Monday, March 30, 2015

No Sleep Blues

My hat is off to those of you who claim you can get by on four hours of sleep.

Not me. I'm a nine hours of sleep per night type, although I'll make do with eight when necessary. I don't toss and turn as a rule and I'm a stranger to insomnia.

But damned if I didn't wake up at 6 a.m. and never get back to sleep this morning. Later in the day, when I told someone I'd gotten up at 6, the response was an incredulous, "A.M.?"

I tried taking a nap mid-day between appointments and even then, my body was having none of it. There was nothing else to do but carry on fatigued.

So after interviewing a Parisian-born artist, I said yes to being a passenger for a drive to downtown Opal and Granite Heights Winery. And, just for the record, they have no granite to speak of. Quartz, yes, flint, plenty, but no actual granite.


The owners were an interesting couple who grow grapes and make wine in their spare time. He's a patent attorney and the winemaker when he's not doing lawyerly things. She runs the tasting room and the vineyards.

What was refreshing about them is that they're not doing it for their livelihood, which allows them to make decisions based on their beliefs and not the almighty dollar.

Consequently, no weddings or events. Very few festivals. No grand tasting room for photo ops and bachelorette parties.

In other words, smart people passionate about wine growing and making.

Their tasting room was in an old white clapboard house with large windows with views of the vineyards. We tasted through the available wines listening to them tell us about the learning curve on making wine.

The winemaker was an unabashed fan of Petit Manseng, singing the praises of the grape, particularly with salty foods. He'd even held a tailgate party to serve chips, barbecue and turkey with gravy to prove how well it paired with salt.

Sipping the beauty while noshing on cheese and crackers was just further proof while we listened to the winemaker describe their new wind machines, designed to keep cold air moving off grapes on nights when the temperature drops precipitously low.

After procuring a bottle of the Petit Manseng as well as one of humility 2010 (I love the lower case "h"), an appealing red blend, we bade the owners farewell.

Time for an early supper at Black Bear Bistro in Warrenton. The restaurant itself was a warren of rooms, each leading to another, down stairs, past three separate bars, through doors until we began to feel like we were in a carnival fun house. To add to the oddness, different music played in each room.

The entertaining host - a theater major I'd wager - led us to a room with stone walls, cheesy paneling, a black ceiling and a huge fireplace with Christmas decorations still on the mantel. We were the sole occupants.

As it turned out, it was Macaroni Monday, no doubt a local favorite, but we decided to pass. The menu was written like a story with blurbs between menu items explaining that the chef had gone to the vegetable patch (cue salad listings) or going upscale (steak on the salad). Menu humor.

My companion couldn't resist beef stroganoff since it rarely shows up at restaurants. The beef may not have been as tender as some like it, but I also noticed the bowl was emptied shortly, including the dollop of sour cream it arrived with.

I admit to a pedestrian choice of chicken salad but in my defense, my brain was also operating at 40 30 20% power after so little sleep and pointing to the first thing on the sandwich menu was easy.

As we ate, the floor above us reverberated as if they were having a dance party upstairs (they weren't), adding to the cacophony of competing music stations.

Or maybe the Karma fairies were trying to keep me awake.

I'm proud to say I got through the drive home without nodding off, but part of that was taking in the splendor of the sunset as we made our way away from the mountains.

But if I'd been asked to summon proper nouns or recall dates, it could have gotten embarrassing. As it was, I just stayed quiet for the most part.

To those who know me, that may be as noteworthy as my brief night of sleep. To sleep, perchance zzzzz....

You Can't Hurry Love

In case you haven't noticed, I tend to have an opinion on almost everything.

For instance, I see no point in not watching an entire movie. I know some people will come into a movie midway through and watch it with enjoyment, but not me. Nor do I start and stop.

Except when I do.

My final foray at the French Film Festival involved the particular kind of film for which I go to the event: a romance. Standing in line to get popcorn, I heard a familiar Frenchman and unexpectedly, I had a companion for the film, "Not My Type."

We found seats before it got too crowded, but my delight was in finding the most comfy seat I've ever sat in at the Byrd. Unlike most, this one had clearly been replaced since it was covered in pleather, not the tired red fabric of the other seats. And, lo and behold, no springs jabbing my backside.

The available seat to my right soon found an occupant while his wife continued on to look for another single seat. I pointed out that you're not supposed to talk during a movie anyway, so it didn't really matter that they couldn't sit together.

"I know but we like to hold hands," he explained. Very sweet. "And if I try that here, I might get smacked." Yea, by your wife, I told him.

Within a minute or two, his wife was back, signaling him that she'd found adjoining seats. My French friend began chortling. "She didn't want him sitting next to you!" he said, grinning. Whatevs.

The film was supposed to start at 2:45, but first they introduced the entire French delegation and the scores of interns who'd worked on the festival and then someone from the French Embassy spoke. By the time the film began, it was 3:40, a problem for me because I needed to be home shortly after 5.

It was a shame, too, because from the first few frames, I knew this was my kind of movie. A teacher of philosophy gets transferred from Paris to a small town 90 minutes away, a place in which he expects to languish, if not die.

Besides being consumed by his research and teaching, he's written a book about sex trumping love and why there's no point in committed relationships. Naturally he meets a hair stylist ("I'm not beautiful, I have charm. It's different") who reads tabloids and likes to sing "You Can't Hurry Love" at karaoke with her girlfriends.

He gives her Dostoevsky and Steinbeck to read. She takes him to his first Jennifer Aniston movie.

It's love at first haircut. Problems arise once she falls in love and realizes that he's the type who can't admit to love. They sit on the beach at the seashore ("You can't get bored looking at the sea"), her talking about how love means you make plans for the future.

Problems arise when she reads his book and realizes that he sees no point in love or long term relationships. Tears and heated discussion followed and then...

I had to leave. Now I was never going to know if he was her type.

It about killed me to walk out without knowing how their future was resolved, but I had no choice. I was hosting five of the coolest kids I knew for dinner and I couldn't be late.

Okay, so I wasn't hosting them at my house or cooking for them or anything as mundane as that. But I'd invited them all to join me at a wine dinner at Camden's and I needed to get myself ready for that and over there before they arrived.

In order to do so, I sacrificed the end of a movie I really wanted to see. It pained me to walk out, believe me.

In what turned out to be the hot topic of conversation to kick off the evening, I wore jeans to the dinner. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I don't wear jeans. Period. Never, I'd bought these yesterday at a thrift store for $2.50 on a whim.

Everyone noticed and commented ("Who are you?") and when my date said  she'd never seen me in jeans in the five years we'd known each other, I shared that the last time I'd worn jeans, my boyfriend had dumped me. "Kind of risky to try again, isn't it?" she inquired.

I'd calculated the risk but admittedly, I'm not very good at math.

Arriving at the restaurant just as two of my friends did, I chose a center seat so I'd have everyone around me to talk, which was the whole point of asking them all in the first place.

My girl date was next, having arrived by Uber. Her driver had warned her that there were two motorcycle gangs in town this weekend for a music show, so she'd better be wary. She found this hilarious and chose not to call him when it was time to leave many hours later.

She was followed by Pru and her beau and our six-top was complete. Both of the gentlemen looked particularly dapper, disproving the notion that men don't dress for dinner. The Pandora station was set to Raphael Saadiq, an appropriately soulful soundtrack.

Tonight's wine dinner theme was the Pacific Northwest and wine rep Matt began the evening by standing on a bar stool (actually that was my suggestion but it got things off to an amusing, if precarious, start) to talk about the first wine.

In what had to be the most surprising way to begin the meal, we had a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc which drank sort of like Sauternes and was an ideal pairing with "faux" gras- a chicken liver mousse- over apple galette with shaved Tillamook cheddar.

We all agreed it was a brilliantly unconventional way to start the meal.

When Matt introduced the next wine, Lundeen Pinot Gris Estate 2013, he got a good laugh when he said that the winemaker as another liberal arts refugee. The same could have been said about the chef or most of my friends at the table.

We drank the lovely wine with an arugula, celery, red onion and rockfish salad, the youngest member of our group admitting that she'd only had rockfish once before. We're doing our best to bring her up to speed.

And while rockfish wasn't her forte, when we got off on the subject of Lip Smackers (or any of the flavored lip products young girls use), she was an expert. Dr. Pepper had been her favorite flavor, setting off a discussion of other disgusting offerings such as cherry vanilla and root beer.

We tried to remember if there was a correlation between flavors used and types of girls. No one could recall what flavor was the so-called "slutty" girls' favorite.

After much back and forth, Pru pronounced the Dr. Pepper queen a full-fledged member of the club as of tonight.

The third course was pork hand pies with lavender goat cheese creme fraiche and my date was the first to eat it properly (in hand) but we all soon followed suit, picking up the floral notes of the Emerson Willlamette Pinot Noir along the way.

By this point, everyone was fairly well lubricated, evidenced by the conversation, first about the Lance Linc lunchbox sitting nearby (only guys, it seems, understand the appeal) and then about "Fifty Shades of Gray," when one male friend claimed to have read it. "Twenty five was all I could handle," he quipped.

Ribbing continued when plates of roasted leg of lamb arrived with dried currant jam and fried fingerling potatoes. Each plate was adorned with sprigs of fresh thyme, although mine seemed to have an entire thyme plant atop it.

"Some people get all the thyme," it was said. I shared my abundance with those less fortunate because the thyme really made the dish, although had you asked Pru, she'd have voted for the currants because they are a personal favorite of hers.

The lamb was accompanied by Claar Cellars Cabernet-Merlot 2012 ("This is a really beautiful pairing," my date noted with a mouth full of lamb and a big smile on her face), tasting of dark fruit and spice.

I was busy discussing film with the left side of the table when I overheard a discussion of helicopter parenting on the right and put my bid in to join that conversation when I could. Many opinions there about how we're ruining future generations.

"Wine is sunlight held together by water. Galileo," the former bartender and pastry school student announced before using a copy of the menu to shape a decorating tube.

The official meal ended with dark chocolate cherry fudge pate and Thurston Wolfe "JTW's Port," a heavy hitter at 18% but exquisite with the chocolate.

Meanwhile we'd decided to further visit our youth by crafting a childhood game, the folded paper puzzle that tells your fortune. Several of us tried to complete one but it was the newest member of the club who successfully did so.

Since my pen was already out, I got to label it with numbers, colors and names so each of us could take a turn and learn our fate.

"In grade school, it was fun, but now it's just a creepy swingers' club," said the friend after his choices said my date was his future.

"All I want is for you to cut my grass," she informed him. Hell, that's not even two shades of gray,

That was officially the end of the wine dinner, but our group opted to linger over a bottle of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2013, pleasing Pru no end and resulting in the comment, "Do not look directly at a man's member."

In my opinion, because you know I have one, there are times when it's perfectly fine to look directly.

But only if he's your type.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Good Talking To

It's the classic story of two single women huddled together for warmth under one shared coat. At the end of the evening, there are declarations of love  and they both dissolve in fits of giggles.

You know, that old chestnut.

Pru and I were overdue for a date, so I picked her up and whisked her off to Amour, where we found a restaurant full of French people and only one available stool at the bar. Given that it's the height of the French Film Festival, it was hardly surprising.

The owner was in rare form, no doubt a function of his pleasure at having so many French-speakers in the restaurant all week, and delighted us with his steady stream of witty patter, explaining that the handsome tie he was wearing made him look slimmer and he'd blow up like a balloon if he removed it and that white wine was for girls and red for boys.

We took him at his word on everything.

Pru was just coming off her birthday so it seemed only appropriate to celebrate with Veuve Clicquot as she opened presents not from me. Inside the gift bag was a veritable Byrd Theater survival kit: dark chocolate covered marshmallows, two kinds of biscotti, fancy gummies.

Few things are as lovely as beginning an evening with bubbles, but our busy days - hers packing, mine writing - also meant hungry bellies. Our cheese and charcuterie plate arrived to address those munchies with such temptations as fourme d'ambert, wild boar salami, Comte, speck, dried mango, grapes and cornichons. And that wasn't the half of it.

So many delightful things to eat meant plenty of time to take the temperature of each other's lives since we'd last had a girls' night out, far too long ago. Her recent night at the opera was up first.

We discussed the beach house she's rented and whether it should be a girls' only clubhouse or not given how much fun we had last time we did it sans men. We're thinking no boys allowed and possibly no red wine. White and pink only.

The subject of E-Z Bake ovens came up, necessitating we explain the concept to a Frenchman. I'd heard tell of a woman who'd demonstrated her mettle as a child by replacing the bulb in the oven with a higher wattage so she could cook bacon instead of miniature cakes.

Neither Pru nor I had had nor wanted an E-Z Bake oven, for what that's worth.

Delving into some personal matters of hers, I had to laugh long and hard when she told me, "I had a talk with myself because someone needed to do it and I knew if I didn't, you would." Right she was about that.

Since tonight counted toward her ongoing birthday festivities, naturally we had dessert and hers arrived with a lit candle. I can't sing, but the owner was gracious enough to wish her a "joyeux anniversaire" as she blew it out.

Even without it being my celebration, I was plenty keen on the mini duo of sea salt and caramel chocolate creme brulee and housemade raspberry sorbet. We agreed that all desserts should be sized that way to mitigate guilt and not make delicate flowers such as us feel stuffed. Unfortunately, no one was asking our opinion about dessert sizing.

Best Pru quip of the night: "Do I really want to die alone?" Do any of us really want to? Do we really have a choice?

After the last sips of Willm Cremant d'Alsace were savored, we made the frigid trek (was it really 77 degrees just two days ago?) to the Byrd only a few minutes late.

We had no problem finding good seats just as the films were being introduced. On the bill tonight were rare and restored films of the late 19th and early 20th century and tonight was the first time they were being shown in their restored state anywhere.

What was interesting about that was that once this cache of films from 1896-1905 had been discovered, in deplorable shape of course, they had to be transferred to digital to capture them and then put on 35 mm for posterity. Some were even hand-painted frame by frame.

And get this: they were being shown with musical accompaniment. Bob Gulledge was playing the mighty Wurlitzer with each film.

Because they were so old, they were incredibly brief, most about a minute long, but offered fascinating glimpses into the late 19th century world.

Several showed street locations such as the Place de la Concorde and Gare Saint Lazare, both alive with hansom cabs, carts, bicycles, pedestrians, horse-drawn street cars and the like. Dogs and children darted through it all.

Several films showed dancing - Russians with knives, ballet, a dramatic scene by the river - and one was a comical look at a marriage banquet (Bob Gulledge began by playing "Here Comes the Bride").

It was some time around then that Pru and I realized we were both shivering. If the air conditioning wasn't on, then there was certainly no heat on and we were reduced to huddling under her wool coat (I'd never even removed my jean jacket). Looking around, we saw several other women doing the same.

If it was intended to keep us awake, it seemed unnecessarily cruel.

The final short was George Melies' "Legend of Rip van Winkle," a treat since I've seen several of Melies' films thanks to my friend Jameson and the Silent Music Revival. This one was 15 minutes long and colorized, which was something new for the films of his I've seen.

As Bob Gulledge played and the film rolled, Todd, the affable manager of the Byrd, read the original text to the audience as we watched the film, much the way a bonimenteur would have done in 1905. In those days, there was no assumption that the audience could follow the story solely from silent pictures.

I found the language of the script wonderful. Rip was described as "a good and lazy bon vivant" and the gnomes "capered." When's the last time you heard "caper" used as a verb?

Tonight's piece de resistance was "The Byrd: A Love Affair," a documentary that's part of a series "Mythic Cinema Palaces" made by a French filmmaking team who discovered the theater a few years back when the director was asked to speak at the French Film festival.

Clearly the filmmaking gods work in mysterious ways.

It was a charming look at the landmark movie palace Richmonders know well, referred to as "a magical place to take us out of our daily world." We saw not only the vintage litter commercial, but an updated version that was a bit disconcerting simply because the original is so completely familiar.

What was most compelling about watching the documentary was the mirror effect. I could look at the screen as the Czechoslovakian chandelier was being shown and explained or I could look overhead and see it in real life.

When the camera follows the storyteller up four flights of stairs to see the instruments that make up the organ's works, I could recall going up those stairs myself years ago while shooting video with my co-worker. Since I'd been clueless about how organs worked, I'd been amazed to learn that each sound came from the actual instrument.

There was a scene of the annual Christmas Eve singalong, an event I've attended at the Byrd for the past 20 years. I didn't see myself, but I also can assure you I was there, although not singing given my inability to carry a tune in a bucket.

So while it was all very familiar, it was also surprisingly satisfying to see a documentary about a subject I know well made by people from another continent. Their reverence for and appreciation of the Byrd (and Richmond) came through in every frame.

When it ended, Pru and I reluctantly separated ourselves, giving up the shared body that that had made two hours in the theater tolerable. Walking up Cary Street with the FFF crowd, I heard my name called and spotted two friends hurrying against the wind.

We'd been so busy laughing and talking, I hadn't even noticed they'd been just ahead of us.

That lasted right up until I pulled up in front of her house to let her out, at which point I teased her one last time, setting off more giggles and a final, "I love you."

Just two bon vivants capering.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

C'est la Vie

I gave my derriere a breather, so to speak.

As devoted to the French Film Festival as I am, I couldn't sit in those Byrd Theater seats for another two films in one day like I did yesterday.

Besides, there was a cultural history exhibit opening at the unlikeliest of locations: a school.

Carver [ON] Record was taking place for one night only at Chesterfield Community High School, a place far beyond my usual range because it sits deep in the bowels of Chesterfield County.

How far out? Far enough that when I got out of the car, the din of happy frogs croaking in the misty evening air was in surround sound.

I knew it would be crowded because the parking lot had been full of cars and people making their way inside. There, I was invited to sign the guest book, given a program and directed to the gym.

Where usually sports are king was a huge installation marrying light and sound governed by how visitors like me moved their hands over posts with sensors on them. By drawing my hand up and away from the unit, I could make the images darker or lighter and the music louder or softer.

Hardly surprisingly, adults seemed slower to grasp the concept while high school students were creating compositions effortlessly in their digital native way.

The centerpiece of the evening was the hallway where certain lockers had been retrofitted with sound recordings of students past and present. What's particularly compelling about that is that the school was the sole secondary school for blacks in the county from 1948-70 so those students had a unique story to tell.

Standing at each locker to hear the reminisces of past students and the thoughts and hopes of current provided a glimpse into the past and future.

One former student talked about the hour and a half bus ride he had to take each way every day. About how if a kid played after school sports, he had no way to get home because his parents couldn't come get him so the only hope was a kind coach who lived in the area.

Another made the distinction between "black" and "African-American," saying one was a movement and the other an ethnic designation. Several mentioned the inherent inequality of "separate but equal" laws.

One man talked about the hierarchy of riding the bus. Apparently everyone knew who sat with whom, so he could count on boarding the bus knowing that no one had already sat down next to the girl he was sweet on.

I stopped to listen at each locker, sometimes with strangers and other times by myself. There were times groups of kids were laughing and shouting so loudly I had to listen to a tape loop twice so as not to miss it all. Or because some of the former students' musings were so eloquently put.

One of the lockers contained CDs made by a current student, Nas, and wrapped in pages of National Geographic magazine. His music was playing in that locker.

The final locker held the contents of the time capsule the students had collected, which will be buried and opened in 2065.

In it were all 12 cassette tapes holding the former students' full interviews (only snippets were used in the lockers) along with a cassette player, pictures and objects collected from the former students, things such as a microscope and a party dress.

The student standing next to the locker explained to me that all the memorabilia from the original Carver school had been burned when the school closed. It's hard to fathom that that ever seemed like a good idea.

In the cafeteria, a film played of some of the former students talking but with food and drink also in there, it was way too loud to hear any of it.

Instead, I moved on to the sound recording booth the students had built for the interviewing process. A student ushered me in, asked me questions and committed my thoughts on civil rights to a recording.

As I walked out, I stopped to listen to bits and pieces at some of the lockers I'd already heard. As far as I'm concerned, the coolest part of the entire project is that the lockers are permanent installations. Their sound boxes will live on in perpetuity and others will be added over the years.

By the time I left, it was clear that this endeavor was truly unique in capturing voices that might not otherwise have been available in the future. And the frogs were even louder, if possible, now that it was dark.

Only then, conscience raised, did I make my way north to the Byrd for tonight's FFF offering, "Parisiennes."

Sitting in my aisle seat noshing on popcorn, a man in my row stood and waved his hat until his friends spotted him and walked up to chat over top of me.

His first question was where they were staying this year (Linden Row, but in a courtyard unit because it was less pricey) and if they'd eaten at Max's on Broad.

The friends hadn't, leading to a restaurant discussion of where they should eat before they leave. I let it go on until I saw that the hat waver had seriously flawed opinions about local restaurants.

Only then did I share that I write about restaurants at which point the visitor had a dozen questions for me. Even once Peter, our FFF host, began speaking, he kept talking to me. His wife motioned that they should return to their seats and he stayed. She left.

It was only when the man in front of me nudged the guy and told him to fermez la bouche that he waved au revoir and returned to his wife, happy to have learned that he'd been right about wanting to eat at l'Opossum.

Tonight's film was introduced by the star, a lovely Japanese woman, and the director who was also holding the canine who had a bit part in the film.

The film told the story of a married Japanese novelist who goes to Paris -which she sees as a city of "free" women - seeking inspiration for her next book.

Through her five days in Paris, we see the women she interacts with as she tries to find someone to model her main character on.

Will it be the foul-mouthed female taxi driver who's obsessed with "Madame Butterfly"? The homeless woman who was a bouncer at all the hot clubs back in the '80s, turning Madonna away and sleeping with Prince? The ladies' room attendant who discovered a suicide in a stall? The lesbian butcher who hits on her?

Inevitably when she asks them about what's happened to them, they shrug and respond, "C'est la vie."

But with a French director, there has to be a man involved and this one is a Spaniard who is staying across the hall from her at the hotel.

He sees through her bravado when he tries to hit on her ("You think because you buy me dinner I'll sleep with you?" Without a pause, "Yes"), forcing her to acknowledge that she feels ignored by her husband and even telling him so by Skype.

"Maybe I'm here to remind you how lucky he is to have you," he says, making a good point.

Call me predictable, but one of my favorite scenes is in a disco where I got to hear club covers (not remixes) of songs such as "Sex on Fire" done as a slow burn and a languorous version of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," both by women.

Also notable about the film was that despite it being set in Paris, it wasn't a postcard to Paris, the city just happened to the the setting. It was kind of refreshing.

I wasn't sure how the film was going to be resolved, so when the husband shows up to try to right his years of taking her for granted, I was genuinely surprised. This can happen?

What wasn't surprising was that my derriere was completely numb at this point after two plus hours in a seat with springs that kept jabbing me no matter which way I turned.

But that's life at the French Film Festival.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Walk Behind Me

When the French flag is flying over the Byrd Theater, I know it's time for my annual binge-watching.

While it was tough to abandon a sunny, 77-degree afternoon to enter the darkness of the Byrd Theater, no self-respecting French film lover would do otherwise.

Given that it was the first day of the festival, what surprised me was that it wasn't more crowded, although 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon isn't ideal for the 9 to 5 set.

As the first film of the day, it came closest to starting when it claimed it would. If there is one thing the French Film Festival is not, it's punctual about starting.

"Do you know why you're special?" Peter, the FFF organizer, asked of us about the film borrowed from the British Film Institute. "You're about to see the only 35 mm copy with English subtitles of this movie in the world."

I'll be the first to admit that I get a kick out of knowing that sort of thing,

The film was Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" and considering I'd only seen one Truffaut movie in my entire life ("Wild Child"), I figured I owed it to myself to be there to see the cinematographer and stunt coordinator of the film introduce it.

When the film started, I was immediately reminded of how much I enjoy watching movies on film and not video. I love the look of film.

The 1973 film was about a director (Truffaut acting) making a film (maybe that's why it won the Oscar for best foreign film) and starred Jacqueline Bisset, an actress I'd forgotten all about, but remember all the guys being hot for at the time.

It had plenty of very French moments - "Walk in front of me so I can look at your behind" - as well as a story that involved everyone falling into bed with everyone else oh-so casually. Or maybe that was more of a '70s moment like a package arriving in brown paper tied up with string.

"Do you think women are magical?" one immature guy asks his co-workers. "Some are and some are not," he's told by a woman. By a man, it's, "No, but their legs are because they wear skirts and we wear pants."

I already had an inkling of that.

When filming on the movie within a movie ends, it's with one character's simple conclusion: "My sweet, my darling, you're wonderful. We all need that." Do we ever, none more so than those who don't get it much.

So now I've seen my second Truffaut film, enjoyed it immensely and realize I need to see more.

Walking out of the theater, the air was almost as soft and warm as when I'd walked in, although we were on our way to sunset.Still, it was a treat to not be the slightest bit chilly going outside.

Having taken a pass on the next French offering, I headed straight to the Valentine for the opening of "Beard Wars," a brilliantly curated new exhibit.

Making my way through a crowd that included some of the most awe-inspiring beards you can imagine, I found myself in front of a wall of photographs both new (by the multi-talented Terry Brown) and old (no doubt from the collection).

On the left hand side of each was a Civil War general with a picture and a description of the man and what he was known for. On the right hand side, a picture of a Richmond guy with a very similar beard and a bit about him.

I knew we had some world-class beards in this town (hence the Richmond Beard and 'Stache League) but I have to say there were some magnificent match-ups.

One guy's wife asked him to shave his beard because it was scratchy and he compromised by shaving his chin, leaving his mustache, mutton chops and side beard, also knows as "friendly mutton chops." Friendly to the wife, I suppose. See? I was learning new things.

Another guy had come out at the First Annual Mid-Atlantic Beard and 'Stache Competition, figuring it was the best way to show people how he self-identified. Well done.

Midway through the show, I ran into a photographer friend, IPA in hand, and chatted with her long enough to learn that she checks my blog any time she runs into me to see if she merits a mention. This is that.

Yet another said he first grew facial hair when he hit puberty because he hates to shave. Hate, he repeated in case we weren't clear on that. One used his nipple-length beard as a conversation starter. Curly, straight, gray, red, blond and brunette. One guy's mustache was wider than his face.

There were also on display four shaving mugs and a rare silver-plated mustache cup (to keep your beverage out of your 'stache) from the collection.

Turning from the cups, I almost ran into a guy with mutton chops and a fabulous handlebar mustache handing off his beer - complete with straw - to his mother. She and I chatted for a bit and I joked that her son should have brought a mustache cup so he wouldn't have to use a straw. "I offered to bring mine for him but he said no," she claimed. So much for my joke.

Turns out her son has a sponsorship from a facial hair grooming product company, meaning his visage has appeared in a British sporting magazine and he's gone to Austin to compete in beard competitions on the company's dime.

Who knew facial hair had such big payoffs?

In case you can't tell, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit and a big part of that was because of how it had been curated with the generals for comparison. It was like a cultural lesson in the similarities in facial hair between now and 150 years ago.

Leaving the show, I walked past three bearded guys shooting the breeze in parking lot. Two of them had beards past their arm pits. It truly was impressive.

Back in Carytown, I dropped by Secco for a glass of J. Mourat Collection Rose and a hilarious story. As a guy is leaving Secco, his friend spots him from across the street, yelling to ask what in the world he's doing at a wine bar.

"This where bitches be at!" he hollers from Secco's front door all the way across Cary Street. The owner is thinking of having that screened on t-shorts for the staff. I seconded the motion.

From there, I went on to admire photographs of a friend's mother from the '60s, '70s and '80s. What a stylish creature she had been despite a cigarette frequently in hand. Some were even taken in Paris, making them an ideal prelude to my next stop: more French film.

The crowd for "The Return of Martin Guerre" was half the size of the one for the 7:00 film, but I guess that's to be expected on a school night when you're talking about a film that doesn't start until after 9 p.m.

Introduced by its director, Daniel Vigne, the film appealed to me because it was one of a handful of the films that made up my first exposure to foreign films and I still recall being moved by it, partly because it had been based on a true story.

Something that struck me tonight that would not have occurred to me in 1982 was that it was a film about identity theft in the 16th century. How au courant a theme is that? And, get this, the village where the story took place faded back into obscurity after the notoriety of the film, only to grab the headlines again four years ago because a terrorist cell was discovered there.

Mon dieu, it was fascinating to see Gerard Depardieu young (34) and not as big as a whale like he was in "My Afternoons with Margueritte," which I also saw at the FFF.

Just as compelling was how much more relatively realistically the 16th century was portrayed in 1982 than it would be now. People's clothing looked dirty and hand-sewn. If the actress who played Martin Guerre's wife had on any make-up at all, it was undetectable. It's ridiculous to see a woman playing a peasant and see that she's wearing mascara or even the palest of lipstick.

That said, I don't buy Martin returning from fighting wars after nine years with a bowl-cut haircut. Seems unlikely.

What I particularly enjoyed was watching the love story unfold between the Martin pretender and the neglected wife of the real Martin. The actors conveyed a very touching and sensual relationship.

Being totally engrossed in the film, I couldn't have been more surprised when the two women in my row got up and left an hour into the film. What, you don't like a well-acted true story, shot in a real medieval village and scripted to use words like 'calumny'?

Be gone, ladies. Obviously we're not cut from the same cloth.

Your legs must not be as magical as mine.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

At Home in the '60s of My Mind

The hand stamp said it all: Get well soon.

Not that there was anything wrong with me, but how could I not qualify for better after a night of kick ass world music?

My day played out productively, but I didn't even leave the house for dinner until after 8:30, stopping at Garnett's for a farmer's salad and the New York Times, a quiet meal at the counter.

The funniest moment unfolded when a neighborhood man came into pick up his take-out order. When he asked for a piece of the buttermilk pie sitting on a cake stand on the counter, the girl went to lift the top off and it went flying (cracking on the floor even) and the pie would have slid off the counter if her nimble fingers hadn't snatched it back at the very last moment.

All three of us looked at each other big-eyed and then burst out laughing. Hell of a save, honey.

Given my late start, I had no time for dessert, barely making it to Balliceaux in time to pay the piper, have my hand stamped with "get well soon" and head to the back room which was already mostly full.

Familiar faces abounded: the former neighbor and his date who recalled meeting me at the Mozart Festival ("I was wearing my puffy coat that day"), the organizer who's no longer a platinum blond ("Too much work!"), the film guru ("You need to see 'Wattstax.' You'd love it"), the printmaker and her DJ husband.

As many times as I've seen Yeni Nostalji singing another memorable set of Turkish pop songs from the '60s and '70s, this was the first time I'd seen them playing '70s Turkish movies behind them (with an occasional tag, "Nostalji TV").

Such wide bell bottoms. All the men had Burt Reynolds-style mustaches and all the women feathered hair. Even in Turkey? Who knew?

Their sound is completely distinctive with Christina and Evrim's voices playing off each other so well and Marlysse's keyboards adding just the right accessibility to the songs while Rey and Tim's rhythm section tie it all together.

After the first song, Christina was talking to the audience when Evrim excused himself and said he'd be right back. "That's my worst nightmare about being onstage," she joked. Or not.

He returned and they carried on with a song "from all the way back in '82!" before saying they were going to do an original song.

That's when the comedy really began. Evrim couldn't find his capo so while Christina sang a song a capella, everyone frantically looked around onstage for it. Afterwards, she made a plea to the audience to lend them a capo if anyone had one.

"This is my second worst nightmare," she said.

With none forthcoming, someone offered Evrim a pen and a rubber band and he McGyvered a capo so they could play the next song. A song later, someone walked up to Evrim's mic stand and clipped a capo on it.

When the song ended, Evrim plucked it off saying, "Oh, look, there's a capo right here," as if it had been there the whole time.

It was when Christina debuted her new song - "It's about loving your enemy" - that two couples began dancing in front of the stage.

Behind me, I overheard two girls discussing the movie and it was clear they'd both seen it before. "What was his other movie?" one asked about the Burt Reynolds lookalike. Turns out the local Turkish community was out in force at the show tonight.

Before the last song, Evrim thanked everyone for putting up with all the mishaps. "Thanks for making us feel at home in the Turkish '60s of our mind."

And, you know, it's exactly that Turkish '60s of their mind that keeps me coming back to hear them play.

During the break, I mingled, hearing cracks about how at future Yeni Nostalji shows the audience will all bring capos just in case. I was introduced to the bass player and talked about movies and music. A guy came and stood beside me, marveling when I showed him he could put his drink on the ledge above rather than risking it underneath a chair on the floor while we were dancing.

It's not my first rodeo, I told him. "Mine, either, but I can still learn new tricks," he said/ That makes him a role model for his sex then.

I'd never seen Afro-Zen Allstars, although I knew the bass player, trombonist and one of the sax players (and recognized the guitarist), hardly surprising given the incestuous nature of the music scene in Richmond. New to me were the other sax player, the drummer and the percussionist.

Honestly, they were barely into the first song, their Ethiopian funk settling into a groove so deep it was startling for its immediacy, when people began dancing. They might have played one or two songs that weren't Ethiopian, but even those followed the groove.

And a mighty groove it was. I loved how sinuous the sound was and while I never made it as far as the main dance floor, my little area of the floor served as my own dance floor. Nearby, a guy was sketching the band, putting his pad and metal Juicy Fruit box of pencils down periodically to go dance, too.

A white-haired man in slacks and a sweater vest danced non-stop, finally stopping to remove his hat and wipe off the sweat streaming down his face. The hat stayed off but his dancing kept on.

The undisputed star of the dance floor was a blond woman in beige church lady pumps and a denim skirt the size of a band-aid (read: way shorter than mine) who had a way of dancing that was part Prancersize and part pole dancing. She was very popular to dance with, I'll say that much.

So while she had partners and I did not, I feel quite sure she didn't have any better a time than I did.

Unless blonds really do have more fun, in which case I'll never know. Too much work, I hear.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nothing Lost in Translation

I shall draw two conclusions from the evening's fun: the Scots are a resilient lot and Brazilians never forget a face.

Yes, of course I'm making blanket generalizations.

Arriving at the Grace Street theater to find only one other person in the auditorium, I briefly wondered if I'd been mistaken about there being a film tonight. Taking my usual seat anyway, I soon heard my name called and was joined by a familiar face who introduced me to his companion.

Talk quickly turned to film and I learned from the newcomer that Richmond has a Bollywood connection. No kidding, this woman who is married to an Indian informed me that new Bollywood films are screened at the VCC theater on the same day as they open in India.

What? How had I not heard of this fascinating offering?

When I expressed regret for having missed out so far, she assured me that I could watch some of the films on YouTube, at which point I had to clarify that I watch movies in public on big screens, the way god and Shiva intended. She immediately understood.

Interestingly enough, she also gave me a source for English translations of Indian reviews of new films. This woman was turning out to be invaluable.

Another familiar face showed up, a guy I run into at all kinds of events, including this one. The three of us who'd seen "Wild Grass" last week as part of VCU Cinematheque got into a big discussion of its protagonist and whether the film's events had been real or imaginary.

It was soon clear that each of the guys had completely opposite takes on the plot. One saw nut case, the other saw sex offender. I saw a lonely woman with bunions who fell for the stranger who found her stolen wallet. Never the twain shall meet.

Tonight the Cinematheque was showing a documentary, an infrequent offering but one the Professor said spoke to their mission to show lots of different things. He also warned us there'd be no Q & A because the film was self-explanatory.

Reminding us that there are four more films in the series before the semester ends, he instructed us to tell our friends (as I do) or even bring them. "It's  a cheap date!"

I hear that, Prof.

"Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie"  began with a woman playing snare drum in Grand Central Station and only later do we learn that she is profoundly deaf (and Scottish, but understandable) since a neurological disorder during childhood claimed her hearing.

She adapts by using a sense of touch and bare feet to play mad percussion with all kinds of talented people, including making a wholly improvised record with experimental musician Fred Frith in an abandoned warehouse ("The nature of improvisation is your whole life up to that point.").

In one scene, she improvises on the floor of a restaurant using drumsticks on two plates, a metal ashtray, a glass and a metal box.

A large portion of the film was her playing alone and with others in all kinds of locations, but apparently there weren't enough quick cuts and car chases to entertain the ADD set because a surprising number of students cut out early. A guy near me kept leaning forward as if to stave off sleep.

Some of the stuff that came out of her mouth was profound such as, "Silence is one of the loudest sounds you'll experience," something I discovered trying to sleep in the country after a life in the city. Or, "The absence of sound is the closest thing I can imagine to death."

But what earned her the crown of most resilient was her take on life. "My role on this planet is to bring the power of sound." As we saw, that she did over and over, whether on a farm, a rooftop or Japan.

When the movie ended, I noticed one acquaintance had already cut out. Another asked what I was up to next. When I said more music, he showed little interest. Too much music? No such thing.

Gallery 5 was hosting a Brazilian band that played South by Southwest this past Saturday night and were swinging up the east coast since.

I ran into two friends leaving on the way out ("We were working"), arriving partway through Richmond band Candy Spot's set. I didn't know the band but just the sound of the jangly guitar alone was enough to get me interested even before I rounded the corner.

Hints of psychedelia, definite shoegaze elements and catchy songs. Yup, I liked these guys and hope to hear them again sooner rather than later.

It was after their set ended that I looked up to see a favorite girlfriend busy talking to a group of musicians (you can always tell) before heading my way.

Neither of us had expected to see the other, so we were busy catching up when one of the handsome musicians in the back walked up to me and said, "You were at our last show, weren't you?'

Now let's be clear, yes, I had seen Marcelo Fruet and Os Cozinheiros exactly two years ago this month at a house show on southside at the mid-century modern home of a glamorous friend. How in the world he recognized me is beyond me.

Surprised, I assured him I had been at that show and had fallen in love with their sound and energy. "Thank you so much for coming out tonight," Marcelo said in his Portuguese-accented English.

You know that feeling when you're really happy you decided to go somewhere? That was me.

My girlfriend and I chatted while the band got set up: Marcelo on guitar and vocals plus a drummer, bassist and a percussion master with killer triangle skills (the man could shake and strike anything).

Their set was more raucous than the one I'd seen in my friend's living room in 2013 and the band was even tighter, if that's possible, playing their hybrid of samba, rock and jazz.

By the second song, Marcelo said, "We better play more Brazilian music so you know we're from Brazil tonight." He may have been shredding his guitar, but his hips were swaying sinuously.

In fact, the instrumentation and the way they played came across like indie rock while the lyrics and groove made it clear they were from the southernmost state in Brazil.

Almost everything sung was in Portuguese until Marcelo said, "I don't write as good in English as I do in Portuguese but here's a song I wrote in English when I was 14." The only obvious Latin touches on the rocking "Land of Moons" was Marcelo's elongated and sibilant ending on  "moonssssss."

Leaning in toward me between songs, my friend whispered, "Marcelo is cute as a button, isn't he?" Indeed, and earnest too, a swoon-worthy combination.

If the set they played in Austin was half as powerful as the one they played for the small crowd tonight, the critics must have eaten them up with a spoon. Their Latin roots were the underpinnings for every song, so no matter how hard guitar and bass were wailing or how much of my beloved reverb they were using, you could never lose sight of their heritage.

Which is exactly why I wouldn't have missed another chance to catch them after two years.

"We wish we had a place like Gallery 5 in Brazil," Marcelo said from the stage before the last song. "But we don't."

Here's the thing, Marcelo: We wish we had men who remembered our faces after two years and were thrilled when we showed up. And if they have liquid hips, all the better.

But we don't. Which makes us very happy when guys like you stop by.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Heaven Knows

Taking a cue from the National -

So happy I was invited
Give me a reason to get out of the city

- I accepted an invitation for a road trip out of Richmond today. Shortly after 11 a.m., we were headed west on I-64 toward Nelson County, leaving cloudy skies behind for sunshine over the mountains.

Our  first stop was at Dr. Ho's Humble Pie, fantastically named and improbably located in a giant corner white strip center with a doctor's office, a beautiful goddess spa and a gas station.

You know, for all your country living needs.

Inside, the spacious room was a pastiche of funky signs, posters and photos (a Kodak Film sign was mounted on a column by the lunch counter) and the music was solidly '70s: Spinners, Jackson Brown, Foreigner.

Most importantly, the pizza was right on with a properly chewy crust on our white pizza with housemade hot Italian sausage, spinach and mushrooms. Years ago, a blog reader gave me a hard time because I always order meat on a white pizza, but I will defend to the death my right to go white and eat meat simultaneously.

After enduring an Eagles song and stuffing ourselves silly with spinach salad and pie, we did the only logical thing and went for a hike.

Our destination was Delfosse winery, which was closed, because it's there that you pick up the the Delfosse Trail, part of Nelson County's department of conservation and recreation but located on the winery's land.

And may I just say, kudos to Delfosse for sharing their largess with the little people.

Parking behind the charming log cabin they rent out for parties, we started up a steep gravel hill to pick up the trail head. One thing immediately became clear: this was not a hill for the out of shape. Luckily, I'm not.

Making our way along the trail, a series of hills and ravines, we had a terrific view of the forest (a popular hunting ground November through January), something we won't have if we hike it again come Summer when the trees have leafed out.

But for now, we could see for great distances.

Before long, we had to go through a weighted gate in the fencing that prevents deer from snacking on the grape vines. Along the way were more than a few rock piles where people had artfully stacked rocks of descending size in the Japanese manner (naturally I added one of my own).

After an hour of fairly strenuous hiking, we were back at the log cabin snooping through the windows at the space and relaxing on the swing on the porch.

You walk the walk, then you drink the wine.

Just a few miles down the road was Democracy Vineyards where we spotted three people working in the fields and no one in the winery. Before long, though, the owner abandoned his fence-mending on the hill and came down to greet us in the tasting room lined with campaign posters and political artwork.

When he heard we'd been on the Delfosse Trail, he grinned. "You know they've been spotting bears on that trail. We're not near any wood line, so they're not a problem for us."

Let's just say I was glad to hear the bear news after the hike rather than before.

The glass garage door was rolled up so we could get out to the patio where we sat on wicker chairs with cushions and sipped a bottle of Declaration, their signature white blend while watching the activity in the vineyard and buzzards scouring the fields. Men and birds were hard at work.

Us, not so much.

I mentioned that it was a shame there was no music so I could get up on the table and dance and lo and behold, music was put on. For the record, I did not dance at Democracy.

After a bit, the owner joined us on the patio and shared stories of his days as a lobbyist. He laughed about how strict the General Assembly has gotten about accepting gifts ("It was a little bag of chocolate-covered peanuts!") and bemoaned the challenges he'd faced in getting his ABC licensing because he'd done business with so many of the agents in the past.

When we got off on a prolonged tangent about gerrymandered districts and local politicians, I expressed concern that we were keeping him from his fence fixing. "I'm done for today!" he said emphatically, no doubt one of the benefits of being the boss.

After a sunny drive to Charlottesville, we decided on Mas for dinner, taking a new route to the Belmont neighborhood to get there. We arrived early enough to be the first people at the bar for dinner, but hardly the last.

Since a road trip is as fine an occasion for celebration as any, we chose Castell d'Age Anne Marie Comtesse Brut Nature Reserva, arriving in the loveliest bottle adorned with what looked like an etched white floral pattern and tasting of ripe fruit. Cheers.

Then it was on to eye candy. No one had ever told me that the large-format black and white photographs on the wall were of the staff, so with that knowledge, I couldn't resist trying to match up faces.

In the case of the photo hanging over the bar of a guy in a toreador suit with the, ahem, obscenely large package, unfortunately I didn't see him, despite looking. Hard. 

Must have been his night off, drat the luck.

Mas' bar is such a pleasant place to eat, observe and linger, assuming you can ignore the line of waiting guests. It's wide with fresh flowers - tonight's were tulips - while a silver compote dish held blood oranges, a thoroughly pleasing tableau. Plus there's a great view of the kitchen as food is prepared.

The only downside of bar seating occurs when the sun drops just low enough in the sky that it beams directly through the west-facing front door into the eyes of bar sitters. That was us.

We managed as best we could until the sun made it below the roof lines mainly by focusing on plate after plate of food.

Thin slices of Jamon Serrano and aged Manchego we ate with our fingers while a  salad of baby lettuces and dandelion greens, fava leaves, kumquat (for the second time in 24 hours), beets and more Manchego (well, it is a Spanish place) required utensils.

Delivering some serious chili pepper heat was Pulpo, a deep bowl of local pork belly, Spanish octopus, salsa espelette, San Marzano tomatoes, mint, basil and semolina noodles cooked to toothsome perfection. I'm usually not much of a pasta person, but the coarser semolina speaks to me.

Sitting next to us was a Charles Manson lookalike and a hippie chick wearing knitted forearm warmers (very Stevie Nicks-like).

She kept looking over until finally asking our opinion of the octopus dish. I highly recommended it with the caveat that it was spicy. "I love spicy!" she enthused, lifting her arm with its unshaven arm pit, so '70s.

Go for it, honey. They did and they loved it. I'm always happy to be of service to the patchouli crowd.

The undisputed stars of the meal were two orders of huge wild-caught Gulf shrimp grilled and served with a buttery green garlic aioli. The meaty shrimp tasted more like lobster, even more so after a swipe in the rich aioli which also adorned every bite of bread I put in my mouth.

One of tonight's many topics was "change you can believe in," a compelling premise since it can be argued that it's impossible to determine the point at which you accept that change is real. And what if the change you thought you wanted ends up disappointing you? What if one change by rights deserves another and it isn't forthcoming?

That conversation got tabled in favor of finishing the bubbles in our glasses and hitting the road for home. In the few seconds it took us to stand up, a guy scooted over from his waiting position in the doorway to claim our stools, already warmed up for him.

All yours, friend. I'd gotten out of the city and I was ready to go back now, changes and all.

So happy I was invited.

Days of Wine and Roses

How better to impress out-of-towners than with flower power?

The garden and art-loving visitors arrived from points north only to be bundled back into the car so we could go to the VMFA. Destination: "Art of the Flower: Van Gogh, Manet and Matisse."

Detour: Amuse for brunch. They were mobbed on arrival, so we waited for a table in the groovy green chairs in the corner where the hospitable barkeep delivered the absinthe drip and four glasses.

After positioning sugar cubes on absinthe spoons and lighting them, she left us to monitor our own drips. Considering it was the visitors' first foray into absinthe, they were surprisingly quick to master the technique.

We'd barely begun sipping from the green fairy when we were told our table was ready. She accompanied us there.

Beginning with carb loading - breakfast bread with mixed berries, buttermilk biscuits with pimento cheese, sweet pickles and butter - we passed the time until our orders arrived telling jokes, including a mother's favorite. One of us even deigned to share a knock knock joke.

After getting our enthusiastic server's thumbs up on the Dutch Baby ("my favorite!"), a puffed pancake-like concoction of bacon, scallions, goat cheese and arugula, I had to admit he was right on. Light yet filling, the meaty chunks of bacon made the dish.

After my companions had polished off rave-worthy corned beef hash and eggs, a salad Nicoise and today's quiche, we headed downstairs to visually feast on floral still lifes.

For a sunny Sunday afternoon, the show was quite well attended, no doubt due to just having opened Friday. And it's a stunner, too, as much for the gorgeous paintings as for an art history lesson in the progression of French floral painting it delivers.

Since it's only my first time seeing the exhibit, I'm sure my favorites will change, but for today, I chose three.

It's hard to imagine something more romantic an artist could offer his love than Henri Fantin-Latour's "The Engagement Still Life," given to fiance Victoria Dubourg to seal the deal. I particularly liked the glass of wine in the composition, a promise, perhaps, of good times ahead.

Making my way through the next gallery, a loud-voiced young man said to his companion, " Hey! Have you read these signs on the wall? They're more interesting than the paintings." He then proceeded to read several of them to her loudly.

I decided it must be his first time in a museum and tunes him out.

Mary Cassatt's "Lilacs in a Window" was bound to catch my eye because lilacs are my favorite flower. There'd also been a Manet of "Vase of White Lilacs and Roses" which I also lingered on, but decided I preferred Cassatt's because her vase sat in a greenhouse or conservatory next to an open window where you could almost smell the warm air.

And the very last painting in the show, Matisse's "Still Life with Pascal's 'Pensees,'" spoke to me because of its appealing components: a cup and saucer, a book and a vase of anemones, a flower I love, all sitting next to a lace-curtained window. It's the kind of tableau that would give me pleasure every time I looked at it.

Just don't hold me to those favorites because I have no doubt that on my next visit to see the exhibition, I'll exercise my female prerogative to change my mind and fall in love with something else.

In the next-to-last gallery, I overheard a couple sitting on a bench talking. When he mentioned Iceland and and film, I knew he had to be talking about "Land Ho," the movie I'd just seen because it was showing again tonight.

So I asked.

Sure enough, he'd been looking online for opinions to decide if they should see it. Go, I told him, if only to see the beauty of Iceland. But if you're over 60 (and they looked like they were), you'll love the story, too.  "Thank you so much for telling us that," he said. "I was going to pass it on it after reading some online reviews but I'd much rather have a real person tell me to go."

There was my good deed for the day and I went back to looking at the last gallery.

Unused to absinthe in the afternoon, my companions demanded naps afterwards, leaving me to enjoy my Washington Post on the balcony outside in the late afternoon sunshine while they dozed.

When we reconvened, they were still wiping sleep out of their eyes ("That absinthe kicked my butt!" the professor acknowledged) and I was rarin' to go. This time, it was eastward ho to Metzger because two of the group had once lived in Germany.

Given the dearth of restaurants open on Sunday night, we shouldn't have been surprised to find a full dining room when we got there. Luckily, three bar stools soon opened up and one of us was willing to stand until a fourth came available.

Vintage soul serenaded us, a bottle of Hugl Rose was delivered and we got into a discussion of what everybody was currently reading.

Three of us listened fascinated to a description of Jose Saramago's "The History of the Siege of Lisbon," a book about a proofreader who decides to add the word "not" to a sentence which causes repercussions for himself and historians.

Fascinating as I'm finding it, my current book, "1965: The Year That Revolutionized Music," seemed shallow in comparison.

From there, we devoured smoked trout rillettes and chicken liver mousse with carrot jam (which came across more like marmalade), two excellent starters and the latter one I seem to get every time I go.

Conversation concerned birth order and how parents take fewer pictures of each successive child. My parents have albums aplenty with photos of me, the oldest, and hardly any of my youngest sister (the sixth). The exception that proves the rule was the middle son who said there were fewer pictures of him than his younger brother.

I mentioned some t-shirts I'd seen recently that perfectly summed up birth order differences:

I'm the oldest. I'm the reason they made the rules
I'm the middle child. I'm the reason they needed the rules.
I'm the youngest. What rules?

All I know is, the best thing about being the oldest of six girls was that I never had to wear a hand-me-down dress. What I did have, though, was the strictest upbringing in the family. I still haven't decided whether that was a good thing or not.

For dinner, I chose mette - hand-cut sirloin tartare with a tiny farm egg and grilled bread - enjoying perfectly seasoned meat made richer once I broke the yolk atop it ("Are you going to have all your courses on bread?" I was asked). The beer-brined pork chop the youngest son let me taste was delicious, too, although not quite fatty enough for my taste.

People continued to arrive as we ate and I spotted a friend come in with three strangers. When he came over to say hello, I learned that he was on a business dinner entertaining travel writers so he'd been on an all-day eating marathon at restaurants throughout the city.

The funniest thing he said was that he'd just come from a restaurant that had a Richard Gere menu and that I absolutely had to check it out. It gets odder because someone had noticed earlier that there was a picture of Richard Gere hanging in Metzger's kitchen.

Why Richard? Inquiring minds want to know.

He went off to eat with the travel writers (there's a job I could get used to) and I ate a dessert of three housemade gelatos: tequila/kumquat (which had a very long finish), a decadent chocolate and the most ethereal of all, creme fraiche, its flavor heightened with lemon. Each had an incredibly creamy mouthfeel.

And while it would have been great at that point to push the tables aside, dim the lights, crank the soul music and dance 'till dawn, my posse was ready for bed. That's right, the three people who'd napped were pooped while the one who'd walked four miles this morning was looking for some action.

Must be that oldest child stamina.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Listen 'Til the End

Ask me and I'm yours.

A friend had tickets for Ira Glass, part of the UR Modlin series at Centerstage, and needed a date. Always happy to substitute for a husband, I walked over in the last of the evening sunlight so she wouldn't have to pick me up.

I was greeted by a couple of friends loitering near the entrance, promising to meet up with one for dinner and discussing mac and cheese devotion with the other. Behind them was my date, waiting for me.

Turns out we had terrific seats in the sixth row of a sold out theater, hardly a surprise since she'd gotten the tickets months ago. We got busy catching up about her toddler who has developed a devotion to Taylor Swift's videos, although she noted that he prefers her early work.

I thought that was hilarious.

Not Ira Glass hilarious, but then I readily admit to being partial to a handsome middle-aged man with a big brain and outstanding sense of humor.

Our beloved Ira took the stage in darkness saying, "The thing you have to understand is it's radio." Major laughter.

He kept on talking on a darkened stage, admitting that he'd wanted to do the entire show in darkness but UR wouldn't let him. "Seeing people in the stories is overrated."

Once the lights were up, he began a brief history of "This American Life," saying that it was the first NPR show that you didn't listen to because it made you a better person.

He talked a lot about the power of humor (something he had in abundance) using some of his past broadcasts, such as the a story about the war in Afghanistan.that began with an interview with the woman whose job it was to refill the vending machines aboard an aircraft carrier. All day.

Cracking himself up, he shared a story about a high school student who bought weed for the new girl at school only to have her turn out to be a cop. The punchline of that story was that Ira had had it turned into a musical, parts of which we heard. The lyrics came straight from the student's dialog.

That Ira is brilliant.

A fair amount of time and discussion was spent on "vocal fry," a manner of speaking common to young women these days. The problem is how offensive older listeners find it with NPR receiving scads of complaints after using younger journalists with the distinctive register.

The story concludes with a respected linguist alluding to the evolution of language and saying, "It only bothers old people." Funny, but complaints to NPR about vocal fry dried up as soon as that story ran.

That said, my friend found their voices lacking authority and professionalism and I thought they sounded like teen-aged twits, which makes us both old.

Roaming the stage as he talked, Ira explained structuring a story (much like a good detective novel), using a broadcast about a New Zealand girl who'd been bitten by a shark as an example of knowing the outcome of the story but not the good part of the story (cue narrative suspense).

Wanna know Ira's goal? It's that if you tune into his show, you won't be able to turn it off until the end.

I about lost it when he talked about how his parents didn't want him to go into public radio. "They wanted me to be a doctor. Why? Because we're Jews."

Demonstrating his parents' sense of humor, he said they took out a classified ad in the Baltimore Sun advertising a job for him. Leaning toward the audience, he said, "Classified ads, they were like Craig's List printed on paper and delivered to your house." Not sure if the UR students got it or not.

He posited that the "topic sentence industrial complex" was responsible for story structure not being taught in schools. To a language nerd, that kind of comment makes a girl swoon.

We got a lesson in the FCC and obscenity - you can call someone a dick once, but not four times in a story- and in Ira's opinion, a child hearing an obscene word "doesn't turn him into a criminal or a UR student," although he offered no proof of this.

His point that radio is an empathy machine that shows "us" what it's like to be "them" was well argued.

During the Q & A, a wanna-be journalism student asked him what she should do and he suggested she make work whether she gets paid for it or not (I see this as unlikely but it's true) and to keep plugging even when she's no good.

As an example, he played a clip from his seventh year in radio when he was 27. "This is to show you that I sucked," he said and he did. His story was boring and went nowhere, but he then proceeded to retell it to us in a livelier, more interesting manner, more like the Ira we know today.

Proof positive that even the mighty handsome Ira had to develop his talent and voice. But them don't we all?

After over two hours, Ira said goodnight and my date and I headed to Lucy's to talk.

When the bartender spread out menus - wine, cocktails, food - in front of us, the owner came up behind him. "Are you thinking of ordering food?" she asked. Um, no?

"Good, because if you did, I think the kitchen guys might start crying." Well they certainly didn't need that after a busy night.

Instead we sipped the crisp and lovely Famille Perrin Rose while rehashing our love fest with Ira. She showed me some of her favorite podcasts.

A guy came up to the bar to ask a question about cider, looked at me and thought he knew me. I'd thought the same about him but couldn't place him. Aha, Valentine's Day, that was it. His memory got more points than mine.

My date and I outlasted all the other tables before she announced, "I'm going to sleep good tonight."

Spoken like a true vocal fry hater.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Stop and Start

Today was a fine day to walk to the Bowtie for a movie.

Along the way, I spotted dandelions along Leigh Street. Spring must be further along than I realized because that seemed a little early to me.

At the ticket counter, I asked for one for "The Apartment" and somewhere between taking my money and handing me my ticket, the ticket seller said, "Hello, beautiful." It was so unexpected, I made him repeat it.

Honestly, I think I'm a magnet for non sequitors from strangers

Inside the theater, the projectionist appeared to be asleep since the movie was started while the corny pop music was still playing. Only when someone went out to notify management did the bad music fade and the dialog come up.

I'd never seen Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning film "The Apartment" but it didn't take long to find myself firmly in 1960s New York, a world of tiki bars, elevator girls, blotters and Rolodexes, instant coffee and men wearing bowler hats in bars.

Very topical, too, given that it was a year after the Revolution and a woman asks Jack Lemmon, "How do you feel about Castro?"

Or when his neighbor asks him, a bachelor, if he has napkins and he says he has paper towels. "Beatnik!" she says in disgust.

After he gets a promotion at the insurance company where he works, a sign painter comes to paint his name on the door of his office. Hand painted doors, now there's an almost lost art. That's some serious old school right there.

No more so than all the extra-marital flings the office executives are having, the women accepting those kind of relationships without a thought to their own needs.

Thank goodness for womanhood that the sexual revolution followed shortly thereafter.

Naturally, being a Billy wilder film, there was romance and wit as well. As he makes dinner for the two of them, she tries to help

Shall I light the candles?
It's a must, gracious-living-wise.

Almost two hours into the movie, the screen went blank. A handful of people got up and walked out, disgusted at yet another glitch in watching today's film. The woman next to me went and told management and got the film back on, albeit later than where it had stopped.

Considering that the reason I don't watch movies at home is because I want a full-on screen experience, I was not happy with Bowtie's problems delivering a start to finish movie.

Here I am seeing this film for the first time and I missed the voice-over and music that began it and lost a few minutes near the end. Boo hiss, Bowtie. Unlimited butter on my popcorn is not enough to make me overlook such shoddy projection skills.

I might have left myself except that the woman near me advised me to stay for the surprise ending and she was right.

The scene where Shirley MacLaine shows up at his apartment and says she wants to play gin rummy with him on New Year's Eve delivered a classic last line.

You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.
Shut up and deal...

Sounds like the makings of a successful relationship to me.

Is That So Difficult?

Life is too short to sit still.

The Library of Virginia was hosting Calvin Schermerhorn discussing "Solomon Northup and the Tragic Voyage of the Orleans." Yes, the same Solomon Northup as depicted in "12 Years A Slave."

After parking in the garage, I rode upstairs in the elevator with an attractive man who looked at me quizzically and asked, "There is a lecture here tonight, right?" Reassuring him, I shared that I'd asked the parking lot attendant the same question.

The proof was upstairs where the room was just about full for a Friday night lecture.

Using maps, vintage pictures of Richmond and plenty of photos from the movie, Schermerhorn took us from Spring 1841 in Richmond through Northup's boat ride to New Orleans.

His point was showing that human trafficking then was not so different than now, except prices have risen (Solomon was sold for a mere $650).

Showing bills of lading with slaves listed as chattel, noting their aliases (because free men were being sold as slaves), height and color (Northup was listed as "yellow" because of his European and African ancestry), he wove a tale of how men were systematically broken down and resigned to being enslaved.

But it was during the Q & A that things got good. Several black audience members made the point that enslavement was kidnapping, a point that Schermerhorn agreed with. He admitted that he'd been contacted by Northup's relatives but hadn't been in touch.

And, lo and behold, the next woman who stands up says she's a third generation descendant of Solomon Northup and part of the effort to establish a foundation to honor his legacy.

You can imagine how surprised our lecturer was at this surprise guest. Several black audience members challenged her on whether she felt herself to be black or white given how white she looked.

Admirably, she acknowledged being raised with a strong sense of Solomon's legacy but self-identified as white.

So that was a totally unexpected part of tonight's history lesson. Having seen "12 Years a Slave" and been moved by its tragic story, it was equally as moving to hear from a descendant of the man depicted.

Pays to go to history lectures, kids. Keep that in mind.

But it's Friday night and we can't be serious all the time, so my next stop was UR for their International Film series, tonight showing "Land Ho!"

A man I'd never seen before stood in front of the audience and said, "Paul's not here, so this is a comedy and it actually has some funny stuff in it. Enjoy!"

With people calling out, "Speech, speech!" sarcastically, he started the film.

An Icelandic-American film that premiered at Sundance, the charming story was nothing more than two 60-something men on an extended vacation in Iceland. As a bonus for me, there were plenty of scenes in Reykjavik restaurants featuring beautiful food and winking at the top tier food scene that exists there.

Oddly enough, the film had subtitles despite all the characters speaking in English.

The extrovert was divorced, recently retired as a doctor and bored for company and the introvert widowed, then divorced and retired from banking with no money. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

The former doctor, with his thick southern accent, penchant for pot (when he offers it to his friend, he declines, saying, "I haven't smoked pot since the '70s." Incredulously doc responds, "The 1970s?") and lusty nature was hilarious ("This is so good it's like angels pissing on your tongue"). His ex-brother-in-law was more cautious and tentative about everything.

As they make their way around Iceland, enjoying a disco ("We're the oldest people here. By a lot!"), being drenched by a double cascade waterfall (truly beautiful), seeing a geyser explode twice (I jumped the first time) and talking about life's letdowns (hey, shit happens), they both find themselves happier.

When they pop Jiffy Pop together over an open fire while camping, it got a big laugh from the mostly older audience.

The former banker would like another relationship and defines it as wanting someone "to talk about the news with, have a cup of tea with, eat breakfast with and sleep with. Is that so difficult?"

You want my opinion on that? Harder than you'd think, my friend.

But it's the pot-smoking ex-doctor who continually pushes the limits of his friend's patience, suggesting walks at night (they wind up lost in the darkness), driving through ponds (because they can), quizzing a honeymooning couple ("How many times have you hit the mat so far?") and generally being goofy ("I think I need a doobie-nator right now"). His friend finally loses his patience with him, asking why he always has to be doing something.

Because life is too short, he insists, to sit still.

After the movie, I met Holmes and Lovey for a short walk to Belmont Food Shop to quell our grumbling stomachs. I'd been craving the late night cook's plate and they'd never even heard of it.

Sometimes it's my duty to educate.

We began with a bottle of Sainte Eulalie 2013 Rose while Satchmo played overhead. The other tables were mostly winding down, so one by one they wandered out into the night while our evening was just beginning.

After hearing my order, Holmes took my advice and got a cook's plate for the two of them as well, none of us knowing what might be on it. In the meantime, he ordered Espolon, which arrived looking sophisticated in a champagne coupe.

Have one, he suggested. While I admired the presentation, I required food before tequila. Like magic, our cook's plates arrived.

The pieces of slate held lamb belly confit, fresh tuna poached in olive oil and duck gizzards, along with frisee salad, pickled veggies, crusty bread, buttered radishes and celery salad, the makings of a rich and wonderful meal.

I have been devoted to this cook's plate since Belmont Food Shop first opened. You never know what's going to be on it and you're never disappointed with what shows up. Lovey swore she'd never eat gizzards and ate several. Such is the power of the cook's plate.

Next came a cheese course: Pecorino, Maytag Bleu and triple cream Delice de Bourgogne with Marcona almonds and dried fruit, honey, bread and crackers, accompanied by J. Mourat Collection Rose in a unique bottle that resembled an old-time medicine bottle.

Meanwhile, I heard about a wake the couple had recently attended at a home with a fabulous art collection. Besides a Picasso and Dali, they had a painting of Pat and Julie Nixon, their faces expertly depicted and both with their naked breasts showing. It sounded like the highlight of a home filled with art.

Everyone talked at once. We heard about Belmont finally getting the permits to start hosting events, such as a recent Petersburg restaurant clan party, in their other room. Discussion ensued about how to get people to try things like heart, cheeks and tail. It sounds like their patio opening is just around the corner.

Ah, patio season, I await your arrival.

Despite Lovey's purported disdain for butterscotch, I insisted we try butterscotch pot de creme along with the expected chocolate silk pie and darned if she didn't become a convert right in front of our eyes. First gizzards, now butterscotch. It was a big night for our girl.

Holmes couldn't resist a chuckle when he asked where I'd been before dinner. He seemed to think it was funny that I'd begun with a slavery lecture before moving on to an Icelandic aging comedy. That I'd wound up sipping pink and eating belly surprised him not at all.

Stop moving and you die. It's not just me. Look at sharks.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Prove It All Night

Never believe a man who tells you his fish is this big. Unless, of course, he shows you a picture to prove it.

I saw not one but three funeral processions on my walk this morning. I spent all afternoon inside my head and on the computer first making story pitches to my editor and then writing a snappy piece about a tenth anniversary. Enough already.

By early evening, I was more than ready to go on a date with myself. First stop, the Magpie since it had been a while.

The bar was all mine and as far as the two tables of young couples were concerned, I was invisible drinking Tenuta di Tavignano Verdicchio, spooning up my potato, cauliflower and Manchego soup and reading my Washington Post. Fine by me.

The sweetest story I read concerned a documentary about Lady Bird Johnson's beautification efforts (which I'm sure we'll never see in Richmond).

When Congress was stalling on LBJ's highway beautification bill, he's shown telling his Cabinet, "You know that I love that woman. And she wants that highway beautification bill and by god, we're going to get it for her!"

I don't know about you, but I have only admiration for a man who not only has beagles but is up front about telling his coworkers on camera he loves his wife. Very nicely done, LBJ.

With the radio set to the Old 97s, the bartender and I discussed the ordering of music genres at a restaurant. He was telling me that this station would soon be replaced by something louder and more raucous, say T Rex or Bowie, as the evening progressed. He was impressed that I'd seen the Old 97s while he'd just recently been unable to get off work to catch them at the Jefferson.

I ordered a special of beef tri-tip carpaccio topped by white bean and onion salad, housemade Bloody Mary mix and olive oil, enjoying the savory salad almost as much as the tri-tip. What I wasn't enjoying was an article about Meerkat, the breakout app at SXSW.

Tell me we don't really need a live streaming app that lets iPhone users share real-time video directly to their Twitter feed. People talk about how tangible it feels, as if they were really there. The awful part, as the article points out, is that we're redefining "experience" from something you actually do to something you witness digitally.

I don't know that I want to be part of a world where seeing something on a tiny screen replaces experiencing it in real life, but I fear that ship has already sailed.

Setting the paper aside, I decided to focus on my reality and indulge in another of the evening's specials. The chef had been showing off a photograph of the four-foot rockfish he'd gotten in today, a truly impressive specimen, its head as long as his chef's knife.

What spoke to me was rockfish collar, also on special tonight. First rule of fish eating: never pass up a chance for collar.

Basted in lime, honey and tequila before being pan fried and served with pistachios and peppers, it looked as fabulous as it tasted. Flipping it over to get at the hunks of white meat, I was soon eating with my fingers as if it were a whole fish.

All I can say is, no live stream could possibly convey the succulence of this rockfish collar.

When I looked up from my fish feast, I realized the two young couples had been replaced by four middle-aged couples. The times they were a -changin' and if the grown-ups had arrived, it was time for me to leave.

I'd taken so long digging out every morsel of collar that I was almost late to the Noir Cinema series, this month at Ghostprint Gallery. After finding a seat, a handsome man with braids sat down in my row only to check his phone and look at me sadly. "VCU just lost in overtime," he informed me in his deep voice.

What a shame. Let's talk.

Tonight's film was "Jump" by filmmaker Anthony Harper who'd made it as his senior thesis at Howard University. The short film was set in rural Virginia and focused on a disabled mother and her college-bound son.

I saw it as a power struggle between generations as a parent refuses to let go of a child, a universal theme told in a succinct and beautifully-filmed way. During the Q & A, I was fascinated as people brought up points I hadn't even noticed.

One person was impressed that the main character, a high school student, had been shown as part of an intact black family. Another was struck by how matter of factly it was presented that all the black high school kids shown had college plans.

All I could think was how the media must constantly rely on black cultural stereotypes in mass media for things like these to stand out to people. They hadn't even occurred to me, perhaps because I'm not black.

That's one of the reasons I enjoy the Noir Cinema series so much. Getting to hear how others interpret black-made films about black characters is reliably a reality check on the state of our supposedly post-race society.

When the evening ended, I wandered up to Bistro 27 for dessert. Walking in, a smiling woman asked me if I was a nurse. Do I look capable enough to be a nurse?

She asked because there was an event for nurses happening, but I sidled by them and made my way to the bar for dessert. Chocolate pate with fresh whipped cream and blackberries may not have been what I needed, but it definitely qualified for what I wanted.

As luck would have it, a friend showed up and we wiled away a little time chatting about upcoming trips, the best place for a quick breakfast and sliced versus chunks of pastrami on a sandwich (I'll take either).

Before we knew it, a light rain was starting and since I'd walked over, it seemed like a good time to begin heading home.

Which means I got a little wet because I wasn't watching a live stream of a woman walking in the rain after eating rockfish collar and discussing race, I was actually walking in the rain.

And by god, that's the way I want it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

As Lucky As I Am

Some days you wake up with absolutely no plans and go to bed amazed at your good luck.

Eating breakfast I saw that Dar Williams was playing UR tonight. For free, no less, as part of the Jepson Leadership Forum. Theme: Into the Fray: Global Perspectives on Conflict. Well, this was good news.

It was March 2008 when, as part of the same series, I'd seen Chuck D. at UR, so I shouldn't have been surprised at Dar. For that matter, I'd seen her at Capital Ale House with Holmes back in 2009 and we'd both been impressed with her singing, songwriting and guitar playing.

Within minutes I had scored a ticket and was back to eating breakfast.

Fortune smiled on me an hour later when I saw that a friend had posted about seeing "Mr. Turner" last night. That's a film I've been waiting for since last Fall when I first saw the preview. I hadn't realized it had sneaked into town.

And, yes, I know most people would have limited interest in a 150-minute film about a 19th century British painter, but I couldn't believe my luck when I saw it had finally arrived in Richmond. Plus a 9:20 screening would work perfectly after the Dar show.

Good luck continued when I arrived at the Modlin Center because the usher said they had just released the front row seats. I took the center one, along with much ribbing from the usher about my prime VIP position.

Since Dar's performance was part of the forum, there was almost as much talking as singing. Almost. But she's a fascinating woman, long on liberalism and, as a teacher at Wesleyan, at ease talking about things that matter to her.

She began with "When I Was a Boy," talking about different kinds of protest song and labeling that one "identity politics" because it gives listeners something to identify with. Other types were street music, meaning songs you march to (she had us sing along to "We Shall Overcome") and affiliation music (songs that get you to go with a cause).

I was loving this combination of lecture and music.

From the sound of it, lots of people recognized "As Cool As I Am" with the telling lyric "I will not be afraid of women." She may have offended some old-timers with her reference to the "Eisenhower military industrial complex" but not me.

As she spoke, she'd sing song snippets to illustrate points, so we heard bits of "Cripple Creek" for alcoholism, "White Rabbit" for drugging, CSN's "Our House" about caring for each other and Joni MItchell's "Woodstock" for baby boomers.

She talked a lot about what a nurturing time the '90s were for singer/songwriters such as herself (referencing Jonatha Brooke and Alanis Morisette) and how developed the coffeehouse scene was then. "I wrote about what I wanted to write about. I didn't want to write love songs. I wanted to follow my muse and I did."

Announcing "After All," she asked the adoring crowd, "Has anybody heard this song before?" and when she got applause, grinned and said, "Totally fishing." Don't we all sometimes?

Favorite line (because I am): I am the daughter of a great romance.

The crowd went crazy when she did Don's request (whoever Don was) of "The Christians and the Pagans," while she noted, "If the Unitarians had had a Top 10 chart, this would have been on it for weeks."

She shared her idea of how to bring the world together and it also involved saving discarded upright pianos. Post an ad, get an old piano and then order $2 Beatles songbooks off the Internet ("Cheaper than printing them off the computer"). Have Friday night singalongs with friends. Voila! A more connected world.

We heard about Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary helping her teach a class and him having the students eating out of his hand. Asking if any of us had gone to summer camp or knew who PP&M were, she told us to sing along and began playing "If I Had a Hammer."

I know every word, as did the people around me and we sang but halfway through the song it occurred to me that it should have been louder. Looking behind me, I realized that no one under 40 was singing. They had no idea of the lyrics.

Too sad. That's a song we used to have to sing in music class in school - Pete Seeger was already considered a national treasure - but no more apparently. But it was a fabulous finish to a lecture and performance about protest songs.

After Dar left the stage, I chatted with the couple next to me only to find out that she had been a writer back in the '60s. And get this, she interviewed Bob Dylan in 1968.

According to her, he was a terrible interview, never really answering the questions. Considering that I just read a piece on his new album that mentioned how un-forthcoming he was, it sounds like nothing's changed.

But let's focus on what's important here, I met a woman who talked to Bob Dylan.

There was a dessert reception afterwards and Dar mingled with the little people but I didn't speak to her, much as I had things I'd have enjoyed discussing with her.

Instead, I went to the Criterion to finally take in "Mr. Turner."

Walking into the theater, there were exactly two guys in the row behind me. One piped up, saying, "We told them to say this show was sold out so we could have a private screening." Then I showed up.

When I said I'd been waiting on this film for months, the older guy said he had too and that it was only here for a week. Anticipating that, I'd come tonight.

And my god, the film was breathtaking. Many scenes were composed in the same luminescent, painterly way Turner did his paintings. Light and the sea star as much as any of the actors, although Timothy Spall as Turner was magnificent: gruff, driven and deeply loving of the few people her actually cared about.

Perhaps it's the art historian in me, but the 150 minutes never dragged as the story of the last quarter century of his life unfolded. His epic walks looking for places to sketch, the light-filled studios where he worked, and his genial interactions with other artists of the day (he and Constable, his only close rival of the time, keep their exchanges to just saying each other's name) help explain the activities that made up his life.

Sweetly unexpected was when he fell in love with a simple woman (even calling her beautiful) from whom he rented a seaside room and eventually taking a house with her for the rest of his life.

What the movie didn't do was explain how Turner got to be the way he was or painted the way he did. No, for that I'll need a good biography and there's nothing I like more than being led to a good biography.

Except maybe waking up with a blank calendar and happening on two extraordinary ways to spend my evening.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Way It Is

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.

And that's the way it is, at least according to Walter Cronkite.

It's also what one person wrote today on the beam that was the centerpiece of the topping off ceremony at VCU's Cabell Library. Part of the allure was to get to leave your name on the beam and part was the enticement of using professional-grade Sharpies (can withstand heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit!).

When I arrived, the beam was already almost completely covered in signatures and drawings, but once handed a Sharpie, I managed to leave my marks in more than a few places.

I was bound to run into a musical friend who works at the library, finding her on a mission to schmooze donors. Before she left for that, she let me know that despite our expectations, not a single student had left the expected drawing of male genitalia on the beam.

We were perplexed. Isn't this an art school? Haven't kids been leaving drawings of penises in inappropriate places for centuries? What was wrong with this student body?

She asked if I'd had my picture taken in front of the green screen, but it had already been taken down. I'd missed my opportunity to have a photo taken standing in front of VCU's library of the future. Drat.

After she moved on, I found a seat on a sunny wall from which to watch the human comedy that is college students. Two pimply-faced guys were having a conversation.

"I told her, like, you need to text me back more. You need to, like, answer me."
(in an awed voice) "Damn, you own that relationship, man!"

Kids walked by in shorts and tank tops, shivering, and apparently unaware that today's temperature is 20 degrees chillier than yesterday's. At a table set up for collecting signatures for Amnesty International, one oblivious guy stood there eating all the cookie incentives meant for signees.

I spotted a music friend who works at VCU, looking far different in a suit than he does in jeans at a show. Two women moved through the crowd pushing a cart on which enormous flower arrangements sat.

Finally the Broad Street Brass band began playing and I stood on my brick wall perch as three speakers led off the ceremony. One explained that he monitored the library's Twitter feed which was rife with students complaining that there was never enough room.

"VCU needs this building if only to shut up the Twitter feed." Don't kid yourself, sir, they'll find something else to tweet complaints about.

He was also the one who shared the Walter Cronkite quote written on the beam. I wonder, though, how relevant Cronkite's quote is anymore. Once out of school, do adults even bother with libraries in 2015?

Once the crowd was instructed to move back, the crane looming above us slowly turned and dropped the hook with which two construction workers attached the beam and pulled it skyward.

With the band playing and the American flag on top of the library blowing briskly in the wind against the bright blue sky, the yellow beam was hoisted to the rooftop and pulled into place accompanied by applause.

My scrawlings now reside somewhere no one will see them to know what I wrote.

From below my lofty perch, a film friend spied me and observed, "I thought you'd be here." Of course, it's my first topping off ceremony.

While chatting about film and music, he mentioned that he'd recently gone to the library to get a book about Black Mountain College. They hadn't had what he'd come for, but he'd checked out four other books in the meantime. A subsequent trip to the Main library had yielded the book he sought.

Yes, Virginia, people do still use libraries. Or at least people over 40 do.

My library friend interrupted us to announce that after further inspection, she had indeed located a drawing of a penis on the beam just before it was hoisted up.

Praise be to the gods of pimply-faced college students everywhere. Assuming it never gets hotter than 500 degrees, their legacy will reside in the bowels of the VCU Cabell Library for all time.

Go, Rams!