Friday, August 12, 2016

Explosions in the Sky

Some people know how to use their down time better than others.

My partner in crime was off today and I'd cleared the decks so we could do whatever we wanted right up until bedtime. So I sent off my morning ping - Hey, I'm up and about  - and 35 minutes later we're heading off on an epic walk.

Before we even got to the Empire Theater, we'd run into both the tall, handsome one with the aged beagle and strangers at a table in front of Lift with a young beagle with enormous feet sprawled on the pavement.

An auspicious start to any day, if ever there was one.

We hoofed it down to 13th Street to pick up the empty pipeline walkway, where we were greeted by an unusually brown and muddy river but also a view of short kayakers (meaning those with mad kayak skills) attempting to navigate rapids that repeatedly sent them in alternate directions.

From Brown's Island, we headed to Belle Isle to reward ourselves for traipsing through such heat and humidity right after breakfast, roosting on a rock next to an oblivious couple busy looking at their phones while I submerged my bottom half in the river.

There are far worse things (and few better ways to stay cool on the way home) than walking a couple miles home in wet shorts.

Back at home, we changed clothes and went to lunch at the kind of place where ladies lunch (they were, in fact, at the table next to us) and I froze to death due to the excessively chilly temperatures suburbanites seem to require.

Translation: not particularly my kind of place.

Going our separate ways temporarily after lunch, I used the next few hours to scratch things off my to-do list: editing, grocery-shopping, laundry and something so uncharacteristic I dare not speak its name.

Productive, yes. Thrilling? Hardly.

So imagine my surprise when we reconvene later at Amour for tonight's Languedoc-Roussillon wine tasting with small plates, an evening intended to be both informative and delicious. My favorite outdoor shower owner/wine rep greeted me, I kissed the birthday boy on both cheeks and turned to my friend.

I should've been suspicious when I arrived to find her already there - wait, I'm the punctual one - but it wasn't until I saw the grin, no, the smug look on her face, that I found out why.

Afternoon delight, pure and simple.

I can't say a word since I'm the one who talked her into dipping a toe back into the online dating pool, which has already yielded a wildly complimentary admirer who has commented favorably on her backside, the constellation-like grouping of freckles on her back and her in general.

But envious? Yea, I can be that without reservation. And was.

Fortunately, I had the wine tasting to get my mind out of the gutter and back into France. Owner Paul was his usual playful self, pouring two wines to sample for each course without sharing what they were. It was our job to figure that out based on the spiels offered by both him and he who showers under the stars.

We began with two Roses, one from Languedoc and the other from Provence - La Galope and Le Petit Rouviere - and a rumination about the difficulty years ago in convincing American drinkers that true Rose bore no resemblance to the white Zinfandel of the '80s.

No news there for true pink fans.

Paired with the two Roses was a bowl of summer flavors, namely ratatouille that tasted like it had still been in the garden this morning.

"The color of Rose is a fashion thing," Paul shared about the process that determines color, spurring one guest to suggest using red food color instead.

"Not in France!" Paul responded with disdain.

The next course was a surprise one, so not listed in our wine workbooks, contrasting two Chardonnays that paired oh-so nicely with local mushrooms and garlic and spurred a discussion of Chardonnay's rise and fall with the American public.

Recalling a 25-year old bumper sticker, the wine rep shared its message: "Let's take the oak out of the wine and put the fruit back in," it read. No doubt directed at California, not France.

When quizzed about which Chard was from Languedoc and which from Burgundy, all the attendees called it correctly, netting praise from the owner. I couldn't help pointing out that the more we drank, the smarter we were becoming.

"Can I get that on a t-shirt?" the guy at the end of the bar wondered. Rumor has it he also tried to shoot a deer out his sliding glass door in Bon Air, but I can't verify that one way or another.

Seated near us at the bar was a woman who'd come alone but who'd quickly joined our conversation, explaining her job at an IT firm as "herding cats." A former Museum District resident, she now lived in the West End, yet still sought more land around her.

Leaning over, my friend whispered, "It's a shame, she seems like a nice girl and yet she moved out of the city." We just can't figure out come people.

Our handsome wine rep got many laughs explaining the next set of wines - "Paul is such a  great guy, but he's French" - notable because another guest observed, "Now we're in "real" wines," meaning, of course, red wine.

Both Languedoc's Laurent Miquel and Bergerac's Chateau Michel de Montaigne got high points from the group, especially when paired with duck rillettes and duck cracklins.

What was strange was that the woman next to us wasn't eating her food (nor drinking all her wine, not that there's anything wrong with that), making me think she was there more to de-stress than anything else. She had, after all, told us several times how stressful her job was.

She could have benefited from a little afternoon delight herself, although she seemed a bit tightly wound to realize that.

How can someone whose first concert was Jethro Tull and AC/DC at age 10 in Texas be so uptight?

Like us, though, she was thoroughly impressed with both the final Syrahs - Chateau Camplazens and the "nose wine," La Chapelle Saint Arnoux - paired with steak and shallot relish (also not eaten by our seatmate).

By the end of the evening, some of us were smarter about Languedoc's offerings, we'd sung Happy Birthday to Paul and watched him blow out a candle and discussed why dresses are superior to pants on women.

All in all, not a bad night's work.

But not content to finish the night out there, we stopped at the Hofheimer Building  because who can resist an invitation reading, "Come be beautiful and feel the breeze while watching fireworks"?

Not me, apparently, but then I missed the usual Independence Day display because of being in France (I know, boo-hoo) but I also welcome opportunities to attempt beautiful, wherever they arise.

On the loft level, we took advantage of Tidewater Oysters' table, spending five bones a piece to scarf four York oysters each and marveling at how briny they were, surprisingly not far off the salinity of Old Saltes.

Ergo, absolutely delicious.

Crowds were entrenched on the roof, but we had no problem moving around the socializing and flirtation so my constant companion could get her first Hof rooftop views, which,  incidentally, do not surpass Quirk's tree-covered bird's -eye view of Jackson Ward.

Listening to MJ's "Rock with You" and ogling the lights of RVA, we agreed that the breezes were fantastic up there.

As if on cue, the fireworks display at the Diamond began and we found places near the edge with fabulous views.

I'll admit, I was a bit surprised how many people ignored the fireworks entirely (or were oblivious to them), but part of the blame goes to the sheer noise level of conversation and music, which rendered moot the satisfying booms and pops of the fireworks.

In that regard, it was a bit unsatisfying.

Sort of like hearing how your friend used her down time while you were off being boring.

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