Tuesday, September 4, 2018

To Say and Do Whatever I Please

You want to spend a long holiday weekend in town? I'm your girl.

Make no mistake, if I'd gotten an invitation to the beach or river, I'd have been gone. But years gone by have also taught me the pleasures of staying in town when so many people are gone. Easy parking, half empty restaurants, leisurely pace. It's Richmond as a different animal.

Not to brag or anything, but if I'd been eager to show off the range of what Richmond has to offer, I'm not sure I could have done a finer job of doing so.

Friday night started at Hardywood for the Shangri-Lords, because a holiday weekend is best rung in with a man singing lead on girl group songs. Midway through their set, as I was admiring the matching go-go boots and stellar dance moves of the female back-up singers, a man approached me tentatively, saying, "Karen?"

Joe? That's how we wound up seated at a table with the former dean of VCU's art school and his wife, with both of the guys reveling in hearing the soundtrack of their youth. It was also, oddly enough, the second night in a row that I heard a cover of Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me."

C'mon, what are the chances?

Next came a stop at Carytown Gyro, which replaced Doner Kebab - a long-time fave of Mac's and mine - and while the chicken shawarma had good flavor, they don't make their own pita and the difference was disappointing. It was justa  few doors down to Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery for a couple of glasses of their Vidal Blanc/Chardonnay blend (which they don't bottle, an interesting side note) and a chance to enjoy the Brazilian music of Quatro na Bossa.

Unlike every other place this weekend, Garden Grove was mobbed with talkers who made hearing singer Laura Anne's beautiful voice challenging at best, so we left when the set ended. Who's so uncouth they talk loudly over such transcendent music anyway?

Saturday began with a pipeline walk before moving on to the ICA for artist Paul Rucker's talk about his exhibit, "Storm in the Time of Shelter," of colorfully patterned KKK robes and hoods and the array of lynching and anti-black memorabilia in the cases around the gallery. He was a forceful speaker on the topic of systemic and institutionalized racism, challenging the mostly white crowd on how well they knew their history.

Answer: rather poorly. But his talk was rich in commentary about the realities of race in this country circa 2018, just the kind of talk that makes white people uncomfortable. The kind of talk Mac and I seek out for that every reason.

We followed heavy talk with bagels at Nate's Bagels, notable because unlike every other visit, it was all but empty. But Nate was there and stopped to chat before heading home to his real family and leaving his bagel crew to carry on without him. And while they were out of everything bagels (holiday weekend, you know) we managed with one onion bagel and one rosemary and sea salt bagel instead.

On the plus side, I now know what something besides an everything bagel at Nate's tastes like. I've been called a creature of habit for good reason.

To fully embed a come-here into the myriad pleasures of Richmond, thrifting was also required. A stop at the Clothes Rack not only introduced a newcomer to its bargain pricing, but also provided a fitted summer wardrobe. Let's face it, we've got months of shorts-wearing weather left. The Hall Tree netted only a couple of shirts, but they were winners.

I like to remind people that recyclers do it over and over again.

Acacia offered proof positive that half the city was missing when we showed up at prime dinnertime and easily found stools at the bar, unheard of on a normal Saturday. We celebrated the first 24 hours of our extended play weekend with multiple glasses of Mimi Bulles Rose and an entire dinner (well, except for the chocolate cremeux) that had begun life in the sea: a salad of smoked salmon, cucumber, pickled onion, hard egg, radish and lettuces in a lemon dill vinaigrette, fresh caught rockfish over a luscious summer salad of heirloom tomatoes and greens in balsamic and shrimp, linguine and spinach in an obscene garlic butter sauce.

When we walked out, Cary Street was just this side of dead. On a Saturday night, mind you.

Come Sunday, we packed up an Ellwood Thompson picnic and headed to the mountains, namely King Family Winery, so that the newbie could see his first polo game. Situated under one of the few shade trees, we sipped King Family Viognier and watched riders taking their horses up and down the enormous field to score goals.

Only the obnoxious sound of an air horn marking the start and end of each chukka marred the idyllic setting at the foot of several mountains. By the time we broke camp, the staff was busy setting up for a wedding on the lawn and no doubt a glorious summer party afterward.

Polo-watching can be exhausting, which is why we only went two blocks for dinner. Tiny Victory, the colorful new Fillipino restaurant on Broad, welcomed us with a dish of shisito peppers, sweet corn on the cob, watermelon radishes and burnt honey.

Next came kinilaw of snapper with coconut, citrus and red onion, elevated with a thick shmear of avocado inside the bowl's edges. I swiped every bite of snapper with avocado as I brought it out of the bowl and then used the crispy shrimp chips to get the rest. We closed out the meal with pancit, a mixture of rice noodles, mushroom XO, Napa cabbage, spicy pickled carrot and crispy garlic that got raves from the healthy eater across from me. Me, I was already full from the first two courses.

Also, really glad to have a restaurant in that space again, given its proximity to my apartment.

Sunday meant a trip to the VMFA to see "Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen," a fascinating exhibition by a black, activist artist about whom we knew nothing. Located in two separate places in the museum, the show was enormous. Here was a woman who'd never been shy about exploring the intersection of racism, violence, feminism, slavery and exploitation since the '60s and doing it using unconventional materials like glitter, talcum powder, postcards and chads, in some cases, chads she'd taken the time to number.

Her attention to detail and the sheer amount of time her pieces took set her apart from other abstractionists of that era.

And while we'd gone to see her show, both of us were captivated by the small show of works on paper, "The Precisionist Impulse." Drawings, photographs, watercolors and prints, most - but not all - made between the World Wars showed a decidedly neo-Cubist bent and attraction to modern urban subjects such as architecture, infrastructure and mechanics.

When you talk about the benefits of a world-class museum in your home town (besides the absinthe drip upstairs at Amuse, still my favorite place to unwind at the VMFA), one of them has to be happening on a small, unexpected show (or work of art) that you hadn't come to see. It's like finding an extra Christmas gift tucked away once you start clearing out all the balled-up wrapping paper. Oh, look, something else for me?

Keeping to the theme started with Paul Rucker and continued through Howardena Pindell, "BlackkKlansman" seemed like a natural. Sure, I'd seen it, but I'd also left knowing I wanted to see it again, so here was my chance.

No surprise, Movieland wasn't the least bit crowded for a late afternoon Labor Day show, so when better for my partner-in-crime to see Spike Lee's latest? Much as I appreciated the film on many levels when Mac and I first saw it, I knew there was plenty I'd missed.

Not to mention plenty I wanted to see a second time, including that wonderful dance scene set to the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose's "Too Late to Turn Back Now." Thank you, Spike Lee, for allowing the scene to unfold languorously and not as a quick cut.

Walking out, a woman in front of me summed up her impressions. "Spike Lee always teaches you something, doesn't he?" Indeed he does.

Once out of the theater, we must have sat in the car for at least a quarter of an hour, talking about the film: how it had been made, how it must have begun shooting before the Charlottesville incidents that close out the film even happened, how much the film concerned prejudice against Jews as well as blacks.

We met the challenge of finding an open restaurant on Labor Day by heading directly to My Noodle, which was mobbed. Our table was all but on top of the table of the couple next to us, but we can ignore practically anyone with chopsticks flying into plates of broccoli and chicken in black bean sauce.

Back in the Ward, it was obvious that cars and their owners were back in the city, even if things were still a bit quiet. We figured everyone was hunkered down, gearing up for work or the upcoming school year.

Not us. Instead, we got settled on my balcony for a night devoted to listening to cover albums - "Bleeker Street: Greenwich Village in the '60s," Shawn Colvin's "Cover Girl" and "If I Were A Carpenter," a '90s take on the music of the Carpenters. Overhead, puffy little clouds stayed visible in the night sky and an occasional breeze rewarded us with reasons to linger.

And if this Labor Day weekend in town was about anything, it was about the lingering. Why go when staying is this pleasurable?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

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