Sunday, April 2, 2017

In Search of Adventure

I know where I'm going, so are you coming with me?

Pshaw, I don't let a little thing like my date canceling on me at the last minute to change my course at the French Film Festival.

Besides, within moments, I had a replacement and a mere hour later, he was picking me up on our way to Acacia for dinner at the bar with a view of the gorgeous blue skies outside.

Keeping solely to the bar menu - a personal favorite for its quality to price ratio - we had red pepper soup, oxtail ravioli (him) and tonight's market fish, rockfish, with a beet, goat cheese and mesclun salad (me) complemented by Riesling and a drink doing a fine job passing for an Orange Julius (look it up, kids) sans the creamy milk component and with the frisson of Lindera farms tumeric vinegar on the finish. Killer stuff.

Since it wasn't terribly busy yet, I engaged two favorite barkeeps in conversation about the unusual show we were seeing tonight, how gay events always get co-opted by straight people and why chili may be the perfect food.

After the dining room began filling up and after polishing off an obscenely rich Nutella/almond dacquoise with vanilla mousse, fresh strawberries and creme fraiche sorbet, we moseyed over to the Byrd Theater for the main event.

To my surprise, since I'd just been there the night before, there was now a raised platform looming over the center section of seats, so we took seats on the side. Five minutes later, we moved again because my seat was like an airplane seat permanently set on recline and, besides the person behind me hating me, it wasn't much of a prime viewing position.

Soon, an announcement was made that if you couldn't see both boxes - one with a harp, the other with a piano - as well as the entire screen, you should move. As a bonus, the balcony was open, so we headed there.

Neither of us could recall ever having watched a show from the Byrd's balcony, so this was one cherry we were popping together.

We sat down upstairs just as an announcement was made to put your phones away. "You'll have plenty of time for pictures later, but no phones during the show!" Meanwhile, the woman next to me was on hers and the guy in front of us was on his.

We moved again to escape their glaring screens, this time to the center of the balcony's back row and wound up with incredible seats. View-wise, it was especially cool because the projector platform downstairs appeared to be the front row of the balcony from where we now sat.

The Byrd's manager Todd explained that all the sounds we'd be hearing tonight accompanying the Magic lantern show would be analog sounds made by the Wurlitzer's instruments and noisemakers. Cuing organist Bob Gulledge, they took us through sounds of thunder, birds, even a train pulling out of the station.

Magic lanterns are a simple type of slide projector and the triple magic lantern we were seeing tonight had been made in 1887, although simpler models went back as far as 1659. If knowing that blew our minds, I can't imagine how it must have felt to a 17th century denizen watching projections for the first time.

Our black-clad narrator sat in the box with the piano, setting the scene with his descriptive voice and spot-on acting of various characters.

The show began with a primer on magic lanterns (fascinating) before moving on to the adventures of "Robinson Crusoe" as told by gorgeous, detailed colored slides. When Crusoe's boat set sail, we heard the sounds of the ocean. When he reached the frozen north and saw igloos (textbook grade-school type igloos that looked like they came in a kit), we heard the wind howl and saw falling snow.

When he got to the New World and saw Native Americans, we heard war whoops, horses galloping and fire crackling on the plains. In Italy, Vesuvius erupted with the sound of hot lava and thunder roared from storms at sea while we saw bolts of lightening appear and disappear on the slides.

And, throughout the story, the harpist played a beautiful accompaniment, causing my companion to note, "I'm going to hire her to play in my bedroom at night." We'll check back and see how he does with that.

And while most of the slides appeared to be painted, several of insects were real insects between glass and accompanied by the sound of bees buzzing. When our hero took on building a fence, we heard the sound of saw.

Really, it was a master class in the range of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ.

And while the story had a vintage feel, they were enough contemporary tangents - our hero grows pot and has terrible nightmares - both on the slides and in the narrator's commentary, to wink at the fourth wall and remind us it was 2017.

A smoke machine was followed by what the narrator called pure spectacle, some funny, some merely eye candy, like the changing geometric shapes and liquid gel effects that would have been at home at a psychedelic rock show. And if we were agog, the effect 200 or 300 years ago must have been startling.

All in all, a thoroughly groovy experience unlike anything either of us had experienced before. Walking out, we immediately decided on more stimulation, landing at Saison's bar for post-show discussion and cocktails in a room that was at full-pitch Saturday night energy levels.

And, oh, the discussions we had over-sharing with each other for the next few hours over drinks in fanciful tiki glasses. I do know he's the first person to ever describe me as erudite, impish and frugal in the same breath.

When over-planning kills magic, a last minute date can be the very best kind. Merci for the memories, French Film Festival.

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