Saturday, August 30, 2014

Time Makes You Bolder

Fleetwood Mac and summer just go together.

My best friend and I saw them play two nights at the Capital Center in 1977 on the "Rumours" tour. Even know what I wore both nights (we won't talk about the mauve and lavender tube top and cut-offs).

Fast forward 37 Augusts and tonight I was right up front at Hardywood for the latest in the Cover to Cover series to see "Rumours" played start to finish by a bunch of theater people I have seen both onstage and at the ghost light afterparty many times.

But his time, it was personal. These songs are the soundtrack of my misspent youth.

With terrific songs to work with and a crack band, including for the first time, Brian Cruse, a bass player I first met when he was in Marionette and have since seen in many guises (tonight he oozed the '70s in a white leisure suit and shades, his waist-length hair down for the first time I'd ever seen), each song was a testament to its immortality.

Audra doing "Dreams"? Everyone sang along. Nick killing it on "Never Going Back"? Lindsey would be proud.

Before "Go Your Own Way," Hedwig (no Angry Inch), aka Matt, came out in full regalia sipping a beer and spitting it out on my right sandal.

I couldn't have been more honored.

It was hotter than hell in Hardywood, the crowd was huge and boasted all ages and the smell of sweat permeated the room by the time we heard Katrinah do the sublime "Songbird."

Someone handed me a cluster of miniature pink roses, apropos of nothing.

Maggie sang "Gold Dust Woman," directing the line, "Rock on ancient queen" directly at Hedwig, who returned it with a hip cock and look of his own.

The encore necessarily had to feature earlier and later stuff. Rhiannon set the Stevie fanatics (easy to spot in their stylized version of '70s dress) on fire and while I was happy to hear "Landslide," I'd have preferred "Silver Springs."

An '80s song followed but since I'd long since abandoned the Mac by then, I barely recognized it. But I did get both the first Stevie Nicks solo albums when they came out.

So while Stevie's "Edge of Seventeen" wasn't what I would have chosen to play as the closer for "Cover to Cover: Rumours," it was a crowd-pleasing, rabble rousing finish to a very hot, sweaty Fleetwood Mac kind of a night and I sang and danced along to every note.

Just not in a mauve and lavender tube top and cut-offs...although they might have been cooler.

Of Zephyrs and Chocks

Love in dishevelment, or, another visit to the northern neck to see Mom and Dad.

Three months after a tree taller than their house came down in a storm, eating a hole in the third floor roof and dispensing with other windows and siding, they are still in a much smaller cottage a quarter of a mile away.

Their house's renovations have finally begun, but with at least a couple of months of work ahead, they're in for more adjustment to the pleasures of smaller digs.

My Dad is okay with piles and a certain amount of visual disorder (says he knows which pile everything is in) while Mom prefers stuff to be out of sight.

As we set the table for lunch today, she telling him to get his debris off the table, he suggested she embrace more dishevelment in their lives.

She made a face and he defended himself, saying he'd read a book called "Love in Dishevelment" (no doubt a '50s pulp mystery) and some of it could be applied to life.

What he was trying to say was that it wasn't realistic for her to think he's going to abandon dishevelment. She tried using me as a witness, claiming I'd have no part in dishevelment. I pleaded the fifth.

Yes, these are the conversations I have with my parents.

In other news, I conquered the Merry Point!

After multiple past attempts to ride the Merry Point ferry, today was my lucky day to ride the two-car, six person cable ferry.

Show up at the end of Ottoman Ferry Road and the ferry will take you across the Corrotoman river - where I'd seen dolphins two weeks ago (none today) - in the blink of an eye.

It was on the other side upon arrival, so I waded into the river (very warm and very clear) and watched the ferry chug back over, reaching down to feel the cable vibrate as it approached.

Then it was my turn.

A car followed me on and, just like that, we were at limit. Ignoring a sign back on land suggesting ferry patrons stay in their cars, I got out.

What, the captain (the man who put chocks behind my tires) is going to make me walk the plank if I don't?

It was the kind of afternoon as sunny and clear as they seemed when you were at recess in third grade, a glorious day to be on a ferry even for a short time.

But that was long after lunch and hours spent on the front porch ogling nature with the people who spawned me.

A brilliant electric blue bug looked fake, a hummingbird showed up only to find the feeder empty (refilled it) and my Dad commented, "Ah, a lovely zephyr," (knew that it was wind, didn't know westerly) when it got breezy.

We took a field trip to the front yard to admire and discuss the two positively artistic lightening rods on the roof of this cottage they're staying in, all glass balls and sunburst-like toppers.

A practical necessity rendered to please the eye.

My parents suggested I go look at the cabin, a tiny place on the property where the owner stays when he doesn't have guests that warrant using the cottage (the one my parents are borrowing).

It was a place for one person, preferably a short one: low, 6' ceiling, pre-1940 Westinghouse refrigerator (shorter than me), one main room and a bedroom.

And if that person were me, I would revel in all the windows (the kind that open toward you, not up the wall) and a screened porch with a swing, a picnic table and a view of the creek shaded by a tree I couldn't hug half of.

A good place to write a textbook, apparently (owner just finished one), but also one with two boats in the yard and plenty of places to do nothing. But small, very compact.

Some might see it as a breeding ground for dishevelment.

As my Dad is sitting there at the table watching my Mom and me prepare lunch, set the table and bustle about, he acknowledges his lazy demeanor but tries to make a case for it being situational.

"People worry if your mother dies before I do that I'll starve to death," he begins his tangent. Hard to say where it might go. "I may grieve to death, but I'll certainly be able to feed myself."

And that, I'm pretty sure, is love in dishevelment. Hell of a role model.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Take Five

Some nights are all about the simple pleasures.

I set out to check out L'Oppossum, eager to see how the former Pescado's China Street had been transformed.

When I expressed my preference for the bar over a table, the two gentlemen at the host stand assured me that the bartender would be friendly.

That was an understatement. He not only recognized me from eons ago, but even inquired about a mutual friend of ours.

There's really no escaping your past in this town.

Settling into the end stool, the first thing I noticed was all the interesting art on the wall interspersed with "Star Wars" plates. Behind the bar, I spotted a stuffed possum and a painting of Nick Cave.

It was a pleasure to see a restaurant that bore no resemblance to the current restaurant decor trend.

The second was the music, everything from Helen Reddy to the Delfonics "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) with nary a cliched indie tune to be heard. Absolutely delightful.

The trio nearest me at the bar were soon replaced with the casually dressed director of the VMFA and his wife about the time my pale pink glass of fresh and fruity La Galope Rose Comte arrived.

I was told they'd sold out of nine bottles the first night they were open. Could it be that we are finally becoming a Rose town? Be still, my heart.

Apparently the director and his wife had been there before because I heard her tell the bartender that they were positively smitten with the place, rating it their new favorite.

Since it was my first visit, the menu was a blank slate to me so I began with the obvious: the el dorado low rider, a lobster taco with tomatillo sauce and decadent guacamole.

While there was the option to add the chef's surprise, I opted out of adding tonight's surprise of foie gras, not really needing my arteries to close down before Labor day.

Once I opened the conversational door by inquiring about the about music, the bartender boldly walked through, providing endless opinions and observations about music past and present.

I admire a man who appreciates a good pop song, no matter the genre.

We covered his first show (the Kinks), his thoughts on Television's first album, his recommendation of Comasat Angels and memories of early Cure.

At one point, a man came to the bar, credit card in hand, to order a beer. Seems he'd ordered a beer from his server at the table, but hadn't the patience to wait for it to arrive.

"I need a beer now," he clarified. "I'll still drink the one the server brings me." Off he went, beer in hand.

Man, that's some serious jonesing for a beer, friend.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I was being asked what I wanted next. His suggestion was to get something I wouldn't want to share in case my next visit involved a companion.

Good thinking. I ordered escargots a la ham biscuit, which was exactly what it sounds like: a plate of escargot (and greens) with a ham biscuit adorned with, that's right, an escargot.

Proving I am my Richmond grandmother's granddaughter, I pulled off a piece of biscuit, slathered it with butter and devoured it to assess the biscuit worthiness.

Before long, it was just me at the bar, leaving the bartender to make drinks for tables and in between, chat with me.

About how Wilco started out aping Gram Parsons. How 20-somethings don't even know who Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers are. About what pop gems the Strokes wrote.

I considered death by chocolate, but instead had another glass of Rose to accompany the music talk.

After anticipating a quick, solo meal, I'd been having such a terrific time talking with my fellow music lover, I'd completely lost track of time. Hours had passed and I now had somewhere to be.

Of all the unlikely places, it was with the Baptists. Just don't tell them I'd been imbibing.

I arrived at the courtyard at First Baptist on Monument, already knowing the drill for how this works.

Although tonight was the first of this year's courtyard classics I'd attended (and none last year because they were all cartoon movies), I've seen plenty of movies in the shadow of this church during other hot August nights.

Out host made sure everyone who wanted popcorn had gotten some because, he said, movies are more palatable when you're eating popcorn.

After a prayer of thanks for the nice breeze (I abstained), we were on to a 1954 MGM cartoon called "Dixieland Droopy" about a dog (a beagle, perhaps?) named John Irving Pettybone who loves Dixieland music.

Only problem is no one else does so he keeps getting kicked out of places like the "Good Rumor Ice Cream" truck for playing his Dixieland record.

After the record is broken, he lucks out by having a flea band take up residence in his tail and play non-stop Dixieland.

It was hysterical when the dog tells the flea band to "take five" and they hop off his back and approach some smoldering butts on the street, puffing away during their break and then going back to play.

Thus warmed up, we moved on to the main feature, a Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz classic called "The Long, Long Trailer."

Taking place in the pre-interstate era (1954), the story follows the newlyweds as they buy a trailer and car in which to honeymoon and then live happily ever after.

In a nod to the crowd, it had subtitles so you didn't have to listen too hard to understand the dialog.

Since I spent a good part of my childhood watching reruns of "I Love Lucy," I expected this to be similar so I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn't.

That said, their character names were Tacy and Nicky, but we'll let that slide.

But here Nicky was an engineer (not a bandleader) and Tacy wasn't quite as zany, unless you count hoarding rocks for the future garden she planned to plant once they arrived in Colorado, their goal.

It was very '50s, of course, with Tacy (frequently in hat and gloves) lobbying hard for the trailer purchase (by the way $5,345) so that, "No matter where were are, I could make  home for you."

Aww, how sweetly Eisenhower years is that?

And speaking of that, all the roads were two lanes, policemen directed traffic at intersections and parking lots cost fifty cents.

While it wasn't "I Love Lucy," there was still plenty of physical humor such as Nicky hilariously fighting with the trailer shower head and Tacy trying to make a fancy dinner while the trailer is being pulled.

When she tells Nicky she's making beef ragout and a Cesar salad, he says he'll get out the Roquefort.

"Only boors use Roquefort," she corrects him. "Everyone knows it's Parmesan." Did everyone know that in 1954?

There's even a too cutesy scene of the two of them motoring along, Tacy stretched out on the giant bench seat of their Lincoln convertible, singing a song called "Breezin' Along."

That's how you know they're in love.

Well, that and Nicky says, "You could make me happy living in a cave." Doubtful, but we got his point.

The climax comes when they have to go over an 8,000 foot mountain and Nicky tells Tacy to jettison all the stuff she's been collecting, which of course she doesn't do.

During scenes of the trailer being pulled along high, narrow roads on the edge of a cliff, the crowd around me got vocal.

"Oh, my word!"

"Uh oh!"

"No, no, she's in trouble now!"

When the clouds are the ceiling in your outdoor movie theater, I guess it's just fine to talk to the characters in a fifty year old movie.

I didn't, but I'd also unexpectedly spent a whole lot of conversation at dinner, maybe all I had for the evening.

Doubtful, but you get my point.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Days of Flies and Deer

Curiosity about a building I'd seen was all it took.

The Virginia Historical Society's banner lecture was "Sheltering Arms: A Legacy of Caring" given by Anne Lower from her book of the same name, out this year on the 125th anniversary of the hospital.

If it weren't for one of my walks having taken me down Clay Street across from the Valentine where I saw a handsome three-story building labeled "Sheltering Arms," I doubt the lecture would have piqued my interest.

Lower had my attention immediately when she explained that the original St. James Episcopal Church had been in Jackson Ward before moving to the "west end," over on Franklin Street in the heart of what is now VCU.

I couldn't have been more surprised to learn that Episcopalians had once gathered in J-Ward.

That was relevant because Rebekah Peterkin was the daughter of Reverend Joshua Peterkin of St. James church and she was the founder of Sheltering Arms.

With the limited powers of a 19th century woman, she convened her sewing circle to help establish a hospital for needy patients in the city.

Their first building - Clifton House on 14th Street - located behind the governor's mansion was donated and opened in 1889.

Lower made it sound like a community effort with doctors volunteering their time and bringing their own instruments, even painting walls, while farmers donated food and hunters donated deer.

Women, of course, donated time and endless fund-raising efforts.

After Rebekah died in 1891, the hospital was moved to the stately Grant mansion on Clay Street, the handsome building that had first caught my eye.

In the old photograph Lower showed, nurses wore floor-length white uniforms and she told us that they lived on the third floor of the mansion.

We heard about the formation of the Florence Nightingale Auxiliary and their community efforts - scout canned food drives, the Bal du Bois ("the most beautiful of parties," Lower called it), sorority fundraisers - to keep funds and goods coming in to Sheltering Arms.

Showing a picture of the operating room on Clay Street, Lower pointed out the three big windows, "Opened for fresh air during surgery, but also letting in flies because there were no screens then."

She said the windows had a great view of the countryside looking east.

That's the kind of details I go to these lectures for. Imagine a time when  operating rooms were open to views and flies!

The rest of the history interested me less - the move to northside where they no longer delivered babies or did surgery, the decline in need for free care once Medicare was put into law and how Sheltering Arms reinvented itself as a rehabilitation facility.

All well and good.

For me, I have a new appreciation of the Grant Mansion and next time I walk by, I'll try to imagine those long-skirted nurses working and living in that lovely house.

I'll probably even try to figure out which windows were the operation room ones so I can envision the view.

And then when I get back to Jackson Ward, I'll completely suspend belief and try to imagine Episcopalians in my neighborhood.

It must be true. I heard it at a Banner Lecture.

Three for Three

Triple booked tonight and it was worth every bit of the to and fro-ing.

First was the cocktail party at a friend's house.

The occasion? Her Mom is visiting from Mexico in anticipation of the two of them flying to Bermuda, where she lived for 11 years, next week.

Nice trip if you can get it.

Actually, I've been to Bermuda and had a fabulous time, but that doesn't stop me from envying my friend her upcoming time there.

Her Mom was delightful and droll, never more so than when she observed her two-year old granddaughter in a tutu and a cropped Ramones t-shirt and deadpanned, "I bet she's never even heard the Ramones."

She shared a news-making story from her days as a curator, raved about her 14-year old seat mate on the plane ride and was wearing fabulous jewelry she made herself.

An interesting mom altogether.

After far too much Rose, cheese and figs and deviled eggs, I said my goodbyes to make stop number two, joining two girlfriends at Balliceaux.

Tonight was their first time experiencing Hand to Hand Haiku and by the time I got there, they'd already nabbed a front row table and had beers in front of them.

It was an unusually small crowd tonight but there were still plenty of combatants to follow host Raven Mack's opening monologue about the 1300 sonnets he's writing.

He was kind enough to read us two of them.

Then it was on to round one between Ryan, who characterized his haiku writing as stupid and John, who called his straight bullshit.

I've seen Ryan compete before so I already knew the constant in his haikus is the use of the word "dude."

Dude, this neighborhood
suffers from a serious lack
of Blue Oyster Cult

Like that. Except John won. Like Raven, he's got a terrific voice and an interesting look, so he's one of my favorites to watch compete, even when he doesn't win the match.

Round two brought Paul who referred to his haikus as "Appalachian filth" and the defending champion Amy, who called hers "written a few minutes ago."

I have to say, the room about lost it when Paul read this one.

New Volvo driving
old white ladies with butt plugs,
pucker lips, hate me

Later, he told me he was writing about the women he sees at Ellwood Thompson who always make a point to scowl at him.

Amy was no slacker either.

Home girl burnt her lip
on the joint's hot spot.
Blunt force trauma.

As one of my friends put it, "I didn't expect haikus to be so funny."

Oh, but they can be.

There's always a death match that pits host Raven against a worthy challenger and tonight's was Rebecca, who read a haiku called "Skin."

Our greatest asset
gives us the ability
to touch and be felt

Just as good and all too relevant for my friend was one of Raven's.

By day, mild mannered
state administrator.
By night, depressed.

Eventually, Rebecca ran out of haikus so they went to free-styling, making up haikus on the spot for the judges (of whom I happened to be one), a mighty impressive thing to witness.

Raven won again, taking the pink game cock (yep, you read that right) trophy back home with him for the umpteenth time, but the man can write haiku about masturbating with peppermint soap and how tingly it feels, so he truly is the master.

Usually the death match is the end of the evening, but tonight John and Amy returned to fight it out until John ran out of haikus and conceded.

Luckily, he's talented and tenacious, so he frequently comes back.

After the match ended, we sat and chatted for a while, planning our next date and trying to convince one of our friends to go see "Boyhood," a film two of us had loved.

Somehow, we got on the subject of people who don't pay attention to music and how foreign and unpleasant a world that would be for us.

We sat there preaching to the choir before breaking camp so one could go home to bed, one to have another beer and wait for her boyfriend and me to go to a show.

Now there's a surprise.

As if a great bill on a Wednesday night wasn't lucky enough, I found a parking space directly in front of Strange Matter.

Inside, I found a clutch of WRIR folks, a music writer and a drummer, but all in all, far fewer people than I'd anticipated.

Playing first were hometown heroes White Laces, although playing as a trio tonight instead of a quartet, and doing lots of songs off their upcoming October release, "Trance."

Did I miss the keyboards? Yes, but that's not to say that their smart, guitar-driven sound wasn't fully satisfying to hear, as always.

From the lead single, "Skate of Die" to the album's final cut, "Strangulation Blues," their set was yet another reminder of how far this band has come since I first saw them at the courtyard during the artwalk four years ago.

Watching them, it feels like a big deal to have witnessed their steady ascent to where they are now.

During the break, I talked with a friend about the challenges of freelancing, glad to hear that her frustrations mirror mine and it's not just me.

Then the room began to fill with smoke as Sisu's smoke machine kicked into overdrive.

They also had video showing behind them and two perfect sets of bangs, courtesy of Sandy and Jules of the Dum Dum Girls.

It's Sandy's band and the music is psychedelic, full-bodied and dark with plenty of reverb.

Loud, too, but not as loud as it would have been if the drummer hadn't put his red plaid flannel shirt over his drum before playing it.

Being visual creatures, lots of guys seemed to be taking pictures of the lovely Sandy shredding her guitar.

At one point, I looked over at the door and all I could see was a solid haze of smoke and no door at all.

After their set ended, I talked to a friend about why more VCU kids weren't at the show and with the drummer of the Shangri-Lords about the stellar set of theirs I'd seen at the pool party the other night.

Turns out he and the bass player have been girl group fans for years and finally got to let their inner girls out via this band.

As the crowd began to filter back in, San Diego band Crocodiles took the stage and began an audio assault laden with echo, one of my favorite sounds.

It was music from a cave, full of guitar distortion tamed into something wonderfully energetic and danceable.

A drunk girl in front of me wrangled a guy to dance with her, producing hysterical results as they managed to dance off beat for the next five songs, stumbling into each other and everyone around them without ever moving in relation to the music being played.

But at least they were dancing, as was most of the room to Crocodiles' catchy, noisy psych-rock with the kind of guitar work that calls to mind all those post-punk bands of the mid-aughts that I loved.

Just another Wednesday in River City.

While some might lament the serious lack of Blue Oyster Cult, I'm calling it a damn fine evening.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Floating Above It

There is no end to how small a town this can seem.

It happens all the time - I see a gallerist or restaurant person in the grocery story and they're so out of context that it takes me a sec to place them.

How there's never more than a few degrees of separation between anyone in this town.

Case in point: I am meeting a friend at his house and while waiting for his girlfriend to show up, he puts on a cassette tape of a band he was in back in the late '90s.

I spot a familiar face. The woman singing in the band is someone I knew a lifetime ago.

Funny how that happens.

Once his beloved arrived, we strolled over to Pomegranate, a neighborhood restaurant for them but one they'd never been to.

I consider it essential to know about any restaurant that I can easily walk to and from. I was assisting them with research.

On the way, I spotted Bertha, a woman whose backyard had backed up to mine for the 13 years I lived on Floyd Avenue.

Bertha had been old when I'd moved there in 1993 and I knew she'd lost her husband of 70-some years just a couple of years ago.

But there she was, sitting on the porch of the house she'd moved to during WW II.

Even though I moved away eight years ago, she remembered me almost at once and hugged me, eager to chat.

It didn't take long for her to brag about being 93 (she doesn't look a day over 80) and I asked her point blank if she attributed part of her longevity to her long, happy marriage.

She did and admitted she still misses him every day. "I was lost without him," she said.

It was a kind of wonderful flashback talking to Bertha after so long. Our lives had been intertwined for over a dozen years.

She'd lent me her lawn mower before I had one (her husband always reminded me not to cut the lawn in flip-flops), taught me how to make squash fritters with the abundance she grew at the rear of my back yard and was, in general, the neighborhood busybody.

When my friends started ahem-ing to get me off her porch and walking to Pomegranate again, I hugged her goodbye.

"Come back again soon!" she admonished as I re-joined my dinner companions.

You know, I think I will. That's a woman with some great stories and I'd like to be the one to hear them.

When we got to the restaurant, every patio table was taken, but there was plenty of room in the main dining room which was suffering a wilting sonic attack from a group of  30-something women catching up on each other's lives.

Let's just say I heard the words "wedding" and "pregnancy" a lot.

We massed around the end of the bar so as to hear one another talk.

From bread served with salty high quality butter to salad to ravioli, blue fish two ways and twice fried quail over mashed potatoes, my friends were seduced by Pomegranate's food.

At one point, he compared her satisfied food moans to those of Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally," high praise indeed.

The closer was Pomegranate's version of bananas foster and, for the chocoholics among us, chocolate pate with figs and berries.

When our server delivered the chocolate pate, he was quick to point out the locally grown Black Mission figs.

Took them off of somebody's tree, didn't you? I inquired.

"We totally did," he said quickly and honestly.

I'm just happy to eat figs; I don't worry much about whose tree they were plucked from. Call me old school.

The pate tasted as if it had been made with that same decadent high fact butter as we'd been slathering on bread, meaning the rooves of our mouths were soon slick with fat. Mmm.

Friend pointed out that the bananas foster didn't taste as if it had been lit (he's cocky because he'd made four of them in a night once), but was nonetheless exquisite in its rich banana creaminess.

By then, not only the patio had cleared out, but the final trio of the get-together threw in the towel and went home to their pre-fab lives.

We were the last. Walking home down Auburn, I pointed out that a block away, my father had been born.

That was a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

After my friends went home to their beds and early wake-up calls, I made one last stop at Cary Street Cafe to hear Fear of Music.

Josh Small did a couple of songs to finish out the opening set while I joined the people began pouring in.

Spotted a restaurant manager, a bartender, an editor, a banjo player and who knows who else among the expectant looking crowd.

Once the all-Talking Heads extravaganza began, it didn't take long for the room to become a mass of people dancing or at the very least, dancing in place.

All except three I saw, who inexplicably managed to remain stationary while some of the danciest music since Kool & the Gang (whom David Byrne once earnestly cited as the band's main inspiration) tried to wind its way into their body.

I don't understand. When you're hearing "Psycho Killer" or "And She Was" or "Drugs," the human body just wants to move.

Didn't we prove that back in the '70s?

A friend was charmed when a guy began filling the room with hundreds of bubbles raining down on the dancing masses, an effect I might have seen in a couple other decades.

She and I have been saying for ages that we were going to schedule a night out together and here we'd shown up for the same late show on a Tuesday night.

When the town's small enough, you don't even have to make plans. We're just not that big and it's kind of grand.

I'll say it loud and proud...I guess that this must be the place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Off the Chain

Took a new walk, tried a new dog.

While I've been doing lots of new to me walks lately - I did the floodwall west Friday, ending up in the SunTrust parking lot on southside, and Randolph and the cemeteries there Saturday (even heard gun shots followed by a bugle playing "Taps") - today's jaunt had two major things going for it.

The historic nature of the slave trail, heartbreaking as it is, and the practically perfect weather, sunny, breezy and absent humidity.

I walked all the way to the Manchester docks where I met three gentlemen fishing and shooting the breeze.

They suggested I join them but I politely declined.

Coming back, I decided to circumvent the last part of the walking trail and instead clambered up the rip rap to access the bridge and save myself quite a few steps in the process.

Despite not being the clambering type, the good news is I neither dropped my keys nor scraped up the moneymakers.

Back on terra firma, I took the pipeline walkway, did a leg soak and climbed the hills home, where I immediately picked up the phone and called a friend for lunch.

A six mile walk will give you an appetite no matter how much breakfast you ate.

Last time we'd gotten together for lunch, he'd been in the midst of a terrible, awful, no-good day but today's mood was considerably sunnier.

Making our way through gaggles of VCU students with not a clue how to navigate crosswalks, sidewalks and streets (one young twerp stood in the right lane of Broad Street to light her cigarette), we ducked off of Broad and into Unleashed Gourmet Hot Dogs, dodging cold drips from the air conditioner over the doorway in the process.

Inside, it was cool, empty and a laundry list of imported and housemade hot dogs greeted us. A server at Empire had turned me on to this place, raving about the quality of the dogs.

My only complaint? Not one was named after that noblest of breeds, the beagle, nor was a picture of a beagle among those hung on the walls for decoration.

I'd call that a gross oversight.

When I asked the owner what was so great about his dogs, he boasted of importing some and making others.

"They're the best," he said. 'Let me know after you try one."

Friend went straight for the English pointer, a smoked sausage with roasted pepper, sauteed onions and honey mustard while I selected the Mutt International, a crisp-skinned oversized wiener that snapped when I bit it, with beer-roasted barbecue pulled pork and cole slaw riding atop it.

Both of us were impressed with the non-traditional rolls, more a crusty, toothsome bread pocket than a typical bland hot dog roll.

Russian potato salad, bright red with beet juice and a nice tang, went down easily as we sat at the window counter and watched the colorful street theater of Harrison Street parade by.

"So?" the owner called to us from his perch behind the counter.

Mighty fine dogs, sir, we answered and he beamed. "I told you!"

Now just hang a picture of a beagle on the wall and this place'll be practically perfect.

And, I might add, only a short walk from home.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Running into the Sun

Sometimes you feel fortunate just to have been asked to take a road trip on a certifiably gorgeous day.

And then it just keep getting better.

Our first goal was lunch and Tanglewood Ordinary presented itself just as the driver acknowledged he was hungry.

And the family dining outpost, with its bottomless fried chicken and sides - cole slaw, biscuits, cornbread, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, black eyed peas, green beans - plus a second protein (in our case, pot roast), more than took care of some growling stomachs.

Our server, Zach looked to be about twelve, but since he delivered our Zorin Prosecco, I'm going to assume he was older.

I couldn't have been more surprised at the music, which began with Marvin Gaye and went downhill, but perhaps that's a function of starting at the top.

There's a particular charm to eating in a restaurant that's part rec room, part simulated log cabin and part home on the range while the Spinners' "Rubberband Man" is playing overhead.

Fully stuffed on wings and legs, my affable date and I soldiered on to First Colony Winery.

The purpose was a complete wine tasting, but my ulterior motive involved my previous visit to First Colony last November.

Then, I'd seen piles of rushes, part of the supplies to build a new thatched roof on the winery.

Today, nine months later, the bodacious new thatched roof was a thing of beauty, topped by a weathervane of a chicken, turning with the wind.

And not just lovely because of the use of age-old thatching techniques but because of the quality of the workmanship on the roof.

It wasn't just a run of the mill thatched roof, it revealed itself in three different ways.

One part of the roof was just rushes, neatly trimmed at the end, over the line of the house. Another part was like a cross-section, a side cut view of the rushes.

But the most intriguing section was purely decorative, with an "X" under a half curve, one after another, patterned along the roof line.

If only I could have seen part of the process to make that happen.

On the deck off to the side of the tasting room, a band called Mid Life Crisis did a credible job with songs such as "King of the Road" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" to a rapt, wine-swilling crowd and a couple of dogs.

Inside the tasting room, we'd timed it perfectly and the bustling crowds soon dissipated and we had the room to ourselves.

Moving through what our taster called the "porch pounders" - Chardonnay 2012, Rose 2013 and the Zephyr blend - also known as easy-drinking summertime wines, we savored Petit Verdot 2012 and marveled at Claret 2012, surprisingly not cloying despite 3% residual sugar.

Afterwards, we retired to the deck under the trees with the masses, glasses of the refreshing and fruit forward Rose to nourish us.

Couples danced and the rest of us watched as the band demonstrated why they always end up staying past the time their set ends: people are having too good a time to stop.

But we had bigger fish to fry and once our pink was history, headed up the hill to Blenheim Winery for our final goal and the main event.

It was my first farm to table Hill and Holler dinner and it was a doozy.

Chef Kyle Bailey of D.C.'s  Birch and Barley and Church Key was preparing food while the entertainment was to be Jackson Browne.

Kind of a big deal.

I'm not sure I would have even said I was a fan, but an opportunity to see him live - especially at this point- seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was over the moon at having been invited.

Despite every attendee having been warned not to wear heels, there were dozens of women who ignored the advice and, as a result, spent the evening taking mincing steps in platform and spike-heeled shoes on a field of grass.

For the record, I wore flats.

The view was magnificent, looking out over a valley and toward mountains, everything especially deeply colored as dusk set in.

After a period of mingling (looking at old books in the library, talking to someone I knew ages ago, chatting up a stranger) with butternut squash soup with creme fraiche being passed, we took our seats under a canopy, all 140 of us.

Seems they'd tried to cap it at 100, then 125 and finally pulled in the reins at 140.

The only thing I can say in their defense is that it was a benefit for the Environmental Working Group so it was all for a good cause.

Next to me was Tom, a biologist, who quickly introduced himself and told me his age and his wife's name. Across from me sat the husband of a woman with the Environmental Working Group, while he worked with the Chesapeake Bay administration.

Looking around, the crowd was decidedly un-Richmond looking. In fact, most people looked so D.C., very self-important and busy.

As a native Washingtonian, I can make blanket generalizations like that about my people.

Everyone had barely found a resting place when Jackson himself took to the stage.

Looking remarkably like he did in the '70s (or at least pictures of him), the dark-haired Browne said, "I'm just going to sing three songs and hope they go with the wine pairings."

As if "Baby Blue" and "Looking East" wouldn't go with any wine. Pshaw.

His voice sounded amazingly like it did on the radio back in the day when Jackson Browne was on the radio, so it was no small thrill to hear him.

His encore was (duh) "Runnin' on Empty."

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

And then, poof! He was gone and it was farm table time.

Everything was served family style and first came cool pickled watermelon rind and marinated radish salad with arugula.

Panzanella, one of my favorite summer dishes, of Bellair Farms tomatoes, fresh pulled mozzarella and garlic with toasted bread came fast on its heels and both were paired with Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

With the deep blue of the sky fading to dark, we were served earthy gemelli with ground lamb, roasted peppers, cumin and yogurt, paired with Pollak Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2012.

A bit of conversation and I soon learned that the man across from me lives in Takoma Park, that last bastion of hippiedom in Maryland, although he seemed the antithesis of loosey-goosey hippies.

To go with King Family Meritage 2012, we had succulent roasted farm chicken with sweet potato and okra followed by beef tenderloin with eggplant and oyster mushrooms.

By this point, people's eyes were starting to glaze over with so much food and wine and beer (shucks, I didn't even mention the Blue Mountain Brewery selection that was also paired with that last course) being delivered regularly.

The pros among us persevered.

Dessert was pound cake with local peaches and cow's milk ricotta, served with a glass of Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold cider.

As you can imagine, by this point everyone was everyone's friend and the decibel level under the canopy had grown quite high blotting out the stillness of the landscape around us.

Everyone was still a little bit high about having just seen Jackson Browne perform and certainly the lovely meal and generously-flowing wine didn't hurt the vibe any.

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don't know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that'll be alright
If I can get you to smile before I leave

I don't know about anyone but me, but my smile was ear to ear long before I left.

Color me fortunate and then some.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Adult Swim

What's better than a birthday pool party in the summertime?

A pool party with a really good band, that's what.

So after black bean nachos and 1800 at 821 Cafe, it was on to Granite Pool, a place I hadn't been in 15 years, and one so tucked away, I'm always amazed that I'm able to find it.

By the time I joined the fun, plenty of people were in the pool, enjoying water that felt warmer than the air.

I greeted my hostess who was in a stellar red bikini, hugged the birthday boy and absorbed some of his pool wetness, then moved on to talk to others I knew: the WRIR couple, the singer and her cute pink shoes, the guitar player in his cammo bathing suit, the other singer, looking fabulous, like she was wearing a classic 1970s jumpsuit (actually a bathing suit and pants).

It was hard to beat the combination of sitting on the side of the pool with my calves submerged and having a front row seat for the band's performance.

What are soggy shorts and a wet butt but two of the pleasures of summer?

A guy floated up in an inner tube and introduced himself. I suggested he stay nearby for a great view.

And not just any band, but the Shangri-Lords - a local band in which I know five of the members (including Kyle and Tim from Diamond Center as the rock steady rhythm section), and yet had inexplicably never seen perform ("What? Are you serious?" a friend asked, slack jawed)- all of whom have the last name Lord.

The Ramones have nothing on these guys.

With Michael doing lead vocals, Lindsey and Janet doing back-up vocals and Kyle doing some of both, they proceeded to get the party started with some outrageous '60s girl group songs.

Don't say you don't know what I'm talking about: "Be My Baby," "Nowhere to Run," "Good, Good Lovin." Amazing stuff.

There was one girl determined to get the dancing started, sometimes alone, sometimes with a willing or reluctant partner. She even asked me.

Handling the lead vocals, the witty banter and the dramatics, Michael (whom I know from much different bands) was smooth as silk, his arm around the blue support as he crooned, making kiss and good-bye gestures as the lyrics dictated.

Even better, he was dressed in a tux. During the band's set, our hostess appeared at my side in the pool, asking rhetorically, "Who would show up at a pool party in a tux? This guy."

Yes, and we love him for it.

Our lovely back-up singers were equally as impressively clad and talented, all in black and dancing rhythmically to every song.

They were masters of the double clap/snap routine and harmonized magnificently with Michael.

Clearly the band had put some thought into the set list, mixing up raucous dance songs with slow dances so people could grope.

With a funky drum part coming from Tim, they even sang "happy birthday" to the beaming celebrant.

When they announced they were doing a sexy song, Lindsey warned party goers, "Single people, you need to start talking to each other now."

Then when it began, she used her best announcer voice to say, "And now it's adult swim."

For the last three songs, she exhorted the crowd to get up and dance now if they'd been planning to and plenty of people couldn't resist The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On."

Saying it was anthem time, we got what was the highlight for me, the vintage proto-feminism of Leslie Gore's 1963 classic, "You Don't Own Me."

They absolutely nailed it, Janet and Lindsey's vocals and dancing spot on as Michael sang, "Don't tell me I can't go with other boys!"

I don't tell you what to say
Oh, I don't tell you what to do
So just let me be myself'
That's all I ask of you

That's some stellar '60s girl power right there.

They closed their set with the Tammys' "Egyptian Shumba," practically a call to arms to twist and do the bugaloo and the dancing crowd obliged on the wet decks.

Near the end of the song, Michael left the stage to incite the crowd further and before long, jumped in the pool, incidentally losing his glasses along the way.

In his tux.

Not to be outdone, Lindsey was next and Janet soon followed.

Coolest part? They splashed around a bit and then returned to finish the song.

How in the world had I not seen this band before? Already looking forward to the next time.

If you've been to a better pool party, I want to hear about it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sometimes It Just Turns Out That Way

You hang as long as you can hang.

At times, it veered toward "The Big Chill," except without the death part.

It was a gathering of friends.

A favorite couple had invited me to join them for an evening of too many cooks in the kitchen, situational tests of memory and music old and new.

We brought each other up to date on our lives.

Over Ca'Berto Prosecco, they shared details of their weekend in Lovitsville, which seemed to be a delightful blend of reading, drinking and seeing the sights, while I countered with crabs, dolphins and wine.

Music selection got off on the right foot with "Under the Covers," a CD of '60s and '70s covers done by Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles, two musicians I like a lot.

We had random dancing in multiple rooms.

Their version of "Cinnamon Girl" was excellent, "Different Drum" took me over the moon, but truly, it was the Who's "The Kids are Alright" that had me dancing with myself in the dining room, just my Ca'Berto and me.

We all pitched in for meal prep.

Then duty called so I joined my hosts in the kitchen to chop, slice and present a summer supper of the best kind.

Garlicky hummus with a hot sauce finish. Olli sausage Toscano and a dry Italian sausage. Sliced cukes. Bowls of olives and gherkins. Pita. Three kinds of mustard.

My contribution had been four succulent tomatoes raised in downtown Jackson Ward, which I sliced and gave a whiff of pink salt to before placing on the table.

We had our major chord feel-good moment.

Happy vibes abounded as we listened to the Sweet/Hoffs cover of "Monday, Monday" while eating these exquisite summer tomatoes, all three of us smiling, dancing and head bobbing in our chairs as tomato juices dripped down our hands.

We had surprises.

My host is a multi-talented man who impressed us over several times with his ability to do or know something.

At one point and only slightly off topic, he informed us with no warning, "I castrated bulls in the '70s." It's the kind of thing you expect to read in a Hemingway novel.

But just to clear (because he did clarify), he's only seen other types of castration.

Apparently that's a distinction a lot of castration veterans want to make.

We had a killer soundtrack.

The music rotated through Sergio Mendez and Brazil '66 (more dancing), Roxy Music (limpid movements and swooning) and Bobby Darrin (to give you some idea of the vibe) as we each spun stories and sipped Graham Beck Brut Rose.

Our humor exceeded the sum of our parts.

At one point, my host had to take his glasses off because he was laughing so hard he was crying. You don't see that every day.

And the conversation grew and bloomed like a stinkweed in a city yard.

We had information sharing.

They were unimpressed with Southern Seasons, she's coveting a steak from Belmont Butchery and he acknowledged men having sensitive nipples.

This is noteworthy mainly because I saw a friend's video this afternoon in which he commented, "Men's nipples really do get hard," after ice water is thrown on his head.

I can't say I've ever had a day where nipples came up so often.

While my host provided color for the conversation with small detours and slight tangents, we tucked into chocolate eclairs and chocolate lava cake, perfectly lovely with the Graham Beck.

You have to appreciate a man who lays in supplies of bubbly and chocolate.

We had laugh attacks.

During a conversation about goodness know what, my host tried to use the word "bodices," pronouncing it "bo-deeces," sending us off into gales of laughter.

We've all been there - read words, understood them, but with no kind of idea how to pronounce them.

My friend couldn't resist playing and talking about the band Time for Three, a classically trained string trio that seemed to meld every genre of music - bluegrass, jazz, rock, classical.

"I'm buying seven or eight copies and giving them to people for Christmas," my friend said. Can't say I've given Christmas presents a  moment's thought.

We shared future plans.

There was my friend's screenplay idea, which involves Beethoven, Bach and Mozart being dropped into the '60s to see how they would have changed music. Brilliant.

But after 5 1/2 hours together, these people who had gotten up way earlier than I had today were getting tired.

We went our separate ways.

Back in Jackson Ward, roving packs of freshmen were walking up and down sidewalks, looking for the party, the cool place, to be seen.

Getting out of my car, a trio passes by, all of them intent at making a success of their first Friday night away at college.

"Let's stay up all night!" one squeals as I put the lock in my door and smile to myself.

It's 12:15.

That's a hell of a hang you have ahead of yourself, son. Do what you can.

Friday, August 22, 2014


In a perfect world, a man would write me poetry every night.

Since that isn't the case, I take it where I can get it.

Tonight, that began at the Criterion with a fellow film fan and a whole lot of buttered popcorn.

In many ways, the striking new film "Boyhood" was poetic, shot over the course of 12 years and a 2 3/4 hour (watch out, millennials, you'll need a full attention span for this one) plea to look more closely at your own life.

Will do. Happily.

The always fascinating Richard Linklater spent the past dozen years shooting scenes for a film where a young boy ages in real time. It's a marvel to watch.

As those of us who have done it know all too well, growing up is hard to do.

Make no mistake, this is not a traditional story with an arc and a fuzzy resolution; this is life as it unfolds, messy at times, often confusing and always riveting.

Adorable young kid becomes pimply adolescent and eventually, soul-searching college student. It's completely believable because we've all lived it.

And lest you be put off by the concept of a nearly three hour movie, let me assure you it passes so quickly you'll feel like a teenager at your first party when your parents show up.

What, already?

Believe me, you've never seen anything like this tour-de-force chronicling the life of a boy as he navigates a sister who sings Britney Spears to him, an alcoholic stepfather, being bullied, first love and leaving home for college.

Watching so much happen as a real kid ages is nothing short of amazing.

So what do you do once you've been bowled over by a landmark film?

Eat, drink and discuss it ad nauseum, natch.

After the movie and a bathroom break, we landed at Lucy's for dinner, finding a favorite bartender behind the bar.

"So, is it a Rose evening or more of a tequila night?" he inquired earnestly. Some people know me so well.

Rose in hand, I moved on to Bibb lettuce wraps of sour cream shrimp salad, a light and savory dinner to balance out the bucket o' popcorn I'd inhaled earlier.

Music was varied - lots of Simon & Garfunckel, CSNY and Cat Stevens - as we got into a discussion of the bartender's talent for haikus.

Naturally, I had to try to convince him to show up for Balliceaux's haiku nights rather than just blasting his haikus to the (as he called it) "Twitters-phere."

Why waste such poetic talent on the ignorant masses when you can have a small but fascinated live haiku audience?

My date offered me a bite of his outstanding pork loin with mustard jus and sugar snap peas as we listened to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and discussed wine, the eastern shore and looked at maps of Chapel Island.

The chef eventually came out, regaling us with tales from the tomato dinner a few weeks ago (veal stock that never simmered, oh, my!) and why catering-style plating is best.

Late in the evening, the bartender handed both me and my date a haiku, each written about us.

Woman about town
Bon vivant extraordinaire
The Karen Newton

I won't say that can't be topped, but it's been a while since anyone tried.

Here's hoping someone gets the ball rolling again.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Trekking down to the river for the umpteenth time this summer, I already knew I'd end up wet, listening to the rushing water, enjoying the breeze.

Once there and sitting on a rock, legs submerged up to my shorts, the light bulb went off. I'm pulling a Frederick.

I'm dreading summer ending. It's why I'm at the river - different parts, but close enough to hear and experience - almost every day.

One of my all-time favorite children's books was written by Italian artist Leo Lionni and told the story of an eccentric field mouse and his chatty field mice friends.

Other mice industriously spend their summer gathering grain and nuts for winter, but not Frederick.

Oh, no, Frederick has other ideas. He sits on a rock and the other mice chide him for his laziness.

"I do work. I gather sun rays for the cold, dark winter days," he tells them.

Another day, he gathers colors for when winter is gray. Still another he gathers words because winter days are long and gray and he knows they'll run out of things to say.

That's precisely what I'm doing.

My windows have been open since April when I first threw them up (not even closing them while I was at the beach for a week) and since I don't use air conditioning, my electric bills are negligible this time of year.

Fruit ripens practically overnight on my dining room table and conversations waft up from the sidewalk below morning, noon and night.

I hear rain before I see it.

And on these daily walks down to the river, I sit on a rock like Frederick did and absorb the sound of the rapids, of bird calls, of children screaming in delight in the water, of a summer breeze through the trees.

Because one again, summer is flying by and I'm trying with everything I have to store up the warmth of the sun, the bright colors that will soon fade to Fall and the interesting and kind words I get from friends and strangers.

Summertime..and for me, the living just doesn't get any easier or more wonderful than this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Get On the Right Thing

The invitation promised wistful, haunting, hip, exotic and playful.

Aspiring to all those things, I invited a friend to meet me for dinner and the show. Perfect, she said.

Planning to park once and party twice, I chose Aziza's for dinner, knowing how fond she is of the pizza.

Come to think of it, who isn't?

We were the first people in and took the table in the front window, which lasted just as long as it took for the sun to make a greenhouse of the restaurant's glass.

Wine (procured after she was carded at 35) and menus in hand, we moved to a shadier table, and no longer limp from the heat, the music caught my ear - early McCartney, so early my friend didn't even recognize it.

But then it was "Beth" by Kiss and you better believe she loved that. I was all about the Spinners' "Rubberband Man." Then Fleetwood Mac's "Say You Love Me." The O'Jays' "For the Love of Money."

Boston. Earth, Wind and Fire. Elton John.

I'm embarrassed to say we couldn't imagine what the starting point had been for the station, so we had to ask.

Duh. It was as simple as, ta-da, the seventies! Hunger had clearly dulled our brains.

Pizza took care of that - hers a margherita and mine a white with pancetta - as we discussed discos, Dallas versus Chicago (no contest) and how much her Mom had liked Wham! in the '80s.

By the time we finished gabbing and munching (I had a pile of pizza bones stacked high on my plate), we needed to hurry down the block to Globehopper or risk not getting a seat.

We snuck in the back door so we could score wine and sweets,only to find a rapidly growing crowd filling the little coffee shop from the front and back.

I saw plenty of familiar faces, including the J-Ward neighbors who had been kind enough to save us seats at the front table, and after buying a Rice Krispie treat to put the sweet ending to our dinner, we joined them up front.

My neighbor told a funny story of offering to make any dessert for her daughter's date and his request surprised the heck out of her - Rice Krispies treats.

We all have our soft spots (or chewy spots, as the case may be)/

Playing first was Uc (which means 3 in Turkish, a reference to the number of members) doing traditional Turkish music with guitar, drums and lute.

Actually, I didn't know it was a lute but my dinner date took a picture and sent it to her husband who supplied the answer.

Technology, satisfying curiosity 24/7.

I found myself taken by the traditional dance songs they played from western Turkey and influenced by Bulgaria. Before long, a woman stood up and began dancing, her long, tiered skirt sailing around her legs as she twirled and shimmied.

My friend turned to me. "I would have to be so drunk to do that."

On the following song, another woman got up and danced fluidly, an incongruous sight when a pack of people on Segways breezed by the big windows behind the band.

Toward the end of her dance, she danced over to a man at the bar and kissed him, so we're assuming they knew each other.

Either that, or Turkey is a far friendlier country than I ever realized.

When the woman stopped dancing while the music was still being played, the band wound the song down immediately.

"Why play when they stop dancing?" the lute player asked rhetorically. He had already explained to us that most of the dance songs had no real names; they were just referred to as "dance song from XYZ."

For the last song, the lute player switched to drum and with two drums and guitar, finished their set with a percussive flourish.

During the break, two teachers (and members of the crew of the Lady Slipper batteau team) joined our table for a spirited discussion of public education and a new charter school in Chesterfield County for girls, where one of them will teach.

By then, Globehopper was so overflowing with humanity that I feel safe in saying the fire marshall would have shut it down.

After working on tech issues with the sound system, Yeni Nostalji, a band that plays vintage Turkish pop classics from the '60s and '70s, was ready.

Although I've seen them several times now, tonight was the first night as a quintet with the addition of Rei on drums and Marlysse on keys.

Announcing that they'd begin their set with a pop song from Istanbul, guitar player Evrim explained, "Everyone wants a piece of this song because it's so beautiful. Like our vocalist, Christina."

That would be corny except it's absolutely true and she looked perfectly lovely tonight in a green lace top and fitted black skirt, her long, dark hair framing her face.

"We are here for your listening pleasure," Evrim said as Marlysse put on sunglasses, upping her cool factor even more. Tim the bass player, ever the pro, just smiled widely.

The sound system was giving them feedback problems and Christina inched toward the front door, announcing she was taking her mic and moving as far from the band as possible.

"Because I forgot deodorant," Evrim joked. "Like most Turkish men."

Major laughter.

Giving us a hint at the lyrics, Christina said, "Turning, the whole world is turning, except you back to me," before singing it in Turkish, a song that had all the emotional drama of a Petula Clark classic like "Kiss Me Goodbye."

But so did all the songs, which Christina worked dramatically with hand gestures and such dynamics in her voice, so unlike her hushed, understated delivery in her other band, Low Branches.

For the three friends with me who'd never seen her in this band, it was a revelation to see her so animated and assertive in her singing.

Evrim joined her, trading vocals and dueting with her, while also providing the comic relief between songs.

"A man goes to get his palm read and the reader wants to see her line on his hand, but it's not there," he said explaining lyrics for the upcoming song and then paused. "Oh, no, I gave it away."

Christina dedicated a song to Evrim's baba (father), saying, "He played guitar on the recording of this song from the '60s. He's not here tonight, he's in Turkey."

"If he were here, he'd be weeping," Evrim said.

There was one song where Christina read the entire lyric in English before singing it, beginning with, "I wish I were drunk to forget you for a second," and then launching into the song.

Midway through, Evrim called out to the capacity crowd, "Raise your glass if you got 'em!" and practically all of us did.

The music was fabulous, the band's sound so much fuller with the two additional musicians and about the only thing I'd have changed about the evening would have been to dim the lights and put candles on all the tables, as if we were in some subterranean Turkish club circa 1966.

You know, some place haunting, hip and exotic. Everyone would want a piece of that, especially me.

Staking my Territory

So I'm becoming this great explorer, discovering new things with every new walk.

Today I set my sights on Great Shiplock Park, a chance to see the half bascule bridge and walk the Capital Trail.

Starting out mid-morning, I was walking due east, not the easiest route that time of day.

At 18th Street, I picked up the Capital Trail, thrilled that it wound underneath the train bridge to provide shade.

An Amtrak train rattled by overhead, headed to Newport News. I know this only because of how much I've taken the train this summer.

Given the cloudless blue sky, I wasn't exactly thrilled when the trail moved from under the train bridge to along Dock Street, completely unshaded and more than a little steamy after the comfort of the shaded trail.

I passed two large men out getting their exercise, both sweating profusely, but both taking a moment to smile and say good morning.

Looking both ways - as the sign instructed-  to cross the train tracks, I was suddenly in Great Shiplock Park, which appeared considerably spruced up since I'd last been there maybe six years ago.

New to me were recycling containers and a PortaPotty, both thoughtful additions.

Just then, one train car rattled over the tracks I'd just crossed.

But it was when I crossed the canal that I realized I had new territory to stake.

I was now on Chapel Island, so called because an Episcopal chapel was situated there until 1741 when St. John's was built on Church Hill.

How crazy is that? A church on an island between the canal and river? Who knew about this?

After that, the sign said, it was home to a fishery, Mrs. Jane King's ice house and William Trigg's ship-building business.

Since I'm all about some island trail walking, I set out on the wide, gravel trail only to stop dead in my tracks when I saw a black and gold snake sunning itself in the trail eight feet ahead.

Not that anyone was around to hear me, but I said something along the lines of, "Oh, no, get out of here!" which the snake ignored until I picked up a handful of gravel and tossed it in his direction, causing him to slither into the underbrush.

Bugs I can do (well, squash, and the spiderwebs were rampant - clearly this trail isn't walked often or the spiders are just unusually industrious) but snakes I want no part of.

Once he scrammed, I kept on, amazed at this little island I'd never heard of. There were even a couple of boat ramps.

When I got around to the other side, I could hear the river and it soon appeared through the trees.

I found an overlook, although not very high, with a couple of rustic benches, a marker and a view of a guy in a boat trolling along the shoreline, fishing rod in hand.

Naturally, I did what any explorer would do. I threw my arms in the air and yelled to the river that I was queen of Chapel Island. No, really, I did.

But it was also a learning experience because according to one of the signs I'd read, you can even catch blue crabs in this part of the river, where the river is tidal (although not salty).


Walking back around the trail, I marveled at this brand new-to-me island only 2 1/2 miles from my house. I can't wait to show it some of my favorite walkers.

After retracing my steps on the Capital Trail, more pleasant with the sun on my back, I opted for my favorite way to cover the distance from 14th to 5th Street (despite having to walk further south to catch it): the pipeline walkway.

It's amazing how much shorter those nine blocks seem when walking on a shady trail with the river on both sides of me.

Of course, my first stop was the little sandy beach where I ditched my shoes and socks and waded out into the river up to my shorts, a reward for my feet and legs for the first three miles of the walk.

Heading back up the hills away from the river, I felt pleased as punch with myself for having made a discovery today.

Some queens send out explorers; others do the exploring themselves.

Me and Mrs. Jane King, women for the ages.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Downtown Soulville Cobbler

The cheese let us down, so we had to punt.

Pru had been dying to join me for not so classic movie night, so we made plans that tonight would finally be the night that she'd get to join me for some classic cheesy film.

So you can imagine her disappointment when I checked on the film only to discover that tonight's installment wasn't happening.

We were too late to catch an early movie and Pru gets up too early to attend a late one, so we found ourselves without plans.

That's where the punting came in. When all else fails, there's always the fallback: eat, drink and be merry.

Off we went for our second foray to Metzger, where unlike last time, we found a civilized room not so full we felt guilty for lingering.

When I chose the light and crisp Anton Bauer Rose, Pru followed suit, trusting me on this one.

As we sipped our pink and looked over the menu, we both noticed the stellar music playing, vintage soul worthy of doing the pony or the frug to, but not a single recognizable song in the bunch. Outstanding.

It's rare I'm so taken with the music in a restaurant when I don't recognize it, but this was classic '60s obscurities that made us both want to dance Hullabaloo-style on our bar stools.

We were told it was dollar oyster night, something I would ordinarily jump on, but that dozen I'd had after breakfast had done me for the day.

A girl doesn't need an oyster overdose.

After hearing the specials, we chose squash blossoms stuffed with housemade herbed quark with tomato puree and a divine side salad of baby sliced zucchini in dill creme fraiche.

The dish was absolutely killer and that zucchini salad was so incredibly delicious it could have stood on its own.

Meanwhile, I heard about and saw pictures from Pru's annual river retreat, a long, debauched weekend of food, drink and laughter.

If only she'd remembered to bring underwear.

Next came a summer bean salad of green beans, kidney beans, rye berries, cured duck breast and quark, a unique combination not seen just anywhere.

And if it sounds like we were being overrun with quark, remember this began as a night devoted to cheese, so we had no problem with it.

The sausage board brought all kinds of Sausagecraft deliciousness to enjoy with grainy mustard: earthy Amerikrainer with sharp cheddar cheese and pickled cherry peppers, grilled franks and rough-hewn Nuremberg.

By the time the board was down to the last piece of frank, I deferred to Pru who refused on the grounds that she'd reached an elegant sufficiency.

Never one to give up on eating when dessert can still be had, I inquired about the sweet possibilities.

But it was when the bartender came over to suggest that we have more Rose and wait for the blueberry cobbler to come out of the oven (a mere ten minutes more, we were promised) that I pulled rank and said yes to the wait.

Unbeknownst to Pru - who assumed my devotion to chocolate precluded all other desserts - I am devoted to cooked blueberries, whether in pie, cobbler or crisp form

When the steaming hot dish of lusciously-colored cobbler arrived, we were warned to wait lest we burn our tongues.

It wasn't easy and the minute scoop of ice cream barely held its own against the heat before we dug in.

Well worth the wait, my only quibble would be that it was more crisp than cobbler, although, truth be told, I prefer crisp to cobbler, so it was a score for me.

Ditto the music, which was delighting me with every new-to-me song that played. Thanks, Mr. Fine Wine.

Some cheesy movie nights just weren't meant to be and sometimes that's a good thing.

An Aphrodisiac of a Morning

It takes a damn good reason to get me out of bed before 9, but oysters and wine will do it.

Governor Terry McAuliffe was holding a celebratory press conference on the front lawn of the Executive Mansion announcing the creation of the Virginia oyster trail.

Because a lot of Virginia's seven oyster regions share watersheds with many Virginia wineries, it's a tourism match made in heaven.

Let's face it, this is nothing I didn't already know first hand, having been to so many Virginia wineries and having visited so many Virginia oyster businesses in the pursuit of writing articles about all aspects of oysters: farming, home gardening, restaurants, shucking and selling.

Still, why would I turn down a chance to be eating bivalves and sipping wine a mere half an hour after breakfast?

After the speeches by the governor, secretary of agriculture and first lady, I moved on to the morning's real agenda of slurping and sipping.

One of my goals for September is to make it to Chatham Vineyards on the eastern shore, so I began with Cherrystone Aqua Farms oysters sublimely paired with Chatham's steel fermented Church Creek Chardonnay.

As a bonus, a guy with the Virginia Tourism Board gave me a recommendation for the best fried chicken on the eastern shore, so my Chatham trip plans were further enhanced.

I do so love a good salty oyster with a wine grown by the sea ("What grows together goes together," the first lady quipped), so I kept my salinity streak going with Ruby Salt Oyster Company from the lower Bay, eastern shore and paired with Trump Winery's sparkling Rose, a beautiful expression of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Not to brag, but I was two for two.

In my quest to hit as many oyster regions as possible, I also tried Shore Seafood oysters from the upper bay and Johnson & Sons from Tidewater.

The award for fattest oysters went to Ward Oyster Company from the lower bay, western shore and paired with Stinson Chardonnay, a winery I'd visited on a snowy day back in January 2013.

Give me heat over cold any day.

By then, between the oppressive morning sun and wine and oysters after breakfast, I was feeling a tad rich (or should I make that randy?) but soldiered on for one last sentimental stop at Windmill Point Oyster Company.

It was just last Monday that I'd visited Windmill Point for the first time and while all we'd done there was walk the beach, I at least had a frame of reference I wouldn't have had before then.

Naturally, my first question of the oyster farmer was why it was called that and if there had ever been a windmill.

Chuckling, he said he didn't know but that the plan was to build one on their property...eventually.

For those keeping track, that's six of the seven oyster regions because I didn't feel the need to eat at the Rappahannock River Oyster Company since I already do so often (see: last Monday at Merroir).

So there you have it: me up early, working a press conference, meeting the governor ("Thanks so much for coming") and slurping down a dozen oysters and three wines before 11:15.

Not a bad start to the day, eh?

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Lifetime Ago

It was a night for tacos and commemoration.

We were the first people in Boka Tako Bar where tonight's empanada special was scallop and bacon with ancho remoulade, an irresistible combo with Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc.

He followed that with the Gauntlet, the best order for anyone who's a first-timer at Boka (which he was), while I chose my own trio (not my first Boka rodeo): fish, crispy pork belly (my fave of the three) and chorizo and stuffed myself silly .

With a solid soundtrack of Interpol, Pinback and Band of Horses playing, we watched as the place filled up almost entirely. I know the one time I arrived at 7, the place was standing room only.

I won't make that mistake again.

Bulging at the seams and with hungry diners waiting for our booth, we took a walk around the block in the sultry evening air so humid it felt heavy before driving over to the Byrd.

The James River Film Society was doing a celebration of Robin Williams' life by showing "The World According to Garp," a film I hadn't seen since it opened in theaters in 1982.

When I'd suggested it to my date, I loved his response. "Always up for a John Irving creation!" Like me, he'd enjoyed many of Irving's books and resulting films.

There was a decent-sized crowd, nowhere near full, but I'm not sure how well advertised the benefit screening was.

No question, the movie has aged well and the performances - Williams', Glenn Close's and John Lithgow's - still resonate, although it's one bad '80s costume after another.

And because it's based on a John Irving book, it's full of the kind of odd occurrences (Garp and his new bride looking at a house to buy when a plane crashes into it) and characters (a pro football player transsexual, a kid discussing getting glass eyes to coordinate with holidays ).

As always, I reveled in the cultural details: nurses wearing white uniforms and caps, wall pay phones, kids thinking being taken out to dinner was a big deal.

Oh, yes, and kids didn't wear seat belts, whether in the back seat or up front in Mom's lap.

Most telling about cultural shifts was the scene where the child Garp is pretending to be a military pilot on the roof of the dorm. When he slips, hanging from the roof and calling for help, students and teachers come running.

One adult yells to the students to get their mattresses quickly to put under the roof line in case Garp falls.

I can't help but think that the same event today would elicit two very different responses: calling the fire department and taking pictures instead of just problem-solving to handle the situation at hand.

One of the most striking things about Robin Williams was not how young he was (31), but how lithe and agile he appeared, even playing a teenager believably. Most of my memories of him are as a solidly-built (and extremely hirsute) middle-aged man.

Before the movie, manager Todd Schall-Vass said that given the range of his career, truthfully they could do a whole week of showing classic Robin Williams movies (not that they were planning to).

Absolutely true. I'd hope for "Dead Poets Society" and "Fisher King" as numbers two and three.

But what I'd really prefer is for us not to have a reason to commemorate him yet.

But the last line of the John Irving novel warned us. "In the world according to Garp, we're all terminal cases." Sadly.

Better to remember Robin Williams' last line in the film.

"I'm flying."

Follow the Rip Rap

I'm becoming a regular. Today's walk took me to southside again.

This time, I walked down 14th Street, spotting the green Google earth mapping car along the way.

With a red camera mounted atop a column on the roof of the car, it looked a little like a colorful bug with a long neck.

I'm actually that geek who had wondered how all those Google Earth photos were taken.

Taking my chances, I trespassed to walk alongside the floodwall on the north bank before heading across the Mayo bridge, so different from the other bridges I've walked because of its heavy stone sides and relatively low height.

I expected to see a few fishermen, maybe James "Cowboy" Smith, the guy who'd told me he'd caught more catfish in the James than anyone else, but the only people on the bridge were guys toting bags of cans to the recycling station.

Everyone's got to earn a living.

Once on the other side, I climbed the ramp to the overlook on the western side, disappointed that I didn't see a path anywhere.

Somehow I'd expected this to be easier than it was. All I wanted was a trail.

Of course, all I had to do was cross under the bridge to pick up the floodwall walk and while parts of it were marked slave trail, I didn't take it all the way to the Manchester docks.

That's a walk for another day.

A line of geese swam along side me as I made my way, honking occasionally to jolt me out of my reverie.

Coming back across the bridge, I passed a shirtless guy, ear buds around his neck, who greeted me.

"Has anyone told you today that you're beautiful?" he asked apropos of nothing. Nope.
"Well, you are."

People say the nicest things to sweaty women.

Rather than retrace my steps home once over the bridge, I took the ladder down to the pipeline walkway at 14th Street and came back along the river and over Brown's Island.

Moms with young children were picnicking while people in business attire walked the perimeter on their lunch hour.

A train chugged by on the upper track and the man riding shotgun waved down at me.

Another successful foray into new walking territory. Next!

Clap My Hands

Who wouldn't want her Sunday to begin with an affair to remember?

It would be a juicier blog post if I'd been the one having the affair, but it was Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in the 1957 (back when money was called lettuce and women called tomatoes) romance classic of that name.

Buying my ticket at Movieland, I could guess which people in line ahead of me were headed to the same flick: all the women.

I saw only one man in the entire theater and he was old and coughed through all the romantic scenes.

The story couldn't have been more basic: two engaged people - Nickie and Terry - meet on an ocean liner (where they regularly get telegrams) and fall madly in love.

Oh, to have been alive during the golden, glamour days of ocean liners as the preferred method of trans-Atlantic travel!

Sure she tries to fight Nickie's charm with lines such as, "My mother told me never enter a man's room in months ending in R." But he's irresistible.

Her favorite beverage is pink champagne, making her my personal hero, never more so than when they decide to abandon the nosy people at the bar. She dips a finger in her champagne and dabs it behind her ear as she leaves with Nickie.

It must be effective because they're soon goo-goo eyed about each other.

Moral of the story (as stated by Nickie's French grandmother): There's nothing wrong with Nickie that a good woman couldn't fix.

With that information to fortify me, I left for a date myself, albeit not on the USS Constitution.

My date had chosen a progressive meal beginning with wings on Starlite's patio and Tom Jones' "Delilah" on the speakers (followed by Player and Rush - explain that connection to me).

We chose Secco next, hoping to hit the sweet spot between brunch and the evening crowd and with the exception of a large party who'd brought a child (to a wine bar, really?) who was now sprawled on the floor beside the imbibing adults ignoring her, we succeeded.

Taking a page from Terry's book, we ordered Lucien Crochet Pinot Sancerre Rose, as beautiful to the eye (later, a nearby table had to know what we were drinking) as on the palate.

Pru will be so envious, eager as she's been to sip pink Sancerre.

To accompany such loveliness, we had housemade herb sausage with apricot puree, smoky goat cheese-stuffed squash blossoms and Grayson cheese while the music ranged from Talking Heads to Prince to the Police.

But the topic of the hour was the soundtrack to "Fading Gigolo," a treasure trove of '60s Italian and French jazz which I'd fallen hard for when I'd seen the movie and which the owner had just gotten from Plan 9 Records.

Swoon-worthy romantic music.

Our final grazing spot was Level, a place I'd been several times but one he'd never set foot in, so we noshed on spicy Thai tropical shrimp (points for the mango and asparagus) and an angry drago roll stuffed with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna and sliced papaya.

We were the only table for most of our meal until two other couples arrived to give the staff something to do.

Only then, after five hours of eating and talking were we ready to go to the show that was the primary reason for our date in the first place.

Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah was playing at the Camel, making for a stellar opportunity to see a band that could play a far bigger venue in a small one.

Just so you know, they are the band that made my friend Andrew want to be my friend.

Years ago, we were driving to a video shoot and discussing music and when I mentioned bands I liked, it was Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah that made him sit up and take notice of my musical taste.

To him, they were the band that established my musical bona fides. All these years later, we've been to scads of shows together.

So the band holds a special place in my musical heart.

Colin and Caroline played first and we stood in the back to watch this local duo cover MGMT ("Kids"), Disclosure ("Latch") and do a few original songs.

Anticipating a crush of people soon, I had the brilliant idea to take up residence on the top of the back-most booth where we were out of the fray with room for our bevvies and a sight line over the heads of the crowd.

Short girl score.

CYHSY's lead singer Alec Ounsworth did a solid solo set next and the tragic part was how many people talked loudly through his set, probably oblivious to who was playing, namely the leader of the band they'd paid to see.

After playing "Yankee Go Home," appropriate because he said he was headed back to Philly tonight, he told the noisy room, "These aren't songs the band is going to play," but it didn't seem to shut anyone up.

I know the Camel isn't a listening room, but, sheesh, you'd think people would want to hear the music.

Now, when Alec and CYHSY came out, it was a different story.

From the first notes, the band played the herky-jerky indie dance pop that the fans had come to hear.

In no time, the room was dancing and singing along, totally enthralled with every song the band did.

The first song of theirs anyone remembers, "Is This Love?" got a wildly enthusiastic reaction, as did "In This Home on Ice" and "Gimme Some Salt."

People were doing call and response on "Satan Said Dance" and, yes, dancing just like the devil said to.

Tonight was the final night of a three week tour with no days off and the band sounded as tight as you'd expect after playing for 21 days straight.

Even better, despite it being nine years since that first album, they appeared to be having a lot of fun playing. Bass player Matt especially was fun to watch as he smiled and danced as if he were having a ball.

For that matter, so was I. The only thing missing from my all day affair was putting a little Rose behind my ears.

There's always next time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lucky Me

The first rule of the Down Home Family Reunion is you don't leave.

That is, if you live in Jackson Ward, you don't want to risk giving up your parking space because chances are, you won't easily find a replacement in the neighborhood all day and night today.

Fair enough. After a wildly busy week (I was away five of the last seven days), it didn't take much incentive to keep me in the 'hood for food and music.

All afternoon long, cars had been driving down Clay Street, music blaring into my open windows, for the most part classic R & B such as Roberta Flack and Rick James.

People were gearing up for the show.

Bound for the Rogue Gentlemen down Leigh Street, I got a backside view of the stage and Proverbs Reggae Band giving it their all for the crowd.

Walking down St. Peter Street past endless lines of cars circling the block for non-existent parking spaces, I saw a cop at the end near where the street was blocked off.

Pointing out that at least he could hear the band despite not being able to see it, he said, "I've been working this festival for ten years and I like it fine from right here."

Amen, brother.

At the Rogue Gentlemen, I found the bar empty and took a stool at the end where the music (Killers, Black Keys, Kooks) was easy to hear.

Starving after this morning's nearly seven mile hike, part of it along the Northbank trail, I proceeded to order far too much food.

Lemon verbena tomato gazpacho with pressed melon, pine nuts and buttermilk got me started on solid footing with the exquisitely melded flavors of summer.

A man came in and sat down at the bar around the time my pork crepinette - a good-sized flattened sausage patty - was delivered.

Vermouth-soaked cherries complemented the saltiness of the sausage and a soft-cooked quail egg added richness.

On the side was frisee with speck and pistachios, making for a decadent plate of food.

Midway through tucking into it, my sweet corn agnolotti showed up and I immediately switched over to that for fear of overindulging in pig and not being able to fully appreciate the little dumplings.

Floating in a pale orange sea of paprika butter and ringed with heirloom yellow cherry tomatoes and sprinkled with Pecorino Toscano and bits of guanciale (cured pork jowls), wonderful flavors all, it was the purity and sweetness of the summer corn in the agnolotti that was the undisputed flavor star of the dish.

As it should be.

Like the tomatoes and melon in my soup, there is no better time to be savoring them.

Walking home, I saw that people were arriving in droves to add to the already teeming crowd, so I went to get my chair and join the other music lovers in the park.

It was between sets so Al Green was blasting from the speakers and I found a place to set up with an unobstructed view.

People watching was great because so many people were styling for the festival and despite it being held in a field, there were lots of high heels.

After a while, a guy came over and asked if I was ready for the show.

Telling him I was, he said, "You look comfortable. I like to see that!"

Not long after, a woman came by passing out fliers reminding people to vote (not that I ever forget).

Then the guy came back to ask if I was alone and although I told him I was waiting for a date, he took that as a cue to stand behind me and tell his friend what a terrific singing voice he had.

To prove it, he began singing.

You must be a special lady
And a very exciting girl

The Elegba Folklore Society's dancers and drummers performed next and then there was an unexpected lag for Ray, Goodman and Brown.

After all kinds of delay tactics, MC Micah "Boom Boom" White admitted that there had been some mis-communication and that the band, who had been here earlier, had thought they were due at a much later time than they actually were.

The good news was they were just arriving, but with set -up and sound checking, it was practically 11 when they took the stage.

Their set had supposed to run from 9:30 to 11. Oops.

"It's been a long time since we played Richmond," singer Billy "Get Down" Brown told the crowd. "We used to play DJ's Supper Club!"

A woman in the crowd corrected him. "TJ's Supper Club. And I was your waitress!"

With a full band behind the three singers, they took us back to the days of love songs, even doing the synchronized hand gestures and dance steps to every song.

They'd been introduced as the band who were originally called as The Moments and known for their incredibly tight harmonies.

Their mouths were barely open before it was clear that all three voices were still spot on.

Referring to Barry White-like songs that women love, Billy said, "All you gotta do is sit on the bed and drop the needle on the record and let Barry sing. Then I say, take it off, baby. Well, we got a song just like that for the ladies here."

He wasn't lying. From "With You" ("loving you is easier than breathing") to "Look at Me" ("I'm in love") to "Lovely Way She Loves," it was music made for scoring.

When someone in the golden circle yelled out a request, he said, "Yes, honey, we're gonna do that. We're gonna do two way street and three way street."

Given the band's late start, I think everyone in the crowd was worried that they'd have to cut their set short.

The woman nearest me about lost it when they kicked into "I Don't Wanna Go," but everyone seemed to have their favorites.

"Special Lady," the song the guy had been serenading me with earlier, got the full singalong treatment with men and women doing separate parts.

Things got groovy when all three singers were introduced by name, zodiac sign and birth city,

I was impressed that Kevin used to sing with Luther Vandross but also bowled over that Billy's voice still hit those notes on the hits I recognized.

The crowd, meanwhile, danced and even sang along like they were back in high school.

Of course, the most reaction came for "Love on a Two-Way Street" and people began singing at the top of their lungs.

"It's the Richmond Tabernacle Choir!" Billy said as we sang and an extended arrangement took the song long past the three-minute mark.

It was a shame we only got a 45 minute set, but life's not always fair. Killer harmonies helped make up for fewer songs.

As I made my way toward home among clusters of people dragging chairs, I heard more than one ask a companion, "Where did we park?"

Happily, some of us didn't have that concern. We'd never left the 'hood.

Down home is right here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stylish Self Control

I'm not most people's first choice for going to a museum.

You see, I'm that art geek who can spend six hours looking at art with only a half hour for lunch and a couple of bathroom breaks.

Luckily for me, I happen to know someone who can do the same.

Even better, Moira's an artist, so she can fill me in when I see a term I don't recognize, like casein paint, which we saw a surprising amount of today.

Where to start with a day filled with so much fantastic art that my head is still spinning?

"An American in London: Whistler and the Thames" at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery set the bar incredibly high right off the bat.

Over 80 works - paintings, drawings and prints - detailed the changes going on along London's Thames river during the period Whistler lived there.

Looking at a print, suddenly there was a little boy in front of us holding up a magnifying glass to more closely examine the highly detailed picture.

Sure enough, the gallery had a whole rack of glasses, the better to see the minute detail of Whistler's work, and two of them were soon in our hands.

At one point, after reading about Whistler's second mistress, Moira turned to me and said, "Okay, we need a really great biography of Whistler now."

Don't I know it.

It was almost too much to take in, from his colorful early works to the later impressionistic ones that had the art critics in a tizzy over their near abstraction. And the man's use of color - blue particularly- was nothing short of breathtaking.

After a walk through the Smithsonian Castle garden, we ate lunch in the cafe, inhaling chicken salad with dried cherries and arugula and double chocolate cupcakes while people watching.

My favorite was the woman who looked like a pack animal, her belt strung with a fanny pack, a seat cushion, a bag from the museum's gift shop and on the back, a small stuffed dog. Heaven only knows what was hanging from that belt by the end of the day.

Next stop: National Gallery of Art where we made a beeline for Titian's "Danae," on short term loan from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

The sensual image of Danae awaiting a visit from Jupiter with Cupid at her side was stunning and a reminder that beautiful women have curves.

Walking in to "Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In" was like walking into an old beach house; you could practically smell the salty air.

"Wind from the Sea" was the centerpiece of an exhibition where every painting and sketch featured images of windows, spare and elegant and in many cases, open to a gentle breeze causing tattered lace curtains to flutter.

Many paintings showed the bedroom windows of Christina Olsen, the crippled woman who became his model for so many years.

We agreed that the work, sometimes bordering on abstraction, often a study in tonality, proved that while Wyeth was considered old-fashioned in his time because of the emphasis on action painting and abstract expressionism, that was far from the case.

I found it especially fascinating to look at the studies that preceded the paintings to see how he reworked compositions, deleting elements until he'd achieved the most possible with the least number of elements.

Andrew, we hardly knew ye.

Then it was on to our third American of the morning, although this one accompanied by a Frenchman.

"Degas/Cassatt" was a feast for the eyes, covering the period when the older, established French master took the younger American female artist under his wing.

Cassatt's art has such a decidedly female bent - subject, palette, handling - that I couldn't help but respond to it instinctively.

Included was the VMFA Cassatt, "Child Picking Fruit," and we both felt a little local pride at seeing it as part of this landmark show.

If I could have left with one piece, it would have been "Woman Bathing," a color drypoint showing a woman in a striped robe stripped to the waist on a patterned rug surrounded by the bluest of walls.

So feminine, so beautiful.

About "Young Woman Picking Fruit," Degas had written, "No woman has a right to draw like that," a major compliment that only sounds like a sexist remark.

Hands down my favorite Degas was the series "Mary Cassatt at the Louvre," showing Cassatt from behind, dressed stylishly, leaning on a walking stick, the curve of her waist and hip quite provocative.

You can tell from her intent gaze at a painting that this is an educated and intelligent woman who also happens to be very attractive.

And she is, by far, the most feminine of all the women depicted by Degas in the show.

By now our heads were spinning from all the wonderful things we'd seen.

Did we take a break? We did not. Instead, we headed directly to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery for more.

"Modern American Realism" covered the period from 1910 to 1980 and contained a lot of artists who are just now getting the recognition they deserve in addition to the expected Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence and Paul Cadmus.

And, just so you know, there was a lot of casein paint used during those years.

One of the most whimsical was Philip Evergood's colorful "Dowager in a Wheelchair" showing an aged, fat woman being pushed by a nubile, fresh-faced young thing down a bustling city street circa 1952.

No, she did not have a fanny pack or seat cushion strapped to her wheelchair.

It was a stellar show and strong reminder of how many artists were sticking to realism through the years of abstraction and pop art.

Our final museum was the Portrait Gallery for "American Cool," a photography show that attempted to define coolness, defined as "stylish self control."

Some of the photos were just plain extraordinary: Carlos Santana at 25, all soft eyes and full lips; Jimi Hendrix at 25, shot by Linda McCartney, with a sly grin on his face; an atmospheric Allen Ginsburg photo of William Burroughs from 1953.

Some of the galleries had video of the people in the photographs and early footage of Chrissie Hynde reminded me how gorgeous she was in the '80s with her great haircut and comfortable sexuality.

Paul Newman was gorgeous at 34 and Marvin Gaye was intense at the same age. Willie Nelson was downright handsome.

At the end of the exhibit was a list of people who had been considered for the exhibition and deemed not cool enough.Sort of a wannabe list.

The guard made a joke that his name had been mistakenly left off.

And our final exhibit (drum roll, please) was "Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction," an array of mid-century portraits done at a time when portraiture was considered old, dull and very uncool.

These works were anything but.

Here we found a Warhol portrait of Jamie Wyeth, Andrew's son, as well as a Jamie Wyeth portrait of Warhol.

We'd been at this art thing so long today that motifs were starting to repeat themselves.

It was time for happy hour.

Needing to process all that art, we got ourselves to Mockingbird Hill, a sherry and ham bar that welcomed us with sunny stools and a flight of sherries labeled "Dias Baccanalia," a fitting Friday descriptor.

Dias Bacus "Ria Pita" Manzanilla was paired with olives. Grant "La Garrocha" Amontillado, probably my favorite of the three, came with peanuts.

Spanish hand-carved Mangalica was magical ham from a wooly pig, fatty and cured to perfection.

The final sherry - with a hint of cherries and screaming to be an after dinner sipper -was Gonzalez Beass "Christina" Medium Olorosa paired with chunks of walnut brittle.

That's right, Christina sherry. Now art was following us into the bar.

It was time for our art bacchanalia to end and return to Richmond.

Degas knew. No women have a right to take so much pleasure from art.