Saturday, July 26, 2014

Trying on a New Sun Bonnet

Like a giant magnet, the museum was Saturday-sucking me in.

A new Degas on exhibition? I'll be right there! A cook-in at Amuse, a way to have summer food in the sunniest dining room in Richmond? On my way!

But one doesn't just jump into an afternoon such as that. No, no, one prepares for it, as if one were bound for a hat shop appointment to be fitted for a new chapeaux.

Which meant I stopped by a friend's house for a glass or two of pink - Domaine du Pere Caboche - to cool down with a dressing drink to prepare for the pleasures ahead.

When I inquired about her fabulous art collection - hung salon style (my fave), no less - she was gracious enough to walk me through it, sharing artists' names and the dates of the works.

Then we finished off our wine and moved on.

It only took a short walk and two security guards to steer us to the European galleries and the French room.

There it was, newly on exhibit, Degas' "At the Milliner," a sublime, little oil painting from the Paul Mellon collection, showing a woman trying on a hat with the shop's clerk already offering another in case the first didn't satisfy.

We admired it from close up, far away and with an eye to the singular pleasures of hat shopping.

As a bonus, I heard how my friend's mother had worked at the millinery shop at Thalhimer's and she shared that in most cases, women chose the hat first and matched the ensemble to go with it afterwards.

Such is the power of just the right head dressing.

Most of my hat memories come from childhood and hats chosen for occasions like Easter and summer vacation.

These days, my hat wearing is almost exclusively based on sun.

When we left the French gallery, it was for Amuse and their first ever cook-in. As excited as I was about the idea of cookout fare at Amuse, I have to admit that I was just as thrilled about being in the museum after hours.

You see, the cook-in was from 5-8 and usually the VMFA closes at 5. Tonight, while a lavish wedding went on in the marble hall, we were celebrating summer with an ants-free indoor picnic.

When we arrived, hostess Sam informed us that every seat was booked and led us to the green lounge chairs until some bar stools opened up.

Continuing the pink theme, we enjoyed Rose and spicy pork rinds which arrived still crackling from the fryer.

A couple joined us - she worked at the museum and lived with her handsome husband of 17 years (in Goochland where they kept horses), a charming man who'd once played football and had recently had a knee replaced - leading to unexpected discussion of later life relationships (they'd met at a co-ed sports league in 1990) and why subsequent marriages fare better than first ones (oops, don't tell that to the newlyweds in the marble hall).

Possibly the best part of the conversation was on the subject of horses and their small brains and huge emotions. We heard about what an extended period it is that horses grieve, something I had never considered, but they had witnessed firsthand.

Once their friends arrived, our bar stools opened up and we moved over to eat.

It was a cook-in, so the menu was decidedly casual and we chose accordingly. A yellow cheese dog (American cheese, bacon and grilled onions), a corn dog coated in French fries (as obscene as it sounds) and the housemade cheeseburger on a homemade buttermilk and pork fat bun, with bacon jam and bleu cheese made up our meal.

A ridiculous amount of food for two women and yet we finished every bite.

My friend followed that with a watermelon collins made with gin (the pitchers of fresh watermelon juice were the most fetching brilliant pink) while I had a glass of the Renegade Rose.

That's when we began slinging the dirt, talking about men and what they need to be told (everything from what flowers not to bring to what, ahem, practices we appreciate), with our lovely bartender joining in on the opining.

We were too full for the boozy popsicles, although a woman at the bar raved about hers. Next time.

Needless to say, the crowd kept growing, many people attracted, like us, to the idea of being in the museum on a Saturday night. That just doesn't happen.

Except that it does.

While some people were celebrating their nuptials, we were kicking back with a summer meal with strangers.

Not to sound like old folks, but I think we got the better deal.

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