Friday, January 31, 2014

Let It Breathe

You can never go wrong reminiscing about Italy for a couple of hours.

After taking my hired mouth out to eat, I did the unthinkable, namely spend the entire evening on the UR campus.

Their international film series is back in full swing and honestly, after the January weather we've had, nothing sounded as appealing as looking at a movie shot during summer in Lecce, Italy, down on the heel of the boot and far more southerly than where I'd been.

I arrived in time to get a raffle ticket (for what, I don't know, but I didn't win so it obviously didn't matter), a schedule for next week's RVA Environmental Film fest and find a seat behind an ESL teacher I know who's now trying to learn Italian.

Claiming her Italian sounds a lot like her Spanish only with hand gestures, she got kudos from me for effort.

The professor giving the introduction greeted us with, "Wow, we had a heat wave today, didn't we?" a reference to this afternoon's downright balmy 56 degree weather. "After you see tonight's film, you're going to be really hot."

Now that was news I wanted to hear.

"Loose Cannons," a 2010 film by Italo-Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek was being shown to tie in with the campus-wide reading of "The Laramie Project" because of its related issues.

The movie was all over the place with drama, family comedy, domestic tragedy, farce and, come on, it's Italian, so romance and sexual innuendo.

But it was the beautiful cinematography, the film shot in summer's over-saturated colors in a city known as the "Florence of the South" and full of Baroque monuments.

I've only been to the Florence of the north, but it didn't take long to see I'd be more than happy to see its sister city.

Stylish camerawork ensured that we saw all the fabulous family meals from every angle, platters of food and bottles of wine abounding on the long table.

Food was a character here, with the mistress of the house directing a servant, "The cheese, let it breathe!"

Truth be told, we could all stand to let our cheese breathe more here.

The story begins with a bride trying to shoot herself on her wedding day but ultimately concerns a family in the pasta-making business and the big dinner to introduce their father's new partner.

One of the sons confides to his brother beforehand that he intends to come out at the dinner so he can return to Rome where he lives with his boyfriend and has been working on a novel rather than the business degree his family thinks he has.

The only problem is before he can say he's gay, his brother does and his father flips out, banning him from the house and having a subsequent heat attack.

Dad is not only homophobic but a typical Italian, saying things like, "I lost your sister when she married that Neapolitan dickhead." Having heard a fair amount of Neapolitan slurs when I was in Italy, I know this attitude isn't uncommon.

This leaves the younger son stuck working the family business rather than returning to the lover and life he's carved out for himself in Rome. for fear of killing his father with the news.

Nobody wants that on their conscience, least of all an Italian son.

The saving grace is the grandmother, who'd been the bride who'd married not the man she loved but his brother and always regretted not doing what made her happy.

Saying things like, "Normal, what a horrible word!" and, "If you always do what others want, life is not worth living," she was the guiding light in a family of reactionaries.

She's the one who'd started the pasta company with the man she hadn't married so her descriptions of pasta-making were about its tactile qualities- "Warm, soft, you have to touch it" - and always with a longing in her voice.

High camp arrived in the form of the younger son's gay friends from Rome who, along with his lover, stopped by on their way to the beach to try to release him from his family's grasp.

Warned about the patriarch's homophobia, they tried their best not to "act gay," a fruitless attempt that made for some of the funniest scenes.

My favorite was one of the three of them in swim trunks and Speedos in the sea, dancing and singing in unison as only gay men can do.

But even if there hadn't been moments of heartfelt drama or over-the-top humor, every scene was set in Italy, so every scene was a wonder to behold.

Meals were taken outside on patios in the sun and lasted for hours, with no phones and no screens.

Narrow streets wound through facades with shutters on windows and open doors on centuries-old buildings. Pasticcerias offering confections as beautiful as they tasted, a fact I confirmed repeatedly while in Italy.

When women went anywhere, even shopping, they were dressed to impress, dressed better (and more fetchingly) than women here dress to go out to dinner or a date.

Even when the brothers got into a tussle, it was outside an apartment in a courtyard with Greek sculpture in the center.

It was Italy, for goodness' sake.

Thanks, UR, for the evening's travelogue, a reminder that I can't go back to Italy soon enough.

If it helps, I'll do it Italian-style, dressing to impress no matter where I'm headed...including the pasticceria as often as possible.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Do I Know You?

It was a good night for random guys to talk to me.

Curious about what Harvard Graduate School of Design students might come up with, I went to the Virginia Center for Architecture for the opening of "Menokin Revealed."

You might not know what Menokin is, but I do, at least I have since attending a lecture at the Virginia Historical Society in 2012 given by David Brown who wrote a book about Menokin, a highly terraced 1769 home on the northern neck.

Recalling slides he'd shown of a house that had mostly collapsed on itself, I was curious to see what overly-educated students came up with for restoration ideas after spending four days on site.

Hardly surprisingly, with no budget parameters, the twelve students dreamed big, envisioning towers, catwalks, visitor centers, bridges and just about any other architectural features of which they could conceive.

As I was looking at one based on Native American "canopies," a man approached me and asked my name.

Turns out he's a trustee of the Menokin board and wanted to know if I knew where Menokin was.

He was surprised that I knew it was outside of Warsaw and I was surprised that he'd heard of my parents' tiny little crabbing village.

"If you live out there, you know where everything is," he assured me, asking if he could show me something.

"Something" turned out to be a scale model of the actual restoration that will be done to Menokin, which bears no resemblance to the students' visions.

Instead, they intend to take the pieces of the remaining walls, add supports and a roof and finish all the missing areas with glass walls. You'll once again be able to see the river over the treeline from the second floor.

Even better, paneling and furniture removed from the house 40 or so years ago when they realized it was falling apart will be returned to its rightful place and re-installed.

"I'd like to see a pavilion on the grounds, too," the trustee said. "Someplace that would make Menokin a cultural destination for the northern neck, a place the symphony could come and play."

Well, you know I was all about that idea and assured him that people like my parents would be, too.

By the time he'd finished showing me all the models and explaining everything, a good part of the crowd had left. I'd been so fascinated with hearing about the plans that I'd lost track of time and the opening was officially over.

Thanking my unexpected guide, I left for the VMFA's jazz cafe to see M. Law and the Modern Prophets of Jazz, mainly because I keep seeing the name at venues around town and knew nothing about them.

First surprise? M. Law is a woman (Mary Lawrence Hicks). Second, she plays trumpet. Third, Larry Branch, whose quartet I'd seen last week plays piano in this group.

Finding a place near enough to see and hear, it wasn't long before a guy walked by, winked and said hello, he'd be right back.

I was a little surprised at his boldness, until he came back from getting a beer and stopped to ask if I remembered him (um, no?). Gallery 5, a few weeks ago, yadda, yadda.

In my own defense, tonight he was wearing a sweater and that night he'd had on a bulky coat because G5's heat wasn't working so he looked different to me. Or maybe he just hadn't been that memorable, although I appreciate anyone who swings from Gallery 5 to VMFA's jazz cafe.

He invited me to join him at his table, but I was just fine where I was listening to the band's improvisational takes on standards as well as some interesting original material against a backdrop of people strolling through the still snow-covered sculpture garden.

M Law wasn't much for between-song patter, so one song followed another for non-stop music. I have to say, it's satisfying seeing a woman blow a horn, especially in a dress.

Once that ended, I went straight to Cafe 821 for eats, joining the throngs for thirsty Thursday.

From my bar stool, I had a constant clutch of people behind me, not just ogling the tap list (because they were all $2 off tonight) but discussing what to order with their friends.

After the fourth or fifth group, I could conclude that, for most guys anyway, the overriding factor in choosing a beer was the alcohol percentage.

They were all pretty bummed when the 10% stout keg tapped out and they had to make do with a 7% second choice.

Don't get me started on our over-saturated beer market.

Without such things to worry about, I savored the pleasures of a perfect plate of black bean nachos with punk music blaring loud enough to drown out the conversation of the rest of the room.

Until a guy sat down at the end of the bar, looked over, looked again, and asked if we had met.

Sure had. He'd been seated next to me during my fried chicken dinner at Saison recently, where we'd talked about the primal pleasures of eating with your fingers.

Funny the people who recall you when you show up elsewhere and out of context.

Leaving the thirsty hordes to their discounted rail drinks and beers, I moved on to Balliceaux for a terrific double bill of Way, Shape or Form followed by Annousheh.

Getting my hand stamped to go in, I happened into a conversation involving pools of vomit.

Promising to do my best, the one guy looked at me and said, "You don't seem like a pools of vomit kind of girl."

Thanks for noticing.

I'm not going to lie, I fell for Way, Shape or Form's prog-influenced indie pop with just enough post-rock to seal the deal last January when I first heard them, becoming a complete convert once I spoke to leader Troy afterwards and learning that we'd both been at the same Pinback, Tortoise and Minus the Bear shows.

No wonder I liked them so much given the overlap in our musical taste.

Joined by a friend who'd never heard them, I had the pleasure of hearing how much someone else was impressed with the jangley, syncopated guitars and odd time signatures.

It's always fun to introduce a fellow music-lover to a local band to whom I'm devoted.

And Annousheh, well, that's just guilty pop pleasure, 80s-sounding songs done '90s alternative style. radio-ready and delighting the crowd no end.

Plus instead of random guys, I got to talk to friends - the dance party enthusiast, the newly blond minimalist, the tango teacher, the brilliant bartender, the new WSoF fan - making for a fine finale to my evening.

Nothing guilty about the pleasures of the right kind of conversation paired with live music...especially absent pools of vomit.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fun Done Well

My Dad's nickname for me growing up was Camille because I tended to be a tad, shall we say, melodramatic as a child.

In spite of that proclivity, when my sixth grade class decided to put on a play, I was chosen for student director, meaning no actual stage time.

My sophomore year in college, an older friend decided to make a movie and enlisted me for the female lead, mainly, I think, because he wanted to date me.

Watching the premiere of his film at a party with 75 people I knew, all I could think was how silly he'd been to put his hormones ahead of choosing someone with talent.

So I haven't exactly had an illustrious life on the wicked stage.

Ah, but Billy Christopher Maupin has and his show at Richmond Triangle Players tonight, "(My) Life Upon the Wicked Stage" took us through a good part of that wickedness.

Coming onstage looking handsome and barefoot in a red shirt, jeans and fresh haircut, he opened up to a full house with the appropriate "Cabaret."

He talked about the roles he hadn't gotten to play and the songs he hadn't gotten to sing.

So while he played a Protean in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," he sang lead Pseudolus' song, "Free."

We heard a funny story about his move to NYC ("I was going on ten auditions a week") where he auditioned for "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by singing "Not A Day Goes By" in the style of Huck Finn.

"Did I mention I got the job?" he smirked.

Then he was lured back by Richmond, like so many others before and after him, where he tried out for a Barksdale production of "Into the Woods," hoping desperately to play Jack.

"I got the role of Rapunzel's prince, but tonight this is my show, so I'm gonna do Jack's song," he grinned, beginning "Giants in the Sky."

Three quarters of the way through, he got a look on his face and sang, "I lost my place," but pianist Susan chimed in with, "The fun is done" and he picked up seamlessly.

That's a pro.

The humor kept up when he sang a song from a play called "Mr. Marmalade," in which a suitcase of sex toys spills onstage, including the centerpiece of the collection, the Super Cock 9 with suction cup.

During one performance, when the suction cup fell out, it adhered to the stage fully erect for the duration of the song, so for tonight's rendition, BC held his fisted arm in front of his face as he sang "La Vie en Rose," clearly a tribute to the magnificence of the Super Cock 9.

This is why he's an actor and I'm not.

For a reading from "Greater Tuna," the only play he said he ever got fired from, he called up fellow thespian Joe Inscoe (who immediately took his shoes off) so they could both play multiple characters.

Joe noted that they hadn't had much practice, dryly observing, "This is gonna be real spontaneous, just like we rehearsed."

The hysterical scene covered used weapons, dire weather forecasts and the pet of the week segment trying to find a home for Yippy, a terrier-chihuahua mix played to deadpan perfection by Joe, eliciting the observation that, "We at the Humane Society have had problems giving away small, shrill animals."

And deservedly so.

BC went on to talk about roles he'd loved to play like Miss Hannigan in "Annie" and Mama Morton in "Chicago," enthusiastically singing "When You're Good to Mama" crouched down in the faces of the people in the front row.

We were sent off to intermission with the instruction," You can go get a drink from Evan...or five," Evan being the talented actor/bartender who's heading off to the Big Apple this summer but hopefully not before he sings "Hit Me Baby One More Time" a few more times in Richmond.

During intermission, BC found a long, curly blond wig, the perfect accessory to wear to sing "My Life Upon the Wicked Stage," pushing the curly bangs out of his eyes as he did so.

Afterwards, he passed the wig on to guitarist Tristan who removed his hat and tried it for a minute before deciding he was more of a hat guy.

Not every man can pull off a full-length blond wig.

Next up, BC got talking about the gender-reversed series he'd begun a few years back and one I know well because I try never to miss an opportunity to see a stage filled with women doing Shakespeare.

"Hamlet, "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Coriolanus," I've seen his productions of them all and continue to keep my fingers crossed that he'll follow through on doing all of Will's work with estrogen subbing for testosterone.

As he talked about the project, actor Molly Hood strolled by chatting away on her cell phone and the two of them ricocheted off into a Beatrice and Benedick exchange, gender-reversed of course.

Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted. And I would I could find in my heart I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none. 

A dear happiness to woman.They else would have been troubled by a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood I am of your humor for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

This evening just kept getting better and better.

Talking about his time spent going to Campbellsville University, "the small, Baptist, scary place...where I came out," BC talked about deciding to audition for one last play before transferring to another school.

Cue next song.

After getting someone capable to do it for him, he had "I Dream a Dream" transposed to another key he could sing in and got the part. I guess he showed them.

By the time he was 25, he said he'd scratched the role of Matt in "The Fantasticks" off his list, not because he'd done it, but because he was too old to play a 19-year old.

But when upstart theater company Cadence decided to stage it, of course he had to audition, getting the role he'd coveted at last, at 30, but only after the director asked how he felt about being slammed against a wall by a 6'4" man every night.

"I dream of it," BC recalled, before singing "I Can See It" with Russell, who'd also been in the production and sang most of his part from the audience, arriving onstage for the ending and a kiss on top of BC's head.

Tonight's star gave us a little of the dreadful Styx song "Sailing" before redeeming himself with "I'd Rather Be Sailing" from "A New Brain."

"Now comes the corny part," he warned and took off with, "No Business Like Show Business," with all kinds of actors standing up in front of their seats and singing along.

The line, "There's no people like show people," got spontaneous applause, no surprise given the crowd's makeup of actors, directors and theater-goers.

That, of course, was the big finale and got a standing ovation but the audience insisted on one last song.

"I don't have anything else new," he said, smiling widely, "I can do 'I Dream a Dream' in the original key."

Which he did - beautifully- and took his leave of the wicked stage.

That's the mark of a professional.

If only I'd had the wisdom to end my stage career in 6th grade, there'd be no damning celluloid evidence today.

Thank goodness the people who really do have talent keep plugging away.

Even when it means singing to the Super Cock 9 with suction cup.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hello Winter

If you're going to preview your winter menu, you can't do much better than a snowy night.

Good thing Bistro 27 is only a few blocks away so it didn't take that much effort to traverse the ever-whitening streets.

Inside, a crowd of neighbors was already mingling and eating, the only surprising part being that I didn't recognize anyone.

Turns out it didn't matter because a woman walked up to me and asked me to join her and who am I to refuse a conversational partner, even a stranger?

Over pumpkin-stuffed ravioli in a brown butter sage sauce, skewers of grilled eggplant filled with herbed goat cheese over marinara and lamb kabobs, we got to know each other at a table by the window with the heat vent blowing on my feet and a view of Broad Street becoming a winter wonderland.

It must have been the occasion, but the stereo was set to house music, the kind of pulsing beat you'd expect to hear in a club.

My new friend turned out to be a delightful woman just back from a business trip to California where, besides enjoying the 78-degree days, she was working on merging an east coast group that mentors girls with a west coast group that does the same.

A Church Hill resident, we bonded over a  love of city living, our mutual disappointment with the fried fish tacos at Kitchen on Cary and the hurdles of getting over good girl syndrome when you're the oldest child.

While we were downing a dessert of nut-crusted chocolate pate, her friend arrived and she began introducing us, unnecessary because it was a local gallery director I've interviewed twice now.

All of a sudden, it was three woman of an age, all passionate about urban, feminist and gentrification issues and we were off and running.

How do we prevent losing the rich cultural history of Jackson Ward as more newcomers arrive? How exciting is Sonya Clark's new show at 1798 Gallery going to be given its marriage of hairstyling and art? How do we get more people off of Broad and into my neighborhood on first Fridays?

As lively and interesting as all that was, we got even more into it on the subject of the lost art of conversation, increasing lack of interactivity amongst subsequent generations and how our mothers had talked to us about "girl issues."

You'd have thought we were old friends, but it was really a case of daughters of similar childhoods all grown up.

Sitting watching the snow fall on Adams Street, we could have talked the night away but instead made plans to meet up again and take our discussion even further when the threat of bad weather wasn't hanging over us.

If you're going to make new friends, you really can't do it more enjoyably than over new dishes in your neighborhood joint with non-stop conversation.

And if you're foolish enough to wear a dress in a snowstorm, especially when the heat vent is blowing directly on your feet.

A Day Off is Not Linear

When it comes to planning a day off, put me in charge and I'll keep you busy for a solid twelve hours.

Foolishly ignoring the eerily-warm weather, I decided our first stop would be the VMFA since today's partner in crime had not been through since the renovation.

Rather than dwell on the absurdity of that, we climbed the stairs to the 21st century gallery to see the "Ryan McGuiness: Studio Visit" show that has completely overtaken that gallery.

From the wall-size picture of his studio wall, right down to 3-D elements like plastic paint buckets and a water bottle, to the video of his studio process, it was an interesting look at the process behind the brightly-colored "Art History is Not Linear" murals that hang in the atrium, the ones containing 200 icons from pieces in the museum's collection.

What I found most fascinating was seeing some of the pieces that provided the inspiration since McGuniness' interpretation was not exact in most cases, but more of a riff on the object.

Perhaps most charming were the drawings and sketches from his childhood in Virginia Beach, a collection of work that showed an early artistic bent.

From there, we wandered all over so that the first-timer could get some sense of the new and expanded layout.

Wandering through the mid-20th century gallery, he observed, "It's like seeing old friends," as he recognized piece after piece from long-ago visits.

It was some time after the gallery with Virginia artists - Richard Roth, Cy Twombley, Richard Carlyon- that we decided that lunch needed to be the next order of business.

Amuse was satisfyingly packed when we walked in, a reminder that our museum is a vibrant destination every day of the week.

Seated at the bar, we set a warm January day celebratory mood with Mumm Napa Cuvee and our bartender noting that she loved the "almost rose color" of it.

Keeping the nice day theme going, I chose the pan-roasted monkfish with castlevetrano olives, San Marzano tomatoes, fennel and roasted garlic cous cous, a stellar combination of flavors that even impressed the rockfish-eater.

As we took our time lingering over lunch, the tables gradually began emptying until it was just us and another duo in the lounge as ominous-looking clouds began rolling in to replace the innocuous morning clouds.

When asked about dessert, I opted for an absinthe drip and my willing accomplice did the same, meaning we ended up wiling away a good portion of the afternoon with the green fairy, as ideal an ending to a day at the museum as I can think of.

By the time we exited the Boulevard entrance, all vestiges of a nice day were history as we headed to the Criterion for some literary history.

I'd chosen "The Invisible Woman" about Charles Dickens and the woman he fell for despite being married because I know far too little about Dickens and I am never disappointed watching Ralph Fiennes act (and in this case, direct).

It was beautifully shot and acted with the bottom line pretty clear: love is a blessing and a curse, especially at a time when a woman's indiscretions branded her in a way that a man's did not.

In other words, another reminder that I was fortunate to be born at a time when women had the same love and lust rights as men.

For our final meal of the day, we wanted a place neither of us had been, choosing the unlikely Flames 231 in the Bottom, notable mainly because it was the first time either of us had seen the historical marker for the Church Hill tunnel collapse nearby.

With techno music pulsing, I ordered the Italiano panini, tasty enough with the Negroamoro we were drinking, but accompanied by a mound of lackluster and flabby sweet potato fries that weren't worth bothering with.

Considering the size of the Monday night crowd, we guessed that most of them lived in the surrounding buildings since they sure weren't driving in from the counties for those fries.

And everyone needs a neighborhood joint, even when they play bad songs like Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight."

Put me in charge of your night (or day) and I'd like to think I can guarantee all kinds of fun...assuming you like to eat, drink and get your culture on.

If not, you're probably steering clear of me already.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Eight-Oh-Fork Crowd

The local restaurant industry cleans up far better than you might think.

At least for tonight's third installment of the Elbys, they not only dressed up, many of them dressed in vintage outfits as part of the  golden age of Hollywood theme, logical since the awards were held at the VMFA.

Local vintage stores Halcyon and Bygones must have made bank outfitting this crowd.

Me, I pulled out my one long dress, a black, burnt velvet sheath purchased twenty years ago at Lex's of Carytown by a former boyfriend, threw on a pink boa and that was that.

Needless to say, most of the women looked far better than I did.

But it wasn't about ensembles (well, partly it was), but about restaurants, so after the museum director welcomed us, we saw a film featuring the Pasture owners dancing and the Rappahannock crew, well, sort of dancing.

Host Jason Tesauro read his cleverly-written tribute to the local restaurant scene, called "The Eight -oh- Fork," touching on openings, closings, trends and just about everything that happened last year.

I found it brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny in places while a younger foodie later complained to a friend and me that it was too long. I held my tongue from telling her that it was her Twitter-addled attention span that was the issue, not Jason's writing or wit.

Then he and co-host Brandon Fox of Richmond magazine began things by toasting the evening with flasks. Seeing her take a swig, it was obvious hers wasn't liquor while his was. She later admitted as much.


David of WPA Bakery took the pastry chef award, lamenting being the first to speak to a cold crowd but thanking his wife Amy for pushing him to open up the bakery.

Introducing the nominees for wine program, Brandon touted Lemaire for having Virginia wine on its list, "as all restaurants should." I have to admit, I clapped in support of that sentiment.

When Enoteca Sogno won the award, a guy shouted, "Get the f*ck outta here!" in surprise and I'm sure he wasn't the only one.

Owner Gary made one of the best points of the evening, saying, "We'll never be a great food town until we're a great wine town."

Sean of Balliceaux presented the award for beverage program, noting, "It used to be red bull and vodka passed for a cocktail in Richmond and now Fernet has become more common than Jagermeister and that's a good thing," before giving the award to Dutch & Co.

Lemaire won for excellence in service, ho-hum, when I would have much rather seen Mama J's win that one.

Acacia's Dale, a twice former winner, was called up to present the chef of the year award, joking, "I guess they're putting me out to pasture."

Or taking him out of the running so someone else could win.

Lee of the Roosevelt won that one, thanking his line cooks (and partners in bad music) Scott and Mark for "holding it down."

Michele of Pasture and star of the opening dance video won front of the house manager and gave the best speech, saying, "This is for everyone who works in this business every day like they own it even if they don't. This award is for every waitress who ever wanted to own her own restaurant. It rocks!"

The neighborhood restaurant award was chosen not by the panel who chose the other awards, but by a readers' poll and Garnett's took that one, as perfect a neighborhood restaurant as there could be.

When Estilo won for new restaurant of the year, co-owner Jessica seemed shocked, saying, "This is the part of the Elbys drinking game where you take a shot because a girl loses her shit onstage."

Overcome as she sounded, she remembered to introduce her Scottish chef, the one who makes all that tasty South American food.

Phil of Dutch & Co, won rising culinary star and also the best-dressed male award for the evening, his white scarf almost falling off as he hurried onstage to collect his award.

Travis of Rappahannock won restaurateur of the year, thanking Pete, his chef at Merroir, whom I'd seen earlier in the evening, looking quite dapper, and Jason of Pasture for convincing him to take a chance on Grace Street.

The Roosevelt took restaurant of the year, surprising a few people, including Chef Lee, after all their other awards tonight.

Then it was like the lesson had ended and the class was sent to recess, in this case the marble hall to eat and drink and be merry.

The Elbys had learned a few things from last year's mistakes and the bars were better placed but the food was still being plated individually, making for long lines to gather an array of plates if you wanted to taste more than one thing.

Over at the dessert table, one of the chefs told me that he cringed watching people eating his sweets with the wrong beverage. He's hoping that by next year, there's a pairing station next to the food tables so people might eat and drink what works best together and not just whatever they have in hand.

DJ Marty of Steady Sounds was killing it with soundtrack music, my favorite being the theme to "Shaft," but everything he played was solid.

It seemed like everyone I knew and ran into was shocked to see me in a full-length dress, my assets covered up.

I made sure to pull up my dress to show certain ones my impressive tights with different results. The cheese whiz told me I should never cover up those beauties. In one case, I apparently caught the attention of a man standing beside me ("I think he wants to meet you now") and another time, caused a friend to pull out a phone to take a picture.

No evidence, please.

A handsome server showed me video of his beagle, whom I'd met on one of my walks. A girlfriend asked me to help her unzip her dress so she could go to the bathroom. The newly sensitive one kissed me on the cheek for the second time in three days.

Everywhere I turned, there was someone I knew to talk to.

And I'm a nobody, so I can't imagine what it was like for nominees and winners in that crowd.

As soon as the bar was shut down, people began leaving for the afterparty at Magpie. I was in charge of driving a girlfriend home so I roped her into going to Carver for more festivities, not a tough sell.

People just kept arriving to the tiny restaurant and many of the women's first order of business was shoe removal.

Plenty of people were already in their cups by the time they arrived, while others had been too busy mingling and were just now getting started.

A table with pork and kimchee sliders and queso fresca arancini with pear jam provided something to sop up the alcohol as people got loose away from the museum setting.

A favorite bartender, slightly loopy, found me, complimenting my dress, my attitude and my lifestyle, guessing that I had been much like her when I was her age.

In some ways, maybe, but I wasn't eating nearly as well as she does when I was her age.

But then, I wasn't living in Richmond.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunny and Good Crescendo

When people ask me about my religion, I admit to being a heathen, with the qualifier that I see no need for organization when it comes to belief systems.

Then I usually joke that for me, walking outside every day is equivalent to a weekly service inside a building with a bunch of strangers.

I saw a lot of people who prefer the more conventional religious route as I headed to Carytown this morning, passing the throngs on their way to mass at Cathedral of the Scared Heart.

If they'd asked, which they didn't, I'd have told them I was on my way to worship at the church of live music, today's Mozart Festival celebrating the composer's 258th birthday.

The first event of the festival was at Alternatives boutique on this sunny, cold morning and I walked in to find all kinds of familiar faces, the conga player, the handsome bass player, the former neighbor, the scientist/musician involved in coordinating the festivities, who said he was surprised at the size of the crowd, having expected a half dozen people at best so early on a Sunday morning.

It wasn't long before he excused himself to "get a few snaparoos" and I moved closer to get a better view of the quartet about to play.

Ellen of Classical Revolutions welcomed everyone to the kick-off of the Mozart festival and thanked AlterNatives for being the presenting sponsor and making it all possible.

Against a backdrop of jewel-colored scarves and bejeweled wall hangings, the foursome began with Mozart's quartet #14, which Ellen had described as sunny, a perfect beginning for the day and the festival.

Turning the page literally and figuratively, quartet #15 in D minor, she said, wasn't as sunny but, "Mozart couldn't help himself and the sun comes out halfway through this piece."

It wasn't quite Mozart for Dummies, but it was nice to have some insider information for each piece.

A minuet from the same piece followed after an explanation that it was usually the first Mozart piece Suzuki students learn. "It's in book seven of ten because Mozart is hard!" Ellen said.

Afterwards, the symphony librarian observed that, "People don't know when to clap with classical music," so he led them, saying in an aside to me, "Now they'e all thinking, hey, I didn't hate hearing classical music!"

He, I might add, looked very smug about that.

What's to hate about hearing live classical music in a colorful boutique, especially when doughnuts are being served?

Some of us would call that a religious experience. And then we'd still go home and take a walk to see what else might drop from the sky.

But it was a fairly quiet walk with few people outside except for the ones I saw in their church clothes going into Mama J's Kitchen, the happy looks on their faces probably as much a function of where they were headed as where they'd been.

Rounding the corner from Leigh Street to St. James on my way back, I immediately heard the call and response coming from inside the Miracle Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.

Moving from stained glass window to window, I realized that the congregation's role was clapping and a big "Ahhh" after every ecstatic line the pastor said.

You're gonna get up in the morning!
You're gonna read the word of god!
Of our savior Jesus Christ!

I'm gonna stand outside your church and listen to the testifying that is the sound of Sunday music in Jackson Ward. Ahhh!

But then I'm going to drive back to Carytown to go hear another installment of the Mozart Festival, this time Operatic Incarnations at Plan 9.

When I arrived, there were fewer than 20 of us and by the time the program ended, there must have been at least 60 or more. On stage were cardboard cut-outs of both Mozart and Daft Punk, an apt metaphor for the crowd.

I found a prime spot in front of the new releases (Mogwai, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), next to a fresh-faced kid wearing a Maggie Walker Governor's School hoodie and prepared to take notes in his Chorus notebook.

With a pianist to accompany them. a succession of soloists, duos, trios and quartets took the stage to show off Mozart's operatic talent.

They began with a quartet doing the opening from "The Magic Flute," three girls in black boas fighting over one boy laying on the floor.

Glancing at the student's notes in pencil on lined notebook paper, I read, "very good vowels," proof enough that he knew what to look for.

A duet from "Marriage of Figaro" concerned two women trying to trap one of their husbands in the act of betrayal and they even acted it out a little.

We got a solo from "Don Giovanni" about how much he loved her and during a solo from "Marriage of Figaro," I spotted an older woman near me mouthing every word.

Sure, I'd seen several people I knew - DJs from WRIR, the man about town, the filmmaker/artist- but there were also many people who were serious opera fans.

Another "Figaro" piece sung by a woman in the part of a 13-year old boy who wants to talk about love with everyone he meets elicited the student noting, "Good consonants, good crescendo."

Throughout the performance, people would be walking by Plan 9 and either hear the music or see the people onstage and pause to look in and listen. Many then decided to come in while some kept on going, a shame considering there was plenty of room and it was free.

After another "Figaro" aria and then duet, the pianist gathered up her music to leave as the next singer came onstage.

"Uh, my accompanist is at the petting zoo right now," she explained looking crestfallen, but the talented pianist sat back down to play for her.

Explaining that she was doing an aria from "Magic Flute," she said it was the part of the queen of the night. "She's evil and she's evil because she's single. Sorry, that was Mozart's interpretation."

I'm here to say that we no longer have to be evil just because we're single.

Some of us may be godless, but we're also thrilled when there's a Mozart Festival going on all day long.

I've heard there'll be snaparoos to show you what you missed, but you really had to hear it to believe it.

Best of all, I'm pretty sure a bad-ass new Richmond tradition was born today. Ahhh!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

None Such as She

You know it's unpleasantly cold and windy when I forgo my walk for a movie.

I'll concede that part of the allure was that it was "The Philadelphia Story," guaranteeing the wittiest of dialog from Hepburn, Stewart (no one says "doggone" like that man) and Grant, but I'd also read that it was considered one of the best "comedies of remarriage," a genre I hadn't even know existed but was apparently big in the '30s and '40s.

What is it about a couple being together, divorcing and then remarrying that seems romantic to people, I wonder?

Cracks about the working class like, "I can't afford to hate anyone. I'm only a photographer," got things rolling.

For the record, writers can't afford to, either.

Or the mother/daughter conversation.

Mother: We both might face the facts that neither of us has proved to be a very great success as a wife.
Tracy: We just picked the wrong first husband.

I've heard it happens.

Give the film's year (1940), politically incorrect jokes abounded, like, "Since this is the south parlor, I rather expected picaninies and banjos" and "I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives."

I heard a woman in the row behind me ask her companion incredulously, "What year was this film?"

Three quarters of a century ago, my dear. We've come a long way, baby.

Language aside, the movie demonstrated three essential things: that champagne is the great leveler, women who don't drink lose their husbands and that you can never be a first class woman until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty, namely your husband's.

Lessons learned.

I finally got around to walking late this afternoon, once the sun peeked out from behind the bank of clouds and the temperature reached a balmy 35 degrees although it felt like 26 with the wind still gusting.

But I had no choice because my legs were aching to stretch, cold or not.

The highlights were the woodsy aromas of fireplaces smoke and seeing a skater knocking a hockey puck around on the frozen tennis court at Abner Clay Park.

Probably a transplanted mid-westerner or northerner.

Once the sun went down, I joined a group of poetry-lovers, partially to share body heat but also because I love having poetry read to me.

Chop Suey Books was filling up fast when I arrived in time to see the store cat, Wonton, knock over books as he sashayed from table to table.

Owner Ward said Joshus Poteat had been doing readings at the store since they'd opened and I bet I've been to almost all of them.

Naturally he read first, and like the poet who introduced him, Allison Seay, said, Josh has his own Wikipedia page, so he's a pretty big deal.

Allison is right, though, for as many times as I've heard him read, I always enjoy it.

From his "Orinthology" collection we heard "People Who Kill Me" with lines like the evocative, "Evening light folded around her" and "As if her nakedness was a chore I could forget."

Now there's a way to woo a woman - tell her more about the evening light folding around her nakedness.

Explaining that he was getting to the point in his life where he didn't care to explain things and his books were getting more conceptual, he said he was just going to start reading and we could extract what we wanted from it.

Given the past week's weather, I was taken by the line, "The snow, absolute in all its vastness," from "Illustrating the Snow Line."

He referred to a joint project he'd done with architectural historian Roberto Ventura but didn't want to go into detail about it.

He didn't need to for me because I'd not only gone to Ashland to see the show, "For Lucy and Yard Sale," here, but bought one of the pieces the two had created for it.

As he read "Illustrated Construction for Railroad," I eagerly awaited hearing, "There is agreeable sound here under the thistle," the line carved into the collaged piece that now hangs in my living room, reminding me of Josh's poem whenever I need a fix.

Saying, "It's nice that people want to come out for poems," he showed a map of the land in North Carolina where he'd grown up and said he was working on an essay about it.

Then he clarified that whenever a poet says he's working on something- an essay, a novel, an article- he's really working on new poems and so was Josh.

So new it doesn't have a name yet, but my favorite line so far was, "A living radio mouthing news to the wind."

Then it was Allison Seay's turn to read from her book, "To See the Queen," about her struggles with depression.

"I saw a figment of my imagination, I was healed and that's my story," she said to explain the progression of the book, which had not been written in order, the third section's poetry having been written first.

"I strung up a clothesline in a room and hung my poems up to figure out the structure of the book," she explained. I don't know about you, but the thought of poems on a clothesline struck me as poetic in and of itself.

"I wish I could arrange the disturbances of my life," she wrote in "The Difficult Way."

She said that learning that stanza was Italian for room changed her poems as she began thinking of each poem as a house or town with rooms.

In the title poem, "To See the Queen," she wrote, "My life for a while was forgotten and so repaired."

With lines like that, it wasn't surprising that she acknowledged, "My book is despairing, so I have to check with the audience to see if you're okay."

We were, but she seemed a tad shaky at times.

Sharing a favorite lines from Yeats, "We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrels with ourselves, poetry," she went on to read some new work written during or since her first trip to Italy.

It was wonderfully different, as in "Inside the Well," with the lines, "All I need is the climate of you."

She closed with what she's calling her "spinster poems," a term referring to her 14-year old students' concerns for her unmarried status and her own jokes that she is a spinster.

"When we can, we save what we wish would come back," came from "May, the Occasion," and concluded the reading.

It's nice that poets want to come out and read to us on a Saturday night.

With words of longing and blackberries swirling around in my head, I walked a few doors down to Secco for dinner, finding a stool open in the middle of the bar.

I began with a small plate of delicately tempura-fried oyster mushrooms with lemon-espellete ailoi while chatting with the couple next to me who were curious why I wasn't drinking ( a fair enough question at Secco).

Moving on to an earthy and filling Asturian bean stew with smoked chorizo, slow-braised pork and leeks and the last order of garlic and herb focaccia in the house (they'd also 86'd the Spanish tortilla), the couple on the other side of me requested an audience.

"Are you Karen from 'I Could Go On and On'?" he asked, remembering meeting me at Amour Wine Bistro last summer. I'd noticed her earlier, specifically her curly hair, but couldn't place her out of context.

Like me, they'd been at Amour's anniversary party last May when the disco music was loud, the mirror ball spinning and we'd met and talked.

Tonight we just talked...about Amour's reopening and the couple's upcoming move to Dallas (a place I don't care for except when it houses my best friend).

It didn't seem to bother them that I wasn't drinking, much less to excess like a writer should. In related news, I don't have a wife to beat, either.

I only wish I had enough quarrels with myself to write poetry.

Risking and Receiving

A new spot opens in the neighborhood, of course I'm going to go.

I've watched the renovation as I pass The Rogue Gentleman on my daily walk for months now, but nothing  I had seen there was resembling the "professor's study-meets-cocktail bar" look the owners were touting nine months ago.

So when a bartender friend recently moved to the Ward and I made plans to hang out tonight, my suggestion was naturally to check out the new kid on the block.

Twenty minutes before meeting him, I got an e-mail from a good friend who prides himself on always being right.

Should have e-mailed you earlier. Thought about it. Didn't. We are at Rogue Gentleman. Last minute decision. Sure you have some other plans.

It's the exception that proves the rule this time, friend.

I walked in to find all three of them already at the bar surrounded by a lively crowd.

Mr. Always Right kissed me on the cheek, part of his 2014 resolution to try to be more sensitive and less cynical.

But checking out the interior, we had to wonder. Nowhere in sight was anything professorial-looking and it was much brighter and more open than any of us had expected for a pre-prohibition era cocktail bar.

Ah, well, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that rot.

Since I'm not a cocktail drinker, I allowed myself to be wooed by Fernet Branca on tap despite never having tasted the bitter, aromatic spirit.

Perhaps the bartender sensed that I was a Fernet virgin because after ordering, he strongly suggested a ginger chaser.

It must not have been obvious to him that my only spirits are absinthe and tequila, both sans chasers and accoutrements.

Never mind, I sipped the digestif and nibbled on Pecorino gougeres while my friends tried a variety of cocktails. Then I had a second Fernet to make sure my first impression was correct.

A charcuterie board featured Olli salame and bresola, chicken liver mousse, pistachio-studded pate, Pecorino and a triple creme along with mustards and pickled veggies and must have been a popular item on the menu because we saw it going out to a lot of tables.

The vintage glassware was a highlight, unique and attractive, right down to the punch cups used for the spicy island rum punch on tap.

There were so many people there and so much gabbing going on that we were probably two plus hours into our evening before we ever heard the first note of music.

Hopefully, that will change, too.

I give the bartenders credit, though, they kept up a smiling facade even when it was close to a madhouse in there, no easy job.

Finally managing to convince my friends to join me for music at Balliceaux, we left in separate cars, me with the Jackson Ward contingent, for another kind of crowd.

The kind where a guy is wearing a t-shirt saying, "Risk and you shall receive" and a girl is wearing a sleeveless, backless top despite tit being 19 degrees outside.

You know, the pretty people.

My first order of business after arrival was ordering skewered roasted pork belly over cranberries and pears, a welcome, fatty and piquant snack to fortify myself.

In the back room, R & B legend the Hi-Steps were getting set up so we found a spot near the bar.

A steady stream of people kept arriving, which I hope means that word is out that these guys put on a good show.

After the first couple of soulful songs, bandleader Jason leaned into the microphone, exhorting the crowd to come closer, to come into the light nearest the stage.

"My friend Karen always asks me if I told the crowd we're a dancing band," he announced to the room. "So you should move up and start dancing."

It took about ten seconds of "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" for my girlfriend to start dancing in front of me. And not because of what he said I'd said, either.

It took even less for my bartender friend to grab her hand and lead her to the dance floor, saying over his shoulder, "Someone's got to."

Meanwhile, I kept her boyfriend company as he stood next to me alternately grooving and yawning. To be fair, he had been up about four hours earlier than I had this morning.

I think it was some time after "Soul Man" or maybe "Move On Up" that the dancing friends rejoined us, the bartender saying, "I have four dance moves and she exhausted them all in the first minute."

I'm sure he was exaggerating.

The crowd kept growing and since they all had to pass me to get to the bar, I had a chance to say hi to the violinist, the handsome server, the percussionist, the biker as the room continued to heat up.

And while I stayed over by the bar with the newly-sensitive one, there was definitely some in-place dancing going on the whole time.

Someone's got to. Because they definitely are a dancing band.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Giving a Thumbs Up to the Night

Try and keep someone like me away from an evening called "Conversations."

In this case, the conversation was about the VMFA's "Signs of Protest: Photographs from the Civil Rights Era" exhibit which I'd seen last week and was with UVA's John Edwin Mason and the museum's Sarah Eckhardt.

I was pleased that it actually was more of a conversation than a lecture or talk, with the two of them commenting on slides from the exhibit, sharing information with the audience and each other.

For me, it was particularly interesting to see the rest of the "Life" magazine spread on segregation Gordon Parks had done in 1956. Two pages are in the exhibit, but this was a look at the entire piece in color, when the original had been black and white. It was stunning.

Sarah also made the point that reading the text provided a look at the language we used to discuss racism then, so different than how we speak of it today.

Mason mentioned the letters to the editor that followed a few weeks later in "Life," many of them thanking the magazine for providing a glimpse into a black family's life, saying they had no idea good people in the south were treated this way.

They went through several other photographs, providing insight into them and the photographer who took them.

Mrs. Winston-Draper, the woman I'd heard speak at the Maggie Walker house (for MLK Day) and the sister of photographer Louis Draper, spoke a little about his work, but not nearly as much as she'd done Monday, making me glad I'd seen her when she was the sole focus.

When the conversation broke up, all too soon considering how fascinating it was, we went out to see the exhibit and there I chatted with Gordon, owner of Candela Gallery where the Louis Draper retrospective is now showing before going down to Best Cafe for music.

The Larri Branch Agenda was in full swing when I arrived, saw a familiar face and sat down at his table. LBA was performing their usual original compositions as well as a few standards and since I always enjoy seeing Brian Cruse on bass, I settled in for the duration.

Our conversation was far-reaching, covering foreign film and "Fight Club," movie soundtracks and improvisation, Chapman stick and looped cello.

I'm guessing the weather is still a factor for many people since the room was mostly full but not bursting at the seams like it so often is for the Thursday Jazz cafe.

But like Cinderella's big night, an evening at the VMFA has a strict time limit, so when they kicked us out at 9:00, I turned the car east, hoping to catch some dinner along the way home.

Magpie, with its windows fogged up and inviting, fit the bill perfectly although there was only one couple at the bar when I got there.

You hate to be that last customer, but the bartender assured me the kitchen was still open, so I took him at his word and looked for something warming to get me started.

Venison chili, loaded with onion and just enough heat, fit the bill perfectly and I all but licked the bowl.

If there's one thing you can count on at Magpie, it's game and '80s music and I was already enjoying both immensely by the time the couple cleared out, leaving just me.

When Van Morrison came on, though, I couldn't stop myself from asking the starting point and the bartender agreed with the poor selection.

"It's set to Elvis Costello...with alterations," he said."You have to treat Pandora like a pet, giving it thumbs up or thumbs down every time until it understands what you want. It's the only way to make it behave."

Brilliant. That's the best summary of how to whip your musical genome into shape I've ever heard and told him so. "You just have to catch it in time," he added. So true of pets and Pandora.

For my next course, I got bone marrow with pea shoot pistou and grilled bread, pleased when I heard that they were selling a ton of marrow the past few months as customer after customer learned the pleasure of bones.

For my main course, I went with one of the evening's medium plate specials, a riff on carbonara. Chive gnocchi, the sweetest rock shrimp, peas and watercress swam in a cream sauce made with bone marrow, an obscenely rich replacement for butter.

And the Cure and Bowie played on...

I'm not a pasta person but my Irish roots do incline me toward gnocchi and this was pillowy-soft and delicately flavored, absolutely irresistible to the O'Donnell in me.

I heard about the bartender's excitement about his upcoming trip to see the Pixies in Tennessee (he's seeing them at the National as well) as we discussed the pleasures of out-of-town trips that include music shows.

The chef told me about some of the recent charity dinners he'd participated in, marveling at the amount of money Richmond chefs have raised for worthy causes this year.

This is such a good time for the Richmond food scene.

By the time I got ready to go, Carver was pretty much in bed, the streets icy and abandoned, and I was oh-so full after a double shot of bone marrow.

And all the conversation I could have wished for.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tales from a Female Tongue

So now I know the first rule of Fight Club.

And only because they said it so many times because I gotta admit, my eyes were closed for a fair amount of such a violent movie.

But at least now I can say I've seen the cult classic (thanks VMFA and your 60 films in 60 days) and have some context for the quotes and references I've been hearing for fifteen years.

My favorite? "I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect."

Every day in every way.

Cultural homework accomplished, check. As a serene counterpoint to the film, I got to see Chihuly's "Red Reeds" coming out of a frozen reflecting pool, a very different yet beautiful look for them.

After watching men beat each other to a bloody pulp, I needed a little something for the soul, finding it at a reading at the Library of Virginia.

Literary types are apparently a cautious bunch since only a dozen people showed up, far fewer than LVA's usual readings attract.

Mingling at the reception beforehand, I struck up a conversation with a woman only to find we had lots to talk about, including her recent trip to Philly to go to the Barnes, a notable post-Impressionist and early modern art collection recently moved into the city to the consternation of many traditionalists, and one currently on my short list of museums to visit.

When she raved about the hotel she'd stayed in there, I wasn't surprised to hear it was a Kimpton Hotel which delighted her no end to find someone else who'd become one of their devotees.

Turns out I go to readings to discuss the merits of certain hotel bars with strangers.

Getting off on travel topics, she regaled me with her multiple trips to Italy, even two weeks alone in Florence last year, bragging a little about a visit to a church open only one hour a week to see its frescoes.

"It's great to share that with somebody who can appreciate it!" she enthused.

We gabbed right up until Renaissance literature scholar Sarah Kennedy was introduced to read from her new historical novel, "The Altarpiece," set in Henry VIII's time.

Unexpectedly, she began by reading from one of her many books of poetry, saying she'd begun as a poet and had thought she'd be a poet forever, not surprising given lines like, "Watching the moon skid through clouds," from "Revelation 1373."

A fine reader (not all poets are, I've found), we heard "The Changeling" about faeries and "The Visions of Marjorie Kemp," about the second woman to write (well, dictate) her autobiography, with the line, "A female tongue is best silent."

Good thing we got beyond that nonsense.

The reading ended with the first chapter of "The Altarpiece," a book about what happened to nuns in convents after Henry broke with the Pope and started the Church of England.

Let's just say if you didn't come from money or have connections, you were set adrift, not an easy place for a woman of the era to find herself, but a ripe starting point for conjecturing what might have happened to one of them.

When our little reading group broke up, it was time for me to eat, so I started up the slippery slope to Church Hill and the Roosevelt.

My barstool was occupied by a guy complaining about gym membership payments being taken out of his account automatically when he hadn't been to the gym in five months (did you read the small print, buddy?), so I ended up on the long side of the bar, a good thing actually, on a night when every crack of the door delivered an icy blast to my tights-clad legs.

Seeking a glass of blood-thickening red wine, the barkeep recommended the easy-drinking Potomac Point Abbinato, a Chianti-style blend with lots of fruit and soft tannins.

It was nice to see Evrim of Sub Rosa come in and sit down for dinner, a welcome reminder that his bakery is finally up and running across the street again.

I'd ordered one of tonight's specials, chicken liver slathered on toasted, thickly-sliced bread with cucumber slices on top, an earthy and welcome start to my evening when suddenly a friend arrived, spotted me and sat down next to me.

Now things were getting good. We hadn't gotten together in ages, so an unexpected meeting felt like a gift to us both.

She ordered a glass of Abbinato and we let go the conversational floodgates with talk of past, present and futures, hers and mine.

Our non-stop chatter was interrupted repeatedly as one friend after another - the poet, the traveling baker, the curator- came in and over to say hello.

During one particularly funny exchange with some of those friends, we were talking about breakups where one or the other of the ex-partners ends up suddenly engaged or married within record time after the relationship ends.

The poet's brother had a phrase for women guilty of dating men purely as marriage potential -"Bitches be shopping!" - that cracked everyone up.

As someone who avoids shopping (except for food) at all costs, the idea of having to shop for a husband is about as appealing as kissing a snake. But props for the clever description, sir.

Seeing an order of white bean hummus with crudites go by, the veggies on it looked so good I immediately ordered one without breaking stride in conversation with my long-lost girlfriend, who didn't seem to mind me crunching carrots and radishes in her face.

Absence makes the heart grow more tolerant perhaps.

During another conversation, a friend shared a killer story, immediately insisting that I not include it in my post.

No need to worry, my friend.

The first rule of "I Can Go On and On" is that I keep the really juicy stuff to myself.

In other words, never be complete.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When the Weather Outside is Frightful

It's the inverse snow effect.

As soon as it's forecast, as soon as everyone starts announcing closings, I begin plotting where I can go that's still open.

While I understand that snow makes many people want to cocoon, making soup and hot chocolate, I begin to feel claustrophobic and in dire need of conversation.

Mercifully, there are solutions for that, like making tracks for a neighborhood bistro, in this case Max's on Broad.

Trudging the sidewalks, umbrella in hand, I remembered meeting a Canadian at the now-defunct Belvidere on Broad during a snowstorm a few years back.

He was highly amused, scornful even, by the way Virginians used umbrellas for snow, not that that prevented me from having an umbrella in hand tonight.

Max's was far busier than I expected (one of the valets said he'd already parked eight cars), with a large group upstairs and a smattering of men drinking downstairs.

Fortunately for me, one of them was a friend so I joined him at the end of the bar.

Anticipating that my meal was going to start with French onion soup given the tingling in my toes, I began with Didier Desvignes Domaine du Calvaire de Roche-Gres Fleurie because I love how the gamay grape's acidity cuts through the richness of a soup like that.

My friend joined me in his own bowl of soup while I heard about the headaches of his day, not the least of which was the weather because he's in the restaurant business.

When he asked me about the writing life, I had to admit that bad weather days are kind of great for me because I'm less tempted to head out and about so I stay in and meet deadlines instead.

It leaves me feeling quite virtuous, but starved for conversation, not an issue when you run into a chatty friend.

He told me about a big party he and his sweetheart are planning, one with a budget that exceeds my quarterly income, and one to which I will be invited.

With snow swirling outside and a surprising number of people walking and biking down Broad Street, we moved on to dinner.

I chose the Crab Louie cocktail which I'd had before while he got all manly on me, ordering a NY strip with Bernaise and frites.

Like last time, I was impressed with the amount of crabmeat and abundance of lumps, but tonight's had a decidedly pasteurized taste, leading us to conclude it was probably canned crabmeat, something I prefer to avoid, having grown up in Maryland with particular crab preferences.

But with enough lemon juice and a bit of salt, I managed.

By the time we ordered dessert, the group had left and restaurant employees were starting to arrive at the bar. The music went from Edith Piaf to the Head and the Heart, a sure sign that the evening was winding down.

Friend had chosen the trifle, a mistake because what arrived was nothing like trifle, more like a misguided deconstruction with alternate ingredients.

I chose the cream puff which turned out to be three puffs, a bonus, but the ganache was milk chocolate and not dark chocolate, a miscalculation in my book given the sweetness of the cream filling.

Since my friend had pushed his trifle aside after two bites, I gave him a cream puff for a consolation prize.

We talked about a recent article of NYC food critics' pet restaurant peeves - server phrases like "no problem" and "what are we thinking for dinner?" among them- as we finished up our wine.

It was when we saw our first snow plow lumbering down Broad Street (blade up, mind you), that we broke camp and headed out past the valets huddled in the makeshift vestibule into the blustery night.

In my book, it was still ridiculously early, but at least I'd gotten some conversation out of my system.

Sometimes that's all I need. Sometimes, more.

Working Hard for the Money

Of the many roles I enjoy playing - friend, interviewer, daughter, writer - few suit me as well as audience member.

Tell jokes and I will laugh long and hard, assuming you're not corny. Play music for me, read poetry to me, lecture me and I will listen devotedly.

Tell me stories and I will walk over two and a half miles there and back on a cold night in a skirt and tights to hear them.

Balliceaux was hosting "Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story" with tonight's theme being "Guilds: Stories of the Trades" and the beneficiary of tonight's fundraising being Rag and Bones Bike Collective in Scott's Addition.

The crowd was huge tonight, so I snagged a seat in the third row and headed to the front bar to order food, namely pork carnitas and dark chocolate lava cake, a holdover from the '90s that seems terribly dated but did the trick addressing my chocolate needs.

New Belgium Brewing was sponsoring tonight's event, which meant their signs were everywhere, free samples at intermission and beer-infused specials like my carnitas.

It also meant that the first storyteller was a beer rep from New Belgium whose story, "By Way of Paul Harvey" had only a little to do with his last summer in Colorado with his dad before moving to Virginia and a lot to do with their new Ranger IPA.

Next came a familiar face, Mike from the Green Boys, whom I'd just heard play at the Silent Music Revival a few weeks ago.

A carpenter and furniture-maker by day, tonight he told a story called, "Romanticism Debunked" about how people perceive carpentry to be a romantic occupation.

"It's not, but I like to work hard to earn my money so it's okay. That's why I'm a musician, too."

His tale of renovating a bathroom for a friend's mother had a lot to do with what he called shit water, which was apparently leaking in between the linoleum and the wooden sub-flooring beneath.

"Black mold started growing up through the walls from all the shit water, so you gotta take all that down and put it back up without the mold," he explained, Carpentry for Dummies-style.

The story ended with a ball of petrified shit on the end of a 14-inch screwdriver, thus debunking any possible romanticism.

Greg's story was called "Rolling Steel with Sons of Vulcans" and involved a steel mill moved from Richmond to Cleveland and the local workers who moved with it.

An historian (and musician), Greg was working on an exhibit about working people and heard about the mill and decided to visit.

After watching the men forge steel old-school style (no hydraulic lifts, no machinery), he was offered the chance to "catch" a piece and did so for the experience, admitting it required a far more physically fit body than his to do so.

Danni, the cheese monger at Ellwood Thompson, told her saga of "Meeting the Cheese Guy," her idol, Herve Mons, at a cheese convention in San Francisco.

Explaining that Herve was a master affineur, one who collects cheeses, takes them to aging caves and oversees their maturing process, she told of hearing him speak and how he "vibrated with passion when he talked."

She kind of did the same when she talked about Herve and now I have a good reason to stop by the ET cheese counter.

I recognized the next storyteller, Chip, the former owner of Pibby's Bicycle, originally in Carver and then on Broad Street before closing last year.

Chip was the one who had fixed my bike when it had gotten out of true and not treated me like an idiot for not knowing what the problem was.

His story, "The Dark and Bright Sides of Retail" was about some kids who'd come into his store raising a ruckus and, as it turned out, stealing a bunch of stuff from him and leaving the packaging on the street for Chip to find. That was the dark part.

The bright part concerned a time he'd left the store unlocked (not as uncommon as you'd think) and a kid had gone in to find it empty and then told his Dad, who called the police.

Chip wanted to meet and thank the kid and when he found out he'd come in to look at skateboards, offered him any board in the store in gratitude.

Kind of warms your heart, doesn't it?

Or, as Chip put it, "It was a redemptive experience. All America's youth aren't evil people."

Last up before intermission was Skillet (introduced as having the most colorful house in Oregon Hill) and his story was about being a fabricator, namely going to Dandy Point to make crab shedding boxes.

Of course, he and his buddies had no idea what they were doing, using a five-page VIMS pamphlet to figure out how to do it while the locals looked on and sneered.

There's no way I can adequately describe Skillet's delivery except to say that he could have been telling the story in Swahili and it would have been just as funny because of his squinting, almost-closed eyes, changing volume and acting out.

Showing us how jimmy crabs lay back and snap their claws to attract she-crabs ("They're the virgins, born last year") to mate, he got into it and the crowd about lost it.

I will say this, though, Skillet was educational, taking us through the difference in peelers and busters, and talking about how they eat each other ("They're vicious, they're cannibals, folks!")

Surprisingly, Skillet's tale ended well and they managed to raise the soft-shelled crabs they'd set out to.

"When restaurants like this one get soft-shelled crabs, they're still alive! Then they cut their faces off!" he yelled with diabolical laughter.

Skillet was one for the Secretly Y'All books.

As soon as intermission began, I jumped up to beat the bathroom line, only having to wait behind two people.

Coming out of the loo, the woman two behind me in line looked at me with astonishment. "You are amazing! That was so fast!"

Right? I am known for my bathroom speed and had been a tad surprised that the guy behind me hadn't even commented before ducking into the bathroom. I said as much to her.

The guy in front of her nodded. "If she hadn't said something to you, I would have. I can't believe how fast you were!"

We all need recognition for something.

During the break, I met a D.C. transplant and had a good conversation about adjusting to the small world of Richmond after a real city and since she's car-less, about the local biking scene, its hazards and recent improvements.

Back in my seat, I found newcomers in front of me and the woman turned to ask why a DJ was even bothering to play when the noise level was so loud you couldn't hear the music.

After telling her it was a record crowd, she admitted part of the problem was deafness due to years of going to too many shows.

Well, you know where that conversation went, to my delight.

She'd been a regular at Max's Kansas City in NYC, seeing the Heartbreakers repeatedly and the Misfits, including one time she fell asleep on the table as the Misfits played. When the band left the stage, the guitarist bumped her in the head with his guitar to show his displeasure with her sleeping through their set.

She had lots of show stories from NYC, including seeing Madonna in an early incarnation as an opening act, so forgettable that a friend had to remind her years later that they'd seen the Material Girl way back when.

She'd also seen the Clash and the first NYC gig of the B-52s. "And that's why I'm deaf," she concluded as Secretly Y'All got going again.

After intermission, the storytellers are chosen from the names in a hat, put there by people in the room who have a story to tell on the night's theme.

The first was Phil from Rag and Bones, and it was about a breakup where the girl got engaged two weeks afterwards to another guy and planned to move to Italy.

To deal with his emotional angst, he began getting involved with Rag and Bones, growing his role and time spent there.

"The best thing to do after a shitty breakup is use your hands," he said to suggestive sounds from the crowd. "In a productive way."

Painter Chris Milk's name came next and he told a saga of a crazy friend who bedeviled him here and followed him when he moved to NYC.

"And when I say New York, I didn't mean Brooklyn," he clarified. "Back in my day -I'm 41- New York meant Manhattan."

It was funny hearing a man with fingerless gloves painted with colorful rainbows and stars, piercings and tattoos talk about "back in my day" like it was the dark ages.

The crazy friend followed him when he returned here and started desecrating a mural Chris was working on.

But only because he was crazy, a fact Chris finally came around to and apologized to the guy for not understanding his brand of crazy.

Peter came last and I recognized him, too, from previous storytelling.

Tonight's was about working "the devil's trade," also known as a call center, a last resort after graduating college and not finding the video engineer job of his dreams waiting for him.

"For two years, I was pleasant Peter," he said. "I credit Wells Fargo's bill pay center with teaching me all the patience I have. I got to talk to a lot of inspiring people, many of whom I hung up on."

His takeaway had been that sometimes the little guy needs to win after the bank had mistakenly not paid a customer's mortgage and there were repercussions.

Peter wanted to spend two hours researching and fixing the mess but when he told that to his boss, she said, "Do you want to take down this whole bank for one customer?"

Yes, he told her, he did and the room erupted in applause.

He finished by waxing poetic. "I asked myself why am I working this job for $36 thousand instead of making $15 thousand doing what I love freelancing and walking dogs and loving my life?"

Welcome to the club, Peter. You won't regret it.

In fact, that kind of life will provide far better stories for future Secretly Y'Alls and probably a more colorful house than all the call centers of a lifetime.

Just ask Skillet.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Best Kind of History

I never have to go far to honor Dr. King on MLK Day.

After my walk down to Brown's Island this morning, I knew it was a nice day so I dressed lightly for the walk over to 2 Street, making it all the more surprising when I walked outside and found my front stoop and walkway covered in ice-melt pellets.

So apparently my landlord had come by and put them down in the 61-degree weather anticipating tomorrow's snow showers.

I crunched over them and strolled over to the Maggie Walker House, where I joined a roomful of people eager to hear Nell Draper-Winston, the sister of photographer Louis Draper, talk about "Recovering the Work and Life of Louis Draper."

Mind you, I'd already seen the Louis Draper retrospective at Candela Gallery and the "Signs of Protest" exhibit containing some of Draper's photographs at the VMFA, but here was a real, live person who'd known the talented man who'd left Richmond to forge a name for himself and yet is still unknown here.

Nell was a tiny woman with a clear-cut way of speaking and a quick smile as she talked about growing up in Henrico County with an emphasis on family values and meals where everyone shared their day's activities.

She said her Dad was an avid photographer, documenting the neighbors and the area, but he couldn't manage to interest Louis in taking pictures.

What he did do, though, was give Louis a camera when he left for Virginia State University and that began a lifelong passion for him.

He left Richmond for New York, living in the Bowery, at the YMCA and eventually in a brownstone owned by Langston Hughes, who became a mentor to the young Louis.

Although primarily known as a street photographer, her brother shot images of lots of famous people, like Michael Jackson and Jackie Kennedy-Onassis and photographed for "Life" and "Popular Photography" but Nell said his main joy came from shooting everyday people living their everyday lives.

She finished her talk old-school style, pulling out 11 x 14 photographs her brother had taken and passing them around.

I've been to a lot of photography lectures but it's a singular pleasure to see and hold the actual photo rather than just see it projected on a screen.

There was one of Malcolm X, but Nell said it was done as a study of shadow and light rather than as a portrait. There was another of Miles Davis playing. Several were from Draper's trip to Senegal.

Another study of light and shadow, with the word "Santos" scrawled on the wall, was the one Nell said Louis placed  a copy of in both their parents' caskets.

The gentleman next to me and I lingered over a striking photo of John Coltrane with his sax at the piano.

It was after we looked at the photographs that we learned that Nell had also met Dr. King and been part of the group that picketed Thalhimer's in a show of peaceful resistance.

She'd been going to VUU where they brought in a different minster every year for the Week of Prayer.

The year it was Dr. King, she'd collected her autograph book and patiently waited in the crowd among RPI students, "And they were all this tall and you may have noticed, I'm short."

She was ready to give up on ever getting to the man she described as "the most eloquent speaker I ever heard" when Dr. King told the towering group to hold on because "this young lady has been waiting a long time."

He gave her his autograph and, as she put it, "You couldn't talk to me for the rest of the day."

Yes, on Martin Luther King Day, I am fortunate to meet and hear from someone who actually heard Dr. King talk.

And still has the autograph book to prove it.

Love 'Em and Leave 'Em Fast

Eat local. Drink local. Listen local.

The way I was brought up (with a Richmond grandmother in the house), Sundays meant fried chicken for dinner.

Conveniently for me, Saison, mere blocks from home, does fried chicken on Sunday nights. All the family tradition, none of the work. Like.

I found a seat at the bar, took note of the football score and ordered Espolon and a quarter chicken.

"Light or dark?" was the bartender's only inquiry, while one of the servers stood at the end of the bar mouthing "dark, dark" to me.

Don't waste your energy, friend, I was already going dark, despite once having had my hand slapped for that preference.

A date had cooked fried chicken for me and when I kept helping myself to the dark pieces, he finally called me on it, claiming the last thigh for himself.

Here there was no one to chide me, so I enjoyed my crispy dark pieces with cole slaw and long-cooked green beans, tonight's designated sides.

The couple next to me soon paid their bill to leave for dinner at Rappahannock, causing the bartender to ask them to wait.

He put a lidded condiment container in front of them and asked if they'd deliver the shot to one of the bartenders at Rappahannock.

Shot of what? Shot of...soda, he said.

They agreed and were off while I went back to sucking bones and greasy fingers.

There wasn't enough time for dessert because my ultimate destination was Gallery 5 for music, so after a brief discussion of the opening of J-Ward's latest, the Rogue Gentleman, I walked a block over to show my ID and see the Low Branches new single release show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a seated show, so I staked out a chair before mingling to chat with friends.

The instrument-maker talked about his long-term plan for a workshop. The historian wondered why she hadn't been sent the invitation to the show. The fuzzmaster said he was pleased with Friday's set.

Flu was a big topic because one of tonight's performers (Jonathan Vassar) had it, necessitating Annousheh doing a solo set to take his place.

I've seen her play with and without her band, but there's a purity to hearing just her voice and keyboards.

She did some familiar songs like the well-written "The Trouble I Find" and some equally impressive new ones done "against my better judgment," she said.

She finished with her exquisite slowed-down cover of "In the Air Tonight," a song that always reminds me of a Phil Collins interview where he said the only thing that will go on his gravestone is, "Phil Collins, He wrote "In the Air Tonight."

Truth is, her version is far more aching and haunting than Phil's ever was.

It was during that song that I looked over and saw a friend walk in, a friend who'd been on the other side of the world for the past seven months.

During the break I got up for a hug and a hello, hearing him describe that time as "tentative and exhilarating," probably an apt description for climbing rock faces, teaching schol and living without running water.

A baker at Aziza before he'd left, he's already taken up employment with Sub Rosa, detailing what a crazy re-opening weekend it had been for them.

The Low Branches' singer, Christina, had told me a little about the second band, whom I'd never heard of: Rodney "the soul singer" Stith.

Seems she and Rodney ran into each other at the grocery store many times and one of them, they discussed the song playing in the store, leading to finding out that they were both musicians.

Rodney had a backing band he referred to as "the soul system" for that voice, made up of drums, guitar, bass, keyboards and violin, leaving Rodney to sing and play guitar.

And sing he did, in a voice that channeled every vintage R & B singer worth his salt, and beginning with "Calling Out" to show how he could use that voice.

Saying he needed some participation, he then asked the crowd to sing out as the band did pieces of "California Dreamin," "Losing My Religion," "Little Red Corvette" and even the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way," a song that had certain members of the audience, Christina included, dancing in their seats in delight.

Me, I was amazed that so few people knew the words to "Little Red Corvette," as masterfully metaphorical a rock song as has ever been written.

During their set, I saw more friends arrive, this time the formerly-prickly one and his charming girlfriend, so I waved them over to the two empty seats in front of me.

The band returned to original material with "a new one, hot off the press, so hot it still has ink smears on it," a song Rodney described as about how women take men for granted, hurting them and moving on.

"Just Leave Me" had him putting his guitar down to stand and sing emotively like a true crooner, all hand gestures and closed eyes.

Reminding the crowd that tomorrow is MLK day, they closed with "Free at Last," integrating U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" to great effect and again soliciting the audience to sing along.

Hearing the friend next to me belt it out, I now understand why she's a karaoke queen. Such a voice.

Fortunately, there were more U2 fans than Prince fans among the crowd and it was a rousing and fitting tribute to King.

Afterwards, I turned to a friend, commenting that we see a lot of bands, but never anything like straight-on soul. I'd really enjoyed it.

During the break, I chatted with an old rocker about my recent acquisition of a Grin CD, a band I knew he'd remember (he did) and with his girlfriend about the painstaking cinnamon rolls she'd made from scratch using the Cinnabon recipe.

She told me she loved my hair and he told me it was interesting and we discussed the difference in the two statements. Men and women, never the twain shall meet.

But things ended on a high note when another friend told me, "I need more you in my life."

When Low Branches took the stage, it was with Annousheh playing keyboards, a first for the many times I've seen the band play.

Now that they no longer have a drummer, Josh is back on cello instead of bass, a welcome treat since his playing adds so much to their sound.

Christina thanked everyone for coming out on such a cold night and I didn't have the heart to tell her I came to share body heat since there wasn't any extra at my house.

They played songs I knew but had never heard with the addition of keys, and then she said in her quiet voice, "This song goes out to all the ladies. This might have happened to you...yea," and trailed off.

Dolly Parton's "Jolene" gets 'em every time with its lyrics about knowing that your man secretly pines for another woman and Josh plucking that mournful cello.

For their new release, "Rain Song," Adam from Nick Coward and the Last Battle joined them on trumpet and with Annousheh playing keyboards, it was a beautifully lush sounding arrangement of a song I've heard a few times, but always far more pared down.

A friend had told me earlier that he thinks "Rain Song" was the best thing they'd ever done and not just "indie good," but the kind of song that could be a real hit, even with west end moms.

He's got a point there.

Partway through the song, Christina hit the wrong note, something I've not heard her do, and the look on her face was hysterical, but the band just paused and started a do-over, ending perfectly.

"We seem really serious up here but really, we're always just trying not to crack up," she explained.

This from a woman who prides herself on mournful songs. She once gave me a CD labeled, "Sad folk songs for Karen's birthday" and it was some of the loveliest sad stuff you can imagine.

But I've also seen her laugh plenty, too, so I understood what she meant.

Next they did "Rain Song" again, this time in Turkish, followed by a Turkish folk song, both appropriate because Christina leaves for vacation in Turkey soon where she'll no doubt eat, drink and listen locally.

And with any luck, come back knowing "Little Red Corvette" in Turkish.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

You Won't Bore Him, Honey

After a walk down Leigh Street, past the bustle of Sunday morning doughnut-seekers converging on Sugar Shack and a pussy willow covered in fuzzy little buds, I made it to the Bowtie for a movie, but no mimosa.

And I have to say, I may be late to the party but now I understand why "All About Eve" was nominated for a record-breaking fourteen Oscars.

I don't know about anybody else, but I found so many facets to the story that fascinated me - the challenges of aging gracefully, the machinations of the theater world, older woman dating younger man.

Then there were the usual period details that I always enjoy - talk of girdles and women with size five feet, neither of which applies to anyone on the planet anymore, I don't think.

But really, it was the dialog that made the movie...and I'm not even talking about, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

I'm talking about aging cracks like, "I'll admit I may have seen better days, but I'm still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut."

Or, "My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater."

And it's hard to top a bald statement like, "She loves me like a father. Plus she's loaded."

Or the best line from the character named Karen, played by Celeste Holm. "The cynicism you refer to I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys."

But on the off chance you've never seen "All About Eve," it can be summed up in one classic 1950 quote by Bette Davis' character, Margo.

"Funny business, a woman's career, the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman."

Now I know. Without a man, I'm nothing more than a salted peanut.

The Only Bee in Your Bonnet

Ignoring my disdain for beer, I went to a brewery.

It's not like I hadn't been to Hardywood before; I had and between the crowd of hat boy types and young parents, had decided it just wasn't my thing.

I overlooked that tonight for the sake of bringing back geek chic.

Some theater friends were hosting an evening of music, but not just some band I could see elsewhere. Good bands, even friends' bands, play there all the time and I don't go.

No, tonight they were presenting their first "Cover to Cover" concert featuring a live band doing every song in order off They Might Be Giants' seminal 1990 album, "Flood."

Needless to say, I had to be there.

Luckily, in addition to hordes of moderately drunk people, I also found a few friends in the crowd, including a lot of actors and musicians.

The handsome bass player, inexplicably wearing a red clown nose, found me first and we commiserated about the distasteful smell of a brewery, an odor that had him gagging the first time he'd come to Hardywood to play a show.

But I can't just talk to one person, and before long I ran into the jeweler, one of last night's drummers and a Jackson Ward neighbor.

The evening was hosted by Matt, the same Matt who hosts the Ghost Light Afterparty with aplomb and high heels.

After the band played the brief "Intro to Flood," Matt and Evan sang the classic "Birdhouse In Your Soul," only messing up a little.

After mad clapping, Matt observed, "You guys are far too forgiving."  Copious amounts of beer will do that to you.

After a few minor adjustments to the sound system, Evan informed us, "We're gonna turn up the vocals higher in the mix so you can hear us better not knowing the words."

Meanwhile, the girl standing in front of me turned and said to me, "If my hair gets too big, just flip it out of your way."

Will do, honey.

Symphony violinist Treesa came onstage for "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" after having lost an hour of her life learning the part yesterday and promptly nailed it, making the song just about perfect.

It was during "Your Racist Friend" that Matt got jiggy with it, knocking into the pianist's music stand and light.

The Richmond symphony librarian, who happened to be in the crowd, vaulted onstage, adjusting the light for him like it was his job, which it wasn't.

Maggie did "Particle Man' complete with hand gestures just short of interpretive dance.

By then the crowd was pretty big and Evan said, "Sorry to those of you in the middle and back who can't hear us. Scooch closer and we'll all sweat to the oldies.

"We'll only bite if you want us to," Matt added, probably not kidding.

After "We Want a Rock," the Star Foster Dance Project showed up on two stages for several songs, including for "Minimum Wage," where a dancer named Egbert did a frenetic dance that perfectly mimicked the song's energy.

Katrinah and Maggie did a killer version of "Women and Men" with Matt singing back-up crouched on the floor at the women's feet. Appropriate, I thought.

Before "Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love," Matt warned us, "Here comes a song we never practiced." In other words, it was just like being at the Ghost Light Afterparty.

After the final song, "Road Movie to Berlin," they had time to kill before the art raffle, so they did "Birdhouse in Your Soul" again, this time to a far more, um, lubricated crowd.

The theater crowd, grouped to the right of the stage, created a big dance party, getting everyone else dancing, too.

Of course, once they'd done that, how could they not bring Treesa back onstage for one last rousing rendition of "Istanbul"?

"Look at all the invisible panties being thrown up here on stage!" Matt yelled, in the finest GLAP tradition.

And speaking of those fine GLAP folks, Matt and Maggie, tonight was only the first in the"Cover to Cover" series designed to raise money for their new production company, Spin, Spit and Swear, an apt metaphor for anything they do.

Once the music was over, I said my farewells to the good people and headed back to J-Ward for dinner at Lucy's.

Walking in, I heard my name called and found a wine rep, a pizza mogul and their husbands eating dinner before journeying out to Short Pump to see Eddie Murphy's brother at a comedy club.

Asking where I'd been, I shared, only to see my friend's face fall.

"I love that album! How did I not hear about that?" she wailed. Knowing about the first time for anything new is always the hardest.

After they left, I settled in at the bar where the bartender asked if I wanted Espolon, but I needed something better suited to warming me up on a cold night.

Her memory was excellent, but no, I was hoping for a glass of Stefano Antonucci Rosse Piceno, a Sangiovese and Montepulciano blend from Santa Barbara, a place with fond memories for the abundance of wine tasting I'd done there on vacation a few years back.

Playing on the screen was Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat," a 1944 film I've never seen, but with no subtitles, couldn't really follow. I did question how Tallulah Bankhead was able to look so well-groomed stuck in a lifeboat for so long.

It was while I was eating a Cesar salad with white anchovies (perfectly dressed, too often not the case and I can't stand greens dripping in dressing) that I heard my name called again, this time by an actress I knew who had moved to Washington, D.C.

She's back to do a role in "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" at Firehouse Theater, promising flesh, fighting and a whole lot more inappropriate behavior if I come see it.

Sounds like a superb night of theater to me.

While eating some addictive spicy walnuts (cayenne, sugar, salt), I heard the table behind me talking about Black Iris Studio and the "suitcase exhibit," so I wasted no time in twirling around in my bar stool and telling them plenty about this terrific traveling music installation, which I've not only written about but done myself.

They asked me questions and thanked me profusely, despite my eavesdropping.

You guys are far too forgiving.

And while you're at it, keep the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul.