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.

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