Thursday, May 31, 2012

Female Bonding

Tonight was all about the girlfriends.

The first was a fellow Gemini who just this week celebrated a birthday, which we used as an excuse to meet up for happy hour.

She chose Bistro 27 and I happily agreed because they offer such a good deal on food and drink post-office hours.

Not that either of us keeps office hours.

And although we weren't planning to start with a red, much lees a Portuguese red, we began drinking with the dry and refreshing 100 Marias while we caught up.

Seems we'd missed last night's flight night featuring three Portuguese reds, so we did our best to compensate.

She had stellar stories to share, including one about spider bites and private parts. Fortunately, she didn't bring pictures, because who needs to see the intersection of the two?

Snacking on mussels in white pepper and garlic cream sauce, we switched to Briccodi-dei-Tati rose and chatted with the chef about outdoor oyster eating.

Conclusion: a group field trip is in the offing. And, yes, there will be bubbles.

When I presented her with my gift, musician Patti Smith's new book "Woolgathering," she was thrilled and the bartender was perplexed.

Hello, godmother of punk?

We had great fun chatting with some nearby bar sitters from the near west end who were outspoken about their friends and family's fear of coming into the city to eat.

She told a story of her sister taking her little boy to the Short Pump theaters and when he saw the neon of the multiplex, saying, "Look, it's the lights of the city, Mom!"

"They live in Wellsley, where they have everything they need for life," the man said. "Chain restaurants, Food Lion and, if they want to go to college, Strayer University."

It would have been tragic if it hadn't been so hilarious.

After the second glass of rose, my friend was picked up by her dinner date while I remained in my stool waiting for mine.

No sooner was one girlfriend gone than the next appeared.

Our Portuguese starter was Quinta de Cabriz Reserva, unique and tasting like nothing else I knew.

Damn, why did I miss flight night? Oh, yes, Shakespeare and birthday bands.

It had been close to a year since my friend and I had last met so naturally we had loads to discuss.

She's a year and a half into a new relationship so she had tales of buying a house together, dealing with former (and unhappy) girlfriends and trying to adjust everyone's sex drive to coincide.

Now there's a first world problem.

To sustain me, I chose the lamb kabob over Arabic antipasti (chickpeas, walnuts, red pepper and eggplant) while she dove into the shrimp bobo.

The mayor arrived and took a discreet table in a corner.

One of the city's premiere tattoo artists came in for a bite at the bar.

A bartending friend appeared and joined our conversation as he waited for his friends to arrive.

Unsurprisingly, we got off on a tangent about the craft cocktail trend in Richmond and, conversely, the vital role of simply slinging shots.

My friend, a former restaurant manager, mentioned how different the bar world was before the mixology movement.

"People used to just ask what color the drink would be." she laughed.

Gosh, Grandpa, when was that?

Sonny, that was back in the days when new couples didn't talk about how much sex each one wanted, much less share that information with a girlfriend they hadn't seen in months.

My goodness, what did they talk about then?

Oh, right. Well, we talked about that, too.

Merry and Tragical

Park once, party twice. Sadly, though, I paid the price.

Nay, faith, let me not play a woman, for I have a  beard coming.

And that's the beauty of a gender-reversed play. Those actors playing women do have beard potential.

Firehouse Theater was doing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with fifteen women playing the male parts.

As if the pleasure of men playing women wasn't sufficient, there were also actors of a tender age playing believable love-besotted youths (Hermia and Lysander).

There was anachronistic humor, like when the bumbling troupe needed moonlight for their play and decided to check the calendar to see if the moon would be bright for them.

In this version, that calendar was on a smartphone, around which they all gathered to determine that the moon would indeed be shining for their performance.

There was innuendo, like when Bottom (played to perfection by Molly Hood) said, "I could munch your good dry oats."

So that's what the kids were calling it in Shakespeare's time. Munching.

There was physical humor, as when Demetrius says, "Let's follow him and, by the way, let, whoa, us recount our dream."

The "whoa" occurred when she nearly ran into a pole.

Or when Bottom says, "And, most dear actors, eat no onion nor garlic for we are to utter sweet breath," as one of her fellow actors takes a bite of sandwich, leaving onion hanging from her mouth.

There was the most plaintive and unloved Helena imaginable in the always hysterically dour Dean Knight.

There was mad doting by multiple couples not to mention lovers making moan.

The performance was especially timely since I'd just seen Richmond Shakespeare do the very same play at Maymont not three weeks ago.

Of course, in that version Hermia didn't stand up to pee and Theseus didn't have breasts.

Call me a mortal fool, but all shall be well when Firehouse does a gender exploration of anything by the Bard.

In other words, count me in.

From the forest of the fairies to a blog's birthday party we went. Luckily it was on the same block.

RVAPlaylist was celebrating its second birthday, and as I explained to a fellow music lover, it wasn't that I wanted to go, I had to go.

Of course I wanted to as well.

And why not? The show was free, there was a band I'd never seen and was eager to, one of my long-time favorite bands was playing and there would be birthday cake.

Oh, yes, and literally dozens of people I knew would be there.

Happily, I walked into the Camel to a clutch of familiar faces right up front.

Greeting people, hugging friends and hearing my name called, I turned to see a friend with outstretched arms.

"Is this the Karen receiving line?" he asked only half mocking.

Why, yes, it was.

Against Grace were already playing their brand of pop punk (think Jimmy Eat World) to a crowd of rapturous fans exactly like my friend had described them.


Once their set ended, I set out to finish saying hello to everyone I knew, a never-ending attempt, since inevitably I'd see someone else I hadn't yet seen.

Dead Fame played second and brought their 21st-century take on Joy Division (and a different crowd) to life under minimal lighting and a crowd that moved incessantly with the beat of the music.

As a pal noted, the band had done their 80s homework and lead singer Michael was a study of Ian Curtis as he delivered post-punk and staccato dance moves.

Marionette was last and they too had their own fan base, allowing them to take their music in some new directions instead of playing only familiar material.

We die hards love that kind of fan-centric set list.

Guitarist Adam began their set by thanking Andrew, RVAPlaylist's author, for his long-time interest in the band.

The only thing Adam forgot to mention was who had originally introduced Andrew to Marionette's music.

I don't want to name names, but it was the same woman (not played by a man tonight) who was assured that if she came to the birthday party tonight, not only would there be cake, but she was free to lick the icing off the edge of the plate.

That's a pretty sweet enticement.

All in all, the birthday party had been great fun and it's hard to beat free music.

Well, not exactly free.

I walked out to find a $60 ticket on my car. Really? This is what our cops are doing with their time at night?

Although I'd parked in the same space I've parked for years to go to the Firehouse and the Camel, apparently now it's off limits after 11 p.m.

Ah, well. The course of true fun never did run smooth.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Something Comes from Nothing

Perhaps I should be concerned.

It's gotten to the point where my birthday celebrating is being acknowledged by complete strangers.

But friends, too. And it was with a very good longtime friend that I spent a few cocktail hours at Rowland.

She came bearing a perfect gift: pink bubbles (Casas del Mar Rose) and loads of stories about her recent trip to NYC, the orgy going on in her backyard this past weekend and her legacy (not at all what she thinks it will be).

Over a nice dry white Bordeaux, we snacked on some of the $5 happy hour appetizers including the butterbean cake and the pork schnitzel with a soft-cooked egg and tomatillo sauce.

Since we weren't first-timers at Rowland's happy hour, I was pleased to see that they change up their happy hour offerings.

Well, except the signature butterbean cake which should never leave the menu, if you ask me.

As we went to leave, a white-haired woman at a table spoke to me. "Happy birthday! Keep celebrating!"

Don't worry, I assured her, I do this all month long.

"You should! Enjoy it!" she said grinning ear to ear as her companion nodded.

How did they even know?

Honestly, I get the best stranger talk.

From there I went to the Belvidere for burgers (my quintessential birthday meal) with a different crew and, this time the chatter revolved around music (Grimes, St. Vincent and new Sigur Ros) and old friends (like Ben, the master of the one-liner).

It was especially interesting because we had three Geminis at the table, so although only four chairs were occupied, there were at least seven personalities present.

Invite us and it's an instant party.

Eventually the birthday revelry ended and I made it to the Camel for music to finish out my evening.

The first person I saw was Matt from Goldrush and he had an amusing story to share about a mutual friend who had called him out about they way a classical piece was listed in the symphony's program.

Seems that after giving Matt, who plays with the symphony and is their librarian, a hard time (deservedly, he admitted) he brought up my name (to show they had something in common, I guess).

I was less interested in that than the cigarette Matt had behind his ear since he's a non-smoker.

Seems it was about their absent drummer. "It's my tribute to Greg Butler," he informed me.

I'd have asked what happened to Greg but Matt was off for a beer, so I made my way to the front.

I'd heard such good things about The Hill and Wood and I loved that they'd named their band after a Charlottesville funeral home.

It took no time at all for me to hear what the buzz was about.

TH&W straddled that line between folk and chamber pop with well-written songs, male/female harmonies, keyboards and, for a few songs, the lovely addition of a horn.

"This is such a special occasion that we brought along our trumpet player," lead singer Sam said.

As an unabashed fan of what horns add to chamber pop or electro-folk or whatever TH&W are, I was sorry when the trumpet player left the stage after a few songs.

"Is everyone okay?" Sam asked. "Can we get you anything?"

A longer set maybe? A crowd that shuts the hell up so people like me or the music-loving friends I ran into tonight could actually hear the beautiful music the band was making?

No such luck so I moved in closer for their outstanding cover of "The Good Thing" by Talking Heads.

A straight line exists between me and the good things
I have found the line and its direction is known to me

For their last song, Sam asked plaintively, "If it's possible, we would love for you to listen."

I know I'm spoiled by the Listening Room, but should a musician really have to say that?

Sadly, yes, but fortunately they'll be playing the Listening Room in July so at least I can count on hearing every note then.

After the break ("More violin in the monitor!" is not something you hear everyday), the lights dimmed and singer Prabir of Goldrush yelled, "Welcome to the future!" as they began their set with a different Greg drumming.

I watched as Matt's head bobbed frantically as he played upright bass, the cig never budging from its lodging behind his ear.

Now that's a professional.

Because I've seen Goldrush many times, I was happily surprised to hear lots of new material, although violinist Treesa (looking adorable in her cute skirt and sweater) admitted that playing so many new songs made her nervous.

Prabir cured his nervousness his way. "If I could just get a shot of tequila, that would help a lot," he said mid-set to no one in particular and it was delivered not long after.

And consumed in short order.

It must have helped because they were smooth as glass for "Kiss and Make Up" to close their set and end my evening.

Friends, food, wine, music.

What was I worried about? I've got no reason to be concerned.

It's a straight line to the good things.

Okay, as straight as a Gemini gets.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Immune to the Stuff

How appropriate that today's birthday lunch had an eighties soundtrack.

Yes, I'm older and yes, the eighties are still all too familiar.

While enjoying a breezy wait on the bench in front of Black Sheep, I saved a woman from falling into the abyss by pointing out the warning painted on the silver grate where she stood.

That would be the one saying not to stand on it. Keep off!

She was a first-timer, so it was understandable that she hadn't known to read the ground where she was standing.

Studying the menu, she sought my advice so I also filled her in on battleships as long as I was mentoring her.

Friend and I were given a table against the wall and pounced on our server when she appeared, having decided on eats while sunning ourselves outside.

Despite Friend having gotten up earlier than I had today, he wanted breakfast.

That meant coffee and the South Anna scramble (eggs scrambled with smoked trout, mushrooms, roasted tomato and bacon with chive and horseradish hollandaise over toast) while I went the lunch route.

At Black Sheep, that always means starting with an Abita root beer (I'll lie and say it's 'cause it's made with pure Louisiana sugar cane) and a salad of strawberries, yellow cherry tomatoes, arugula, fresh mozzarella, pine nuts and basil in a honey balsamic vinaigrette.

As we ate and bobbed our heads to the past, we noticed all the battleships coming out of the kitchen.

Interestingly, they were all going to women not men (not that there's anything wrong with that), including the woman I'd schooled a short time before (patting the wrapped leftover 'ship later, she told me, "It's for my husband." Yea, sure).

Friend's mega-meal arrived on an enormous glass fish-shaped platter, no doubt a nod to the smoked trout buried in the rich concoction.

My salad was pretty in a colorful way, complete with edible purple pea shoot flowers adorning it, with the creamy mozzarella so fresh it melted in my mouth.

Hearing Robert Palmer got us talking about the show we'd seen together last week, why Creed cover bands cause people to leave shows and about the innate human need for companionship.

"Might as well face it," I told him, causing him to laugh out loud. He's known me long enough to know exactly what I meant.

It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough.

Of birthday celebrations, that is. Yea, right.

Eastward, Ho!

All bases were covered for Memorial Day and all in the east end, it should be noted

First there was the history component which took us down to the river to see the reproductions of the Nina and the Pinta that are here this week.

Floating in the James were the two small, black boats like the ones Columbus used to sail from Spain to this country.

Walking down toward them, the RVA skyline was glistening behind the ropes and lines of the ship.

The view looked like it had been Photo-shopped in.

Shocking was the scale of the Nina which was built for the average male size in 1492, namely 4'8" to 5'3." Even I felt cramped at 5'5".

Honestly, it was a little Alice in Wonderland-like with the low ceilings, short doors and abbreviated sleeping quarters we got to see.

The Pinta was the same as the Nina except at one and a half times the scale, so it seemed less claustrophobic.

One of the guys aboard the Nina scoffed at the over-sized Pinta, saying, "That's why we make fun of them when we're not working. We have fierce Nina pride."

All I can say is you'd have to in order to be willing to be crammed onto such a small boat and sail from port to port like they're doing.

They are on a North American tour, after all. I know; I saw the t-shirts.

But there's more. A sign seeking "Crew Wanted" was very specific.

"If you don't mind working on little sleep, having little privacy, getting some blisters, possibly suffering seasickness, taking orders and sharing in menial tasks, you're our type of candidate."

I accept that I am not.

The best view was from the poop deck of the Pinta where a good breeze and the view from downriver made me forget the cramped heat of the captain's quarters, a veritable sweatbox.

Turns out that they'd even fired the cannon yesterday, bringing scads of local people to their windows and doors to see if the world was coming to an end.

I was sorry to have missed the cannon, but the history nerd part of me was satisfied, so we took off for something more mindless, although certainly holiday-appropriate.

Namely, strawberry picking.

True, I'm not really a hunter/gatherer, but I can play one for an afternoon.

And yes, it's definitely the end of strawberry picking season, but what the hell?

If you can't have fresh-picked strawberries on Memorial Day you may as well hang up your Yankee doodle dandy.

By the time we got to the Berry Patch, it was late in the day and there was only one other person picking.

It didn't matter. One of us had never picked strawberries before and the other was a pro, so as long as we got some berries, everyone would be happy.

The rows were definitely picked over, but with half an eye and a willingness to bend over to find the berries remaining red and plump on the interior of the plants, the pickin's were good.

As we worked our rows to fill a basket, a man started down the driveway and called to us.

"You gotta pick 'em yourself and then you still gotta pay?" he asked incredulously, noting, "I thought they were bigger!"

I could have made a corny joke but didn't. And on some farms they do grow gigantic varieties, but not this place.

Here they grow a smaller, sweeter type (without pesticides, so even better) that take longer to pick but reward with truer strawberry flavor, which I told the guy.

Not persuasively enough apparently, because he eventually left rather than take on the challenge.

What, everyone doesn't want to sweat in the late afternoon sun gathering crops like we did?

The cashier was surprised at how quickly we'd picked almost four pounds and sent us on our way, mentioning that it was the last day for picking there.

Timing is everything, at least in fruit picking and romance.

We made the final stop Osborne boat landing so we could have a waterside picnic.

Settling on a pink spread under the shade of tall trees, we watched boats pass as we dug into roast chicken, legume and olive salad, fruit salad, watermelon (duh, it's Memorial Day) and leftover savory tarts from last night's superb picnic.

After a leisurely repast, we strolled down to the river to see the sunset and the source if all the childish screaming that inevitably accompanies water play.

Sitting on a large piece of driftwood on the sand provided a placid view of the river headed east.

Up on the pier we saw people fishing ("You should see the size of the catfish that guy just caught!" we were told) while we admired the sunset reflecting on the water.

Our final resting place was a bench in a wooded area near the gazebo where a family group had set up their outdoor meal and was now happily splashing in the river, taking turns riding a jet ski.

It was a 21st century Norman Rockwell scene, "Memorial Day in the County."

We headed out, passing Poe's Pub where a sign said, "Sorry, we're open."

Tempting as that was (and it wasn't), we decided to end our day in a most Memorial Day-like fashion.

Warm berries freshly picked were washed and hulled while heavy cream was beaten into submission with a touch of sugar to become whipped cream.

Forget history, watermelon and endless motorcyclists on the road today.

Nothing says summer's practically here like a big bowl of picked strawberries smothered in whipped cream.

I'd even go so far as to say it was as fine a way as any to bring to a close a worthy celebration of Memorial Day.

And definitely worthy of firing a canon.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Explosions in the Sky

What do you do on the Sunday night of a three-day weekend?

Well, you could start at the Shockoe Bottom Jazz Fest where the late afternoon sun had the good-sized audience hovering under the shade of the 17th Street Farmers' market shed.

Giving it their all was the Big Payback, a James Brown tribute band with a lead singer who observed, "Heat-wise, it's a hot day."

Considering that he had on all black, including a black blazer, and shades, I'm sure he knew about some sweating going on.

Standing in the refreshingly diverse crowd to watch the band, I smelled musk and watched as couples got their groove on.

Strangers danced with each other, booties were checked out and loose-limbed kids showed off their Michael Jackson moves.

Despite the sun and heat, there was no shortage of dancers of all ages, shapes and colors.

Although I'd heard of the Big Payback, I'd never seen them, so I was pleasantly surprised to see members of both the RVA Big Band and the funky New Belgians as members of the ensemble.

And if I'm going to stand around listening to a cover band, it may as well be one doing James Brown.

When their set ended, we ambled around the Bottom taking note of new restaurants (a tapas one opening Friday) before landing at C'est le Vin for a glass served by a handsome man in a pink button-down shirt, gray scarf, shorts and bossy sunglasses.

You know, the kind where people do what he says when he has them on.

I managed to score the last taste of the salmon-colored Perle de Roseline, a favorite and sadly out of stock, and instead enjoyed the Vina Altaba Rose tasting of rose petals and peach. Very girly.

After losing my jazz companion to northern Virginia, I was picked up by a favorite couple.

"You look adorable!" my girlfriend exclaimed, proving why I am devoted to her.

We were en route to Chimborazo Park for a picnic and viewing of the Rocketts Red Glare fireworks show for Memorial Day.

Yes, the very same one that was canceled due to inclement weather last year. We call this delayed gratification.

Parking right by the grassy hill, my girlfriend and I relaxed as her talented French boyfriend set up camp.

First there was a table on the edge of the overlook, followed by chairs. With cushions, I might add.

Nest came the loveliest yellow tablecloth, adorned with images of olive trees and flowering lavender.

"I bet everybody's watching us," my friend noted drolly as her beau continued to set up the perfect picnic.

He had a citronella candle in a copper pot, multiple bottles of rose, water glasses and a speaker for his iPod.

Once he'd set up and we sat down to eat and drink, we played host to any number of passersby, all fascinated by the spread.

Or perhaps it was the Mozart playing softly.

"That's looking real good," said a man walking his dog. "He wants some."

Safe to say that both man and dog wanted some.

"We wanted to walk by to see," exclaimed one of two girls who'd especially made a trip over to check us out. "Every time we looked over, you'd added more and we just had to come see."

I tried to be friendly and appreciative of the attention, but mainly I wanted to eat the ham and tomato or olive tarts, the salad, the kabobs and rice and the marinated Vidalia onion, cucumber and tomato salad spread out before me.

"You should do this for people and charge," said one of the girls. "I'd tell my husband to hire you!"

Yea, right.

Except that the Frenchman admitted to having set up rogue picnics under the Eiffel Tower and on the Champs Elysee for other al fresco fans, so I guess it would work.

"We just had to come see what was going on here," a stranger said walking by.

By the time we got to the cheese course, the fireworks had begun at Rocketts Landing and, as it turned out, we had a straight-shot view of them across the Bottom.

And our viewing vantage was ideal - far enough away not have our ears assaulted and close enough to have a breathtaking view of each and every explosion.

Non-stop pyrotechnics were accompanied by apricot tarts and more Rose, and before we knew it, the display was winding down.

But not before I saw fireworks I'd never seen before.

There were circles and squares lighting up the night sky, so different than the typical starbursts.

At the end, there were white-hot explosions that just didn't let up.

And with our distance (half a mile, maybe?) we had a bird's eye view of it all.

The moment the fireworks ended, the crowds dispersed and we were left alone on the edge of the valley to linger over our wine while fireflies flickered all around us.

My girlfriend handed me a birthday card with a gift certificate for Chop Suey inside.

The card read, "Time in a Bottle. Pairs nicely with birthdays and a nagging sense of mortality. Cheers!"

Correction: a yellow-tableclothed picnic on a breezy Chimborazo hill with rose and tarts alleviates any nagging sense of mortality.

Next time I'll bring a date to enjoy time in a bottle.

And maybe the French picnic master.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Easy Does It

Staying in town for the long weekend makes it so easy to be lazy.

I could have gone to a benefit show. I could have gone to hear an Afropop  DJ.

And yet, after talking to some friends who were drinking tequila and bubbles while spending the weekend in Lovettsville in a cabin, my evening took a decidedly low-key turn.

Honestly, all I bothered doing was a simple meal at Secco with a bunch of other people who'd stayed in town.

One of them was the cheese whiz Sarah, who'll soon be moving to Charlottesville, their gain but our loss.

Sadly, all Sarah Sunday at Secco will be no more soon.

Another was a couple on what surely must have been a first date.

I overheard him tell her, "My music and my church are very important to me. I can't be with a woman who doesn't get that," while his date nodded in that early stages way.

Explaining to the bartender that my birthday week had left me a tad full, I chose the new salad of arugula, walnuts, dried cherries, Stilton and roasted shallot vinaigrette he recomemnded.

Debating about the addition of chicken confit, I went for it.

"Good, good," he said reassuringly. "You don't want to shock your system too much."

Right. You can't quit full fat cold turkey.

Besides, the richness of the confit made the peppery arugula all the more piquant.

Well, that and the Stilton and cherries, which kicked up the flavor in the best possible ways.

No surprise, my wine choice was listed under Rose, although with a note that it was not technically a true rose, but rather a light red.

Fine by me.

The 2011 Bisson Ciliegiolo Portofino Rosato, made with an indigenous grape from Liguria, Italy, was bone dry with a hint of cherries.

Sign me up. I'll drink this all summer.

Meanwhile the table behind me was having wine issues since the male of the table decided that the wine they'd ordered was unacceptable.

He may have even accused it of being Madeira, not likely since the ladies had asked for something "Chardonnay-like."

I often wonder how servers have the patience to deal with certain kinds of people.

Me, I just went back to finishing my northern Italian knowing that if I wanted to, I could just go home and read a book on my balcony overlooking a quieter-than-usual Jackson Ward.

But it would have to be with some birthday wine.

I don't want to shock my system too much.

Hometown Tourist

Who needs to go out of town for Memorial Day weekend?

Just stay right here and the out-of-towners come to you.

Or so it seemed on a canal boat ride today, my fourth and my seafaring companion's first, as good a destination as any for a Saturday stroll.

Our able-bodied skipper Cotton (yes, as in "Hi, Cotton!") broke the party ice by asking from whence came the visitors aboard.

Colorado, New York, Connecticut and North Carolina were in the house.

"Anyone here a Richmonder?" Cotton asked and a flurry of hands went up, including my own.

I'm one of those people who actually thinks being a Richmonder comes from RVA experiences and not birthright.

"That's what Richmonders look like," Cotton told the visitors, a point well made since we were a very diverse group.

"If you hate history, you just got on the wrong boat," he said as the final two passengers arrived, explaining their tardiness by saying they were from England.

"We'll be talking about you later," Cotton quipped.

"And you won't be nice about it, I'm sure," the man smiled in a clipped British accent.

Luckily for our former mother country's spawn, Cotton was not just a knowledgeable and humorous tour guide, but dressed to impress.

That's right, in this heat he was wearing a tri-cornered hat, a puffy shirt and lace-up vest, breeches and shoes with buckles.

The other canal boat was being commandeered by a guy in a baseball cap and a polo shirt, so how's that for job devotion?

I know, because we breezed right by them.

One sure way Richmond can seduce is gliding along the canal near Shockoe Boat Slip on a sunny day as a wheat-colored CSX Grain Express train passes through the triple crossing and turtles lounge nearby on dead branches, legs sticking out for maximum sunning.

When we got to the turnaround point near the Leonardo-inspired bascule bridge at Shiplock Park, Cotton said he was going to break bad.

Nest thing we knew he was vigorously repeating Patrick Henry's liberty speech, immediately followed by, "Happy Memorial Day!"

If we'd had a red, white and blue jello mold, that would have been the moment we broke it out.

As it was Cotton turned the boat around and we listened to tales of Richmond's history.

We were the first city to put beer in cans? Who the hell knew?

You should have seen how impressed with that the English couple was. So we Yanks were good for something.

On a related note, after docking we made our way up to Urban Farmhouse for lunch. where a sign greeted us, "Have you had your mimosa today?"

Why, no, now that you mention it.

The best part of a simple spinach salad with almonds and lemon honey dressing was the abundance of fresh strawberries, every one declaring itself to be at its peak.

But after walking from J-Ward to the canal, protein was in order, so I added a scoop of tarragon tuna salad, delightful to this mayo disdainer for its olive oil base.

Best of all, we ate our meal in the corner big front window thrown open to the parade of passersby.

A sunny walk, a languorous yet informative boat ride and a big plate of food in front of me.

Happy Memorial Day indeed.

And it wasn't just me. A man walking down the street winked at me when he caught my eye sitting there.

I know, Mister, right?

Shaking Tailfeathers

It's not every night that a woman offers to be a man for me.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it happened at Balliceaux, where I met a couple of friends to see Miss Tess and the Talkbacks.

Their name probably isn't familiar, but Miss Tess said they just changed it two weeks ago.

Walking in, a bartender friend told me he'd heard their sound check and that it had been amazing.

Promptly at 11:15, the band (Miss Tess, guitarist, upright bass player and drummer) took the stage and began crooning, "Saving all my love for when my baby gets home."

They weren't two lines in when there were already four couples on the dance floor, always a good sign.

The bartender had been right about their sound. It wasn't just the musicianship, it was the three-part harmonies, the note-bending Miss Tess did, the eclectic and well-written songs.

According to one guy nearby, it was also the aqua blue Gretsch guitar being played so well, but I'd also give major points to Miss Tess, who was capable of "playing" the trumpet using her voice.

When she first began doing it, people craned their heads to see who had a horn.

Surprise, no one! It was just Miss Tess' vox trumpet.

"This one's for the ladies," Tess said before singing, "One for the money, two for the show, three to walk right out that door, Gonna leave that man," to an enthusiastic reception by those of us with two X chromosomes.

A good-sized group of dancers kept the floor busy as they did the Lindy, a modified Charleston and any number of swing dances that paired nimble feet in Keds and Converse with agile bodies.

Every now and then, a waft of honest sweat came our way from all the major effort being spent on the dance floor.

Meanwhile, a friend came back with the scoop.

"They're from a Swing/Lindy Hop group that meets on Saturday nights by Mekong," she shared. "Wanna do it some Saturday? I'll be the man."

I'm not sure how far she was willing to go to be my man, but I took it as a compliment.

Miss Tess and the Talkbacks' set ran the gamut from jazz to country to rock to swing with infinite variations and permutations, but the dancers knew all the right moves no matter where the music went.

During a Latin-influenced number, a tall, slender couple moved so beautifully in tandem, dipping and posing,  as to almost seem like ballet.

"They're gonna make me swoon," a guy friend said admiring them openly.

By the time Miss Tess and the Talkbacks finished their second set, many in the dancing crowd had abandoned the dance floor to the inebriated set who arrived late (and in five-inch heels, so perfect for dancing) and were trying their best to dance in spite of themselves.

We left them to it. They'd missed hearing a multi-talented vocalist/guitar player and her harmonizing band tear up Balliceaux for the last two and a half hours.

Even the non-dancers among us left practically in a swoon.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Always Dance First

There were myriad things I learned at the new VMFA exhibit, "Maharaja: The Splendors of India's Great Kings."

That a king fulfills his duty through patronage of poets, musicians, architects, artisans, craftsmen and, unfortunately, religious foundations.

If only we could work arts patronage into a democracy, we'd be all set.

That some people are so wealthy that they have tent hangings.

Because what maharaja out on a military expedition could be expected to sleep in a tent with no hangings on its walls? 

It's simply not done, my dear.

That the ancient Indian custom of "being fully adorned" made rubies and emeralds on a dagger or dice seem necessary and not ridiculous.

That a dervish was a wandering mystic who taught Islam and lived on alms.

And here all I thought dervishes did was whirl.

That widows were excluded from auspicious events.

Because, I guess, with a dead husband you might as well be banished to your home.

That there is no bathroom in the "Maharaja" exhibit.

Fortunately, when I asked a guard he took pity on me.

"Well, you're not supposed to leave once you're in, but come with me. I'll take you and get you back in."

And damned if he didn't wait patiently at the bottom of the steps while I used the facility and escort me back.

That if the royal army is being attacked at the fort, the women will decide to commit mass suicide to join their doomed warrior husbands in death.

But they will dance first. Surely there's poetry in that.

That instruments were to be decorative as well as functional, like the bowed string one that resembled a standing peacock.

No wonder music flourished.

That for Indian women there were sixteen adornments (sixteen!) that she should always wear, including things like rings, necklaces, hair ornaments, bracelets, perfume and kohl.

Epic Indian womanhood fail for me since I employ none of those, unless you count eye pencil as kohl.

That Indian royals were serious about their board games.

One elaborate piece housed eleven games with two storage drawers. Almost makes me want to pull out Parcheesi.

And the number one thing I learned at the "Maharaja" exhibit tonight?

That you can't see it all in one viewing. 

My fellow art lover and I gave up after three rooms so as not to have to rush through the hundreds of artifacts of Indian royalty.

I can't wait to go back, but by that time our stomachs were in control.

Upstairs at Amuse, we joined the lone couple on the patio and put on the VMFA sunglasses we were offered.

With the sunset making our faces glisten, we savored the amuse bouche, a vanilla turnip with beet confetti. 

The former beet hater actually moaned at its simple perfection.

I noticed that the menu is looking very Indian-inspired right now, so we took advantage of it.

Cava provided the bubbles while we began with a summery-tasting salad of Manakintowne greens with mango, papaya and Caromont chevre with strawberry vinaigrette.

Suddenly we'd gone from two occupied tables to six or seven as the sun sunk behind the Pauley Center.

The Indian  theme kicked in with the curried lentil croquettes with yogurt and harissa, dense little crusty balls that were also showing up on multiple tables near us.

Ditto for the naan bread pizza with pork belly, buffalo milk Parmesan, green scallions and a mound of arugula on top.

The red pepper and harissa sauce complemented the pig to perfection, making it as good a pork belly pizza as I've ever had.

But, yes, it was my first.

Now that the sun was a mere glow and our new lime green sunglasses superfluous, we decamped to the bar, where a small vase of pink roses added a charming touch.

Our purpose was twofold: dessert and a couple of absinthe drips.

The lovely bartender had been alerted to our presence and the drip was well-filled with iced water when we took our stools.

Still running on birthday week fullness, I voted for the orange crepes with lemon mousse to accompany our visit from the green fairy.

Because if you're going to try to get away without the sixteen adornments of womanhood, and I am, it's best to be with someone drinking absinthe, in hopes they may not notice.

But you never know. It's really just a roll of the ruby-encrusted dice.

You As You Were

Even during birthday week, a person has to do more than just open cards and presents.

Realistically, they have to go to shows, too.

Tonight's was an especially good one; Shearwater was opening for St. Vincent at the National.

In keeping with the theme, my ticket was a gift, too.

After a birthday laugh with the wristband guy, I walked in to take my place in front of the sound booth to find a friend already standing there.

Instant company.

Within two minutes, Shearwater took the stage and although I'd never seen them before, I already knew I loved the singer's voice.

He was a former member of Okkervil River, a band I've seen twice, and his beautiful voice is swoon-worthy if you ask me.

Saying, "This is the first time we've played Richmond. I don't know why it took so long," the band took off with a rollicking set that quieted the good-sized crowd.

Yes, the music's dense, but it's smart pop, full of hooks and then there's that voice (see: "You As You Were," with its positively driving rhythm and just the kind of intensity I can't resist).

"Who are you?" an audience member called out mid-set, apparently realizing that this band was very good.

"We're Shearwater from Austin," Jonathan clarified.

Hopefully by the time they got to "Breaking the Ice," the uninformed were converts and the band finished with "White Wave" to end their too-short set.

During the break I saw a few people I knew, all guys making their way to the front by the stage.

St. Vincent's set began with Annie's halo of curls back-lit before her screaming guitar reminded us that big eyes and curly hair aside, this is a musician to be reckoned with.

She referred to "Dilettante" as a "love letter to New York City with hate mail mixed in."

Because as we all know, it's a thin line between love and hate.

Annie was chatty, saying, "Ten years ago we played the Nancy Raygun. Be glad you weren't there. I'm glad it was the pre-Youtube, pre-cell phone camera days. Then we also played a gutter punk squat and you should be really glad you weren't there."

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the latter show happened in Jackson Ward ten years ago. Ah, Annie, we hardly knew you then.

Whatever level to which they played way back when has long since been replaced by a tight foursome with Annie playing her guitar fiercely with the band supplying drums, keyboards and mini-Moog.

Oh, yes, and an audience of adoring men consuming her with their eyes.

Sensitive-looking guys, burly types, really just about all of the males in the crowd  seemed awed by the woman singing "Cruel" and "Cheerleader" and destroying guitar strings during the last night of the band's North American tour.

Endearingly, she even mocked her own between-song banter, likening herself to a bad stand-up comedian.

Mentioning the post-punk band Pop Group because of having covered one of their songs, she said the lead singer had given her a pot scrubber designed to look like Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.

Sadly, it was labeled "Sid Dishes."

"This is what's become of punk," the singer told her.

Kind of breaks your heart, doesn't it?

At least there are females out there still making lots of noise with their guitars while wearing shorts and tights.

And as if the crowd wasn't already in love with Annie and her shredding, for the band's last song she surely made strong men swoon when she threw herself off the lip of the stage, mic still in hand, to crowd surf a few times.

Wisely always offering herself back first, she was gently passed around and delicately returned to the stage not long after to say goodnight.

There was a long wait and much clapping for the band to return; it felt like a true encore and not just a formality.

When it began to take a while, the crowd began chanting, "Annie! Annie!" until the curly-headed one reappeared for "Your Lips are Red."

The male worshiping factor surely came to a head at that point and I wouldn't be surprised if some guys had to go smoke a cigarette afterwards.

Being  a woman, I was able to take it a bit more in stride.

Come on, guys, it was just the superb show part of my birthday week.

So while they're cooling off, I'm back to opening birthday presents now.

Of note was the card that came with the well-chosen bottles of wine I was given.

"I figured since May, the entire month of May, is for you, you should enjoy it with some adult beverages! Have a happy month and play hard and love hard. Well, not too hard!"

No harder than Annie shreds. How's that for a worthy goal?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Future R.I.P. One Hell of a Woman

I'm going to brag and say I know how to enjoy a birthday.

This one began with a drive to the Outer Banks on a day when a hurricane was hanging about.

An hour and a half into the trip and listening to a mix tape (literally) from 1992 called "!Stood Up!" the weather gods descended on us.

A few droplets became driving rain, which segued into sleet and then pounded us with hail.

I hate to nitpick, but not only is it not hurricane season yet, but since when do we have hail in May?

We went from dry to terrifying in about two minutes, necessitating pulling over to eat bananas while enjoying Rockpile and Ned's Atomic Dustbin until the worst of it passed.

Once at the beach, a walk seemed in order, if for no other reason than to admire the magnificent cloudscapes we'd just recently escaped.

Yet again we were reminded of Alberto's presence when our beach stroll ended with rain, first light and then sufficiently driving to leave me with a soaked skirt and a head of wet hair.

A bottle of Prosecco ensured that we returned to birthday mode after being drenched.

Dinner was eaten on the balcony overlooking the ocean and involved eating with fingers while lightening shot across the horizon.

Not a bad view for my pre-birthday dinner, if I do say so myself.

After starting a second bottle, this one South African, we decided to take advantage of the rain having moved on and walked across the street for ice cream just before they closed.

Mine was a scoop of mint chocolate chip over a scoop of dark chocolate orange, which, when eaten on a blanket on the beach at night, seemed like the best idea I'd had in eons.

Crashing surf? Check. Changeable sky? Yep. No one around to disturb the dessert course? Perfect.

Shoes left on the beach until the next morning? Sure, but so what?

Sleeping with the door wide open to the sound of the waves, I woke up to being a year older with a smile on my face.

My birthday breakfast had been decided in advance; I wanted pancakes and bacon on the pier.

A short two mile beach walk put us at a corner table of the pier restaurant where our waitress Holly said, "Well, if it's your birthday, you need to have a Mimosa."

I ate myself stuffed, making the walk back down the beach a necessity as well as a real pleasure.

Alberto gave us no further trouble, although it was quite breezy for our afternoon under the new beach umbrella.

Cherry pits were spit out, watermelon sections dripped down chins and ripe pineapple was so sweet it felt like a guilty pleasure.

Standing in the surf watching as people walked up and down the beach, I spotted my favorite beachcomber.

He was a much older man with thinning, white hair and a cane, dressed impeccably in a button-down shirt, khakis and water shoes.

Despite the cane and his obvious slow pace, he was methodically walking just exactly along the water line, never quite getting wet, but never more than inches from the foam of the latest wave.

It was a thing of beauty watching him trace the water's edge.

I only hope that when I'm that old that I still want to walk along the edge of the ocean with a look of satisfaction on my face.

The drive home provided none of the weather drama of the earlier trip, but the music was just as good, if mostly a tad more current than Mighty Lemon Drops.

One of the more colorful sights was a home as tribute to the dead.

On an old salmon house, someone had painted in crooked letters, "R.I.P." and a man's name, birth and death dates.

Next to it, in slanted words was, "One hell of a guy."

For the record, I have no problem with someone wanting to memorialize me on my house once I kick the bucket.

Once back in RVA, without even washing the rain and saltwater out of my hair, my birthday dinner went down at Amour.

Starting at the bar with Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose and tarte flambe, we soon followed with escargots ("dirt food" as my dinner companion noted) and Reisling d'Alsace Heimberger.

Even only two wines in, the snail tongs were used to great hilarity.

Despite some sparkling conversation at the bar, part accented and part throaty, we decided to move to a front table for a view of Carytown's street theater (mostly people with trough-sized Sweet Frog dishes) and the rest of the meal.

A charcuterie and cheese plate (Boucherondin goat and Comte) brought two wines, a Chateauneuf du Pape White Domaine de la Bastide St. Dominique and Mount Ventoux Red.

A lump crabcake followed and at long last, dessert.

Six little dishes of sorbet - grapefruit, strawberry, kiwi, orange, espresso, and cocoa with candied orange peel- were an exercise in flavor bursts as each one exploded with fruit or caffeine.

Naturally only bubbles could do housemade sorbet justice, so we had Cremant d'Alsace Brut de Brut and saved the heavy lifting for last.

Chocolate caramel sea salt creme brulee was paired with Muscat de Beaume de Venise Domaine de la Bastide St. Dominique to put us firmly over the edge.

Did I need more chocolate after six tastes of sorbet? I did not.

Did I enjoy every bite anyway? You know it.

With not even a corner of room left in my belly, it was time to step away from the table.

Conveniently, the stars had aligned for the Blood Brothers (plus Greg Darden) to be playing the hits tonight.

So down to Ipanema we went, where clearly the birthday gods had given them a heads up.

The handsome bartender Gabe offered me dessert (sadly, not doable at that point) and two of my favorite music lovers had a bottle of wine waiting for me.

Bottle and glasses in hand, we commandeered the bench and sat back to hear what 60s and 70s vinyl  the guys were going to play for this Gemini.

My birthday was getting more amazing by the minute.

Want to know what I mean? How about this set: "Steppin' Stone," "With a Girl Like You,"Summer in the City," and "Little Bit of Soul" for sheer mid-sixties pop perfection?

Various friends showed up, lots of stellar music was played and I felt like the day had been a birthday treat in every way.

Yea, I've still got sand in my hair. And, definitely, my body is still in sugar shock. I'm quite sure I haven't had enough sleep this week.

Is this any way to celebrate with a girl like me?

Hail, yes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'm on Fire

Growing up, my birthday meant cheeseburgers.

My five sisters weren't thrilled about it, but that's what I picked for my birthday dinner year after year.

So naturally when I drove out to the Northern Neck today to have lunch with the people who spawned me, my Mom served cheeseburgers.

And in lieu of birthday cake, hot fudge sundaes for dessert.

Is it any wonder I try to celebrate my birthday with as many people as possible with options like that?

After an afternoon at the river, I came home to get cleaned up and meet a friend for a birthday drink.

He was having a screwy day (his words) and couldn't choose where to take me, so I defaulted to Bistro 27 so I could walk over after so much car time earlier.

We toasted my beginning with Briccodi-dei-Tati Rose and talk of the difference in Frenchmen and Italians (attitude).

Although I wasn't terribly hungry after my burger bash, we noshed anyway on small plates.

Fried calamari, tomato bruschetta and a delightful Asian-inspired dish of Chinese broccoli, onion and duck confit kept us busy until a visiting Philadelphian joined our conversation.

We switched to Chester Gap's 2009  Merlot ("when it was 2009, it was a very good year"), but only after all of us tasted it and none of us guessed that it was Merlot.

It was big with notes of cherry and herbs and a lingering finish, all of which made my companion insist I order dessert to accompany it and further celebrate my upcoming big day.

You don't have to twist my arm.

The chocolate fondant cake arrived with a pink birthday candle alight and everyone at the bar joined in singing happy birthday to me.

The only way to follow such a fine birthday second installment was with, what else, live music.

A two-block walk deposited me at Gallery 5, where I walked in to hear, "Karen's here," from the back of the room.

I found some friends, although not as many as I would expected given the stellar bill.

First up was Dogs on Main Street, whom I've seen before, so I could appreciate his humor three songs in.

"I forgot to introduce myself," Mac said. "I'm Dogs on Main Street. Yea, I know. Don't grammar me!"

I enjoy Mac's earnest sound and everyman lyrics, but especially his self-deprecation.

He explained how thrilled he'd been when River Whyless had contacted him to play the show, saying they'd found him online.

"I didn't know I could be found," he deadpanned. "So I've been practicing for three days straight and this afternoon I blew out my voice. Now I sound like a thirteen-year old girl."

Which he did not. His melodic growl of a voice was just fine for songs like "Home" and "Williamstown, Massachusetts" and he closed with a killer version of Florence and the Machine's "Shake it Out," done doggy (on Main Street) style.

My favorite thing about Low Branches' set was getting to hear new songs ("Love happens naturally, There's no use in trying") in addition to some from their last record, which I have and love.

They were short a member tonight with cellist Josh not in attendance, although lead singer Christina not only pointed to where he'd be on stage, but when he would be playing.

Although usually shy on stage, tonight she shared how she'd done the Church Hill yard sale yesterday only to watch all the customers flock to the "salmon cornbread guy" next to her, although she didn't understand what salmon cornbread was.

That makes two of us.

And lo and behold, she said the salmon cornbread guy was in the audience tonight.

No doubt he was as tickled as I was when, for the last song, Christina called Mac onstage and said, "Turns out Mac and I share a beautiful thing called a love of Bruce Springsteen."

Launching into "I'm On Fire," I can't quite express the satisfaction of hearing the demure Christina singing, "Only you can cool my desire. I'm on fire."

It isn't quite up there with hearing her cover Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," which one of my favorite couples had  said they'd give anything to hear her do, but it was still stellar.

Asheville's River Whyless was up next and they caught my ear right off the bat.

During sound check, violinist/vocalist Halli sang, "Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have fifteen-passenger vans, cause they're all in bands."

She also took an audience poll to decide what color wine to drink during their set (red won).

The band had a baroque pop sound with lush vocals, lush instrumentation and literate lyrics ("I'm not searching for perfect, I'm perfecting my search").

Aren't we all?

We heard the three (four?) part suite "Stone," which could only be described as epic with its plucked violin, hand clapping and three-part harmonies.

Okay, so I was completely taken with their sound.

They played almost all of their CD and in order, too, because, as guitarist and songwriter Ryan said, "We figured we put them in this order for a reason."

As they layered voices and instruments for soundscapes that filled every inch of Gallery 5, the audience was as quiet and attentive as if it were the Listening Room.

Well, except for one couple in the back and who talked and laughed loudly through their set, but the loss was theirs.

By the time their set ended, many in the audience stood to applaud because of how impressive they'd been.

I was one of them; as the musical component of tonight's birthday bash, they were superb in delivering a kind of music of which the birthday girl-to-be is very fond.

Wow, if I'm already having cheeseburgers and chamber pop two days in advance, this looks to be a pretty amazing birthday celebration before it all winds down.

Which, according to my friend Gregg, should be sometime around mid-summer.

And the problem with that is...?

I'm just perfecting my search for the perfect series of birthday celebrations.

To paraphrase Christina, there's no use in not trying.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sing, Baby, Sing

Do enough stuff and someone will call you on it.

With no more of a plan than to hear live music on the lawn of a plantation by the river, we packed a goody bag and headed to Hopewell.

That may be the only time I've been able to say that.

Fredericksburg's World Jam Club was playing at Weston Plantation on the Appomattox river.

Stately trees, a fine-looking 1789 house and a long fishing pier out onto the river looked to be a bucolic spot for listening to music al fresco.

Our outdoor intentions were dashed when we arrived to find that the changeable weather had moved the performance into the "winter kitchen" of the old house.

For the infrequent plantation visitors, that means the basement, a tiny place that was never going to comfortably hold the attendees.

An older couple walked up with chairs and we told them about the switch.

"Oh, no," the kindred soul said. "I wanted it to be outside!" Didn't we all?

Switch to Plan B.

We strolled down the bank, part timbers set into hill and part steep wooden stairs, and stopped midway down where we were chased down by a videographer for the Hopewell Tourism Board who wanted to interview us about why we were there.

My companion tends to be fairly taciturn and most of his answers involved pointing at me as the source of his trip to Hopewell.

I, on the other hand, was more than happy to wax poetic about why I'd chosen a plantation lawn for Sunday afternoon music.

I fly my geek flag proudly.

Don't get me started on the intersection of culture, history and picnicking with a microphone clipped to my dress.

Press duties done, we finished our descent to the middle of the pier.

With our backs to a good breeze, we admired the stormy sky and began by pulling out cherries to eat as we watched huge gray clouds roll by.

Our idyll was interrupted when a snake swam up, stopped just in front of our dangling feet and looked us straight in the eye.

I do bugs, but I don't do snakes. There was a position adjustment on my part as fish jumped all around us.

Two minutes later a couple comes down to the pier and asks, "Seen any critters?"

Jarringly, yes.

Eventually we went back up the hill and spread ourselves out on a pink spread under a huge, old tree, mere yards from the open door that led to the "winter kitchen."

Under a tree with music wafting our way, we sipped vinho verde, ate fruit and cheese and admired this fine old house by the river.

Soon another couple broke bad and put their chairs under a nearby tree, cracking beers as they listened.

And then another, right by the stairs to the basement.

We'd been involuntary trendsetters.

By the time the concert was winding down, we began to feel rain and packed up, completely unprepared to find out how hard it was already raining outside the protection of the tree.

The further north we went on 95, the more the rain began to taper off.

Dinner followed at Cellar Door where all our choices came off the specials menu.

Twenty four-hour marinated Peruvian chicken drumsticks packed heat and meat and the arugula underneath took its creaminess from the Peruvian ranch dressing.

A spinach salad with blue cheese, white wine poached pear, red onion, tomato, cucumber, and chunks of salt-and-pepper chicken was satisfying and flavorful enough to have been a main dish for any one person.

The braised short ribs were a bit dry but much better with onions, butter-poached red apples and pears in every bite.

Our server had on a  bike polo t-shirt, leading to me asking and discovering my seven two degrees of separation from him.

It never ceases to amaze me just how small this town is. Small good, of course.

Final stop was the Westhampton Theater for "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Elderly and Beautiful)," full of superb English acting, colorful India locations and humor about aging.

"I can't think that far ahead. I don't buy green bananas."

The story of Brits who go to stay in an Indian hotel that's falling apart was charming, funny and understated.

"Everything will be alright in the end and if it's not alright, then, trust me, it's not the end."

Sex was enthusiastically pursued. Long time loves were rediscovered. Expectations were not met and then exceeded.

"Nothing here has worked out quite as expected."
"Most things don't. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff."

The film captured India's unique light, energy, masses of people and colorful beauty as each of the guests explored it differently.

By the charming end of the film, no less than three couples had acknowledged their emotional attachment to their beloved.

Just like a tidy Shakespearean comedy ending, true love triumphs.

Except, in this case, they were on motorbikes in India.

"When one does adapt, the past withdraws."

And they live happily ever after on a pink spread under a tree...assuming the snake doesn't return.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Get Down, Baby

If Chuck Brown was going to go, at least Sir Joe came.

How appropriate that the week that the world lost the go-go pioneer, Richmond was lucky enough to get Sir Joe Quarterman and the Funk Ark to bring the soul and funk to the capital city.

The ticket told you everything you needed to know.

On it, Sir Joe is pictured circa 1973 (the year he had his biggest hit) with a 'fro and porn 'stache.

I heard someone say, "Is that Isaac from "The Love Boat"?" but I thought it looked like a stellar way to spend a Saturday night.

The show is part of Soul Power's fifth anniversary party going on all weekend and soul/funk DJs took turns spinning while people danced before the Funk Ark finally appeared around midnight.

They launched into an extended instrumental, setting the tone for the dance music that was to follow.

The Funk Ark had drums, keys, guitar, bass and horns and while they were decades younger than his original band Free Soul would have been at this point (all, that is, except the bass player, who seemed to be a peer of Sir Joe's), they knew what they were doing.

Horns gotta wail, bass gotta thump.

Once we had been sufficiently warmed up, Sir Joe came in wearing a headband (a late arrival asked me half seriously, "Where do you buy a headband like that?") and a suit and carrying his trumpet, ready to go to work.

And dance. Sir Joe did not hesitate to bust whatever moves were necessary to spread his funk energy over the room.

"Everybody, dance!" he yelled time and time again.

His enthusiasm was contagious and almost all of the crowd was dancing by the second song, which included his version of "Respect."

It was an interesting crowd, more diverse than your usual Balliceaux show, but late arriving and in not nearly the numbers I would have expected.

I was happy to see multiple DJ friends (always a sure sign this is a show that should be seen), an editor dancing his ass off, and a woman with hair that reached below her knees.

As in when she sat down, her braid looped around her hip and rested in between her calves.

She stayed put but the crowd continued dancing non-stop.

A musician I know observed, "This is so awesome, but I think they brought in ringers for dancing. Did you see how good some of those people are?"

I didn't have the heart to tell him that they may not have been ringers, just people responding to hearing true seventies-style funk.

It does make your body move whether you want it to or not and the bass line is going to pretty much decide where it goes.

"I brought you here to have some fun, We're just getting started and you're ready to run." Sing it, Sir Joe!

A curmudgeon came up and complained, "Is it me or do those guys look thirty years younger than in the  pictures?"

Personally, age wasn't a factor for me and I was more than happy with Sir Joe and whatever backing band he'd brought with him to Richmond.

When they finished their set, Sir Joe took leave of the stage and the crowd chanted "Sir Joe! Sir Joe!" until he returned to his rightful place, eventually singing, "It's like thunder and lightening. The way you love me is frightening."

That's an encore for the ages.

And then it was all over and DJ Pari went back to playing vintage funk to keep the party going.

Asking for my check, I was surprised when it arrived with a note written at the bottom, saying, "Stay awesome!"

All I can do is hope.

But after having Sir Joe's funk energy showered over me tonight (that and a loopy girl's drink), I feel sure that getting down, baby, is a sure-fire way to stay awesome.

I will not, however, be wearing a headband.

That I'll leave to Sir Joe.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Following the Coast Road

A decided disadvantage of moving around in a small geographic bubble is losing sight of places just outside the bubble.

Like Enoteca Sogno. I'd been there a year ago and not returned for any better reason than it's outside my usual radius.

My dining partner had never been and wanted some place "light and airy." As a bonus, he'd happily eat Italian 24/7.

Light was streaming in the big front window and we assumed our positions at the end of the bar.

Out lovely barkeep was smart and funny and, after some tasting, delivered a bottle of Sardinian Argiolas Costomolino Vermentino, recommended by a man one month home from a trip to Sardinia.

Fresh-tasting and yet with a certain richness, it was the ideal early evening meal wine.

Listening to the specials, we were instantly enamored of stuffed squid full of chopped tentacles, lemon thyme butter, breadcrumbs and Peccorino.

As she was explaining the re-stuffing of the squid body, our witty server said, "People usually stop me there."

Well, that's unfortunate.

Needless to say, that won our hearts and was followed by the whole Branzino, the exact same dish I'd had when I'd last been there.

No apologies here; when the skin is that crispy and seasoned and the fish that flaky, I set my mouth for repeat.

And the lightly dressed arugula on the plate cut the indulgence of the squid with its pepperiness.

It was a crowd I don't often encounter, but definitely bustling, so we appreciated our tucked-away setting near the back of the bar.

Actually, any place would have been fine when I'm listening to stories of riding the coast road in Sardinia while eating whole fish with my fingers.

Only rule? One cheek a piece.

We figured canoli and tiramisu were for beginners, so we chose the lemon polenta cake with almond which came with balsamic-soaked strawberries.

Think of it as a European version of strawberry jam on a corn muffin.

The perfect ending.

And what have we learned from this, Karen?

Sometimes we have to wander out of our usual circle to be rewarded with cheeks and stories.

Note to self: widen orbit.

Birthday Scrapple

We have established that I'm a fan of the Roosevelt.

Hell, I was a fan of Lee Gregory's cooking back when he was at Six Burner and no one was paying attention.

So of course now that he's cooking up all kinds of fresh takes on southern cuisine, I'm bound to show up in Church Hill regularly.

Tonight it was at that perfect moment when the crowds had not yet descended and there were plenty of spaces at the bar.

We assumed the position and ordered a bottle of Gabrielle Rausse Vin de Gris, a particularly lovely white Pinot Noir.

My favorite Church Hill neighbor was there, the man I'd met the first week The Roosevelt opened.

"It's so good to see you again, Karen," he said very sweetly.

He'd already ordered his dinner and was planning to finish his beer, take his dinner the block home and eat it in the recliner watching his favorite show.

I could appreciate his plan but couldn't ever do it myself.

The early evening light was sublime in the room, highlighting every corner of the room and eliminating the need for artificial light.

And I found friends in attendance.

I wished the birthday boy many happy returns ("They say it's your birthday, Well, it's my birthday, too, yea") and had an animated discussion of the recent Ghostlight Afterparty with another of the attendees.

Bartender T's understated charms were working the bar hard, but he found time to tell us the specials, and thus decide our fate.

We started light with Virginia crab, bacon, grilled corn, avocado and lemon vinaigrette.

Huge hunks of backfin met creamy avocado while tender pea shoots held it all together. A fine start.

One of my old Floyd Avenue neighbors came over to say hello. It was his first time at The Roosevelt and he was happy to see a familiar face.

He admitted his confirmed bachelorhood, gave a nod to strong-willed women and confirmed a reliance on the same restaurants and dishes, all for lack of nerve.

I've seen it time and time again; if they stay single too long, they become cat-petting, Hulu-watching amoebas who rarely leave the house except to run errands (surely a code word for something far more boring even than errands).

Next up was the standout of the evening, a lamb scrapple.

And, unlike in Washington, D.C. where I last ordered scrapple, I wasn't asked if I knew what scrapple was.

Made of lamb belly (oh, my!) and lamb shoulder, cornmeal and spices, it arrived with a soft cooked egg atop it and a divine chimichurra sauce.

I don't care what you think of scrapple, whether you've had it and hated it or accept it as a necessary evil, this scrapple was heavenly.

Coarse and savory, it became something sublime when coated with the yolk of an egg.

It was my companion's first-ever scrapple but his affection for lamb made that a moot point.

On a roll now, we moved on to the pork belly with pickled green strawberries, regular strawberries and pork rinds.

Fatty, sweet, fatty, tart, fatty, crunch - every flavor and every texture came through on this dish.

Yes, pork belly has been done to death, but this was absolutely a new take on it.

Not surprisingly, we also succumbed to one of the evening's specials, fried chicken skin and chicken oysters with a Sriracha/honey sauce.

It's a rare and wonderful week when you get chicken skin two days in a row.

Licking our fingers, we were unexpectedly greeted by friends coming from Eric Schindler Gallery, a place we'd intended to visit tonight had our taste buds not insisted we remain within spitting drooling distance of Lee's kitchen.

Our buttermilk panna cotta then arrived (creamy mouthfeel, slightly tangy flavor and fresh strawberries atop it all ) and we decided to enjoy it outside while chatting up our friends.

Which hill towns should be visited in Italy? Why do middle schoolers think probability and balls are so funny? If a father finds a hangover amusing, does that bode well for the future groom?

There wasn't enough Vin de Gris at The Roosevelt to solve such major issues, but we tried anyway, as customers strolled by and buses charged around the traffic circle in the moonlight.

The waning crescent moon overhead is still in Aries, no doubt gathering its strength to soon deliver Gemini, my sign.

Tonight's feast of scrapple and chicken skin were just the kickoff to my upcoming birthday week celebration.

How long can I stretch out this birthday revelry?

Stay tuned. I'll do my best.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Iron Maidens

As much as I like hearing train whistles in Jackson Ward, I had no idea that railroads were such a popular topic.

It was near standing room only for today's Library of Virginia lecture, "The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War and the Making of Modern America" by Dr. William Thomas.

And trust me, I've been to plenty of their noon lectures and not seen as many attendees.

Even UR's President Ed Ayers, apparently one of Thomas' former teachers, found a seat at the last minute.

Operating from the premise that the railroads were a modern way of unifying the country, he made a strong case for their divisiveness, too.

And while I've no doubt that the railroad-savvy audience already knew, I was a tad surprised to learn that thousands of enslaved men had worked on building railroads in the South.

Railroad companies apparently began by renting the men and moved on to buying them. More cost effective, I'm sure.

Thomas showed a picture of the Appomattox High Bridge, an impressive and picaresque structure, but it was the numbers that stuck in my head.

When built in the 1850s, it cost $167,000, and required 1,000 slaves and 200 horses to build.

We heard about "railroad Republicans" who saw railroads as the future to push their agenda forward.

One of the most interesting topics was that of Northern soldiers as tourists.

Arriving by train or steamboat, these men who'd never ventured south of the Mason Dixon line documented what they saw in this foreign place.

In letters to family back home, they described the locals (a different breed, surely, to them), the flora and fauna.

They were even known to stand on the top of railroad cars and shoot at local animal life (turtles, snakes) like they were on safari or something.

But the railroads had better uses, too; escaping slaves were able to get away in 48 hours instead of two weeks on foot.

Thomas cracked wise when he said, "For those of you who are observant or aren't asleep" before sharing how a former slave became the "Pickle King" once he got to New York.

By the end of his lecture, Thomas had proven that railroads had brought about a great compression of space and time, meaning that the Civil War was not the "local" war of high school history books.

How could it be when people, free and enslaved, were now moving freely between North and South with regularity?

The lecture closed with Thomas explaining how news traveled on the train.

An approaching train that blew a long whistle told listeners that there had been a Confederate victory. A short whistle meant a defeat.

"Everybody sure did listen to that train," a man of the time observed.

I know I sure do.

Best of all, it no longer has to do with victory or defeat.

Just a lovely sound.

Radio for the Eyes

Thank you Ira Glass for letting Taylor Dayne tell it to my heart.

My long-overdue evening with a girlfriend got off to an inauspicious start at the Continental.

It wasn't our first choice since I'd already been there once (enough) but it had the distinct advantage of being on the way to the Modlin Center.

Walking in to a packed bar and nearly full house at 6:00, we inquired about a table.

"Are you going to just drink or eat?" we were asked with no hint of a smile. "You have to eat at a table."

Such hospitality! Such customer service!

After assuring her that we'd come to eat, we were granted a table.

"Do we look like drunkards?" Friend asked me. I made a point not to drink.

The dining room was ungodly noisy, so much so that conversation was all but impossible.

Maybe that's why the portions are so ridiculously large; if you're busy chewing endlessly, who can talk?

Giving up on a convivial meal, I ate my black bean nachos and she her wedge salad so we could move on.

Next stop: "This American Life: Live," an evening of radio brought to life.

Ira Glass' NPR show had been taped last week in NYC and was being re-broadcast tonight for a live audience.

He said the inspiration for the show came with wanting to feature people whose stories were too visual for radio.

Walking in to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, we were also treated to a Superman cartoon and a winsome 2011 cartoon called "Little Boat" before the main event.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Start.

The show's theme was "The invisible made visible," sort of an analogy for everything we were experiencing.

The band OK Go kicked things off by doing a song with audience accompaniment.

Attendees with a smartphone had been able to download an app that allowed them to push one of three icons on cue to make music.

"Everyone who doesn't have a phone, you're the rhythm section," Ira said.

That was me.

With a screen showing us Luddites when to stomp and when to snap and the phone crowd pushing away, we made music with OK Go playing bells and percussion.

It's hard to explain the sense of shared effort, but looking around at glowing phones, concentrating faces and stomping, snapping participants, it felt like an ad hoc street band with a really good bandleader.

They went on to sing "Needing/Getting" ("It don't get much dumber than trying to forget a girl when you love her") without our assistance.

And the show was off and running.

Act 2: Groundhog Day featured comedian Tig Notaro explaining, "I love Taylor Dayne and not ironically."

And did she ever.

She told of seeing her at a party and, as a huge fan, speaking to her ("I don't mean to bother you, but I love your voice").

A year later she saw her at a restaurant and did it again.

"She's the easiest person in the world to run into," Tig deadpanned.

The uber-fan admitted to more sightings and more awkward conversations ("I'm the reason Taylor Dayne made another album") before saying goodnight to the audience.

Before she could walk offstage, Taylor Dayne herself walked on, singing, of course.

She put her arm around Tig, who pretended to sing a little back-up and bust out her Micheal Jackson dance moves. All with a look of disbelief on her face.

After they left the stage arm in arm, Ira came out and said, "Beat that, Car Talk!"

Comedian Glynn Washington told a story of a well witcher looking for water on his god-fearing family's land.

A short film by comedian Mike Birbiglia riffed on NPR with Mike doing an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Once the interview ends, he insists they go for coffee, where she continues to treat him like an interview subject.

He invites himself to dinner at her house and then tags along when Gross and her husband decide to rob a bank.

At no point does Terry Gross stop interviewing Mike.

The film was called "Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh, 2 Ferocious." It was hysterically self-mocking.

At one point Ira explained that he was using his iPad to help him do the show, cuing music and video, but admitting the device was "a little buggy."

"My relationship with Apple Corporation is not the best," he noted with a twinkle in his eye.

There was a piece about the discovery of tens of thousand of negatives of an unknown street photographer, Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny who'd taken pictures daily in the 60s and 70s.

I'd heard about this woman and her prodigious picture taking before tonight, but this was a chance to see many of her photographs.

They were like a diary of her life walking around the city. She was compared to Emily Dickinson, whose poems weren't discovered or published until after her death.

"The living always kick the asses of the dead," it was noted because Maier had been the type who did not want her work seen.

The guy who'd bought the negatives from a storage facility after her death said, "I feel an appreciation she'd never have wanted us to feel."

David Rakoff told his story of growing up gay ("You can't imagine the pleasures of seeing undressed bodies in the locker room in the pre-Internet early 80s") and becoming a dancer.

A tumor behind his collarbone eventually robbed him of the use of his left arm, which he kept tucked in his front pants pocket, but he finished his saga of adjusting to the new him with an eloquent dance in the center of the stage.

More dance followed, this time by two women (one named Monicabill) and set to James Brown's "Get Up/Sex Machine."

In turtlenecks and pleated skirts, they did a frenetic piece that beautifully captured the energy and humor of the song.

My friend and I figured they burned more calories in that one dance than we had taken in at dinner, and that's saying a lot.

Davis Sedaris, in clown make-up and tiny hat, did a rant on bad coffee service in a Vermont hotel.

OK Go did "Do What You Want" ("So you were born in an electrical storm, took a bite out of the sun,saw your future in a machine built for two") and credits began to roll.

Ira had explained that he had to say certain things solely to have them available for when the editing process for radio began.

And I've no doubt that those who hear that show on the radio will find it as fascinating and clever as all his shows.

But they won't have stomped and snapped along to OK Go.

Or seen Terry Gross as a knit-capped bank robber.

Much less seen Taylor Dayne walk onstage to the amazement of the woman who'd just been making jokes about her.

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to revel in an evening like that.

Take that, Car Talk.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lunch as Life Lesson

Timing is everything and never more so than at a restaurant.

Last night's rendezvous had yielded lunch plans with a husband and a bachelor after I'd raved about the chicken skin tacos at Don't Look Back in Carytown.

The only variable was whether or not they'd be on the specials menu today.

Score! They were.

Taking only my word as recommendation, they both got one along with other regular menu items.

A pro at this, I ordered two of them.

The minute our order hit the kitchen, we heard the call to 86 chicken skin tacos.

Apparently our order used the last of whatever chicken skin was in the house.

Sorry about latecomers' bad luck, but very happy to have made it in time to get what we came for.

Although the kitchen claims that all they use on their skin is salt, pepper and oregano, the perfectly seasoned tacos  (traditional style and not any of this gringo abomination) were a huge hit with my friends.

In fact, I got the sense that they were sorry that they'd only ordered one.

I had no such regrets with my double order.

With Scooby Do cartoons playing behind us, we talked about growing shitake mushrooms on a log, balanced ecosystems in Goochland and fish skin that tastes like deep ocean water.

My friend made fun of me for not being able to get up early enough on Saturdays to make it to the South of the James farmers' market.

And compromise my Friday night? Not happening, much as I'd like to experience the market.

We talked about Saturday's bachelor auction, "Single in the City," mainly because one of my friends is being auctioned off.

I gave him major props for his nerve; I'd been asked to be sold and said no, fearful I wouldn't be a hot commodity.

My other friend pointed out that the kind of multi-location date that I'd suggest would not likely be popular with many bidders anyway.

Really? There are people out there who wouldn't want to go somewhere for a drink, somewhere else for dinner, on to an art show and finish up with music?

Apparently not, so better I don't even try.

Once the boys finished their beers and we did a through examination of the excellent tequila menu, we moseyed down the block to Dixie Donuts.

Channel 12 had just left but it was clear from the small number of donuts in the case that lots of people had been in for their first day of business.

They had only three kinds of doughnuts left so we wasted no time in choosing five for the three of us to share.

A chocolate cake doughnut with dark chocolate frosting was covered in toasted coconut and we all got one of those.

We then split two traditional yellow doughnuts with chocolate frosting, just for the sake of research, of course.

The toasted coconut doughnut was a big hit with us all. The dark chocolate kept the sweetness of the toasted coconut in check.

We all agreed that a cake doughnut provides the satisfaction of a piece of cake in a way that no yeast doughnut could ever hope to.

For me, I also like the crusty edges of a cake doughnut.

As we stood there munching and rhapsodizing, a woman came in to buy copious amounts of doughnuts.

When she learned that everything in the case was all they had, she looked crestfallen. She wanted them and more.

"Go ahead and clean us out," the owner told her. "We're ready to close."

So every last doughnut in the case was scooped up into two boxes and for the second time this afternoon, we three breathed a sigh of relief to have ordered before the supply was depleted.

As she went to leave with her loot, a large man approached the shop.

"Uh, oh," my friend said. "Someone's not going to be happy."

When the staff showed him their just-created "Sold Out!" sign, not yet hung, his face fell.

"I've got a little boy in the car who's going to be mighty disappointed," he said sadly.

The woman with the two boxes immediately opened one and insisted he take a doughnut for the boy.

We almost cheered, but were too busy finishing up the last bits of the chocolate-frosted yellow doughnuts to do it without spitting crumbs.

Walking out as they prepared to hang the sign that will inevitably ruin moods all afternoon, we saw other people headed across the parking lot.

"Come back earlier in the day next time so you can try more flavors," they instructed us, mentioning peach cobbler and apricot.

Time and doughnuts wait for no man or woman. Older and wiser now, I won't risk a 2:30 p.m. doughnut run next time.

We'll just call today a learning experience.

Fact is, chicken skin and cake doughnuts are worth getting up a little earlier for.

They certainly guarantee that this someone is going to be happy.

Soundtrack 23

Every life needs a soundtrack.

Whatever mine was tonight, it got kind of quirky at the end.

It would have begun with a lively tune when I met a friend and two of his project partners at Bistro 27.

We got there mad early in order to talk about their project and do some brainstorming.

My pink drinking habit was quite happy with a glass of Briccodi-dei-Tati Rose, which while it resembled strawberry Kool-aid in color, was actually 100% Barbera Rose.

Can't say I'd ever had a Barbera Rose. Cue curious music.

Friend's partners arrived feeling like they knew me, mainly from having been instructed to read the blog before they met me.

Turns out one had started a list from ideas she'd gotten reading it. I saw it as a major compliment.

Over discussion of Russian resettlement, love of potatoes and the benefits of living downtown, we managed to taste a few small plates.

Beef carpaccio, fried calamari, potato croquettes and a chickpea cake made with onions, peppers and eggplant provided something for omnivores and vegetarians alike.

One girl explained that she didn't eat anything she could imagine as a cartoon, so after one bite of calamari, she pushed the plate away saying it reminded her of Ursula in "The Little Mermaid."

Luckily, I haven't seen many cartoons.

The highlight was a southern-fried quail with blackberry demi-glace over grits; the sweet and salty contrast was irresistible.

Music came later courtesy of Glows in the Dark playing at Balliceaux.

Tonight's hook, as if their movie-driven music wasn't enough (and it is), was a movie.

Behind the band was showing Werner Herzog's "Agierre: Wrath of God," a 1972 film about a crazy man leading an expedition into the Amazon.

It was only my third Herzog movie after "Heart of Glass" and "Grizzly Man" but I knew it was worth seeing because guitarist Scott Burton, a movie fanatic, was showing it.

I saw sixteenth century men in suits of armor, swollen rivers challenging them and a lone man in a field blowing a pan flute as the band played.

A man was hung and on the ground beneath his dangling legs sat a soldier rolling a cigarette.

It was especially great when the flute playing aligned with the real sax and trombone playing.

At times, I could read a subtitle on bassist Cam's forearm, but that was about it. It wasn't about following the movie exactly.

Instead we were treated to the kind of cinematic music that felt like it could describe a scene. Many scenes.

Sometimes it worked with the movie, and sometimes it was just incredibly well-played music with a movie playing behind.

I've been hearing these guys play literally for years (four, five?) and they just continue getting tighter and better.

In a perfect world, they'd be doing the soundtrack to my life, swelling here and chasing there.

During intermission, I asked Scott about the choice of movie and he told me that it was the movie that led him to Herzog.

He was young, he saw it for sale and, being a boy, was sucked in by the cool cover (men in armor fighting) and its gold box.

Guys and shiny things, a natural attraction I've been told.

The point is he'd been so impressed with the film once he saw it that it led to seeking out other Herzog films.

And kindly now showing it to people like me who probably need to see far more Herzog.

The band played songs called "Revolver" and "Gary Glitter," but for their last song reached back to 1977 for  "Strawberry Letter 23," executing terrifically.

My favorite number is 23, so I feel like this belongs on my soundtrack.

Between songs, a blond guy walks up to the band and asks their name. "Glows in the Dark," they tell him.

"Yes, you do," the guys says, pointing his finger at them as he exits stage left.


To sustain us, we got a bowl of pistachio gelato, so thick it coated our tongues like nut paste and almost more savory than sweet.

It makes me happy that ice cream season is upon us. Bring it on.

And bring on more nights with a five-piece as good as Glows in the Dark and vintage movies by vaunted directors.

So as the story of my evening winds down, the satisfied soundtrack plays over me walking out into the warm May air, full of gelato and with my ears ringing with pleasure.

Fade out...but wait.

Arriving home, I find a phone message from an old friend waiting for me.

"Sorry I missed you. I was in town. Getting ready to head out to Tillamook, Oregon. Be back in May 2013," says the man from Williamsburg with the Surry County accent.

Gulp. Music turns sad, almost maudlin.

My friend has left for a year and I missed saying goodbye.

I sit down at my computer, finding an e-mail from a Boston friend.

"St. John's bread and wine...London. Offal restaurant. It was amazing. Saw it on Anthony Bourdain. Had the bone marrow. Hope you are well and having lots of dates. You got me thinking about offal."

I can almost imagine him saying it in his distinctive Boston accent.

Wow. A friend I haven't seen in over a year is eating in London tonight and thinks of me.

Soundtrack takes on a lilting note, replacing previous minor key.

Roll credits. herself. Wardrobe by...Diversity Thrift.

Soundtrack by...Glows in the Dark. I wish.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Into the Groove

Fig and Pig.

I've decided that'll be the name of my autobiography. Pretty catchy, huh?

Don't be impressed. It's not original.

Nor did I know when I asked a friend to meet me at the food truck court at the Historical Society what a lot of food three people could consume.

After walking the parking lot to scope out our choices, I decided on Pizza Tonight, as did my friend's friend.

I augmented the white pizza (white sauce and Irish cheddar, which added a certain tang) with sausage while she insisted on the fig and pig, a special of Gorgonzola, prosciutto and fig preserves.

Sweet and salty: absolutely divine.

About to place my order, the girl said to me, "Hey, Karen! I always see you at shows. I've never actually seen you in daylight."

I hope I didn't disappoint.

Meanwhile, my friend scored a softshell sandwich and we got three Asian tacos from the Boka truck: beef, pork and chicken.

We took our feast to the furthermost picnic table spot under the shade of magnolia trees dropping petals and near a clump of four-foot orange lilies.

Then we dove in.

"I forgot what a hearty appetite you have," friend observed as I inhaled.

Just as we were finishing, we noticed the Mr. Softee truck had arrived, but were too full to attempt it.

Instead I shared with my friends some of the chocolate cookies with caramel topping I'd baked for the Listening Room and said my goodbyes.

"Tap your foot a couple of times for me," I was instructed as my friends left for a meeting.

Glad to.

At the Firehouse, I added my cookies to the dessert table where they didn't have a chance of being the star.

Front and center was a plate of pre-release Dixie Donuts.

Hot damn!

These were cake doughnuts (my favorite kind) of the German chocolate variety with a dark chocolate icing and a coconut and nut mixture atop each one.

A discussion ensued about the desirability of a doughnut over a cookie; for me, that's no contest. I'll take doughnuts every time.

All the guys said that cookies rated higher, so maybe it's a gender thing.

I chatted with the Man About Town who refused to believe I had been spotted at RVA Beer Fest in shorts because there was no photographic documentation.

I brought in a Beer Betty as a witness to corroborate.

Tonight's Listening Room was curated by Antonia and was all jazz, making for a change from the usual folkier sounding bands.

The stage benefited from the set for "Dessa Rose," currently playing at Firehouse.

Loosely-woven burlap draped the stairs, hung from the ceiling and gave a rustic vibe to everything.

When long-absent/recently married emcee Chris got up to do the introduction of Near Earth Objects, he mentioned that the drummer was also in a band he's in.

"I don't know how I feel about that," he observed wryly. "I'm not going to say they're better than us."

The three-piece (bass, drums, keyboard) added in a guitarist and flutist (the only female) for several songs, including some from their album "Manual for Self Hypnosis."

I especially liked one furious flute solo, all bent legs and arched back, where she channeled Ian Anderson.

After the break, we were treated to a drum-off with Scotts.

Near Earth Object's drummer Scott began by winding up a music box, leading into trading licks with Scott #2 of the Scott Clark 4-Tet, the next band up.

They challenged each other, they teased each other and afterwards, Scott Clark said, "Thanks for bearing with us on that. It's not often you get two drum sets up on stage."

It was the ideal lead-in for the Scott Clark 4-Tet, although I'm biased because Scott is my favorite local jazz drummer.

They played old (Fred Anderson's "Little Fox Run") as well as new.

"Clockwise," was introduced as "The hit. The radio-friendly version. For any of you who watch early morning TV, this is the song we sang on Channel 6 Tuesday."

They closed with three short pieces, part of a work-in-progress, a suite based on "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."

Both the drums and bass had a definite Native American sound to them and the piece swelled with horns.

When they finished, a friend noted, "In the parlance, that was epic."


Gathering up my plate, now completely devoid of cookies (no doubt due to those with Y chromosomes), I left to meet a friend for a drink.

I found him waiting in the warm rain at a closed Fanhouse, so we walked over to Avalon.

He told me that during a recent discussion of why people drink tequila he'd brought my name up as an example of someone who sips it.

Gasp! I was told that amazement ensured on the part of his friends.

Wisely, I refrained from telling him that I'd even been known to sip it in daylight.

The bartender, who likes to refer to himself as my longest running stalker, greeted us, supplied the Hornitos and kept the music going.

Delightfully, all the music came from cassette tapes tonight because he was tired of the bar's CDs.

What that means is that we had the distinct pleasure of hearing "Like a Virgin" and "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" on cassette tonight.

Not to mention the pleasure of watching him have to turn the tape over halfway through.

As my charming friend noted, "Music used to be so much more interactive with tapes and records."

He schooled me on gramophones, his new passion for '20s-era singers and why his breakfast cereal has to be kept in "the hidden cabinet."

We talked a lot about making the expected choices versus doing what feeds your soul. About Led Zeppelin and pop music. About knowing what you want.

During a discussion of indulging yourself, he pointed out, "You eat whatever you want, though."

I do. And what I frequently want is pig (what my third sister calls "the magical beast").

Hence the title-to-be.

Look for it at your local bookstore.

I promise there'll be bacon at the in-store readings.