Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Circle is Unbroken

A woman needs situational friends, the kind whom you only see on specific occasions, say a Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society.

I have sat next to the same older woman with twinkling eyes on at least half a dozen occasions and we always find so much to talk about, whether our respective neighborhoods, her years volunteering at the VMFA or changing women's roles.

For today's "Rightful Heritage: FDR and the Land of America" lecture, which had attracted me for its focus on the Civilian Conservation Corps' monumental effort to build national parks, parkways and nature refuges, she had a sentimental reason for coming.

"I remember Franklin Roosevelt being President," she said of the man who, as we were soon to learn, was as avid a conservationist as his fifth cousin, ex-President "Uncle Teddy," espousing the progressive philosophy, "Conservation is the basis for permanent peace" and envisioning national parks as dispensers of our heritage.

Pretty rad for the time.

Most surprising fact gleaned from Douglas Brinkley's effortlessly delivered lecture: FDR ran a tree plantation and whenever required to fill out his occupation on a form, always wrote "tree farmer." Pretty far-removed from his image of Hyde Park, cigarette holders and a monocle, eh?

A woman needs gay friends because who else would write something such as, "I saw you on Sunday at the food event on Broad Street with your "baby doll" dress on, but I was too far away to yell so I thought I'd do it here."

Nope, never comes out of the mouth of a straight man (because they would have no clue what a baby doll style dress is), so it's flattering to know someone notices, even from a distance.

A woman needs married friends because they're so accommodating, if not always as well-trained as one might expect.

We used to meet up regularly with the blessing of his wife (a far less adventurous eater), at least until he took a three-year position that resulted in a daily work schedule and our get-togethers petered out. When I bumped into him at a booze panel last winter, he set the ball in motion by instructing me to call him.

It only took half a year to make it happen tonight at Castanea, a place he'd never been. Naturally, he began by detailing his parking difficulties and concerns with the neighborhood, as he is inclined to do being a white suburbanite out of his comfort zone, although for food, he'll venture most anywhere.

Recently that had been Mama J's Kitchen where he and his wife had been made to feel like regulars, had enjoyed a terrific dinner of soul food ("those greens...that cake!") and generally fallen for the irresistible combo of good food, welcoming atmosphere and agreeable prices (albeit where they were the only white people, which, we agreed, is exactly the situation more white people need to place themselves in).

A Southside resident and regular at Southbound's bar ("It's so close!") he regaled me with tales of the wonder that is the new Wegman's, having joined the 24,000 other people who'd visited it on opening day, although he'd purposely ignored the carts and only looked.

The rest of the story is that they've been back three times since, spent lots of money and the two of them are besotted with the place. He went so far as to suggest that Whole Foods and Fresh Market just go ahead and close up shop since they're now superfluous.

"They've got mushrooms I've only seen on television!" he said with obvious fungus lust.

Much of his praise was for the seafood section and the impressive whole fish displays from which fillets are cut on demand and myriad oysters for roasting abound, but he was also drooling about the cured meat and cheese offerings, which so tempted them that he said they made dinner of bread, meat and cheese three times last week.

"You'll have to go check it out," he tells me. Will I really? Having an embarrassment of fresh produce is really only meaningful if the market's in your neighborhood and south of the river, west of Huguenot is nothing close to mine.

Since we'd last gotten together, he'd become a devotee of sour beers and a decision maker at work, resulting in his insistence that I pick and choose what we'd eat tonight. For me, being bossy is like breathing, so when I'm actually asked to call the shots, I don't even pretend to demur.

After choosing monkfish, a mezze of sauteed zucchini and a smoked pancetta pizza, we settled back with a bowl of olives which led to a discussion of the Olivator, a tool for inserting bleu cheese (or, I suppose, anything sort of soft) into an olive. I'm not kidding, the subject got him so worked up that he pulled out his phone to show me the single-function device, which, it seemed to me, operated pretty much identically to a syringe.

Not a good visual, I know.

"Let's check the 'don'ts,'" he insisted, confusing me at first. "Still no cell phone? No TV? No air conditioning?" No, no and I've always had central air, I just choose not to use it.

He admitted he could only give me so much crap about my lack of phone because his wife still has a flip phone and can't text. "And I'm not allowed to bring it out for any reason when we're out. It has to stay in my pocket, no matter how badly I need to check something."

First, brilliant woman. Second, how civilized. Can we make this official policy?

The first dish out was the monkfish with Victory Farm pac choi sauteed with hot pepper and a salty tapendae on the side, a strong start because the pac choi was every bit as stellar as the rich fish. A huge party at a nearby table must have slowed down receipt of our next course, so I casually mentioned to our overwhelmed barkeep that I was hoping the pizza showed up soon and it did.

As delicious as it was tardy, the pizza hit the spot nicely.

The zucchini, however, never found its way to us, so we punted by ordering double chocolate gelato, declining an offer from a nearby writer who's leaving Richmond (at least for the time being, since they always come back) to buy us drinks and then by offering her our last two slices of pizza, for which she was giddily grateful and promised to stalk me on Facebook so she could buy me that drink another time.

A woman may not need a stranger owing her a drink, but it's not necessarily a bad thing, either.

No comments:

Post a Comment