Thursday, July 20, 2017

Once in a Lifetime

What happens when two people who've never seen what's considered to be the best concert film ever made finally see "Stop Making Sense?"

After dinner at Eleven Months - a massive pork chop with chorizo cornbread and spinach and chicken thigh escabeche with red pepper and arugula - watching a fellow bar sitter eat through four different desserts (the churros were his least favorite, the tequila chocolate cake the winner), they cross the street.

There, they wind up sitting in the center section of the Byrd Theater in seats that will no longer exist after tonight. That's right, beginning tomorrow morning, the Byrd will be ripping the seats that cradled our bums out of the floor in anticipation of the new ones arriving.

A dubious honor, but an honor nonetheless.

But besides the historic last stand for the seats, the duo are so enraptured with the 1984 film that they wind up discoursing on Talking Heads and what a fabulous film it was for an hour afterwards before even driving away from the theater.

One of them, who had only heard a very small portion of their music before tonight, is stunned by their musical chops and the stellar songwriting. One of them, who seldom sees videos, is gobsmacked by what a showman David Byrne is, whether dancing with a lamp, doing back bends or running circles around the risers.

The guitar geek takes note of every model of guitar and bass used in the performance, and even notes one continuity mistake in Tina Weymouth's bass during a cutaway. The cultural historian takes note of Weymouth's oh-so-'80s jumpsuit and gold flats and the percussionist's oh-so Flashdance sweatshirt with the neck and sleeves cut off.

Because today was a national screening day for the film, our night at the Byrd begins with an interview of director Jonathan Demme and David Byrne from 2004, both looking damn fine for middle-aged men with full heads of hair.

Demme recalls Byrne asking him repeatedly, "How is this going to be any different than other concert films?"

Frustrated with the questioning, Demme finally told him, "Because I'm making it and you're in it!" which pretty much sums up the brilliance of the film.

The surprises for me were myriad. That the band had five black and four white members. That Weymouth's hair was a ringer for that of Mary Travers'. That Byrne's famous "big suit" started out much smaller at the beginning of the set.

The delights were even more plentiful. The sheer exuberance of everyone's performances. Hearing "Psycho Killer" accompanied solely by acoustic guitar and drum machine. Hearing "Take Me to the River" as a full-on gospel show. Seeing Tom Tom Club do "Genius of Love" mid-set. All that lovely synth.

And, of course, the pure poetry of a pitch perfect version of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" for ever and always my absolute favorite Talking Heads song.

Hi-yea, I got plenty of time
Hi-yea, you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight
Say goodnight

And the most wonderful part of seeing the film in a theater crowded with fans of the band and assorted middle-aged music-lovers was the collective energy that all but engulfed it.

Spontaneous applause and cheers broke out after almost every song, as if we were actually at a live show. People began murmuring when they recognized the first couple notes of a song. I was far from the only one who sighed loudly when "Naive Melody" began or squealed when Alex Weir did his lightening fast guitar solos.

I didn't have to guess that this must be the place. I knew I was exactly where I should be. Finally.

Say goodnight.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ruby Tuesday

Time for my rating of today's zeitgeist.

Sitting on a rock in the James, our bodies submerged from the hips down, my companion spots a blue crab barely a foot away. In all my years of river walking, I've never seen a crab in the river. He's small, so maybe he's too young to know he's a tad west of the brackish water crabs prefer. Still, we saw a blue crab.

When we went to 8 1/2 to get heroes for a picnic, the counter guy knocked the wind out of our sails when he said they were all out of rolls, those incredible crusty rolls. Okay, so we ordered a white pizza with spinach and onion to accompany our J. Mourat Rose.

Only problem was when we picked up the pizza, they'd made it red instead. "Want us to remake it?" they asked reluctantly. And wait another 35 minutes? Our bellies declined the offer. Still, it was a killer pizza, the meal rounded out with pasta salad and grapes.

The group in front of us bought 2 bottles of wine but didn't have a wine opener. I asked if they were going to Scuffletown and when they said yes, I told them to look for my sunflower dress and they could borrow mine.

When she showed up, I learned that they were artists from NYC, down working on a virtual reality project with teens at Art 180, three blocks from my house. About 45 minutes later when he showed up to borrow it again and open their second bottle, he raved about what a cool town Richmond is. "You guys should keep this place a secret," he told me. We're trying.

On a breezy July night, listening to a singing accordion player with a quietly dramatic delivery, accompanied by a Russian guitarist and a drummer playing in a park was just this side of sublime. Beginning 15 minutes before sunset, they played through the arrival of fireflies and the street lights coming on to a much smaller crowd than 2 weeks ago. Simply beautiful.

Tonight's attendees were not an especially respectful bunch and many of them talked and laughed over the music being made. An accordion and acoustic guitars don't need competition from the noise made by people raised by wolves. Why come to a music show if you don't want to listen to the music?

It's a who's who at the show. The traveling world musicians, just back from Vermont and leaving again in 3 days. The activist who tells me I look beautiful in my sunflower dress. The bolero singer we'd seen just Sunday night at Sub Rosato. The brains behind the kite-flying club, coincidentally also working on his own music series.  The roadie (and best hugger I know), also just back from a tour. The songstress girlfriend I'm having brunch with Saturday. My favorite jazz metal guitarist and his cowboy roommate. The guy we'd met at the polo game 2 weeks ago.

Tuesday's score: 15
And that's not counting the afterparty, set to a soundtrack of cicadas and accompanied by warm breezes wafting through open windows.

As the Smithereens would say, groovy Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Best Laid Plans

What are we doing?

Because I seem to be everyone's default planner, inevitably when I make a date to meet someone, they count on me to decide what we're going to do (and usually, where we're going to eat). And it isn't a recent phenomena because I was always the organizer of trips and excursions as far back as my college days, when I was gifted with a shirt that read, "Social Director."

Plans "R" me, if you will.

So after a friend recently told me he was really enjoying getting to know new things through me, I laid out a simple Monday evening that began with parking once and partying twice.

Because it's only fair to revisit a place I haven't been in years, we began at Casa del Barco for happy hour.

I still love the Italianate building, the sunlight glinting off the bottles hung from the ceiling and the rustic metal light fixtures over the bar, yet I still marvel at how such a large staff can be so inattentive when there are only a dozen customers.

Heaven help us if we'd wanted food.

Still, through patience, hand signals and flagging down a manager with a headset, we were able to procure glasses of Prosecco on two separate occasions, although I have to believe it shouldn't be that challenging.

From there we walked to the turning basin to board the Martha Jefferson so my date could experience his first canal boat ride. I'd purposely chosen the last boat ride of the day, the better to appreciate the soft evening light and the sunset's reflections off the downtown buildings.

Where I was surprised - this was, after all, my fourth canal boat ride, although it had been several years since my last - was in the spiel delivered by our young female boat driver.

In addition to the standard patter about the burning of Richmond and the tobacco warehouses, we heard about how one of the bridges was modeled on Paris' Pont Neuf, the city's oldest bridge. Who knew?

Just as surprising was the story of Maggie Walker, complete with a reference to the new statue here in Jackson Ward. That definitely wasn't part of the tour before, although I was thrilled to hear it shared as just another key part of Richmond history.

On the uncrowded boat with us was an Hispanic family, the youngest son in a t-shirt with an American flag and the Dad proudly wearing a U.S. Army hat, all of them except the youngest child (who was fixated by a screen), seemingly enthralled with the history lesson they were hearing.

Depending on your politics, they could have been a poster family for American assimilation or an example of just the kind of no-good people we need to build a wall to keep out.

Don't get me started.

For my companion, who was seeing the Low Line, man-made Chapel Island and the half bascule bridge (think mules and rocks) from the water for the first time since I'd walked him over that territory, it was an opportunity to delight in an alternate vantage point.

Everything looks different from the water.

During the Q & A, someone inquired about the canal's depth and the driver said it was only up to her waist, a fact she'd recently learned when her sunglasses went overboard.

"But I don't recommend getting in because it's pretty gross," she shared. It was my first canal boat ride without a blue heron sighting, although I see them so frequently on the pipeline now that I can't really complain.

Once back on dry land, we weren't ready to return to air-conditioning, instead ending up in the brick-walled garden of Sang Jun Thai for dinner. We shared the dusky patio space with only one other table and it held friends already enjoying a meal.

Our server was sweet and incredibly young-looking, but also flummoxed when the first two bottles of wine we ordered were no longer available. Seems the wine list needs updating and no one could be bothered to do it.

Eventually, she brought out a hand-written list of available wines for us to choose from, we each ordered a glass and she returned with just one. We took it as a hint that we should abandon any hope of drinking.

But our entrees - broccoli lover with chicken and Chinese broccoli with crispy pork belly - were solid, the lanterns came on to provide ambiance and our friends moved on, leaving us the sole occupants of the charming patio.

No, I hadn't planned that part, although I might have if I'd known how.

But listening to Curtis Mayfield by candlelight on my balcony afterward while sipping Eden Imperial 11 Rose? That was all me.

I got this plan-making thing down cold. Or warm, as the night may be.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Celebrating Life and Happiness

I've apparently been mistaken for missing in action.

When I (finally after 3 years) posted a new profile photo on Facebook the other day, certain friends wasted no time in weighing in.

There you are! I've been looking for you.

Where have you been?

Well, let's see, just yesterday I was, as usual, all over the place.

In the morning I was down walking by the river, at least right up until I made a pit stop on the way home at Rapp Session for a lobster roll and an orgeat lemonade, quite possibly the most exquisite summer lunch known to woman.

In the afternoon, I was at Firehouse Theater with Mac for their collaboration with TheatreLab on "Heathers: The Musical," a riff on the late '80s black comedy classic about mean girl high school cliques.

As a card-carrying nerd in high school, I knew nothing of such popularity.

The play was a hoot, from a slo-mo fight scene to an ode to 7-11 and Slurpees ("Happiness comes when everything's numb"). Of course the '80s references were rampant: Bono at Live Aid, Air Supply, watching porn on Cinemax (or is that Skinemax?).

And when else but the '80s would a high school girl announce, "I'm, hot, pissed and on the pill?" On a fashion sidenote, in a play full of adorable '80s looks, it was the Heather played by Michaela Nicole who took top prize for most fabulous hair and cutest skirt (a split yellow skirt with a yoke that I'd love to own).

Easily the most hilarious scene concerned the fathers' reactions to the apparent suicide of their sons, two testosterone-fueled jocks.

I don't know what was funnier, the lyrics of "Dead Gay Son" sung by Billy Christopher Maupin and Eddie Webster as the fathers ("Well, I never cared for homos much until I reared me one") or Maupin's Dad shuffle dance in celebration of his new-found appreciation for the two stray rhinestones on the Lord's big purse.

Great stuff. It's no wonder the show's run has been extended.

In the evening, I was at Sub Rosa for the latest in their natural wine series of Sub Rosato pop-ups with the added bonus of Miramar playing.

Since it wasn't my first rodeo music show at Sub Rosa, I knew full well my date and I should arrive well in advance to score a good table and avail ourselves of the 8 groovy bio-dynamic wines being featured.

Rather than choose from a list created by a pro (the savvy Virginia), we opted to work our way across the list from sparkling through white, Rose and red, while noshing on every single thing on the pop-up menu: buttery tarts of goat cheese, dill and tomato, a charcuterie board, bread and olive oil and housemade chips.

Be still, my cholesterol.

Starting with Omero Moretti, an organic, unfiltered Umbrian and a classic Cremant du Jura, we moved through the wildly contrasting Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner and Benito Santos "Pago de Xoan" Rias Baixas.

It was our loss to miss out on the Spanish Rose because it had already sold out, so we enjoyed a Virginian instead (Rosemont's unfiltered Rose) along with a faux Rose, a Kir Royale made with the Jura we'd already had.

It wasn't much of a sacrifice, I have to say.

Meanwhile, the trio of Miramar was effortlessly enchanting the room with boleros, Brazilian songs and original music, all set to the keyboard accompaniment of national treasure Marlyse Simmons, who managed to do it despite the setting sun through the window making things a tad warm for her.

Singer Laura Ann, looking fabulous in an orange sherbet-colored dress with orange pumps - because only she would have orange pumps - made sure to remind the crowded room that despite the happy sound to some songs, they were all basically unhappy.

"Here we are celebrating life and happiness through sadness, as we do," Laura said while Rei shook his maracas in agreement.

Late in the set, percussion arrived courtesy of Giustino and his bongos, making for a thrilling addition to an already sublime sound. It looked like hot work, though, and he'd pull out his handkerchief between songs to wipe sweat from his head.

That's a dedicated musician right there.

Lots of friends crowded into the bakery: the Turkish singer, her Russian guitarist and his Italian fashion blogger girlfriend, the jazz critic, the dance party enthusiast, practically the entire Dutch & Co. crew, the reporter.

It was a party for those in the know.

Back at our table, we sipped the lovely Te Mata Gamay Noir from Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, coincidentally also the home of the winemaker I'd squired around last month. I can't wait to tell him I'm still drinking his local juice.

What I can't do is provide prior notice to my Facebook friends of where I'm out and about on any given day or night.

That said, if you're looking for me, I can be found. Just ask in advance and I'll tell you where.

But MIA? Only if you don't know where to look.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Back to Mac

Despite a high of 94 degrees, it turned out to be a day for standing on the pavement.

When I set out on my walk, it was with the intention of beginning at the dedication of the Maggie Walker statue right here in Jackson Ward. When I saw the size of the crowd standing in the middle of Broad Street, I adjusted the plan.

After a walk to the river, I returned via Broad Street so I could witness the new sculpture after all the speechifying was over, snagging a fan from my favorite R & B record store, Barky's Spiritual Store, en route.

There were still plenty of folks milling around on the new plaza, but at least I could get a good look for the first time at Miss Maggie in her new Arts District digs. I'll tell you what, it certainly is refreshing to see a statue of a woman of note for a change, and even better, a woman of color.

Welcome to the 21st century, Richmond.

The second highlight of the day was being reunited with Mac after 4 long weeks of not seeing her smiling face. Life - good and bad - had intervened for both of us and I couldn't wait to spend the evening with her.

She'd chosen Dinamo (and gotten no argument from me) for dinner but we arrived half an hour before they opened, so we took advantage of 821 Cafe's empty patio to sit down on mod-looking furniture and pour out our stories from the past 28 days.

Talking to her again just reminded me how much I'd missed her company and our ongoing conversation.

Promptly at 5:30, we followed another couple into Dinamo's cool environs and chose seats at the bar behind the espresso machine. Life was good. If not for the table that came in next with 3 caterwauling children, it might have been great.

But of course the food made up for it all, from my special of crab, shrimp and corn chowder to a platter-sized flatbread with artichoke hearts and chick peas to double desserts - fresh sliced peaches and a mound of freshly whipped cream the size of a grapefruit and a Nutella cookie with sea salt that I dipped in the whipped cream.

We rolled out of there full as ticks so that we could go stand in a parking lot under the still brutal sun, something we'd only consider if the Purple One was involved.

As it happened, he was because the Trunk Show Band was presenting the tenth and latest installment of the Cover to Cover series and tonight's album was "Purple Rain."

And unlike the last nine in the series, all of which I've attended and loved, tonight's was being presented not in the hop-scented tasting room that makes me gag, but on an outdoor stage, the better to sweat to the funk.

Host Matt kicked things off onstage by announcing, "Some of you gave my outfit some looks as I was walking through the crowd like you didn't know you were going to a Prince show. I'm just going to go ahead and tell you I look fabulous." He wasn't lying.

After some applause and hollering, he went on, "I thought we got over that gender normative dressing in the '70s!"

We did. I was there. But tonight's crowd was enormous and unfortunately, some people didn't get the memo. On the plus side, just like at the two Prince shows I'd attended in the '90s, the crowd was satisfyingly diverse, a nice change for Hardywood.

Major props go to the band who began with a mixtape selection of one song from each of the nine albums they've already covered - songs like Green Day's "Basket Case,"  Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," Paul Simon's"Graceland" and Maggie doing a terrific version of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in Pocket" - a lovely memory for those of us who'd been there and undoubtedly a cruel tease for those who'd missed those stellar shows.

Oh, well, keep up or miss out, kids.

During the break, I turned to see Foto Boy coming at me with open arms and we took a hot minute to catch up since it had been ages since our last lunch. A favorite theater lover stopped by for a hug and to get a recommendation (I sent him directly to "The Toxic Avenger") of what I'd seen that qualified as fabulous lately.

Where the crowd appropriately lost it was when the band, complete with two drummers and two guitarists, began "Let's Go Crazy." I mean, it was practically a directive. Also, it was the start of a two-hour dance party that barely left room to breathe.

"I don't know if it's the reverb or what, but y'all are making us feel like rock stars!" Matt enthused after that song ended. After "The Beautiful Ones," he called out, "Y'all should be dancing if you're not."

Please. Mac and I had started moving with the first notes. After all, this wasn't our first trunk show rodeo.

Apparently it was for the drunk guy who blocked my view of guitarist Grant (not to mention his superb guitar playing and great haircut) by  planting himself smack in front of me (a slight jab to the back moved him closer to his date and out of my way), at least until he began bobbing and weaving leaving his date to begin supporting him.

After sending him off to the bathroom, she leaned over and asked if I would recommend a restaurant nearby where he could soak up the copious amounts of beer he'd ingested. I suggested Supper and an Uber (he was from North Carolina and her car was back at his hotel) and wished her good luck.

"Do they have burgers?" she asked, sounding desperate. Yes, now go, please, so Mac and I can grind to Todd singing "Darling Nikki."

An extended version of "I Would Die for You" with Anthony singing lead became a crowd singalong and midway through, a breeze arrived to take it into sublime territory.

"Purple Rain" got the royal treatment with three vocalists and Maggie and Ali using wands to blow bubbles over the sweaty crowd, many of whom used their cell phones as flashlights subbing for Bic lighters to wave overhead.

It was over too soon.

Anticipating just that, the Trunk Show Band had rehearsed a few hits for a final set: "Kiss," "Raspberry Beret," my favorite, the masterfully metaphoric "Little Red Corvette" and then the inevitable crowd-pleaser, "1999," coincidentally the year the baby-faced bass player Pete was born.

But because the crowd was now at fever pitch, they couldn't end it there and, as Cover to Cover tradition dictates (and I've come to count on since that very first show), they did a reprise of "Purple Rain," complete with more bubbles as Mac and I basked in the purple glow.

I don't know if it was the reverb but, hot summer day or not, some shows are worth dancing on the pavement for.

Especially now that Mac is back in town.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Burden Every Woman Shares

Are all men freaks? Discuss.

Before that became the evening's theme, I played chauffeur and picked Pru up from her manse in Church Hill, where we promptly drove to the Roosevelt for dinner before the heat wilted our enthusiasm.

When asked to pick our poison, we both chose Early Mountain Vineyards Rose (bartender T: "Because it's Summer!") while I regaled Pru and the barkeep with tales from my recent outing to King Family Winery.

Wine on wheels, what's not to like?

Dinner was putty in Summer's hands, with a mixed melon salad with blueberries, bacon and basil under a blanket of burrata, a yellow tomato gazpacho with lump crabmeat, mussels with grilled bread and a special of octopus salad with tomatoes and white anchovies.

The only way it could have been better is if we'd eaten it on a seaside patio and, as far as we knew, no one was offering us that tonight.

When we weren't stuffing our faces (or ruing the continuous stream of people allowing the air conditioning to escape by leaving the door open), Pru and I were waist-deep in girltalk, which is to say I was sharing the glorious improvements in my personal life while she was reminding me how long she's been waiting for me to get a clue.

"I never had your patience," she told me, stating the obvious. It's not a virtue I'm proud of.

We passed on dessert for more Rose before heading down the hill and back up it to the Basement's cool depths for a play about that magical place between heaven and hell: New Jersey.

That's right, tonight was a night for livin' on a prayer.

Taking seats in the second row, we were soon joined by a favorite actor and his companion for the evening and the conversation flowed like we were old friends. And perhaps all theater lovers are. Discussion immediately followed on who'd seen the original 1984 movie "The Toxic Avenger," on which tonight's musical was based.

Well, certainly not me, but naturally Pru (the film omnivore) had, although she couldn't recall a lot about it. As we discussed, that has a lot to do with her coming of age in the '80s and having been a bit too busy living life to make many mental notes.

Once we noticed that it was all '80s music playing, the actor's friend shared that she'd seen REM for $5 at the Metro back in 1982 (the best I could do was REM at the Mosque in '87), as well as the Ramones, although that ticket price escaped her now.

Don't sweat it, honey, a lot about the '80s escapes those of us who lived through those days.

I suppose it's possible that I could have enjoyed "The Toxic Avenger" more than I did, although it would probably have required someone rubbing my neck and shoulders throughout the entire play - including intermission -  to do so. It was that well executed and that much fun.

You're like Mother Theresa, if she was blind and hot.

Although I knew not a thing about the film, I was proud to say I'd seen several Troma films during last year's Troma series at Gallery 5, so I knew to expect the Troma tropes: nudity, horror, severed body parts, high camp and hilarity.

He's gonna jump my bones tomorrow at brunch.

The five-actor cast had the acting and singing skills of ten, whether it was Alexander Sapp as the lovesick environmentalist Melvin (or Toxie himself, with one eyeball perpetually dangling from its socket) or the incomparable Debra Waogoner as both mayor and Melvin's Mom, belting out songs to the rafters, oozing evil or baring her beautiful breasts.

When your face looks deranged, it's hard to get laid.

And don't get me started on the sheer range of Chris Hester as White Dude and William Anderson as Black Dude, who had more costume (and shoe!) changes than Cher. The two of them managed to convey menacing, coy, fey, simple-minded and just about every other type known to wo/man through a string of wig-wearing characters that left the audience in stitches.

So. Much. Cross-dressing.

Love isn't loud at all, it's soft and kind.

Rachel Rose Gilmour won everyone over when she arrived onstage as the stereotypical (and shallow) Jersey girl, complete with low-cut blouse, overly short skirt and a red glitter nail file. Oh, yes, and a probing cane because she was blind, always staring off into the middle distance, a feat unto itself.

If blind people can't love ugly people, who will?

The cast even tossed a bone to theater nerds in attendance when Toxie opened his mouth to roar and the sound didn't match his open mouth. "You ruined it, Joey Luck!" Toxie cried, referencing the much-awarded sound designer in the booth.

The roar that came up instead was laughter from every theater regular in the room.

The beauty of the play was that besides intestines, spleens and ripped off legs, "The Toxic Avenger" was a love story even if it did take place in New Jersey and, as with all good love stories, there were older, wiser women sharing their hard-earned lessons with young Sarah, the blind librarian.

It's been true since the dawn of time
From the Romans to the Greeks
Honey, face it, all mean are freaks, 
Sweetheart, face it, all men are freaks

Find kindness in your female heart
No need to act superior
Men need lots of therapy
Cause they were born inferior

That's wisdom for the ages right there. That it was sung by a mother, a blind girl and two cross-dressing men only proves its universality.

This wise woman is here to tell you that there's nothing wrong with finding kindness in your heart and offering a little therapy.

Let's just say what happens at brunch should stay at brunch.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Disadvantages of You

A river is a poor substitute for the ocean.

Even so, if I had to drive an hour to do an interview today (and I did -deadlines, you know), at least it was in Tappahannock on Prince Street half a block from the Rappahannock River and with a splendid view of the bridge.

The rest of the evening was given over to meeting for dinner with friends curious about the changes in my relationship status and particularly, who I'd been at the beach with, a subject best not discussed in a public restaurant.

Waiting for them to arrive and join me, I chatted with a woman planning to catch a 7:55 plane to NYC, a conversation of soulmates when we realized how strongly we both feel about consumer waste. That was us debating plastic bags, to-go containers and the cost to the earth of making them. When she got ready to go, she even asked for a recommendation of a local cab company, the better to support the local economy.

A four-top arrived but requested a table for five, explaining that their friend Brad was stuck on 95 but would arrive soon. A Camden's regular showed up with not one but two men and later asked me sotto voce what I thought of her new boyfriend, whispering, "And he's 15 years younger!"

You go, girl, although I've lessened the age gap in my latest relationship to great success, admittedly only because the age is attached to someone so appealing. Still younger, just not so much.

Holmes and Beloved arrived and a bottle of Le Porte du Caillou Sancerre Rose was opened as we started to catch up after a month and a half. When the subject of my beach foray arose, we put it hold until our post-dinner listening party began.

In the meantime, I kept my beach seafood streak going with mahi-mahi over rice pilaf with yellow pepper coulis followed by chocolate pate, while the happy couple did their own damage to lamb and classic lasagna while watching the overwrought Kirk Douglas/Cyd Charisse vehicle,"Two Weeks in Another Town," and admiring the fine Corinthian leather of the film's cars.

Over a bottle of Le Porte du Caillou Sancerre, we analyzed a Washington Post article, "Five Myths about Hippies," the better to clarify that hippies were more of a '70s thing than '60s and that their legacy - casual sex, yoga, relaxed dress standards - are now utterly mainstream.

Regardless, I still think of myself as an old hippie.

When I mentioned that the Byrd had been showing "Dr. Zhivago" this afternoon but I'd missed it by being on the Northern Neck, Holmes cracked me up by describing it as the longest and most boring movie imaginable. When we moved on to the movie's theme song, he had no memory, so Beloved began humming "Lara's Theme."

Holmes winced and asked plaintively, "Can we hear it in clarinet, not kazoo?" Ouch. Personally, I couldn't even manage kazoo.

Over the two hours we lingered, I heard about their upcoming weekend plans on Solomon's Island to celebrate Beloved's birthday (a fine trip idea I may want to emulate with another beach lover), a trip that will kick off with a stop at Cap'n Billy's, a favorite crab shack of mine, too.

Before long, we moved on to Holmes' man-cave for a swinging listening party that ran from Julie London to Artie Shaw.

Holmes gifted me with some duplicate albums by the Brass Ring that he was given: "The Disadvantages of You" and "Sunday Night at the Movies" because what woman doesn't need a couple more brass band albums to add to her collection?

Conversation included a request for a full recounting of my beach jaunt - the food! the walks! the kites! - but quickly centered around a frank discussion of my last relationship, curiosity about my new one and a consideration of my overall relationship picture.

Let's just say their advice dovetailed exactly with that of the New Zealand winemaker's words of wisdom from a few weeks ago.

Because with enough Rose, friends will tell you exactly what they think of your past and present while remaining firmly in your corner.

As Holmes so sweetly put it, "I just want you to be happy."

As we said goodnight with the moon hanging high in the sky at the end of Grove Avenue, my new-to-me albums tucked under my arm, I felt lucky to have friends rooting for me and my happiness.

The disadvantages of my past are practically public record, but the potential advantages of my present and future feel like they're laid out against the bluest of skies. That those skies are filled with an assortment of clouds inspiring the two of us to share the fanciful figures we each see in them says it all.

No one tells you that the game is about to begin. You just jump in.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

These Are Days

After recently being told I'm an evangelical for the beach, I'm wearing the title as a badge of honor.

What I hadn't anticipated was how quickly my proselytizing would land me right back there, albeit it in a much different configuration, a more southerly location and under a thunder moon.

Windows were rolled down for the drive down which was broken up with a leisurely lunch on the waterfront at the Coinjock Marina. "You'd have to know about this place," my companion observed about the unlikely location. I did.

This time the beach setting was Surf Shack #6 in Nags Head at a cottage peopled by three other couples, an obscene amount of beer and wine and crowned by a crow's nest with impressive views to the horizon and the sound.

Where we were especially clever was in arriving mid-day Sunday when the other couples had checked in Saturday and done all the heavy lifting setting up the house and porches.

Since that job always falls to me on my own beach week, it was a treat to just show up, throw on a bathing suit and be, not just on the beach, but in the ocean less than 15 minutes after arrival.

That and being back at the beach only two weeks after I left it are the kind of summer indulgences an evangelist could get used to.

And while I'd optimistically brought two books, four couples mean it's an ongoing party and not the reading kind.

Headquarters would be established on the beach every morning like magic while we walked (either beyond Jennette's Pier or past the Outer Banks Pier), so we'd come back to find the rest of the group arranged under and around a canopy while all we had to do was add our chairs and beach bags and - voila! - another day at the beach was underway.

One morning, we got back from our walk - the last half an hour listening to rumbling thunder - just as a major storm was rolling in, so we high-tailed it up to the crow's nest for a lightening and thunder show of epic proportions.

One of the guys said there'd been a tornado warning while we were gone and given the odd swirling of some murderous looking clouds, we weren't surprised when torrential downpours followed. We made the best of it with books, naps and a picnic in bed with a view out the open window of the driving rain and the ocean beyond it.

One afternoon, we spotted a plane pulling a message that read, "Amanda May Pabst, will you marry me?" and bantered about whether it was a real proposal or just a brilliant idea put forth by the plane company to entice business.

The romantic in me prefers to believe it was the first.

One evening we decided to lose the crowd and went to dinner alone at Ocean Boulevard for a gorgeously dry and zippy Rose of Sangiovese by Barnard Griffin which we sipped with a summer gazpacho piled with lump crabmeat, creme fraiche and parsley oil.

And that was before diving headfirst into a special of beer-battered monkfish over a jambalaya of summer corn, red peppers and crowder peas that was to die for and polishing off grilled shrimp over cheddar grits and black pepper coleslaw, too.

Afterward, we walked across the Beach Road and took seats in the sand to watch the waning Thunder Moon rise over the ocean, but only after making its way through bands of black clouds as elaborate as burnt velvet, behind which heat lightening put on a show.

As a bonus, fireworks were being set off in the direction of the Avalon Pier, so everywhere we looked, there was a spectacle to behold.

The two of us took lunch one day outside at the Nags Head Fishing Pier's new tiki bar, where we watched surfers, ate local grilled tuna and pondered the angry-looking guy nearby with the small American flag stuck in the sand in front of his beach chair.

Because some of the house's occupants were talented, there was guitar playing on the beach. Because the winds were ideal for it, there was kite flying so high it seemed likely we'd never get it back down. Because there was a screened porch, we had breakfast there. Because there was a crow's nest even higher,  we had happy hours and sunset-viewing there.

And because the ocean was a wonderfully warm 75 degrees (and clear as the Caribbean), we stayed in until our fingers and toes looked like prunes. Repeatedly.

Unlike the other couples, we were the renegades who slept in with windows open, a fan on and used the outdoor shower at the least provocation.

Because kicking it old school is just part of what I preach. Let's raise a glass of Rose and praise beach life.

Can I get an amen?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What's Done Can Not Be Undone

Just another summer evening that begins with a fool and ends with a severed head.

If I were going to get technical about it, the day got off to a fine start with a walk to the pipeline where we found a rock, took off our shoes and socks and proceeded to immerse body parts in the river to cool off.

It continued when we walked to Chapel Island along the Low Line, a first for my intrepid walking companion, taking advantage of shade anywhere we could find it. I was surprised to see that part of the island is now fenced off, maybe for the amphitheater construction, but not at all to my liking.

We came back through a completely deserted Capital Square, past the Convention Center, which reeked of cigar smoke, which always reminds me of my Dad's fondness for them when we were young.

Tonight kicked off at Acacia where the front door was open, the crowd was sparse and the wine was Paul Direder Gruner Veltliner. The barkeep informed me of his upcoming plans and the server and I discussed favorite routes for his runs and my walks.

Teasing our palates first with plum gazpacho under creme fraiche and chives was a lovely cool way to commence the meal. Although it made no difference because I knew I'd order it anyway, I inquired about the market fish and when the bartender said it was cobia, my date also jumped on board since he'd never had it.

I try not to judge.

We'd barely finished the soup when two cobias showed up, each sharing the plate with a wickedly good salad of mixed lettuces, the sweetest of heirloom cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and balsamic. Acacia never disappoints with fish anything on their menu.

As if I hadn't already broadened his horizons plenty with plum gazpacho and cobia, I couldn't resist putting a little icing on the cake with chocolate cremeux with, that's right, strawberry fool, that ambrosia-like combination of fruit and heavy cream that makes arteries harden and taste buds orgasm.

That we enjoyed it with glasses of Banyuls (aka fortified grenache and a liquid love letter to chocolate) only ensured the cremeux got the star treatment and that the supposed non-dessert eater matched me spoonful for spoonful.

If I'd wanted him eating out of the palm of my hand, he was there. But I didn't, I wanted spirited company for seeing "Macbeth" at Agecroft and he delivered that and more. I supplied the fans to keep us cool.

We managed front row seats to a sold out show, the better to see the actors spit and sweat and get a close look at the spurting blood. It didn't hit me, but it splattered the woman sitting next to me, a transplanted Texan with ties to the theater world.

And unlike traditional Shakespeare where men played all the roles, male and female, here women played some of the men's roles and vice versa, a refreshing change-up. Why shouldn't a large, bearded man with a bit of a lisp play one of the three witches in palazzo pants?

Since it was not only my date's first time experiencing Agecroft's Tudor majesty, but his first time seeing a play there (ditto the Texan and her husband who said he'd bought the tickets because he was the spontaneous one), so I was just glad that all the usual dazzling elements were in place: sunset, fireflies, small plane flying overhead, frogs croaking and an intermission walk through the gardens with a view of the silver-blue river.

And once Macbeth is finally killed, who wouldn't be impressed to see his severed head brought back onstage and put on a stake, causing blood to spurt for a yard in every direction.

I'd known it wasn't going to be easy topping strawberry fool, but a play that ends like a GWAR show does a pretty terrific job at it.

It only goes to show what can happen under a thunder moon. Or at least some of what happens.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Something Shimmering and White

I have to appreciate a willing partner-in-music.

While I don't get a sense that Australian psych-rock from the '90s is your thing, if you'd like to join me tonight, the Church are playing at the Broadberry.

Well, you know, I was saying just the other day that I hadn't seen a good '90s Australian psych-rock show in ages.

Also, a sense of humor.

When we'd walked to Texas Beach in the morning, it had been muggy and cloudy (also great justification for lounging against a rock near rushing water in the river so we could walk back with wet shorts), but by evening the sky was blue, the humidity had dropped and we wanted to eat outside.

Suiting our needs to a T, the patio at Lalo's Cocina beckoned, even as the hostess looked uncertain about our request to dine al fresco. After checking with a superior for the okay, we were led back outside where we had a terrific view of the quickly shifting cloudscape.

Our dimpled, pierced server was delightful, sharing that she was new and we were her first ever patio table. We promised to be gentle.

She was only slightly flummoxed when, after we'd asked for a bottle of Vina Galana Verdejo, she returned with a bottle of Avinyo Petillant, explaining sheepishly that they were out of Verdejo. We cheered her up considerably when we embraced the easy-drinking prickly wine.

Hell, I'd have ordered it in the first place if it had been listed on the menu.

As we sat there sipping in the evening breeze, we noshed through guacamole (although not prepared tableside, like it used to be), shrimp and avocado salad and well-seasoned quesadillas of beef and chicken as the older crowd we knew to be headed to the same show began arriving.

Seems lots of people hadn't been to a good '80s Australian psych-rock show in ages, either.

When you're talking about a band that's been around for 37 years, you're also talking about a band of middle-aged men. There are myriad upsides to that: the show, slated to begin at 8, began on time. The volume was ideal, such that no earplugs were required, a major switch from the 3 young buck bands we'd seen just the other night. And the whole shebang was over by 10:00.

It's like the Church had read their aging fan base's concert wish list and complied with them all.

But for those of us who didn't care when the show began or ended, or what the volume was, the real treat was watching these guys who've played together so long execute their music flawlessly. There were three guitarists (including a 12-string - be still my heart - two of whom were introduced as "lead guitar") and no two were ever playing the same thing at the same time.

There was a fair amount of glammy vocal delivery, keyboards augmented all that guitar sound and while the band occasionally took off in showy directions, they never failed to rein it in and bring the song back around to its original structure. They were pros.

And, unlike the youngster bands we'd heard the other night, these guys hadn't studied rock star posturing, they'd been doing it since Reagan was president.

Practically between every song, the guitarists changed guitars, but never in a way that interrupted the flow of the set. Between song banter was comfortable, not cumbersome.

"Imagine it's summer 1990 and you turn on the radio and it's the perfect song," said lead singer Steve. "This is the song after that one." Or, another time, "This is the third song."

I think we've already established that I appreciate a man with a fine sense of humor. Meanwhile, the crowd ate it up.

Even though I knew to expect it, it was still unpleasant when the band began "Under the Milky Way" and every other person in the crowd raised their phone to shoot video of it rather than just listening and enjoying.

Not us. I reveled in hearing the band's shimmering guitar sound live while my companion appreciated their musical chops, showmanship and songcraft. I got to hear a band I'd liked for decades and he walked out impressed by his first '90s Australian psych-rock band.

Imagine it's summer 2017 and you walk out of a stellar show, there's a nearly full moon in the sky and you still have the rest of the evening ahead of you under the Milky Way tonight.

It's almost like I'd been led here despite my destination. My, but that worked out well.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

After the Deluge

Not in this century have I experienced such a lucky day in the city of my nativity.

The art lover and I got there in an hour and 40 minutes, notable because she did not speed more than a perfectly respectable 4 or 5 miles an hour, even as she regaled me with stories of her youthful exploits hitchhiking in a purple gauze dress.

How was she supposed to know that those weren't dancers on the trim of her dress, they were people copulating? A girl's got to keep her eye on the bigger picture.

Then like a boss, we pulled up in front of the Freer Gallery on Independence Avenue, the equivalent of parking in the curved White House driveway.

We had only to walk across the sandy expanse of the Mall - albeit through an encampment of tents for the ongoing Folk Life Fest - and down a few blocks past the Museum of Natural History and through the delights of the National Sculpture Garden to climb the wide steps of the National Gallery of Art.

That's rock star parking for sure, but even more unexpected than that was that we were in the nation's capital during one of the biggest vacation weeks of the year and the foot traffic was oddly light. The clusters of people on corners waiting for a light change numbered a dozen rather than 40. Sidewalks weren't clotted with tour and school groups.

My friend and I - both born at GWU Hospital barely 2 miles away - looked at each other agog. Why was the city so underpopulated today?  Had we driven into some "Twilight Zone"-like recreation of the Washington, D.C. we'd known growing up?

Hot damn, we concluded, heading into the (endangered) Enid Haupt Gardens - not for the first time, yet only today learning that the garden sits on the roof of an underground building, so it's actually a rooftop garden with its own distinctly different micro-climate.

Today's outing had been planned around seeing "Frederic Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism" before it leaves the country on Sunday, with hopes of catching whatever else we could. We like to think we're flexible, if a bit focused.

That we were fortunate enough to spend time with the 19th century Frederic with so few 21st century people around can only be attributed to some unseen fairy godmother, whom I can only assume has a smart mouth and a quick wit.

Everything about the work in the show fed our nerdy souls, from Bazille's still-clumsy work as a student (jackpot: his sketchbooks!) to his mastery of still life and figure painting, only to be cut down in his prime due to an acute case of young man-itis: he enlisted in the army and was shot and killed at age 28.

Because nooo, he couldn't just stay home and paint, he had to put on a flashy red Zouave uniform and go to battle like young men with things to prove do. Such a waste of a talent who would have been a major force in shaping Impressionism.

And while we were particularly impressed with Bazille's paintings of his young friends Renoir (sitting with his feet up on a chair) and Monet (long, dark hair giving him a rakish air), it was hard not to admire the firm backside of the male nude in "Fisherman with a Net" most. I mean, a lot.

As it happens, I can now do so indefinitely, having made a magnet purchase sure to catch my eye every morning when I go to the refrigerator for blueberries. Some men just know how to hold a net, if you know what I mean. Also, as I protested to to my friend, it's art. 

And while Bazille was the most important thing we saw today, it was far from the only one.

There was the tiny jewel of a show, "Urban Landscapes 1920-1950," full of exquisite lithographs, aquatints, cyanotypes, stereographs and woodcuts depicting a newly modern world with detail so fine it defied comprehension.

It was a complete contrast to the enormous (well, 175 pieces) photography exhibit, "East of the Mississippi: 19th Century American Landscape Photography," which managed to romanticize the East in that way we more often think of the West. Photography elders Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen both showed up in this exhibit, along with a couple of photos so old and rare they had velvet cloths hanging in front of them to protect them from the light.

Fascinating for its cultural history lesson, "America Collects 18th-century French Painting," provided a window into the well-heeled colonists' desire to own and display French art.

Seems that our forefathers found 18th century France fascinating not just because of the opulence and courtliness of the era, but because it was a place that blended Enlightenment philosophy with revolutionary ideas.

In other words, just the kind of pastel and idyllic artwork that would speak to America's nouveau riche (Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Astors) as they were furnishing their Gilded Age McMansions and needed a little something for over the fainting couch.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would likely be Fragonard's "Study for Pursuit Panel" from the "Progress of Love" (is there really such a thing?) series. As loose as the brushwork is, the story is all there, as in everything has been sketched out for the final piece, but just barely and brilliantly.

The object of desire runs away after being startled by an admirer, her arms extended out from her shoulders, her pale, white bosom heaving as she runs prettily. To my eye, the careless-looking brushstrokes and casual immediacy of the scene have far more soul than the final version of the painting.

We had lunch in the National Gallery's subterranean restaurant, our table facing a glass wall behind which water cascaded down a tiered wall. The last time we'd eaten here, the waterfall had been turned off. Again, today had good fortune written all over it.

Although I'm not usually a gift shop person, today's capitalistic foray had a purpose. Having recently finished my desktop memo book of the past 8 years, I was in the market for a new one and where better to find just the right journal than the National Gallery of Art?

Because today had fairy dust on it, I found a lined journal just the right size with a Fragonard painting of a woman in a yellow dress called "Young Girl Reading" on the front and back.

Voila, a souvenir (along with my male nude magnet) and the new written vehicle for managing my life.

After one last stroll through a nearly empty pocket garden, Lady Luck followed us across the mall back to the car, where we spotted a traffic cop uncomfortably near it and, knowing we'd overstayed our meter time, I took off running down the block to plead our case.

In flowered thong sandals, I might add, not the best running footwear for speed or distance.

When he spotted me sprinting toward him, he smiled and told me to relax, he wouldn't ticket us. "Nice show of athleticism, though" he said, wishing us a good day and walking away. We heaped thank-yous on his retreating back.

We motored back through a driving rain that turned other vehicles into shadowy silver gray forms and had us hydro-planing a time or two on I-95. Tricky as the driving was, we both had high hopes for our gardens that it would still be raining at home.

Because it was a day to get what we wanted, rain met us in Richmond and I wasted no time in putting on rain boots and heading out for an evening walk to stretch the legs that had stood for hours in galleries and unknot the bones after the rainy car ride home.

Sometimes the stay-cation hits the road with the savviest art geek I know, but today it also wound back home before moonrise.

Besides art memories, I now have a new journal for the next phase of life. See: "Middle Aged Woman Reading...When She's Not Talking."

Yellow dress optional, although I do have one. It's gauze.

Party Like It's 1776

One tenet of a stay-cation is already clear: there will be naps, daily naps.

After Monday's rest period, I suggested a sunset viewing party from Rockett's Landing and made sure we got there in time to nab a table with an umbrella (later arrivals were not so fortunate), the better to perpetually adjust our nest of shade from the waning sun.

I don't mind glowing but full-on sweating detracts from a girl's Hawaiian print sundress.

It's such a picaresque setting that I hesitated when my date inquired about the source of bubbles in the water just across river (no one wants to blurt out "sewage treatment plant," just like no one wants to remind you that the pipeline carries sewage and storm water runoff), although even he had to admit that it interfered in no way with the sunset vibe.

From our perch on high at Conch Republic, we watched crew teams glide by (some with an accompanying coach in a power boat), power boats arrive laden with 20-somethings after a big day on the river and even some sort of law enforcement boat scouting for trouble.

The woman at the table next to us explained away the boat cop's mission, saying,"Anybody knows you store your beer in the woods and just go get it as you need it, not bring it on the boat!" Given my sub-par navigation skills, I think it's safe to say I'd never find that beer again, but that's just me.

We toasted the majesty of the sunset with Vino Verde, sesame-crusted ahi tuna and a salad of blueberries, strawberries, craisins and grape tomatoes over mesclun while people came and went from the balcony around us.

I don't know which of us was more surprised when we realized the sun was serious about setting, but it left us no choice but to acknowledge that more than three hours had gone by in the course of a conversation and the James was now a gunmetal green shade headed to even darker night time hues.

Tuesday kicked off with a trip to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens because Carmax was paying for everyone's admission today and why not celebrate independence with lush plantings and benches strategically placed in shaded tree stands?

What I hadn't anticipated was the thousands of other people taking advantage of Carmax's generosity (cops were directing traffic, it was so jammed), but we solved that little problem by always taking the path less crowded and avoiding the child-centric areas where toddler screams reminded passers-by how natural it is for little ones to yell when water is involved (see: ocean).

Since it had been a few years since I was last at the Gardens, I enjoyed every bit of it. The conifer garden, the tree trail, the new floating bridges (what a kick to feel the bridge give as we strode across it), smelling the heirloom varieties in the rose garden, the contemplative Japanese garden.

The line for the butterfly garden extended too far to even consider, but we didn't miss much else. Meanwhile, holiday-appropriate t-shirts abounded.

Red, white and Dude
United States of Awesome
Do you even 'Murica, Bro?

And that doesn't even count the countless flag t-shirts (flags shaped like hearts, stars and stripes on Minnie Mouse's head bow) or red, white and blue ensembles we saw. At least, unlike at the beach, we didn't have to bear witness to flag-motif bikinis and bathing trunks.

Some things you can't ever un-see.

So, you see, we do have something to be grateful for on this, the anniversary of our independence from a country not nearly as fat or stupid as our own.

There may have been a nap again on Tuesday afternoon, but who's counting?

Since it's been two decades since I've been in Richmond for Independence Day, it seemed only right to spend it at Dogwood Dell for explosions in the sky and whatever came with that.

By our hand, that whatever included chicken schwermas from Donor Kebob, fruit and King Family Vineyards Blanc de Blanc snagged on our road trip Sunday. Because bubbly and freedom go hand in hand.

By Dogwood Dell's hand, that whatever was so much more. And I'm not just talking about the aerial show the bats put on at dusk, though I do like to watch.

Selections from red-hot "Hamilton." Byrd manager Todd Schall-Vass movingly read key parts of the Declaration of Independence (and then touched on the document's other "highlights," a thinly-disguised way of pointing out our current leader's shortcomings and failures). The Richmond Concert Band doing all the patriotic songs we used to have to sing in elementary school ("You're a Grand Old Flag," "America the Beautiful," "Battle Hymn of the Republic"). Veterans and military personnel being asked to stand for protracted ovations.

The comic highlight was the woman standing on the pathway in front of us who turned and immediately ran into a toddler, causing her to trip, flip and roll over on the stone path, Meanwhile, the 3-year old who'd caused the spill laughed uproariously, not understanding that the woman had not meant to fall.

But by far, the program was most seductive while the band played "The 1812 Overture" to the night sky, complete with cannons firing and seamlessly seguing into the fireworks display. We watched from our perch near a crepe myrtle tree, enjoying the pyrotechnics between branches while the rolling smoke cloud grew denser and higher.

We were among the leisurely packing up, in no hurry to join the legions of people exiting Byrd Park. Somehow, it then took us 50 minutes to traverse the 2 1/2 miles to my apartment once the outdoor fun concluded.

All I can say is, I'm going to need a nap.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lady Marmalata's Bongos

Turns out stay-cationing is every bit as non-stop as vacationing.

1. Mick, I hardly knew ye
I finally got around to seeing "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style" at the VMFA Friday evening, honestly surprised at the number of parents who'd dragged their kids to see a fashion exhibit. "Mom, there's just more clothes in this room, too!" one kid whined.

But what clothes! For me, it was the cultural history lesson that resonated most. The exhibit began back in the dark ages of afternoon dresses, short evening dresses and long evening gowns and moved through the swingin' '60s and '70s with leather maxi coats and sheer pantsuits to clothing that paid homage to art: the Mondrian mini, the Wesselman evening gown and the Georges Braque short evening dress.

Nothing surprised me as much as a black and white photo of Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger and YSL at an event. It wasn't Hall's ruffly swimsuit-like ensemble, it was seeing Jagger with a full beard that stopped me in my tracks.

Why would he ever have chosen to cover up his most famous feature? I'm guessing his vanity won out.

2. Bad luck
When I stopped into Don't Look Back for dinner after YSL, they were in full happy hour mode, meaning there wasn't a seat to be had, but a kind bartender was willing to take my order for shrimp and fish tacos while I waited for a chance to plant my backside.

Happily, my dinner arrived moments after I snagged a bar stool. Chowing down, I asked myself why I hadn't been there in so long when the tacos are so solid and came up with no good answer. Resolved: add more DLB to my life.

Goal thwarted when I woke up the next morning to read that DLB had suffered an early morning fire and is closed indefinitely. Was I the jinx?

3. Making faces, saving democracy
Beau Cribbs and the RVA Tonight crew were hosting a Bongo Beach Bash at the Byrd for those of of us in town and in need of a laugh.

The show involved beach balls, jokes about mayoral candidate Bobby Junes, a nefarious businessman buying up the ocean and a tribute to all the artists who died last year done by the duo of Tomato and Tomah-to.

Then there was local skull-a-day artist Noah Scalin entreating us to be creative (told to find a stranger, create a face out of what was in our purses and pockets and post it, the musician next to me and I crafted one of guitar picks, a nail clipper and a metal straw and then chose not to post it), the head of Virginia's ACLU sharing ways to resist and Mikrowaves as the musical guest (afterward I overheard a quartet's assessment of the band: "They were like Reek Big Fish but I couldn't understand what the words were. I liked it!").

I really don't know how I could have covered more bases in a two hour period.

4. Rocks and rawk
Saturday dawned cloudy and warm, so I led the only guy I know who owns an Ava Gardner Museum hat down to Belle Isle for the express purpose of staking a claim on a rock next to the equivalent of nature's foot bath.

The rolling cloud cover allowed us to linger without burning in the sun while a fierce jet of water pummeled our feet (and occasionally threatened to knock me from my perch, it was that strong) and provided a soundtrack just one step removed from crashing surf.

Later that day, I had Simon and Grafunckle's "Greatest Hits" blaring when my date came to collect me, causing my next door neighbors to comment on the volume. When I explained that a woman always needs a dressing soundtrack, they grinned like fools.

Well aware that half the town was going to Dogwood Dell to hear the music from "Hamilton," we devoted the evening to music at Gallery 5 instead where our audience presence was more needed and my companion got to experience the sublime pleasures of seeing Dave Watkins perform.

The show kicked off with Deer Eat Birds, a young (and satisfyingly diverse) group having a ball crafting their post rock aural landscape with occasional Curtis Mayfield-like vocals from the frontman, while Epiphany, with two 7-string guitars and a 6-string bass, had clearly studied their rock god posturing moves.

Dave Watkins played third for a change, fitting given his years of experience over the much younger bands on the bill. Half the room talked through the first few minutes of his set until, as is always the case, they became sucked in to the elaborate and multi-layered soundscapes he was creating. Ditto my companion who, like me, was awed by how Dave is able to construct his music.

Last up was Majjin Boo, the emo/math rock/experimental/prog group we'd seen play an acoustic set just the other night in the park. Their plugged in sound with a drummer was a far cry from our first time hearing them, so I'll be curious to hear how the sound develops with time.

Walking home after the show,  we marveled at how quiet Jackson Ward was. Almost no one on porches or walking down the street and, even odder, almost no sounds of traffic. In case we'd missed an apocalypse alert, we immediately retreated to my balcony for more music and a little night breeze.

5. Mountain Mist

The second day of a four day-weekend should be a no-brainer. Of course I want to plan something fun and why not with days left for goofing off?

Our happy motoring began by heading to Crozet - past a succession of cops pulling over speeders - for wine tasting, a picnic and polo match-watching from a prime spot under a large shade tree.

Not for us the canopies (labeled with affiliations such as Ole Miss, Alabama and, of course, UVA) lined up along the sidelines when we could see the polo matches just as well and keep our bottles of Crose' Rose' comfortably shaded. New since the last time I'd been, King Family Vineyards now has wine carts that drive around the perimeter so guests don't have to make the trek to the tasting room when their bottle gets low.

First world problems, I know.

I overheard a woman say they'd been staying in Staunton and decided to drive over for the match today and been pleasantly surprised that it was 10 degrees cooler here than it had been in Staunton. We'd definitely chosen the right direction to head today.

Midway through the first match, we spotted a mist rolling down the mountain and eventually a light rain arrived, but just enough to send us to the stable's porch for ten minutes before it moved on and we could return to our encampment.

Plenty of people left during the shower and others departed after the first match, but with a mountain-loving companion who'd never been to a polo match, we were there for the duration. Even once the second and final match ended, we lingered on until one of the wine cart drivers informed us that they had a wedding coming in so we'd need to move to the tasting room.

Somehow, four hours had passed in the blink of an eye.

6. Pie-eyed

The temperature in Crozet was 84 degrees when we left and we fully expected to return to a sauna in Richmond, but it was only 86 when we rolled in, despite fluctuations up to 88 as we drove east.

The neighborhood was just as deserted, but we took a chance and strolled over to Graffiato's for pizza, spotting a few tourists near Quirk and not much else in the way of liveliness, so we made our own.

The hostess made sure we knew it was still happy hour - please, imbibe cheaply! - and we paired discount drinking with an Untouchables pizza (spinach, mozzarella, smoked ricotta, chili-garlic oil and the best possible pizza sweet note, tomato marmalata) and a spicy Italian sausage pizzetta for the win.

Digestion was accompanied by Bryan Ferry, a little night air and endless conversation, as it should be on a fine stay-cation.

Life I love you, all is groovy.

Friday, June 30, 2017

When You're Home

When you can't vacation, staycation.

For the first time since, I don't know, the early '90s, I won't be on vacation for the week of July fourth. I'm not going to lie, it's a little weird.

So in an effort to make the most of being stuck in the city when most of the population bugs out, I'm trying to do things almost as pleasurable as vacation, except I'm still sleeping in my own bed at night.

I'm also not waiting until Saturday to begin doing it.

So after luring a willing walker to join me by the river this morning, I suggested a road trip, although without sharing its destination. We hopped in the car and he obligingly followed my directions, moving toward lower elevations and, as he put it, more sky.

I love that sense you get as you head past cornfields and boat dealers toward sea level and any sense of far ground disappears, leaving trees in the foreground but only the promise of water behind it.

Getting out of the car, he asked incredulously, "How do you know places like this?" Please.

It was an absolutely lovely day to find a table under the canopy at Merroir and spend the afternoon watching boats come and go from the marina, marveling at the changing bands of color on the river and sipping Vino Verde.

If that's not enough to evoke time away from home, I don't know what is.

For my companion, it was an especially interesting sojourn because he's never been much of a seafood eater, having only recently tried mussels for the first time.

Today was the equivalent of a hat trick since we shared crab and vegetable soup (the vegetables tasting like pure summer), smoked cobia salad with pickled cauliflower, butter lettuce and grilled bread and, most impressively, Old Salte oysters.

You know a guy is completely under the spell of the setting by the setting (sparkling company?) when he's willing to slurp bivalves for the first time.

We'd barely finished ours when the two couples seated behind us got theirs. They'd already proved themselves worthy as they debated what their first bottle of wine should be when one of the two women announced, "Let's begin with the better bottle since we won't know the difference later."

Eating through their oyster sampler - Rapphannocks, Rochambeaus and Old Saltes - one guy finished the latter and decided, "That's like licking a salt lick!"

Well, you know given my affection for Old Saltes, I had to couch his feelings in more positive terms, so I swung around and explained that, no, it's not salt lick-like, it's like being knocked down by a wave and getting a mouthful of saltwater.

"I never would have come up with those words, but you're right," he said, sounding vaguely amazed. No big deal, sir, I traffic in words.

They then ordered a second dozen, this time all Rappahannocks. Wimps.

Best of all, Merroir wasn't crowded so we felt zero guilt about lingering whole we talked about overuse and inappropriate use of quotation marks (If you break a "plate," you will be charged $1.00), our initial sailing experiences (very different) and oyster farming (this was before he saw the oyster chart in the men's room).

Granted, it wasn't sitting on the screened porch overlooking the ocean, but it was no afternoon in the city, either.

We could have lingered hours longer, but one of us had early plans tonight (his were later), so we hit the road before we were ready to give up the gorgeous tableau in front of us. After a crash caused us to have to detour on the way home, we arrived 12 minutes after a friend was to have picked me up at home.

Oops. Luckily, Pru was smart enough to amuse herself until I belatedly made my appearance.

We dished (more accurately, a post-vacation debrief) while I got cleaned up and changed before strolling over to Saison Market for dinner. It's my third time there in five days, not that there's anything wrong with that, but we wound up eating inside because all the outside tables had been claimed on such a lovely day.

Our meal was prelude to seeing Virginia Rep's new production of "In the Heights," a big deal because it's Lin-Manuel Miranda's award-winning pre-"Hamilton" musical.

And we weren't the only ones stoked for it judging by the buzz in the room and sold out house on a Thursday night.

And with good reason. The talented cast wowed the crowd with stellar singing, dancing and acting that brought this rapidly-gentrifying corner in Washington Heights to life against a set that evoked a NYC streetscape with the blinking George Washington bridge in the background.

Despite the large size of the cast, only the handsome Josh Marin was familiar (as Benny), and seeing so many out-of-town faces only increased the sense that I was seeing a play somewhere other than Richmond.

Because sometimes when you're on vacation, you want to relax by the water. Other times, you just need a bit of culture.

And when you're on staycation, sometimes you get both in the same day.

As Pru commented tonight, "It must be exhausting to be you."

When it is, there's always the low-hanging fruit of a vacation staycation nap to tide a girl over. Maybe tomorrow...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Words: the Intelligent Woman's Aphrodisiac

Appropriately enough, it's the end of an era.

For Christmas 2008, I was given a Moleskin. The simple lined journal came from a Moleskin devotee, but it was my first and I wasn't sure what to use it for.

But then my world fell apart - I'd lost my job in mid-December, wound up in the ICU by late January, and been dumped by mid-February - and that journal became the blueprint for digging my way out of all that mess.

The first page reads "Get" and is a list I made of what needed to be packed up to move from my ex-boyfriend's house: my hanging lamp, cookbooks, a statue of a fairy. The second page is a list of what I needed to buy: tall drinking glasses, blue paint, a power strip, a bath mat.

Next comes my new public utility account number, my new phone number and the contact for Verizon support. Clearly, I was moving forward on setting up a new life elsewhere, albeit unemployed.

What I love as I move through the book are the random notes to myself, things I wanted to remember. Dates don't appear, but I can use context clues to figure out when things were written.

Here's a note to get tickets for Helio Sequence in Charlottesville (turned out to be a fabulous show) and there's one that reads, "Blog daily." Another says simply "Bat for Lashes," a reminder of a new band I'd heard and liked.

I know by seeing my aunt and uncle's address in Maryland written down that it was around September 2011 because I stayed with them before flying to New Orleans from D.C. that month.

As for quotes I copied - "We live in a place where we can create our own delusional reality" and "Our breakup was a failure" - I have no clue what year they might have been scrawled in my book. Those are timeless truths.

It makes me smile to see a line saying, "Curate Listening Room," a thrill I still recall. It's not often a non-musician gets to pick bands for a public show, even when she's been a regular attendee for years.

After a while, the pages start to contain my writing assignments with their word counts and due dates. The further along in the book you go, the longer the list of assignments (and money coming in). My career progress is charted with more deadlines.

I found the best kind of to-do list for a trip to D.C. in December 2013: National Gallery of Art Parisian photos, Phillips Gallery Van Gogh exhibit, National Building Museum "L.A. Constructs the Future," Rose's Luxury dinner.

Pleased to say I accomplished all that and more that weekend.

Notes to self abound: "Dan Auerbach says guys like treble and girls like bass" and "Words: the intelligent woman's aphrodisiac," for starters.

Peppered throughout are reminders to get tickets: Neko Case, Andrew Bird, the National, Harry Shearer, Churches, Dashboard Confessional. Tickets procured, all shows seen and enjoyed.

Everything gets jotted down in this history of the past 8 years: phone numbers of friends (not that I call much), books to investigate (Rita Mae Brown's "Rubyfruit Jungle") and an ongoing to-do list (pool lessons, hang shade, check moon phases for beach).

The final two pages of this record of my life includes a list of assignments with deadlines of June 1 through August 7, dates of two upcoming shows I need to buy tickets for (August and November, both in Charlottesville), a Lucinda Williams song I fell in love with on first listen ("Six Blocks Away"), some random addition and a book title I intend to buy ("Meet Me in the Bathroom").

But when I went to turn the page, I found that I was at the end of the journal. My 8-year journey to get from the mess my life was in February 2009 when I started this book to June 2017 is contained in a book stained with chocolate, pen scrawls and warped pages from water bottles set atop the book.

It's not pretty, it's full of memories and it's definitely worse for the wear, but I imagine I'm the same. A chapter of my life has closed in several ways now.

Here's to whatever my next Moleskin chronicles.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tapping a Vein

Seven days (or more) without live music makes one weak. Or maybe that's just me.

My plan was to correct that tonight with a picnic, a companion and an unseasonably temperate evening. That the music was served up al fresco made it all the better.

With a bottle of wine already stashed in my bag, we began at 8 1/2 to score heroes and chocolate/orange cookies. Waiting for our sandwiches to be made, we perused the DVD collection on the shelf, a motley assortment that ranged from "Castaway" to "Nirvana Unplugged in New York."

The park was only lightly populated when we got there to find "Please Stay off the Grass" signs on every plot of grass, so we made do with a wooden bench with a distinctive sag to its center, as if very heavy people had taken turns positioning themselves at the midpoint until the wood just took on a deep curve. It was kind of like an old mattress with a dip in the center that makes the people in it roll into each other all night long.

You know what I'm talking about.

Eating our Italian heroes while people watching - one adorable couple showed up with the game Scattegories, spread a blanket and immediately began playing to win (she didn't believe french fries was two words and made him Google it to check) with a friendly vengeance.

Our enthusiasm was reserved for the killer sandwiches we were eating. I swear you could put shoe leather on a roll that chewy and satisfying and it would taste good.

The crowd continued to grow while we ate and chatted from our bench perch and included a fair number of dogs, toddlers and tattoos.

We watched in amazement as a couple scored a bench and then decided to spread a blanket on the bricks and sit on the ground instead. I know, I know, it's not a real picnic for some people unless they're sitting cross-legged. Not us.

The park had filled up nicely by the time Majjin Boo was introduced and the quartet- acoustic and electric guitars, bass, male and female vocalists - began seducing the crowd with their pastiche of math rock, emo and experimental ("If they had a drummer, they'd be prog rock," my companion noted) as the sun inched toward sunset.

Despite the au naturel setting, the band was using battery-powered amps, so the music was amplified a bit more than a lot of the shows I've seen in the park. At one point, they mentioned an upcoming show at Gallery 5 and referenced their drummer, who just happened to be walking into the park at that second and waved as he went by.

After a beach week sadly devoid of live music, hearing Majjin Boo's songs with their quirky time signatures, intricate guitar interplay and two voices harmonizing acted like a tonic on my live music-deprived soul. I could sense the musician next to me enjoying the band on a far different level than I was capable of, but everyone looked happy with music playing on a cool June evening.

The woman singer did a solo turn, singing Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days are Over" not as the powerhouse anthem that band does, but as a sweetly wistful song about finding happiness, probably on a night like tonight.

As twilight set in, fireflies appeared and some of the younger children tried catching them in their cupped hands but to no avail. That's one ritual of childhood that cannot be replaced with an app or device. Or if it can be, please don't tell me about it.

All I know from sitting in the park with a fellow music lover as dusk gathered is how badly I'd been craving live music and how much like an emergency IV tonight's show felt in addressing my shortage.

When the woman doing the introductions mentioned that the music series is already five years old, I marveled at the thought since I've been attending practically since the start. Not every week, but consistently over the years. Regularly because it's an easy default on a weeknight and never disappoints.

Um, music in the park? Yes, please.

It's one way of making sure my soul doesn't fall into another music deficit. Didn't some wise woman once write that I'm only as strong as the last show I saw?

Well, if she didn't, she has now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Easing Into the New Normal

Only in hindsight can you look back and see with clarity.

My week at the beach had to work out the way it did in order to get me to the next stage of, what, life? acceptance? love? contentment?

Today was challenging. It was challenging settling back into a routine, challenging addressing deadlines, challenging putting on closed-toe shoes. My brain was not yet ready to color inside the lines. I had to work to stay focused after a week following any tangent that crossed my path and basically following the pleasure principle wherever it led.

P.S. I could so live that way all the time.

But I persevered and things got accomplished, both work and around the house. But if we're going to be honest here, I made it through Monday by the skin of my teeth. Honestly, I can't recall the last time that beach week threw me for such a loop.

Still, I got it together enough to hang out with a friend tonight and even revisit my favorite enclosed garden in Richmond at Sang Jun Thai, which we long-timers still think of as Beauregard's Thai Room. New to me was their outdoor bar (although unoccupied tonight), an odd pastiche of the Flintstones and tacky gold statuary that adds a whole new vibe to the place.

Service was a comedy of errors - they didn't have the wine we ordered, nor the second bottle, then they brought one glass instead of a bottle and then...well, you get the idea - but the food was perfectly okay and that patio is divine on a dry and merely warm summer night like tonight.

I even used the burbling fountain in the pond next to us as as pale substitute for the ocean I'm still missing.

Barely into our conversation, my friend was inquiring about the feet next to mine in a photo I posted on Facebook to kick off vacation. Clearly, the feet were not familiar to him and inquiring minds wanted to know.

Afterward, sitting outside at Saison Market with the usual assortment of crazies ("I love what you said about Jimmy Buffet," a dyed blond stranger told my friend after he openly mocked the Margaritaville man), we drank sparkling Riesling and talked about all the innocuous subjects friends discuss after it's been a couple of weeks and one person has been away on vacation.

I'm just glad it was me who was off lazing on the beach and luxuriating in whatever this next stage is so I could come back as better friend material.

Everything happens for a reason, no?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Speaking the Same Language

The transition can be tricky.

Saturday was a practically perfect last day at the beach. Blue skies, clouds of every type and temperatures that never felt unpleasantly hot would have been sufficient to ensure a good time but when you add in an ocean temperature of 67 degrees, well, it was almost like someone ordered up a fabulous finish to my week.

And while it was a two nap-day (I make no excuses), we managed a nice long walk in the morning and an hour in the ocean at low tide before deciding that what we needed was to move camp (one umbrella, two chairs) to the water's edge and finish out the day there admiring the bands of ocean colors: olive, aquamarine, sea green and dark blue.

In the laid back spirit of the day, we went no further for dinner than the local raw bar where I decimated a half dozen blue crabs while we eavesdropped on the two guys next to us, one of whom seemed bent on establishing his drinking cred.

This is what happens to me, man. With three Long Island ice teas, I'm out and with four, I'm speaking another language.

Hmm, seems like it should be the other way around.

For the first time in the many decades I've been vacationing at the beach, I got up at the crack of dawn (7:05) Sunday so that I could take my walk on the beach before having to check out at 10 a.m. Who knew there would be so many people out walking and fishing at that hour?

It's always sad closing up the cottage and knowing it'll be another year before I'm back in it. Sure, I'll be back at the beach in July, but not in this magical space. It's like a friend noted as we luxuriated in our beach afternoon, "It's hard to accept that all this goes on when we're not here to experience it."

The drive home Sunday was pleasant enough - it should be noted that while I stopped at Granby Farm Market, I did not bother to stop at Gale Force Guns - with my favorite beach radio station entertaining me with bands like the Secret Sisters and their gorgeous harmonies on "He's Fine."

The problem with being ripped from the beach and set down in the city is that nothing can replace the sound of waves 24/7. I'm a city girl and I love my apartment, my neighborhood and my town, but I go through some fierce beach withdrawal when I first get home.

To the rescue was a fellow beach lover (or should I say beach convert?) who showed up with a bottle of Nero d'Avola and a desire for conversation.

We ambled over to Saison Market for dinner - fried chicken, Bibb lettuce salad - where the patio was full and I ran into a couple of favorite beer geeks waiting for their fried chicken dinners (it was Sunday night).

We settled at a high table to admire and dissect the Virginia map on the wall until our meal came, drinking Eden Imperial 11 Rose, easily the funkiest (as in barnyard, like a good stinky cheese) tasting and most tannic cider I've had. That it was served to us by a woman named Eden was icing on the cake.

Although nothing replaces the sounds and sights of the ocean, we made do quite well on my balcony, where a steady breeze ruffled the nearby treetops and the music inspired observations about guitars and guitar collecting from the bearer of the Nero d'Avola, who also claimed to have conjured up the unusually pleasant weather to welcome me home.

If I had to come back to the city, I couldn't have asked for a better reentry evening. Seems that transitions aren't so tough with the right welcoming committee.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Save the Ghost Crabs

Fridays mean different things to different vacationers.

Residents of cottages that turn over on Saturday often see Friday as the last chance to check off a few vacation boxes before heading home tomorrow. That left an under-populated beach for those of us looking to walk and set up reading camp on the beach.

It also meant that going to John's for lunch involved a line of people that stretched from the order window to the painted line on the Beach Road. After standing in line for 10 or so minutes, a woman emerges from the kitchen door on the side to announce, "Sorry, but we're very backed up at the moment and it's going to take about 20 minutes to get your orders."

Immediately, people dropped out of line to head to greener pastures, but it was still a sizable group of people looking to eat at John's today. It's Friday.

Today's gray start to the day attracted more than a handful of fishermen types within spitting distance of the deck. When we saw a guy pull in a good-sized one, we headed over to find out what it was.

By the time we made it across the narrow strip of beach, he'd caught another, smaller fish. When I asked what they were, he said sea mullet. In the bucket were at least 4 or 5 more, a couple still desperately gasping as they died.

When asked what he was going to do with all those fish, he answered, "Take 'em home." We immediately dubbed him Mr. Articulate.

Today was my first beach nap, an unusually late-in-the-week entry for another beach staple that involves falling asleep in a sunny bedroom to the irregular rhythms of the surf while a soundside breeze gusts across my head from the open window inches away. This bedroom is programmed to seduce you into an afternoon nap.

Sitting on the deck tonight admiring breaker patterns and shooting stars, we were nearly blinded by a group with spelunking lights on their heads making their way down the beach in search of ghost crabs.

Because if you hope to see/catch/kill one (we saw the latter Tuesday night) while on vacation, well, tonight's it. It's Friday.

For those sage enough (I would no more rent Saturday to Saturday and have to deal with the crowds and traffic than give up skirts) to vacation Sunday to Sunday, there is no sense of Friday urgency.

While it may seem logical that A + B = C, that doesn't mean tomorrow I'll be afflicted with any Saturday urgency. I have no unchecked boxes, only a desire to enjoy more of the same until I vacate the premises Sunday.

You know, when I take 'em home.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Greetings from Wink's

Wink's is as central to Kitty Hawk's vibe as narrow beaches and one-story houses.

The beach store has been around at least since I was a kid, back in the days when there were no real grocery stores on the Outer Banks so my Mom had to pack (metal) coolers with all the meat we'd need for a two-week stay.

If we asked why we couldn't just get meat from Wink's, she'd look at us with horror and ask, "Green meat?" with a mix of revulsion and disbelief at our naivete.

She wasn't above buying milk, eggs and local tomatoes there and god knows my family bought enough postcards, Fireballs and Tootsie Rolls to do our part, but not a lot more.

As a teenager trying to navigate the junior high school world with no older sister to turn to, I spent my money at Wink's on teen magazines for beauty tips and Nutty Buddys for my soul. I've purchased the Washington Post on a near daily basis at Wink's some years. In emergency situations, I could run to Wink's (a mere 7/10ths of a mile) and score an overpriced and under-sized box of pasta or jar of oil to finish a meal.

But never have I, in a lifetime of dropping by Wink's at least once per visit, purchased palazzo pants at Wink's.

All that changed tonight when a palazzo pant-wearing friend and I stopped by for a postcard. A woman milling about near the back spotted my friend's fabulous pants and raved. Her admiration was natural: she, too, was wearing palazzo pants.

I was likely witnessing the only palazzo pant meet-up happening in North Carolina tonight.

She led my friend over to a nearby rack that held nothing but palazzo pants in every color, stripe and pattern imaginable. With intent written all over her face, she reached into the palazzo profusion and pulled out a pair of black and white patterned palazzo pants and held them up for inspection.

"You've got the height," she told my 6'2" friend like it was news. "These would look fabulous on you!"

It wasn't even sales hype, it was simply fact. She held them up against her long legs. The deliciously wide bells rang from long, fitted pant legs like harvest gold and avocado green were back in style and it was the '70s again.

It wouldn't matter what color top you put with these pants, the result would be striking and complementary.

Over the decades, I've bought sunscreen and bread at Wink's. I've mailed letters and postcards there, hell, when I was a kid you could even have your friends write you in care of Wink's and pick up your mail there.

But never, over the course of this human's life, have I seen palazzo pants purchased at Wink's. We're a long way from green meat, Toto.

I can see the t-shirt now: "My friend went to Wink's and got palazzo pants and all I got was this lousy 1961 postcard."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Having Too Much Fun, If Possible

And the second act of vacation begins.

With more guests and 14 hours and nearly 37 minutes of daylight, today was all about the summer solstice.

Over pancakes and bacon at breakfast, one guest mentioned that he'd woken up at 5 a.m. to find it was completely light outside and felt a bit unnerved. The sun took its own sweet time setting over the sound and dropping out of sight reluctantly, like a hammy vaudeville performer who gets pulled off the stage with a hook. At 9 p.m., we could still distinguish the ocean from the blue velvet sky with no difficulty.

Because of course we were sitting outside admiring that scenery.

I recall this time of year when my five sisters and I were young and our bedtimes fell long before daylight gave out. It seemed so unfair to have to try to go to sleep when you could still see blue sky through the bedroom window.

What sticks in my mind is a time when my bed was positioned beside a window and I remember kneeling in bed, my arms propped on the window sill, staring out into the backyard entertaining visions of a time when I'd be allowed to be outside while summer nights were so light.

A forecast of severe thunderstorms didn't stop me from walking after breakfast, although I had no takers on my invitation to come along. The loss was theirs.

The overcast sky and dire forecast are no doubt the cause of so few people being on the beach today, but anyone who was out enjoying the day would attest to the practically perfect temperature of the air, neither too warm or cool.

A favorite guest has suggested that the ideal temperature scale would not be Celsius or Fahrenheit but a new scale based on body comfort temperature, which would register as 0 on the scale.

He thought it was a brilliant concept but I foresaw issues with deciding what "ideal body comfort temperature" might be to assign that value. I know men who would find 58 degrees eminently comfortable while those of us with two X chromosomes and less muscle and fat would be in teeth-chattering mode.

Besides, no one wants to think about science at the beach. Or at least I don't.

No, I want to focus on finishing my second book of the week - Phyllis Robinson's "Willa: The Life of Willa Cather" - discussing a compelling New Yorker piece on Prog-rock (for the last time, Pink Floyd is not Prog-rock, kids) with a couple of guitarists and devouring a divine lobster and shrimp salad at the bar at Steamers while a jazz guitarist played a few feet away from our stools.

Unlike a traditional second act, mine has had not a single complication and the dramatic interest already arrived in Act One. What remains to be seen is how everything is neatly tied up in the final act.

Fingers crossed that the run is extended.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Delightfully Eccentric

Give me a self-proclaimed beach hater and I will return you an enthusiastic beach appreciator. It's a gift I have.

Granted, part of it is that I operate from a practically perfect beach headquarters, making my indoctrination all the easier. When I invite someone to come live at the ocean for a few days, I'm alerting them to the proximity of the ocean  (beach replenishment begins in Kitty Hawk July 1) which is both impressive and, as they soon learn, all encompassing.

I find the best way to welcome the beach-shy type is with Miraval Rose on the deck where the railing provides a convenient height for resting a motorist's weary legs and the ocean begins its seductive tease. That we also had the most delicious breeze - irresistible to those certain they can't live without air conditioning - only added to the certainty of the outcome.

Having a screened-in porch wrapping two sides of the cottage doesn't hurt the cause, either. The two big chairs made comfortable with throws and cushions provide ocean and sky views that spark cloud games and philosophical discussion set to the sound of crashing surf.

Showing a newbie around the "neighborhood" means a nice long walk along the beach after breakfast each morning, a gambit that acclimates them to the low-key appeal of this shabby and funky stretch of beach where McMansions need not apply.

Doing the heavy lifting for me, a guest's first outdoor shower here is a game-changer. No one who has ever lathered up to the sound of surf with the sky above and dune grasses visible through the slats in the floor can emerge anything but clean and happily mellow.

When I do invite a non-beach lover, I always make sure they're a reader. Besides the myriad obvious delights of beach life, this place is a slice of heaven for those who like to read, whether on the beach under an umbrella or on the porch with our feet up. We both bring back-up reading besides our stacks of books - me, the Washington Post, my guest, the New Yorker - so that we can trade off periodicals and make suggestions what the other should read.

The seduction onslaught is pretty much non-stop.

Naturally, when we do get in the car, it's to go somewhere that continues the charm offensive, whether a vintage seafood stand for locally-caught dolphin and tuna sandwiches that we then eat on the porch picnic table overlooking the ocean or to a porch overlooking a canal for more local seafood, this time shrimp and mahi mahi.

Beach beginners have no clue about the wonders of star-gazing in a place so far from city lights, so I make sure to include deck time at night when the whitecaps become the only part of the ocean visible, their irregular rhythms as mesmerizing as the flames of a fire. On the horizon, we see enormous, well-lighted boats and speculate on their purpose.

In general, I let things unfold organically. There are no schedules at the beach so my guest can set the pace and the priorities. If we want to open up a bottle of Nero d'Avola for lunch, why not? Get up at 4 a.m. to take in the moon's reflection because there was still too much cloud cover at 1 to even see the moon? Sure thing. Spend hours in the porch swing staring at the ocean while sharing personal histories? Let me get another cushion.

By Day 3, my non-believer has been rendered defenseless and unasked is already unashamedly admitting the error of years of anti-beach attitude.

A lethal combination of absolutely perfect weather ("How did you ensure that?" my guest marvels before resignedly attributing it to my "magic skills"), a breeze with as much kick as a roller coaster drop and the non-stop aural appeal of being practically on top of the ocean has made my guest a believer.

My hostessing skills are lauded, but I know perfectly well that anyone can fry bacon and eggs and make coffee and my true talent is putting the right kind of person into this setting and letting nature take its course.

All I really have to do to make a beach lover is share a few of my favorite things, be open to any conversation and smile.

I am so good at those things.