Saturday, February 28, 2015

Morning Wood

I fear for the cultural literacy of the future.

All week long, I'd been looking forward to seeing "Annie Hall" at the Bowtie. Incredibly, I hadn't seen it since it came out in 1977. Given all the Oscars it had won, I expected a full house. Instead, I found one middle-aged guy with a bag of popcorn and a willingness to chat.

Like me, he often comes to the Movies and Mimosas feature to see classic films on the big screen. We got a good laugh when he told me that the ticket taker had looked at his stub and said, "Oh, I didn't know "Annie Hall" was coming out this week."

When he explained to the 20-something that it was a 38-year old movie, the kid was surprised.

Joining us shortly was a woman who, without being asked, announced to us that she was excited to see the movie but appalled to learn that her 44-year old daughter had never seen it. Wait, it gets worse: her daughter's degree is in theater.

She asked if I was a Woody Allen fan and I admitted to it. My first boyfriend had introduced me to his peculiar brand of humor when I was in high school and I'd read an Allen biography as long ago as college. So, yes, I was a fan.

Yet I remembered very little of the film beyond Allen breaking the fourth wall. Lost to the decades were Diane Keaton's singing, that the Alvy Singer character had had two ex-wives or all the references to Jewish persecution in WWII ("My Grammy didn't give gifts. She was too busy being raped by Cossacks").

Not remembered but not surprising were the 1977-isms. The doctor smokes in the examining room with a patient. Most women went bra-less. Waiting in line for a movie, people smoke, read newspapers and talk to each other instead of staring at their devices.

Annie Hall can't have sex without smoking a joint first and friends are aghast to learn the couple hasn't tried cocaine. "Come on, do your body a favor!" they insist, proffering the white stuff. Wow, 1977.

I also learned things. "You want to move to Los Angeles where the only cultural advantage is being able to turn right on red?" Alvy asks incredulously of Annie. So California was ahead of the curve on this? No memory of that.

Of course Woody Allen's dialog was spot on and laugh out loud-worthy. "I'm a bigot but for the left," he says. Speaking at an Adlai Stevenson rally, he says, "So I'm in the Catskills and I've been trying to do to this girl what the Eisenhower administration has been doing to us."

Very telling was a comment Allen makes about the state of photography in 1977. "A set of aesthetic guidelines hasn't been developed yet." Since few museums and galleries were even beginning to collect photography in the '70s, this rings especially true to an art geek.

Just as dated but a little skeevy was a scene where Alvy's best friend Rob is clearly peeved to get a phone call from jail from Alvy. Not because his friend has been jailed, but because it interrupted him having sex with twins.

"Sixteen year old twins, imagine the possibilities!" Considering he was, like Allen, close to 40 at the time, that's pretty distasteful, although apparently not so much in '77.

One of the most hysterical scene involved no dialog from Alvy, just a look. He and Annie are ordering sandwiches in a deli and she says, "I'll have pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato." Jewish suffering is written all over his face.

I certainly didn't recall Paul Simon (with a bad comb-over), Christopher Walken (his weirdness already set in stone) or Jeff Goldblum on the phone ("I forgot my mantra") being in the movie.

Most surprising of all was that I remembered the last bit in the movie. Alvy tells an old joke about how he can't turn in his brother just because he thinks he's a chicken. When the doctor asks him why not, he says he needs the eggs.

"Well, I guess that's pretty much how I feel about relationships. You know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs."

Apparently that's the kind of sentiment that spoke to my young self when I first saw "Annie Hall" because I never forgot it.

There's a lesson there. Never see what's billed as a "nervous romance" when you're at an impressionable age. It may not do your heart any favors.

Left to My Own Devices

It's been a day for the unexpected.

Driving out to the northern neck to visit my parents, I had no idea it would begin snowing, swirling all around the cars and on the road, much like sand does on a beach road after a storm.

Driving over the Rappahannock, I saw a frozen river below me, great chunks of snow and ice dotting the surface.

But as I always do when crossing a bridge, I had the window down to smell the wet air (or what a watery death smells like, I can'rt decide) while inside the car the Pet Shop Boys' "Being Boring" was blasting.With not a single boat on the river, no one but me heard.

I left Mom and Dad's in enough time to get home and ready for my girl date tonight, only to find a phone message awaiting me (I know, how old school, right?) from my friend canceling our plans because she'd been down with that stomach bug everyone's getting all day (no doubt picked up at the bar where she works).

Hadn't seen that coming.

So instead of our intended restaurant and bar crawl until the wee hours, I decided on the documentary screening at Black Iris Gallery of "Records Collecting Dust" about the origins and holy grails of vinyl collecting.

Arriving at Black Iris just as three guys did, we found the door locked. What the...? From inside, Steady Sounds's owner gestured for us to come back in 15 minutes.

Good thing I only live three blocks away.

On my return, I found the doors open and plenty of familiar faces in the chairs. Chatting with a WRIR DJ, we lamented how you can never believe a starting time on a Facebook event invitation. This one had said the showing began at 8 p.m., so we'd both rushed over only to find it really began at 8:30.

Can we have some truth in inviting standards, please?

The film's producer had planned to attend but yesterday's snow had thwarted that, so we got right down to the film which began with a host of record collectors recalling the first album they owned, typically bought when they were in elementary school.

Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Pendulum." The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour." Grand Funk Railroad's "An American Band." Kiss' "Alive."

Several of the interviewees said that while their parents had been music lovers, their taste had run more to "hippie" music, so once these guys began bringing home hard rock and metal, a musical line in the sand had been drawn between generations.

Apparently no Mom was supportive of her son listening to Iron Maiden.

I could relate when one guy said he'd play a favorite 45 for fifty times in a row. No one who had 45s hasn't been guilty of that.

Another recalled his awe when he first heard Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. "You can do that and put it on a record? That blew me away," was his takeaway.

Several mentioned the thrill and uncertainty of taking a chance buying an album without knowing the band or anything about the record. That's a distinct thrill few millennials could even imagine in a music world so saturated by hype.

Everyone of a certain age related to the guy who said that he still had all his really good record finds, "Except all the really good stuff my ex-girlfriends stole." I know I lost more than a few great albums to breakups and poorly separated record collections.

One guy had a fascinating collection of civil rights-related records, stuff by Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale and even Aretha's preacher father, Reverend C.L. Franklin. Who knew activists made albums?

It was too bad the producer hadn't made it because there could have been some terrific post-screening discussion had he been there.

The documentary had been unexpectedly compelling. When a friend called not long before I left to see it, I'd shared what I was going to see.

He was amazed. "You mean record collecting has already gone out of style and come back in enough that it's worthy of a documentary?" I could just imagine him shaking his head through the telephone line and he's got one of the biggest and best record collections I know (all original, of course).

Walking out of Black Iris, the filmmaker I'd had dinner with last week asked where I was off to, assuming correctly that my night wasn't over. My second stop was Savory Grain to see Shinola Brown play.

I had no idea about this band beyond that I knew the sax player and the invitation had indicated new and old soul music was their metier. It sounded plenty good to me.

Inside, I snagged a bar stool only to hear my name called and spot a friend at my side. He'd just come from seeing "5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche" at Richmond Triangle Players and was having a post-play drink with a friend.

According to him, I had to join them.

This was a surprise. I certainly hadn't expected company, just music. But his friend was delightful, they had stools right in front of the band and why the hell not?

The funny part is, I'd just invoked his name last night when talking to a friend about renting out her house during the bike race. I knew he'd done it and told her to talk to him. It was as if I'd conjured him up.

He and his friend told me about the play, about how he'd been called up on stage to eat quiche and how much fun he'd had. I heard about his recent engagement and how he worries people will think they're moving too quickly. I learned that Savory Grain is his neighborhood bar, his go-to place because he can walk home.

At one point, I ran my hand through my hair and both he and his friend reached over and did the same to me repeatedly. "I love your hair. It's so '80s," she raved. Exactly what I'm shooting for - Pet Shop Boys-era hair.

Shinola Brown turned out to be a scaled down version of the Hi Steps, a favorite local R & B cover band I've seen numerous times. With just five members, they took on songs as diverse as "You Really Got a Hold On Me" and "Something," all well-executed due to the guitarist and drummer both having great voices.

My friend pointed out that he'd made the draperies framing the alcove where the band was playing. His friend pointed out that she was the one who'd taught him to sew. I volunteered that I sew and we marveled at being three people who sew in a 21st century world where so few do.

There wound up being other friends at the bar. The bartender I know from storytelling and the trumpet player and his wife I'd just seen at the VCU game and Mardi Gras show. For someone who'd expected to listen to soul music alone, it had turned into a surprisingly social evening.

Late in, one of the bartender shrugged on a blazer and paused in front of us. "Where do you think you're going?" my friend's friend asked between seat dancing to Otis Redding.

"Home to f*ck my wife and go to sleep," he replied matter-of-factly.

"In that velveteen jacket?" she asked, invoking her fabric knowledge. The hysterical part of that is I'd just been thinking how much his blazer reminded me of one I'd sewn for my boyfriend back in college, which had been burgundy velveteen.

"Velveteen?" he yelled, laughing loudly, clapping his hands in delight and clearly having no idea that velveteen blazers were a thing.

Sure were. Just like record collections made up of bands you took a chance on. Endlessly picking up the needle and dropping it back on the same song.

And we were never holding back or worried that 
time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
You could always rely on a friend
Cause we were never being boring
We were never being bored

And I'm not saying he stole it, but when my relationship ended with that velveteen blazer-wearing boyfriend, my copy of Badfinger's "No Dice" disappeared right along with him.

Talk about unexpected, you could do that? That blew me away.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Devil in Me

The green fairy was calling my name but I didn't want to seem easy.

As it was, I'd already been easy enough, dancing with a stranger on Broad Street today. Navigating the snowy sidewalk near Ghostprint Gallery and Lift Coffee Shop, I spied a man approaching me.

Just as we got in front of Lift, we both caught the soundtrack from inside: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas belting out (Love is Like a) Heat Wave.

But that doesn't mean it has me amazed
I don't know what to do, my head's in a haze

Fluidly, he began to dance right in front of me, daring me to dance with him on the sidewalk.To "Heat Wave"? You know I did.

So even though the green fairy had been on my mind since yesterday's talk with a curator about French painting, I elected to delay gratification. Temporarily anyway.

Arriving at the VMFA, I spotted a guy making the first ball for a snowman with his bare hands on the wide front lawn. Nearby, another snowman stood fully formed, a testament to someone with gloves and more sense. When I mentioned it to the guard inside, she just shook her head and observed, "Young and stupid."

Inside, I found a nearly empty museum, a desolate landscape. Surely the snow hadn't scared off the museum's usual Thursday night masses? Oh, but it had.

Upstairs in the print gallery to see "Felix Bracquemond: Impressionist Innovator," I joked with the security guard about the absence of humans.

"Maybe they're waiting to take their cue from each other," he guessed. "Maybe they're coming later." Maybe.

All I knew was I couldn't complain having the galleries to myself to linger over Bracquemond's exquisite engravings.

For an artist whose name was unknown to me, Bracquemond turned out to be a major player in the Impressionist scene. He'd been invited by Degas to exhibit in the Impressionist salon of 1874.

I found myself totally captivated by his "Gallery of Handsome Men," a series of engravings depicting well-known poets, singers and photographers (all with beards, all very hipster-like) of the era.

Highly surprising was his foray into the decorative arts with the Rousseau dinner service, a collection of dishes (plates, bowls, tureens) he'd designed. They'd been so popular, they'd been continuously reissued until the middle of the 20th century.

But perhaps the most unlikely link to the Impressionists came with his wife, Marie, a painter (and pupil of classicist Ingres) in the style of Morrisot and Cassatt, who also submitted work to the Impressionists' exhibitions.

A woman I'd never even heard of. Art history education fail.

There was a series of etchings after major painters - Delacroix, Rousseau, Courbet - and an obvious reverence for Rembrandt with a series of prints done in various states with changes in lighting and detail.

An altogether fabulous show of Impressionist prints not to be missed.

Coming back down the staircase, I was met with a smiling man who didn't begin dancing, but instead asked me, "How was your event?"

I returned his smile and said I hadn't been at an event, I'd been to see the Bracquemond show.

"I work here and I was upstairs having a drink to celebrate the Bracquemond show," he said. Worth raising a glass to, I know.

When he asked where I was off to next, I said Hotel X, the band playing in Best Cafe. Conveniently, he was headed there, too, so we walked on together.

Once there, I borrowed a chair from a table whose occupants weren't using it and settled back for Hotel X's unique blend of Afro-beat, jazz, rock, pop and world music.

Glancing outside, I saw that the Chiluhly "Red Reeds" had been brought in for the winter, a  good thing considering that the reflecting pool was completely under snow. Meanwhile, the sculpture garden was surprisingly busy with couples walking through the snowy landscape.

Having experienced them before, I knew I enjoyed  Hotel X for their musicianship (always lots of musicians in the audience), the genre-crossing sound (is that rock?...they're pretty jazzy, aren't they?...what's that groove?), the way they inspire women in shawls to do that crazy butterfly-catching dancing and men to do that sideline air-guitar playing thing that they do.

By then, the place was filling up enough that my presence was no longer necessary, so I got myself upstairs to Amuse where a lone couple was holding down the bar. I took the opposite end.

Wasting no time, I informed the sunny bartender that in my opinion, they needed to bring back the absinthe drip for the upcoming French "Art of the Flower" exhibit. As it happens, she was already working on a cocktail list featuring absinthe.

More importantly, she got busy making me an absinthe drip while I considered the menu. With a bit of prodding from her, I opted for the mussels and Sausagecraft sausage in white wine, garlic and lemon broth, a reliable bowl of savory warmth, a worthy pairing with the distinctive buzz of absinthe.

Delivering it, she commented on my very French (or, as she put it, "mucho Francais") food and drink combo, something that had already occurred to me. It was an evening for all things French.

Speaking of, I was interested to hear about the "green hour" Amuse is planning to coincide with the new exhibit, a charming way to introduce the green fairy to the uninitiated before they tour the show.

Before long, a familiar face appeared to join me with a glass of wine in hand with which to toast my second absinthe and initiate a discussion of luck, feminism and California living. On everyone's mind is whether or not they can rent out their places during the bike races this September, something I know many friends are doing.

The bartender said she'd considered renting her house and going to the beach for that week, but thought it might be more prudent to stay in town and wait on all the tourists here for the race. Not to mention all those cute, fit biker guys.

I can assure you I'll be staying in town for not only the view but the attendant fun and that includes the absinthe drip.

Rumor has it that it's not just for the easy anymore.

Out on This Town

He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. ~ Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina"

Because that's what girlfriends do, they discuss the language (or absence) of romance when they meet for dinner. She got to the Roosevelt first and I joined her at the bar, bemoaning the fact that it had been far too long since we last met up.

She took one look at my skirt and said, "You are wearing two pairs of tights, right?" Fleece leggings under tights, yes, ma'am. A good friend checks to be sure.

Scanning the wine list, we sought something that neither of us had ever had before, deciding on the 2011 Stinson Vineyards Tannat. Although I'd visited the winery in January two years ago, the Tannat had not yet been available, although what had stuck with me was that winemaker extraordinaire Gabriele Rausse had planted the first vines there 40 years earlier.

It was a big wine, with a nose of blueberry and a peppery finish, a fine choice to sip as we got caught up amid the clamor and bustle of a busy dining room on a cold night.

While it had been a while since I've eaten at the Roosevelt, it didn't take many bites of my arugula salad to remind me what I'd been missing. Topped with fennel, beets, country ham, bleu cheese and buttermilk dressing, the abundant salad kept me busy while my friend shared gossip, cold weather woes and fashion secrets.

She had on a fabulous fashion statement of a necklace, something I wouldn't even attempt, and I envied her ability to pull it off so well.

While she went with the bone-in Berkshire pork chop (sharing a few heavenly bites with me), I chose local lamb neck ragout over fregola with pickled onion and mint. On a chilly night, the earthy lamb over nutty pasta made for a hearty, comforting dish, just what the Roosevelt does best.

When I inquired of the bartender where he'd eaten well lately, his response was, "I had a religious experience at Metzger last week." While I'd fallen hard for the liverwurst, his downfall had been the lamb three ways (because who can resist lamb belly?) which was still haunting his dreams.

At the end of the bar, a couple seemed to be struggling with conversation. Only after they left did we learn that they'd been on a Tinder date, one hindered by him arriving totally drunk and then having four rounds. This had so unhinged the girl that she'd gotten testy, accusing a server who was staring into space of ogling her.

Whoever thought that swiping right was a good way to begin a relationship should have seen the look on the faces of these two as they struggled through a pseudo-date. Such a waste of time.

Not so our get-together, where we chatted about our devotion to John Currence, our indifference to Elvis and our latest cooking accomplishments (my ragout, her paprikash). There aren't many women I discuss cooking with, but she's one.

Three hours in, she began to fade, no doubt attributable to an early morning wake-up call, causing her to push the last of the bottle of Tannat in my direction before heading home.

So what am I going to do with the end of a bottle and no friend? Oh, please. It took about five minutes for a guy to come in and sit down at the bar near me before I had fresh conversation.

After asking about spirits, he said, "Nobody has Chivas in this town," but was seduced anyway into trying Virginia Highland malt whiskey by the savvy bartender. But I had all the information I needed to start talking.

His reference to "this town" meant he wasn't from around here, so where did he live, I wanted to know. Shanghai, it turns out, but he's here on vacation (and escaping Chinese New Year) visiting his parents. Within moments, his father showed up after parking the car.

Dad wasted no time in extending his hand and introducing himself, unlike his son, and he turned out to be a delightful fellow.They'd just come from Dutch & Co, so we discussed food for a bit - Edo's, Lehja, Nora Lebanese - during which he let slip that he was in the music business.

Opening #2. How so? Turns out his career had consisted of making the percussion devices that strike things such as drums and xylophones. He grabbed a long cocktail mixer to demonstrate the kind of sticks and mallets he makes.

Coincidentally, at the table behind us was big band leader Samson Trinh from whom my new friend had taken ukulele lessons. It's a small world in Richmond.

Along about then, the bartender looks at the visitors, raises an eyebrow and asks, "Is she bothering you gentlemen?"

"Yes, she's bothering me and no, don't make her stop," he responded, extending our conversation to my work, my neighborhood and my history. His son sat there, apparently bored by us, saying little, although he admitted to liking the Virginia Highland.

By the time I finished my wine, they'd finished their whiskeys and another satisfying night begun with a friend had ended in the hands of a stranger. As I left, the kitchen guys smoking on the porch outside gave me one last laugh before heading into the Church Hill night.

Language wins every time. Romantic language, even better.

She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.~
J.D. Salinger "A Girl I Knew"

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You Read That Right

You miss something the first time around, you go back and catch it later.

Meaning I finally got to see Scorsese's "Mean Streets" not just at the theater, but on 35 mm thanks to VCU Cinematheque.

I arrived in time to get a great seat and spent the time waiting reading an article in the Washington Post (physical copy) entitled, "Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right," while all around me, I saw not a single millennial reading on anything other than a device.

But apparently it's been researched and the resulting evidence compiled in a book proving what anyone over the age of 40 already knew: people who read online skim, are easily distracted (ooh, a Facebook message!) and don't comprehend what they read as well as they do when reading print.

Tell me something I didn't already know.

The theater was especially crowded tonight and I had to think that was because Scorsese's first major film was on the bill. That said, I saw at least 8 or 10 people walk out mid-film.

Naturally, I knew next to nothing about the story, although even I was savvy enough to recognize dozens of things directors have stolen from this movie and used repeatedly over the years. It was even clearer how many of Scorsese's bag of tricks had their seeds in this film about the neighborhood where he grew up.

And of course there were all those fabulous 1973 details: mailboxes that were still red and blue, bars that didn't serve tequila, cops smoking on the street, chefs smoking in the kitchen.

Italian restaurants with pictures of JFK, RFK and the Pope on the walls. Every man wore a watch and carried a handkerchief (handy when they wanted to sit down on a tombstone in a graveyard). Slurs were thrown at blacks, Jews and women with the casual nature of a different time.

As for the cinematography, elements of red ran throughout the entire film, punctuating the bars, restaurants and streets of the city, an echo perhaps of all the blood.

After having seen "Taxi Driver" for the first time a few years ago, I knew to expect an even younger DeNiro and he was, all angles and youthful coiled energy, but I was totally unprepared for how freaking young Harvey Keitel looked. He would have been 34 at the time and his face and abs were as chiseled as a model's. I don't remember that Harvey at all.

Another big surprise was all that '50s and '60s girl group music that underpinned such a gritty story. I suppose I'd been expecting '70s music which wouldn't have offered nearly the contrast that oldies did.

Now that I've seen it, I'd guess that the reason I didn't see it back when it came out was because of a perception that it was violent (which it was) and dominated by men's stories (ditto), but I can finally overlook all that to place it in the context of the time.

Once again, the film professor who usually steers these screenings was absent, meaning no thoughtful discussion afterwards, something I would have enjoyed except I didn't have time for it tonight. I didn't want to have to choose between film dissection and music legend and fortunately, I didn't have to.

I made it to Black Iris a few minutes before the Ar-Kaics got started. When I first saw them nearly two years ago at Steady Sounds, they'd been a young trio who made a lot of noise with three chords. Since, they've become a quartet who make a lot of noise with three chords and short song titles (either about the pleasure of love or the pain), but are noticeably tighter these days.

They sometimes lacked in between-song banter, as in, "This is a little song about getting my way. It's called "Getting My Way."  Or, the more humorous, "This song is called "I Don't Need Your Love" and it was on our first 45 so many years ago. It still holds up well."

"So" is a relative term here.

After their scream-filled rambunctious set, I ran into a friend who was more than happy to dive into discussion of "Mean Streets," a film he'd seen in a film class and been strongly impressed by.

Since I could have run into any number of friends who barely recalled it or hadn't formed such well-considered opinions about its place in the Scorsese canon, I felt fortunate that he was the one there.

And of course he was there. Like me, he knew enough to want to see Chain and the Gang, the latest project of D.C.'s Ian Svenonius, he of Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up.

A while back, I'd seen Ian do a wide-ranging talk at Candela Gallery about his latest book about breaking into the music world, followed by a seance. He'd bemoaned the absence of candles.

Naturally I was curious to hear such a man's music, described by some as "crime rock." Hilarious.

Appropriately, he  was dressed in a shiny suit and skinny tie with female guitarist (who'd come down on Amtrak today) and bassist and a talented drummer anchoring it all. Like any good rock star, he shook his dark curly hair a lot, jumped off the low stage into the crowd to sing and dropped to his knees as appropriate.

And, you gotta love it, they began with the band's theme song.

He instructed us to keep tonight a secret, "Don't text anyone, don't call anyone about what's happening here. It's our little secret."

That said, he sang a sarcastic rant about our freedoms- press, speech - and another crowd-pleaser called "Mum's the Word" that had people singing and dancing along.

Lyrics aside, the basic garage music itself wasn't difficult, with steady drumming and solid bass lines meant to keep everyone grooving in place against each other. Like a whirling dervish, he never stopped moving either, punctuating some songs with howls that had him bent over backward and screeching them to the ceiling.

Favorite song lyric: "The logic of night," a subject about which I might know something.

The banged bassist joined him on certain songs, adding her distinctive voice to lyrics meant to be mindful but also move your behind. There's no complacency when Ian Svenonius is at the helm.

By the end of their set, he looked mighty sweaty under all that hair and encased in a totally synthetic suit, but the band obligingly came back for a one-song encore to finish off the night.

Since I didn't catch any live '50s and '60s garage rock (although some guitar riffs sounded positively Monkees-like), tonight's show had given me a glimpse of what I'd missed.

Unlike the film, no discussion was called for afterwards. Removing our hot bodies to the cold sidewalk was more than enough to wind down.

Friend and I hugged in the middle of Broad Street and when we lived through that, went our separate ways.

That's the logic of the night.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Away We Go

Sometimes it's good to put Richmond in the rear view mirror for a couple of days.

The trip began in the center of the universe at the new Jake's Place in Ashland. Located in what was built in the 1920s as an auto garage and a decade ago was a gas station, the little restaurant was plenty busy and already out of pulled pork when we got there, the owner recommending brisket instead. They're already planning to buy a bigger smoker to keep up.

Listening to the Sly and the Family Stone Pandora station driving up toward Culpeper, Lake Anna and its tributaries were frozen in every direction. Boat slips where I've seen colorful kayaks in past years were noticeably empty next to the iced-over water. It was a landscape of silver and white.

At Old House Vineyards, the tasting room was in an 1890 house, making it not even as old as the house I live in (1876), but with places to sit and enjoy wine in many of the Victorian-looking rooms.

Our pourer, an affable former mid-westerner, told us he used to commute to D.C. two and a half hours each way to live there. It would take more wine than they could make to get me to agree to that horrific commute.

A drive to the Marriott Ranch followed, where we met some guests from Maryland and enjoyed welcoming wine and cheese (although not Virginia wine to my surprise, given the ranch's location in wine country) - after changing the music from Mahler to vintage R & B - in the piano room of the manor house before setting out for dinner.

A helpful valet at the Inn at Little Washington in the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Washington helped us locate Tula's off Main, a quaint restaurant nearby with a window table waiting for us.

I don't know how the meal could have kicked off more beautifully than with Scharffenberger Brut Rose and butter-poached lobster and avocado in Dijon dill cream sauce.  My second course was Tasso ham and Brie crepes with creole mustard aioli and more of those lovely pink bubbles, with chocolate coconut cake for dessert.

Some of my favorite tastes in the world were contained in that one meal.

We somehow managed to be the last diners of the evening and walking out, saw that the staff had gathered to watch the Oscars at the bar.

I was a little curious myself this year since for a change I'd seen almost all of the nominees and even the animated shorts, so once back at the ranch, we opened a bottle of Old House Vidal Blanc and joined another couple in the big living room to watch.

It's probably the first time in decades I've seen the awards, but never let it be said I'm predictable.

After a night sleeping with a fire in the bedroom's fireplace (possibly a first for me since I can't recall doing it before), we began the day with a three-course breakfast in the sunny yellow dining room downstairs. Highlights: blueberry scones, asparagus and goat cheese omelets and perfectly cooked grits. A view of snow-covered horse trails didn't hurt, either.

Fully fortified, it was on to Fox Meadow Winery located at the top of a mountain in Linden and boasting a view of (count 'em) seven mountain lines.

There was still some haze, so I only counted five, but the owner assured me on a clear day I'd  see more.

He turned out to be a hoot. A fortunate man who'd gotten into the right industry at the right moment (the '70s on, working for a company that built the machines that make microchips), he seemed to be enjoying the winery life.

Discussing the recent legal mess with our last governor, he said that there used to be a photo of the governor hanging in the tasting room and, "Then one day it was gone." Funny how disgrace will do that.

The takeaway bottle was the 2010 Le Renard Rouge, a Meritage-style blend described as "rich, elegant, savvy and suave" (or is that just the ideal man?) and a fine example of a Virginia wine that could impress skeptics.

And because this was a weekend devoted to the grape, then it was onto a big wine tasting in Winchester. There I ran into friends and restaurant types from Acacia, Secco and Metzger and sipped through sparklers, Chablis, Sancerre and Roses and that's just what I recall.

The food  is reliably good at this shindig and I didn't hesitate to partake of oysters from New Brunswick, Alaska, Washington, Maine and Massachusetts before moving on to larger prey. Wild boar taco bites were among the tastiest thing I've put in my mouth in recent memory.

All that sipping required a nap at the historic George Washington Hotel in Winchester, where we arrived behind a busload of men from Pennsylvania who'd come down to tour a factory. But of course, plenty of the wine extravaganza people were also staying at the hotel, making for an interesting mix of wine geeks and plant workers.

Walking through the downtown mall looking for a restaurant for dinner, we decided on the Village Square, attracted to its dim interior on a night hovering at 12 degrees (they'd also gotten snow two days before).

Once inside, it was a different story with a large party (complete with a squawking baby) celebrating a birthday off the main dining room and a woman named Bambi with a voice that could cut glass holding forth non-stop from the lounge area nearby. The kind of person who, unasked, talks loudly to strangers about herself and her love of apple crisp.

It got better, though, as people kept arriving, many of whom I recognized from the wine tasting. It's funny how strangers can seem so familiar simply because you've spent the afternoon tasting ridiculous amounts of wine next to each other.

Add in bone-warming spicy chicken and wild rice soup and killer pot roast with exactly the right fat-to-meat ratio (and once Bambi left) and it turned out to be a satisfying and pleasurable meal.

Once back at the hotel, we joined the buzzing crowd at the bar and here were even more familiar faces from earlier. No doubt we'd not been the only ones who'd done a disco nap after the event and were now ready to have a nightcap or two.

But wine-weary at this point, many were drinking beer and cocktails and since I do neither, I inquired what tequilas they had.

"Patron, Cuervo and Suaza 901," she informed me, as I sat in a cushy armchair with a view of the theater of the bar crowd laid out in front of me. Raising an eyebrow, she said, "The 901 is Justin Timberlake's favorite."

How could I possibly consider not drinking JT's fave, even if my server had pointed out that just the smell of tequila made her want to throw up?

For the record, I've never had a problem with Sauza, although there are often better priced tequilas like Cazadores or Espolon, but what the hell? How often am I going to be in Winchester, home to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom festival, being offered Justin Timberlake's favorite tequila?

Maybe this was my chance to bring sexy back to Winchester.

Smoother than it had any right to be (but also triple distilled), I had more than one as we watched the goings-on at the bar. A woman who looked like Donatella Versace put the moves on a local man, who escorted her out of the bar and returned later alone.

The wine guys on the facing couches debated whether they'd be getting up today at 8 or 11, but kept on drinking as if 11:00 had been decided upon. It hadn't and that could hurt come morning.

An older gentleman came in with a date and then proceeded to regale the bar with stories about his former girlfriend from Guam and the annual Guam picnic they attended in D.C. every year. His present company looked uninterested in all this.

Since the wine contingent was staying at the hotel, people were doing some industrial strength drinking and more than a few people looked unsteady when they finally left for upstairs. Because I was sitting at the front of the room nearest the doors, many tipsy guests waved or said something to me on the way out.

When one guy mumbled something, I told him to have a good night. "I already did," he slurred.

Me, too. Credit goes to Justin Timberlake and being out of Richmond.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

We're Halfway There

Flashback to the '60s, flashback to the '80s.

With the water in my apartment finally restored by 5:00 today and rain falling steadily outside (hopefully to melt the snow), I set out to meet a friend for dinner - a terrific crabcake special, Bistro salad and grilled shrimp - at Bistro 27, apparently the place to be tonight with a full house by 7:00 despite the rain.

We didn't linger too long over our chocolate torte because people were still arriving, opting instead to head across the street to find our seats at the November Theater for Cadence Theater Company's new production of  "Caroline, or Change."

I've seen plenty of Cadence's well-executed productions, but this was the first musical I'd seen them do and on that tiny TheaterGym stage, too. The set was brilliant with two levels, one for the band (which included clarinet and cello) and steps leading down from there to the main stage.

Set in 1963 and referencing JFK's death and civil rights activism, the play told the story of Caroline, a black maid for a Jewish family in Louisiana in 1963. The cast was full of black actresses with stellar voices, a lovely thing given that almost none of the dialog was spoken, just sung.

Appliances such as the washing machine were also played by actresses (although the dryer was a man), including the radio which was played by a trio who dressed like the Supremes and sang Caroline's thoughts. Even better, they had the synchronized choreography to go with those dresses.

In many ways, it was a play about nothing more than a black woman's struggle to get by at a time when very little value was placed on their happiness. But in terms of singing, it was a rousing sampler of the some of the very best female voices in town.

Rather than stay for the reception afterwards, I invited my theater-loving companion to join me for the first-ever Late Night Lip Sync Battle at The Basement, TheaterLab's subterranean space in Jackson Ward a few blocks away.

Another friend had already agreed to meet me there after checking in earlier.

Short notice, but are you free tonight?
Unfortunately, no, but I'm going to watch a lip-syncing battle at 10:30 if you'd like to meet me.
Wow, that sounds fun. I'm in!

Walking into the Basement, we heard a woman call out, "Jello shots, two for a dollar," from behind a table covered in brightly colored plastic containers. All of a sudden, it was the '80s again.

When my companion asked if I wanted a glass of wine, I declined and instead decided to revisit my youth. One red, one blue Jello shot, please.

I couldn't have been more surprised when he followed my lead and got Jello shots, too, albeit both red. When he wasn't sure how to shoot them, I demonstrated ringing the glass with my finger and pouring the contents down my throat. Clearly someone had not been paying attention in the '80s (that or being far more responsible than I had).

Josh Small was playing when we arrived, warming up the crowd with his earnest songs, and my short notice friend spotted me and called my name. He'd brought his new squeeze whom I'd heard so much about and we joined them in the second row.

After my second set of Jello shooters, my friend marveled, "I can't believe you had four Jello shots." That didn't stop him (or me) from having one when they began passing them out for free just before the show started, I might add.

Honestly, they were the ideal accompaniment to the tremendously fun and raucous evening that followed.

Two teams, the TheaterLab team (also known as the Labradors) and the Street team, faced off lip syncing and it was up to the audience to vote the winners. One million points per round.

The first song was Louie Vega's "Mambo #5" followed by the Ting Ting's "That's Not My Name," two songs that allowed the Labs to show some attitude and work the microphone.

So, of course, Matt of the Street team began his team's challenge by saying, "The first thing you need to know is that we'll be foregoing the microphone because we can project." Drama kid pride.

It was so much fun watching the teams face off with songs such as En Vogue's "Never Gonna Get It," complete with dance moves. When the emcee asked, "How you gonna follow that?" the Street Team said, "Easily."

Watching Paul emote to Whitney's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" may have been one of the all-time most fabulous things I've ever witnessed. Just a guess, but I think he's sung a whole lot of Whitney in front of the mirror before.

There was always a challenge to decide which team led off a round. One time it was a beer chugging contest (Maggie beat Paul) and another time a quiz. "Who in the 3rd century invented lip syncing?" Mat won with, "Jesus!"

By that point it was obvious to me at least that by the end of the night, the two teams would be fine and everyone in the audience would be hoarse from screaming...and singing along when we couldn't help it (see: "Livin' On a Prayer").

Midway through, my friend leaned over his date and said, "I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard." Clearly I need to take him out more.

My favorite round was the Improv challenge where eight 30-second clips were played. One person on the team at bat had to decide in the moment who would step forward after the song began and lip sync it. This was the round where we saw the most panic on the faces of the team members.

Yet they all came through, each member nailing one song: "I Will Always Love You " with body fondling and song lyrics sung directly to audience members, the aforementioned Bon Jovi which got so loud with the singalong that the walls seemed to shake, "Bootylicious" with killer dance posturing.

For the final round, each team had prepared a full-ensemble set piece. Street team did "Uptown Funk" with Alexander on the lead going full over the top in his white coat, suspenders and pelvic thrusting. The Labradors did the Moulin Rouge version of "Lady Marmalade," all of them wearing white buttons on their shirts to indicate nipples. They were declared the winners.

Jello shots history, mad screaming and applause ensued as the room became a dance party with everyone joining the lip syncing teams on the floor.

Cause uptown funk gonna give it to you
Saturday night and we in the spot
Don't believe me? Just watch

I guarantee you'll laugh a lot.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rolling Round till Long after Dark.

On the cabin calendar, it was called a festival.

Three women, including the cabin dweller, had made plans to get together after running into each other at Lamplighter a while back and jabbering for 20 minutes spontaneously. It was decided then that we needed a longer conversation and one accompanied by wine.

The cabin dweller immediately put it on her family calendar, noting it with our names and the word "fest," which her husband took to mean an actual festival. Husbands are so cute.

I arrived first at Metzger and took a seat at the bar, where the bartender looked at me quizzically and asked my name. Because he used to bartend at Gallery 5, he'd recognized me at once. And while it was way brighter there than at G5, his face was familiar to me, too.

Waiting for my friends to arrive, I listened to the vintage soul of Mr. Finewine playing and chatted with him like an old friend.

Once the women walked in, we took a table in the corner, turning a crowded 4-top into a generous 3-top. The musician had just come from an acupuncture appointment and said she had no guilt about reversing the good done there with lots of high-fat food and wine. The artist was stoked about leaving for her hometown of Philly in the morning to give a talk at her alma mater and see her sister.

While it took us ages to decide on libations (Zweigelt and a savory caraway-inflected cocktail called the North Waves finally ), choosing food was a snap.

First, briny Blue Point oysters and a story about how the musician's mother didn't start eating them until she was 50. Now she owns her own oyster glove and shucking knife. With age comes wisdom.

Since three options were offered on the meat and cheese plate, I suggested we each make a choice. Mine was the housemade liverwurst with the artist picking stinky Reblechon because we were promised notes of barnyard (which came across more like someone opened the barn door and you got a whiff of it on the finish than actually licking the barnyard floor) and the musician went with the earthy sheep's milk Ossau Iraty.

We could not have made better selections both in terms of taste and how stinky they made our breath, meaningless for me but they both had husbands to go home to.

That liverwurst was truly a thing of beauty, something everyone who thinks they don't like liverwurst should try (and preferably before age 50) before they write it off entirely.

Since the artist is fairly newly married, I wanted to hear her met-cute story, which involved frequent visits to 8 1/2 where he worked. Seems he didn't get up his nerve to ask her out until a show where the band he, the musician and her husband were playing.

She said he asked her to join the band for a meal after the show. "He stood over me and a molecule dropped in my nose," was how she explained their fateful meeting. She couldn't do dinner that night, but a couple of well-placed e-mails and they became an item.

What struck me about her phrasing was how she'd said he stood over her, easy to imagine because he's about a foot taller. I told them about the years I dated a guy who was 6'5" and twice women came up to me and told me I was wasting a tall guy.

We tried to think of a crushing reply to such rudeness and by the end of the meal, they'd come up with, "It's a small tall woman who needs a tall man." Is it any wonder I think they're brilliant?

In deference to the artist's Jewish roots (and our love for it), we had to have the chicken liver mousse with fennel jam (that jam a masterpiece on its own) and on the side, roasted brussels sprouts with chili flakes. Both were killer and twice a server tried to remove the dishes when a bite remained on each and we united to send her on her way.

It's interesting, I've known these two friends for five or six years, but our contact is always limited to events. Once the artist and I got a drink before a show at her studio, but even that was no more than 20 minutes. Tonight was our longest conversation ever.

And so wide-ranging! Current events, work/life balance, women's choices and, of course, past loves.

The artist told us a wryly funny story about meeting a German lumberjack/carpenter at an artists' retreat. Since she was on her way to Berlin and he was headed home afterwards, he invited her to his house in, naturally, a national park.

With all the romantic expectations of relative youth, she went. They made a lovely meal and talked and then her showed her the minimalist bed where she would sleep. Alone.

"It had a wooden pillow," she lamented. Needless to say, not a thing happened and not because she hadn't been open to it.

You can take the man out of the woods and all that.

Dessert was rum cake with chestnut semifreddo, almond crunch and caramel sauce, a choice made by my friends while I was in the loo, and while I'd have gravitated to the chocolate, that semifreddo was everything a dessert should be in terms of flavor profiles and textural contrasts.

Just as we were finishing up, the smiling scooter queen was at my side saying hello. She'd spotted me across the crowded dining room and waited until we finished eating to stop by. Her man was working the post-hardcore show at the National and she was out with a girlfriend, helping her flirt.

I should think I'd be excellent at helping a friend with that.

Both she and the musician had wanted to know where I was headed next, because they presumed I'd have later plans. As it happened, I did.

The week before Christmas, a stranger had contacted me about some purloined flower bulbs that had shown up on his stoop. Rather than just taking them, he'd tracked me down and returned them to me so I could plant them in my garden.

That was when I'd learned he was a drummer and about some of the bands he played in. Tonight one of those bands, NrG Krysys was playing at Lulu's.

I lucked into a great parking space and made my way along treacherously icy sidewalks to Lulu's, where the guy taking my money at the door warned me that two of the band members were out sick.

When my bulb savior spotted me on the far bar stool and came over to chat, he told me the same, promising it would be entertaining at the very least.

It was that and so much more. The band clearly has a dedicated following who kept pouring in from the frigid cold to grab a drink, dance and watch the band.

Since it was my first time, I've got no idea who was missing because they had two guitarists, a bassist, drummer and keyboard player tonight. I think everybody but the drummer sang, always a plus.

"Hi, we're NrG Krysys Crisis. Two of our members are sick, but it's going to be all right," one of the guitarists said. I liked his can-do attitude.

By the second song, people were up and dancing uninhibitedly. Every time my server walked through the room, she did a little dance along the way to participate.

I had to applaud the band's song choices when I heard killer songs like Sly and the Family Stones' "Family Affair" or the barely-familiar after so long Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging."

During James Brown's "Hot Pants," the guitarist said in his most seductive voice, "Ladies, we like hot pants for one reason: what you see is what you get." Very nice, a double reference there.

War's classic "All Day" brought out the harmonies and the harmonica, not to mention a longing for the beach, picnics and rolling in the grass mentioned in the song. I bet it's been decades since I last heard that one.

After much instrument switching, they played T Rex's "Bang a Gong," which resulted in a packed dance floor. The song was so raucous that a wine glass danced off the back bar and threw itself to the floor. Luckily, neither bartender was back there at the time. Still, it was very rock and roll.

Oddly enough, it was a '70s song about cheating (Ace's "How Long") that finally got couples slow-dancing and groping. Go figure.

After that, the band began calling for Lulu's owner Paul to join them ("Don't pretend you can't hear me calling your name") and he did, his black turtleneck in sharp contrast to the band's wildly flowered shirts. Taking on the bass, he played "Working in a Coal Mine" with another guest vocalist who'd been standing at the end of the bar.

It wasn't even a one-time shot because Paul stayed up there and sang the Drifters' "Sweets for My Sweet" to close out the set.

There's a distinct pleasure in watching a restaurant owner showing off another skill set. He looked pretty natural at it from where I sat. As did the drummer, obviously as in his element behind the kit as I'd seen him in his garden.

Sort of like me at an estrogen festival or watching a band. What you see is what you get.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Glass Half Full Always

Well, this is turning out to be way more of a day than I anticipated.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when I woke up to find that I had no water. After all, it was ridiculously cold last night and I hadn't left a faucet dripping. In my defense, my landlord had long ago told me that in all his years of owning this south-facing building, pipes had never frozen.

So I got on the horn and told him my dilemma and he was as surprised as I was. The good news was that I still had water coming out in my washing machine in the basement. That seemed like a good sign to him.

He was over in a flash, setting up a powerful heater in the hallway that leads upstairs to my apartment (where you could see your breath) because all the pipes are just behind the hallway wall. Still, he was scratching his head over why this had happened.

It was only when he checked with the guys downstairs, a trio of VCU students, that he found his answer. Thinking they could save money, they'd set their thermostat to 52. The idiocy of such a maneuver in below zero weather boggles the mind, or at least mine and my landlord's. Of course the pipes had frozen.

Don't get me wrong, I try as hard as anyone to save money on heating and keep mine set on 64, which means I wear four layers in the house in this weather. But 52, guys? Don't ever tell anyone that your Mamas didn't raise no fools because they did.

So with their and my heat cranked to tropical temperatures and the heater in the hall doing a slow thaw of the plumbing wall, I set out on my walk. I could almost stand the 17-degree temps (although with the wind, it feels like 8 degrees) if it weren't for still having to walk on ice patches and piles of snow on the sidewalks.

Because of that, I was amazed when I got near The National and saw people sitting on the sidewalk bundled up in blankets. They were young, pierced and had the look of the devoted. I had to know what band was worth sidewalk-sitting in this kind of cold.

The answer: Pierce the Veil, a post-hardcore band that's playing tonight. One green-haired guy shrugged and told me, "I don't even know the band. I'm just here 'cause of my friends," and gestured at two girls next to him, one with a nose ring eating a sandwich and the other with purple hair. "Besides, I'm from Ohio."

And in Ohio you sit on ice-encrusted sidewalks on 8-degree days? Wow, you are hardcore.

The other big cultural doin's on Broad Street was at the federal courthouse where TV trucks took up every available space. No surprise because the former First Lady was being sentenced today for her part in selling the prestige of the governor's office.

Approaching the corner, I saw a man being interviewed about it and I learned she'd gotten a year. As I waited for the light, I eavesdropped on his answers, which amounted to his belief that the jury (not him) had heard all the evidence and must have made the right choice.

As he was spelling his name for the camera, the light changed and I started across. All of a sudden, I felt a hand on my elbow and the newsman was calling me back, insisting I give my opinion for the camera.

Never one to be shy about what I think, I said I thought she deserved jail time. She'd broken the law repeatedly and for that, we punish people.

He told me that at the sentencing, her daughter had asked for leniency because she had been humiliated enough already. "Do you think she's been shamed enough?" he asked me.

"Would you be asking me that if she were black or not the governor's wife?" I asked him, a black man. He paused and tilted his head. Part of what's wrong with our society these days is not holding people accountable for what they do. Yes, I said that on camera.

I mentioned a conversation I'd had with a stranger earlier on my walk when I'd first spotted the TV trucks. The older man had said that he thought she was "grabby" and that was her downfall. I told the camera that I agreed with him on that. From the trial accounts I followed avidly in the newspapers, it seemed clear that she was a woman who wanted things and accepted gifts with no concern for the legality of it.

Of course they wanted my name at the end of the interview ("Like fig?") and I wanted to know who they were with (NBC). Once the camera was off, the newsman thanked me for agreeing to talk. "You're well-spoken and you raised some important points," he said.

Whether that was true or not, I surely was unrecognizable, buried in a hat, multiple scarves and my warmest coat, blathering about my opinion on jail time for a former Redskins' cheerleader.

Some days, that might have been the highlight of my day. Today, that peak moment will arrive once the pipes thaw and I have water again.

In the meantime, it's toasty warm in my apartment for a change and I'm not headed to jail. Good times.

Table for Eight

If, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, marriage is one long conversation, then I would argue that so is a wine dinner.

Take eight people, place them at a community table at Amour Wine Bistro and proceed to serve four courses of food and wine and see where the conversation goes. I certainly had no idea.

I'd begun by asking the wine expert how it was possible that he was still using his outdoor shower given the sub-zero temperatures. He admitted he'd had to stop when the time it took to unfreeze the pipes became longer the the length of his shower.

Knowing my affinity for outdoor showering, he teased me with pictures of his shower in the snow and one of him the other day mid-shower, snow along the ledge of the stall. I don't know about you, but I can't help admiring a man who showers outside practically year round.

The wine dinner called "Walking Through the Vineyards of Burgundy, Languedoc and Loire" began with 2012 Domaine Jean Aubron Muscadet Sevre & Maine paired with mussels in a dazzling broth of Chorizo, espelete and tomato.

It turned out one at our table didn't like the texture of mussels and was ready to hand them off when she reconsidered, saying she likes to retry things periodically to see if her palate has changed. She got halfway though the bowl before deciding she'd had enough.

Most of us had sopped every last drop of that tasty broth with our pleasantly acidic Muscadet while listening to tales from the couple who'd spent two years living on a boat in the Caribbean.

In Curacao (or was it Grenada?), they told of a guy on a boat who had come ashore and shucked oysters for them as fast as they could eat them until they were full. Another time, he told of being on a tuna fishing boat in the Atlantic and no one catching anything. The captain wanted to know who had brought a banana aboard (a sure omen of bad luck, apparently).

So that you know, other unlikely totems when fishing: whistling and women. Needless to say, the latter caused an entire discussion to ensue on the subject of women and luck.

I happen to think I bring luck.

When we were informed that the next wine, 2013 La Galope Sauvignon Blanc, was from Gascogne, the Romanian-accented women at the other end of the table pipes up, saying, "That's where D'Artagnan was from." It's a worthy crowd when people are referencing Dumas' classic, "The Three Musketeers."

I shouldn't have been surprised. Her husband turned out to be a professor at VCU of theoretical and comparative literature with an appreciation of music. Smart people abounded at this table.

As we sipped the full-bodied wine with salmon, clove-scented sauerkraut and fingerling potatoes, the woman in the adorable leopard-print bolero regaled us with the time she and her husband had bought "Dinner with Ed" at a silent auction benefiting Save Our Shelters.

The Ed in question was Ed Vasaio of Mama Zu who showed up to make dinner at their house. She said he brought an enormous rockfish (which he cleaned in the alley behind their house), two cases of wine, steak and two kinds of pasta.

"He had to fold that rockfish in half to get it in my oven!" she said, laughing. It sounded like a memorable meal, but then, how could it not have been?

When the third wine arrived, 2010 Promesses de France Pinot Noir, our wine guru took us on a tangent about the difference in French and American wine drinkers. Explaining that the French could not care less about the varietal they're drinking or how it's made, he assured us they only consider how it tastes and what it does for food.

"Ask a French winemaker what grape you're drinking and he'll say what do you care?" It was interesting to hear that some smaller producers (say, less than 1,000 cases) have gone back to foot trodding again. Of course I'd like to try it once.

The lovely Pinot Noir smelled like cherries and did a fine job complementing the NY strip, asparagus, mashed potatoes and greens that accompanied it. When I couldn't finish my steak, I slid the last chunk ("I hate that word," the Brit said) onto the wine guru's plate and his face lit up. "Nothing like some steak nuggets to finish off a meal," he said appreciatively.

The group got off on a discussion of music and dancing, a subject that seemed to interest everyone and in no time, were comparing notes on who'd seen what videos and performances.

Willie Nelson had been impressive on guitar but couldn't recall lyrics (too much weed, no doubt). Dylan had surprised and impressed. Annie Lennox and Hoosier had blown minds.

Bolero and her husband had gone to Ft. Meyer to see a stellar Johnny Mathis show and he shared fond teenage memories of making out to Mathis. He also recalled an interview where Jeff Beck was asked why he didn't use a pick. His response was that if he used a pick, he'd have an unemployed finger.

More than a few people at the table had taken dancing lessons to learn to waltz, foxtrot, cha cha cha and tango (described by the guy who took a summer's worth of lessons to learn the sexy dance as "slide, slide, drag"), something which impressed me since I'd like to do the same before I die.

All of us had seen the monthly group of tango enthusiasts dancing at the VMFA and marveled at their finesse dancing with touching shoulders and hips so far apart.

One guy admitted that dancing was how he'd learned to drink in Philly. Apparently going to coming out parties ("That doesn't mean the same thing anymore," someone else pointed out) and debutante balls teaches a young man how to dance quickly. Or at least it did back in the day.

The topic of pillows came up (no idea) and the charmingly accented woman said she'd gone online to find some nice ones, only to find a Swedish company who makes a $100,000 version made of horsehair, cashmere and springs. From this, we assumed she meant mattresses, not pillows. But seriously?

It struck her as funny because she recalled that the mattresses of her youth were made of horsehair so it seemed like a throwback. The history nerd in the group knew that at the end of WWI, there were half a million horses in Philly but by the start of WWII, there were 1,000. I'm guessing that explains all the extra horsehair.

I'm not sure these conversation would have been possible without the walk through the vineyards.

I was tickled pink to see that the dessert course was paired with La Galope Cotes de Gascogne Rose, not at all like a delicate Provencal Rose, but rich with lots of fruit to stand up to dark chocolate-covered profiteroles filled with vanilla cream. Not many Roses could hold their own against a dessert.

A discussion of women and chocolate naturally followed with one woman observing, "Men think we're so difficult. Just tell us we're beautiful and give us chocolate. It's so easy." She made a good point, but how many men actually bother to do that?

One of the guys immediately cracked wise, saying, "Just give us a beer and the remote. We know we're simple." We know it, too.

The Brit regaled us with a favorite travel story from Key West. A street performer - a guitarist - had been in costume as Darth Vader. His sign read, "Don't forget to tip your Vader." Maybe it was all the wine by that point, but she got a lot of laughs with that.

Over Armagnacs and coffees, we batted around the topic du jour - Brian Williams - many saying that he's probably no more an embellisher than most news people. Someone posited that John Stewart would make a fine replacement for Brian, especially given that there's an entire generation who didn't realize he was doing satire.

It was some time after the leopard bolero told us of the difficulty she'd had finding peach brandy for punch one holiday season (the ABC guy said hunters buy it up and stash it in hollow trees for between-kill nips) but before I got the professor to admit that some semesters he assigns his students "Finnegan's Wake" just to be perverse, that we all raised a glass to each other and a fine night of wide-ranging conversation.

Maybe the secret to a happy marriage is excellent food and well-chosen wine, like what we had tonight. Or, more poetically speaking, maybe it's walking through vineyards together.

Hell, just tell us we're beautiful and give us chocolate. It's so easy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Whole Thing is Done

If I was going to give up my prime snow-free parking space to go out, it had to be for something worthwhile.

Nailed that, even if I did have to settle for a difficult, snow-encrusted slip of a parking space a block and a half away when I got back. Not that I'm complaining, not after reading what Bostonians are saying about the south's inability to deal with snow. Stuff such as, "Man up. You gotta deal with it. This is life, right?"

Right. Besides, what's a short walk home through piles of slushy snow and icy puddles, even when you are wearing cute boots?

The problem is not just finding parking once I return home, it's finding parking once I get where I'm going. I had plans to meet a filmmaker for dinner at Garnett's and had to drive around until a space opened up in between a whole lot of badly parked cars and piles of snow.

He was already enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea when I arrived, so I took my cue from him and got a cup of Moroccan Mint for myself. If this isn't tea weather, I don't want to find out what is. Best of all, our server kept our teapots filled with hot water throughout the hours we were there.

I was amazed to hear that he'd never been to Garnett's, despite working less than a mile away. Apparently his perception of what the place was like was completely different than the reality.

Being a first-timer, it was compulsory that he have a sandwich, but all I wanted was a big bowl of comfort, so I went with a bowl of ham and bean soup.

We'd already established that we had music - both new and old - in common, but I'd had no idea that the Psychedelic Furs were going to play the National on my birthday eve until he told me at dinner. I will happily let Richard Butler (whom he's met and talked to) sing and dance for me as I indulge in the lead-up to my annual celebration of me come May.

Like me, he's not a local and we compared notes on our initial impressions of Richmond and how the scene has evolved since we arrived.

I had to laugh when he told me about growing up in Florence, S.C., a place I know only because of my recent drive to Florida. The joke was that it was known as "Flo Town" because all the traffic flowed from Columbia to Myrtle Beach.

Before I knew it, a couple of hours had sped by and it was chocolate chess pie time with the last of the tea to warm us so we could get going. I tried to convince him to join me but he had film stuff to do (I didn't ask).

It was even more challenging to find a parking space in the snow anywhere near Balliceaux than it had been at the restaurant, but I persevered until I did, praying that the traffic goons were cutting people slack given the weather.

Tonight's crowd of poetry lovers for Hand to Hand haiku was small but mighty and enjoying a soundtrack of gems by the Monkees and Leslie Gore (may she R.I.P.) when I walked in. I wasn't in my seat five minutes before organizer Raven asked if I'd be a judge.

Will I pass judgment on which haiku I enjoy more? Happy to.

Then Raven led off with one of his usual hysterical rants, this one explaining why there'd been no Hand to Hand haiku since November and involving talking trees, repeated stabbings and rocks rising up like metaphors, all offered as a rationale for why he prefers hanging out in the woods to talking to people. Boom.

That done, we were on to round after round of haiku challenges, beginning with Amy and Raven facing off.

Bi-polar bear
Anti-social behavior
Walk into a bar

That was Amy's and she won, beating Raven which is no easy feat since the man seems to be able to burp and produce haikus. Not only is he prolific, but his haikus tend to be erudite and pithy.

For the next round, it was the battle of the beards with Paul, a regular and newbie Berkley (wearing a t-shirt that read, "Coffee, death metal & push-ups"). I can't explain 'em, I just share 'em.

As they're about to begin, Raven, standing onstage between them, yells to Balliceaux go-to man Chris, "Hey, can we get the disco ball on?"

Despite it requiring an 8-foot ladder, don't you know Chris fetched one (saying, "It'll be worth it"), climbed up and plugged in the disco ball so we were all soon bathed in the refracted glory of pulsing light? Because is there anything, really, more sublime than haiku bouts under a disco ball?

I can neither confirm
nor can deny
eating king cake for breakfast

Once we got the round started under the disco ball, that Mardi Gras gem came from Paul who won the round.

Finally we got to an all-female match-up between Mo and Selena, all of whose haikus had been inspired by Nicki Minaj lyrics. For instance:

I don't f*ck with those 
chickens unless their last name 
happens to be cutlet

But Mo won with more, um, blue haikus.

On my back, flip you 
over and ride on top till 
the whole thing is done

Perhaps in deference to Mo's brilliance, Raven reminded the dedicated writers of haiku to channel whatever they wanted to when creating their poetry. "If it's just people reading serious stuff, it'll be just like any boring poetry reading." That's one thing we're trying hard to avoid.

Ryan, whose haikus almost always include the word "dude," took on Raven for the last round of regular play and for this bout, all Raven's haikus centered around nostalgic losers.

Nostalgic losers
shall always praise big asses
and small underwear

Ryan had other pleasures on his mind.

If you have magic
brownies, please inquire for my 
home address, dude

As you can see, everyone has their own distinctive voice when it comes to haiku.

When we got to the final four, it was Amy and Paul fighting for the win and she got big laughs for her first offering.

In my mother's house
a vagina was a blossom
penis was nothing

Then Mo and Ryan went head to head, with him winning after another of his hilarious testosterone-fueled haikus.

Order me the same
amount of beer that Slayer
drank in '85

After that, Raven decided to blow through his remaining "nostalgic loser" haikus (rather than take them home unread), he said, "Because I'm onstage." Fair enough.

Nostalgic loser's 
red Camaro behind crib
becomes storage shed

The final round came down to Amy and Ryan for the best out of nine. Amy began.

If I have to hear
that shit song again today
I must be at work

"What song?" Raven asked. "It's all the songs at work," she explained, no doubt referring to the abundance of terrible pop music on mainstream radio (hello Bieber and Katy Perry).

Camptown races sometimes 
but you can forget about that 
all day shit

And Ryan was the big winner with nary a "dude" in sight.

Is it any wonder I took a chance on tea and talk with a filmmaker and competitive poetry praising Slayer, big asses and magic brownies?

Parking spaces gone
Sacrificed to poetry
and disco ball, dude

I think I'm getting the hang of this.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The King's Ears

It is indeed a proud moment for beaglekind (anybody got a tissue?).

This morning, I awoke to an e-mail from a fellow dog-lover alerting me to the fact that a beagle, Miss P,  had won the Westmintser Dog Show. A beagle!

Although my beloved beagle Sparky has been gone nearly five years, the fifteen years I had him were enough to convince me that I could never love another breed like I do a beagle. There's a reason Charles Schulz made Snoopy a beagle.

It's not just their ceaseless quest for food (a trait I can relate to) or their reliably sunny personalities (I aspire to the same), it's that face, those ears, that upright tail. In one of the photos of Miss P, her ears are flared back in that adorable way that says, "I'm a beagle and I'm on the move!"

And yet, the article had said that the crowd at Westminster had let out a collective audible gasp when Miss P won. No one expects a lowly beagle to take top prize apparently. Except beagle lovers.

In related news, as I was coming back from my walk today through Carver, I spotted a guy atop a snowy hill lowering himself down on to an orange saucer. Cradled in his arm was his little one while a woman stood at the base of the hill, camera at the ready.

As they started to sled down the hill, I heard a squeal of delight from the little one. When they got to the bottom, he unfolded his arms and a little beagle puppy scampered out.

I was across the slushy, snow-covered street in seconds to meet the 3-month old cutie pie who'd just had his first sled ride. I'd gotten Sparky when he was 9 months old, so I'd never known him this petite.

Figuring they'd be of the same opinion as me about Westminster, I commented about it, saying how pleasantly surprised I was that a beagle won.

"Come on, that was a good looking dog!" he said in a tone that said he was clearly stating the obvious, although nothing I didn't already know.

Even Shakespeare knew. She's a beagle, true-bred, and one that adores me.

Interestingly enough, the only person in my entire Facebook feed who posted anything about the dog show is a favorite server and all around handsome man who, yes, has a charming beagle I've met several times. He gets it.

Beagle lovers are probably the only ones not surprised at Miss P's victory. Personally, I feel certain Sparky would have approved.

Time to Give It Up

Pancakes. It really is all about the pancakes. Okay, and the horns.

Yes, it's Shrove Tuesday and sure, that means Lent begins tomorrow but as a card-carrying heathen with no stake in any of that, all I really care about is having pancakes for dinner the night before Ash Wednesday.

Despite the cold, my plan was to walk over to 821 Cafe for a plate of Fat Tuesday flapjacks, some slathered in butter and syrup and some drowning in butter and strawberry jam. As you may have determined, with me and pancakes it's all about the butter.

I mean, it's not like I'm going to actually fast for Lent so I'll be having just as much butter for the next 40 days as the last, but I like to think it's the thought that counts.

Although 821 wasn't nearly as mobbed as I'd anticipated (although apparently this afternoon it had been a certifiable zoo), the majority of the tables were occupied. I went straight to the counter for a stool next to a young couple.

Waiting for my order to come out and reading a magazine, it suddenly occurred to me that the music was all wrong for 821. For some reason, the dulcet tones of Patsy Cline replaced the usual thrash. It was so odd I asked the bartender for the scoop.

Apparently the breakfast crew likes classic country and while he stipulated that he had very little overlap with their taste, this was the one record they all liked. "It's so sad," he said, explaining his attraction to it. "Don't worry, we'll be back to something obnoxious right after this."

I was fine with Patsy Cline, even more so when he brought my food, three plate-sized pancakes and an order of bacon. Now we were talking. I ate the first half with syrup and the second with jam, a habit I learned from my Dad, but even so, I couldn't manage to eat them all.

Midway through, I saw a familiar face approaching and there was fellow Jackson Ward neighbor and rock star Prabir, coming to inquire what had brought me out tonight. Gesturing at my plate o' pancakes, I reminded him that it was Shrove Tuesday and as a lapsed Catholic, my sacred duty to eat them.

"What's Shrove?" he asked, always eager to learn. Penance, sin, absolution, something along those lines.

When I asked why he was there, he said he'd come to eat with an old friend before meeting a new friend later. Since the "old" friend is married, I guessed that the new one was not, resulting in him making an analogy about how uncomplicated wearing my familiar pink scarf was versus putting on a new scarf and it changing who I was. What?

In other words, I feel fairly certain that he was hoping to get lucky with the later date.

I overheard the woman next to me say to her partner (who was busy on his phone) in a robotic and soothing voice, "No, honey, I've been hanging on your every word since our first date." I waited for the punch line or his reaction and none came.

Turning to her, I told her that I didn't even know her but I loved that she was able to say that even semi-convincingly without looking at him, breaking into laughter or expecting a reaction from him. He looked up and assured me it wasn't true. She corrected him and said that it was a shame that she was the only one who believed it.

Ah, the pleasures of stranger conversation.

I took the long way home, strolling through campus and hearing snippets of student chatter ("Hey, Liz, you wanna go bowling with us?"), meaning every other word was "like" and everything sounded like a question ("So we're really comfortable with each other?"). Tomorrow's leaders.

It's funny, but what struck me walking home was that it just wasn't that cold, or at least it didn't feel that cold, despite being in the 20s. After the arctic-like temperatures over the weekend, 28 feels pretty good.

But not good enough to walk another two miles for music, so I warmed up the car to go to the Broadberry for the Mardis Gras Getdown with the Big Payback and Sleepwalkers. "Bring yo' beads!" the event invitation instructed.

I had no beads, but I felt pretty sure I'd be able to score some.

Nevertheless, I showed up, money in hand, to buy admission from the two guys at the door, only to be asked for ID. I rolled my eyes and claimed not to have it, since they could tell I was plenty legal.

"Really, you don't have it?" asked the younger and more timid of the two. Nope, sure don't, I lied.

"No ID, we're just going to have to spank you!" the other guy says and the first guy looks highly uncomfortable. I think he was appalled at the guy's choice of words.

"She's seen Fifty Shades of Gray," he said, grinning at me. Nope, sure haven't. "But you know," he went on. Yes, I know a spanking reference when I hear one. I was given a wristband and allowed to enter.

Inside, beads were being distributed and placed on tables for grabbing. A handful of people had taken tonight's theme to heart when deciding what to wear, so there were colorful feather boas, hats with feathers and metallic dresses.

The one fashion statement I couldn't fathom was one I'd also seen last night at GWAR Bar: jean shorts and tights. I'm aware of this look but when it's below freezing (and last night snowing), I have difficulty understanding the choice.

Waiting for Sleepwalkers to start, I took a seat on the banquette to people watch. I saw very few people I knew despite some of Richmond's well-known jazz musicians being in the band. It could have been as simple as the snow keeping people away.

I call those people weather wimps.

I'd heard one song by Sleepwalkers on the radio and kind of liked it, but I really had no idea what their sound was like. After listening to their set, I still don't.

Their influences were all over the place with songs pulling from the Jackson 5, Led Zeppelin and a lot of '70s radio. What they did have was multiple singers and great energy and enthusiasm for their music. I would guess they also had older siblings who exposed them to their records.

During the break after their set, a couple I knew arrived and we chatted for a while. They'd just come from the VCU game which the team had apparently won handily. That was good news. said the non-sports person.

It seemed to take the Big Payback forever to get set up, but when your repertoire is pulled from the James Brown catalog, I guess everything has to be just so. Nine musicians and a lead singer dressed nattily in a suit took control of tonight's Mardi Gras festivities.

I bet it didn't take more than 30 seconds before the crowd began dancing, unable to resist two drummers, two guitarists and a horn section. The singer had nailed all the JB moves and vocal inflections (fortunately he didn't wear a bad wig mimicking the Godfather of Soul's hideous hair) to do a thoroughly convincing job onstage.

Our only job on the floor was to dance and swing our beads (I had pink and green strands) and frankly, it was harder not to dance than just to go with it. I saw one guy stand like a stone while his partner tore it up in front of him, but he was the exception.

The singer didn't hog all the spotlight, calling out to others for solos - "Come on, Suzy," to the sax player and "Get down, Bobby!" to the trumpet player. He even called local singer Sam Reed up on stage to sing a few songs and no one is going to complain about hearing her powerhouse of a voice.

He also called for some whisky shots for the band because, you know, sometimes that's what the spirit needs. Meanwhile we just kept dancing.

For that matter, we danced away Shrove Tuesday and were still dancing into Ash Wednesday, despite it technically now being Lent.

Oh, well. We probably all deserve a good spanking for that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Of course I was going to take my daily walk despite the piles of snow on sidewalks and streets.

The logical thing seemed to be to clear off my car before walking and I had just begun sweeping the powdery snow off it when I heard a man's voice behind me. "Can I dig out your car for you, sweetheart?" A neighbor, snow shovel in hand, had shown up to do the hard part.

Snow had drifted halfway up my tires so he got busy removing that as well as the piles of snow the plows had pushed up against my car, effectively imprisoning it in a snowbank.

He'd already ventured out in the world, informing me while he worked that Broad Street was completely clear and Marshall Street semi-clear but that the side streets were a disaster. He wanted me to start the car and sit inside while he toiled, but I couldn't live with myself if I was warm and seated while he worked on my car.

Once he'd moved a whole lot of snow, I drove my car in and out of the parking space a dozen times to pack down a path to make it easier to leave later. "Too bad you can't reserve this space when you leave," he said. Too bad is right after all the work he'd done for me.

I thanked him profusely for his assistance ("Happy to do it for you, sweetheart") and my knight in shining armor headed inside to warm up, shovel over his shoulder.

Not me. I intended to explore the neighborhood and see what had been wrought in the snow. Jackson Ward's creative residents have been known to craft some spectacular snow sculptures (including far too frequently snow penises) when we get this weather and I was curious to see what might be out there.

Although Broad Street itself was cleared, plenty of the sidewalks weren't yet or were still in the process. One guy was using a snow blower (who knew anyone around here even had one?) to clear a parking lot between two buildings in the Arts District. I found that out by accident as I walked by and felt a flurry of snow being forced in my direction.

It was quieter than a Sunday along Broad Street with only occasional small groups of people at bus stops. I saw one guy trying to navigate the snow-crusted sidewalk in a wheelchair and helped him over a particularly difficult ridge of snow.

Someone had crafted a small snowman complete with twig arms and smile in the unlikeliest of places: in front of the Marriott Hotel near the curb facing the hotel. In front of a bank of snow at the Library of Virginia, someone (presumably Monica) had written in the snow, "Petersburg, A Stop by Monica." I have no clue what she meant by that.

As I approached the National, I saw a guy get out of his truck and go up to the box office window, tapping on it. Surely he didn't think anyone was in there and I said as much to him. Shrugging, he said he'd been hopeful. I had to know what show had motivated him to come out in this weather for tickets.

Get this: the Buckeye Country Superfest in Columbus, Ohio, a two-weekend country music extravaganza. And you're trying to get tickets for that here, I asked incredulously. "Well, this is a Ticketmaster, so yea," he said as if I were an idiot.

Needless to say, he got no tickets since the National was closed up tight.

Coming back toward home, a guy passed me and smiled, saying, "Lookin' good, Boots." For the record, I didn't have on boots, but I appreciated the thought.

Few places were open beyond Steady Sounds/Blue Bones Vintage and a convenience market; very few had even bothered with a sign, probably presuming that no one would even try to stop by. The bead shop's read "Closed for inclement weather" but I had a feeling that it had gone up yesterday before an early closing.

But of course Nick's Market was open. I can tell you that the people coming out of there, bags of subs and chips in hand, looked mighty happy or maybe that was just unadulterated gratitude. If I hadn't just made a batch of chili yesterday, I'd have gone in myself.

Instead, I went home to get out the snow shovel and clear my front steps and sidewalk somewhat before the temperature drops to 14 degrees come darkness. Now that this lapsed Catholic and my car can escape tonight to celebrate Mardi Gras, I wanted to ensure a path back into the house whenever all that ends.

My beads and I aren't going to want to navigate snowy steps in the wee small hours of Ash Wednesday, I can assure you.

A Woman Young and Old*

It's hard to explain what a few hours of snow does to the extroverted self-employed.

Don't get me wrong, I love seeing snow start falling from the sky shortly after returning from my walk not long after 1:00 in the afternoon. I enjoy it all the more for listening to husband and wife duo Tennis all afternoon. Their indie neo-soul aesthetic is a female-driven sound that speaks to me.

Just when I think that you're mine
You start to slip away
But your love is divide
You know I'm coming for you

But I'm also that person who begins to chafe and sweat at the idea of being trapped at home for days. Yes, I have a great book, plenty of food and the ability to walk, but the fact is, I want company. Give me humans.

Which is why it's barely 4:15 when I head out, umbrella in hand (to the consternation of Canucks everywhere), determined to find company, alcohol and food. The snow is coming down in earnest but that's part of the appeal of the walk.

Stop one is Saison Market for a glass of Cava and the chance to read Atlantic Monthly while Beach House's Teen Dream  plays. While "Take Care of You" pours out of the speakers, I chat with the guy next to me who is writing in a notebook while he sips a beer. Unlike me, he's too young to appreciate the lyrics.

Promptly at 5:00, I shoulder on my coat to cross the brief distance to Saison where I find a group of MCV dental students and a glass of Prosecco with my name on it. Animal Collective's "Summertime Clothes" is playing and everything is right with the world.

If only I were wearing summertime clothes, maybe a sundress or something equally lightweight and adorable. Instead, snow is pouring down outside and I am wearing multiple layers to deal with the cold. I am most definitely not a cold weather person.

One of the dental students is celebrating a birthday and clinks glasses with me, having just come from Sam Miller's and multiple Long Island iced teas. I marvel that one so seemingly clueless will soon be in charge of strangers' teeth.

Fortunately, I soon have superior company and a plate of fried chicken. Usually a Sunday night special, tonight's fried chicken appearance is a special due to the snow, along with sides of corn bread and black beans and rice with sausage.

Perhaps the most pleasant part of it all is how uncrowded the dining room is and that most of its occupants are Jackson Ward residents. If you're here, you walked to get here. Howdy, neighbor.

But all good things must come to an end and they want to close so their employees can get home safely. Fortunately, my dining companion had noted that GWAR Bar was open when he walked over. It's enough incentive to trudge over in the still-falling snow.

On the way, I spot a favorite couple through the window of their J-Ward condo and wave under my umbrella until they come to the door and say hello. Turns out they have already been to Max's for the same reason I was at Saison.

It's a meager crowd we find at GWAR Bar despite the open sign and blasting metal soundtrack. With an apologetic look, the bartender tells us they're about to close. Fair enough, but she agrees to serve us one round.

Midway through that round, a favorite gallerist arrives with his wife and we are soon deep in discussion of upcoming events at his gallery. Next thing I know, he has sent over a bourbon shot for me, despite the fact that I don't drink bourbon. Meanwhile the door keeps opening with others seeking warmth and spirits.

All of a sudden, the evening has taken a turn. I shouldn't be surprised given that we're at GWAR Bar.

With people continuing to arrive, the bartender has abandoned any hope of closing early. We're all in it for the long haul. Snow changes the rules.

Before long, the art teacher and her newly-shorn beau arrive and wave from across the bar. It's beginning to look like anyone who lives within trudging distance is here. Outside, everyone in the neighborhood who has a dog is out walking it.

One of my favorite newcomers is a Puerto Rican with a laptop who is experiencing his first major snowfall since moving here a year ago. He is amazed at the city's reaction to snow. "I've seen hurricanes that are much worse than this," he claims. No doubt, but this is a weather wimp town.

Outside the big windows, the snow continues to fall steadily, a sure indicator that we will indeed have 8-10 inches by lunch time tomorrow if it keeps up. I love the snow but hate what it will do to my social life and desire for company this week.

The only good part is that I've had great fun on the opening night of Snowmageddon week. It's a good thing, too, since it may have to last me all week.

Who am I kidding? I'll find someone somewhere who wants to see me tomorrow night and the next, even if they're strangers.

I've been told an optimist's company is always welcome. Let's see if that holds true in the snow.
(*W.B. Yeats)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Picture That

If there's anything tonight proved, it's that Richmond is not only a photography town but a film town.

Both intersected in Carytown tonight for the Richmond premiere of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Finding Vivian Maier" about the Chicago street photographer whose 150,000+ negatives weren't discovered until after her death.

I know I wasn't the only one who'd been wondering since last March if the documentary would ever play Richmond. And goodness knows, I was one of the scores who first saw a small part of the cache of Maier photographs online a few years ago and marveled at this unknown woman's eye and talent.

Like so many fantastic events that happen in Richmond, this one got its start in my neighborhood, Jackson Ward, at the only photography gallery in town. Gallerist Gordon wanted to bring the film to his Candela Gallery, hoping to draw maybe 40 artsy types. I can assure you I would have been one of them.

Seeing assistance to make it happen, he went to the film-obsessed guys who are trying to get the Bijou - a small 100-120 seat repertory theater - up and running here. They saw the potential to not only bring the film, but use it as a fundraiser for both the Bijou and Richmond's landmark movie palace, the venerable Byrd Theater.

That event alone would have made for a terrific Sunday evening, but things kept growing. Soon an after-party was planned with local legends Chez Roue planning to play their next-to-last show in Richmond at NY Deli immediately after the film.

Then Gordon arranged to have a dozen or so of Maier's prints on loan from a gallery in NYC for viewing at Portrait House before the screening. All of a sudden, it was all Vivian Maier, all the time. Or, at least, for 7 1/2 hours tonight.

I wouldn't have missed it for the world despite temperatures that felt like 11 degrees and the cruelest wind I can recall in years.

After meeting a friend for dinner (and a discussion of the word frigid and its now almost archaic use to describe women), I made a detour to Chop Suey Books to use a birthday gift certificate to pick up a new book I'd seen a review of last week. "1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music" sounded like just my kind of read and luckily for me, they had a copy in stock.

Book in hand, it was on to Portrait House where we were eager to see Maier prints in the flesh. The place was mobbed with others just as eager, so we waited our turn to get close enough to Gordon for him to flip through the large-format matted photographs, each as riveting as the last.

I don't care if this woman worked as a nanny for 40 or 400 years, she clearly had a photographer's eye.

Once we'd seen them, we stepped aside to allow others in for a viewing. In the back, we met a relative newcomer to Richmond, here only a year since moving down from Pennsylvania, and almost giddy with excitement about tonight's film.

The funny part was, he hadn't known about it until this morning when he'd seen a flyer at Globehopper while scoring coffee. I'd bought my ticket weeks ago so as to be sure I didn't miss out. And here we both were, equally thrilled about it.

Given the biting wind and frigid temperatures, it was far from the ideal night to have to stand in a line that ran to the end of the block and around the corner, but with no choice, we made for the end of the line. I soon heard my name called and a favorite couple (he's a photographer and she's a student of pop culture) appeared to join us.

For that matter, once we made it inside, the number of friends I saw was overwhelming. It seemed like everyone was at the Byrd tonight: history geeks, print-makers, prickly types, DJs, authors, Romans and countrymen.

Turns out there were 900+ people crowding the Byrd and overflowing up into the balcony. That's a nice chunk of fundraising and a solid testament to the community's interest in the film.

But the weather and wind had taken its toll not just on my freezing legs but also on the loading door behind the Byrd, which had blown off during a screening of "Annie" earlier. Richmond, we just don't do winter well.

Before the main event, they showed "The Critic," an Oscar-winning Mel Brooks animated short from 1963 with enough hilarious dialog to get everyone chuckling at his commentary about art and modernity.

I think I knew going in that I was going to be fascinated by the documentary because I could have been happy watching an hour and 24 minutes of just her photographs. But listening to the people who employed her as a nanny and the now grown children she'd watched just provided additional reasons to find the story so compelling.

How could she have been so driven to take thousands of pictures without making an effort to have them shown? How would she feel about her pictures being shared now? Why did she hoard newspapers? Was her pseudo-French accent an affectation?

For a documentary dork like me, as many questions were raised as were answered and that's fine, too.

Afterwards, my friends went home and I went next door to NY Deli to hear Chez Roue for the last time. It was packed in there, but the music was rollicking and everyone eager to talk about what we'd just seen.

Sharing a film in a public space has always been the bedrock of the American film experience. No one will ever convince me that watching a movie at home with stops for bathroom breaks and food runs is anything like a genuine film experience.

Which is exactly why we need the Bijou. I don't want to just read about amazing films, I want them to have a place to play in Richmond where I can watch them with 100 or so of my closest strangers (or people I know, I won't discriminate).

Because if 900 people come out on a blustery, nearly sub-zero work night to see a documentary about a dead nanny with a Rolleiflex, we are most definitely a film town.