Monday, January 16, 2017

The Beats Per Minute of a Life

Breakfast at home aside, it may be a personal best land eating record for one day.

chicken and waffles from GWAR Bar
an everything bagel shmeared with chive cream cheese from Nate's Bagels
bread pudding from Spoonbread
quinoa, spinach and mandarin salad from Tarrant's
a sweet roll (or two) from WPA Bakery
tuna crudo from Culinard
fish dip, spaghetti squash pancakes with harissa yogurt and Rouet Brut Rose at Secco
Old Salte oysters, deviled crab cake with pimento cheese and Lawrence "Sex" sparkling Rose at Rapp Session
Moroccan mint tea at Maple & Pine
squid pancake and spicy sweet wings at J Kogi
Espolon on ice at Saison

While it sounds like I did nothing but eat and drink for an entire day and night, you should know that the truth is far more interesting.

Luckily it's only 4 blocks away because by 11 a.m. I had to be at the Black History Museum for Afrikana Film Fest's "Movies and Mimosas brunch" where the event's founder welcomed black folks and black-minded folks to the sold-out event.

Having been raised by atypically black-minded folks in a very white neighborhood back during the shank of the white-focused 20th century, I took to the descriptor.

Besides gorging ourselves on a veritable feast (and I didn't even have room for Comfort's Nutella and banana French toast), we were all there to see "Soundtrack for a Revolution," a stellar 2009 documentary about the key role music played in the civil rights movement creating solidarity and encouraging participants to carry on when things got tough.

Practically every important face of the era - Julian Bond, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte - showed up as a talking head between graphic news footage of white policemen terrorizing peaceful black protesters/freedom riders and modern-day musicians  - John Legend, the Roots, Wyclef Jean - playing some of the protest songs in a modern way.

Not to brag, but it was only my first Questlove sighting of the day.

Of course songs had been written about racist governor George Wallace (not that I knew that before) with lyrics such as, "He must be removed, like a can of garbage in the alley..."

I can only imagine how much coarser and pointed the protest language would be today if a song was written about an unpopular elected official.

As is often the case with Afrikana's events, the discussion afterward was positively illuminating. One millennial was agog to learn that King had been 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott, having assumed that a leader had to be a middle-aged man. Another admitted that after witnessing the recent Twitter fracas denigrating John Lewis' role in the movement, he'd been amazed to see so much footage of Lewis at the very front of marches, right there with King.

One of the oddest comments came from someone who insisted that we must not look down on those whose sole contribution to moving social justice forward is sharing a post, Instagramming a picture or re-tweeting, insisting that such "actions" are as good as live participation in meetings, marches and movements.

"Don't judge others if that's how they choose to participate," she instructed the room twice. Interestingly enough, I have repeated this story to several people now, every single one of whom has reacted with incredulity, insisting that they are nowhere close to the same level of involvement.

The big announcement at the end of the brunch, that Afrikana is bringing - wait for it, because I about exploded when I heard - activist Angela Davis to town was enough to send me scurrying to the lobby to score a ticket as quickly as possible. I was #2 in line to nab mine. Angela Davis!

From there, it was on to the also sold-out Break It Down panel with Questlove at VMFA on the subject of food, music and creativity led by writer Todd Kliman who was clever enough to reference Carol Merrill, Faulkner, Run DMC and Maria Callas, use a white board and test the audience's literacy with references to articles in the "Washington Post" and "New Yorker."

The panelists had ties to food, music or both, although it was a major disappointment to see a sole woman on a panel of six with a male moderator. It's 2017 for heavens' sake, how is it a token woman is still okay?

Q teased the crowd by coming out when chef Mike Derks' name was called and then disappearing again. He told the crowd that a Roots fan, a true Roots fan would own all 17 of their albums. How despite 20 years in the band, he's only learned the craft of songwriting in the past five. How working with Virginia's own D'Angelo made him a more human drummer.

When he mentioned that his record collection was up to 80,000, there was an audible gasp in the room, but he also acknowledged that he'll never get time to hear them all. So what's the point?

Particularly insightful on the subject of millennials, the 45-year old expressed a hope that they learn the art of patience and develop a knack for boredom, since nothing spurs creativity more than being bored.

There's a message that needs to get out.

Panelist and singer Natalie Prass, looking 60s fabulous in matching flowered tunic and bell bottoms over a white blouse, regaled the crowd with an improvised song based on the images on the white board and also gave us a few bars of her middle school band's hit song, "Mangoes," inspired by her bandmate's parents getting mad when the kids ate all the mangoes in the house.

The panel closed out by taking audience questions, including a guy up front who asked the panelists about the rhythm of their own lives and if it had shifted at some point.

"Good job, Guy in the Front Row!" Kliman said about the final question, which elicited thoughtful answers from all, including Q, who allowed that the BPMs of his life had varied as wildly as his drumming does.

As the slow-moving crowd shuffled out, my companion and I headed to Secco to beat the crowds and admire the owner's orange cast, then to Rapp Session where a kindly server gave us a happy hour menu (3-6 p.m.) and told us we could order off it until 7. Score.

By 9, I was sipping tea at Quirk, catching up with an out-of-town friend - in the seven years of our friendship, we're lucky to see each other twice a year - and planning how to paint the town red on a Sunday evening in my eminently walkable neighborhood.

The fact that we both had so much news to share meant that by the time we said hello to the panel organizer and escaped the hotel, it was almost 10, never an easy time to eat well on Sunday night...except when you're in the mood for Korean street food, which we were.

Knowing J Kogi was open till 2 a.m. encouraged us to linger in the back-most table next to six chattering young women and a large sack of volleyballs, but it also meant that by the time we got to The Rogue Gentleman, they were closing down.

Saison saved the night, welcoming us in with a couple of prime bar stools, a Boulevardier for him and Espolon for me. We were deep in conversation about life changes when I overheard a familiar voice behind me and turned to see a favorite deep-voiced liquor rep who briefly joined our tete-a-tete.

Going back down the conversational rabbit hole, I came back up briefly when a favorite chef arrived, hugging me bear-style and telling me he was just looking to see what kind of trouble he could get into, essentially the same reason we were there.

Strolling back through Jackson Ward just before 2 a.m., we paused under an awning to sum up our latest get-together since he was heading home in the morning.

Describing his last year as "storm-tossed," he tossed out a compliment, saying that our evening had provided a much-needed dose of equilibrium and distraction thanks to me.

My last year, while not quite a storm, has certainly been a game-changer as well. It felt good to spend hours talking to someone else in flux

It was a Sunday for the books in many ways, but I'm not here to tell you it was perfect. Did you see any dessert on that list of non-stop eating? You did not.

Chocolate, you were the only thing missed.


  1. I saw her speak at San Jose State in 1975. She was so charismatic. There were protesters outside and a few inside yelling and being carried off by the police. Dave was furious that I would see, in his words, "a communist and a radical and a member of those killer black panthers". No matter, I found her fascinating. I tried to talk with him about it but he just didn't want to discuss it. He was quite sure I would become some hippy, radical activist. Oh Dave, such a silly man and oh, those were the days!

  2. Every clip I've seen of her reinforces how charismatic she was! Given that, I'm very eager to hear her speak as a seasoned adult with the perspective of the last four decades. Right on!