Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Madly, Extravagantly, Absurdly

Some people just don't get it.

My day began with reading RVANews' summation of today's forecast: Today's highs are likely to hit 70!! Too bad you'll be too busy stuck inside avoiding thunderstorms for most of the day to get out and take advantage of those summery temperatures.

Wrong. I don't know about the rest of Richmond, but I've got no issue with rain when it's as warm as all that.

Besides, my morning walk was uninterrupted by any precipitation and already warm enough to wear shorts. I walked by a guy sitting on his porch and we exchanged hellos. When I got a few feet past him, he called from behind, "Are you single?"

Are you so dense you think that works with women?

I worked all afternoon with my windows wide open, even once I began hearing thunder and right up until torrential rains began. I compromised by lowering them, unwilling to give up the sound and smell of clashing fronts.

By the time I got ready to walk to VCU Cabell Library, it had mostly stopped but ankle-deep puddles floated at every corner. I'd come prepared in my flowered boots, but I was surprised it was so much warmer than earlier.

Tonight's "Meet VCU's Authors" lecture on Oscar Wilde turned out to be the inaugural event in the library's new space and a pretty grand space it was, complete with kitchen and terrace overlooking the Compass. I was told that no other library in Virginia has all the features VCU's now has and that nugget came from the important-looking man who introduced himself to me. "UVA can't come close!" he boasted.

The only familiar face was a favorite poet and poetry lover I hadn't seen in ages. who came over to say hello.

Faculty, students and other middle-aged geeks (say it loud and proud) like me made up the crowd, but it was the two women in front of me who provided my entertainment waiting for the lecture to start.

"We met through So-and-So, remember?" one asked. "And you're a chemist, right?" The other corrected her quickly. "No, I'm a physicist, but I do have the periodic table memorized."

Now that I think about it, maybe everyone there was a geek, not just the non-VCU crowd.

English professor Nicholas Frankel was talking on the subject of Wilde's 1890 novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," because in 2011, he'd edited the first uncensored version of it. Ever.

If you were half the geek I am, you'd be wondering how in the hell this could be possible.

When Wilde had first submitted it for serialization in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (a Philly publication always on the lookout for "edgy" writing in the 19th century), his editor had removed 500 words he considered morally unacceptable prior to publication. Words suggesting men loved men.

Let me assure, you, no writer is happy when their words are deleted or changed.

The problem, as Frankel ably explained, was a then-recent law stipulating that men could be arrested for gross indecency with other men, followed by a scandal involving "rent boys" who were telegraph boys by day and male prostitutes by night.

So the feeling was that the public was a tad touchy on the subject of male love (fascinating fact: at the time, there was no word for homosexuality or even heterosexuality). The editor's goal was to remove anything an innocent woman might take exception to...and then take out a little more.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that those kinds of innocent women no longer exist.

Not only did Wilde wind up going along with the cuts (lines such as, "I quite admit that I adored you madly, extravagantly, absurdly" to a man) for fear of being arrested, he made even deeper cuts before the book version came out. Even so, out of 267 reviews of it, only two were favorable.

I was blown away to learn that before Frankel and Harvard Press, no one had bothered to bring out the original, uncensored version, re-framing it in an effort to bring new readers to it.

Um, like me? Now mind you, about ten years ago I'd purchased the Everyman edition of Wilde's "Plays, Prose Writings and Poems," reading all 525 pages, but it had only contained the preface to "Dorian Gray" (A defense, really: "Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex and vital").

Geek alert: the Harvard Press edition just jumped to the top of my wish list.

Leaving the library (which was anything but quiet - is that not a rule for libraries any more?), it was even warmer than when I'd arrived, making for a delightfully sultry walk over to Triple Cross Brewing for trombonist Reggie Chapman's curated series "You Don't Know Me."

Tonight the VCU Jazz Small Ensemble was playing, followed by an open jam session. Although I'd heard from a beer-lover that the space wasn't ideal for live music, I walked in to find the place mostly full with an attentive crowd at high tables facing the band.

Taking a stool next to two guys, one turned to me and said, "I know you!" Ben and I had met at Secretly Y'All and discussed our lives, so we even recalled what each other did for a living. He introduced me to his friend ("My BFF, but not my boyfriend") and welcomed me to their table.

The quintet - bass, sax, trumpet, drums, keys - looked impossibly young, but sounded polished and for the most part, the crowd listened rather than talked.

It was the ideal combination: I wasn't far from the front door which was half open, letting in the unexpectedly warm night air as the musicians soloed and took off in perfectly-timed unison.

During the break, we talked about the Environmental Film Fest (did I want to cover it for the James River Association?), his friend shared that he writes haikus (immediate bonus points) and about how much Ben appreciates being back in Richmond after a fabulous weekend in NYC.

It was cool the way there were boxes with take-out menus on each table so people could have food delivered from nearby restaurants to go with their beer. The guys had ordered from Sang Jun Thai in the former Beauregard's spot and had nothing but raves for their meal.

I've got nothing but raves for an evening spent traipsing around the city on a warm, damp night for literature, conversation and jazz.

Just don't expect me to have the periodic table memorized. Ever.

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