Monday, March 23, 2015

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.

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