Sunday, September 30, 2018

Eat Me, Drink Me

The way to a man's this woman's heart is through her stomach.

Knowing that, Himself had booked a Dubrovnik food tour for late Saturday afternoon, requiring us to be at the bell tower promptly  at 4 to meet our guide, Tea. A native Croatian full of facts, lore and high dramatic ability, she was not the original guide slated to lead the two Americans and two Aussies, but a last minute fill-in.

Lucky us.

Her first order of business was asking each of our professions  - banker, counselor, writer, architect - so she could work pertinent information into her spiel whether it related to food or not. And this was after she delivered the entire military and political history of Croatia to us (to the complete and utter boredom of the banker who rolled his eyes repeatedly) before we even moved from the under the tower.

If she brought up Tito one more time, I think the counselor would have choked her.

At our first stop for antipasto (local goat, sheep and cow cheeses, Dalmatian ham, octopus salad, olives, crusty bread) and wine, she regaled us with viticulture facts and her life history as the music from a  nearby wedding blasted through the streets. Seems she lived a few blocks away, so the fact that multiple weddings are held every Saturday was a terrible inconvenience to her.

"That's why I need these," she said with disdain, lifting up the pair of ear plugs that hung around her neck. Not long after, she pointed out the wedding party, visible at the end of the street, making their way toward the church.

When I asked if she was going to eat and drink with us, she pooh-poohed the idea, saying that she couldn't possibly because she was on duty. Please, Tea is a professional.

Explaining what a Roman Catholic country she and Croatia are, she inquired about our religion, or, more accurately, she asked about the religion of the banker - Anglican, resulting in a discussion of her thoughts on the Anglican church - and the architect.

For the record, absolutely no inquiries whatsoever were made about the religion of either woman.

Even better, when the architect mentioned he was a Polish Jew, she looked right at him and announced with a coy smile, "That's why you are so beautiful." Her charm offensive was only beginning at that point.

When music began for the second time, we were just finishing up our starters and barely beginning to feel the wine.

"Let's go see the bride and groom," she instructed and we were off. Walking between buildings, she pointed to a ledge on the wall about three feet off the ground. "You see these thick legs of mine?" she asked, pointing our her cankles. "When we were children, we walked along this ledge and you couldn't fall off, so we got sturdy legs."

I didn't have the heart to tell her those ankles were pure Croatian DNA.

Once at the end of the street, she had nothing but disdain upon realizing that it was a Zumba competition, not the nuptials of soul mates that was responsible for the blaring music and her pace picked up noticeably.

At the miniscule restaurant tucked away on a side street that was destination #2, we settled into a long table with Tea holding court at the end. Everyone crowded into the far end of the table, leaving me to sit next to our voluble guide.

Wine was delivered just before the open kitchen began delivering course after course of food. Tuna tartare, fish pate, squid risotto made black with squid ink and a local specialty involving pasta and long-braised beef that showed clear ties to nearby Italy quickly covered the table top.

The difference with our second stop was that when I offered Tea some of our leftover tartare, she smiled demurely and said, "Well, I can have just one bite" and proceeded to polish it off. When I suggested she try the fish pate, again her "just one bite" became multiples. Pretty soon she was demolishing the rest of our risotto and pecking at the pasta.

Stuffed already and it was only stop two, she announced that our next stop was at La Dolce Vita for the best gelato in Dubrovnik. But rather than ramble on about gelato, she took a tangent about Anita Eckberg's breasts spilling out of her white bathing suit in the Fellini film by that name.

No one gets to derail Tea when she's on a tear,

Walking down the cobblestone streets behind her like we were playing Follow the Leader, she heard music playing and began swaying her hips suggestively, looking coyly over her shoulder to see if anyone noticed.

The banker was aghast, but the two glasses of red wine at stop #2 had mellowed him enough not to grab his wife and make a break for their hotel. It was about at this point that I began to wonder if Tea wasn't taking a nip in between stops.

After we'd each gotten our gelato, she looked at us and said, "Let's go somewhere forbidden!" and led us into an adjacent coral workshop  where the shopkeeper explained Croatia's long history with coral. Seems there are only 12 coral diver positions available in Croatia and when someone dies or tires of  plunging to the depths of the Adriatic, their position is passed on to a family member.

That said, there were some incredibly beautiful pieces of coral fashioned into jewelry, including those set into Star Wars-related pieces. No kidding, the storekeeper had a coral light saber pinned to his lapel. A Storm Trooper figure modeled a magnificent  necklace.

Clearly the Croatians are still reveling in "The Last Jedi" having been filmed here.

Next came Tea's art gallery, a narrow space filled with sculpture and paintings, where her assistant proceeded to pour us shot glasses of Orahovac, a green walnut liqueur of the deepest brown. Never one to miss an opportunity, she delayed our departure by explaining first how it was made and then about the two artists being shown on the gallery walls.

Needless to say, Tea had no problem sipping Orahovac with us.

On the way to the next stop, we lost track of Tea, who showed up in time to lead us through the kitchen of a bustling restaurant during dinner service, to the obvious amazement of seated guests outside.

I could only imagine how much the kitchen staff hated us.

The only problem was that as she went sashaying through the kitchen, a server carrying a tray came through the door to the patio, resulting in a collision, broken plates and a whole lot of noise.

"It wasn't my fault!" Tea proclaimed to her followers as we walked around shards of broken china into the warm night air. Again, her walking became dancing and I was convinced she was nipping every chance she got, regardless of her claims to refrain while on duty.

Hey, no judgment here. Drink away, honey, and we'll all get along better.

As we made our way to a pastry shop to savor a dessert of four kinds of cake - orange (my favorite), carrot, almond (proclaimed by Tea as "This one is the best!") and chocolate, the subject of YouTube came up and how difficult it was for her to find specific videos. The Aussies mentioned their YouTube videos, but it was when the architect mentioned he had videos that she lit up. "I want to find you!" she enthused.

Clearly, someone needed to hose Tea down.

When the proprietor asked what we wanted to drink with our pastries, I had the unmitigated gall to ask for water, further arousing Tea's disdain. The architect tried to save me by ordering the local plum brandy (45 proof, leading to a discussion of, yuck, vodka) for me, although no one else could stomach it. At least it got me back in Tea's tolerant graces.

I tell you, it wasn't easy being a woman on Tea's tour.

Our final stop took us to Wine Bar Matusko, located in one of the many caves built into the basements of Dubrovnik houses that she'd told us about.  Down below was the wine cellar. Settling into couches in the back of the dimly lit bar, generous pours of their best white and red wines showed up on the tables in front of us.

And, just like that, Tea cut bait. This woman who'd overshared that her husband wants her to stop working and stay home (granted, she had to be of a retirement age), who'd told us about her second home on a nearby island where she goes to escape the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik, who'd ranted about the cruise ships charging no fare for children and thus inundating Dubrovnik with squalling children, now had places to be. Immediately.

And like a ship in the night, Tea walked out of our lives, leaving us stuffed and loopy.

We lingered with the Aussies, sipping wine and reliving all the hilarious and inappropriate things Tea had said over the course of four hours. When they decided to call it a day, we were left to finish their untouched second glasses and talk to our heart's content.

Occasionally a couple or small group would take over one of the couches, glasses in hand, but we barely looked up and outlasted them all. Only servers remained when we said goodnight.

And somewhere, Tea the tour guide was probably breaking dishes and dancing at the silent disco. You know, like native Croatian woman with thick ankles do on a Saturday night.

Me, I was enjoying walking Dubrovnik's main drag full and happy in the moonlight. You know,.like women who travel on their stomachs do.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lost in Dubrovnik

Yes, sir, I will happily travel 4,000 miles to eat fried chicken with the right person.

And if that means a two hour delay at Dulles (after Mac delivered me with her usual sunny kindness) while waiting for thunderstorms to move through, so be it. If it means my 2 1/2 hour layover in Dublin (the mother country, finally!) is reduced to a power walk from gate to gate, that's fine, too.

And, horrors, even if it means I get up from lunch on the first day and completely forget my purse - passport and all - and don't discover my stupidity or recover it for five hours, well, that's just the way it goes.

Let's just say I couldn't help but spontaneously hug the guy at the restaurant when he brought it to me that night, a big smile on his face. For that matter, I hugged him again the next morning when I ran into after breakfast. It took until today to just smile and greet him without wantonly showing my gratitude.

Because now that I've been here three days and come out of my jet lag coma, I'm here to say that Dubrovnik is a pretty spectacular place any way you look at it. And I'm looking at it every way I can, from the centuries-old limestone walls to the red tiled rooves of the walled city, from the narrow winding streets overlooking the Adriatic to the view from our hotel room through green shutters overlooking the café-filled cobblestone streets.

Every day begins with breakfast at Alcove 5, the hotel's rooftop restaurant with a view of the impossibly blue sea, a weather vane-topped bell tower and scores of red rooves, the car-less streets not even visible from on high.

Breakfast itself is just as delightful. So far, I haven't been able to tear myself away from a thick round of housemade brioche topped with avocado chunks, radishes, sundried tomatoes, fresh radishes and cherry tomatoes under a flurry of Feta accompanied by fresh-squeezed orange juice, loving how decidedly un-American a breakfast it is. Himself has moved between an equally unusual bowl of salmon, avocado, quinoa, soft boiled egg and arugula and a more standard yogurt and fruit bowl, but he doesn't turn down bites of my brioche, either.

Part of the breakfast view is the line of tourists walking the wall, but we assume those must be people from the cruise ships anchored at the port, because who else is out and about at 10:30 when we're just having our first meal of the day? German tourist with black socks and brown shoes, that's who. Ahem.

I'm charmed by the everyday here. Even something as simple as lines of laundry - we've seen everything from white sheets to a black bra - hanging outside so many houses in the September sunlight catches my eye. Laundry never looked so charming in our country.

Walking along the waterfront, we're amazed at how clear the water is and how tiny some of the boats are. Young men in the tightest and briefest of swim trunks (or maybe it's their underwear, I couldn't really say) jump off the edge of the point near the fort and then stretch out spread eagle to dry off in the sun, while Japanese tourists snap their picture.

Dinner last night meant meeting the Australian couple I've been hearing about for a while now and they were not only as delightful as I'd heard, but funnier than I could have hoped for. Seeing a part of the world that's completely new to me is wonderful, but the satisfaction of dishing with people who've known Himself longer than I have and chose to share some riotous stories involving red wine fountains and gin-soaked nights? Priceless.

I know many of the visitors to Dubrovnik were attracted to it because it's where "Game of Thrones" is filmed, but it turns out that "The Last Jedi" was also made here and there are enough Star Wars t-shirts walking around to prove it.

We, of course, care about neither.

After hours of walking around, past hostels and apartments, into a museum devoted to olive oil, inside dark churches smelling of incense and old wood, we paused for a snack at Ding Dong for one main reason: the three slender wooden tables for two that rested on the narrow, steep steps between streets.

As if by plan, the front one vacated just as we arrived and we sat down without knowing what we were getting. Turns out there was one thing and one thing only on the menu - Korean fried chicken in a variety of sauces from mildly hot to maddeningly hot - and that was just fine by us.

After taking our order, our server Pavo looked at Himself quizzically and asked, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like...?" and we both knew what was coming. Picture-taking ensued (it always does because no one believes he really isn't Richard Gere), as did Pavo's recommendation that we eat with our fingers, not utensils.

Not to worry, I assured Pavo that if we were going to have our first meal on tables bolted to cobblestone steps, he could be damn sure we were going to do it finger-lickin' good-style.

I may be in Dubrovnik for the first time and I may have been brain dead for a while, but no one needs to tell this girl how to eat fried chicken.

Much less how to enjoy every bit of this with the right person. The right person.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On Not Paying Attention

You have to be awfully distracted to get the date of a movie wrong.

I could defend myself by saying that after years of attending regularly, I know that VCU Cinematheque is usually held on Tuesdays. But that doesn't tke into account that I checked online earlier today to verify that the Byrd, not the usual Grace Street Theater, was the venue.

It was, but somehow I missed the date.

So after accomplishing everything on my to-do list - walking, writing, editing, shopping, interviewing, handing off - I hi-tailed it to the Byrd, only to find an empty box office and closed doors because a private event was in progress.

(sound of record scratching)

Out comes manager Todd, saying how nice it was to see me. What about VCU Cinematheque? He looked at me, asking, "L'Avventura?" Yes, yes, the Michelangelo Antonioni film I was so eager to see.

"That was Sunday at 1:30," he said, trying to make it sound like an error anyone could make. Oops. And just to make sure I didn't pull the same bonehead mistake next month, he reminded me of another Cinematheque Sunday screening in October.

But I am nothing if not adaptable, so while I'd really been looking forward to a 1960 Italian cinema classic, I punted.

That meant going back home, doing some more writing, some hemming and finding a small, arthouse movie at Criterion for later. Ciao, Italy, and hello Britain.

But just to keep my streak going, I bought my ticket  for "The Bookshop" and promptly walked into the wrong theater, sat there for ten minutes and finally figured out that if no previews were showing, I must be in the wrong place. Because theater 4 and theater 3 are apparently not interchangeable. So I moved to the correct theater where I find I am the sole occupant. Probably best.

"When we read a book, we inhabit it," the film begins. "And the story keeps playing in your head." Tell me about it. I couldn't stop replaying "Loving Frank" after my girl crush began it and recommended it to me last month. After reading it, I was so caught up in the story that I peppered her with my thoughts for weeks, at least until she finally suggested we have a book dinner, the better to discuss it in depth.

Meanwhile, this sweet, little film involved smelling books (c'mon, who doesn't?), discovering Ray Bradbury and books delivered in brown paper packages tied up with string. There were multiple long takes of the sea, grasses blowing in the wind on the point and rain on cobblestones.

And you know what? Bill Nighy made it all worthwhile, never more so than when he kissed our heroine's hand. It was just the thing after a couple of ridiculously busy days.

Now that everything's done, I can finally take a deep breath and relax. I'm good to go.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Don't Wanna Live as an Unsung Melody

I know, I know, I'm living the dream. Today, at least.

First there was the interview done on the terrace (bigger than my entire apartment) of a S1.6 million penthouse. That was followed by the sublime pleasures of a foot massage, which is something akin to orgasmic for a daily walker.

But wait, there's more. The really big deal was going from waking up not knowing who the Struts were (English glam rock band) to seeing them play live shortly after lunch. And loving it.

Credit goes not to XL 102, the radio station sponsoring today's afternoon set, but to Facebook, which listed the appearance as an event. My brain went into overdrive: hmm, I never heard of these guys, but they have several things going for them: they're English, they're glammy and they're playing a mile away during a time of day I won't be working.

I'm so easy.

When I mentioned the band to Mac on our walk to the river this morning (swollen and overflowing the banks of Brown's Island, the pipeline nowhere in sight under so much rushing water), she immediately knew who they were. Too bad she had to be at work right about the time they were taking the stage at Capital Ale House.

Eager beaver that I am, I arrived before they'd even opened the doors, although I could hear them sound-checking as I walked by in the rain. The hostess said the band had had a flat tire on the way, so the set might be delayed.

A few minutes later, they allowed us in and a curious crew of glam rock fans followed, only to be told we weren't allowed to stand by the stage, but had to sit. Mild grumbling ensued as people found chairs.

I tend to think there's something in the glam rock bylaws that states differently, but I found a table to sit and people watch from. There was the Clark Kent-looking guy in a suit, tie and glasses and a blond woman dressed Stevie Nicks style and teetering on ridiculously high platform shoes.

The woman who sat at my table explained that she no longer had the wherewithal to stand for shows ("It's not that I'm old, I just don't have the drive anymore"), although she had a ticket for the Struts' show at the National tonight so I feel sure there'll be standing in her future.

Sitting in a darkened music hall, surrounded by the detritus of Oktoberfest (banners for Lowenbrau and Weihenstephaner hanging on the walls) waiting for the XL Session to begin, it occurred to me how random it was that I was even there.

We had to get through some XL 102 DJ introducing the Struts, reminding the crowd that the band had opened for the Foo Fighters in D.C. last year and were on tour in support of their upcoming album, "Young and Dangerous."

Then the Struts came out and everyone rose to their feet, causing lead singer Luke (with a strong resemblance to a millennial Freddy Mercury, sporting a killer grin and wearing an over-sized newsboy cap) to begin his charm offensive with, "Good morning!" Pause. "You may be seated."

Never mind that it was just after 1:00. Perhaps they were still on Derbyshire time.

The guys playing the two guitars and a drum box sat in bar stools while Luke stood at the mic and announced that the earworm "Body Talks" would be the first song. "Snap your fingers!" he instructed the room and we obeyed. "In time, please!" he called out immediately.

So right away, he got points for humor.

After the song, he asked, "Anyone here going to the show tonight?" and most everyone hooted their affirmation. "I hope tonight's audience is as loud as you are!"

The band slowed it down for "Somebody New," a sweet song about not being ready to love again that not only showed off how strong Luke's vocal chops were, but also how charismatic he could be. My only regret was that he was dressed in traveling clothes rather than the glammy Zandra Rhodes outfits he's known for.

Even so, he had major stage presence.

Between songs, a fan called out a request and then another. "We're not taking requests right now, but I applaud your enthusiasm!" Luke joked before taking off his cap and letting loose a mane of dark hair. So rock star-like.

"Could Have Been Me" followed, an anthem for living without regrets if ever there was one, and then, just like that, it was over. The woman sitting with me had guessed that their set would last 90 minutes and I hadn't had the heart to tell her we'd be lucky if we got 5 songs.

Three, we got three, but they were all strong. What do you expect for free, anyway?

The trade-off was that the band was willing to pose for photos with anyone wanting to line up, so there was a rush to where the DJ stood as everyone who'd skipped out of work or was spending their lunch hour getting their glam rock fix beat feet to have a picture taken to prove it happened.

Not me. I headed straight for the door, my glam rock memories already etched in my head. Fact is, if I hadn't already had plans, I'd have bought a ticket to their show at the National tonight.

I wanna live better days
Never look back and say
Could have been me

Not bloody likely living the glam rock life. Regrets, it seems, are for those who let their drive die.

Don't look at me. Every day's a better day.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Death of Summer and Other Sob Stories

Dream it
Do it
Repeat
~ sign seen on my walk in the rain this morning

Yesterday was such a busy day that I didn't even realize Fall had arrived. No, that realization came when it was time to go to bed and I had to get out a cotton blanket for the bed. I know, I know, some people would  have just closed the windows, but I'm not one of them.

Knowing how much I had to accomplish today, I woke up at 6:45 and tried, to no avail, to go back to sleep. Finally, at 7:45, I gave up and got up despite having had nowhere near my usual nine hours of sleep. Now that I think about it, that could have had something to do with the 10 1/2 hours I'd gotten the night before, but I'll never know.

Still, I'd like it added into the record that I was awake before sunrise today. My reward was stopping by Nate's for a bagel on my walk, but the price I paid was having to listen to - wait for it - "Eye of the Tiger," "Uptown Girl" and "I'm So Excited," some of the worst '80s pablum I can recall, in succession while I waited for it.

Some sacrifices are worth it for a really good everything bagel with scallion cream cheese served to me by Nate himself in an Obama t-shirt. Suddenly, the cooler weather was tolerable, even if I did have to resort to a hoodie over my t-shirt. Mind you, still worn with shorts.

The day was a blur of writing, laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, reading the stack of a week's worth of the Washington Post and, saddest of all, moving the beach chairs and umbrellas from the car to the basement for another year.

And, yes, there was a nap, although unfortunately it was a rain nap rather than a heat nap, but it did the trick. Thus fortified, I was ready for some culture: a one day screening of "Rebel Without a Cause" at Movieland.

And don't tell Pru, but no, I'd never seen it. Oh, the cultural gaps I still possess.

Buying my ticket, the girl behind the counter expressed incredulity. "What I wanna know is how you people even knew we were showing this movie. We didn't advertise it. It's from, like, 1955!"

You're right, honey, that is old, a fact I feel secure in saying since it came out before even I was around. As for my intel, it was Facebook that had alerted me to the TCM Classics event - in CinemaScope! and Warner Color! - and I'd promptly marked it down on my calendar.

As you might expect for a rainy, cool Sunday evening show, everyone in the theater tonight was of an age. The balding guy in front of me showed up with a David Baldacci book in one hand and a beer in the other. The couple to my left each held boxes filled with chicken fingers and fries on their lap, making for their own little Cinebistro.

Footage of TCM's Ben Mankiewicz explaining how significant the film was came first and then we were transported back to the days when high school students who got arrested at night (you know, kids who are in the pre-juvenile delinquent stage) were wearing suits, or, at the very least, slacks, vest and button down shirt and tie.

That's definitely a world I never knew.

But as every cultured person on the planet except me apparently is aware, the film takes place on the first day of school and it's not exactly picture-perfect. Knife fights, playing chicken with cars, tires being slit, a kid meeting his death driving over a seaside cliff, did all '50s high schools have a first day of school like that or was that just in California?

And don't get me started about a 2:00 field trip to the Planetarium on the first day of school, either. Impossible! When did the kids bring home the permission slips? Hello, was anyone working continuity on this film?

The seriously '50s details included our hero drinking milk from a quart glass bottle, Mom serving a fish souffle for dinner, little brother's noisy atomic ray gun and the kind of aprons that covered a homemaker's entire dress front, with an enormous bow tied in the back. The Dad, played by Jim Backus aka Mr. Magoo and Thurston Howell III, had a particularly emotive moment wearing said apron in an attempt to clean up a fallen plate of food before his shrewish wife saw the spill and berated him.

And if you think that's quaint, how about a cop responding to a kid with a gun by saying, "Come here, son," and approaching him slowly and calmly? Fiction or just plain dated, you make the call.

But I have emerged with a new appreciation for James Dean's face and physique Method acting, especially since Ben informed us that he improvised  a lot of his dialog and directed many of the scenes, including that opening one where Dean was drunk in the street and playing with the monkey toy.

Back in the days when a kid like him would be brought in to the station on "plain drunkenness." Ah, the good old days.

But what matters today isn't that I've finally seen a movie the Library of Congress deemed culturally, historically and aesthetically significant. It's that it's Fall and I'm already resorting to blankets and additional layers.

If I dream of summer, can I get a do-over and then repeat it for the rest of the year? I have it on the best authority that's how it works.

But the World Goes Round

It's hard to leave the beach on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon.

Beau and I did our final beach walk, spotting more than a few sandpipers in search of their fling. If we have accomplished nothing else this week while lounging about, it was researching and learning the plural names for birds. Sandpipers are what started it and someone guessed their group name would a be a "flute," which isn't all that far from a "fling."

At various times, we learned about a scurry of squirrels, an unkindness of ravens and a stand of flamingos, but my favorite remains the fling. For obvious reasons.

I took the longest possible outdoor shower I could manage, knowing I won't be soaping up outside with a view of the sky and the sound of the waves for some time to come.

After bidding goodbye to Pru, Beau and Queen B, I made my way up the beach road toward home. "Prayers for down south," read a heartfelt sign on the Nags Head pier. Another hurricane reminder was the sign on the Quality Inn in Kill Devil Hills, proclaiming, "Very open."

Further  up Route 158, I passed a sign advertising an upcoming event: "Boggin' for Boobies." Talk about knowing your audience.

Around the time I crossed the Virginia state line, the beautiful sunny day I'd left behind on the beach gave way to a gray and cloudy sky that made it a lot easier to keep driving north. No one wants to leave the beach during prime time, least of all me.

Driving past the Disputanta Baptist Church, I saw their sign calling to my people; "Women's Empowerment Seminar 9/29" and wondered what kinds of things would be taught at such a thing and if I didn't already know them all anyway.

And then I was back in the city again. And much as I'm a city person, it's always a tough transition away from the constant sound of the surf and the mesmerizing attraction of watching the ocean. In J-Ward, it was business as usual.

For me, that meant a change of clothes and a walk over to the Basement to see TheatreLAB's production of "Significant Other." As you might imagine, the subject called to me.

My seat was in the front row, next to the theater critic I seem to run into just about every time I see a play. I laughed when he asked if I'd ever acted - there were a couple of amateur films made by a  friend in college, but all they did was prove I have no acting talent - but was surprised when he said he had. Apparently he'd only given it up to study journalism in college. The things you learn when you're elbow to elbow.

Grownups live alone.
I keep forgetting we're grown up now.

The play told the story of a group of friends, one guy and three women, as they navigate adulthood and find mates.

At the center of the action is Jordan, played by Deejay Gray, who is not having nearly the good luck at finding his forever person as his girlfriends are. He's about to turn 30 and is convinced it's not going to happen to him ever.

You know, because he's so old.

And if ever anyone was born to play this role, it was Deejay, who managed to convey the frustration of being supportive because your friends are happy while beginning to give up on your own possibilities and fearing a life alone. Because if anyone can play sweet, earnest and sad, it's him.

Life is finding someone to go through it with.

What struck me about the story was how premature Jordan's reaction was. I'd say a person is incredibly lucky if they manage to find their life partner as early as 30. Realistically, many of us aren't even formed enough to know who we are at that age, much less be ready to take on the responsibilities of a live-in relationship.

He's also Jewish, so we can talk about our Moms and it's not weird.

Al three of the female leads nailed their characters. Always impressive no matter what the role, Kelsey Cordrey as Laura shone as Jordan's best friend and partner in single life. As Vanessa, Jessi Johnson walked the line between being a negative Nancy and reveling in finding an adoring partner. Mallory Keene as Kiki embodied the ditzy, "it's all about me" persona, always in a tight dress and the highest of heels.

You know I'm not a happy person. I like foreign films.

Matt Polson and Dan Cimo (his way of saying "Hey, girl!" every time he saw Jordan was a guaranteed laugh) each managed to make their three different male characters distinct from each other. Honestly, I've never seen Dan without being impressed with how he owns his time on stage every single outing.

If I had to come back from the beach, having such a well-directed production to come home to made my landing a whole lot softer.

Mingling after the show, I overheard a man talking about how sad the play made him with its unresolved ending. I talked to a favorite artistic director who admitted that the Jordan character had been him 4 1/2 years ago, before he met his true love and they had their first dog-child. I reminded him that some of us took far longer to achieve half that.

The final part of my return to city life was right in the same place I'd just enjoyed the play. The Ghostlight Afterparty, recently resurrected after a hiatus of several years, is essentially a piano bar with a roomful of actors and audience members busily drinking and socializing while anyone who wanted to could get up and sing a song to piano accompaniment. And when no one was drunk enough ready to sing, he played alone.

When he began playing "All That Jazz" from "Chicago," a woman took to the floor to dance a part she'd probably danced before. Soon after, he began playing "Seasons of Love" from "Rent" and half the room was singing along.

But it was when the incomparable Debra Wagoner approached the mic to sing "And the World Goes Round" that the magic really began. She warned the room that she was doing a slow, bluesy number so they'd have to listen and when many kept talking as she sang, she yelled, "Shut the f*ck up!" and some of them did.

Afterward, someone stood up and scolded the talkers for having the nerve to gab through Debra's singing. telling them nothing they were saying sounded a fraction as good as what was coming out of her mouth. Truth.

You gotta love the Ghostlight Afterparty because no one holds back. Also, there's a whole lot of drinking, so people often forget their manners. But you know when the pianist began playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," it got people's attention.

Some time around midnight, my combination beach and city day was enough to send me home through the streets of Jackson Ward - admiring the Pride flags hanging in J Kogi's window - and to my own bed for the first time in a week.

Flings of sandpipers may be in my rear-view window, but that's okay. At least I've checked "find my significant other" off my to-do list. That it happened decades past 30 should be reassuring to the Jordans of the world.

Don't stop believin', kids. Life really is about finding someone to go through it with. Dog-children optional.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sipping in the Sand

Eventually, all good things must come to an end. Unfortunately, since we're Americans, that's going to happen sooner rather than later.

Beckham and the Beauty pulled out last evening, a while after we'd had an extensive discussion on the beach about how people in other countries do vacations far better than people here do. Like how the Europeans take the entire month of August off.

At issue was Beauty's comment that she was just beginning to feel relaxed after four days and nights and now they were leaving. "I think one more week would do it," she commented, but as one who has done two weeks here multiple times, I happen to know that at the end of two weeks, you'll likely still be craving a third.

Fact is, life is too easy and self-indulgent here not to instinctively want more of it.

When I finally woke up yesterday, it was to a house filled with the seductive scent of bacon and sausage - and lots of both - having been recently fried up by Beckham. Platters of meat sat in the kitchen for the taking, so much that some of it became BLTs for lunch.

Who's lucky enough to wake up to a fried meat smorgasbord at home? Certainly not me.

Because we knew the cute couple would be checking out right after dinner, we began happy hour on the beach especially early. That included a bottle of Fairview Roussanne which the newlyweds had brought back from their South African honeymoon and wanted to share as a group.

"This wine has some ass!" Beckham announced with a big grin on his face as he poured. Pru took one sip and said she could drink it in large quantities. Beau immediately took a photo so he could procure some once back in Church Hill. The three of us who'd been to Fairview regaled the others with stories from our winery visits, while everyone wished there was a second bottle handy. Truly a gorgeous wine.

The shame of it being their last day - besides the obvious: we'd miss their company - was that the "No swimming" flags were up all along the beach, limited how far we could go into the warm-as-bathwater ocean. But as Beckham so cleverly pointed out, if your feet are on the ocean bottom, you're not swimming by definition.

Rationalizations come fast and furious when you're at the beach.

Pru made sure their farewell dinner was memorable with chicken Cordon Bleu, steamed sugar snap peas and seasoned cantaloupe enjoyed overlooking the ocean.

After they left, I headed down to the beach just as dusk was settling in. Hardly anyone was there, other than one fisherman and a family with two young kids, making it ideal for soaking in the beach vibe at night without having to be social.

We really have had extraordinary weather this week, especially coming so soon on the heels of Hurricane Florence.

It had been such a busy day that I was the first to call it quits on the game we were playing and at the ridiculously early hour of 9:30 at that. Hell, Beckham and the Beauty weren't even back in Richmond yet when I said goodnight and headed down to my oceanfront room.

And you know what? After ten and a half hours of sleep, I'm ready to get up and do it all over again. My only regret is that there's no wine with ass in my future today.

And while I'll have to go home soon, too, it'll be to pack and leave again. Go ahead, call me un-American. My rationalizations run wide and deep. And happy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Under a Waxing Gibbous Moon

Being at the beach in September is a completely different animal than being here during the high season.

It's not just that there are fewer people down here, though that's part of it (which makes running into my sister's family twice even more bizarre). And while there are no lifeguards stationed along the beach, we do get the occasional drive-by from the Beach Patrol, so somebody's still on duty.

The funny part is, when we go into restaurants, it's a different story. If people are here, they're eating in restaurants for dinner, not at home. Last night at the venerable Sam & Omie's, we parked ourselves on the wooden benches with strangers for nearly 45 minutes for the sake of being served before the kitchen closed down at 9 p.m. sharp.

Shoot, by 8:45, a roving bus boy was going table to table in an attempt to gather any dishes that had been finished so he could get on with his dishwashing.

We'd gone out for an old-school beach meal, a fact which Beau found tough to grasp after looking at the menu online. He'd been hoping for a place with a more creative, perhaps more modern, take on the menu while those of us who are lifelong beachgoers wanted nothing more than the familiar.

For me, that was local steamed shrimp and vegetables, while Queen B and Beckham went directly to fried flounder. Beau was appeased with a special of grilled swordfish and Pru was committed to her usual clam strips and onion rings, but only after she'd had a massive salad. In fact, onion rings were on more than half the plates at the table, convenient for those of us who love a good onion ring but had none on our own plates.

Always a good sport, Beauty, who eschews the bounty of the sea and refrains from kissing Beckham once his lips have touched any, made do with cornbread, black beans and rice and any onion rings she could cadge.

Pru was aghast to learn that I have no history with Sam & Omie's beyond going there last year with her posse. Having always stayed in Kitty Hawk, I was never inclined to drive 20 miles to check it out. If I was going to cover that kind of distance, chances are I was eating in Manteo or along the causeway, whereas she remembers being a kid and spending entire days at Sam & Omie's with her uncle.

But what's really different about being down here so late in the year is the light and not just the fact that the beach is dark not long after 7:00. Even the afternoon sunlight lacks the brilliance of June or July light. When it shines on the (mostly empty) cottages during our afternoons on the beach, it's not nearly as bright or blinding as it was a few months ago.

It's almost as if there's no promise of more to come in September's sunlight, and of course, there's not because we're already ankle deep in hurricane season (the post-storm jellyfish arrived a couple days ago) and even I have to acknowledge that Fall is hovering, ready to descend (and harsh my mellow).

Make no mistake, I'm thrilled to be sleeping to the sound of waves through my sliding door and window and waking up to see the sun splayed out on the ocean, even if it's nowhere near as blinding as it had been. But I'm also smart enough to store away the memories of it all because I know this is it for life on the OBX this year.

And lest any of this sound like a complaint, be assured it's not. I know how lucky I am that there are unexplored beaches in my immediate and short-term future and that it's nowhere near time to pack away my Summer wardrobe yet.

Once I pluck it from the clothesline on the porch anyway. What's not to love about the drip-dry life?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Chillin' and Grillin' Shack

Beach life is apparently exhausting.

Even allowing for an extended beach happy hour and last night's birthday dinner party with the attendant over-indulging that unfolded (never mind the series of unfortunate events that accompanied steak grilling) over many hours, everyone should not be so listless. So blasé.

Tuesday when I walked, Beauty was at my side. Yesterday, Beauty brought Beckham and Beau made us a foursome. Today, the only person who could be bothered accompanying me for a walk on a gorgeous beach day with roiling crowds overhead was Beau. And honestly, I think he just wanted to force himself to walk away from the bag of caramel corn he was hoovering.

When we got back, it was to an unmotivated household lousy with the stench of eau de ennui.

"I'm going to take a nap," Beckham announces after he and the Beauty wear themselves out eating a breakfast of steak and eggs followed by lounging in and next to the hot tub.

"I might be willing to walk after I take a nap," Beauty decides, heading downstairs after detouring for a cookie break.

Queen B hasn't even put in an appearance today and Beau and I have already finished lunch. It's exactly five minutes past noon.

"I really don't have any desires," Pru says in a resigned voice from her perch on a bar stool nursing her second (third?) cup of coffee. A nap, or even just quality time in her bed with her devices and more coffee, seems imminent. "What time were you hoping to go to the beach?" she muses as she passes me en route to her sanctuary.

Oh, I don't know. On a day where gray storm clouds have completely given way to blue skies with only a lacework of clouds along the horizon, I should think 2:00 would be an ideal time to convene this group on the beach and see what happens.

The only problem with this plan is that high tide arrives about 4:30 and this house is on a ridiculously narrow stretch of beach. We try to compensate by setting up chairs and umbrellas against the dunes that rise to our walkway, but rogue waves inevitably reach a cooler or someone's chair.

With any luck, everyone will still be a bit groggy after nap time and not mind too terribly that ocean and sand are going to happen at the beach. My plan is to lull them into submission with a well-packed cooler and just the right nibbly bits to get a base down for the evening ahead. Vacations are a marathon, not a sprint.

And if rest times are part of the marathon these days, so be it. To paraphrase Beauty while eating chips and laying in the hot tub, "Blogging from a porch facing the ocean while others nap isn't terrible."

Not a lot about beach life is. And please pass the caramel corn.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rise Above or Sink Below

The beauty of the beach is that nothing much happens at the beach.

Oh, sure, the Beauty and I headed north for a walk only to be showered on repeatedly. The sun was either beating on our backs or the rain was dripping off our hats. While other people began to pack up to leave the beach, we kept walking and talking.

The sky was full of ominous-looking clouds on the sound side, but I ignored them for the sake of the abundance of seashells washed up on the beach, probably a function of last week's hurricane. This is my fourth time down here this summer and I picked up more shells on today's walk than on the other three weeks combined.

On the way back down the beach to the cottage, a man planted himself in the middle of the beach so Beauty and I had to both walk around him. "Really, you're going to make us split the difference?" I joked as we made our way on either side of him.

"Karen! It's me!" my now-bearded brother-in-law said. Seems Sister #6 had spotted Beauty and me walking down the beach and instructed her husband to flag us down. I'm not sure who was more surprised at the accidental meeting, me or the Beauty.

You just never know who you'll meet on the beach.

When the menfolk headed out to do hunting and gathering, Pru and I used the lull to set up camp on the beach. She brought a stainless slotted spoon from the kitchen, the better to dig a hole for the umbrella, while I was in charge of seeing that the bottle of Moet et Chandon made it safely to the spot between our beach chairs.

Earlier, when we'd walked, the "Dangerous Current" flags had been up all along our path to Jeannette's Pier, but by the time we returned, Beau said the swimming ban had been lifted. Given how mild the ocean temperature was, it was practically an invitation to hit the water.

After the guys returned, they (and Beauty) joined us at the beach for Domaine du Loriot Menetou-Salon and a cheese and charcuterie break while we watched a group of surfers take advantage of the better-than-usual wave action. The encroaching high tide overtook my chair while I was in the water, resulting in a soggy book (what's a beach week without baptizing your reading material?) and forcing us to relocate at one point to a more protected perch.

Our biggest accomplishment of the afternoon was killing a third bottle, this time of Whispering Angel Rose and making a group commitment to leave for the restaurant at the Outer Banks Pier by 7:30. An evening out necessitated elevated hygiene, so Beau kindly removed the chairs that had been stored in the outdoor shower during Florence so I could have my first outdoor shower of the week.

I won't even deign to comment on the fact that I was the first. I'm not here to judge, only to relax.

Our caravan set out for the pier barely half a mile away, secure in the knowledge that we could walk home if we needed to, assuming, that is, that we could find the beach house from the ocean side under cover of night.

It's a glorious thing to enjoy a breezy 76-degree night at a table on a pier over crashing surf. A trio was playing songs like Duncan Shiek's "Barely Breathing" and strings of lights overhead made things feel festive. We'd discovered this place last year and so enjoyed our dinner al fresco that we decided to do it again.

Choosing what to eat was easy as far as I was concerned because what's better pier food than a basket of fried shrimp with slaw and fries? Queen B's burger maybe? Or Beau's fish tacos? All good, all made better by a day of salty air.

Nope, thinking back over the day, I can't say much of anything was accomplished. As someone said on the deck this morning while they were all sucking back caffeine, "It's never too early for drinking or napping on vacation."

And never too late to be doing nothing at all. Ain't beach life grand?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Snap Out of It

When my course is set for the beach, don't get in my way.

It was just about the time I finished all the writing I had to do that I first heard the tornado sirens wailing. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the sound was, but that's what Facebook is for, right? Once I realized that there were tornados in the vicinity and that most of my friends at work were hunkered down in basements and interior rooms, I took the warning seriously.

While my disdain for the suburbs is well-known, no one wants to see photos and video of overturned cars, destroyed houses near Brandermill and swirling debris over the Huguenot Bridge. Scary.

But the main effect of the tornados on me was the warning not to drive for an hour.  By the time that was lifted, it was time for me to head to the Library of Virginia for Modern Richmond's kickoff event for Modern Richmond week. I'd had my ticket for the Haigh Jamgochian - the architect who designed the tin foil Markel building over at Willow Lawn - symposium for a few weeks now.

I wasn't at all encouraged when I arrived at 5:20 for a 5:30 event and only four people were in the auditorium. I heard two women discussing how their kids were still at school, having been held by the school system for fear of sending out buses into a tornado.

Around 6:15, an announcement was made that the start of the event was being delayed so that all the people who'd bought tickets had time to make it there. "We hope this isn't too much of an inconvenience," the Modern Richmond spokesperson announced.

Actually, it was. I'd only been planning to stay until 7:00 anyway, so that was my cue to exit stage right and head eastbound, where I promptly ran into a fierce thunderstorm directly over Shockoe Bottom. By the time I got to Rockett's Landing, the roads were dry and the sky looked sunny and clear. Proof positive that I'd escaped at just the right moment.

Driving away from the city and the scary black clouds hovering over the western skyline, it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time I'd driven to the Outer Banks at night.  And while my goal was noble - who wouldn't want to fall asleep to the surf and wake up to the same? - I'm terrible at recognizing landmarks in the dark, so this was bound to be an adventure.

In Waverly, the Tastee Treat we'd eaten at a few months ago now had a "Closed for the season" sign out front. When I stopped at a Stuckey's for a bathroom break, the first thing I noticed was a sign reading, "NO LOUD MUSIC," which necessitated me turning the Pet Shop Boys down considerably. Inside, they had showers as well as bathrooms for weary travelers. Fortunately for me, I was already clean.

Crossing the state line, I saw several signs, all with the same ominous message: "Avoid travel in North Carolina. Major roads are impassable," not the most reassuring of greetings.

Despite a lifetime of coming to the beach, finding a house I've only been to once in an area (South Nags Head) I don't know well was, hmm, how shall I say, challenging to say the least. What made it easier was that there was no traffic to speak of on the beach road, so I could back up easily when I finally realized I'd reached my destination: Moonstruck.

It's a poetic name for a monster of a house, but it's oceanfront and nothing's better than that.

And while all appeared to be quiet at the house on my arrival (despite prolonged door knocking and tooting my horn), my hellos were finally met with two male faces with glowing cigars in their mouths from the deck on the third floor.

Beau and Beckham helped me bring my stuff into the house where Pru had assigned me the same oceanfront room I'd had last year. If anything proves that she loves me, that's it. I was given the news that Hot Dog won't be joining us after all, having opted out of making the trip from Arizona. His loss.

The three of us reconvened on the porch where the guys were doing some serious damage to a bottle of Scotch whilst puffing on their stogies. At one point, they switched cigars (also known as swapping spit), the better to compare flavors.

All I know is I heard something about "thick wrapper, delicate leaf" and knew I was out of my league.

I give the guys credit, though, because after all that Scotch, they had to be tired, but were gracious enough to sit up with me. Not that it was much of a sacrifice given the most excellent breezes, practically perfect temperatures ("It feels like nothing," Beau observed) and a view of foam on crashing surf. Even the stars were remarkably clear, at least until some wispy clouds moved in toward midnight.

Truth is, I'm sorry I missed hearing Haigh Jamogochian talk about architecture (who doesn't like to hear an architect go on and on?) but the delay in starting was enough for the siren call of the beach to drown out any remorse I had about not waiting around indefinitely for the lecture to begin. Besides, it's common knowledge that I hate it when the punctual are punished and the tardy rewarded.

Maybe I was just ready to leave my inner nerd at home and let the beach frivolity begin.

Hot Dog's going to be sorry he missed this.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Eastbound and Down

So Burt's dead and the least I could do was pay my respects.

When I saw that the Byrd was showing "Smokey and the Bandit," I figured it was just the usual brilliance of the Byrd Theatre in tying films to current events, like when I'd gone to see "Purple Rain" there after Prince died. But no, "Smokey and the Bandit" was also playing at two other Richmond theaters today.

Heck, it was playing at 683 theaters across the country this weekend according to Byrd manager Todd. All hail Burt Reynolds.

And I was far from the only person wanting to pay my respects, either. Arriving ten minutes before the film was to start, I found the theater already surprisingly full and people kept on coming. Now mind you, almost all of these people were alive when the movie had came out originally in 1977, although the couple in front of me claimed that their teens were planning to attend.

Maybe they'd read that "Smokey" was the second highest grossing movie of the year, second only to "Star Wars" and were curious? Doubtful.

During a discussion of the new seats, a woman told me that when she came to the Byrd 30 years ago, there were already springs popping from the chair seats. A man behind me recalled seeing "Singin' in the Rain" at the Byrd decades ago. You get the idea, the audience had all seen this film when it first came out.

But just in case it was anybody's first time with the film, Todd explained how back in the '70s, Coors couldn't be shipped east of the Mississippi legally and taking it there yourself was considered bootlegging. He also said that didn't stop three Presidents from having it shipped to the White House.

Damn executive privilege.

Then Todd roared to the projectionist, "Then Mr. D, take us eastbound and down!" and the Burt tribute began.

If you know me, you know how much I love films from the '70s for the documentation of a world I not only remember well, but get a kick out of seeing again, unlike films made about the '70s, which always get the details wrong.

Details such as Burt's ring and watchband, both made of silver and studded with turquoise, because all the cool kids were wearing it back then. Like Cledus' wife, who when caught at home, is wearing a headful of electric curlers and a halter top. Or even something as simple but long-gone as the spray deodorant Burt sprays under Cledus' arms, despite the fact that he's still wearing his t-shirt.

It seems downright quaint to be reminded of life before we realized we were depleting the ozone with CFCs when we're now experiencing life-threatening climate change as a matter of course.

And everyone, young and old, is wearing bellbottoms, although not everyone's fit them quite the way Burt's did. I'll tell you what, that was one in-shape 41 year old man. Sally Field's jeans, just as molded, caused Cledus to observe, "Nice ass, Bandit" to Burt as he admires her backside.

As befits the decade of the women's movement, it's Sally who responds to Cledus, "Thanks a lot." After all, it's her ass.

Not all the '70s references are warm and fuzzy, though. When Jackie Gleason's character Sheriff Buford T. Justice finally meets a sheriff he'd only spoken to on the CB radio, he's surprised to see he's black and mutters, "What the hell is the world coming to?" The audience responded with dead silence to such a racist statement.

And don't get me started on the confederate plate on the Bandit's Trans Am. Wow, just wow.

When Bandit orders two cheeseburgers and an iced tea at a choke-and-puke (CB code for diner) and the waitress says it'll be $1.50, there was an audible gasp from the audience. I guess no one remembers that McDonald's was charging 40 cents for a cheeseburger in 1977.

Describing how the two of them are the perfect team, Burt names other dynamic duos - Fred and Ginger, Lester and Earl - either of which require a bit of age to recognize. Fortunately, today's audience had that in spades.

It was particularly interesting to me the cultural references in the script because Todd had told us most of it had been improvised.  "You know who's revolutionizing the theater?" Sally asks Burt. "Sondheim!" Later she asks if he's seen "A Chorus Line," which of course he hasn't.

I don't recall, but I'm guessing it was unusual in 1977 for dialog to reference groundbreaking theater in a blockbuster action comedy with a mustachioed star who beaks the fourth wall with a shit-eating grin.

But as we children of the '70s know, the kind of man willing to be Cosmo's first male centerfold could do whatever he wanted. Seeing him in his prime was a fine reminder of how much fun he had doing it, clothed or unclothed.

Because at the end of a life, what better way to measure it than in enjoyment? Burt, I'm in full agreement with you there.

A Cellar Full of Noise

Where was I ten years ago? Celebrating Ipanema's tenth anniversary.

Where was I tonight? Celebrating Ipanema's 20th anniversary. Are you seeing a pattern?

When I went to the tenth anniversary party, I had no real connection to the place. But that night, I met the owner and the first words out of her mouth were about how much she loved my blog and its positivity. I was, of course, smitten with her immediately and we became friends soon after. I called her my girl crush right up until she found the man of her dreams.

If you want to get personal about it, it's where I learned how to drink without getting trashed over the course of an evening, a skill set taught to me by my new friend, often on Ipanema's patio (the same patio where she threw me a birthday celebration).

Reasons enough to say that Ipanema is central to my history over the past decade. But every bit as important, Ipanema's anniversary coincides with our friend-iversary, so we were celebrating tonight, too.

Over the years, I've become an Ipanema semi-regular. I attended nearly every Live at Ipanema to hear new and familiar bands enliven a Sunday evening. Many a night I went for the DJ, especially if it was the Blood Brothers playing '60s and '70s music. I went for dessert after seeing movies at the Grace Street Cinema and sneaked over from Strange Matter during band breaks to get a decent glass of wine. I spent hours on conversation while sharing a bottle of wine off the Secret Stash wine list. I celebrated New Year's Eve at parties there and had a second Thannksgiving dinner after my own at home.

How could I not be part of the celebration of their longevity?

Mac and I walked over and found seats at the two-top against the dividing wall, out of the fray but with stellar views of the crowd back and front. It was bound to be an interesting view given how many people have sentimental attachment to Ipanema. Within no time, I spotted the urban planer whose weekly series of charettes I'd attended to give input about J-Ward. In the back was the bookseller and author who'd lived in my apartment before I did. The record collector and scene stalwart.

Our server turned out to be a familiar face from Balliceaux and from Gallery 5 and he was happy to bring me a glass of Garciarevalo Casamaro Verdejo and a tequila-laced La Casa Pacifica for Mac.

With the place getting more crowded by the minute, we scanned the anniversary menu dedicated to picnic food that was tacked to the usual menu chalkboard. For me, that meant a chicken of the wood "lobster roll," meaning fungi dressed with mayo and full of celery, along with sides of seeded cornbread (a combination I'd never had and adored) and killer baked beans, while Mac went with the mushroom and onion fajitas with broccoli salad, vegan mac and cheese and corn on the cob.

They may have all been vegan, but there wasn't a stinker in the bunch.

By the time we'd cleaned our plates, every seat and bar stool was taken and there was a waiting list for a seat. Our timing had been impeccable and completely accidental.

And while I don't know if the hordes were there for the anniversary, I tend to think they were. As the woman nearest me said to her friends, "Can we just stop and appreciate how long this place has been here?" When you're 23 or 24, it must be truly impressive to think of a favorite restaurant as having been around since you were a toddler, just waiting for you to be legal to indulge in its pleasures.

In no hurry to vacate, Mac and I ordered another round of drinks (her poison of choice this time was the Sweet Revenge, a yummy but not cloying coconut-based cocktail) and shared a slice of blueberry pie a la mode while the owner pulled up a chair to our table and sat down to dish. Or, more accurately get the scoop on my life since we'd last talked, the news of which made her very happy.

Eventually, Mac had to go (early morning travel plans) so I walked her back to my place to claim her car and returned to the anniversary party. The thing is, Ipanema won't have another 20th anniversary celebration. Hell, any day now a developer is going to swoop in and buy that building to erect a tower of student apartments. After that, it's only going to be the former regulars and barflies who even recall the subterranean spot that attracted generations of VCU students and neighbors like me.

It wasn't long after I returned that the manager grabbed me for the cutting of the birthday cake in the back of the restaurant. When I asked what flavor the cake was, he told me it was "cake flavor," although the flavor of the cake didn't matter because the icing was so good. Requesting a corner piece didn't hurt, either.

Music arrived shortly after in the form of DJ Bad Daughter and DJ Sad Boi, both carrying by the handles the same kind of colorful boxes of 45s I had in my youth.

When I asked a blond next to me if she'd come for the anniversary, she looked confused. She'd come for a beer to forget the stalker boyfriend she'd left behind in another city, but she was open-minded enough to jump on board with the occasion.

Ensconced at the bar with my girl crush and another glass of Verdejo, we talked about some of the good times we'd had there over the years. About whether or not a counter-culture even exists anymore (seems unlikely) like it did when she opened Ipanema. About how possessive people feel about Ipanema because of spending their formative years there discussing life and love over a grilled Gouda sandwich.

When we finally left, she walked me home before calling Lyft to get her home to Southside. Along the way, we talked about our trip to Memphis and Oxford, Mississippi a few years back, reminiscing about how much we'd seen, eaten and experienced that week. How neither of us had any interest in seeing Graceland. How much we'd laughed.

But mostly what I was thinking about was how fortunate I was to have ended up at Ipanema in 2008 to celebrate a decade in business. It not only introduced me to one of my favorite people, but taught me how lucky I was to have such a charming spot a half mile walk from home and open every night. Cue Petula Clark.

I know a place where the music is fine
And the lights are always low
I know a place where we can go

At the door there's a man who will greet you
Then you go downstairs to some tables and chairs
Soon, I'm sure, you'll be tapping your feet
Cause the beat is the greatest there

Congrats to the woman not only capable of creating such a place, but of keeping it going for 20 years. It's got an atmosphere of its own somehow because of the countless people whose lives have been lived partly in the low light of Ipanema.

I'm thrilled to have been one of them...and hoping for 20 more.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Mellow Yellow Age

Because why wouldn't you celebrate your birthday with brunch?

Queen B was celebrating her 80th at Max's on Broad and I was invited. Strangely enough, although I've celebrated my birthday in myriad ways - including years requesting a birthday dinner of cheeseburgers, which is exactly what B had asked for on her actual birthday dinner yesterday - not once have I made brunch a part of it. Some people clearly think otherwise.

So after a morning walk along Grace Street in the Fan - mind you, in 85% humidity (so beach-like I loved it) under a stormy sky - I got cleaned up and strolled over to Max's to return to the scene of last night's tequila for the big event.

Tucked in an alcove near the front window. we had enough privacy to feel like we could talk about anything without ears around. Not that any of our conversation was particularly personal unless a woman copping to her OCD tendencies counts.  Or another admitting standing naked in front of her refrigerator to cool off. Or a man confessing he lost his faith because of weather predictions.

Weaving its way through all this was a discussion of red wax lips and their edibility. As it happens, a pair resides on  a stack of old books on my mantle. Also mentioned: those little wax bottles of colored sugar water.

The hostess who led us to the table jumped in on the conversation when I said something about how cold the restaurant was and Pru said she found the temperature ideal. That was the hostess' daily dilemma: she's either freezing or overheated in the restaurant every shift, sometimes resorting to drinking a glass of cold water in the walk-in. TMI? Then she handed us dinner menus and sailed off.

A minute or so later, she was back, saying, "JK! I meant to give you brunch menus!" So cute. JK.

When it came time to order, it was obvious I was the only one who'd eaten breakfast already. They all went for some sort of eggs - over hard, over medium, quiche Florentine - while I went straight for a combination that epitomizes the marriage of breakfast and lunch that is brunch.

Half a dozen Little Saint oysters on the halfshell and the pancake platter, please. With jam and syrup.

My fellow celebrants laughed out loud at my selection, but not when our server inquired which I wanted first. Then everyone got pensive and offered suggestions on timing. To me, it made the most sense to begin with pancakes and move on to bivalves. And not just any bivalves, but ones cultivated in a secluded tributary of the James by none other than the Rappahannock Oyster Company guys solely for this restaurant group.

And while they weren't nearly as briny as is my preference, I can appreciate a restaurant serving their own locally grown oysters. Next thing you know, they'll be bartering them for plumbing services.

A discussion of the '60s took the conversation into go-go boot territory and as we're all sharing stories, Queen B casually leans over to Pru and asks, "Still got yours?" Without missing a beat, Pru says out of the side of her mouth, "Of course!" Once a smart girl finds a pair of good-fitting white go-go boots, she doesn't let them go.

Since I don't wear white, it's not an issue for me.

My card for the birthday girl was opened and commented on ("The Struggle is real. Acting your age vs. giving a damn" - though we both knew that's no struggle at all), as was my gift of several pendants of Murano glass for B to transform with her brilliant jewelry-making talent.

Our affable server came and went unobtrusively as the hours passed, dropping off a small pot of coffee here, a birthday Gran Marnier creme brulee complete with lit candle there. He delivered additional OJ for Beau's Mimosa (though how does one ever have extra bubbly?) and brought me bonus mixed berry jam for my pancakes. Like our own personal Jeeves, he kept glasses filled and himself out of the way.

All the better to celebrate the first eight decades of Queen B's colorful life...and clothing...and hair. Pru, never the romantic but always the realist, summed it up best. "Don't complain about 80 because think how good it'll seem on your next birthday!"

If I didn't know better, I'd think she was competing for my role of Suzy Silver Linings. Everyone seems to be mellowing with age lately. JK.

Throwing the Chihuahua

Turns out we're currently a sanctuary city.

All I knew when I left home was that it was raining lightly and I needed to be entertained. Walking past Gallery 5, I saw a young band knocking on the door, asking where to park to unload their equipment (I could've told them that). At Saison Market, I saw a guy smoking a cig under the awning and futher on, through the window, I could see a man on a table being tattooed. The clutch of valets at Max's were bored and teasing each other.

Inside, I could see the bar was empty. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.

The bartender poured my Espolon and the manager - whom I'd seen on my walk this very morning - greeted me for the second time today. After the bartender asked how we knew each other (the early Balliceaux days) we lighted on the subject of fashion.

She bragged about how fashionable her leopard print roller skates with the red wheels are (and I don't doubt it), sharing how she'd put them on the day they arrived and skated around her house for four hours to practice. I don't have that kind of room in my apartment, but then again, I never could skate, so it's a moot point.

I left there at 7:56 ("Cutting it kind of close, aren't you?" the other bartender asked when I said I had an 8:00 show to go to) but since I was only going a few doors down to Coalition Comedy, I still managed to be early.

The room was pretty crowded for the final installment of "Made-up Movie," an improvised film of which I'd seen none of the previous episodes. I wound up between a woman saving three seats for friends (only one showed) and two brothers from Raleigh who'd escaped Florence's impending doom by high-tailing it to Richmond.

When the one seated closest to me mentioned that they were originally from New Jersey, I asked why they'd moved to Carolina. "The weather, mostly," he said with a grimace. Since I had some recent Jersey cred, I shared that I'd gone to Wildwood for the first time in March and been wowed by the roller coaster on the beach because I'd never seen one before.

"You know we don't have those on all of our beaches, right?" he asked solicitously.

The next question out of his mouth was about how long I've lived in Richmond. Telling him it had been 30 years seemed to impress him. My question to him was about where they'd eaten beforehand.

"The back door at Tarrant's," he said, mistakenly putting the emphasis on the second syllable, like ta-RANTS. "My brother likes hole-in-the-wall places." I gently broke it to him that said hole-in-the-wall is attached to a good-sized restaurant with several sibling eateries and unless he'd ordered off the back door menu (fish tacos, fried chicken, fried fish sandwich or pizza), he'd missed the mark.

Nope, they'd ordered off the main menu, but the good news was they'd loved their food, so it went in the win column.

After he asked what I did, of course he had to ask for restaurant recommendations, dutifully noting them in his phone. When he asked for good bars, I had to explain that we don't have just bars in Virginia, but I could suggest some lounge-y places to imbibe if he was interested. He was.

Finally, the show started with a pair of guys improvising sets based on bad movie theme songs we heard a snippet of. And by bad, I mean singers like Bryan Adams and Peter Cetera. You know, the kind of singers that the army would play at top volume as a torture method or to force bad guys out of their hideaways.

Highlights included a discussion of why saying "gambling bookie" is redundant and the hilarious non-sequiter, "That's my fault because I threw a chihuahua at her?"

For the main event, the made-up movie, the audience was asked for a song lyric as a starting point. "I was gonna go to work but then I got high," one guy yelled out immediately.

"Somebody was ready," the group leader said, shaking her head and leading her crew offstage.

Easily the most amusing recurring segment of the movie involved an old grandpa who, cane slung over his shoulder and at the ready should he need it, was guarding his family's ice cream store. If anyone dared approach it, he'd demand the password. Sometimes, he'd just poke kids with his cane to scare them off.

Eventually, an 8-year old boy comes by and begins talking to him about how awful childhood is these days. "Life as a kid in the '50s, what was that like?" he eagerly asks Grandpa.

"My Mom would kick me out of the house at 5 a.m. and lock the door," he told the young whipper snapper. "I'd be out all day playing with rusty stuff. I'd come home at 11:00 at night and had to find food for myself."

I was rolling on the floor laughing (definitely more so than some of the younger people around me) and the youngster was mesmerized by tales of the glory days of childhood. "Wow, I've never even seen 11 p.m.!" he gushed. "Did you ever get to smoke cigarettes in bomb shelters?"

When the old man can't take the fawning anymore, he tries to get rid of the kid, first by giving him a pack of cigs and pointing him towards his bomb shelter. Then, it was, "Here, kid it's a rusty can. Go play!" Naturally, the kid cuts himself badly, thus ensuring the best kind of unsupervised childhood.

Hearing, "You're going straight to juvey, kid," sounded straight out of a '30s crime movie about kids gone wrong.

There were other subplots, one about a strip mall cop with an overprotective mother and one about a woman with too many ferrets and too much time to talk to them. One had to do with two college roommates, one a stoner and one a good girl, at least until she succumbs to stoner life ("Every problem has a solution and it usually comes in a bottle," she says, cradling a prescription of Oxycotin) which, of course, involved a 311 song being sung by a cast member from the sidelines.

And funny as all that was, and it kept the room laughing pretty much nonstop, nothing compared to the moment when Grandpa's long-estranged son shows up at the ice cream shop in disguise. When Grandpa tells him he recognizes him, the son explains he's stayed away because of the way his father treated him.

"But I've always been proud of you, I'm still very proud of you," the old man tells his son. And what does the son do? Wait for it: he tells his father to say it again and pulls out his phone to record the admission.

Now that's some seriously hysterical improvisation. That's Seinfeld-worthy observational humor right there. What good is hearing the words you've craved since childhood, the words that mean more to you than anything, if you don't have a video clip of it? I mean, did it even happen with no video?

And that's exactly what I'd told the Raleigh-by-way-of-New-Jersey guy when he'd asked why I was at Coalition. I always laugh when I go, sometimes a little and sometimes a whole lot.

When you mock the obsession to give up real life experience for the sake of online documentation, there's nothing funnier. Why? Because that's real life. And after all, they say comedy is just a funny way of being serious.

Beats playing with a rusty can.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Every War Garden a Peace Plant

Don't expect a guard to know about an exhibit.

When I walked into the Library of Virginia, I was on a mission. At a lecture there back in late August, the speaker had mentioned an exhibit upstairs of U.S. war posters pertaining to food. And while I'm no fan of the government's propaganda machine, I am a fan of poster art.

But it was more than that. At the lecture, the VCU professor speaking about food during WW II had mentioned how surprised her students were that Americans had been willing to pull together for a national cause, even when it meant major personal sacrifices on their part. That kind of patriotism was foreign to her students, even when they had grandparents who confirmed it to them.

So naturally my curiosity was piqued about how posters had been used to convince people to change their eating habits for the sake of war.

But going through the metal detectors and asking about the exhibit, the guard said there was no such thing. Ignoring him, I took the stairs to the second floor to ask a knowledgeable woman behind a desk who pointed in two directions to show me where I could find the propaganda.

Woodrow Wilson had been the one to create the U.S. Food Administration and tapped Herbert Hoover to lead it in August 1917, just a few months after we entered WW I. Hoover, who thought food was second only to military action during the conflict, used the Food Administration to produce posters as propaganda to encourage good Americans to conserve food and use substitutions and augmentations.

Basically, the posters played on people's emotions and sense of patriotism to eat less meat, sugar, wheat and eggs, as well as grow their own veggies and keep chickens and pigs. It speaks to what a different place the U.S. was that keeping pigs was even an option for more than farmers.

Food was the means by which every citizen could be part of the war effort. And I'm talking every American.

One poster, aimed squarely at the bibbed toddler pictured, read, "Little Americans, do your bit! Eat oatmeal-corn meal mush-hominy- other corn cereal- and rice with milk. Save the wheat for our soldiers. Leave nothing on your plate!"

I'm sure every toddler responded accordingly.

One somber looking poster showing a basket of food says simply, "Food is ammunition. Don't waste it!" In another, a heroic-looking woman wearing a dress made from the flag - white-starred blue bodice and red and white striped skirt - is shown sowing seeds from a basket, the copy reading, "Sow the seeds of victory! Plant and raise your own vegetables. Every garden a munition plant!"

Wait, does that mean the government was okay with turning the flag into apparel? Discuss.

In another poster, a line of supply trucks, each labeled "FOOD," traverses a series of snow-covered hills. The message reads, "Keep it coming. We must not only feed our soldiers at the front but the millions of women and children behind our lines." It's signed by none other than General John J. Pershing.

When need be, the government always pulls out the women and children to great effect.

Several posters touted the Salvation Army, reminding the viewer that they gave doughnuts and coffee to the boys "over there." Another showing a woman in uniform carrying a plate of crullers exhorted the viewer to, "Keep the Salvation Army lassie on the job." Yes, sir.

I think we can all agree that doughnuts were integral to the war effort. And not those iced, candy and bacon-covered Sugar Shack monstrosities so popular today, but simple, unadorned cake doughnuts.

Imagine the government trying to tell entitled Americans today what foods to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good. As for corn meal mush, who even knows what that is?

As usual, I like my American history with a strong dose of skepticism. Kind of like my attitude when that guard told me there was no poster show.

For the Good Times

When you get back to J-Ward at 1:35 a.m. during a hurricane watch, you can be sure the 'hood will be lively. And not a parking space in sight.

The strange part was, when I'd left home nine hours before, it had been like a ghost town around here. I figured with VCU out until Monday, some students had skipped town. And it wasn't just the kids, either, because walking through downtown in the morning had revealed an unusually low number of worker bees and traffic.

Oh, Richmond, you handle bad weather predictions so poorly.

Never one to sit at home and wait for bad weather to arrive, I was on my way to Church Hill by 4:45 for a girls' night out with Pru and Queen B. Usually when it's the three of us, we head directly to Merroir, but given Flo's looming presence on the coast, we decided on Alewife, with its focus on the bounty of the sea, instead.

As a bonus, we only had to drive six blocks instead of an hour.

No one wants to be the first group taking a table when a restaurant opens, but we had a 7:00 play to make, so we were those rubes sliding into our seats in the nearly empty dining room just after 5:00. That said, within 45 minutes, people began to come through the door at a steady pace and the noise level rose exponentially.

The menu had changed almost completely since I'd been in the week before, so there were plenty of new temptations. After staking our wine claims in Languedoc (my Rose) and the Loire (Pru's Chenin Blanc), we dove into the menu, stopping only when we hit food coma stage.

Crab claws with roe mayo arrived unexpectedly fried when I'd presumed they'd just be steamed, but that was the only wrinkle. Spaghetti squash jazzed up with oil and Szechuan spices was a new take on an old favorite. Even more unique, a fluffy olive oil pancake was the pillow on which rested translucent wisps of tuna, everything dip and bonito, a surprisingly rich starter. Pattypan squash from local Bowtide Farms got the glam treatment by being topped with tomato gravy and Caramont cheese.

When the subject turned to my blog, Pru asked why I'd been blogging less lately. Short answer: too happy and no time. Her complaint was that my blogging had stopped when I was low, too. That's because my readers don't want to hear about my giddy highs or last winter's lows.

"Not true, your readers love to ride the roller coaster with you," she insisted. Do they?

Meanwhile, back at the feast, Queen B couldn't resist Wagyu flank steak with fingerling potatoes, shitake mushrooms, shishitos and steak sauce, even if her preference for well-done meat had to be compromised. But the undisputed crowd favorite was a special of orecchiette with clams Fra Diavalo, the spicy tomato garlic sauce resting in the divot of each "ear" of orecchiette. So satisfying we all ate like field hands it was our first meal of the day (it wasn't) and obliterated any dessert lust I'd been harboring.

Midway through the meal, Chef Lee came over to welcome us to his new place in the former Blue Wheeler Market & Deli, which is a fancy name for what was a bodega. That they left one window still painted with a Coca Cola advertisement to acknowledge the building's history was a nice touch. Raving about everything we'd tasted so far, I looked up at him and asked, "You know how long I've been eating your food?"

Smiling, he acknowledged, "A looong time." I'm thinking I fell for his cooking somewhere back in the dark ages of 2006 or 2007, even driving out to Charlottesville once he was cooking there. In restaurant years, that's devotion.

The other familiar face was the former New Yorker who stopped by the table to say hello and acknowledge she'd seen me from afar when I was in last week. "You're hard to miss, sitting at the end of the bar like you were," she said of my favorite bar position.

When the discussion turned to the newest restaurants in Church Hill, she was quick to acknowledge that Jackson Ward is where it's at. East End residents, she and her husband (who has a business in J-Ward) are music lovers like me, but unlike me, they can't walk to Strange Matter or Gallery 5. I appreciate the praise for my 'hood, but no one has to remind me how centrally located I am.

By the time we left Alewife, it was seriously hopping and we had a play to make at CATheatre. And not just any play, but a French farce translated into English and on record as the most performed French play throughout the world.

Personally, the attraction for me was that "Boeing, Boeing" was set in the 1960s and involved an architect and the three flight attendants - "My international harem" - he was "engaged" to. As for why he had three, his claim was that less than three was too monotonous and more than three was too much work.

Then the play went on to demonstrate that even three was dangerous if all three were in town at the same time.

And make no mistake, I know perfectly well we weren't calling them flight attendants back then. As someone who went through the tedious process to become one in the '70s (a process that included a weigh-in), let me assure you they were called stewardesses. And no, I didn't take the job.

I also know that when one of the women in the play holds up a molded bra and pair of pantyhose to ask who they belonged to, neither were accurate to the 1960s. That actress should have been holding one of those cotton Playtex bras and a pair of stockings, assuming there's a continuity god in the theater.

At least the reference to the Kinsey Report rang true.

The architect Bernard's long-time friend Robert from Wisconsin comes to visit and gets to meet the three stewardesses: Gloria from the U.S., Gabriella from Italy and Gretchen from Germany. Conveniently for the story, Gloria has found an American millionaire devoted to his work and Gretchen falls for Robert, leaving Bernard to finally commit to Gabriella and marriage.

Robert (after Gloria unwraps her bath towel to them): I've never seen a woman freshly bathed. It's really quite something!

Because what good '60s romantic farce could possibly end with anything other than a walk down the aisle? For reference, see every Doris Day movie ever made.

The three of us laughed throughout at the antics of the two men trying to keep the three women from finding out about each other so Bernard's duplicity in having three fiancées wouldn't be discovered. Tres French, non?

We closed out the evening on Pru's screened porch listening to Al Greene, sipping Cotes des Roses Rose and awaiting Flo's arrival. Oh, sure, there was the occasional capricious wind and periodic bouts of light rain, but nothing vaguely worthy of even a category 2 storm. The air was damp and beach-like, appropriate since we're all on pins and needles about whether the Outer Banks will be reopened for our getaway.

So far, lots of list-making but no packing and all the good vibes we can muster.

Posh, my future is so bright, I have to wear sunglasses. If you haven't seen my freshly renewed optimism, it's really quite something.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Elementary, my Dear Freud

Leave it to Richmond to overreact before Flo even touches down.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as concerned about the potential damage of a Category 3 storm as much as anybody along this part of the east coast. Who wouldn't be terrified reading that they've measured 83' waves under the northeast quadrant of Hurricane Florence?

But did we really need to start canceling events tonight, before Florence even makes landfall? Mac and I had plans to stroll over to the ICA for "The Future is Afro-Femme: New Negress Film Society" to take in a variety of short indie films presented by the New York-based film collective, but VCU squelched that by closing down tight, effective tonight through Sunday.

Seriously, VCU?

The weather has been brooding all day. When I left for my walk, the top third of the Art Deco Central National Bank building was shrouded in fog, as was the crane looming over the Dominion HQ being built downtown (because, of course Virginia's shadow government needs to have the tallest building in the city). The canal was unusually high, with not a duck in it. Brown's Island felt like a pressure cooker it was so oppressive and the James was lapping over the pipeline.

Not one to be daunted by impending weather, Mac and I simply made other plans. No one's going to take away our evening if we can help it.

When she came to pick me up, she was frazzled, having had to run the gauntlet of crazed drivers headed to and from the grocery store in addition to the usual September problems brought on by students who can't walk, much less drive, impeding traffic at every turn and making her late. Put another way, Mac is an easygoing woman who showed up at my house frustrated by the short drive from Byrd park to J-Ward.

By the time we made it to 821 Café by the most circuitous route imaginable, she was saying she'd be needing a drink with dinner. For Mac, that's a major indicator.

My problem was that after a busy afternoon with no breaks to snack, I was all but monosyllabic. When I realized that, I apologized, saying that a wise man once told me that if I'm quiet, it means one of two things: I'm hungry or I'm tired.

I got nearly nine hours last night, so clearly my issue was food, a problem easily corrected with a half order of black bean nachos while Mac tried to forget about the legions of bad drivers with a BLT and a cocktail. By the end of the meal, we were both in happier moods.

And little did I know, but there was laughter in our future, too.

Walking down the aisle to find seats at the Byrd, we passed an older man sitting in one of the raggedy old seats. Since the theater was uncrowded, it seemed like an odd choice. Why have a spring poking at your butt when you can sit in a wide, comfy new seat? Apparently the man realized this and moved to a seat in front of us, despite the hundreds of free seats not near others. Once the lights went down, he slid down in his seat and promptly went to sleep, only occasionally rousing himself for a moment before dozing off again.

I can't explain 'em, I just observe 'em.

As for our reason for being there, I'd suggested seeing "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," not because I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan but because it was a 1976 movie - a period of filmmaking I adore - and the cast was fabulous.

From Broadway star Nicol Williamson - whom I'd seen at the Kennedy Center in the '70s in "Rex" - to Vanessa Redgrave ("her head of flaming red hair was celebrated on four continents"), not to mention a dapper Alan Arkin in a handsome beard (as Sigmund Freud), a young Robert Duval as Watson, Joel Gray as a bad guy and even Sir Laurence Olivier as the real villain, it was a primo group of acting talent.

So while I'd chosen it for the era and the actors, the movie ended up being downright hilarious, which I hadn't expected at all. Because I don't know the Sherlock Holmes canon, I have no clue whether or not Holmes is always played as an understated and droll wit with encyclopedic knowledge and a magnifying glass.

Even the credits made us laugh. "The story is true...only the facts have been made up."

As I anticipated, the movie melded the Victorian period squarely with the '70s, as evidenced by the décor, costumes and especially the women's hairstyles. Watson's drawing room looked like a cross between an antique store and a fern-filled college dorm circa 1972. Dated lines like, "The ladies do seem to cause trouble, don't they?" reeked of SOP male chauvinism.

Even the story about Holmes being addicted to cocaine seemed straight out of the Studio 54 era, as did his reason for taking it up: "to relieve the ennui." The struggle is real.

But the visuals were wonderful, from a sword fight atop a steam engine train to a library with a two-story bookshelf to a scene of Lipizzaner stallions attempting to trample our heroes inside a large building. Can't say I recall the last time I saw horses used as killing machines.

Best of all, the film ended with Holmes cured of his cocaine addiction and persecution complex by Freud. He then takes off alone on a cruise, where he just happens to find himself on a deck chair next to Vanessa Redgrave's character, Lola Devereaux.

Lola: Journeys alone are always so tedious, don't you find? Specially when they are long.
Holmes: Will this be a long journey?
Lola: That all depends. But I do think it will seem shorter if there are two of us, don't you?
Holmes: I hope it will not seem too short.

I have it on the best authority that the best journeys are neither short nor solo. As for relieving ennui, everyone knows only boring people get bored.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Everyday I (try to) Write the Book

As days turn to nights with zero time for blogging, it's probably best to think of these as postcards.

Greetings from First Fridays...
You know it's going to be a great evening when the owner of Chez Foushee asks how close you'd like to sit to the bossa nova band. We put just enough distance between the music and our conversation to enjoy both.

Meanwhile, we took our time with crab bisque, olives and Marcona almonds in herbed oil and a couple of Foushee market salads loaded with cannellini beans, craisins, toasted almonds and red onions over peppery arugula with green goddess dressing. The salad choice was a matter of necessity once I found out that their long-standard brussels sprouts salad (the one with bacon, red onions and bleu cheese) has been put out to pasture. I may never recover from the loss, though a dense dark chocolate mousse helped ease the pain somewhat.

Our art fix was taken at the main library with "Herald 4- Drawing from the Knew," an exhibit of seven regional artists working in vastly different styles. At 1708, we took in "Yo, Bruce: Gerald Donato + Bruce Wilhelm" because the playful nature of Donato's work never gets old. At Black Iris for the "Sink or Swim" show, my favorite was the drawing that incorporated Popeye, Olive Oil and Wimpy into one image (and probably unrecognizable to a younger viewer). Candela Gallery's group show, "Channels" of work by Willie Anne Wright, Courtney Johnson and Lisa Kokin was compelling, none more so than Kokin's mixed media sewn collages using old black and white photographs of people sewn together.

Because we're all connected, right?

Greetings from Peaches, home to 45s
Even if there had been no crate of surprises, the meal would have been memorable. Holmes, Beloved and I ventured out of their usual comfort zone for a meal taken at the corner of Nota Bene's bar. Holmes went in looking for the cauliflower that had changed his opinion about cauliflower, only to find it (like the brussels sprout salad at Chez Foushee) M.I.A. Where he scored points was in suggesting we get the brocaletti with red peppers and anchovy breadcrumbs instead.

Since when does Holmes suggest a vegetable he can't even pronounce? Or, more to the point, who was I with and what had he done with Holmes?

Bottles of Rosabella Rose (unfortunately, they were out of the Arianna Occhipinti Grillo we'd requested) accompanied the brocaletti, along with an arugula salad with red onion, fennel and sweety drops. One of the servers told us she'd been so enamored of the sweety drops that she'd ordered an entire jar for herself. I have to say, Holmes, Beloved and I were mighty taken with the teardrop-shaped cross between a cherry tomato and a jalapeno that managed to taste both sweet and tart at once.

Next we went on a fungi bender, first with a wild mushroom, roasted garlic, caramelized onion and Fontina pizza (with crust to die for) and then with a special of tagliarini with an array of mushrooms in a cream sauce. The tagliarini was so tender, it all but melted in your mouth.

Dessert was an extravaganza, with tiramisu (Beloved's first ever), lemon buttermilk zeppole with dark chocolate dipping sauce and the dessert du jour, a fig crostata. We paired the latter two with Barolo Chinato, as lovely an accompaniment to a sweet course as could be hoped for. And that rustic fig crostata, well, its thick, barely sweet crust was worthy of the figs and that's saying a lot coming from a fig fanatic.

The evening's soundtrack came courtesy of Holmes' buddy who'd been downsizing. Seems Holmes stopped by and scooped up an old Peaches crate filled with 45s. Granted, you have to be pretty seasoned to remember what Peaches was and that they sold crates for records, but none of us had any trouble.

There was loads of Elvis Costello, only a couple from the Beatles, plus the Jam, the Stranglers, B52s and a host of other '80s bands. We spent the evening working our way through the 45s, occasionally going to an album (can you ever hear too much Brass Ring, really?) for a side just to give Holmes a break on the turntable.

Greetings from the land of secession
When the day is spent driving to and from Norfolk, where signs with dire warnings of "High tide gate testing Tuesday 1 a.m." foreshadow the impending hurricane, it's best if the evening involves no car time. Fortunately, Conch Republic was no more than a brief stroll for a view of skulling boats, setting sun and a photo shoot for the restaurant at a nearby table.

In what was no doubt early preparation for Florence's arrival, all the umbrellas had been taken off the deck, unfortunate since the sun continues to shine until the weather system arrives. I made do by sitting with my back to the sun, but given that it's (sadly) nearly mid-September, it slid behind the trees before too long.

Broadbent Vino Verde washed down conch chowder, a wedge salad ("What kind of dressing do you want on that?" our young server asks. Um, bleu cheese because it wouldn't be a true wedge salad without it?) and a California Cobb. Over at the Boathouse, we saw tiki torches burning on their deck, although I can no longer think of them without thinking of last year's white supremacy march at UVA. Damn neo-Nazis spoil everything for the whole group. What's next, beach umbrellas?

I know, I know, I'm leaving out an awful lot for someone with lots to say who hasn't blogged in days, but you know what? It's going to get worse before it gets better. Depending on how Flo decides to behave, things could get even crazier next week. And the week after? Forget about it.

When you throw your lot in with a planner, there's bound to be too much adventure to document it all. All I can tell you is that my aim is true.