Most Offensive), Carmen Miranda (Best Work with a Banana, hilarious because judge Deejay chastely kissed her in congratulations and she bent him over like a twig and sucked half his face off), the Black Swan ballerina (Scariest), the hipster Ariel (wearing a sign that said, "I got legs so I could wear skinny jeans") and the he and she Bacchuses (the female noted, "I made my costume out of my kitchen centerpiece") who won for Best Overall Costume.

How could I compete when I'd only costumed one leg?

I always enjoy evening-appropriate lyrics, as when Katie sang "Don't Rain on My Parade," changing the words to, "Hey, Mr, Shofner, here I am!"

Nicky Arnstein would understand.

Elizabeth did a song from "Peter Pan" while dancers danced, tambourines were shaken and pom-poms fell off shoes.

Suddenly Matt was back on stage, only now he was framed between panels and wearing a black bra and tan pants.

It was a different look, I'll give him that.

As he approached center stage, accompanist Sandy casually raised her shirt and flashed him her black bra.

I'd have done the same and shown off mine except the lights weren't on me.

There's always a Mad Lib or two at GLAP and when it came time to hear the filthy lyrics, Matt demanded some help, saying, "I need someone with some goodass rhythm."

The Mad Lib had been set to a song Matt considers incredibly creepy ("Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega) and the audience helped out immeasurably on the do-do--do-do-do-do-do dos.

After wards, someone yelled, "I love how Romney was a dirty word twice!"

Lady Gaga took over again when Micheal (in a black bustier, fishnets and blond wig) sang "Bad Romance" and the dancing began for real.

When Maggie introduced Nick, who just last night had been Horatio in "Hamlet," she said that, "He gets the award for looking the most riff-raffish."

He got everyone's attention with Lennon's "Watching the Wheels"  or maybe it was his fake full sleeves of ink.

Just when I thought the night couldn't get any better, Evan (wearing a sign that said "Gangsta Parking Only") got onstage and said he was dedicating his song to me because he'd promised and never done it when I was there.

That's when I knew it was Britney time.

Despite urban legend that this was how the GLAPs used to end, with Evan doing Brit, I'd yet to see it.

Tonight, the Mist opened up and Evan did "Hit Me Baby One More Time" as the audience relived their childhoods singing and dancing along.

It was the GLAP climax I had been yearning for.

I almost wanted a cigarette when it was over.

Afterwards, Evan told me that he'd intended to wear a Catholic girl's school uniform, a la Britney, but hadn't had time to pull it together.

As far as I was concerned, the song had been plenty.

As thanks, I offered up my costumed leg, knowing he'd get it immediately.

I needed him to give me a sign.

"Malvolio!" he exclaimed. "Cross garter yellow stockings!"

Honestly, I don't know what was more satisfying, finally hearing the ultimate GLAP closer or having my costume instantly recognized.

If I'm going to dress up my leg for Halloween, there's only one place I can go and know that people will get it.

The Mist. GLAP. Halloween.

Better than a bad romance and with way more rhythm.

You just have to get past the maggots.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

With Witchcraft of His Wits

You gotta want it.

But if you do want it, you'll stand in line for an hour plus to get a ticket (having learned my lesson the first year when I got four people from the box office only to have them run out of tickets).

You'll grab slices of pizza from Tarrant's and eat them as you walk back, tickets in hand, to claim your seats and listen to the pre-show music.

And if you want it, you'll devote four hours of your Saturday night to seeing it.

And that's when you'll know you're a Bootleg Shakespeare groupie.

Tonight was my fourth attempt and my third success.

And I did it all for Hamlet.

Henley Street's annual ode to the Bard always has the potential to be a major mess, yet never is.

A month in advance, all the actors get their parts and scrips, which they study but don't rehearse.

They come up with their own costumes and props, but still no rehearsal.

On the day of the show (beginning at an ungodly 7 a.m., an hour most of them surely never see), they spend the day blocking but not going through lines.

So what the audience sees is as fresh as what the actors experience.

It's a recipe for disaster that inevitably proves the acting talent in this town with enough hilarity and inside jokes interspersed to keep everyone on their toes, both cast and crowd.

This year, it was at Virginia Rep (terribly convenient for me, a mere five blocks from home) instead of Barksdale, meaning way more seats available.

The evening began with an announcement from Henley Street's Jacqie O, who enthused from the stage, "This year we turned no one away!"

That's what a fan wants to hear.

After a giveaway of a mug, two tickets to Henley Street's next production and a small ham  (a "hamlet," get it?), we were informed that the only rule of Bootleg Shakespeare is no bad words.

Naturally the onstage band begins by doing Radiohead's "Creep" and singing the lyric, "You're so f*cking special" just to clarify that f*ck is not a bad word.

Or, more likely, to demonstrate the attitude of a bootleg performance.

This "Hamlet" was done '90s-style, with disaffected youth, video games and the Pixies.

Let's just say that Hamlet wore a Pogues t-shirt. Gertrude wore a pink suit, pillbox hat and white gloves. Poloniuswore a "Sticky Fingers" t-shirt.

Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence.

Henley Street's artistic director James Ricks (his hair dyed blond) played Hamlet in all his melancholy glory, whether stomping the stage in anger at his father's death or giving Ophelia the kiss-off speech.

At a bootleg show, actors often need to call for their lines (not having had any rehearsal) and it inevitably results in hysterical moments.

Tonight, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, clad in trench coats and while picking up and moving each other, began calling for theirs, to great comic effect.

At one point, one ad-libbed, "We were supposed to bring a piece of paper and we didn't" to much laughter.

Polonius appeared immediately after they left the stage, noting, "This business is well ended." Major applause.

He took me by the wrist and held me hard.

Another very funny scene came after Gertrude and Claudius had been informed that, "Your noble son is mad."

Cue Hamlet in an untied red robe wearing goggles and swatting at the air. Passing by Gertrude, he casually says, "Hi, Mom!"

Soon after he's stuffing an entire banana in his mouth until he's unable to answer questions.

This is the very ecstasy of love.

Bootleg always uses modern touches to further the humor as when Polonius asks, "What do you read, my lord?" and Hamlet responds "Slanders, sir," holding up a copy of "Newsweek."

When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern set out to do the king's bidding and see what's up with Hamlet, the three end up sitting on the edge of the stage smoking weed and playing video games

Hey, it was the '90s.

There is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to color.

Opehlia's descent into madness was well played by Audra Honaker who ends up looking like a cake-top decoration in full-skirted yellow tulle dress with pink belt and crazy eyes.

When it came time for Hamlet's seminal speech, Ricks cracked wise, saying, "To be...line!"

He then exhorted the audience to read that speech with him and we did, first all together, then the women and then the men (giving a far inferior reading, I might add).

Midway through that, Jacqie O. ran onstage in socks, pointing at her watch to move things along.

Soon after, when Hamlet decides to stage a play to show his uncle's guilt, he inquires about Polonius' acting experience.

Frank Creasy brilliantly did his line with one minor addition, "I did, I played Julius Caesar," and then stepping forward and raising his eyebrows, he continued, "Coming this season to Henley Street Theater."

When the play within a play is being shown, an actor sits in a director's chair clearly labeled "Billy Christoper" no doubt a joke about the local director.

The first act ended with the Pixies and the second act began with Ce-Lo's "Crazy," neither '90s songs yet both worked.

The first scene began while "Crazy" was still being sung with Hamlet shaving his own head.

There's a moment we won't soon forget.

During the gravedigger's scene as he pulls up skulls, one is wearing a red clown's nose and Hamlet notes, "I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest."

Playing in the background for this scene was Blood, Sweat and Tears' "And When I Die." Brilliant.

One thing very obvious this year was how infrequently actors called for lines compared to past years.

There's no value judgment to that statement because either way works for the audience.

But late in the play when John Mincks was playing a priest, he called for his line. When he clearly didn't remember, the prompter gave him more of it, eventually all of it.

"What she said," Mincks said in lieu of those lines and the audience roared.

No question that best costume went to Phil Crosby in the role of Osric.

He wore a splendid red velvet jacket, a bad wig and a foppish hat that only added to his very mannered line delivery.

He was a hoot.

But because something was rotten in Denmark, we had to end with a big fight scene, albeit one using foam noodles and plastic swords.

At the end of the evening some three and a half hours later, the audience gave a standing ovation for the brave people who'd given us our annual dose of bootleg.

People like Deejay Gray who stepped in at the last minute and had only 24 hours to learn his lines.

Even so, I'd have to say that he played a queen brilliantly.

Likewise, when he and John Mincks played sailors, the camp was off the charts.

And naturally there was the big finish with local legend Scott Wichmann coming out in sunglasses and looking buff in fatigues to play Fortinbras at the end.

The Bard said it best and all I can add is "amen."

What a piece of work is man.

Okay, I can add something else to that.

What a piece of work is man and woman...never more so than when combined to give us Bootleg Shakespeare.

Ay, there's the rub. I gotta have it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Carry On

Snapshot of a Saturday morning on Grace Street.

A sign on the door of Qdoba says, "Please remove your mask before entering thanks!" a nod to the impending holiday, if not to punctuation.

In the window of  Rumors Boutique are costumes, everything from a McDonald's employee to a German beer wench.

Sandbags wrapped in plastic encircle the entrances to the Grace Street Theater and the VCU Police station, a precaution for the impending storm.

I get a call from a storm nester asking for my beef stew recipe which she intends to make today, pre-storm.

A bike locked to a tree has its wire basket completely filled with fallen red and yellow leaves, a nod to the current season.

And yet I am wearing shorts on my walk, as I've been doing since last April.

"You still exercising every day?" one of the homeless men I see often asks of me as I cross Ryland and he heads to a church for a shower.

When I nod to him, he praises me. "Good for you!"

Near Lombardy, a woman shouts across teh street asking a neighbor if he's going to vote.

"A;ready did!" the student-looking guys yells. "Sent my absentee ballot in."

When I catch up to her on the corner, she doesn't waste time. "Good morning. Are you a registered voter?"

When I tell her I haven't missed voting in an election since I was 18, she beams.

Halloween, Sandy, the election and autumn. Worlds collide and Richmond carries on.

Good for me, indeed.

Now is Good

You can already feel it.

The town is going into pre-Sandy mode and hunkering down. It's hysterical.

By late afternoon, I was seeing pictures on Facebook of the long lines at Kroger.

Seriously, people?

Yes, the governor has already declared a state of emergency. And that's okay.

I, for one, learned back in 2003 pre-Isabel when a state of emergency was declared and we scoffed.

No, really, my friend and I sat at Avalon and dismissed the folly of declaring a SoE before the storm even got near land.

Twelve days later when I finally got my power back (seriously, twelve), I'd lost the ability to scoff.

So with Sandy bearing down, I know people are beginning to nest.

Sorry, just can't do it.

Instead, willing accomplice and I grabbed umbrellas and put foot in path to head to Mama J's for pre-Sandy soul food.

The line was out the door.

But, as is so often the case, we got seated immediately because we were willing to sit at the bar.

Meanwhile, people in line long before us continued to stand in the rain in hope of getting a table before the place closed.

Fools.

Our bartender was sunny and attentive and I immediately displaced a former coworker with a hug when I sat down, so life was good.

We began with tonight's soup, a trout chowder, thick and creamy and loaded with corn, potatoes and the unmistakable taste of trout.

No one but Mama J's would offer such a thing, I swear it.

Next came Mama J's famous seafood salad, a combination of elbow macaroni with shrimp and crab legs in a creamy dressing heavy on the Old Bay.

Let's just say it's justifiably famous (especially for three bucks).

While people lined up at the bar to make to-go orders (honestly, some of them were ordering enough to carry them through Sandy and the aftermath), we took our time, ordering fried chicken and cole slaw next.

"It'll take twenty minutes for that, " our bartender warned, a fact with which we had no problem.

We had nothing but time.

As we watched an incident unfold where the ownership of the last piece of rum cake was in question, we noticed that Mama's was down to only two kinds of cake.

Since they almost always have five varieties, it told us that it had been a busy day/week for soul food.

Eventually our fried chicken arrived, too hot to pick up but smelling too good to ignore.

Within minutes, we were pulling the pieces apart and savoring crispy skin and hot meat, all the while keeping an eye on the cake case.

When we'd cleared our plate, we qualified for dessert (just like with my Richmond grandmother) and had a choice of chocolate cake with either strawberry frosting or chocolate frosting.

My date opted for chocolate/chocolate, the signature cake of my youth, where our motto was, "You can never have too much chocolate."

It explains a lot, doesn't it?

Once we finished as much of the cake as we could (it had been a filling meal, after all), we felt obligated to vacate our stools so some of the teeming masses could sit in our stead.

It was an atmospheric walk home in the light rain, impending fog and warm air.

You could practically smell that there's a storm coming.

My date went to work and I called a friend who answered the phone with, "What? Are you bored?"

In short order, I was invited over for bubbles and an exchange of witticisms.

Not a bad offer for a Friday night.

Passing by the Kroger, I was reminded, not of the impending storm, but of the impending holiday as I saw two gringos standing out front.

Serapes, straw hats and cigarillos made the look.

Further on, I saw Super Girl snapping on her cape before getting into her SUV.

Ah, yes, the holiday of fantasy is almost upon us.

Costume-less, I made for my friend's house.

Like any good party, we all ended up in the kitchen, the back door wide open to the damp, warm air and smell of impending doom.

Our host graciously poured Mumm Napa Brut Rose, full of beautiful bubbles, a yeasty fragrance and a hint of strawberries.

Or, as the curly-haired one observed after her first sip, "Mmmm, I could drink this first thing in the morning every single day!"

Wouldn't that be a lovely life?

Between the interesting musical selections, stuff like new Keane, old Weepies, Nick Drake, and Captain Sensible, he who co-founded The Damned and went on to re-brand himself as an alt-pop singer.

And I liked his alt-pop, if I do say so myself.

And that's a good party when I discover a musician I hadn't known and get to hear it played at party volumes while sipping the prettiest of pink bubbles from a bottle with a label one guest described as "Like pink peau de soie."

When's the last time you were at a party and someone mentioned, much less knew what peau de soie was?

When's the last time a state of emergency was declared and I drank pink bubbles in anticipation?

When's the last time I got made fun of so badly that I almost rolled off the sofa laughing so hard?

Not recently enough.

To quote a doctor I once interviewed, "If not now, when?"

Friday, October 26, 2012

Walked and Debriefed

You say tomato, I say tomahto.

You could call it a girls' day out or you could call it a mutual debriefing.

It began with a mile and a half walk downtown to La Parisienne, during which the information sharing started in earnest.

She, with multiple visits to Italy under her belt, wanted to hear about my escapades in Italia.

In return, she had scads of information about what had been going on here in my absence.

Apparently despite some people's protestations to the contrary, life went on in Richmond while I was absent.

We passed a sign saying, "It's Friday! Hug a friend," so I did, right there on the sidewalk.

Arriving at the restaurant, we both agreed that the best part about it is that we never see anyone we know.

It's like having lunch in another city.

Granted, that's probably because there are plenty of suits and high-powered-looking types there and we're anything but.

Still, it feeds our fantasy that we've escaped.

Being women, we played good eater/bad eater roles, having salads (I did the Lyonnaise, also known as the bacon and bleu) with a side of their outstanding fries.

We compared impressions of Italy, important cultural conversations that women have.

Like what the hell is in the water to make a woman's hair (whether curly or straight) turn into straw while there?

And why do Italian women have an affinity for plain-sight bras of colorful hues?

And most importantly, the splendor of corner gelaterias and the importance of ordering Italian-style.

When it came time for the RVA scoop, she made sure I knew about the latest Twitter wars, which new places she'd tried and the trials of dealing with clueless types.

While she enjoyed a cappuccino, I had crepes with rum  and lemon juice, a light yet sweet ending to my meal.

Walking back up the hills the mile and a half home, we wandered block to block, the better to check out what you can't from a car.

There was Social Consignment with its lovely pink-upholstered chair, a new southern style restaurant advertising a half rack of ribs lunch special (who wouldn't need a nap after a lunch like that?) and checked out the progress on the upcoming Rappahannock River Oyster Company and Tarrant's renovations.

I care more about one than the other.

After a stop at the Hoppy Dog, we moseyed back to my place for another quarter hour of catch-up.

You say ketchup, I say catch up.

Four hours with a girlfriend is the best kind of Friday imaginable.

Music for Short People

You haven't lived until you've seen a Volvo played in a bakery.

Or perhaps it's just me who's impressed by such things.

I started with the opening of "Design 2012: A Retrospective of Winning Work" at the Virginia Center for Architecture.

It's an annual event and always a good opportunity to asses the state of architecture done by Virginia firms in the last year.

As always, the buildings are not limited to Virginia; there were winning buildings in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Montana and Florida.

But the ones that grab my attention inevitably are closer to home.

Like the Winkler Family Trust offices built at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.

The architects preserved the views across old town Alexandria and the waterfront.

Nice enough, but even better, the owner's motorcycle hangs in the office. Now that was a nice touch.

Closer to home at UR, the Carole Weinstein International Center was a handsome Gothic-esque (but not copycat Gothic) building with a magnificent globe-topped fountain at the center of the interior courtyard.

There was a house built on a wooded hill overlooking the Potomac in the footprint of where a (no doubt smaller) house had formerly stood.

The new house had a suspended pool (who knew there was such a thing?) and the jury credited the architects with having created a sense of place in the woods.

I'm particularly curious about the historic preservation winners because it's so easy to fail when making additions or renovations to historically significant buildings.

Garrett Hall at UVA was originally designed by architecture god Stanford White in 1908 with a hideous 1959 conversion that surely made Mr. Jefferson spin in his grave.

The latest renovation had surely put T.J. to rest peacefully again.

One of the most interesting winners was not local, but the conversation brought it home.

It was the Riverwide Barbecue Pavilion in Yellowstone Bend Park in Montana.

Created by local response to nearby "unsightly suburbs" (is there any other kind?), the long building had been placed in the landscape for shelter with long views to the river and mountains.

It even had sliding barn doors for protection from strong winds.

As I was admiring the concept, if not the remote location, an architect walked up to me and began discussing it.

"A barbecue pavilion," he exclaimed, "What a great idea! Buzz and Ned's ought to do that."

But surely not on the Boulevard, I countered.

"Oh, yes. Tear down that building and do this instead!" he enthused.

I'll mention it to Buzz next time I see him.

But barbecue wasn't in the cards tonight, Tio Pablo was.

We took places at the bar and listened as our affable server told us the taco specials.

When she mentioned "barbacoa," we inquired about what it was.

Putting her finger over lip like a mustache, she replied, "Lips, the fatty part."

Who could resist lips passing our lips?

Along with beef tongue (still my all-time fave) and fish (tonight mahi mahi), we got sides of cactus with tomatoes and onions and guacamole ("It's spicy!" we were warned).

The barbacoa did have a satisfying amount of fat and was simply done with onions, cilantro and lime juice.

The tongue tacos, we decided, must be ordered in twos from here on out because sharing one is insufficient.

Too stuffed for dessert, we left to head up the hill.

Our destination was the soon-to-be-opened Sub Rosa Bakery for music.

Music at an unopened bakery, you say.

Sure, why not?

Owner Evrim was busy making flatbread with three kinds of toppings (the pepper paste smelled amazing) as the crowd slowly wandered in.

Not sure that I'd see anyone I knew, I was happily surprised to run into the poet who usually goes to bed early, the poet I'd seen read just last week and the scientist acknowledging that he should have been at home working on tomorrow's lesson plan.

Playing first was Gull and he came over to say hello beforehand but all I could say was, where's your hair?

After years of shoulder-length locks, he was newly shorn and looking very handsome.

"It was just time," he grinned before stating another of his tour-de-force sets.

Until you've seen him play guitar, drum and sing simultaneously, you really can't call yourself a Richmonder.

It was hot in the bakery because Evrim had his wood-burning oven fired up steadily making flatbreads for the masses (sadly, we were too full), so after Gull's set we went outside to cool down.

Some people headed across the street to the Roosevelt for a libation, but we just parked ourselves on the stoop and embraced the cooler air.

But when we heard the sound of homemade instruments, we bounded up so as to get good vantage points.

Playing tonight were Brooklyn duo Buke and Gass, whose distinctive sound and DIY ethic had landed them on NPR's Top 50 albums for 2010, not to mention a Tiny Desk concert for them, too.

Their name comes from their instruments: a gass is a guitar with three guitar strings and three bass strings with pickups for both sets to the appropriate heavy-duty amps.

And as if that's not cool enough, the body is made from a 1960s Volvo, and has the dents in it to prove it.

A buke is a baritone ukulele with six strings, effectively a tiny guitar.

Then there's the toe-bourine and a kick drum with noisemakers.

The pedal boards were truly impressive and for the first few songs, they were all some people could look at, marveling.

All told, it's a lot of sound coming out of two people, Arone on vocals, buke and toe-bourine and Aron on back-up vocals, gass and drum.

After the first song, Arone with her tiny pigtails, incited the crowd to move forward, closer to the band.

"Everyone move up, short people in front."

As those of us who qualify for short did as instructed, she beamed, "Short people represent!"

If only every band insisted on prime position for the vertically challenged.

The energy coming from them was terrific and Arone's voice occasionally reminded me of Karen O's with her distinctive wail.

At one point, they started a song and Aron went off-key, causing Arone to stop playing and singing and say, "That's like bad sex!"

They adjusted and restarted seamlessly. Easier than after bad sex.

At times hypnotic, often pure adrenaline, they played to a rapt crowd, even if we couldn't always hear the vocals clearly.

Come on, it's a bakery (and not even an open one for another month), not a venue.

As a further reminder of that, a glance over the counter during the encore revealed Evrim bent over a table in his white apron, busy making rolls? bread? something near the glowing oven.

As cars came around the traffic circle outside, their headlights shone through the big windows, and projected the shop's name onto the wall over the band.

The words "Sub Rosa" appearing and disappearing over a rollicking Brooklyn band was just the way to baptize a newcomer to Church Hill.

And the bread smelled amazing.

This town makes it so easy to have a good time, it's ridiculous.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Come On a My House

If a lecture counts, I've been to the Northern Neck twice this week.

Tuesday I drove down to visit my parents and have lunch.

Today's drive was far shorter, only to the Virginia Historical Society to hear David Brown  talk about "Unlocking Menokin's Secrets: Archaeological and Landscape research at a Northern Neck Plantation."

The VHS's president Paul Levingood got things rolling by cracking wise, "Glad you made it through the roadblocks and Secret service checkpoints to be with us today."

Sure, it would have been fantastic to go hear the President speak at the Carillon, but duty called.

Menokin, the plantation in question, is just outside Warsaw, a town I drive through to get to my parents' house, yet I'd never heard of it

Seems it was the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee and his wife Rebecca, who quickly became Frank and Becky for the sake of Brown's talk.

Emphasizing that because of their lack of children, scant records exist about the house and land, so archaeologists like him and his partner in crime, Thane Harpole (is that a great name or what?) are the ones searching for the keys to the history of the house and its owners.

Brown was introduced as the "Boy Wonder," a name he said he couldn't claim.

"The 'Boy Wonder' name worked a lot better when I was younger," he laughed. "Now I'm more of the 'Bald Wonder."

He warned us that he'd brought lots of great pictures to show, saying, "As an archaeologist, I'm used to using puns and humor to get through the boring parts of the lecture."

Truly, there weren't any boring parts, just a ton of information about what's left of the plantation house and its dependencies.

The house was known for its terraces as much as its architecture, he told us, and the slide of the extensive terracing all the way around the house showed why.

He even showed a slide of Indiana Jones, noting, "Without him, I probably wouldn't have a job."

And while he said that his job isn't always as interesting as Indiana's, he quickly acknowledged that a lot of the time it was.

I find it a pleasure to listen to people who are enthusiastic about what they do and he definitely qualified.

In fact, after 45 minutes of talking about how place and space match with archeology to tell a story, I was even more curious about the buildings and landscape of the plantation near the picaresque-sounding Cat Point Creek.

Closing, the self-deprecating Brown said, "This is a subject I could talk about ad nauseum."

Pshaw. I wasn't the least bit nauseated, but I did know something I hadn't.

I need to make a stop next time I drive through the Northern Neck and check out Frank and Becky's place.

Thanks to Brown, I can practically feel the environmental landscape calling to me.

Eating Young Buck Style

I've admitted I'm no fan of restaurant week.

It's not that it's not for a good cause (it is), but it's such a crazy time for restaurants (where many of my friends work) and I just prefer not to be part of the madness-generating public.

Which is not to say that I don't like a good deal (I do), even during restaurant week.

Enter 2113.

After a leisurely happy hour on my balcony savoring Borsao Garnacha and the exquisite late October weather, we made a bee line for 2113 and their Wednesday wine 'n dine night.

Unlike a lot of the "cheap date" nights, this one isn't only pasta or foisting a dessert of stale bread (pudding) on you.

Walking in to great music and a half full bar, we decided to take further advantage of the pre-Sandy weather and eat outside on the patio.

The last time we'd tried the patio, there's been no music, but a simple request resulted in a promise of music there.

We took seats on the banquette that lines the wall, amid two dwarf trees that made us feel like we were in a conservatory.

The music was a terrific change from all the innocuous indie music I've been hearing in restaurants lately: kind of lounge-y, sometimes with a good beat and other times just sort of smooth and mellow.

In other words, perfect.

The mild, cloudy night sky was above us and we settled in for a cheap meal par excellence.

Wine is part of the deal (unlike restaurant week), so we chose a bottle of Rockbridge Pinot Noir, a velvety Virginian that was as soft as the night air around us.

For a mere $35 (not the $50.24 of restaurant week, not to mention wine included) you also get to choose two first courses and one main course, all served family style.

My date and I may not be a family, but our appetites could play one on TV.

Sea scallop crudo was thinly sliced scallops with radish slices, fennel pollen, olive oil and lemon.

The fennel and lemon played off each other beautifully with the sweetness of the pollen being cut by the astringency of the lemon.

Next up we got the blistered dates despite having had them before. They're just that good.

Medjool dates with almonds, herbs and lardon sat atop greens with buttermilk dressing.

The thick pieces of lardon brought the salty to the obscenely sweet and rich dates for a match made in heaven.

We may not be one of those, either, but at least we have music and laughter.

Choosing our main course was more problematic.

Although one of the offerings was house made fresh pasta, I am reluctant to eat pasta after having had several sublime varieties so recently in Italy.

I thought the moules frites sounded like just the thing (especially with the fries cooked in beef fat) but my date was feeling fowl.

So on our second date night at 2113, we got the exact same entree we'd gotten the first time we'd done the wine 'n dine night there: herb-roasted half chicken.

The half bird that arrived on the platter was enormous, the skin was crispy and crusted with thyme and it was surrounded by vegetables like carrots and brussels sprouts in an herb butter.

Like last time, we tore into it, first leg and then breast, pulling off skin to eat with my fingers and appreciating how perfectly cooked the veggies were.

And just like last time, we couldn't finish the half a yard bird that had been set in front of us.

It's going to make someone a great lunch tomorrow.

I'd read somewhere that Chef Aaron Hoskins was leaving 2113 at the end of the month so I couldn't resist asking for the story.

Seems Aaron is eager for the next step in his career, hoping to have his own place, of course.

2113 is hoping to replace him with another young buck looking to use 2113 as a stepping stone to his future.

In fact, they foresee an arc of young bucks, each putting in a year before moving on to his or her next dream job.

I know I've loved the food since Aaron's been cooking at 2113, but I will also look forward to seeing what the next young Turk can do in that grooviest of spaces.

The way I see it, the music is distinctive, the place has not a single TV screen, and the space is a conversationalist's dream.

As long as the food coming out of the kitchen continues to impress like it has the last four or five times I've been there, I'm okay with whatever young buck is in the kitchen.

Just one piece of advice, guys: Keep wine 'n dine night.

It's like restaurant week year round, only light years better (and I can still send a check to the food bank).

And I don't have to go anywhere near the madness. Score!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Marry Me to the Sky

It might as well have said, "Welcome back to Richmond, Karen!"

Instead it said, "Wednesday's forecast 83 degrees and sunny. Perfect day for a fall picnic. Lobster roll or oyster po'boy. You know how it works. Hurry! They go quickly."

I do know how it works and how easy it is to miss out.

The source was Acacia and they were doing another of their brown bag lunches, of which I am so fond.

Since I had a looming lunch date with a good friend, I called him up and told him that our lunch decision had been made for us.

Less than an hour after I placed our order, I got Acacia's final missive of the day: "SOLD OUT!"

Who didn't see that coming?

Friend was due to pick me up at noon, but it was only 11:50 when I heard "Karen! Karen!" being called from the street below.

Minutes later I was collecting our brown bag, on which was written my name and the instruction, "Enjoy!"

Will do.

We took our picnic to Paradise Park and spread out a blanket on a stone bench with the sun on our backs.

He'd brought garlicky kale and I'd brought red grapes to add to our lobster rolls with lemon mayo and herbs accompanied by potato salad.

The rolls had such a yeasty aroma that my friend began waxing poetic about the smell.

Sure the roll was good, but it was the chunks of lobster meat in lemon mayo that had me making embarrassing sounds.

As we feasted in the midday sun, he asked about my trip to Italy and I regaled him with stories of bold men, ugly Americans and endless walking.

He had several laugh-out-loud moments due to how well he knows me ("Doesn't he know just getting you to go was an accomplishment?") and how he likes to give me a hard time.

The nearly 80 degree weather suits me to a "T," but my friend was more pragmatic about it, noting, "Well, it won't be so great when Norfolk is under water."

True that.

Even so, before long he was saying how all he wanted to do was stretch his full belly out under the impossibly blue fall sky and take a nap in the sunshine.

I knew exactly what he meant.

It's just what the Italians would do after such a satisfying lunch interlude.

Enjoy food. Enjoy rest. Repeat endlessly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Committed to the Naked

I got stood up and I didn't know a soul. It was an awesome evening.

Okay, so maybe not stood up, but clearly there was a communication malfunction because I thought I was meeting a friend at Heritage at 5:30 and I was still flying solo at 7:00.

No big deal.

I amused myself with happy hour wine (Silver Ridge Pinot Noir) and old cookbooks in the back of the restaurant.

The dusty tomes were particularly satisfying since I found recipes for chicken and tongue sandwiches and stuffed veal hearts from a happy housewife cookbook from the '30s.

When I finally faced the fact that I must have been mistaken about our date, I ordered  gnocchi with roasted apple, house-cured bacon, onion "butter" and thyme.

The subtle interplay of the sweet apples and salty bacon was impressively executed.

By the time I finished that, it was time to head to the Bottom to Globehopper for music.

It was my first time catching Naked Songs, a monthly series where singer/songwriters with one instrument are invited to play up to four songs.

The series' posters are gorgeous, all naked bodies, male and female.

The emphasis is on original music, although each singer is allowed one cover song.

Since I got there a little late, I missed the first singer entirely.

When I expressed concern to the cashier as I bought my wine and Rice Krispie treat (as thick as two decks of cards), she reassured me that there'd be more singers.

All of the front seats were taken, but I found one overstuffed chair in the back available and grabbed it.

As if on cue, the moment Frank deAlto began playing his guitar and singing, everyone around me began jabbering.

I tried not be annoyed. After all, it was a coffee shop, not a listening room.

On the other hand, it's not that big  a space and their loud voices seemed rude over an acoustic performance.

I think my favorite line was, "I'm going down that river and doing my own kind of crying," but I can't swear I got that right because of the incessant chatter.

When Frank finished his three songs, none of which I fully heard, I jumped ship and moved to the front next to the woman doing sound for the musicians.

Hey, it's a free country and I can sit wherever I like.

The sound board operator announced that Blair Simpson was next and that, "He's our first naked keyboardist, by the way."

Apparently all the former naked songsters used guitars.

Blair's songs leaned toward upbeat pop with an occasional foray into young man heartfelt ("She's on her second try, Maybe she'll get it right one day") and had a lush sound courtesy of his nimble fingers.

So nimble, in fact, that he shorted out his keyboard on the first song.

A quick recovery followed.

He closed with his one allotted cover song, "Home" by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, doing an especially fine job on the spoken parts, both male and female, to great hilarity.

Next up was Kristen Haze, the show's organizer and sound operator.

She opened with a cover of "Making Pies" by her favorite songwriter, Patty Griffin and her beautiful voice wrapped itself around Griffin's song.

For her own song, "Rhythm," she said, "It should have a lot of percussion behind it, but we'll have to make do because this is Naked Songs."

As it happened, a guy in a nearby chair took up some rhythmic hand clapping to accompany her in lieu of the missing percussion.

It's good to hear a little skin on skin when you're listening to naked songs.

Favorite lyric: "The brain knows better than this, but the body wants you to stay."

The last performer of the evening was Andrew Rohlk ("Rhymes with folk," he said with a smile) who proceeded to dazzle us with his incredibly well-crafted pop songs, a wide-ranging voice and mad guitar skills.

You know that guitar break in Prince's "Kiss"? Yea, that kind of thing was slid effortlessly into Andrew's folk/rock pastiche.

After acknowledging that, "I rocked pretty hard on that last one, so I'll need to tune," he introduced "Put You in a Song," from his soon-to-be-completed record.

"That guy had the right idea," he said, pointing to the clapper. "Clap along if you feel it."

Of course, people did, causing him to grin and say afterwards, "You guys really committed to the clapping."

Favorite lyric: "Cross my mind both night and day, till they run together like a shade of gray."

For his last song, a cover, he explained that he works in a day care, so he'd chosen his Halloween costume accordingly.

"And that's what led me to learn this song," he said, going into the "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" theme song.

When he got to the part, "It's a neighborly day in this beautywood, A neighborly day for a beauty," he paused and asked rhetorically, "What does that even mean?"

I doubt Fred Rogers himself had a clue.

He took the song through any number of flourishes - vocally, with his guitar and even with his volume- before winding it down to unanimous applause.

Looking around as I clapped, it occurred to me that I didn't know a soul in the room and that's a rarity when I go out for music in this town.

About time I tried something new and naked.

Better yet, with Rice Krispies treats.

And, I might add, my own percussion.

Dare to Be Naive

Rule #1 of a Monday night: never miss a chance to hear from the friend of a Renaissance man.

With it being Restaurant Week, we needed to find someplace far from the madding crowds and Garnett's fit the bill perfectly.

There were only two other tables occupied and Patsy Cline was on the stereo so we decided to go the date night route.

We toyed with the idea of an Italian but instead chose French, a fresh and fruity Calmel + JJoseph Saint Chinon, a Syrah and Grenache Noir blend.

While enjoying our meal, our server opened a bakery box to show another customer the chocolate almond torte inside.

One look at that dark chocolate ganache and I inquired, "Is that for public consumption?"

Affirmative.

How could we not try a new sweet at Garnett's, one of our favorite dessert spots?

Impossible.

But with limited time and art awaiting us, we took it to go along with the rest of our wine.

University of Richmond was calling with a lecture and art opening at the Modlin Center.

The new exhibit "Buckminster Fuller, Inventions: Twelve Around One" was opening with a talk by long-time friend and architectural partner to Fuller, Thomas Zung.

I'd heard it from a reliable source that he "liked to talk" and frankly, I was curious to hear stories from a man who intimately knew someone as passionate and multi-talented as Bucky.

Zung was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Bucky and his never-ending quest to solve the problems of housing, transportation,, education, ecology and just about every other worthwhile cause you could name.

The talk included pictures of Fuller's Dymaxion cars, with Zung commenting, "In the '30s, it was astounding to see Bucky's car coming down the road compared to all the other cars."

Considering it looked like a three-wheeled wingless plane, I guess it did.

I loved that Zung's talk included audio clips of Bucky talking and even singing "Home, Sweet, Home" with his own lyrics, like "Home, home to a dome."

Before one of the film clips of Bucky's cars, Zung chuckled, "I don't know if any of you heard Bucky talk, but when he gave a talk for an hour, it lasted about five."

What struck me was Bucky's belief in what one man can do. "Think for yourself and just do it," was a goal he attacked every day of his life.

Black Mountain College in North Carolina, that hotbed of artistic talent (John Cage, Merce Cunningham, de Kooning, Martha Graham), was referred to by Zung as " a poor man's Paris."

The metaphor is brilliant and believable.

Naturally, we saw images of Bucky's geodesic domes, probably his best-known creations.

But the exhibit made it clear that the man was so much more than just domes.

Perhaps the most compelling was his Dymaxion world map, the first map to show land masses with minimal distortion and the ocean as one body of water.

Fascinated, I could have looked at that all day.

A series of drawings for various projects would have made a comic book artist proud with their deft shading and intricate detail.

His "rowing needle" looked like a cross between a rowboat and a catamaran, a sleek apparatus that took up the whole back area of the gallery, a perfect example of form following function.

I heard that Zing had wanted to demonstrate it, but there hadn't been sufficient time to get it to water.

Too bad. That's something I'd have wanted to see.

Bucky called himself a comprehensivist, someone who works with whole systems. In other words, an artist.

And he was definitely that, in addition to being an engineer, an architect, an inventor and a poet.

I'm not sure I knew we had any 20th century Renaissance men until tonight.

Because surely it is only a man who is interested in so much who would say, "Don't try to make me consistent. I am learning all the time."

Amen, Bucky. I'm right there with you.

P.S. I already nailed the naive part.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sending a Signal

Once upon a time on a Sunday afternoon...

First off, food is required before tales of torture and murder.

And while some people might consider 2:00 lunch time, I was all about some pancakes and scrapple (still not great, but better than the last time I had it there) at Lunch when our foursome convened for a shared meal.

At one point, When in Rome's "The Promise" came on, causing one in our group to grin widely and observe, "This song sounds like sunny days and happiness  I love it. The music is always great here."

Coincidentally, she was born the year the song came out (1988) but she'd nailed one of Lunch's strong points - the music (and pig) always pleases.

The womenfolk were eating breakfast and the men went with massive meat sandwiches, like roast beast and turkey and bacon.

Okay, I had some of that one and it was pretty damn awesome, so I stand corrected at unfairly calling it obscene.

Apparently some times you do need a carnivorous trifecta.

Full of syrup and someone else's sausage, we headed to Virginia Rep to see Cadence Theater Company's "The Pillowman."

I'd seen some VCU students do a staged reading of this black comedy just last December and been wildly impressed with Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's tale of bad parenting, sibling sacrifice and child murders.

If it sounds like a downer of an afternoon, let me assure you it was not. But it was long.

Really, it's a sociological study of a screwed up family living in a totalitarian state and the unfortunate way it all plays out.

The main character is a writer of children's stories (Once upon a time...), most of which wind down in horrific endings.

With a minimal but effective set, the cast of eight gradually settled into their roles as the drama unfolded.

Depending on your own personal landscape, there were any number of hot button issues touched upon- the death of a child, willful child abuse, sadism.

That said, despite the grisly things that happen, it is the story of a man with a compulsion to write and naturally I could appreciate that.

One of the funniest lines was on that subject.

"You execute a writer, it sends a signal. I don't know what kind of signal..."

In this case, death was tolerable only because he know his words would live on.

I have to give Cadence credit; they continue to produce thoughtfully chosen works by top notch casts on the tiniest of stages, succeeding every time.

The evening concluded with a show at the Nile, while, as all Nile shows are wont to do, started far later than it was supposed to.

Paul Ivey and the Rubes were playing without a drummer tonight (he's vacationing in the mountains, no doubt OD'ing on leaf color), but sounded terrific in their reincarnation as a trio.

Part of that is my affection for New Wave, at which Paul is a master, part of that is his incredibly smart lyrics and last night in particular, his guitar was just sounding amazing to me.

But Paul is also funny, like when he announced, "This song is dedicated to yet another person who greatly disappointed me," before launching into yet another catchy tune.

The band covered (with minimal practice, according to them) the Kinks' "Oklahoma, USA" in a nod to the traveling band, Luna Moth from (no surprise) Oklahoma and did a worthy rendition of it.

"If life's worth livin', what's livin' for?"

Well, let's see, livin's for pancakes and Tony award winning plays and New Wave music played in African restaurants.

Only then do people like me live happily ever after.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Coming from Reality

The game of musical kitchens has deposited one of my favorite chefs at one of my (and his) favorite restaurants.

Walking into Aziza's on Main, one of the servers hugged me and chided me at the same time for not having seen me in a while.

I'm okay with being rebuked as long as there's P.D.A. simultaneously.

Every table was full but the bar was wide open except foe one lone wolf, so we joined his party of one.

The one thing the wine list didn't have was any Italian bottles (they did have a half bottle of bubbles), so we steered slightly west to Spain.

A juicy and fruity Marques de Riscal Prximo Rioja set the tone for the conversation and the Saturday night in general.

And then it was on to Chef Philip Denny's menu.

The former Six Burner chef, in my opinion, always suffered the same fate as his predecessor, Lee Gregory.

During both their tenures at 6B, in my opinion, neither got the attention or accolades they deserved; maybe it was 6B's stuffy, older clientele, maybe it was their low key personalities.

For me, Six Burner never dropped out of my regular rotation because the kitchen was always talented even when the vibe was lacking.

So when 6B closed, I was eager to hear where Philip would land.

Nothing could have pleased me more than it being Aziza, especially since I'd run into him and his wife eating there years ago and agreed it was one of the best restaurants in town.

Looking at tonight's menu, I saw just the kind of creatively different dishes he delivers.

Our first choice was a ful mudammas of porchetta, crowder peas, butter beans, pink-eyed peas came with grilled pita to soak up the juices.

A stew-like mixture with flavors of olive oil, onion and garlic was chock full of perfectly cooked beans and a big curve of salty, fatty porchetta.

The richness of the pig was an ideal complement to the toothsome and savory beans.

For our next course, fortunately we'd reserved one of the two remaining shrimp with Chorizo raviolis left.

Any good diner knows that if you snooze, you lose, so we'd put our bid in early.

The dish featured wood-fired shrimp with finger lime, radishes and cilantro and onions along with plump ravioli stuffed with spicy Chorizo.

It was such a lovely interplay of flavors - bordering on spicy, some sweetness and the cilantro adding its distinctive note.

After devouring every bite, we used crusty bread to get the rest of that incredible sauce to our mouths.

The Chef was two for two.

Eschewing the new for the tried and true, we finished our bottle with one of Aziza's trademark cream puffs, causing my date to wax poetic on the subject of butter and sugar and the memories they conjure.

We all have our weaknesses.

By the time we finished, my only complaint was the music interruptus (a radio station with far too much talking), and I knew I'd be back soon for more.

We crossed east to west to go to the Westhampton Theater then to see the documentary "Searching for Sugarman."

After having seen previews for this Sundance winner at least four times (and maybe more), I was curious about this Dylan-esque singer from the late 60s-early 70 of whom I knew nothing.

The story is literally unbelievable.

Mexican-American from Detroit makes a couple of albums which are expected to do great things, but they go unnoticed.

Musician gives up music and goes on with non-descript life.

Meanwhile, records make it to apartheid-era South Africa, where his politically-charged songs of the life of the inner-city poor are adopted by the masses.

His records get airplay, everyone owns them, knows of him and meanwhile he's back in Detroit, poor and living an anonymous life.

It's only when two fans decide to try to track down the truth and learn if the urban legend of his onstage suicide is true that the film ends up getting made.

Once Rodriguez is rediscovered in the mid-90s, he plays sold-out concerts in South Africa and his career is resuscitated.

There are now people lobbying to get him a Kennedy Center honor. I'll sign that petition.

Had the movie been fiction, it would have seemed ludicrous.

As depiction of the facts, it was an hour and a half of stellar music,vintage photos and more recent shots of Rodriquez, a singer who put Dylan's voice to shame and sang songs of the poor.

Songs from his two albums "Cold Fact" and "Coming From Reality" were played throughout the film.

I now need to hear those two albums in their entirety.

Interestingly enough, when we left the theater I ran into a sextet that included two  friends.

They'd just seen the movie, too, and were as enraptured as we were.

The difference was, they'd been listening to Rodriguez's music in the weeks before they saw the film.

For a minute, I envied them their brilliance at preparing themselves.

My partner in crime saw it differently and I had to agree he was right.

Our first encounter with Rodriguez's voice and songwriting was as part of the movie and it was as ideal an introduction as we could have hoped for.

Now is the time to go back and hear his back catalog, now that we know the story and have an appreciation for the man and his life.

The cold fact is, this is a guy any music lover should know.

And I will.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An Undying Love Affiar

Issues of portraying the soul ended with nothing more than wet soles.

Mine.

We joined the masses of humanity at the VMFA tonight, although not for the Chihuly opening.

Instead, we came for "Poetry and Painting: An Undying Love Story," a collaboration between the VMFA and the Library of Virginia.

The concept was simple: choose nine works from the museum's collections and have nine award-winning poets write about them.

Lecturer Dr. Aneta Georgievska-Shine gave a sparkling talk on the topic of ekphrasis, the intersection of the visual and the verbal and the competition, or paragone, of painting and poetry.

That would be the whole idea behind the collaboration.

Her enthusiasm on the subject was delightful, her depth of knowledge impressive and her accent perfectly charming on the topic of which is more effective at description, the word or the image?

Using examples of works from the VMFA and beyond, she detailed layers of meaning to be found in paintings.

It was an art history lover's wet dream.

Discussing Leonardo's "Ginevra de'Benci," she explained how it was Leonardo's only work with painting on the front and back.

Even better, she told how it had been commissioned not by Ginevra's fiance, but by her "platonic friend" just before her wedding.

Clearly the "platonic friend" wanted something to remember the girl who got away.

The words painted on the back of it (a laurel branch, a palm branch, juniper and the words "Beauty adorns virtue") were, she said, put there because the image alone couldn't evoke how the "friend" saw her.

So the writers were correct; words better captured the soul than did the image.

She spoke of how works of art were designed to spark conversation.

"What are words if not a dance from pronoun to imperative?"

Shine's passion for her subject was evident in her language (referring to herself as a "beholder" when it came to art) and her directives ("Go to the Prado and give yourself a treat") and her guileless assumption that everyone craves art as she does ("Who is not provoked by difficult pictures?").

Don't look at me. I'm easily provoked by the difficult.

Going through a variety of visuals, she concluded that the goal was to talk back to art, for instance, "When you no longer see art as a visual intrusion but more of an invitation to respond."

In other words, what better way to experience art than to have something to say to it.

As far as I'm concerned, that means words win.

As if such a scintillating lecture weren't enough, we were each given a copy of the book containing the nine works of art chosen by the VMFA's curators and the nine poems written about them.

So far, "Femme Fatale," written about Georges de Feure's "Window" is my favorite.

In a garden of calla lilies.opening,
   I beguile 
you. With lead strips

I encircle your heart
  Darkness soars
through an alluring sky.

Obscure art facts and a book of poetry based on art? How much better can a Friday night get?

Well, there was a housewarming party for a power couple and a chance to see their terrific transition from near West End back into the city.

I got to bore a friend and her cute husband with my holiday stories and choose from a ridiculous array of baked goods supplied by talented guests.

Just as I got talking restaurants with another friend, it was time to pack up and go hear music.

Chicha Libre, a Brooklyn band that plays a trippy, psychedelic kind of Latin groove took over the back room, much to a packed crowd's delight.

I scored some Milagro Reposado at the front bar and chatted with a couple of friends before putting down stakes in the back room for the action.

Almost immediately, I saw two of my favorite WRIR DJs, so I knew I could expect dance rhythms.

The six-piece had guitar, cuatro ( a small 4-string guitar), upright bass, percussion (I love a man who uses his hands on drum skins), drums and keyboard/Electrovox (vintage synthesizer in an accordion body), making for a lot of sound.

Some songs had words and some didn't, yet always there was a structure to the song, a clear sense of purpose.

But from the first notes, it was all about the surf guitar and the driving Latin beats.

Translation: my shoes came off immediately so I could shake my tail feathers more comfortably.

Their sound was all over the place - sometimes rocking like Santana and other times jamming like Phish.

But the beat was so insistent that everything else around it was gravy; you could listen only to nothing but the drummer and percussionist and be wildly satisfied.

Needless to say, the few couples dancing up front soon became a wall-to-wall dance floor as people found the beat irresistible.

At one point, the cuatro player/vocalist was waving a red scarf over his head during a particularly driving drum part, as if to incite the dancers like a matador teasing a bull.

It was beyond awesome.

When the last song played, the audience held its breath until the band said they'd be back for a second set.

It was during the break that the percussionist walked by me and looked down.

"What happened to your shoes?" he asked, smiling and pointing.

I explained that I'd removed them so I could dance more easily and that that was thanks to him and his drumming.

"That's great! But don't let anyone step on your toes," he sad solicitously.

It was during the second set that I finally had to give up my prime position to go to the bathroom, where a long line  of seven people awaited me.

The guy in line behind me enthused about what a great band they were and I agreed.

When the bathroom door opened, the three girls in front of me all went in together.

I turned to the guy behind me for an explanation.

"They're going in there to talk about guys for an hour and a half," he said as if he knew. "And then do cocaine. You know, it's not just for the '80s anymore."

No, I hadn't known.

Lickety split, the girls emerged and I was in and out in seconds

When I returned to my coveted spot, I found the floor wet with god knows what.

Dilemma.

What the hell, I discarded the shoes again and went back to dancing in my spot, albeit now with wet soles.

Earlier, it had been words that won out over image.

This time, music won over words.

My soul got it coming and going tonight.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

To Live This Life

Almost back in the saddle again, with only an occasional reach back.

Things got rolling at the Library of Virginia for Poetic Principles, a reading by Joshua Poteat and Henry Hart.

Arriving in the Library of Virginia garage, it was just me and one other woman and the parking attendant knew nothing of a poetry reading.

In the elevator going upstairs, we wondered if we'd both gotten the wrong date.

It seemed unlikely.

She introduced herself ("Hi, I'm Carol") as we took the elevator up.

Fortunately, there was a poetry reading when we got there, but we were the only attendees.

I've been an audience of one before, so I have no problem being an audience of two.

Eventually others arrived, meaning Carol and I had not been mistaken.

Best line overheard as I sat waiting for the reading to begin?

"Ever hear of the singer Elliot Smith?" a 20-something guy asks of a girl entranced by her phone. "He sang really sad songs."

Nope, she replied, going back to her phone.

Silly me, I'd have thought Elliot Smith would have been a terrific conversation-starter at a poetry reading.

Eventually Josh Poteat began the reading by thanking us for coming rather than going to the Byrd Theater for author Tom Robbins and a screening of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."

I've heard him read before (in fact, I have one of his lines of poetry etched into a piece of collaged wood hanging over a doorway), but he was reading new stuff tonight.

He dedicated "Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature" about the strange names given Puritan children by their crazed parents (favorite line: "Make sweet what's given") to his wife.

From there, he spoke of a project where his inspiration came from the city of Richmond and the 1900 Sears & Roebuck catalog.

Wonderful imagery arose from poems with departmental names.

"Department of Telescopes" provided, "There in the night orchard of the clumsy city."

Oh, but we can be such a clumsy city sometimes.

In "Department of Taxidermy" came, "When there is another darkness, I'll admit it."

Between poems, it occurred to him that this was not a feel-good kind of reading.

"These are kind of bummer poems," he confessed. "Richmond isn't as bad as these poems make it sound."

Actually, Richmond is pretty cool if you ask me. Not perfect, but better all the time.

He introduced "Department of Masonry" by saying, "This poem begins with death metal bands and ends with me pouting in the backyard."

If that isn't the defining range of a whole generation of men, I don't know what is.

Best line: "It isn't enough, but I'll take what I can get."

About an unfinished poem concerning his obsession, the slave Gabriel Prosser, Poteat admitted, "This poem could be 120 pages long and that's a bad sign."

What was good were lines like, "The houses didn't know enough to be afraid" and "Help me, moonlight."

In "Department of Hymnals," we heard, "The night has used itself up" and "There's nothing I won't do to live this life."

I am particularly taken with the passion of the latter line.

Just before starting "Lighting Department," he said, "Thanks for coming and I hope I will see all of you again someday."

My guess would be at the next poetry reading.

Next up was Henry Hart who referred to Carol, the woman I had met in the garage, as "the guardian angel of poets."

Turns out Carol was Carol Weinstein, she who funds the series Poetic Principles and supports residencies for poets to work.

You know, that Carol.

Hart began with what he called an old poem, "A Gift of Warblers" about the art project he'd made for his grandfather who was always supportive of his poetic leanings.

"Janet Morgan and the Moon Shot" was about the moon landing in 1969 and had the line, "Discovering grace still depended on shifting weight."

"Mystery Play: November 22, 1963" was about his performance anxiety at being in the school musical when he couldn't sing.

"You know how some teachers like to torture students?" he said as if it were fact.

I didn't but he's a teacher, so I took his word for it.

Best line: "His face had hardened to a ridgeless nickle."

I've seen the ridgeless nickel look and it's not one I want directed my way.

A poem about his mother's occasional need to escape her three sons was called "Independence Day" with the line, "All summer she dreamed of storms."

"I doubted everything but luck" came from "Crossing the Gobi Desert Summer 1900," a poem about days lost crossing the desert.

When he finished reading, he offered to take questions, but none were forthcoming, so we scattered like crows.

I decided to go east to the Roosevelt for dinner, arriving to find I was one of scads of people who had made the same decision.

Every table was full, every bar stool was taken and there was a six-top ahead of me waiting for a table.

Even so, Sam Cook's "Chain Gang" was rising above the level of the chattering masses, so I wasn't going anywhere.

Since I had just come from hearing lines like, "Wind droned like bees," I took the drone of chatter for something more appealing and sat down on the waiting bench.

I was perfectly content crowd watching when a server offered to bring me a libation, swearing he had nothing else to do at the moment.

Not long after, a girl at the bar spotted me and reminded me she'd waited on me at Bistro Bobette.

She especially remembered a man I'd come in with, according to her, someone with a very dry British sense of humor, and I had no idea who she meant.

Still, it's always nice to be remembered.

White Hall Cabernet Franc was delivered and sipped until, as if an alarm went off, suddenly tables and bar stools were emptied.

Starving by then, I looked at the menu for new dishes to try, eventually deciding on rice grits, risotto, ham, crab and purple cape beans.

When I placed my order, bartender T. looked at me like I was crazy.

"Really, Karen? Risotto? Didn't you just get back from Italy?"

As I tried to sputter a justification, he went into full placating mode.

"No, no, that's good. You've got to wean yourself off slowly. You're doing the right thing."

I laughed out loud at that, but didn't have the heart to tell him I'd almost ordered the gnocchi as well.

Just as I was finishing the lovely combination of flavors, Chef Lee came out to chide me.

"You went to Italy for two weeks and you come here and order that shit?" he teased, pointing at my empty risotto bowl. "It's not going to be any good."

Of course, it was very good, but I understood his point.

To make peace in the kitchen, I promptly ordered Lee's chicken skin slider with kimchee mayo and pickles, hoping to use southern to knock Italian out of my head.

Kind of like rebound dating after a bad breakup.

As Neko Case's "Favorite" played, I ate fried chicken skin with my fingers, the better to reprogram my brain and taste buds.

That, my friends, is how I replace the pleasures of Italy with those of Richmond.

Poetically speaking, that's the way to make sweet what's been given to me.

No Other Will Do

No question, jet lag still has its arms firmly around me.

Hoping that some juice of the holiday land would do the trick, we began with a bottle brought back from Italy.

Marchesi de'Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglione 2009.a full-bodied blend that took us right back to the bay of Naples, got the evening off to a fine start.

After two weeks of eating in a new place every night, we headed out to see what new offerings Richmond had for us.

Heritage, in the old Six Burner space, seemed a likely candidate.

The space didn't wow me, although I liked the bookshelf of old cookbooks in the backand the airier vestibule.

The place was surprisingly lively for a Wednesday night, but we found two seats at the bar, a harried barkeep and a wine list notable for how Left Coast-centric (with a couple of Virginians) it was.

My choice after our earlier holiday wine was a Parducci Petite Sirah with nice fruit and a long finish, but no Tuscan.

Like so many restaurants lately, the dinner menu is divided into small, medium and large.

My eye immediately was caught by pork "fries," causing my date to inquire if there was any pig I wouldn't want to eat.

None that I've found so far. Is that a problem?

Pulled pork had been shaped into fry-like forms and, what else, fried and came with a smoky barbecue sauce and pickled vegetables.

I have to say, they were the highlight of our tasting. Crispy on the outside and full of shredded pig inside, I could have eaten a lot more than two.

A lamb gyro was less notable, mainly because the meat wasn't as spicy as expected and the two girls next to us who had the same characterized it as "okay."

The music was characterized by the bartender as "innocuous indie music" which seemed a bit bland at first but improved over time as the songs became more obscure.

The Walkmen are always welcome.

Despite all the eating we'd done in Italy, we'd only had one oyster between us, so a Rappahannock River Oysters Gratin a la Rockefeller (spinach, housemade bacon, roasted garlic) seemed a good choice.

Partner in crime wished for bread to use as a conveyance to his mouth, but I was fine with a fork, although I'd have preferred a slightly thicker sauce.

Hoping to reprogram our taste buds for the New World, we finished with the Virginia cheese plate of Appalachian and Grayson cheeses with chutney and salad.

The bartender told us of his discovery of these two cheeses while he was working in New Jersey and who wouldn't be impressed with two raw cow's milk cheeses we dubbed "Stinky" and "Stinkier"?

That is, as long as we didn't talk too closely to anyone else afterwards.

Our afterwards was Balliceaux for Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, a band I'd seen back in May and had a ball hearing.

There I saw Miss Tess' biggest fan, a friend and wine god who tries never to miss an opportunity to see this talented band do their brand of jazz/swing/rock and vintage covers.

One thing you can be sure of at Miss Tess' shows (besides superb musicianship and her honky tonkin', note-bending voice) is that the dancing crowd will show up, even on a school night.

Before long, a couple was out there dipping and twirling while the rest of us wished we could do half as well.

As the woman at the next table called out as they left the dance floor, "You guys are goooood!"

The band sang songs of Brooklyn ("People Come Here for Gold"), fishing, New Orleans ("Adeline") and of course, love.

"Everybody's Darling" got everybody dancing.

In fact, they were doing their new album "Sweet Talk" start to finish, including a sublime cover of the Inkspots' "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire."

I don't want to set the world on fire
I just want to start a flame in your heart
In my heart I have but one desire
And that one is you
No other will do

Where else are you going to hear a cover of a 1941 song on a Wednesday night except at Balliceaux when Miss Tess comes to town?

Now here's the real heartbreak. After such a stellar set, I was yawning.

And not the polite little yawn of someone who's had three glasses of red wine, but the bone-shaking yawns of someone whose body thinks it's 5:30 a.m. instead of 11:30 p.m.

Sadly, we didn't stay for Miss Tess' second set as a result.

I should just be happy to have heard another evening of this talented band, but I'm still resenting my body telling me to go to bed.

In my heart I have but one desire: to get my body clock back on RVA time.

I loved you, Italy, but you're killin' me here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If It Feels Good, Do It

I wouldn't have missed Italy for the world, but I sure did miss plenty while I was there.

The Folk Festival. Philip Glass speaking at UR. Jens Lekman at the National. The 2 Street festival. The Listening Room.

And that's just the obvious stuff.

Fortunately I was back in time for today's tour of  the new Chihuly exhibit at the VMFA led by, wait for it, Dale Chihuly himself.

I mean, the artist walked into a roomful of chattering people and a hush fell over the room.

And why not? He is the man responsible for  taking glass from a craft to an art form.

Personally, the first thing I noticed about him was his neon splattered shoes.

He is a very big deal, so getting to see the new exhibit as he talked about it was a very big deal too.

"Fiori and Floats" was a tribute to Venice and his 1996 project where he draped his massive glass chandeliers over Venice's canals.

Here, rustic boats were filled with his glass forms, some spherical and others resembling marine life with tentacles.

"Persian Ceiling" was 1,000 pieces of glass, bowl-like, curved, brightly colored, suspended over our heads.

We were invited to lay down and look at it from the floor, but no one I asked would do it with me.

In the next gallery, glass pieces were mixed with Pendleton blankets, vintage photographs and Indian baskets, with many laid out on a 22' wooden table.

"Laguna Torcello" was a glass wonderland and Chihuly said it had been inspired by Venetian lagoons and that they "happen to be my favorite place in the world."

The influence of sea life was clear and when questioned about how he created them, the artist answered, "When I build them, I just put whatever feels good inside."

He told  a funny story of having installed a similarly complicated piece in the White House and when Hillary strolled by, she inquired if he numbered his pieces.

"Do I look like the kind of guy who numbers pieces?" he laughed, as did the roomful of people.

He expressed his passion for neon as we walked by his blue neon tumbleweed, saying he always works with the best sign makers he can find because they are the neon experts.

The final gallery housed "Reeds on Logs," a collection of 200 spear-like forms (similar to the red reeds in the VMFA's reflecting pool) in various shades of blue resting in pieces of salvaged old-growth cedar.

Stunning doesn't begin to describe it.

When we finished, Chihuly graciously took questions.

He recalled selling three pieces to the Metropolitan Museum having given him "a lot of confidence."

The Blue Ridge chandelier that now hangs where the golden hare used to be leaping, he said, was blown especially for this show.

"It's not a new idea," he explained, "But it is a new piece."

Naturally he was asked about advice for young artists.

"By far the best thing is to be around an artist, sweeping the floor or helping build sculptures," he advised. "And have a studio to work in. If you can't afford a studio and an apartment, rent a studio and live there."

He admitted he doesn't blow glass much anymore ("I like to think I have some of the best glass blowers in the world"), but said every once in a while, he goes in and blows for a day.

Proudly he told the audience that there are more glass blowers in Seattle than in Venice today.

"I love the way light comes through glass," he said. "And the fluidity of it. It's like working with water."

After that admission, the man was finished with us.

"Alright, shall we call it a day?" he said in closing.

Let's call it three and a half exquisite months of mind-blowing glass at the VMFA.

Let's call us impossible lucky to have Chihuly in RVA.

From Italian to French

Back in the saddle again and open to whatever comes along.

With plans to go to VCU Cinematheque and see a film, Holmes calls and invites me out to join him half an hour before I plan to leave.

And while I could definitely use a film, how can I resist seeing my favorite art history nerd, his main squeeze?

I can't.

He is already on his way to Amour, so I agree to meet him there once I am finished drying off after a shower and an incredibly full day.

The hardest part of a holiday is coming back and righting my world.

Walking into Amour, I find Holmes and squeeze comfortably ensconced in their stools and awaiting my arrival.

As usual, I begin with Lucien Albreacht Cremant d'Alsace Rose, a personal favorite no matter the season or how long I've been away.

Before we could go any further, I felt compelled to share with Holmes' main squeeze my encounter with Donatello, Michelangelo and Vermeer, knowing she alone would be appreciative of endless arcane art history anecdotes.

Holmes tolerated our enthusiastic art back and forth only so long before jumping into the conversation on all manner of subjects, notably his own Italy adventures.

Namely, clam sauce flummoxing a 13-year old.

A nearby Hungarian joined our conversation off and on, providing wit and opinion when necessary.

With a nod to October being Virginia wine month, we sampled the Boxwood Topiary, a Bordeaux-style red that grabbed us from the first aromatic sniff.

As the Django Reinhart station played in the background, we caught up on what I'd missed- Folk Fest, Symphony Designer House - and what I'd been doing instead.

Never ask someone who'd just come from two weeks in Italy what her favorite meal was; it's impossible to pick just one.

Eventually, we moved on to the salad course, a combination of Manakintown greens, heirloom grape tomatoes and a practically perfect balsamic dressing.

Over a conversation about Coolfont (who knew we'd both been there?), Roseanne Cash (sorry I missed her) and viola de gambas (only Holmes), we decided on our next courses.

After two weeks eating myself silly in Italy, I opted for the comte-stuffed mushrooms with balsamic, a satisfying dish that gave me big flavors without feeling stuffed.

After sharing my stories of Italian waiters disapproving of my Sicilian wine choices and Napoleon's sarcophagus-shaped bathtub, we went with a Corsican wine to settle the score.

Le Chapeau Cuvee Napolean, a Pinot Noir, had a picture of Napoleon and a light fresh-tasting fruitiness that wold have done the little corporal proud.

Meanwhile, Holmes pontificated on hard work, sonatas and generous exes.

There is always much laughter when the three of us get together, never more so than when we drink bubbles.

Tonight our dessert course (dark chocolate creme brule with sea salt and a trio of sorbets: orange, lime and raspberry) was accompanied by Domaine de Margalleau sparkling Vouray, an exceptional dry sparkler that carried us into the late hours with no problem as we discussed coupe versus flute and the virtues of pasta cooked in sauce.

As one who only accepted the virtues of pasta in the past two weeks, I didn't pay a lot of attention to their cooking tips.

Next time I want good pasta, I hope to head to Italy.

In the meantime, I'm appreciative of friends presenting themselves the first night I'm back.

Sorry, Grace Street theater and "Punishment Park."

As interesting as you sounded, nothing beats a friend or two requesting my company for wine, food and chatter on my first night back.

Some would call me easy.

I prefer to think of myself as open.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Arrivederci, Italia

What can you say about a long day of travel?

At the train station in Rome, a pair of white-robed nuns stand in front of a huge sign covered in young models in sexy bras.

It is the ideal metaphor for the duality of this country.

At the airport in Rome, we find a clusterf*ck at the Alitalia check-in, so typical of the lack of organization here.

On the bright side, everybody knows that and accepts it.

At Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, we see little of the romance that was so evident when we came through here en route at midnight in a light drizzle.

On board Air France to come home, one of our dinner choices is duck, a seemingly exotic offering for an airline, but not to the French.

When we are asked to take a survey, it questions how attractive we find the containers and cutlery of our in-flight meals.

Only in Europe.

As I read my book "East Hill Farm: Seasons with Allen Ginsberg," filled with tales of sex and drugs in the '60s, it's hard to believe that our fortnight of holiday is finally winding down.

It's been everything it could have been: exciting for this first-timer, enervating at times for the other, filling, awe-inspiring, tipsy, surprising, melancholy, exhilarating and above all, just plain amazing.

I sure am lucky.