Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Forbidden Fruit

Already it's difficult to remember what life was like before January 20.

Oh, sure, plenty of us were upset and worried about what the new presidency would mean in terms of everyday life, but the past ten days have established a terrifying new reality that delivers fresh worst case scenarios daily.

It's exhausting and terrifying.

Something as relatively simple as keeping up with the latest facts has become a much more time-consuming and labor-intensive responsibility than at any other period in my not insignificant years given that we've now got the equivalent of an ADHD 12-year old controlled by a xenophobic and misogynist lunatic bent on plunging us into war.

And speaking of, now that thousands of Virginia Tech students, faculty, alumni and graduates have called on the clueless commander-in chief to dismiss their graduate, the evil Bannon, my suggestion would be for Benedictine students, faculty, alumni and graduates to do the same to their alum.

Come on, Richmond, represent.

Like most of my friends, just about everyone I know is of the same mind set about the craziness emanating from on high, yet one friend, a daily correspondent, never refrains from expressing his amazement.

Hard - but possible - to imagine a worse A-1 of the Post than today. Okay, we have Muslim extremists trying to kill us here and there, so we should, for no good reason at all, just poke a stick in their eye? Jeeeez....

The problem is that once the work of the day is over, the news of the day still hangs like a pall over my mood. An evening's entertainment now becomes a much-needed distraction from reality rather than just a source of enjoyment and socializing.

Le sigh.

So it was that I went to Movieland tonight to see August Wilson's "Fences," not because of its Oscar nominations (through well-deserved) but because a year and a half ago, I'd gone to TheatreLAB to see snippets of all ten of Wilson's "century plays" (one for each decade of the 20th century) performed.

Ever since, I've been determined to see full productions of as many as I could.

"Fences" is his 1950s play so it deals with the changing role of blacks in this country (Denzel Washington's Troy character gets promoted from garbage collector to garbage truck driver, previously a whites-only job), along with family issues and race relations.

I've no doubt that non-theater lovers would find the film a bit stage-y, but it wasn't an issue for me, especially with top notch acting from Denzel and Viola Davis who'd both won Tonys for playing those roles on Broadway in 2010.

Those with limited attention spans (like the couple next to me) might find the play too long - 2 hours, 10 minutes - but honestly, I was too engrossed in the story to notice the time passing. Besides, if I'm watching a story of black life in lower class Pittsburgh, I'm not thinking about the current state of the union and that was the goal in the first place.

My final distraction of the evening was finishing the book Pru had given me for Christmas, a 1989 reprint of Guy de Maupassant's late 19th century "Tales of French Love and Passion," with its already-yellowing pages.

A master of the short story, the 4 and 5 page stories of romance, seduction, wooing and infidelity were delightful reads for how utterly realistically people were portrayed, but also a stark reminder of how very constrained gender roles were, especially for women.

Everyone seemed to have lovers but men didn't have to resort to a fraction of the subterfuge women did.

The story titles - Caught, The Wedding Night, A Wife's Confession, Room No. 11 - provide a glimpse at the juicy subject matter back when women were described as "having grace and freshness" or as "elegant and very coquettish," with my favorite being, "She rejoiced in a fantastic, baffling brain, through which the most unheard of caprices passed, in which ideas danced and jostled against each other."

I'm willing to bet that most of the caprices are standard now.

What was most charming about the book once I finished it was that the final four pages of it were blank, with the word "Notes" at the top of each, as if a reader might want to jot down lessons learned from these little tales.

And while I didn't, I could have:

A man will marry a woman out of guilt if she jumps out a window distraught because he doesn't love her.

Asking your male lover to cross dress so he can meet you without suspicion may backfire if your husband falls for him as a woman.

The best way to reinvigorate a marriage is to have your husband take you to the cheap dive where he usually picks up mistresses.

Given the present-day state of the country, though, the line I found most relevant in any of the stories didn't concern love, but peace.

From that time forward, the terms on which the young married couple lived together assumed the character of that everlasting peace which President Grant once promised the whole world in his message to all nations.

At the moment, it's impossible to imagine our president ever wanting, much less promising, anything half so noble.

Right, and de Maupassant thought women had baffling brains. At least they had them.

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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Be Prepared for Peace

Because when you see a guy sever his patella right in front of you, the least you can do is go to a fundraiser for him afterward.

Beckham and Beauty met me at SPARC for the lip sync benefit show for Durron's patella, not just because they'd been with me when Durron first fell, but because they were just back from a month-long honeymoon in South Africa and I wanted all the delicious details.

I joined them in the second row for an audio highlights reel of their adventure, from winery hopping to every other day beach jaunts to a safari - petting cheetahs and and feeding elephants - to loads of books read over delightfully long days.

Not going to lie, I was pea-green with envy.

When they did venture out to do the proper tourist-y things, they were continually met with uncontrolled children running amuck, an annoyance they likened to the best possible birth control.

As I'd have guessed, their re-entry to the real world has been cold and harsh - and not just because they left a cultured, competent and contemplative leader running the country and came back to a fascist creating a police state - as they adjust to early mornings, less time together and the realities of setting up a shared household while holding down demanding jobs.

Fortunately, they're young and strong with love and endless optimism on their side. And, like me, they love some good lip syncing.

The show began with Durron walking onstage, stiff-legged and using a cane, to take his rightful place in the "king's" chair, a red armchair complete with footstool for the ailing gam. Onstage was to be his spot for the entire evening.

Unlike the usual lip sync battles Beckham, the Beauty and I've attended in the past, tonight's was more of a showcase of local acting talent singing their hearts out for a fallen comrade, with host Phil kicking things off brilliantly with The Lion King's "Be Prepared," complete with a full range of actions to reflect the words.

To be honest, I had no idea about the song, but Beauty brought me up to speed.

The quartet of "Team Not This Winter Body," who'd also been present for Durron's spill, came out and addressed him directly, saying, "This is for you, buddy. We love you a lot and we're so sorry," a sentiment that was expressed repeatedly throughout the evening.

Reliably fabulous Mags blew the roof off with her histrionic take on the vocal (yet silent) acrobatics of Demi Lovato's  "Heart Attack," but she stumbled a bit getting offstage, causing host Phil to call out, "No one falls tonight!"

New to the lip sync business was Natty who emoted the hell out of "Bernadette" while pounding his chest, dropping to his knees and eventually handcuffing himself to Durron to prove his love, per the song lyrics.

Epic best describes what we witnessed as this lip sync virgin showed us his mastery of the art form.

Forrest, whom I knew solely as a guitar player (a very good guitar player), pulled off dance moves in sunglasses, while he silently sang Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling," a song that sounds like every other auto-tuned male pop hit of this century. Or is it just me?

Britney's "Lucky" got the full treatment - tiara, feather boa, robe - from Liz who also used signage ("Because she can't walk") and a water bottle to splash her face with the tears of her lonely heart, tears which dripped down on poor Durron as she hugged him from above.

But when the song ended, everyone began freaking out about the water on the stage (no more falls, remember?) and a crew of paper towel-wielding driers descended on the stage to ensure there wasn't so much as a drop to slip on.

Up to this point, Beckham, Beauty and I had been thoroughly enjoying the show, with equal parts laughter and appreciation for how well choreographed most numbers were tonight.

Then it was Asa's turn, a good thing since I'd already decided after the last lip sync battle that Asa is a lip sync god.

He sure didn't disprove that with tonight's choice of Beyonce's "Single Ladies," coming onstage in a black bodysuit, white fur-trimmed jacket and ankle booties and shaking it for all he was worth, smacking his backside and oozing enough sass to sell every word.

Behind him were a half dozen dancers in black bodysuits and tights, nailing every booty shake, every extended ring finger, every nuance of the original choreography while Asa continued to "sing" lead from the front of the stage. More dancers joined them and suddenly, we were seeing a full-blown synchronized dance sequence with nary a hip swing or hand flutter out of place.

It was a thing of beauty, no less so for Asa's charismatic presence as front woman. That's one agile man and the look on Durron's face was pure pleasure.

The final round was the improv round, supposedly with seven contestants, although only six showed up onstage. "We need one more!" Phil called out.

"Asa's coming! He's putting his pants on!" someone hollered. One number in a bodysuit is probably enough for any man.

With all seven in place, we watched as songs - "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," "What's Love Got to Do With It?" and something from The Little Mermaid - were played for 30 seconds and one of the contestants had to lip sync to it on the spot.

Everybody had had a turn except Natty and when the first notes of the final song began, he seized the moment, extending his arms and silently belting out the syrupy "My Heart Will Go On" in Durron's direction to great dramatic effect.

There's just no way to come down after that kind of stellar entertainment.

Although my friends and I hadn't made any post-show plans, we were on such a high after witnessing that array of terrifically talented people, that we resolved to go to Secco for vino and conversation. Though it was prime time Saturday night and the odds were stacked against us, we scored bar stools, where Beckham insisted I sit between the two since, "We've seen a lot of each other lately."

All talk. I know because they were touching each other the entire night and it was pretty charming to see. Nobody was tired of anybody.

It was a night to introduce Beauty to Hungarian wine with Affinitas Tokaj Furmint, floral, rich and a fine pairing with spicy octopus Bolognese with chile oil, not that it didn't hold up just fine to fried acorn squash (the very same I'd had a week ago and fallen hard for) with buratta, fermented honey and gingersnap crumbles, plus the reliable tortilla espanola and one of tonight's specials, a thoroughly obscene poutine of oxtail gravy with white cheddar over fries.

The funny part is, when we'd met at SPARC, Beckham made sure I knew they'd already eaten, yet his first words at Secco were, "We're feeling a little peckish," while requesting a food menu.

Naturally, that led to a conversation of how some people (*cough* Beckham) can say they're not hungry but that only lasts until they have access to something tasty. Like a restaurant menu.

Beauty admitted that too often she allows herself get to the "hangry" point, but tries to mitigate that by keeping a snack cabinet over her desk. Meanwhile, I eat every chance I get.

Mainly we discussed their time in South Africa, which disappointed only on the cultural front (a New Year's Eve concert in the botanical gardens featured a band so bad they left, while a piano bar seemed to be more of a recording of a piano), a fact which only bolstered their conviction to spend their free time drinking wine.

Like me, Beckham had been there before, but he was nevertheless surprised at how many new varietals are being planted and grown successfully now. Hello, South African Tempranillo.

And of course we talked about dealing with the ongoing disaster of the past eight days under a thin-skinned tyrant and whether it would be possible to have a repeat of Nazi Germany here. We're more connected so it would be more difficult, we agree, but impossible? Who knows?

When Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is going on record today as saying that it "looks as if the world is preparing for war," I, for one, am all ears.

Even fabulous lip-syncing can only keep the fear at bay for so long. All the single ladies know there are people we want to see a lot of before it all goes up in flames.

Can't stop the feeling time is running out.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Popcorn-Eating Intellectual Scum

Someone should've warned him that small hands mean small crowds.

When the President is obsessing about the size of his inauguration crowd, pushing an "America first, f*ck the world" agenda and mandating a taxpayer-funded border wall, what else could I do but walk over to the Bijou with Mac for an anti-fascist thriller oozing political messages and dripping with tension?

Headed to  the front row of Westhampton Theater seats, I couldn't help but wonder why a guy was already comfortably situated in the back row. So I asked. Seems he's an introvert, but a little digging revealed that he likes to watch the goings-on of others from the safety of the back.

Who wouldn't razz a stranger over that?

Like the Bijou's co-organizer James said while welcoming the small crowd to the early show, "We don't know what's going to happen with Trump." What he didn't say was that we're practically positive it won't be good.

But the Bijou was there for us, screening the 1969 Oscar-winning film "Z" by brilliant political filmmaker Costa-Gavras who'd crafted a riveting story about how a non-violent opposition leader is killed by a right wing conspiracy and his murder covered up by the highest of government and police figures.

We were reminded by co-founder Terry how much this film had resonated with still-grieving moviegoers, debuting not long after both MLK and RFK had been assassinated. He suggested we take note of the movie's pell-mell pacing, tough to miss once embroiled in it.

The film opens with a government leader lecturing a room full of white guys about how eliminating ideological "isms" is much like ridding grape vines of mildew: yet one more chore that's got to be done.

Fascism: just another "honey-do" list.

The period details were fabulous - after all, it was 1969 - with men in flowered shirts open to mid-chest with gold medallions swinging, stewardesses in white gloves and pillbox hats and skinny Brit photographers in satin blazers and Nehru jackets. IBM electric typewriters everywhere. Music swung from '60s pop to traditional Greek.

And, of course, it being 1969, the requisite killer car chase.

But a sense of foreboding hung over every frame as you realized how insidiously the regime had commandeered control of people's lives in every possible way. Knowing the story was based on actual events in Greece in 1963 made it the most chilling kind of fiction, punctuated by the fact that the bad guys were only slapped on the wrist.

So how does the military retaliate? By banning practically everything: long hair on guys, mini-skirts, Tolstoy, Sartre, Albee, freedom of the press, sociology, modern music, Sophocles, labor strikes, popular music, the new mathematics and smashing glasses after toasts.

Even the letter "Z" is banned because it was used for graffiti (Z means "he lives" in ancient Greek apparently) as a tribute to the slain opposition leader. That's right, the government banned a letter. Mind-boggling, yes, but Costa-Gavras ably demonstrates that so is a government bent on deciding what the truth is, then expecting its citizenry to accept and regurgitate those alternative facts.

No surprise, a film about damping down political protest, suppressing the media and ridding the country of "intellectual scum" was bound to resonate a little too close to home right now. Well curated, Bijou.

It would be fascinating, given that Costa-Gavras is still alive, to hear the director's take on the appalling new normal we're still trying to adjust to. Absent his thoughts, Mac and I chatted with other film-goers about what a superb film we'd just seen and how uncomfortably relevant it felt.

Now on my third in the series, the Bijou's Facing Fascism film fest feels like hitting the jackpot for a fan of award-winning foreign films, but also a wake-up call to the hallmarks of a totalitarian government, probably the reason why James had made a point of saying that the Bijou was "a safe space, a community resource and meeting place," the kind of space people may need in the uncertain days ahead.

We did the only logical thing possible after walking home from the Bijou - we got in the car and drove to Garnett's to celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day.

Truth be told, we scored the very last slice of strawberry cake but it had chocolate icing to keep to the spirit of the day and we tucked into it with the Scissors Sisters providing a sassy soundtrack. Comfortably numb, indeed.

Fortunately, it's possible to celebrate such nonsense while still processing the complex ideas put forth in "Z," but it's also worrisome to think what the future may hold...or even how much future may be left. Without the right to assemble and a free press, what freedom remains?

"Z" was a powerful reminder of how quickly things can go south and that's exactly what must be prevented.

Because I'm here to tell you that no one is truly free when music and mini-skirts are banned.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cherish the Light Years

Director of Vibe, now there's a job I could excel at.

In many ways, I suppose I already am my own director of vibe - I do, after all, curate everything about my life from music played to routes taken to gathering a group that has come to be known as "my people" - but only now am I learning that there are restaurants who hire such a person.

Joe Blow
Director of Vibe
Such a business card could open doors.

As director of my personal vibe, rather than getting upset or worried when a lunch date is tardy, I embrace a make-the-most-of-it vibe, planting myself on the sunny front porch of the house and taking in the 65-degree air while the sunshine warms me to the bone.

How better to chat with passersby and await his eventual arrival?

Once he does and we're strolling through a wildly windy Jackson Ward to Mama J's, the vibe shifts to familiar and teasing because while this is the second time we've met up in 11 days, prior to that it had been a year and a half. This is partly attributable to him living across state lines (sounds almost dangerous, right?), but also to some adjustments in his personal life.

When he mentions having just seen a good friend of mine, I joke that he's gone from one opinionated woman to another. "Oh, you're way more opinionated than she is," he assures me before clarifying that strong women hold all the appeal, a sentiment I appreciate hearing.

We're a most unlikely pair at Mama J's because it's his maiden voyage and I've been dozens of times but neither fact compromises our pleasure vibe as we swoon over Mama's incomparable fried catfish, pork chops both fried and baked, the signature seafood pasta salad and collard greens that spark a debate.

I find the greens positively perfect in flavor and texture, as always, while he's not ready to concede that fact. Granted he's a long-time food writer, but I've had these greens plenty and I've compared them to others so I know they're standouts.

He tries to explain that for him, there are three sub-categories of greens: traditional long-cooked with pig, contemporary interpretations that lean toward crisp and vinegary and a variation he calls "modern southern" that falls somewhere in between.

Potato, patahto, let's just call them delicious and move on to just as important a topic: how sweet a corn muffin should be. The two of us could do this all day and night. Despite having grown up in the same county, not all our flavor profiles would overlap on a Venn diagram

A good Mama's vibe necessarily includes a fat slice of homemade cake and my visitor chooses buttercream, but the cake itself is was dense as a pound cake and the buttercream a half inch thick, so we barely make a dent in it. Now he's got a souvenir of our afternoon, not that I expect it'll last long.

Our conversation has a lot to do with the differences in Washington and Richmond, with our relaxed vibe and extensive yet accessible and affordable scene posing an even greater allure for him now that he's less encumbered by situation. Being the saleswoman for the city I am, I wasn't the least bit shy about extending the welcome vibe to the point of discussing neighborhoods he should consider and why.

Despite my lack of cheerleading chops, I am a spirited booster rooting for everyone to consider a move here.

Walking back along Clay Street, we see what the mighty wind has wrought in our absence: much scattered debris and branches down everywhere, including what looks like half a tree atop a car. I come home to a message from a friend," This wind is no joke. I feel like god is trying to communicate something."

Some of us are hoping they're just winds of change.

I have only to do an excruciating interview with a space cadet (so many platitudes, so little to say) before curating my next vibe with a favorite girlfriend I haven't seen since early December. Walking over to Saison Market, she regales me with a gory tale of how since we last met, she sliced her finger using a mandolin to make scalloped potatoes and wound up with five stitches.

But we've come to talk blood and guts of a different sort.

We've come for opinion swapping and updates on each other's lives, accompanied by a bit of wine, fried Brussels sprouts with goat cheese, fennel and coriander (too much cheese, I opine, while she insist she's never uttered those words because such a thing is impossible) and meaty pastrami spare ribs over a vinegary red slaw.

Alternating seems to be the best way to cover the past seven weeks efficiently, so we volley back and forth - the Women's March in D.C., my trip to California, watercolor classes, plays seen, the appeal of new friends, dealing with old friends, welcome and unwelcome visitors, life, love and chocolate.

The vibe is convivial and familiar with an '80s soundtrack of the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Split Enz. She and I have traded in these types of in-depth conversations for two decades now and it's become increasingly essential that we keep each other abreast of where the bodies are buried.

Somebody will need to know.

Before we can get to dessert, her beloved texts that they are still without power at home so he wants to meet her for dinner at Joe's Inn in Bon Air. Just like that, our outing winds down with the expectation that it will resume next week exactly where it left off.

If only all relationships worked that way. If we stop here, then we begin exactly here next time, with no period of reacquaintance necessary. Such tactics result in getting to the buried secrets so much more naturally.

Little was required from me to direct the vibe for the rest of the evening because company and location mostly did the job for me. I'd bought a ticket to see Cold Cave at Strange Matter back before Christmas and only a couple of days ago spontaneously invited a fellow music lover to join me for some deliciously millennial neo-'80s.

No, really, that's how I sold it to him. And he bit.

By design, I suggested Ipanema for a pre-show glass because the dim, low-ceilinged room is an ideal place to start the conversational ball rolling, not that that's been an issue at our meet-ups. Rapport came easily from the first.

Arriving first and snagging a prime seat at the head of the bar, I overhear the two young women behind me discussing life.

I'm so glad I'm in a relationship again. I'm a shit show when I'm single, out of control! I need to know I'm in a relationship to behave.

So much I could offer there. But before I could whirl around and share some older woman experience on that subject, a friend stopped by to say hello and share that he and his girlfriend had split up, a fact I hadn't known. Asking if it was mutual, he grimaced. "Well, look at her and look at me, so, no, not really. It's best for her, though and we're still friends."

My words were probably inadequate, as they tend to be when someone is clearly still hurting, but it was then that my friend showed up, shifting the vibe from casual social empathy to the pleasures of pre-music sipping and banter among a crowd full of others headed to the same dark place.

We walked into Strange Matter - the handwritten yellow sign on the door screamed "sold out!!" - where he took one look at the crowd and decided he was dressed wrong. But honestly, did he have anything suitable for watching L.A.'s Drab Majesty, a two-piece led by an androgynous singer in a space-age tunic with shocking Warhol-like white hair and kabuki-style make-up with black points above and below his eyes?

I'm not sure he did. Suspecting as much, I hadn't even tried.

The band's sound was equal parts Flock of Seagulls and New Order with liberal sprinkles of Goth darkness and played at a volume that probably should have had me reaching for the ear plugs in my bag, but didn't. What it did have me doing was moving in place non-stop, wishing there'd been room to really dance.

With no effort on my part beyond a ticket purchase, here I was part of a solid retro '80s vibe that spoke to an entire decade of music I'd loved the first time around.

Standing behind me, my friend leaned in and whispered, "How did you hear about this show?" Pshaw. My people know that at any given time, I often have the dirt on, if not the most compelling stuff going on, certainly something worth experiencing. That said, I also have a bad tendency to just make plans to go alone when I could be more mindful of inviting company to join me.

Cold Cave, the reason for the evening, came out and took the volume down just a notch, but kept us solidly in the '80s groove with leader Wesley's darkwave take on synth pop performed against a backdrop of changing images, words ("People are poison") and pulsating light shows.

Coming from a  hardcore background as he does (and which you could feel in his black leather-jacketed quasi-menacing performance style), we could have heard far more nods to Nine Inch Nails than we did, but mainly it was Depeche Mode and Joy Division influences front and center as they sucked in the electronica and goth-loving crowd.

On a night where the temperature had been steadily plummeting since I'd walked in shorts this morning, S'Matter still managed to wind up a sweaty, hot mess before Drab Majesty had even finished their set.

I marvel at how a venue can be stifling hot in both summer and the dead of winter. First I shed my coat, then my scarf, then my outermost shirt, yet still I glowed. And it's not like I run hot or anything 'cause it's gotta be stinkin' hot before you see me start disrobing.

The show wound down at a reasonable enough hour to settle in again at Ipanema, where the bartender welcomed us back by pouring more wine, while others from the show straggled in and we dove down the conversational hole.

By that point in my evening, the vibe once again established itself based solely on fine company and the cozy setting so truthfully, there wouldn't have been much a director of vibe could do to improve either.

Correcting a matter of semantics, perhaps, but who's up to to clarifying definitions at 1:30 a.m.? Even opinionated women have been known to get caught up when good vibes abide.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Bright, Guilty World

I'm just documenting my reality for posterity. Think Anne Frank's middle-aged diary.

I. Work
    A. Rode shotgun in a Subaru with a broken seatbelt alongside a peddler of intoxicants as he earned a living.
      1. Repeated tastings of Bold Rock citrus cider
      2. Too much lunch at Joe's Inn
      3. Lots of music talk, mainly around new versus old
      4. Pegged for a non-beer drinker by a complete stranger

II. Movement
    A. After a day in cars and bars, a 68-degree afternoon beckoned and I followed the sun to the river
    B. Coming back from the T Pot, met two guys with a drone, excitedly setting out to take their first river photos.
      1. In the churning river, they saw a muddy mess. I saw a roiling root beer float
      2. So much more debris, even than yesterday, being tossed around in the water

III. Culture
    A. Cinema for Cinephiles screening of Orson Welles' "The Lady from Shanghai" at the Byrd
      1. First time seeing it since actually being in San Francisco
      2. Unlike studio heads, loved Rita Hayworth's hair cut short and dyed platinum. So. Euro-looking
    B. Welles' well-written humor throughout
      1. "Personally, I don't like a girlfriend to have a husband."
      2. Her: "Now he knows about us." Him: "I wish I did."
      3. "The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old, so I guess I'll concentrate on that."

IV. Sustenance
    A. Became the final two customers at 821 Cafe on $3 margarita night for post-film discussion
      1. Black bean nachos, espresso chocolate cake
      2. Conclusion: Welles wasn't fond of women and racial stereotyping is SOP
      3. Music the typical 821 thrash, but skewing slightly sludge metal
    B. Made another convert to my favorite black bean nachos
    C. Musical conclusion: Babs beat Madge to the reinvention/control freak punch

V. Processing the new normal aka reading the daily news
    A. Rogue accounts created by concerned employees to prevent dissemination of alternative facts by this madman-in-chief
       1. National Park Service
       2. NASA
    B. The Powers That Lie sign an executive order aimed at reviving the Dakota pipeline

The only way to stay sane is to tell the truth about what's happening, so I guess I'll concentrate on that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Where the Glamour Begins

Part exciting, part terrifying, that was my Tuesday. Sometimes simultaneously.

The James River was a roaring beast today when Mac and I braved the pipeline walkway only to find waves lapping near our ankles. Never have I seen so much of the pipeline and several of the little beaches completely underwater, nor the rapids so unquestionably fierce.

At an unnamed restaurant for lunch with Foto Boy, a youngish black server (although not ours) made a point to come over and comment on FB's Black Lives Matter button, thanking him for wearing it and saying that he'd never seen a white person wear one.

Never? Really, Richmond, we can do better than that.

Mine was at home on another coat, but his comment made me realize how inclusive it is to others for me to wear it everywhere I go and not just sometimes. Such a small thing and yet so meaningful to someone else at a time when many of us are feeling shaky.

And why shouldn't we be when our new orange dictator is dramatically scaling back the EPA and muzzling its employees? Every day seems to bring some fresh new terror.

Listening to one of my Christmas presents, the new Pretenders' record, "Alone" - notable because it was produced by young Turk Dan Auerbach so it resonates with youthful energy under the assured attitude and lyrics of Chrissie Hynde - I was struck by her conclusions in the title song.

Nobody tells me I can't
Nobody tells me I shan't
No one to say you're doing it wrong
I'm at the best, I'm where I belong, alone
Yeah, I like it, I like being alone
What are you going to do about it?
And, so, f*ck off
I'll do whatever I want

It's not an entirely surprising attitude for a woman of 65 who's led an extraordinary life and decided that her first choice for company is her own. For that matter, I have woman friends not nearly that old who have already arrived at the same conclusion.

Prematurely, I think.

Now I'm out crawling the streets
With the poets and the geeks and the deadbeats
I'm taking my time sitting on park benches
And all the glamour, it all starts down here
This is where the trends begin
Life's a canvas and I'm on it

But what it immediately put me in mind of is an old Barbra song from her album "Streisand Superman" called "Lullaby for Myself," although unlike Chrissie's anthem, it's told from the viewpoint of a much less seasoned woman who hasn't quite reached those same conclusions.

It's really lovely to discover that you like to be alone
Not to owe your man an answer when he gets you on the phone
Not to share a pair of pork chops when you crave champagne and cheese
And your aim becomes to please yourself
And not to aim to please

Girl power stuff, right? Yet only so far as a young woman is willing to take it.

Self-aware with self esteem
Is selfishness a crime?
I take the day for quite a ride
And I take my own sweet time
Time to spare and time to share
And grateful I would be
If just one damn man would share the need
To be alone with me

As it happened, one damn man was willing to share his tickets with me for the Times-Dispatch's Speaker Series on "Politics in 2017 and Beyond" at the Historical Society, a discussion among the paper's political reporters and columnists that began with an acknowledgement that they'd all badly miscalculated Trump's viability during the series' discussions last year.

Well, them and half the country.

With no need for a pair of pork chops, or even champagne and cheese, ours was a progressive meal with tacos - carnitas, braised chicken tinga, carne asada and marinated grilled chicken - at En Su Boca before tackling political discourse, and desserts squared - chocolate crema followed by chocolate pecan pie - enjoyed with after-dinner drinks (whisky and M. Chapoutier Banyuls) at Acacia once all the analyzing was over.

With little time to spare and always much to share, I razzed him about never having been to the Historical Society before and crowed in disbelief that he's yet to ride the Capitol Trail. And we're friends? He teased back about me knowing someone everywhere we go, as if that were a bad thing.

Our unlikeliest tangent may have been sharing impressions of several homes for sale since we'd both seen some recently, though the open house I'd attended included a DJ spinning soul 45s and his, regrettably, did not. I suppose we can't all follow the music.

Best of all, in the true spirit of poets, geeks and deadbeats, we took time out to consider the malleable nature of friendship.

The way I see it, life's a canvas and I'm on it - with time to spare and time to share. Portion control is key.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It's a Beautiful Night in the Neighborhood

We pause now for a barely veiled tribute to our sponsor, Jackson Ward. Best Monday night 'hood ever.

Because, unless you have a recording studio/art gallery that does candle-lit micro-shows for 30 or fewer music lovers within a three-block walk - the Tiny Bar series at Black Iris - on the deadest night of the week, I seriously doubt you've got more going on where you live.

Swedish musician/Baltimore transplant Hanna Olivegreen was the draw on a night where fog and drizzle were battling it out for dominance, but my mod-looking new (old) raincoat was up to the challenge. Running into a friend, I complimented him on his leaner frame and he volleyed back with, "You're looking pretty fly, by the way."

Behold the power of a thrift store find and someone who appreciates that '60s Carnaby Street look.

Since the show hadn't begun, I paused to check out the art show up front, a collection of small works by various artists, full of bright colors and a lightness completely unlike Black Iris' usual aesthetic. More like 1708 Gallery next door, which, it turned out, is whose show it actually was, part of an upcoming fundraiser.

"No, these are definitely not my colors," laughed the gallerist when I asked about the uncharacteristic art on his walls. "Look, I'm even keeping the lights lower to offset the color," he said, turning the lights up to make his point.

One that attracted me that he'd have ignored was "Hostage," an image of a green potted cactus atop a pink cardboard box with a towering microphone pointed ominously at the poor, prickly thing and a massive recording device in the background, all set against sunny orange and white stripes.

Succulent as hostage, it was hilarious and ridiculously colorful at the same time.

The other piece that demanded my attention could've been a woodcut or a drawing and showed a monochromatic image of a large stylized bush, some geese and two multi-cultural looking people, both in elaborately multi-patterned coats, their faces reminiscent of Renaissance illustrations.

Its gradations of black would have been soothing to the gallerist's eye, but it was the modern interpretation of a classic construct that sucked me in.

Back at the tiny bar, I said hello to the few people I knew and settled in next to the vintage store owner across the street. She asked if I'd heard Hanna's voice and assured me I was going to be impressed when I did. I was already admiring the singer's long dirty blond braid and groovy red Indian-style shirt. So '70s.

Marveling at what we were about to see on a soggy Monday after the most depressing inauguration on record (really, he has to bring in "clappers" to assure a scripted response to his rantings?), I said I couldn't imagine anyone had anything more compelling to do in Richmond tonight than this show.

"Right?" she asked rhetorically. "Hello, McFly?"

Performing as HOW, Hanna and her Baltimore band - singer Iris, cellist Zack and drummer Mike - begin with the wooziest of piano sounds, instantly putting me in mind of Baltimore's Beach House and on board immediately.

From there, they proceed to take us deep into an atmosphere of experimental, world music and lounge, with the two women harmonizing like angels while trance-like rhythms and mad percussion pulled the audience along.

There was a break before the second set which allowed time for me to hear about a mutual friend and former bachelor extraordinaire who decided to ask his sweetie to move in by giving her a vintage ring, but he didn't have a box. That's how he showed up at my friend's store in search of the best possible ring box, which had to be chosen carefully because he was going to have to see it every day if she said yes.

We agreed this showed a level of foresight and consideration not often exhibited by his people.

People came and went before the second set, which registered as more neo-'70s pop/tribal/improvisation, some songs so raucous Ines was stamping her foot and playing tambourine, Mike was hitting every surface in sight while Zack was plucking the cello for all it was worth, his bow ignored.

Sucking in the room's energy, re-imagining it and continuously changing directions, the sound was irresistible.

It was the equivalent of being seduced and washed clean, all in a candlelit room over an hour and a half.

So I'm quite sure that hearing a killer band perform on a slow night alone would show up your neighborhood, but it was also the 3-year anniversary party for the Rogue Gentlemen, a few blocks away and also in J-Ward.

Selfishly since I'm going on 11 years here, I'm all for any business that puts down roots and stays.

Adding to the incentive to congratulate a neighbor business was the stupidly delicious Mean Bird fried chicken ("With sliced cucumber vinaigrette slices to make you feel better about yourself," I was assured), upbeat rap and slow jams thanks to Deejay Krispy Leek and a drink that delivered exactly what I asked for: complex and sassy. The sage leaf was pure bonus.

I congratulated the owner on his longevity and recent marriage and he hinted at plans in the works. Word is the big lot diagonally across is about to be developed with retail, a quantum leap from just three years ago when Jackson Street was considered the far reaches of the neighborhood. Yet they proved that wrong.

But although it works here, we agreed there would be no way of conveying the J-Ward vibe of Rogue Gentlemen to any other area. A new concept would be in order.

The place was packed with some celebratory types in birthday hats, a table full of bespectacled brunette nerd types (pre-med, dental?) who gave off a socially awkward vibe but are no doubt brilliant and clusters of beards licking chicken-greased fingers and sucking back cocktails.

Wiping my own greasy fingers, I can assure you it most definitely did not feel like just another wet Monday evening in a fascist state. The benefits of a lively, walkable neighborhood, no matter the night, can not be overstated.

Take me away, Jackson Ward, because you really are the best. All I can do is try to look fly enjoying it. Failing that, there's always complex and sassy.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Easier Than Saying What You Mean

After a thorough reading of today's Washington Post, I needed "Amarcord." Badly.

Why? Because today's entry in the Bijou's anti-fascist film fest, Fellini's 1973 look back at his childhood (the title translates as "I remember") in fascist Italy, promised reassurance that life goes on, even when delusional leaders seize control and, frankly, who couldn't use that reminder along about now?

It wasn't a big crowd - I heard something about a football game - but everyone there seemed to need what the film was offering and although I'd seen it in 2013 not long after visiting Italy, it necessarily resonated differently this time.

Of course, some details of Italian life - "Fernet or coffee?" - don't change.

Discussing "Amarcord" with a film aficionado afterward in the lobby, we agreed on the theme of daily life's durability despite a dictatorship, but, as he pointed out, that worked far better in the un-populated countryside of the 1930s than it might in a metropolitan area circa 2017.

My only other accomplishments were a foggy walk over the T Pot bridge and beyond, nailing a last-minute deadline and an intermittent but day-long listening party of The XX's new "I See You," the better to discuss it with the two fans who've sought my opinion on it this week.

It took exactly one listen to their debut album in 2009 to make me a fan and proselytizer for the band's hushed, minimalist sound. I recall playing it continuously for a fellow music-lover as we drove up Route 301 under a leaden sky. He was completely smitten with the band by the time we arrived. Success.

Naturally, 2012's "Coexist" engendered countless conversations with music fans about the direction their sound had taken, with an Italian cohort saying that it was so stripped down that for their next album, the band would simply dream the songs and fans would hear them.

Humor is a matter of opinion, but my attraction to The XX was as much about the murmuring sound as the lyrics of longing and introspection. Lyrics for fans of lyrics, so right up my alley.

Fiction, when we're not together
Mistaken for a vision, something of my own creation
Any certainties, how am I to tell?
I know your face all too well, yet I wake up alone

Happily, introspective lyrics are still there, only now they're part of a richer, more expansive sound palette that's clearly informed by synths and dance music (even briefly sampling Hall and Oates).

Hot damn, I would play this album at my next party in a heartbeat.

As it is, I'm already in love with it and it's only been a day since I brought it home from my neighborhood record store. Don't come to my apartment any time soon or you're going to hear it.

I've been a romantic for so long
All I've ever heard are love songs singing
Oh, oh, oh, go on, I dare you
Oh, oh, oh, I dare you

I get chills, heart rate multiplies
I'm on a different kind of high
A rush of blood is not enough
I need my feelings set on fire

The truth is, a rush of blood was never enough for me. As long ago as college, my friend Leo dubbed me "hopelessly romantic" and that's a man who knew me well. Still does.

The XX don't, yet they've given me a new soundtrack for 2017 going forward.

Chemistry is rare
in a two, three time affair
There's no guarantees 

So I've learned since Leo labeled me way back when. Better, I think, to work on something of my own creation.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Life at the Center of the Maze

On the day after inauguration, with the Washington Post's headline-for-the-ages bluntly announcing, "Trump takes power," a wise woman could be found grabbing at every opportunity.

Quick, before we're a totalitarian state.

That means walking a few blocks to Atlas gallery for a string quartet and Nate's Bagels, one of the few combinations that would get me somewhere at 10:30 a.m. Ish. The brainstorm of R-Symphony violinist Ellen (overheard: "Ellen always has such great ideas!"), the 35-minute piece told the story of a young immigrant boy discovering what American music was.

That meant I got to hear Mozart, Gershwin, Duke Ellington, bluegrass, W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin and Native American music while losing myself in one of Nate's outstanding everything bagels with a big schmear of chive cream cheese.

Even better, Ellen shared that she'd first met Nate when they were playing in a band together (Romanian music, I seem to recall) so of course he wanted to supply breakfast for a musical performance.

Bagels and strings, it's what's for breakfast on day one of the reign of terror.

Fab and fabber is what I had for dinner with Sancerre at Secco with fellow playgoers Pru and Beau. Seated at the back-most table, only I had a killer view straight into the kitchen while they looked out on a bustling Saturday night.

Everyone had the view they wanted.

The first bite of my starter made the rest of the room disappear: thin slices of acorn squash delicately fried then stacked with Burrata and fermented honey under a crumble of gingersnaps. Crisp/creamy, savory/sweet. Perfection.

"I would marry it, I love it so much" is how we used to phrase it in elementary school, long before we had any idea what marriage entailed.

Sharing my enthusiasm for it with our server, she saw the dish as qualifying as a complete meal because it was savory, but had enough sweetness for dessert status, a fact I didn't dispute. However, I prefer to think of it as only my first complete cycle of savory and sweet so I can go on and have another of each.

"That's a really wonderful attitude!" she congratulates me. Years of practice.

Not content with their cheese and charcuterie slate, my companions took such generous bites of my squash that I considered ordering another for my next course to prolong the pleasure.

Instead we shared a creamy wild mushroom spaetzle with gloriously toothsome red cabbage and downsized to two entrees: confit duck leg cassoulet (Beau, unaware: "This is the saltiest chicken I've ever had. It's so rich!" Pru: rolls eyes) and arctic char over red quinoa and cauliflower with a cracklin' seasoned skin as tasty filled with quinoa as fish flesh.

Everyone except moi claimed to be too full for dessert (though not for coffee), but let's just say that mine wasn't the only spoon in the local apple and cranberry crisp with white chocolate granola and cinnamon creme fraiche I ordered.

We rolled out of there full as ticks and, to my mouth, having enjoyed some of the most artfully combined flavors I've had the pleasure to down lately. Secco for the score.

Let's hope small businesses like them continue to flourish under our new megalomaniac leader.

We already know he wants to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts funding, so productions such as the one we were headed to  - Quill's "The Top Of Bravery" staged at Richmond Triangle Players - are bound to struggle in the years to come.

That's unfortunate because this country could use a lesson on the racism experienced by black vaudeville performers around the turn of the century, in this case Bert Williams and George Walker. That history was threaded through with song and spirits to comment on the unfairness of the situation.

Playwright Jeremy V. Morris played Bert with his perfect diction and thoughtful monologues, but the supporting cast showed some serious chops, too. Compelling dramatically, the piece was also a history lesson, if a tad heavy-handed every now and then.

When the cast began singing "Oh, Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham," I flashed back to elementary school (again) because that was a song in our music books that classes sang regularly. As a kid, I recall being struck by the words "Negro spiritual" under the song's title in the book.

As a metaphor for the starting point of the play - the indignity of white actors playing blacks, but not as they were but as how whites saw them -  I'm here to tell you now how much better four black actors sounded singing Negro spirituals than 25 white children ever could.

Favorite line: Lovin' and dancin' come from the same part of the body.
My addendum: No matter your color.

At the end, the millennial quartet behind us was buzzing about the first act and the older woman with them advised, "You're going to have to go home and look up a lot of things."

Not a bad idea for a lot of people since the more we know, the more fully we understand everyone's history. But how important is acquiring information and continuing to learn in a country where our new Duce President doesn't see the point of reading?

Will we have more or fewer little free libraries in four years? What about publicly-funded ones? Scary to think.

Post-play debriefing was to be held at Saison once we navigated the rain. Pru and I, under umbrellas, expressed envy for Beau's nonchalance, but his curly hair is only helped in wet weather. Not so ours. I'd look like a wet dog without an umbrella, I assured them.

"No, you won't," said a voice standing in a recessed doorway and all three of us jumped back when we came upon the two guys. Just when I'm thinking it might've been a compliment, one says, "Dogs can't talk."

So we're laughing as we walk in to Saison and a trio scoots down to give us the corner and enough stools for the next three hours of discussion and tangents, a situation involving five cocktails and two glasses of Vouvray.

Pru was clear. "I'd like a big bowl of rye and some fruit." An Old Fashioned followed and when asked about having another replied, "I'm not gonna change drinks mid-stream," and Beau, ever pithy replied, "She's gonna ride it to the end" so another Old Fashioned appeared.

My contribution to the bill was a glass or so of anejo tequila, Dolin rouge, Montenegro, cynar 70 and tiki bitters over a monstrous, slow-melting cube that would look at home in a trendy bar photo shoot. Mocking aside, though, who doesn't want a slow-melting cube to prevent a watery Center of the Maze cocktail?

"Good tunage," Beau said, bobbing his head and echoing my thoughts, of the well-considered soundtrack: EWF, Spinners, Chic, Temps, all smooth and originating from the same place.

Beau amused us by showing off images of haircuts he's considering for his lusciously thick hair (Pru vetoed the '80s-looking ones, much to my disappointment) and revealed his handy dandy "Loafer Guide" (they were both wearing loafers) and how could I not tease him about that?

He told us about growing up listening to his Dad's records, gems such as ABBA, the Cowsills, the Spinners and, Dad's favorite, Neil Diamond. He had every single one in Neil's vast catalog, so naturally Beau wound up loving Neil, too.

Not so much his high school classmates who made him a laughingstock when he tried to sell them on the virtues of Neil at the time when people like my parents were Neil fans and concertgoers. Beau was mocked.

"And you didn't see that coming?" Pru asks him incredulously.

High school talk led to college and onward and next thing I knew they were talking about people doing poppers in the bathroom at Scandal's and I just had to blow the whistle because this conversation was out of control. I don't even know where Scandals was, for crying out loud. Come-here, remember? And poppers, what?

An industry friend I hadn't seen in over a year stopped by Saison looking gorgeous and we caught up on the difficulty of her relationship ending and how she's moving on. Suddenly, she looked at me amazed, noticing I had on jeans. "I've only seen you in dresses and understandably because of your legs, but what's up with you?"

Yea, well, change is good, right?

What I left out is that I finally realized that wearing jeans just means I can wear shorter dresses and call them tunics.

Sort of like installing an authoritarian government and calling it a democracy. I make my reality yours.

There's a reason an entire gender staged a protest to stand up to a tyrant seizing power. The idiot probably never saw it coming.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Brunettes are Troublemakers

Today was definitely a day for spending with like-minded souls.

On this gray, soggy day, I woke up to a message from my best friend in Texas.

Feeling nauseous especially just seeing Hilary and Bill sit, ready to listen to Trump's shit. Are you going to watch?
Not for all the $ in the world.
It was just like his campaign spewage. Totally disrespected former presidents in attendance. He spoke to the populace instead of trying to mend all those that have been offended. Very divisive.

Okay, I lied because I would have sat through it for all the money in the world, but no one was offering me that, so I went for a drizzly walk and drove to Williamsburg to spend the afternoon with an El Salvadoran immigrant who feels privileged to be living the American Dream.

As we sat in one of his restaurants, I interviewed him about his journey and the thrill of becoming a legal resident 15 years ago while behind me, a TV was tuned to a Spanish-speaking station covering the protests in D.C today.

It was interesting to listen to as we talked because Spanish would be flowing smoothly, only to be interrupted when the newscaster had to say "Trump," a word which cannot be made to sound fluid and effectively halts the progression of a sentence with its staccato single syllable.

A close second was the word "Twitter," which also didn't exactly roll off the lips.

Talking to a man who lived through El Salvador's civil wars which caused his family to be completely uprooted and displaced - homes and businesses taken by the rebels three times - only to land in Virginia, fail at his first restaurant yet go on to open eight more, making him feel like the luckiest man in the world, I couldn't help but contrast that with the sounds behind me as people protested the inauguration of a man who wants to shut the door on immigration in a country built on the backs of immigrants.

Oh, the irony. Fortunately, relief was in sight.

Planned for those of us having a tough time with today's coronation of a misogynist racist pig, the Bijou's fascist film festival offered Charlie Chaplin's classic take on right wing authoritarianism, the satirical "The Great Dictator."

As if by divine intervention, while mingling in the lobby, a guy introduced himself and his posse of three as Atlantans en route to the Women's March, one the college roommate of a Bijou co-founder. I liked them all immediately so we took over the front row of the theater.

The film's title card alone was worth the price of admission for how relevant it felt on this day.

This is a story of a period between two World Wars - an interim in which insanity cut loose, liberty took a nose dive and humanity was kicked around somewhat.

That's Exhibit "A" and further proof of the Bijou's absolute brilliance in choosing this particular film to play on this difficult day, not to mention their prescience in knowing that we'd also need a reason to laugh, which Chaplin delivered in spades.

Although I'd seen several of his silent films, this was the first of his talkies (and his first talkie) I'd seen, so I was pleasantly surprised at what a fine speaking voice he had. And while I wasn't surprised at all the physical humor, the Bijou audience reacted with belly laughs throughout.

At least right up until the end when Chaplin gives his "You, the people" speech, the one about why peace and goodwill, brotherhood and kindness needed to win out over prejudice, discrimination and dictatorships. The human truth.

It was positively stirring and just exactly what scared and disillusioned people needed to hear today.

Mingling again in the lobby afterwards, everyone talking was blown away, not only by how good the film had been but by how ideally suited it was to this time we're now living in. If only Trump's doppelganger could appear and spout such things instead of polarizing rhetoric.

When one of the guys I'd met asked James, his former roommate, for a good place for pizza and pasta, he referred the question to me. I told him Nota Bene for the win and he plugged it into his phone.

Next thing I know, they're asking me to join them for dinner and James jokes, "I can vouch for all of them except him," pointing to his college buddy. So now I've got a personal recommendation and post-film plans. Not bad for just showing up.

They'd already scored a table in the back when I arrived to join them and with bottles of Italian Rose and Temperanillo, we soon began a round robin style conversation, going around the table every time a point was raised or question asked so everyone could hear each person's answer.

They joked that I was just the latest stranger they'd picked up en route to D.C., the charming Scotch artist across from me having been acquired yesterday in Chapel Hill where they'd spent the night with the ringleader's mother, an award-winning author.

We went around the table about whether or not Trump would make it four years (and if not, why not?), our favorite scenes in "The Great Dictator" and, naturally everyone's first concert: Buffet (she claimed she didn't choose it), Elvis (in '74, so fat Elvis), Kraftwerk (he's seen them four times since) and Depeche Mode in '87 (swoon).

They were all in love with the restaurant, captivated by the food - arugula and chickpea salad, two orders of broccolini with lemon, garlic and fresno peppers, three different kinds of pizza and white pork Bolognese to die for.

"We'd never have found this place without you and it's amazing," one guy told me. The flip side was that without them, I wouldn't have had anyone to discuss the movie with in depth, much less commiserate with about the reign of horror that began today.

They were my company on a day when my misery was looking for some, discussing what could possibly improve with Trump and whether non-voters might feel differently come 2020. Everyone weighed in.

They became my surrogates tomorrow, making me an honorary member of their march entourage, in spirit anyway.

And because they were good people, when they learned I'd parked three blocks away, they insisted - a gay couple and a straight couple, none of whom had ever laid eyes on me before 6:00 tonight - on walking me to my car, or at least most of the way.

As they clustered on the corner of 23rd Street as I walked down the hill to my car, the ringleader called out, "The Brit doesn't care about your safety. He's heading back!" Assuring them they could all go back, he joked, "Call us when you get home!"

Hilarious because they already knew me well enough to burst out laughing when I yelled back, "I'll call you on my cell phone!" See, Luddites can be amusing.

I got home to one last bit of business, a message from a friend with a kind offer.

I'm carrying names on the #womansmarch tomorrow. Let me know if you want yours to be included.

Yes, please, add mine, preferably with an addendum: I can't believe we still have to protest this shit. Now my spirit and name will be there.

It appears that we've turned the page and are now living in an era where insanity has been cut loose, liberty is on a nose dive and humanity has been completely kicked around, yet good people are all around me.

We're in this together. As Chaplin's character said, "We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery."

And on a difficult day, friends, immigrants and good company were the way to stay sane.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Faithless and Phoneless

Today's first priority was representing the 5%.

VCU's Real Life Film Series was showing "Mobilize," a documentary about the dangers of cell phone radiation and the difficulty politicians face in trying to pass cautionary legislation to address it. That's how I discovered that 95% of US residents have a cell phone.

Hell, 33% of 11-year olds had their own cell phone and that was in 2010. I'm the last of my breed, I know.

What was fascinating to me was listening to scientists, concerned legislators and researchers explaining that the WHO has put cell phones on their list of carcinogens, that phones must be kept away from the bellies of pregnant women, that men who carry their phones in their front pockets have reduced sperm counts and that the younger children begin playing with a phone the greater their hyperactivity and likelihood of decreased memory.

What was tragic was hearing from people diagnosed with brain cancer linked directly to cell phone usage.

Yet somehow, I was the one considered weird during the post-film discussion (the look on the face of the electrical engineer prof who led the discussion was priceless when I copped to no phone), not the people who can ignore all that. Go figure.

It was the event, not me, that was the oddball when I headed to Southside for "Grouped: Art Show," staged in a recently renovated 1955 house that's about to go on the market. But instead of staging it with furniture, it was staged entirely with art which will stay up for the open house this weekend. Clever, right?

You read right, 86 pieces of art - everything from sculpture to paintings to prints to neon to photographs to bird feeders - were on display in this 3-bedroom house, nearly filling the 8' walls and they were all for sale.

Adding to the vibe was DJ Marty spinning funk, soul and R & B 45s on a vintage '70s portable double turntable. I could have lingered all night listening to that stuff.

It was all very cool. Also gratifying, since I already own a total of five pieces by three of the artists represented in the show, although my 10' ceilings allow for salon-style hanging which a '50s house most definitely does not. Their loss.

My loss was that I'd gone in knowing I had no business buying another piece of art tonight, much as I was tempted.

I only stayed for an hour or so, but managed to run into all kinds of familiar faces - the print collective director, the record store owner, the artist I'd interviewed last night, the aging yet handsome hipster, the muralist - before saying my farewells and descending the flagstone steps.

That house is going to be a popular stop for the next few days.

When I got to Plant Zero for 5th Wall's production of "Luna Gale," the usher greeted me by name, led me to a prime center seat and expressed surprise that I was alone (I'd struck out despite inviting three potential dates) to see the first of the Acts of Faith entries this year.

So, yes, in case you were wondering, they do allow heathens at the Acts of Faith Festival, perhaps hoping for conversions as a result. Didn't happen.

A joke at last year's Artsie's characterized 5th Wall plays as being "full of smart women hollering at each other," but tonight's production zeroed in on major family dysfunction, a crazy Christian mother and the machinations of a burnt out Child Protective Services worker in deciding what's best for meth-addled teen parents and their infant child.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't such a joke.

Even the 5% know that sometimes nothing's harder than doing what's best. But best for whom?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Longest Conversation

It only takes one strange mind to warrant comment.

I have to revel in a January day warm enough - 59 degrees by 11 a.m. - to wear shorts on my walk to the river and beyond.

As I pass two guys standing on the sidewalk downtown, one comments to the other in a singsong sotto voce, "Shake it up, shake it up." Am I? I wonder out loud to them.

"Yes, indeed, you are and that is not a complaint," one says with a smile.

I have to wave good-bye when I see a favorite chef loading up a U-Haul behind his truck as a prelude to driving to Tennessee today to start a new life.

There's a lot to be said for that kind of nerve.

I have to marvel when after interviewing an older woman, she calls me today to clarify something and during the course of the conversation asks, "Do you have a computer?"

Apparently telling her I had no cell phone meant that I was a complete Luddite and not just a partial one. Yes'm, I do.

I have to appreciate when sending postcards from San Francisco means I get thank-you emails in return.

...Back to the note on your postcard. I would say - unequivocally - that you and I could have a good time together just about anywhere. Two strange minds bent on exploration, growth and the quest for a hearty laugh (usually at someone else's expense), what a combination!

Guilty on all counts.

I don't have to, but I do order the same shrimp po' boy salad (while my lunch date orders her usual, the chicken bean salad), making us those women with the exact same order the last dozen times we've been at Lucy's together.

Judge all you want, but the combination of lightly breaded shrimp over leaf lettuce, avocado, red onions and cherry tomatoes under a blanket of 10,000 island dressing is easily one of the best meal salads in Richmond.

And why eat salad for lunch if not to follow it with chocolate mousse with brandied cherries and lightly-browned meringue while sharing industry gossip?

And we don't have to, but after eating, we sit in the car for an hour with the windows down dishing about all the stuff we didn't want to say in a bustling restaurant. "I'm getting all teary, I'm so proud of you," she tells me after I blather a while.

I laugh out loud when she uses "bougie" to describe herself and her reluctance to use her resources to create personal time, but I am just as proud of her as she is of me.

Much the way I laugh out loud at a friend's response when he emails asking for out-of-town dining advice. I share my research, but worry about suggesting a place I haven't been. Will I be out on my ear if it's a bad suggestion?

What if you lead me astray? I wouldn't worry.

Sounds like a solid basis for another combination friendship.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We Have Lift-Off

All it took was girl parts to finally get me interested in the history of the space program.

When a fellow music-lover suggested that it would be nice to have something scheduled soon, my first thought was a movie and he bit. I'd been wanting to see "Hidden Figures" since it opened (with nearly hourly shows, Movieland is making it easy) and here was someone I could discuss it with, albeit a man.

Worried about being late as we walked in, he was reassured when I said all we'd miss would be trailers to bad movies (really, do we need a new Smurf movie?), a promise fulfilled. I'm convinced the worst part of seeing award-worthy films is having to sit through mass market previews.

The film had interested me not only because it was based on a true story about brilliant women, but because of the long white-washed history books that made no mention of the black STEM superstars who calculated the country's way to John Glenn orbiting of earth.

How did they get away with leaving women out of the history books for so long anyway?

I stand in awe of mathematical and scientific minds because I have so little inclination that way. The idea of spending hours at a blackboard working out analytical geometry problems (like our heroine did) is so foreign, I can't even conceive of how they begin to figure. My brain doesn't work that way.

Because the movie was full of episodes a woman could easily relate to - being under-payed for the same work, seeking work/life balance with kids, looking for love, getting equal credit for shared work - even 50 years later, it occurred to me about halfway through that my date might think I'd dragged him to a chick flick (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Lo and behold, I couldn't have been more wrong. Turns out he's an avid student of the U.S. space program, yet despite extensive reading on its history, had not encountered the story of these black "computers" who figured out the projections that got NASA off the ground and eventually back to earth.

So he thought it was a fascinating story.

For those of us with far less space savvy, the movie was also a visual history lesson, complete with actual news footage from the '60s inter-cut to clarify each attempt and failure as the country raced to show Russia who was who when it came to the final frontier.

The astronauts came across less like the sanitized media portrayals of the day and more like who they must have actually been at the time: young, cocky adrenaline junkies eager to do something nobody had done before and become a new American hero.

Lots of testosterone.

Ultimately, the movie satisfied on many levels besides sharing history and telling a terrific story, because seeing these smart women go on to long, successful careers and lives seems to me affirmation for finding what you love and doing it.

Not that I needed history to reinforce that around here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You the Man

The time is always right to do what is right. ~ MLK

Seemed like the right thing to do tonight was to walk over to the VCU Depot for a candlelight vigil for Martin Luther King.

When Mac and I got there, there couldn't have been more than a dozen people there, but within no time, the number had grown to many dozens and we'd all been handed white candles to carry. A VCU student sang a song and we were instructed by an organizer to walk two abreast in an orderly line as we made our way to the Student Commons for remarks.

His next instruction was couched in the usual millennial manner. "This is a silent vigil, so please refrain from talking...if you can." As if to say, if you just can't shut up for five blocks, we understand.

What??

As we proceeded in an orderly manner, complete with a VCU police escort along side us, it was in a mostly silent manner (a few people just couldn't resist talking to a friend), our breath visible as we moved slowly through campus.

After the first couple of blocks, the silence became so enveloping that the conversations of passersby seemed unnaturally loud and intrusive while in some cases, people would notice the silence hanging over the march and lower their voices,although not quite sure why.

There was a stirring solemnity to the vigil - it was tempting to get lost in watching the small flame flickering in your own hand - that was frequently overshadowed by the sound of shutters closing as hordes of cameramen walked and ran alongside us, shooting our faces, our marching feet, our candles.

It must be what being a model on a runway feels like, except we weren't there to be looked at or photographed.

Walking into the ballroom at VCU to find few seats available beyond the first row (we took them), we heard, appropriately enough, Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" right up until a student in a fraternity jacket got up and gave what sounded like a poorly-delivered book report on King and his accomplishments, leaving out most of the highlights.

He was also extremely careful about his word choices, using "African-American" and studiously avoiding using "black" as if it were the n-word. Fortunately, he was just the prelude to a slide show of mostly old black and white photographs while we listened to King's stirring "I Have a Dream" speech.

When it concluded, we agreed that we were both glad we'd come.

After a quick dinner of chicken and lamb shawarmas at Doner Kebab while listening to middle-eastern dance music and admiring sunny posters of Syrian landscapes and buildings that probably don't exist any longer, we headed to the Byrd.

Standing at the front of the line for the late show, a young mixed race couple came walking down the sidewalk and inquired what we were waiting for.

I didn't just tell them that we were waiting to see Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," I wondered out loud why they weren't planning to see a classic black film and one of the top movies of the '80s as well.

He was black, had seen it with his parents when he was 12 and been underwhelmed at its lack of CGI effects and high-definition production values. So old fashioned.

As you might guess, this was catnip to me since the notion of style winning out over substance is not one that holds any water for me. Before long, he was explaining how his generation needs to be entertained (she said they all have attention deficit) constantly, so why risk the uncertainty of human interaction when you've got the reliability of Reddit?

I'm not kidding, he said that.

We went on to spend enough time talking about race relations, millennial malaise, sexual exploitation and the value of old movies to the point that she eventually admitted she'd never seen the film and was a little curious. Next thing we knew, she was in the line to buy a ticket, so of course he joined her, despite having dissed the film repeatedly.

Come on, he was 20 years old and she was pretty. He's going to go where she wants to go.

As luck would have it, they wound up in the row right in front of us so we could further the conversation. He was still leery about having to sit through the film (which I assured him would resonate differently now from how it had at 12), so I leaned forward to reassure him that his parents would approve, that this is where he should be on this holiday.

"I'm doing the right thing," he said, cracking himself and me up at his humor.

It had been so many years since I'd seen "Do the Right Thing" that there were some surprises along the way. The trio of men sitting by the wall and constantly commenting on the street theater played as completely real, especially the deeply dimpled Sweet Dick Willy who insists it's never too hot for sex and made me laugh out loud when he saw a pretty girl and said, "Oh,, Lord, I better not see her on payday!"

I hadn't remembered Samuel L. Jackson as the DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy, dropping gems such as, "Today's temperature's gonna rise up over 100 degrees, so there's a Jheri Curl alert. If you have a Jheri curl, stay in the house or you'll end up with a permanent black helmet on your head fo-evah!"

And I certainly didn't recall derogatory references to Trump and his hotel.

But the final scene had been burned into my brain, or perhaps the believable violence just seemed too current and real even then not to make a lasting impression, but after 28 years, it still left me pondering and us discussing what the right thing was.

When the lights came up, we reconvened our discussion group about the production and content value of the film, diving so far into it that it was only an usher calling to us from the doors, "Hey, it's time to leave!" that got us moving.

On the other hand, Mac and I had been the sole reason two 20-somethings not only talked to strangers, but sat through a classic piece of black cinema tonight and, for that reason, I have no doubt we did the right thing.

In the words of Mister Senor Love Daddy, that's the double truth, Ruth.

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.

Consider:
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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Birth of the Cool

Because this:

We, the humble members of  the Richmond Avant Improv Collective, are trying to initiate a jazz-themed monthly series at Gallery 5. This would be our initial attempt at such a  foolish endeavor.

So with that kind of can-do spirit and the abundance of talent consistently on display here, it's little wonder that gushing articles about the delights of Richmond keep showing up in the national press. Let me tell you, a non-local travel writer would have a field day trying to convey the abundance of cool here.

From the trendy Quirk Hotel, walk a short two blocks to Gallery 5, a quaint 19th century firehouse that now houses an art gallery and hosts a music stage. 

If you're lucky, you may stumble into a dimly-lit show of local talent such as the Richmond Avant Improv Collective. The ever-changing line-up could be dropping cymbals, rattling chains and riffing on Italian music scores while a woman sings in a voice that sounds otherworldly with Hudson Valley jazz fusion guitarist Lucas Brode sitting in. That's the kind of thing five bucks buys you on a Saturday night in Richmond.

Come on, you're reading this in Des Moines as you plan your trip to the capital of the Confederacy to experience battlefields and all of a sudden, you're getting a clue that Richmond may be way cooler than what your aunt Betty told you it was after her trip there in the '80s.

With Richmond's vibrant music scene, you're going to have to make hard choices, especially on a weekend night. Do you want to hang out at the funky Gallery 5 and hear Yeni Nostlji playing '60s Turkish pop music and original material - a song title translates as "Don't You Dare Take Me Lightly" - inspired by that sound sung in a throaty female voice and accompanied by guitar, maracas and whistling? 

Maybe you'd prefer a tenth anniversary show at the Broadberry featuring No BS Brass band, a 13-piece ensemble of horns and drums born out of VCU's Jazz Studies program. At tucked away Sound of Music, you could catch indie rock from the Trillions, a group of nerdy scientific types with masterful musical chops and boundless energy. 

All ages feel welcome at Richmond's venues, where you might spot a keyboard player sporting a fur Cossack-style hat and belted coat in a nod to mid-60s-esque Dr. Zhivago style heading outside for a cigarette before her band's set. Welcome to Richmond, where eccentric is the norm.

The thing is, a visiting writer would be hard pressed not to leave with a favorable impression, no matter what the angle of the piece might be. Richmond is a place where people talk to strangers and simply eavesdropping on conversations would be a good indicator of the kind of locals a visitor might encounter out.

Spend some time in the architecturally significant neighborhoods known as Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward for galleries, arthouse films, a comedy club, live theater and music.

It's the kind of place where you'll hear a musician telling a jewelry maker she painted her earrings to match her fingernail polish before tonight's performance. Or a couple of writers trading book recommendations on the Civil Rights era. After getting down on the concrete floor to shoot, a photographer will explain what a pain it used to be to have to change a roll of film mid-performance. A place where a singer will call out hello from the stage to a late-arriving friend.

Richmond's high quality of life and low cost of living make it a hotbed for practically everyone to indulge their artistic impulses on the side.

And don't get me started on how so many of the national articles I read about Richmond regurgitate the same "hot spots" rather than cluing in an out-of-towner to some of the city's lesser known charms and secrets.

Fans of world music as well as Dead followers who like to dance (or is that redundant?) should check local listings to see if the long-running Hotel X is playing. Their improvisational takes on songs about cul-de-sacs and dedications to Jamaican guitarists often culminate in a Senegalese prayer for peace while fans allow their bodies to interpret the music in a scene that wouldn't have been out of place at a '60s "happening." 

Richmond's got its groove on and it's an organic one that grew out of a scene that relied on local momentum and not mainstream move-ins. Richmond's hip quotient is not be taken lightly, but not heavily, either.

Man, this stuff practically writes itself. Too bad I was just a music-lover at a show tonight and not a travel writer on assignment.

Otherwise, I might have shared the secret to our charm: Richmond excels at trying foolish endeavors and showing up to witness them makes you part of it all. Fur hat not required.