Saturday, April 30, 2011

Enoteca Sogno Back in Biz

When I got the e-mail saying Enoteca Sogno was opening at its new Northside location (finally!) tonight, it wasn't that big of a deal.

I know a lot of people are fanatics about the place, but my interest is far more casual.

I'd been to  few terrific wine dinners there, but other than that, I'd only had dinner maybe twice.

But my dining companion suggested going (actually made a joke about not going), so we figured why not and off we went.

In my humble opinion, the new space is more attractive than the Broad Street space, with wooden floors, a curving bar and not nearly as many tables as they could have.

But the ones they did were all occupied tonight, so clearly lots of people were eager to see how things had come together.

The bartender was a familiar face and I planted kisses on both cheeks to mark him before he rushed off to keep his flourishing bar crowd refilled.

Our server was another RVA regular whom I know from at least two other restaurants.

Having arrived fairly late (we were told the horde arrived around 6:30 and we were closer to 8:30), we dove right in to the menu.

Vietti Roero Arneis, a light and earthy grape I'd never had before and a plate of  various Olli salami, made right here in Richmond got us off to a satisfying start.

No question, I see a lot of Olli in my future.

Chewy and soft in texture (okay, fat) and with each of the three kinds having distinctive kinds of spice, my companion declared it better than any American-made he'd had.

We sat back and savored it with our wine.

Mussels in white sauce over spaghetti came next and while the mussels were plump and the broth sop-worthy, the pasta was unnecessary because we'd also gotten the fresh tagliatelle with a mix of wild mushrooms and truffle oil.

Enjoyed with the wine, the earthiness of the mushrooms made it a lovely combination..

I chose the whole branzino roasted with garlic and herbs and the other eater got one of two specials for the evening, the veal Picatta (the other was a chicken Marsala and those were the only three proteins on the menu for tonight; more are to be added next week).

The branzino was the star and we ate it down to the bones, leaving a pile of them on the side of the plate.

The veal wasn't all it could have been, but it was late by this point and a new kitchen can be allowed one so-so plate on a mobbed opening night.

After so much food, we decided to move up to the bar to join the after-hours party tasting wines and talking about, what else, food and wine.

We started with the Mastro Janni Brunello di Montalcino 2005, a delicate but earthy wine that the owner had been saving for just such an evening and moved on to a Isole e Olena Cepparello, a wine so smooth and velvety as to be an example of what people miss when they don't drink red wine.

A Felsina Fontalloro sealed the evening for me with its very ripe red fruit nose, smooth tannins and beautiful long finish. 

A wine rep friend at the bar looked perplexed, asking, "How is it I've never heard of this wine?" 

My question would be more like, how is it I've never drunk this wine?

No one would argue that Gary York doesn't maintain an interesting wine list and, from last night's list, a well-priced one.

But it's hard to deny the pleasures of being included in the after-party and tasting the stuff he cellars for himself. It's even better with enough satisfying food first to prevent any chance of public loopiness.

Sometimes it's enough to be in the right place at the right time and just enjoy the moment.No doubt one of my strengths.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Skating at Bistro Bobette

We're not the same town we were before the VMFA remodeling, I swear.

I can say that because artists like Julian Schnabel didn't used to come here to talk, as he did tonight in a wide-ranging discussion with modern art curator John Ravenal.

Schnabel was funny, talkative and opinionated.

"Paintings are not pictures of something; they are something," he told the audience.

As a painter who has been known for both painting on broken ceramic plates as well as painting on velvet, the man should know of what he speaks.

"I wanted to paint on something particular to me."

The time went by quickly with Schnabel talking about the Picassos he has owned, the passage of time ("People invented time because they couldn't handle infinity") and imagery ("It almost didn't matter what the imagery was").

When Ravenal tried to wrap up the talk, Schnabel was having none of it.

"Anybody want to go home?" he asked of the crowd. "You won't be rude if you leave."

Not a soul moved.

When asked about favorite music, he cited Berlin, Aretha's version of Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer" and all of Tom Waits' ballads.

Personally, I found that to be a terrific answer.

Finally the talk turned to Schnabel's films and he spoke of the lack of critical praise for his new film "Miral."

Frustrated, he sent copies to actor and director friends to get input.

"I'm going to play something that will blow your mind," he promised. "And if it doesn't, you can say 'Julian, you're full of shit."

He then held his cell up to the microphone.

It was director Carl Reiner raving about the film and saying that Julian should call him back for more praise.

"Call this number for lauding," Reiner said in his unmistakable voice.

I have to say, the unexpected pleasure of an artist talk at the VMFA is hearing the artist's voicemail messages.


When I walked out of the museum, it had obviously just rained but the temperature was lovely for a drive downtown to Bistro Bobette to meet one of my favorite couples for dinner.

With them, it's a pleasure to be a fifth wheel.

I was late, but they were later, so it worked out well.

The bar was full of regulars - the Welshman, the New Yorker- who amused me until my friends arrived.

Mas de la Dame Rose helped, too.

Because we were overdue for a couple date, it was a while before we got around to ordering.

I couldn't resist the special of skate wing with fiddlehead ferns and artichoke bits in a balsamic reduction.

My handsome friend got the moullard duck confit with greens and green peppercorns; his beloved the veal with morels in a brandy cream sauce.

We three never eat together without playing musical plates and tonight was no different.

The texture of the duck was uniquely different, the morels and fiddleheads screamed spring right now and the skate everyone agreed was magnificent.

As much as we talked, discussing theater, Peter Chang's, Richmond Magazine and, of course, the new and upcoming restaurants, we didn't come close to closing the gap on new-to-each-other information.

In fact, when I mentioned my recent visit to the Balkan, the response I got was "WTF?" said just like that for decorum's sake, I guess.

"But you don't ever go to the West End," he said.

Never say never about a lot of things.

Eventually we were the last customers, having outlasted even the other regulars, so we made our way out to Cary Street, satisfied after another superb meal at Bobette.

If the masses ever discover this place (and I hope they will), it will be a squeeze for the regulars because it's just not that big.

As I drove westward, vaguely intending to go home, I remembered it was Mondo Italia night at Balliceaux and detoured there.

Jazz band Glows in the Dark was playing music from 70s Italian films while just such a film showed behind them.

Don't knock the pleasures of Italian movie music from the 70s until you've heard it.

Despite endless sex and violence onscreen (breasts and bloodshed everywhere), the music is terrific and being played by some of RVA's best jazz players.

Tonight they even had a couple of vocalists, Eddie P. from Amazing Ghost and Lydia Ooghe from Lux Vacancy, making for a musically perfect way to end my evening.

Let's take stock here.

A world-renowned artist and director not only speaks at the VMFA, but offers to arrange a screening of his brand-new film there since it may never open in Richmond (and gets an ovation when he says it).

A local restaurant offers morels, fiddleheads and skate wing as casually as some places used to offer fillet Mignon and broccoli.

A jazz band who has scored films for national directors plays a free show of vintage 70s movie music performed by some of RVA's A-list jazz musicians.

Maybe it doesn't have to do with the museum renovation, but clearly we're in the new and improved Richmond, VA.

Funny, I feel right at home.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Iron & WIne with Poetry

There are many places in RVA to hear poetry and so many different variations that constitute poetry.

After an absence, the Poetic Principles series, for years at the VMFA, returned tonight but at a more fitting location, the Library of Virginia.

To mark the occasion, food and Virginia wine (Chateau Morrisette) were being served.

Although Richmond-born, Kate Daniels, the poet who was reading tonight, acknowledged that she hadn't lived here for thirty years.

She showed her RVA credibility by informing us that her parents had met at a blind date at the Tobacco Parade.

Boy, those were the good old politically incorrect days, huh?

Daniels was an excellent reader and interpreter of her mostly long-form poetry. "Bus Ride" was about Rosa Parks and "A History of Hair" about the Holocaust.

"Genesis 128," about her childhood suspicions of Catholics ("They had a lot of kids so they were having a lot of sex, unlike the Baptists"), contained the line "To anyone walking by, it would have looked like lust."

Speaking of how much she disliked her parents' smoking, she read "Cigarettes and Matches," with the line "I came to fear the little orgy of pleasure that excluded me," referring to her parents' shared vice.

"I am lifted from the stupor of the everyday," came from "Old Pain" about memories of her father smoking and his subsequent illnesses as a result.

"I'm not a very light poet," she told the audience, but followed that with a dash of humor, saying "The dream of every cliche is to make it into a poem" and read "Capitalism" which began with a reference to going to hell in a hand basket.

But as long as there is poetry being written and read, I don't see how that is possible.

Since I had barely over an hour between the reading and the show at the National and they were on adjoining blocks, I wound up eating at Gibson's by default.

Honestly, it was my first meal there pre-concert.

No, really.

The two guys next to me at the bar were also going to the show and were picking halfheartedly at a plate of nachos when I sat down and ordered. They eventually gave up and pushed the half-full plate away.

I wanted to reach over there and help myself; I was amazed that two guys couldn't finish one plate of nachos and said so, but delicately so as not to bruise their male egos.

"We went to Subway before we came here and got nachos," one said sheepishly.

"What? You have to know that guys aren't the smartest people on the planet. Come on, we're guys!"

It wasn't even worth piling on, so I just laughed and changed the topic to music.

Meanwhile, I had the fresh Mozzarella with basil and roasted red peppers and a balsamic reduction and garlic bread, a simple but satisfying supper.

By the time I finished up, it was time to head next door.

I'd heard raves about the Low Anthem from friends and when they came out, a clarinet, an upright bass, keyboard and musical saw, I knew I was in for a treat.

Everyone was a multi-instrumentalist and that's always impressive.

Introducing "Matter of Time" as a love song, they sang "So I feather my nest, See me puffing my chest" in beautiful harmonies with ever-changing instruments.

Unfortunately, the crowd was extremely talkative during their entire set.

"Y'all know Snoop Dog played here last night? How many of you were here? It still smells great backstage!"

My only question would be what does it smell like?

The show was sold out and after Low Anthem's set, that became apparent as bodies closed in around me. I wanted to leave and go get another drink but feared losing my prime space since I had no one but strangers to hold it for me.

Sam Beam came out and said, "It's a treat to be back in Richmond," referring to his years at VCU where he got a degree in painting.

"I've got a lot of in laws here tonight, so everyone act like you like us."

Not sure he had to make that request given the rabid crowd.

Of course, Sam Beam is Iron and Wine, a one-man band. In a teensy-weensy departure from that this evening, he had a ten-piece backing band.

There were backup singers and a horn section and two drummers; it was one-man band madness!

But it made for an incredibly lush sound and some downright beautiful harmonies, so why quibble about the meaning of one?

He wasn't particularly chatty between songs, instead preferring an occasional longer monologue.

He mentioned having walked around Richmond today, barely recognizing the city with all the new development and improvements.

 And naturally he'd gone down to see the river.

At one point he said that his grandfather had worked at a chemical plant in Hopewell.

When the old man learned that Sam and his friends were going swimming down off of Belle Isle, he intoned, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"But I haven't grown any extra appendages," Beam announced with a grin.

Beginning to play again, he amusingly said, "Let's get mellow," as if he'd been anything else.

"For the past few nights, people have been getting jacked up for some mellow, sleepytime music." Clearly he didn't get it, although there was some of that going on tonight.

I find it tough to understand hooting and hollering at Iron and Wine's deeply textured and powerful storytelling.

It's folk, maybe folk rock in places, and the kind of music that washes over you rather than amping you up. It's poetry set to music.

But as I've seen, everyone responds to poetry, whether spoken or sung, in their own way.

 The good news is that as long as poetry is being created, we couldn't possibly be in that collective hand basket to hell.

Not even those among us who aren't the smartest people on the planet.

You know who you are.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Words with Pictures

I'm old-school enough to still enjoy the print product.

So today's "Style Weekly," weighing in at a hefty 236 pages, is right up my alley as a reader.

As a writer, it was a lot of fun to work on, albeit in a ridiculously short period of time.

Did I mention that is was 236 pages?

As I read through the magazine, I was reminded of why I live here and blog in the first place.

Richmond has so much to offer and as one who is always out trying to avail myself of all that, it's nice to see that others acknowledge it, too.

Back in the Food and Drink section, my pieces on Buz Grossberg of Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue (my first time there, something I didn't mention at the interview), pricey wine (none of which I'll likely ever taste), fisherman "Cowboy" Smith (who paid me more than a few compliments on a bridge), and Man Most Likely to Be Dining Out (which is exactly how we met and bonded) were the most eye-catching, while some of my smaller submissions didn't garner pictures, but still represented work on my part.

Not that I'm complaining because I had loads of fun doing it.

Well, doing what I always do, but sharing it with an even wider audience this time.

And of course I always enjoy talking to strangers.

So if you're feeling at all old-school, check out "Style" in print.

It's a visual treat.

Cook My Heart Out, Then Eat It

If you read someone for long enough, it's always a pleasure to meet them.

As a lifelong and still-daily reader of The Washington Post. I was looking forward to just such an opportunity tonight.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Travel editor of the Post; he writes a monthly column, "Cooking for One," as well as always-interesting feature stories.

I had a sense of who he was just from reading him for so long and I wanted to compare that to reality.

For that matter, he's a two-time James Beard Foundation award-winner for best newspaper food section.

Naturally I was curious about his new cookbook, "Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One" since I'm a) one and b) always looking for nightly adventures.

With it being restaurant week, the crowd for the reading was small, which was a a shame for Yonan, but a treat for the limited attendees because it turned into a casual get-together discussing cooking, asserting yourself at the grocery store and seduction meals

When asked, Yonan gave his suggestions for a meal worthy of getting to the next level with that special someone.

Limit onions and garlic and make something light in case the plan works and you get lucky; a food coma is not sexy.

The book is not just recipes, it also includes essays about food and preparation and Yonan read from one such essay about chicken fried steak.

Having grown up in San Angelo, Texas, he had a long history with the dish and its permutations.

After signing my book (To Karen, Cook your heart out! Joe), we talked about dining out alone, a subject near and dear to my heart. Like me, he hates the dreaded question, "Just one?"

The reading had turned into a thoroughly enjoyable chat with someone new and yet again, I'd enjoyed myself so much more than I could have anticipated.

Even though it's Restaurant Week, I felt like a nice glass of wine, so I went uptown to Secco to see if they could squeeze in one bar sitter amongst the $25.11 crowd.

They could and did.

Sandwiched in between couples, I ordered a glass of Ameztoi Getariako Txakoli Rubentis Rosat, a beautifully effervescent and rather zesty pink that impressed me from the first swallow.

From the moment I saw the chalkboard touting softshells, my decision was made, no matter what the preparation turned out to be. I had the almond-encrusted  softshell with fava shoots, shaved asparagus with preserved Meyer lemon hollandaise.

And, yes, the first softshell of the season is always good, but this one was great, delicately crispy and surprisingly enhanced by the hollandaise.

And then it was time for musical chairs as owner Julia insisted on moving me to sit next to another regular she deemed interesting.

The accommodating stranger welcomed me to the stool beside him and we began oversharing information about ourselves.

Asking what I liked about Secco, I responded, "Well-priced wine and always-interesting food."

The stranger liked that. "Well said. Can I use that myself?"

By all means.

He insisted I share his dessert after our server made presumptions and brought two spoons.

The lavender plum cake was lovely and the pistachio gelato (and brittle) was a decadent delight.

I learned that he'd had dinner at Secco the night before and had the gelato then, too.

I've got no problem with frequency when you're crazy about something.

What we soon realized was that we do a lot of the same things in the same places, meaning we probably have seen each other a hundred times and not known it.

We agreed that we are now bound to see each other within the next 48 hours, only this time we'll recognize each other.

After he left ( 5 a.m. wake-up call, god forbid), I turned to my other side for conversation and amusement, finding it in a friend's boyfriend and  his tales of good and bad restaurants (he's in the business).

When that waned, he told stories of cats and dogs.

Coincidentally Joe Yonan was also dining at Secco, so my evening finished where it had begun, with more conversation with Mr. Single Serving.

He was raving about his meal (he'd done the restaurant week menu)and shared his amazement over Richmond pricing, so different from Washington's.

I mentioned that yes, it costs less to eat out here than it does in DC, but we don't have places offering offal happy hour menus, either.

They have places like Bar Pilar (also one of his favorites) offering offal every day and we have reasonable restaurant pricing.

Life is a series of trade offs.

Not that I felt like I made any trade offs tonight.

Sometimes the people you read turn out to be as interesting as their words.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scoring at Chores

Could there be a better way to spend a warm, breezy day at the river scoring points than doing chores for my parents in the sunshine?

I painted the wooden garden chairs a lovely shade of purple.

I painted the bird feeder roof cherry red.

I stained the dock chairs so that the new umbrella can go up for dockside happy hours.

The straw hat I was wearing kept threatening to blow off because the breeze spent the day shifting directions.

I waded into the Rappahannock River up to my ankles to discover that it's still really cold.

I saw that parts of the water were almost brown, no doubt recently churned up by nearby rain, and others a bright sparkling green.

My parents sat on the big screened-in porch reading a Northern Neck magazine for which I'd written a guide to the Chesapeake Bay wine trail (yea, I hadn't known there were wineries out that way, either), pleased as punch.

Proud, even.

Not sure if it was my writing skills or how good I was at the chores that had them going.

My Dad did say he's planning to buy me a pair of short overalls for future visits.

My guess is it was the latter.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ready, Set, Balkanize!

All you have to do to make some friends happy is surprise them.

So when my dinner companion picked me up and asked where we were going, I delighted him by saying it was a surprise. I directed him west on Monument before switching over to Patterson.

"We're going into the county?" he asked incredulously. "Isn't there a checkpoint? Don't we need to show our papers or something?"

I could tell; he was afraid I was taking him to Short Pump. Fear not, my friend.

Instead, we stopped at one of the ubiquitous strip malls that define the counties when I told him to pull in by the Papa John's.

All he saw was the giant Chinese place on the other side of PJ's until I pointed out the Balkan Restaurant. His grin was worthy of the Cheshire Cat.

On a Monday evening it was easy to choose a table in the middle of the restaurant, between the four top of white-haired men (two with delightful accents) and a single diner who was just finishing up by declining dessert.

We each had views of opposing walls covered in photographs of the Balkan region while Balkan music played overhead.

Being Balkan amateurs, though, we needed some time with the menu to familiarize ourselves with the ingredients and the terminology before going forward.

But being hungry, we ordered the spinach and cheese burek (hand-stretched puff pastry with various fillings) to tide us over in the meantime.

In the blink of an eye, five 6"-long pieces of stuffed puffs arrived steaming. The soft pastry tasted of egg and butter and the filling of chopped spinach and Kajmak (cottage cheese) brought to mind spanikopita.

Needless to say, we loved it. Surely this is what Balkan comfort food tastes like.

Our lovely server was Bulgarian and landed at the restaurant because she is a friend of the owners.

She tolerated our mispronunciations and, at our request, corrected our ugly American mangling of foreign terms as we ordered. It was eating as learning experience.

A big part of the pleasure of eating with this friend is his willingness to share dishes. With that in mind, we got the Bulgarian feta cheese salad (cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions and grilled red peppers topped with Bulgarian Feta cheese and Kalamata olives) and served with a generous helping of house-baked Lepinja bread (similar to pita but thicker and doughier).

Our other choice was the cevapi sandwich, made of ground beef mixed with flavorful spices in skinless  link-style sausages.

Served on Lepinja bread with fresh onions and Kajmak, it had both of us raving about the spiced meat and fluffy bread. My friend loved how savory the sausages were without being spicy at all.

We both had world-class onion breath by the time we finished with these two dishes. Balkan cuisine is nothing if not generous with raw onions, something that made both of us very happy, if a bit fragrant during conversation. Even the Lepinja bread couldn't deaden how pungent we were.

As we sat reflecting on such an enjoyable meal, my friend informed me that my winning streak of taking him to interesting restaurants was further bolstered by tonight's choice.

Maybe the onions were clouding his judgement, but the guy who loves surprises didn't seem surprised by that at all.

It all comes down to you gotta eat, I gotta eat. Might as well eat together.

Pigging Out at Peter Chang's

When out of the blue the person sitting on your couch suggests dinner at Peter Chang's, there's only one question that needs to be asked.

Is Peter Chang cooking tonight?

A quick phone call (no, of course not by me) revealed that he was and that was all the motivation we needed to hop in the car and go to Charlottesville on a beautiful late Easter afternoon.

And although the parade of food is all kind of a blur now, it's the very best kind of blur.

So many great dishes and not nearly big enough a stomach to consume it all.

But you don't drive an hour for dinner if you're not going to taste everything that hits the table and, for two people, we did a damn fine job if I do say so myself.

Our server was sweet but warned us when we ordered the High Desert Sparkling Malbec that he routinely has a tough time opening these bottles.

We assured him that he could just bring the bottle to the table and we could take it from there.

After watching the process, he said, "Oh, so you screw and turn? I get it." 

Yes, Grasshopper, learn these lessons and use them as you go forward.

I also discovered he's in a reggae rock band and that their CD release show is coming up in Richmond, to which he offered up an invitation.

Music, it's always there just under the surface.

Because of the extensive menu, we ordered a few things just to buy some time.

The dry-fried eggplant with chiles in the breading was exquisitely light without any sort of wetness or greasiness; it was definitely the best-tasting eggplant I have ever eaten.

And the Dan-Dan noodles with pork had a deep rich flavor tasting of Sichuan peppercorns.

The crispy pork belly wasn't at all what we expected, fried up crispy with no trace of the soft fattiness that usually defines pork belly;as a result, it was our least favorite.

We want fat!

The large group at the next table was quieting the kid contingent with what looked like bread balloons, so we ordered what turned out to be scallion bubble pancakes.

I actually burned my knuckles punching the heat out of a pancake, but it was well worth it.

With the accompanying Chinese curry dipping sauce, they were downright addictive.

My knuckles will heal.

Next came the boneless whole fish with pine nuts, which we figured was a Chang thing despite it being tilapia.

The scored and fried head-on fish sat on a delicate orange sauce that didn't have the cloying sweetness we expected given the color.

The sauteed baby lamb with red peppers was our half-hearted nod to today's holiday, but way more interesting.

The medallions of lamb were succulent without an overbearing heat.

The Jing Jiang shredded duck with onions, water chestnuts and carrots was served with pancakes for the best roll ups imaginable.

The crispy freshness of the onions worked beautifully with the richness of the duck

Four appetizers, three entrees, two people.

You do the math.

We had boxes and boxes to take with us when we finally called it quits.

Eight hours later, I'm back on my couch and wondering, what just happened?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sure, I'll Pay for Seven Inches

It's all in how you look at it.

It was a free show at Gallery 5 with four talented bands of wildly varying genres.

Standing on a concrete floor for four and a half hours gets old after the first three.

The bill had been chosen by the Diamond Center, who were celebrating their 7" record release, a steal at five bucks.

There were a host of sound issues for some reason.

When there's no cover charge, more people will buy merchandise, helping to support local music.

Band etiquette 101: never play longer than the headlining band intends to.

Nervous Ticks, a high-energy band that evokes an early '80s post-punk sound, was most compelling on their last song, which was acknowledged as "showing our sensitive side."

The unfulfilled tension of the song was terrific.

Canary, oh, Canary, the only band I hadn't heard before, was a stripped down trio playing dream-gaze pop (think Cocteau Twins) with some dramatic vocals (and hand gestures) in parts.

When they locked into a groove, they didn't let go.

Black Girls had played the Earth Day Festival today but showed no signs of weariness; we'll chalk that up to youth.

As a friend told me, he wanted to go up to them and say, "Great set, guys. Now show me your IDs."

After their set, a restaurant acquaintance said he couldn't describe their sound.

When I offered "KC and the Sunshine Band meets Modest Mouse with some Queen thrown in," his face lit up.

"That's it! I heard all that but I couldn't put it into words." 

Friend, I always have words to spare. Just ask.

The Diamond Center  played a full-on stellar set, complete with confetti thrown onto the audience toward the end.

Lead singer Brandi had on the most amazing silver leggings seen since the '80s.

I only wish Kyle's twelve-string guitar got used for more than three songs.

But I am happy to hear a twelve-string for however long or short someone is willing to play it.

I look at it as a great evening of free music in a city that continues to turn out bands worth hearing.

It can be our new slogan: Keep Richmond musical.

Yea, right.

As if I'm the right person to label this city.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Of all his studio's movies, the one Walt Disney himself felt was his crowning achievement was "Mary Poppins." I would never have guessed that.

Having not seen it on a big screen, I was among those who spent the cool, gray morning watching  it at the Bowtie and trying to figure out what it was about this movie that swelled Walt's chest. Maybe I should have had a mimosa first before trying to do a film analysis.

So here goes.

Maybe it was its topicality, focusing on first wave feminism at a time when second-wave feminism was a very hot topic.

Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid.

Maybe it was the combination of physical and verbal humor provided by both real action figures as well as animated characters, a robotic bird and a talking umbrella. Probably pretty impressive stuff, circa 1964.
Kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts.

Maybe it was because it was nearing the end of the large-scale musical era and this was one big musical extravaganza. Characters broke into song from the first moments of the film to the very end where Mary Poppins floats away, umbrella in hand, chorus rising behind her. And the chimney sweep scene atop the rooftops of London is a dance-lover's delight.

That's a piecrust promise. Easily made, easily broken.

Maybe it was just that he was glad to finally get the damn thing made. Supposedly it took two and a half years to get all the songs written. It took over a hundred glass and matte paintings to recreate the London skyline of 1910, although there were frequent disconcerting switches from day sky to night sky throughout the entire film. Or were we not supposed to notice?

Gone off his crumpet, that's what he's done. Dotty as you please.

Coming in at two hours and twenty minutes the film was probably longer than it would be if it were made today. But I'm willing to bet that it also couldn't have the charm of the original if remade now.
I have to admit, seeing the wires that pull the characters up in the air was actually kind of endearing. In a 1964 kind of way, of course.
My guess is that Walt Disney never even noticed them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Amuse & "Art" If It Makes You Happy, You Can Afford It

If it weren't for all the entertaining of the bar crowd that I do, the staff of Amuse would no doubt be sick of me by now.

But if I'm going to a play at the museum at 8:00, the fact is I'm going to park once and party twice and that means drinks and dinner at Amuse.

Only one bar stool stood empty when I arrived. We call that kismet.

Since not everyone takes up residence at the bar, I had a rotating cast of people with whom I could converse, making for a lively evening before heading downstairs to the theater.

My sparkling rose arrived almost unbidden, but I declined  a dinner menu for the time being.

I soon had the pleasure of one of the curator's company while he waited for his dining companions, but I had to work for it..

Ignoring the empty stool beside me, he stood at the end of the bar, necessitating me asking him, "What's wrong with sitting next to me?"

Bartender Stephen kindly gave me a reference, saying, "You're not going to get better conversation anywhere else."

Thus vetted, he was willing to give me a shot and sat down next to me.

It's hard to do better than a curator for company when you're at a museum.

After an enjoyable talk, I lost him to his tardy friends.

I met a charming couple from Alexandria, visiting for the day (she was a teacher on spring break) to see Picasso.

Learning I was a DC native, they asked me all kinds of questions about Richmond and what to do on their next trip down.

Being the unabashed supporter of our fair city that I am, I gushed to the point that they asked if I worked for the tourism board.

And then I sent them on their way insisting they take Monument Avenue out so they'd have one last scenic view before it got dark and they had to hit soul-sucking I-95.

They thanked me profusely.

They were soon replaced by another even younger couple who reluctantly admitted that they had just seen the Picasso show despite living a mere five blocks from the museum.

Hey, it's not for me to judge.

They are three weeks from their wedding day, so their excuse was that they hadn't been getting out much due to wedding responsibilities.

Tonight was their big date night out and they were reveling in it.

When they discovered where I live, they wanted the scoop on First Fridays and I gave them both the larger and smaller picture; they were practically taking notes.

"We'll look for you!" they said.

I didn't have the heart to explain the folly of that.

Although I'd heartily recommended the mussels and Sausagecraft sausage in garlic butter to both couples (who raved about them and thanked me), I couldn't let Stephen tease me for ordering them yet again.

I more than made do with the grilled asparagus with garlic and  Pecorino in olive oil, followed by the seared rare Ahi tuna over sticky rice with a coconut green curry dressing and fried ginger.

My friends followed suit by getting the tuna once they saw mine and heard me raving.

All of a sudden it was 7:55, so I hightailed it down three flights to the Leslie Cheek Theater.

I was excited because this run of Yasmina Reza's "Art" is the first production at the theater in eight years.

And it was a joint effort of Richmond Shakespeare and Sycamore Rouge, making for double the talent.

I'd seen many plays at Theater Virginia back before it had been closed down prior to the VMFA renovation.

An all-black cast production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" remains a favorite to this day.

The Tony-award winning play about art, friendship and philosophy was great fun.

It centered on three friends, one of whom had spent 200,000 francs on a white on white painting ("Can you see the lines?" the purchaser asks his friend), much to the consternation of his long-time buddy, whom he accused of "running down modernism."

The third friend is far more accepting ("If it makes him happy, he can afford it") but becomes the target of barbs from the other two for trying to quell their disagreements about the painting.

But it wasn't as much about the painting as it was about the friendship and eventually the one admits to the other, "The older I get, the more offensive I hope to become."

Not me.

How can I expect curators and visitors to sit next to me that way?

Parkside Cafe: Closer Than I Thought

I am completely clueless when it comes to distance and navigation.

Because for the most part I limit myself to the city proper for, well, just about everything, I lose sight of what's just out of my usual range.

Like the new Parkside Cafe on Forest Hill Avenue. After a friend wrote "I realized I haven't seen you in ages. Lunch or drinks this week?" I suggested lunch at the month-old southside spot. I've heard nothing but good things about the food.

Turns out the place is 3.24 miles from my house. Crazy! I walk that far every morning of my life. Hell, next time I'll bike it since I enjoy the ride over that bridge so much. So I'll arrive with a sheen. Friends overlook such things.

But my friend was coming from the West End and, as we all know, you can't get there from here, so he ran a bit late (made all the more obvious for the large neon-rimmed clock on the wall).

It was only fifteen minutes and my rule of thumb is to wait 45 minutes for a tardy friend, so he was well within his limits.

Besides, I'd have just gone ahead and eaten without him, especially after looking at the well-priced and thoughtful menu (even the wine pricing: $5/glass. $24 bottles across the board).

As it was, the moment he walked in I ordered the potato and pea samosas with chutney and raita, knowing he'd eat them with me.

As I like to teasingly remind him, he is the only person I have ever seen order two sides of potato: fried and mashed. Oh, yes he did.

I should be ashamed to say how quickly we inhaled them after dredging them in chutney, but they were good, the crispy outside contrasting with the creamy potato and abundant peas inside.

He moved on to a light lunch, the seared meatloaf with horseradish cream, kale (they were out of collards)and mac and cheese. My two bites of his meatloaf were satisfyingly like Mom's and he praised the kale's flavor.

My baby spinach salad with shrimp, avocado and warm bacon vinaigrette may have been a tad overdressed, but the flavors were spot on. I especially enjoyed all the chunks of bacon in the vinaigrette, which were a tasty complement to the creamy avocado and of course the spinach.

We were busy catching up, commiserating about our under-employed statuses, but mostly talking travel and music since he's taking a road trip to Colorado soon and hoping to catch some music along the way. I know I would.

Of course, I would have also thought that Parkside was outside my eating radius and I would have been mistaken and missed terrific food in a clean-lined and cozy space.

This is why I need a navigator. I can come up with the ideas, I just need someone to help get me there...or tell me that they're not too far away.

Fact and metaphor.

Eating New Before Being Read and Sung To

It's not the sun, it's the wind.

After having been invited to the new Conch Republic Saturday night and declining, I did an about-face today, corralled a friend and went down for an early dinner. I wanted to go in the sunshine and see the latest addition to Rockett's Landing.

It has everything you'd expect from a place named after Key West (once it secedes from the Union, of course).

There's a tiki bar and a frozen drink menu, the servers wear shorts and polo shirts and the music is what the crowd wants to hear (Buffet, duh, James Taylor, Kansas, UB40), that is to say, old and familiar.

We took a bar table under the sliding garage door where the bar area meets the deck and were immediately greeted by a smiling guy face asking if we wanted something to drink.

Not sure yet, we asked for water. Moments later, a smiling girl face asked us about drinks and we told her that someone had already helped us.

Turns out he was treading on her territory, but she assured us she'd fix that. "He won't be back," she announced with finality (I laughed out loud at her deadpan delivery). And he wasn't.

After much consideration, we decided to try the gator wrap after our server recommended the gator bites so highly and it was made with the bites.

We also got the Southwest Point conch chowder, Bahamian style with a spicy tomato broth of fresh vegetables and herbs.

And if we had cooked conch, we had to try the conch salad with ceviche-style conch marinated in lime with bell peppers and red onions over mixed greens with grape tomatoes and cucumbers.

A mighty wind was blowing at the river today and all three of my menus took a turn being blown off the table. When the salad arrived, a lettuce leaf took flight. Eventually, the door was rolled down, although there's a smaller sliding door on the side of the building that remained open.

All that glass is for the view naturally. Boats are moored at slips at the base of steps leading from the restaurant; it's quite picaresque. As we watched a heron swoop down, a sculling boat went by full of rowers pulling in the late afternoon sun.

Our food arrived and we forgot about the water, enjoying the spiciness of the chowder and its plentiful conch. The salad's conch ceviche was limited and so finely chopped as to be difficult to get on a fork.

The gator bites in the wrap had just the right amount of seasoning in the breading, but my friend didn't think the Monterey Jack cheese worked. I just ate the bites, so I wouldn't know.

We were reminded about dessert several times, but nothing really grabbed us, so we opted out. Leaving, we decided that Conch Republic is going to make a lot of people very happy to have a new hangout for drinks and meeting up with friends in a beach-like environment.

And now we've been.

Outside, we stopped to admire a piece of sculpture near the restaurant. Charles Ponticello's "Deepwater Sponger" is a solid, yet whimsical piece of art for the waterfront, with a tablet of futuristic entries behind it.

Nearby, Ed Trask was busily working on Conch Republic's skyscape mural on the side of the building. It all made for a lovely afternoon landscape.

When I walked into the Akachic Books All-Star reading at Gallery 5, I was greeted with, "You're the first official attendee," and I was a few minutes late. How did that happen?

And while the crowd was small (mixed signals, crashed cars and stolen beer all conspiring to thwart the best-laid plans o' mice and men), those of us who were there had a treat in store.

Nina Revoyr's "Wingshooters," about a half-Japanese kid and his grandfather in 1974 dealt with bigotry, but she chose to read a section about baseball, mentioning that the group had just been discussing sports before the reading began. "Batting is about muscle memory," she read. As are so many things...

David L. Robbins read part of his story set in Sandston from "Richmond Noir," and it too dealt with baseball. Interestingly, he chose to read the ending of the story. Since I've read the book, it was fine by me but someone mentioned wanting to read the story now for the full impact. I would suggest reading the entire book.

Dublin-born Kevin Holohan read from "The Brothers' Lot" in a delightful Irish accent that enhanced the story of an all-boys' school run by pseudo-religious types. Figures became "figgers" and suits were described as "tatty." When one of the brothers beat a student, it was called a "leathering." We language geeks eat that stuff up.

Last but certainly not least was musician/composer Nathan Larson, who read from his first novel "The Dewey Decimal System," about a homeless man with PTSD and OCD and his adventures at the main NYC library.

Despite not having lived here, Larson spoke highly of Richmond, as had Revoyr, who said she'd fallen in love with rva since arriving at 2:00 this afternoon.

It's nice to know we can still dazzle on first impression, a skill set I've long tried to acquire. I'm still trying.

The evening wound up at Sprout for an amazing show by Lucinda Black Bear, a Brooklyn quartet (although the drummer is still a Jersey girl but they're trying to get her to move) headed north.

Their set began with leader Christian Gibbs thanking the local bands for letting them go first ("We have  regular jobs in New York in the morning"). So the headliner had become the opener.

And what an opener they were. With acoustic guitar, electric bass, cello and drums, LBB showed stellar musicianship throughout. I would guess they fall under the heading of folk rock but the lush arrangements and shifting dynamics made for so much more.

For the most part, the drummer used brushes like sticks and then mallets just once. The cello was plucked and bowed. Effects pedals augmented the often-tame folk guitar. The bass player made his rhythmic presence known.

Gibbs' voice was terrific, strong and beautifully enhanced when the others chimed in.  "This is the only song we didn't write," he said before playing "Born to Run," arranged so completely differently than Springsteen's version as to bewilder most of the audience for the first half of the song. It was an outstanding cover by a group who clearly knows what they're doing.

When their set began, there were six of us in the room and by the time they finished, the room was full of people eating out of the band's hands.

How lucky for us to have seen them in the limited confines of Sprout because I feel sure that their next trip to rva will be to a much bigger venue. How unlucky for those who showed up late hoping/willing to miss the openers.

It's not the intent, it's the timing. Okay, sometimes it's both. See above.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's Your Motivation?

Honor? Pleasure? Profit?

Those were the inducements used to get the British to consider moving to Tidewater Maryland and Virginia in the 17th century, according to Dr. Lorena Walsh.

At today's lecture at the Virginia Historical Society, she spoke on "Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607–1763."

Suckers for honor were told they'd be contributing to the power and prestige of England by going, not to mention the chance to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.

Under the listing of pleasures available in the New World were your own land, plenty of food, the ability to enjoy a good wood fire in your house and (wait for it!) meat on Sundays! Can't you just see how that would inspire people to take a perilous months-long journey by sea?

And profit? Let's just say tobacco growing was a mid-Atlantic enterprise and made a lot of money for its sellers, securing much-coveted European goods in exchange. Even back then the elite planters had marketing strategies to brand quality tobacco.

Once planters discovered how lucrative it was to use slaves as labor, a new element was added to the equation. The problem for planters was that British slave sellers only took cash or bills of exchange. Local slave traders extended up to a year of credit, but you never knew when they'd have "inventory" for sale.

One thing I found fascinating was the profile of the late 18th century planters. They were no dummies, that's for sure.

Amazingly, they were expected to be well read in classic literature, know the rudiments of science, be something of an architect (most planters designed their own "power" houses), be well skilled in mechanics, have enough medical skills to treat slaves, and promote improved agricultural standards.

And here I've just been looking for a good conversationalist! Is there a man alive today who is capable of all that? And that used to be the standard? My, how times have changed.

Walsh's lecture provided a perspective on plantation life that I, for one, didn't have and welcomed hearing. When all was said and done, she tallied up the motivations and the payoffs for the planters and then announced, "Okay, I am done." Easily one of the best endings of a Banner Lecture ever.

Pleasures accrued? Definitely, even if they had to be obtained on credit. Profit? In spades, but at what cost?

And honor? Not so much. A lifestyle built on the enforced enslavement of others hardly qualifies for honorable. Likewise, the atrocious treatment of Native Americans in the region left much to be desired.

From where I sat, it sounded like we are a culture founded on the attainment of pleasure and profit. Hmm, that would explain a lot.

Working the Walk

"Let me roll out the red carpet for you," the new lot attendant at Panera/Chipotle on Grace says, pretending to do so, as I walk down the sidewalk past him.

"Yes indeed, I'm gonna start walking with you." Excuse me, sir, don't you have a parking lot to monitor?

On my way back, a man with a cardboard sign soliciting money on Belvidere says good morning. "I see you out here every day!" he enthuses. "You're gonna be my good luck piece."

Piece of what?

Closing out my Crawl with Picasso on Paper

Since I've already seen the Picasso show at the VMFA twice, it was like shooting fish in a barrel to get me to check out the Reynolds Gallery show of "Pablo Picasso: Works on Paper."

Today's opening featured nineteen works on paper, two vases and one plate and spanned the years from 1905-1972. I arrived in the last hour of a five-hour opening and was quickly followed by a half dozen other art lovers, some of whom may have come for the bubbles and sweets, but several of whom were clearly just art geeks like me.

The works on paper ranged in size and medium while spanning 67 years. The artist was nothing if not prolific.

The first etching in the show "Tete de Femme, Madeline" from 1905 was of a classic Gibson Girl; there was nothing strikingly Picasso about it. And 1905 was when Picasso first began printmaking.

"Femme Couchee," a lithograph from 1924 showed a delicacy of line that later gave way to his thick black outlining.

Being Picasso, his humor and intent are made clear on "Sculpteurs, Modeles et Sculpture," an etching from 1923 that shows classical figures posing but the piece of sculpture next to them is  a multi-breasted and buttocked Cubist figure. Statement?

The etching "En la Taberna, Pecheurs Catalans en Bordee" was a study in body hair. One particularly hirsute man is covered in curlicues and loops. Crosshatching is used throughout the engraving to show clothing, skin and sculpture. Active lines are everywhere.

Anyone looking at "Tete de Femme" with its multiple viewpoints of the face (profile and straight-on)  would know that Picasso had journeyed through surrealism, although this was done with purely lines, not color or paint. If I were going to take one piece home, it likely would have been this one.

The show at Reynolds is a great companion piece to the VMFA show; its overview of the artist's long career on paper is a glimpse into a master's evolving talent, much the way the other show's painting and sculpture are.

Unfortunately, now that the opening is over you can't expect bubbles or sweets, so you'll have to go for art's sake.

Then I decided to pick up where I left off last night, with the Riesling Crawl. I'd been told that it was fortunate that I'd not stopped at Can Can because apparently their staff had dropped the ball and knew nothing of the event and had nada prepared.

Confident that that would not the the case at Secco, I dropped in to see if they could finish off my evening in RieslingLand. They could; there was one glass left in the last bottle of 2008 Von Beulwitz Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Spatlese Alte Reben. One glass of its nice acidity and long finish was all I was after anyway.

I could have left then, having officially finished my Riesling crawl , but of course I didn't. I was introduced to an effusively in-love couple who raved about each other and made me long for the same. They gushed, they touched, they were adorable, everyone agreed.

I had an enthusiastic discussion of etiquette and manners with Miss Julia, a subject on which I harbor strong opinions, as did she. Don't mothers teach civilized behavior anymore? As Sunday's New York Times asked, when did it become socially acceptable to not make eye contact in social situations (A: when hand-held devices became more important)?

The fuel for such conversation and others came in the form of Domaine Rouge Bleu Mistral and Chef Tim's highly unique farro salad (smoked farro with shaved carrot, raisins and almonds, garam masala and orange blossom honey creme fraiche). If there's a salad with more complementary flavors and textures, I haven't had it.

More pink followed as did more conversation with assorted people about the glory of Crossroads (two blocks from my house and supposedly the best open mic night in the entire city), the necessity of containing curly hair in humidity and how rva's strength being that it continues to get better, no matter how slowly.

Let's just say that Bird in Hand came up. And what a big deal it was to expect nice people to go to the Bottom back then. And how diverse Jackson Ward is compared to back then. It's true, the whole city has improved step by step.

Back in those days, you couldn't expect to see a blockbuster show like Picasso at the VMFA. And you certainly couldn't expect to walk into Reynolds Gallery and buy a Picasso work on paper.

I can't buy, so I gawk. And I love a city that gives me the gawk-able.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crawling to Riesling and Music

I once did a pub crawl in the mid-90s and it involved jello shooters at a place that no longer exists in the Bottom. Alrighty, I decided, I'm just not the crawling type.

So naturally when I heard there was a Riesling crawl, I figured it was much more my speed. The only problem was that it was happening on an evening when I had non-negotiable music plans, so how far I could crawl was to be determined.

Inviting a friend to join me ("What the heck? Life is too short," she acquiesced), we parked mid-Carytown and sauntered over to Ellwood's Cafe for the first offering, a NV Wegeler Riesling Brut from Germany. We took our glasses and some housemade cheese puffs to the patio where other crawlers were sipping in the sunshine.

Since it was the first sparkling Riesling for both of us, we had nothing to compare it to, but it was nicely dry and a festive way to begin our evening.

My friend called it a good breakfast wine and I could see her point. We savored our bubbles before meandering down to Amour Wine Bistro to see what they had in store for us.

The answer was lots. They were doing "A View From Above," a Riesling flight, so, what the heck, we each got one. Naturally they were from owner Paul's beloved Alsace and offered a nice contrast to what we'd just had.

The 2008 Trimbach Ribeauville was the featured Riesling (for those unwilling to do the flight), no doubt because of the winery's major presence in the region. I loved its floral nose and long finish.

The 2009 Pierre Sparre had a nice acidity but a quick finish. The 2008 J. Fritsch was from a small producer, obviously made by a devoted winemaker and easily the most elegant of the three, soft and round with a lingering finish. Yes, we could drink this all night we decided.

Amour was also offering food pairings and we had the shrimp gratin with Pernod (obscenely rich and ideal with the Rieslings) and the smoked salmon in a pastry shell.

When my friend complained that her pastry shells weren't nearly as good, Paul offered to teach her the secrets.

He and I also got off on a tangent about dating since I'd heard from the mare's mouth that he was doing just that, causing him to ask me if I was. You haven't heard anything about me, I assured him.

By the time we finished the food and the flights it was 7:30 and, while we had enjoyed four different Rieslings, I had music looming on my horizon, so we never made it to the last two stops, Can Can and Secco.

The former is no big deal but I'll definitely need to stop by in the next few days and see what unique bottle Secco had chosen to pour. I can't not know or taste.

As seems to be the new norm these days, the Listening Room at the Firehouse was mobbed. I took a front row seat with the charming author to one side, the quiet musician on the other and the busy photographer a chair away. Now the show could start.

The Great Unknown offered up further proof that the City of Brotherly Love has a terrific folk scene as the Listening Room continues to bring them down to demonstrate.

Their harmonies were to die for but I was also totally captivated by the hand drumming (it's why I fell in love with Guster all those years ago), such a unique sound.

They've worked with schoolkids and collected phrases for lyrics and performed such a song tonight. They'd recently done the same with Martha Reeves (minus the Vandellas) at the Apollo Theater.

Jonathan Vassar had told me that his band had played an early-on show with Athens, Georgia's Hope for Agoldensummer years ago and been influenced by them.

A trio of two girls and a guy, their set tonight was testament to the power of siblings singing together; the two sisters' voices were magical in harmony. And easy on the eyes, according to the male on my right.

They covered Timbaland (to much laughing approval) and "Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own" (including a lyric alteration that sang "Antonia's so sweet," a nod to everyone's favorite vintage dress wearer and songbird) and did both really well.

Last up were the Green Boys from Fredericksburg with alt-country and a little bluegrass pickin' thrown in for good measure.

They were young and handsome and included a set of brothers (seatmate nudged me and asked, "So how do you like him?" no doubt to make himself feel better about ogling the sister act ).

I liked the warble in his voice a lot. I like that instrument trading went on. A friend liked the drummer's facial hair. There was plenty to like about the Green Boys.

All of whom, I might add, were much too young to remember the days of jello shooter pub crawls.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Call Me a Voyeur

Thank goodness the Civil War happened before the computer age.

Because otherwise, the Civil War 150 Legacy Project wouldn't have any old letters or diaries to collect and scan for posterity. Or be able to give much of a lecture at the Library of Virginia about the endeavor.

And it's me being a fan of the written word that makes having access to other people's letters so appealing. What CW150 Legacy is doing is spending two years going around the state scanning and photographing  family letters, ledgers, diaries, whatever people are willing to share from the period just before and after the war.

LVA archivists Laura Drake Davis and Renee Savits talked about holding events around the state to record people's history; they've been to 43 such events since last September. And people line up to have their stuff scanned.

Savits said, "I'm a Pennsylvanian but Virginians keep and preserve their history better than anyone else," and then proceeded to show us images of some of the more interesting stuff they'd scanned.

There was a VMI diploma signed by Stonewall Jackson, a reunion photo of "Mosby's Men" from 1901 and a sketch  in the margins of a prisoner's journal done of six men being hung.

One of my favorite letters was from a young man home. He'd heard Lincoln speak to a huge crowd in 1860 Illinois . Afterwards, he went to Lincoln's house, hoping to meet him. Mrs. L. said he was taking a nap, so he and his friends snuck around the house and looked in the window to see the great man sleeping.

Today that would be the equivalent of stalking and invasion of privacy followed by texting Mom and Dad with the news. Just doesn't have the same resonance somehow.

Part of the goal of the project is to gather materials from underrepresented viewpoints.The diaries of women on the homefront provided information on how they were handling things on the farms. One spoke of letting Confederate soldiers use a parcel of their land to graze sheep...without even asking her husband.

Historical significance aside, the voyeuristic peek into long ago relationships and domestic goings-on is fascinating to me. People wrote for pages to say what they needed to say. Maybe you just have to be a big history geek to be willing to gather history through letters.

After the lecture, I met up with a friend from Williamsburg, also a history buff, and went to Perly's for lunch. It was less about the food and more about catching up since we last saw each other seven months ago.

I told him all about the CW150 Project lecture, resulting in him suggesting an historical field trip to Hollywood Cemetery. It was a perfect day to enjoy a garden-style cemetery what with the dogwoods in bloom and everything so newly fresh green.

If it hadn't been for the construction crews, we could have been post-war Richmonders spending an afternoon at the cemetery with a picnic lunch.

And then I would have come home and written a letter to my beau about how I passed a sultry Spring afternoon at Hollywood.

And in a hundred years, someone would have found it a fascinating glimpse at 2011. Even if they only read it on a computer screen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mixing Memory and Desire at Globehopper

If you ask me to celebrate your birthday with you, I am going to suggest food and music.

So when a friend asked if I'd share his birthday with him, I mentioned an interesting show tonight. When he quickly agreed to that, I suggested dinner first. He was in.

Next thing I know he's shouting up my name from the sidewalk to my open windows, asking what time he should pick me up. Plans are so much more easily made in warm weather.

He wanted 821 Cafe for his birthday meal and I was happy to accommodate. As a nod to the occasion, we sat at a booth; it felt a bit odd for me.

In a rare food twist, he ordered my usual black bean nachos (after quizzing me on their make-up and satiety level) and I got an enormous salad covered in turkey; its strength was in the array of veggies it contained (squash, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, red onion) and a decent amount of chunks in the bleu cheese dressing.

And although it seemed mirror-like to be watching him eating my nachos on the other side of the table, he allowed me a few well-loaded chips despite me making fun of him for eating them with his fork

"Well, it looks like a salad," he claimed, referring to all the lettuce and tomato on top. Lame. Nachos are finger food, friend.

Because we were eating fairly early to make the show, the $2 burger crowd was just beginning to roll in as we were finishing up.

After dinner, we sat in his car for a while discussing his love life (me playing devil's advocate and him eventually snapping at me) before heading down to Globehopper Coffee for music. Amazingly, the show had started on time so we missed the first few minutes,

Not wanting to interrupt, we came in through the side door and I scored a prime bench with cushions while he put the finishing touch on his birthday meal with coffee and a cookie (peanut butter drizzled in chocolate with marshmallow).

The chalkboard overhead caught the attention of us both.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Nothing like a little T.S. Elliott to set the tone for the April birthday boy. It was the lilac imagery that sucked me in.

Dave Watkins had opened with his array of dulcitar sounds (picking, strumming, knocking, blowing) being layered over each other until he achieved a lushness of sound once inconceivable for one person. As I told my friend, how often do you get to hear a one-man dulcitar band on your birthday? Stick with me, kid.

During the break, I caught up with some friends who'd shown up, one of whom, I learned, is moving to Seattle next Tuesday. I was glad to have a chance to hear about his plans and say goodbye in person.

Next up was another one-man (Zachary) band, from North Carolina this time, and he said he called this project Lost Trail. With just a guitar and effects, he created an ambient drone sound that swirled around our heads.

The funny part came when his volume and tempo went from mid-range to incredibly loud and fast shredding. A nearby girl working on a computer about jumped out of her seat and looked to me as if to say, what the hell? I smiled back as she put her fingers over her ears. Clearly, she intends to have some hearing left when she's my age.

After only one song, Zachary said, "That's it. I'm tired" and was joined onstage by the three members of More States, a band from Texas. Zachary played glockenspiel to their two guitars and drums and we were treated to some soaring post-rock, pleasing me no end.

When they finished, they were joined by locals Dave Watkins on guitar and Joon Kim on violin, who jumped right in to play along to music they had never heard before. As I had predicted in advance, Joon and his violin ended up near the floor.

The soundscape swelled even further with the addition of those two as the assemblage of musicians filled Globehopper with more sound than it has undoubtedly ever experienced. And not a vocal in earshot.

Meanwhile, the birthday boy was having a wonderful time, snapping pictures, meeting my friends and enjoying the music with his eyes closed (although when Dave started blowing into his dulcitar, I elbowed him to ensure that he saw this odd bit of musical business). Birthdays should be enjoyable.

And while he thanked me for my brilliant birthday ideas and card, he sounded most sincere when thanking me for helping him talk through his love life issues.

Too bad I couldn't wrap a bow around that gift.

Light a Fire and Open the Door

When I was young and foolish and living in my first apartment out of college, I was spoiled by having utilities covered in my rent. All that meant was that I was wasteful.

During the summer, I would have all the windows open and the air conditioning on; in winter I would crank the heat but crack the windows so I could smell brisk fresh air.

I was reminded of that tonight when a girlfriend in need of shoring up and I arrived at Cafe Caturra. The doors sat wide open and there was a crowd on the patio yet the double-sided fireplace was ablaze with burning logs. My kind of fuelishness.

We began the process of cheering her up in South Africa with the Graham Beck "Game Reserve" chenin blanc, a grape new to her. Taking two chairs by the fireplace (it may be in the 60s but I get cold at the drop of a hat), we settled in for a full analysis.

Because our life experience are at opposite ends of the spectrum, I tend to see events she considers dire as minor.

That's not minimizing her concerns, but she tends to put a negative spin where I'd just shrug my shoulders and go on about my business. The huge gap in our takes on love and life make for good dissection of an issue when one arises.

A server unexpectedly showed up with the last of the chenin blanc, explaining that there was no more in the house. She graciously offered to top off our glasses with the remainder, but said that we'd have to find another grape to finish out our evening. Can do, little lady.

Sustenance came in the form of a raspberry/walnut/chicken salad with dried cranberries, walnuts and Gorgonzola and a roast beef/provolone panini with tortilla soup. She took forever to finish eating because she had so much to get off her chest.

I, on the other hand, inhaled my half of the meal and offered my interpretation and suggestions (she never takes them). Only then did we get around to what's been going on in my life lately; it was great to be able to distract her with so much news of my own to tell.

Spain was looking pretty good by this point and the Morgadio "Legado del Conde" albarino was in plentiful supply, so we shifted continents. Although the regular menu is nothing to write home about, I applaud their minis, a selection of tiny desserts just big enough to satisfy a sweet tooth but not overindulge.

So I got the bittersweet chocolate espresso torte slathered in whipped cream and found it to be just enough. Her chocolate chip/macadamia nut/coconut cookie was good but much too big and, to my taste, too soft; I prefer my cookies to have some crispness to them. Or perhaps we were just preferring wine and man-talk to eating by that point.

I'd like to say that after hours fireside with the April breeze blowing by through the open door that we solved all her love life concerns, but we didn't. And while I feel great about what's going on in mine, I kept trying to steer the conversation away from that.

It was funny; she was taking the credit for my progress and that seemed to cheer her up more than anything I could say about her love life, so I let it ride.

Much the way I am watching my own life unfold. Surprises abound.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lost in a Reading

"I thank you all for coming in out of the pollen," poet Brian Henry began this afternoon's reading at the Visual Arts Center.

I'll take poetry over pollen any day of the week, even on a gorgeously sunny Sunday afternoon. And today's reading showed off two very different poetical styles to a large crowd gathered in the gallery foyer, the first time I'd ever heard poetry there (music, yes, poetry, no).

With sun streaming in from the front and back doors, it made for an allergy-free zone while still feeling connected to the day.

Many of the poems from Henry's new book were written in the late '90s and early aughts and dealt with violence in different kinds of ways.

"Even your dust shatters, even your air" from "Even, Even" and "A smattering of cirrus, no rain today" from "Elegy Belated" show the kind of evocative words Henry uses to draw mental pictures.

Acknowledging yesterday's violent weather, he read  "You weep into my hands at the wind's first rush" from "Tornado Warning," referencing waiting out a storm in the clay basements of Atlanta.

David Wojahn began his part of the reading with a piece about his introduction to Richmond: Hurricane Isabel ("Not easy to wait that long, but possible") back in 2003. His references to downed power lines and toppled trees took me back to that pioneer period when I had no power for twelve days.

"Now it's the future that's bathed in possibility" from "Fetish Value" undoubtedly resonated differently for every person in the room, while ""Trite is the story, but in it we are lost" seemed to me a statement on the human condition.

After being fortified by such poetry, I was ready to head back into the allergen-filled afternoon to see what possibilities might bathe my future under the cirrus-less sky, open to anything.

You Would Be Perfect If You Drank Beer

Because I am rarely a fiction reader, I had no familiarity with Toni Morrison's 1970 novel "The Bluest Eyes."

Still I was intrigued enough by Theater VCU's production of it to find myself among the group at tonight's stellar performance.

And despite a range of difficult subject matter (incest, racial self-loathing, and racism in general) the play was a satisfying evening's entertainment. 

The cast was strong in their complex characterizations, and the sets and costumes perfectly conveyed 1940s Ohio.

In what was perhaps due to the series of dangerous storms that rolled through Richmond today, the power went out near the end of the first act and we were plunged into darkness.

The actors remained on stage until it became clear that the problem would take some time to fix and they exited, returning to perform the last five minutes before intermission.

The story of a young girl raped by her father, made pregnant and then losing the baby conveyed the believable journey of her descent into madness.

Tragically, the title of the  play refers to the main character's belief  that if her brown eyes were changed to blue she would be loved and happy.

Watching the play, I was acutely aware of the young, black members of the audience and cringed a little at the difficult moments.

Afterwards in the ladies' room, I overheard two girls talking about the play.

"That was dumb. It was just about her wanting blue eyes," the one said, sounding sorely disappointed with the entire play.

"No, stupid, it was about her being unable to accept herself for who she was." the other countered just before she flushed.

Honestly when the two twenty-something black girls came out of their stalls, I wanted to suggest a discussion group, but thought better of it.

Girls, really?

The play is so well done that I can only hope that it reaches wider audiences, both black and white, old and young.

Discussion groups need not ensue because it's the kind if play that will live on in each attendee's memory anyway, whether black or white.

With all that drama fresh on my mind, I went to Ballcieaux for something simple, like meeting a new "friend" for conversation and drinks.

Over a satisfyingly wide-ranging conversation, we enjoyed the local smoked bluefish dip, the artisinal cheese plate and the falafel flat bread (roasted eggplant/ lettuce and tomato/garlicky tahini) while sharing all kinds of personal information (let me tell you why I drink tequila...).

The cheeses could have been fresher, but the other two were so well executed.

It looks like I will be getting over my obsession for smoked bluefish no time soon.

Luckily, Balliceaux accommodates with several smoked bluefish options.

The evening ended with a discussion of local restaurants that included two restaurant owners, so I contributed what I could and took mental notes on the rest, being merely an eater and not a true foodie.

Let's just call it a thoroughly pleasurable evening...and I don't say that lightly.

Or share any further details.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Give Me This Charming Man over a Sharp-Dressed Man

It's not often I see the No BS Brass Band playing in a place that doesn't serve alcohol. But then, Record Day only comes once a year.

I was thrilled to see how busy Plan 9 was when I arrived under my umbrella not long before noon. The crowd around the "yard sale" used CDs was  tight, but I squeezed in so I could scope out any possibilities. I saw a number of 90s CDs I already own (Matthew Sweet, Jesus Jones, Del Amitri) and I few laugh-out-loud titles.

Garfield's "Am I Cool or What?" was just kind of pathetic and Tommy Roe's "Greatest Hits" laughable, but the one that got me thinking was an 80s hits compilation. Looking at the songs on it, they swung from  the Smiths' "This Charming Man" to ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man." No wonder it was such a messed-up decade.

No BS took the stage not long after I walked in and they were terrific accompaniment as I perused the vintage jazz records, finding a few that will make someone very happy (like Miles Davis live at the 1969 Antibes Jazz Festival). Plus there are always interesting guys flipping through jazz LPs, should when I want some conversation.

As I was paying, I was surprised to hear a couple of people asking who the band playing was. I would have thought that by now everyone knows who No BS is. Not so.

Considering the staggering frequency with which they play out,  people would almost have to be living under a rock not to at least know of them if they're music lovers (presumably the sort in Plan 9 on Record Store Day). Not to mention that the band all wear shirts that say "No BS Brass Band."

After an hour and a half of Record Store Day madness, I strolled down to Chop Suey, record purchases in hand, to see the new photography show in their gallery, "Fulton Gas Works: An Industrial Relic" by Adrianna Gallo.

The colorful photographs of the decaying and abandoned building both inside and out were a fascinating look inside a place I'll likely never see. From the abundance of graffiti all over the walls of the place, though, it was obvious that others are not so hesitant to investigate this relic of a bygone era.

As is typical when I see interesting art, I was sorely tempted to buy one of the more haunting photographs in the show. I still may if I can gather a few more rationalizations to do so, considering I have two more pieces of art in the pipeline already.

Normal girls buy clothes, jewelry or shoes, but I buy local art. Someday they're going to take my girl credentials away from me entirely for not properly utilizing my XX chromosomes.

But first they'll have to find me at whatever music show, play or art opening I'm attending. And I move around a lot.

Catch me if you can, Girl Police.

Something Old, Something New

I pressed the "repeat" button tonight to get my evening rolling. I went to Amuse for drinks, even though I'd been there yesterday. I saw the "Celebration of Print" show at VMFA for the third time this week.

But repeating myself was more than worth it because I was meeting up with a recently-engaged friend  (now wearing a carat and three quarters on her left hand and, holy cow, that's a lot of ice) who told me all the details of her proposal. I love that he asked her by saying, "So what are you doing for the next twenty years?"

Our libation of choice was the Montand sparkling rose (redundant, I know, but at $5 a glass, impossible to pass up), enjoyed with an amuse bouche of smoked duck on rye with allspice creme fraiche and pomegranate gastrique. Divine.

We followed that with tonight's special, lamb/pork/beef meatballs in Romesco sauce with turnip puree and fresh peas. My friend declared them "little meatloaves," and said they made her crave exactly that. Knowing her, she'll make meatloaf this weekend.

Since she's an illustrator, I insisted that we take in the print show before we left because I knew how impressed she'd be. And she was, oohing and ahhing over the big names, the unknowns and the three prints of cats.

It was so enjoyable to go back over the show with someone so familiar with all the printing processes, my own little expert, so to speak. Once more, I saw the show with fresh eyes.

Afterwards, she went home to her man and I met another friend for dinner at the Cellar Door; it was his first time and my fourth and we enjoyed it equally.

Despite him arriving a half hour before me and scanning the menu endlessly while he waited for me, he'd somehow missed their Peruvian chicken specialty and ended up ordering the Jackson Ward sandwich, probably because it's where we live.

Not me. I had the Mansion salad, loaded with that chicken and their spicy Peruvian ranch dressing. I traded a bite of mine for a bite of his marinated beef sandwich and jicama fries, so everybody was happy, but I guarantee you he'll get the chicken next time.

He had updates on his love life to share as well as tales of gardening and rug binding. Sometimes he's as good as a girlfriend for girl talk (and I mean that in the most complimentary way). If only he hadn't been too full for dessert.

Then we were off to different shows. I ditched my car at home and walked over to Gallery 5 for a superb night of fresh-sounding music. When I arrived, not a soul was outside except for the two headliners, heads bent together in the glow of the street lights. It would have made a great photograph.

The Cinnamon Band had just begun and it took me only seconds to recall how much I'd liked them when I first heard them at Live at Ipanema, here.

This time they were back in their usual electric mode, but no less impressive. And this time I got to hear the shimmering chords and explosive drumming that had been toned down at Ipanema. Happily, the audience was attentively into them, and the energy in the room was terrific.

All the way from Montreal came Handsome Furs, although somehow there were only two of them instead of the usual dozen or so that comprise a Canadian band. I don't know how they get away with that in a country that boasts bands bigger than sports teams.

A guy behind me noted, "Damn, they're short!" and another said, "Skinny, too!" Between them, maybe 200 pounds, but their sound belied their size.

The raw energy of Handsome Furs was complemented by Alexei's exuberant synth and drum machine playing and  Dan's excellent guitar playing and vocals. Plus they're married and in love, so they kiss between songs sometimes. You don't see that much.

After tearing through the first couple of songs, Dan took off his shirt, saying, "Virginia is hot! But the smokes are cheap. I'm such a dirtbag, I love to smoke."

He introduced the song "When I Get Back" by explaining that it was about post-tour resolutions, like not drinking lighter fluid because it was the only alcohol in the house or giving up cigs because they're bad for you. It was pretty funny stuff and the song rocked.

Alexei showed off her flexibility with waist-high leg kicks to match the beat and a flailing arm to balance herself on keyboard on occasion. Her little two-piece midriff and short set with red tights made her a  pogo stick of color as she played, her long, red hair falling in her eyes pretty much all the time since she never stopped moving.

The music had definite 80s undertones (Human League, Devo) but with elements of blues and rockabilly over post-punk. As always, I appreciate the way young artists are able to choose one from column A, one from column B and one from column C and reinterpret it all as new.

Songs were short, fast and energetic and it's clear why they're both so skinny given the physicality of the workout performance they gave. They really looked like they were having a great time up there.

As was I. Nothing wrong with starting with something old (and familiar) especially when I end up with something new (and different).

And you know I can skip the something borrowed and something blue.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

Walking through that giant door at the Virginia Center for Architecture (aka the Branch House on Monument Avenue) always feels a bit like an Alice in Wonderland moment to me. Yes, I'm vertically-challenged but I think it would feel enormous to anyone because it is.

By the same token, standing in front of an 8 x 13 foot living wall feels a tad surreal, kind of like a house plant on steroids. Or maybe a flat Audrey ("Feed me...").

Tonight's opening was for "Vertical Gardens," a new show about green walls and green roofs and how they're now being embraced for their economical, environmental, and aesthetic values. Some of them were truly fantastical.

There was a private residence in Mumbai, which was essentially a residential tower inspired by the hanging gardens of Babylon. The core of the tower was living space with lush greenscapes growing around it on every floor and hanging off the edges. Serious money was clearly involved in this creation.

Considering that vertical gardens were "invented" in the late 80s, the exhibit made clear how much progress has been made with them in barely a quarter of a century. Rooftop gardens? Pshaw, old news.

I mean, even the Shake Shack in NYC's Madison Square Park has a green roof. Chicago's City Hall has one. But the truly impressive one was the Vancouver Convention Center, which sported a six-acre green roof.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was Edmundo Ortega's giant living wall made from hundreds of plants over the course of three days. I know that only because he was at the opening and willing to talk to anyone who asked about his creation. I loved how enthusiastic he was about creating these huge green walls for people.

When I left the opening, I drove down Park Avenue and spotted a farmer friend I hadn't seen in months in front of his apartment. Calling out to say hello, he looked at me like I'd grown horns.

"I've never seen you driving before. I don't think of you that way," he called uneasily from the sidewalk. I had no idea.

Not wanting to further destroy his illusions about me, I drove on to Six Burner, tonight the site of multiple large group gatherings, but with not a soul at the bar.

A "Washingtonian" magazine was suspiciously front and center at the end of the bar; I learned it was because of a mention of Six Burner in it (Chef Philip Denny's use of sous-vide made it worthy).

In an article about getaways, Richmond was the first suggested destination (come on, Picasso, of course). And, like every other out-of-town piece ever written about our fair city, Millie's was recommended. Yawn.

I look forward to the day when non-local writers can make RVA restaurant suggestions without mentioning Millie's. I'm pretty sure everyone on the east coast knows about Millie's by now...and no doubt mistakenly believes that it's our only (or best) restaurant.

Maron Cotes de Provence was considered the featured white (because, sadly, no one has a featured pink listing), so that was a  no-brainer. Dinner, not that I needed it, was the duck confit, potato gnocchi, cocoa and blood orange sections.

I'm a gnocchi hound anyway, but put it with that decadent duck confit and I could see why the bitterness of the dusted cocoa was the right thing to do. Guilt should have come with every rich bite, but didn't.

Instead, I took my time savoring it, enjoying conversation with a rotating cast. On the chat table (bar?) were party tape mixes, slaughterhouse rules, where to eat in DC and new restaurant wars. I couldn't have asked for a better combination.

Unlike Alice, I didn't need anything labeled "Eat me" and "Drink me" for clarification. Although as usual, I may as well have been wearing a "Talk to me" sign.

Curious Satisfying how I manage to convey that without a label.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

There's No Place Like Amuse

Some of the best times my friend and I have shared have been our road trips. When we get away to DC or Norfolk for eating and music, we always return recharged after the change of scenery.

So I considered it the best kind of compliment when we walked out of the VMFA today after a three-hour lunch and she said, "I feel so amazing. That was like getting out of town for the day!"

Since my very first visit to the renovated VMFA and certainly to Amuse, I have touted its ability to transport the visitor to another, more cosmopolitan city. But it was my friend's first visit to Amuse (and only second visit to the new VMFA) so she was unprepared to spend the afternoon somewhere that felt so unlike Richmond.

It was high lunch hour when we arrived, but we were graciously seated in the deep green chairs and two glasses of Montand sparkling brut rose were a lovely visual accompaniment to the chairs' green. Within minutes, our bar stools became available and we moved.

She began by taking pictures with her new camera, of the bar, of the rose, even one of me that was so colorful I made it my new Facebook profile picture. I should have her take my picture more often because she does a damn fine job.

Since she was the Amuse virgin, I let her make our lunch selections. Being gluten intolerant, she was beyond thrilled at all the options she had on the menu.

As our bartender explained, the chef prefers to include vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options on his menu so that people don't feel limited to asking for a dish minus half the ingredients.

We began with the mussels with Sausagecraft's Della Nona sausage in a garlic butter sauce; it broke my heart to know she was unable to sop up that yummy broth with bread, but she made do by eating the broth alone. I went through more bread than I care to admit.

Next up was a salad of Manakintowne greens, including pea shoots (always a sure sign spring is here), shaved fennel, and beautiful watermelon radishes, all in a grapefruit vinaigrette (her favorite).

For our main dish, she chose for us the roasted local chicken breast with gin and juice endive, sun-dried cherries and quinoa (another of her hot buttons). The yardbird tasted especially fresh, not at all like a factory-farmed supermarket bird.

Meanwhile, I had moved on to a second glass of rose while my friend nursed hers like a teetotaler. This was so uncharacteristic that I had to tease her about it. As I reminded her, she was the one who had schooled me on imbibing when we first became friends, keeping me up late and teaching me tolerance.

Our bartender, eavesdropping as all good bartenders do, looked up sagely.. "And the student becomes the teacher," she said nodding. My friend, trying valiantly to prove her mettle, claimed she would have a second glass.

Of course, by the time she did, I was ready for a digestif, so while she tackled rose #2, I ordered up an absinthe. Since it was her first time seeing the drip, she documented it with her new camera and, at my insistence, took a sip and eventually another.

Earlier in the week, I'd returned home one afternoon to a phone message saying, "I hope you're out having an absinthe for lunch." I hadn't been, but perhaps it planted the idea in my head.

But sparkling rose and absinthe for lunch? That's a pretty colorful lunch, even for me.

No wonder we didn't feel like we were in Richmond anymore. The terrific part was that we were.

Ipanema on the Big Screen

There were multiple mysteries during the happy hours that are Gallery 5 After 5 this evening.

How did contra bassist Todd Matthews manage to play all the parts of a pop song, say Led Zepplin's "Kashmir," on his bass?

How did Science Museum educator David Olli make the red scarf and the water disappear from their respective containers?

And how does someone announce, "I'm dating a girl but she used to make out with my brother" in all seriousness and expect an answer?

Looping and talent.

Assorted magic tricks.

He'd already made peace with that fact and was using it for conversational shock value.

As difficult as it was to top such a thrilling start to my Wednesday night, the final showing of the James River Film Festival at the Grace Street Theater awaited me.

There was already a good-sized crowd in line when I arrived.

Being screened was Richmonder Rick Alverson's latest, "New Jerusalem," a film about an Afghan vet (and Irish immigrant) and his evangelical co-worker.

One scene was even set at the ROCK Mega-Church over on southside, a place I'd just been discussing with two G5A5 attendees (they'd both mentioned the music, the diversity of the crowd and the sheer energy of the service).

Funny how those kinds of coincidences happen.

The movie was filmed and shown in high definition, made all the better for the achingly gradual unfolding of the story.

Alverson used the kind of pacing usually only seen in much older films or foreign films; nothing was hurried or forced.

The film also featured Ipanema in all its dimly lit nighttime ambiance back in the smoking days; even if I hadn't been asked to the wrap-up party there afterwards, I'd have needed to go over there after seeing it on the big screen just for a reality check.

As several people noted at the bar, the film had been full of shots of the characters eating, making for a ravenous audience by film's end.

This film goer started with the eggplant-wrapped dates with harissa, flavorful enough that the usual bacon wrapping was forgotten.

Along with some focaccia and polenta fries, I was starting to pick up speed.

With all the film geeks in attendance, it was fun to rehash the festival: who'd seen what, which films were well attended or not (and why not?), what books need to be read now.

I was delighted when an unexpected friend showed up to have a glass of wine with me and do some quick dishing about upcoming restaurants, overly talkative chefs and copycats.

We'd have talked till closing if we hadn't already had plans to meet up tomorrow.

And so the James River Film Festival comes to an end, having provided me with outstanding film watching and speakers for the past week.

I don't know how I'll fill my free time without a festival program to fall back on.

Oh, wait, yes I do. No mystery there. 

I've got so much going on at the moment, it's about time I reinserted myself into my real life.

I'm hoping for great reviews of my starring the critics who count anyway.