Saturday, March 21, 2015

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.


  1. As a frequent visitor to Reykjavík, I must recommend a meal at Dill. Perhaps you could get one the publications you write for to spring for an Icelandic 'fact-finding' trip?

  2. Excellent thought! Do you recommend the country in general?

  3. To state it as concisely as I can: A life-changing experience. The culture is as vibrant as the landscape is overwhelming. My Flippism is the Key blog has a sidebar link devoted to it.

  4. Fascinating reading and gorgeous photography! I had no idea we had Darien in common. Small world!