Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bad Woman Lesson

Turns out I spent my formative years in a hotbed of assassins.

So I learned at today's Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society where David Stewart talked about "Family of Assassins: The Surratts of Maryland." You know, the family we all learned in social studies class had aided and abetted John Wilkes Booth after he did the deed.

The usual greatest generation crowd was there with the predictable snorer in the back, the only concessions to Halloween being the VHS president referring to himself as the "chief executive goblin" and the woman next to me wearing orange pumpkin socks.

Stewart, a lawyer before he was an author of histories, said he'd been inspired to write his first work of non-fiction, "The Lincoln Deception," when he read a paragraph that intrigued him while doing research.

In a 40-year old book, he read that the prosecutor in the Lincoln assassination trial had alluded to "Mary Surratt's terrible secret" on his deathbed.

Since the gentler sex are not known for their assassination prowess, Stewart had been intrigued by the idea of a mother/son crime team.

Mary's was very southern family despite living in Maryland and when she married John Surratt, they opened a tavern/inn that aided Confederate spies during the war by taking in mail and forwarding it to help the cause.

It was easy enough to do once John became postmaster and the area around the tavern became known as Surrattsville.

What I learned today was that Surrattsville is in Prince George's county which is where I grew up. How is it no social studies teacher ever told me that?

Well, it was until after the assassination, when it was changed to Clinton, he told us.

Laughter erupted in the audience and Stewart said, "I didn't know that would get a laugh." Clearly he didn't know the VHS audience then.

I'm sure he did know he'd get a laugh when he began telling us about how the Surratts moved to Washington D.C., showing a slide of the still-intact building.

"It now houses an Asian fusion restaurant," he said, gesturing at the image. "It still looks exactly the same as it did then...except for the dim sum table inside."

Humor aside, I learned that the Surratts and Booth had originally planned to kidnap Lincoln, bring him to Richmond and ransom him to get Confederate prisoners of war back.

Their attempt was an epic fail when Lincoln didn't show up so they decided to figure out a way to kill him instead, along with the VEEP, the secretary of war, and general Ulysses Grant.

The member of the gang assigned to kill the VP got drunk and chickened out, the secretary of war got some stab wounds and Grant?

Well, he was tired and went to the beach with his fam, thus making it tough to kill him when he was gone.

But Booth shot Lincoln and got away for eleven days before being discovered in a barn, where he was shot and the barn set ablaze.

The other eight conspirators went on trial with Mary being one of the four who got hanged.

And, remember, we weren't hanging women back in those days, so clearly the evidence didn't look good for the old broad.

Her son John, part of the group of plotters, managed to escape to Canada and then to Europe, leaving Mom to pay the price.

That's a pretty lousy son.

Stewart ended by talking about how different fiction and non-fiction writing are.

"Most of history is silence," he explained. "If nobody writes it down, we don't know about it. This was my opportunity to write the things not said."

So what had he concluded was Mary Surratt's terrible secret?

"I couldn't possibly tell you what I concluded Mary's secret was," he grinned. "My publisher would kill me. But I hope you have a chance to find out."

Probably not given my depleted book budget, but I do have a suggestion.

I think every Prince George's county schoolchild needs to learn about Mary Surratt, the boardinghouse owner who "kept the nest that hatched the egg of assassination" and was the first woman executed by the U.S. government.

Sure would have made fourth grade social studies more interesting.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Universal Communication

You have to admire a man who's willing to destroy his own art.

The Anderson Gallery was hosting a talk by Bohyun Yoon, whose "Neighbors" exhibit is currently showing.

Born in South Korea, and now teaching at VCU, he began by apologizing for his English eloquently. "Language is just a tool, not a bright idea. Art is the universal communication."

His chosen medium is glass ("It's a fragile and dangerous material") and he began by making glass masks.

When he accidentally cut a mask in half, the remainder reminded him of a bowl, which he filled with water, placed on his head and began making music with it, much the way a wine glass rim can be rubbed to elicit sound.

Much of his art was performance-based, like the transparent business suit he created and wore through the streets while being filmed.

While in Salzburg, Austria, he did a guerrilla piece where he divided a street with signs directing tourists to go one way and citizens the other for no stated reason and then filmed two friends as they motioned to people who happened to be walking down the street.

Apparently it's not just Americans who are easily led.

The most interactive part of his talk involved glass tubes of varying lengths which had metal mesh inserts at one end.

He would torch the mesh and as the air moved up the tube, it made a melodic sound ("Water, glass, sound, they're all transparent"), changing when he shifted the position of the tube.

Taking it to the next level, he solicited a volunteer to do the torching, the better for him to move the tubes to make more elaborate music.

Clearly enjoying himself, he suddenly stopped and said, "I'm just playing, like in my studio. Thank you," thereby ending the talk and starting the question period.

When asked about destroying glass, I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised to hear him say, "Breaking glass is beautiful."

Seems he likes it when his performance lives on only in the memory. To prove the point, he torched a tube and as sound emanated from it, used a small hammer to break part of the tube.

Damned if he wasn't right; while a very different sound, the breaking was as interesting to hear as the sound produced by the air moving.

He tried torching the stub of the tube, but it was so short now that the sound created was too low for us to hear.

Talk about a mesmerizing way to end a talk.

Looking at his "Neighbors" installation afterwards showed yet another facet of his fascination with light and glass.

150 portraits of his neighbors In Philadelphia had been silk-screened onto glass panels in vivid colors.

Hung from a framework that mimicked the shape of the room, the lone bulb hanging in the center projected the images onto the walls with one major difference.

On the walls, all the images were black and white, making for a stunning contrast with the brightly-colored plates.

Very cool.

Mind properly fed, it was time for the rest of me so I walked over to Jackson Ward's newest eatery, Max's on Broad.

After taking what felt like an eternity to renovate and build out, Tarrant's Belgian sibling had finally opened its doors.

Just from the initial impression, I'd have to say they nailed the Parisian brasserie vibe pretty well.

White tablecloths with white paper on top, huge gold-framed mirrors, vintage music, dim lighting.

It was a promising start.

There appeared to be more staff than customers but I didn't immediately go upstairs to see how many people were up there.

Owner Ted came over to say hello and when asked about the direction of the place explained, "Well, I always liked French food. And I couldn't very well do the same thing I was doing across the street."

Well, you could have, but that would have been just stupid.

And while I was alone at the bar when I sat down, it didn't take long before I had plenty of company.

One of those was a guy who sat down a stool away, ordered two tripels ("Those are high-alcohol," the barkeep warned him. "So am I," the guy answered) and the check at the same time, but eschewed a menu because, "I'm just here 'cause I like to look at fixtures."

With a buzz, apparently.

Another was local wine god Bob Talcott, no doubt curious to see what a brasserie on this side of town looked like.

He not only approved of the look, likening it to Brasserie Julien in Paris, he was downright tickled with the wine list, which had only one California wine and the rest French.

Meanwhile, I started my meal with a half endive salad with arugula, housemade pickles, tomato, onion and dried apricot and a passion fruit vinaigrette.

Once again, let me give a shout-out to restaurants who offer salads (or entrees, for that matter) in half and whole portions, a boon for those of us who don't want too much of any one taste.

I debated on what to have next, except that if the sign outside was calling this place a Belgian restaurant, what else could I get but moules frites?

They had probably a half dozen choices for broth, of which I chose the unlikeliest one for me: Hoegaarden, bacon and onion.

For while I could put bacon and onion in almost anything I eat, beer rarely finds its way into my food.

On the other hand, why the hell not?

As one of the bartenders said, those three things make everything better. My jury's still out on the beer part, but I was game.

The mussels came in a lid-covered pot with a cone of frites beside them. So far, so good.

I passed on any sauces for my fries and began eating the P.E.I. mussels, noting the yeasty finish on each bite.

After I got about six mussels in, I was offered a seafood fork but after a few more, I had a request of my own.

Here I was putting empty shells on my bread plate, as was the guy eating mussels next to me, so I asked if we weren't supposed to have a bowl for our discards.

I mean, that's pretty standard-issue for mussels, right?

Clearly it made sense to her, she acknowledged as much, and returned with bowls for all the mussel-eaters at the bar.

There! I helped a local J-Ward establishment better serve the neighborhood.

Several servers had told me to be sure to check out the upstairs, so I walked up there to see the space that overlooks the triangle on Broad, a space that will no doubt be a zoo come Friday night during the artwalk.

Back downstairs, I told one of the managers I was glad there was another restaurant in the neighborhood.

"What side of Broad do you live on?" she asked, pointing at Tarrant's and pointing at Jackson Ward.

Duh. J-Ward, I told her.

"You're ours!" she said with glee. "No more Tarrant's for you!"

My dear, I gave up on Tarrant's long ago, so that's not the issue.

As to that ownership claim, I'll reserve judgement and say what my mom used to say to us as kids when she hadn't made up her mind yet.

We'll see.

I Feel a Song Coming On

Ladies who lunch have many options, but few with as stellar a view as Amuse.

A friend had invited me to lunch as thanks for helping her brainstorm a venue for an upcoming shindig she was planning.

I suggested, she checked it out and kindly offered up food in repayment. It's not often my oddball expertise yields a lovely meal.

Not surprisingly, the dining room was just about completely filled except the bar, making it a lively place to catch up.

It had been ages since we'd seen each other although she sometimes reads the blog, so she tends to know more of what's going on in my life than I do hers.

She and her husband raise guide dogs for the blind, so I am always eager to hear about her latest trainee, this time a young thing named Vera.

Vera, it seems, is not yet up to the standards of Amuse so she hadn't brought her. "McDonald's maybe," she joked.

When our server arrived, he looked at me, smiled and observed, "I've waited on you before." I didn't want to harsh his mellow, but who hasn't?

We both started with the roasted baby beet salad with Caramont Farms chevre and lemon yogurt over an appealing array of Manakintowne greens, artfully presented on a long, narrow white plate.

I loved hearing about her trips to NYC for what she called "provisioning," meaning the acquisition of things she can't get here.

Things like potato knishes and bialies. Trips where the two of them happily walk from the upper east side to Times Square without thinking twice about the distance.

I laughed when she described how she drags her musical-hating husband to see them, inevitably getting pained looks from him when actors start bursting into song.

Hey, at least he goes.

She chose the pan-seared scallops over French lentils and I had to agree after a couple of bites that it was superbly done, lentils toothsome and scallops with a fine, delicate crust.

I had a bowl of Moroccan chickpea stew topped with gremolata and full of squash, a satisfyingly warm and tasty choice on a gray day.

We weren't going to get dessert, really we weren't, but ended up with creme caramel and fresh berries anyway.

The server who brought that is also a friend and when complimented on her new earrings, told me there was a story there and that I needed to come to her bar soon for an update.

I'm always looking to gather new information, so chances are she'll see me soon.

Maybe if I keep increasing my knowledge base, I can look forward to helping more friends who want to reward me with food.

At the very least, at least it gives me something to do between meals.

Adolescence, Italian Style

Maybe I needed to go to Italy before seeing a Fellini film. Or maybe I just have gaping holes in my film-watching history.

Whatever the reason, I finally began righting that wrong tonight with "Amarcord," which translates as "I remember," and was the latest installment in VCU's Cinematheque series.

Waiting for the film to begin, I eavesdropped on the students near me for some entertainment. "Promise me you won't make any bad Italian jokes," one said to the curly-headed Italian in the group, who looked pained at the suggestion.

"That was the funniest thing I've heard in ten years," another cackled, "and I'm not even that old." Son, if you go back ten years, you were in elementary school.

Introducing the 1973 film, the professor told the audience he was curious to see how the film held up after 40 years because, "It was a huge film in the pantheon of great film-making for my generation."

In other words, I should have seen it way before now.

The semi-autobiographical story of Fellini coming of age in 1930s Fascist Italy was a compelling look at life in a small Italian town full of crazy characters, Catholicism and customs.

There was a lot of lusting, as teen-aged boys are inclined to do, for almost every woman they came into contact with. Teachers, shop girls, the local prostitute, the local beauty.

They're the reason Fellini's alter-ego, Titta, finds himself making regular confession to the local flower-arranging priest. "Saint Louis cries when you touch yourself," the priest says before assigning him major penance.

The film had an episodic narrative, minimal plot and followed the town through a year of seasons and the accompanying happenings.

It wasn't long into the film before it became clear that the mostly-student audience didn't know how to react to many of the scenes they were seeing, especially the lewd ones.

When a gigolo tells another that he did so well scoring with a woman that she even offered him "posterior intimacy," many of the kids around me started sounding very uncomfortable. Wait, middle-aged people do that?

Another scene where Titta visits the tobacco shop and flirts with the magnificently-breasted shop girl until she is forcing them on her had people near me squirming in their seats with discomfort.

Even a scene where Titta and his pals look through a window into an empty ballroom and begin silently waltzing in the street as they imagine the dancing they might someday do in such a room made people around me laugh hysterically and inappropriately.

Which made it all the more surprising when, during the discussion afterwards, several students said they thought the movie held up well.

I would have said the same, having found the two hour-plus story engaging throughout, but I wonder if they realize that some of the things they took for intentionally funny were not meant to be that way at all.

The professor had told them that the reason he was showing "Amarcord" was because, as future filmmakers, they needed to have an understanding of film history and how influential Fellini had been on many films with which they're more familiar.

If you'd seen the looks on their faces when he said that, you'd know it was probably the funniest thing they'd heard since third grade.

But then, that's why I go to the cinematheque. It's as much about seeing a worthwhile film as it is about learning how the current crop of students think.

I have a feeling more than just Saint Louis is crying about that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Heard It through the Grapevine

Outhouses, tigers and Norton, oh, my!

A gentleman caller invited me out for a trip through Goochland, a place I hadn't been for nearly two years since my excursion to Nadolski's butcher shop to watch a side of beef broken down.

This trip involved no animal parts that weren't cooked.

Passing the bucolic-looking  Correctional Center for Women, my companion commented that if a person was going to be put away, a place with rolling hills, picaresque barns and cows grazing looked better than most.

I was more interested in eating than incarceration and it wasn't long before we stopped at Tanglewood Ordinary, a place adorned with cans of "dehydrated water" and "Florida sunshine," and a bathroom door with a cutout of a crescent moon on it.

More importantly, home of grandmother's Sunday dinner.

Having grown up with a chicken-frying grandmother, it wasn't far off for me.

And because nothing pairs with fried yard bird like bubbles, we got a bottle of Zonin Prosecco to accompany our chicken, mashed potatoes, greens, mac and cheese, green beans and gravy. Oh, yes, and barbecue.

I'm not dissing T.O.'s grandmother or anything, but seems to me she overcooked the breast pieces, so we soon requested of young Ian, our strapping server, that he bring us all dark meat.

Much better.

Ian was a pro, coming over after a while and giving us a knowing look. "Slowing down, aren't you?" he said with some pity.

We were indeed, but we were also well-sated, so no more bowls of food were forthcoming.

On the way out, we stopped to buy t-shirts as souvenirs of our mega-meal, with the cashier trying to convince me I didn't want to get a small.

"We mostly have those for kids," she said, suggesting I try it on.

Even over a tank top and a shirt, the t-shirt fit just fine and I took it despite her warning.

Perhaps if I ate at the Ordinary more frequently, I could qualify for a respectable medium, but not so far.

It was a gloriously sunny afternoon so we made our next stop Byrd Cellars, where the owner warned us outside that there was a lively group already in the tasting room.

True that with a group of women celebrating the 30th birthday of the one in the orange boa loudly and enthusiastically.

We waited out on the deck with half-glasses of pink sangria to placate us until they finished tasting, bought celebratory wine and headed outside to the pastel-colored Adirondack chairs on the grassy hill overlooking the James.

Our pourer was a talker, tasting us through everything from the Meadowsweet, a a white wine tasting of strawberry and apple to Raven Red, a blend that included Chambourcin (a grape of which I'm fond), and named after Poe because of their son's affinity for his work.

As we sipped, she not only gave us wine information, but regaled us with stories of a two-week trip to Ireland for a wedding, a month-long trip to Scotland and a funny story about a southern lady who was highly offended to enter the tasting room and find Dahlgren's Raid red on the mantle.

Oh, my dear, that simply isn't done! As the pourer put it, laughing, "We compromised. She didn't buy any of our wine and we didn't take it off the mantel."

150 years out and still fighting for the Lost Cause.

We took a bottle of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon out to the Adirondack chairs, the winery owner's little granddaughter following us, chattering away.

"Don't go down the hill!" she cautioned, eyes wide and all sincerity. "There's tigers down there!"

Well, that's one way to make sure a little one doesn't go too far afield.

During the time we sat there sipping, we saw no lions, tigers or bears.

Elk Island Winery, named after a nearby island in the James, was literally next door but mercifully without the emphasis on spiced wine and sweet apple wine.

Walking in to their tasting parlor, a charming name for the tasting space, we found the same birthday group just finishing up a tasting.

Once they moved to the deck to cut the tiniest of birthday cakes, we replaced them at the bar with the winemaker's wife pouring for us.

She was funny talking about the doom and gloom attitude of the birthday girl ("Come back and talk to me when you're 40, or better yet, 50, honey!" she joked) and thrilled to find out we were not only Norton fans, but knew of Norton Street named after the good doctor.

By the time we walked back up the pine needle path to the car, we'd procured three bottles to choose from to go with the rabbit stew we were planning for dinner.

The rabbit had come from a bit further afield - Culpeper's Saddle Ridge Farms, so I'd procured it in advance -  to ensure we'd have some Virginia rabbit to accompany our Virginia grape.

A 30-year old may be able to pull off an orange boa, but will she know to bring a rabbit and put on the Marvin Gaye station for dinner?

Mercy, mercy me, no.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Who You Gonna Call?

Flash back to 1984.

Seriously, the last time I'd seen "Ghostbusters" was when it first came out at a theater in D.C. back in the Reagan years.

Buying my ticket today at Movieland behind a group of what looked like Girl Scouts and their leader, I couldn't help but be surprised at how many people were in line for this show.

Ditto the ticket seller, who said perplexed, "Usually when we show these old movies, hardly anyone comes."

Don't I know it, honey. I'm usually one of six in the theater for Movies and Mimosas.

Inside the theater, there were already at least three dozen people in place, but I found a seat in my favorite row and the only other people in it were a couple of barely twenty-somethings.

I overheard them say that the rest of their group was out in the lobby finishing their mimosas. The ones who were legal, I guess.

When the rest of the clan arrived, they filled up all the seats in our row and began chatting.

Not a problem, or at least it wasn't until the movie began.

Several immediately started squawking because there were no previews.

"What could they preview? 'Ghostbusters 2'?" one challenged.

"They could show 1980s previews," another suggested.

And then as the featured film began, one piped up, "So what is this movie about?"

If the non-stop chatter had stopped there, I'd have been fine, but it didn't.

"Ghostbusters" has no opening credits; you see the title and the story begins at once. Meanwhile these idiots are carrying on multiple full-volume conversations like they're in their dorm room.

I couldn't help myself.

You guys are going to have to be quiet. Thank you, I said in my firmest voice and was rewarded with a mollified look and a timid "oh, okay" from the lone male.

Were you raised by wolves?

The movie begins in the New York public library with a spirit wreaking havoc, sending books flying off shelves and the cards in the card catalog exploding out of the drawers.

I feel quite certain the others in my row had no clue what the drawers or the cards were but at least they were quiet now.

Not sure why I was surprised at how baby-faced Dan Aykroyd looked or how adept Bill Murray was at ad-libbing lines, but the risque-for-the-time humor was as '80s as I expected.

Are you menstruating?
What does that have to do with it?
Back off, man, I'm a scientist.

Hysterical dialog aside, as always, it's the snapshot of the period that fascinates me.

Sigourney Weaver sported a very 1984 perm almost identical to the one I was wearing when I first saw this movie. Hell, every female character had big hair.

"Print is dead," one character declares authoritatively. Wait, we knew that then?

We heard Casey Kasem's Top 40 on the radio, a man and a program I hadn't thought of in years.

After seeing a spirit in her refrigerator, Sigourney enlists Bill Murray to come check, only to find it full of junk food. "What was he doing in my icebox?" she asks. People still said icebox in 1984?

Smoking was rampant and even the ghostbusters smoked while wearing their highly flammable proton packs.

Once Sigourney is possessed, she wears a full-on "Flashdance" one-shouldered dress, just like we all wore in 1984.

Her accountant neighbor Louis, played by geek extraordinaire Rick Moranis, throws a party (inviting clients so he can write it off, natch) and to further show how uncool he is, not only plans to play Twister, but the music at his party is "Disco Inferno."

Gawd, Louis, that song is so 1976.

But the most telling line for me was when Ernie Hudson's character, Winston, the new hire at Ghostbusters, gets freaked out by the demons facing them.

"This job is definitely not worth eleven thousand a year!" he screams.

That's just about exactly what I was making in 1984, big hair, off-the-shoulder shirt and all.

But let's be clear. I was not listening to "Disco Inferno."

Stirring Up the Lewdly-Inclined

With Bootleg Shakespeare, you gotta want it.

Meaning, you gotta be willing to eat a late lunch (3:45 at Garnett's, where I run into the guy who recently gave me a mix tape and thank him for his mix making) and stand in line for a good, long while.

Say, from 4:45 to 6:10 when Pru and I finally procure tickets and are free until the 7:30 curtain time.

Waiting for tickets, the head usher comes out in an ensemble that could stop traffic: leather lace-up pants, a vest, heels and a red, white and blue stars and stripes shirt he bought for his first concert back in the '70s. Naturally, I had to inquire what that show was and was told it was the Fifth Dimension at Franklin Street gym. He came *this* close to dancing with Marilyn McCoo, he said.


Another usher is dressed in silver lame pants with silver boots and lots of bling. It's a magnificently '70s ensemble. The man in line ahead of me eventually joins our conversation about the people butting in front of the line and later gives me a quizzical look and says, "You're the one who writes the blog, right?"

How the hell did you know that? "I figured it out," he claims. Yea, right.

Leaving the ticket line to kill time, we pass the waiting line, now well past Staples, and I hear someone call out to me, "Hey, beautiful!" As Pru and I discussed, those are words no woman ever tires of hearing.

Back inside, director James Ricks explains that the beauty of doing a play like "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" is that it's infrequently produced, thus there are no expectations. No ghosts of Richard Burton, as he explains it.

Just 17 actors, no rehearsals and absolute fun.

The bootleg production has a band and they begin the play by playing Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" with the entire cast dancing like Charlie Brown characters in the Christmas special.

Nick Aliff is immediately awesome as Antiochus, complete with Brando-like mumbled vowels and an incestuous relationship with his daughter, played by the lollipop-sucking, knee sock-wearing McLean Jesse. John Mincks' character is at once getting laughs as he continually loses a lens to his glasses.

Fittingly for bootleg, sailing ships are depicted with paper cut outs and sticks bobbing behind the backdrop. When Pericles lands on famine-starved Tarsus, he saves them with candy corn and bags of Cookout burgers.

Because of the lack of rehearsals and time to study lines, the evening is filled with actors calling, "Line!" as well as creative ways to bring dialog onstage: inside a breastplate, written on a palm, using a phone, reading off a "letter."

The French get skewered by Adam Mincks wearing a turtleneck, smoking a cigarette, saying "merdre!" and dancing like a '50s beatnik. Absolutely hysterical.

Led Zep is played between scenes, songs like "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," and, for a moment, "Stairway to Heaven," before the cast revolts and shouts, "No 'Stairway to Heaven'!" Thaisa's suitors do a dance-off to determine who will win her hand while she (Grey Garrett) sips a juice box.

One of the most charming scenes involved baby Marina, held in the arms of the nurse and following Evan/Pericles side to side, watching him everywhere he moved.

During intermission, one lucky attendee won the raffle to play a pirate in the second act, hook, parrot and all.

Late in the play when John Mincks' character is trying to make a deal with McLean Jesse's, his shorts around his ankles, he repeatedly asked for his line until eventually letting prompter Kerrigan Sullivan read the entire passage. "All of that!" Mincks shouted with a flourish and walked off stage.

Yet again, the beauty of the bootleg.

He wasn't the only one feeling the fatigue of a long play and little rehearsal; eventually during Pericles' rough period, Evan said, "I am great with wine," when the line was really, "I am great with woe."

Wine, woe, potato, potah-to.

Because I'd never read or seen "Pericles" produced, it was a pleasure to watch the story unfold, never quite sure what might happen. Who knew there'd be so many presumed dead still alive? So much incest? So much attempted prostitution?

Few love to hear the sins they love to act.

I love to hear whatever the participants of bootleg Shakespeare want to act.


I am great with bawdy appreciation.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Playing Hooky

What do you mean you can't come to the phone? What are you doing? It's the middle of the afternoon! Don't make me speculate!

Pru's phone message was hysterical, but there was nothing to speculate about.

A friend and I had planned to drive out to the river to have lunch at Merroir, a Friday afternoon treat to ourselves.

He drove while regaling me with stories of what the area near West Point reminded him of, namely his childhood in rural North Carolina.

There was one tale of how he was taught to clean catfish as a Boy Scout: nail the fish to a tree (!) by its head, then make an "X" under the gill and use pliers to peel off the tough skin.

"It was okay at the beginning of the summer, but by mid-summer the stench of old fish heads on tree trunks was pretty bad," he said with masterful understatement.

We stopped for gas at a station where the sign read, "Fish/hunting licenses. Bait & tackle. Tornados-nachos-sandwiches." When he asked if I needed anything, all I could request was how a store sold tornadoes.

Arriving at Merroir, we debated eating outside under the big tree, but decided it wasn't quite warm enough. That said, others arrived and were braver, although one had on a puffy ski jacket with the hood up and another table had brought their own blankets, which they wrapped around themselves like cocoons.

Up on the porch, we found only one couple and they invited us to share the space with them. Also from Richmond, she admitted she had called in sick today so she and her husband could have an adventure together. That said, they had checked Yelp before coming out (you know, because strangers' opinions matter) and did not eat either raw oysters or lamb.

Friend and I settled in with a view of the incredibly blue river through the plastic shades and began our multi-course lunch. We'd order a couple of things and our server would try to take our menus and we'd insist we weren't full, until she gave up even trying.

The music was odd, everything from Led Zeppelin to the Shins so I finally had to ask, sure that they were no longer playing owner Ryan Croxton's approved mix, as they had for so long.

Nope, Black Keys radio was to blame for the Shins and the Rolling Stones. Still, the volume was good and it could have been much worse, say, Journey radio.

Since it was my friend's first Merroir outing, we started with a sampler of dozen oysters, four buttery Rapphannocks, four mildly salty Stingrays and four briny Old Saltes. Friend swooned with pleasure over the perfection of the oysters eaten riverside.

Next we got a pound of fresh North Carolina steamed shrimp and the woman playing hooky told us how much they had enjoyed theirs. "I didn't even know there was such a thing as homemade cocktail sauce," she admitted. "I thought it only came in bottles, like ketchup."

In a case like that, there really is nothing to do but smile.

My friend had to know about the Stuffin' Muffin, a mainstay on the menu and with a direct lineage to Chef Pete's mother's post-Thanksgiving day recipe. Oyster stuffing, celery, scallions and gravy soon had my friend moaning, eyes closed, "This tastes like everything I ever ate as a child."

A very good thing, he assured me.

The grilled romaine salad came loaded with anchovies after we made our love of small fish known to our eager-to-please server. The giant crabcake came atop a thick slice of Italian bread with remoulade oozing over it all and almost pushed us over the edge.

I wanted the beef sliders jut to eat from the land for something different and that was all she wrote. As in, we were full or at least full of savory so our server began working on us for dessert.

Our only option was grilled pound cake with apples, caramel sauce and homemade whipped cream and Friend said yes before I could remind him we were stuffed. Not that one adult should have to remind another of that, but his eyes were kind of glazed and I knew he was in his first Merroir-induced food coma.

We finally stood up to go for a stroll and prove that we could still move, heading down to the dock area, which seems to sport an upgrade every time I return.

This time, rope fencing had been added to cordon off the river seating area from the parking area, which was fine, but also the dock had been replaced and railings put up on three sides, which was so not okay. 
Every single other time I've been to Merroir, my visit has ended by sitting on the end of the dock, enjoying the river view with my feet hanging over the water.

I have shared a bottle of wine sitting there (carried down by our server), I have been kissed sitting there and I've even extended my bare foot down to the water to feel the temperature on a particularly hot summer day (warm as bath water).

Those days are gone, sadly.

My friend didn't know the difference, but I did and it made me a little sad to see how fancy Merroir keeps getting when only a year or two ago, it was the simplest and loveliest place to spend an afternoon or evening eating and drinking.

Not that the food isn't still stellar. It is. Not that the porch and yard aren't still delightful places to wile away hours. They are. Not that paying $15 for a dozen oysters instead of $24 like at the Grace Street offshoot, Rappahannock, isn't still part of the allure. It is.

Stop gilding the lily, guys. Merroir's rustic appeal needs no more improvements.

I don't want to have to nail a catfish head to that big tree to make my point.

Incidental Art and Wine

I wouldn't have thought discovering your talent would be accidental.

But at Gallery A for D. Jack Solomon's discussion of his show "Incidental Dramas for the 21st Century," that's just one of the many things we heard about from the 80-year old painter.

It took me forever to go the mile to the gallery because of building construction, road work and closed streets, but it was worth it when I finally got there.

Jack immediately came over to say nice things about the interview I'd done with him for Style Weekly.

The talk had been originally planned to be held at VCU so all those struggling young painters would come hear from someone who's been making a living with a paintbrush for decades.

But logistics prevailed and it just made more sense to have the talk at the gallery where Jack could move around and use his paintings as part of the talk.

A lot of Richmond's old art community were representing. Janet and Rudy from the recently-closed Main Art (and stressed about the sale of that building), sculptor Myron (who had been Jack's best man back in the '70s and warned Jack before the talk, "This better be entertaining!"), and more painters than you could shake a stick at.

As the first official cold night of the Fall, I'd broken out some new tights and got compliments galore on them (sometimes offhanded, like the women who praised the tights and then said, "Great tights but then you have great legs so of course they look good" Um, thanks?), including a filmmaker who sidled up as we were moving from one painting to another and said sotto voice, 'Amazing tights, by the way."

After everyone had glasses of bubbly in hand, Jack began with the largest work in the show, one in his "Funny Papers" series using old comic images from the mid-40s as the collage basis for the painting.

I already knew a fair amount about his process from our hour and a half long interview, but there was also much new to be gleaned, like how he always makes black from complementary colors.

Color cancels color, a fact I'd forgotten from a long-ago college art history class.

As a result, his blacks are just the blackest and if you're not sure what I mean, you need to go to Gallery A and see for yourself.

He talked about how he had not been an artistic kid, how he'd been an athletic kid always playing sports.

Then in high school, he'd been failing science and his coach got worried if he did, he'd be kicked off the team, so he intervened.

Jack was taken out of science class and put in an introduction to art class, where a series of drawing exercises proved effortless for him and impressive to his teacher.

The series began with drawing a glass and more things were added in each exercise until at the end, there was a brush moving in the glass.

Jack nailed that sense of motion and got an "A" in the class and suddenly, a painter was born.

Yet another example of how random life can be. What if he hadn't been failing science? What if he hadn't had a watchful coach? What if, what if?

As Jack moved around the gallery talking about his process, his way of thinking about the picture plane ("The field is more important than the objects"), he even gave me a shout out for the article.

It was very sweet.

Even without acknowledgement, it was a treat to hear someone enthuse about their life's work as happily as if he were just starting out.

Afterwards, I mingled and met several new people, including one woman who'd been working in video production and was about to retire.

Jack introduced us and when she found out I was a freelance writer, said that was her intention after retiring and asked for advice.

Sure, get used to living at poverty level, but having your life completely how you want it.

"Right, like you could work in your pajamas until noon if you wanted to!" she gushed.

Sure, if I wore pajamas and if I somehow got back from my walk before noon (tough because I'm rarely up that early), I could do that.

Or I could just stay up until 3 a.m. drinking wine and talking about life, love and embracing the lazy and not worry about pre-noon at all.

I accidentally found out a few years ago that that's where my real talent lies.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Awarding the Gold

Just when I think my love life is looking up, it gets trumped in spades.

Not that I think wooing is a competitive sport.

With plans to meet a girlfriend for music, I left for a solo dinner at the Roosevelt.

The Weaker Thans were blasting when I got there, alerting me to the fact that we weren't listening to bartender T's music.

Nope, it was Brandon ("Canada's finest!" he grinned when I asked about the source of the tunes), the artist behind one of my largest pieces of art, and he started by recommending Potomac Point Abbinato, a Chianti-style blend, perfect for barbecued chicken, and his current favorite.

Since I was the sole customer, my spicy steak tartare came out in what seemed like the blink of an eye, full of capers and with house-made potato chips and pickled cucumber slices on the side to balance out the richness.

I call that a really good start to the evening. The chef came out and we talked about the upcoming and ill-timed Beast Feast.

Then it was time for the wine to do its pairing job with smokey chicken wings with Alabama white sauce (white sauce with barbecue sauce and sinus-clearing horseradish) and the Roosevelt's own hot sauce.

I enjoyed every bit of the heat of the crispy wings (drumettes and middle joints) and before long had sticky fingers and a tongue looking for a cool-down.

My fingers were nicely taken care of when Brandon showed up with a hot, wet napkin spiraled into a coffee cup.

One of the staff walked by and whispered conspiratorially, "We're all dressing as "The Outsiders" for Halloween. Everyone wants to be a greaser except one girl who said she'd be a soc."

Well, who would want to be a social when they could be a greaser?

Back at the eating ranch, I'd saved the best (or at least the most decadent) for last.

Crispy fried pig's head was covered in a fried egg and arugula with New Orleans barbecued shrimp surrounding the head.

I doubt even a Social ever got served something so obscene.

The server walked by again, bringing the latest Halloween bulletin to me. "And we're going to be zombies, too!" she grinned. Zombie Outsiders?

"Yes!" she said manically. You crazy kids.

I had no more time to discuss greasers or Weaker Thans because I had to get to Globehopper to meet my friend for a show.

Of course, I immediately ran into someone I knew and was so busy chatting that when my friend arrived, she sailed right by me, never even noticing me.

When she did, I took what little time we had before music to check on what she'd been up to.

The look she gave me told me that there were several good stories there and not nearly enough time. 

Singer-songwriter Clair Morgan went first and a musician friend had earlier filled me in on just how talented Clair was.

Even so, I was blown away with his literate and insightful songs of life and love.

Playing guitar and with a female back up singer, he held the coffee shop in his thrall as he played through his set.

There were several young children running amok at the show and one ran up and started twirling mid-song, resulting in Clair saying, "Sorry it isn't better dancing music."

A very tolerant attitude, I thought.

Favorite lyric: "Getting older each day and there's no one listening." 

After Clair's set, I swung around and told my girlfriend to spill the beans. I could not have anticipated how many beans she had.

There was the charming date who'd taken her to dinner, the symphony and out for drinks, then shown up the next day to replace a long burnt-out light bulb on her front porch, which he just happened to have noticed.

Oh, yes, and he cleaned her front windows while he was there.

The next day, there was the lunch date who picked her up at work and took her for a picnic of what she said were the best sandwiches she'd had in some time.

Something about perfectly crusty baguettes and a thermos of good coffee that had her in raptures.

Then that night, she heard a knock on her door at 10:00 and there was Guy #3, a long-time friend, with a bouquet of flowers and professing his love and devotion for her right there on her stoop. 

Good god, what pheromone does this woman have?

I don't see her for five days and she's had more action than you could shake a stick at.

As the Weaker Thans would say, it's a "Tournament of Hearts."

Our conversation was cut short when the Low Branches began, but they're always worth it.

Christina has such a beautiful voice and while her songs tend to be sad ("All our songs are depressing, but we brought our best and brightest!" she joked), Matt's guitar and Josh's bass make for some truly lovely music.

Time stood still when they did a cover of "Jolene."

Thanking the crowd for coming, Christina said, "It's so nice. There's a lot of people here we like and a lot we don't...know." The crowd laughed. "But we'll like you, too! I'm not sure when they're going to take the mic away from me." 

Apologizing for a recent cold affecting her ability to hit some high notes on a song, they finished with a Turkish song sung so superbly it was hard to believe she'd been sick.

Singing in Turkish, he voice had far more energy than her usual sad songs, both a pleasure to hear and very striking.

And just like that, the show was over. I immediately informed my friend we were going out for a glass to finish our discussion.

Forgetting that it was restaurant week, we ended up at a very busy Julep's for wine while all around us people dined for $25.13 and the kitchen no doubt wanted to kill themselves.

And if not over restaurant week, surely over Beast Feast, at least from what I'm hearing.

Since it's Virginia Wine Month, I had my second Virginia wine of the evening, this one the Rosemont Lake Country Red, a fruit-forward and silky blend.

Over vino, I got all the details of her past few days, right down to who has a chance and who's already out of the running.

The Weaker Thans would call that part of her love life "The Reasons."

Honestly, you need a scorecard to keep track of the players. For her, not me, that is.

I can't decide if they'd call mine "A New Name for Everything" or "The Last Last One."

It all comes down to who's listening.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Triangles, Like Songs and Minor Keys

There was lots of music calling to me tonight.

I started at the Listening Room where the poet was handing out programs and lamenting her cold, a remnant of a debauched long weekend with another poet.

I didn't need to tell her we reap what we sow.

Dropping off the cookies I'd volunteered to bring, a discussion ensued about the six that had fallen off the cookie sheet onto my kitchen floor.

A musician insisted I should have brought them anyway while another guy told a story of a slice of pizza landing cheese down on carpet and asking whether or not that was fair game.

My grandmother always said if you were hungry enough you'd eat anything, I shared, and one girl said, "Even if it has a hair in it?" I left them to it.

It was time to stake my territory but, lo and behold, somebody large was in my seat.


The funny part was that three different people came up to me before the show started asking what in the hell that woman was doing in my seat.

Dunno, but she was too big for me to take on, so I took the nearest available and made do.

Emcee Chris started after 8:00, as usual ("I got a text and an arm tug telling me I was late"), saying, "I'm pleased to introduce a really neat collaboration. Who says neat? A really cool collaboration, JJ Burton."

The trio included two long-time favorites of mine, guitarist Scott Burton, whose ponytail is now halfway down his back, and trombonist/knobs/percussionist Reggie Pace, he of Bon Iver fame, along with drummer/keyboard player Devonne Harris.

Scott said the project began when he was writing his usual cinematic guitar pieces to which DJ Jneiro Jarel (hence the JJ part) added beats and that collaboration had morphed into this three-piece we were seeing.

It was their first time playing out, not that you could tell given what stellar musicians these guys are (at one point Reggie was playing trombone with one hand and twisting knobs with the other) and after their first prolonged piece, Scott looked up, smiling and nodding at the other two as if to acknowledge how well it had gone.

Sitting in the audience listening to the elaborate soundscapes they were creating, we already knew that.

Sound came from drumsticks on cymbals, triangles and Scott's flying fingers for a truly impressive new sound from some old favorites.

After the break we got Josh Small and Bonnie Staley, both Listening Room alums, with Laura singing back-up for a set of country-tinged songs.

They began with one of Josh's, "Grace Inez" about his 80-year old grandmother followed by a 1938 song, "Hello, Stranger," a song Bonnie had always loved before discovering Josh did too.

Their three voices melded beautifully, talent on top of talent.

Josh's "Tallest Tree" he described by saying, "Most of my songs are self-absorbed and depressing and this one is no different. It's not a love song but it's surely a like song."

Well, if you can't find love, I guess like will have to do.

More covers followed - Gillian Welch's "Red Clay Halo" and Loretta Lynn's "Honky Tonk Girl," which Bonnie described as, "A good song about being sad and young."

"The next song is an original," Josh said, "But don't worry, it's wildly derivative. It's called "Family Farm," but that's disingenuous because we never had a farm. I grew up in Falls Church, Virginia."

The James Taylor-inspired song may have been about an imagined life, but was a solid winner for the voices singing it.

They closed with what Josh called "my rap-iest" song but Bonnie corrected him to, "Your most R & B-est, maybe," a better assessment of a song that blended country and soul.

As Listening Rooms go, the program was easily one of the most diverse ever, making it a music-lover's dream, even if they couldn't sit in their own seat.

But I'm not complaining.

After the Listening Room ended, a bunch of us hurried over to Grace Street for a special edition of Live at Ipanema.

It was kind of a big deal because playing was Nashville guitarist William Tyler, so people kept on coming.

A friend and I ordered pumpkin spice cake to celebrate the season and found bar stools with a straight shot view of the playing area.

Dave Watkins got the crowd warmed up with his dulcitar playing (which Tyler later called "inspiring") and yet again, I watched as first timers went from casually listening to wondering how Dave was making so much sound, a couple eventually coming around to stand in front of him and watch him work his looping magic.

By the time Tyler picked up his 12-string guitar and started playing, Ipanema was mobbed, probably even unsafely so.

People were everywhere, kneeling, sitting and standing to watch him play his instrumental guitar music.

He started by saying that a girl had come up to him before the show and said, "I love the books you're reading," a reference to his song titles which reflect just that.

It turns out that since there are no lyrics, Tyler likes to explain every song, where it came from, how it was written, to set the scene before playing.

So with his idea of "light reading," we heard "Cadillac Desert" about water policy in the West, "Poets and Saints" which he called a "cathedral psychedelic song for a non-existent religion" and once he switched to six-string, "We Can't Go Home Again," which he'd begun writing in Nashville and finished in Dublin after visiting his girlfriend's parents unannounced.

It was funny, when he started playing, the guitarists in the room just stood there slack-jawed, but soon they all moved and congregated directly in front of Tyler where they had an unobstructed view to watch this wizard of the strings.

"Geography of Nowhere" was born out of a 20-hour train ride where the same Turkish folk song played endlessly, "full of minor key melody," he explained.

When he got home, he tried to replicate elements of the song as best he could, making for an evocative piece.

After that, Tyler instructed us, "Everyone needs to sit down," and those who could, did, including himself.

Seated, he played "Missionary Ridge," but only after explaining that the name is that of a mountain range near a Civil War battlefield, one that continued, he said, to have a sense of being haunted.

The music was much the same.

After his set, people flocked to the back to buy his records and rave about the solo guitar they'd just heard.

Up front, people lingered and I chatted for a while with a girlfriend I hadn't seen in weeks before getting up to leave.

"Thanks for coming, Karen," one of the organizers called to me.

What idiot wouldn't take advantage of such excellent free music on a random Tuesday night?

Even seat-stealers couldn't resist.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Legs M.I.A.

My legs were covered day and night and that tells the whole story.

Sunday night, it was a black burnt velvet dress (purchased by a former boyfriend back in 1997 at Lex's in Carytown) that ended at my feet, the better to fit in for the black-tie Richmond Theater Critics Circle awards (aka the Artsies) at the November Theater.

Considering that my skirts always end well above the knees, my full-length attire was cause for comment.

"You look beautiful but what did you do with your legs?" I was asked in the lobby pre-show.

Put them away for the night?

After hearing that I looked swanky, I explained that that's like telling someone they look casual. I got an amended, "You look really good," far more complimentary to my ears.

One of the evening's hosts, Michael Hawke, came onstage and yelled, "Good evening, Richmond bitches!" setting the tone for a raucous evening celebrating local theater.

Not that I'm partial or anything, but Matt and Maggie, hosts of the monthly Ghost Light Afterparty, did some of the funniest awards presenting, using every possible opportunity to crack wise.

"Look at this! Everyone's in costume, everyone's wasted, clearly this is GLAP!" Matt joked before Maggie clarified it was the Artsies.

When they went to announce their first award, he yelled, "Wait! We have to have a drum roll!" and pulled out the GLAP bongos a familiar sight to regulars.

"I'm still not convinced this isn't the GLAP," Matt said, playing it to the hilt. "I'm pretty sure I saw Karen at the bar."

"I'm gonna go look for Karen!" Maggie said, using me as an excuse to leave her hosting duties and get a drink.

And while I wasn't at the bar (I was in my seat like a good attendee), it's always good to get a solid shout-out from the GLAP crew.

As if an evening with my assets hidden wasn't enough, I took a day to go to the country to traipse through the woods at the invitation of a friend.

The invite came with a warning, though.

"I know you're not fond of long pants but I'm going to recommend you wear a pair and some shoes suitable for hiking so we can trek through the wilderness."

What are these long pants you speak of, friend?

But I took the caveat to heart, went to Diversity Thrift and found a pair of jeans that I was told looked straight out of the disco.

Hip-huggers, multiple zippered pockets front and back, wide bell-bottoms and only $5.25, they were about as groovy (and cheap) as they come.

If there'd been a disco on the other side of the state forest, I could have gone there directly.

Instead, I spent most of a day wearing jeans, so rare an occurrence for me that I can tell you the last time I had denim obliterating a view of my gams.

February 2009.

I'm not expecting to put jeans back on again anytime soon, because what's the point in having good legs and not showing them off? Twice was more than enough.

Okay, maybe if I get invited to the disco.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Life Has No Plot

The zipless fuck is 40 years old.

I'd never have known that except that the Washington Post ran a piece last week about Erica Jong's seminal 1973 book Fear of Flying.

Naturally, I did what any red-blooded woman who'd read the book in college would do. I went to my bookshelves to find my 1983 reprint so I could reread it.

Lest we forget, author John Updike compared it to Catcher in the Rye. Henry Miller said it would make literary history.

But would it hold up four decades later?

I was immediately sucked in by all of it. Jong's prose, the period details, the cultural snapshot of the period when women were coming into their own and even the smart ones were finally feeling like it was okay to enjoy sex for sex's sake.

Remember, this was back in a time when nervous flyers like Jong's heroine Isadora can't wait for the "No smoking" sign to go off on a flight so they could light up. Lots of mentions of women's lib. Money is "bread."

But mainly, I am struck by just how different a culture it was. Sitting in a cafe, Isadora thinks, "Already I was attracting the kind of quizzical glances a woman alone attracts."

What a dreadful time for a woman comfortable with her own company to live, always needing to be mindful of society's constraints. No, thank you.

I'd completely forgotten what the story was about and avidly followed Isadora as she abandoned her second husband at a convention in Vienna to take off for a summer tooling around Europe in a convertible with a man she's wildly attracted to.

With days spent doing nothing more than driving, drinking beer and lounging at swimming pools, Isadora worries about their relationship.

She: Am I a bore? Do I repeat myself?
He: Yes, but I like being bored by you. It's more amusing than being amused by someone else.
She: I like the flow of conversation when we're together. I never worry about making an impression on you. I tell you what I think.
He: We talk well. Without lumps and bumps. You're open. You contradict yourself all the time, but I rather like that. It's human.

What struck me about that passage was not just how well it illustrates a desirable level of communication between two lovers, but how timeless the goal of finding someone with whom you feel that comfortable with is.

Although I don't recall, I feel certain Isadora's summer of self-discovery resonated far differently with me from my first reading to this most recent one.

The existentialist questions she asks of herself as she tries to figure out who and what she wants and how she wants to define herself and her life going forward were what had stayed in my head all these years and rereading it after decades of life experience confirmed those things as the essence of the book.

As for the zipless fuck ("The man is not taking and the woman is not giving...The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is") that became a buzzword for guilt-free, nameless sex enjoyed between strangers, when Isadora finally gets the chance for it late in the book, she finds she doesn't want it.

A big part of what impressed me this time was Jong's wisdom for one so young when she wrote this book back in the dark ages of the '70s.

Maybe marriages are best in middle age. When all the nonsense falls away and you realize you have to love one another because you're going to die anyway.

I'm quite sure I didn't know that at 29, so how did she?

Because she's Erica Jong and she was far enough ahead of the liberated literary curve to give us some life lessons couched in a road trip story with lots of sex, told for a change from the smart girl's point of view.

A brilliant zipless mind fuck, then and now.

Playing with the Borrowed Boyfriend

This is what it's come to: asking permission to go out with someone else's boyfriend.

I had tickets for a play and no one to go with, so I did the only logical thing - asked a friend (who had to work tonight) for a loan.

Before long I heard from the boyfriend. "Sounds great. Which show? Can I treat you to dinner beforehand?"

Well, that was easy. Sure can.

We originally planned to got to Bistro 27 because of its proximity to the November theater, but they were full up so we ended up instead at Avenue 805, a place I hadn't eaten in probably four years.

They had the front door propped open, which I appreciated, and all the ceiling fans on, which I did not.

Rather than be the one to ask them to lower the wind velocity, I waited until another woman sat down and she immediately asked for them to be turned off. Well played, I thought.

Given the recent chill, I began with one of tonight's soups, a French onion with a peppery, dark broth and no cheese on top.

For old times' sake, I ordered the SSC cakes of shrimp, scallops and crab with lemon dill aioli over a mixed green salad.

I wasn't expecting two cakes, I wasn't expecting them to be as flat as pancakes and I wasn't expecting them to be without any discernible lumps of shrimp, scallops or crab.

The borrowed boyfriend was a good date, asking me questions about my dating life and recent work while supplying his own colorful stories so that the conversation never really lagged.

As a fellow dessert lover, we had high hopes for a sweet course after our so-so meals, but our nice but tentative server said there was only one: bread pudding.

I don't care if the restaurant is for sale, that's an appalling showing for dessert, so we opted out.

Then it was onward to the theater to see Cadence Theater's production of "Good People."

My considerate date tried to make up for the dessert fiasco by offering to buy me some candy when he went to get wine and I succumbed when I spotted Rolos.

After taking our seats in the tiny black box theater, we sat back to enjoy a play that won a New York Drama Critics award and was nominated for a Tony award for Best Play.

If you're going to borrow a date, better to borrow him for something good.

The story was set in a blue-collar neighborhood in South Boston and began with Margie, played with depth and grace by Dawn Westbrook, getting fired from her job at the Dollar Store.

As her boss is trying to fire her, she informs him everyone thinks he's gay. Why, he asks. "Cause you go to bingo a lot," Margie says to the first big laughs of the evening.

Worried that she and her adult, mentally-challenged daughter will end up on the street, like former classmate Cookie who died on the sidewalk and no one noticed for two days, Margie visits an old flame who's now a doctor, in hopes of finding work.

Before she goes, her friend Jean, played to wise-cracking perfection by feather-haired Jacquie O'Connor, suggests she tell him her daughter is his.

"I could just pull a Maury Povich on his ass!" Margie squeals with delight.

It was the second act when Margie visits the doctor at his home in a tony neighborhood and meets his much younger, black wife that she begins to lie about the paternity of her daughter in hopes of getting financial help.

But not before getting a lesson in fancy cheeses ("The worse they smell, the better the cheese")  and finding out what a "push" present is (think childbirth reward).

That scene, the heart of the play, had the audience alternately laughing and gasping as the three of them say and hear things better left unsaid and heard.

Katrinah Carol Lewis played the wife, conveying the entitlement of a privileged upbringing, the pain of a spouse who had been hurt repeatedly and the fire of a fierce and devoted mother to her own daughter.

Even though it was opening night, the cast was on point, even skillfully changing the elaborate sets (for so small a space) in a timely manner so that just as the song clip ended, the actors took their places, every picture hung, every newspaper folded.

"Good People" was about how each of us determines our life by the choices we make while fate occasionally steps in and throws us a curve ball.

Yet again, Cadence has chosen a compelling, new play, filled it with strong actors and left the audience to absorb the fireworks.

As a theater friend enthused as we were walking out, "Wow, what did we just see?"

We saw a play where theater reflects life with lines like, "Cause what guy could resist a middle-aged lady in Goodwill clothes?"

Hopefully none, although, for the record, my ensemble came from Diversity Thrift, not Goodwill.

My loaner date was too impressed with the play to even notice.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Life is Like Dancing

Nothing like poetry and dance to cleanse the soul.

Not that I know that my soul's in particularly bad shape, but it never hurts to pay it forward.

That and on my walk this morning, I'd overheard a VCU student on the phone saying she was on the way to the li-berry.

Truly, I worry for our linguistic future sometimes. Poetry helps assuage those fears.

Chop Suey was hosting poet and Library of Virginia literary award finalist Luann Keener-Mikenas reading from her books "Color Documentary" and "Homeland," the nominated one.

"Elephants" provided the evocative phrase, "Deep in your many-corridored memory," but "The Indigo Bunting," took the prize for my favorite line.

These days we look through the nothing that is not there to the everything that is.

Kind of a life philosophy, I thought.

Literary soul thus fed, a friend and I traversed the river for some cultural feeding of the highest order.

Dogtown Dance Theater was hosting the 15th annual Yes! National Dance Invitational, an evening of some of the country's best dance troupes.

Before the show started, we were advised to silence all cell phones and devices and to stow any small children under the stairwell.

I love a director with a sense of humor and the right attitude about rug rats.

As the lights came up and the back curtain began to open, I was struck again by what a superior dance performance space this theater is.

With a front row seat and a towering ceiling, it was easy to feel one with the dancers without any coordination required.

Gin Dance company out of northern Virginia led off with "The Core," precisely executed by the raven-haired Shu-Chen Cuff at center, surrounded by four dancers with much lighter tresses complementing her hair and eastern dance movements.

Melissa Chisena choreographed and danced a piece called "Breathe," mesmerizingly set to a woman (what else?) breathing into a microphone while nearby a man played a jug for percussion.

Her every movement was matched by syncopated breath work that became the music of the piece. It was a truly unique piece.

S/OAP Lab's piece, "Praedari," began with the sound of thunder and was compelling to watch because one dancer portrayed the predator and the other the prey.

Very aware of each other, but maintaining their distance for most of the piece, it was hard not to empathize with the one being stalked.

Okay, and hard not to admire the lithe, chiseled body of the predator.

Richmond's own K Dance did "The Dog" by David Mamet, a piece that began with Kaye Weinstein Gary singing "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" to a stuffed dog before sliding off the pedestal to dance and move to the sounds of a dog barking and whimpering in between lines of Mamet's monologue.

"Rebound" got its title from the first two members of Houston Met Dance company who were tethered to each other, necessitating that they move in tandem, much like prisoners shackled together.

Two more couples soon joined them and instead of tethers, each wore a large black belt that his or her partner could use to lift and/or direct the other to a dramatic piece of music featuring piano and drums. It was an elegant ebb and flow of movement.

During intermission, we were kept amused by a raffle for a bottle of wine.

The woman at the end of our row was asked to pull out the winning name and, as luck would have it, pulled the name of her companion sitting right next to her.

What are the chances?

The second half of the program began with stellar local actress Molly Hood beginning a scene from Marsha Norman's short play "140."

Directed by the inimitable Billy Christopher Maupin, the theater/dance piece was a thought-provoking meditation on infidelity.

Weaving dialog at the front of the stage with a Greek chorus of dancers at the back of the stage moving silently, the scene revolved around characters discovering their lover was unfaithful but wanting to keep the lover anyway.

It heart-breakingly ended with each begging of the person they wronged, "Undo this."

If only the world worked that way.

Last, but certainly not least, was one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" troupes, BodyTraffic from Los Angeles.

Using the great American songbook- "Sunny Side of the Street," "All of Me," "Someone to Watch Over Me"- the wildly exuberant "o2Joy" was the killer closer the show deserved.

Taking inspiration from old musicals and with a definite nod to Gene Kelly, the five young dancers used jazz hands, lip synching, and tight choreography to express what absolutely felt like an ode to joy.

Come to think of it, the joy of watching so many talented dancers from all over the country all night long was yet another example of how lucky culture lovers are to be in Richmond.

Best of all, the performance repeats tomorrow afternoon and evening, meaning dance and theater lovers can savor a variety of dance, much the way many of us sampled a variety of music last weekend at the Folk Fest.

Sure, it'll feed your soul if that's what you need, but if your soul's fine, it'll also delight your senses.

Who'd have thought that Dogtown was the place to look through the nothing that is not there to the everything that is?

Anyone who saw tonight's performance, that's who.

Picking Up the Pieces

What a long, strange trip it's been.

That was the e-mail I got from an old friend I hadn't seen in well over a year, with a promise to tell me the story over lunch.

Because we've had so many outstanding meals at Bistro Bobette over the years, we agreed on that as our destination.

I walked in to find a blast from the past, a former bartender from a neighborhood haunt now waiting tables.

"I knew I'd see you in here eventually," he said hugging me.

Once seated on a banquette in the back, another smiling, familiar face arrived to greet me, this one a former Carytown restaurateur, whom I'd seen the last time I'd been in Bobette.

I got my first clue of what was to come when my friend surprised me by saying, "Order wine if you like, but I don't drink any more."

Nothing could have surprised me more. "Or smoke," he continued. What in the world?

We decided to order so he could start sharing. I went with the chickpea crepe of crabmeat and mushroom while he had sauteed rainbow trout with haricot verts.

My crepe came with a beautiful side salad made all the more delectable for the abundance of multi-colored grape tomato halves studding it.

We're so tragically close to the end of good tomato season.

Food in front of us, my friend began explaining all that had happened in the last six months.

He'd decided to give up alcohol and cigs because, as he put it, "I needed to before I die."

That had been followed by his wife of many years informing him that she was leaving, precipitating some serious depression on his part.

Like lay-in-bed and don't-get-up depression, not at all like my friend's usual busy days.

It's hard to know what to say when a long-time friend (18 years) tells you what a hard time he's been having after not seeing him for so long.

I was happy to hear that meds and therapy are helping him cope, as is sincere effort on his part to put things back together with his wife.

We decided to toast his efforts and hoped-for success at that with desserts: chocolate mousse and fig/red wine ice cream, both stellar.

It's sobering to realize how easy it is to let people drop off your radar when they stop reaching out to you.

The fact that we hadn't met up in more than a year I had attributed to my lack of initiation, never suspecting that his life was taking a downward spiral.

Talking and eventually laughing together, I realized how far he's come since his world fell apart and how restorative it was for him to be out with an old friend, just enjoying himself.

I remember when my own world collapsed a few years ago and what a process it had been climbing back out of all that for me.

Fingers crossed that he can piece together a new reality as satisfying as the one I fashioned out of my dark days, whatever that means for him.

What I'd learned was that sometimes long and strange just come with the territory. Now it's his turn.

You can do it, friend. Hang in there.

Keep It Moving

I was overdue for a good nine-hour evening.

First up was an in-store performance at my neighborhood record store, Steady Sounds.

Performing were a Japanese duo called Elekibass, two Japanese guys who love the Beatles and the Kinks.

The lead singer had a Beatles-esque mop-top and the lead guitarist (wearing a brown short with a lace jabot, I kid you not) somehow had curly Asian hair, making them totally adorable.

They began with an upbeat, sunny song called "Good Morning Blues," sung in heavily-accented English as the lead singer, wearing a plaid suit and tie, walked among the small crowd in the record store.

After a couple of songs, two others joined them, one playing tambourine and shaker ball and the other bass.

At that point, the songs were sung in Japanese.

When they finished, the lead singer began passing out Elekibass buttons as souvenirs.

I don't know why. I'm quite sure none of us will forget a Japanese band anytime soon.

Ashley Eriksson followed, playing someone else's keyboards and singing young woman songs of loss and love.

But enough about that.

From there I went to Reynolds Gallery to hear an artists' talk with Sally Mann, Jessie Mann, Liz Liguori and Ray of the Mountain Lake workshop.

They were discoursing about the new show "Metempsychosis," large format pieces that had used laser imagery, linseed oil, paint and debris like pine needles and wasps to create a wholly new image over a Sally Man discard.

Sally Mann's daughter Jessie, both her muse and once her photographic subject, is all grown up and at the root of this project that used her Mom's photos to scratch, paint and essentially collage on.

The gallery was full of attendees eager to hear about the collaboration and processes (four months just to dry one of these images) required to bring these diptychs to fruition.

During the discussion, the subject of authorship of a collaborative piece came up, raising the issue of attribution when multiple artists use multiple processes to complete a single work.

Looking at the striking works afterwards, a combination of Sally Mann's "bonfire" pieces (discards), Liz's use of a laser through multiple prisms and Jessie's painting, assigning one name seemed ridiculous.

I left the over-crowded opening to go have a bite (the crabby patatas bravas were outstanding) and ran into a DJ friend who had messaged me just a few days ago, saying, "Hey, need a song for a mix. Got one?"

It had been many hours later when I got home and saw that message, so my input was no longer needed.

Tonight, he explained that he'd gone ahead with the mix and promptly went to his car, retrieved a copy of the mix tape and gifted me with it.

Not a bad outcome.

I chatted with a nearby beer-drinker who, when asked about music, told me he liked bands like Periphery and Born of Osiris.

"You know, progressive metal," he said condescendingly.

"Oh, you mean like Between the Buried and Me?" I asked earnestly.

"I have to hug you now," he said, jumping up. "You have changed my world."

Not only was Between the Buried and Me his favorite band, but he had never encountered a single person who knew of them.

Score one for me.

I may know about progressive metal, but it's not really my cup of tea, so when I left with my belly full of South African wine and patatas, it was to go to Balliceaux for music.

The Hi Steps were playing and they're a band who play vintage soul music for the current audience's dancing pleasure.

They say it right up front: they're not for listening to, they're for dancing to.

That means songs like "Higher and Higher,"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up."

I ordered a Cazadores and found a spot  near all kinds of people I knew and I was set for the night.

Since I'd last seen the Hi Steps, they'd increased their repertoire, adding in songs like Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," admirably sung by the red and black-clad Butterfly Vazquez with enough lung power to do Joplin proud.

The always impressive Bryce McCormick on keyboards handled vocals when Butterfly didn't, like on their superb cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

A couple of guys came in and positioned themselves near me, one of them leaning over and asking, "Do you recognize me?"

I did. It was Hugo, a gentle soul I knew from several restaurant jobs, who soon asked me to dance.

Bio Ritmo's conga player Giustino was in the audience and soon joined the band for "Proud Mary," playing with pliers in his teeth until he could stop and adjust his conga drum.

A restaurant friend suddenly appeared at my side, saying, "How did I not see you when I came in?"

I had no idea, but welcomed him in just as bandleader Jason entreated the crowd to fill the empty space in front of the stage. To come dance, in other words.

"Come into the light," he pleaded.

This somehow reminded my friend of a movie and he was soon sharing  a childhood memory.

"I remember when my parents took me to see "Jaws" at the drive-in," he said. "I was sitting on the roof of our mini-van and they were inside having sex and I remember the raft scene and rocking on the top of that van."

Too much information. That's the kind of thing that scars a kid for life.

Back in the real world, the band did a killer rendition of MJ's "PYT" and even I was tempted to dance.

When they began Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," couples flooded the dance floor to slow dance, something I'd have done if I'd had someone appropriate to do it with.

About that time, three of the members of No BS Brass band came in to catch the final song, Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle."

You know what's not hard to handle?

Starting at 5:00 with cute little Japanese boys and finishing out at 1:45 with seasoned musicians playing music I never heard live until they came along.

That and changing a guy's world with the just the right music talk.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Morning Show

In the interest of keeping myself honest, this post is about nothing more than upholding my resolution to vary my walk route at least weekly.

Today I went back to Belle Isle for a semi-sunny trek around the island, the river sounding even louder than usual, perhaps due to all the recent rain.

The sun brought out the usual joggers but only a few people lounging on the rocks. I hate to think lounging season is over.

Today I also walked out to the head gate to get to the rocks that face southside and found not another soul.

Today's highlights?

A woman with a butterfly net and a determined countenance looking for specimens.

A woman on a unicycle navigating the bumpy and irregular trail by the water.

Best of all, a guy playing guitar on the furthest out rock possible, water rushing all around him. Strumming passionately to the falls.

And to me, although he didn't know it. What a wonderful way to end my walk.

Cheap Wine and Loud Music

At no time was I ever punk.

About the closest I ever came was at a D.C. club called Poseurs back in the '80s and the name says it all. Poseur, not punk.

Despite an appreciation for the DIY ethic and a fondness for loud music, I think my taste always skewed less angry.

And certainly with age I've lost whatever punk rock attitude I may ever have had, if any.

Surely part of the reason is that I now have friends who message me late in the day asking if I would like to accompany them to Lemaire for wine drinking.

No punk gets her drink on at a four diamond hotel. But as a non-punk, why would I not?

Walking to the Jefferson, I stop at a corner and two skater kids join me to wait for the light.

"You look nice," one says, looking me up and down. He can't be more than 17.

"I like your top," the other says, pointing at my $3.25 thrift store find, a black sweater with leather trim.

I thank them and they take off down the hill on their boards. Live fast, die young, boys.

Wearing someone else's cast-offs, that's sort of punk, isn't it? Being complimented by under-age skater dudes, that counts for something, right?

Inside, I find my friend and it's discovery wine night so bottles are $15, meaning there's no reason on earth to drink a glass, not that this guy and I ever make do with a glass.

We order a bottle or two of Four Bears Chardonnay because he is devoted to both Chardonnays and California wine and it will go well with my crabcake.

He's not fond of Lemaire's crabcake (preferring Acacia's), but I find it full of lump crab meat and with a well-spiced remoulade, so I have no complaint beyond a slight excess of mayo as a binding agent.

First world problem.

We happily spend several hours catching up on his recent business dealings, what new places he's eaten at lately and what I've been up to.

Obviously, he's too busy to read the blog or he'd already know.

Midway through the second bottle, I have to say so long so I can get to the Criterion to see a one-night only screening of "CBGB."

Arriving at Criterion, I am amazed to find a line for tickets almost out the door.

Looking at the crowd, though, most of them don't look like the kind of people there to see a film about a defunct punk rock club.

I do some racial/sexual profiling and approach a middle-aged white guy with a beard, asking if he's there to see "CBGB."

He is, but as it turns out, 95% of the line is there for another movie.

Inside the theater are more middle-aged people including a guy wearing a ratty-looking CBGB t-shirt.

This must be the place.

It takes four tries for the projectionist to get the film started, and the film starts almost fifteen minutes late, but then what punk show ever started on time?

The movie begins with a caveat, "This story is mostly true," and a look at NYC's Bowery circa the late '60s.

I'm always happy to see an Alan Rickman movie, although I'm still not quite sure why they got an Englishman to play Jewish New Yorker Hilly Kristal, the man who started CBGB.

Here's where it gets personally embarrassing. I had no idea CBGB stood for "country, bluegrass, blues."

Please say I'm not the only one.

At this late date, it seems laughable that Kristal ever thought those genres were the next big thing, but luckily he had trouble booking those bands while local punks like Television showed up begging to play.

Kristal's only rule for bands was that they had to play original music. People accused him of trying to avoid paying ASCAP fees, but he claimed it was just a philosophy.

And thank god for that.

After Television gets some local press and David Bowie said Television was the real deal, bands start coming down asking to play, bands like Blondie, the Police and the Patti Smith Group.

"The name of our band is Talking Heads and we live across the street," David Byrne says when they audition for Kristal.

When the Ramones audition, all bad attitude and bangs, Kristal says to them, "No one is going to like you guys but I'll have you back."

Wise move. In 1974, they played CBGB's 74 times.

"Hey, isn't that the guy who made that awful feedback album?" a musician says to a friend when he spots Lou Reed in the crowd.

We see where Iggy Pop does the first stage-diving at CBGB's. Where even the local resident bikers are repulsed by the filth of the bathrooms.

All part of the legend.

The film didn't try to tell the whole 33 years of CBGB history, just the crucial early years when punk was being born.

The final credits had as much to see as the film, including footage when Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and David Byrne had Kristal up onstage so he could tell the world what a key a role he'd played in the birth of a scene.

There were some hilarious credits, too, like, "Special Thanks (the asses we want to kiss)" and "No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. The cockroach guts were Fig Newtons."

Considering there was a running gag of Kristal killing roaches in his litter-strewn office, that's a lot of Fig Newtons.

Was the movie well done? Not particularly. Did it tell an interesting story I hadn't known much about? Sure did.

When we went to leave the theater, a manager was standing there, handing each of us a certificate for a free movie, her way of making up for the delayed start and technical difficulties that began our evening.

Accepting a freebie for having to put up with a movie about the punk scene not starting on time seems kind of soft.

Poseur-like even. Sheena may have been a punk rocker, but clearly I wasn't.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Poetry of the Plural Pronoun

I am a sucker for a man who writes poetry.

In a perfect world, he would write poetry to me, about me, inspired by me, but I can't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

So instead, I go off to hear poets read to me.

Tonight Poetic Principles was hosting Pulitzer prize-winning poet Charles Wright (!) along with Ellen Bryant Voigt, who has been nominated for the Pulitzer prize for poetry.

The room was uncharacteristically packed and I saw several poets I knew, although not a one who might be inclined to get poetic about me.

Ah, well.

Everything Voigt read was from her new book, much of which had to do with life in Vermont and contained an element of sly humor.

After reading a poem called "Moles," she cracked, "If you have any good solutions for getting rid of moles, let me know."

From "Bears" came a favorite line: "The plural pronoun is a dangerous proposition."

After her last poem, she said, "It's such a great pleasure to get to read with Charles Wright.

From his front-row seat, Wright piped up, "I've decided not to read." The room cracked up.

It was the ideal introduction for a man who balanced understated poems of yearning and acknowledgement with bursts of humor.

His "Appalachian Farewell" got him reminiscing about back in the '40s and '50s having to leave Tennessee to get beer because he lived in a dry county.

"Bedtime Story" included the evocative line, "The forest begins to gather its silences in."

A poem about a '49 Ford, "Appalachian Dog" referred to the car as "a major ride" in 1952 and referenced "Les Paul and Mary Ford records broken in half."

Not long after, Wright peered up and observed, "I can't remember when I came up here. I may read forever."

I don't think anyone in the room would have minded if he had. Okay, maybe the library security people, but certainly no one in that room.

Next he said he'd read some six-line poems. "I fell into writing six-line poems on my way to writing three-line poems. If you can't write a poem in three lines, just get out."

Intentional pause.

"I can't do it."

What he could do was write six-line poems beautifully and we heard several, one with the memorable line, "Empathy is only a one-way street."

Concluding a poem using the words ultimate and penultimate, he said, "I swore on my ancestors' graves in graduate school that I'd never use that word - penultimate."

Throwing his arms out, he quipped, "So sue me."

In "Road Warrior," he wrote, "Roadside flowers drove us to distraction."

Getting near the end, he said, "I've got just two more. One is 40 pages." The man was hilarious.

He closed with the appropriately-titled "Lullaby," with the lovely line, "I've said what I had to say as melodiously as I could."

A poetry lover couldn't ask for any more.

Well except for a man to be melodious about her, but I'm not dead yet.

Leaving the reading, I stepped into the elevator finding a poet I knew, a poetry lover I knew and the woman who sponsors the poetry series.

I wasn't surprised to see any of them.

The poet cocked his head and asked, "Karen, were you at Frightened Rabbit in Charlottesville last night?"

Color me surprised. I hadn't seen anyone I knew.

"I saw you from across the room and then I lost sight of you, but I thought for sure it was you," he explained.

Once down in the garage, we spent five minutes geeking out about how much we'd enjoyed the show (he'd even seen them last month opening for the National in Asheville).

Leaving poetry behind, I went to the Grace Street theater for some direct cinema, a term with which I was not familiar.

Turns out it's the American equivalent of France's cinema verite.

The VCU Cinematheque series was showing the 1968 Maysles brothers pseudo-documentary, "Salesman."

It was the story of four actual door-to-door bible salesmen from Boston who sold high-end, illustrated bibles to poor Catholic families.

Because it was made in '68, the stereotyping was rampant (the Irish were "mickeys") as was the cigarette smoking.

The film starts in the suburbs of Boston before the four salesmen head to Miami to sell down there.

The Florida landscape manages to be cliched, depressing and vaguely art deco at the same time.

Waitresses wear white uniforms (with giant flowers), women at a sales conference in Chicago all have bouffants and sexism is rampant.

"My wife wants to buy a bigger house and have two more kids, so I gotta earn more money," one says.

The fact that the film is a documentary makes it fascinating for the random moments they capture.

One salesman is completely out of his element in Florida - getting lost in cul de sacs with names like Sesame Street and Ali Baba Avenue, not making sales- and he sings "If I Were a Rich Man" whenever he gets nervous in the car.

At one point, depressed and frustrated at his lack of success, he turns on the car's radio and "This Land is Your Land" is on. A scriptwriter couldn't have dreamed up a better song for the moment.

In another scene, he goes up to a house to knock on the door and there's a baby in a high chair on the front porch. Not another person in sight.

When he knocks, the mother answers the door, says she's not interested and closes the door on him.

Her baby is still on the front porch. WTF?

Again, a writer couldn't have conceived of such an unlikely occurrence and yet there it was.

There was a scene where the salesman is trying to sell a couple a bible and the man jumps up and says he got a new Beatles album, putting it on his giant console stereo.

A lush string arrangement of "Yesterday" blares into the room.

This isn't the actual Beatles, this is some schmaltzy orchestral cover and it continues to play, almost drowning out the salesman's spiel.

During the discussion afterwards, we learned that the Maysles brothers shot 200 hours of film and edited down to 90 minutes, a process which took two years.

We spent a lot of time discussing how all that editing effectively turned a work of non-fiction into a fictional piece with documentary elements.

Likewise, I'm sure there's a whole lot of editing that goes into creating a poem, whether six lines or 40 pages.

Not an issue. Should I ever find a poet, he can take as much time as he needs to say what he has to say about me as melodiously as he can.

I shall gather my silences in and work on not driving him to distraction.

Knee Deep in Fried Rabbit

In the spirit of Columbus, I went exploring today.

Driving out 64, the thrill of a day away devoted to pure fun was matched only by the thrill of seeing patches of blue sky in between clouds the further west we drove.

After nine days of gray and rain, it was liked heading toward the promised land.

A fueling stop was the initial order of business and pulling into Blue Mountain Brewery, a full parking lot was the first indicator that we hadn't gone far enough afield.

Inside, the place was crawling with families and children.

Toddlers shrieking, sullen pre-teens slumped at tables, babes in arms. It seemed so off, I asked our server about it.

"It's like it's take your kid to Blue Mountain day or something," he said wearily.

Honestly, who wants to day drink surrounded by children?

But it was a pit stop, so I ordered the A.M. fog burger (mushrooms, caramelized onions and swiss and named after the A.M. Fog Market barely a quarter of a mile down the road) and a glass of Cardinal Point Quattro, the better to deal with the nursery school that was the dining room.

Fortunately, the food came quickly, we wolfed it down and got the hell out of Dodge.

It wasn't my first time at Blue Mountain but if today's clientele was any indication, I'm not sure I need to go back since I'm not a beer drinker anyway.

From there we went to Cardinal Point winery, a place I've not only visited several times, but have also poured for twice at the annual Virginia wine expo.

There we found a much more civilized atmosphere, did a tasting that included the unique IPC hopped Chardonnay, the perfect wine for those who straddle the beer geek/wine geek line.

John, I'm looking at you.

I was taken with their 2012 Green, a Chardonnay and Petit Manseng blend, inspired by the Portuguese vino verdes I so enjoy, so we got what tasted like green apples in a glass and went outside to the patio to enjoy our glasses with a view of the vineyards, the weather station and ever-increasing blue skies.

One of the winery dogs strolled by nonchalantly with a dead squirrel in her mouth, not once, not twice, but three times, making sure we saw.

What's the point in killing it if you can't show it off?

Our next landing was uncharted territory, Flying Fox Vineyard, a place we hadn't even heard of.

Despite a lack of familiarity, we found an agreeable pourer, the sister of one of the owners, and a couple of men tasting next to us, one local and one from Tennessee.

It didn't take long for them to invite us to join their tent at a local upcoming oyster roast, that's how friendly they were.

After tasting through, we decided on glasses of the 2012 Rose, a lovely dry wine perfect for us to take to the yellow rocking chairs on the front porch and watch the endless parade of school buses turning off the main road.

We'd discovered some pretty agreeable territory, so much so that we lingered almost too long, pulling into Albemarle Ciderworks as the staff was heading to their cars to leave.

Oops. Their tasting room isn't open on Mondays, but they took pity on weary travelers and invited us inside for a tasting.

Our pourer had her sister with her because it was the girl's 21st birthday and they were going out to celebrate.

The newly legal one pulled from her pocket a list of the things she intended to drink tonight -margarita, old fashioned, mojito - to go with her determined attitude.

I can't imagine she's going to feel too well tomorrow, but you only turn 21 once.

For now, she watched as we drank. I got a kick out of tasting Jupiter's Legacy because the blend contained black twig apples, an heirloom variety I'd picked a few weeks ago but had never tasted in cider.

We finished with glasses of Old Virginia Winesap, tasting like a baked apple with a hint of lemon, a cider that would be terrific with a country ham sandwich from Adam's Country Store.

I do love my sweet and salty.

We asked the sisters for a dinner recommendation and the first thing one said was Whiskey Jar, a place I had also heard good things about.

So it was onward to the downtown mall where we found a busy restaurant with its front open to the mall and people in and out eating.

For a place that claims to source and make food that their great-grandmothers would recognize, I had to wonder if Great Grandma would approve of the sullen attitude our server gave us.

Probably not.

They were out of the fried quail appetizer we wanted, so we instead ordered a roasted beet salad with homemade farmer's cheese and fried onions and fried green tomatoes so salty even Grandma would look askance.

My grilled pork chops over house-baked beans would have been okay had I not had such magnificent heirloom pork chops a few weeks ago.

Unlike the marbling in those beauties, tonight's were lean and kind of dry.  I have been spoiled by Berkshire/Tamworth chops from Fred and Wilma's progeny.

After a quick stop at the Blue Light Grill, a place I hadn't been to since Chef Lee Gregory was cooking there, we made our way to our ultimate destination for the day: the Jefferson.

Tickets for tonight's Frightened Rabbit show had been procured back in July so I'd been anticipating hearing this Scottish band for months.

They wasted no time kicking into high gear and it was clear what stellar musicians they were from the first song.

"Last time we were here was four or five years ago," lead singer Scott said. "Then we were playing upstairs at a tapas bar."

The funny part was he pronounced it tap-ass, adding to the comedic value of an already-extremely thick Scottish accent.

That accent, like the song lyrics about life's difficult moments - being alone, drinking more than you should, being with the wrong person- are just part of the Scottish identity, ergo Frightened Rabbit's.

Or, as a friend misheard when I told her who I was going to see, Fried Rabbit.

For a misery-focused band, the songs really rocked and eventually I even saw a kid crowd-surfing, not the kind of thing I ever expected to see at this show.

But you never know what you're going to find when you go exploring and, Hornitos in hand, I was open to pretty much whatever happened.

We're talking about a band who writes gloriously melancholy lyrics like, "You're the shit and I'm knee-deep in it."

If that doesn't sum up life and love, you haven't headed out to explore the right places, my friend.