Monday, January 30, 2017

To Happiness, Poetry and Success

Today we were celebrating what a long, strange and wonderful trip it's been with my Dad at the helm of the family armada.

Unfortunately for me, this involved getting up at an ungodly 8:30 to do so. On the plus side, The XX's "Co-exist" and the National's "Boxer" provided stellar soundtracks for the gray drive on mostly empty roads.

Google maps provided an unexpected new route to the Inn at Montross on the Northern Neck for a celebratory brunch for my Dad's 85th birthday, a free-wheeling meal that involved four of my five sisters, practically non-stop laughter, my first introduction to a nephew's new girlfriend (her master's is in cyber-security), a spirited point/counterpoint about Lady Gaga and endless waffles, although no consensus was reached on what is taboo in waffles (I say we start with Reese's Pieces and move on to chocolate chips...blech, in waffles?).

A family feud broke out when the subject of coconut was broached - turns out Mounds lovers were seated right next to those who liken coconut to cat hair in your throat - and I was shocked to learn that not everyone is the fan of Girl Scout Samoa cookies that I am.

And yet, we spring from the same loins.

A vote was called to determine which faction had the majority and although coconut lovers won the popular vote, someone pointed out that everyone with their hand up was, shall we say, middle-aged or older? Only one millennial professed a passion for coconut, making him the outlier among his people.

My Dad made his usual sunny remarks on the occasion, saying, "Who would have thought I'd be lucky enough to have all this," his hand gesturing at the long table, "And live so long, too?" Corny, but sincere and no doubt partially fueled by a couple of cranberry champagne cocktails.

A family member is leaving this week for the Everglades to fish for peacock bass, a colorful, showy species (because, of course, someone has to pull up a photo) with no eating value whatsoever. A debate on sport fishing ensues, although I take no part.

After the last crumb was polished off, we posed for endless pictures in various combinations, not because any of us are particularly photogenic, but because it's what we do when we get together. When one sister opted out, I reminded her that we'll never look younger than we do today. She is unmoved.

Along the way home, it was challenging trying to avert my eyes from the abundance of road kill: a hound (broke my heart), a deer, a couple of possums and perhaps unlikeliest of all, a chicken, feathers ruffling as cars drove by.

I was home just long enough to answer emails before getting in a little bit of walking by heading over to the Bijou for the fourth and final film in their Facing Fascism film festival, Louis Malle's "Lacombe, Lucien" from 1974.

Like 1969's "Z" which I'd just seen, one of the standard film credits back then was "Script girl," who in all likelihood was also coffee girl and whatever else menial job needed to be done girl.

We've come a long way, baby, and somehow it all seems to be on the chopping block again. How the hell did we allow this to happen? But I digress (again).

I'm happy to report that we barely got three minutes into the film before seeing the requisite biking scene that every French film must have. What was refreshing was that it was a handsome  young man pedaling, one who resembled an '80s teen movie hero: all thick, dark, curly hair, sullen attitude, pouty lips and sunglasses.

Louis Malle as John Hughes influence?

The film showed the seductive side of fascism for a simple young man living in the countryside toward the end of WW II in German-occupied France. Turned down for being too young when he volunteers for the Resistance, he winds up working for the Gestapo, a major problem once he falls in love with a Jewish girl.

Like the good arthouse film that it originally was, it's a story about how ordinary people carry on under frightful circumstances with an anti-hero the other characters (and the audience) can't quite condone but don't fully hate, either.

Despite an inscription on a photo to Lucien, "Best wishes for happiness, poetry and success," things didn't work out quite that well for him.

Sitting in the row behind me was a woman who moved to Richmond from NOVA with her husband and is totally loving life here, but had yet to find a vibrant film scene. Needless to say, she was thrilled to discover the Bijou.

Doing our post-film discussion in the lobby, fascism talk naturally turned to the latest national embarrassment, Trump's refugee ban - so much for Washington's declaration that "the bosom of America is open" - and how so many people are still trying to pretend like everything's okay.

When someone I consider well-informed recently told me, "I'm not worried. He hasn't done anything horrible yet," I am gobsmacked.

"It's ostrich syndrome," one of the film-goers commented about such attitudes. It's completely unsettling that anyone can accept what's happened over the past nine days without deep concern. No one wants to quote a bumper sticker, but, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

I took my outrage and appetite to Nota Bene for Pizza Club, the first in a series that pays tribute to the restaurant's beginnings as a friend-based pizza club. Walking in behind a couple with a toddler, I wasn't the least bit upset to hear the hostess tell them that they were full up with reservations even though I didn't have one.

Having already spotted an open bar stool, I was making my way toward it when a friend near the end of the bar motioned me over to join her. A few stools down, another familiar face was insisting that we all needed some Fernet Branca - they to close out their night and us to begin ours.

It wouldn't have been my first choice to start with, but that didn't seem to matter. Meanwhile, familiar faces abounded: at least three chefs, wine and beer reps, several servers from various restaurants, a couple of favorite beer geeks who wanted to talk theater.

Before long even our new mayor arrived, took up  a stool and ordered a martini.

"The first rule of Pizza Club is wear stretchy pants," someone announced just behind me as I ordered the evening's signature pizza created by the chef at Secco and guaranteed to win my heart because it was a white pizza: Sbronzo di Bufala (bufala soaked in Aglianico) and Cinerino (Pecorino aged under myrtle ash) with sliced garlic, Castelvetrano olives and crispy Prosciutto over a cream base.

The second rule of Pizza Club should be always get the signature pizza. I can have a fabulous Fig and Pig any day, but the beauty of those two cheeses combined was sublime. Secco for the cheese score.

Having polished off all but one slice, I took her up on it when my friend offered to share her exquisitely fresh-tasting fennel salad with parsley and Pecorino, but I still managed to knock off that last piece of pie, too.

I'm here to tell you, dealing with family is not only exhausting but appetite-inducing.

Several of us at the bar got embroiled in a rant about people taking their news from questionable sources and I was reminded of a scene from "Lacombe, Lucien" that felt like a timely reminder about the role of the media under Fascism.

When a character repeats what he's heard on French radio about the war's progress, Lucien reminds him, "Now you have to go listen to Radio London and split the difference."

Pulling the Gen X card, my friend went so far as to instruct a millennial at the bar, "Pay for reliable, researched news. Even if you have to get the New York Times or Atlantic Monthly for $1 a week, do it so you can have access to researched information."

Don't look at me, I was sitting next to her sipping Fernet and trying to process the affronts to democracy being foisted on us as detailed in my Washington Post.

Because we share similar self-identifiers - I'm heathen Catholic while she self-labels as atheist Catholic - she makes an unlikely book recommendation (sci-fi, but with Jesuits in space) before we got embroiled in discussing the character-building nature of required family dinner conversation, the demise of problem solving skills and the failure to teach critical thinking.

The third rule of pizza club could be that since some Sundays are going to involve family, those nights should be devoted to no more than fine film, good pie, strong drink and as much political conversation as you can grab.

Splitting the difference is going to be the difficult part. Finding happiness and poetry will be the success.

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