Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Fine Nine North Fourth

At the moment, the wooden telephone booth built into the back of the dining room is my favorite design element of Nine North Fourth. It reminds me of the one at Ray Milland's club in Dial M for Murder, the one from which he sets in motion the plan to murder his wife. But I digress.

Because Nine North Fourth is in nearby Monroe Ward, I was curious to check it out. I waited until after the lunch rush and ambled on over. Four or five tables were occupied and I was given my choice of the rest. I took a booth for two with a chair at the end, creating a three-top near the back.

The specials occupy a giant chalkboard that takes up the north-facing wall, so I read those before perusing the menu. It was about then that I noticed the goose bumps on my arm, caused by the gale-force air conditioning blowing directly on me and moved to the table behind me to escape it.

I couldn't have been the first to do so either, because my server came over and asked, "Too cold for you?" She pointed to the antiquated a/c unit on the ceiling and said they were working on addressing the problem.

In fact, she said that they sometimes have to leave the front door open to moderate the temperature, a practice I love. Please do let in some warm, un-conditioned air.

There are two sandwiches whose preparation changes daily, one chicken and one flatiron steak. Today's flatiron was being served medium rare with sauteed onions and tarragon aioli on grilled focaccia, which had my name all over it. Coleslaw was my side of choice.

While I waited for it to arrive, I enjoyed the cable radio station being played; it was 70s and 80s soul/funk along the lines of Cameo and KC & the Sunshine Band. I immediately presumed that it was the British-born chef's choice and he later told me that it was indeed.

My server asked me if it was my first time there and when I nodded, she said I was the 7th or 8th new customer today. But for lunch, not breakfast. Apparently breakfast is very slow and she said unless that changes, they may give it up, especially once they start doing dinner in two weeks.

I'm pleased to report that my sandwich was the perfect size, stuffed with pink-centered meat, loads of onions, fresh greens and a savory aioli. After all the fish and seafood the past few days. I tore into it just as Chef Phil Barradell came by my table.

When my server mentioned my newbie status, he grinned at me and said, "We love new customers!"

Mouth full, I mumbled that I love new neighborhood restaurants. Sounds like a recipe for everyone to be happy.

The desserts looked terribly tempting (gingerbread, peach ice cream), but I was too full. Sitting there reading my Post, the chef came out of the kitchen, saying something to the server that I didn't hear, but her answer was clear.

"You're full of yourself today!" she laughed.

"Today?" he shot back.

Accented entertainment and good food 3/4 of a mile from home. Keep it up, Monroe Ward.

From the Congo to Boston

The best thing about being back from the beach is that I can put my brain back into gear again. That meant starting at the Anderson Gallery for the panel discussion on "Collecting African Music," something I have no intention of doing but every desire to learn more about.

The discussion was yet another tie-in to the current South African shows, specifically Siemon Allen's record collection at the Anderson. Besides the collector, Bill Lupoletti and David Noyes of WRIR were on the panel to add their music geek perspectives.

The talk was interesting, what with two DJs and the collector himself. The first point of contention was Paul Simon's Graceland. It seemed that while the DJs liked the African rhythms of it, Paul Simon not so much.

On the other hand, Simon's controversial decision to ignore the cultural boycott against performing with South African musicians got widespread approval since it allowed South African musicians to be heard at a time when it was not the norm.

Bill said that, "The album opened a market. It was a synthesis of what Simon did before as well as the South African music that inspired him." He saw this as positive, as did the others.

One thing the talk made clear was that it is no longer possible to just go to your local record store and find the latest in African (or world) music. The Internet and e-Bay have replaced the record store as the places to procure the latest, mainly because there are fewer independent distributors than there used to be.

Bill said, "World music is a term nobody likes and everybody uses," because it means so little. But WRIR's Congolese program gets listeners from all over the world because it is the only broadcast program of Congolese music in the entire country. There goes that WRIR, making us proud again.

The takeaway from the panel was Siemon Allen's directive, "Don't let the collection become an end into itself." Hoarders of music help no one but themselves.

By the end of the talk, it had been a long time since the herring roe breakfast, so I went on over to the Belvidere at Broad for dinner and perhaps some company and ended up with both.

Tonight's soup was vegetarian onion soup gratin, fortunately not vegan, so it had a lovely cheese layer melted on top. Vegetable stock works beautifully instead of beef stock and I am here to attest to that.

Next up was the golden and red beet salad with Maytag Bleu cheese, toasted pine nuts and micro-greens. After that filling soup course (necessary due to the damp coolness of all this rain), I filled up quickly on the beet course.

My neighbors at the bar were business associates in town from Boston and while she didn't last long (8:12), he stayed and chatted for four hours, unexpectedly providing great company with all kinds of literary leanings. How often can a stranger show you e-mails referencing Yeats, Keats and Nirvana?

His extensive travels, his long-time concert-going habit (King Crimson and Devotchka? Damn.)and his sarcasm made him a worthy conversational partner and I was thrilled to have lucked onto someone so interesting and willing to chat up a stranger.

By the time we got ready to leave, the only other person at the bar was using a yellow highlighter to annotate his non-fiction book on love (he was a masseuse and a nutritionist). I wished him luck at book-learning about love.

I dropped the Bostonian (like me, a lapsed Irish-Catholic) at the Doubletree and made my way home in the pouring rain.

Although I like beach rain so much better (lots warmer and I can still hear the ocean), there's nothing like getting home and back into the swing of things.

I can do this. I can do this.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Not Ruing the Roe

So it's National Women's Health and Fitness Day and what did this woman do to observe said obscure holiday?

Well, let's see. I didn't walk because it was raining, pouring actually. I didn't work out because I was at the beach. I didn't even take my vitamin, come to think of it, because I forgot (late night, unnecessarily early morning, but I won't mention names).

What I did instead was enjoy a late breakfast at the Nags Head Pier where I inhaled a large plate of eggs scrambled with herring roe (my first), fried potatoes and a hot biscuit half slathered with butter, the other half with strawberry jam. I did drink a glass of orange juice, if that makes it any better.

Meanwhile, the rain and waves were splashing on the pier windows the whole time, making us feel like we were in the center of the storm. It was actually pretty cool.

My Richmond grandmother was right. I am going to hell in a hand basket.

My Washington, D.C. grandmother was right, too. I'll be perfectly at home there.

Both would have been pleased that I had herring roe for breakfast.

I Like Being Hot

I am a pig when it comes to eating crabs; I don't have any childhood summer eating memories that don't include crabs. So naturally I am a pro at picking them. And eating them (although in this category I have also been called a glutton).

During our most excellent crab feast on the porch last evening (during which I picked for myself as well as the less competent), we found ourselves drifting into several philosophical discussions; the one which interested me most was the one about air conditioning.

I am currently reading Reprieve: A Memoir by Agnes de Mille about the cerebral hemorrhage she suffered in the late 70s after a longtime career as a groundbreaking dancer and choreographer.

While recovering in one of the best hospitals in NYC (and one of only three in the world at the time that had a CAT scan capability), she mentioned the long summer nights in the hospital.

"It was hot I suppose because it was midsummer and no air conditioning was allowed in the hospital but I was high up and there was always a breeze of sorts [through the window]."

The group was appalled. No a/c in a hospital? How did people survive, much less recover? How inhumane! How archaic.

I told the group I don't use air conditioning and haven't since 1993 by choice. Well, if Agnes' situation was appalling, mine was sheer idiocy. The 70s were one thing, but this is the 21st century, they squealed. Why on earth?

Why not? It's green and oh-so economical (more money for crabs). I never claimed to be like other people. And I really do like feeling warm to the bone.

When we got down here and were choosing bedrooms, there was one with twin beds, one with a double and one with a queen. No one wanted the twin bed room except me, which worked out exceedingly well for me.

It's the only room on the ocean side. So I have the windows flung wide open so I can hear the waves and feel the breeze.

But I am obligated to keep the door to my room shut at all times so my warm, humid salt air doesn't dilute the meat-locker temperature in the rest of the cottage. Can do.

Truthfully, the essence of summer in the south for me isn't crab eating (although I'd hate to do without), it's that little trickle of sweat that runs down between my breasts on a hot day.

Just add it to the list of my oddities.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

She Can Read, But Can She Fish?

We were beginning to think it was ark-building time down here, but the rain finally stopped long enough for outdoor activity. I suggested a walk and my housemates enthusiastically agreed, so we set out for the pier, a little more than a mile away.

We certainly weren't the only souls seeking the great outdoors; there were dog walkers, parents walking a leashed toddler (soapbox time), a bocce ball game and a woman using a cane and collecting shells. They all looked pleased as I felt to finally be on the beach.

Not so much my crew. Gradually, our foursome became a trio and eventually it was just me who arrived at the pier, soaked from the waist down thanks to the incoming tide. If I'd have been smart, I'd have worn a bathing suit, but I hadn't been that optimistic.

Up on the pier, I walked the abbreviated length of it (never rebuilt after Isabel took off the last third) and admired the view back at shore. I happened upon a couple of guys fishing and inquired if that was what this weather was good for.

"It sure is," the crustier one enthused. "Been catching trout all afternoon!" There were three or four fish there. Shows how much I know; trout are in the ocean?

The other guy looks at my wet legs and points at them, asking, "Water still nice and warm?" I nodded. "Yea, I guess that and fishing are all this weather is good for," I shrugged.

"Well come back and Cap'n Wally'll teach you how to fish," he said, pointing at the crusty guy who was now nodding and smiling at me.

"Maybe I will," I half-promised, taking my wet self back down the pier steps to look for my wimpy housemates.

Unlike some people, I bet Cap'n Wally would be willing to walk a lousy couple of miles with me. Hell, he'd probably even fry up the trout if I asked him to.

I'm just not sure about the conversational potential there and much as I like trout, that's just not worth the risk. Plus he probably listens to classic rock.

Besides, nobody would believe for a second that I'm the fishing type. That said, Thomas McGuane's The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing was one of the most beautiful books I ever read.

I know, I know. That still doesn't make me the fishing type. Sorry, Cap'n Wally.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sparkler Salvation

It never ceases to amaze me that there are adults who are genuinely afraid of thunderstorms, but one such person is part of our little getaway group. This only became a problem when we started talking about going out and she informed us that she couldn't possibly go anywhere until the thunder and lightening subsided.

No problem, we accommodated, we'll do a happy hour until the storm passes. But not everyone had their beverage of choice in house, so we sent a duo out on a hunting and gathering mission (one needed cigarettes, so that was part of it) with instructions to be quick.

They were not quick. They did not remember to get the vermouth, either. They made a side trip and brought back fudge, saltwater taffy and rock candy. They were still backslapping each other about the Brew-Thru. Fail, but not epic.

On a happier note, during their absence the storm had moved on and we were able to leave for dinner. Our destination had been chosen by a vote (I lost) so we went to the Red Drum, a place that touts its 18 beers on tap. "Nuff said.

I can't complain, though, because my rockfish topped with a saute of applewood-smoked bacon, shrimp and tomato in a roasted garlic basil butter was outstanding. The taste I had of storm girl's flounder with artichokes, crab meat and capers in a lemon butter sauce was almost as good.

But even well-prepared fish can't compensate for large family groups and small children banging cups and hollering. When one little girl sitting on her grandfather's lap began rubbing his chest, her mother demanded,"What are you doing, feeling him up?" in a voice that carried across the room.

There is no hope for future generations.

And on that note, we are headed down to the beach to set off fireworks and contemplate a hopeless future. Glasses will necessarily be raised.

But not until storm girl changes into something with no metal zippers. Give me strength.

Guns and Guitars, Open Late

You know, because you never know when you'll get a midnight craving for a Fender or a shotgun. And that wasn't even my favorite of the signs I passed on the way down Route 460 this morning.

That one read: Start Your Day with a Hearty Breakfast -ABC ON! Nothing's heartier than booze for breakfast, at least in New Bohemia.

And of course the only reason I drive through New Bohemia is to go to the beach, in this case to spend a couple days with friends and clear my head. Road trips are good for that, as is a change of scenery; I need to be distracted to think about things.

Walking out of a gas station in Windsor, a guy asked me, "Are you working hard today?" to which I replied, "Hardly working. Going to the beach." His face lit up. "Can I come with you?"

"Nope." His face fell. "Why not?" Oh, let's just say a gut feeling, stranger. "Bye now."

Deciding where to eat lunch was easy because while I've been in Weeping Radish Brewery, Butchery and Pub before, I hadn't eaten there. I passed a sign walking in that said, "Sauerkraut fermenting" and later was told that it's fermenting in French oak barrels with local bacon. That's my kind of sauerkraut.

This place cures all their own meats from the best local farmers have to offer , so choosing anything off the menu was a win/win situation. Fortuitously, the butcher came out while I was deciding and despite German being his primary language and English mine, I got the nod on my choice, the garlic andouille sausage on a pretzel roll with sauerkraut and house-made chips.

I don't drink beer, but they brew their own root beer, so I was more than happy to indulge in that. It was served in a glass that said, "Work is the curse of the drinking class." You think?

The sausage was superb, the garlic taming the spiciness of the andouille so you still tasted it but didn't feel it. That pretzel roll slathered with mustard was a little bit of heaven for a hot pretzel-lover like me. Best of all, there were three local mustards to choose from, so I went with both Bone Suckin' mustard (from Raleigh) and Lusty Monk (from Asheville).

So now I'm at the beach and the rain is pouring, but it's okay because it wasn't when I arrived
so I went out and walked on a mostly deserted beach while one friend took a nap before the others arrive.

Bring on the beach distractions!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jams and Omens for 100, Alex

If you go to a Belle Boggs reading, you will get jam. Maybe it will be blueberry mint or maybe hot pepper jelly or even strawberry preserves, but it will be named after one of the recurring characters in her short story collection, Mattaponi Queen.

At tonight's reading at Gallery 5, we were treated to part of a story involving the character Skinny, a divorced alcoholic druggie not long for this world. She ended the story by saying, "Sorry to read such a depressing story. They're not all that depressing."

All her stories are set in King and Queen County or King William County, the places she grew up and it is these places that inform all of her writing. Despite the diversity of the area, her writing never gives clues to a person's ethnicity, black, white or native American. Tellingly, race is never stated.

The way characters recur throughout the collection reminded me of John O'Hara's short story collections, where you never knew when a familiar name from Gibbsville was going to reappear in another story. It's a comforting device for short story collection lovers, a group in which I include myself.

After the reading, she offered up the jam she and her mother had made as a gift to the audience. Given the story we'd just heard, I couldn't resist Skinny's blueberry mint; I plan to have it on waffles tomorrow morning.

One of the attendees was part of the group I'd been with at Ipanema last night and she came up to say hello and tell me how much her visiting friend had said he'd enjoyed his extensive conversation with me last night. "She's so cool, " I was told he'd said.

Is there a better compliment than being told that someone raved about his enjoyment of a shared conversation, especially not knowing it would be passed on to me? Not sure that there is.

Conveniently for me, the reading was followed by the Silent Music Revival, an event that counts me as a regular attendee (except that time I was at the beach and I'll never hear the end of that).

We began with a short, Le Retour a la Raison, made by Man Ray, a brilliant man in so many ways. Favorite all-time Man Ray quote: "There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it." True that.

Tonight's feature was 1947's Le Tempestaire, by Jean Epstein with music improvised by the Low Branches. The film was set in Brittany (the shoes and shore were a dead giveaway) about a girl who fears for her love's life when he sets out to fish for sardines right before a storm.

The Low Branches' music was the ideal sound for the endless shots of the surf crashing and the omens with which the girl was obsessed. At one point, lyrics about "saving them all" synched up so well with the unfolding story as to be uncanny.

The storm-tamer's black crystal ball eventually breaks, returning the man to his sweetheart and calming the sea, as the band's sound wound down and we were delivered from the French coast back to Jackson Ward.

It had apparently started raining some time after I'd arrived for the reading, so a friend offered me a ride, but we exited to find only puddles, so he instead walked me home, pointing out places of note.

A friend of his had had sex in one of the milk-bottles of the dairy building pre-renovation (and pre-marriage) and a bartender I knew had lived just around the corner from me.

And because he's a scientist-type, he somehow noticed in the dark that a passing tree branch had grown in a circle, doubling back on itself. "I don't know how I didn't notice that before," he said perfectly seriously.

I'm not the scientific type, but I could say the same here lately.

Eating Some of My Words

When I blogged about seeing the Richmond Symphony Designer House back in August, here, I was convinced that I would hate everything the designers were going to do to tart up the magnificent 1913 Rothesay house.

I'm here to say that that's not entirely true and I'm making that acknowledgement for my friend David who was convinced that upon seeing it after all the work, I would recant. And I am, but only partially.

First of all, I couldn't have chosen a more beautiful day to visit the house on the James. Unlike recent weeks, it was mid-70s and breezy when I arrived around noon. I was sorry to see that more windows weren't open, but with no screens, perhaps it's a dust or debris issue.

So what impressed me? I loved the foyer's nod to the house's history as a place where music was often performed, with instruments scattered about.

I was charmed by the morning hall where the current owners still have breakfast in the east-facing room with a beautiful river view (and a tiny zebra finch in a cage; I had a pair in college and they're personable little birds).

In the earlier post I had expressed my concern about the books being covered in the library (actually it's the study) and I was told today that the reason for that was to lighten up the room; I still didn't approve.

But I was most impressed to learn that the little room had originally been a garage and when larger touring cars came along, it was converted to the current use. The floor tile had been almost black with dirt, but upon cleaning they discovered intermittent square tiles depicting knights fighting mythical creatures. They were the highlight of the room for me.

Throughout the house, it was little details like that which grabbed my attention more so than the overall "done" look of the rooms.

The floor in the living room had been stenciled with stain and was now a work of art and the fact that they took an existing wooden floor and made it the featured focus wowed me.

In the butler's pantry, the shallow drawers were over a yard wide and held divided sections for all the varied silverware of the household. This would have been during the days of seafood forks and pickle forks and god knows what other obscure cutlery that no longer has a place in our casual lives.

In the garden room, a living wall of plants would be a delight in the dead of winter, lush and green. On the upper foyer, which amounted to the second landing on the stairs, a collection of French oil paintings were hung salon-style, my favorite way of hanging art.

Because I had been to the bare bones party, I was particularly struck by how the small, stark spaces that were the servants' quarters on the third floor had been transformed into three beautiful rooms. The designer dubbed them "David + Kelly Forever." One visitor asked, "Oh, is this where you put your boomerang kids?"

Remembering the ceiling-less shower room, the toilet stall and the tiny bedrooms with sinks, I was amazed at the transformation. Anyone who hadn't seen the original spaces couldn't possibly appreciate the change as profoundly.

And what of the enormous screened porch with the view of the river that had so completely captured my attention on the first visit?

To my taste, it is over-furnished, but in all fairness, half of it is being used as the Rothesay Cafe for now. I had intended to spend some time out there, much as I had done on that post-storm evening I'd last visited.

I was able to do so by enjoying lunch on the porch. I chose the table nearest the screen doors and facing the bend in the river and leisurely enjoyed a roast beef, cheddar, red onion and horseradish sandwich on ciabatta, followed by red velvet cake, tuning out the chattering women and couples nearby.

I learned that the way the Designer House works is that when the owners return, they get to live with the floors and the walls (best walls: the sunroom's stunning deep blue walls with cream-colored fretwork over top) and have the option of purchasing anything else they want from the designers.

That pleases me no end because it means that most likely the screened-in porch will return to a simple but superb space in which to read a book or ponder the bend in the James River. And, most importantly, from which to enjoy the power and beauty of a thunderstorm.

But if I were them, the one thing I would be inclined to purchase would be that beautiful painted steel pendulum by local metalworker Tom Chenoweth that sits just outside the screened porch.

It's the least frou-frou part of the entire makeover and the only possible thing that could further enhance the porch's view. I'm just happy I got to spend an evening and an afternoon there.

It may be the highlight of my long-time screened-in porch devotion. If only it had stormed...

The First Rule of Eye Contact

Who better to go to my first Festival of India with than a handsome Indian and his non-Indian girlfriend? It's funny because my friend's interest in Indian food is dwarfed by hers, but then she also thinks she was an Indian in a former life and he's about as Westernized as they come.

More than one person made the analogy that walking the aisles of the festival was like walking the streets of Bombay: slow, circuitous and frustrating.

On the plus side, the people watching was excellent and the parade of Indian dress a real treat (and sometimes hilarious, like the guy in traditional Indian garb but with spiked hair and pink Crocs).

So what did my native host choose for us to eat? Chicken curry with rice and naan, pav bhaji (smooshed mixed veggies with chopped onion), vada pav (potato patty on a roll), chaat papdi (chickpeas, potatoes, tamarind sauce, cilantro chutney, onions and small pieces of something pita-like), samosa chaat, medhu vada (rice dough donut with coconut chutney and a veggie soup which they were out of) and to drink, mango lassi. Of them all, the chaat papdi was probably my favorite.

Desserts (he and I love our sweets) included coconut burfi, rasgolla, ras malai, kheer and ladoo, all of which seemed to have sweetened condensed milk as an ingredient (or rosewater). The coconut burfi was my favorite, but if you knew me, that wouldn't surprise you.

I noticed as we sat there that every time I made eye contact with a male Indian, old or young, he gave me a big smile, so I asked my friend what was up. "It's because you're white," he explained, "and you're making eye contact." I blame my extroversion, but I was unprepared for so many grinning men.

I left the convention center stuffed and headed to Westover Hills for All the Saints Theater Company's Benefit Spaghetti Dinner and show. Obviously I'd already eaten (or, more accurately, overeaten), so I arrived just in time for the entertainment, always eclectic at these events.

The extravaganzas used to be held at Gallery 5, but now the group has constructed a backyard theater in the combined space behind two houses and it's charming.

The colorful curtains are strung between two trees and the front piece for the stage is brightly painted images and patterns. The keyboard is surrounded by a fake cardboard shell mimicking a grand piano. It's all over the top and wonderful.

The show began with musicians playing and a trio of dancers who pulled people from the audience to dance with them onstage as the singer sung. Next, the Amazing Shelly Skye contorted her body into unimaginable positions and a young boy shouted, "She does too much yoga!" There was a comedic sketch about a torch singer desperately trying to sing despite multiple mishaps.

Punk Sinatra did a paper mache storytelling and All the Saints told the haunting tale of "The Judge" accompanied by their own trio. Bread and Puppet Theater out of Vermont did a cabaret, there was flag dancing and accordion playing and the audience enjoyed all kinds of puppets under the night sky.

Joke of the night: Why did the hippie drown? He was too far out. Har-har.

Capping off the night was the final installment of Ipanmea's 12th anniversary celebration and upon arriving, one of the servers welcomed me back and warned that, "Last night was classy, but tonight will be trashy."

What that meant was that tonight DJ Dodie would attract a much larger and younger audience and it would end up being a serious dance party.

Which worked out just fine, because the farmer, his date and two friends came in and suggested we all move to the patio while we still could. It was the right decision for many reasons, not the least of which was a divine breeze that kicked up and blew skirts and hair.

A friend was there on an online date and when he went to get drinks, she asked me what I thought of him. "You ought to try the online dating thing, " she enthused. "It really is a great way to meet guys you'd never meet otherwise."

Easy for her to say; she was enjoying a first date with a nerdy-looking reader with whom she acknowledged chemistry. But I knew her point was that it's been 19 months and I'm overdue.

One of the farmer's friends turned out to be just the sort of person who holds my interest in conversation; born in RVA, lived in Ireland from college on and recently moved to Providence to teach at Brown. Now let's see, what can we talk about?

Over the course of a couple hours, we covered the changes in the Richmond scene since he was here last, the difficulty in dating a non-reader and, naturally, all things musical.

It turned out that we were both fans of Swedish pop and Lykke Li makes us both giddy. Even better, he didn't know of the Shout Out Louds, so I got to recommend a band, always a source of satisfaction from one music fan to another.

He was also as big a post-rock fan as I am and that yielded some great Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros show comparisons. Now that's the kind of random conversational partner I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, the dance party inside was reaching fever pitch and trying to make it through to go to the bathrooms was at best challenging and at worst touchy-feely.

I did enjoy hearing remixes of classic 70s dance music, but the patio was reaching critical mass, so I decided to say my good nights and left, heading up bustling Grace Street, my mind going in multiple directions.

(Online dating? Really? Is that where this is going?)

La, la, la. Indian food and cabarets. That's what I'm thinking about.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Afterlife and Where the Rain Slips Through

How long is a group of poetry lovers willing to wait for the poet to show up?

In the case of poet Colin Cheney, it was about three quarters of an hour, but, in fairness to him, he mistakenly thought that the reading was at 4:00 rather than 3:00.

Silly poet, Chop Suey's Saturday readings are always at 3.

Darren Morris began with a poem about an intersection, where one week a truck jack-knifed and spilled watermelons everywhere and the following week another jack-knifed and spilled pigs everywhere.

Apparently pigs eating rotten watermelons was disturbing to passersby as well as poem-worthy.

"Poets don't tend to be sports fans," he said as a way of introducing his poem about baseball in the afterlife.

The poem "Battery" contained my favorite line: "Naivete has always been my best quality."

I can't count the number of people in my life who have commented on my naivete, although I'm never told that it's a good quality.

Afterlife was the recurring theme in Morris' poetry, mainly he said, because he doesn't see it as black and white as heaven or hell, but more interactive.

As the writer who had selected Colin Cheney for the National Poetry series, VCU's David Wojahn introduced the poet he had found "eccentric, quirky and deeply weird" and likened his book Here Be Monsters to a map.

Cheney's poetry was indeed beautifully weird. Introducing "Decline of the North American Songbird," he said, "I think that's what you need to know. I'm going to butcher the German language."

Noting that he lives part-time in Bangkok, Cheney said that his wife, who was presently sleeping there, had requested that he read "Watson the Shark," based on the John Singleton Copley painting of the man about to be eaten by a shark and "the instant before whatever happens happened."

The original hangs in the National Gallery of Art and a copy in Boston, where Cheney grew up seeing it.

On rainy days, he said his Mom would take the family to stand in front of the painting, which terrified him (as did the original in the NGA whenever I saw it as a child).

The beauty is that that terror eventually became the inspiration for a poem, and not a terrifying one.

The closest we got to terrifying today was Morris' evocative reference to "an almost profane fear of being alone, loneliness."

As a friend and I were just discussing earlier today, busyness can be a mask for loneliness.

But that's a subject for another day.

An Eight-Hour Evening

In a crowded gallery at Chop Suey, a bunch of us gathered to hear zinesters from the U.K. and Portland (as part of the Zines on Toast Tour) read and talk about their experiences at everything from breaking other's people's ankles at a GWAR shows to riding a Greyhound bus to vegan mass catering.

"First there's the benefit of being faceless. Then there's the fact that the reader only learns what the writer chooses to tell them. I am more than the sum of my writing."

It was really kind of interesting listening to 'zine writer Alex read a piece from one of her 'zines about the presumptions people make when they read her zines.

They're the same presumptions people make when they read your blog, and while I really do try to put myself out there, there's an awful lot of me that I hold back. Stuff I think would convey better in person than through the ether.

As it is, I've had commenters presume things about me that are miles from the truth, proving that I don't always clearly represent who I really am. But that's not in the blogging rules, either.

One German-Korean 'zine writer shared her love of how literal the German language was by reading definitions of words that amused her. Hiccups = swallowing up. Nipples = breast warts. Genitals = shame area. Moustache = upper lip beard. Her 'zine is called MorganMuffel, or "grumpy in the morning." She said, "English needs a word for that, too."

There were tales of trying to attack Tony Blair (epic fail), and a new cyclist's story of trying to fit in with the Lycra crowd and falling off her bike repeatedly. And there were confessions. "I changed my name to Alex Wrekk, but my real name is Sunshine. Yes, my parents were hippies."

Zeus Gallery Cafe was mobbed when the three of us got there around 8:30 and our friend was waiting for us in the little lounge-like room. Stretched out languidly on the low, leather couches, she said, "I love this room. I want to bring a guy here and make out. Can you make me a curtain?"

The doorless opening to the room was apparently the only deterrent to making the small space a den of inequity. Yes, I could make her a curtain.

It took several bottles of wine before we got around to ordering and the fact that no one could keep up with which bottle we were drinking at any given moment became a series of jokes a la "Who's on first?" After a while owner Ted just shook his head and made fun of one among us who was having the hardest time remembering (the only male).

My dinner was Hanover tomato, white bean, water cress and Mozzarella salad in roasted tomato vinaigrette, seared foie gras with toasted brioche and seasonal fruit preps, followed by chocolate lava cake with ice cream.

There was a nearby couple holding hands across the table and staring intently into each other's eyes and having low, meaningful conversation, oblivious to the increasing noise of our four-top. Very romantic and I was very envious.

Ipanema Cafe was celebrating its 12th birthday and owner Kendra had promised that any of her friends who didn't show up would be pantsed, which is a little tough to do to someone like me who only wears skirts and dresses. On the other hand, maybe she'd resort to underpantsing me and I didn't want that to happen, so I attended.

Just kidding. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I knew so many people there, like the abstract noise musician ("Why weren't you at the Eels show?"), the boutique owner in the black buckled dress ("Of course you'd be here!"), WRIR DJs ("Given how oblivious they are, our future is fucked."), comic book store employee ("Aren't we supposed to be secretly dating?"), trombone players plural ("Remember when you asked how my apartment was so neat? That's all Larry."), pizza maker ("I'm still working on my technique."), actor ("You saw that performance?"), the photographer whose work I own ("I could come by and sign that for you.") and people who recognized me from I know not where.

As hot as it was on the patio where I spent my first hour meeting and greeting, it was even hotter inside the restaurant. Ice was melting in glasses within minutes and everyone had a sheen of sweat as we squeezed past each other to the dance floor and the bathroom.

I ran into a musician friend, overdressed for the temperature in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Teasing him about his clothing choice, he said he'd just come from working at his restaurant job, which led to a discussion of it. "Ohhhh, so that's what Mac meant when said he couldn't come in to the restaurant because he'd treated a friend badly. Now I get it." Now we all do.

Music was provided by stellar DJs Sara and Greg as well as DJ Troy for a mix of pop, soul, and r & b, causing sweaty dancers to finally fill the floor around 1 a.m.

Time well spent. Happy anniversary, Ipanema and here's to many more.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Drooling the Night Away

"I will be coming from the dentist and I'm not sure how I'll be. I just hope I'm not drooling," read the e-mail from the friend I was meeting for happy hour.

But she's a really good friend, so even if she had been drooling, I think we could have worked around it.

I like her enough that I'd wipe her chin dry if it came to that.

The plan was to meet up at Pescado's China Street since she'd never been to either location, despite living on the southside.

My reluctance to go south of the river is common knowledge, but actually I had been to China Street on the night it opened, here. I had held off since then to allow for the novelty to lessen a bit.

But just in case, we'd also arrived early.

Even so, the bartender and chef both said they remembered me; maybe it's sitting in that end bar stool that makes a person memorable.

Hopefully it wasn't the sheer quantity of what I ate that time.

The owner greeted me and introduced himself and my friend arrived without drool, but there was adhesive stuck to her jaw, which I had to point out (it's like broccoli in your teeth...wouldn't you want to know?).

After three hours in the dentist's chair, I was just glad she'd shown up.

We were early enough to enjoy all the great specials, so we availed ourselves of the $3 wine (Malbec or Chardonnay) and the $4 appetizers in a nearly empty blue dining room.

It gave the owner time to chat us up about what we do, where we live and his recent reviews.

I am always curious to hear what owners and chefs offer up about their opinions of critics.

The lobster quesadilla was plump and the accompanying cheese sauce flavorful, the mussels in coconut curry broth were devoured before we began drinking the broth with a spoon and the shrimp nachos used blue corn chips (my favorite) and plenty of shrimp, cheese, green onions, red peppers and even cabbage for crunch.

Friend had to switch from wine to beer though, because the acidity of the wine was hurting her mouth, but given today's heat, she didn't seem to mind too terribly much.

Or maybe she was just trying to compensate for the numbness wearing off.

We finished with the steaming-hot conch fritters because everybody likes fried bread with sauce.

By that time, the dining room was nearing capacity and we saw plenty of impressive-looking seafood being carried past us, but we were full.

After discussing the usual (her love life, the absence of mine), she wanted to know what was next.

"I know I'm only Act One, so what's after this?" she teased.

Can you guess she works in theater?

Music at Gallery 5 was next and when I described the bands, she regretted not being able to go.

And it was a great line-up, starting with Lob Marino ("Karen, it's the same set you heard at Sprout, but we're just about done with some new stuff." Promises, promises).

Every song except one had been written while they were in South America and the one written here was about last winter, undoubtedly a shock to their system upon their return.

The witty and self-deprecating Liza Kate followed, randomly telling the audience that she loves attention and that she'd ridden a horse today.

"Ever been famous?" she asked. "It's hot up here!"

Chapel Hill's Birds and Arrows was next and I was especially eager to hear them for the first time.

Tuning up and sound-checking, lead singer Andrea asked the sound guy for less reverb.

"A little less far down the well," she clarified. "Less My Morning Jacket."

As my close musical friends know, it's not about a well, it's about a cave, for crying out loud, and I love the sound of music from a cave, but apparently it's not what B & A are going for.

They launched into their latest single and mid-way through, the place went dark.

In the highlight of the evening, the band kept right on playing.

The cello, drums and acoustic guitar all still worked and the audience cheered them for not stopping.

"We're so rock and roll, we blew the power," Andrea laughed.

The next song began while the stage was still dark but electricity was restored and they went on with their set of beautiful harmonies, well-crafted songs and obvious enthusiasm for what they do.

Introducing a song about having her 11-year old dog put down this spring, Andrea warned the audience not to cry.

And I didn't cry, but there was definite welling up since the same thing had happened to me this past spring.

Or maybe I just needed an excuse to well. In any case, the song seemed to be a crowd favorite, one of many the audience responded enthusiastically to.

Finishing up the night was the stellar Ophelia and unfortunately their set was limited by the noise ordinance curfew (don't get me started), so it was shorter than the fans would have liked.

I can only hope that the next time I see them, I get much more of them.

I seem to be hoping for a lot more of several things lately.

Just not more sad dog songs; they're just gateway music to the harder stuff and who needs that?

First I well and next thing you know I'll be drooling...and have to wipe my own chin.

Just give me some reverb to do it by.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Native is Relative

How funny is it that I had to go to a lecture about my hometown, Washington, D.C., to be told for the first time, "Well, you're practically a native Richmonder!"

The event was another in the Virginia Historical Society's Banner Lecture series, Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French Visionary who Designed Washington, D.C. and the author speaking was Scott Berg.

I was curious about the man who who been so instrumental in designing the city I knew so well (and which seems to intimidate driving visitors to this day) and even more so when I learned that the Frenchman was a relatively young 37 when Washington commissioned him to design the new capital city.

L'Enfant had been classically trained at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and his father had been a siege painter (talk about specializing) to the King of France. Berg argued that L'Enfant's original drawing for the layout of the city was the first great artistic achievement of the young country.

His vision for D.C. was the antithesis of Philly, the quintessential grid city, something L'Enfant detested. He envisioned topographical drama, with the Capital perched high on a hill for effect and with a view of the Potomac westward (the direction the country was headed). This was to be its public axis.

The President's house (the eventual White House), on the other hand, was oriented for Washington himself with a view across the Potomac toward Alexandria (a city he helped survey) and Mount Vernon, his home. Here was the private axis.

Unfortunately, both the Capital and White House eventually had their orientations altered away from the Potomac. L'Enfant felt that the mall should be a democratic gathering place, wide and grassy, and at least that didn't change. And I hadn't known that L'Enfant was dismissed/fired after a mere eleven months.

But most interesting to me was the story behind Pennsylvania Avenue, one I'd surprisingly never heard before. The ferry road that originally connected the Georgetown/Alexandria ferry to the Anacostia/Maryland ferry was the road eventually named Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the central road in the new city, grand and wide.

Pennsylvania was given this honor because they had come in second in the contest to be the country's new capital city. We'll call it a consolation prize to keep the Pennsylvanians from whining too much.

As for being called "practically a native Richmonder," the woman in the seat next to me got me talking (oh, it happens) and when she learned I'd been in Richmond twenty years, made that pronouncement. In the past, when people learn that about me, they'd inevitably say, "So you're not a native." but maybe the rules have changed.

Or maybe I've just learned to fit in. L'Enfant preferred to be called Peter rather than Pierre; I wouldn't be surprised if he was just doing that in hopes of being called a native.

Now that I'm "practically" one myself, feel free to call me Karen Kay. It has such a southern ring to it, don't you think?

Masks & Miramar Under the Harvest Moon

"Do you need a mask in your life?" my server asked me at Aziza's tonight. It wasn't a metaphorical question; she was handing me a mask drawn on the back of a round take-out container lid. It even came with strings attached for fitting around my head.

Maybe it was that incredibly bright moon with Jupiter shining like a beacon right beside it, because the evening was full of all kinds of little unexpected pleasures.

Like walking into Aziza's, the first person who spoke to me was Chef Philip Denny of Six Burner. I'm naturally curious about where the chefs I like to cook for me choose to spend their off time. I also like having my restaurant picks validated, although I already knew what a treasure Aziza's is.

As the only person eating at the bar, I had the annoyance of the TV screen (the one thing I dislike at Aziza's) inappropriately showing a History Channel program on how McDonald's french fries are grown and processed. Who watches such a thing anyway? But I also had the pleasure of an oven view and both servers' attention for all kinds of great conversation.

Dinner was the Colombo Provence Rose and an outstanding white pizza with free-form pepperoni. As I ate, my server engaged me in a chat about going out to restaurants and the demise of dressing up. I knew we were soul mates when she said, "I just like to eat...when someone else is cooking."

I'd complimented her unique skirt when I came in, which led to the discussion of dressing up to go out. I once dated a guy who would say to me, "Why can't you just wear jeans and a T-shirt when we got out?" Uh, because I like dresses and skirts? Because I get compliments dressing this way?

This girl, though, had me beat hands down. She actually owns a half dozen ball gowns and I don't own a one. And she wears hers, too.

My one full-length dress is black burnt velvet over a long black slip and very fitted, so not at all gown like (and a gift from a former squeeze, so I didn't choose it). But I could appreciate her love of glamour in an era of increasing casual wear, even if I could offer no hope of improvement.

As for the source of the mask, during our chat, she'd said under her breath, "Turn around and look at the kitchen," and there I saw a bored kitchen worker with a mask on his face.

Apparently my reaction was so positive that he'd created one for me, too. The drawing was good; he'd included a lot of facial detail. I guess he needed a mask in his life, too.

After dinner I went to 27 for their new music series, tonight featuring Miramar, that hybrid of Bio Ritmo and Quatro na Bossa. Word had obviously spread about the show and a steady stream of people came through the door for classic Puerto Rican 50s-style boleros.

The first to greet me there was Raul, owner of Nacho Mama's, and someone I've known since he first set up shop in Carytown in 1996. We always seem to run into each other when Latin music is involved and I could tell he was there to dance.

He asked about my relationship status and why, offering his sage advice. "The only way to get over someone is to get under someone else. Believe me, I know." There's not a lot you can say to that.

I made a couple of new friends, both dance lovers, looking for recommendations about what to do and where to go. They'd only found out about Miramar because they'd innocently come in for dinner tonight and then decided to stay. It's funny how often I get asked, "But how do you find out about these things?" Oh, you know.

The owner of La Grotta came in, too, and despite having eaten at his restaurant many times (including a memorable second date in which the guy walked me to my car and then asked if he could grab my ass and a reunion dinner with a guy I hadn't seen in seventeen years), I'd never actually met him. We took care of that tonight.

I met a Persian (he prefers it to Iranian and when he's president of that country, intends to change the name back) with thick curly hair that both men and women asked to touch throughout the evening. I wasn't planning to, but he offered, so I allowed peer pressure to make me feel up his hair. It was nice.

Miramar played two sets with their romantic-sounding music filling that big high-ceilinged space. Although it was clearly Latin, there was also a Middle Eastern element throughout and that was what finally got a few couples on the dance floor.

Raul was the star, inevitably picking up his partner at the end of each dance, which was fine as long as the partners were well-covered under their skirts.

There was one guy doing that Grateful Dead-style of dancing and it was everything a couple of band members could do not to gawk and grin. Watching them fight a smile or laughter was as much fun as watching the guy "catching butterflies" to romantic boleros.

It must have been that harvest moon with Jupiter that summoned the restaurant types, the dancers and the future presidents.

Maybe I don't need a mask in my life, just a front-row table for it all.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beignet Breakfast to Welcome Fall

When I woke up this morning, I remembered that it was the first day of fall. But lying in bed with the windows open, the sunny warmth reminded me of the last time I was in New Orleans in late September. You can call it autumn, but as long as it's still hot, I'm happy.

And somewhere in my reverie about fall in the Big Easy, it occurred to me that it was beignet day at Louisiana Flair. Glancing at the clock, I saw it was 10:15 and I had no idea how late they served beignets, but surely not much longer. You never saw someone jump out of bed so fast, but a quick phone call confirmed that beignets were available until 10:30.

Throwing on a sundress, I was walking in the door of Louisiana Flair at 10:32. Using my very best manners, I asked if I could still get beignets. The guy behind the counter gave me a look from behind his glasses and asked, "Are you the one who called?" Found out! "Did I sound desperate?" I wondered.

"A little," he said laughing. "We still got 'em, but you're lucky today. We usually run out by 10." As far as I was concerned, that was just proof that I was meant to have my beignets. I took a seat nearby and in two minutes I had my three beignets and blueberry sauce.

The charming gentleman who had fried them up (two minutes, one on each side) sat at the table next to me so I had some breakfast company. He said they'd made up five pans of beignet dough last night and had less than half a pan left now, a miracle since they almost never have leftover dough.

I expressed my gratitude for today's slower sales as I ate the confectioner's sugar-dusted fried dough, drizzled in sticky blueberry sauce and making a mess everywhere.

"You should have been here yesterday for the alligator etouffee. Sold out by 1:00," he bragged. I said I wasn't surprised since alligator isn't regularly on the menu, but I was definitely interested in coming back the next time they have it.

"You're mighty quiet over there," the counter guy called to me from across the room. "Everything okay?" It's hard to stuff your face and convey complete satisfaction, but I did my best.

Owner Nate heard my regret at missing the alligator and assured me he'd be serving it again soon. "Like when?" I nosily asked, not wanting to miss out a second time. "Let's see, how about October fifth?" he countered.

I inquired if it would be etouffee again, but he had another idea. Next time it'll be fried alligator in a sauce picante (tomato-based brown gravy) over rice with green beans and grilled bread. 'The sauce will be cooked down until that alligator is fork-tender," Nate promised.

Telling him I'll definitely be back for that, he let out one of his belly laughs. "Guess I better write it down then so I don't forget." Good point, because I have a big mouth and obviously I'm not the only alligator fan.

When my counter bud came to clear my plate, he noted the clean table and said, "You didn't even make a mess," something he had warned me would surely happen. I pointed to the pile of crumpled napkins, saying I'd done my best to erase my mess.

"Honey, I was just trying to make you feel better!" he teased.

I don't know that I could have felt much better than sitting there licking powdered sugar off my lips on a hot fall day. Shades of New Orleans in September.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Subterranean Sophistication

"That was an auditory pleasure," said one VCU student to another as we exited the Listening Room tonight. So what else is new, boys? But maybe they were Listening Room virgins and unprepared for the wonders of this must-hear monthly event. Even my friend Andrew almost always comes out for this one.

The crowd shifts regularly, sometimes younger, sometimes more mature, but always growing and made up of dedicated music lovers. For a change, tonight's bill had only two bands instead of three, making for slightly longer sets. Put on your attention spans, kids.

Blasco led the charge, tall and slender in black, and wearing a hat and jacket he soon shed under the heat of the lights. Even better, two of the lights got turned off, making for a much more atmospheric setting.

Blasco explained that he'd be playing both old and new material and that the new stuff would be recognizable because " it will be in French, so that's how you can tell. Because I'm French." He kept lyric sheets in front of him, he said, because they were still fresh. Even when I didn't understand the words, I got the feelings he was conveying.

It was the LR's first multi-lingual performance and set an interesting tone for the evening. With a tad less lighting, we could have been in a subterranean boite rather than a church basement with an emotive singer/songwriter playing guitar and singing songs of frustrated lives and loves. It felt so...Gallic and I mean that in the best possible way.

Favorite lyric: "He makes me want to miss you."

Next up was ...and The Wiremen, a trio tonight with one New Yorker (Lynn Wright) and two Richmonders (Paul Watson and Pippin). I've seen them before in places as disparate as Poe's Pub and Ghostprint Gallery, so I knew we were in for a treat.

Their music has a dark complexity and with Wright's (Bryan Ferry-like) warble, it makes for a haunting sound. Tuning his guitar, Wright said, "I was told to talk to the audience tonight which I don't usually do. I was also told not to act like a New Yorker."

The man does have a certain blase coolness that could be construed as acting like a New Yorker, but his apparent enjoyment in the performance came across as pure Richmond.

Watson's trumpet-playing and backing vocals add so much to the band's sound, as did his occasional air-guitar strumming on his trumpet. It was only preparation apparently for when he actually picked up his guitar, often alternating playing it with the horn.

Pippin (also of the Happy Lucky Combo) provided the creative drumming and percussion that rounded out their sound. I had just seen him play last week at the Musicircus, although in a band with a very different sound.

Favorite lyric: "Hey, I could be your man and stay to face it."

It was an unusually sophisticated evening at the Listening Room tonight and since a show of hands proved that easily half the crowd were first-timers, they may be surprised on their next visit to discover a completely different kind of musical experience.

But there still won't be any talking allowed. That's just how the Listening Room rolls.

Art for the Economically-Challenged

Always a sucker for local art (my walls are testament to that), since making the unexpected switch from the corporate world to self-employment a while back, I have necessarily had to curb my art purchases, although I can't seem to stop entirely.

And I don't have to when I continue to discover local artists willing to share their talent for a pittance. Such was the case when I finally saw the excellent Donald Schrader show at Chop Suey Books.

I'd met a couple at a wine tasting recently and, as friends of Schrader's, they'd turned me on to his small-scale comic-style paintings, which sounded like something I might want to live with.

People who have been around Richmond for a while seem to remember Schrader when he was doing comic strips for ThroTTle, but I didn't. That only made the pleasure greater when I walked into Chop Suey's little gallery and experienced the full effect of so many small works, all in a very retro comic book style.

The paintings use limited colors and simple geometric shapes, but despite such minimalism, they are abuzz with activity. Musicians play, people dance, artists paint and mice scurry.

With titles like "Smile Podner," "Suits No Zoots" and "Britches Too Big," you get a sense of Schrader's sense of old-fashioned humor. And if you didn't know better, you'd swear these were vintage 1920-30s comics, simple and full of movement.

Best of all, prices started at $10 and topped out at $50, with the bulk of them in the $20-$30 range. Now that's art for a recessionista's budget.

If I were to have bought something, I mean. Ahem.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Girls Rock in Oregon Hill

I spent the evening in my favorite working class neighborhood, nearby Oregon Hill or as the local restaurant critics are lately proclaiming it, "the upcoming restaurant row dining destination."


I went for cheap (but good eats) and backyard movies, the pleasures of the working class.

Luckily for me, O-Hill is within walking distance because trying to park over there on a school night is pointless.

When I rolled up to 821 cafe, it was fairly quiet and I joined the barsitters, half of whom were the day shift who'd just gotten off and were enjoying happy hour beers (rail bourbon shots $2) and trash talking a fellow employee who'd come in wasted the night before.

They know me at 821, so I don't have to place my food order, only my beverages of choice.

Tonight's music was mostly punk and thrash, not my first choice, but definitely preferable to classic rock, country or Top 40.

The server sitting next to me told me that she no longer even hears the music during her shift.

I can't imagine being that music-oblivious, even while working, but perhaps she's just tuning out someone else's musical choices.

That I could see; I would have to tune out Journey.

Afterwards I strolled over to the Flying Brick Library, a radical lending library in an old house on Pine Street.

Tonight they were having a benefit for the Richmond 'Zine Fest, showing two documentaries, Grrlyshow and Girls Rock.

 It was such a beautiful night to be sitting outside under the stars watching a movie on a fabric screen strung up between the fences.

Grrlyshow had interviews with some of the seminal figures in founding girly 'zines like Bust and Bamboo Girl, created by a generation of third-wave feminists.

Discussing that subject with a friend who's a Women's Studies professor after the film, we concluded that we're currently on the cusp of fourth-wave feminism, unbelievable as that sounds.

Girls Rock was a documentary about the annual five-day music camp in Portland, Oregon for 8-18 year old girls.

They choose a musical genre, learn to play an instrument, come up with a band name, write a song, and perform live for 700 people.

All the while, bickering and developing friendships with their band mates.

The film follows a few girls in depth and each is captivating and heartbreaking in her own way.

Given their ages, the girls are all in the throes of discovering who they are and the camp helps them appreciate themselves for the individuals they are.

Musicians like Carrie from Sleater-Kinney teach the campers girl-power lessons in between band practices and female bands perform during lunch every day.

You could actually see the girls becoming more comfortable in their own skins over the course of the week.

Many in the mostly female audience were charmed by the strength of character of a couple of the youngest girls, but they seemed like divas-in-the-making to me.

I'd be curious to see a follow-up piece about what those girls are like now.

Afterwards, a volunteer from the Portland camp shared her experiences there and spoke of her desire to start a similar rock camp for girls in Richmond.

With all the strong female musicians in this town, we'd probably be a natural for such a thing.

I'd have said we could hold it in Oregon Hill, where you can't walk down the street without hearing a band practicing, but restaurant row probably won't approve of pint-size shredding and high-pitched screaming.

More's the pity for that.

R.I.P. English

Although I am a daily reader of the Washington Post, I've never been a huge fan of Gene Weingarten's Sunday column. Too often, his columns focus on the exaggerated differences between the sexes and, for whatever reason, they're just too over-the-top for my taste.

But this week's column was a masterpiece in my eyes because he was writing about the demise of the English language ("English. It's dead to me."), a subject near and dear to my heart.

He dubbed the official moment that English died of shame to be when the Post itself published a letter from a reader about their error in calling Sasha the President's youngest daughter, rather than the younger one. Good point, but the letter also referred to the first couple as the Obama's. Ouch.

Gene called this "an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy." I call it commonplace these days. Substituting a possessive for a plural is as frequently-occurring as misuse of there, they're and their (or its and it's). Or the non-existent "alot." A lot of people don't realize that alot is not a word. Never was.

His column also blasted the use of "reach out to" as a verb, citing it as the domain of 12-step programs and sensitivity training workshops. I once had an editor/writer boyfriend who had the same horror of using impact as a verb, refusing to acknowledge its right to be anything other than a noun.

But what endeared Gene to me most was the last line of his piece: "I could care less." If any misused phrase has the ability to set my teeth on edge every time I hear it, it's that one. If you could care less, you're saying something completely different than if you couldn't care less. And if you don't understand that distinction, clearly English died for you a long time ago.

And, yes, I acknowledge that language must remain malleable to thrive. I accept (and grimace) every year when buzz words like bromance and exit strategy are added to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.

It's like my editor/writer friend once told me about a mutual friend, "I can't take her seriously. She doesn't know the difference between than and then."

To this language lover, he couldn't have explained her fatal flaw any more succinctly.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Satisfaction: Subtitles and Sex

The UR campus is a long-time nemesis of mine and since it was my destination tonight, I thought it wisest to stop at Secco beforehand for a glass of wine.

It may seem counterproductive to imbibe before taking on that devil's triangle of a campus, but my thinking was that in case I wasn't able to locate the elusive building (and that's happened before), at least it wouldn't bother me as much.

So, Secco on a Sunday at 6 was completely civilized, with few tables populated and my favorite bar stool open and waiting for me. After a bit of tasting, I opted for the 2009 Chateau de Roquefort Cotes du Provence "Corail" Rose (bright fruit, clean finish), only to have cheese whiz Sara applauded me with, "Rose, drink it while you still can!" Amen to that. Sadly, I can already feel colder weather breathing dwn my neck.

After my massive brunch, all I really needed (besides true love and eternal happiness of course) was a chunk of cheese and the new Rosemary Manchego came highly recommended to complement my rose. The rosemary flavor was subtle and I also noticed they have a couple of other new cheeses, including a major stinky one I need to try.

But like Cinderella, I had a time limit, albeit a self-imposed one to allow myself enough time to make the 7:30 screening of the UR International Film Series (and wondrously, I found the building on my first try by asking a student for help).

Tonight they were showing Vincere, about the tragic life of Mussolini's first wife/lover, Ida Dalser and the son they had before he abandoned her for a publicly suitable wife. The film was only released in this country last spring and had already done well on the film festival circuit, including Cannes.

The film was operatic; there's just no other way to describe it. The sets and locations were magnificent and the evocation of the period completely convincing. Director Bellocchio brilliantly shifted to newsreels to eventually show the aging, balding and thicker man that Mussolini became rather than trying to achieve an artificial age in a marginally believable way.

Like all great foreign films, there were subtitles, plenty of nudity of both the male and female varieties and lingering sex scenes that rang true. You know, the kind you don't really need to watch when you're not dating...or when seated next to a white-haired octogenarian whose sharp intake of breath marked the start of every passion-filled scene.

And in the end, Ida died at a relatively young 57, her son at 26 and Mussolini got killed by the people he betrayed. Hollywood be damned, you have to appreciate a European unhappy ending.

But before he discarded her, their passion was intense and watching it certainly added something besides foreign film appreciation to my Sunday evening. A lot of wishful thinking perhaps, or at the very least, fodder for sweet dreams.

British Invasion Brunch a Go Go

Maybe it's just me, but when I saw Sprout was having a 60s British music themed brunch, I immediately started looking through my closet for the most mod-looking dress I could find. The winner was a fitted bright pink sheath with white daisies and purple centers. Groovy and ready to go to the British Invasion brunch.

The DJs spinning vinyl for brunch were Sara (of Cherry Bomb) and Greg, so you know the music was spot-on. I waved hello as I took a table and Greg, very dapper in a white dickie with a yellow deep-V polyester shirt over it, blew me a kiss back. Sara was adorable in a brown mini with white lace tights.

And then there was the vinyl playing. Carrie Anne, Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter, Groovy Kind of Love; oh, yes, the music consisted of vintage hits as well as slightly more obscure British finds. All around me people were bobbing their heads and smiling each time a new three-minute gem played.

I was delighted to discover that the menu had also undergone a British invasion with all kinds of rarely-seen English standards for brunch today. Beans on toast, toads-in-a-hole, bangers over mash with onion gravy and my personal choice, chuck roast and Yorkshire pudding. They had their usual brunch choices too, but how often do I have British brunch options made with Virginia ingredients?

The table I sat next to included a girl I'd met at a Marionette show, so I had some built in conversational partners. The first thing she said was, "Nice job on the 60s look." She'd scoured her closet and come up empty, settling for a 60s-style headband and a thick line of eyeliner that curled up at the outside of her eyes.

But my dress couldn't compare to owner Laurie's mod little number because hers with paired with go-go boots. She refused to take credit for them , though, saying that she only has them because she's in a go-go dance group who perform with local bands. Of course, that just made her cooler.

When my local chuck roast and Yorkshire pudding arrived, the trio at the next table sounded like an echo chamber. "Wow," one said. "Wow," said the next. "Wow," said the last.

And it was impressive looking, with two puddings and loads of meat and gravy over it. On the side of the plate was a row of sliced local beets topped with a row of sliced local hard-cooked eggs, adding a bright 60s visual pop to the plate.

Having grown up in a large family, I know the pleasures of long-cooked (and relatively inexpensive) chuck roast and the horseradish-infused gravy did it justice. The puddings were dense, but perfect for sopping up gravy.

It was an enormous portion and I ate most of it before offering bites to my neighbors. One of the girls noted after tasting it that the gravy "tastes like Arby's horsey sauce." Um, you mean it has horseradish in it, I teased. She had no idea what Arby's secret ingredient had been. A teachable moment.

I asked Laurie how many people had gotten the same dish I had and she said very few, probably because they had no idea what it was. "That's why you have to know, to get the best thing on the menu," she admitted. But she's also working on expanding her menu-description skills, the better to help those who don't know.

Paying my bill, I noticed my name on the check and owner Jamie acknowledged that they do know me by name now. "Well, I have been to almost every show here," I had to admit, not to mention more than a few meals. "Yea, we're going to have to put you to work doing sound," Jamie laughed. He's right; I can always stand to add a new skill set.

Just don't ask me to go-go dance.

Ethiopian Energy Everywhere

Remember how I said that if you weren't at Balliceaux for the Kings Go Forth show, here, that it was your loss?
Okay, same deal, different band, but another limited big-city tour that just miraculously included us: Boston, Philly, NYC and DC.

Oh yes, and RVA.

The Debo Band out of Boston had everything they needed to lay down 60s and 70s-era Ethiopian grooves: congas, electric guitar, bass, accordion, sousaphone, saxophone and whatever else they decided to play.

Tonight's show featured them along with the visiting Fendika, a group of traditional Azmari artists from Ethiopia, lending their vocal and dancing talents.

This was truly a dream bill.

The place was packed. Bartender Sean told me they'd sold 100 tickets just today and the room only holds 200 people.

Add in planning types like me who'd bought their tickets before today and the brave souls who just walked up to the door and you've got a full house.

It was a tight fit to start and once the crowd started dancing, well let's just say body parts met body parts.

When I got there, I established my spot with a good view at the corner of the bar, where an Ethiopian guy immediately introduced himself to me; he'd driven from Harrisonburg for this show.

Later, I met a girl who'd come from DC.

It was a huge bonus to hear from two Ethiopians who had seen the band before and they only whetted my appetite further for the show we were all so excited about.

They tried to verse me on the dancing I was about to see so that I could join in, but you can imagine where that went.

I felt much better when the guy told me he wasn't any good at Ethiopian dancing either.

"Well, if you aren't any good with your heritage, what chance does this American have?" I asked, making him laugh and give up.

Peter Solomon from WCVE stopped by to chat with me, telling me that he sees me at every music event he attends.

He mistakenly assumed that that meant I had musical talent, so I relieved him of that misconception, clarifying that I'm just a music fan.

He was thrilled that the Debo Band had a sousaphone because it was the instrument that made him want to learn to play music.

Unfortunately, his dad found a trombone for a dollar, so he ended up learning that instead, but his love for the sousaphone lives on apparently.

But then the entire room was full of music lovers tonight.

I was one of many who loved how the Debo Band slipped into a groove and just stayed there.

With the addition of Fendika, the music became even more North African sounding and when the dancers shared the stage with them, it was like watching a complete circle of music and dance.

So we had this 14-piece jazz collective who already focus on Ethiopian grooves sharing the stage with traditional Ethiopian musicians, making for the funkiest world music possible in what gradually became an overheated room due to all the moving bodies.

Tonight Balliceaux was a little slice of slinky groove heaven.

Like I said, you should have been there.

My regrets if you weren't.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Road Tripping It Down Route 1

I guess I just needed a road trip.

After the reading this afternoon, I started thinking about where I might want to have dinner and what it came down to was where not what.

I felt like taking a drive.

But I had plans later, so there were some time constraints; I couldn't go as far as Fredericksburg or Charlottesville.

So I got cleaned up and decided to take a drive down colorful Route 1 to Petersburg to enjoy the road view and have a bite to eat.

Yes, I could have taken I-95 except that it sucks my soul to drive that road, so I reserve it for times it can't be avoided (hello DC).

Besides, if I'd driven 95, I would have missed the series of mid-century motels that once provided respite for north/south travelers.

Places like the Relax Inn, the Snow White Motel, The Martha Kay, The White House Motel, the Par 3 Motel and the wholesome-sounding Family Motel.

And the Sunrise Motel? Yep, it faced east.

I'd have missed the "Coin Laundry. Open 24 Hours. Air-Conditioned" sign. How long has that sign been up, do you suppose?

I wouldn't have seen the gun shop sign saying, "Conceal Carry Class Oct. 2."

Or the "Jefferson Davis Highway/Route 1/Welcome" banners all along the road, which actually tickled me.

I guess I'm not the only one who appreciates the scenic nature of the number one byway.

And certainly I wouldn't have had a guy in a black truck pull up next to me at a stoplight in Colonial Heights, smile right at me and say through our open windows, "You have some pretty teeth."

Sorry, but that kind of stuff just doesn't happen on the interstate.

Once I crossed the Appomattox, I stopped at the first restaurant I came to, Wabi Sabi and took a seat at the sushi bar, much to the staff's surprise.

Since I was there last, they'd added tapas to the sushi menu, so I decided to give a small plate a try.

After an above average house salad due to the roasted red peppers, abundance of red onion and grated cucumber and carrot, I enjoyed the lamb chops with North African and Middle Eastern spices with cucumber salad and kiwi sauce.

The dry rub was excellent and although the server tried to warn me that it was a tapas-size portion (3) and not an entree, it was plenty of food.

The kiwi provided the sweet complement to the savory spice of the chops.

And, yes, I sucked bones.

The owner chatted with me about the ghetto cheeseburger he'd just had (a slice of cheese on a hamburger bun) and the upcoming Hops Festival and how best to milk it.

Then he took his plate of sushi to his office to work and eat on a Saturday night.

Better him than me.

The drive back was just as compellingly scenic, except in a night-time kind of way.

The moon was out and the neon was on and I got a whole different perspective of Route 1 in the dark.

Not only did I satisfy my road trip jones, I had a nice meal in a place where I didn't know a soul, a rare occurence for me.

And did I mention that I now know where I can rent a crane?

Such is the beauty of a drive down Route 1.

Meatless Mondays Made Easy with Kim O'Donnel

My mother is an O'Donnell.

This has her disgusted at the moment because of Tea Party victor Christine O'Donnell.

I, on the other hand, went to a reading at Chop Suey by Kim O'Donnel, former food writer for the Washington Post and author of the new book The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook and no embarrassment to the family name at all.

As a bonus, Kendra, Ipanema's owner, had prepared four recipes from the cookbook for the reading audience to enjoy.

With the exception of the Chop Suey reading I went to where a jar of moonshine was passed around, here, today's reading had the most to offer beyond just words.

In a nod to the world we live in today, the reading began on Twitter when Kendra (who follows Kim) contacted her about making a stop in RVA before beginning her press blitz for the new cookbook.

She graciously accommodated, even bringing her book and cat-loving husband along.

Kim started the informal talk with the sobering statistic that Americans eat 200 pounds of meat per capita a year.

Her cookbook is part of the Meatless Monday movement, an attempt to gradually reduce the amount of meat we consume for health's sake as well as the good of the planet.

Mario Batali has made all fourteen of his restaurants meatless on Mondays, so we're not talking about just a fad.

She made it clear that the recipes were designed for hearty satisfaction rather than just using faux meats, which she reminded the audience are highly processed.

Her measuring stick for inclusion was her mother's husband, a carnivore she referred to as Mr. Sausage.

To be included, the dish had to come from a meat-lover's perspective and satisfy him.

The dishes we tasted today were hits: kale chips, hummus-stuffed cherry tomatoes, vinegar slaw shots and roasted cauliflower and broccoli.

The kale chips, in particular, were wildly popular with their combination of super-food status and salty crunch.

Just don't try reheating them in your toaster oven, Kim warned, or it may catch on fire. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

She was also a big proponent of Americans cooking more at home, a habit she feels is slowly dying.

Her cookbook offers up a menu for each week of the year as a way to ease meat-eaters into a shift in their habits.

Afterwards, a few of us sat around talking about Richmond ("It's changed a lot in 20 years," Kim noted), our vibrant food scene and her next few stops, including a homeless facility run by Franciscan monks in Baltimore.

I'll have to let my Mom know that there are still O'Donnells out there that she can be proud of.

It might even be enough to get her and my Dad to give up their mighty meat habit.

We're talking about a woman who, at any given moment, always has a ham in her refrigerator ("It's so versatile," she swears. "You can serve it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.").

Okay, the meat thing may be a tough sell for her, but the O'Donnell part will at least distract her from the recent disgrace to her family name.

And I know my Dad would love the kale chips.

Friday, September 17, 2010

ISO Duck Tongue Lover

Being the documentary dork that I am and given my fascination with all the South African exhibits going on in RVA at the moment, I was a sucker for an evening of South African documentaries at VMFA's Friday Films series.

Leading the double feature bill (and deservedly so) was the 1966 documentary, Miriam Makeba Live at Bern's Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden. Filmed for Swedish television, the film was pretty much a straight performance by Makeba at the height of her powers. The setting was a magnificent 19th century theater/club oozing with the kind of glamour that no longer exists.

Tonight's audience treated the film like it was watching the real performance, clapping after each of Makeba's numbers (some in Afrikaans, others in English), except that we were sitting in a museum theater and the original audience was in a club-like theater, seated at tables with candles burning and drinking cocktails. That is to say, nothing like tonight's experience.

Except for the power of Makeba's voice and the charisma of her personality, and both were undeniable as we watched her performance. She was wearing an actual leopard skin dress given to her by the President of Kenya and her undulating hips echoed every rhythm of her songs. Her backup trio (from the US, St. Thomas and Brazil) was exceptional, low-key and completely supportive.

The second documentary was African Jim, made in 1949 and the first film with an all-black South African cast. The film was not terribly sophisticated with its stereotypes and cliches, but it did reflect the optimism of post- World War II South Africa before apartheid became the rule of the day.

I found it especially interesting since most of the action took place in an all-black nightclub, something that did not exist in South Africa in 1949. Of course, such a setting provided the perfect place to showcase African talent to the greater world and there was a lot of that.

And, as unrelated as it was to the point of the film, my favorite shot was of a herd of springbok running through an open field. I know from experience what delicious carpaccio springbok makes, but they are also beautiful runners and jumpers, so I tried to focus on that.

After the films, we were told there was a small "dessert," an 8-minute interview with Makeba in white go-go boots, a hip 60s outfit and an African headdress. She answered questions about singing protest songs (something she rarely did once she was exiled from South Africa, preferring to cater to her audiences' taste) and then sang one. She was truly mesmerizing to watch. I can think of no one with that kind of musical presence today.

Afterwards, I debated where to go have a bite and a drink and took the lazy approach by heading home and staying in the neighborhood. Driving by Bistro 27, Chef Carlos spotted me from inside and waved, so I parked and planted myself at the bar.

He suggested the Albaliza Temperanillo/Garnacha and who was I to argue? I generally defer to the Brazilian's superior wine palate and he knows my taste well enough to order for me. With it, I ordered the local pork and duck pate served with gherkins, spiced mustard and toasted baguette slices. It did the job of a late supper and a post-film snack, so I was more than satisfied.

Meanwhile, he wanted to brag about his Restaurant Week menu, sure to be a hit with foodies and frequent restaurant diners alike (stuffed quail and osso buco: neither often seen during the dreaded RW). He wanted new restaurant recommendations from me but I had only one contender for his limited time and he was impressed enough with my description to commit to Tuesday to check it out.

We got off on a tangent about Full Kee and the delectability of their varied menu, like ducks' tongues and beef tripe soup. Given our similar tastes, we decided on a field trip to Full Kee together to eat the stuff that none of our usual dining partners will eat. Report to follow.

Meanwhile a colorful group had come in to drink, so I moved a stool over to give them room. One girl's tights were so notable that I had to ask from whence they'd come. They resembled a pair I'd gotten a lot of mileage and compliments out of last winter, and now that I know her source, I'll be scoring a pair or two sooner rather than later.

Tights aside, they were a cocktail drinking group (unlike me) but bartender Ron convinced me that I needed to try their Cucumber Citron drink and it was, well, cool as a cucumber. I'll just never understand why people drink cocktails when they could be drinking fine tequila on ice, but that's just me.

And therein lies the problem. What are the chances there's someone who'd appreciate a tequila-sipping, tights-wearing, pate-loving, long-winded, music-obsessed documentary dork?

As my Richmond grandmother used to say, "Slim to none and Slim just left town."

He probably went to South Africa for that carpaccio.