Saturday, August 11, 2018

Exile with a Perch

Birdcage aside, I may as well have gone to see the documentary "Generation Wealth."

Looking at my Friday night options, I considered the film about our current wealth culture and the human cost of narcissism, capitalism and greed. But why watch bad decisions play out in modern times when the same lessons could be gleaned from art history?

Besides, after a day spent writing, the appeal of walking through 11 galleries was far greater than sitting in a darkened theater for two hours. I lucked out, too, because for a Friday night, the VMFA was surprisingly uncrowded, at least in the galleries, if not in the atrium where the wine tasting was happening. It was me and fewer than a dozen other art lovers making our way through "Napoleon: Power and Splendor."

Essentially a history lesson told through paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, furniture and household items (Napoleon took scrupulously good care of his teeth, including dipping his toothbrush in opium before brushing), the exhibition laid out how Napoleon rose to power using his extensive propaganda department and how it all came crashing down on him.

I was fascinated to learn that Napoleon had looked to the young U.S. for presidential portraiture (especially of George Washington) as a source of inspiration for how he wanted to be portrayed.

His court was huge and by huge, I mean 3600 people directed by 6 grand officers making sure everything was done according to directive. One painting showed a woman fluffing the pillow of the Empress, while the signage said that she was the only one allowed to fluff when the Emperor was present in the bed chamber.

Helluva thing to have on your headstone: Royal fluffer.

One of the most unexpected pleasures of the exhibition was Napoleon's architectural vision for Paris, which was laid out in a series of drawings, including one expansive panoramic drawing that was nothing short of breathtaking. So much planning.

But like the hedonistic set I would have seen portrayed in "Generation Wealth," Napoleon's court was a study in excesses, like the gold-plated dinner service - plates and flatware - elaborately laid out on a massive dining room table in the exhibition. To further convey the sense of luxury, there were fabric scrims surrounding the table showing an etching of a banquet scene of the era.

The throne room is red and as opulent as you'd expect, while the gallery devoted to hunting (Napoleon wasn't much of a hunter but did it because it was prime networking time for the upper crust) has the unexpected allure of video projections showing leaves in the Fonainebleau forest where they hunted swaying in the breeze.

As a female, it was especially tough to get behind Napoleon's view of women - apparently we're good for childbearing and nothing else - as he cast aside his beloved Josephine (her fatal flaw being she was 7 years older and unable to bear him a son) and wasted no time in marrying the fertile Archduchess Marie Louise. Taller than me, the elaborate candlesticks and altar decorations made for that second wedding also show up in the exhibition.

But without a doubt, the highlight is the ceiling-scraping birdcage Napoleon commissioned after he was exiled to St. Helena. About the size of my bathroom, the elaborate structure was created by Chinese artisans for Napoleon's garden at Longwood House, his final address.

For me, it resembled nothing so much as the cage I'd had for my finches Claude and Camille (Monet, of course) back when I was in college. Shaped like a pagoda, with various levels and perches throughout, Napoleon's was more of an aviary than a birdcage given its size, but the idea was the same. He used it for maimed birds and chickens which eventually escaped, which is probably what he was hoping for himself.

Looking at the final image in the galleries - a painting of Napoleon just after he died - all I could see was a broken man who'd milked his delusions for as long as he could before saner heads prevailed. Which meant instead of comparisons to greedy wealth-seekers, I was thinking of the last two and a half years and the delusional man currently being built up by the White House propaganda machine and wondering how all that will end.

Besides not soon enough, I haven't a clue.

"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon," observed Napoleon.

For that brilliant analysis alone, I gave the man credit...and my Friday evening.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Wait and See When the Smoke Clears

You're insatiable! But yes, most likely.

To be clear, what I was asking about was whether or not I was invited to Pru's screened porch party  after our dinner and theater date this evening. Considering that it had been only four days since I last enjoyed porch pleasures with her and Beau, she saw my request, perhaps, as a tad greedy. How much outdoor conversation can one woman need?

What she failed to consider was that our Sunday night verbal extravaganza had been a party, a birthday throwdown for Beau and had included two other couples besides the four of us and Queen B. We were the mortified guests who arrived an hour late to find all the other guests patiently awaiting our appearance so that the first of many bottles of Moet Chandon could be opened and poured.

I take full responsibility, since I'm the idiot who'd looked at the invitation and somehow seen 4 instead of 5:00. The good news was, once the champagne began flowing, no one seemed to care that it had been delayed. Not to mention they were all sipping on something or other, just not bubbles when the cat dragged us in.

This was a backyard party and a lavish table had been set up under a huge umbrella. It wasn't long after we took the only two vacant seats that Pru began delivering the fruits of her days-long labor: beef and veggie kebabs, six pounds of perfectly steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, fresh butterbeans and crusty bread to sop it all up with.

It was some time early on in the meal when the humid air broke and a gentle rain began falling. It was an inconsequential enough weather change that everyone continued eating and talking because between the arbor and umbrella overhead, the rain wasn't inconveniencing anyone. Or at least that's what those of us who were still dry assumed.

In fact, my date and Queen B were out of range of the covering and being doused continually while we sipped and supped.

By the time it came to the attention of the rest of us, the two of them were completely soaked. Queen B's feather earrings were reduced to a couple of rain-slicked points that in no way resembled feathers. My date's shirt and shorts could have been rung out there was so much water in them.

Neither had so much as mentioned how wet they were getting while it was happening, making us dry diners feel a little guilty for not noticing. But once it became common knowledge, Beau, the birthday boy but ever the good host, retrieved another, smaller umbrella and attempted to set it up. The result was that new lines of drippage were created and before long, my chair and the back of my dress were soaked through.

Still, no one suggested leaving the table because how often do you get to have a summer supper in a pouring rainstorm? Honestly, it only added to the good time vibe, although at times it drowned out whatever music Alexa was playing.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me...

There was a lot of talk about travel, with Beckham and the Beauty telling us about their recent foray to New Orleans and how underwhelmed they'd been by some of the food they ate in what is considered to be a stellar food town. The history couple shared that instead of going to Paris this year, they're forcing themselves to embrace a trip to Glacier National Park, even though it's going to cost as much as the City of Lights.

Pru and Beau continue to insist they want to do a Scotch-tasting tour of Scotland at some point, and that was enough for Beau to bring out a bottle of very good Islay, which suited Beckham but not everyone, so a bottle of Highlands Scotch followed, while Pru and I wisely kept to bubbles. "Brown liquors are for cozy winter nights, not summer," she sniffed.

The chocolate ganache birthday cake from Morsels got high marks from everyone and again brought up the story of Beau's first attempt at making ganache, a culinary misadventure involving using evaporated milk instead of condensed milk, resulting in a ganache with zero sweetness and a whole lot of bitterness. Problem was, the cake was a birthday offering for Pru, who prefers milk chocolate.

Beau loved it, but he was the only one. He has since stepped away from ganache-making.

It wasn't even midnight, though it was some time after the in-depth explanation of fencing from a guest who does it and the shared anticipation of next month's beach adventure for six of us that people began thinking about work tomorrow and making their farewells.

Translation: not nearly enough time for conversation beyond the constant bouncing from party guest to guest to join discussions already in progress.

Tonight's requested porch time was only the final stage of an evening that began at Secco for dinner, which for me meant chilled melon gazpacho with pickled blueberries and feta, followed by arctic char with creme fraiche. But I'm here to tell you that the most swoon-worthy part of the meal was a summer vegetable tian - a gratin-like dish that made better use of zuchinni and squash than I have ever put in my mouth - savored with Louis Pato Baga Brut Rose to kick things off and a bottle of Moreux Sancerre Blanc "Les Bouffants" to follow, because, as Pru is so fond of reminding us, why would we ever leave the Loire?

Looking at the dessert menu, Beau was bummed that our favorite butterscotch pudding was no more, but I happily had the lemon curd tart with toasted meringue, candied violets and edible flowers, causing shock waves among friends who think I must have chocolate to close out a meal.

Not so, mes amis, let's not forget that I'm also a sucker for coconut cake. Not all desserts must be chocolate, as Beau reluctantly acknowledged with his buttermilk gelato, which managed to be decadently rich without the characteristic tang of buttermilk.

You live, you learn, according to Alanis Morisette.

After a drive up scenic Route 301, we landed at Hanover Tavern to take in "Crimes of the Heart" and enjoy some Southern gothic family drama. And while watching a play about three southern sisters dealing with each other and their long-time roles in the family provided plenty of fodder for a compelling story, those of us with five sisters know that there's so much more that could have been mined on the subject of sisterly love, family history and devotion.

Don't get me started.

Take it from the oldest of six, Maggie Roop masterfully nailed the weight of carrying the life-long responsibilities of being born first, playing oldest sister Lenny as equal parts substitute mother and general peacekeeper, with little regard for her own needs.

And while the entire cast was strong, has anyone ever changed her pantyhose while giving a monologue and made it more hilarious than Maggie Bavolack as Chick? Talk about comedic gold.

Despite not getting home from Hanover until after 11:00, we closed out the night on Pru's screened porch, talking about the success of the birthday party - really, how often in life do you get to peel shrimp  and sip champagne surrounded by pouring rain? - the top-notch acting in the play and how little James Bond experts Pru and Beau recalled of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," which I'd just seen a few nights ago at the Byrd.

And that's just what I can mention.

My point is that I'm apparently not the only insatiable one since conversation flowed until the clock was hitting 1 a.m. and I finally headed back to Jackson Ward, where the recently returned student population was roaming the streets in search of a party.

My oldest sister advice to them would be to start by checking out the screened porches.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Come On Down

Of all the ways to try to surprise me, taking me to a Richmond restaurant I haven't been to has got to be one of the more challenging.

After all, when your livelihood revolves around eating at new places and your social life involves dining out before a cultural event, you tend to cover a lot of restaurant ground. Which only makes it all the sweeter when I wind up someplace I haven't been.

Some place like Longoven.

Like most Scott's Addition architecture, the building itself was so nondescript that we passed it without so much as a side glance. But walking through the door transported us to a sleek dining room with music loud enough to hear over the many tinkling dinner conversations already in progress and a vibe that didn't immediately scream Richmond.

The roving bands of beer drinkers outside did that.

I made it halfway to our prime table in the back - away from the fray, but with a good view of the large, open kitchen - before a familiar server spotted me and I was being hugged. But of course a much-anticipated restaurant like Longoven would attract some of the best staff in the city. I mean, it's not poaching if someone wants to jump ship so they can be part of a new restaurant, right?

The meal got off to a fine start when my partner-in-crime insisted we start with Alain Vincey Brut, a perfectly delicate and crisp champagne from a small producer. Let's just say it was a fitting choice to celebrate what completely different worlds the two of us inhabit compared to last August second.

And not to mock Don Ho, but tiny bubbles in the wine really do make me feel fine.

Everything about the meal validated Bon Appetit's 2016 acknowledgement of Longoven as one of the best new restaurants in the country, even if they were nothing but a pop-up when it was bestowed. Maybe most impressive was how light and unfussy the food was, allowing fresh flavors to shine and not leaving us in a food coma, which sort of defeats the point of a really good date.

Fluke crudo was nothing short of a work of art with trompe l'oeil "cucumber slices" made of cucumber and fennel juice foam between strips of fluke, cucumber and assorted varieties of basil. Touching down on multiple hot buttons, lump crab salad rested on the creamiest of corn custards (but not heavy) with shitake mushrooms and - be still my heart - grated egg yolk. Not the least bit overdone and the flavor combination was truly memorable.

Longoven is the kind of place where your server will remind you of all the components in your dish when she sets it down, in case your wine drinking exceeds your menu memory. I actually find this to be kind of endearing. Our server was sweet, though somewhat abashed-looking every time she returned to find us so busy talking in low tones that she was reluctant to interrupt us.

With more champagne, we tackled roasted monkfish that was no kin to any monkfish I previously had and I say that as a big fan of monkfish. The lobster-like meat rested in a broth of kombu and mushroom, with an assortment of mushrooms providing all kinds of earthy flavor notes married to the bounty of the sea.

Three savory dishes earned us two desserts, which is only appropriate in a place with a pastry chef. Safe to say neither of the desserts we chose will soon show up on other local menus.

My hazelnut mousse was taken over the top with Comté ice cream (and believe me, nothing could be more obscene than incorporating such a rich cheese into ice cream), hazelnut sponge cake and hazelnut praline, while himself - an alleged non-dessert eater I'm doing my best to convert - tucked into a roulade of coriander cake with blueberry gelee, white chocolate mousse, cilantro oil and blueberry sorbet.

Toto, when it comes to dessert, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Although the place was emptying out when we finally stopped talking long enough to get up to leave, we only got as far as the front room before I heard my name called. "I didn't even see you come in," said the handsome face behind the bar. "J. told me you were here."

After he told me how good I looked, we agreed that next time we're in, it's only fitting that we sit at the bar for dinner. No sacrifice breaking bread with a conversational bartender.

The only problem is, now that my main squeeze has had a taste of dining with me somewhere for the first time, a pleasure we'd not yet experienced except when out of town, it may be a while before we return. As he watched me drinking in the decor, the crowd, the servers, the meal, even the feel of the place, I think it's safe to say he liked sharing first-timer status with me. It may be a while.

Don't worry, Longoven, a woman never forgets her first time. Or ComtĂ© ice cream.

Friday, August 3, 2018

All That Happens is Wonderful

In the past, if I did not blog, something was wrong.

I may have been nursing a recent hurt or upset about something or even, for those months last winter, too low to rouse myself only to depress my readers. Not blogging could be seen as a statement of mindset.

It still can, but for wildly different reasons.

"I'd like to say first that any day you don't have a blog post, I smile. No post means you're enjoying yourself, likely in the company of someone very close to you. I have tried a couple of times to post a comment, but I get caught in a loop and it won't take. Then I would draft an email in my head and not send it because it really should be shared with your readers."
~ Leo, "Intel" email, July 25

Like a faceless priest absolving me of my childhood sins in the confessional (in my pre-heathen days), hearing one of my oldest friends was gratified when I didn't post exonerated me.

"But something has happened to the woman with the notebook. I have come home and sunk into my enjoyment of him as into a warm summer day. The journal is secondary. Everything is secondary...This is strange. Before, as soon as I came home from all kinds of places, I would sit down and write in my journal. Now I want to write to him, talk to him...To have a summer day like today and a night with him, I ask nothing more."
~Anais Nin, "Henry and June," my beach read

Of all the books to choose to reread while ensconced in Kitty Hawk oceanside earlier this week - and soley because I'd read a biography of Henry Miller at the beach in May - what could have better suited my mood than the unexpurgated diary of a writer and journalist completely enthralled?

I have not given up on this blog, but it's reassuring to know there is a literary precedent for my lack of attention to it. Even better, those who know me best applaud my absence.

As summer days and nights go - the air, the smells, the sun and moon, the company - these are mine alone. Blogging time is scarce these days.

Lucky me.

Monday, July 30, 2018

With Surfboard on Ceiling

I'm a low maintenance beach guest. Real low.

Give me a bed, preferably private, but I've been known to share a king size bed with my hostess when it was the sole availability.

Because I bring my own breakfast, snacks and sometimes lunch, no preparation for this guest is required. When it comes to dinner, I'm good whether we stay in or go out. Whatever my hosts desire.

As for entertainment, I can sit on the expansive deck on intermittently rainy afternoons like today and talk while being mesmerized by the ocean or set up camp on the sunny beach when everyone wants the full beach experience. A quick SPF50 and I'm good to go.

When everyone's occupied in their own way, I will slip away to walk despite a sky so menacing-looking (albeit artistically) that people are packing up in droves. When I ask a lifeguard what the forecast is, he says they're not allowed to look at their phones while on duty. Okay, but should I keep walking? "If I were you, I'd go inside. Now."

I didn't get far before the sky opened up, but I thought of it as a rain baptism for my new hat.

In my carefree guest mode, I'll listen to whatever music my hosts want to play, even if  it's something I'd never choose. Or something overplayed. Or hackneyed.

The sound of the ocean is enough, for that matter.

I won't get up early and make any noise that might disturb others, but I also won't expect anyone to worry about bothering me. Hosts' prerogative, after all.

You can count on me being a good audience. I'm happy to be the plus one when someone wants to go to the beach or in the ocean and needs reinforcements. Born ready.

Rest assured, I won't say a word when every window in an oceanfront cottage is shut instead of being open to the sea breezes. I may bite my tongue until it bleeds to avoid sharing my opinion about the soundness of such a choice, but it's not my call.

You can even ignore me entirely. Fear not, I will find countless ways to amuse myself while at this oceanfront cottage and I will say goodbye before I drive off.

And always, I will be grateful for the invitation.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Once in a Lifetime

I bought my ticket to see David Byrne a lifetime ago.

And by lifetime, I mean February 11, which might as well be the same thing considering the seismic shifts in my world since that long ago day.

I can't tell one from the other
Did I find you or you find me?
There was a time, before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I'll be, where I'll be

When tickets for his May show at the Anthem in D.C. went on sale, I'd passed on going because of the venue. But when a Merriweather Post Pavilion date was added, I jumped on board despite the steep price (for me anyway).

MPP was the site of my second-ever concert - Carol King - back in 1972 or '73 and the thought of seeing as iconic a performer as David Byrne at Merriweather on a July night was irresistible, even if I did have to cross state lines and go solo.

As fate would have it, I didn't go by myself. As fortune would have it, I picked the right show to return to Merriweather for. No doubt about it, 2018 has been my year.

I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead

First of all, the evening weather was glorious, not too hot or humid. We arrived when the gates opened and had our choice of great views. Then there was the benefit of the show not being sold out. Our chairs may have skirted the blanket laid down by a happy hippie-ish couple to our right named Tom and Karen, but everyone had breathing room.

Not necessarily a bad thing when an occasional whiff of weed wafted by.

It wasn't even dark when English poet and singer Benjamin Clementine took a seat on a stool in front of a piano and began singing and playing in an intense way that was poetic, moving and quite beautiful. Nina Simone came to mind. I sensed immediately that he'd been chosen by Byrne to open, no doubt for his incredibly distinctive voice and talent.

Let's just say it was an impressive start to a stunning evening of music, choreography and theater.

The less we say about it, the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It's okay, I know nothing's wrong

Byrne, not to mention that magnificent head of hair he's got, began the show alone onstage, sitting at a table and holding a model of a brain while singing "Here" off the new album "American Utopia," which all ticket buyers were sent as part of the deal. Right off the bat, it seemed like an appropriately intellectual and musical way to set the tone for a man known for his art school roots.

But where it got truly wondrous was when a dozen people, musicians and singers all in identical suits, joined him, each of the musicians with their instrument strapped to their body like a drum line or marching band. It was an incredible amount of sound they produced while a duo sang backup and danced the most difficult moves.

We drift in and out
Oh! Sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of peoiple
You got a face with a view

Every song was fully choreographed, with Byrne dancing along with his cadre of musicians and singers (loads of drums and percussion, natch, but it was the strapped-on keyboard that was the most impressive when being played), whether it was one of the kickass new songs like "Everybody's Coming to My House" or one of the Talking Heads songs that set the crowd off into a frenzy.

Where he made time stand still for me was in playing "Naive Melody," a song I hadn't dared to hope I'd hear and one that sounded transcendent sung into the soft night air. It was while he was singing "Burning Down the House" and the middle-aged crowd was losing their minds that the all but full moon finally rose above the tree line like a benediction on the show below.

Oh! I got plenty of time
Oh! You got light in your eyes

When they did "Blind," Byrne played guitar while a bright light focused on the performers caused shadows to be cast against the background. Byrne's shadow looked enormous compared to the others, reaching almost to the stage's rafters, in the same way that his giant suit used to make him stand out back in the Talking Heads days. It was like having a Balinese shadow puppet show, except with real people.

The final encore was Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout," with drums backing the names of black people killed by police and the admonishment, "Say his name." It was incredibly powerful way to end the evening.

I come home
She lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place

I don't recall how I felt after Carol King finished performing, but I know that I won't soon forget how I felt when Bryne and company took their final bow. Standing under that bright moon with my favorite person next to me, I knew we'd seen something wondrous, something that would have been worth a 3 1/2 hour drive alone for.

Lucky me, I got to share it with someone who was not only as wowed as I was, but who's willing to make it up as we go along. In fact, cruising home on Route 301, that's how we ended up at Captain Billy's Crabhouse on the Potomac having a late waterside lunch. Crabs, shrimp and hushpuppies (not to mention Homes' favorite crab and vegetable soup) go down mighty easy watching sea birds vie for pole perches and reveling in the passing of time together.

And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight

This is where I'll be. Where I'll be happily.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

I Don't Know, But I Been Told

Hey, hey, Mama, said the way you move
Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove

I have stopped working for the day. I've showered and the radio rewards me by playing a live version of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" recorded in 1973 at Madison Square Garden.

Outside, it's overcast because we're between showers for the fourth day in a row. I don't mind because it feels very beachy to me with constantly changing skies, winds and fronts. Walking the pipeline in a steady, warm rain made for a pretty wonderful morning.

The moment "Black Dog" comes on, though, I'm back in my high school cafeteria and it's blaring loudly from the jukebox. Because of course a school cafeteria had a jukebox in 1973. If I recall correctly, we didn't have a single lunch hour that it didn't get played - and, mind you, the song was already a couple years old then - but I never got tired of hearing it.

And while I didn't own a single Led Zeppelin album (still don't), I suggested to my then-boyfriend that we get tickets for their upcoming show at Alexandria Roller Rink. "Nah, they'll never be able to recreate their sound live," he said, dismissing my suggestion out of hand. I acquiesced because  I wasn't a big Led Zep fan, although I think the incongruity of a band like that at a roller rink spoke to me even then.

How could it not have been great/weird/awful/fascinating to experience?

While in college, I worked in a bookstore under a manager who was maybe a dozen years older than me. One slow evening, we got to talking about music and dancing. Both he and his wife loved to dance and still did so often, while my generation, he pointed out, didn't dance, we just stood around and listened to music.

Given the hard-rocking bands of the day - Yes, Jethro Tull, the Who - I'm not sure we had much choice. Dancing was uncool, old fashioned, stigmatized even.

But now that I heard "Black Dog" on the radio, I also know more about the song, namely that bassist John Paul Jones deliberately wrote it with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes so it could not be danced to.

And people question why disco had to come into being? C'mon, we were a generation starved for  music we could dance to. We took what we could get.

One thing that hasn't changed in the intervening decades is getting together to listen to records with friends. It was so commonplace in my youth that there are entire artists' catalogs I never bothered purchasing because so many of my friends owned them. Why buy Jackson Brown, Steely Dan or the Police when everyone I knew could play them for me?

Now when I go to listening parties, there's a good dinner first. Tonight's was at Acacia with Holmes and Beloved and a couple of bottles of Langlois Chateau Cremant de Loire Brut Rose (because, to quote Pru, "Why would we ever leave the Loire?"). When the sommelier opened the delicate and dry pink bubbles for us, he shared not only that it's a personal favorite of his, but that the vineyards are associated with Champagne Bollinger.

All I can say is, more, please.

The most amusing moment arrived when our young server came to open the second bottle. Unlike the first, which had been uncorked with barely a sigh, the second let off a resounding pop and from across the room, the sommelier raised his eyebrows at her noisy opening. "He's gonna kill me," she joked.

There are various ways to tell that we're smack in the middle of the summer - the absence of VCU students, the ease of parking - but none so clear cut as being in a half-full restaurant that is usually slammed every night they're open. I know, I know, everyone's at the ocean or the river, but for now we had to settle for eating from those places.

Beginning with Ruby Salt oysters and cucumber soup, we moved on to white anchovies made obscene with the richness of fourme d'ambert, pine nuts, grilled radicchio and romaine in a creamy garlic dressing. Beloved orders them every single time we go to Acacia and Holmes and I benefit by getting a taste or two out of her.

Neither of them could resist the siren song of Acaia's specialty, sauteed velvet softshells from Urbanna, served with asparagus, cream corn polenta and tomato bacon gravy, while I tucked into grilled mahi mahi accompanied by a mesclun salad loaded with heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese.

Over desserts of chocolate cremeaux with sea salt caramel ice cream and pound cake, they regaled me with highlights and photographs of their recent trip to Solomon's Island to celebrate Beloved's birthday. Just looking at the pictures, I could see how relaxed and happy they'd been to get away.

When we finally headed back to Holmes' hideaway, it was still early enough for a full-blown record listening party. Laying on the bar from a former evening was a square of paper with a handwritten message: "Scream now!" Neither Holmes nor Beloved recalled why it had been necessary to write such a message.

But he did make sure we knew that it was national tequila day before dropping the needle on Todd Rundgren's 1973 album, "A Wizard, A True Star." I love me some Todd.

When we do these listening parties, the starting artist is inevitably decided during the phone call between Holmes and me to set up the evening. In this case, when I called him, he answered the phone by saying, "This is Holmes," to which I responded, "Hello, it's me." Right away, we both know Todd Rundgren would launch the listening festivities.

We were soon far down a rabbit hole because on this album, he does a medley of Curtis Mayfield's "I'm So Proud," Smokey Robinson's "Ooh, Baby, Baby," the Delphonics' "La La Means I Love You" and "Cool Jerk," a song they knew but couldn't recall who'd originally done it. Don't look at me, I only knew the GoGos version from 1982's "Vacation"

Now that Holmes has softened his position on cell phones, Beloved is allowed to look things up if he deems it worthy of research. Turns out that a band called the Capitols had released it in 1966  on the - wait for it - Karen Records label. Who knew?

As much as we enjoyed Todd, where Holmes really bowled us over was with an album I hadn't even heard of: Joni Mitchell's "Miles of Aisle," a double live album from 1974 recorded when she toured behind "Court and Spark" (although there's only one C&S song on it) with the L.A. Express. Her voice was exquisite, not yet ruined by cigarettes, whiled the live versions offered new takes on classic songs. I wouldn't have thought I could like "Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" better live, but I was wrong.

"And this is just the songs that she'd written by 1974!" Holmes said incredulously.

I never owned any Joni Mitchell until a few years ago for the simple reason that I didn't need to. Everyone had Joni Mitchell when I was young and she got played a lot everywhere. What an innocent petunia I was. Only now do I realize that I must own all the Joni Mitchell.

Because sometimes I'm the one hosting the listening parties. And should you come across a note here or there, I can assure you it won't say, "Scream now!" Talk now?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Am I Ever

For some time now, the first question when we meet is always the same.

After I answer in the enthusiastic affirmative, I remind her that the question is obsolete. She'll probably ask it for a while longer, she tells me. Of course you will, I respond. But it won't change the answer.

We may as well be Abbott and Costello going through the same routine for the nth time.

Since it's been far too long a good month and a half since our last rendezvous, Lady G insists on a proper bar for our debriefing. She's old school that way, wanting to make sure the stools have backs, the vibe is lively and a good rye can be easily had.

That said, we drank Prosecco at Rappahannock, surrounded by suits and suburbanites, millennials and baby boomers. It was a busy Monday night.

I'd tried to steer her into the more casual Rapp Session next door, but she had her heart set on the big three-sided bar with the impossibly heavy stools and a front row seat to cocktail making while my primary concern was Old Saltes anywhere I could get them. And soonest.

I'm a simple woman, really.

We had just begun sharing our beach stories - hers in Plymouth Bay, mine in the Atlantic - when the arrival of a dozen oysters meant we could taste the brine while reminiscing about being in the water. There were even photos of her adventures to share, while she just had to believe me about mine.

RIP, aviator sunglasses.

G is recently back from a family reunion that included her two older sisters, with whom she couldn't help but compare herself. Because, let's face it, that's what sisters do. There is one advantage of being the youngest, though: you can get an idea how you might age. As the oldest of six, I wouldn't have a clue what the future holds for my DNA.

Once we'd had our ocean shots, so to speak, we moved on to the most exquisite white gazpacho that  ever graced a table in front of me. Cucumbers, grapes, Marcona almonds and jumbo lump crabmeat (and lots of it) formed a blissful union, producing the creamiest of gazpachos with an almond flair. Just reading the ingredients was enough to seduce me, but it took Lady G taking a bite to declare, "Oh, this is sublime" and moan a little.

What was called on the menu tuna tartare registered like a swanky tuna salad with yellowtail, apples, pickled carrots and radishes for crunch and a light citrus aioli binding it all together. Meanwhile, the puffed rice underneath was a brilliant complement, flavor and texture-wise.

I listened fascinated as G, an artist, shows and tells me about the quilts she's been working on lately, showing me photos of brilliantly-colored pieces of fabric intricately sewn together. I'm just this side of incredulous when she informs me that a baby quilt took 60 hours in front of her new commercial sewing machine to create.

Holy smokes and baby quilts are small. I don't even want to think about how long a grown-up quilt must take.

I can only admire such dedication to one's artistry. But, if I'm honest, I can also imagine all the other things I could do with 60 hours. As the sage philosopher Miley Cyrus once said, "Life is all about having a good time."

A beach getaway comes to mind, as does a river visit. If there's one thing I've learned in this new phase of my life, it's how quickly time passes when the company is right. So I could feel like I was just settling in when poof! my 60 hours are up.

And while Lady G would have a quilt by then, all Miley and I would have to show for it was memories of a good time.

The advantage of being an oldest child is that's enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Running into Strange Capers

All the world may be a stage, but when Mother Nature wants to assert herself, it's all the players and audience who get wet.

After many rainy afternoon hours, the sky finally cleared a bit or at least enough to hope that  Quill Theatre would be able to stage tonight's installment of the 20th Annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival so we could see "As You Like It" at Agecroft. If nothing else, we were guaranteed that the extensive gardens and grounds surrounding the old Tudor mansion would would have had a good soaking, making them completely inhospitable to dining al fresco.

Which is a shame because picnicking is always part of the festival's charm.

Cut to Plan B, which involved the same picnic goodies spread out on a blanket on my living room floor. Two benefits to the indoor picnic? Drinking our Rose out of glass instead of plastic and being able to cue up "Music for Dining" on the turntable. Because nothing says impromptu indoor supper quite like a 1954 record by British orchestra the Melachrino Strings.

Only once the album and meal were finished did we venture to Agecroft, hoping all the while that the show would go on. Shakespeare lovers were already heading into the courtyard while we claimed our programs at the box office and found seats in the second row in time for the audience selfie.

What care I for words? Yet words do well when he that speaks them pleases those who hear.

Unlike so many overly warm nights watching Shakespeare at Agecroft, the rain had left behind cool air and high hopes we could make it through the love antics of the Forest of Arden crew before Mother Nature returned to her wet ways.

But then we're optimists like that.

My affection has an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal

Did someone say Portugal? The first act passed in a flurry of love, cross-dressing and, yes, a wrestling match, as the Shakespeare fan next to me and I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the enthusiastic wooing and new relationship foibles on full display in front of us.

No sooner met but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved; no sooner loved but they sighed; no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy.

The cast wasn't just strong, they were also embracing the spirit of the pastoral play with much scampering, confusion and poetry writing. The reliably brilliant Luke Schares had kicked the evening off by taking introduction duties, but followed that with his hilariously melancholy take on the exiled duke's buddy, Jaques. Rebecca Turner's Rosalind was particularly fetching as her male alter-ego Ganymede and truly, what woman wouldn't enjoy a turn coaching her beloved in how best to woo her?

Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

It was my date's first time not only seeing "As You Like It," but also seeing the indefatigable John Mincks pull off his distinctive brand of comedic delivery (biting off his consonants and enthusiastically spitting out his retorts) and superb physicality in the role of the jester, while Nicole Morris-Anastasi nerdily nailed Phoebe's lovesick passion with the skill of a natural comedian.

Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.

During intermission, the man sitting next to me came back from a bathroom break looking like he'd seen a ghost. What he'd actually seen was a mummified cat in one of the walls and it had so unnerved him that he was sharing the details with us so he didn't have to deal with it alone. And he didn't just tell us, he proceed to Google it so he could know there and then the cat's story, and regale us with more information than we ever needed to know about Britain's long history of dead cats in house walls.

When we finally started looking pained at his in-depth dead cat rantings, he then pulled up the audience selfie from earlier and pointed out how we'd at least made ourselves notable in the photo while he and his wife sat there like bumps on a log. All I know is, you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family...or your seatmates.

Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

As satisfying as the second act's shenanigans are, they were immeasurably aided and abetted by the fine rain that began falling not long after it began and kept up until the bows. Not anything heavy or obnoxious, but a delicate precipitation that left droplets on the people's hair in front of us and came down in front of the stage lights like a steady snow shower.

Because if you're going to enjoy "As You Like It" on a cool July evening - and especially if it's someone's first time seeing it performed live - there could be no more magical way to see it than in a soft, summer rain. Worm weather.

Take it from a woman who doesn't hesitate to speak what she thinks, all the more so when it pleases he who hears it.

And everyone knows she thinks a lot. Just not about dead cats in the wall.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Happiness Comes in Waves

I'm going to live forever.

At least, that's been the consensus for a while now among friends and family. With the exception of getting mowed down by a bus while I'm out walking, everyone seems to think my lifestyle will ensure that I join the centenarian club, thus continuing to annoy others with my sass and optimism for decades to come.

Back in the '90s, I read of studies confirming that people who flossed daily lived two to six years longer and that day took up daily flossing after a lifetime of merely brushing. I seem to recall telling Lady G about my discovery and how quickly I'd taken up the habit and her responding, "Of course you did."

Mock me all you want, but I don't leave the house at night without having flossed. Just ask my brother-in-law, who was giving me floss brand recommendations at his daughter's wedding last fall.

And just in the last couple of days, Facebook friends have provided the latest findings from the medical science community, providing still more validation for my lifestyle choices.

Leave it to Gallery 5 (where I've seen more shows than I can count) to let me know that behavioral scientist Patrick Fagan has come out with a study saying that attending a concert once every two weeks adds nine years to your life. Nine years. When I told Mac this momentous news at lunch yesterday, she barely stopped chewing, instead deadpanning, "Wow, you really are going to live forever, aren't you?"

Seems that live music increases a feeling of self worth, closeness to others and mental stimulation, all of which go toward upping our sense of well-being. And here I thought that happy feeling I get when the lights go down and the band starts playing was just me.

And now I learn from a posting by the drama queen that neuro-scientists strongly recommend that we go to the beach frequently. Seems that the sense of calmness and peace you have at the seaside is now officially called "blue space" for what the combination of soothing smells and the sound of the waves do to your brain.

Well, duh. Since my parents first took me to the beach at two months old, I have known that nothing makes me feel as completely unwound and at ease as hearing and smelling the ocean. The interesting part of that equation is the absence of sun in it.

As I was pointing out to my favorite lake person just yesterday, a rainy day at the beach is better than a sunny day at home any day. Even when an umbrella is necessary to walk the beach, I can still take in the briny air. Even when a thunderstorm has interrupted an afternoon reading on the beach, I can still be soothed by the sound of the waves.

That's because science has concluded that it's a change in the way our brains react to our environment at the beach that results in us feeling relaxed, happy and re-energized.

So next time I'm sitting on the porch swing at the beach having poetry read to me, know that I'm doing it for my health. Ditto going to shows. I can't believe I ever entrusted my longevity to merely flossing.

Apparently, I'm going to need all three to stay healthy enugh to avoid that bus.

Freedom of Pleasure

Perhaps a night that began with a discussion of a sculpture urinating, moved through smut and ended with memories of being called the naked family, wasn't the night to go stag.

I suppose you could call it an evening wasted with Tom Lehrer, but only because he called one of his live albums that. There was nothing wasted about it.

It began when I met the posse in Church Hill, where we promptly worried Queen B by taking the ridiculously steep 23rd Street hill to get down to Nota Bene. You know, the one that feels like your car is going to roll hood over trunk because it's so vertical?

For thrill seekers like Beau and I, it's a personal favorite as far as hills go. The ladies, not so much.

But dangerous descents were forgotten once the owner found out about my travel plans and began offering recommendations involving food and sculpture, followed by the arrival of a bottle of fruity and berry fresh Tete au Bois Dormant sparkling Rose. It was brought to the table by our lanky server who called us y'all because, as he put it, "You guys doesn't sound right."

Three women and one non-alpha male? Correct, not a guy in the bunch.

A menu of 5 different gin and tonics seduced Beau who ordered one called "Oh, you fancy, huh?" supposedly because it included black pepper, but I'm inclined to think he just wanted to say that to our server, who grinned when he did.

From there we had a food lovers' feast, starting with the creamiest of burrata over sweet little heirloom tomatoes with pine nuts and grilled cucumber vinaigrette that screamed summer. My favorite part of a charcuterie board was the duck and pork country pate, not to mention a superb rhubarb jam that resembled nothing so much as apple butter.

Staying true to Nota Bene's roots, we had two pizzas, a red and a white - sausage, kale and red onion plus potato and fontina with leek cream and olive tapenade - while marveling over the chew and flavor of the crust. So. Incredibly. Good.

Bucatini white bolognese seems to get ordered every single time we go to Nota Bene (not a complaint), but this was my first time ordering their branzino with pepperonata. The combination of the wood-fired fish and long-cooked, deeply flavored peppers, onions and garlic was nothing short of sublime, to the point that moaning after taking a bite became the norm.

People stared, we didn't care.

You don't put away that much savory food and call it quits, though, meaning we capped the meal with with tiramisu (full disclosure: we got two of them) and a bay leaf panna cotta with amaretti cookie crumble and blueberries, one of those desserts that pretends to be light but is only fooling the wishful thinkers.

Start to finish, the meal was memorable, every bite a masterful marriage of flavors, colors and textures, the better to complement the wide-ranging conversations that accompanied the sipping and supping. We left in a blissful food coma, all of us.

Fortunately, nothing more was expected of us than a drive to Swift Creek Mill Theater to see "Tomfoolery," a musical revue devoted to the satirical (and protest) songs of the brilliant and hilarious Tom Lehrer.

I mean, how can you not love a lyricist who writes a song about "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park?"

Or, in the grand tradition of woman singing songs about the man they love - no matter how antisocial, alcoholic, physically repulsive or just plain unsanitary, as he put it - Lehrer writes one from the man's point of view and it's a whole lot funnier.

Sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly
I gotta love one woman till I die
To Ed or Dick or Bob
She may be just a slob
But to me, well, she's my girl

Just as funny was "When You Are Old and Gray, a song he dedicated to anyone still in love in the audience.

So say you love me here and now
I'll make the most of that
Say you love and trust me
For I know you'll disgust me
When you're old and getting fat

Listening to "The Masochism Tango," I couldn't help but think what an appropriate song it was for that most unromantic of womankind: Pru. Sure enough, the moment it ended, she looked at me and observed, "You know that's my song, right?"

I did indeed.

Your heart is hard as stone or mahogany
That's why I'm in such exquisite agony
My soul is on fire, it's aflame with desire
Which is why I prespire when we tango

"Smut" had the four talented actors holding Playboy and Playgirl magazines while singing about the pleasures of dirty books.

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
The mind of the beholder
When correctly viewed, everything is lewd

I left the theater wondering how I ever thought I'd lived a full life when I'd only ever heard one Tom Lehrer song before tonight. I was an innocent, little fool, that's for sure.

The remainder of my waking hours were spent on Pru's glorious screened porch, where she regaled us with stories about her parents' penchant for clothing-optional living and the friend from childhood who'd said she always thought of Pru's clan as "the naked family." The child can hardly be blamed for that, after all, how many of us have Dads who went streaking during thunderstorms? Or naked Moms who took phone calls in full view of the garbage men?

Around midnight, I got up to leave, only to be told to sit back down, so I did. This is not a group who wants the conversation stopped until everyone agrees it's over. At least I made it home before daybreak.

But I also went to bed a new fan of Tom Lehrer. Anyone who can write, "If a person feels he can't communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it," is my kind of guy.

Y'all know what I mean, I'm sure.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off

I was utterly seduced at the Byrd by a 49-year old Brit.

No, no, it's not like that. That base is covered by my favorite cinephile, who'd agreed to join me for my first viewing of "The Italian Job," a 1969 movie I knew nothing about but couldn't wait to see. Not because it was a heist movie (rarely one of my favorite genres, though this was as much a comedy caper as heist film) but because I'm such a fan of '60s and '70s film.

And let me tell you, "The Italian Job" did nothing to dissuade me from my attraction to that era. That it was a British film only made it that much more appealing because that meant fewer Hollywood cliches. Need proof? Only one of the seven or so cars toppling over a cliff burst into flames.

What I love about films from those heady years is, well, everything. Sure, there was a young Michael Caine - okay, he was 36, but he looked impossibly young - but also a very old Noel Coward holding his own and a surprisingly fresh-faced Benny Hill eagerly ogling and fondling every large bottom he saw.

But it was more than casting.

A movie that opens with a man in a Lamborghini driving a winding road through the Alps in Italy is going to get my inner traveler sighing at for the sheer beauty of the scenery.

A movie scored by Quincy Jones can't help but keep my attention, from "On Days Like These," the romantic opening song to the hilarious cast singalong of "The Self Preservation Society" as the heist getaway winds down.

A movie about a bunch of young Brits stealing gold in Turin, Italy has several major fashion points going for it. Besides a listing in the credits for "shirtmaker," there's the killer Carnaby Street wardrobe of the Brits. So groovy.

You haven't seen 1969 fashion until you've seen Michael Caine in a leather vest and white ascot or a double-breasted suede jacket. And gloves, so many gloves, on both men and women. And you certainly never saw thieves like Caine's gang, all dressed in fitted blue jumpsuits (because we were all wearing jumpsuits back then) to pull off the job with style and panache.

Hell, even the Italian guy working the jackhammer had on a fitted shirt, flared pants and stylish black shoes, as if he had wooing plans right after work.

I got an inkling of the Mini connection in the lobby when we were getting popcorn before the movie even began. When I asked a guy I'd met at a Modern Richmond event why he'd come, he said he was part of the "Mini group." Sure enough, lined up out front on Cary Street was a line of Minis, a nod to the car's importance in the film.

Manager Todd told the audience beforehand that Fiat had offered to supply countless cars for filming purposes as well as underwrite $50,000 of the movie's production cost, but the filmmakers insisted that British thieves had to have British cars, Minis specifically.

The three Minis - a red, a white and a blue - did some major showing off over the course of the heist, from driving on the lip of a dam to driving the rooftop test track of a Fiat factory (I couldn't have been the only one gobsmacked that such a thing existed) to driving through a sewer tunnel. Hell, after the heist, each mini drove up ramps connected to a moving truck that was to be their hiding place.

It was perfectly clear why there had been damn good reason to alert local Mini drivers about the screening. And while I've never driven one, I know they had to be sitting up taller in their seats watching 1969 Minis put through their paces.

And when you get right down to it, the worst violence in "The Italian Job" was against cars. They were crunched up by machinery, sent flying off mountains and driven down steps in shopping arcades. Even when the Brits are taking the Italian gold, the worst they do to the security detail is hit them with billy clubs and spray paint their windows.

Tell me an American heist movie without guns, explosions or other gratuitous violence. Or, better yet, don't bother, because I have no intention of seeing it anyway.

Best of all, the movie ended without a neat Hollywood wrap-up. While the gang has the gold, they're also hanging off a cliff and unsure how to snag it without sending the bus over the mountain to suffer the same fate as the Lamborghini, the Minis and some Jaguars.

If you want to talk Meyer Briggs, I can assure you that to an ENFP such as myself, that lack of resolution is positively life-affirming. We don't need no stinkin' conclusion. What I do need is more '60s and '70s movies in my life.

Because on days like these, a movie with a miniskirt-clad woman climbing out of a sports car without opening the door is enough to give me a new life goal.

After all, anyone can drive a Mini.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Who's on First

Industry is in the eye of the beholder.

Sure, technically I'm not an actor or director and I don't design costumes, sound or light, but that didn't stop me from getting tickets for "Hand to God" at the Basement on Industry night. If anything, I chose this stormy Tuesday evening to see a co-production by TheatreLab and 5th Wall partly because I knew I'd see so many familiar stage faces in the audience.

And in my usual Luddite manner, I went to the see the 2015 Tony award-nominated best new play with absolutely no clue what it was about, nor any sense of how lewdly and furiously funny a dark comedy that includes puppet orgasms could be. Because, really, being a heathen and all, how could I not be sucked in by a play about a demonic puppet at a Lutheran bible school in Texas?

My J-boy and I walked over in a steady rain under a large umbrella, only to be told by artistic director Deejay Gray that he couldn't guarantee that the Basement wouldn't flood during tonight's performance because, "Well, it's a basement."

That's truth talk right there because I'd arrived home from Norfolk just as the second round of thunderstorms hit Jackson Ward and my basement was already under a couple inches of water. Still is.

From the front row, we had such an up close and personal view of the stage - set up to look like a church basement - that I didn't even need my glasses for most of it. Now that's proximity.

Looking at the set before the play began, I focused on the centerpiece of it, a puppet stage labeled "Christcateers," wondering what Jesus and sock puppets could possibly have in common. Meanwhile, the non-Christian next to me commented that the set confirmed every scary thought he'd ever had about church basements, although he guessed it was Catholic and I knew with certainty that it was Protestants of some sort.

I happen to know that Catholic church basements are a different kind of crazy.

And now I've learned that some crazy Protestants actually do use puppets as part of their Christian ministry, which only adds to a friend's religious dating theory (something about avoiding Protestant men because passion isn't their strong suit), and further solidifies my place in the heathen world.

"Hand to God" was riveting from the opening prologue of a green puppet sharing his thoughts on how mankind went from "rutting as we chose, careless in the night" to making rules about doing bad things, which included inventing the concept of the devil.

As a card-carrying heathen, I don't have to worry about that.

The entire cast was strong, none more so than Adam Turck as shy, insecure Jason, the unfortunate teen with Tyrone, the puppet, on his hand, who loudly and stridently voiced the evil puppet by biting off syllables, popping his every "p" and "t" and terrifying everyone around him. What fascinated me was that even though he mouthed Tyrone's words with no attempt to conceal where it was coming from, my eyes were glued to how convincing that puppet was every time he spoke.

That's right, I could have been looking at the actor dramatically saying Tyrone's lines but instead couldn't tear myself from watching a green sock with red hair inches from his face. This really wasn't your Sesame Street kind of puppet, though it was some top notch puppeteering.

What made a play about a demonic puppet so continuously laugh-out-loud funny was the dead serious nature of the topics covered in the story: sexual repression ("I don't want to be good anymore") and religious hypocrisy (a minister talking about his "needs" to a grieving widow), alcoholism and death, depression and repression.

But where it truly resonated was in its peek into the divided soul of Everyman, with its constant battle between good and evil. You don't even have to be a crazy Christian to know what I'm talking about.

Every member of the five person cast shone, from the confused and horny Margery assuredly and hilariously played by Kimberly Jones, to the surprisingly sexual confidence of quiet Jessica as portrayed by Anne Michelle Forbes. Adam Valentine, whose work I'd admired in "Heathers the Musical," again grabbed my attention playing the sullen Timothy with bravado, sardonic humor and in one scene, in his underwear. Fred Iacovo managed to transition from a skeevy minister hitting on Margery to the only one strong enough to stand up to the bastard puppet, no easy shift.

Which is all a long, rambling way of saying that I can't imagine a darker or more clever take on raw family dysfunction and religious hypocrisy, much less one where I was doubled over laughing so much.

As for all the screaming sex scenes - puppets as well as humans - well, bras coming off and skirts being pushed up were just icing on the industry night cake.

Damn, Richmond, your theater game is stellar.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Five and Counting

It would have made the AAA map guy furious.

I'm talking about the person whose job was to draw the yellow lines on Trip-tik road trip maps back in the day, a job that is surely now done on computer. The person whose sure handed, easy-to-read map made clear how to get to each of the destinations along your road trip.

Oh, sure, he'd be fine highlighting the Northern Neck-bound route from Jackson Ward to Morattico for a Reuben lunch with my parents, the Reuben part a holdover from Father''s Day when he'd wanted one and something else got planned for lunch.

That I showed up in a Cubs t-shirt tickled my mother no end.

And while they were waiting for us on the screened porch, you'd better believe Wimbledon was on in a nearby room. Mom takes her tennis watching seriously. Still, I was very surprised when she told me that not learning tennis was a sincere regret. Funny, I always attributed my lack of hand/eye coordination to her un-athletic DNA. Maybe not.

The Trip-tik guy might have let it slide that when we left Morattico, it was to retrace our steps to Warsaw to go to Menokin's speaker series to hear architect Reid Freeman. Why double back, you ask? For no other reason than I'm the kind of bon vivant who chooses to spend a gorgeous Friday afternoon being lectured to about early Tidewater building techniques. Yes, I am.

Or at least that had been the planned topic when the series was decided 6 months ago, but as Reid said, now it all tied back into the wood frame classroom they'd built on Menokin's 18th century grounds. In researching local house-framing techniques before building it, he'd been sucked down the rabbit hole of old, local frame buildings (like smokehouses and barber shops), information which had informed the building of the classroom.

But where he scored major points was toward the end of his two-hour talk when he implored us, "Now, just let me dork out for a minute here," and took off running down an architectural rabbit hole with a faraway smile on his face.

Surely the Trip-tik guy would have scratched his head when we left Warsaw for the Trick Dog Cafe in Irvington because by now our route resembled a backward "Z" or perhaps just scribble-scrabble. There's tuna tartare and obscenely rich she-crab soup, asparagus and grilled shrimp but a very small crowd. It's my first time, so I know not what to expect.

The next morning, the AAA guy would be further perplexed as he drew yet another yellow line, this one needing to be drawn from Irvington across the river at the Merry Point ferry back to River Road, less than 10 miles from my parents' house.

Even the trees were starting to look familiar at that point.

But I'd do a lot more than retrace routes to get to the yellow cottage on the Corrotoman to stay with the only couple I know who refer to their time apart between the two stages of their relationship as "the terrible awful."

The captain had already promised me a boat ride (never mentioning he had a new power boat) but then delivered three rides, including one to scope out the view from the river of the house we'd just left, a leisurely tour of the western branch (with all its new construction) and a sunset cruise on a glassy river.

He also grilled salmon for dinner while my girl crush made shrimp and grits (the latter unfamiliar to the native Chicagoan, though he loved them) and a cobbler with fresh peaches for dessert. The topic was how hungry everyone was after an exhausting day doing little more than sitting on a boat cutting through the water.

My Mom used to say that children never sleep or eat better than at the beach, and maybe the same applies to river time for adults. All I know is, the four of us didn't do much beyond eating, drinking and comparing notes on our backstories the entire time.

And when it all became too much, there was my favorite screened porch for sleeping.

Sunday was basically rinse and repeat, with more of the same plus a test drive in a fast car done by two men with an affinity for high RPMs and show tunes. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Sunday was the first time "Camelot" was being belted out from a speeding car in Bertrand.

When it came time to bid farewell to the happy couple, it was to head back to Irvington, but naturally not by the same route we'd come the day before because the ferry doesn't run on Sundays. So back we went, practically to my parents' house, before taking the long way back to Irvington.

At this point, AAA guy's yellow line has begun to resemble a line drawing of a shrimp or crawfish with its mouth open and there's just no way to tell what any of the routes are because they've crissrossed each other so many times.

A first-timer to the Northern Neck would have looked at that map and given up. I'm talking people like John and Sharon, the nice couple from Frederick, Maryland sitting behind us after the next leg of the journey took us from Irvington to Topping for dinner at Merroir. They were NNK virgins, having succumbed to an enticing Travelocity package (who knew that was a thing?) to celebrate his recent retirement.

They were celebrating with Rochambeau oysters while I had to have Old Salts to accompany Vino Verde (and commemorate our occasion), followed by ceviche, fish tacos and smoked cobia and arugula. The ritual pineapple upside down cake followed for dessert before we took the last of the wine down to the dock to watch dusk settling in while fish splashed in and out of the river.

Fortunately, the drive back to Irvington added no new lines to the map. Nevertheless, Trip-tik guy's head has exploded by now.

Even today's drive home further muddied the waters since we came back via West Point rather than Tappahannock, as we'd done on Friday. This was no carefully planned route, this was a map covered in intersecting and overlapping yellow lines as we tooled around Lancaster County for days.

Not to mention, had a perfectly marvelous time doing it. Let me dork out for a minute here and share my favorite assessments of this brave  new world I now occupy. I was compared to a three layer chocolate cake, for one, but it's hard to beat what the boat captain observed to the newcomer. "She's walking a whole lot lighter now."

Without a map, I might add. Take that, Trip-tik.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Pink Gooch is Different

It was throwback Thursday of a different kind.

First there was the Robinson Rose Crawl, which until it became unmanageable had been the Carytown Rose Crawl (and let me tell you, there are some stories there), and last year was abandoned entirely. But the power of Rose was too strong so a new crawl was devised, this one a seelf-guided tour instead of prior years when attendees were herded from bar to bar.

As someone who did herding duties several of those years, let me assure you that it's far better to let those on a pink mission set their own pace.

Mac and I began at Secco with dozens of other pink-clad people, she with Roquefort "Corail" Rose and moi with Raventos i Blanc Brut Rosat "De Nit" (I'm trying to think SPanish for the foreseeable future) to accompany a plate of season house pickled vegetables. I would have said that the beets were the tastiest morsels on the plate, at least until I tasted the asparagus which had been sweet pickled like bread and butter pickles, but there was also a lot to be said for the fiery pickled mushrooms, so let's just say they were all stellar and leave it at that.

I got my Rose passport stamped, our photograph was taken for the crawl memory book and we ceded our seats to a couple of women who'd just walked in. You never saw two people so happy to see us leave.

Walking down Robinson, we passed clutches of pink-wearing men and women, all seeming to be in high spirits. Arriving at Acacia, we were led to our table on the patio by the chef's son (also in a pink shirt) who already had the poise of a long-time host. It was a gorgeous evening to be dining outside, not to mention the bird's eye view it provided of the overgrown herb planter (so much mint gone to seed that Mac resolved to return with her clippers and give that mint a haircut) and the roving bands of Rose crawlers.

We toasted the crawl and the weather with glasses of Mimi Sparkling Rose from Provence (Mimi being Mac's nickname to her nephews) while chatting with the two overly tan and obviously high maintenance women from Goochland seated next to us. They'd been to Helen's and found both the Roses they'd ordered lacking, so they'd moved on.

When they found out we were going to see "A Chorus Line" after the crawl, they were fascinated.
Turns out Goochlanders have no clue that Richmond boasts a vibrant theater scene. "If I'd known I could go to a play, I could have planned to attend since I have a designated driver!" one exclaimed. Frankly, she didn't strike me like the play-going type, but at least she pretended.

It was our server's first night and a chaotic one at that, so we got our orders in quickly. Mac chose Peruvian tuna ceviche while I couldn't resist the redneck crabcake, a rich cake of whitefish and Old Bay with a side salad of pickled cucumber and red onion, accompanied by a glass of Paul D. Rose from Austria.

We wound up lingering so long we had no time for the other stops - Cask, Spoonbread and Helen's - before planting our butts at Richmond Triangle Players. It was Mac's first viewing after I'd raved about how RTP had pulled off 17 dancers on that stage with aplomb and grace.

At intermission, she started her own gushing about what an incredible production it was. Standing in line at the ladies' room, a woman behind me notes of the first act, "It's tough not to get up and dance. I was chair dancing so hard!"

Honey, join the club.

Another makes an observation about the dancer affectionately referred to as "Headband Boy" for his long hair, cheesy mustache and, yes, headband, "He's every guy in 1972." Tell me something I don't know.

Those two things alone - dancing and 1972 guys - are more than enough to require repeat viewings of such a fine production of "A Chorus Line." But when preceded by Rose crawling with the best walker I know, well, it's one singular sensation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Raining on the Hard Conversations

Heat lightening gave way to a hard rain falling, just as I got home, the soothing sounds of rain just what I needed.

Mac and I had both brought umbrellas (the newsworthy part of that being that she'd remembered hers for a change) when we walked over to the ICA for this month's installment of their film series. And what a compelling choice it was: "Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland."

Unlike last month when we'd foolishly shown up without tickets (lesson learned), we not only had ours but also an extra one (because of someone's illness) which we donated back to the cause before going inside to claim second row seats.

The attendant at the door had told us early arrivals to sit at the far ends of the rows, but no one listened. As the couple next to me pointed out, "Why should we take the bad seats when we were the ones here on time?" I couldn't have said it better myself.

The screening was especially poignant because yesterday was the third anniversary of Bland's arrest after a minor traffic stop and tragically, Friday is the three year anniversary of when she was found hanging from a plastic trash bag noose (curiously without a single fingerprint on it) in her Waller County, Texas jail cell. A death labeled suicide.

Although I'm not one to watch police shooting videos, because Sandra Bland had not been shot, I'd actually seen some of the dash-cam footage from her traffic stop online back when it happened. But the documentary included far more of that footage than I'd seen before and almost all of it was highly disturbing, including how the cop deliberately moved Sandra out of the camera's range once he began assaulting her.

The counterpoint to the violence was all the clips we saw of "Sandy Speaks," a video series she'd done to share her thoughts online about race relations (unite, not incite), policing and the need for blacks and whites to have more friends of other races, a series that highlighted her activism goals but also her desire for all people to get along.

Given that it had happened in Texas, it was all I could do to watch the scenes where local law enforcement and the district attorney's office - good ol' boys, all of them -  tried to place all blame on Sandra and eventually, her family.

As always when leaning into the difficult conversations about race, Mac and I were left feeling emotionally exhausted when the lights came up. "I should've known to bring tissues," she told me. Honestly, there aren't enough tissues to absorb the tears of what happened to this determined 28-year old who was just driving to the grocery store.

After the film ended, the entire room took a moment o say Sandra Bland's name out loud before a few moments of silence to honor her.

Afrikana Film Festival creative director Enjoli had seen the film at the Tribeca Film Festival and managed to arrange an exclusive screening tonight ahead of its Fall theater release and presentation on HBO. But I'd have to say that the real coup was in bringing so many of the people shown in the film to the post-screening discussion.

Bland's mother and two of her sisters were there, along with the family's lawyer and the film's writer/director. It was moving to hear the people we'd just seen on camera talking about Sandra, the questions still unanswered about the case and their hopes for her legacy.

Director David Heilbroner wasn't the least bit shy about stating that whether she committed suicide or not, her death was a lynching based on the state of race relations and policing in this country. Sadly, there's a lot of truth in that assertion.

Had I been pulled over for failing to signal, I'd be willing to bet the farm I wouldn't be slapped, threatened, tasered, yanked from the car or knelt on top of by a cop, much less dragged off to jail.

That's some galling white privilege right there.

During the Q & A period, some people used their moment with a microphone to ask questions that couldn't be answered and belabor points already made, while others echoed their fears about something similar happening to them or their loved ones. Everyone seemed to agree that major retraining of police officers in de-escalation is essential.

But the most important thing was that we were a roomful of black and white Richmonders having a meaningful conversation about race disparity and how each of us needs to work on our own small solution to that, regardless of what others may be doing.

If Sandra Bland's legacy becomes uniting rather than inciting, maybe her death won't be in vain. Saying her name so she isn't forgotten feels like the first step.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Determine to Live Through the Day

Stay with me here, I'm going to try to take you from shoegaze to Nippy, aka the past 48 hours.

Conveniently after a weekend away, Amtrak deposited me back in Richmond half an hour before a show I wanted to see was set to start. I have to admit, Bandito's isn't my favorite venue, but it had been too long since I'd seen Glass Twin and I liked what I'd heard online of Mon Chere.

Besides, I was overdue.

If we don't count musical theater, it's been ages since I've seen music and while I'd thoroughly enjoyed Cold Cave at the Broadberry, that was over three weeks ago and, frankly, I'm not okay with that. To address that, I put up with the excessive air conditioning (C'mon, Sunday's weather was exquisite), questionable smells (I don't even want to know) and overly talkative show attendees (why talk while standing 8' from where the band's playing when you could simply move to the large, uncrowded bar on the other side of the glass door?) like a trooper.

No surprise, the only people I knew were two of the guys in Glass Twin, talented musicians I'd been fans of since their 2008 days in their last band, Marionette and their smiling projectionist. Like that band, Glass Twin does old film projections on the wall behind them as they play for additional stimulation.

Familiar as a few of those clips are, I marvel at how easy it is to lose yourself in them while the band plays.

The band has evolved since I saw them last, with two new guitarists (one of whom is sharing vocal duties with Kevin the drummer), including one who announced that the next song was going to change our outlook on life. The sound guy apparently took that to mean it was their last song and when it finished, he immediately cued up music.

Only problem was, the band had two more songs. Awkward. One guy tried to help the sound guy's cause by yelling to the band, "How're you gonna top that anyway?" which was at least a left-handed compliment.

Actually, Susanna, Mon Chere's singer said it best when they finally took the stage a few minutes past midnight. "How is Glass Twin so amazing every time?"

What I'd heard of her band online had piqued my interest because of how many of my hot buttons their sound included: a fabulous, big female voice, electronic and shoegaze. Count me in.

Despite the annoying drunk quartet shouting at each other while Mon Chere played, I enjoyed their sound live every bit as much as I'd thought I would. Their online trail only dates the band back to 2016, so chances are they're very much in the "playing out often" stage and I can check them out again.

When I finally deposited my bags at home at 1:15, it felt like a very long time since I'd gotten on the train at 6:45.

The dearth of eateries open on Monday only made Metzger's Monday Funday - a NOLA-themed night of fundraising for No Kid Hungry and Chefs Cycle - all the more appealing. Funny part was, it wasn't chef Brittany who'll be cycling come September. Seems she volunteered her husband to do that.

What she was willing to do was make a big pot of gumbo (for the first time ever, she said), offer raw or grilled Tangier oysters (any questions which I had?) and donate the proceeds. Meanwhile, the bar staff had come up with some appropriate Big Easy type cocktails.

While they didn't have an absinthe drip, I must have shown enthusiasm while ordering an absinthe frappe because my partner followed suit. It may have been my first, but it's a drink I should know because not only is it a superb summertime refresher (simple syrup, soda water, mint), but there's a 1904 song about it.

At the first cold sip
On your fevered lip
You determine to live through the day
Life's again worthwhile
As with a dawning smile
You imbibe your absinthe frappe

Some might see it as mere early evening drinking, but I see it more as cultural education. If not for that drink being on the menu, I might never have upped my theater literacy by learning about the turn-of-the-century Broadway play, "It Happened in Nordland" and its most enduring song.

Well-chosen New Orleans music from various eras played on the sound system and a lot of the people who came in lived in the neighborhood. Since they're not usually open on Mondays and it's the first of these monthly events, things were as uncrowded as I've seen Metzger in eons.

We'd come early just in case and the bartender said they were ready to be slammed, but when we headed out nearly 3 hours later, it was still very civilized. I don't know whether to to feel glad for us or sorry that more fundraising wasn't accomplished.

I've had a lot of suggestions lately to be more selfish, so I may just go that route.

This morning while out walking, I had one of my finest moments when I came to where Clay Street is closed at Harrison. When I walked that block last week, I dutifully walked blocks out of my way because of the signs saying the street was closed because of all the heavy machinery and the dug-up street.

Today, I just wasn't feeling it and joked to one of the construction guys that he was impeding my progress. He grinned and pointed, "Come right on through!" so I didn't hesitate. As I passed, he said, "You look great!" which was nice and all, but nearly as good as being allowed through.

Meanwhile, the guys at the other end of the block gave me the look that said, how the hell did you breeze right past our boss? In my defense, all I did was state the obvious and he offered a solution. Not a big deal.

I didn't have time for a detour because I'd stacked my day full: an interview done at the Kroger Training Center, of all unlikely places, being interviewed myself (a highly unusual role for me) and a meal in service of my hired mouth took me right up to movie time and an opportunity to satisfy my inner documentary dork.

There were two main reasons I wanted to see the new Kevin MacDonald film "Whitney." Critics have been raving about it and Whitney Houston was the very first concert I saw when I moved to Richmond in 1986. I hadn't chosen it (my husband had) but in hindsight, I can say that if I was going to hear that one-in-a-million voice, the time to do it was the '80s before drugs ravaged it and her.

Like a good documentary that teaches me things, I learned that Whitney's interpretation of the national anthem had been inspired by Marvin Gay's version, done before an NBA championship game. Even more impressively, there was no rehearsal. Her music director wrote out the music and played it for her once and she said, "I got it," then went on to sing it in a way no one could ever forget.

And while I'd seen "The Bodyguard" when it came out, I had no recollection of what a big deal it was to show an interracial relationship. When asked, Whitney said she was just glad that her character was a strong, black woman. I'm guessing that didn't occur to most of us in 1992, either. She was also the first major musician to play post-apartheid South Africa, not to mention looking fabulous in a bejeweled  yellow turban and gown doing it.

The audience at Criterion was mostly women and a lot of them didn't hesitate to answer back, advise and admonish people on screen. You could hear how appalled some of them were when Whitney's Daddy sued her for $100 million. Whose father does that?

Of course, one of the earmarks of a good documentary is holding your interest even when you know what's going to happen and I'm here to say that MacDonald had talked to all the important characters except Whitney's lesbian lover (although she was shown and mentioned extensively) and they were remarkably candid about some very difficult subjects.

Oh, yes, and her nickname from childhood was Nippy. In one weird scene, she tries to address Nippy as Whitney, but can't. Then she has Nippy call up Whitney and that works. Some deep stuff there. Or at least I think there is.

What really matters is that I've now caught up the blog, so life is worthwhile again.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Just One Look

Conclusion: Uber drivers are the new Everyman.

Its easy to say this after a weekend in Eastport and multiple Uber ride conversations with voluble drivers. And why not? Each ride brings new conversational partners.

Driving us to Cantlers' Riverside Inn to eat extra-large crabs at 10 p.m., 80-year old Norman regaled us with his life story.

Interesting as it was that he began working at NASA in the '60s before becoming an engineer for the Department of Transportation, I was most fascinated to hear that he married for the first time at 44. That would be after he retired.

When I asked how his bride was doing, he gushed, "She's 18 years younger than me and she's doin' just great!"

By 1974, Norman had taken a job at the Department of Energy as part of the new solar energy program. When I asked if Jimmy Carter hadn't put solar panels on the White House, he was tickled to death. "Our program did that!" he told us proudly. I didn't bother mentioning how Reagan had ripped them out, though I'm sure he had an opinion on that, too.

Norman's funniest story was about his fellow engineer who'd driven his Jaguar XKE through Huntsville, Alabama in the '70s and gotten a ticket for changing lanes 57 times. Ah, the '70s.

Personally, I'm in awe of the cop who had patience enough to wait through that many lane changes before pulling the guy over.

Saib, the Pakistani who drove us from Cantlers to the Middleton Tavern was a poster child for immigration. A US citizen for 10 years now, he enthused about his wife and 3 kids, the wonderful life they've carved out in this country and his hopes for his children's futures.

When he heard I was from Richmond, he wanted to tell me about his very favorite kebab restaurant, which just happens to be in Richmond and how he'll finish his shift and hit 95 to get there because their kebabs are that good. When 2 1/2 hours is just too much, he'll grab his second favorite kebabs. They're conveniently located in Crystal City, which still seems like a fer piece to drive from Annapolis for a kebab.

Then again, who am I to tell a Pakistani where the best Virginia kebabs are? And why is Maryland so lacking?

When I left my friends at Middleton's listening to a blues band, it was for an Uber ride with a young man who, it turns out, not only grew up in nearby Midlothian but is doing his pre-med at VCU. Currently, he's working at G.W. University (coincidentally where I was born) on a research project. We talked about Richmond the entire four minute drive home and as I exited his car, he thanked me for the dose of home.

Now I ask you, what are the chances I'd climb in the car of a local guy while at the Annapolis waterfront? Apparently pretty good.

Besides absorbing the sagacity of assorted Uber drivers, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my friend's new main squeeze, a decidedly funny man ("I'm just a pork-eating Jew boy," he cracked after admitting his new-found fondness for pancetta thanks to her) with a passion for music (our pancake breakfast began with Linda Ronstadt, moved through kd lang and settled on Gary Clark) and with the added benefit of being a wine rep.

Translation: he brought scores of Roses (heavy on the Loire Valley and Spain) for us to sip through.

But when it came time to get out the needle to taste Callejon de Crimen Gran Reserva, a pricey and stellar Mendoza Petit Verdot, it was just the two of us since my girlfriend insists on sticking solely to whites and Roses. Her loss, at least when it comes to wine. When it comes to him, I think she's got a keeper.

The funny part is, the last time I was up there was April  when she was still smarting from the breakup of a long-time relationship, convinced she'd never find the right partner for the rest of her life.

Ah, my little petunia, you just never know what the Adjustment Bureau will lay lay at your doorstep.

It's like what Norman the Uber driver told us in parting: "Every new journey happens for a reason."

Allow me to be the first to say amen to that.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Catch the Moon, One Handed Catch

Apparently I need to leave town to have time to blog.

Now that I'm ensconced on Amtrak's quiet car and headed north, I finally have time to look back at this ridiculously hot and continuously busy week trying to play catch-up after the beach. A week that meant pitching new stories to my editors, planning upcoming getaways (you know, like next weekend and, oh, June 2019) and trying to get back into some sort of cultural life after a week doing little more than worshiping at the altar of the crashing waves.

Independence Day meant a walk and an interview about death followed by a seventh floor terrace view of the fireworks at Rockett's Landing. The challenge was getting into Rockett's before practically every adjacent street around it was closed. Trying to pull into the parking lot, an official-looking security guard stopped my car and asked if I had a permit.

Pshaw, I don't need no stinkin' parking permit. Instead, I pulled out my Rockett's pool pass where my smiling face matched the smiling photo and he stepped back, smiling and saying, "You're good! Come right on in."

A shame I hadn't brought my bathing suit.

Up on the terrace, we bypassed a small group already staking out the chairs and loveseats to take up residency on the southwest corner with a view of over a dozen boats anchored in the river. Before long, the terrace crowd grew behind us while we sipped Italian Rose, nibbled on chocolate and watched the endless line of cars trying to navigate all the roadblocks.

When the fireworks display finally kicked off, we had a primo view, not to mention slightly more distant views of two firework displays on southside, the displays at the Carillon and at the Diamond, plus a couple more somewhere north of us (Dorey Park?).

It was nothing short of a fireworks wonderland from that rooftop.

Thursday evening was given over to taking my favorite fan of show tunes to Virginia Repertory's stellar production of "West Side Story," but only after settling for dinner at Tarrant's (my grumbling about the venue was met with a reminder from my partner, who reassured me, saying, "We have 30-some years to eat at good restaurants") after my first choice, Chez Fosuhee, turned out to be closed for the 4th and 5th. Ever adaptable, we made do with the back-most booth (he loves his prospect and refuge) where we were surrounded by fellow theater-goers.

The blue hairs at the booth in front of us probably got an earful, never more so than when I made a crack about a love hangover and one woman's head nosily whipped around like it was on a swivel. Hilarious.

After having seen "Romeo and Juliet" together a few weeks ago, "West Side Story" was not only added theatrical romance, but visually stunning, beautifully choreographed and proof that some plays are truly timeless. Issues of immigration (the Puerto Ricans reminding the Polacks that they used to be the newcomers), assimilation and overstepping policemen felt as relevant now as they surely did 60 years ago when the play debuted.

The late, great Jerome Robbins' groundbreaking choreography for "WSS" was on full display with a cast that often moved as one unit and in the air. Richmond Ballet dancer Paul Dandridge played A-Rab and his full-out extensions, his graceful hands and his skill at getting air and lifting his partner were nothing short of breathtaking to a lifelong fan of dance.

But equal love has to go to the 11 members of the band - reeds, trumpets, trombone, violin, synthesizer, bass, percussion and drums - who made Leonard Bernstein's music soar to the rafters inside the November Theatre. And don't even get me started on the unabashed brilliance of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and internal rhymes.

I feel charming, oh so charming
It's alarming how charming I feel
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I'm real

I feel stunning and entrancing
Feel like running and dancing for joy
For I'm loved 
By a pretty wonderful boy

Honestly, I could happily go back and see it again if I had a free night in the foreseeable future. As if. From the expectant wonder of Tony's  "Something's Coming" - a feeling I experienced for the first time back in February - to the unbridled optimism of "Tonight," seeing "West Side Story" with the right person was a revelation, both theatrically and emotionally.

If, as my friend of 40 years Leo has always told me, I am a hopeless romantic, this was the production to indulge that part of me.

Last evening was also spent in the Ward, making the rounds for First Friday, albeit with umbrella in hand given the scattered thunderstorms hovering above and promising relief from the punishing heat.

I never miss Candela Gallery's annual "Unbound" group exhibit, which I love for its variety as well as for the gallery's commitment to purchasing some of the pieces with the intent to donate them to a worthy institution someday (I'm hoping for the VMFA, natch).

This year's "Unbound 7" didn't disappoint, although my favorite photographs were straight out of my era: the '70s. Micheal Abramson's three vintage gelatin silver prints spoke to me with portraits of men with Afros and women styling in polyester dresses and big hoop earrings. The images had an authenticity to them that would be impossible to recreate today.

Making our way to Gallery 5, I ran into the silent movie king and, a bit further on, my favorite harmonium player before checking out the downstairs market and the friends behind the tables. Upstairs, I found myself scanning Courtney LeBow's portraits for people I knew and there were plenty including both the friends I'd just seen on the way over as well as musicians, muralists, puppet-makers, burlesque ringmasters, the mayor, the bartender and, of course, artists I know.

Sort of a who's who of local subculture and a solid reminder of how many talented people I"m lucky enough to know in this town.

We finished off the evening with a major dose of estrogen humor at Comedy Coalition's "Till Death Do Us Part: Decorum Manor," an ongoing live comedy series about a group of women trying to learn how to be ladies, which meant changing best friends, shunning the stuck-up rich girl and meeting the birth mother who donated her eggs 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, some of the funniest bits concerned the differences in the cultural literacy of varying age groups. Let's face it, millennials have no clue who Sarah McLachlan is or why Lillith Fair was such a big deal, much to the consternation of those who lived through the '90s.

Best of all, when we walked out, the rain had dropped the temperature enough to offer what felt like a new lease on summer. I just can't promise how reliable I'll be at documenting mine.

Just know that it's going splendidly and I do feel pretty. Oh, so pretty, but I can definitely believe that I'm real.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

And the Beat Goes On

The consensus was that it was too hot for whipped cream on body parts.

We didn't reach that conclusion immediately - I mean, who does? - but rather after kicking off our Fourth of July eve with a food orgy followed by a record party, where the subject inevitably came up.

Holmes, Beloved and I met at his house for celebratory glasses of Graham Beck Brut Rose before heading to Dinamo for dinner. Luckily, we had an 8:00 reservation because the place was full up and people never stopped coming in the door. Finding an open restaurant tonight was no easy task given how many have posted "gone vacationing" signs on their social media pages.

Sitting at one of the Rob Womack-designed tables, I had a new appreciation for the tables and artwork after seeing Womack's work as part of the "Coloratura at 35: A Retrospective" show at the Branch a couple weeks ago and shared the back story with Beloved, my fellow art geek.

But not for long because a bottle of Miano Brut Catarrato arrived, our cue to start ordering enough food for a proper pre-Independence Day feast. I'm talking fish soup, egg in creamy tuna sauce, crostini with cured salmon, capers and cream cheese, arugula salad with olive-oil poached tuna and shaved Parmesan, mussels in white sauce and white pizza with mushrooms.

If it sounds like a lot for three people, it was, but how better to celebrate our break with the mother country than with gluttony? I will point out that we eschewed dessert for the simple reason that even gluttons have their limits.

Back at Holmes' man cave, we listened to some recent record finds from an estate sale, beginning with one I wished I owned: "Smash Sounds," a compilation of 1967 hits that launched our record party like a bottle rocket into the July night sky.

Not gonna lie, I didn't even know all the songs and artists, but that didn't stop me from enjoying every single one, including Otis Redding doing "Respect," a song I hadn't known he'd written.

The first side ended with Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," a complete shift in musical mood from what had preceded it, which caused a group singalong while Beloved rifled through record stacks, Holmes poured himself some whiskey and I danced in my bar stool.

Everyone was in their happy place, in other words.

Reluctant to listen to side two because of the unfamiliar songs, I insisted and we were rewarded with what sounded like the hip, '60s soundtrack to a swingin' cocktail party we all wished we were at. Side two had plenty of slow songs for close dancing, but when I commented that it was good grinding music, Holmes looked confused. Beloved not so much.

Apparently women who lived through the '70s are far more familiar with the term than men.

I got to make the next pick and chose the seminal 1976 album "Silk Degrees" by Boz Scaggs, causing Holmes to complain that he couldn't get behind Boz because he abandoned Steve Miller's band to strike out on his own. Beloved and I, no fans of the Steve Miller band, had no such issue.

I can't say what decade I last heard "Silk Degrees" but I'm here to tell you that the moment the white boy soul of "What Can I Say?" began, Beloved and I were immediately transported back to 1976 and all that meant to us (youth and lots of dancing in clubs).

But to make Holmes feel better, I shared that three members of Boz' band went on to form Toto, so he too must have felt the pain of abandonment. Holmes, no Toto fan either, decided to learn more. "Let's do some research the way old people do," he said, grinning, and fetching a musical compendium where we looked up Toto and wound up taking all kinds of tangents while "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" blared at top volume.

Over the next three plus hours, Holmes told us about the room where he listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and how while tripping ended up passed out in the woods. "Who found you?" Beloved wondered. "No one, I decided to get up," Holmes answered as if she were an idiot. Meanwhile, my musical IQ benefited from Holmes' detailed explanation of what a Moog synthesizer was and could do.

Next up was the Troggs' "Love Is All Around You," also from 1967, and as groovy a song as we could have hoped for at that point in the evening, despite its poor recording quality ("That's part of its charm!" Beloved insisted and I agreed). Holmes reminisced about taking a girl and a blanket to a grassy knoll and playing the song for her on his 12-string guitar.

Now that's some major '60s style romance right there.

"Krupa versus Rich," Traffic's "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" (lots of sparking tonight) took us into Independence Day before my hosts walked me outside to say goodbye. There we were greeted by a yellow half moon that resembled nothing so much as a thin wedge of lemon, causing the three of us to stand in the middle of Grove Avenue at 1:30 a.m. admiring it.

What can I say? At some point, you just have to decide to get up and go home.