Saturday, January 26, 2013

An Experimental Life

So here's my experimental memoir for the evening.

It's not easy finding an appropriate way to celebrate Burns' Night, at least in Richmond.

There is no haggis, so there can be no reading of "Address to a Haggis."

But there must be a way to have a poetic January 25, I felt certain.

So when a friend from Washington lets me know he'll be in town today, he stipulates, "If you know a spot that's open and does a great lunch - one of the best in RVA- I'm all ears."

I suggested several personal favorites and then threw out Rappahannock, telling him I'd had dinner there but never lunch.

It was there that we met, just as the snow began to fall, and with its two sides of windows, the restaurant turned out to be prime snow-watching vantage point.

Instead of offal and oatmeal in a sheep's stomach, though, we stayed strictly nautical.

Oysters with pearls (caviar) came highly recommended by our server who said he didn't usually like caviar.

I tried not to judge.

They were followed by a generous serving of fluke ceviche with toasted bread.

Our order of Barcat oyster chowder had thoughtfully been split into two bowls and one taste told me that a full bowl would have put most people in a food coma.

Cream plus flour = zzzzz.

And speaking of, our last order was rockfish brandade, an ideal winter dish of potatoes and fish spread on bread, but we barely put a dent in the large crock of it.

As far as honoring Robert Burns went, our meal from the sea was a far cry from what the bard himself would have expected.

But the company was good in that way that only someone who grew up where you did can relate so comfortably.

After he learned I wasn't a  coffee drinker, he joked, "So you're just naturally high," which he then translated to, "You've got great energy," a compliment, I felt certain.

It was still snowing when we walked outside, making Grace Street look as picaresque as a citified Currier and Ives print in the gray, late afternoon light.

I wasn't sure how the weather would affect the evening's activities, but enough places seemed to be promising to stay open to risk going out.

A slow but crunchy drive to Chop Suey for a poetry reading seemed as Burns-like as I was likely to get tonight.

Reading was Kate Greenstreet from her new book, an experimental memoir called, "Young Tambling."

Not many people had braved the weather for the sake of poetry (I have to assume they'd forgotten it was Burns' night), but Kate immediately honed in on three of us, thanking us for coming out in the bad weather.

Looking at me, she questioned, "Why did you come? I know these other people, but what brought you out?"

Nothing like having the teacher call on you the minute class begins.

I told her that I came to lots of poetry readings. That it was Robert Burns' birthday. That I thought snow was perfect for reading poetry.

"That's a good answer," she said, smiling.

She said she usually uses a mic, but for the half dozen of us, she eschewed amplification and just read.

He voice was tiny but her reading expressive and the overall effect was of someone very curious (or wise) and observant asking questions and drawing her own conclusions while we listened in.

We heard that she'd had a Catholic upbringing and for a while had considered whether she had a "calling" to God and she also compared addiction to having a calling.

An interesting woman.

Sometimes she would begin reciting a poem before she'd even located it in the book.

This was a poet who made the reading seem effortless, although I got the impression she was an introvert, so even small performances are likely anything but for her.

Someone asked her about the pictures in her book and she said they were from her own photographs and paintings.

Now that's impressive, having talent with words and images.

After she finished reading,  Kate said that it felt like we were in church and now was the time for refreshments.

I almost hated to leave such a welcoming little group on this cold night.

But my fellow poetry lover (and Catholic school attendee who didn't have the "calling") and I left, me feeling pretty good at this point.

Then it was on to the VMFA for no particular reason other than they'd insisted that they'd be open despite the snow.

Walking up to the members desk, I told the woman that I was a regular at the museum but wanted to know if there was anything new to see.

Her face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. "Have you seen the new Rembrandts?" she inquired enthusiastically.

Bingo. Upstairs we went to find the Baroque gallery and see some early Dutch masters.

But you can't just jump into something like that feet first, either, so we did a spin around the French and Italian Baroque gallery first.

Then it was on to the two new small works, "The Stone Operation" and "The Three Musicians."

In one, a man is having a stone removed from his head to cure his craziness. It looks pretty painful.

In the other, three musicians, young, middle-aged and old, try to sing together but judging by their looks, the result probably wasn't terribly harmonious.

Compositionally, they were similar with three figures arranged in a triangle, but with more vivid colors than the master used in his well-known later works.

I saw that these two were early, early Rembrandts done when he was only eighteen and hadn't yet been taught by his best teacher.

Even so, the basics of a Rembrandt were there.

Striking contrasts between light and dark. Exaggerated facial features. Thick layers of paint.

Shoot, that's Rembrandt 101 stuff. And here was proof of just how early he'd come to that major talent of his.

Surely Burns, who had been only fifteen when he was inspired by a girl to write his first poem, would see the poetry in taking in Rembrandts on his night.

Surely Burns would understand wanting to hear a quiet poet read on that snowy night.

Surely Burns would concede that haggis is hard to come by in Virginia and sometimes seafood shared with the kind of friend you can discuss politics and quality of life with serves a similar purpose.

You weren't forgotten here, old man.

If I start on my "Rebuke to a Fluke" now, I could have it ready by next January 25.

I'm afraid my experimental life memoir will take a good while longer.

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