Saturday, May 3, 2014

Art and Eats Nouveau

It may be the second, but it was time for some firsts.

That meant starting the day with a walk down to Belle Isle to see the mighty James well above flood stage.

Heading downhill, my route intersected with the collegiate bicyclists doing their time trials accompanied by almost as many motorcycle cops as people on bikes.The important thing was, I didn't cross any streets without police or official volunteer say-so.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge, the river was a rushing, brown torrent but once on the island near the rapids, it sounded like a freight train and looked nothing short of terrifying.

In some places, the water had come up and taken a bite out of the edge of the walking path and everywhere, the water was now bordering the path, with trees seeming to grow right out of the river.

All those rocks we like to sun, picnic and imbibe on? Completely missing from view, lost somewhere under the fierce current.

Two decades in Richmond and I'm just now seeing what the other side of flood stage looks like.

As if the bikers and the river weren't enough, tonight was First Friday, so after lunch with a friend and a solid afternoon of work, I got ready to do some art walking.

First thing I noticed was that Richmond's finest were now off their motorcycles and patrolling the streets of Jackson Ward to keep it safe for art lovers.

ADA Gallery's show by Chris Norris was hopping with people in small clusters talking about the artist's striking black and white or neon colored pieces.

My favorite, "Ring Saplings" showed a delicate, black and white tree with intricate bark patterns interrupted by black stripes around the trunk against a blue/gray background. I'd have bought it in a second if I could have afforded it.

Next door at Ghostprint Gallery, Lacey McKinney's "I am You" show presented figurative works that represented a slightly altered reality, where loose brush strokes evoke figures moving in and out of focus at the same time and a single head might have multiple sets of eyes or mouths facing different directions.

One piece had already sold at last night's preview, but the most arresting piece tonight, judging by people's reactions as they saw it and stopped cold was, "Dissolution," a large-scale nude pastel on paper of a woman with her head thrown back and hair flying.

Another door down at Candela Gallery, Pamela Pecchio's "Habitation" photographs captured hidden corners, objects on tables and other tableaux the photographer found herself remembering after she visited other people's homes.

Like "Habitation (Corner)," showing bad blue shag carpeting near a wall with blue paint almost, but not all the way, painted down to the baseboard and a white electric cord running the length. Nothing unusual but combined, a study in blue and white.

Or the Matisse-like saturation of colorful patterns in "Habitation (Attic Couch)," where a pink and blue floral couch vies with a green and beige shag rug, a zigzag afghan in shades of green and a plaid comforter for visual supremacy.

By then I was getting a little peckish and where better to grab a bite tonight than my recently-opened neighborhood market at Saison?

The market turned out to be charmingly outfitted with not just a massive beer selection, but wine, vermouth, Wheat Thins, Billy Bread and art.

You heard right, the Saison guys are in cahoots (alright, consignment, whatever) with the Odd Couple, a husband wife duo who collect old furniture and curios and re-purpose them.

As proof, the first thing that caught my eye when walking into the dining room of the market was a large wall map of the routes of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad. The second thing I noticed was the "sold" tag already hanging off it.

Saison Market opened yesterday. Here I thought I was doing well to make my first visit today.

I was equally impressed with their new growlers, designed by a local artist and sporting the names of streets in Jackson Ward, artfully arranged on the front. You know I'll have to own one of those, even though I don't drink beer. A girl can always use a new bud vase for flowers.

To take care of my rumbling belly, I ordered nasturtium greens, a salad of compressed strawberry and cucumber with pickled rhubarb, house queso, pecan and lemon-coriander vinaigrette with a Mexican Coke and ate it in the little dining room while admiring the board marked "Beer & Shit" and yet to be completed.

I guess we'll find out what the "& shit" part is once they have a minute to finish the board.

Yesterday, opening day, they'd been inundated with people who live and work in the 'hood, keeping them too busy to finish fine tuning. They'd been especially touched when Harvest Market in the Fan had sent them a charcuterie board to welcome them to the world of grocerias.

Once I'd refueled, it was time to walk home and get the car to make my way to Studio Two Three's annual "Emerging Printmakers" show, always a favorite way to find interesting art even a dirt poor writer can afford.

Many pieces were not for sale, disappointing an older woman who was looking at the show while I was, but there were still some worthy pieces.

Jack Kelly's "American Gothic Redux" re-imagined the couple as a guy in a trucker's hat that read "Booty Hunter" and his cigarette smoking woman in a MILF t-shirt.

The colorful "Cold Sweat" by Raphael Cornford riffed on a comic book cover ("Funked Our Comics, 12 cents, February 1968") with a picture of James Brown and a teaser saying, "The godfather of soul cuts his best yet!"

But the one I fell for was a small black and white piece by Ajah Courts simply labeled "Untitled" and showing hands holding a black blanket out of which grew white forms.

Perhaps I was transferring my attraction to "Ring Saplings," another delicate, black and white piece to this little gem, but I don't think so.

After looking at it for less than a minute, I could tell it was something I could look at every day and appreciate, my benchmark for whether I should buy something or not.

That and the price was less than an entree, meaning I could justify it.

When I asked to buy it, the girl told me I was the first sale of the evening and asked if I was a fan of prints.

I am, I told her, because prints are an affordable way to acquire local art, one of my missions in life. She beamed at that, making me think she's an artist, too.

So while I went to see a show, I walked out knowing that I will have a new piece for my wall once the show comes down.

Lucky me.

My last stop was at the new dessert cafe, Shyndigz, in the old Bogart's location. Yes, I knew it was foolish to attempt it on a Friday night when I'd heard about lines just to get in, but I had nothing better to do.

Lo and behold, there was a line, but it took no time for me to get to the front and be escorted to an empty bar stool.

I was right at the start of the bar, meaning right across from the owner and his assistant valiantly trying to keep up with the non-stop stream of order tickets coming across to them.

Considering how insanely busy they were, I was surprised when he took the time to greet me and ask if I'd been in before.

When I assured him I'd been to the Patterson Avenue location, he was even more impressed, not even taking off points when I divulged that the new spot is far closer to my house.

Clearly, lots of people had been craving alcohol with their desserts, so they now have ten beers and nine wines, although plenty of people were enjoying coffee and espresso.

One thing that immediately became obvious is that they've had to adjust their game since opening two weeks ago.

Instead of scads of choices for desserts, they've narrowed the field and make more of just a few things instead. So when I asked if salted chocolate caramel cake was the only chocolate cake option, I heard that it was.

The girl next to me - who was on her second visit this week and admitted that living three blocks away was already dangerous- ordered fresh fruit cake with cream cheese icing and different kinds of fruit behind the layers.

One thing that hasn't changed is the ridiculously large size of the portions and after chipping away at my mammoth slice, I gave up with a solid 3/4 of the slice left just as I looked up to see a friend show up.

What was this? The odd part was that I know for a fact she's not a dessert eater. What I quickly learned was that tomorrow is her beloved's birthday so she'd come in to get cake for him, never expecting to walk into a sugar circus.

She calmed down with a glass of Maison Foucher Vouvray as we settled in for an unexpected chance to chat about the superb soundtrack to the new John Turturro film, "Fading Gigolo," my friend having heard snippets on WRIR and falling in love with the old Neapolitan and Egyptian by way of Italian songs.

She's already made her way to Plan 9 to special order it.

We're both excited about this year's annual Rose crawl beginning at Acacia, a first for the event and a chance to join all those pink-clad, tipsy people outside of Carytown. It should be a hoot, if nothing else.

Given the recent weather craziness, we marveled over disturbing online pictures we'd both seen of old town Alexandria (where I'd just been Monday) completely underwater and the jaw-dropping online video in Baltimore (where I'd just been Sunday) of a line of cars being swallowed simultaneously by a sinkhole.

But mostly she marveled at the non-stop parade of new arrivals, the continuous run of orders coming off the machine and the large staff doing their best to keep up.

I remember my first dessert cafe fondly. In 2007, I visited Philly's Death by Chocolate and was delighted to discover a place offering wine and sweets anytime I wanted them. That Richmond might ever have something similar never entered my mind.

Yet here we were, watching a roomful of diabetic comas in the making, as my pithy friend put it.

There's a first time for everything.

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