Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Conversation Peace

Not to be too specific, but my interest in origami can be traced back to the evening of April 15, 2001.

That evening, my then-boyfriend and I had plans to meet his arty VCU friends for drinks at Baja Bean, but he bowed out at the last minute because he hadn't finished his taxes (don't get me started). Mine, on the other hand, had long since been mailed off (it was the olden days, kids), so I figured I'd go solo.

It wasn't like I didn't know all of that arty crowd anyway.

The new face in the group belonged to a Peruvian sculptor who was doing a short residency at VCU and after being introduced, we settled down to happily converse for a couple of hours. He was a fascinating person with intriguing stories and since it was unlikely we'd ever see each other again, there was no reason not to talk about everything.

When I said goodbye, it was after a thoroughly satisfying evening talking to this man. End of story.

So you can imagine my surprise the following week when the VCU dean who'd brought the Peruvian into the bar that night shared that he had a gift for me from the artist who'd since returned home: a bronze-colored origami crab he'd crafted that night after meeting me.

It's an utterly amazing thing, this elaborate crab - complete with claws - folded from a single piece of paper. A gift from a man I'd never see again created for no other reason than to demonstrate his pleasure in the short time we'd spent talking.

These days, it occupies a place of honor atop my stereo receiver and invites conversation about origami. All of that's a roundabout way of saying of course I'm going to be interested in Lewis Ginter's outdoor exhibit of bronze, steel and aluminum origami, an invitation extended to me back in April, not to mention all the way from Japan.

Naturally, I'd said yes then and now we were finally making good on plans made while we were on different continents.

Given the heat and sun, I had no shame in bringing along my pink Victoria's Secret umbrella to act as a parasol as we made our way through the gardens. I wasn't the only one happy to carry her sun protection, either, which gives me hope that parasol pride is still growing.

Having the origami pieces scattered around the gardens all but ensured a haphazard path through them as we'd spot one in the distance and then have to try to figure out the best way to get there without missing anything along the way.

Given the heat, we also weren't shy about pausing at any shady bench we came to and letting the waves of sweaty humanity pass us by.

Artist Kevin Box and his collaborators - his wife, Jennifer, plus four origami masters - had managed to create metal sculptures that not only had the delicate detailing of folded paper, but also appeared to be as light as paper. Looking at a sculpture like "Flying Peace" (the most complicated origami crane ever folded) with its pleated wings, tail and head and legs stretched out behind it is to marvel at the minds and hands of artists inspired and brilliant enough to conjure up such a thing.

One of the simplest forms resembled nothing so much as a simple white folded paper boat set adrift in the middle of a pond. I felt cooler just looking at it.

We almost missed "Who Saw Who?" because it was tucked away in the children's garden, dangerously near the splish splash area rife with shrieking children. It was a tableau of an owl and a tiny mouse on a rock, each eyeing the other warily.

Yet again, we had to remind ourselves that the sculpture in front of us had begun life as a piece of folded paper. Truly amazing.

Looking at "Folding Planes," I was immediately reminded of the Air Force Memorial just outside of Washington, with its gracefully arcing folds reaching skyward. "White Bison" was exactly that, but my takeaway was learning that bison stand and face an oncoming storm, a fact I find unfathomable.

And if we were looking for a personal metaphor, there was a lot to be said for the wisdom of "Nesting Pair" and not just because of the beauty of two cast stainless steel cranes hovering above a cast bronze nest made from olive branches.

Because, you see, it gets even better: Most artwork is a self-portrait of some kind. This composition naturally emerged at a time in our lives when we were building a home together and discovering the value of compromise. ~ Kevin Box

Shoot, substitute "relationship" for "home" and "pleasure" for "value" and we're there.

As for my bronze crab, it's a daily reminder that you never know what might result from a great conversation. As for my origami-loving partner, ditto.

And as I was reminded afterward eating and drinking at Peter Chang's, if he can make me laugh, too, it's all over. P.S. It's all over.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I Defy You, Stars

Summer may not have officially begun, but its ways and means are well underway.

The bedspread is packed away (the cotton blanket soon to follow), heat naps have become the norm on unbearably sticky afternoons and the 20th annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival is in full swing at Agecroft Hall.

Now, I know that sitting outside in the courtyard of a 500-year old house on a summer night isn't everyone's cup of tea (Pru's complaints run from the humidity to the uncomfortable chairs to the bugs), but for decades, it's been mine.

Don't waste your love on somebody who doesn't value it.

Although my date wasn't technically an Agecroft virgin, it had been enough years since that one long-ago visit (for a party, not a play) to dim its full memory. Right there you know I just have to give him the full experience. Add in the production - "Romeo and Juliet" - and I'm in my element making sure we cover all the bases.

Intermission on the stone terrace, for example. A picnic dinner. The usual.

Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.

We were the first to spread a blanket on the lawn behind the gardens for a picnic with a diminishing view of the James and the bridge. Despite being non-natives, we both extolled the good old days of less verdant trees allowing for wider vistas from the lawn, ending up sounding like old-school Richmonders always assuming the past was better than the present.

Maybe it's something in the humidity.

Did my heart love 'til now?

The costumed young players moved from blanket to blanket, offering up scenes to accompany the al fresco dining going on, and though we never got asked, we had great seats for two scenes from "Taming of the Shrew," a play I inevitably enjoy.

I know, I know, plenty of people take issue with its chauvinistic overtones, but I can overlook that because of Petruchio and Katerina's brilliant dialogue (just as good but without the machismo: Beatrice and Benedick's parrying in "Much Ado About Nothing"). Those two sure can talk.

Under love's heavy burden do I sink.

When it came time to go to the courtyard to find seats, the location was left up to me, presumably the pro. Usually I'm a front row kind of a gal, but at Agecroft, that sometimes makes you part of the show.

I got pulled onstage once and told to scream on cue. I did it several times, but I'm no actress. Better we sit in the second row where we lucked out when no one sat in front of our view. More good first-timer vibes.

'Tis an ill cook that can not lick his own fingers.

I have no idea how many times I've seen "Romeo and Juliet," but a stellar production can still wow me every time. Quill's James Ricks had fashioned a teen-aged love story with equal parts sass and heart. And may I just say how utterly refreshing it is to see a Romeo still within reach of his teen-aged years? Tyler Stevens had the face and voice - not to mention all the young man bravado necessary to woo a major crush - to nail Romeo's youthful/testosterone-fueled exuberance.

Educated men are so impressive!

And don't get me started on Todd Patterson's scene-stealing depiction of the swaggering Mercutio. It was as if David Bowie and Mick Jagger had a love child and he channeled his parents to do Shakespeare (and then maybe bed a wench). Loyal, lascivious and oh-so fluid in his movements. a pity since he dies in the first act.

Seek happy nights to happy days.

Eventually the sun went down, the fireflies came out and both the lovers were dead. Everyone left was devastated. I don't know when I've had such a romantic evening.

Oh, wait, yes I do. Never mind me, that's just a fume of sighs...

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sunday Light, Summer Night

Electronica was the cherry on top of my Father's Day sundae.

Don't get me wrong, I got up early, grabbed lunch for all at Nate's Bagels and was in the Northern Neck to see Dad an hour before noon. It was a hot river day with only the occasional breeze and a fine haze still burning off the Rappahannock when I joined Sister #2 on the screened porch. Sister #3 arrived not long after and the time was passed with nothing more strenuous than conversation.

Even better, I came back with leftover crabs, meaning my first priority once back in Richmond was covering the outdoor table in newspapers and going to town on crustaceans in my shaded but still sticky-hot backyard.

Don't let the weather whining fool you, I was in heaven because they were outstanding - large and meaty - and I was happily reveling in a day that included two of my very favorite food groups: Nate's bagels and crabs.

But also music. And not just any music, but electronica, a genre I love but see live far too infrequently.

After a post-crabs heat nap, I woke up half an hour before showtime and made it to the Broadberry not long after Salt Lake City's Choirboy had started their dark pop set. Everything about their sound spoke to me, from singer Adam's incredible vocal range (a blend of Tears for Fears' Roland Orzabal and ABC's Martin Fry) to bass lines that owed their existence to the Cure to synth stylings reminiscent of Depeche Mode. Sigh.

I was immediately sorry I'd missed any of their set, given blond Adam's charismatic delivery and killer voice.

During the break, I scanned the crowd for familiar faces, even knowing that plenty of music friends wouldn't bother with a Sunday night show, and saw not a single one. What I did see plenty of was what I have decided is the electronica male stereotype: tall, skinny and with long hair and by long, I mean past their shoulders. That's not some random generalization, either, that's pure observation.

To give you some idea, there were dozens of guys in front of the stage who fit that description and there were only 300-some people at the entire show. Electronica = lotta long, tall drinks of water with serious hair.

Scanning the crowd, it occurred to me that standing at the Broadberry for three hours watching three bands was as good as it gets tonight and just exactly what I needed after three hours sitting in a hot car today.

Next up was L.A. band Black Marble (guitar and bass over drum tracks) and their post-punk sound reminded me why I'd fallen hard for Interpol 15 years ago and why I'll never tire of hearing young bands find their own interpretation of post-punk. Singer Chris Stewart's voice seduced my ears while the relentless beats and bass lines spoke to other body parts.

Both opening bands had delivered such strong sets that I could have gone home happy and felt I'd gotten my money's worth and the headliner hadn't even appeared yet.

When I saw Cold Cave last it was January 2017 and that show had been sold out, and while the weather outside had been frightfully cold, as usual it had been miserably hot inside Strange Matter. The Broadberry followed suit tonight, the temperature rising to an uncomfortable, stifling level and then the a/c kicking on just long enough to make you feel like you weren't going to pass out after all.

I'm not complaining, I'm just acknowledging that music and sweat go hand in hand.

It was the kind of heat that made you want to move as little as possible, while the bands tonight were relentlessly ensuring that you couldn't possibly stay still. We electronic fans are a bunch of dancing fools, temperatures be damned, and it wasn't long before I could feel my hair getting damp at the roots as my body looked to cool off any way possible.

Cold Cave never disappoints visually and tonight's set featured an elaborate light show (black an white pinwheels, fields of black and white sunflowers), strobe lights, songs sung in darkness while the lights were focused on the crowd and as much fog as you'd expect from a project so devoted to the darkwave synth-pop tradition.

That era was also mirrored in all the high-waisted jeans and shorts I saw on so many young women tonight, a style some of us were rocking in the '80s, first time around. Just like the music I'd come for.

And don't even get me started on how many Father's Days Dad and I have celebrated together at this point. It's like the number of crabs I've eaten since the Reagan years (you know, back when he was trying to make ketchup a vegetable in school lunches).

More than I care to count, but each a pleasure. Like dancing and sweating to electronica.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Everything is Beautiful

A dancer.

That had been the answer given years ago when a former boyfriend had been asked the question, "If Karen wasn't an editor, what would she have been instead?" I remember being surprised at the response while also knowing there was a kind of truth to it.

Granted, my dance training had amounted to three years at Miss Rita's School of Dance, but assuming that this was a bigger picture question, his answer wasn't far off. If I could have been exposed to real dance training, I think I'd have loved being a dancer, even given the relatively short span of a dance career.

So what better play to see to remind me of what never was than Richmond Triangle Players' production of "A Chorus Line" with my posse? The hardest part of seeing it was acknowledging that I remember when it debuted back in the dark ages of 1975.

After a stellar meal at Belmont Food Shop - the crab-topped Spring pea sformato over pea shoots was positively swoon-worthy - that began with amuse bouches of housemade pate, as well as gougeres, plus a hug from a long-time favorite chef now part of the kitchen there, we joined the throngs of theater-goers eager for one singular sensation.

I have little doubt that I saw "A Chorus Line" at the Kennedy Center back in the '70s, but the intervening four decades all but ensured that I had limited memories of it. Besides, if you lived through the '70s, you're not supposed to remember them, right?

Needless to say, I was surprised at how many of the Marvin Hamlish-penned songs besides "One" and "What I Did for Love" I knew (I Hope I Get It, I Can Do That, At the Ballet), a fact no doubt reinforced by all those Ghostlight After parties I attended at RTP where local actors got up and sang show tunes. Of course, to them "A Chorus Line" had been an "old" Broadway show, whereas to some of us, it represented the new breed of musicals that began taking over in the '70s.

But last night, it felt as rooted in the here and now as in that long-ago decade. In a nod to the 21st century, rather than cookie-cutter bodies, these dancers looked like real people of various shapes and sizes, similar only in that they could all dance and sing so well.

And while the entire cast was strong, I found my eye kept returning to Alexa Cepeda as Diana because her energy was so strong and her smile so beautiful, never more evident than when she brought down the house singing "What I Did for Love." Of course Alexander Sapp nailed the role of the imperious director, although it was hard not to miss watching him act since most of his lines were delivered from the back row.

The buzz among local theater geeks had been about how RTP was going to manage to stage this 17 actor-play on its petite stage, but I'm here to tell you they not only did, they made the audience forget its size when that chorus line was stretched out across the stage. It can't just be us wanna-be dancers who marvel at a well-executed kickline.

I may have missed out by choosing writing over dancing, but one thing I won't miss out on is seeing "A Chorus Line" a second time.

A girl can still dream of what could have been...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Obligated to Be Among the First

If a tone was being set tonight, it was an admirable one.

The Institute for Contemporary Art was hosting its inaugural Cinema Series and first up was Afrikana International Film Festival with a program simply entitled, "Richmond Speaks: A Short Film Showcase."

Mac was at my house by 5:30 and we strolled over to the ICA, dodging the speeding and ineptly-driven cars carrying crazed relatives of soon-to-be high school graduates. These days, both the Seigel Center and the Altria Theater are churning out multiple graduating classes a day, meaning it's a congested mess to go anywhere from Jackson Ward. That includes going to Lowe's - I know because I tried it this afternoon - barely 3/4 of a mile away.

First up was walking the entire perimeter of the block that houses the ICA so we could see it from every angle, including looking east from Grace Street against the traffic. Once we got inside for the films, it was only to be stopped cold and red-faced because we were those idiots who hadn't reserved tickets and now they were all gone.

I don't know who was more surprised at the oversight, Mac or me. Generally, we're pros at these kind of events.

Since it was sold out, there was nothing to do but put our name on a waiting list and browse the galleries until they determined who didn't show up. Failing that, the plan was to stream it live in the lobby and we'd try to snag a seat on one of the couches. Either way, we'd get to see the films and the post-film discussion, so we were happy.

Things worked out well for us because of the people who'd gotten tickets and then been no-shows, so we nabbed seats in the second row just before Afrikana founder  Enjoli Moon greeted the audience with some heartfelt gratitude and a bit of a preview of what was to come. One point she repeatedly stressed was that as tonight's first audience for the series, we were witnessing the start of something important, something with the potential to encourage Richmond's much-needed race conversation.

Then to bring it to a close with full southern charm, she announced, "Without any further ado, I will hush my mouth," and the Richmond-made films began.

"May It Be So" showcased the grassroots effort of one woman to ensure that the city memorializes its black ancestors and their burial grounds, insisting that, "We have the right to take care of our own ancestors." Her one-woman campaign to keep pushing for a truthful acknowledgment of Richmond's past, including the uncomfortable parts, proves the power of every voice.

Part of a larger social justice series, "Adrian's Story" focused on a man who'd been in trouble with the law since he was 15 and served time and probation repeatedly. Finally, he became a barber's apprentice and began to see another way of life. Seeing him cut the hair of street people who can't afford haircuts almost has Mac and I in tears

I'd already seen the third film,  "Don't Touch My Hair RVA," a fascinating look at what Richmond women consider "going natural," interspersed with shots of every type of black hair imaginable: braids, Afro, straightened, corn rows, even a black albino woman with natural platinum blond hair. That it had been made by a VCU ph.D student who'd never made a film (or even held a camera) before only made it more compelling and fun.

During a panel discussion with the filmmakers, the young couple who'd made "Adrian" were asked about their choice of subject matter. "If we can use our white privilege to undermine white privilege, we believe we're obligated to do so," as clear a point as could be made if any racial progress is to be made.

The last talking point of the evening revolved around what the ICA's role in the community needs to be now that it's open, state-supported and smack dab in the middle of the city. Enjoli probably said it best, hoping that the ICA embraces its role as needing to be responsive to the entire community, not just the traditional audience (not to be confused with the inaugural audience) with wide-ranging programming.

As an inaugural audience member, I'm not sure the ICA could have had a stronger kickoff to their new film series, even if more than one wine glass was heard shattering when everyone stood up after the final applause. We put our money on glass being banned in the auditorium from here on out, but maybe it's just a learning curve.

Mac and I did our own post-film discussion at the counter of 821 Cafe over a massive platter of black bean nachos we couldn't finish, while the restaurant filled up behind us. Next to us, a couple of guys discussed alcoholism in the workplace and asked about the taco special, which had already sold out.

You snooze, you lose. Just like those idiots who'd gotten tickets for tonight's screening and then not come, who'll never be able to say they were there when the ICA was brand new and you could still score a last-minute seat in the auditorium to hear Richmond speak.

How fitting that the ICA gives us a place to hush our mouths and listen.

Giddy and All In

It's been a while since anyone complimented me on my firm handshake.

But that's exactly how the Dutchman in the blue/green house greeted me after I said hello and extended my hand. And that's before I'd even handed off a bottle of J. Mourat Rose to him as a contribution to the evening's festivities.

My partner-in-crime/favorite traveling companion and I were there, in fact, for sipping and nibbly bits (as Pru likes to call them) accompanied by travel conversation - past and future - with he and his artist wife. But that came after admiring the art-filled house they'd completely renovated four years ago - including removing the balustrade from the staircase, turning mere steps into an eye-catching architectural focal point - and her compact backyard studio.

Part of the conversation was about change. Because he was Dutch and part of her youth had been spent in Europe, both carried memories of a time when far fewer tourists crowded desirable destinations. After dealing with massive crowds in Madrid and Amsterdam a while back, she'd had enough (her term was "a meltdown") and was ready to go home if they couldn't find a place less clogged with tourists and selfie sticks.

As someone who refused to even go in the Louvre gallery where the Mona Lisa hung for exactly that reason, I felt her pain. What was astounding was her adoring husband's reaction: he immediately returned all the tickets that had been procured for the remainder of their itinerary and instead found a small village in southernmost Italy for them to spend the rest of their vacation time.

Like any sane people, they were soon seduced by the region, resulting in them now owning a house there. Even better, a house they let out to close friends. And while I didn't yet qualify, my handsome partner apparently does, so for such a devoted planner, this was the kickoff for him to start another planning binge.

When we weren't talking travel, the womenfolk were comparing notes about how we got to Richmond in the first place. I thought I'd had it bad arriving here from D.C. in 1986 and first living in Chesterfield County before high-tailing it to the city, but she took the prize when she shared that she'd arrived in Colonial Heights in 1983. Ye gads.

After checking out the area, she'd promptly driven home to Boston, a reaction I find completely understandable. No intelligent, much less creative, woman should have had to live in Richmond back then and yet here we were: two survivors and glad we'd stayed.

As we got up to go, I was asked about my favorite restaurant (no one such thing, but I do have multiple top choices) but I turned the question on my hosts, who copped to liking Fat Dragon, Bacchus and Galley.

So after we'd said our good-byes, I thought our next stop should be Galley Market so I could deflower a Giustino's pizza virgin while furthering the travel talk. For the first time, I sat at a table among the shelves of groceries, rather than the counter. A Greek salad was followed by a Bianca (yes, I know I'm a creature of habit, but I wanted to make sure his first pie experience was one I could vouch for) and a whole lot of talking about everything. Like we do.

I was especially taken by his assessment of our long weekend in Irvington about how we have more conversation than any other two people would even think possible, much less intensely pleasurable. And he's right.

Walking to the river with Mac yesterday, she commented how my blog posts continue to sound giddy, even as I really do try to rein in my euphoria when blogging. "I love that you're so happy," she told me, cracking wise about my rose-colored glasses.

And it only took 32 years from my arrival in Richmond to get to that beatific point. And if I thought that time flew by, it's nothing compared to the warp speed that's become my new normal. It's like what the late, great Anthony Bourdain said. "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."

Enjoying. Every. Second.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

To Fall Down at Your Door

Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation. ~Angela Carter

Let's call tonight an evening of deja-vu in the Ward.

When I saw there was a touring pop-up photo exhibit at Black Iris Gallery, I considered starting my evening there. When I saw that it was an exhibit of large-format black and white photographs by Bill Daniel, the deal was sealed. That's because back in the dark ages of 2010, I'd gone to Gallery 5 to watch Daniel show a trove of lost and found music acts filmed between 1965 and 1987 and it had been fascinating.

As much as I'd enjoyed that, why wouldn't I want to see his photographs of skateboarders, punk bands, graffiti and the like from the past 35 years?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

The photographs were such snapshots in time, from the airborne skater with a Circle Jerks sticker on the bottom of his board to the punk singer - Fender guitar slung to the side and guitar pick between his bad teeth - playing the cowbell. Or put another way: it was an era when so many punk musicians were wearing Black Flag t-shirts to prove their cred.

Daniel captured the punk ethos in photo after photo, never more so than in a shot of a dingy music club door with a handwritten "NO MOHAWKS!" sign on it, in front of which was a mohawked guy in mid-jump in front of it. Another showed an old VW van modified with three sails atop it, presumably to increase the van's infamously slow pace.

Gawking at a photo of two '80s show-goers (her shoulder pads and bangles, his eyeliner and piercings), I heard my name and turned to see my favorite artist/DJ couple. After chatting about the exhibit and her new baby chicks (one of which she said likes to ride on the back of a full-grown chicken like it's a pony or something), we reverted to our favorite topic: what we're reading.

After mentioning Roberto Bolano, she asked if I'd ever read the English novelist Angela Carter, a new favorite of hers. Negative, I said and we launched into one of our standard procedure book talks (like we do) that involved her recommending Carter highly for her feminist, magical realistic style of writing. Sounds right up my alley.

But it was when she asked what was new with me that I had that moment. Where do I start when I run into friends I haven't seen for a while? In this case, I may have mentioned the update to my relationship status and having just returned from a long weekend at the river.

"Ooh, I like a man with a house on the river," she enthused with a knowing smile, since they live in his house on the Chickahominy River, a charming place, complete with chickens, that I'd visited last year. So she knows.

When I departed Black Iris, it was for some theater at the Basement, where I immediately ran into Foto Boy and his betrothed, an actress/director who was looking fabulous and theatrical in a way I could never pull off. Our first stop was at the bar in search of  alcohol for her, caffeine for him and sugar for me. Hey, whatever gets you through the play, right?

We were all there for the preview of TheatreLab's production of "Gruesome Playground Injuries," a play with which I had some familiarity, having seen a staged reading of it back in 2011. I said it was a night of deja-vu, after all.

Despite the intervening years. its poignant yet disturbing story had stayed with me. Imagine two kids who meet in the school infirmary at the tender age of eight; she's throwing up non-stop and he's ridden his bike off of the school's roof. Because boys are dumb.

The hook is that they immediately bond over shared maladies, touching each other's wounds and scars, while over the next thirty years, they continue to see each other periodically, always due to one or the other's sickness or injury. And to be clear, it's a story with many, many funny moments despite the gruesome injuries.

A dungeon is a place where people can go to languish.

They're both damaged souls and whether it's a fireworks accident that causes Doug to lose an eye or Kayleen's self-medicating and cutting, the two continue to share an increasing bond of personal pain throughout their friendship/love.

I don't want my first kiss to be with you. AND I just threw up.

When I'd first seen it, I kept hoping that they would acknowledge their feelings for each other, but there were always hospital beds and comas and psychiatric institutions keeping them distracted from their true feelings.

The top ten things anyone has ever done for me were all done by you.

As with any two-actor production, it's all about the chops and chemistry of the actors and Jeffrey Cole and Rachel Rose Gilmour nailed their characters in all their dysfunction and tragedy. Cole singing in a thick Scottish brogue while trying to dance with Gilmour to the Proclaimers' "500 Miles" was nothing short of masterful. And hilarious.

One particularly clever device was that the scenes didn't play out in chronological order, so we saw them first as children, then young adults, then back to teens, then slightly older adults and so on, while music marked scene transitions and the passage of time. From Aimee Mann's "Save Me" through David Gray's "Please Forgive Me" to a cover of REM's "Everybody Hurts," the music helped with the ten- and fifteen-year jumps the script made while providing time for the actors to change clothes onstage.

TheatreLab, you never cease to impress me.

As an added accompaniment to the theatrics we'd come to watch, throughout the production we also got a symphony of jackhammers blasting Broad Street just outside the Basement's door. It was the sound of the city desperately trying to finish up the Pulse construction for the touted completion date and while the cacophony was superfluous to the story, it did add a certain city grittiness.

Punk photographs, an emotional tour de force of a play and an unexpected chance to catch up with two favorite couples along the way. Exactly what a city woman needs after languishing at the rivah for a few days.

And by languishing, I mean having the time of her life.

Monday, June 11, 2018

As Dreams Make Way for Plans.

I can see the t-shirt now: I spent three days in Irvington and all I got was a lousy coffee mug

Except that's nowhere close to all I got during the time that Irvington - and my host with the most - were spinning their three-day charm offensive on me.

And I can say that even after slogging through a grueling Friday afternoon traffic jam on I-64 (the sign warned of a vehicle on fire at mile post 209, a vehicle long gone by the time I made my way past the mile marker) that turned an hour and 20 minute drive into a solid two hours, one hour of which was spent creeping along at 5 to 15 miles an hour happily listening to Paul Westerburg's "14 Songs."

On your mark
Here I am
I'm your spark
Runaway wind

I didn't mind a bit (windows down, sunny skies, weekend plans to look forward to) considering what (and who) was at the end of the journey. And while my new mug may be the only tangible souvenir (besides photos), I returned to the city with some pretty wonderful memories.

Like a trip to the River Market for picnic supplies where the affable and aproned owner Jimmy was kind enough to come from behind the counter to meet me and then extol the virtues of his hand-prepared food (the Thai noodles were stellar). He was invaluable in helping us choose our picnic fixin's for an evening at Good Luck Cellars sipping their Vidal Blanc and Petit Verdot while listening to a rather talented musician cover the discography of my youth.

Or like a mid-morning canoe ride on Carter's Creek accompanied by a who's who history of the houses, docks and boats we were gliding by. Electric boats? Who knew? And while I did do some rowing, there's also photographic evidence of me taken from the back of the boat that shows the paddle across my lap and arms leaning back on the sides of the canoe, that prove how easy I had it.

There was the second picnic of the weekend, that one at Belle Isle State Park on the Rappahannock, where a foreboding gray sky couldn't diminish the serious blues chops of the surprisingly young Tom Euler and his trio. Think John Mayer without the bad decision-making.

And speaking of decisions, I knew the performance was doomed when a park ranger stood nearby scoping out the thunder and lightening providing the light show. Only an hour into it, she told Tom that for safety's sake, they needed to stop the show. The trio obliged by playing the whimsical "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as picnickers packed up chairs, blankets and pic-a-nick baskets to head to safety.

But not to go home. If you know me, you know I love a good storm, especially on the water, which is how we ended up moving the truck to a better vantage point facing the river to watch the sky unleash its fury. Let's just say the drive home resembled nothing so much as driving through a monsoon with occasional roadside stops.

The after-affects of all that rain was on full display when my brilliant host suggested a walk at Hughlett Point Nature Preserve the next day. Whether walking on trails or a slightly raised boardwalk through forest and wetlands, we were surrounded by mosquito breeding pools standing water on all sides thanks to last night's torrential downpour.

But the payoff was emerging from that to - ta da! - a pristine sandy beach that fronted the Chesapeake Bay and had not a soul on it besides us. With nothing built anywhere nearby, it was like being on an abandoned island, with the warm waters of the Bay lapping at our feet as we walked.

There weren't even any footprints in the sand. When a small wave hit at just the right angle, it sent a drop of salty water flying into my open mouth, as if to make the moment completely unreal.

What we did come across was the equivalent of a sculpture installation: a dozen or so massive pieces of driftwood, most of which were still the size of full trees, albeit laying on their sides. It was unreal and beautiful, occupying almost the width of the narrow beach not long after high tide. A small part of the beach was closed to walkers because of nesting shore birds and the northeastern beach tiger beetle, whatever that is.

I have a new favorite place on the Northern Neck and I have my considerate host, ever the planner, to thank for giving it to me. Among other things.

There were breakfasts eaten on the deck overlooking Carter's Creek, a walk into town and a stop at The Local for drinks, a bagel sandwich (bacon and cucumber on an everything bagel, yum) and a look at local art, and more conversation than any other two people could possibly stand.

As for that mug, it now holds a place of honor on my desk, a reminder of a most memorable weekend and what could be considered my new life philosophy: "Keep calm and love an architect."

Nothing like stating the obvious. I mean, thanks, but both are already second nature.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Take What You Want and Leave the Rest

Being ridiculously happy seems to leave little time to blog.

It's not like I'm not still doing stuff because of course I am. After all, I'm me, so how could I not?

After a meal in service of my hired mouth, Mac and I went to the Basement to see TheatreLab's production of "Topdog/Underdog," marveling at the tightly wound performances of Jeremy Morris and Jamar Jones as brothers with issues in the Pulitzer prize-winning play.

The production clocked in at a hefty two hours and 45 minutes (I knew I had that padding for a reason) and I thought Mac might have to dip out at intermission because of having to go to work early tomorrow, but instead she admitted how sucked in she was by such compelling performances.

Props to first-time director Katrinah Carol Lewis for providing her actors enough room to the create full, albeit flawed, characters before us.

Granted, we walked out of there feeling as if we'd been beat up, but truly great theater is always affecting in some way.

I finally made it to Goatocado, notable for the killer Tuscan arepa (Oaxacan cheese, red pepper, greens, guac and corn in a corn cake) I ate along with a pomegranate ginger-ade, but also for the 50 minutes it took some hapless, young employee to hang the canvas triangles that provided the scant shade on a sunny, blue sky day.

After ten minutes, I was feeling his pain because he was out there in the blinding sunlight without sunglasses. When I questioned the wisdom of that move, he explained that he didn't like clipping sunshades to his regular glasses. But isn't it excruciating to be out here with no sunglasses?

"I'm thinking next time I get glasses, I'll get that kind that darkens in the sun," he explained. "You know, 'cause I don't want to get cataracts." How cute is that?

And for the record, he hung and rehung those triangles unsuccessfully and repeatedly, finally asking two fellow employees to help - one to hook the pieces and the other more knowledgeable one to direct - for over 50 minutes before they were hung properly. Meanwhile, customers like us who wanted to eat outside (inside was full) had a choice of minimal shade or no shade, not the best options on a bright June day at high noon.

Fifty minutes. Have I mentioned that I weep for the future?

Lady G had finally re-surfaced and since our last rendezvous had been March 30, we were in dire need of a blather. Her suggestion was Lemaire at the Jefferson, fine by me as long as we ate outside on the patio and not inside with the business stuffy clientele.

Our table afforded a view of Franklin Street and featured a music speaker that looked like a rock in the flower bed adjacent to us. Yea, it was corny and kind of Flintstones-like, but, hey, it worked, turning the miscellaneous noises of the city into background for the jazz that was playing.

Because our time apart had encompassed April and May, Lady G insisted that it was a birthday celebration and let me choose the bottle: Argyle Brut Rose from a winery I'd visited. And while it took an inordinate amount of time to arrive (it appeared to be our server's first night and he was doing his best, at least at joking with us), it was worth the wait.

When our young server made the rookie mistake of placing the stand holding the wine near the outdoor server's station rather than tableside and G's glass went dry, she did what any self-respecting woman does: walked over, took possession of the stand and bottle and set them in their rightful place within easy reach of us.

The five-top table of young millennial women next to us knew they were in the presence of greatness. "We applaud you taking control!" one called out as the others clapped.

Someday you, too, will just take what you want, grasshopper.

We swapped updates over chilled English pea soup, crispy fried deviled eggs with cornichons and red pepper jelly and Pernod-steamed mussels with apple, fennel and chorizo while we watched people sit down and wait 20 minutes for anything more than water. Luckily, we were in no hurry, not with all the life evaluating we had going on at the table.

At one point, our charming server arrived unexpectedly and a tad out of breath, smiling and saying apropos of nothing, "I've missed you both so." What can you do but crack up at that? At the very least, a sense of humor is essential in the service industry.

We ended the evening on my balcony, where Lady G's birthday gift to me - a bottle of Chateau Kalian 2015 Monbazillac, an organic dessert wine with gorgeous notes of orange and lemon, but also with nice acidity - was opened and sipped chilled as dusk descended on Jackson Ward.

As she does every time she's on my balcony, she commented on some of the high-up architectural details on the house next door. The kind of flourishes barely visible from the street, but striking from mere feet away on the second floor. The kind of thing an artist notices and that's what Lady G is.

She and I have been swapping stories and keeping each other abreast of where the bodies are buried for two decades now, and if that's not worth toasting, I don't know what is.

Check that. Also worth celebrating is finding someone who keeps me so busy talking, laughing and traveling that blogging is all but forgotten.

Sorry/not sorry. Happiness and devoted attention, I have missed you both so.

Monday, June 4, 2018

His Intellectual Trophy

It's not like you have to be head over heels in love to appreciate an unexpected romance.

Back in 2009, I went to see "Julie and Julia" expecting to come away with a fuller picture of how Julia Child became Julia Child. Instead, I was captivated by the love story between Julia and Paul Child and how devoted to each other they were, while the storyline about Julie was downright annoying.

The movie sent me straight to Chop Suey in search of a used copy of  Child's "My Life in France" so I could read more about how their romance and relationship began and flourished. I reread it five years later just to remind myself about that kind of love because I hadn't experienced it yet.

Tonight's film choice, "RBG," at the Criterion was based on nothing more than being a documentary dork and wanting to have a fuller sense of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legal accomplishments. Really, that was it. That her life contained a major love story was a complete and utterly wonderful bonus to learning how she changed the legal landscape for women in this country.

And while I vaguely recall those landmark gender disparity cases she argued as a lawyer in the '70s, when you look at them in hindsight, it was a remarkable entity she was knitting together to enlighten the all-male Supreme Court about the realities of being a woman in a weighted society.

I'm sure my Mom would have been even more impressed with the fact that the Notorious RBG lived by her own mother's cardinal rules: Be a lady. Be independent.  In many ways, those two things were mutually exclusive during the first few decades of RBG's career.

But where I fell hard for the well-executed documentary was with her romance with her husband Marty. RBG was up front about why she'd been so attracted to him after a string of first dates that never turned into second dates: "He was the first boy I ever knew who cared I had a brain."

Can we just have a moment of gratitude for all the men astute enough to be drawn to a woman's brain back in the dark ages of the 1950s when women were expected to excel at housekeeping and motherhood, not forming opinions and reading law? And RBG wasn't shy either about saying, "Meeting Marty was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me."

Call it mush, if you must, but I call that pure romance.

Clinton was downright blunt about considering her for a Supreme Court nomination, saying that he'd known within 15 minutes of talking to her that he wanted that mind on the nation's highest court. The interesting part was that, despite her legal accomplishments and days on the DC Court of Appeals (a feat accomplished because President Carter was determined to put women and minorities in judicial positions - go Jimmy, incidentally the first president I ever voted for), her profile was too low and her demeanor too reserved for her to be on anyone's short list for a judgeship.

Enter Marty who began a campaign for her to at least be considered and, lo and behold, she winds up in Clinton's sites, allowing her the opportunity to wow him with her keen mind. And I think we all know Clinton appreciated a good mind, even if he was, shall we say, distractable.

The documentary tried to unpack RBG's lofty place in popular culture usisng millennial lawyers and even her own granddaughter gushing about what a role model and brilliant thinker she is. But, of course, it's bigger than that. The Notorious RBG is cool in a way few 85-year olds could ever hope to be.

Which reminds me of a screened porch discussion I was having with Pru and Beau the other night after a sensational meal at Lucy's (snapper with the texture of lobster in a coconut/ginger sauce with jasmine rice and matchstick green beans and red peppers, oh-so tropical-tasting) and seeing the Golden Girls-esque "Always a Bridesmaid" at Swift Creek Mill Theater.

Favorite line: "I just want to met a man who hates all the same things I do!" Good lucky, honey, that's harder than it sounds.

And on that night, Pru was looking at the big picture, inquiring of us, "Is this the coolest you've ever been in your life?"

Beau didn't hesitate, announcing that he was most definitely at his coolness peak (have you seen that swoop?) and frankly, this is probably as cool as I can ever hope to be after so many years as a nerd. Maybe not full-on cool, but at least less non-cool than before.

But when I turned the tables, her disdain was immediately evident when I asked if this was her coolest period.

"Uh, no!" she said with all the conviction of someone who'd been breaking rules and breaking bad for decades, while Beau and I had been ensuring that we never colored outside the lines.

And RBG's been exhibiting her brand of effortless cool even longer than Pru.

Legal accomplishments aside, I'm even going to say that her storybook romance with Marty alone elevated her into the cool kids' club. Let's face it, most people never get lucky enough to meet their person, so when it happens, it's automatic cool cred.

Which means I may have a shot at cool after all. Thanks, brain.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Walk Away, James

I was so ready for a good walk on a beautiful day.

To start, I began by giving myself permission to skip Broad Appetit this year.

Which means when I finally set out to walk around 11:00, the festival was just getting going, necessitating me navigating past all things Broad Appetit. It didn't, however, stop me from giving props to a volunteer at Jefferson Street who'd come prepared with chair, boom box tuned to vintage soul, large thermos and lunch box. Clearly not his first Broad Appetit rodeo.

Downtown was deserted, making for an easy walk cutting diagonally through empty parking lots as I came down the hill to the still muddy brown river. The downside of walking the canal walk was hearing a pipsqueak of a tour guide explain to his group that the Street Art Festival murals they were standing in front came about as a way to deal with what he called "blighted properties." I almost interrupted his patter to suggest "neglected properties" was a far more apt term.

Tell me about the blight, son, because I recall zero blight. Know what you're talking about before you go spouting off. But who am I to stop some twit from foisting his misconceptions on visitors?

I'm just a walker who hasn't been on the pipeline walkway in weeks and was determined to correct that today. That the weather was perfect for being outside - overcast, 72 degrees and breezy, especially at the river - only validated what I'd known when I set out: that this was going to be a good walk. Even finding a "trail closed" sign at the end of the pipeline walkway didn't dismay me (though I did re-attach one side of the sign to ensure the closed message was clear) because looking at the pipeline surrounded by raging river ahead, I knew people didn't belong on it.

But walking into the wind, against the direction of the water flowing, is not my usual direction, so I especially enjoyed the fierceness of the river's energy walking west. Strangely, returning in my usual direction was anti-climatic after that.

Capital Square was shady and quiet, but things got livelier once I hit the bustle of Broad Street. Fellow walker and Valentine director Bill Martin paused long enough on his way back up Church Hill to entreat me to go to Broad Appetit, though he wouldn't tell me what he'd eaten.

"Do you have a husband?" a smiling man joked to me further on. "Because I'd like to discuss that with you." Crossing First Street, a guy smiled politely and leaned toward me. "If you keep walking like that down there (gestures with head toward Broad Appetit), you're going to cause a traffic jam." I don't care if he was making it up as he went along, I thanked him with a smile.

And thought to myself, ah, yes, the Broad Appetit crowd has arrived. My presence here is no longer required.

Pardon me while I get ready for the rest of my Sunday and the reason for my comment-worthy happy mood. Lucky me, I finally have my own compliment source.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Thunder Only Happens When It's Raining

Seeing the same movie twice in ten days? Oh, please.

Do I sound like I have any extra time? Au contraire. Is this an issue for me? Not for a second. So when I repeat a film so quickly, it's easy to assume that it's a slightly trashy guilty pleasure, likely something in the RomCom wheelhouse. Except no.

I mean yes, there's romance, but the real draw is the rarity of seeing onscreen women - ranging in age, mind you, from 65 to 80 - portrayed as smart, accomplished, funny and, most unlikely of all, sexual beings. It's four actresses giving effortlessly authentic voice to an age usually relegated to characters who are wise or cranky/funny, but rarely shown as objects of desire.

And I've got no idea how much work these actresses have had done, because it wasn't about their physical condition so it doesn't matter. It was about interesting women, none of whom were at their first rodeo and all of whom were fully formed characters. Like all my girlfriends and all five of my sisters.

It's ridiculous how refreshing it is to see such characters onscreen, even with the prerequisite reminders that oldsters aren't pros with technology (there's a difference in being adept and being addicted, just sayin'). Generally, you have to look at French films for sexual depictions of women of an age, something American films shy away from.

So, yes, I returned for another dose of age-appropriate romance and friendship but I'm here to say there's no shame in that and if there is, I don't care. If it happened more regularly, I wouldn't be so excited.

Besides, it's not like I didn't eventually head to Gallery 5 for First Friday and a little live music. And since it was after 9, the line in front of G5 was 20 people deep but what's a little queue time but a chance to talk to strangers?

The first words out of my mouth when a fresh-faced young woman joined the line behind me was, "Now those are impressive! Looks like something we wore to clubs back in the late '70s," referring to the silver lame gaucho pants she had on.

"Why, because they're comfortable?" she wanted to know. No, because they're glitzy and looked cool on the dance floor, grasshopper. That they were totally synthetic meant they were also hot as hell to dance in, so definitely not comfy.

Turns out she was from Nashville, here two years and liking it because Richmond has so many fewer addicts and alcoholics, at least according to her. "Here you smile at someone and if they smile back at you, it's a real smile. In Nashville, it's a mask to hide something." Deep stuff in line. Even so, she acknowledged that Richmond is not her forever place, though she senses someplace like Santa Fe or Morrocco is.

Unless you go there and decide to come back here like so many other people do, I tell her to laughter. She has a million questions about Gallery 5 shows and she's run into just the right person to fill her in until we made it inside.

First up was locals Fat Spirit, pulling from post punk, with some shoegaze and psychedlia thrown in and making me smile as I heard references to bands from multiple decades.  Some guy near the front kept heckling, insisting that he wanted to get onstage and sing a song. Finally, the lead singer told him to just stop asking because the sound guy had said no, but it had to be annoying.

During their last song, my Nashville friend tapped me on the shoulder and said bye. Godspeed, newcomer.

During the break between bands I went upstairs to see an exhibit about urban heat and vulnerability in Richmond via a series of colored maps showing areas affected. Living, as I do, in the center of the city, I shouldn't have been surprised to see a map showing that J-Ward rated the highest vulnerability to urban heat or another indicating how small its tree canopy is. And don't get me started on our high percentage of impervious surfaces.

My kingdom could use more green.

This wall full of maps only confirmed what I already knew: when it's hot in the Ward, it's far hotter than in many areas of the city. For the record, this is why I've taken heat naps two of the past three days.

Back downstairs, I found a prime spot to watch Philly's glammy Sixteen Jackies, a quartet with an eye for rock fashion. Joey, the lead singer, wore a gold lame top belted at the peplum over a three-tiered flounced black skirt. Oh, and pearls.

If he wasn't a former theater kid, he missed a golden opportuntiy.

One guitarist resembled no one so much as the Who's Roger Daltrey during his white t-shirt, shoulder length curls and sunglasses phase, while the other nailed the British invasion look with a dark, flowered shirt, white scarf around his neck and mop top hair hanging in his eyes as he played. The drummer was no more than a head of long blond hair flying side to side.

Adorable doesn't begin to describe them. The singer's voice was part sweet sing-song and part ferocious growl with everything in between set to highly theatrical charisma: swiveling hips, drops to the floor, belt twisting, grand arm gestures and moments of speed shredding.

Once the band had exchanged instruments, it took a while for the mostly young crowd to realize the band was covering Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," but no time at all to see how singer Joey was masterfully channeling his inner Stevie Nicks for the song.

Now here you go again, but could there be a more age-appropriate way to spend a sticky June night than listening to a song from my youth sung by an earnest band of young Philadelpheans? Not tonight anyway.

It's just too bad the depiction of older woman as smart, accomplished, funny and sexual left out the part where they can't resist a little hip-shaking in a sweaty building if it means hearing live music. That kind of older woman.

Hopefully coming soon to a theater near me.