Friday, May 31, 2013

21st Century Birthday

The Gemini celebration train rolls on.

In honor of a friend's birthday a few days ago, we were meeting at the VMFA for gallery-walking and lunch.

Despite the fact that I'm at the museum almost every week, the birthday girl doesn't have that kind of free time. So we began in the 20th century galleries, allowing her time to take in the Wyeths, the Hoppers and Hartleys with which I'm so familiar.

The treat for me came when we got to the 21st century galleries because, despite having been in them several times, it had been a while and there were plenty of new additions since my last visit.

But the main wow factor came from who I was seeing on the walls of the VMFA. People I've met and people who live here in Richmond. A photograph by Georgianne Stinnett, with whom I'd shared cheese, salami and an afternoon of conversation during a thunderstorm.

Siemon Allen, whose exhibit at the Anderson Gallery, "Imagining South Africa: Collection Projects" had turned me on to this south African record collector. Gordon Stettinius, owner of Candela Gallery, whom I'd interviewed and heard about the very photographic series hanging on the walls in front of me. Heide Trepannier, the artist whose distinctive works continue to impress with new shows at Reynolds Gallery.

None of these were hanging in the 21st century galleries last time I'd been through. Which just goes to show, I can be there every week of my life and never keep up with the array of creativity on the walls.

Sated intellectually, we headed upstairs to Amuse where not one, but two, servers asked me within 90 seconds if they should get me some absinthe.

I may have a reputation there.

Instead, we stayed chaste with a lovely ladies' lunch of Manakintowne salads (dates, chickpeas, almonds, pea shoots, champagne vinaigrette) and a big bowl of mussels with Surry sausage. While I wasn't availing myself of the green fairy, the bartender was kind enough to pass on information about the Wormwood Society, a group for people like me, apparently.

We talked about what makes couples we know compatible and the proximity of Languedoc to Catalan. And ultimately, because this was a birthday celebration, we finished with chocolate pate, albeit without anything appropriate to drink with it.

Still, some birthdays are special because of what else is going on for the celebrant and this is one of those years for her. Me, I just take the celebrations wherever I can get them, absinthe or not.

And the art was out of this world.

Music Math

It was my kind of musical equation.

Take a band showing all kinds of influences I love - Muse, Interpol, maybe even a little Radiohead- and add in a personable local singer of whom I've been a fan for at least five years and, voila, you get a band tailor-made for me.

Those Manic Seas was a three-piece (nattily dressed in shirts, ties and suspenders) with a twist.

Their lead singer wasn't a real person.

Instead, a TV was mounted atop a mannequin and the singer's face and voice were on TV.

It only took me a minute to recognize the face from my seat atop the back banquette, and I'm sure my delayed recognition was partly due to the way he was singing.

Usually Ben plays the sensitive type when singing and tonight his vocal delivery had far more of an edge.

Because the music kicked ass in a post-punk kind of way.

Suddenly I saw Ben in the crowd, clearly having a good time watching himself sing on TV and he spotted me.

He came over to say hi, a big grin on his face.

"You didn't know I was in every band in town, did you?" he joked.

Well, clearly I hadn't known he was in this one.

Being the nosy type, I had to know how it worked to be singing in a band when you don't actually sing onstage, so I asked.

Turns out the band writes the music and then it's his job to put lyrics to it and sing it on camera.

I told him I was amazed to see him seeing in a way so unlike all the other ways I've heard him.

"It is a challenge for me," he admitted.

That said, if he hadn't told me that, I wouldn't have known it didn't come easily to him.

In between songs, the screen went to static, only to return when the sinuous Interpol-like guitars kicked up again.

By the last song, Ben's face onscreen no longer had the beard he'd had in all the other songs.

Artistic statement or unrelated razor incident? We'll never know.

During the break, a couple of friends came over, all as impressed with the band's sound as I'd been.

We agreed that it's always a treat to hear a new local band for the first time.

The headliners were Snowy Owls, a long-time favorite of mine with the talented Dave Watkins doing groovy light projections for them.

Leader Matt looked different; his hair keeps getting longer but now his beard was gone.

A hirsute trade-off, perhaps?

Announcing, "We're going to play some classic rock," the quartet began a spot-on set of shoegaze.

"Who's ready for summer?" Matt asked of the Thursday night audience before delivering three of the four new summer songs from their upcoming EP.

The shimmery, summery songs were exactly what I want the soundtrack to my summer to sound like.

If my summer turns out as good as those songs, I'm golden.

"This next one is more peppy," Matt said, bringing me out of my summer reverie and back to songs that had him shredding while his hair swung around his face.

They closed with the killer, reverb-laden track "Yr Eyes" while I stood on the banquette for one last view of these guys playing before the evening ended.

Long-time favorite band plus three new songs to herald the recently-arrived summer season equals my second satisfying musical equation of the night.

So my kind of math.

We'll Make Great Pets

Is it time for our annual (or is it semi-annual or tri-annual or something) catch-up-on-what's been going-on-lunch? Does seem like it's been a while.

That's how I ended up at lunch today with an old friend.

We'd met in 1992 when I was working at a radio station and he had co-authored a book with a co-worker.

Back then, he'd suggested we date but it only took one to realize we were better friend material than daters.

I recall he'd made me a cassette tape of Porno for Pyros "Pets" album, telling me then, "Based on their name, I thought they sounded weird enough for you."

At this stage of our friendship, we meet up whenever it occurs to him that it's been too long since we last met.

I got to Garnett's first and was at a table when he came in, took a seat at the counter and told the server he was waiting for a friend.

Apparently it had been long enough that he didn't recognize my back anymore.

He claimed it was my haircut that threw him off.

Over salads for lunch (he informed me he's on a diet that rules out processed foods and sugar), we reminisced about what an incredibly long-ago time ago was 1992, the year we met.

He asked his requisite question ("Do you have a cell phone yet?") and we got off on a tangent about people being out together but on their phones.

He tried to convince me that the beauty of having a cell phone is that when your lunch date is going to be late, they can let you know.

Here's the thing. When my lunch date doesn't show up on time, I realize they're going to be late.

And if they never show up, I just eat lunch without them.

Just proves he was right about how weird I am.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spring Rounds

Somewhere, Stravinsky was smiling, I feel certain.

Tonight was the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the composer's "Rite of Spring," a hundred years since the Paris performance that caused a near-riot.

And tonight was also the night that a reduced version got performed at Gallery 5 for a full, but enthusiastic crowd.

And by reduced, I mean taking a score that I had recently heard performed by 100 symphony musicians down to just one.

Daryl Tankersley had painstakingly spent the past year and a half reducing "Rite of Spring" for a single electric guitar.

Things were just gearing up when I arrived.

Daryl was also having an exhibition of his collages, which were hung on the walls around the room.

Miles Davis poured out of the speakers overhead.

Holmes and his lovely were there, along with another favorite musician and his main squeeze.

I said hello to a jazz critic, a jazz DJ, a couple of symphony musicians and a favorite comics illustrator.

As the bartender pointed out, if only all Gallery 5 shows had such an eclectic crowd.

After much mingling, the lights were lowered and things got started.

It was fascinating hearing the guitar stand in for bassoons and timpani as the piece moved from adoration of the earth through the ritual of abduction to dance of the earth.

The audience was rapt, following the intensity without a sound.

He'd warned us he would be taking a break after part one to re-tune and wipe some sweat.

As a music writer pointed out to me later, Stravinsky had written the piece with instruments alternating parts because certain passages were so strenuous to play.

All the more reason to be wowed by one person playing it solo.

When playing resumed, it was for the exalted sacrifice, whereby the tribal elders watch as the chosen young girl dances herself to death.

Pretty primitive for 1913.

But tonight, it was just wildly intensive guitar playing that delivered the revolutionary rhythm patterns that were so challenging for audiences to accept a century ago.

Tonight's crowd had no such problem, leaning forward and absorbing every note until he finished playing to prolonged applause and hooting.

As impressed as I'd been at the scope of a project that had occupied this musician for almost two years, for the 30-some minutes he was playing, all I could do was lose myself in the music.

Only in Richmond could I be lucky enough to spend the centennial of "Rite of Spring" in a converted firehouse listening to such a magical performance, linking us back to that fateful night in Paris.

It was dancing of the earth of the highest order and I can't imagine what could top it when the bicentennial rolls around.

Some people will always have Paris, but my rite of spring was Richmond.

Just as primal, but without the bad behavior of Parisians.

Happy 100th, Igor.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Want Some Action

You just never know what talents people have.

So when I was invited to a party to celebrate the third anniversary of Amour in Carytown, the last thing I expected was a mirror ball.

But there it was, spinning and casting a moving pattern of light along the walls, while Freddy Mercury danced across the big screen on the bar and a smoke machine filled the room with hazy fog.

What alternate universe Amour was this?

Oh, you know, just celebrating another year of mercantile success in a diametrically opposed way to business as usual.

If you've ever been to Amour, you wouldn't have recognized it tonight.

Guests barely walked in before a glass of fruity and floral La Vielle Ferme Rose found its way into their hand.

Everybody recognized everybody, at least on some level, because everybody was a long-time customer.

The Queen concert on the big screen was merely a talking point as people mingled and sipped.

A favorite couple came over to marvel with me over owner Paul's inner disco DJ.

I heard a great story from the '70s about a new guy at work wearing his white bell-bottoms to work until his supervisor gently suggested he stop that.

Apparently, the white pants showed through what was underneath.

Ah, the '70s, when that was what we worried about.

Just about the time everyone was becoming lubricated, Queen gave way to karaoke.

Oh, yes, serious entertainment.

There were multiple microphones, a wide catalog of songs available and Paul mixing each song into the next seamlessly.

Very quickly, those with a desire to sing became masters of the mics, while the less bold sang nearby, slightly off-mic.

A-ha's "Take On Me."

Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff."

No Doubt's "Don't Speak."

While I was over at the bar with my orange-dressed associate, "Like a Virgin" began playing and the bartender looked wistful.

Addressing the two of us, she said, "This song always reminds me of "Moulin Rouge."

Pause while the woman next to me and I digested that.

She continues, "I picture a red-headed man with a mustache singing this."

We look at each other in wonder.

"Is it a generational thing?" she asks sincerely.

Yes, my dear, if you hear "Like a Virgin" and don't picture Madonna writhing on stage, it probably is a generational thing.

The never-shy owner of a nearby Mexican restaurant was the karaoke ringleader, encouraging others to sing along to the words on the screen.

And wouldn't you just know that we made our way back to more Queen?

Fact: in the case of many songs, the contingent singing along was everyone who had not yet been born when the song came out.

Funny how that works.

DJ Paul was a smiling multi-tasker, putting music on, running to the back to hit the smoke machine and singing along to all his personal favorites.

At one point, a restaurant owner tapped my knee, telling me to come dance with him (insisting "I know you're a dancer") but I preferred to hang in the back, where there were prime observation spots.

It also put me in the thick of the smoke when that got going, making for a fuller anniversary experience.

I love the nightlife
I've got to boogie
On the disco round, oh, yea

I have to appreciate a man willing to let his inner disco out, even just for one evening.

But who would have guessed?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Melodic Little Pill

You can't count on many Memorial Day Sunday throwdowns that involve the spawn of a Beatle.

And yet, here we had one tonight, being thrown down at the Camel.

Risa Binder and Goldrush were opening for the son of Sir Paul McCartney, James.

Given that it's the second day of a three day weekend, I never thought for a minute that the show would start on time (8:00).

And yet when I arrived at 8:23, I caught only the last of Risa's songs before her set ended.

I hate when that happens.

I found a music buddy who works at the National to chat with (heard a fabulous story of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon being led down Broad Street in a shower towel drunk) while Goldrush set up.

I'd already heard from bandleader Prabir that they were playing as a trio, not a quartet tonight, with the assurance, "This is just a tangent. We'll get back to being a quartet."

As huge Beatles fans, I felt sure that Goldrush's adrenaline was running especially hard tonight.

Working off of Prabir's phone for their set list ("We've gone paperless at Goldrush," he said), the band played a bunch of newer songs, including one violinist Treesa and bassist Matt had written for Prabir's birthday.

Mid-song, a threesome came in and proceeded to stand directly in front of the stage.

The problem was, everyone else in the room was sitting, and the only standing people were against the wall.

The man behind me got huffy at his blocked view, demanding of his server, "Is this the way it's gonna be?" to which she shrugged.

"No, really!" he said to show his displeasure at having a potentially blocked view of Macca 2.

I eventually asked the trio to move to the side and they did.

Goldrush sounded really strong and the crowd repaid them with an almost Listening Room-attentiveness.

Or maybe they were just captivated by a band with a purple-haired violinist in the cutest pencil skirt and slingbacks.

When they finished, a friend came over and said, "You were right! I like them better as a trio!"

But as we discussed, some rooms require a bigger sound and then you need your drummer.

Bassist Matt put it best. "I miss my Gregs. The trio sound is the sound of my loneliness."

Kind of breaks your heart, doesn't it?

During the break, I saw Prabir signing CDs for fans. So cute.

The stage was set for James McCartney's set with a piano, lots of guitars and even more candles.

"Ooh, very atmospheric," a friend said. "I like it."

I like how he rhymed "right" and "shite," but then, I'm a language geek.

In fact, I liked a lot of his British phrasing, including the title of the second song he did, "Life's a Pill."

Life is a pill
Give it to me now

An inordinate number of his song titles were one word - "Angel," "Bluebell," "Wisteria-" and, yes, he looks a lot like Dad, especially around the eyes and mouth.

Especially when his lips were pursed.

His show attire was a black t-shirt with leather braces hanging at his side.

"Thanks for coming out," he said by way of greeting. "I do have a song called "Virginia" on my new album, but I'm not gonna play it tonight. Just thought I'd mention that."

And then he launched into "You and Me, Individually."

Hey, he's Paul McCartney's son; he can do whatever the hell he pleases, I'm sure.

And he wanted to do Neil Young's "Old Man," full of lyrics one could take any number of ways.

Old man, look at my life
I'm a lot like you were

The man had a powerful voice (good DNA, you know), and whether he was playing guitar or piano, a talented musician.

What he wasn't was much of a talker.

At one point fairly far in, he joked, "I'll try not to not talk a little. Okay, this song is "Snow" and it's about spiders and things."

After pulling his braces up, apropos of nothing, he announced, "Who likes awkward conversations? Yea, I do, too."

So that explained that.

He closed his set with the single, "Strong as You," from his new album, saying, "I wrote this while listening to "Here Comes the Sun."

Hard for me to say 
How happy I am
Happy man
I am strong enough
To make it through
I am strong enough
Strong as you

When he returned for his encore (led by an assistant with a flashlight, no less), he did three songs for the crowd who hadn't budged when he walked off.

After doing "New York Times," he said, "If that song was my penultimate song, this song is my grand finale. It's called "Thinkin' About Rock and Roll."

I doubt there was ever a moment in his life when he could think about anything else.

Which made it my de rigueur Memorial Day Sunday throwdown.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

No Horses, No Balls, No Regret

In the further interest of celebrating my birthday, I was invited to a polo game today.

Picnic lunch in hand, we drove to King Family Winery for the kickoff of a season of Roseland polo.

The line down the gravel driveway was long and when we got to the front, we saw why.

A woman was patiently explaining to each carload that the polo match had been canceled due to the rain-soaked field.

But, she made sure we knew there would be a rugby match instead.

Okay, so no horses, but another unlikely sport.

My first thought was, I've seen polo played a couple of times and I've never seen rugby.

Good enough.

We parked the car under a drooping pine tree and addressed the first priority: acquisition and release.

After the drive, I wanted to find the facilities plus we needed to get a bottle of wine from the tasting room.

The bathroom line was already ridiculously long, but we used our time in line to buy a bottle of Crose' Rose, so it wasn't in vain.

Bucket and bottle in hand, we marched back down the driveway past license plates from Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey and set out a blanket, chairs and foodstuffs near a boisterous group who may or may not have been from New Jersey.

My guess: yes.

Especially after I overheard one of the women ask someone, "What is it with Virginia and sunscreen? I see kids over there lining up to get sprayed with sunscreen. It's a beautiful day, no one's going to get burnt."

She was correct, it was a beautiful day, cloudless and incredibly sunny.

I figured the UV factor was probably a full-on 10.

I know I had SPF 50 slathered all over every inch of skin.

One of her friends responded, "Well, so-and-so said she once got burnt when it was only 40 degrees outside!"

Jaws dropped.

All I'm saying is, the people in front of us were not the brightest.

Meanwhile, on the polo field we saw dogs frolicking, balls being kicked, Frisbees tossed and many kites being flown.

But no sign of rugby players.

And, horror of horrors, we heard a rumor that it was going to be a touch rugby game.


From a full-contact sport with the slogan, "The only pain in rugby is regret"?

Halfway through the Rose, I wandered down to the Port-a-potties by the horse barn where I found a far shorter line than the one inside.

When my turn came, I took care of things with my usual expediency (I am known for my brief visits), meriting applause and the remark, "Thanks, Speedy!" from the guy in line behind me when I emerged very shortly thereafter.

Everyone has to have a talent.

Back at camp, we sipped our wine (finding the 2012 more cranberry-tasting than grapefruit, which was our primary memory of the 2011), and watched the familial tableaux unfold around us.

A preppy-looking guy talking to a bunch of girls about his Cessna.

A trio of very buttoned-down looking business types, all with tattoos on their white legs.

Two little red-headed girls whose skin was burning in the sun before our very eyes.

A stocky kid from the New Jersey clan (white Oakley sunglasses, braided red and white necklace, basketball shorts so long they met his socks) wandered over to the tree under which we were sitting.

Fingering it and obviously looking for conversation, he asked me, "Why is the tree wet?' as he touched where several branches had recently been cut off.

I explained sap to him while the grown-ups with whom he'd come got progressively loopier.

After a couple hours eating, sipping and observing, we got the official word.

The rugby game wasn't going to happen.

I can't say I was sorry to miss the abomination of touch rugby, though.

Even without a game, the winery had been an ideal picnic spot for a sunny, breezy afternoon.

Driving out, I saw white chairs set up in front of an arbor and figured a wedding was in the offing on this beautiful night.

Rounding the bend in the driveway, I spotted a plein air painter perched on a hill recreating the pond below.

So the polo had been canceled and the rugby game never materialized.

It was a gorgeous day to drive to the mountains and have a birthday picnic.

Or, as the haters might say, yet another way for me to celebrate my never-ending birthday.

And the problem with that is...?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Movie

My neighborhood has become a ghost town, slowly emptying out.

Everyone seems to have gone somewhere else while I'm still here.

With nothing better to do, I suggested a movie to a fellow stay-here for our evening's entertainment.

After scoping out the choices at Criterion, I landed on "Mud" because the critical reviews were off the charts.

Believe me, I ordinarily avoid movies featuring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.

So despite knowing little about the film , we set off to see it.

To our great surprise, the line for tickets stretched to the door.

Tickets, popcorn and Milk Duds in hand, we walked into a theater almost completely full.

Who knew so many people chose to spend the shank of the Memorial Day weekend closed up in a movie theater?

I mean, I've got an excuse; I've been out celebrating my birthday for over a week now.

Turns out it was a testament to how good the movie we were about to see was.

It was a two hour and ten minute movie and yet it never lagged or felt long.

It was a tried and true coming-of-age story and yet never felt trite.

It was romantic despite there being no romance other than talk of it.

It was a valentine to life on the river in Arkansas, someplace I would never have expected to convey so movingly.

It was never predictable and always compelling.

Scratch that, the one predictable part was that Matthew McConaughey did finally take off his shirt and show his pecs.

Other than that, by the end of the movie, I knew exactly why the theater was full.

What could be better than a 21st-century Huck Finn movie to usher in the arrival of summer?

78 Laments

How many archivists does it take to make a killer afternoon?

One if it's Chris King. The Grammy Award-winning record collector/producer was at my neighborhood record store this afternoon, spinning his rare 78s for the first time in public.

I could tell it was a big deal to lots of people by the array of music geek friends who showed up for it. Steady Sounds' owner Marty introduced Chris, promising that, as DJ, he would talk about each record.

"But not too much," he qualified quickly. "Actually there's gonna be a Power Point presentation. It won't be all that long, maybe four hours."

Joking aside, Chris proceeded to play some amazing 78 records from his wondrous collection. Yes, there was snap, crackle and pops coming from the record players and that was part of the point.

Every song he played had such history and depth to its sound. He started with a song recorded in 1930 in Athens before moving on to a 1929 Cajun song, "To Love and to Lose" from his "Aimer et Perdre" compilation.

Chris' low-key demeanor belied his humor, like when he played a 1939 Turkish tune, drolly noting afterwards that the songwriter "died the next year...of syphilis."

There was a loss.

We heard Greek laments, a genre which Chris had an affinity for (and the source of one of his records), including the only known copy of 1933's "Lament for the Castle." Only known copy, did you read that right?

That was a big part of the appeal of hearing Chris play these songs because I may never get another chance to hear them again. To be fair, several of his compilations records were for sale, as notable for their R. Crumb artwork as for the audio gems on them.

And that was the other cool part of the afternoon; Chris had brought some of the original artwork Crumb had done and it was hanging on the walls for all to see. Favorite compilation title: "Five Days Married and Other Laments."

Me, I was one hour listening and other exaltations. It was a fortuitous ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Just don't get me started on five days married.

Moon Luck Struck

Maybe the full moon gave us luck.

Last Friday, my girlfriend and I had tried unsuccessfully to get rush tickets to see "Red" at Virginia Repertory.

Sadly, when the box office opened, they had only one ticket left and there were two of us.

We waited a week and tried again.

Tonight I arrived before the box office even opened and patiently waited eleven minutes so I could try again.

Not only did I get two tickets, but two in the front row.

Super moon score.

Tickets in hand, I scooped up my girlfriend and we headed back to Magpie for dinner.

It was early enough that we made happy hour, with deals on wine as well as small and medium plates.

The luck was just flowing our way tonight.

We took seats at the bar, thrilled to hear that all wines qualified for happy hour prices.

Despite today's drop in temperature, a Spanish Rose caught my eye and we both ended up with Finca Venta D. Quijote 2011 Rose for its pleasing blend of fresh strawberry and nice acidity.

The bartender tried to woo us to the dark side by letting us taste a blackberry/pear cider very close in color to our Rose, but not nearly as much to my taste.

"Does this have any alcohol in it?" my friend asked after several eminently quaffable sips, clearly tempted.

"Yea, and that's the problem with it," chuckled the barkeep.

We listened to the specials and ordered because we had an 8:00 curtain, but went right back to our discussion once the food was in process.

Friend was doing a mild rant about cultural literacy and her frustration at bringing up things that needed explaining.

In a reference to absinthe at work, she was met by blank stares.

She tried going at it from various angles- art, history, liqueurs, death by wormwood, the Lost Generation, ex-pats- to no avail.

"I finally reduced it to black jellybeans and then they got it," she said in her exasperated way.

Don't get me started.

The food was a worthy distraction from Luddites.

Because it's that time of year, we couldn't resist an asparagus special with Georgian olive oil, ham crumbles and a big, fat poached egg on top.

She had scallops while I went straight for the sausage of the day, a seafood/bacon sausage of crab, scallops, snapper and bacon, served with chevre and pear butter.

The richness of the sausage had my girlfriend saying, "It tastes like meat!"

But it was just the prelude to my next course, snapper collar, served with Romesco and micro basil.

Simply prepared with a crusty skin, the rich collar meat was made even better with the fragrant Romesco and it wasn't long before I was picking pieces off the bone with my fingers.

When the chef came out, I raved about the snapper and, in true fisherman style, he used his hands to show us just how big the whole snapper had been on arrival.

In any case, that explained the large collar.

Not long after, a man came over and asked if I was Karen.

I'd met him and his wife at Secco months ago and we'd since had e-mail contact but hadn't seen each other again.

He's a delightful ad man who managed to compliment us both for multiple reasons within the span of five minutes.

His first order of business was the State of the Plate issue, which he said made them realize they were behind in their new restaurant-going.

Seems he'd spotted me when we'd come in but wasn't sure until his wife confirmed my identity.

I remembered how much I'd liked her when he continued to talk to us even after food started arriving at their table and she looked over and told him to take his time with us.

"I better go because she really will eat it all," he said and since she's a former chef, I didn't doubt it.

By that time, we had to go, too or risk missing our delayed evening with Rothko.

Virginia Repertory was doing "Red,"  a play about the period in artist Mark Rothko's life when he was painting murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the then-new Seagram's Building.

The period when he was essentially selling out.

But the play was about him taking on a young painter as his assistant and the dynamic of the conversations as the up and comer challenged the old man.

Everyone likes everything nowadays.

Because the play took place in 1958-9, there was much talk of TV's insidious role and how art had become interior decoration.

There's tragedy in every brushstroke.

Even music became part of the discussion because Rothko played classical music throughout the play while his younger assistant once had the audacity to put on Dave Brubek.

When you pay the rent, you can pick the records.

I hadn't anticipated how much actual painting there was to be.

Canvases were primed, brushes dipped and flung and wet paint ended up all over the floor and their clothing.

It's the flashiest mural commission since the Sistine Chapel.

The two-man show had been perfectly cast, with David Bridgewater completely inhabiting the  bigger-than-life artist while Maxwell Eddy's understated performance was a revelation as we watched his character grow in confidence and audacity.

Most of painting is thinking.

For me, most of the play was an art history lesson, as I gleaned all kinds of new information about Rothko.

We had nothing to lose and a vision to gain.

By the end, Rothko pulls out of the project, giving back the commission, so that he can keep his art from being housed in a commercial space, a soul-less restaurant where pretentious people won't care about it.

It was essentially an incredibly well-acted story of artistic integrity.

And best of all, both of us got all the references, so no over-explaining was required as we left the theater only to be knocked out by the night sky.

Better to admire the perfect full moon that brought me so many good things tonight.

Seems to me I've got nothing to lose and a vision to gain.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Eccentric's Birthday

We'll call it a good birthday because I'm just now getting around to blogging it.

Holmes and his honey invited me over for a bottle of Mumm Brut Prestige to kick off the night.

Mid-sips, the couple presented me with a well-chosen birthday postcard done by a German artist.

The scene of cave people having a cocktail party while guests admired the cave paintings on the walls was hysterical to the art historians in the room.

And we outnumbered the non-art historians two to one.

From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to the VMFA and Amuse.

When I insisted on going in my favorite entrance, the Boulevard doors, Holmes accommodated me, but later grumbled, "Why do I surround myself with eccentrics?"

Um, because we're more fun than non-eccentrics?

Upstairs at Amuse, we began in the mod green chairs in front of the windows so we could watch the dramatic clouds rolling in, but soon moved to the bar.

Holmes never misses an opportunity to commandeer his stool.

Since the staff knows my taste, almost immediately I was offered an absinthe drip, but even I knew enough not to begin with the green fairy.

Instead we went the Sauivignon Blanc route while watching the magnificent sunset in the mirror behind the bar.

As the navy blue clouds gave way to the last of the sunset behind the Pauley Center, we talked about birthday wisdom.

My favorite, a brilliant nugget from the manager, went like this, "You're only as old as people treat you."

I feel really good about that, knowing how people treat me.

We noshed on curry-fried oysters and a cheese plate, eventually getting to the absinthe that is the inevitable end of every visit there.

How better to feel like van Gogh while admiring the view in the bar mirror, so much like a Manet?

Already pleasantly loopy, we left the museum for nearby Amour.

Because it was my birthday, we began with something pink and pretty, a sumptuous cocktail of fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice and Rose.

As we discussed with the pourer, the grapefruits are over-ripe and at the end of their season, and the Roses are young and just arriving, making for the perfect blend of old and young.

I'm sure there's a birthday metaphor in there somewhere, but damned if I can find it, right now anyway.

There were only two other people at the bar, both men, one at each end.

Plopped in the middle of them and wrapped around the corner of the bar, we were an interruption to their evenings, any way you looked at it.

The pompous-looking one ignored us entirely while the other one eventually joined in, wishing me a happy birthday.

Heimberger Riesling, crisp and earthy, accompanied a first course of French onion soup while Django Reinhardt played softly in the background.

Holmes went with pork and duck rillettes, the curly-haired one had a tarte and I went straight for the veal sweetbreads in a sherried cream sauce in puff pastry.

"That's the best choice!" our server whispered to me, making his way to the kitchen.

Holmes' phone rang and I was handed the phone so a long-distance chum could wish me all the best.

My guilt was huge, since I have no use for cell phones in a restaurant setting.

That led to a discussion with the owner about another Carytown business owner who'd come in recently and talked non-stop on his phone throughout the meal.

First the owner asked him to go outside and when he continued talking, his server had gone over and reminded him what the owner had said.

When he got miffed and left, the remaining customers applauded.

That's the world I want to live in.

We sat there eating and talking until it was dessert time, requiring a festive changeover to Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace.

Since I was the birthday girl, I had both chocolate caramel sea salt creme brulee and raspberry lambic sorbet.

For that matter, the three of us finished with one perfect madeleine each, while "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" played.

I'd say I was being treated exactly like the age I am.

I'm going to go with ageless and call it a birthday.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Smells Like Birthday Spirit

You can't start your birthday the same as every other day.

No, when it's your day, you have to make sure everything is exactly how you want it to be.

That meant eschewing my usual walk on city streets for something far more pleasurable.

Honeysuckle and rushing water.

Ideally, I would have woken up at the beach today, but absent the sound of crashing waves, I happily started my day with a walk on Belle Isle.

I have to admit, I was a tad surprised at the number of cars already at the parking lot on a Thursday morning.

Walking across the pedestrian bridge, I was passed by a jogging couple, him saying to her, "Are you making fun of my colloquialisms?"

Since all she did was laugh, I have to assume she was.

Further on, I got behind a group of high school students, likely truants since school's still in session, and one of the guys decided to show his prowess at the monkey bars.

Using the overhead scaffolding that protects pedestrians from debris falling from the real bridge overhead, he swung from bar to bar until his sweaty hands gave out.

He apologized for holding me up when he came down, but I was happy to watch such exuberance on a muggy morning.

Over on the island, there were already lots of bikini-clad girls trying to get skin cancer laying out on the rocks as well as a surprising number of guys fishing.

Walking along the rushing rapids made for a delightful breeze which brought the scent of the surrounding honeysuckle straight to my birthday nostrils.

Once around the bend and into the backside of the island, I felt like I'd stepped into a rain forest.

It was muggy, much more still and practically like walking through pea soup, so I wasted no time in getting back around to the cooler side of the island.

So while joggers and bicyclists continued making their loops, I did a couple of fragrant strolls up and down the river side, greeting some of the same people coming and going.

It's my birthday. I can do whatever I want.

Not Dead Yet

Leave it to a fellow Gemini to give me the best birthday eve celebration ever.

Because, as we all know, the first rule of a birthday eve is to tease the imminent holiday, but not overshadow it with too much celebration, lest it eclipse the main event.

Only a fellow Gemini can walk that fine line.

First she picks me up, tells me how nice I look and then she takes me to Enoteca Sogno.

The restaurant is not too busy, the owner greets us at the door and we decide to sit at the bar when he says he will be our server.

Because we got a late start, we have already missed out on the soft-shelled crab appetizer, but not the other specials.

"We're going to eat until we die," my friend announces, apropos of nothing.

Can do.

There are two Roses on the menu and in appropriate birthday eve-fashion, we ask for one of each.

My favorite is the Argiolas Serra Lori, tasting of berries and herbs, although the other Rose (made from Nebbiolo) is a close second, especially once food arrives.

Friend engages the owner in talk of Italy and it is a discussion that continues unabated throughout the night.

I have made only one visit to Italy, my friend has made two and our host boasts of sixteen, a number we cannot begin to compete with.

He mentions friends about to embark on their first trip to Italy, planning to spend three days each in Florence, Rome and Venice.

I've only been to Italy once and even I know what a bad idea that is.

Three days in Florence?  Three days?

I spent a week and it wasn't close to enough, so how could any human being be satisfied with a mere three days?

Our host seems to think they just want to be able to check off three Italian cities off their bucket list.


But it's not our problem, so we move on to more pressing issues, like food.

She starts with a beet and orange salad while I jump straight to meat with a plate of Olli salumeria, letting the kitchen choose my three varieties.

I end up with three Italians: Toscano (notes of fennel), Napoli (smoked) and Molisano (pepper and garlic), all with just enough fat to make the wine come alive.

As we eat the salami, we hear that Olli is planning to sell their products in B.J.'s and a little piece of our souls die when we hear this.

Really, Olli, the sublime meats to be found in high-end restaurants all over the country is now available in a discount store?

This is not good birthday eve news.

For distraction from this tragedy, the chef comes out and we discuss the Lebanese Food Festival, an event he attended that left him in a food coma.

Now we want our own.

For our next course, she chooses rockfish with a side of asparagus with butter and Parmesan and another of spaghetti while I ask for scallops with a balsamic reduction.

I switch to the other Rose while she continues to sip her first glass, good girl that she is.

My scallops are meaty and sweet, the ideal complement to my Rose.

Even though most of the dinner crowd is leaving, we are soon joined by a group of wine geeks spouting wine talk in that way that makes mere mortals wonder what they're talking about.

On the other hand, they are guys and we are women and they are ordering very nice wines and are soon offering to pour us some of what they're drinking.

My friend demurs while I happily avail myself of their generosity.

2006 Voliero Brunello is the first thing they offer me and the nose alone is worth whatever conversation they want in return.

It has a gorgeous, flowery nose and a long finish and when I am offered a second taste, I happily accept.

Generous wine geeks are the best.

Friend and I were feeling uncomfortably full (possibly near death, the stated goal for the evening) but I reminded her that there's a always a corner for dessert.

Especially on a person's birthday eve.

That came in the form of sea salt and caramel boudino with nut brittle.

As the soon-to-be birthday girl, I was expected to finish more than half, which turned out to be more challenging than you (or I) might think.

But, trooper that I am, I persevered, along with some help from a 2006 Casanova di Neri Brunello, which the wine geeks said would be even more stellar by 2018.

The thing is, birthday eves are all about the here and now, so I had no interest in waiting until 2018 for wine or anything else.

It's enough I have to wait till tomorrow to begin the serious celebration.

Okay, not so serious. I am, after all, a Gemini.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

And There It Goes

Tonight was the calm before the storm.

I have birthday plans for the next few days, every night.

And while I intentionally plan it so my birthday gets celebrated for as long as possible, I know from previous years that it's wise to take a wee rest in the midst of the reveling.

So that was me tonight, sedately having a Tennessee dog (mustard, onions, chili, cole slaw) and chocolate shake at the bar of City Dogs when a panicked-looking guy came in.

"We were just here and my friend's sister left her green cell phone here," he said breathlessly, indicating the bar area immediately adjacent to where I sat.

The guy on the other side of the indicated area looked at me and we shrugged; neither of us had seen a green phone when we'd sat down.

We all checked the floor, the bar stools and nothing.

The bartender had the bright idea of telling the guy to call the girls' phone, but he said he didn't know her number.

That was when the friend and her sister, the one who'd lost the phone in the first place, came rushing in.

Fortunately, she knew her own number and gave it to the bartender to call, hoping to locate the phone that way.

He called, we heard nothing.

Just then an older guy with a backpack comes in the restaurant holding a green phone out in front of him.

Turns out he'd found it in the grass on Main Street, ringing, and brought it into the nearest business.

The girl who'd lost it snatched it out of his hand, saying, "Thanks, crazy guy," and flouncing out of the restaurant with her phone and friends in tow.

The guy two seats away who'd helped me look around for the phone looked at me incredulously.

I'm sure my look was identical.

She could have at least bought the guy a $1 RVA dog, I said to him, still amazed at her rudeness and sense of entitlement.

"You mean instead of calling him "crazy guy" for no good reason?" he asked.

Clearly some people were raised by wolves.

I left that crowd for something more civilized, the Listening Room.

Clearly the planets were still out of alignment, though, because despite arriving at 7:32, someone was already sitting in my seat.

Okay, it's not my seat but it is the one I always sit in.

Plan B, the seat directly in front of my usual.

Also unusual tonight was that there was no set decoration onstage because Firehouse Theater is between shows.

Playing first tonight was man-about-town Prabir, playing songs off his new album, "Once Upon a Breakfast Menu."

It took him no time at all to play the funny guy, asking the crowd, "How're you guys doing?" before putting out his hand to stop us from answering.

After all, there's no talking at the Listening Room.

He did a song called "Clouds" about reaching for a CD ("what an archaic reference") and one called "Sept. 7" with an analogy for the ages.

"I took out a knife and carved up this life."

After multiple exotic tunings, Prabir called a friend up on stage so they could have a bowl of cereal together while we watched.

It was breakfast as performance art, only with Silk because Prabir has apparently recently gone vegan.

He also invited violinist Treesa and bassist Matt up to augment a few songs and promote their show Sunday night.

"We're playing a show with Paul McCartney's son at the Camel Sunday night," Prabir said.

"He has a name, you know," Matt reminded him.

"Yea, ca-ching!" Prabir retorted, grinning.

Fortunately, it's okay to laugh at the Listening Room.

Next MC Chris introduced Mohawk Lodge, a Canadian band with most of the members on their way back to Canada.

The tour that had begun April 29 had the rest of the band members leaving in the band van to return to Canada today while leader Ryder continued solo in a rental car ("It's kind of tough but I couldn't not play a show").

Taking the stage with his electric guitar, he took a moment to listen to the silence and observed, "Wow, this is an amazing room."

There was a lot going on his songs, despite him subbing for an entire band.

Favorite lyric: "I call timber because everyone I know is falling."

He took requests from the audience and played them, to his credit.

"Canadian Girl," was requested, along with "Calm Down," about which he said, "I haven't played this in a really long time."

I'm sure I wasn't the only one touched when he said, "I woke up today and my grandmother died and I'm going to play some songs. This one is for my Dad."

He played a couple of songs that had been written when he was part of a songwriters' conference in Berlin, including a political one despite not being a political person, he said.

"You guys are rad," he said, promising, "I'm coming back to Virginia."

We should be so lucky.

During intermission, I heard a friend's report on the new Mellow Mushroom in Carytown.

He gave it a thumbs up for the extensive beer list and vegan cheese available, neither of which matter one bit to me.

I am curious to see the Plan 9 tribute wall, though.

The last band of the night was My Old Ways, whom I'd seen at the Listening Room last June.

Made up of members from a bunch of local bands, they feature acoustic guitar, pedal steel, bass, drums and backup vocals/shaker.

Playing drums and every kind of percussion he could get his hands on was Willis, the guy who adds immeasurably to any band he plays in.

And he has dimples.

There were sad songs, pirate jokes, a song called "Dance" ("I just want to dance") and one written only two days ago, "And There It Goes."

I have to admire a band willing to debut something so new, although the lead singer acknowledged, "This last song we're going to play may be a disaster."

Favorite lyric: "Can we just go back to 2003?"

As evocative a lyric as that is, I don't really want to.

I've already carved up the last ten years and that knife is a tad dull at the moment.

Maybe I'll call timber instead.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Family Feud

I missed the mini-series but caught the lecture.

Author Dean King was at the Library of Virginia talking about his book, "The Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys."

Of all the unlikely things to come away with, my favorite was about trees.

King showed a wealth of compelling old photographs, including one of a Hatfield patriarch in front of the most massive tree you can imagine.

I'm talking California redwood massive, a tree so enormous (the diameter was 13') I couldn't imagine it was a Virginia photograph.


As King told us, that part of the country used to be covered in massive, old-growth trees, all of which were cut down, floated downstream and used to rebuild the south after the Civil War.

Who knew?

Unlike me, most of the crowd had seen the inaccuracy-filled mini-series, so King set about correcting some fallacies.

With no misinformation, I was just curious about the story, one I knew about only on a surface level.

Like, I hadn't known how politically powerful the families were.

I certainly hadn't known that the Hatfields were one of the first families of Virginia, having fought in the Revolutionary War.

Then there was the media component.

The period when the feud was in full flower was the same as when Jack the Ripper was terrorizing London, so the feud story was the American equivalent, headline-wise.

The New York Times even sent a reporter to cover the story, for crying out loud.

And here I thought they were just a bunch of redneck moonshiners.

Well, they were (with the 20th century addition of ATVs), only now they have a museum in what looked like a double wide trailer and which King described as " a really sad place."

Here's the kicker: after September 11th, the families made peace and now they have a yearly reunion, which King attends.

There's always a tug-of-war at the reunion, and the Hatfields have won the past few years.

How can I miss a noon lecture when I'm all but guaranteed to learn the most arcane stuff?


Monday, May 20, 2013

Between Parentheses and Marcona Almonds

Not to be self-centered-sounding, but this week is all about me.

With my birthday falling sooner rather than later, I corralled a girlfriend to help me kick off the week's festivities.

We'd no sooner made our meet-up arrangements when another friend e-mailed with the directive, "If you are not doing anything this evening/afternoon (now, I guess), come meet up with me at Bistro 27 tonight."

Since the message arrived an hour and a half before I was due to pick up my girlfriend and celebrate myself, I was more than happy to go over to 27 and meet up with a friend.

It was early, it was Monday night and I was one of the few occupants of the restaurant beside my friend.

Vinho Verde in hand. I listened as he told me about his stressful day/week/month while I made empathetic noises.

You want to hear about stress? Don't get me started.

Mid-conversation, a guy at the end of the bar interrupted, already aware of my plans because he was a co-worker of the friend I was soon to meet.

He knew my name, where I was headed and who I was meeting.

Small world.

He was fortifying himself with cocktails before setting off for a four-hour session to have his massive back tattoo worked on.

Somebody's gotta keep us as the #3 most-tattooed city in the country and it's certainly not going to be me, so I appreciate die-hards like him.

By the time I finish my wine, it is time to go collect my friend.

Because she is so awesome, she will not allow herself to be collected until we kick off my birthday celebration chez her.

She is pouring Cristalino, a smoky and pungent Cava that went down easily, and she'd even laid out the most sublime take on one of childhood's most distinctive treats.

Growing up, a party standard was peanuts and M & Ms, that most accessible of all sweet/salty combinations, if a bit tired after decades of service.

Friend took this classic combo to another level by substituting exquisite Marcona almonds with sea salt for the standard goobers.

As we sat there sipping Spanish bubbles, she handed me a present, already taking the entire evening far beyond what I'd imagined (i.e., lots of wine and some good food).

It was a book, making for the best possible way to kick off a birthday week celebration.

Written by Roberto Bolano, a writer who's been described as the most controversial and commanding figure to have emerged since Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a personal favorite of the highest magnitude),  "Between Parentheses," a collection of essays, articles and speeches 1998-2003, according to her, "just screamed Karen."

Now there is a compliment of the highest order.

After indulging in bubbles and literary talk, we set out for Italian pastures, namely Dinamo.

It was my second time and her first and we took bar stools rather than a table, the better to whisper in each other's ears about birthdays, being stood up and adjusting to silence.

After Vinho Verde and Cava, there was nowhere to go except red, so I chose Masciarelli Montepulciano, a dry but intensely perfumed Italian that perfectly suited my birthday needs.

We began with tortellini in brodo, a soup of gigantic noodles and the most flavorful broth, while discussing rising rent costs in the city.

Looking at the menu, she raised her eyebrows at me, "You're getting the tongue, aren't you?"

For my next course, I chose veal tongue with parsley sauce, which was more like a pesto, and offered a rich component to the tongue.

My girlfriend, less adventuresome about what she puts in her mouth, took the tiniest bite of tongue and sauce, but only so I wouldn't give her a hard time.

She'd ordered flat bread with hearts of palm and chickpeas, a huge serving of antipasto that, at least from my bites, was a beautiful marriage of flavors.

Sipping our Montepulciano, we admired the sheer size of the espresso machine (sometimes size does matter) and Friend informed our server that I'd had the audacity to spend two weeks in Italy and not once taste coffee of any kind.

Her horror was evident.

I tried to compensate by ordering chocolate espresso torte, a rich-tasting dessert that came with an option for whipped cream and berries.

My friend made an excellent point.

"I've had an elegant sufficiency," she stated for the record, using a phrase her beloved uncle apparently did, meaning nothing more than chocolate (and an espresso) was required at that point.

Luckily for me, the non-coffee drinker, I still had wine to accompany my chocolate as the discussion looked at what's ahead.

Honestly, I have no idea.

Friend was kind enough to say that, "You've an elegant sufficiency of culture, culinary morsels and conversations most hours."

This night or any, much less during my birthday weekend, what more could I hope for?


Chasing the Years of a Life

Show tunes met birthday party tonight.

The monthly Ghost Light Afterparty was also a celebration of pianist Sandy's 50th birthday.

You might not know if you've never been, but Sandy is the heart of the GLAP, playing any music that's put in front of her and doing it with aplomb and a grin.

Appropriately things were gussied up withe the tables covered in tablecloths and lamps set on them as part of the set decoration for "La Cage aux Folles," which is playing at Richmond Triangle Players.

All I know is that to get to my usual seat, I had to walk down a runway, something I hadn't done since I was in my 10th grade fashion show.

In a pale green polyester jumpsuit, I might add.

The festivities started with "what did you do this weekend?" a party game.

Hostess Maggie got the party rolling by telling us that she'd gone to Nationals Stadium to hear the National Opera perform "Showboat" on a giant screen.

It had clearly been a seminal evening in her life.

Co-host Matt had attended a family wedding where he saw all kinds of his past, including, "My ex-stepdad who's 41 and had a blond-tipped crew cut. It was the most tragic thing I ever saw."

Come to think of it, in addition to the usual show tunes, there was a lot of comedy throughout the evening.

Maggie slow-motion danced for effect through the birthday balloons strewn on the floor, saying, "Now that I know how that feels, there's going to be a lot more of that."

Birthday girl Sandy was hysterical doing high kicks, lunges and eventually pulling up her dress to show us her leggings underneath.

It's okay; there are no rules for birthday girls.

After the dress raising, Matt took one look at her and announced, "I'm buying Sandy another glass of wine now!"

Kent did a dramatic reading of the University of Maryland sorority president's e-mail to her sorority sisters.

Although I'd read the e-mail, it was even funnier with Kent's pithy inflections, valley girl-style.

Josh did a birthday lap dance with Sandy perched on a stool and cracking up.

Music ran the gamut, maybe even a little more far-flung than usual.

A remix of the Temptations' "My Girl" by Chris, Evan and Nick.

"Welcome to the '60s" from "Hairspray," with singer Sara lamenting mid-song, "Oh, god, another key change!"

A guy named Eduardo (who'd been innocently driving by Richmond Triangle Players last month, come in and caught the end of GLAP) had a chance to sing twice tonight.

People, people who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world

Even the honoree Sandy had a song for us and she never sings, only plays piano.

She did a Five for Fighting song called "100 Years," about the passing of the years.

There was pizza to soak up the alcohol, albeit late pie because someone forgot to order it on time.

You, with the yellow shorts and black fingernails, I'm talking to you.

Because of the celebration, there were also mini-cupcakes, described by color as, "the pink ones are Cosmos and the chocolate ones have something alcoholic in them."

I absconded with two while Josh laughed at my audacity.

In "Little Mermaid"-style, there was a group singalong to "Kiss the Girl" that resulted in Evan kissing Sandy on the lips.

It was truly a GLAP gone mad.

Before we knew it, it was last call and we knew the songs from "Follies," "Funny Girl" and "A New Brain" would soon be silenced.

Luckily, Sarah got up and saved the day.

"I don't want anyone to be sad because the GLAP is over," she said and dramatically sang Melissa Manchester's "Don't Cry Out Loud," a true time warp.

The only way to top that was with a killer closer like "Rock Me, Mama, Like a Wagon Wheel," with harmonica, which is exactly what happened when Chris, Evan and Nick took charge, manly men that they are.

And sitting in the front row, grinning ear to ear, was Sandy.

Every woman should have such a great birthday.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Beware My Love the Mists of Time

It was music as memory check.

Movieland was showing "Paul McCartney and Wings Rockshow," a chronicle of their Wings over America tour.

Since I'd seen them on that tour (don't judge), I was a little curious to see how the documented facts compared to my misty water-colored memories.

Among the things I'd forgotten were how dressed up the musicians looked (three-piece white suit, baggy black satin pants, pink-trimmed leather vest) and that there was a horn section (with two stellar Afros on the guys playing trumpet and sax).

Among the things I remembered about shows back then (and was reminded of) were girls sitting on the shoulders of guys for a better view (now we have slanted floors in venues) and how everyone had lighters at a concert, whether for cigarettes or pot.

The most defining memory for me of that show long ago had been the moment when Paul kicked into "Maybe I'm Amazed," how the lights had gone down, how it was the first song he played on the piano during the set, how I'd felt goosebumps when he hit those first oh-so-recognizable notes.

Bingo. The proof was there in the film, right down to my memory of the piano's placement and the heart-stopping moment when the lights came on and he started singing and the moment was absolutely perfect.

Likewise the strobe light show and smoke of "Live and Let Die," very of its time.

I didn't have memories of Sir Paul's low-key humor, but the film gave me examples.

"You're a grand bunch here tonight, I'll tell you that," pointing at the audience.

"Let's go back into the mists of time," before launching into "Lady Madonna."

I hadn't remembered the acoustic portion of the show at all, so the killer trio of "Bluebird" (with not one, but two acoustic 12-string guitars), "I've Just Seen a Face" (which he said "is known as a toe-tapper so tap your feet if you like it") and "Blackbird" ("I'm going to change to my other piano," he said, taking out a 6-string acoustic) knocked me out.

He followed that 1-2-3 punch with "Yesterday," which, yes, had girls in the audience with tears streaming down their faces at the moment.

Considering it hadn't even been a decade since the breakup of the Beatles, it was understandable.

I certainly don't recall any tears.

I was thrilled to hear "My Love" because it was the first song I ever slow-danced to, but judging from the beaming of the girls in the audience, it was "Silly Love Songs" that meant the most to them.

It was also the first point at which the massive wave of Bic lighters appeared to show the audience's love.

By then, we'd already seen plenty of shots of people smoking in the crowd, so why not?

One of the funniest unexpected moments came just as McCartney was about to introduce the stellar brass section while behind him, guitarist Denny Laine proceeds to do a handstand on the piano, unbeknownst to Paul.

It was the last night of the tour, so what were they going to do, fire him?

After Wings left the stage and the call for encores began, people began lighting sparklers and waving them, as if this would encourage the band to come back.

And maybe it did because they did two encores.

Ah, yes, the days when it was okay to bring pyrotechnics into a concert venue.

Speaking for myself, it's been a long and winding road from that long-ago Wings show to today.

Maybe I am a little amazed by it all.

Got It

Just to be clear, I have nothing at all against being happy.

After a long, busy day helping a favorite Fan resident thrift and decorate her guest room, I came home to learn that my planned cultural partner was bowing out.

Quick! Who do you call when it's 45 minutes to curtain call?

I caught her as she was about to make coq au vin and lured her away with the promise of theater.

Some nerds are so easy.

This afternoon I'd scored an adorable high-waisted floral skirt while thrifting and put that on to set the tone for Saturday night.

During a stop at Kroger on my way to pick her up, I got a double-take from a girl as I breezed through the produce section.

"Were you in Diversity Thrift today?" she asked, pointing at me and my skirt.

Were you behind the counter at Diversity, I inquired.

"Skirt looks good!" she enthused with a nod.

Every Saturday night should start with a compliment.

A few minutes later when my arms were full of unwieldy fruit, I heard a voice behind me.

It was a Kroger employee, helpfully bringing me a basket. "Here you go!" the guy said.

In all my bazillion trips to Kroger, I can't remember anyone ever noticing my hands were full and bringing me a basket.

Score 2 for the skirt.

My skirt and I went to fetch my girlfriend and head to Centenary United Methodist Church on Grace Street where Henley Street and African American Repertory Theater were doing a staged reading of "Sunset Limited."

I knew nothing about the play except that it was the winner of the National Book Award and National Book Critics' Circle Award.

Well, and that the Sunset Limited was a train that went between New Orleans and Los Angeles

It would have been enough but upon arrival, I also learned that they had cookies, lots of cookies.

Saturday night's alright for munching.

We found second row seats and settled in a for a play about two people who only met because one was ready to die.

"If it ain't got the lingering scent of divinity, I ain't interested," said the devout one.

"People stopped believing in books, music and art," bemoaned the atheist one.

The set was simple and perfect: a wooden table and two chairs, framed by perpendicular pews with stained glass windows above.

"What do you have against being happy?" asked the believer.

"It's contrary to the human condition," shot back the non-believer.

Despite being a reading, the actors moved about quite a bit and railed at each other with periodic glances down at the scripts in hand.

Although they couldn't have had much time for rehearsals, actors Daniel Moore and DL Hopkins kept up the intensity of the philosophical discussion that made up the play.

I was especially taken by how the play began, with compelling, full-on confrontational discussion going on with the audience completely unaware of what had brought us to this moment.

The intellectual pull of trying to figure out what had happened prior was very seductive.

As a card-carrying heathen, I related on many levels to the character who had no use for religion, although I don't think a lack of belief necessarily sends one into a downward spiral that ends in suicidal thoughts.

It was much harder for me to relate to the evangelical character, except in his devotion to saving the other man from himself.

"Sometimes people don't know what they want 'till they get it," he wisely says.

Amen, says I.

In lieu of staying for the talkback, Friend and I headed across the street to Pasture to have our own dissection of the play and enjoy some refreshment.

We barely made it to the back of the bar in search of seats before running into some favorite Amuse staffers, who helpfully told us about tonight's special on Spanish bubbles before giving my cute skirt its due.

Then they departed for Brown's Island to hear Toots and the Maytals and dance to reggae, while we finally had a shot at some bar stools.

Before I could sit down, I ran into a restaurant owner, all dressed up pretty and uncharacteristically out on a Saturday night, sharing a drink with a cheese monger and her bearded hubby.

Lots of people were coming in from the "Single in the City Bachelor/Bachelorette Auction" at CenterStage, never an option for me because of its cost (not that it's not a worthy cause).

There was talk of new restaurants - Dynamo, the Well- before I made it to our seats and the possibility of a light meal.

Muscanti Cava and Frito pie more than did the trick for me, especially after a first course of cookies at the play, while my lovely companion did Cava with pork and Chorizo meatballs the size of, well, big.

And flavorful, just for the record, especially with grits underneath.

During our talkback with each other about the points raised in the play, we decided our heathen credentials were in danger of being revoked because we don't feel the despair typically required of black souls like us.

How can we go through the world so damn happy when we should, in theory, be wringing our hands about the hopelessness of it all?

I can't answer for my friend, but personally, all it takes to keep me satisfied is the occasional $3.25 cute flowered skirt, a thought-provoking play and good conversation.

Like the evangelical pointed out, sometimes people don't know what they want till they get it.

Sounds pretty hopeful to me.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Blood Orange Night

I'd hoped for red and instead get blood orange.

The theater lover and I  conspired to score rush tickets to Virginia Repertory's production of "Red" after she wrote me, "Haven't seen a play in ages and am jonesing."

But the highlight of her message was yet to come. "I'm calling off date Saturday for greener Karen pastures."

I moved our date to Friday so she wouldn't disappoint an admirer and agreed to address her theater jones, adding in a pre-theater drink.

The box office gods were not with us.

I arrived at 5:59 to get tickets (the box office opens at 6:00), only to be told that there was only one ticket available.

What kind of friend would I be if I bought the one ticket for myself and left her in the lurch?


Fortunately, Rothko will be around for another month, so we intend to see it yet.

But for tonight, I punted, suggesting we do dinner instead.

Agreeable sort that she is, she promised to report to my house at once and we'd motor from there.

Rather than calling out my name when she arrived, I instead heard, "Stellaaaaaa," from the sidewalk out front.

It was an auspicious start.

Inexplicably, we made Bistro Bobette our destination, found an easy space in front of Fountain Books and walked back up the hill.

Past the diners we went, straight to the bar and seats at the end near a huge vase of lilies and eucalyptus.

The bartender I'd missed on my last two visits was there, happy to see us and we began with a bottle of Paul Mas Estate Picpaoul de Pinet from Languedoc, well-balanced and dry.

I'd been drinking a wonderful white Languedoc just last Friday with Holmes and was happy to continue the tradition this week.

From the moment I sat down, the music suited me so I asked about it, discovering it was Pandora set to Thievery Corporation.

Well done, Bobette.

Wine in hand, girlfriend and I got started when she looked at me, paused and announced, "I think my stepmother drunk-dialed me last night."

Honestly, I wouldn't be the least surprised if that sentence had never before been uttered.

The hysterical story that followed necessitated sustenance, so we listened to the specials.

Ostrich crudo with cilantro oil, capers, cayenne and shaved horseradish got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from us both.

Warm, crusty bread accompanied the lean and flavorful flightless bird.

I made a simple supper of mesclun salad, mushroom and bacon quiche and squid ink pasta with tomatoes and asparagus, while my friend did the "meatless," a selection of four sides.

We agreed that the spring squash sauteed with shallot and herbs was exquisite.

My friend told me that her comments about going to see "Red" with me tonight, and that it was about painter Mark Rothko, had been met by blank stares from co-workers.

This is why we are soul mates - no explanations are necessary.

A regular came in and sat down at the bar, a guy I've met before who's been here working, first on the "Killing Lincoln" movie for what seemed like ages and now on the "Killing Kennedy" movie.

It's gotten so we recognize each other by now.

Tonight he was joined by another film type and they had intense discussion of important stuff while my girlfriend and I discussed Bermuda, anacondas and working from home when the night before necessitates it.

In lieu of dessert, we had a digestif of blood orange wine, as beautifully colored as scented.

The chef came out to have a glass of Rose and enthusiastically jumped into the conversational fray.

"The best tartare is horse," he said when we got into a discussion of unusual meats.

Friend recalled seeing lion meat in a market and inquired about how best to serve it.

We heard rumors about Peking's space across the street being taken over by another tenant.

A server told us horror stories about a recent visit to a certain restaurant I long ago gave up on.

We got a full report on the French Food Festival, an event neither of us had ever before heard good things about.

We talked so long about boating with the chef that all at once we realized that we were the final customers of the day.

Wishing the chef a fine day on his boat tomorrow ("I don't care if it rains, I just want to feel the wind," he grinned, reminding me of the photo of him on his boat in the ladies' room), we headed out onto Cary Street, which was bustling and noisy compared to when we'd arrived.

A woman playing sax sat on a window ledge, wailing away.

Couples walked by, ignoring everyone else.

A couple of guys gave us a second look and a tentative compliment.

Down at the end of the block, the construction fence was up around the former parking lot and soon-to-be hotel at 14th Street.

We should have been having a post-theater drink to discuss how well Rothko had been portrayed.

Oh, well. "Red" will run for another month and you can be sure the two of us will see it.

You could say that'll be part of the future greener Karen pastures.

It's reassuring to know I'm considered one step away from a superlative.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shutters and Mouths Open

Tonight's lesson: How to be a glutton after art and architecture.

It began in a rainstorm and ended in clogged arteries.

As I was dressing to go out, the wind was howling in the windows of the apartment and by the time I left, it was pouring rain.

The fierce weather meant that the lecture at the Virginia Center for Architecture was delayed to allow for latecomers.

I wasn't bothered in the least; the postponement meant that I could check out their new exhibition, "Art by Architects."

The 44 pieces were all by practicing or retired architects and in various mediums.

I hate to say it, but the pieces that delighted me most were mostly of, well, buildings and streetscapes.

Like Christina Canabou's "Tenement Street," a large drawing that focused not on the buildings but on the magnificent dome rising behind the shabby apartments.

The charming "Sicilian Street" by John LaMonica was tiny but evocative.

I was transported back to a 2008 visit for Patrick McClane's watercolor, "Bermuda Shutter," with its white-washed building and wall and deep green shutter, propped open but shading the interior.

Since so many of the pieces were about buildings, the ones that weren't stood out all the more.

Figures, nature scenes, and abstract collages all attested to what's in an architect's mind besides building plans.

I said hello to the Frenchman and found a seat in the third row for the lecture.

Tonight's lecture was "Poplar Forest: The Most Palladian Work in America" by architectural historian Travis McDonald, who's been involved with the restoration of Thomas Jefferson's country retreat for twenty-some years.

You gotta love you some TJ to work at a project that long.

It was interesting, I hadn't known that TJ envisioned Poplar Forest as his getaway from the hordes of people at Monticello clamoring to see him.

It was where he intended to be a hermit.

For the record, I shall need no such place when I retire.

An example of villa-style architecture, the octagonal house was, according to McDonald, "a fantasy impervious to reality."

Oh, my, if only all of life could be like that.

And, just for the record, the privies were octagonal, too. No lie, he showed us a slide.

The history nerd in me looks forward to someday seeing this unique house now that I know its story.

With such enlightenment behind me, I was free to head east to meet a friend for dinner.

Aziza's was mobbed when I arrived (hello, restaurant of the year) and my friend was missing in action, but conveniently, I found another at the bar.

He looked a tad stuffed and confirmed with a grin that he'd eaten far more than he'd intended to.

Since my dinner date was nowhere to be seen, I sat down to catch up with the one who was present.

I had heard that he was leaving Richmond, so I asked about his plans.

Turns out he's off to Palestine in two weeks to teach, with no plans to return.

I asked how his parents were taking his decision (not well) and he mentioned that his mother was appalled at his choice of destinations.

"Can't you just go teach in the East End instead?" she'd not-so-gently suggested.

He admitted to curiosity about how impoverished kids in that part of the world are different from our own disadvantaged youth.

Fact is, he's considering eventually doing his PhD on the subject.

It was a curious experience having a conversation with a guy I've known for four years, knowing I may never lay eyes on him again.

I did tell him how much I admire this great adventure he's setting off on (and if not now, when?) and all the potential it holds.

Then I asked him to text my friend and inquire where the hell he was.

"On my way down the hill," he texted back from high atop Church Hill.

The explorer left once the tardy one arrived, but we stayed at the bar because every table was taken.

Who am I kidding? We'd have stayed there anyway.

My friend started a new job a few weeks ago and it has been kicking his butt up and down the hill ever since.

You see, he used to be a bartender/photographer/perennial student and now he works a regular job and answers to a manager or two.

Whoa. It has taken some major adjustment for him.

Luckily, he'd caught twenty winks before our dinner, so he was starved and ready to chat.

With no further plans later tonight, we set out to become eating machines.

We got our socks knocked off with our very first dish: shad roe with sunchoke puree, citron brown butter sauce and, just in case that wasn't decadent enough, an oozing fried egg atop it all.

Best of all, it was my friend's first shad roe, making him a lucky man to start with shad roe of this ilk.

The sweetness of the sunchoke was a killer balance to the earthy shad roe and egg and we were still naive enough to go ahead and sop up all that puree and butter sauce until the plate was gleaming.

Rookie mistake and we're not rookies.

He was busy telling me about his upcoming trip to Nashville and the pleasures of photographing small children and we forgot to keep our eyes on the prize.

So when the pan-seared softshell crab with ramps atop cheesy polenta with bacon arrived, we dove in again, barely coming up for air.

In my defense, it was only my second softshell so far this season and I couldn't have controlled myself if I'd wanted to.

And I didn't.

The cheesy polenta was rich on its own and obscene with the chunks of bacon and the crab's delicate breading let the flavor of the meat shine through.

But, it should be noted, we were slowing down just a bit.

I told him my barber story only to learn he knew the barbers and the shop.

We walked about how people who grow up in California are different and why he might want to move to California (a woman, natch).

And then, brave souls that we are, we went on to our next course.

He was having a margarita pizza with hot Italian sausage and I, to my eternal optimism, was having some gland.

Pan-seared sweetbreads with English peas ('tis the season) and carrots in saffron sauce was exquisite, the sweetbreads with a silky texture, the fresh-as-a-morning peas and the carrots of various colors adding a sweet crunch.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Hell, I couldn't. At least not entirely.

I ate as much as I could before my taste buds shut down, telling me A) I was disgustingly full and B) all my savory needs had been met for the evening.

Even my compadre, a man and much bigger than I am, threw in the towel after one piece of pizza.

It wasn't like we didn't want to finish, just that it was impossible.

In fact, we knew as soon as he brought up that he hadn't known how foie gras came about.

When your dining companion starts talking about force-feeding in the middle of dinner, he's trying to tell you something.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

In any case, we asked for boxes for our leftovers at that point.

He and I have been going to Aziza's for years together and we never fail to end a meal with a cream puff.

He even took a picture of me once with the cream puff approaching my wide-open mouth and posted it all over the internets for the world to see.

Tonight, with our boxes sitting on the counter and our filled-to-the-gills satiety, it appeared that a long-standing tradition was about to die.

Instead, Friend ordered his second cup of coffee and suggested we enjoy some after-dinner patter.

I told him about the gardening I'd done earlier this week and he shared that he'd prepared his beds but not yet planted anything.

We talked about the upcoming RiverRock festival, Toots and the Maytalls and doing yoga on a paddle board.

Another photographer came in and the two of them discussed some Haiti photos.

And then my friend looked at me, looked at all the coffee left in his mug and said, "Yea, we're gonna need a cream puff."

Hallelujah and spread the ganache.

Our server, to her credit, merely smiled but the look in her eyes said, "told you so."

Yes, we were full, and no, we had no more room for savory, but sweet was a whole different matter.

One of us would fork the puff to hold it in place so the other could break off the perfect combination of dark chocolate, sweet cream and delicate pastry.

At one point, Friend looked at me and said, "I wanna be in a vat of that cream."

I can't say I shared that wish, but I did scarf my half way before he finished.

My lack of a petite feminine appetite no longer amazes him after four years of shared meals.

His response is hilarious and always the same. "Whoa."

It just means he's impervious to my reality. Smart man.

A Word Fittingly Spoke

You know you're a nerd when...

You read at 11:40 that there's a noon lecture at the Historical Society and you manage not only to change clothes and drive there, but be in your usual seat chatting with a guy from Westmintser-Canterbury by 11:58.

"You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South" sounded compelling enough to throw off my sweaty walking shorts and high-tail it to the Boulevard.

Speaker Stephanie Deutsch got a thumbs-up from me for speaking extemporaneously rather than reading from a script.

It was hardly surprising to learn that Booker T. Washington had been the product of an enslaved black mother and a nearby white planter.

She brought us up to speed on his life, including his tragic personal life, with two wives dying within a  few years of marrying him and a child who died young.

We heard about him going to and teaching at Hampton before being recruited to start the Tuskegee Institute, for which he became known.

Almost as interesting was Julius Rosenwald, who'd bought into Sears when Roebuck wanted out and used his pragmatic, executive style to turn it into a moneymaker.

And because he was Jewish, he had a history steeped in giving and started looking for more ways to do good beyond helping European Jews escape pogroms.

When he met Washington, a fast friendship was formed, with each visiting the other's home and place of work.

That was the crux of the talk, about how these two men got the ball rolling on the over 5,000 schools built for rural black children from Maryland to eastern Texas.

North Carolina got the most (800) and our own Virginia got 365 schools.

Rosenwald was a "matching funds" kind of guy, meaning he wasn't handing over money without the community raising a little of their own.

We all know a person's more invested when their hard-earned nickels are involved.

To induce the locals to raise funds, "arousement meetings" were held, not a tough sell in areas where blacks were desperate for their children to have access to education and a better life than they'd had.

By the time all was said and done, the county boards of education were also involved, finally contributing money to building schools for the children they'd once ignored.

That was the feel-good part of the story.

Deutsch said only 10% of the schools are still standing, but many have been rescued by alumni and former teachers at them and repurposed.

They're even now part of the "Most Endangered Historic Sites in America" listings and not a moment too soon.

See, that's something a nerd would say.

On the other hand, if I hadn't collected myself and gone to the lecture, I'd never have known about arousement meetings.

Now there's a meeting a nerd could really get into.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Look in the Mirror, We're Foxes

I officially rang in birthday season tonight.

Because I will not see my Paris-bound friend before my birthday next week, we met tonight to kick off the festivities.

Rowland offered sun streaming through the front windows and happy hour deals of the liquid and edible varieties.

Sitting directly behind us was an eight-top, a family birthday celebration complete with multiple generations and be-ribboned gifts.

Despite the pretense of ours being a birthday celebration, it was really a class A catch-up session.

She began with a jaw-dropping story of a girl crying wolf and the unexpected and potentially awful ramifications of her bad call.

Food-wise we had to order their signature butter bean cake along with another special, essentially a panko-crusted pork schnitzel with an oozing farm egg on top, a tomato Hollandaise and an arugula salad.

Pig with egg? Come on, that's as good as breakfast. Yum.

I heard about the dream screened-in porch she intends to have built and as an ardent fan of outdoor rooms, I envy her the future pleasures of it.

It's with fond memories I recall the one I had for thirteen years when I lived on Floyd Avenue;  sadly, it's the one thing I don't have in Jackson Ward.

And hers is going to have a sleeping couch on it, the ultimate porch indulgence.

With nothing to top that, I told her about some of my recent escapades and she told me about an hilarious trip to a Charleston wedding.

And a dry wedding at that, necessitating her bringing a flask.

I loved the part where a guest asked her if she was a model and, true to her quick wit (and the truth), she quipped, "Only nude," a nod to her college days modeling for a drawing class.

That shut 'em up.

We finished with a chocolate cupcake that was more of a molten cake with a dollop of caramel to push it over the edge.

By then she had to leave to get home to hearth and husband and probably weeding in her splendid gardens.

My next stop was a cocktail/listening/birthday party at Balliceaux for a dear friend.

Playing on the screen behind the stage was a 1929 German silent film, "Pandora's Box."

And really, German is so guttural a language, it's really a prime contender for silent film.

He's a musician with a wide range and I'm always eager to hear what his latest direction is.

But we also talk about life with a capital "L" so shortly after our greeting, he put his hands on my shoulder, looked in my eyes and said, "I met a girl."

This was very good news indeed because he's such a terrific, interesting guy and his last girlfriend was a cereal-stealing alcoholic.

And, as I told him, no one should have to lock up their cereal.

But then he was off to play host and mingle until it was time for the debut of his new song.

I knew a few people at the party, said my hellos and then sat down at a table in the center.

A friend and former soul mate came over to chat, looking exceptionally dapper in a seersucker jacket and bow tie.

Bragging that he'd not only tied it himself but had an extra in his jacket pocket ("Gentlemen always carry an extra just in case"), I challenged him to teach me to tie it using my leg.

Despite several attempts, my lower thigh was never adorned with a bow, nor was my neck, the second location he tried.

You have to appreciate a party where someone tries to tie a bow tie on your leg.

Out of the blue, a girl standing near me said to me, "I work in a gun shop."

It was such a surprising way to start a conversation that I couldn't help but be sucked in.

What did I glean?

She makes $9 an hour, she'd never shot a gun before they hired her, they made her take a gun class and it's the largest shooting range in the country.

Oh, yes, and she's learned to keep her mouth shut when surrounded by Second Amendment-spouting customers.

There was a face painter there and my bow-tied friend came back with a disturbing clown face painted on.

After complimenting what a good job the painter had done, I said he needed to see himself in a mirror.

But the bar's bathroom doesn't have a real mirror, causing him to joke, "They don't need mirrors here because if you're at Balliceaux, you must look good."

Someone else postulated that it wasn't only good-looking people who came to Balliceaux, but that once you crossed its threshold, you were in another dimension that made you attractive.

I wasn't buying either theory but his clown face looked damn good.

Finally the birthday boy got up to announce his new song, "We Are Foxes," but it took the crowd a while to stop mingling and listen.

Someone called out for him to talk louder over the hubbub, to which he responded, "I'm trying to talk loud but I have small lungs."

And, no that wasn't a metaphor.

Unfortunately, he told the crowd that it wasn't like the Listening Room so they could talk over his song, and they took him up on that.

I liked what I heard and I'm looking forward to hearing it when people aren't chattering.

Man-about-town Prabir was there with sampler CDs of the new album he's working on.

While it wasn't the whole album, it did come with a sheet inside the CD case with a listing of how to say "breakfast" in every language.

I may have pointed out that he has too much time on his hands.

We got off on a tangent about how proudly weird Richmond is (he put caricature-drawing on a  Wednesday night at a bar in that category), an element that seems to have become part of our citywide identification.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Lauren, the caricature artist, was doing impressively good drawings of anyone willing to sit for a few minutes.

I saw one of my music buddy Andrew on the wall, looking exactly like him, only with a much bigger head.

Nearby talking to a girl was a guy whose hair was pure Rick Astley, causing the funny guy near me eating meringues with fresh cream and fruit to jest, "He's never gonna give you up, honey."

Maybe you had to be there (circa 1987) but I found that hilarious.

But the final treat was a song from Capital Opera Richmond singer Sarah.

We'd been promised ponies, too, but I was more than happy with a new song, a bunch of friends and a classic bit of opera.

Or, as the invitation stated, "All this and the possibility that you'll get some if you kiss good."

I hate to sound like the voice of experience here, but there's always the possibility that you'll get some if you kiss good.

True story, kids.