Thursday, November 26, 2015

Woman of Heart and Mind

You know how it is with traditions.

You start doing something in 2010 when you're still trying to figure life out and next thing you know it's 2015 and it's still going strong. Thanksgiving Eve festivities, that is.

That first year involved dinner out at the long-shuttered Bonvenu, followed by music at Cary Street Cafe. We've since refined the process.

By mid-day, Jackson Ward was emptying out quickly. By the time I left to meet friends for the evening, it was starting to look like a ghost town. Slightly better in the Museum District (more older people likely hosting turkey day, I suppose), the trip in between was absent its usual traffic.

Walking in to Holmes' humble abode, I found him and Beloved deep in discussion of their Thanksgiving plans, which weren't sitting well with her. After wrapping up that business by saying they'd make the best of it, he turned to me and with mock seriousness proclaimed, "And tonight, we're going to do our best to have fun with Karen!"

Good luck with that, friends. That was the signal to pour glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau and toast to another year's harvest and friendship.

With Holmes at the helm and some killer blue-eyed soul courtesy of Paul Carrick playing, we glided through downtown, noting the scads of reindeer in place but not yet lighted (Grand Illumination being next week), to Castanea's welcoming light.

There, it was a family affair, with Chef Philip in the back and his wife out front. Since she's actually a nurse, she made an attentive and thoughtful server.

Best of all, I discovered that she's the source of their outstanding world music soundtrack, a stellar melding of Spanish and North African music that plays like the background of the coolest party you've never been invited to.

A bottle of the house Cava got us started while Holmes described going to the hot and sweaty July 1970 Atlanta Rock Festival in an attempt to make up for having missed Woodstock. There, he said, he saw Mott the Hoople and Procul Harum, but skipped Hendrix because he wasn't playing until 3 a.m. "I didn't stay up because I was trippin'."

Said Karen and Beloved never.

He recalled relaxing on the ground when a guy came by and informed him, "I hate to bum you out, man, but I think you're lying in poison ivy." From what he recalls, he wasn't.

We began with bacon-wrapped dates over a mango cardamom sauce, then went to what the chef calls adult fish sticks - brandade balls coated and fried up crispy - and fat albondigas swimming in a tomato sauce with pine nuts and the kick of paprika, before moving on to pizza.

Debating our topping options, Holmes opined, "It's not pizza if there's not pepperoni," and that's exactly what we got, the crust as fabulous as the thick slices of pepperoni.

And since nothing is better while eating than gross stories, Holmes regaled us with his days as an orderly at MCV circa 1971 to '73, making $1.90 an hour. "All the drugs, toilet paper and soap I wanted!" he says with gusto. Also, it turns out, all the patient meals he cared to eat, which was probably a lot given that he was 19.

If it sounds nervy of him to help himself, consider that he was the "prep" guy, meaning he had to shave people and give them enemas pre-surgery. "Yea, I had to wipe asses."

Pass the pizza, please.

The only way to top a story like that was with gelato, so we did and for my fifth visit to Castanea, I broke bad and didn't get double chocolate with coconut, choosing instead mint chocolate chip that tasted of fresh mint in the most unexpectedly refreshing way.

By the time we departed the Bottom, things were looking even deader than when we'd arrived, so the only logical thing to do was head back to Holmes' Hideaway and crank some vinyl.

Appropriately enough, he began by playing some live Buffalo Springfield, mainly because he'd seen them on November 19, 1967. Reading the liner notes, I learned that he'd seen them on the Buffalo Springfield annual Thanksgiving Tour, of all the unlikely coincidences.

The notes also divulged that on that tour, they'd been doing afternoon and evening shows and, sure enough, Holmes had seen them at the Richmond Arena one afternoon and BS had played DAR Constitution Hall that same night.

What band does that anymore?

I had no idea that Homes used to be a college DJ at UR, signing on saying, "Hi, I'm Holmes and this is the Feed Your Head show," before playing whatever the hell he wanted to, stuff such as John Cale's orchestral masterstroke, "Paris 1919," a baroque pop wonder that Holmes owns in multiple formats.

When Beloved and I requested some Joni Mitchell, he obliged with the sublime "Court and Spark" before introducing us both to the earlier "For the Roses" from 1972. She recalled "Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," but I didn't, although it didn't take long to see the beauty and sarcasm of the song.

Inside the album folder was a gorgeous picture of Joni naked from the back, standing on an outcropping of rocks in the ocean, sun glinting off the water, a picture I only wish someone would take of me.

We listened to so much music as we sipped the perfectly lovely Graham Beck Brut Rose, with Holmes only occasionally giving one or the other of us crap about our lack of knowledge or questionable taste. He justified it by saying, "I'm just an unmarried male curmudgeon in his '60s."

Things amped up when he pulled out a bottle of 120 proof Scotch and suggested we taste it. One sip in, Beloved recoils and says, "I think I hear Richard Harris when I smell this."  I stick to wetting my lips with it.

When he put on a 45 of Barbra Streisand's Barry Gibb-produced hit, "Woman in Love," he announced that it was a big drag song and began doing a pseudo-striptease for our amusement.

When he put on the soundtrack to "Shaft," he immediately asked our permission to turn it up and bathe us in Isaac Hayes' immersive soul sounds. Beloved and I wanted to hear the whole thing, but he was dissatisfied listening to what he called "incidental soundtrack music" and moved on to the Pretenders.

We were several hours into Thanksgiving before calling it quits. The two of them had to get up at a reasonable enough hour to make corn pudding, so we put a period on our Thanksgiving Even tradition with another evening of terrific company and entertainment under our collective belt.

My head had been fed, as had been my belly. Happy Thanksgiving Eve to us and many more.

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