Friday, October 31, 2014

From the Exquisite to the Exuberant

The entire evening was brought to me by the city's department of multicultural affairs. If we had one.

But it might as well have been because it began with the Scott Clark 4tet at VCU's Singelton Center performing the premiere of Scott's composition, "Bury My Heart."

And the drums relive what once was...

I'd first heard part of the piece back in January 2013 at a show at For Instance Gallery. Then Scott had said he'd been so moved, first by reading Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and then when he was touring the country with Matthew White and seeing the places in the book, that he'd begun writing music about it all.

That germ of an idea had continued to grow until it was now a full blown composition with separate movements and before beginning, he specifically asked the audience to hold their applause until the end.

I knew I had the perfect seat when I sat down because I was right behind Doug Richards, the man who shaped VCU's Jazz Studies program. The 4tet came out nattily attired, Scott unbuttoned his suit jacket and the piece took off.

In a perfect world, I would have the vocabulary to describe what I heard as Scott and his group - Bob on trumpet, Jason on sax and Cameron on bass - played this dynamic piece of moving music, but I don't.

Through the emotional music you heard the spirit of Native American culture and the violence against them. Scott's drumming had a rhythmic urgency that played out in his handling of the brushes and mallets against every part of the drums possible.

It was both a celebration of and a lament for Scott's native American ancestry and I doubt anyone in the room will soon forget what they heard tonight.

Standing ovation well deserved.

Then for something completely different and just as multi-cultural, I went to see a nine-piece Japanese band, Osaka Monaurail, do their tribute to the music of James Brown.

And lest you think they're a flash in the pan, they've been doing this for 22 years, touring Asia and Europe. This is their first American tour.

Plenty of people had come out to see this oddity, so I had the chance to chat with a former neighbor, a DJ, a guitarist, the record store owner and the woman I'd met at Amuse who keeps showing up everywhere I go.

Even better, there were lots of people at Strange Matter for the first time, including my old neighbor who said she hadn't been in this building since the '70s.

The band strode through the crowd in matching shiny black suits, took the stage and proceeded to show us how Japan has been doing JB for two decades.

It was pretty impressive. Whether because they're Japanese (one friend's theory) or because of their long time playing together, they were all crack musicians and really, really tight.

As expected (and hoped for) there was a whole lot of synchronized dancing onstage, not to mention a lot of trumpet twirling between notes.

"We're Osaka Monaurail and there will be no Japanese music tonight!" the lead singer promised. "You wouldn't like it if we played it! Or would you?" The crowd wanted it, he obliged off key and they went back to what they do best.

The audience went back to dancing. I was up against the bar with all the tall people in front of me, but I managed anyway.

It wasn't all James Brown stuff, either, because they did "Get Ready" and probably other stuff I should have recognized and didn't. Mostly it was just great fun, high energy and dancable as it could be.

"Twenty two years, still working hard, still splitting my pants," the lead singer shouted before doing the classic "Funky Chicken" and whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

Somewhere the godfather of soul had to be smiling down on Richmond at that. And probably thinking, what in the hell?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pink Roses and Moose Meatloaf

I didn't know it at the time, but the deer was a sign.

Since I had an interview to do on the Northern Neck mid-afternoon, I invited myself to my parents' temporary cottage for lunch beforehand.

Driving up the winding road toward the Moose Lodge in Litwalton where the three-legged dog used to live, I crested a hill and there, standing in the middle of the road, was a deer. And a deer with a lot of attitude; she was staring at me as if I were the one on her territory.

It wasn't like she was caught in headlights because it was broad daylight, sunny and blue skies.

I slowed, eventually stopping and we faced each other down for a few seconds before she deigned to slowly cross the road and scamper off into the woods.

After eating lunch, my Dad took me down to their real house, still in the throes of being reconstructed after a tree fell into it in May. Proudly, he showed off new ceilings, a column that's been added to the living room to support the library floor upstairs and the new windows and sills that replaced the ones damaged by the tree.

Moving from the kitchen to the family room, we were startled when the master carpenter who's acting as foreman appeared out of nowhere to greet us. As my Dad introduced me, I heard the hesitation when he said, "This is my...daughter," tactfully leaving out the "oldest" adjective.

Richard and I shook hands and he told me what a great guy my Dad was and what a great house it was, asking if it was where I'd been born. No, I explained, my parents had raised me and my six sisters in a house a third the size and only moved to bigger digs once we all left home. My Dad rolled his eyes.

But Richard chuckled and proceeded to one up me, saying that he'd been raised in Maine in a house that only had plumbing to the kitchen sink. In order to use the bathroom, you had to go outside - even in the snow - to his Dad's workshop boiler room. Okay, that topped my childhood woe by a mile.

Before I left, I picked a big pink rose blooming just off the screened porch to take back to Mom and Richard observed, "That's a New Dawn rose, an old heirloom variety before they bred all the scent out of them. It's beautiful."

I guess there's lots of time to read garden catalogs when you grow up in Maine.

After saying so long to the parentals, I headed on to my interview of a boisterous college professor who talked to me about baseball, come heres and come back heres.

Work over for the day, I decided a glass of wine was in order and only had to drive a mile and a half to Good Luck cellars. There was only one SUV in the parking lot, but walking up the wide front steps to the tasting room, I spotted a trio enjoying their wine at a table on the porch.

Nice day for a glass outside, I commented. "Go get a bottle and join us!" one of them called out.

Inside, I got a glass of Rip Rap Rose and as he poured it, the winery guy told me I should go join the gents outside. "They came here to hunt deer with bows but the owners aren't here to give permission, so they're having some wine. They'd probably enjoys some female company."

Ah, so that accounted for their attire. I'd given them such a quick glance, I'd assumed they were military but apparently they were in camouflage to hunt.

Outside, the three men drinking Cabernet Sauvignon welcomed me to their table and told me what I already knew: that their hopes of afternoon hunting had been dashed. Assuring them that they looked very huntsmen like anyway, one informed me he was really a potter. The stoneware wine coolers inside were his, in fact.

Another of the guys was retired military, originally from Brooklyn. He prides himself on answering people who inquire if he's from NYC, "No, I'm from Brooklyn. That's different."

The third guy was a scientist eager to discuss Wallop's Island and how close to it they'd hunted.

As we sat there for the next hour chatting, I found out they've been hunting a lot of places together annually for decades. Like Jefferson Vineyards in Charlottesville, which they've hunted for 30 years. They've only hunted Good Luck a couple of years by comparison.

Then there's their annual trip to Maine to hunt moose which the scientist had missed this year because of a wedding in Italy, where, he said, they had a ten-course meal that included everything that swam, flew or crawled through Tuscany. My kind of meal.

The potter showed me a brochure about his studio and another about the upcoming "Made in Matthews" open studio tour next month, the other two razzing him for doing business.

I have to say, for strangers and hunters, they were smart and funny guys and at one point, one said, "At least now you'll know that not all hunters are rednecks."

When I asked what their first concerts were, the potter was hesitant to share and the others assumed it was because he'd be embarrassed. Brooklyn's first had been Murray the K and the Shirelles in Brooklyn back in the '50s.

The scientist's had been Bob Zimmerman in '63, the kind of show a music lover could keep bragging rights on for a lifetime. The potters's first had been the Kingston trio in '65.

As the sun continued to sink lower over the vineyards, the guys agreed that hunting wasn't going to happen today and finished their bottle of wine.

"Oh, well, I've got venison chili in the refrigerator," the scientist consoled himself. "I'm going home to have moose meatloaf from the freezer,"  Brooklyn said. I thanked them for the conversation and as they got up to leave, the potter said, "Just one more thing. Take off your sunglasses so I can see your eyes."

Boring brown, but I probably didn't need them anymore at that point in the day anyway.

After they left, I finished up my Rose alone watching the winery hounds chase each other around in the nearest vineyard. The guy inside told me about an upcoming oyster crawl and sent me on my way.

Then it was back across the river where the sun laid out a shimmering streak of gold connecting it to the water under the bridge with just a couple of smaller fishing boats moving through it.

What have we gleaned today? I can't seem to have a bad day on the northern neck. And not everyone who hunts is a redneck.

What are we wondering? What moose meatloaf tastes like.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Haunted 'Hood

'Tis the season for horror movies, none better than the one considered the first ever made.

Silent Music Revival was showing the 1920 classic, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," with improvised musical accompaniment by Bermuda Triangles, the only quartet I know of with three drummers and a sax player.

Interestingly enough, I'd already seen the film at a Silent Music Revival years ago as well as having seen Bermuda Triangles perform many times, including at a SMR when "Poor Mrs. Jones" was shown back in 2010.

Even so, the combo of the crazy doctor and the pulsing drums was just too tempting, perhaps all the more so since it was at Gallery 5 a few blocks from my house.

With a history of going to the SMR that dates back to 2007, I know the drill: it starts at 8:00 sharp so don't be late. Accordingly, I stopped by Gallery 5 about 7:20 to deposit my bag on a chair in the front row, knowing full well that the place was going to be filled to overflowing tonight.

Seat procured, I chatted with Jameson and Laney who put on the event, all of us asking how it was possible that we'd not seen each other in months. Our conclusion? There are so many things to do on any given night these days that friends can be scattered all over town at multiple places.

It's a great problem to have, we agreed.

Promising I'd be back, I wandered down the street to Tarrant's back door, planning to score a big slice of pizza for dinner. Approaching the back door, I saw a trio of kitchen employees on a smoke break, so bored that they chatted me up on my way in.

"How's your night going so far?" one inquired. Can't complain.

Looking at the chalkboard, I revised my pizza plan and ordered a couple of fish tacos instead. Waiting for them to be made, I overheard the counter girl tell one of the servers that she was letting her go because they were so slow tonight ("Already?" the cut staffer asked). Neither had any idea why the entire week has been deadly. Umm, summer-like weather perhaps?

Dinner in hand, I returned to G5 and my front row seat. Tucking into the tacos, I was pleasantly surprised to find each filled with a tortilla-length piece of grilled mahi mahi under a flurry of corn relish and guacamole. Tarrant's isn't my thing, but this was a better than expected, inexpensive back door meal.

The place kept filling up with more unfamiliar than familiar faces, but you want new people. Besides, I had plenty of people to talk to.

The friend I'd seen at Monday's show but hadn't spoken to, the world traveler thinking of finally making the leap and buying a house here, a guy from Bread and Puppets, in town from Brooklyn working on Halloween parade puppets (and wearing a fabulous black and gold sweater).

So many people came that the floor became the only seating option and I was gratified to see a guy who'd arrived as early as I had to secure a front row seat offer it up to an older woman on the hard, concrete floor in front of him. Somebody's mother raised him right.

When Jameson introduced the film, he talked about its lasting influence on movies and the horror genre, saying we'd see a lot that influenced Tim Burton. It was even obvious in the crazy, angular sets with shadows as much a part of the scenery as objects.

He also said he'd edited out some of the movie to bring it down to under an hour. Excised had been scenes where they think they've found the murderer but they haven't. "So, nothing that changes the story, but that took them like 16, 17 minutes," he said about an era when everything wasn't quick cuts.

As usual, he'd chosen the absolute perfect band for the movie, with Bermuda Triangles' relentless soundtrack only increasing the tension as the story unfolded and dead bodies began stacking up. Three drummers make for a whole lot of intensity.

When the movie ended, the screen was pulled up so we could finally see the band, who'd been hidden behind it, playing for another few minutes. One musician, Jason, appeared to be running a drumstick against the metal grate of a grill, a small mic held up against it to capture the sound. Crazy.

There really is nothing like seeing a band improvise music for a silent movie as they watch it along with the audience.

Or if there is, it's happening somewhere other than where I am. Now, that doesn't seem very likely.

One Fish, Two FIsh

It might be the best October 28th I ever get.

With a forecast of sunny and 81 (and it actually made it to 84!), I got up resolved to address the last thing on my Fall 2014 to-do list (after having made it to Chatham Vineyards last month): visit Sandbridge for the first time.

As a life-long annual visitor to the Outer Banks, I could never get into the Virginia Beach experience. It just wasn't my thing. But earlier this summer, a loved one had assured me that I'd be happy as a clam at Sandbridge because it had a lot in common with the N.C. shore.

Surely there wasn't going to be another day as ideal for beach-combing this year as today. At least I wasn't going to take a chance on it.

So I packed a bag of essentials for a day at the beach, setting out five minutes after eating breakfast with a handful of past beach vacation mix CDs for my soundtrack. My only stop on the drive down was as a directionally-challenged visitor at the Virginia Beach visitor center to make sure I knew how to get to Sandbridge.

Even so, I didn't hesitate to ask a guy in the car next to me at a traffic light if I was on the right track. You can't miss it, he assured me.

He was right, I couldn't. I found the municipal lot with no problem and joined the mere seven other cars parked in it. Near the back of the lot was a line of tall, white lifeguard stations in off-season storage. Yes, I climbed one.

Doing my best pack animal imitation, I loaded myself up with an umbrella, my beach chair, the bag of supplies and a small cooler and crossed the street to the beach.

A woman was walking toward me nodding approvingly of my day trip supplies. "Can you believe this day?" she asked incredulously. When I told her it was worth driving from Richmond for, she lit up. "Good for you! It'll be worth it!"

I was counting on it.

Since it was fairly breezy, I did my best getting the umbrella in the sand but before I even finished setting up the rest of my camp, a guy walked up and asked, "Can you use some help?" and handed me his stainless steel thermos (I didn't presume what might be in it). "I used to do this a lot as a kid."

As he was working it well into the sand, he shared that he'd seen where a beach umbrella had blown away and killed someone in California. That would ruin my day, I told him. "I think it ruined theirs, too," he said with a grin.

Once he was certain I wouldn't be killing anyone with my shade device, I returned his drink and he walked on down the beach.

I was halfway through my lunch and the latest Rolling Stone when he returned to take stock. Looking at my "Rebuild New Orleans" t-shirt, he asked if I was from NOLA. Nope, I explained that I'd been there the year after Katrina, hadn't bought it then when these t-shirts were everywhere but found it in a thrift store the next year. So it had all worked out.

He praised my foresight in bringing a lunch and asked if I'd be staying on to see the rocket launch tonight. Duh. Could there be a better viewing point than where I sat? "Smart woman," he said and walked on.

After lunch, I did what I usually do after breakfast: left for a good, long walk. I headed north on the beach walking along the water's edge, surprised to find that it wasn't colder. Hell, it's been colder than that in July some years.

I wound up walking a couple of miles north, looking at the houses that lined the shore to get a feel for the area. While it was a huge improvement over Virginia Beach because there were no hi-rises and hotels, just about every single home was a McMansion.

Worst part? I didn't see a single beach house with a screened porch. I guess rich people don't use such things. The most impressive thing I saw was one house that had its windows open. One. Meanwhile, it's so gorgeous I'm out in the ocean up to my waist.

As I was walking back to my campsite, I saw that someone had set up only a few feet from me. Really? There aren't two dozen people on this beach and you're going to put you chair, cooler and three fishing poles within spitting distance of my stuff? Interloper.

Of course I just sat down and took out my book, the one from the ex-cop that I hadn't yet started, while my new neighbor went back and forth between the three lines he had in the water, once pulling in something small and saying, "I thought it was a flounder at first. Dig it!"

It was hard to believe November is four days away as I wiled away the time reading, lounging on a beach towel doing nothing more than listening to the surf and overhearing snippets of people's conversations as they walked the beach.

Eventually I got up and headed south for another walk where I was rewarded with three (small, older) houses with screened porches. By then the tide was well on its way out, leaving a massive sandbar that allowed me to keep going further out without ever getting more than my calves wet.

When I got back, the fisherman offered me something to drink: Gatorade or a PBR, both of which I declined. Suddenly, he spotted something on one of his lines and took off to grab the fishing pole.

All of a sudden, he turned around and yelled to me, "Come quick! Come down here and reel this fish in!" Now why a stranger would presume that I could handle a fishing pole is beyond me, but I was out of my beach chair in a flash and the pole was transferred to my untrained hand.

Like a sensei, he stood nearby coaching me every step of the way. "Keep reeling him in...pull back on the line occasionally...step to your left a bit, he's going this way...that's it, you're doing great...your husband's going to be so proud when you tell him you caught a fish!"

Now don't get me wrong, my Dad was an enthusiastic surf fisherman long before I came along and cut into his leisure time and as my five sisters and I got older, he continued to fish. Some of my sisters joined him, learning the intricacies of bait cutting, throwing and reeling. I was not among them.

My first fishing lesson learned today was that I needed to anchor the pole against my body because this fish was seriously challenging me. I put the end of the rod on my hip bone and hoped that would keep it steady.

Second realization about fishing was how much strength it was taking to hold the pole in my right hand against the moving fish and constant surf. And, honestly, after the first ten minutes, even my left hand was getting fatigued with the constant reeling.

I'd have thought I had a bit more fishing skill in my DNA than was proving to be the case. Sorry, Dad.

After what seemed like eons, I pulled in a great big, wriggling stingray, its tail whipping side to side menacingly. Well, that was a lot of work for nothing.

But my teacher didn't see it that way and quickly pulled the hook out of the stingray's mouth and directed me to get my camera so he could take a picture of me. Although I'd looked for it, I hadn't brought my camera because I couldn't find it. "Well, get your phone," he said.

When I explained that I didn't have a cell phone, his jaw dropped. "Really? You don't have a phone? I mean, that's cool. Really, no phone?"

His solution was to grab his own phone and instruct me to stand, pole in hand, next to my catch. He was pleased as punch that he'd gotten to see someone make their first ever catch, saying over and over again, "That was so great seeing you reel that in!"

But everyone has their talent and when it came time to e-mail the picture to me, he had no clue how to do that. Oh, sure, he knew how to text it to a cell phone, but I had to walk him through the steps to get it sent to me. "There, now you've got proof!" he said, as proudly as if I'd caught something worthwhile.

Hardly surprisingly, he was a local who'd played hooky (ha!) today to fish. He was impressed that I'd driven down from Richmond and understood my distaste to Virginia Beach, saying despite living nearby, he hadn't been in Virginia Beach for 25 years.

"Now this, this place, is a different story," he said, spreading his arms to encompass the wide beach and bright blue ocean and sky. His ten-year old dog, a white-muzzled sweetie who got worried every time her master ventured too far out on the sandbar to cast, looked like she enjoyed it just as much.

When I mentioned I'd be staying for the rocket launch, his face lit up and he thanked me. He'd forgotten about it and immediately began calling friends to tell them to come down and join him for the spectacle.

I tried to go back to reading but apparently reeling in a fish for the first time gets your adrenaline going so I gave up and went down to the ocean, trying to stay out of the way of the several fishermen around me.

It was already after 5 but people were still arriving at the beach despite the sun heading lower in the sky. As I stood in the water on the edge of the sandbar, my shadow was distinct on the relatively placid ocean surface, stretching all the way to the breakers.

As I was marveling at its length, the fisherman came down the beach toward me and when I looked over, he told me to stand still, shooting a picture of me against the blue of the ocean with the golden light of sunset illuminating me from behind.

When I came back up to my chair, he hurried over to assure me that he wasn't a creep who collected pictures of strangers. "The sunlight looked so beautiful and I thought it might be a nice reminder of your day here." Assuming that he wasn't a weirdo, I also sent this one to myself.

I've never known the pleasure of a late October afternoon with ocean water drying on my legs as the sun sets, but I gotta tell you, it's pretty magical. Clearly the salt air and sound of the waves had been just the thing.

As it got close to 6:00, friends of his began arriving (including a guy who used to live in Richmond), many with beers in hand and everyone faced northeast for the rocket launch. When we'd seen nothing by 6:24, someone started hollering that there'd been an explosion and the mellow group on the beach thought it was a joke. Sadly, it wasn't.

I started packing up my stuff, saying good-bye to the people I'd met, giving a chaste hug to the man who'd given me my first fishing experience and making a stop in the PortaPotty to change out of my damp bathing suit.

On the way into Sandbridge earlier, I'd noticed a little place called Margie and Ray's Seafood and my new friend had mentioned it unsolicited as a terrific place to eat. A day on the beach had given me an appetite.

I'd been told that the restaurant had begun its life as a general store and tackle shop on a dirt road in 1964 and become a restaurant in 1997 (with a paved road and everything).

It was bright, it was loud and it was full of locals. Plenty good enough for me.

I took a seat at the bar next to a couple eating fat, steamed shrimp. After ordering fish and chips, I asked the bartender what the fish was (telling him it didn't matter, I was just curious) and he said it was pangasius, a warm water fish from the Gulf. Very tasty, he assured me.

"Pangasius?" the man next to me said quizzically, looking at me and the bartender. "That sounds like a Greek god not a fish!" I suggested that it was the god of fish. Soon the three of us were chatting up a storm about political correctness and Halloween.

The problem was that they always chose "couple costumes" for Halloween parties. Last year they'd gone as Sonny and Cher, but since he's taller, he'd been Cher. Yes, I already liked these people. This year, they'd planned to be a priest and an altar boy but friends were saying that wasn't PC.

We talked about how half the comedians that came out of the '50s, '60s and '70s wouldn't be acceptable today. And how you could make yourself crazy worrying about offending people now.

Oh, and the bartender was right, pangasius was perfectly delicious as was the obscene mound of fries that accompanied it, all of which got dipped into housemade cocktail sauce.

When I finished and asked for my check, the couple offered to buy me a drink and continue our conversation. Much as I hate to turn down perfectly good tequila, I knew it was time for me to hit the road.

There were so many ways a day by myself at the beach could have turned out. Mine couldn't have been better. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take direction from a stranger.

Dig it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rocket Replacement

Sometimes the best dates are couple dates, especially music-loving couples.

Once we'd established that we were all going to the same show, and a particularly good one on a Monday night, the only thing left to decide was where to eat beforehand. My suggestion -agreed to immediately -was 821 Cafe.

They were already same side-sitting in a front booth when I walked in, but they'd left me the side with a view of Cary Street, meaning a non-stop parade of students and assorted Oregon Hill regulars. Crazy Nate rode by on his bike twice, either grimacing or smiling, I wasn't sure which.

When it came time to order, my girlfriend got her standard PB & B while I asked for my usual half order of black bean nachos, which apparently sounded so appetizing that her husband ordered the same. Our server made it clear that the kitchen would be much happier if we just split a full order. Easy enough.

While we ate, conversation centered around how the kind of parties you go to in your 20s lose their appeal with time and meeting the right mate. Case in point, their Halloween plans involve other couples and board games, very different from the costumed debauchery they once practiced on All Hallows Eve.

Noticing how dark it was getting and how early it was, we lamented the shortening days. I said that at this point, all I want is to get to winter solstice so the days can start lengthening again. "That's exactly how I feel!" my friend agreed. This country is too far removed from an agrarian society to bother with the nonsense of changing the clocks anymore.

By then it was time for a change of venue.

We met up again at the Camel for a four band bill with Laura Stevenson and the Cans headlining. My girlfriend had put Laura's album as one of her favorites on her end of 2013 list and from what I'd listened to, with good cause.

The show kicked off with Tracy of Positive No thanking us for coming out on a Monday night. "Since the rocket didn't happen due to a stray sailboat, you get bands to listen to instead!" Honestly, I'd take music over rockets most nights.

As many times as I've seen Positive No play, tonight was significant because it was drummer Willis' last show with the band. And while the crowd was still fairly small when they played (it was an unusually early show for the Camel), most of the faces were familiar to the band.

That's probably why practically every song was dedicated to someone in the crowd like Tess, Sadie, Melissa and Ryan.

Tracy also took a moment to warn the other musicians in the room about the soft spot on the stage, likening it to the soft spot on a baby's head and recalling that she once went through a stage floor. "Okay, it was a pallet in the basement, but still..."

Really, it's not hard to imagine her going through a flimsy pallet given the energetic pogoing she does while singing lead. It's all part of a vibrant stage presence.

"I can't believe it's our last song," she said, high-fiving Willis and looking a little sad. For my part, I know his energetic drumming will be sorely missed.

Next came Eli Whitney and the Sound Machine, touring behind their new album "Reasons to Leave," which they characterized as "full of happy songs."

The trio was young, high energy and brief with songs clocking in at about three minutes tops. They even took the glammy Killers' song "Mr. Brightside" and made it hard, fast and fun.

They also looked like they were having a ball up there, the guitarists and bassist trading off lead vocals, both of them hopping around and playing off each other. "Really, we're from Long Island but we moved to Brooklyn. But not to be cool," they claimed.

When their set ended, my girlfriend summed it up perfectly. "It makes me so happy that there are still bands like that so full of energy." She was right, of course. It was young man music of the highest order.

During the break, I heard about my couple date's Aunt Nancy, a colorful-sounding woman who's had four husbands (seems she was big on Christian Mingles for a while), is a terrible but prolific painter and excels at making jello salads.

Fortunately for me, they not only had pictures of her bad art but pictures of Aunt Nancy and pictures of Aunt Nancy's self-portraits, making for a lot of laughter during the break.

Then came Helen Chambers in a green plaid shirt and black skirt, who began by telling us she'd come quite a long way to play guitar and sing "Little Demons." Only after the first song did she explain that she was English, as if we hadn't noticed the accent and lilting warble characteristic of British songbirds.

Written when she was exceedingly hungover, "Kiss the Floorboards" was about a resolution to give up alcohol, one she'd clearly abandoned given the drink at her feet. "But I really meant it when I wrote it!" she said. I thought British singers were required by law to drink.

We noticed that a cluster of guys had formed right in front of the stage, no doubt drawn by her incredible voice, friendly demeanor and short skirt.

She sounded very happy to be touring the U.S., mentioning that she'd had her first root beer today ("It tasted a little medicinal") before singing "Little Blackbirds" with Laura Stevenson coming up to add sublime harmonies on the song.

Sharing that she'd played for her uncle "Veronica Pearl," a song about her grandparents' house being bombed during WW II, she said he'd cried so hard when he heard it that his false teeth had come out. If she were a country singer, I'd say there's a song in that, too.

The crowd grew noticeably larger just before Laura Stevenson and the Cans began playing, as well it should have given the talent on stage. Along with Laura's voice and guitar were a guitarist, bassist, accordionist/keyboard player and even a female drummer, always a treat to see.

From the first notes, their sound was an interesting amalgamation of genres, part folky, a little pop and definitely rock and roll with a crack band to execute. And a whole lot of sad songs, such as the compelling "Runner," a song that thrilled my girlfriend.

Hearing a story on the radio in the band's van today about a woman being tested for Hodgkin's disease after two relatives had it, Laura said she cried at the woman's dilemma of waiting for a diagnosis. "It's kind of like this song, "The Healthy One," except mine's about AIDS." It was sad and beautiful.

It didn't take long to see why my girlfriend had fallen in love with Laura's voice, which while sweet and clear was also powerful and melancholy, particularly on love songs and sad songs, of which there were plenty.

Glancing at the drummer, she observed, "I just realized we're wearing the same outfit," she said of their brown t-shirts and jeans. "You look good!" I found it intriguing to hear so much humor from her between songs since the music leaned toward emotions laid bare.

Songs like the heartbreaking "The Move," for which the band left the stage so it was just her and her guitar. Or "Nervous Wrecks," which she sang with Helen doing harmonizing payback.

The band returned for one last happy song, rocking out as Laura's vocals soared over the heads of the adoring crowd.

What do you do when your couple date finishes with such a stellar band? You thank and hug your girlfriend for all she's worth and tell her to pass it on to her husband.

But you don't get kissed. Some things just aren't meant to happen on couple dates.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

All Along

With my limited budget and insatiable appetite for culture, I'm an unabashed fan of Richmond's free film series.

For the most part, both show foreign and arthouse films that never made it to Richmond, providing a chance to see award-winning and festival quality works on the big screen as they were meant to be seen. The only downside? No buttered popcorn because they're on school property.

The difference is in the audiences and the process. The VCU Cinematheque series at the Grace Street theater is full of film students with a smattering of film-loving adults taking advantage of a well-curated program with an introductory analysis before the film and usually a Q & A afterwards.

University of Richmond's international film series attracts a predominantly gray and white-haired crowd of mostly couples -alums, for all I know, or maybe just near West Enders - providing handouts about the film and a limited bit of information conveyed beforehand orally.

At tonight's screening of "Watchtower" at UR's Ukrop Auditorium in the Robins School of Business (can't you just smell the money?), we were forewarned that the cinematography would be exquisite, the acting as naturalistic as a documentary and that in all likelihood, the child in the film probably belonged to the actress playing the mother.

"I'm not going to give it away, but you'll see," our host said cryptically. "Also, you will write the last scene yourself."

In a scene where a bus driver tells her he used to write poetry in his youth, he goes on to say sagely, "High school, that's the time to write poems...before life gets in the way." Take heed, young poets.

During a scene where the female lead began going into labor, squatting and screaming, the older man in front of me leaned over to his wife and stage-whispered, "Do you think she's going to have a baby?" One man got up and walked out at that point. Obviously, he didn't want to see any babies being birthed realistically.

But I think it was the scene where the woman puts the crying newborn to her breast and it begins to eat that had convinced him that they were related. Perhaps he'd never heard of a wet-nurse.

Much of the film's appeal was how unlike American films it was. No love story or even suggestion of one. A mother who not only shows no interest in her baby but consciously rejects caring for it. Characters who don't smile. No musical soundtrack.

The movie was basically a character study of two people who end up together (in the watchtower of the title where the man is a fire spotter in a ruggedly beautiful area of Turkey) and learn each other's dark secrets, at least until the last scene when all we see is him leaning against the doorway looking pensive and we have no idea if she and the baby have left or if they're downstairs.

On another campus with a very different audience, we'd have chewed over that ending for a good, long while, discussing every possibility, every cinematic clue.

Like a good read, I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

You Know You Need It

It's like when you start craving salads and veggies and you know your body is telling you something.

As I sat in my sunny front room working this afternoon, it was easy to ignore the sounds of people outside enjoying a gorgeous fall day, but it was impossible to ignore something pushing me to go to the VMFA.

Admittedly, it had been far too long since my last visit, so I did what my mind (heart? soul?) directed and changed clothes to go to the museum.

Walking out of my apartment and across the street to my car, a stranger called out, "I like your dress! It looks great on you." Another $3 thrift store find validated.

I found the VMFA fairly crowded with visitors mostly buzzing around the "Forbidden City" outposts, but rather than join them, I headed upstairs to the photography gallery for "Artists as Art: Photographic Portraits."

I was especially impressed with how the show had been curated given that nine female-taken photographs shared the walls with fifteen taken by men. That's an unusually high average for a show, any kind of show.

The exhibit began with soft focus, romantic Pictorialist photographs and moved through to images such as Warhol's Polaroids.

But it was the subjects themselves that drew me in. Alvin Landon Coburn's 1908 photo of William Butler Yeats showed an intense and intelligent man in glasses. He looked like a poet.

Most of the Pictorialist works were so delicately focused in gradations of black, white and gray that they resembled drawings.

With Bernice Abbott's 1928 photograph of James Joyce, the first and last thing that captured my attention was the delicacy of his hands.

Arnold Neuman's image of Edward Hopper was taken on a bench in front of his studio on Cape Cod with his wife Jo a small figure in the background. Neuman had captured the same sort of isolation that Hopper was known for.

You had to smile looking at Robert Frank's photograph of Allen Ginsburg hugging a tree in 1959 or Annie Leibovitz's iconic image of David Byrne in the infamous leaf suit from 1986.

Moving through the gallery, practically every face was an important contributor to the 20th century art world, as were some of the names of the men and women who'd captured them.

Mind, heart and soul fed, I wandered around the corner into the nearly empty Amuse, joining its only three occupants at the bar.

Usually there's a boisterous contingent over in the lounge area's green chairs, but they were conspicuously absent today (Lady Di, where are you?) which meant that I could actually hear the music being played, a rarity at Amuse.

The bartender said brunch had been busy and then apparently everyone except me had left the building for the great outdoors on this magnificent day. Conformity was never my strong suit.

My glass of Montand sparkling brut Rose ("I love it, too! Drink it while you can. It'll be gone soon!" the bartender advises) arrived with a brilliant red flower in it, although when I inquired what it was, she had no idea. It had come from Manakintowne Growers and was sitting in a glass with brilliant fuzzy purple basil flowers, but it was a mystery. In any case, it made a colorful addition to my glass of pink.

Checking out the menu, a necessity since I hadn't been to Amuse in far too long, I spotted something with my name on it: biscuit du jour. Inquiring about today's iteration, I swooned a little.

Housemade biscuits with the last of the season heirloom tomatoes, herb aioli and white Cheddar cheese. The bartender, who'd tasted one this morning, rhapsodized about the combination, saying it even beat last week's five spice variety.  Faster than you can say "I have a biscuit addiction," I ordered some.

I've no idea where the chef is getting heirloom tomatoes when it's almost November, but that's not my concern. Biting into these biscuits was transcendent.

Sweet, juicy tomato slices buried under the freshest tasting herb aioli and melted cheese between a biscuit worthy of my Richmond grandmother and washed down with sparkling Rose. If it could get any better on this Sunday afternoon without being illegal, I don't know how. I was just grateful I was alone so I could eat both.

Looking at my reaction, she gave me a well-deserved "I told you so" and shared that the combination for teh biscuit had come to the pastry chef in a dream.

Now here's my moral dilemma.Was my inner self jolting me to go to the museum to see a finely-executed photography show or had my inner biscuit hound sensed that its needs could be addressed there?

Don't know, don't care. Both were flat out wonderful.

When I went to leave, the bartender reminded me not to make it so long until I come back again.

Not a chance. "Forbidden City" plus dreamy biscuits, you're up next...and soon.

Suck Out All the Marrow of Life

The morning was a roller coaster of emotions ending with tears. How had I forgotten how sad it would be?

Waking up to another gorgeous, warm day, I walked the two miles to Movieland to see "Dead Poets Society," the last in their month-long tribute to Robin Williams and the first one I'd made it to.

As is typical with me, the last time I'd seen the film was when it came out, so 1989.

Not a lot of people showed up at 11 a.m. on Sunday besides three couples and another woman who kept getting up during the movie and leaving.

Other than "carpe diem," I honestly remembered very little of the story beyond Robin Williams being the teacher and inspiring a love of poetry in high school boys.

So I admit I got carried right along with those boys as he expounded on the virtues of non-conformity, taking opportunities as they arise and making the most of every single day. While I like to think that I live my life that way already, it never hurts to be reminded.

And as a poetry lover, it was perfectly lovely to hear snippets of Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Frost, Shelley and Thoreau.  As a fan of Williams' lightening fast humor, it was hilarious to hear lines such as, "I was the intellectual equivalent of a 98-pound weakling. I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face!"

And as far as essential truths go, none are closer to my heart than, "Language was developed for one endeavor and that woo women!" Any man who doesn't know that is already a 98-pound intellectual weakling.

What my memory had blocked out of the 25-year old movie was the suicide of the student and the teacher's subsequent dismissal on trumped up charges.

That last scene where Williams comes back into the classroom to collect his "personals" and the students most feeling his loss stand on their desktops and call out, "O, captain, my captain" to acknowledge how he's changed their lives, how they think, act and feel had tears just rolling down my face.

Wiping them off and putting my sunglasses on for the walk home, I focused my thoughts on the movie's primary message.

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Haven't a Clue

I'm not above soliciting strangers, especially when it comes to warmth.

Today was one of those days that got away from me and when I looked up at the clock when the writing portion of the afternoon was accomplished, it was already well past 6.

Just enough time to powder my nose, grab a chair and head on over to Quirk Gallery for a movie in the courtyard, joining a dozen people already lined up in front of the brick wall to see the 1985 screwball comedy/farce/whodunit "Clue."

Admittedly, I'd been a fan of the game, always opting for Miss Scarlet as my character, but had I even seen the movie when it came out? I have no idea.

But if I hadn't, I was clearly in the minority. I ran into the friend who had suggested they show "Clue" and he confided they he could say every word along with the actors. Two of the women in the row in front of me shared that they quote lines from it all the time. A friend I saw afterwards told me that she and her husband shared a love of this movie. One trio popped a bottle of champagne to begin the celebration of "Clue."

It was obviously far bigger than I knew, at least to a certain generation.

While the guy from Backstage got the audio/visual set up outdoors, we listened to a terrific playlist that began with Irma Thomas and moved on to Fontella Bass and Chad & Jeremy. When the A/V guy cut off "A Summer Song," a guy near me complained loudly, "Hey! I love that song!"

By the time the movie began, the crowd had tripled with some brave souls sitting on blankets on the parking lot, a place far too cold for me. As it was, I was the idiot (who gets cold if it's below 70 degrees) who hadn't brought a blanket, unlike almost every female there.

I caught a break when the woman in front of me went to go get food and I offered to "watch" her blanket, wrapping its residual warmth around my legs and praying her food took a long time to prepare. When she returned, I tried to give it back (really I did) but she insisted she had a spare so I should feel free to continue using it.

Don't mind if I do. Without it, my teeth would have been chattering.

The film wasn't long and clearly I don't have the youthful fond memories of it that most of tonight's attendees did, but all I kept thinking about was how it seemed to replace comedy with corny and intrigue with plot holes.

And that doesn't even begin to address that it was an '80s version of a story supposedly set in the '50s, making for murky waters when this audience member tried to sort through incongruous elements and costumes.

But I didn't go for fine filmmaking, I went for camp and got it, sometimes via dialog - "Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable" - and other times with cliches such as when Miss Scarlet's car breaks down and she leans fetchingly over the hood, raising a shapely leg just as a car rounds the bend.

Voila, roadside assistance! And while I've never been so blatant as all that, I have been known to stand beside my disabled car on the roadside in hopes of availing myself of the kindness of strangers. Fact is, I've had many a tire changed using this method.

Considering the comedic talent in the film -Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean - the funniest bit in the whole movie was Madeleine Kahn's improvised reaction when her character Mrs. White is accused of killing the maid (because her husband had been schtupping her).

"Flames, flames on the side of my face!" was so odd, so unexpected that it could only have come out of her lips without the benefit of a script. Hilarious.

The movie had three endings, all of which began to wear thin, at least to me, as the cast raced around from room to room recreating all the murders. Even they looked a little bored with it all.

So while I didn't see a particularly noteworthy film, what's not to enjoy about watching a movie screened on a brick wall while cozily nestled under a blanket with the sounds of the city coming in and out of earshot?

Whether it's the voices of a nearby Saturday night party on Grace Street, an ambulance siren racing up Broad Street or an airplane in the night sky, it's all part of the experience.

Like the girls in front of me reciting the occasional line along with the characters. "Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn."

Me, neither. Some evenings it's enough just to sit back and enjoy something different.

Somebody's Baby

Oh, Friday, Friday, I try my best not to do Restaurant Week but sometimes it just turns out that way.

Because I moved into the city in 1993 - a block and a half from Zeus Gallery Cafe - I never knew a time when the quirky little restaurant wasn't in the neighborhood (like the library and the VMFA) that I wound up staying in for 13 years.

Ending up there tonight wasn't the plan but turned out to be the reality, set to local music on the sound system (big ups for that) and La Vieille Ferme Rose the color of pink diamonds.

Lemon vinaigrette kicked up a peppery arugula and Grana padano salad a notch. Red-wine braised veal short ribs got hearty with tomato jam, butternut squash puree and asparagus. I adjusted the flourless chocolate pate by salting it to perfection.

It's my chocolate and I'll salt if I want to.

Altogether a fine meal made even more impressive by the load on the kitchen as a steady stream of diners arrived all night long. "Each night this week gets crazier," the barkeep claimed. Good news for the Foodbank.

She wasn't too worried about it because the minute restaurant week ends, she and her main squeeze are headed to a cabin the mountains with a spectacular view and a hot tub. Oh, and lots of drinking material, she assured us. "I did used to work at Buddy's," she said by way of explanation.

Once back at my host's house, the musical portion of the evening went through Jackson Brown's best of, why David Crosby matters (with a story tangent about how Roger McGuinn still claims that Stephen Stills stole David Crosby from the Byrds), and bluesy Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac.

Seventies California music, in other words. Great guitar stuff. I even heard an Eagles song I'd never heard and didn't hate. That's how deep the cuts went.

A cache of comic books yielded conversation about the one who'd given up drawing years ago, spirited dancing to Jackson Brown, and from the one with scads of siblings, endless intricate family relation stories.

If I could have, I'd have shot the breeze all night as good as the jawing and soundrack were.

Can't be late for the (morning) sky tomorrow, though.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Here's Looking at You

So today I did what no self-respecting native Washingtonian would do: went to the top of the Washington Monument.

It all started on October first when I read about Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez- Gerada's monumental portrait "Out of Many, One" being constructed just west of the reflecting pool.

The catch? It's intended to be seen from a bird's eye view, namely from the top of the Washington Monument. And while tickets to the memorial to George are free, they're limited and go fast. Let's just say I wasted little time between reading about the piece and ordering the first available tickets.

Then all I needed was another art lover to join me on a day trip to see it. That was the easy part.

Lunch at the 2400 Diner in Fredericksburg (where the neon says "Air conditioned" and "Good food" in the window) and traffic put us on the mall five minutes after our 3:30 tour time, but we only had to wait a few more minutes at the windy base of the monument before being included in the next group to go up.

The Park Service ranger who accompanied us up in the elevator had clearly been on the job for too long. An automaton who made no eye contact and spoke in a monotone, he was nonetheless full of information about the construction and accomplishment of building the world's tallest building at the time (still the tallest stone structure in the world).

At the top, we went window to window, beginning with the view of the portrait next to the Reflecting Pool. The man's face is a composite of photographs the artist took of people in Washington, so it resembles no particular ethnicity and every ethnicity. And it kind of looks at you, even from 555 feet below.

Yesterday's rain had left a few puddles on and near the portrait and three-plus weeks of weather had begun the gradual erosion of it, all part of the design. It's expected to be gone entirely in another week.

One thing this native Washingtonian hadn't realized was that you are no longer allowed to take the steps up and down the monument. Oh, they let you take a few steps down to the museum located at 490 feet, but then you have to take the elevator the rest of the way. Disappointing.

When I asked a ranger why this was, he explained that too many people had touched and vandalized the stone plaques (donated by states, countries, organizations and individuals) that line the interior of the monument.

Apparently the collective we can't have nice things because we don't treat them right. The consolation was that on the elevator ride down, Mr. Monotone stopped the elevator and turned off the lights at certain points to show us some of the plaques including one with its griffins broken off by badly behaving visitors. Sigh.

Back on terra firma, we decide to make the most of our prime parking space and take in some other sites, namely the Martin Luther King memorial, which I'd read plenty about but never seen. As impressive as the huge stone image of MLK is, I was moved most by the series of quotes etched on the walls around it.

From there it only made sense to go look at Rodriguez-Gerarda's work from the ground, cutting through the D.C. War Memorial's stone edifice on the way to the portrait. Truly, it was unrecognizable from street level.

Oh, we could see the dark lines and the white spots, but as intended, the eye couldn't read it as a whole from down there. I felt very fortunate to have scored the tickets to access the view and see it as the artist intended before all that sand and soil becomes part of the earth again.

Mission accomplished.

To celebrate, we walked a little over a mile to the subterranean Bottom Line (hearing such '80s gems as 38 Special's "Caught Up In You"...little girl?) for a celebratory drink before walking back to reclaim the car, face the traffic and head to Alexandria for dinner.

Our destination was the casual little brother of Restaurant Eve, Eamonns, which billed itself as a Dublin chipper with the slogan "Thanks be to cod." Our handsome server asked if we wanted table service and we took him up on his offer.

Wine choices were limited to one red and one white and arrived swimming in the bottom of beer glasses, but the cod was fresh, the chips were hand cut, the slaw not overly sweet and the wings nicely crisped, a fine meal on a rustic wooden table with a view of the hustle and bustle of King Street.

Just as satisfying was the music which came from an iPod on high, so high that when a great song came on and both our server and I wanted to know what it was, he had to stand on a bench, craning to try and read the device stationed up near the ceiling, no doubt to keep lesser beings from skipping songs or changing the playlist.

We were rewarded to learn it was Phoenix band Caterwaul's "The Sheep's a Wolf" from 1989, surprising those of us who would have liked just such a  female-fronted band in 1989 but had never heard of them.

Sign on the door of the women's room: "Street girls bringing in sailors must pay in advance for rooms." Duly noted, as were the superb black and white photographs of a Dublin bar and bridge hanging inside.

When our server came over to check on us, asking if we needed anything, I couldn't think of anything except a table dance, but he gestured to the people sitting at the table as the only reason he couldn't. I like a server with  good attitude.

By the time we were finished, the small restaurant had filled up with people waiting for food and to-go orders (or perhaps one of the various fried candy bars on the menu), so we set out in search of dessert elsewhere.

After a stroll past endless antique shops, high end clothing stores and home furnishing meccas, we settled on Union Street Public House, noisy with a boisterous crowd and far too many screens showing Thursday night football.

When the bartender delivered Junior's famous tuxedo cake ("with a chocolate ice cream chaser," he joked), he said it had been very popular tonight; he'd already served four of the devil's food cake layered with cheesecake and ganache behemoths.

Nobody needs all this, I told him. He looked affronted. "I do! And you do!" he corrected me. So maybe he was right, even if I couldn't half finish it all.

That's the thing about need. Some would make a case that I really didn't need a trip to Washington to see "Out of Many, One."

Oh, but I did. Even natives need to see their city from on high sometimes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blow by Blow

I knew I'd made the right choice of what to do tonight when I saw how many musicians were in the room.

A lot of really good ones.

The Broadberry was hosting trumpeter Rex Richardson's dual CD release party tonight and just about every table and chair in the place was already taken when I got there. Plenty of people were standing in front of the stage, too, and more continued to arrive.

No surprise there because Rex is kind of a big deal, a phenomenal musician whether he's blowing on a trumpet, coronet, flugelhorn or whatever.

My interest in tonight's program had its seeds in a show I'd gone to at the Singleton Center back in 2006 when Rex had been playing in a group called Rhythm and Brass. Memorably, that night's program had ranged from the Beatles to Radiohead with bits of everything in between.

That was the night I'd fallen for his trumpet playing (I might have even been that person who went up to him afterwards and gushed a bit).

Since that show eight years ago, I've seen him many times at VCU's Singleon Center and more recently, when he fronted an evening with the Richmond Symphony. Always on a limited budget, I'd splurged $10 on a next-to-the-last-row ticket for that show and now tonight I was dropping another ten-spot to hear Rex play his newest stuff.

His quintet began without any introduction beyond him blowing his horn to begin "Tell, Tell Me Again" and get the entire room's attention.

After that, he reminded us that CDs were for sale at a table in the back staffed by his beautiful wife Star. "Don't look at her," he warned, "look at the CDs."

After "Red Shift," which he characterized as an angry song, he said, "Now for something less manic," and played a song by the quintet's drummer, Brian Jones. It was the kind of beautiful song you could get lost in and at one point, I noticed a couple of musicians near the bar with their heads bent, not even looking at the stage, just deep in the music.

The man about town stopped by, a drink in each hand, complimented my sweater and asked if he was blocking my view (nope).

Of course Rex dedicated "Seeing Star (Blue Shift)" to "that lady at the back table selling CDs." I was bowled over when they did bassist Randall Pharr's soulful "Blues for David Henry," which they'd apparently also played on a morning TV show "when jazz musicians aren't really awake."

Just as stellar was "Big Sur" ("There's probably a story there but I never asked him") written by Jones that didn't last nearly as long as I would have liked.

Rex thanked the audience repeatedly, clearly thrilled with the size of the crowd that had shown up tonight. And just like that, the quintet portion of the show was over.

A lot of the people who'd been sitting at tables got up and left, but most of them didn't look like the kind of people who spend much time in stand up venues, so it wasn't surprising. Fact is, for a jazz show, it had started unbelievably early (not long after 8) and it was only 9:45 when the second part got rolling.

During the break, I listened to the two guys next to me on the banquette as they raved about the Star Hill Black Sabbath Stout. They were each on their fourth, so they knew of what they spoke.

All of a sudden, there was a plop next to me and a familiar smiling face sat down. It was a woman I'd met at Amuse and since run into all over town.

She was lamenting her recent resolution to only drink on weekends, although she'd had a glass of wine at dinner earlier and another at the bar at the Broadberry, so there was already some resolution bending going on. I empathized, nonetheless.

The second portion of the program was dedicated to "Dukal Bugles," written by Doug Richardson, who led a big band with some of Richmond's best jazz musicians onstage and Rex out front playing a variety of horns.

The piece is a tribute to Duke Ellington and the series of amazing trumpeters he worked with. We got a demonstration of each of the horns and sounds that would be featured before it began, but it was the seamless way Rex segued throughout that demonstrated his virtuosity.

If you weren't looking at the stage, you'd have thought there was a gaggle of horn players taking turns based on the stylistic differences we were hearing.

When it ended, everyone was on their feet and screaming for one more. The big band obliged with Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" while  the clutch of young VCU music students behind me talked non-stop about the magic going on onstage. I was sorely tempted to tell them to button it.

Boys, boys, boys. Maybe when you're real musicians, you'll take a cue from the guys I saw tonight and just lose yourselves in the music silently.

If not, I'll just have to tell, tell you again. Music this good deserves to be heard. You opinions, not so much.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Great Balls of Fire

Despite making less than a ditch digger, I love my work.

There are road trips, I get to talk to interesting people and more than a few times, I've had a chance to see something I would otherwise never see.

Today it was an enormous southern mansion styled after Tara in "Gone with the Wind."

After stopping at the initialed gates to be buzzed in, I passed by the guest cottage which looked to be about 4,000 square feet. Pfft! That was nothing, I was soon to see.

As instructed, I followed the long, winding, pine needle-covered road over rustic wooden bridges spanning man-made lakes, past a turn-off for the stables and nearly a mile later got to the elaborate fountain directly in front of the house.

My host was waiting on the veranda with an umbrella and indicated that I should park directly in front of the wide front staircase so he could escort me up without getting a drop of rain on my pretty little head.

We made our way to the great room, which in Scarlet O'Hara's time would have probably been called the drawing room, with its two-story ceiling, massive fireplace and view of the grounds descending to the dock.

My purpose in being there was to interview this Philadelphia native who'd retired to the northern neck back in the '90s after having had this grand house built on 88 acres of what used to be a pine farm. That was tough to imagine given the acres of lush lawn I was seeing today which had replaced the cleared trees.

When I'd first come in, he'd said that after we talked, he'd take me on the fifty cent tour. Note he did not offer to give me the nickle tour because everything in this house was grander than could be covered in anything less than a half dollar.

Or at least that was my take on it.

I couldn't possibly recount all the rooms because after a while, I lost track. Okay, were we in the master suite sitting room or the breakfast sitting room?

Was that the library or the billiards room off one of the two wooden spiral staircases? It couldn't have been the pool room (where the air temperature is always one degree warmer than the water temperature) because that was downstairs, complete with a Jacuzzi, sauna, changing room, gym and bar.

In the small bathroom off the foyer were the most exquisite fixtures I've ever seen, even in a magazine. All the porcelain - sink, toilet, spigot fixture with facial mirror - were hand painted in elaborate floral designs. I'm willing to bet those three pieces are worth more than everything I own.

In the entrance hall, he'd had a local artist paint a mural on the curved wall depicting a plantation house with a couple - he and his wife, no doubt - in Civil War-era garb strolling the grounds. The dog in the painting is his deceased dog, Rhett, and on the back veranda, I met Scarlet, barking in excitement at a visitor. Painted on a tree were his and his wife's initials. Floating over a grove of trees in the background was a small UFO.

Artistic license, don't you think?

There was a wing to house the mother-in-law should she ever desire to move in and a widow's walk high atop the five-car garage.The dining room was bigger than many conference rooms, although he said it only got used at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

And get this: speakers were unobtrusively built into every room of the house for surround sound (controlled, naturally, by a box in the media room).

From the second floor balcony, there was a fabulous view of the cove and beyond it, the Chesapeake Bay. But the most charming element of the property was the Love Garden.

While clearing away all those pine trees near the house, he'd found a small stand of dogwood trees and taken down everything else around them. Now, in the center of that were several stone benches, a fountain and birdbath, nestled under a canopy of dogwoods. It was the kind of thing you'd read about in an Elizabethan play: a love garden where couples went to woo.

What ditch digger gets to see something so wonderful?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Country Mouse and the City Mouse

You can't get much further apart than True Value hardware and a David Fincher film.

When I go to the country, like I did for the past couple of days, it's like being in a different world.

For instance. they have edibles such as Triscuits, meat and tomatoes at the hardware store so you can pick up a bag of concrete and get salad fixings for dinner at the same register.

In the country, you can take an outside shower and have a view of towering trees over your head while you do it. Or watch clouds sail across the night sky intermittently revealing stars and planets and then covering them back up again.

If you're really lucky, you might look across the property at 2 a.m. to see a band of horses who've wandered down from the pasture they usually occupy to mill about near a neighbor's fence.

But once back in the city, it's all about the business of life: answering e-mails, pitching an editor, going to an appointment.

And tonight, it meant going to Movieland to see a movie taken from a blockbuster book I've yet to read but was sent as a gift by my favorite ex-cop.

Walking in to the theater next to a guy also by himself, I was tempted to joke that obviously he couldn't get a date, either. Instead, I held my tongue and stood in line in front of him watching a girl using dental floss while standing in line next to her boyfriend.

I've got nothing against flossing - I do it myself daily- but is the ticket line at a theater really the place for it?

By the time I got my ticket for "Gone Girl," the theater was probably three quarters full so I must have chosen a popular movie (a rarity for me). Unlike the masses, though, the only Fincher films I've ever seen were "Fight Club" and "Seven."

Since I haven't yet read the book, I was going into the film blind and was soon enmeshed in the story of a marriage that seems to start off fine and devolves into something kind of awful before they even reach the magic five year marker. And then things really go south.

Like a good Hitchcock movie with the requisite icy blond, "Gone Girl" provided more suspense than I'm comfortable with. Very thought-provoking, it also made a strong case for the difficulty in really knowing someone, even someone you love.

When the movie ended after the briefest two hours and 25 minutes, a guy behind me shared his first reaction loudly, saying, "That's it, I'm staying single the rest of my life."

Scaredy cat. My first reaction is that I need to read that book the ex-cop sent me so I can delve even more deeply into this twisted, modern take on love and marriage.

Late night horse visitors aside, I'm thinking that the perfect place to do that would be out in the country.

Turn Up the Heat

The combination was irresistible: wings and Sweet Justice.

Even though I had plans to head out of town Sunday afternoon, priority one was seeing my favorite '80s cover band while munching on chicken wings at the first ever Kickin' Chicken Wingfest, a dubious name at best. I bet those chickens do kick (and scream) when someone tries to remove their wings.

It turned out to be a gloriously sunny day for the boyfriend and me to walk down Broad to the 17th Street Farmers' Market and take a detour to see for the first time the Burial Ground for Negros located just off of Broad near 16th Street.

I hadn't realized how many informational historic sign markers were down there telling the story of the city gallows, Lumpkin's Jail and how the area had been used over the years.

Tucked away as it was, the verdant green field felt a world away from the bustling traffic above and nearby festival. In several places were small "altars" where people had left mementos and candles in acknowledgement of the countless slaves and free blacks long ago buried here but no longer marked in any way.

That's the thing about Richmond; you never know when history will rear its head to remind us of how much living and dying has gone on here for centuries.

From there, it was on to the farmers' market where we could hear Sweet Justice playing Pat Benetar long before we saw them or the stage. Don't get me wrong, I am a devotee of new music but listening to a middle-aged band play '80s hair and metal songs I never even knew the first time around is way more fun that you might think. And since the two of us had first experienced Sweet Justice together, they were almost "our" band.

First order of business with Sweet Justice is always checking out the long-haired bass player's t-shirt since he's got a stellar collection. Today's read "Employee of the month," a title he's likely never earned, thereby making it all the more amusing.

Since it was barely fifteen minutes into the festival, there weren't more than a dozen people gathered in front of the stage so we left them singing Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and went off in search of something to put in our mouths.

The first stop was at the wine on tap tent for some Prosecco, easily obtainable since there was no line so the servers still had smiles on their faces. From there, it was a scavenger hunt to find the booths offering wings in between all the cheesy fair food type booths.

I can't wrap my head around why someone would go to a wing fest to get a funnel cake or gyro, yet there they were, taking up valuable space to offer crap food. But I digress.

My first wings came from Boardwalk Hotdogs where they had two flavor options, chile-lime or garlic Parmesan, which is what I got. The wing pieces and drummetes were rolled in so much salty Parmesan that after finishing them, my mouth felt like it could turn inside out like a slug with salt poured on it by a cruel child.

Round two brought full wings, not pieces, from Zainab's Halal, which had good flavor but came across as more fried than sauced and even the addition of sauce was pretty tame. To make matters worse, the band was playing "Hotel California," easily one of the most annoying and overplayed songs of all time (also guaranteed to annoy two Eagles haters like us).

I love Sweet Justice, but they could eliminate all the Eagles' dreck and it would be fine by us.

For our last venture into wings, we tried On the Rox's version which was brined, smoked and confited and came with a smoked buffalo sauce. Never one to turn down food cooked in fat, I enjoyed the wings but the BF still found their heat lacking. Fortunately, the music wasn't, because who doesn't enjoy hearing Whitesnake's "Lay Down Your Love" on a sunny afternoon?

The ups and downs of wing tastings led to discussion of what makes a true buffalo wing, a subject on which I am no expert. But I once knew someone who was.

My frame of reference is a woman named Jeannie I met when I first moved to Richmond in 1986. Jeannie had lived her entire life in Buffalo (and had the accent to prove it) and was amazed that I'd never heard of, much less had, buffalo chicken wings.

She attempted to right this grievous wrong by first making me a batch which I devoured and then allowing me to copy her mother's "secret" recipe, which dated back to the '60s. One thing she was resolute about was that it mattered not if you baked, deep fried or grilled your wings; what mattered was the sauce.

Jeannie's mother's version wasn't complicated but it wasn't one note, either. It called for Durkee red hot cayenne pepper sauce, which, according to her mother, had originally been Frank's red hot cayenne pepper sauce before Durkee had bought it in the '70s. The sauce was cooked along with butter, lemon juice and garlic powder and once it came off the burner, honey was added.

The recipe advised one coating of the sauce for mild and two -one before putting them in the oven for three minutes and one when they came out - for hot and spicy. Then they got a sprinkle of Parmesan.

My favorite part of the recipe was, "Serve with blue cheese dressing for dipping and cold celery (on ice!) for cooling your mouth off." Because, you see, if the celery wasn't on ice, Jeannie and her Mom couldn't guarantee it would cool anything off.

As I sat on a bale of hay listening to Sweet Justice play Def Leppard and eating through an array of wing styles, my mind kept coming back to memories of Jeannie's wings, far superior to any at Wingfest.

This I knew, even though I hadn't had them since Def Leppard was playing their own songs.

Apparently, a girl never forgets her first real Buffalo wings. Jeannie, you spoiled me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn, Comes She Will

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear today was it.

With a cold front approaching, it could be the last day I get to wear shorts on my walk and the last night I get to see moonflowers open. As if they knew, I watched three open tonight through the screen in my bedroom window as I was dressing to go out.

Ah, summer, I miss you already.

My date for the evening was Pru and we headed to Bistro 27 for dinner, just across the street from the November theater where we planned to see a play afterwards.

Looking at my legs as we walked to the restaurant, she demanded to know how they looked so tanned in October. Simple, I told her, I'm still wearing shorts on my walk every day.

Inside, we sidled up to the bar and ordered glasses of Bricco-dei-Tati Rose, the color of cherry Kool-aid, coincidentally also the color of Barbera Rose, a far tastier pink quaff. Alas, I fear I will soon be missing my Roses, too.

Momentarily distracted by a dessert going by on its way to a nearby couple, we then debated what to order since it had been a while since we'd been in and so much of the menu is new, eventually settling on crabcakes (her) and Tuscan chicken flatbread (me).

The flatbread loomed large over the entire plate and then some, covered in a savory/sweet combination of grilled chicken, balsamic, plum tomatoes, basil and goat cheese. Her crabcake appetizer was mostly crab and sauteed golden brown, in other words, practically perfect to a crabhead like me.

Over dinner, we compared our thrifting adventures today (I won with a haul of 17 tops, 2 skirts, 1 shorts, 1 pants and 3 shrugs for a total of $5) at the Robinson Street Festival. I heard about her outing to the Roosevelt with old college chums last night, an evening that involved absinthe and a 2 a.m. bedtime, neither unusual for me and both highly irregular for her.

Today, she had the headache and lethargy that follows infrequent debauchery.

Dessert was a given (hello, Saturday night with a girlfriend) and the triple chocolate confection we'd seen go by earlier seemed like the obvious choice. Made by one of the prep cooks, it's the newest dessert item, all but begging us to check it out.

When Pru decided she needed coffee with hers, our bartender offered her espresso and then a single or double.

"Double, please," she said demurely. "I want it dark and growling." I assumed we were no longer talking about coffee, but I didn't pry.

The triple chocolate cake got my thumbs up for both its lightness and its variety of chocolate textures: mousse, cake and ganache.

As we were devouring it, four young men arrived to serenade the Irish couple sitting at the front table celebrating an occasion. Their lilting harmonies were beautiful to behold, made even better by having chocolate in our mouth as we listened.

What a delightful addition to the evening.

A satisfying meal over, we strolled across the street to see Cadence Theater's production of "Sight Unseen" by Donald Margulies.

Waiting in line to pick up tickets, I ran into a woman I hadn't seen in years whose first words were, "You don't age! You look exactly the same." While I know this is a compliment, what I wanted to say is, sure, it's fine now, but who wanted to look like this at 25 or 35? Instead, I say thanks.

Tickets in hand, we find our seats in the second row minutes before the lights go down.

My preference is always to go into a production knowing as little as possible so that the action can unfold for me with no hints of what's to come. It's like how I don't like to see previews for movies before I see them. Just give me what you got and let me see what I think.

"Sight Unseen" begins in a chilly farmhouse ("Here we hold on to our overcoats") in England ("No one is a good cook over here") with a visit from a now-famous American painter named Jonathan to Patricia, the woman who'd been his muse in college, and her adoring husband, Nick ("I take what I can get. I'm English").

His father has died last week yet he's crossed the pond for his first career retrospective where he's finding the press combative and trying to focus solely on his Jewishness. A flashback shows us how cruelly he dumped Patricia fifteen years earlier.

All of a sudden, it's intermission and I have absolutely no idea where this play is going, a truly delicious feeling as a member of the audience.

As the second act unfolds, we hear some excellent debate on what art is and what an artist's responsibility is as Nick looks at the catalog from Jonathan's show and finds his paintings lacking. As far as Nick's concerned, art ended with the Renaissance and he's dismissive of all modern art.

Jonathan insists that the job of the artist is not to participate because his intention in painting is irrelevant. Art is what the viewer brings to his work and what they choose to take away. Defending himself and his work he says, "It's the layers people go to in order to feel something today."

The layers in this play are many: about how relationships change, about settling when we can't get what we really want, about how success and money changes people, about losing our way in life and love and never really recovering. Why do people feel obligated to attend blockbuster art shows and then spend more time in the gift shop than with the art?

Andrew Firda is a standout as the husband in a mostly sexless marriage and his dry, British wit provides much of the play's humor while his sweet attempts to challenge the man who's been haunting his wife's heart for 15 years hint at the passion beneath his archeologist's heart.

Smart and thought-provoking, yet again Cadence Theater had provided plenty for Pru and I to discuss once the play ended and we were walking down Broad Street.

Where, I might add, the temperature was noticeably cooler than when we'd gone in and the breeze hinted at a night that will require closing my windows.

Except the bedroom windows, which will remain open so I can luxuriate in the scent of the moonflowers for the last time this year.

I take what I can get when summer is on her way out.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Until the Songs are Done

I took the A6 - also known as the motorway to the sun -to a yard show.

Since it's Virginia wine month, I began the evening at Pasture for a glass of Cardinal Point Winery A6, the lovely Viognier/Chardonnay blend named after the road in France that links Paris to Lyon, a fact I know only because I poured for Cardinal Point at the Virginia Wine Expo two years in a row.

The restaurant was busy with some people even eating outside on the patio, a treat not to be missed on an October evening.

While I thought the rest of my evening would be spent indoors watching two favorite musicians play, I arrived at the address given to find a crowd gathering in the yard next door.

Following the light and laughter to what was clearly going to be a yard show, I saw a familiar face sitting at the front picnic table and promptly joined the Hat, a.k.a. the man about town, on his bench.

From our perch, we were facing a mural I hadn't seen before of black, white, gray and orange, depicting a quarter moon, a tee-pee and a suitcase dangling from a rope near the top of the mural. In front of the mural were several metal frames on which strings of white and orange twinkle lights had been strung. A lit jack-o-lantern sat in front of chairs for musicians and drums. Smaller lit pumpkins sat on the picnic tables.

It was like a Fall fairyland and an ideal place for a little night time music.

Sitting next to the Hat, I said hello to the Richmanian warbler, waved to the record producer, spotted the long-haired breakout musician, smiled at the fashionable keyboard player and her reclusive husband while smelling the candle burning in the pumpkin on the table behind us (humor centered around citronella versus sinsemilla).

A couple spread out an Indian print blanket and sat down on the grass in front of us Soon a second blanket appeared, then a third and forth, all of the same Indian-type print that used to hang from windows as curtains back in the '70s. Apparently they're back.

Josh Small played first, explaining that he'd set out to write a song about something other than himself and settled on the flower world. Except that when all was said and done, the flower song was also about him.

The man is not only musical, but very funny.

When he was introducing a song about farming, he admitted that while he often wore overalls, he may never have actually been to a farm. "I've been to a couple pumpkin patches," he offered. Invoking Burt Reynolds, he did a Jerry Reed song called "Papa's Knee." One of the great things about a Josh Small set is how eclectic they are.

It had been eons since I'd seen David Shultz play out but, in fairness, he and his wife did have triplets so the man's been understandably busy. He began by thanking Matt, the evening's organizer, saying, "The yard couldn't look more cozy."

While the staff from Lamplighter Coffee across the street dragged trashcans along the sidewalk and traffic from the downtown expressway rumbled by, David played guitar and sang lyrics like, "Would it be so bad to dance until the song is done?"

My answer? Never.

Singing "I can't, can't get away from you," the Hat leaned over and observed, "That's a double negative, you know." I did.

David brought up drummer Willis, who'd arrived straight from a volleyball game (he is kind of tall), and they did "The Farmer," Willis' deft touch on drums and percussion adding a lot to the song and then added in Curtis on pedal steel (which was also draped in twinkle lights) and Jonathan on accordion for Blaze Foley's "Clay Pigeons."

Curtis and David joked back and forth about the limited rehearsing they'd done for this show. When David introduced "Down the Road," Curtis said, "That's the one we jammed on for 16 seconds and then talked about the chords?"

"That's why David Shultz and the Skyline aren't a band anymore," David patiently explained."Because what I really want to do is go to your house and drink wine and talk about music."

Favorite lyric: The best laid plans are the ones that don't require a second thought.

We got a real treat when David and Jonathan brought up the very talented Grant to play mandolin so they could play some Ophelia songs such as "Hunter's Bow." Along with drummer Willis, that quartet had made some outstanding music as Ophelia a few years back.

"It's a sneak attack Ophelia reunion!" someone said. Lucky us.

They did "Easy Prey" but it was the aching of "One Too Many" ("One too many nights together or one too many nights apart") that knocked the crowd off its feet, sounding just as remarkable as it did when they first played it.

David and Grant did "Oklahoma Rose," a song they wrote together and a reminder how well those two harmonize, much like on "Days Go By," a song recorded by Grant's River City Band.

Jonathan's songs never fail to tug at the heart ("I'm on my way to being on my own") and it didn't hurt having Curtis' mournful pedal steel further ripping our hearts out.

They closed the show with "The Butcher" ("I got a quarter of a quart of wine") and sitting there listening to those familiar voices singing to the sky was a reminder of just how wonderful Richmond can be sometimes.

Sort of a musical motorway to the moon on a Fall night.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wicked Lives

I didn't go for scary, I went to increase my literacy. And dance a little.

FilmRoasters, the crew who shows bad movies and comments all the way through a la "Mystery Science Theater" was showing the 1978 horror classic "Halloween" tonight. Needless to say, I'd never seen it.

Which is not to say I'd never been to a FilmRoasters' event because I had. Three times. I knew the drill.

The bludgeoning of the cheesy film was taking place at Bottoms Up so I arrived in time to order a monstrous slice of their famous "Karen combo" pizza (no, it really is named that), featuring all kinds of my favorite things: Italian sausage, onions, spinach and Ricotta.

I don't know what Karen it's named for, but she had great taste.

While I ate, the Roasters got warmed up with a bad '80s TV show called "The Master" about a ninja and his pupil, notable mainly for big '80s hair, a Trump-less Las Vegas and a soundtrack by Bill Conti of "Rocky" fame.

By the time that corniness ended, there were eight people in the audience and five of them were gabbing loudly because they hadn't come to see the movie.

After more than a few pointed barbs in their direction, they got the hint and moved out on the patio so that the remaining three of us could hear the movie's bad dialog and the roasters' pithy improvisation.

They asked how recently the audience had seen the movie (um, never) and said, "If the last time you saw "Halloween" it was scary, it's been too long." The event invitation had warned that, "Only really old people still think it's scary."

The only thing I already knew about "Halloween" was its soundtrack and that's because local musician Scott Burton was a huge fan of director John Carpenter's soundtrack and had transposed it from piano to guitar and I'd heard him play it on several occasions near Halloween.

The first thing I learned about "Halloween" tonight was that the virginal Laurie character was Jamie Lee Curtis' first film (the credits "introduce" her).

Then the Roasters set about mocking it at every turn.

When the first babysitter has her nude scene, someone cracked, "Seventies boobs were different." You mean high and firm without being fake? Yea, they sure were.

They made fun of the nurse in her cap and cape. The turned the murder's voice into Darth Vader imitations and said things such as, "I hate a guy with a car and no sense of humor" about one of the teen-aged victims.

And like with previous screenings, the Roasters were profoundly impatient with the '70s style of film making, making frequent comments about long shots, extended takes and showing the viewer everything.

"Film it all, film her walking up the whole street!" one guy shouted when she took five steps on camera.

Call me old school, but I found it refreshing to see a film that allowed scenes to unfold and wasn't just a non-stop montage of quick cuts for the ADD set.

But the '70s details were on point: Laurie doesn't date because all the guys think she's too smart. Don't feel bad, Laurie, I didn't get asked to prom, either.

When she and her girlfriend take off in the enormous '70s car (not wearing seat belts, natch) for their babysitting jobs, they share a joint in the car on the way, her friend saying,"Come on, we have just enough time" and the Roasters retorting, "There's always time for marijuana!"

At her babysitting job, Laurie dons a full apron to make popcorn for her charges and carve a jack-o-lantern ("Remember when we used to say jack-o-lantern?"). Really, an apron?

As the murderer stalks them in his car, someone quipped, "Is anyone concerned that the killer is driving a station wagon?"

Not in the '70s, baby.

When a character says he thinks the murderer's former house is haunted, the Roasters said, "Haunted by eight bad sequels! And number three made no sense!" I wouldn't know.

Once all the sexually active babysitters have been murdered and Laurie thinks she's killed the killer, she sits sobbing on the floor in relief and post-terror. "She's sobbing because there's going to be a sequel."

So now, ladies and gentlemen, I can say I've seen "Halloween," the film credited with beginning a long line of slasher films based on Hitchcock's "Psycho" and a reminder that boobs were better in the '70s.

Or something.

Having upped my cultural literacy over a slice, I opted to finish out the night at Balliceaux to see Red Light Rodeo.

Walking up the alley, I saw a small crowd near the door and just as I came up behind them, one guy reared back with his leg and kicked my hand with his shoe. When he realized what had happened, he joked, "Don't sneak up on a brother like that, girl!" and then apologized. I chalked it up to my quiet shoes on the cobblestones.

Inside, I found a small but exuberant crowd in the back room, many of the women dancing already to Red Light Rodeo's take on bluegrass honky tonk, including two who finished "Sitting on Top of the World" by falling on the beer-slicked floor laughing their faces off.

The band was bigger than I expected with drums/percussion, acoustic guitar, upright bass, mandolin/electric fiddle and electric guitar/pedal steel and all dapperly dressed in bolo ties, western style shirts and a couple with cowboy hats on.

When the band took a break, a woman decided to talk to me, commenting on how I'd been observing the room as I sipped my tequila. I found out she left Richmond for the West Coast only to return and wonder why she'd ever left. In other words, a familiar tale.

The band scored big with a country version of "Louie, Louie" that got just about everyone in the room dancing before it was over. From there, they sang about about liquor and whores, wicked lives and mentioned how their favorite song subject was whiskey ("You and me and whiskey makes three").

Only really old people wouldn't appreciate that kind of music.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meantime (Little Notes)

Reasons why this is already shaping up to be a fine day:

A cloudy walk to Chapel Island with a view of raindrops dotting the canal.

An Amtrack conductor hanging out of the stopped train waving to me from the tracks overhead as I walk the Capital bike trail. Hello, stranger.

The shift from clouds to sun as I reach the island and walk over to a favorite spot on the far side to survey the river. Nothing much happening today.

Crossing Cary Street and hearing my name called by a friendly wine rep and stopping to chat about the pleasures of outside showers and  rooftop bars, both past and future. Top of the Tower? Nope, before my time.

Running into a culture-loving friend in front of the National box office waiting to buy tickets for Trampled by Turtles. He looks at me like he's never seen me in walking attire - shorts and a t-shirt - before, which I then realize he hasn't.

Coming home to a message from a good friend saying, "I miss you! Pick you up at 12:30? Yeah!"

Lunch right here in the 'hood at Lucy's, which is satisfyingly mobbed with eager eaters. A former Floyd Avenue neighbor stops to chat, I wave hello to the cattle farmer and the proprietor tells us there's a real estate convention in town.

The shrimp po' boy salad is stellar, full of fat fried shrimp under a drizzle of thousand island dressing with picture perfect end-of-the-season grape tomatoes still bursting with flavor.

Conversation tumbling out out of both of us as we discuss Cape Charles, not fitting in, out of town restaurateurs and Gullah culture.

Dessert of panna cotta with strawberry coulis, a worthy substitute for our usual post-lunch Rose, off limits since my friend has a meeting after we finish. 

Writing assignment completed and ready for my final edit tomorrow, still several days in advance of deadline.

And it's only mid-afternoon. Feeling as sunny as the day turned out to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

True Love Seat Testing

Just another evening devoted to love, poetry and anniversaries.

While I'd been off celebrating summer last night, the Virginia Literary Festival had begun without me. Tonight I intended to wave my literary flag.

The rain had finally stopped by the time I left for Carytown, not that I'm complaining about a rainy day. My earlier walk down to the river had required an umbrella, but the temperature had been pleasant enough and I enjoy the unique perspective an umbrella provides: no sky, no rooves, nothing much higher than my chin. It's a very intimate kind of a walk.

But by early evening, only puddles remained as I walked to the Byrd theater for poetry and a film screening that began with buttered popcorn and people watching.

Like the couple who came down the aisle together but then each turned into different rows. From there, each would sit in a different seat, get up and move to another. They each tested out four or five seats a few rows from each other, occasionally exchanging glances.

Finally, she gave him a look and using his long legs to step over the two rows that separated them, he sat down next to her in a seat she'd already tested out for him.

The things some people do for love.

A group of older women came in looking for seats and were put off by how torn up some of them are. "Those seats look like rats have been chewing on them!" one said in disgust.

"I bet they really do," chimed in another. "You know, after it gets dark, they just come in here and tear into the seats." She sounded terrified.

My guess was more prosaic: that after 85 years of people using these seats, they're so threadbare that it doesn't take much touching for the fabric to begin to rip. Get over yourselves, ladies.

After greetings to the crowd of forty or so from the Byrd and the Virginia Literary Festival came the introduction of Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Virginia's Poet laureate from 2006-2008.

Explaining that she'd felt a real connection to Frida Kahlo after first seeing her paintings, Foronda began to research Kahlo's life by going to Mexico to see the blue house where she'd lived, the home of Kahlo's husband, muralist Diego Rivera and more of her work.

She said it helped that her husband was a native Spanish speaker and had good street smarts because he was able to talk some of the guards into letting her into rooms not usually open to the public.

All that research into facts became the basis for her book of poetry, "The Embrace," about the artist, her life and her relationship with Rivera.

She read three of the poems, including one called "Blue House," told from the point of view of the house which, she said, "knew more about Frida than anyone else." Another, "Wedding Fiesta" was told from Frida's viewpoint about the day she married the man who'd wooed her by saying, "I was born to love you."

Favorite line: "Long live love."

Then we watched 2002's "Frida" with Salma Hayek taking on the role of the artistic woman with the unibrow and her unfaithful but loving husband.

What was especially interesting for me was seeing Alfred Molina as Diego because I'd just seen him a few weeks ago in "Love is Strange." But in this movie, he superbly captured the complex Diego, a man with a huge artistic ego, a driving political responsibility and utter devotion to Frida and her talent despite dalliances with other women.

The scene where he comes back to see her after they've divorced (and she's had her toes amputated) to ask her to marry him again was incredibly moving. When she demands to know why he's back, he looks at her with those eyes and says simply, "I miss us."

Obviously it worked because she married him again. When he thanks her, she asks him for what.

"For making a fat, old Communist a happy man." Sounds like true love to me.

On the way out of the Byrd, I dropped a donation in the popcorn tub toward those painful seats, said hi to Ward from Chop Suey at the book sale table and headed out into the night.

Next stop: Garnett's to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Where does the time go?

It seems like just a couple of years ago that the little sandwich place opened and found an immediate following. Back when it first opened, they even served coffee in the mornings and I helped out for several months, showing up before 7 a.m. to bake scones and brew coffee for the early morning worker bee crowd.

I quickly discovered how tough it is to go to bed at 2 a.m. and be unlocking the front door at 6:45. Many a morning I rode my bike over there in the early morning light fighting off yawns.

Coffee service didn't last long (so I was off the hook) but Garnett's thankfully has and as a thanks to the public, anyone who came in today and ordered a sandwich got a free dessert.

While I wasn't so much in the mood for dessert after popcorn, I was hungry for a nosh. Walking in, the place was empty except for two beat-looking servers.

"We don't have any cake or pie left!" they warned me as soon as they saw me. I reassured them that I wasn't looking for dessert and ordered chicken salad.

Naturally it had been a crazy busy day with non-stop crowds coming to claim their free desserts, but what they wanted to kvetch about was the customer who'd just called. Earlier he'd called and ordered a Cobb salad and then been late in picking it up.

Once home, he was dissatisfied that the bacon on the salad was cold so he called to register his unhappiness. He wanted to make sure the owner got a full report that his bacon was cold. He whined that he's ordered that salad a dozen times and the bacon had never been cold. He insisted that he'll never be back.

The servers, worn out after a non-stop day, politely took his complaints and apologized. What else could they do?

Finally eating and happy, I reminded them that such a customer was perfectly appropriate on the restaurant's fifth anniversary.

They'd had scads of people in all day long, worked their butts off and heard a lot of really nice things from people who make Garnett's one of their regular hangouts. So what's one bad apple in the scheme of things?

The way I see it, if you make it to five years successfully, you're doing a lot right. Especially in the restaurant business, five years is significant. Impressive, even.

As a wise poet once said on his own fifth anniversary, double or nothing?