Friday, August 31, 2018

Glitter on the West Streets

Never let it be said that I don't have range.

How else to explain an evening that began with chlorine and ended with a trumpet? An evening where I ran into old neighbors and discussed John Mayer and Texas with a dancing stranger? Richmond, you never let me down.

As soon as I saw that the River City Magnolias were having their final performance of the summer at Randolph pool, I was on board. Sure, I've seen synchronized swimming in the movies, but not in real life, so it didn't count.

Besides, what could be more late summer-appropriate than a pool performance before Labor Day?

The River City Magnolias definitely had the look going in, with each woman clad in a navy and white checked bathing suit, although the style varied by woman. Some were one piece and others were two. All wore bright yellow bathing caps, the likes of which I hadn't seen since I was a kid at the New Carrollton swimming pool.

Although the sky was getting darker and more threatening by the minute, the performance went off on time and without a hitch. The first group were students who'd spent the summer learning synchronized swimming and they swam to the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA."

As they were exiting the pool, I heard my name, only to have my former J-Ward neighbors join me poolside. Their daughter's best friend was a Magnolia, so they were tickled to find a friend in one of the poolside plastic chairs. Now that they live on southside, we go long stretches without running into each other - a far cry from the days when we saw each other weekly at shows - so we used the opportunity to catch up.

They'd recently had a blast at Red Wing Roots Music Festival and Floyd Fest and were eagerly looking forward to Watermelon Park Fest. "It's right on the Shenandoah River, so you can watch the bands while you're in the water!" she told me. I gotta say, I like the sound of that.

Then the pros came out to perform to the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs' kick-ass "Heads Will Roll" and that's when we saw real pool talent. It was impressive to see how well timed each move was as they swam under and around each other to execute moves, never forgetting to smile widely when their bright yellow heads were out of the water.

Their next routine began with hoops which were eventually tossed onto the deck and was set to a medley of "You Don't Own Me," alternately the original Leslie Gore and a sped-up punk version. Besides being a landmark feminist anthem, the wildly different beat of the two versions meant that the Magnolias alternated a slower routine with a frenetic one, showing off their mastery of dancing in water.

When the performance ended, the three of us took it as a chance to chat, which lasted all of two minutes before lightening began and the lifeguard ordered everyone to leave. What mattered was that I left Randolph pool having seen synchronized swimming for the first time.

Enormous raindrops were just starting to fall when I got back to Jackson Ward, but it wasn't enough to deter me from walking over to Gallery 5 for a show. But apparently it was enough to deter a lot of people because I walked into a ridiculously small crowd.

Locals the Folly - singer, fiddle, guitarist, bassist, drummer - had just begun their first song when I arrived. Singer Anneleise (dressed in patterned bellbottoms with slits up the side, the left one revealing a thigh tattoo, over hi-top Chuck Taylors) had the pipes of a young Grace Slick, belting out every song to the rafters. Both she and fiddle player Tara had near waist-length hair, a throwback, for sure.

When Anneleise said, "This is an old song. It's called 'The Kraken," I couldn't help but wonder what "old" meant. A year? Two, tops?

The band had just dropped their new album two weeks ago, so they played through a fair amount of new material off it. Wrapped around her amazing voice were fiddle solos and guitar/bass/drum jams that allowed the two women to dance onstage while the guys rocked out.

For a group of musicians whose parents probably weren't even born in 1966 when the Rolling Stones first released it, the Folly's cover of "Paint It Black" rocked the room and caused widespread dancing, as well it should.

A guy came over and sat his beer down on a small table near where I was standing, saying, "Can I put this here to moderate myself?" It wasn't my table, so sure. He gave me an amused look, saying, "It's not your job to moderate me. It's on me," and returned to dancing in the center of the room. At least he knew that much.

The band closed with "Real Emotion," a barn-burner that showed off everybody's skill set and had the small crowd amped up by its end.

During the break, moderation boy finished his beer and purchased another, bringing that one over as well. "It's a good beer," he assured me. "Help yourself." I could smell the hops from a yard away, so I thanked him and passed.

In no time, headliners the Human Circuit had set up onstage and were ready to play. Glancing at the line-up, moderation boy noted, "Looks like they've got a horn player. I can dig that." Truthfully, I was thinking the same thing.

Where we differed was in his devotion to the Grateful Dead (he was wearing a Phish '98 t-shirt and his first show had been the Dead, "With Jerry, of course") and his righteous indignation about John Mayer being allowed to play with the band in its current incarnation.

The Austin band was five strong tonight and included two women - synth, keys, bass, drums, trumpet - but the big news was that they'd left six band members at home due to lack of touring funds ("One day we'll be able to bring the whole crew!") on this two-month tour. They had an orchestral pop sound with just enough quirkiness and layers to the music to be catchy on multiple levels.

"Thanks to the Folly for that amazing performance," singer/keyboardist Mat began, his green and white sunglasses atop his head. "We'd like to put you in our pocket and take you back to Austin with us."

Their songs weren't long and three were purely instrumental, but in every one, there was a lot going on and the meatiness of the trumpet and synth parts made for a big chamber pop sound. I know they call themselves psych-pop, but I heard everything from Fanfarlo to Hey, Marseilles to Arcade Fire, all bands I love, with some major humor in the songwriting and a vaguely vaudevillian vibe.

I'm talking songs such as "Disclaimer," with its lyric, "I cashed in my soul for this." Who hasn't been there?

Mat mentioned twice how much they loved the venue - c'mon, how often does a band get to play in a converted firehouse with gargoyles atop the stage? - and implored people to come talk to them after the show. "If you make art, I wanna hear about it," he said from the stage. "I dig that."

Standing there watching them produce such great music, it was hard not to focus on the curly-haired woman playing trumpet, singing background and smiling at the crowd like she was having the time of her life. If they sounded this wonderful minus six members, what must a full-on Human Circuit set do to mere music lovers like me?

Be still, my heart.

"Our dream is to play music every night and here we are doing it for you," Mat gushed midway through the show, about the same time I was thinking how glad I was that I'd walked over to Gallery 5 to hear such a stellar band lay their hearts and musical talent out for us.

"Thanks for coming out! Burn some sage and continue this vibe at home," Mat said before the last song. "Tonight is just a brief moment in the universe. We're all part of a bigger picture and we're really glad we all got to be part of this."

Even smelling of chlorine, I can dig it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Betting on Bond

It wasn't just the absence of David Niven, it was the non-stop violence.

When I first heard about the Byrd Theater doing a Bond series, I was excited enough to jot down dates for two films: "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "Casino Royale." When I got home that night, I looked up both films to make sure a) they were of the Bond era I enjoy and b) that I hadn't seen them. Bingo, 1969 and 1967 and neither plot was familiar, so both dates went into my calendar.

Next I invited two favorite Bond lovers to join me. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" may have had everyone's least favorite actor playing Bond (George Lazenby) but the movie was great fun and wildly '60s, so that was a win.

Now imagine my consternation when the day before we're set to go see "Casino Royale," Mac informs me they're showing the 2006 version. Hell, I didn't even know there was a 2006 version, not to mention my complete lack of interest in a 21st century Bond movie.

But I was the one who'd done the inviting, so I felt compelled to sit through what was really an action movie starring Daniel Craig for the sake of friendship and good manners. I could have admitted my error and cancelled the plans, but how petty would that be?

At least there was a fine dinner first. The three of us met at Garnett's, where we were the sole occupants of the dining room. And while each of us has our standard order (farmer's salad, Cobb salad, tuna nicoise salad), a special of BLT with avocado and cilantro aioli caught everyone's attention.

Caught, but didn't overcome longtime habits. Both of my Bond buddies opted for their standard order, while I alone broke bad with the BLT special. Which, I might add, was stellar, mainly because of the cilantro aioli that had been made that morning that elevated the sandwich to something incredibly fresh-tasting. Equally as strong was the soup du jour, a racy tomato gazpacho that has also been whipped up that morning and tasted like a summer day full of tomatoes and peppers.

I don't want to brag, but some of us made the right call. Marble cake with chocolate and white icing - good, but nowhere near as fabulous as the orange creamsicle cake we'd had the night before at the beach - finished us off.

Where I made the wrong call, though, was in agreeing to a movie with more explosions, shootings, fights and destruction of property than all the movies I've seen in the last decade combined. Make that two decades. I avoid action movies like some people avoid subtitled art flicks.

What was funny was when manager Todd was introducing the film and asked if anyone had come expecting to the see the 1967 film with Niven, Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress, because if they had, he suggested going directly to the box office to get their money back. I sat quietly because I was there with my invited guests, but, man oh man, I really wanted out. It only got worse when he warned us that this was a very dark story with a flawed Bond, but also an action movie that lacked the typical Bond gadgetry.

Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.

If, in my typical Pollyanna way, I had to say what I liked about this 21st century Bond movie where bodies stacked up like playing cards and I had to close my eyes through every violent scene (so, roughly 3/4 of the flick), it would be that I enjoyed seeing Judi Densch as M.

The only other redeeming quality, which Mac pointed out, was how well 007's clothes fit him. We're of the shared opinion that there's nothing like a fit man in fitted clothes. Can I get an amen?

Fortunately, there was the occasional humorous exchange to break the tension:
Bond girl: I'm afraid I'm a complicated woman.
Bond: That is something to be afraid of.

Beyond that, nada.

And truthfully, if I'd gotten to see the satiric Bond flick I'd been hoping for, besides David Niven's urbane sophistication as Bond, I'd have seen John Huston as M and that would have been almost as good. Not to mention all the groovy clothes and swingin' attitudes that come with a '60s film.

Afterwards, my Bond buddies insisted I shouldn't have made the sacrifice. They'd both seen it countless times, so they'd have understood if I'd changed our plans.

Forget never saying never again. My new rule is I never need to see another Bond movie made after 1985. Life's too short.

And for mere mortals like me, you only live once.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Toothpick in Hand

Either the heat was affecting our brains or it was a drive to read the newspaper, take your pick.

All I know is that after Mac and I did our usual walk on the pipeline, we were climbing the hill to the Capital when we touched on the subject of how we were each going to spend the day. She was off, so her plan was to clean house. I'd knocked out several deadlines the day before, so I had a light day with no writing to do.

Next thing you know, we've decided to spend the day at the beach, a decision that miraculously caused us to walk far faster than usual the rest of the way home. Hell, if our bright idea had come sooner, we'd have eschewed an urban walk entirely for a beach stroll later.

En route to Sandbridge not long after, Mac asked if I'd brought any reading material. Only the Washington Post from Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I told her. "Oh, boy, I was hoping you would!" she gushed as if I'd made a brilliant decision.

By the time we got within spitting distance of the ocean, we were both starving, making a pit stop at Bandito's Taco Truck non-negotiable. In fact, we were so hungry we wound up eating our fish and beef tacos at one of Bandito's picnic tables under a canopy of shady trees instead of trying to make it to the beach to chow down.

Although it had been less than two weeks since I was last at Sandbridge, there were some changes. Instead of every life guard stand being manned, only every other chair held a bronzed millennial. The beach was populated, but not nearly as crowded as two weeks ago. Even the ocean temperature had come down a couple of degrees, moving from tepid to refreshing.

Every one of those things hurts my heart a little because they're all signs that summer is winding down. It's that acknowledgement that has had me looking for as many ways as possible to enjoy summer - the weekend at the river, the trips to Sandbridge - before it slips into fall and and my mood goes south.

It's not like we did much of anything for the six hours we were on the beach beyond read three days worth of newspapers (the things we learned about McCain, Neil Simon and the 1968 Democratic convention were enough to fuel good conversation for days) alternating with long periods cooling down in an ocean with only the slightest of waves. There was one walk, but I'd bet it didn't total a mile.

Mac spent some of her time on a dating app - soliciting my opinion on why guys would post bad photos - without locating the man of her dreams.

One of the afternoon's highlights was the arrival of an enormous school of fish which entertained beachgoers with an acrobatic show, jumping and flashing in the sunlight, right in front of us. They were followed by a pod of dolphins too big to count, who also cavorted in between snacking on the jumping fish. Both fish and dolphins were so close in that people lined up on a sandbar a few feet away from them to watch the spectacle.

My favorite ocean palette is the iridescent metallic blues of early evening and they slid in far too quickly for me. So we break camp, change clothes and move on to nearby Margie and Ray's Crabhouse for dinner, a shame only because the last thing I wanted to do was abandon the beach.

Mac kept the party going when, despite the many times as I've been to Margie and Ray's (and she was the Sandbridge virgin), she was the first companion who insisted we get crabs. Plus shrimp cocktail (really sweet and fresh), broccoli and Hatteras clam chowder, which she said her grandma would have liked. Also, because we're pros, the moment the crabs arrived, the quality of the conversation plummeted. Actually, became non-existent. It was glorious to eat with a crab equal, much the way she is my walking equal. Helluva package. I don't know why some guy on that dating app hasn't scooped her up.

Or, maybe I do. Sometimes it just happens in real life.

The practically perfect meal closed out with a dessert special I can't imagine finding in Richmond: an old-fashioned orange creamsicle icebox cake and while it could have been cloying and awful, instead it tasted like something Grandma might have made. The cake and frosting combination perfectly mimicked creamsicle flavors, the cake crumb cold and dense, and we agreed there could have been no better conclusion to our beach day than this.

On the 1964-esque placemats was an illustration of two sharks - a he and a she - seated at a restaurant table covered in a red checkered tablecloth with a candle burning in a Chianti bottle (my parents had the same thing when I was growing up). The caption reads, "Send more tourists...the last ones were delicious!"

And I'm betting that no two tourists could possibly be tastier than me and Mac.

Hungry Eyes and Blow Monkeys

Okay, so it may not have been the time of my life, but it was a delightful shot of pure '80s throwback.

With nothing in particular to do Monday night, there was no good reason not to head to the Byrd to see the latest installment in their lovers series, "Dirty Dancing," especially since I hadn't seen it since it came out in 1987. Add in that I've become nothing but a bigger fan of dance since then and I was actually looking forward to a movie about dancing.

No big deal, right?

At the theater, I soon realized that I was in the minority by a mile. First off, the lobby was crowded and made up of 90% women of various ages. (the bathroom line was out of control).

Standing in line to get popcorn, I heard two women squeal when they saw each other. One said she was there because it was her fifth grade daughter's favorite movie of all time (5th graders like films with abortion subplots?) and the other said that her boyfriend had texted and asked her to bring him dinner on her way home from work.

"I told him I'd be happy to, but that it would be a couple hours before I get there because I just found out "Dirty Dancing" is playing at the Byrd," the other responded. Meanwhile, two women in front of me were sharing their separate experiences going to a "Dirty Dancing" weekend at the resort where it was filmed.

Somehow I'd walked into the cult of "Dirty dancing" without any clue that it even existed.

But when manager Todd stood in front of the crowd to share fun facts about the movie, the screams that greeted him were all high-pitched. It made me admire the token men in the theater all the more. One of the many anecdotes he shared about the filming concerned the filming of the scene where Johnny stands behind Baby, her arm wrapped around his head as he traces his fingers down her body. The fact that she cracked up every time and he got more annoyed with each attempt wasn't scripted, but it was filmed and the director liked the naturalness of the interaction so much he left it in.

Besides, what's love without laughter?

And in his usual inimitable way, Todd signaled that it was time to go to the Catskills by yelling to the projectionist, "Mr. B., please show us all the time of our life!"

From the opening scene, one thing was immediately obvious to me: the film may have been ostensibly set in summer 1963, but everyone looked straight out of the '80s. Big perms, lots of eyeliner, high-waisted shorts and capris. Even the Keds Baby was wearing for dance practice were straight up '80s Keds (take it from someone who wore them then).

But mainly it was the women's bodies, all of which resembled the Jane Fonda gold standard of the era, right down to the tights and leotards they wore. If Cynthia Rhodes had been any skinnier, she'd have been invisible.

But the dancing was a pleasure to watch, even if it owed as much to the '80s as 1963. C'mon, choreographer Kenny Ortega choreographed everything from Madonna's "Material Girl" to Michael Jackson tours and it showed. I guess no one cared about continuity in 1987.

That said, it was refreshing to see Johnny and Baby practicing dance moves in an un-air-conditioned cabin, the sweat lending an especially seductive sheen to their moves. There was life before A/C, kids, believe it or not. Some of us choose to still live that reality.

When Patrick Swayze uttered the movie's most famous line - "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" - the women in the theater erupted in cheers and clapping as if a villain had just been killed. The scene where Baby and Johnny are practicing leaps in the water elicited still more applause and a whole lot of swooning. And you can't even imagine the decibel level during the scene where Johnny crooks his finger at Baby to get her to dance with him.

And you know what? I fell for every contrived and corny moment of "Dirty Dancing," even while judging how overly '80s it was. Sure, a big part of that was ogling Patrick Swayze's bare-chested dancer's body watching Patrick Swayze's hips and legs move as one with the beat of the music, particularly on some of the old soul tunes like "Be My Baby" and "Do You Love Me?"

Did I join the cult of "Dirty Dancing"? I did not. Did I leave thoroughly satisfied at watching talented dancing from three decades ago interspersed with a sweet little love story and corny '80s songs?

Yes, I swear it's the truth. And I owe it all to you the Byrd.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Lily of the Valley Ending

The standards have changed at the little yellow river cottage I so enjoy.

How else to explain a call from the man of the cottage asking if we could delay our arrival until after 1:00? Mind you, the missus - aka my girl crush - had already said to arrive mid to late morning, preferably with a Hanover tomato in hand. Now he was saying they needed more time?

More time to what? They've both told me repeatedly that I'm not a guest, I'm family. When my visits are in the same month, I ask that they don't even change the sheets on the screened porch bed between visits. The guest cottage requires no upkeep for me beyond opening the windows and making sure there's toilet paper.

Turns out the uptick in housekeeping standards had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the man who was driving the car toward the cottage. For him, they were putting in extra effort on chores. I know because after handing over the Hanover tomatoes, I asked if they'd have warned me off if it had been just me.


And while I could be insulted, I prefer to think that it's just an affirmation that I'm like the mint planted in the toilet in the yard: no more than another cottage fixture.

As always, they were the host and hostess with the mostess, taking us for a leisurely power boat ride on the eastern and western branches of the river for the shank of the afternoon.

We admired older river houses built with windows for ventialtion, checked out new construction (including a house on stilts seemingly built right at the water's edge - WTF?) and scratched our heads over waterfront houses without porches facing the view. We spotted an old boathouse out in a cove, the pier behind it long gone and the boathouse now sitting at a precarious 45 degree angle as if it were returning to the water incrementally.

Atop channel markers and buoys, we saw empty nest after empty nest where just last month young ospreys had been learning to fly under the parents' tutelage. They'd since left home and the captain was already missing their distinctive sounds in the neighborhood.

The helmsman turned the conversation to how thug-like ospreys were and yet how noble eagles were, casting them as members of opposing gangs. From there, it was a short leap for the two fans of show tunes to begin snapping their fingers a la the Sharks and the Jets.

We got back just in time to change clothes before the dinner party guests began arriving.

There was the judge and his wife, whom I'd met over dinner last spring. There was the couple next door who'd been invited by text while we were out tooling around on the boat (ah, technology). Then during dinner on the deck, when they saw their other neighbor busy doing yard work (and without his family), they called to him and he joined the party.

After dinner and the judge's wife's Atlantic Beach pie - notably with a Saltine crust - we watched the moon rise over the Corrotoman River, debating whether or not it was full (turns out it wasn't) as it cast a long, shimmering reflection across the barely rippling water. The captain had his fingers crossed that a breeze would pick up overnight.

I've had many a wonderful night sleeping on that screened porch, but I can't recall one with such magnificent moonlight bathing the turquoise floor and the single antique bed.

Sunday dawned just as blue sky-beautiful but definitely hotter. After checking the readout for the weather station atop his boathouse, the captain decided that although it was rather still on this part of the river, it looked to be breezier toward the bay. As always, when he inquired who wanted to go sailing, I was the first to raise my hand.

Then it happened again. My girl crush tells me that they're going to go ahead to the marina and tidy up the boat and we should follow along in 15 minutes. I looked at her like she'd grown another head. Since when don't I go along with you to the boat? Since never.

Wait, was this about cleaning up the sailboat before you-know-who saw it for the first time? Well...

Holy cow, they were doing it again. Just to be sure, I inquired if I'd be going with them if I had come alone. Sheepish looks all around.

Insisting that he could handle meeting the boat no matter how she looked, I said we were coming with them. Riding to the marina is when the boating party gets started, what with anticipation of the adventure, joking around and miscellaneous information shared along the way. With a lawman in charge, there's no booze, but there is a whole lot of smart-assed repartee.

It wasn't our best sailing day in terms of wind, although the new helmsman did manage to heel over a few times and give the girl crush and I - lounging on the bow of the boat in our legless seats - some cheap thrills.

Or, as she likes to put it in her raunchiest voice, "Yea, baby!"

Coming up under the Whitestone bridge near the bay, we admired how the new coating of sky blue paint really does melt the bridge right into the sky when you're moving under it. Which, considering the never-ending construction, is a far better place to admire it than on top with the hot asphalt and Port-a-Potties.

It was a slow but steady trip back with only a little of the time under sail power, with the captain pulling the technology card to snap a photo of his crew to document the momentous occasion. Fortunately, he was not around for the pre-journey home, but oh-so important, final outdoor shower of the weekend. Because what happens in the finest shower on the river, stays in the shower.

Yea, baby.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Can I Get a Witness?

Don't get in the ring with a pro without checking your supplies.

After Pru and I began the back and forth on finding a night to get together - with no consensus reached - she looked to me for what we'd do.

P: What did you have in mind? Anything?
K: I hadn't thought it through because why waste the brain cells until you said yes?
P: I wanna know what's on the agenda. Use those brain cells! Stave off Alzheimer's!

I staved by suggesting Movieland, but none of the offerings appealed to her. Her bright idea was the Byrd, but I pointed out that they'd be showing a second run mainstream movie.

P: Don't knock mainstream

So I check and "Ocean's 8" is playing and she wants my thoughts on seeing it. I've got no real interest but I'm gracious enough to say I'll go if she wants me to. After all, I can sit there and judge a movie like that for a couple of hours and call it fun.

She calls me judgey and I remind her that our friendship was founded on a shared love of judging.

Next she suggests the Napoleon exhibit at VMFA, though she's quite sure I've seen it. And she's right, I have, but again, I agree to go if she wants to.

P: There's always dinner and back to your place for chatting and such.
K: Should be a lovely night to sit on my balcony.
P: Yes! I like that! Listening to groovy music.
K: I have groovy music, you can attest to that.
P: I'm a witness. What time? Where shall we go for noshing?
K: I know you don't like to start too early, so how about 6:30?
P: Yea! 6:30 is civilized.

We went back and forth for a bit, trying to decide where to go given our financial restraints and decided to leave that decision for Friday night.

But when she shows up, she's carrying an early Christmas present for me - an adorable black tank/slip hybrid for layering - and a bottle of Chateau d'Esclans Whispering Angel Rose. She no longer wants to bother going out to eat, so I put the Brass Ring's "The Disadvantages of You" on the turntable and pour the wine into glasses so we can settle in on the balcony.

Grooviness achieved.

That we're coming off of a humidity-free, unusually temperate August day and my moonflowers are blooming is a huge bonus, but the real story is that we haven't done a girls' night together in months. Of late, our time together involves other people (men and a mother), a drastic change from the first six years of our friendship when it was her and me against the world (or at least judging the rest of the world).

She tells me about her latest DIY projects and I marvel at her craftiness. The manse is better for all the projects she's undertaken in the name of creating a distinctive space to live. She now has an Etsy store and a logo for it. It has been a while since we talked one on one.

As the Rose in the bottle dwindles, we talk about our love lives and living arrangements. About her upcoming trip to the beach and the houseful of friends - moi included - who will be part of the week-long farewell to summer in South Nags Head.

Three hours in, she looks at me and asks if I have any more wine. I don't and she's dismayed. Do I have any alcohol, she wants to know. I disappoint her with my dry household.

"One bottle for a night with Karen?" she asks incredulously. Clearly I am a bad hostess. Fortunately, mere blocks away is Saison Market, a place with shelves and refrigerator cases full of wines so that we can cure my boozeless household state.

Only now I've got to talk her into walking over there. Pru is not a walker, although I'm here to tell you that wine was enough to motivate her on this occasion. We stroll the streets of Jackson Ward on a  Friday night, past the throngs at a fairly loud show at Gallery 5, past the guys sitting on a brick wall smoking cigarettes and talking to passersby.

We score wine, French, natch, because Pru. Once back on the balcony, I crank up the Al Green and pour more wine so we can pick up the conversation exactly where we left off before the wine shortage sent us into crisis mode.

This is what we haven't had in eons: a wide-ranging conversation, personal admissions and a general overview of our lives at this particular moment in time without anyone else around to insert their thoughts. It's glorious.

Conversation only got more personal (read: fascinating) as we sipped our second bottle, but sometime after midnight, I had to pull the plug on it. With plans to go out of town the next morning, I needed to get to bed. She pointed out that I've been known to sit chatting on her porch until well after 1 a.m. That's truth right there.

On the other hand, we'd almost finished that one bottle and I wasn't ready to hear about my lack of wine from the owner of a well-stocked wine jail.

Say goodnight, Pru.

P: Next time I'm bringing at least two bottles.
K: Best guest ever.

Anyone Can Whistle

I should be ashamed but I'm not.

Last month a local theater critic interviewed me about why I was chosen as a member of the Theater Alliance panel. Off the top of my head, I had no idea why I'd been asked to join four years ago, but after some pondering, I remembered the application process. I'd been asked what my theater background and experience was.

Besides being student director of my sixth grade play, I was a tad short on experience. So what I wound up saying on air during the interview mirrored the words I'd written that had gotten me a spot on the panel.

Sondheim. Stephen Sondheim is what made me a theater devotee.

Back when I was in college, I had a part-time job at the Hecht Company, which also happened to be a Ticketmaster outlet (this was back before we knew what an evil monopoly they were with their obscene "handling fees"). This fact came in handy whenever tickets went on sale, whether it was Fleetwood Mac at the Capital Centre or a new play at the Kennedy Center.

Suffice it to say that I bought a lot of tickets for both venues. No surprise, my devotion to experiencing culture was firmly entrenched even by age 19.

But because it was the Kennedy Center, the plays I was seeing were important ones with major talent. I'm talking star power like Katharine Hepburn in "West Side Waltz," Nicol Williamson in "Rex" and James Whitmore in "The Magnificent Yankee."

But mostly I'm talking about a play like Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures," which jolted me out of my Eisenhower-era Rogers and Hammerstein mindset in 1976 with a play unlike anything I had ever experienced. By the time I saw his "Sweeney Todd" with Angela Lansbury in 1979, I knew I was experiencing a new take on theater completely unlike my parents' notion of theater. A few years later, I reveled in "Merrily We Roll Along." The dye had been cast.

I was completely enamored of Sondheim's brilliant lyrics, sublime internal rhymes and intricate melodies. Sondheim made me a theater lover, plain and simple. I was so enamored, I went on to read Meryle Secrest's stellar biography "Stephen Sondheim: A Life." Twice.

Fast forward and I couldn't have been more thrilled that Richmond Triangle Players was producing "Sondheim on Sondheim," a revue of nearly 40 of the master's songs from a selection of the musicals he's penned since he did the lyrics to "West Side Story" back in 1957.

The first thing I didn't know going in was that the songs would be performed in between film clips of Sondheim interviews dating back to the 1960s. As a certifiable documentary dork, this was like getting a two-fer: a night of live theater and a night of Sondheim interviews and self-reflection.

The second thing I didn't know was how few of Sondheim's songs I recognized. Granted, the man's got close to 20 major works and some of the songs were previously unheard, but, sheesh, I'd apparently forgotten more than I remembered in the intervening decades.

On the other hand, how often do you get to hear "Something's Coming" sung by two different companies in the same summer?

The good news is that not recognizing every song didn't lessen my enjoyment of "Sondheim on Sondheim" one iota. A familiar tune like "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from "Company" is still hilarious and "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music" will always be poignant and full of regret, no matter who sings it. Ditto the longing in "Being Alive" from "Company."

You don't need to know a Sondheim song to thoroughly enjoy hearing it sung live by a talented cast, even if most of them weren't so much as a gleam in their father's eye when he wrote them. Details, details.

Because so many of Sondheim's songs are about relationships and human behavior with each other, it was fascinating to hear him say that he hadn't found love until he was 60. For a late bloomer, he certainly nailed the intricacies of human emotions. It's hard to imagine someone having to wait six decades to find their forever person, although I hear it happens.

For those of us who began worshiping at the Sondheim altar in college, hearing the company sing "God" was affirmation that we'd chosen the right religion.

The man's a god
Wrote the score to Sweeney Todd
With a nod to de Sade
Well, he's off
Well, he's god

The lyrics are so smart
And the music has such heart
It has heart
Well, in part
Let's not start
Call it art
No, call it god

That god showed me the future of musical theater. What kind of acolyte would I be if I didn't spread the gospel of Sondheim?

More importantly, now that I know how long he waited for true love, let's hear it for the late bloomers.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Evolution, Revolution

The short answer is that one of our friendship goals is leaning into the hard conversations.

But when Mac and I originally began making plans for Wednesday evening, her suggestion was to catch whatever Bond movie was playing at the Byrd. Having just seen "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" two weeks ago and with plans to see "Casino Royale" next week, it was a logical plan.

At least right up until we researched what was showing: 1995's "Goldeneye." I gotta be honest: 1995 and Pierce Brosnan are a bit late in the franchise for my taste. Then I learned that it was the first Bond film not to use any elements of Ian Fleming's books and the first to use computer-generated imagery. That was enough.

What's funny about the screening of "Goldeneye" in the context of the Byrd's James Bond series is that all the films being shown were chosen by a poll. When manager Todd announced the upcoming Bond films, he was as perplexed by the choice of "Goldeneye" as anyone. But the people had spoken, so he planned to show it.

My guess is a lot of younger people voted in the poll, people who'd come of age post-Sean Connery and maybe "Goldeneye" was one of their first exposures to Bond. Mac and I said thanks, but no thanks and moved on.

My idea for Plan B was going to Movieland to see Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" and as soon as I suggested it, Mac was on board. We'd talked about seeing it as soon as it had been released, not wanting to hear others talking about it before we'd seen it and formed our own opinions.

So here we were in our favorite seats (lots of leg room) in the front row of the back section of theater #5, a medium-sized bag of popcorn between us, as ready as we were ever going to be for Spike Lee's latest commentary on the state of race relations.

A true story set in the 1970s, the film was nothing short of extraordinary.

From the opening scene, taken from "Gone With the Wind," of Scarlet O'Hara crossing a field of injured and dying soldiers, the Confederate flag waving overhead, to the final scenes from the tiki torch white supremacy march at UVA last year and the demonstrations the next day that ultimately killed Heather Heyer, Lee's movie laid out how one rookie black cop managed to infiltrate the KKK.

A screenwriter couldn't make up a more implausible story, which was a big part of the appeal for me. It wasn't a documentary, but it was based squarely on fact. But then you layer on top of that how incredibly funny (and squirm-worthy) it is and you realize this is a mature Spike Lee masterwork that rests on the shoulders of every other important film he's made.

Denzel's son John David Washington looked like every attractive black guy I went to high school and college with, sporting a good Afro, bellbottoms, vests and wildly patterned shirts. That said, Adam Driver as the Jewish cop who has to physically infiltrate the Klan (and who gets reminded that he, too, has skin in the game) nails the transformation from white privilege to woke.

Besides the accomplished filmmaking and stellar performances, there's a soundtrack that resonated like the audio history of my youth with songs like the incomparable "Too Late To Turn Back Now" by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, "Oh, Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion" and even "Lucky Man" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Not gonna lie, I'm already planning to head over to Barky's to look for that Cornelius Brothers record to add to my collection.

Adding to the visual poetry of the story was Harry Belafonte, explaining to a group of young black college students about a young boy he saw captured, tortured and lynched for speaking to a white woman. The impact of a civil rights pioneer like Belafonte being made part of the story was moving beyond words.

I was one of several people who couldn't help but say "wow" out loud when he first appeared onscreen.

Watching a roomful of Klansmen gleefully eating popcorn while hooting and hollering watching "Birth of a Nation" was a sobering reminder that the film had inspired Klansmen to ratchet up their cross burnings as a result of seeing them onscreen.

Moving as the story was, ending with news footage from last year's Charlottesville events brought the subject of white supremacy home with uncomfortable proximity. I have to admit, I hadn't seen the actual footage of the car being driven into the protesters, though I'd seen photos, and it was excruciatingly painful to watch.

The woman sitting a seat away from me began sobbing when she saw it.

As the lights came up, Mac turned to me and asked, "Why do we do this to ourselves?" The truth is, one of the first ways we bonded was learning that we both have a desire to be part of the social justice solution, not the problem. We've chosen to go to many uncomfortable films, talks and lecture where we as white people were by far the minority and the subjects raised were difficult but important.

You know why, I reminded her. If only there was a way to make sure every white person saw complex and layered films like this and talked about them.

Mac and I know we live in a crazy age and sometimes we need to made to feel uncomfortable about it in order to make progress in going forward.

Truth be told, it's not going to be a happy day in this country until everyone gets on board with that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Fever to Burn

A tree ate the programs, but that didn't make the vintage TV scripts any less funny.

After thoroughly enjoying the first round of M*A*S*H* staged readings two years ago, I wasn't about to miss round two. There are few television shows that capture my word nerd heart like the well-written episodes of M*A*S*H* do. I'm not saying I could quote lines from it, but I am saying that many lines are instantly recognizable the moment they come out of the actors' mouths and land in my eager ears.

But only after checking out Swan Dive for the first time. The little restaurant that's come a long way from its days as a biker bar on Davis Avenue got my attention with a Shells of the Light salad of lump crab, shrimp, avocado, grapefruit, mango, pineapple and greens lightly dressed in a papaya dressing. When I'd ordered it, the server had said it was her favorite for how refreshing it was and she was right, but I was just as impressed with how generous the amounts of each ingredient were.

My only regret was not being able to savor all of the mango, an impossibility given my stone fruit allergy. After 3 or 4 bites, I could feel my tongue tingling, warning me to knock it off. When I apologized for leaving so much mango, the server was empathetic. She has an apple allergy, although she eats them anyway and deals with the discomfort.

Clearly her tongue has never begun to swell like mine has after eating forbidden fruit.

My dessert was called Under the Cherry Spoon and consisted of a brick of frozen chocolate mousse with chocolate ganache and brandied cherries. And, yes, cherries are also a stone fruit, so I kept mostly to the mousse and ganache for fear of landing in the ER instead of at Richmond Triangle Players.

Like last time, tonight's performance featured a boatload of local acting talent and was a benefit for the Mighty Pen Project, which offers university level writing classes for veterans so their service memories can be archived. Lady G's husband is just one of the countless veterans - albeit the only one I know - who have been changed by putting their experiences to paper.

Founded by local author David L. Robbins (who also directed tonight's readings), the project's performance this year featured three episodes from the second season, episodes that included Corporal Klinger in his usual dress and boa, Hawkeye and Hot Lips making nice with each other out of necessity and the bat-sh*t crazy Colonel Flag, easily one of the show's funniest recurring characters.

If I talk about them like they're old friends, it's because they may as well be. I watched old episodes of M*A*S*H* on VHS for more years than I care to admit and still found them hilarious on repeated viewings.

Before the performance began, Robbins explained that a tree had fallen on the power lines near his house this afternoon, robbing him of his ability to print programs for us tonight. Some might question why he hadn't printed up programs for the three week-run sooner, but not me. Given how many of the actors' faces I recognized - Alexander Sapp as Hawkeye, John Mincks as Trapper, Harry Kollatz as Colonel Blake, Thomas Nowlin as Father Mulcahey and Dean Knight as Frank Burns - it's not like I needed a souvenir to remind me.

What I loved was seeing these familiar faces transformed into the smart-mouthed characters I first met in college.

Immediately following mass this Sunday, Yom Kippur services will be held for Jewish personnel of the Hebrew faith.

The second season's first episode, "Divided We Stand," had barely begun when I started cracking up watching the dysfunctional men and women of the 4077th try to stay on their best behavior while being observed by a psychiatrist. And by being on their best behavior, I mean Hawkeye and Trapper putting an appendix in Frank's boot because the other boot was full of tonsils.

I've got enough nausea to light up the city of Toledo, okay? First I'm hot, then I'm cold and my knees are in business for themselves. My tongue has gone cashmere and I'd like to find an all-night latrine that takes servicemen. Now, have I got the flu or am I just in love?

If ever an episode showed off the monumental talent of Alexander Sapp (and, really, what role he takes on doesn't?) it was "Carry On, Hawkeye," as the rest of the 4077th is felled by flu. It's also the one where Harry Kollatz as Henry Blake (wearing the requisite fishing hat) hilariously tells his unit to kindly refrain from kissing anyone unless absolutely necessary.

All I know is I'll volunteer to be on the committee that decides when kissing is absolutely necessary.

It was during this episode that director Robbins took the seat nearest me, next to the two veterans who'd spoken before the performance. From then on, every time I had a laugh attack - like when Hot Lips gleefully jabs Hawkeye in the butt with a syringe full of flu vaccine - he looked over at me laughing hysterically.

I'm sure he doesn't recall, but at the performance two years ago, he actually thanked me for all my "loud laughter," as he called it. Tonight he just looked on proudly and, after the final bow, said to tell all my friends to come see it.

We've got files on people who haven't been born yet.

It was during the final episode,"A Smattering of Intelligence," that Sapp tripped up his line and John Mincks as Trapper quickly ad-libbed, "Easy for you to say," causing the cast to laugh as much as we were.

As Robbins had pointed out, the cast hadn't had a great deal of rehearsal, so they were reading from scripts, but the actors had taken the time to block scenes on their own. The result was that script notebooks became doors to knock on, operating tables when casualties arrived and Radar's omnipresent clipboard.

My practically non-stop laughter at exchanges like, "Colonel, what's your clearance?" followed by "Oh, I go through the door with about an inch of clearance" made the three episodes fly by.

Radar, get another order of Yankee Doodle Dandy. Count me in when it comes to supporting veterans putting pen to paper to save their military memories.

That it involves one of the very few TV shows this non-TV person ever watched is just ganache on the chocolate mousse.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Winning the War on the Kitchen Front

Why are all my favorite history lectures about women?

I mean, technically, "Food for Victory During W II" at the Library of Virginia was about how Americans dealt with food shortages and rationing during the war, but really, it was about how women handled those things, still got dinner on the table, tended their victory garden and, in many cases, worked or volunteered, too.

VCU professor Emilie Raymond's talk brought home just how much women had to do while the boys were off fighting the good fight. From the Women's Land Army - created so women could do the farm chores while men protected democracy - to the North Platte Canteen in Nebraska that served pheasant and egg salad sandwiches to traveling soldiers, my people were on the front lines making sure no one went to bed hungry.

My mother had the same rule, but it usually involved a slice of white bread with apple butter on it before bed.

And let's not forget the U.S. role of producing and supplying food to the Allies.

Raymond talked about how central food was to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan's motivation because they wanted to be self-sufficient food-wise. It was incredibly disturbing to hear that it was  food shortages that caused Hitler to speed up the Holocaust (why feed people you wanted to exterminate anyway?).

She laid out the food hierarchy for us: American soldiers, American citizens, Allied soldiers, Allied citizens. Meanwhile, the white men in charge decided that since the U.S. was the largest food producing country, we'd be willing to trade our surplus for military bases in other countries. Kinda makes you wonder who didn't get to eat so we could have another military base.

Of course, the war was a godsend to U.S. farmers, whose income increased 150% during the war years, not to mention accelerating the mechanization of agriculture. Meanwhile, Richmond did its part by starting 12,000 victory gardens by 1943.

We heard about how the government stepped up its propaganda efforts to ensure good Americans accepted rationing with a smile - patriotism and guilt were especially effective - even as they gave up sugar, coffee, meat and dairy products for the cause. Hoarding food and buying on the black market were seen as the epitome of bad citizenship.

Even Hollywood helped with films like Disney's "Food Will Win the War."

And let's not forget that it was then that they started pushing oleomargarine on butter lovers. Naturally, it fell to the women of this country to still come up with tasty meals with far fewer tasty ingredients.

I'd heard stories from my Mom about rationing, so Raymond's anecdotes were familiar. My Mom remembered putting ration coupons on a high counter as a child and some wily adult swiped them before she could place her order. She also recalled the disagreeable task of adding the coloring to the oozing package of oleomargarine to make it look more like butter, even if the taste was more like plastic.

Seems that's when the government started pushing the concept of victory gardens and canning to supplement the meager family rations, along with raising chicken and rabbits for dinner. Raymond mentioned a Life magazine article about how easy horses were to raise, love as pets and then slaughter.

Because horsemeat, it's what's for dinner.

One facet of all this that particularly fascinated me was learning how malnourished most Americans were at the time. Two out of every five men called up for duty were rejected for malnutrition. Most Americans knew little about how to eat right, so it was at that point that the government started teaching us how to eat for good health. It's also when foods began to be fortified with vitamins to help those who weren't paying attention to all the new nutritional info being foisted on them.

Most importantly, we can't forget that this was the Greatest Generation who didn't see any of this as a hardship. No, siree, this was their contribution to the war effort, along with silk and nylon rationing.

Today's lecture was a reminder that I love me a good her-story lecture. Leave it to women to make the sacrifices and somehow make it all work on the homefront. I'd like to think that I could have done the same.

Just don't ask me to eat oleomargarine.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Exile with a Perch

Birdcage aside, I may as well have gone to see the documentary "Generation Wealth."

Looking at my Friday night options, I considered the film about our current wealth culture and the human cost of narcissism, capitalism and greed. But why watch bad decisions play out in modern times when the same lessons could be gleaned from art history?

Besides, after a day spent writing, the appeal of walking through 11 galleries was far greater than sitting in a darkened theater for two hours. I lucked out, too, because for a Friday night, the VMFA was surprisingly uncrowded, at least in the galleries, if not in the atrium where the wine tasting was happening. It was me and fewer than a dozen other art lovers making our way through "Napoleon: Power and Splendor."

Essentially a history lesson told through paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, furniture and household items (Napoleon took scrupulously good care of his teeth, including dipping his toothbrush in opium before brushing), the exhibition laid out how Napoleon rose to power using his extensive propaganda department and how it all came crashing down on him.

I was fascinated to learn that Napoleon had looked to the young U.S. for presidential portraiture (especially of George Washington) as a source of inspiration for how he wanted to be portrayed.

His court was huge and by huge, I mean 3600 people directed by 6 grand officers making sure everything was done according to directive. One painting showed a woman fluffing the pillow of the Empress, while the signage said that she was the only one allowed to fluff when the Emperor was present in the bed chamber.

Helluva thing to have on your headstone: Royal fluffer.

One of the most unexpected pleasures of the exhibition was Napoleon's architectural vision for Paris, which was laid out in a series of drawings, including one expansive panoramic drawing that was nothing short of breathtaking. So much planning.

But like the hedonistic set I would have seen portrayed in "Generation Wealth," Napoleon's court was a study in excesses, like the gold-plated dinner service - plates and flatware - elaborately laid out on a massive dining room table in the exhibition. To further convey the sense of luxury, there were fabric scrims surrounding the table showing an etching of a banquet scene of the era.

The throne room is red and as opulent as you'd expect, while the gallery devoted to hunting (Napoleon wasn't much of a hunter but did it because it was prime networking time for the upper crust) has the unexpected allure of video projections showing leaves in the Fonainebleau forest where they hunted swaying in the breeze.

As a female, it was especially tough to get behind Napoleon's view of women - apparently we're good for childbearing and nothing else - as he cast aside his beloved Josephine (her fatal flaw being she was 7 years older and unable to bear him a son) and wasted no time in marrying the fertile Archduchess Marie Louise. Taller than me, the elaborate candlesticks and altar decorations made for that second wedding also show up in the exhibition.

But without a doubt, the highlight is the ceiling-scraping birdcage Napoleon commissioned after he was exiled to St. Helena. About the size of my bathroom, the elaborate structure was created by Chinese artisans for Napoleon's garden at Longwood House, his final address.

For me, it resembled nothing so much as the cage I'd had for my finches Claude and Camille (Monet, of course) back when I was in college. Shaped like a pagoda, with various levels and perches throughout, Napoleon's was more of an aviary than a birdcage given its size, but the idea was the same. He used it for maimed birds and chickens which eventually escaped, which is probably what he was hoping for himself.

Looking at the final image in the galleries - a painting of Napoleon just after he died - all I could see was a broken man who'd milked his delusions for as long as he could before saner heads prevailed. Which meant instead of comparisons to greedy wealth-seekers, I was thinking of the last two and a half years and the delusional man currently being built up by the White House propaganda machine and wondering how all that will end.

Besides not soon enough, I haven't a clue.

"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon," observed Napoleon.

For that brilliant analysis alone, I gave the man credit...and my Friday evening.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Wait and See When the Smoke Clears

You're insatiable! But yes, most likely.

To be clear, what I was asking about was whether or not I was invited to Pru's screened porch party  after our dinner and theater date this evening. Considering that it had been only four days since I last enjoyed porch pleasures with her and Beau, she saw my request, perhaps, as a tad greedy. How much outdoor conversation can one woman need?

What she failed to consider was that our Sunday night verbal extravaganza had been a party, a birthday throwdown for Beau and had included two other couples besides the four of us and Queen B. We were the mortified guests who arrived an hour late to find all the other guests patiently awaiting our appearance so that the first of many bottles of Moet Chandon could be opened and poured.

I take full responsibility, since I'm the idiot who'd looked at the invitation and somehow seen 4 instead of 5:00. The good news was, once the champagne began flowing, no one seemed to care that it had been delayed. Not to mention they were all sipping on something or other, just not bubbles when the cat dragged us in.

This was a backyard party and a lavish table had been set up under a huge umbrella. It wasn't long after we took the only two vacant seats that Pru began delivering the fruits of her days-long labor: beef and veggie kebabs, six pounds of perfectly steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, fresh butterbeans and crusty bread to sop it all up with.

It was some time early on in the meal when the humid air broke and a gentle rain began falling. It was an inconsequential enough weather change that everyone continued eating and talking because between the arbor and umbrella overhead, the rain wasn't inconveniencing anyone. Or at least that's what those of us who were still dry assumed.

In fact, my date and Queen B were out of range of the covering and being doused continually while we sipped and supped.

By the time it came to the attention of the rest of us, the two of them were completely soaked. Queen B's feather earrings were reduced to a couple of rain-slicked points that in no way resembled feathers. My date's shirt and shorts could have been rung out there was so much water in them.

Neither had so much as mentioned how wet they were getting while it was happening, making us dry diners feel a little guilty for not noticing. But once it became common knowledge, Beau, the birthday boy but ever the good host, retrieved another, smaller umbrella and attempted to set it up. The result was that new lines of drippage were created and before long, my chair and the back of my dress were soaked through.

Still, no one suggested leaving the table because how often do you get to have a summer supper in a pouring rainstorm? Honestly, it only added to the good time vibe, although at times it drowned out whatever music Alexa was playing.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me...

There was a lot of talk about travel, with Beckham and the Beauty telling us about their recent foray to New Orleans and how underwhelmed they'd been by some of the food they ate in what is considered to be a stellar food town. The history couple shared that instead of going to Paris this year, they're forcing themselves to embrace a trip to Glacier National Park, even though it's going to cost as much as the City of Lights.

Pru and Beau continue to insist they want to do a Scotch-tasting tour of Scotland at some point, and that was enough for Beau to bring out a bottle of very good Islay, which suited Beckham but not everyone, so a bottle of Highlands Scotch followed, while Pru and I wisely kept to bubbles. "Brown liquors are for cozy winter nights, not summer," she sniffed.

The chocolate ganache birthday cake from Morsels got high marks from everyone and again brought up the story of Beau's first attempt at making ganache, a culinary misadventure involving using evaporated milk instead of condensed milk, resulting in a ganache with zero sweetness and a whole lot of bitterness. Problem was, the cake was a birthday offering for Pru, who prefers milk chocolate.

Beau loved it, but he was the only one. He has since stepped away from ganache-making.

It wasn't even midnight, though it was some time after the in-depth explanation of fencing from a guest who does it and the shared anticipation of next month's beach adventure for six of us that people began thinking about work tomorrow and making their farewells.

Translation: not nearly enough time for conversation beyond the constant bouncing from party guest to guest to join discussions already in progress.

Tonight's requested porch time was only the final stage of an evening that began at Secco for dinner, which for me meant chilled melon gazpacho with pickled blueberries and feta, followed by arctic char with creme fraiche. But I'm here to tell you that the most swoon-worthy part of the meal was a summer vegetable tian - a gratin-like dish that made better use of zuchinni and squash than I have ever put in my mouth - savored with Louis Pato Baga Brut Rose to kick things off and a bottle of Moreux Sancerre Blanc "Les Bouffants" to follow, because, as Pru is so fond of reminding us, why would we ever leave the Loire?

Looking at the dessert menu, Beau was bummed that our favorite butterscotch pudding was no more, but I happily had the lemon curd tart with toasted meringue, candied violets and edible flowers, causing shock waves among friends who think I must have chocolate to close out a meal.

Not so, mes amis, let's not forget that I'm also a sucker for coconut cake. Not all desserts must be chocolate, as Beau reluctantly acknowledged with his buttermilk gelato, which managed to be decadently rich without the characteristic tang of buttermilk.

You live, you learn, according to Alanis Morisette.

After a drive up scenic Route 301, we landed at Hanover Tavern to take in "Crimes of the Heart" and enjoy some Southern gothic family drama. And while watching a play about three southern sisters dealing with each other and their long-time roles in the family provided plenty of fodder for a compelling story, those of us with five sisters know that there's so much more that could have been mined on the subject of sisterly love, family history and devotion.

Don't get me started.

Take it from the oldest of six, Maggie Roop masterfully nailed the weight of carrying the life-long responsibilities of being born first, playing oldest sister Lenny as equal parts substitute mother and general peacekeeper, with little regard for her own needs.

And while the entire cast was strong, has anyone ever changed her pantyhose while giving a monologue and made it more hilarious than Maggie Bavolack as Chick? Talk about comedic gold.

Despite not getting home from Hanover until after 11:00, we closed out the night on Pru's screened porch, talking about the success of the birthday party - really, how often in life do you get to peel shrimp  and sip champagne surrounded by pouring rain? - the top-notch acting in the play and how little James Bond experts Pru and Beau recalled of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," which I'd just seen a few nights ago at the Byrd.

And that's just what I can mention.

My point is that I'm apparently not the only insatiable one since conversation flowed until the clock was hitting 1 a.m. and I finally headed back to Jackson Ward, where the recently returned student population was roaming the streets in search of a party.

My oldest sister advice to them would be to start by checking out the screened porches.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Come On Down

Of all the ways to try to surprise me, taking me to a Richmond restaurant I haven't been to has got to be one of the more challenging.

After all, when your livelihood revolves around eating at new places and your social life involves dining out before a cultural event, you tend to cover a lot of restaurant ground. Which only makes it all the sweeter when I wind up someplace I haven't been.

Some place like Longoven.

Like most Scott's Addition architecture, the building itself was so nondescript that we passed it without so much as a side glance. But walking through the door transported us to a sleek dining room with music loud enough to hear over the many tinkling dinner conversations already in progress and a vibe that didn't immediately scream Richmond.

The roving bands of beer drinkers outside did that.

I made it halfway to our prime table in the back - away from the fray, but with a good view of the large, open kitchen - before a familiar server spotted me and I was being hugged. But of course a much-anticipated restaurant like Longoven would attract some of the best staff in the city. I mean, it's not poaching if someone wants to jump ship so they can be part of a new restaurant, right?

The meal got off to a fine start when my partner-in-crime insisted we start with Alain Vincey Brut, a perfectly delicate and crisp champagne from a small producer. Let's just say it was a fitting choice to celebrate what completely different worlds the two of us inhabit compared to last August second.

And not to mock Don Ho, but tiny bubbles in the wine really do make me feel fine.

Everything about the meal validated Bon Appetit's 2016 acknowledgement of Longoven as one of the best new restaurants in the country, even if they were nothing but a pop-up when it was bestowed. Maybe most impressive was how light and unfussy the food was, allowing fresh flavors to shine and not leaving us in a food coma, which sort of defeats the point of a really good date.

Fluke crudo was nothing short of a work of art with trompe l'oeil "cucumber slices" made of cucumber and fennel juice foam between strips of fluke, cucumber and assorted varieties of basil. Touching down on multiple hot buttons, lump crab salad rested on the creamiest of corn custards (but not heavy) with shitake mushrooms and - be still my heart - grated egg yolk. Not the least bit overdone and the flavor combination was truly memorable.

Longoven is the kind of place where your server will remind you of all the components in your dish when she sets it down, in case your wine drinking exceeds your menu memory. I actually find this to be kind of endearing. Our server was sweet, though somewhat abashed-looking every time she returned to find us so busy talking in low tones that she was reluctant to interrupt us.

With more champagne, we tackled roasted monkfish that was no kin to any monkfish I previously had and I say that as a big fan of monkfish. The lobster-like meat rested in a broth of kombu and mushroom, with an assortment of mushrooms providing all kinds of earthy flavor notes married to the bounty of the sea.

Three savory dishes earned us two desserts, which is only appropriate in a place with a pastry chef. Safe to say neither of the desserts we chose will soon show up on other local menus.

My hazelnut mousse was taken over the top with Comté ice cream (and believe me, nothing could be more obscene than incorporating such a rich cheese into ice cream), hazelnut sponge cake and hazelnut praline, while himself - an alleged non-dessert eater I'm doing my best to convert - tucked into a roulade of coriander cake with blueberry gelee, white chocolate mousse, cilantro oil and blueberry sorbet.

Toto, when it comes to dessert, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Although the place was emptying out when we finally stopped talking long enough to get up to leave, we only got as far as the front room before I heard my name called. "I didn't even see you come in," said the handsome face behind the bar. "J. told me you were here."

After he told me how good I looked, we agreed that next time we're in, it's only fitting that we sit at the bar for dinner. No sacrifice breaking bread with a conversational bartender.

The only problem is, now that my main squeeze has had a taste of dining with me somewhere for the first time, a pleasure we'd not yet experienced except when out of town, it may be a while before we return. As he watched me drinking in the decor, the crowd, the servers, the meal, even the feel of the place, I think it's safe to say he liked sharing first-timer status with me. It may be a while.

Don't worry, Longoven, a woman never forgets her first time. Or ComtĂ© ice cream.

Friday, August 3, 2018

All That Happens is Wonderful

In the past, if I did not blog, something was wrong.

I may have been nursing a recent hurt or upset about something or even, for those months last winter, too low to rouse myself only to depress my readers. Not blogging could be seen as a statement of mindset.

It still can, but for wildly different reasons.

"I'd like to say first that any day you don't have a blog post, I smile. No post means you're enjoying yourself, likely in the company of someone very close to you. I have tried a couple of times to post a comment, but I get caught in a loop and it won't take. Then I would draft an email in my head and not send it because it really should be shared with your readers."
~ Leo, "Intel" email, July 25

Like a faceless priest absolving me of my childhood sins in the confessional (in my pre-heathen days), hearing one of my oldest friends was gratified when I didn't post exonerated me.

"But something has happened to the woman with the notebook. I have come home and sunk into my enjoyment of him as into a warm summer day. The journal is secondary. Everything is secondary...This is strange. Before, as soon as I came home from all kinds of places, I would sit down and write in my journal. Now I want to write to him, talk to him...To have a summer day like today and a night with him, I ask nothing more."
~Anais Nin, "Henry and June," my beach read

Of all the books to choose to reread while ensconced in Kitty Hawk oceanside earlier this week - and soley because I'd read a biography of Henry Miller at the beach in May - what could have better suited my mood than the unexpurgated diary of a writer and journalist completely enthralled?

I have not given up on this blog, but it's reassuring to know there is a literary precedent for my lack of attention to it. Even better, those who know me best applaud my absence.

As summer days and nights go - the air, the smells, the sun and moon, the company - these are mine alone. Blogging time is scarce these days.

Lucky me.