Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dead Doings

Tonight was Richmond's 5th Annual Halloween parade, and like the last two, yours truly was a part of the march through Oregon Hill. The theme was "A Funeral March for the Dead" but the mood was anything funereal.

It always starts in Monroe Park where participants, costumed and otherwise (I felt like my Parisian Leo tights were enough), choose masks, puppets, signs and other effects to carry. After making the mistake of choosing something too heavy the first year, I now opt for a more manageable sign. But I carry it really well, if I do say so myself.

A stranger immediately greeted me and after bit of chatting, I learned that it was his first parade, so I answered his questions about the parade process. Organizer Lily saw me and came over, saying, "Karen, I love you!' the best possible greeting I could have hoped for.

This year's sign said, "We fight for the people and we die anyway" which I learned made me "Iraqi girl" when an organizer referred to me that way to the people following me. I was right behind the two people each wearing the giant skull heads that went down past their shoulders and in front of an enormous puppet that was carried aloft by three people.

I was joined by two musician friends, one playing accordion and the other a sort of panpipe, so I had musical accompaniment to hoist my sign to. Let me tell you, after moving that sign up and down rhythmically to the music for an hour, I was more than ready to lose it.

But the parading is so much fun and the crowds so enthusiastic that the time passes quickly. Periodically we'd be showered with bubbles and occasionally the wind would kick up, challenging my ability to keep my sign upright (it was like a sail going down in the wind), bur mostly we just smiled and had our pictures taken by onlookers. And they cheered a lot for us, but then, almost all of them had a drink in hand.

And it wasn't just the crowds who were snapping pictures and shooting video. A guy dressed as Prince, complete with toy guitar, and walking near me, shot photos of more than one colorful- looking O-Hill resident as we passed by.

I almost ran into him when he stopped short to shoot a neighbor in a mu-mu with a cigarette dangling from her lips and a can of Schlitz in her hand; when she smiled for the camera, she revealed as many missing teeth as those present. Say cheese.

When we reached the endpoint, we dropped our parade paraphernalia to listen to the music and mingle with other parade walkers for a bit. You never know who's in the parade behind you until the end of it all. And that's when everybody checks with everybody else to see who's going where next.

I'd already decided that my next stop would be the Night of the Living Dead bands show at Strange Matter. Just this afternoon, I'd run into a friend in Carytown who was also planning to go and a musician friend was one of the performers in Led Zepplica. No way I could pass this up.

The place was a zoo by the time I walked back from Oregon Hill, with a core group of non-stop fist-pumpers and even moshing up front. I'm not positive who was performing, although it may well have been the Misfits cover band. Or maybe Bad Religion.

In any case, when their ear-bleedingly loud set ended and the thrashing stopped, I asked a nearby fan if I'd missed Led Zepplica and was told I had. Sad face. I'd missed my opportunity to hear my beautiful music-loving friend do his best classic rock imitation and who knows when an opportunity like that will present itself again?

When he'd first told me about it, he'd presented it as " a show you'd probably rather skip." As you might guess, he's a new friend and doesn't know me very well yet.

But he'll learn. I don't skip many shows when someone I know is playing. There's no telling what I might see or hear that would enable me to give him endless crap about.

And isn't that the stuff friendships are made of?

Stronghill Brunch for Three

I had a great couple date for brunch today, so much so that I'm beginning to think that my social life will eventually be reduced to either going out alone or going on couple dates, as all my formerly-single friends get themselves paired up.

And then there's me. But I'm not complaining, just making an observation.

I'd chosen Stronghill for our meal today because despite having lunched and dined there, I'd never had brunch, nor had my friends. It was fun, too, because today's brunch music was all 80s and 90s stuff, so we ate to Big Country, Flock of Seagulls, Crowded House and Simple Minds. Ah, the Reagan years.

My friend showed up in a beanie with a propeller because he was having a bad hair day. Given the number of costumed brunchers (Dolly Parton, Superman), he didn't look as odd as he should have.

It was his girlfriend's first visit to Stronghill, and she loved the Art Nouveau feeling that the interior has almost as much as she loved the vintage photographs of Richmond. We'd both love to know where that 1905 Emancipation Day photo was taken (Marshall Street, maybe?).

The manly one judges a brunch spot by its eggs Benedict, so he opted for the Southern breakfast, meaning it had cornbread for English muffins and Smithfield ham for Canadian bacon. She got a tomato, bacon and white cheddar omelet. Both were impressed with their food.

As soon as I looked at the menu, I knew I had to try a side of the house made sausage and to go with it, I got the shrimp and grits (made with Patrick Henry stone-ground grits and Tasso ham gravy). I could have kissed these grits for their superb texture and flavor (I have a friend who claims to love grits as long as they're soupy and bland and she would have hated these).

Factor in the gravy with bits of ham, and I just tore through the dish. Let's just say that I totally get why gravy is part of a good breakfast.

The sausage patties were divine and I shared a bite each with the happy couple who affirmed my assessment. Tasting of pig and fresh herbs (especially sage), they were the biggest hit of the afternoon. "The sausage alone is worth coming back for," he proclaimed. I seconded that.

After such a filling brunch, I did the illogical thing and ordered dessert, specifically chocolate mousse. More than anything, after so much savory, I just had to have sweet, albeit not a terribly sweet sweet since the chocolate was fairly dark. Still, I finished feeling stuffed to the gills.

The happy couple had been to her high school reunion last night, so I got to hear about the big event. Like so many others who've revisited high school, she said that types hadn't changed much in the interim.

She said that the big flirt from back in the day wore the shortest, tightest dress to the reunion and reeked of perfume. The popular clique still sat together while the nerds were relegated to another table. The band geeks were still involved in music. Life marches on.

My couple date even admitted that they'd chosen brunch with me over the reunion brunch they could have attended today. Sure, they may have just been sick of the reunion crowd, although they denied it.

I prefer to think that I'm just the perfect date for a happy couple. Life does indeed march on.

Bootleg Saturday Night

Denied last year, I was going to make damn sure it didn't happen again, even if it meant getting in line two and a half hours before show time. Which we did.

Henley Street Theater was doing their second annual Bootleg Shakespeare and this year's production was Titus Andronicus, that bloodiest of Shakespeare's plays, and one which I've never seen performed live (probably because it's rarely produced).

Last year a friend and I had arrived at Barksdale an hour and a half before curtain only to find all the tickets gone. This year my couple date and I arrived by 5:30 and stood in the fading sun of Willow Lawn to score tickets.

People were playing cards, eating everything from fresh kale salad to Five Guys burgers, playing guitar and singing, knitting and chatting amongst themselves to kill the time. Maybe they'd been denied last year, too.

Because we were near the front of the line, when the box office did open at 6:30, we had tickets in hand within five minutes. That left until 7:55 to eat and get back in our seats. The problem was our location; we were in that chain restaurant hell of Willow Lawn and I don't do chains.

So we hopped in the car and headed over to the Grill at Patterson and Libbie, sure we could get a quick bite and not feed the corporate machine. Since my last visit, they'd added umpteen screens so every game in the world can be on, but I just sat under the screen and never had to look at it.

Knowing that the Barksdale serves cake (tonight's were coconut and chocolate torte) during intermission, I ordered the excellent wedge salad (actually two wedges with loads of bleu cheese chunks and bacon, grape tomatoes, red onions and drizzled in balsamic) and finished most of it, feeling quite virtuous for a change.

Our early placement in line had yielded tickets in the center section of Barksdale, fifth row (also the last) so we were surrounded by the same people we'd shivered with outside. There's not a bad seat in the entire theater because it's so small, but a center vantage point gave us an excellent view of all the action.

Henley's creative director James Ricks explained the bootleg process of actors being given 30 days to learn their lines, told to bring their own costumes and props and show up at 8 a.m today for blocking. As he quipped, "So we hearsed, but not rehearsed."

And therein lies the charm of a bootleg performance; the actors are experiencing things as the audience is. Even the lighting guy told me he was winging it (and beautifully, I might add).

The play began with characters campaigning for emperor by spray-painting their names on hanging sheets, soon to be further tagged by another with words like "douche" for emphasis.

Because Titus Andronicus is such an incredibly bloody play, fake blood was a requirement and pink Silly String was the creative substitute found for it. When characters died, and they almost all did, their can of Silly String spurted and squirted as they gasped and shuddered to death.

During the first act, the cell phone of a woman sitting in the front row rang. Actor Foster Solomon (playing the evil Aaron), a pro whom I'd seen in countless Shakespeare productions previously (and he's always superb), handled it perfectly.

He glared at her, he tried to grab her purse and finally, he sat down on a nearby bench and waited for her to turn it off and put it away. The people around me said they were hoping he'd dump her purse out on stage and fully humiliate her, but he didn't.

The appeal of these productions is the brilliant asides that lighten the darkest scenes. After the off-stage rape and disfiguring of Lavinia, the perpetrators come back on stage, one shirtless and one in his underwear. After their uncouth crowing about what they'd just done, they head off stage, one saying to the other's back, "Put some pants on, dude!"

And, like any Shakespeare, there is the timelessness of the dialog.
She is a woman, therefore may be wooed,
She is a woman, therefore may be won.
Or should I have picked a line by Publius?

The two musicians (guitar and bass) providing the sporadic soundtrack leaned heavily (pun intended) on AC/DC and Ozzy Osborne (with one White Stripes nod; it was definitely my day to hear "Seven Nation Army") to convey the mood of the play. They also had to occasionally dodge a dying character.

Pumpkins substituted for heads, fists for severed hands and sex was simulated repeatedly. More than one actor had to call for "Line!" which was not surprising given the lack of rehearsal.

During the intermission the stage manager said that she doesn't get to enjoy seeing the production because of having to follow the script so closely just for that reason.

But the occasional forgotten cue didn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the experience. Toward the end, both actors and audience were getting a little punch-drunk with all the death and irony in the dialog and more than one "dead" body could be seen convulsing in laughter. Sometimes heads had to be turned away until smiles disappeared.

Luckily the audience didn't have to worry about masking our smiles. Considering that I had not been denied this year, I couldn't have wiped the smile off my face if I'd tried.

Then, too, wooing quotes always make me smile.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brunchy Baby

Ordinarily I would avoid a restaurant in the first few weeks after it gets reviewed, leaving it to the newbies, but Ettamae's Cafe is a only few blocks from home and a regular destination for me, so I broke my own rule.

Part of my motivation for doing so was that Fuzzy Baby was playing during brunch today and they always put on a good show. So I bit the bullet, ambled over and found my little neighborhood spot filled to bursting.

I was kindly offered the one remaining table, but I couldn't live with myself if I took up a table by myself and then a four-top, or even a two-top, came in. So instead I took the stool in front of the register where people usually wait for to-go orders. Laura said it was just fine and that was good enough for me.

Fuzzy Baby was on a break when I arrived, so I chatted with Laura and watched the endless amount of egg poaching Matt was doing. The servers were going up and down the stairs non-stop ("How many calories do you think you've burned?" one waiting customer asked. "You can have all the stuffed French toast you want!" said another).

The corned beef sandwich isn't available on Saturdays, but the corned beef hash is and I'd been dying to try it because I'm such a fan of Matt's corned beef. With a couple of eggs, a bowl of fresh fruit and some thick toast, I couldn't have been happier on my stool in the sunny front window with the construction theater of 2 Street just outside.

The hash was every bit as wonderful as I'd expected it to be, flavorful and full of bits of beef. The fruit was a mixture of grapes, cantaloupe and the ripest pineapple I could have hoped for (pet peeve: I hate trying to eat unripe pineapple).

When I got to the point where everything was gone except some toast, I asked for jam and was given blackberry jam from Nana's Homemades. Bursting with the flavor of ripe blackberries, I slathered on a layer of jam thicker than the toast and savored every bite. Nana, clearly you know what you're doing.

When Fuzzy Baby came back to start their second set, it was as the Black Stripes, a White Stripes cover band. They even had the wigs and the red and white outfits for the look.

Their first three songs paid homage to the Detroit rockers (including "Seven Nation Army," a personal favorite...I love how much Jack's 7-string guitar comes off sounding like a bass line), then wigs were removed and they got back to the musical business of being Fuzzy Baby, always a pleasure to hear.

People continued to arrive practically non-stop while I was there, probably a combination of the recent review and, as more than a few acknowledged, to hear the band. It probably didn't hurt that it was a beautiful fall day to spend on the balcony, either.

Being so close to the register, I heard customer after customer rave about the food on their way out (although I didn't hear anything I didn't already know). It's gratifying to see that so many people are discovering the J-Ward joint with the Brooklyn vibe.

Given Ettamae's limited space, Laura was saying that their musical brunches will have to be limited to duos. Low Branches or Lobo Marino anyone?

As a big fan of both local music and Matt's food, I'd say either band would go great with that corned beef hash and the blackberry jam.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Plan to Cellar Me

As of 5:30 today, the most interesting person I'd spoken to all day was the pulmonary specialist who'd administered a series of breathing tests to me at MCV.

With his exquisitely deadpan sarcasm ("Men are pigs"), unbelievably sharp wit and clear pleasure in giving me a hard time about absolutely everything I said, he was the perfect late-morning foil for me.

But when my best conversation of the day comes from the man holding a breathing mouthpiece in place while I'm holding my cheeks, it's clearly time to get out and find some fresh conversational partners. STAT.

Stop #1 was River City Cellars because (and I quote) Rhone rock star Eric Texier was in the house. His organic and bio-dynamic wines reflect his emphasis on the growing end rather than how grapes are manipulated in the cellar ("No oak, no tricks."), so the tasting lineup was stellar.

And he was a delight to talk to. As I was tasting the 2008 Cotes du Rhone Rouge, a blend of grenache, clairette, grenache blanc and roussanne, he asked how I liked it and I responded positively.

"I make lean wines because that's what I like to drink," he explained. What a great wine-making philosophy. No wonder he's smiling.

Eric said he had liked the California wines of the 70s because they were leaner then and sees signs that California's wineries are moving back in that direction.

He said that the interns who come to France to learn from him, many of whom are from California, are leaving his winery with a new found appreciation for leaner wines, so he's hopeful for a subtle shift in focus there.

His 2007 Cotes du Rhone Brezeme Rouge Vieilles Vignes "Domaine de Pergaud," produced from 60-year old syrah vines was sumptuous. The tasting notes, which he had not written, referred to it as age-worthy and the wine equivalent of crossing Albert Einstein and Marlon Brando.

"Does that mean this wine could be called smart and sexy?" I had to ask. "I would never call my wines sexy," he said smiling. "Too lean." I left with a bottle of the 2009 Cotes du Rhone Brezeme Roussanne, richly textured and full bodied with floral, herbal and riper fruit aromas. Most importantly, it was noted, just as age-worthy.

Mid-tasting owner Julia came up behind me and supplied her usual smart-assed wit. "I was just noticing what great tights...and then realized, oh, hi Karen." Everyone has to be known for something.

It was a short distance to the VMFA for the Friday night movie, this time the 1932 cult classic Freaks. We're talking about a film that was banned by any number of cities and states; hell, MGM even had the lion removed from the opening so as to disassociate itself from this scandalous film.

The screening began 1932-style with a cartoon (Felix the Cat) and a short (Rabbit's Moon) before launching into a near-documentary about side show freaks. Director Tod Browning used real sideshow artists, which was the shocking part for 1930s audiences (well, that and the excised castration scene at the wedding feast).

There were Siamese twins, a legless man, a man with only a torso (who could roll and light his own cigarettes), a bearded woman, an armless woman who did everything with her feet, midgets, a hermaphrodite and too many others to mention.

The story focused on the normal nature of the freaks and the evil nature of the supposedly normal people. As is usually the case with older films, I was fascinated by the period details. The carnival troupe stayed in wagons, eventually pulled by horses when they left for their next location. The wine at the wedding feast was a 1914 bottle.

The film was also notable for the fact that it could never be made today; between medical advances and political correctness, such a cast would be impossible to assemble. But it wasn't hard to see why Freaks was a long-time mainstay of the midnight movie circuit.

Afterwards, it seemed easier to climb the stairs to Amuse rather than drive somewhere for the last part of the evening. Stephen was bartending and while the dining room was mostly full (even the overflow room looked full), I was the lone bar sitter. No complaints here; that just means I won't be keeping the bartender from doing his job.

The first thing out of his mouth was when his brother's band would be playing the National, so I guess he remembered me from our last conversation (always a pleasant surprise).

I admired the dining room at night since it was my first late evening visit. The lights were orange-ish this evening, a nod to fall he said. His preference is for the purple lights, which I haven't seen but are probably very mod-looking in that space.

I couldn't see any reason to resist one of the specials, empanadas with pork belly, mushrooms and Camarano with a Cabernet creme fraiche. My devotion to pork belly is already in the public record, but this new treatment, and especially with that wine cream sauce, was superb. Delicious even.

Because we'd both recently seen documentaries about food, we got off on a tangent about eating, small-scale farming, health and nutrition and food in general. It was great to have someone as into those subjects as I can be and the talk ranged all over the place as a result, right up until closing time.

I thanked Stephen sincerely for his company. Enjoyable as it was, though, it still wasn't what I really want in terms of having someone to talk to.

But after all, I'm out, I'm about and with any luck, I will eventually enjoy a regular conversational partner again.

I'm shooting for someone who will consider me age-worthy.

Restaurant Week Summit

It was a simple little night without an extensive itinerary and with a mere two stops. It wasn't staying home so it won't be enough to impress my friend Andrew, but maybe he'll consider it a baby step in that direction.

I didn't even go out until 9ish and then it was to Garnett's to meet a friend for some end-of-the season Famega vino verde (perfectly appropriate given the weather and a distant Portuguese nod to today being Champagne Day) and restaurant talk. Okay, maybe some guy talk, too, but that's inevitable when we're together.

The real topic of the evening was power tripping. Let's just say this whole Restaurant Week debacle of who's allowed to participate and who isn't came up, with both of us landing squarely on the side of everyone who wants to participate being allowed to.

When I'd had brunch at Bonvenu Sunday and heard that they were going to be renegade participants in RW, I thought it was a great idea, but hadn't blogged it for fear that undue attention might bring some sort of reprisal for them. I could never have imagined that a "cease and desist" letter might be the result of their good intentions.

We decided that the best thing that could come out of this unfortunate series of events would be a change in how Richmond handles RW. I have no doubt that the Central Virginia Food Bank would subscribe to the theory of "the more, the merrier." And we do so want to be merry about our charitable eating, don't we? Shouldn't we?

Once we had decided that important matter, we were free to go to Ballliceaux for an evening of stellar music by local favorites, Amazing Ghost. Well, us and a hundred or so other people eager to dance, sway and head-bop. And, as usual, with lots of local musicians in the audience.

What is it about this time of year that brings out the creative energy in musicians? That's a rhetorical question, more a statement of fact, but so true.

Amazing Ghost's performance was spot-on, melding original work and covers in one seamless set. As a music geek friend said, leaning in mid-transition, "I love how well they planned this set."

Was he referring to the "Born in the USA" cover? Or the "Halloween" theme conclusion? For that matter, it could have been trumpeter/keyboard player Bob Miller's impressive suited ensemble, complete with chin-length blond wig and rose-colored shades.

I totally get that; I have a tendency to see the world through rose-colored contacts myself.

Evidence to the contrary, I just can't seem to help it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Old (Liberian) History/New (Belmont) Pizza

Since we're about to receive a head of state visit from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (she's speaking at the Forum) next week, I was curious about today's Banner Lecture at the VHS on the history of Liberia.

Author Marie Tyler-McGraw was speaking on the subject of her book, An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia. Frankly, I knew not nearly enough about Liberia and its history (which is always the draw of the Banner Lecture series), but given its ties to our own, I wanted to know more.

I wasn't surprised to hear that the race card was a motivating factor behind the American Colonization Society's attempts to convince free blacks to emigrate to Liberia. In the lead-up to the Civil War, it wasn't hard to see where many people would have believed that even free blacks could never be able to reach their full potential in this country due to race.

Learning that 3700 Virginians emigrated (more than any other state) there and that 60% of Liberian emigres were from Maryland and Virginia was highly surprising. This is not stuff that was in American history books when I was going to school. Would it be overly naive to hope that it is today?

A secondary reason for the push was the always-unfortunate efforts to Christianize the heathens of Africa (not that it was our business, much less right). So much for the hypocrisy of freedom of religion.

Just as offensive were the Virginians who objected to emancipated slaves going to Liberia. Why would they care? Well, naturally they didn't want to encourage emancipation and its resulting uppity emancipated class. Truly we are a state that has produced the very best and worst of men.

Tyler-McGraw's talk was highly informative and she left time for questions from the audience, usually an interesting proposition at the VHS because the audience is so informed on all things historical.

There was one attendee today who clearly had an agenda on behalf of James Madison and Lafayette and persisted in making her points rather than asking questions. I don't think I was the only one who wanted her to put a sock in it.

But as is always the case with a Banner Lecture, I left with new information, the sense of an hour well spent and a growling stomach.

So I met a friend at Belmont Pizza, over in my long-time former neighborhood, the Museum District (except back then it was just called West of the Boulevard).

The cheery little place was warm (ovens and all) but welcoming and we decided to eat at the window-side counter and take in the local passers-by, always a varied show at Patterson and Belmont.

Despite the hoopla, I couldn't commit to the potato pizza on the specials board, although my friend got a huge kick out of seeing french fries listed as a topping (steak, too). Actually he'd have tried a fry-topped pie, but it wasn't speaking to me.

Instead we ordered a white pizza with sauteed spinach, sausage and onions and sat down to wait for our pie. Our server told us that most of the trade is pick-up (no doubt neighbors), despite that they do delivery, and that we were welcome to eat in.

Despite differences in opinion as to what the optimum crust thickness should be, the flavor of the crust is sure to appeal to almost anyone. Our server had mentioned the extensive pizza-making resume of the two Italian guys creating the dough and it showed in the golden, chewy crust.

Pizza is such a personal thing so I wouldn't presume to know whether Belmont's would suit others as well as it did friend and me. But I would guess that if you like good bread, you'll probably like the crust.

If you can't put together a decent combination to go on top of that crust out of the 32 toppings offered, well I'm sorry about your bad luck.

And if it seems too daunting, just go with a fry-topped pizza for the novelty value.

For some guys I know, that would cover two entire food groups.

Two Girls and a Lawyer at Lemaire

The past week had been, shall we say, busy, intense and pretty much non-stop. Tonight's rendezvous with a girlfriend was intended to be easy and unhurried, a low-key chance to hear what had been going on with each other. I didn't have much to share, but I knew she did.

The battle plan was to meet at Lemaire early enough to take advantage of the Discovery wine specials (bottles for $10) and the appetizer deals (3 for $20), both until 7. However, meeting the queen of late, we barely slipped in under the wire.

Arriving safely before the rains arrived, we ordered the Rias Baixas Albarino for the trifling price of $10. Wednesdays are a steal of a deal at Lemaire, so need I add that we made sure we ordered a second bottle by 6:57?

With Restaurant Week madness going on downstairs at TJ's, we bypassed that nonsense and I ordered the mussels with Jim Kite ham in a garlic wine and cream broth and friend foolishly ordered the same (if we're getting three apps, shouldn't we pick different things?). We also got the hearts of Romaine salad to share pre-mussels.

My friend is a novice at mussel-eating, leaving much of the onion and ham broth in her bowl while I sopped up every bit of mine with the crusty bread.

Little did I know that she was also planning on ordering the Berkshire pork chop with black-eyed peas and mac & cheese, all of which was delicious but too much for me at that point.

We enjoyed a couple hours of catching up so I could hear all about her new fella and how excited about finding someone so suited to her she was. Around the time we concluded that discussion, we were joined by a trial attorney from Norfolk, looking for a beer and some conversation. Mark, the bartender, had the beer and god knows we had conversation to spare.

Coincidentally, the newcomer and I were born in the same obscure D.C. hospital and raised in adjoining counties (although a guy from his county would only date a girl from my county for one reason), went to the same university and graduated with degrees in the same field. It was very unlikely indeed.

The three of us covered a wide range of topics, including privatization of the ABC, motivation for career choices and high school reunions. It was as agreeable a three-way conversation as one could hope for. Eventually after-dinner drinks (go ahead, guess mine) ensued as well as dessert for the two of them.

Best line of the evening: "You mean you'll blog me and not have sex with me?"

Yes, yes I will do just that. Happens all the time.

But thank you for phrasing it in a colorful enough manner as to be blog-worthy. I can always appreciate a guy with a quick wit.

As my history has demonstrated.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Fresh Take on Food at the Byrd

When Tanya Cauthen at Belmont Butchery thinks a food film is important enough for her to sponsor a screening in RVA, I'm there. Which is to say that I was at the Byrd Theater tonight for a showing of "Fresh," presented by Flavor magazine.

The event began with a sampling from local sources such as Manakintowne Growers, who were handing out baggies of micro-greens, each with a slice of watermelon radish. Considering I've eaten their micro-greens in any number of restaurants around town for years, it was great to finally put a face to the greens, so to speak.

The Farm to Family bus was outside and open for business. AnnaB's Gluten Free bakery had samples of bread, chocolate cake and M & M cookies to share. Tanya was passing out charcuterie (and showing off her beautiful engagement and wedding rings). Relay Foods Richmond had various local farm cheeses to spread on crackers.

Given the abundance of local and organic offerings, I saw only a very few people nervy enough to approach the concession stand for faux buttered popcorn or soda. One of the friends I met there did say she felt herself looking longingly at the Milk Duds, but she didn't give in to the omnipresent high fructose corn syrup devil.

Beginning with a dewy morning on the farm, the short film (72 minutes) addressed the issues of the industrial food system that's depleting our land, polluting our environment, promoting obesity and generally just messing with Mother Nature.

There are no mono-cultures in nature and yet our industrial food system insists on creating them, to the detriment of the product and the environment. Who ever thought this was a good idea?

From early shots of baby chicks being callously tossed onto the coop floors like rocks, to shots of pigs penned so closely together that you couldn't tell where one stopped and another started, the film balanced the negative with the hopeful.

Of course, it wouldn't be a food film without Micheal Pollan giving his insight, but the farmers shown, including a Virginian, were articulate, informed and honestly committed to a more sustainable future.

Their assurances that individual efforts by farmers and consumers will eventually make the difference in how things are done and what we eat were the backbone of the film.

And we need to do something soon. The difference in the nutritional value of fresh produce has diminished 40% since 1950. If that's not evidence that we need to change our existing food system, I can't imagine what would be.

And since study after study has now proven that a medium-sized organic farm is more productive than a large industrial-scale farm, we have a clear model for what we need to move towards. One farmer characterized it as a melding of indigenous wisdom with the best of technology.

After the screening, a panel of locals took questions and addressed issues from the movie, including the cloudy difference between natural, organic and local (as well as why many small farmers don't get USDA organic certification: it costs too much).

As one older man in the film said, in his lifetime we have gone from family farming and small markets to industrial farming and supermarkets and we need to use the rest of our lifetime to change it back.

Being the enthusiastic eater that I am, I'm all for anything that makes the food taste better and my oh-so-practical side supports raising healthier food so that I'm getting the most out of whatever I do eat.

Let's just not lose sight of the cardinal rule here: everything tastes better with bacon.

That's my indigenous wisdom for you.

Merci for the Eye Catchers

The postcard from the National Museum of Modern Art had arrived last week, which meant my friend was back from Paris.

That also meant a welcome back lunch so he could present me with the foreign tights he'd secured for me (as well as Bourdain's Medium Raw because he wants someone to discuss it with), always part of his souvenir-gathering when he's abroad.

He works on Monument Avenue, so he invited me to stop by his office to collect my gifts and we'd walk from there. The tights, called "Leo," are labeled in five languages as "an extravagant eye catcher" and "a walk on the wild side," and will undoubtedly be lots of fun to wear in a place far removed from Parisian streets (I think I'm up for the job).

This beautiful weather made for a glorious walk the short distance to the Cellar Door; the leaves were deep on the sidewalk but the temperature was 77. That's my kind of autumn.

We started with the spicy zucchini fritters after my friend asked if I was interested (I told him I've never in my life turned down a fritter. Fact.). They were not what I expected, but that wasn't a bad thing. Slices of zucchini had been coated in a crunchy crust and fried up crisp and hot. Eaten immediately at their peak, they were sliced fried goodness.

My friend had to get the quarter Peruvian chicken since I'd recommended it so highly to him, but I did a slight variation by getting the Mansion, a salad of lettuces, cukes, tomatoes, red onions and olives with that same chicken on top of it. The Peruvian ranch dressing, made with the same spices used on the rotisserie chicken, was a big hit with him and great on the salad, too.

I heard all about his trip: the transit strike that prevented his trip to Versailles, the offal he ate at a no-star bistro, his all-day walks (he knows what I like) and lots of wine anecdotes. His stories about the beer-swilling costumed student demonstrators sounded (and, according to him, looked) like something out of Mad Max.

We lingered, talking to the owner about their plans for a brick oven for their rotisserie ("The problem is the ten-story chimney." Indeed, that would be a problem.), the appeal of using their jalapeno sauce on practically everything ("I may be addicted. I'm considering putting it in my coffee," he admitted) and Thursday's Halloween throwdown there.

Walking back down Monument Avenue, friend asked when I expected I'd be wearing the wild Leo tights. Who knows, they might be perfect for the Night of the Living Dead Bands show when I go to see Led Zepplica.

It won't be Paris, but somehow I don't think they'll seem quite so outrageous in that crowd.

Quail and New Wave

I didn't mean to do Restaurant Week, really I didn't. When a friend suggested meeting up before I went to the National, I didn't give it a moment's thought when I told him Bistro 27, my neighborhood joint.

And then when I got there and realized what I'd done, it just seemed easier to stay. I try to stay out of the fray during the hustle and bustle of RW, but there was room for us at the bar and Carlos wanted me to try his menu and before you know it, we had a bottle of the Barboursville Cab Franc and I was scanning the menu.

Friend had dinner plans later, so it was just me eating and after a quick look at the menu, there was really no question. The pan-roasted quail stuffed with a mixed mushroom and foie gras mousse served over autumn root veggies was too tempting to pass up, so I didn't.

The funny part was that Carlos came over then and said I should order the quail after I'd already decided it was what I was getting, so I could pretend I was taking the chef's recommendation.

Of course, I had to have a first course to get to the quail and I went with the Bistro salad, a perennial favorite of mine, as was my dessert of choice, the hazelnut chocolate torte, But I've swooned over them both before and it was really the quail that was the star tonight.

The mousse stuffing was decadent and the heaping dish of minutely-cut root vegetables was everything fall should taste like. I only hope other diners are smart enough to order something so un-RW-like. I was the first of six who ordered it tonight he said.

Friend had to leave to pick up his dinner partner, so I finished my wine and chocolate solo before moving on to the National. Local band Lubek opened and were playing when I arrived. I hadn't heard them before, but knew they were on the new RVA label Acme Thunderer (such a great name).

Metric's set was indie/new wave with loads of 80s influences and plenty of post-punk guitar. Lead singer Emily Haines (and her little girl voice) had nailed the 80s look in an off-the-shoulder metallic tunic (so Flashdance) that shone under the lights with every step she danced.

And did she ever dance...except when she was vogueing, posing one way or another to the beat of the music. Her baby-fine blond hair was in a perpetual state of slo-mo windblown from an unseen stage fan. She had the audience in her thrall for sure.

Guitarist James Shaw did his 80s take with a skinny tie, but his strong suit was his incredible speed on the guitar. I only wish he hadn't spent so much time facing the back rather than the audience. Perhaps he is the yin to Haines' yang. In any case, he had my full attention.

The audience was full of Metric lovers, most of whom knew every word and sang along. For a change, I only saw a few people I knew besides one of my faithful bartender friends.

Afterwards, I went next door to Gibson's to meet a friend and hear a couple of Minneapolis bands, Me & My Arrow and Phantom Tails. M&MA, a nine-piece, were especially interesting because I always appreciate a band with a cello. Especially when it's being played under a disco ball.

We left before I got to hear one of my favorite local bands, the Colloquial Orchestra, because friend needed to get home. But it turned out that he also wanted to make a quick stop at Penny Lane, so we detoured there, resulting in a random discussion of Mt. Everest and Mallory vs. Hillary with a nearby beard.

You never know when two guys with Wikipedia minutia on the same subject will get going, but I watched it unfold tonight (what did happen to the wife's photograph?). That's what I get for stopping at Penny Lane.

That, a taste of good Scottish beer and a bartender who called me "love." All as unexpected as my indulgence in Restaurant Week.

But then life seems to be handing me a lot of unexpected lately. The question is, what do I do with it?

Hell if I know.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Richmond's Dark Side: Music and Books

With creepy season in full swing, there's no shortage of ways to indulge an All Hallows' Eve urge.

Tonight's was Chop Suey's Halloween celebration, "The Dark Side of Richmond" at (where else?) the site of the former Richmond Gallows, none other than G5.

The evening began with one of my favorite Halloween traditions, local band Glows in the Dark, performing music inspired by and taken from John Carpenter movies.

Yes, The Fog, The Thing and of course Halloween came to life with a lot of improvisation in between at the hands of these free jazz masters.

And as you may recall (I didn't and had to be told), Carpenter's movie music was written mainly for keyboards, necessitating a lot of work to bring it around to guitar, upright bass, sax, trombone and drums, but once gain GitD pulled it off in the eeriest possible way.

I first saw them do this music a couple of years ago at Commercial Taphouse and tonight's audience was even more into it.

Word must have gotten around about what an audio treat it was.

A seasonably-suitable reading followed, featuring two of the writers from Richmond Noir, the short story collection where each features a different Richmond neighborhood.

Nothing says Halloween season quite like death, so Tom de Haven read the "money scene" from his story based in Manchester (three-way sex and shots fired on southside) and Dennis Danvers read his tale of Texas Beach (a dead dog and a dead illegal immigrant).

Beth Brown, author of Wicked Richmond, a book about RVA's dark underbelly, read the chapter on old Richmond's boy gangs, apparently quite a force from the time of the Civil War and for some 50 years afterwards.

Rocks, slingshots and eventually pistols were the weapons of choice for boys (some as young as four!) to stake out their territory in this town.

Thumbing through Brown's book, it looks to be a catalog of the debauchery that defined our fair city's history; clearly it wasn't all moonlight and magnolias.

Billed as the spookiest reading of the season (and I know of no other Halloween readings, so it undoubtedly was), the audience of music and book lovers geeked out afterwards talking about the intricacies of the music and the macabre nature of the stories.

Before long, conversation moved on to clever costumes and upcoming parties.

And just for the record, I've never seen a John Carpenter movie.

There, I said it.

Still enjoyed the hell out of it.

Hoagies and Highlights

Ever since I'd learned about the lobster hoagie being served at Bonvenu's brunch, I've been determined to have it. I'd hoped to find a friend free to join me for brunch, but no such luck.

Two weeks in, I just went solo and now I can say that there was a good reason I was craving it without ever having tasted it.

Sliding into my seat at the bar, I was welcomed back (they're so good about that) and asked if I was in for a cocktail. "I'm here for that lobster hoagie," I explained, without even looking at the menu. She laughed and asked me which side I wanted with it.

I was barely a few pages into my Sunday Post when the object of my desire arrived. The construction of lobster meat, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and Bermuda onion with citrus vinaigrette in a very large flour tortilla was enormous.

My first questions was whether or not it was big enough. "I see a to-go box in your future," she said chuckling. Clearly she didn't know my appetite. I'd chosen the red-skin potato and bleu cheese potato salad to accompany my hoagie and, good as it was, it was the casualty on my plate.

Chunks of claw meat and body meat were dominant in the wrap, which was too big to get my mouth around. The crunch of the onions was a lovely contrast to the rich creaminess of the rest of the mixture. I was in the throes of lobster love.

I got about two thirds of the way through it and had no choice but to begin dissection. I opened up the wrap and started eating just the contents, afraid I would be too full otherwise to finish. I think I had maybe three bites of that excellent potato salad before calling quits on it, too.

Brunch was a prelude to a highlights tour at the VMFA. I was honestly curious to see what would be considered the highlights of such an amazing and extensive collection now and said so when our guide asked us why we'd come.

"It's completely up to me what I show you," she said. "So I'm going to highlight some of my favorites." I loved that concept; any given docent would give a different tour because there were no prescribed stops.

Our group was small - two couples and me- but a local artist, colorful and vocal, joined us shortly thereafter and added a lot to the commentary. I must have been a little vocal myself because he eventually came over and asked, "Are you an artist?" I'm an art appreciator, I told him..

We began in the 21st century galleries, a fitting place to consider the state of art today. Moving from gallery to gallery, she would pause and talk about various works or, in some cases, just point out galleries and recommend them (Faberge, for instance).

Pointing upstairs, she said that the Impressionist galleries were up there, but we weren't going to visit them. "Cause they're not a highlight," the artistic latecomer joked.

Clearly he'd visited the museum a lot over the years because he remembered former wall colors, which galleries were where in the 70s and other obscure miscellaneous information (like the pool).

I, on the other hand, was able to inform one of the couples, both long-time Richmonders and museum-goers, that the Boulevard entrance is now open. Neither had any idea that it now is, presuming that the 70s closure of that grand entrance was still fact. They were almost as excited about it as I am and I have no intention of ever using any other entrance.

When the tour ended, our little group bade each other good-bye by name and our docent said, "There goes Karen to leave by the Boulevard entrance!" They all looked at me enviously as they headed to their exits.

Hey, it's not my entrance. Everybody should experience the museum they way it was originally intended to be entered.

Listen to me, sounding all old-school about how things used to be. But do give the front door a try; it's a fitting way to enter the grandeur of the new VMFA.

In fact, it's a highlight.

Walking in the Dark

It's an excellent night musically when I can start with one kind of music at 6:30 and end somewhere else with a completely different kind at 12:30.

It was the recent Folk Fest that landed me at Barrel Thief tonight for the Jason Jenkins Trio. At that mind-blowing Zakir Hussain show, I had sat next to a local drummer who had arrived as ridiculously early for the show as I had, so we'd had plenty of time to talk music, shows and audiences.

He had mentioned then that he was playing a show at Barrel Thief tonight and suggested I come by for some jazz to start my evening. I'll admit I was a little surprised when I arrived around 6:35 to find that most tables were taken and the remaining reserved. Luckily, there was a corner banquette with a low table in front of it with a great view of the band and I was ushered to it.

Taking Virginia Wine month to heart, I chose the Pollak Vineyards Meritage (a stellar blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot) for my drinking pleasure throughout the evening and started with the olive tapenade, chevre and cucumber bruschetta.

Later, at my server's suggestion, I had the Chef's grilled cheese on rosemary foccacia, an interesting take on the standard, with multiple cheeses and sun-dried tomato spread. I do wish Barrel Thief had a wider menu.

My drumming friend and his cohorts were playing a variety of jazz standards to the obvious delight of the attentive audience, some of whom commented to the band between songs like old friends, or at least neighbors and frequent attendees.

During the break my drummer friend came over to get reacquainted and talk about what else we'd each seen at the Folk Fest after the tabla tour de force. He'd gotten to see Salsa Duro, the one group I'd really wanted to see and didn't, so he got to rub that in, telling me how amazing they were and why.

I left midway through the second set because I wanted to make the Wood & Steel acoustic show at Gallery 5 and I had to make a quick stop at home to exchange cute wine bistro platform shoes for standing-on-cement-for-hours shoes (boots, actually) before walking over; it was a most necessary transition.

I passed a utility repairman doggedly trying to restore power to the unlit street lights and asked him if there would be light by the time I walked home from the show; he assured me that there would be. Always good to hear.

When I arrived, Nick Woods was playing an earnest set, followed by Shannon Cleary, who sang his song about seeing Matt and Kim at the bike lot show and then seeing them Thursday night when the floor felt close to collapsing. Later we talked about the sinking feeling we shared that night about the strength of the Canal Club's flooring versus the enthusiasm of everyone's dancing.

Ophelia was next, but performing as a duo rather than a quartet. The crowd was too noisy as far as my friend and I were concerned, talking and laughing loudly over the heartfelt vocals of David and Jonathan.

My friend, who teaches at VCU, later told me that he could relate to being in front of a room full of people, many of whom were paying no attention to you. Still, it seemed a shame to drown out such beautiful harmonies.

Prabir and the Goldrush were next, doing their usual rock-your-socks-off set. When Prabir went to dedicate a song to a girl, violinist Treesa mentioned that her parents were in the audience, so the song instead went to them. Irreverently, it was followed by a song about smoking weed; no dedication necessary.

The final band was the trio Homemade Knives and they set up on the floor in front of the stage and the remaining members of the audience crowded around them, some sitting on the cold floor (not this girl) and others standing around.

Their haunting set ended with a much-slowed-down cover of Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark, because, according to lead singer Will, "covers are fun." It was an ironic comment considering that the somber and slow version they did of the up-tempo rock standard took the song to a whole new meaningful level and fun had nothing to do with it.

My friend offered to drive me home in case the street lights were still out, but I told him I was willing to go it alone. As I told him, what was going to happen, that I'd die on the streets of J-Ward on a Saturday night under a full moon?

"Worse things could happen," he grinned as he twirled his moustache, knowing I'd be just fine.

Do I have the option of being otherwise?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

River Walk for One

Despite having been out on the Northern Neck just yesterday, the weather had prohibited spending much time on the Rappahannock. The wind, ungodly strong and uncharacteristically from the west, made being on the dock way too cold for my shorts-clad legs.

So today's shiny 72-degree day practically begged some time down at the river. I made a pit-stop at Nick's Market here in J-Ward for one of his excellent Italian subs on my way south. Might as well incorporate lunch into my river time.

Walking across the suspension bridge, a musician I know and I had to do a double-take when we passed each other, neither of us initially recognizing the other outside of a music venue. We laughed about seeing each other in the day-lit non-music world.

Over on Belle Isle, I had lots of company. Not like sunny-summer-day-people-on-every-rock crowded, but plenty of others like me out to enjoy this beautiful late October day.

As I skirted the water, I was surprised to see two river rafts of people paddling furiously over the white water, their team leaders calling out instructions. For some reason, I think I thought the raft outings ended with Labor Day. Not so, apparently.

When I got up to the bend in the path, I headed down to the flat rocks for my afternoon in the sun. There was a guy sunbathing nearby (in swimming trunks, no less, not just shorts) and studying who said hello. I met a couple with a little beagle, reminding me of my beagle and all the hot days we spent down there cooling off last summer.

Facing out to Hollywood Cemetery, I spread out my lunch and tucked into it. Is there anything more basic or more delicious than a good Italian cold cut sub (and the requisite chips that go with it)? Everyone needs a Nick's Market two blocks from their house. For that matter, everyone needs a pumpkin cupcake with whiskey cream cheese frosting for dessert, at least during October.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of kayakers coming around the bend in the rocks, making u-turns to go back and come through the whitewater again and again. When they tired of that, they paddled in front of us and I noticed that one had on a Lycra tank top and the other a turtle-neck long-sleeved Lycra shirt.

Not sure which one was over or under-dressed, I decided to wade in and check the water temperature. Taking off my shoes, I went in far enough to establish that the water was pretty chilly, but by no means unbearable (I've felt the ocean colder in July on the Outer Banks).

No doubt vigorous paddling on a bright sunny day would heat up the body enough to compensate for any cool river spray, so I'm going to go with the guy with the well- muscled arms and tank top being properly attired (although I may have been swayed by the nice arms).

I watched an endless train snake through the bank below the cemetery, squealing and clanging slowly all the while. Because the river level is below five feet, there were rocks everywhere, making for easy river walking almost the whole way across, although I did disturb a couple of ducks along the way and they flapped away in disgust.

People-watching and enjoying the river views, I had dozens of comments I could have made if I'd had company. Still, the afternoon at the river was exactly what I'd needed and just listening to the rushing water for a couple of hours had satisfied whatever that need is.

Now, about those other needs...

From the Fan to the Bottom to the Slip Version 2.0

What if there was a party and nobody but women came? What if nobody but women were invited? That would be a friend's annual Thesmophoria extravaganza, celebrating the ancient Greek festival for women only (men were supposed to be working, although frequently they came to ogle).

I'm always flattered to be asked since she gathers such an interesting group together for the evening. Julia from River City Cellars brings three great wines (I was unashamedly back to her favorite breakfast bubbles, the Tete a Claques I'd been drinking just two nights before) and all the best cheeses and the women bring the rest of the food (which always means an obscene amount of desserts).

The first thing I overheard when I walked in late to the already in-progress party was, " So do you take Nyquil?" It doesn't have the same ring as other self-medicating questions I have heard at parties.

But that was just one of many conversations I joined and then exited as I made my way through the house to meet and greet all these women.

I finally had to say my goodbyes since I'd promised to pick up a friend for an evening of light. We parked in the Bottom and began at Julep, which is always fun when Bobby's mixing.

I knew he'd been busy lately making new concoctions and listening to David Bowie, and was curious about the results. If Bowie's not old-school inspirational, I don't know who is (actually I do: Bryan Ferry).

It wasn't long before he got out his torch and presented each of us with a big roasted coconut marshmallow he'd made. I'm a coconut fan anyway, but Bobby had used coconut water instead of plain water in his recipe.

The result was scrumptious, the most sublime over-sized marshmallow I've ever put into my mouth. He created it to sit atop the Jack Skellington, but I had it as a side for my (surprise!) Corozon tequila.

Friend enjoyed a couple of cocktails (including two off Bobby's list) before we decided that it was time to join the throngs and start exploring InLight. The first piece that really grabbed me was the covered wagon with its projections of new frontier travel. Sitting in the middle of Cary Street, it was like a ghost from another era.

Sacer-totem, made of plasric nativity scene figures stacked up totem pole-like brought a smile to many viewers' faces. The Virgin Mary perched on top of assorted Wise Men made for a particularly arresting lighted visual.

All of Cary Street was transformed simply by having the street lights off. It gave the area a much different vibe (which I liked) and allowed people to drop into the shadows when they wanted to. Kind of cool.

At Bouchon, we were greeted by a madhouse. The last time I saw the place that crazy was the Bastille Day party. But the kissing bartender and chef promised us a table or bar stools and we only had to stand to sip our drinks for a bit.

The bar menu of which I'm so fond had some new listings for the evening, so we tried the onion tart, the pork and beans (so popular it had been changed from a full serving to a half) and the mushroom soup.

Friend had been unsure what to expect out of the standard-sounding pork and beans, so the sausage and white bean combo was a pleasant surprise to him. I knew Francis would do it up right, so I wasn't the least bit surprised.

The guy on the other side of me joined in our conversation about Caddyshack and music after a while and I didn't hold it against him that he liked Vampire Weekend, although I did share my opinion of the copycat little prepsters (even so, it couldn't have been too off-putting because when he got up to leave later, apropos of nothing, he said, "Come on, leave with me").

It was while he was sampling around the bar offerings (Port, pear-infused brandy, red wine) that bartender Olivier asked me if I liked apple pie and set a glass down in front of me. Very apple-like and I didn't even bother to ask what it might be. Next time.

The conversation was varied and, at times downright revealing, and before I knew it we were nearing the bewitching hour when InLight would go dark. Before that happened, Olivier grabbed me and led me downstairs and out the back way to see all the installations on the block behind Bouchon. Chef Francis joined me for the art.

There were two pop-up galleries back there, so a lot to see. Probably my favorite was Unwilling Nervous Courage, consisting of both a male nude and a reclining female nude, both magnificently carved in wood with video projections across them. We were both fascinated by the implications.

Another piece that fed the viewer's ego used a camera in one little room to project our image onto another wall. "If we stand here, the camera records whatever we do." Risky business for some.

Francis and I were both impressed by Horizon in the Fold; the columns of light behind the curtain gave a blowing, billowing effect that mirrored a balmy day with the window open, except with light as the moving force. For me, it was like seeing a sunset through the curtain of a beach cottage window, all gentle movement and subtle colors.

By the time I'd finished seeing everything I could, artists and friends had began pulling up extension cords and untaping power strips, so I headed back upstairs. We enjoyed more conversation as the bar finally began to thin out and eventually close down.

Walking back to the Bottom to retrieve my car, a passing girl said to me, "I love your purple tights!" And they don't compare to the new burgundy lace ones. Still, there is nothing quite like a random compliment at 1:45 a.m.

Actually, there's nothing like random compliment anytime. It won't give me a big head, I promise.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Matt & Kim Shaking the Floorboards

Fact: Matt and Kim will always be hipster-skinny because of the amount of energy they expend on stage.

Fact #2: They're adorable for how much they love what they do and how grateful they are for their fans.

A friend had invited me to join him on the guest list for tonight's show at the Canal Club and who am I to turn down a free show?

Our dilemma was where to park once and party twice and eventually we settled on Cafe Gutenberg due to proximity.

I was (lecture) late and he was (got off work) early, so I arrived to find him perusing Style and drinking a beer.

I was starving, so I went with the Banh Mi (braised pork, cucumbers, carrots, mint, mayo and chili-ginger madness), which was exactly what he'd already decided on.

Our sandwiches arrived in no time and we were tearing into them when our server came over and told us that the kitchen thought that our fries had been oversalted, so they were sending out more.

My friend had the very stereotypical male reaction, along the lines of oversalted? Really? Oh, boy, more fries!

And they do have excellent fries, which I know from having enjoyed them as a salty snack when meeting my friend Scott there for drinks.

Our goal was to be at the Canal Club by 7 because they were going to play the new Matt & Kim album before the opening act.

After waiting in line to get in, we waited some more before the album was started.

As we stood there, the crowd got denser by the minute.

The opening act caused my friend to say to me, "I can't wait to see your blog tomorrow about these guys."

Yes, well. It's not that I dislike hiphop because I was at a hiphop show just this past Saturday night (Photosynthesizers were amazing).

Let's just say this wasn't to my taste...or that of a third of the crowd, all of whom went downstairs for the set.

But then punk/dance duo and partners Matt and Kim came out and all was right with the world.

I had mentioned to my friend that they hadn't played here since that show at the bike lot during Slaughterama, what three years ago?

I'd had tickets to their show a while back and it had been cancelled when Matt threw his back out.

They were overdue in RVA.

And they began by acknowledging just that.

Matt said their last two shows here had been the bike show and a house show at someplace called the Bone Zone, where he recalled shots being poured down his throat as he played.

He remembered Richmond as a town that "loves to get wild" and tonight's very young crowd (most had an underage X on their hand) cheered him wildly for it.

Kim said that she remembered that even on a Monday night, people here were ready to party.

Drums and keyboards and lots of enthusiasm make up a Matt & Kim show.

Kim stood on her drums to announce that she had cousins in the audience, so "there better be crowd surfing before the night's over!"

She need not have worried about that, although more than a few people got dropped.

Kim herself stood on people's hands to do a booty dance, her drum-sculpted arms waving in the air.

Matt played keys with one leg up in the air behind his back.

The floor shook like I've never felt it shake at the Canal Club and I've been to a lot of shows there.

Matt called it a "Thursday night Richmond, Virginia dance party" and he wasn't far off.

There was even some pogoing going on, not that anyone who was doing it had any idea what pogoing was.

Introducing their last song, Daylight, Matt said, "If you've had a bad night, or a bad week, or even a bad year, use the next three and a half minutes to shake it out of your fingertips...or your ass and just feel better."

Final fact: Amidst the pounding rhythms and overall enthusiasm of their signature song, every single one of us did.

A Photographic Lesson

When all is said and done, the three concurrent South African shows on exhibit and the attendant lectures, films and gallery walks have provided RVA with an unmatched opportunity to learn about a country, its people and its art.

Today's lecture "Image as Text: Photography in South Africa During and After Apartheid," by Dr. Babatunde Lawal at the Visual Arts Center provided an historical context for the photographs currently making up the locals exhibits.

He made the point that photographs provide not only an artistic and aesthetic record of history but also a voyeuristic one with a subjective interpretation. By focusing a camera, an element of choice is inserted into the photographic record.

He began with early Western images of Africans (the "African Other") and moved into the apartheid years where photographers, both black and white, courageously risked life, limb and government reprisal for documenting the atrocities.

Some of the photographs of the Sharpville Massacre, where 69 people were killed and 186 injured in 49 seconds, were heartbreaking to see. Pictures of dead bodies being slung into police vehicles gave witness to the official attitude of the then-government toward blacks.

After the mass displacement and resettling of blacks to the outlying arid and inhospitable areas, the regulation housing built for them presented a depressing photograph. But other shots of South African women painting their houses in an effort to brighten their new neighborhoods demonstrated a glimmer of hope.

Dr. Lawal mentioned that the South African government eventually and tellingly realized the worth of what the women were doing and encouraged it, not to help them settle in to their enforced homes, but for tourist purposes.

Like all there of the current South African exhibits it was clear from the lecture that black South Africans used two main coping skills to deal with the horrors under which they lived: faith and music. Photographs of people celebrating church services and making music are, without a doubt, the most joyful images taken during the apartheid years.

But all of the photographs need to be seen, in my opinion, if only for the reminder of the past that they provide.

Showing Off Richmond

Once you've done an initial tour of Richmond, what's left to show a friend from out of town? How about some of my favorite hangouts?

When I went to leave the house, I saw a group of kids lighting sparklers on the corner of Belvidere and Broad. Smoke was enveloping them, but they appeared to be having a great time swinging them around. Why not sparklers on a street corner on a fall night?

Secco was stop number one. All I know is wine (and he knows much more about wine than I do), but I'd heard from enough beer fans that Secco did them right to know that he'd have some good choices. And there's always the plus of great crowd-watching.

I couldn't resist Julia's favorite Loire breakfast bubbles Tete a Claques, being pink and all, and he went for the Sunner Kolsch. I got a peek at Secco's Restaurant Week menu, which looks to be a most interesting one.

We walked down to Acacia for the prix fix menu after he told me he was in a fish mood. (Dale does more fish and does it better than anyone I know). Friend had the grouper with pasta and I had the mahi-mahi with grits. He got the chocolate dessert and I got the almond cake, it should be noted, since I invariably get the chocolate on the menu.

He was suitably impressed with his rum cooler, courtesy of Arthur (we sat at a table rather than the bar, a first for me, so we couldn't thank Arthur directly) which got me bragging about our local mixologists. I'd already taken him to Julep, so I made our last stop Balliceaux.

Walking in, I asked one of the bartenders which bars were open. "Both," he said, "But Austin's at the front, so you'll go there." Correct he was. We settled in to help Austin kill the rest of the evening (and admire the new Chris Milk Hulbert show hanging in the back room), discussing eateries and bars in the cities Austin had recently been visiting, all the while listening to Animal Collective.

Friend had a Moscow Mule and I had, well, Don Julio. I hate being predictable, but I am what I am. For our second cocktail, I had more Don and he gave Austin free rein and seemed suitably impressed with the results.

But then, Richmond's an impressive town. At least I think so.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Music Three Ways

"I promised to hold the show for you but I didn't promise not to embarrass you."
~ Chris Edwards

I arrived at the Listening Room late, at 7:55, but once again my parking spot was suspect. So, I ran back out to move my car just in case. I returned to the opening remarks by MC Chris, in which he was saying. "And we can begin now because Karen is here." It was after 8:00. Mortifying.

But the music, as always, was terrific. Exebelle and the Rusted Cavalcade were on first and I was happy to see Ben Wilson on keyboards. Ben, formerly of We Know, Plato! is a long-time favorite of mine for his thoughtful lyrics, excellent voice and talented keyboard playing.

E&TRC was unique in that all four members wrote songs and all four sang. We listened to a song by each (Ben introduced his as, "Spilt Coffee, semi-colon, the end" and naturally, I'm a fan of punctuation geeks). Their alt-country sound with banjo, upright bass, mandolin and pedal steel was a pleasure to listen to and I'm not usually a country music fan.

Favorite lyric: Every now and then the craving comes in, The door I thought I had locked. Runner up: My heart needs a slow dance. Any kind of romance. Leave it to country music.

Bluegrass followed in the form of River City Band, a group described as "bluegrass done right," an apt description of this multi-talented group They focused tonight on original material, something they said they don't often get to do. We did hear some traditional songs (Handsome Molly) and a Jonathan Vassar-penned tune as well.

Favorite lyric: Stand up straight, Put a hop in my step, I'm on my way, But I'm not there yet (from Taking a Break from the Blues). These guys are not to be missed.

The Happy Lucky Combo began by describing themselves as a combination tango, klezmer and zydeco group, something between Middle Eastern music and the blues. Then they proceeded to impress.

Their eclectic sound used electric upright bass (even bowed occasionally), accordion and drums. Cotton Pickin' Bulgar was a song about a broken heart, but not written from the view of the breaker or breakee, but instead from that of the friend helping the breakee.

A standout was Zydeco Samba ("Not really zydeco or a samba," we were told) with drummer Pippin Barnett playing a mean and non-stop triangle. It made the song. They finished with a polka because, they said, they didn't know any Hendrix.

And not once did the lights fall.

I then grabbed the friend who had helped me as a breakee and we went to Rosie Connelly's to talk madly after so much intent listening.

This was after she had passed me a note during the show saying "Do you want to be friends? Check One. Yes No Fuck Off." I laughed so hard and had to be silent about it that I almost stopped breathing.

Now that's a friend.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Super 8 & Onion Tarts

I have a friend who gave up life in academia to go back to school at the BrandCenter. Which is great for his creative juices and potentially his future, but it means his free time has evaporated.

Miraculously, a window of opportunity opened up and he invited me for a last-minute lunch today, so I suggested he come here and we'd walk J-Ward and end up at Ettamae's Cafe. I knew he'd have a camera with him and things are pretty picaresque around here.

As a matter of fact, he'd just put a fresh roll of film in it when he'd arrived on Clay Street and had already taken a picture before calling my name from the sidewalk. As my visitors know, this is how you announce your arrival; we don't need no stinkin' doorbells in the Ward (alright, that's probably just me) as long as my windows are open.

We entered Ettamae's to a crowd of construction workers, undoubtedly part of the Hippodrome Theatre renovation crew practically next door (I am counting the months to the reopening).

But we were balcony-bound, so we cruised right past them and up the stairs that go somewhere (as opposed to the charming other staircase which ends in a ceiling, a la Rene Magritte's Irene or Forbidden Literature)

I had come for corned beef because no one I know of does it better around here and I knew my manly friend would like it. But passing the specials chalkboard, my eye was caught by the warm onion tarts over mesclun with bacon, Swiss cheese and peppers in a Thousand Island dressing. Hmm, the corned beef would be there next time I came, but those tarts...

We must have been the first on the balcony today because the umbrellas were still closed, but our server very quickly corrected that. It wasn't long before another couple came up from the street and asked if they could join us at a nearby table. They looked okay, so we said yes.

I must have been convincing because friend was swayed by my recommendation and got the corned beef sandwich (with a side of cucumber salad). I had to try Matt's tarts. Had to.

Their creamy savoriness worked beautifully with the tang of the salad and the abundance of thick-sliced bacon and cheese. It was every bit as satisfying as any sandwich.

My friend teased me about having seen me in the Ipanema anniversary party pictures ("I didn't think you showed up on film when you got your picture taken," he said drolly) and we discussed the always-interesting topic of age perception, an issue he's currently dealing with now that he's back in school after having been the teacher for years.

Nest thing you know, we'd digressed to body parts and porn (okay, ostensibly the rise of tumblr) and it was time to leave our lofty perch and do something constructive.

Downstairs, I raved to the staff about those onion tarts. "I wish we had more adventurous people ordering," one said, sounding wistful. But their sandwiches are so good, I can see where people can't resist them, either.

Friend's camera started a conversation about collecting cameras as objects and Laura was telling us about finding a collection of Super 8 porn while searching for cameras. Oblivious fool that I am, it had never even occurred to me that at one time porn must have been on Super 8.

I always think of it in terms of old silent family movies, but of course it must have had other uses. She told us about some of the cringe-inducing film titles and overblown 70s-era fonts she'd seen on these things, making friend and I wish we could have laid eyes on this vintage stuff.

Hands down, my favorite Super 8 title was Snack Time. Oh, the corny visuals that conjures up...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Give Me New Pornography

Just so we're clear: I would pay to hear Neko Case sing the telephone book. Which was not what she was singing tonight, but you get my point.

The evening got off to a welcoming start when I walked up to the wristband guy at the front of The National. "Where've you been?" he demanded with a smile. "We missed you. What's the last time you were here? And when are you coming back?" Uh, Broken Social Scene barely over a month ago? And next week? Since when do wristband guys take attendance? On the other hand, thanks for noticing.

Inside, I was pleased to see that the music hadn't yet started. I didn't see my favorite bartender (turns out he had band practice tonight so he was off), so I headed to the bar most likely to have the good stuff (one or the other inevitably doesn't). I ordered a Sauza, was delivered a Stella Artois and clarified the difference with my clearly confused server.

She apologized, poured the Sauza and as I was about to hand over my card, the bartender stepped forward and said, "No, no, this round is on me because you're such a regular at the National." Well, that I am, but I didn't expect a free drink for my musical devotion. Did someone sprinkle fairy dust on me tonight?

The show began with, "Hi, we're Tokyo Police Club from Montreal. Welcome to Monday!" and then launched into an outstanding set of post-punk garage rock, all fast guitars, melodic keyboards and excellent vocals. Tequila in hand, music washing over me, I could not have been any more satisfied to be where I was (it might have been nice to have company, but that's another story).

"New Pornographers are paying us on a commission basis to get you warmed up," the lead singer said. "Help us out and bust a move." Plaintive pleas aside, the band's sound was compelling enough to draw the audience in and everyone was moving before long. I felt sorry for those who'd opted to show up late. These guys were great.

During the break, I returned to the bar, where the server apologized again for mishearing me (not a big deal, really) and asked how I was enjoying the show. People sure were being nice to me tonight.

With their name in flashing lights behind them, New Pornographers took the stage and totally owned it for the next two hours. There's so much talent in this group and so many excellent voices (and whistlers) that every song is a power pop gem. Factor in the incredible pipes of Neko and it's a recipe for aural awesomeness.

Drummer Kurt was wearing a "Born to Cuddle" t-shirt (and what a cuddle puddle that group would make, just sayin') and there was onstage discussion of makeout parties (I was ready to volunteer, but they didn't ask). After one song, the audience was asked if there had been any phone number trading during the suggestive lyrics. Not in my case, but I can't speak for others.

I ran into several friends, including a fellow lecture geek (who gave me a heads up about a talk I must hear) and made a new one ("Do you come to every show here?" he asked after we got to discussing what we'd seen there), but was honestly surprised that the show hadn't sold out. It was over shortly after 11:00, a completely respectable time for a school night.

Neko Case, the New Pornographers and Tokyo Police Club to start the week in River City. Welcome to Monday indeed.

Come head on, full circle
Our path blocked but sure
We'll make records, then set them
Make copies, win races
Stay with me, go places
Once more for the ages

Black Shadowess

This is what my life has come to. Sitting at my computer just before midnight last night, the phone rang. Anyone who knows me knows I hate the phone, so I don't get many calls during daylight hours, much less after dark.

Me: Hello?
Him: What are you doing home so early?
Me: Well, I went to the Silent Music Revival and out for a drink but now I'm home. Is that okay?
Him: Yea, I knew if you were home you'd be up. Wanna have lunch tomorrow?
Me: Uh, sure.
Him: Pick you up at noon.
Me: Okay, bye.

Of course, he could have just e-mailed me, but he planned to sleep until 11:30 this morning and wanted to know before he went to bed if we had plans. Welcome to my world.

We ate at 3325 West Cafe on the portico of the church building that used to house Acacia. As he pointed out, it's our second lunch of late looking down on the street theater of Carytown, always ripe for commentary from the peanut gallery (and we so enjoy being peanuts).

He needed coffee STAT and a Margarita pizza; I got the Bleu salad (Romaine lettuce, bleu cheese crumbles, toasted pine nuts, red onions, banana peppers, tomatoes, cukes and croutons with a vinaigrette), knowing he'd share his pizza, which he did.

My salad was perfect for me, mainly because I'd prefer a bleu cheese vinaigrette over a creamy bleu cheese dressing anytime. His pizza had the thinnest crust, almost cracker-like, and weighty with cheese, although basil was a tad short in supply. He ate four pieces, paused and got a second wind and finished off the rest. There went any hope of dessert, something he's usually good for.

Driving home, we were behind a 70s-era black van, pimped out nicely...if it were still 1977. On the spare tire cover, the owner had taken the kind of gold lettering you buy in a hardware store and written a message to the world: BLACK SHADOW - COME AND GET SOME.

"Yea, baby, cause that's the way to pull in the ladies," my friend said.

Suppose it would work on the back of a black Altima? Nah, probably not.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let the Creepy Season Begin

Halloween season officially kicked off tonight with the Silent Music Revival's showing of short films by Slavko Vorkapich at Gallery 5. I made sure Andrew and I had front row seats for the kick-off.

These were creepy and disturbing short films, made all the more unsettling by the band Silver Top Beauty, featuring the operatic voice of Antonia Vassar.

The guitar, keyboards and that haunting voice began with an improvisation to a 1920s student-made film Day of the Dead and followed with two avant-garde shorts of Vorkapich's, including the classic The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra.

Vorkapich was a special effects whiz and a master of the montage, talents he utilized in 1930s-era Hollywood to great notoriety. His mad skills in both areas were in evidence in the films we saw tonight, complemented by Antonia's voice, the only one I can imagine being able to do justice to these films.

Afterwards, I spoke to a couple of newcomers to the event and they were blown away by the synchronicity of the film and music, which is exactly what moves me month after month at SMR. That and the admission cost: zero.

It really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated and tonight's near-capacity crowd would have gladly sat through a much longer show, but organizer Jameson likes to keep it fresh by mixing up the screening lengths. Tonight's ended all too soon for Andrew and me, and probably most of the audience.

Jameson always invites conversation after the screening and I love to geek out with him about silent films; he knows so much more than I do that it's almost like a silent film school lesson. I ask, he answers and we both get all worked up. Andrew says he loves to just stand back and watch us go at it.

Once I got that out of my system, Andrew and I headed to Avalon for drinks and basket o' fries ("You know me so well," he said when I showed him the menu) while catching up. Somehow, despite me having to walk home and get my car, I arrived first and ordered my drink from long-time bartender Jason.

When Andrew arrived and ordered, Jason asked, "Same tab?" and I clarified, "No, he's in a relationship." I don't know who thought that line was funnier, Jason or Andrew, but it definitely resonated with both. Well, he is.

He had lots of good stories and gossip for me and we talked about music because that's what our friendship was originally based on and we'll never let that go. I gave him a hard time about a couple of things, he told me he hated me and I reminded him that he really doesn't.

He admitted as much and we went back to talking about other people, especially the ones we don't like. We're like an old married couple who just go through the motions of challenging each other, knowing that we really think the same deep down.

It's kinda creepy. Not like Slavko Vorkapich pre-Halloween creepy, but definitely not right.

Neither of us would have it any other way.

Catching the Bouquet

I'm already on record for acknowledging that I'm not much of a girl. I don't like to shop. Don't care about clothes, shoes or purses. Don't wear jewelry. Hate talking on the phone and don't want, much less expect, guys to call me. Have a very unlady-like appetite.

Hell, I can't even remember to look for a ring on the hand of a guy hitting on me (an oversight I get chided about from female friends on a regular basis) .

But I had such a girly afternoon on this beautiful day and I really enjoyed it, so maybe there's hope for me after all.

My first stop was the Confederate Memorial Chapel next to the VMFA for its Victorian wedding display. As part of the Fine Arts and Flowers event at the museum (and to announce its availability for weddings), the chapel had been decked out as befitting a Civil War-era wedding.

I'd been to the chapel before, so even a heathen like me knew what a handsome scared space it was. With the afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass and clear glass windows, it was downright beautiful.

The charm of it today was the understated floral arrangements, as befitting the late 19th century mode. The custom of the day was to have one central floral arrangement at the front of the church, surrounded by a lot of greenery. And that's it for flowers,

Around the flower arrangement were ferns and, what else (because this is the south), magnolia leaves; sprays of greenery were arranged on the end of the pews and in the center of them with candles on top. Simple, but striking.

A typical bridal bouquet sat at the back of the chapel where the bride would pick it up as she entered. Small, more like a nosegay, and made with white roses, it was heavy in the hand (foreshadowing the weight of commitment, perhaps?).

The chapel guide asked me if I was looking for a place to get married (don't I need to be in a relationship first?) and I answered that I while I wasn't the marrying kind, if I were, then yes, I'm sure it would be a perfectly lovely place to do the deed. Hell, it would be a lovely place for a funeral, if you're into those (I'm not).

When I walked outside, a photography class had set up all around the chapel. But this was no digital bunch; the first camera I saw was Deardorff 8 x 10 format camera, large and striking for how handsome it was. I talked to its users who were desperately trying to figure it out.

A bit further on, my eye was caught by a couple of guys with a rosewood Wista camera, possibly the most beautiful camera I've ever laid eyes on (they told me it also comes in ebony). They invited me to use the dark cloth to drape myself and take a look.

"The image will be backwards and upside down," one warned, just as I was wondering how I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. They moved the camera around so I could see different shots, explaining all the while.

I have several good friends who are photographers and as a huge fan of photography, this impromptu camera class will be something I'll want to brag about to them sooner rather than later.

Okay, so that unexpected camera part wasn't especially girly, but my late lunch stop definitely was. I was meeting a girlfriend on the patio of Cafe Caturra, a place that serves girly food and attracts a girly clientele. Yes, it had been her idea.

The only time I'd been there had been during the winter for the roaring fire, so the patio was a whole new experience. The menu is still pretty much limited to paninis, wraps and salads, but a bottle of wine enjoyed outdoors on a sunny afternoon can make up for a lot of things.

And my tarragon tuna sandwich was good, if uninspired. And the enormous chocolate chip/macadamia nut/coconut cookie that followed was superb, so I really don't have any complaints.

Except for the view, which included table after table of women. There was one guy with a 185-pound bloodhound reading a book and sipping a beer by himself, but he was about the only testosterone within sight. Because I'd only visited in cold weather, I hadn't known how dog-friendly Cafe Caturra's patio was. Clearly it's a dog-owner's destination.

So we sat there for a few hours drinking wine and entertaining theories about why some people are paired up and others not. My friend was in the doldrums about her love life and wanted to girltalk about it, so we blathered away hypothesizing.

Anyone walking by and seeing us would have been fooled into thinking I was just as girly as the next girl.

As if.