Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny

The best time to watch a depressing movie is after a day spent with my parents.

Ostensibly, I was there to help Mom clean out a closet that she felt had gotten out of control. In reality, that meant digging through decades of her stuff. We must have come across 15 purses, including several I suggested she could live without. "But I've had that purse since the year I started working at the Fund!" she says, affronted, clutching a navy blue bag.

P.S. Mom began working at the International Monetary Fund in 1967.

And bags, so many bags. Grocery shopping bags, a  tapestry knitting bag (no, she doesn't knit or do needlework), tiny, stylish bags that belong to another era when she didn't carry so much "just in case" in her purse.

But it also meant digging through boxes and boxes of unorganized photos and as I glanced through them, I found a handful depicting me and my five sisters posed in bikinis in front of the ocean. In the '70s pictures when we're pre-teens and teens, we're all sporting long, straight hair parted in the middle, but in the '80s version, everyone's hair is shorter and, for the most part, permed.

There's not a pair of sunglasses in sight in either photo, despite the bright summer sun.

By the time I found a group shot from 2004 aboard a boat (although the where and why escapes me), we are all grown women looking far more comfortable in our own skin. Only one sister wears a hat and, surprisingly, it's not me. And everyone except me has sunglasses on.

What a difference 30 years make.

Mom also enjoyed the stroll down Memory Lane, never more than when we came across the sole photograph of her as a child. During the Depression, snapping pictures of your first born was clearly not a priority.

Because it was such a beautiful day to be on the river - sunny, breezy and near 80 - we spent a lot of time, including lunch, on the screened porch. Mom and Dad were just coming off two days without power after Hurricane Michael and one of my nephews was there doing yard clean-up after so many branches fell.

For lunch, I reverted to childhood, making everyone fried bologna and cheese or grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, a big bowl of potato chips in the center of the table. Everyone was delighted with the menu. Afterward, I baked a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and served them up warm because I like to eat the dough my family is big on cookies fresh from the oven.

I shared with Dad what Mr. Wright had said about his spot-on baseball play-off picks - that it's rare to find an athletic man who's also analytical - to which he responded, "That's undoubtedly because so many athletes think they can coast solely on that." Not my Dad.

Closet and yard work finished, we lingered most of the afternoon chatting about family and trips.

"I could take an entire season of this weather," my Mom commented to no one in particular as a breeze ruffled the ferns on the porch. Me, I was just happy to be in shorts and not feel cold like I had most of the weekend.

And solely because I'd just come off such a sweetly pleasant day with the 'rents, I took a deep breath and headed to the Byrd Theater to see "The Hours." Now, I read the book when it came out and I saw the movie but my collective memory of both was a depressing one, so I knew that going in.

Instead of staying there, though, I focused on what a large and stellar cast the film had. Oh, sure there were the leads (Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman in a prosthetic nose), but also a terrific Ed Harris. And Claire Danes as the daughter, Miranda Richardson as her sister, Allison Janney as Meryl's lover, plus John C. Reilly and Jeff Daniels.

Do we make movies with that much star power any more or is it too cost-prohibitive?

The Byrd crowd was small. I suppose not everyone is up to being depressed on a Monday evening. For me, the low point was when a toddler went running across the lobby, her mother in chase, before the film even began.

"If you don't stop when I say 3, no computer for a week!" the mother yelled at the back of the four-year old, who did indeed slow down. Not "no bike" or "no going outside to play." No computer. Children can now be disciplined with the threat of no device usage.

Oh, for the sweet days of bikinis and no sunglasses...

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Dark of the Matinee

There is a certain charm to an afternoon performance.

Unlike an evening play where you have to eat at a ridiculously early hour to be in your seat before the curtain rises at 7:30 or 8, a matinee allows for a leisurely morning and, after the production is over, a leisurely dinner.

It's all so civilized.

Mr. Wright and I met Pru and Beau to see "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" in front of Virginia Repertory Theatre, where they were hanging about like a bad smell anticipating our arrival. Since our seats weren't together, we used the time to discuss the fact that no one except Pru had read the best-selling book that had spawned the play.

She was not impressed when she found us lacking. On the other hand, she already knew what was going to happen, while for the rest of us, everything that unfolded would be a surprise.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" managed to take the audience into the mind of a 15-year old boy who was both autistic and a savant when it came to numbers, a boy who couldn't bear being touched but was determined to accomplish something on his own.

The boy's determination to do some detecting to figure out who killed the neighbor's dog made for a sweet story, even as his father tried to shut his investigation down, while the discoveries he makes about his own family turned the simple detective story into something much heavier and darker.

Still, I found the production curiously satisfying since I never for a moment had any sense where the story would end up.

Leaving Virginia Rep, we made the easiest possible choice for dinner, heading directly across the street to Bar Solita, the latest offering from the Tarrant's team.

Right off the bat, they got major points for having taken the space conceived of by New Jersey bad boy chef (and #MeToo accused) Mike Isabella - a black, industrial, ornament-free cavern of a restaurant - and turning it into something softer with shades of green and yellow, curves and plants, all of which translated to Pru and I as having been accomplished with the obvious eye of a woman.

We especially liked the deep windowsills along the wall that provided room for multiple bottles of wine, purses, programs and anything else we wanted to stow.

Since Bar Solita is so new, it was a bit of a surprise that they were already out of the Sancerre Pru coveted, and for a moment, they thought they were out of our choice - Laurent Miguel Grenache Blanc - too, before managing to find a bottle of the easy-drinking wine. Meanwhile Pru and Beau made do with a Pinot Noir.

Everyone at the table was intrigued when we saw that they made a fig lemonade, so we each got one to satisfy our fig lust. Delicious, it was a tad light on fig for a true figophile.

Our server's first question had been if we'd come from the theater. Affirmative. With a bit of digging, I ascertained that the big news was that she had also read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time." Praise be, Pru was no longer alone in her literary leanings. The only problem was, our server explained that she had little memory of the story, so she wouldn't be good for discussing anything.

Pru may have thrown up her hands and given up at that point. We simply turned to food.

Mushrooms and sherry - garlic and olive oil-infused mushrooms roasted and lazing in a bath of sherry - were every bit as seductive as they sound. Next came shrimp swimming in garlic-infused olive oil with wedges of focaccia to soak up all that goodness with.

We were all so busy eating, sipping and talking that I regret to report that I have no clue what tapas Pru and Beau devoured. Tacos? Croquettes? I really can't say and they were less than two feet away.

Wisely, the Bar Solita folks had kept Isabella's wood-fired pizza oven. We made an excellent choice with the basil pesto pizza, notable for the roasted winter squash, housemade ricotta, red onion and shaved Brussels sprouts sprinkled with roasted and spiced squash seeds. Those seeds led to a discussion of toasting pumpkin seeds, something Mr. Wright is apparently fond of doing.

That he chooses not to salt them caused a mild conversational ruckus, but to each his own.

On the other side of the table was a breakfast pizza loaded with bacon, breakfast sausage, ricotta, mozzarella, red onions, sliced garlic and two eggs, which they claimed was delicious although unlike us, they couldn't finish it all. Amateurs.

As we dined, we covered all the important bases: bowtie-tying lessons, single malt Scotch, watching movies in the park and what we'd liked about Dubrovnik and Athens. We shared our new-found affinity for Mastika and our server, overhearing, texted a friend to find out if that was the same digestif she'd also fallen in love with. When she returned with a scrap of paper reading, "Mastica," we knew we were taken with the same Greek spirit.

Now, if only the Virginia ABC carried it. But they don't. A liquor run to Washington as part of my next museum trip now assumes greater urgency.

Dessert choices were a bit slim since, perish the thought, I wasn't about to eat baklava a week after returning from Athens. With no such issues, Pru and Beau couldn't resist the phylo-wrapped custard galaktoboureko, which also hails from Greece.

In fact, the only topic not nailed down as the sun set and we stayed put was when Pru is having her champagne and fried chicken party, although she claims the date is up to Beau. Inquiring minds are also curious about whether or not the absinthe fountain will come out for the big event, so stay tuned.

Because the beauty of a matinee is that you can have hours of these kind of discussions in between courses and bottles. The only end point is when the restaurant closes.

Gives a whole new meaning to afternoon delight.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Living Witness

The concessions are falling like dominoes.

First, there were the many layers of clothing worn to the festival Friday evening night. Afterward, I partially lowered the two windows in the living room before bed because I knew it was going to dip down to 50 that night. But when I awoke to find my apartment was 67 degrees - when a mere two days ago it was still peaking around 82-83 most afternoons - I find myself shutting all the windows before it gets any colder. Bad as it was when the cotton blanket went back on the bed two weeks ago, now I'm adding the lightweight bed spread on top of it.

And then, horror of horrors, I not only considered wearing jeans to the Folk Fest Saturday afternoon, I actually did wear jeans. Summer, I pine for you.

How did things degenerate so quickly?

At least the sun was shining when Mr. Wright and I set out to walk to the Folk Festival Saturday, although I knew standing on wet grass in the dark, shivering and cold, was in my future.

What I do for music.

Our first stop was the Dominion Dance Pavilion, except that for some reason, there's no pavilion this year. What's odd about that is that there was a pavilion, at least up through Thursday, a fact I know because Mac and I walked by it several times last week on our way to the Pipeline. But by Friday evening, it was just a dance floor and chairs with no raised stage and no covering. We'd tried to see Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus there Friday, but with zero view of the band and a whole lot of drunk bros on the dance floor, we'd walked away.

Things were marginally better in daylight - at least we could spot Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis' baby sister, if we squinted - in the distance, so we found chairs and sat down for some boogie-woogie piano classics: Hound Dog, Great Balls of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, you know the genre.

The dance floor was crowded with people getting their groove thang on, including not a few swing dancers who actually knew what they were doing. One woman in a red top had her choice of partners, cycling through one man after another, but dancing every song.

Before heading up the hill, we made a pilgrimage to admire the James running fast and hard, a churning brown froth that guaranteed I won't be getting on the pipeline anytime soon. The architect focused less on the mighty river and more on structural issues, commenting about how strong bridge supports have to be to take the kinds of stress a swollen river places on them.

The climb to Second Street was worth it for the energetic sounds of New Orleans bounce, thanks to Ricky B and his band (which included a tuba, as all good NOLA bands should) whipping the crowd up.

"We're gonna keep it up until the sweat drops down your draws!"  Ricky B. yelled, pronouncing "drawers" exactly like my Richmond-born father does. Later, at another stage, I overheard an older woman tell a stranger that she'd just seen a musician tell the crowd, "He told us to perspire in our underpants!"

Let's just say it lost a lot in her translation.

The distinctive beat, the call and response and the sheer stage charisma of Ricky B. made for an outstanding set that managed to get old and young involved waving hands and pointing with one finger to signify that we are all one race. If only.

After snagging chicken empanadas from La Milpa, we ate them standing on the hill watching Vishten, an Acadian duo singing songs of great beauty. At one point, the male of the duo asked the crowd, "Will you sing along with us?" and the crowd roared its affirmation. "In French?" he asked and got mostly laughter.

Near the end of their set, just as the sun was about to slide behind the Lee bridge, a two-car train passed slowly along the overhead track behind the stage and the man in the passenger seat waved enthusiastically at the crowd, causing thousands of people to wave back. A few minutes later, the train returned in the opposite direction and this time the driver waved at us and got the same reaction.

Given the scarcity of two-car CSX trains, we had to assume it was a Folk Fest special.

Right on time, Mavis Staples came out, a fireplug of a woman in a black dress with a hot pink wrap jacket, ready to dazzle the crowd, some of whom had been waiting in place through one or two previous bands to ensure they got to see her.

We had a fine perch at a crest on the hill and when the couple in front of us decided to pull up stakes, they invited us to take over their prime real estate, although how anyone can walk away when Mavis is singing is beyond me.

Besides singing every song from the depths of her soul, Mavis took on the very festival that had incited her. "This is your 14th festival, and our first time here! What took you so long to invite me?" She also had family in the audience, so she told us all the food they'd brought her - spoonbread, collard greens and black-eyed peas - and called out to each one by name. She was none too happy when she heard cousin George had stayed at home, but assumed he must be in bad shape to pass up hearing her sing.

After talking about her years spent marching with Martin Luther King (and being thrown in jail for it), she sang "Freedom Highway," the song her father Pops Staples had written for the cause. If she'd come out and only sung one song, that would have been the one. I don't think I'll ever forget hearing that voice belt out the anthem of the civil rights movement.

At the song's end, she must have sung, "I won't turn around" 12 or 15 times before stopping the band and yelling, "Because I have come too far!" and I felt goosebumps.

But it got better. "Pops wrote that song in 1962. I was there and I'm still here. I'm a living witness!" Mavis hollered and the mostly older crowd testified along with her.

Hearing the first instantly recognizable funky notes of "Respect Yourself" - mind you, I had the song on a 45 - was like flashing back to my young self when I first heard it. As much as the lyrics had resonated then, hearing Mavis sing, "Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day!" in 2018 (when white men just last year marched with tiki torches) all but ensured that the crowd would respond with cheers, applause and raised fists.

And, hopefully, by voting next month.

Add in a line such as, "Keep talkin' bout the President, won't stop air pollution," and we got yet another sad reminder of the current state of affairs.

Then it was back to 1967 and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," which caused the middle-aged crowd to sing their hearts out, not that any of us could compare to Mavis' voice.

As the coolness of the evening set in, a stagehand brought Mavis a black scarf and she wrapped it around her neck to warm those golden vocal chords. It also looked quite stylish with her pink-accented dress.

When she promised to take us down Memory Lane, my '70s self knew at once what was next. As the strains of "I'll Take You There," another 45 in my collection, filled the dusk air, I didn't even need to watch Mavis sing. It was enough to take in that song as the sun sank in the west and know that I got to hear Mavis Staples before I died.

Which, given the cold and damp of the Folk Festival, could be any moment now. Oy, is it Spring yet?

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Facing Fall

You don't go to 13 out of 14 Folk Festivals without learning that Friday's where it's at.

There's a low-key vibe to opening night that is unlike any other point during the festival. Mac, Mr. Wright and I walked down to the river from J-Ward, arriving not long after 6 and heading straight to Gregory's Grill for crabcake sandwiches and eastern Carolina barbecue.

Overheard along the way was, "I didn't expect anyone to be here yet!" although the speaker looked to be about 17, so I'm not sure her frame of reference for past festivals was wide or particularly deep. Then with sandwiches in hand, we made our way to the Altria stage where Cora Harvey Armstrong was already taking people to church with her gospel singing and piano playing backed by a singing quintet of sisters and nieces.

The ground was too soggy after Hurricane Micahel's wind-swept rains to sit on the hill facing the river, though it didn't stop a woman in shorts and flip-flops. Mac stated the obvious - "Why would anyone wear shorts and flip-flops on a night when it's going down to 49 degrees?" - as the sounds of testifying filled the air.

To make things even more spiritual, the sun was setting behind the Lee bridge and the pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle, filling the sky with streaks of red and purple framed like tableaux between sections of the bridges' supports. Overhead, a sliver of a moon hung in the evening sky and the light posts on the bridge stood in for low-hanging stars.

After a few songs, Cora told her back-up singers to take a break and asked the crowd to call out their requests. "And if I know 'em, I'll sing 'em and if I don't you can go home and sing them to yourself," she laughed.

Launching into "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," I was reminded how that it had been in the song books of my elementary school music classes - with a notation that it was a "Negro spiritual" - that we used to sing.

I'd bet my bottom dollar that children in elementary schools today no longer are taught Negro spirituals.

After singing five requests and trying to control the crowd's enthusiasm for suggesting more - "I'm gonna get to that one, just let me sing this one first" - she told the adoring audience that we should donate generously to the bucket brigade and she'd come back again and "play more of your songs."

"Come on, ladies!" she called to her backup singers and went back to her set list after introducing her band and singers and explaining how each one was related to her. Like me, Cora was from a family of all girls and shared a story she said her sisters tell her not to. "Daddy said he turned that bed every which way but he never did get a boy."

I have no doubt my Dad could relate to that.

By the time she got to the closer, a song about loving Jesus, the guy behind me was saying, "She's like going to church two days early!" Obviously he'd missed the part where Cora had told us that she's an ordained Baptist minister.

After scoring some sticky toffee pudding from the fish and chips truck, we slogged through mud behind Tredegar to get to the Community Foundation stage to see the first female kora virtuoso in the history of Gambia.

A friend had warned the Facebook world, "Don't sleep on this one," and he's someone whose musical advice I take. Thanks, Michael, for the best advice of the day.

Sona Jobateh came out in a spectacular Gambian full-length dress of deep reds, greens, gold and black, strapped on the 21-stringed instrument and proceeded to blow the mind of everyone under the tent and probably standing outside it, too.

She immediately became my spirit animal when she announced, "It's good to be here, but it's cold!" Amen, honey, I'm suffering every second with this abrupt switch to fall post-Michael. When Mac showed up in jeans and a top with jacket in hand, I'd detailed my many layers - slip, dress, sweater, scarf, jacket, shawl - and she'd scoffed. "Really, Karen? Really"

Yes, really. By the end of the evening, I was grateful for every single layer.

But Sona made me forget my cold hands and feet with a robust performance of Gambian music, new and traditional, and a fluidity on all those strings that no doubt belied how challenging it was to play. At one point, she brought out her son to play a vibes-like native instrument to accompany the band.

Her guitar player was stellar and his Carlos Santana-like guitar face was every bit as good. During one song, she faced off with each of her musicians - bass, guitar, drums and percussion - matching their rhythms note for note. Other songs, she taught the crowd the words and encouraged us to sing along.

But is was seeing and hearing this beautiful, talented woman play an instrument that for centuries has only been played by men that blew our minds. Mac suggested that it was the phallic nature of how the instrument is worn - it juts out from the pelvis, attached to a heavy leather strap - that had made it off limits to women for so long.

Regardless, sitting under the tent atop that hill, listening to Sona and her band play epitomized everything that is magical and wondrous about the Folk Festival. If not for the organizers, I could have gone my whole life without ever hearing griot played by a master. A female master, so even better.

Oh, and that one out of fourteen festivals that I missed? I was in Italy that year and if anything excuses a Folk Fest absence, it's world travel.

Still, Richmond was where I wanted to be last night.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Soggy but Stimulated

I am not a weather wimp, nor can I abide time spent obsessing over the Weather Channel.

Of course I knew the wind and rains of Hurricane Michael were headed this way. And, yes, I noticed that schools were closing early and some restaurants weren't opening at all for the evening. But did I assume that meant it was going to affect me?

Of course not.

So when Mr. Wright showed up saying, "The apocalypse is coming!" I suggested we go directly to the balcony to watch it roll in, Anton Bauer Rose in hand. We lasted maybe ten minutes before the rain began pelting us from the north and east. And mind you, the balcony is only a yard or so from the house next door, yet somehow, the rain was managing to fall and turn toward us in that small space.

Leaving the lights off, we took up places in the living room, which faces south, to watch Michael's fury from the front two windows, both open. I've watched many a hurricane and tropical storm from that perch, although the company wasn't always as good. The trees out front whipped in the wind, rain came in from the west-facing bathroom window - but not the front windows - and we talked for a couple of hours about all kinds of things except the weather.

Eventually, we both realized we needed to go eat dinner so we could make an 8:00 curtain at Richmond Triangle Players for "The Laramie Project." We got as far as the front door downstairs before realizing that the reality of being outside in Michael was, to put it mildly, wildly different from observing it from the couch.

Oh, we weren't deterred, just willing to get wet.

Driving toward Scott's Addition, I did notice how few cars were on the road, but that I attributed to the fact that most people are weather wimps. We soldiered on. When we got to Aloi, I bounded out of the car, stepping into a 6" puddle of water at the curb (it was for this reason I'd worn my stylish Croc platform shoes, because no hurricane rain can defeat foam resin), only to discover that Aloi was closed up tight.

A Weather Channel aficionado would have known that, in all likelihood.

Sensing a trend, Mr. Wright called Richmond Triangle Players, where a recording told us the obvious: no performance tonight. On the plus side, I hadn't had to wade through another massive puddle to find that out.

Giving up on all the evening's plans, we headed down Summit Avenue only to see the best of all possible neon signs glowing through Michael's torrents: an "open" sign at Supper.

Hallelujah and pass the towels.

Every table at Supper was occupied and there was a 20-minute wait, but the bar was almost empty, so we had no hesitation about claiming a couple of bar stools for dinner. That said, within 15 minutes, a guy was asking if we'd mind moving down a stool so his companion could sit next to him ("Do you really like her?" Mr. Wright inquired to determine whether we should move) because the bar was full otherwise.

Timing is everything.

When he asked of the bartender what today's soup was ("Seems like a soup evening," he claimed), her response of "pumpkin bisque" was enough to order a bowl and two spoons. Except that what arrived was decidedly un-bisque-like, albeit completely delicious. Only then did the bartender come over to explain that, unbeknownst to her, the bisque had been replaced with a pumpkin/black bean/spinach soup that was fabulous and far more to my taste than any bisque might have been.

Or maybe that was the Prosecco talking.

Eating through my wedge salad with chicken salad and his special of fried shrimp and fried eggplant salad in our damp clothes was as close to a hurricane party as we were going to get tonight. Everyone around us seemed to be of the same mind, eating, drinking and gabbing merrily because we'd all been fortunate enough to find a place open on such a soggy night.

The party came crashing down, though, when the lights began flickering and the manager started explaining to people that they expected the power to go any second now. Pay your checks now, he said, and you can linger until we go dark.

Or we could pay our check, brave Michael one more time and return to Jackson Ward, where I've only lost power once in 9 years and that was for 20 minutes. Talk about your easy decision.

True, we could have checked the Weather Channel before leaving for the evening, but where's the fun in that? The mad dashes through 40 mph winds and the complete uselessness of my giant golf umbrella against Michael's sideways rain led to an exhilaration that only comes when you're out in the elements when you shouldn't be.

Playing it safe is for weather wimps.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday in the Park with Michael

A day after I left the country, Monroe Park finally reopened.

This morning was my first opportunity to see what the city and VCU had wrought after nearly two years of endless renovation inconveniencing me. Yes, me.

While everyone was (deservedly) harping on all the big, old trees that were cut down and bemoaning the displacement of the homeless in the park (also justified), absolutely no one was talking about how having the park closed affected my walking life.

When I want to go to Dinamo or 821 Cafe, I cut through the park. Or, more accurately, I used to. When I'm coming back from Texas Beach, hot, tired and sweaty, the park offered a short cut for the last half mile stretch. When I wanted to stop at my favorite thrift store to score a $3 dress, cutting through the park shaved off some time. I've seen art exhibits, been to festivals and taken in InLight installations in that park.

But then you add in the overlapping ICA construction (finally finished) on the nearby corner and that whole area has been off-limits to locals like me for what felt like forever.

So when I set out for the Boulevard this morning, I intended to see what the new and improved Monroe Park was all about because driving by is no substitute for determining the quality of a renovated park.

Immediate conclusion? I miss the tree cover of those old growth trees that were uprooted, but I can accept that the sight lines are cleaner and more open now. The extensive flower plantings along Belvidere are well-intentioned, but could they have picked more ubiquitous or uninspiring flowers? No, they couldn't have. And where the hell are the array of park benches that would provide momentary respite to a weary walker?

But then, under a canopy on the Laurel Street side, I saw the brightly-painted piano and heard the sound of ivories being tickled as I got closer. A student, his black backpack tossed atop the piano, was dazzling my ears with something classical I didn't recognize as I walked toward Floyd Avenue.

It was the most beautifully unexpected addition to my walk and I'm not too proud to say I noticeably slowed my pace so I could hear it for a while longer.

And although I don't usually take the same route coming and going on my daily constitutional, you can be sure I returned along Floyd in hopes someone would serenade me again. Sure enough, I spotted a man in a cap, his bike lying on the ground next to the piano, plucking away. Again, I slowed my roll to get maximum ear time.

Just as I came abreast of the piano, the pianist looked up and smiled. "Hi, Karen," he called. Sure enough, it was someone I knew, an author and DJ, a teacher and musicologist with a social justice bent and a killer smile.

Hi, Michael. I only hope my face conveyed my pleasure at his music-making.

A few minutes ago, I saw he'd posted video of a snippet of his playing, saying that he was back in Monroe Park, "Blazing that chronic like it's 2001," and I couldn't resist commenting on how much I'd enjoyed hearing him play earlier.

"Ha! You caught me in the act! Good to see you..." he wrote back.

Okay, maybe I am okay with this whole Monroe Park renovation thing. All it took was a colorful public piano in a city full of musicians and artists to make me realize how wonderful it is to have the park open and available to all again.

Here's to catching anyone I can - friend or stranger - in the act.

Off With Their Heads

When things don't go as planned, there's always cake.

Mac and I had a date to eat dinner in service of my hired mouth and then get our culture fix with a play. Simple enough.

Except that when we got to the restaurant I was supposed to be reviewing, it wasn't open. Oh, sure, the sign on the door said they were open daily until 10 but it was only 6:30 and the place was locked, closed up tight. The open sign hung dark and unlighted.

Could it have come and gone already?

Rather than ponder what was up, we got right back in the car and made a beeline for old faithful, My Noodle & Bar, and the front treehouse booth, where we both pretended to look at the menu when really, we both knew we'd be ordering the exact same thing we get every time we go. My same old broccoli and chicken and her same old chicken noodle soup.

Mind you, we do it only to make ourselves feel like we're not the creatures of habit that we clearly are. But then, didn't I read somewhere that most people order the exact same thing from their neighborhood Asian restaurant every single time they go?

Perhaps we are not so pathetic as I thought.

When my food arrived, it seemed somehow more meager a portion than it typically is, a fact confirmed when Mac looked across the table and asked, "Isn't that a smaller serving than usual?"

I know, I know, size shouldn't matter, but when you're hungry, it does. And it wasn't just me because once Mac got busy with her meal, she looked up with disappointment. "There's only one fish ball instead of two," she complained and as the resident chicken noodle soup expert, I didn't doubt she was correct.

Rather than focus on the failings of our favorite dishes, I suggested we adjourn to Garnett's to share a piece of cake and make everything better again, an easy sell considering even my sweet tooth takes a backseat to Mac's.

The funny part was, after that she told me that in one of the blogs she follows (besides mine, of course), the woman shared that she she avoids sweets. "And she has the most beautiful skin, I guess from not eating sugar," Mac concluded.

Well, we'll just have to make peace with the skin we have because there's no way either of us could be that disciplined. Or even want to, no matter how magnificent our complexions might get. Next topic.

Naming the dessert choices once we got to Garnett's, our server got only as far as "coconut cake with caramel and chocolate ganache" before we both gave her the look and she asked if she should stop right there. Ladies and germs, we have a winner.

Sharing a massive slice, I told Mac that the only way it could have been better was if it had been chocolate coconut cake with caramel and chocolate ganache. She rolled her eyes, so I'm not sure she agreed with me.

From there, it was back to J-Ward to leave the car and hoof it over to the Basement to see 5th Wall's production of "Lizzie, the Musical." Because nothing makes for good show tunes like the tale of a 19th century axe murderer.

Conceived of as a punk rock opera, the play got high marks from both of us for its all female cast (well, if you don't count the band led by the fabulous Starlet Knight, which allowed a couple of men in) and a lesbian love story subplot.

So. Much. Girlpower.

As for what drives Lizzie, that would be Daddy who visits her bedroom and takes what she shouldn't have to give. As if that isn't awful enough, he also kills her beloved birds and leaves them in a bloody sack. Meanwhile her sister is all riled up by their stepmother who has replaced the daughters in her new husband's will.

Knowing all that helps explain a lot when both parents wind up bloodied and dead like the pigeons.

Using mic stands as props they could throw, kick, flip and, yes, even sing into, the four characters - Lizzie Borden, her sister Emma, her lover Alice and the show's highlight, Bridget the Irish maid - pump their fists, flip their hair and generally convey full-on '80s riot grrrl style.

In fact, when Lizzie comes onstage in a red satin bustier and skirt after wielding her axe, intending to destroy evidence by burning her bloody clothes, the feeling is just this side of a #MeToo moment. Here is a woman who has zero shits to give.

That she's ultimately acquitted of the crime felt particularly satisfying given the years she'd had to suffer in silence. Because the more things change, the more they stay the same. Kudos, 5th Wall, for choosing such a timely topic.

Murder, girls kissing and coconut cake. What more can you ask of a Wednesday night girl date?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Age is What You Make It

When I'm 94, I want to be as cool as Willie Anne Wright.

Back before I left for Dubrovnik, I'd been invited to a Candela Gallery luncheon for the painter-turned-photographer and even though I knew this week would be crazy busy getting back into the work flow, I'd accepted for fear I may not get another invitation to meet a talented, working nonagenarian.

I'd seen her new exhibit as part of the group show "Channels" at September's First Friday opening and been wildly impressed with her photograms combining a vintage set of tarot cards (it didn't hurt that I'd been to a tarot card reading in May) and Brugmansia flowers from her garden.

Although I was among the first to arrive, a fact attributable to Candela being a five-block walk while most people had to find parking, the galleries soon filled up with a who's who of local gallerists and curators, including Seth Feman, curator of exhibitions at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk.

When I spotted the manager of Quirk Gallery, my first question was where he'd been at the Artsies, since I hadn't seen him but knew he had to be there since his actress wife was not only up for an award, but a presenter. "Up in the balcony, away from it all," he joked before we began reminiscing about how much saner the awards program has become compared to its early years as an alcohol-fueled four-hour extravaganza.

Where gallery people gather, there's always talk of installing and de-installing shows.The director of 1708 was lamenting how short she and her staff are - all under 5'5" - when it comes to mounting and taking down exhibits, leading to a discussion of how short people manage at music shows. I shared that my favorite place at the National is at the apex of the floor, directly in front of the sound board.

"I'm so short, I just find a tall person and stand directly in front of them," one woman said. Another admitted to passive-aggressively giving tall people who stood in front of her "the look" until they got the hint and moved.

Eventually, Candela's owner Gordon herded us to the tables for lunch - sandwiches, a green salad and fruit salad from Lift Cafe next door - so we could hear what Willie Anne had to share about her latest work. I made sure to take a seat facing where she sat, eager to learn from my elder.

"Willie Anne and I have known each other for 25 or 30 years," Gordon began before Willie Anne piped up, saying, "I'm only 35!" And while it was a joke, everyone agreed she looked and acted far younger than her years.

He told us how she'd begun as a painter and only taken a photography class so she could document her paintings. "She's going to talk as long as she likes and I'll sit here happily," Gordon concluded. He wasn't the only one.

Explaining that she'd been given the deck of Pamela Coleman Smith-designed tarot cards in 1970, she gestured to the man on her right, saying that he'd been the one to give them to her. "1966," he corrected her and she smiled, looking surprised.

"My kids were into being hippies and I rolled my eyes and said, far out!" she recalled, before admitting that it wasn't until she was given Brugmansia plants, which are known for their mystic qualities, that the mystic Art Deco-inspired tarot cards from 1909 inspired her to combine the 22 major arcana of the deck with the blooms.

Holding up several plastic sleeves of pressed Brugmansia flowers, she explained that she exposed them directly to the sun using conventional darkroom paper. "So they should be black and white images," Gordon interjected, but as anyone could see by the images on the wall, they were instead rendered in shades of pumpkin and raisin.

"Okay, that's the way I did it!" she announced cheerfully, before going on to explain that she intentionally arranged the pendulous flowers the way they grew, trumpets down. This she pointed out on one of the prints where a figure with a horn mirrored the angle of the flower next to it, pointing down.

Looking around at her finished pieces framed and hanging on the walls, Willie Anne observed, "I'd never seen these arranged in sequence. Looking at them I saw that it works. Maybe I got something here!"

Never was self-deprecation so charming.

Someone asked her how long it took to get the images and she said it ranged from half an hour to three hours, depending on how strong and constant the sun was, admitting that she often went on to do something else while they sat on her front porch. "It's not the most efficient way to work, but it works for me."

Who doesn't have their own peculiar way of doing things?

Her enthusiasm for her work was evident and her self-effacing demeanor made her even more of an artistic champion. "I wish you could all come to my backyard and see my Brugmansia. They're all in bloom!"

You better believe I'll still be crowing about my moonflowers when I'm 94. Now whether or not I'll still be cranking out blog posts remains to be seen, but I expect I'll still have plenty to say.

The challenge may be finding people who'll sit happily while I talk as long as I want. Willie Anne is my hero.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Go away for 16 of the past 21 days and it apparently gets noticed.

When I walked into the Byrd Theatre last night to see "Out of Africa," I only got as far as the concession stand before I heard a voice from above call out, "Hey, stranger, nice to see you!" Looking up to the balcony concourse, I saw it was manager Todd giving me a hard time with a smile.

And while I allowed that it had been a solid three weeks since I'd last seen a movie there - "Smokey and the Bandit" as part of a RIP tribute to Burt - the fact is, it had only been two weeks since he'd seen my smiling face when I mistakenly showed up only to find that "L'Avventura" had screened two days earlier.

Either way, it hadn't been all that long.

Tonight, I was in my usual seat at the Grace Street Theatre for VCU Cinematheque's screening of "La Notte" promptly at 6:50, when, as usual, right at 6:59 the Frenchman slid into his usual seat one away from mine, immediately launching into chatter. "Haven't seen you in a while here. Supposed to rain for the Folk Fest this weekend. How're you doing?"

Just fine. Eager to get my Italian film fix on. Now be quiet so we can hear Dr. T. talk about the film. And please don't snore once you fall asleep like you always do.

One person who didn't give me a hard time was Mac when we got together this morning  to walk for the first time in two weeks, but since she's the one who'd taken me to Dulles when I flew out, she'd known exactly where I was. Seems she'd been avidly following the blog in the interim, since she mentioned how much she'd laughed reading about the lunch at Lady Pipi's and the food tour with the mildly crazy guide.

"Out of Africa" turned out to be an ideal movie to ease me back into the Richmond scene with its unhurried pacing, spectacular photography and unconventional love story. Since I hadn't seen it since it came out in 1985, I'd forgotten how long it was (2 hours, 50 minutes), not that it mattered because I reveled in the sheer eye candy of it, never mind Meryl Streep's superb performance and how much poetry was recited by the lovers.

And what woman of my age doesn't swoon seeing Robert Redford wash her hair or hear him pitching woo?
You ruined it for me.
What?
Being alone.

Oh, sure, there was also humor - "I'd curtsy, but I'm drunk" - and I was caught up enough that by the final scenes, my eyes were welling up and as the lights came up, people all around me were wiping their eyes or sniffling from crying. That includes the guy sitting alone two seats down in my row.

Tonight's piece of classic Italian cinema from 1961 was introduced when Dr. T. said, "Welcome once again to an event of your life: seeing a Michelangelo Antonioni film on 35 mm!" For years now, I've admired his passion for whatever film he's chosen to show his film students and the rest of us film lovers.

Of course, attending a Cinematheque event also means having to listen to the blather of today's youth before the movie begins. Sample: "I think Jim Carrey is a colossal asshole because he thinks he's talented." And don't get me started on some kid's cellphone ringing loudly during Dr. T's introduction.

Seriously? You're a digital native, you should know how to control your devices, son.

"La Notte" was the polar opposite of "Out of Africa:" shot in black and white, the antithesis of Hollywood and full of underlying commentary about the ennui and dissatisfaction of Italy's upper classes as Italy modernized in the post-war era. The film doesn't start in the elevator of a skyscraper for nothing, you know.

What's always weird at these Cinematheque screenings is how kids today react to certain scenes. When a clearly mentally challenged woman in a hospital tries to seduce Marcello Mastroianni, several nurses rush in to restrain her and begin slapping her face. Students tittered and then giggled at that. A brutal street fight between young men in an empty lot also elicited laughter, as did a love scene.

Then there was the student behind me who during a dramatically composed scene said overly loudly to her companion, "I don't understand what's going on, but that's a beautiful shot." So while human interaction may baffle them, at least they get some of the finer points of filmmaking.

Walking home from Grace Street, there was no question that the nights have gotten cooler in my absence, with the only consolation being that out on my balcony, I had eleven moonflowers blooming tonight. That's a record so far this year, so I'm consoling myself with that.

Well, that and the fact that I saw that my neighborhood crab guys still have crustaceans available.

Don't mind me, I'm just over here trying to hang on to Summer with every fiber of my being. The only downside of being away is finding out that time marches on, even in my absence.

Drat the luck.