Saturday, May 20, 2017

Midnight Love and Cheap Cigarettes

And other tales from 36 hours with a Kiwi.

One minute I'm at a wine dinner with "my" people and next thing I know, I'm having breakfast for the second day in a row with someone I didn't know a day and a half ago.

Camden's wine dinner Thursday night featured the bounty of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand courtesy of Supernatural Wines and the invitation carried a clear warning, "These are pricey, high acid wines with as much character as the man who runs the company (the ladies will love him! the men will envy him!)."

It didn't take much to round up four wine-loving sots friends to join me for the wine and wisdom of a stylish and soft spoken Kiwi.

His small production wines made for wonderful pairings from a chef who excels at playing food and wine matchmaker.

The "Supernatural" organic and bio-dynamic Sauvignion Blanc sang with oysters and pear slaw, "Spook Light, a skin-fermented Pinot Gris, made for a killer pairing with housemade Merguez, Kielbasa, Point Reye's Bleu and Manchego and finally, "Green Glow" skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc was swoon-worthy with grilled swordfish over red wheatberry salad with dill butter sauce.

By the time the dinner was finished, I'd learned that our visitor had spent the day being ferried around by wine reps and was hoping to experience Richmond  a tad more fully. Enter yours truly, with offers to show him some of the good stuff in his free time.

Turns out the appeal of a sunny tour guide negates any loose plans he might have been entertaining about getting right to work in the morning. For me, here's my chance to make a visitor love Richmond in record time.

My main challenge is that New Zealanders are unaccustomed to humidity and soon every square inch of his face and arms are covered in beads of sweat. I assure him he'll adjust but the crescent shaped sweat stains on the front of his shirt reappear periodically.

Two topics dominate our walk: architecture and trees. He's agog at the former because so much of New Zealand's is modern and not architect-designed and charmed by the second's lush feel.

We start at Perly's - but not too early because of how late the post-wine dinner salon had gone - because I sense he'll need a sturdy breakfast to overcome last night and stand up to what I have planned.

He immediately orders the Schnorrer, a platter laden with poached eggs, roast beef, his first potato latkes and rye toast, which I suggested he order since we were in a Jewish deli. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say he found the meal life-giving.

From there we walked to a nearby market so he could score cigarettes at which point, sated and with nicotine coursing through his veins, he decided to blow off work entirely. I led him directly to Steady Sounds where we both found some gems in a batch of used records recently arrived while he also picked up the new "Twin Peaks" soundtrack.

It was when I took my records to the counter to pay that I saw the familiar face of the owner as he was busy pricing even more fresh used arrivals. Glancing at my purchases - Janet Jackson, The Persuasions, Marvin Gaye - he inquires, "Karen, need any "Midnight Love?"

If my mind didn't live in the gutter, I might have responded with anything other than "always," but what he meant was Marvin's final studio album from 1982 and, yes, I needed it for $4.

By this point, the visitor had proven his mettle and quite happily accompanied me all over town.

After dropping off our purchases, I led him to the river through the gauntlet of RiverRock preparations, so he could experience the pipeline walkway, to the point that he was even game when I suggested we remove our shoes and wade through the last stretch still underwater.

Don't try this yourselves, kids, I am a pro.

Because other, lesser guides (aka wine reps) had raved about the T Pot Bridge to him, we lapped that, too, but I didn't sense he liked it better than the pipeline. Who would?

By the time I'd walked his Kiwi butt off, he was crying uncle for a seat inside and a glass of wine. I ensured both by landing at Saison Market where we indulged in New Zealand wine, (albeit not his,   which was being stocked on the shelf as we watched), sipping glasses of Cambridge Road Vineyard's orange wine, the appealingly funky Cloud Walker.

And speaking of, the sky suddenly darkened and rain poured down on the hot streets out front for exactly two minutes while we drank, and then it was back to being a sunny day.

We slurped Wicomico oysters and a cheese plate at Camden's while discoursing on literature and indie book stores with the she-woman happy hour chef fan club. Then it was on to music and cocktails at Savory Grain, where Mikrowaves' horn section kept the vibe soulful and lead singer Eddie welcomed all the visitors from other countries in the  audience (I may have mentioned my companion's provenance to him) with a smirk.

Of course there had to be another late night cigarette run, then GWARbar, which was his idea because he'd been taken there Wednesday night at 1:57 a.m. and wanted a fuller experience.

Leave it to me to make sure he had it with Espolon and warm pork rinds.

To the delight of both of us, one of the kitchen guys decided there had been quite enough metal playing at GWARbar for one Saturday evening and proceeded to go pop on us and I mean pop: Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Starship, Toto.

Kiwi even requested a classic -  America's "Horse With No Name" - and was obliged within three songs. Claims he likes the beat, surely a rare compliment for such a mellow '70s band.

Naturally a former denizen of London is a fan of electronica and dance music.

Eating breakfast at the counter of 821 Cafe this morning to thrash music ("Not exactly your normal cafe music, hmm?" he observes drolly), I pointed out that we'd eaten an awful lot of meals together lately for people who'd been complete strangers as recently as Thursday afternoon.

"When are you coming to visit New Zealand?" he asks in between sips of a Bloody Mary made with Texas Beach Bloody mix, a reference I have to explain since I hadn't included Texas Beach on our stroll. Instagram photos naturally ensued.

Like the rye toast yesterday, the biscuit on his plate was completely my idea since he was unfamiliar with them and needed a lesson on southern eating. "It's kind of big, isn't it?" he wonders before I suggest adding butter.

A tour guide's work is never finished.

At least it doesn't end officially until you've walked your guest to get cigarettes yet again ("They're so cheap!" he marvels, always followed by an earnest, "I'm going to quit very soon")) and waited with him for his train to arrive - mind you, over an hour late - enjoying possibly the last conversation you may have with this person.

Neither love nor envy were on the table, but the 11th hour dynamic certainly made for compelling trackside diversion. How unlikely and ultimately enjoyable to spend such focused time with someone you're unlikely to see again.

It was a pleasure, in other words.

Let's just call it a fabulously accented kick-off to my impending birthday. Character reigned supreme.

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