Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Alive

Pink is the color of love and happiness.

I gleaned this, not by spending close to two hours in the love and happiness room at Quirk Hotel, but by listening to a Ted talk (as in Ted Ukrop was talking) about the hotel's restoration and renovation, a talk punctuated by the clinking glasses of the cocktail party vibe in the room and a fire alarm.

Given the blase age we live in, it was hardly surprising that, mid-talk, when the excruciatingly loud alarm began sounding, not a soul moved. In fact, a well-dressed guy turned and said to no one in particular, "Funny how no one's making a move to leave."

Funny? It took some time for the Modern Richmond crowd to begrudgingly accept that there was the possibility that the hotel above us was in dire straits and begin shuffling up the stairs, through the smoky lobby and outside.

We never got any explanation, but the moment the alarm ceased, we dutifully filed back in to hear more about how Quirk came to be from Ted and the architect. Like how they researched old photos at the Valentine to see what the lobby originally looked like back when the Italianate building was a toney department store.

How the second floor windows on the east side are original and high up on the walls, in the Italian style, so steps were added to access the views. How flooring from the building next door was used to fashion cabinets, closets and counters. How you can see the racetrack and the Diamond from the rooftop bar because it's the tallest building in the area.

Our ultimate goal was going upstairs to see a room and a loft suite, both with fabulous windows, local artisan-made ice buckets and Virginia art in every room and hallway. Since the rooms cost $200 and $400 a night respectively, it'll likely be my last look at them.

Chatting with a stranger about where I lived and how I liked it (J-Ward, love it) because she's considering a move to the city, she asks, apropos of nothing, "Do you work?"

I think this is about the oddest question you could ask an able-bodied person over 18 and under 65. Do I work? Do I need to pay for shelter and transportation? Do I have living expenses? What the hell?

Yes, I work.

I also eat, both for hire, for pleasure and for sustenance, meaning my next stop was dinner at Lucy's with my favorite walker.

Ensconced at the bar with "On the Town" playing silently on the screen, I licked a bowl of bacon and lentil soup clean and followed it with a fried Brussels sprout and mesclun salad jazzed up with goat cheese and red onions while my companion found religion with Lucy's incomparable cheeseburger.

Shortly, in came the chef and barkeep of Metzger, waiting to meet friends, but happy to share the plans for their new Scott's Addition restaurant in the meantime. While it certainly sounds like it's going to be fun, I can't help but wonder about the wisdom of this mass stampede to such a small and impossibly trendy neighborhood.

Or perhaps I'm secretly envious that more business owners don't consider some of the empty buildings in Jackson Ward when looking for real estate.

But no matter. In front of us was flourless chocolate cake dripping with real whipped cream on a plate squiggled with caramel sauce, so my attention was diverted to more important things like maintaining my daily chocolate quota.

That quota, in fact, had been the subject of discussion earlier today while I was out on my walkabout.

"I see you're still out here strutting every day," says the business owner whose shop I'd passed for years, at least until construction fences forced me to the opposite side of the street.

He felt comfortable giving me a hard time because we'd officially met and chatted at a nearby restaurant I was reviewing when he'd spotted me in non-walking attire. I reminded him that I strut so I can abuse chocolate and put off looking my age.

"I need to get back to the gym more often,:" he said, picking up the gauntlet and running with it before tossing me a delightful compliment (coincidentally, the third reason I walk).

Chocolate needs met for the time, I bade my companion farewell and set out for UR and the annual Musicircus,a tribute to composer John Cage. Since the first one I attended back at the old Chop Suey Books in 2007, I've been devoted to the one-hour cacophony of sound.

Wandering through the concert hall, I was a bit surprised at the small crowd, but there hadn't been much press or even social media about it, so it wasn't entirely surprising. In hallways and practice rooms, the crowd happened on all kinds of music and musicians.

A four-piece fado group, the singer's lovely voice shaping the words of Portuguese longing. A guy playing acoustic guitar and singing the stirring "This Land is Your Land." A piano and drum combo perfectly in sync. Gamelan musicians. A killer guitarist playing lap steel. A familiar sax player, eyes closed, wailing alone in a room.

One of the most unique sound contributors was The Hat, reading from his unfinished novel, using his best actorly voices and hand gestures for dramatic effect.

My only complaint was that the whole point of the Musicircus is the blending of all the disparate music being made, but with such a large building, even the sound of 50+ musicians didn't always reach to the next performer.

It was only when I ran into the jazz critic that I was clued in to the additional musicians playing their hearts out in the basement. Down I went, only to be rewarded with the best bleeding of sound by far.

Just outside a stairwell were three members of No BS - Lance using nothing but a mic'd cymbal and a xylophone, Marcus and Reggie blowing horns - making a disproportionately large sound for three people.

Two favorites - Scott and Cameron - whom I'd seen recently in separate outfits were reunited (and it feels so good) and playing with trumpeter Bob. A noise group turned knobs and produced sound so loud it scared some people off. A guy playing a keyboard with earbuds in seemed to be in his own world.

Walking in on Brian and Pinson, both drummers except tonight Brian - the event's organizer all these years - was playing piano (what?), a favorite gallerist arched an eyebrow and leaned in, saying, "I see your blog is back alive."

Now there was an unexpected compliment. You just never know what instruments people play or who might be paying attention to your blog, do you?

Fittingly, my final stop was a large room with an eight-piece (guitar, bass, drums, congas, trumpet, piano, two saxes) rocking out to the point that the two guys listening were head banging while the grooviest of light shows swirled red, green and yellow on the ceiling and walls.

Needless to say, their raucous sound was bleeding out and down hallways in a manner that had to have had John Cage smiling, wherever he and partner Merce are right now.

With any luck, they're in a place with walls painted in Benjamin Moore's "Love and Happiness Pink," coincidentally, the color of half the rooms at Quirk Hotel.

If only painting it made it so. We strutting types figure that love and happiness are where you find them.

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