Sunday, April 9, 2017

Death is Like Chesterfield County

What begins with doughnuts and slapstick and ends with wine glass holder necklaces?

Another day in the life, of course.

Although I'm constitutionally opposed to events that begin at 10:30 a.m., I made an exception for James River Film Festival's Slapstick and Donuts program, not because I'm a huge fan of slapstick (I'm not especially) or because I thought they'd have my favorite chocolate-frosted cake doughnuts (they didn't) but because special guest filmmaker Guy Maddin was going to be there.

Other plans were going to prevent me from seeing any of his films the rest of the day, so it was my only chance to hear what brilliance might trip off his Canadian lips and that's what had me walking to the Bijou first thing in the morning.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts were laid out along with coffee, so I snagged a chocolate frosted one (though I've never understood why KK puts chocolate frosting on an already-glazed doughnut) and found a seat near a woman with a cup of coffee. when I challenged her on not having a doughnut (she'd already scarfed one) she challenged me back on not having any caffeine. Fair enough.

It was while a Laurel and Hardy short with a very young Jean Harlow (in which a baby chick was pulled out of a man's beard) and a Buster Keaton film were shown on 16 mm with the reassuring purring of the film projector the only sound that I realized that almost all of the belly laughs I was hearing around me were coming from men.

When I'm watching Buster Keaton balancing a ladder across a fence with cops on both ends trying to get to him and he's balancing precariously near the center, all I can think of is him cracking his head open when he falls while guys nearby laughed uproariously.

Then Maddin was introduced.

Laughing about Richmond, he joked, "If you don't get 'em with tobacco, you get 'em with Krispy Kreme," but he also raved about watching film on 16 mm and the accompanying clatter of a film projector. Reminding us how fragile nitrate film was and how it could cause projector fires, he commented that it would be nice to arrange an outdoor screening of a nitrate film where the projector could safely burst into flames.

It goes without saying I'd attend that.

We finished with Charlie Chaplin's "Easy Street," which I'd seen before, and I strolled home before noon, something that doesn't happen too often. After a few hours spent listening to my most recent used record acquisitions - Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Chi-Lites - I got ready for my couple date.

Flora, in the former Balliceaux space, welcomed us with a booth near the front and a stream of familiar faces - my favorite server from 821 Cafe who'd jumped ship to work here, a longtime Balliceaux server who runs the show and one of the owners thrilled to not be cooking southern - that had me jumping up and out of the booth repeatedly.

The changes to the decor were subtle yet made a statement that this was no longer Balliceaux. The porthole windows stayed (as well they should for the complete uniqueness) but the windows over the steps no longer open (a feature associated too much with Balliceaux). Bright pinks and greens, a peeling door covered with bright pots of succulents and textured walls contributed to a welcoming interior that hinted at Mexico without being cliched.

Conversation, as usual, swung wildly, with Pru getting major laughs for her matter of fact, "You know what's underrated? Chervil!" sending us off on a discussion of sorrel and other less common greens. Beau was also responsible for a bit of gum-flapping just to hear himself be corny, but we mostly ignored what Pru called his "murder of prose." Good times.

With a Spanish Rose that was tailor-made for the food's Oaxacan flavor profile, we dove into queso fundido with Chorizo, crunchy sticks of jicama with chili, lime and salt (and the ideal counterpoint to the queso's obscene creamy richness) and not one but two plates of what I will just go ahead and dub the most sensational and complex guacamole in Richmond, enhanced as it was by queso cotija and ancho.

Not content to be full when we could be stuffed, we moved on to pork shoulder tacos, tamale in banana leaf with mole negro and my choice, grilled shark tacos with a killer chipotle mayonnaise, cabbage, radish slices and a flurry of scallions. Every dish was solidly on point, although our final course of chocolate soup with marshmallows was a lighter milk chocolate than would've been my preference, not that I didn't finish it anyway.

We walked out agreeing that Flora should be part of our date rotation going forward. I say me having a date more often would be an even better plan, but some things are seemingly more difficult to achieve than well-executed Oaxacan food in the former capital of the Confederacy. Go figure.

Sitting chatting before we went to the theater, Beau mentioned Alanis Morrissette's song "Thank You" and specifically the line, "How about them transparent angling carrots?" and how he thought it referred to those crystal pendants people wear.

Funny, but I had to admit that I'd always thought the line was, "How about them transparent dangling carrots?" as a  metaphor for always reaching for what you'll never attain. Invoking the power of his phone, we learned I was right. Don't mess with me and lyrics, I know my dangling parts.

Quill Theater was performing "The Heir Apparent" at VMFA, where we took seats in the fourth row and began scanning the Saturday night crowd. Beau got busy trying to adjust his new hearing aid so that it would pick up salient points but tune out Pru and I kvetching.

Our back and forth about his selective hearing got the attention of the couple behind us and the wife explained that it had taken much cajoling to get her husband to be tested and get an aid himself. "It's a man thing," she explained with the wisdom of a well-dressed 75-year old woman who's done it all.

Talk centered on how it's mainly certain shrill female frequencies that both men can't hear and Beau admitted that on occasion he turns his hearing aid down so he doesn't have to hear or respond. Immediately, the husband piped up, saying, "That's a secret you should not have given away!" He also admitted to Pru and me that he loved talking to pretty women and did so with gusto.

The play was fun and funny, an adaptation of a 17th century French play spoken in pentameter, so a pleasure to listen to, and nicely interspersed with references to the present day with comments like, "Of course, if we had national health insurance..."

Even better were local references. When a character asked what dying was like, another quipped, "Chesterfield County!" Amen, brothers and sisters, we can all get behind this one.

Like a Shakespearean comedy, we had masks and lovers, wills and death, plotting and scheming and a cast up to the verse, my favorite being Adam Valentine who made the Crispin character the one to watch at all times.

Post-show discussion went down at the Rogue Gentlemen for cocktails, mine embarrassingly dubbed a "wine glass holder necklace" but made delicious with dry Rose, Cochaca, Pimms, lime, pineapple and mint simple syrup and served in an hourglass-shaped orange-colored tumbler, easily the grooviest glass on the bar despite stiff competition.

As for the music, Whitney Houston first caught my ear, followed by the Carpenters (a favorite of both Beau and mine), which caused Pru to joke, "Omygod, everyone gets a sandwich!" which left the rest of us in stitches.

Mars and Venus used well-crafted cocktails as a means of discussing differences, but that chasm may never be closed. Trying to explain some sophomoric male humor while sipping our cocktails, Beau announced, "I'm 13 in all the right ways!" to which Pru responded, "There are no right ways."

How about them transparent dangling carrots?


  1. ...I've lived in the Fan, the West End, on Monument Ave. & on the Blvd. Also did a few years in Jackson Ward. I always enjoyed my stay wherever I landed. Even several of the counties, Chesterfield being one of them. However I see no good in looking down on the county. An off the wall flip remark? Of what purpose does it serve? There is plenty in Richmond that could or has been made fun of in the past. Richmond is a nice place but not perfect...what is? I do not consider your honorable blogger a slug for consistently sleeping in late....I realize you're up all evening living your next posting...and to be fair you can be at times most informative, entertaining...a good read. However your lifestyle is yours alone, no better nor worse than others. It's all how we view it, our priorities, etc. In the past you've written well. Has the present administration in DC been rubbing off? A bit terse these days? Perhaps I could no longer read postings. My choice. However this being the internet your word goes far beyond the boundaries of the James. If your intent is to be witty, somewhat elite & offend, you are a success.


  2. Are you questioning why the play included a reference to the county to get a laugh about death? I can't answer that question, cw, because I had no hand in the writing of the play. There were also topical references to politics and socialism.

    I'd have thought you knew me better after all these years of reading my blog than to think I aim to offend. My opinions are nothing more than that and the play's joke at the county's expense struck me as funny because when I first moved to Richmond in the late '80s, I lived in Chesterfield County and hated everything about it. The problem for me was that I'd moved from an urban environment (Dupont Circle) to a suburban one and it did not suit me. Once I moved into the city in 1993, I was happy as a clam.

    I wouldn't call a preference for city living elitist, it's simply a preference. Please accept my apology if I offended you for mentioning that line in the play, cw. It struck me as funny mainly because it described how I felt about living there so long ago. Others, I know, love it.

    Everyone tries to find their happy place and one of my oldest and dearest friends lives in Chesterfield county and wouldn't leave for anything because of wonderful neighbors, plenty of property to garden on and watch wildlife, abundant studio space and because she's made it home. So I enjoy Chesterfield County in small doses by going to her house, which suits me fine.

    But at the end of the day, it's just a line from a funny play I saw last night and repeated on the blog, not something that I came up with in the first place.

    Again, my apologies for blogging a line from a play that didn't sit well with you (you could always mention your feelings to Quill Theater), but I think it was intended to get a cheap laugh, not be taken as a philosophical statement, as was my mention of the line.

    Peace, cw.

  3. ...and peace to you KN. Too fine a day outside for us to be on the keyboard.


  4. I still suffer flashbacks to Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World, a masterpiece of sorts, a genre unto itself. If you get another chance to see it (or have seen it already) let us know what you think!

  5. Wow! I haven't, but I will when I do. A genre unto itself is exactly how his films were described at the film festival.