Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Two by Two

What's with the sudden urge to pair up?

Before the night was over, I had one friend telling me the lengths her ex went to for her birthday - calls, a dinner invitation, flowers, a book of photographs of their relationship before he dumped her in a text -  and another friend laying out the series of steps required before he marries his main squeeze.

Did Noah send out another ark memo that didn't get to me?

We made the bartender at Acacia our fourth because we were the sole occupants of the bar and he was loquacious and witty. The only problem was he couldn't join us in enjoying Chateau Langlois Cremant de Loire, but at least he had a fat tip in his future.

During a discussion of the pleasure of eating duck, my friend asks him if he likes garlic butter. With a roll of his eyes, the barkeep responds, "I like oxygen, too." In other words, duh.

That kind of witty.

They must have been kindred souls, I'm thinking, because it takes a certain kind of man to offer a new acquaintance a pocket protector. And not even one that he had with him, just one that he had languishing at home somewhere, left over from college. Granted, the bartender did have four pens neatly lined up in his shirt pocket, a disaster waiting to happen. Not improbably, a conservation about pens spewing ink into white pockets ensued, complete with the barkeep's memories of a leaky pen ruining his R.O.T.C. uniform shirt in high school.

Some traumas you never get over.

They bonded over Russel Crowe and Denzel Washington movies, which pretty much left the womenfolk out of the conversation entirely. I tried to stay relevant by mentioning "BlackkKlansman" so we could talk about Denzel's son's talent, but they merely acknowledged me and moved on

Because we had the bartender's undivided attention, we could be as nosy as we liked. Talking about the benefits - wine at cost - and drawbacks - little playtime - of working every night the restaurant is open, he regaled us with his off-duty antics. Seems this past Sunday, that meant starting with bourbon and ginger upon waking up, a miscalculation that landed him back in bed by 8:30 that evening.

It's a marathon, not a sprint, son. Like the t-shirt I saw on the pot-bellied guy at the grocery store yesterday, "You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning." That's some Confucius wisdom right there.

But he was also kind enough to share his current favorite wine, Riebeek Cellars Cape Rose, a ridiculously easy drinking pink that made our brains default to sunny days and porch afternoons. After pouring us glasses to taste, he acknowledged, "I never buy fewer than five bottles at a time," showing wisdom beyond his years.

Nor could our newfound friend join us in eating through the menu, although conversation revealed that he'd already done as much on his own. Now it was our turn.

So. Much. Food.

Crab fritters, fried oysters, white anchovies with Fourme d'Ambert. A salad of greens, apples, golden raisins and cashews in celery vinaigrette, just so I could live with myself. Entrees of rockfish, mahi mahi with roasted cauliflower and crispy potatoes and, my choice, rockfish collar with Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in a cilantro sauce, all nodded to the chef's talent with the bounty of the sea.

The manager stopped by to say hello and her outfit caught the attention of those of us who like retro fashion. A tan suede jumper over a cream turtleneck with dark brown suede boots was not only mod and Fall-like, but reminded my friend of an outfit she'd had in 1967. For me, it looked like something I'd aspired to in junior high.

Either way, we sent her off with effusive compliments about the look, even if Fall dressing does depress me.

So. Many. Layers. And it's only October.

Once we got the bartender dishing on problematic customers. we heard about those who order outrageous cocktails ("I'll have a Grateful Dead") and then when the bartender asks what's in it, have no idea. "You don't know and you're ordering it?" he asks them incredulously. Nope.

Our most serious discussion involved the differences for his generation versus ours in terms of what's attainable, a conversation that included debating trade schools versus college and how out of reach what his parents strove for was for him as an adult. I was feeling his pain right up until he said he and his girlfriend make $95K between them and after that I just had to question their budgeting skills.

Let's put it this way, when I told him how much I make, his eyes about bugged out of his head.

But nibbling on chocolate cremeux, sipping Cremant from a second bottle and listening to techno music, I couldn't help but acknowledge that life, especially mine, is good.

One highlight of the evening came not from the bartender but from my girlfriend, who pulled out a Baggie with a selection of old photographs from her 1987 group trip to Paris that showed her as a young woman, along with her best friend and the art professor she was secretly pining for.

But personal history aside, what caught my eye was how arresting her photographs were simply because she has such an artistic eye. One taken from her room at the Hotel de Lima shows a neatly parked street, the quaint old buildings receding into the distance. The composition is so perfect it would sell as a postcard.

All I could see, though, was how very different the Paris of 1987 was from the Paris I saw for the first time in 2016. Her Paris had only a fraction of the cars and people and none of them were looking at phones.

Another showed the nearby skyline through the leaded outlines of a rose window at Notre Dame. But my favorite showed her on the roof of a building as she stood behind a massive stone gargoyle "scratching" its back, the city spread out before her with the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance. She's smiling optimistically like she's having the time of her life.

Little did she know it would be another 25 years before she found the love of her life. Fortunately, there's wine, garlic butter and oxygen to keep a girl occupied until that finally happens and she qualifies to board the Ark.

In the meantime, whatever works.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Live in the Moment

Imagine a woman writing out installments of the story of her life for others to read, complete with aliases for real people.

I know, I know. Unlikely as it sounds, there's a surprisingly eager audience for those kinds of stories. So when I saw that "Colette" was playing at the Criterion tonight, I messaged a fellow literary fan for company, hearing back, "Ooh, that sounds right up my alley."

Nearly 20 years ago, I'd read all 500 pages of Judith Thurman's "Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette" and closed it still wanting to know more. And, to this day, I've never read any of Colette's writing, a glaring omission I could begin to address by seeing this film.

Total absence of humor renders life impossible. ~Colette

Judging by the decent-sized crowd for an early Monday evening show, lots of Baby Boomers were curious about the bisexual writer who'd ghostwritten the "Claudine" books about her life for her husband's publishing company and become the toast of France with her openness and unorthodox attitudes.

But I was just as taken with her need to write, a point driven home when Colette acknowledges that she didn't write because he told her to but because she couldn't stop herself. Putting one's life down on paper allows memories to be forever recalled because no matter what you're certain you'll remember, it won't be as much as you think.

Most of my life I've kept diaries or journals, and now, this blog. As hard as it would be to recall all the times I've had to verify a date or place (or band or person) on my blog, there are nearly as many times someone else settled their own question by searching the blog.

Can't recall when you saw me at the Elvis Costello show at the National? Looking it up on the blog tells me it was April 24, 2010. Last time I was at Lakeside Tavern? September 23, 2014. Look it up.

Colette's novelization of her years at school, or introduction to Paris or menage-a-trois interlude provided fodder for the reading public and perhaps incited more than a little envy, but they also gave voice to a different kind of woman. That she's such an astute observer of the people around her only make her writing more compelling for those who enjoy a good observation or opinion. After all, you don't get nominated for the Nobel prize in literature for nothing.

You can do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.~Colette

Pru and I both loved everything about the film, from costumes to dialog to performances, and that's not the popcorn talking, either. But we're also those nerds who got back to my apartment and promptly began poring over my copy of "Secrets of the Flesh" for the dozens of old black and white photos of the people the movie's characters were based on.

There was Colette at 15 in a hammock, or in drag in 1910.

Our curiosity rewarded us with several images that had become entire scenes in the movie: Colette being carried in on a palanquin supported by men in the barest of black briefs at a theater party, Colette and her transgender partner working out on their backyard gym.

This is what nerds do after seeing a satisfying costume biopic.

What a wonderful life I've had! I only wished I'd realized it sooner.~Colette

Flashing back to a conversation Pru and I had had yesterday about her new cookbooks - one by Frida Kahlo, another by Monet - I pulled out my own piece-de-resistance, Toulouse-Lautrec's "The Art of Cusine," a book I bought in the '70s, as much for its Lautrec illustrations as for the straightforward recipes.

Ever the chef, once the book was in Pru's hands, she made me the audience as she read preparations that either caught her eye or made her sick at the prospect of executing. Things such as, "In order to make the chickens immediately edible, take them out of the hen run, pursue them into the open country, and when you have made them run, kill them with a gun loaded with very small shot."

Not a snowball's chance in hell either of us would have managed that, but it's eminently entertaining reading.

For galantine of preserved goose, she read, "Take the bones out of a goose fat enough to die of it." I'm not even sure what that means.

For squirrels, the instructions read, "One must use no spice of any kind which might entail the risk of taking away from the animal its exquisite nutty flavor." This, I suppose, explains its inclusion in Brunswick stew.

Of English Channel Bouillabaisse, the author wrote, "This bouillabaisse is only a pale reflection of the bouillabaisse of Marseilles since it lacks rascasse and the Mediteranean rock fish which makes both its basis and its savor." So why, Pru and I wonder, include this recipe at all?

And don't get us started on Quails in Ashes: "At the end of September, beginning of October, after you have killed some fat quail, pluck and empty them." For the record, "emptying" birds is part of every recipe that involves them, perhaps because "disembowel" is such an unpleasant word.

We couldn't stop laughing. The cookbook's era overlaps with Colette's, but she and Willy had a housemaid, so it's doubtful she ever had to worry about stewing eels or skinning a rabbit. And let's face it, writing about your life is way more interesting than cooking calf's liver with three slabs anyway.

And if it's not, I suppose I'll never know. That's enthusiasm talking.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Mixing Metaphors

Bagels, backers, tequila and tacos. Oh, right, and Hell. Just another typical Sunday.

It was a glorious morning to walk to Nate's Bagels, overcast and brooding on the way there and blue skies and sunny coming back. Kind of like life. The only problem was that after last week's glowing review of the place, the line was even longer than usual.

Not that we were in a hurry.

But some people walked in, eyeballed the line and made an immediate U-turn. Sorry, but once my mouth is set for Nate's, I don't care how long I have to wait to be satisfied. Some people looked like they'd just rolled out of bed - I spotted a woman in slippers and several people in pajama pants - and were using their line time to wake up. Not a bad system.

When we finally got to the counter to order, Nate himself came over to say hello. When we mentioned the review, he shrugged. "It was no Karen, but it was good." Hilarious.

Given that we'd already had breakfast, the purpose of the bagels was to tide us over during the matinee we were attending, which took place only after we'd spent quality time with the Washington Post on the couch. Yet again, it was a depressing day to be reading the news, but better to be informed.

After outfitting ourselves for the theater, we drove to the Gottwald Playhouse where we ran into a trio of women, two visiting from New York, navigating the parking lot payment machine. It took me no time to find out how the local had been entertaining her guests, chief among which was Richmond's ridiculously low prices for parking. They laughed out loud at an $8 fee to park for the rest of the day. Richmond's cute, right, for its simplicity, I asked them. "It's adorable!" one said in her thick New York-ese accent. "We thought it was $25 and that didn't seem bad!"

They'd done a trolley tour the day before and now were off for a tour of Mr. Jefferson's Capital, but only after regaling me with the splendor of the brunch they'd had at the Stables at Belmont. They were as impressed with the cost of food as they were with the quality of what they'd gotten.

After wishing them a good time, we headed to the same building we'd been in the night before for the gala to meet up with Pru, Beau and Queen B. Inside the theater, a row of tables had been set up in front of the risers of seats and we found them ensconced at the last available table.

The premise of "Gutenberg! The Musical" was that the two men onstage - the hilarious and multi-talented Chris Hester and Paul Major - were presenting the musical they'd poured their blood, sweat and tears into to an audience of of potential backers. Because they needed a producer (aka money), it was just the two of them playing all the roles, a task assisted by the many baseball caps labeled with character names: Drunk #1, Young Monk, Drunk #2, Anti-Semite, Daughter. You get the idea.

As for why they'd chosen Gutenberg for the subject of their play, well, who needs historical accuracy to come up with a good musical? Not these guys. Instead, after Googling the inventor of the printing press and discovering scant personal information, they'd set out to make up a Broadway-worthy story with enough inside theater humor to keep our table in stitches all afternoon.

They spoke about the need for a "charm song," a "big end of Act 1 rock 'n roll number" and even explained what a metaphor is: "When you say one thing and mean something else, but you're not lying." That these two uber-talented men were able to play less-than-talented actors, singers and dancers only made it all the funnier.

Like when Chris Hester as Doug performed the Elvis Presley-like strains of "Glimmer in Schlimmer" complete with windmilling guitar arm nad sobbing voice. Or watching Bud, played by Paul Major, as Gutenberg's fictitious love interest, Helvetica, stomping grapes in a cardboard box labeled "barrel" and flipping her blond pig-tails.

And, yes, she was named after the font, making for some seriously nerdy graphic design humor.

As the duo went through all the scenes in their would-be play, Doug would set the scene, invariably mentioning a dirty, thatched roof and getting a bigger laugh every time he did it. Add in the brisk pacing and we were pretty much treated to a non-stop sense of amusement.

By using the character hats laid out on a table, sometimes stacked four or five deep atop their heads, the two played every character, including Dead Baby. In one case, hats were strung on a line for a crowd scene and Beau was chosen as one of two audience members asked to hold up one end while Bud and Doug moved underneath, fitting their heads into various hats to play different characters.

I think it's safe to say that I haven't laughed so much at a play in ages, but the beauty of it was the array of humor, which included everything from bad puns to dry asides to clever wordplay. And for Beau, a touch of corny. No matter what your cup of humorous tea was, these boys had you covered. It didn't hurt that they'd also step out of character to share a thought or observation.

Mel Brooks would have been proud.

And it wasn't just me, because my tablemates were cracking up right along with me. When, at the end, a backer stepped forward to offer them a contract, I stopped laughing for the first time in two hours.

The posse trooped over to Maya afterward, immediately running into a familiar server who hugged me first and welcomed us in. Seated at a large table with a view of the Carpenter Center, we spent the next few hours sipping (mine was Espolon), eating fiery mahi mahi tacos (Mr. Wright) and tamer shrimp tacos (me) while discussing Beau's upcoming trip to Seattle, hearing about Pru's manse repairs and enjoying Queen B's memories of the Plaka.

Improbably, Beau casually mentioned that time that he'd played a robot in a fashion show and we all laughed as hard as we had at Bud and Doug's exploits, which is really saying something.

Although I was seduced by neither flan nor tres leches cake for dessert, both arrived at the table along with a Belle Tango cocktail of Belle Isle Moonshine, tangerine concentrate and habanero syrup, a sweet/spicy sipper with appeal, but not as much as tequila on ice, if I'm honest.

I may be a complicated woman, but my needs are simple.

The Church Hill gang headed home, but Mr. Wright and I weren't finished yet. Our final stop was Gallery 5 for the Halloween edition of the Silent Music Revival with Kenneka Cook providing the improvised score. We had front row seats for the 1911 Italian film, "L'Inferno," considered the first full-length film (at one hour) and also the first blockbuster because it made $2 million in the U.S., which, as producer Jameson so eloquently put it, "was a whole lotta money back then."

Frankly, I still think two million is a whole lot of money, but that's just me.

I'd chatted with Jameson when we'd sat down and as we talked about how I'd been coming practically since the beginning of the Silent Music revival, the guy in front of me turned around, impressed. "You saw Mermaid Skeletons play that show?" he asked with awe in his voice. Yes, I did, son.

Meanwhile, Jameson grinned like a proud father, which is he is when it comes to introducing me (and Richmond) to the cult of silent films with live accompaniment.

He went on to tell us all kinds of interesting tidbits about the film we were about to see, some of which he mentioned when he took the stage to introduce it. In typical Silent Music Revival style - he has, after all been doing this for over 11 years now - he'd edited it some, taking out the most egregious examples of Catholic guilt as well as some political figures that would have been meaningless to 21st century audiences.

"Oh, and I sped it up ten percent," he said with a knowing smile. You don't need to tell me about today's audiences' shrinking attention spans.

Watching Virgil lead Dante through the circles of Hell meant watching early 20th century special effects, some of which were far more sophisticated than I would have thought for the time. That said, I also wondered during a scene with scattered fires and an actor in a nearby hole what kind of safety precautions were used in 1911. My guess? Not much.

Kenneka Cook's overlaid vocal looping was a strong accompaniment to the story, sometimes almost disturbing as her dulcet tones sang over scenes of human misery and bad bird costumes.

But let's get on to the real appeal of this film: major nudity. Clearly film censorship came about after "L'Inferno," because I've never seen so many naked and near naked men onscreen before. For fans of male buns, we're talking a veritable smorgasbord of good-looking Italian butts.

And who knows, maybe some of them went on to play robots in fashion shows. When you're part of the very first blockbuster movie, I bet you can write your own ticket.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Puttin' on the Ritz

When it comes to a fancy pants gala, we're that couple who don't have to worry about what to wear.

And by that I mean, when Mr. Wright invited me to join him for Historic Richmond's "A Night on Grace Street," I knew immediately what I'd be wearing. It wasn't hard because I only have one dress that's black tie-worthy and while it was purchased in 1996, it's my automatic dressy default.

I just hadn't had to pull it out since 2013.

Now it turns out I may have met my match because Mr. Wright showed up in his tuxedo which he assured me was a good two decades old. So, basically, he put as little effort into his attire as I had, 'though I'll give him credit for freshening it up with a new bow tie. Nothing else about my ensemble was remotely new, either, since I acquired the necklace, bracelets and satin evening bag during Jimmy Carter's administration.

We must have looked good because our Uber driver told us so, followed by a directive to "have fun and get crazy." Um, why do you think we took Uber?

In what was a brilliant choice, the dinner and dancing parts of the gala took place right on the stage of the Dominion Energy Center, which is what Virginia's shadow government is trying to call the building we know is really the Carpenter Stage, or, at the very least, CenterStage.

Still, eating and dancing onstage, that was a new one for me and I liked it. What other talent besides eating is going to get me onstage?

But the evening actually began in the alcoves off the lobby where two bars did our alcoholic bidding and uniformed servers passed by with trays of oysters Rockefeller, beef wellington in pastry and, tomato tarts - and probably other things I never even noticed - while everyone mingled and got into the gala spirit.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your buzz.

When we trooped into the theater for dinner, men were stationed at the stairs to the stage to offer their hand or arm so that women teetering on high heels (not me, I had on dressy platforms) had the support of a non-drinking man. As the night wore on, it undoubtedly became a better and better idea since a trip to the ladies' room required a descent and ascent to remount.

One could say it was the only pitfall of stage dancing.

At the front of the stage were Big Ray and the Kool Kats providing early evening dinner jazz and swing to the many tables arranged on the stage. Only six of the eight chairs were filled at table six where we sat, but they were a nice enough group. There was an architect from Chicago - that made two - and his lawyer wife, residents of Chevy Chase, Maryland, next to us, leading to chatter about the development of Anacostia, the SW waterfront and how D.C. is no longer the city I left 30 years ago.

He's currently part of the team working in Richmond on the renovation of Old City Hall and you could hear the reverence in his voice talking about taking the interior back to its original look. Apparently. that means it's going to be far less colorful than what it's been for decades, so he's prepared for Richmond to take issue with the changes.

His wife spoke of how busy he was, so busy that the renovations he sketched on a bev nap 14 years ago when they bought the Chevy Chase house are still nothing more than doodles on a napkin because he's been too busy to work on his own house. Or, as Mr. Wright pointed out, perhaps home remodels are just not his thing.

Meanwhile, what was listed on the menu as an amuse bouche was far more than a bite. Enjoying a first course of golden beet trifle layered with trout caviar and George's Mill goat cheese, I watched as another diner pushed the beets aside and ate only the cheese. Who does that?

The gala chair gave a stirring speech about the good work of Historic Richmond, followed by a short video and when she mentioned Jackson Ward, I raised my fist in solidarity for my adopted neighborhood every time.

She also mentioned that the chef for tonight's event was Carlos Silva, whose food I've eaten since I first moved to Jackson Ward a dozen years ago. After hearing that piece of information, I asked our server to tell him hi, but she did me one better by delivering him to table six so we could chat.

A salad of micro greens and assorted root vegetables was topped by a confit quail, a satisfying rich note for the earthy and bitter underpinnings. What was funny was watching people trying to figure out how to eat the quail.

Another speech, another video, more fist pumping and it was time for braised beef in Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon and Rockfish braised in Upper Shirley Chardonnay over Byrd Mill cheese grits and wax beans, an entree guaranteed to please multiple palates. The beef especially tasted like something Carlos used to make at Bistro 27 when he was nodding to his Brazilian roots.

As we were finishing up, Big Ray took to the floor as the emcee for the donation bidding (on the back of everyone's program was a bidding number for this purpose) to keep the good work of Historic Richmond going. It was fascinating to see how one person at a table bidding often caused someone else at the table to retaliate with a bid of their own, which made Big Ray very happy.

Once $30,000 was raised (and, mind you, that didn't even include the ridiculous price of the tickets), Big Ray shared that the bar included 12 year Glenlivet, a fact which caused a small stampede as men from nearly every table headed to the bar for some single malt. Since he was still on the clock, Ray's Scotch had to wait, so he returned to the bandstand, only to be joined by two female singers in sequined dresses and one dapper-looking man. Their job it was to take the music from big band to full on dance band and that meant Motown to start and very soon Bruno Mars and Walk the Moon.

Because everyone - I'm looking at you, girl crush and carrot cake man - loves "Shut Up and Dance" after a few drinks, even the preservationist and architect types populating the room.

Between Glenlivet and dancing fools, table six was mostly absent when dessert began arriving, so I waited for no one to try it. Miniature Nelson county apple pies with mascarpone apple butter and - a nice touch - apple slaw provided a sweet ending and a proper sugar buzz to get on with the business of the night.

After all, how often does a woman get to go dancing in her fanciest dress? I may have danced to "Brick House" scores of times during and since the Carter years, but I'm not sure I ever had a better time doing it. I know because I didn't even hold it against Big Ray when he chose to end the night with Journey's hackneyed "Don't Stop Believin'."

How could I? If I'm honest, it's my new mantra, shared already with friend, doctor and interview subject anyone who will listen. Hang on to that feeling long enough and you just may be rewarded. Mightily.

And though he'd never tell me to "shut up" - what would be the point? - the "dance with me" part is a given.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Don Juan Triumphant

You think you know your town, but really, you only know what you do.

If I'd been asked what the most popular event at the Byrd Theatre is, I wouldn't have paused, I wouldn't have hesitated, I'd have announced with near certainty that it's the Christmas Eve screening of "It's a Wonderful Life." When I began attending the annual event, it had a decent crowd, but that was the mid-90s and since then, it's grown to become a capacity crowd, balcony included.

Such is my dedication to this particular holiday ritual that I've been known to schedule Christmas Eve dinner at a ridiculously early hour solely so I can be in line - a line which eventually stretches down Cary, and around the corner onto Sheppard St. - for "It's a Wonderful Life" over an hour before it even begins.

That said, it never occurred to me when Mr. Wright suggested we take in the Byrd's annual screening of "Phantom of the Opera," the 1925 silent version, natch, complete with live accompaniment on the mighty Wurlitzer, that I was walking into a similarly well-loved event.

As a result of my ignorance, we'd lingered over a leisurely dinner at Greek on Cary, beginning with a bottle of dry, crisp and utterly porch pound-worthy Troupis Moschofilero Rose and some pretty stellar hummus. We'd made sure to arrive early before the dinner rush, although we didn't hesitate to linger well into the evening when nearly every table was taken.

After enough visits to know, I can say I'm a big fan of their stacked, grilled and seasoned vegetables, mainly due to the fig glaze, although the wedge of good Feta doesn't hurt, either. Chicken souvlaki and a chicken gyro also kept us occupied as the rain continued to pour outside and we felt no urgency to move on.

Even walking down the street to the Byrd under cover of a giant umbrella, there was no massive line at the box office to tip us off. But once inside, it was another story, so Mr. Wright went off in search of popcorn while I headed off to find Mac and hopefully seats.

I was just about to my favorite section - not under the balcony overhang, but not in the front third, either - when I heard my name called and turned to see Mac on the left hand side. What are you doing in the old seats, I wanted to know. "There weren't three together," she claimed, but I'd already scoped out three smack dab in the center of a nearby row, even if we did have to climb over some nice people to get to them.

As it happened, those very people welcomed us in saying that they'd saved the seats for us, a kind gesture given that dripping wet people with umbrellas were scrambling over them.

Even better was James, the man seated on my right, who not only welcomed me but struck up a conversation. Seems the Williamsburg resident was there as part of a dual celebration, partly for his 80th birthday and partly for the 85th birthday of the man at the other end of the row, his daughter's father-in-law, which had also included dinner at the Daily.

Add to that that it was his first time at the Byrd and all of a sudden, it was an occasion.

Our conversation meandered all over the place, from how we'd both attended junior high school, not middle school, and how movie theaters used to be known as movie palaces. Pointing out the massive chandelier that is lowered by pulleys to be cleaned, he shared that his church has a similar chandelier, so he knew all about lowering. When I realized that he wasn't aware that the organ and organist were going to rise out of the bowels of the stage, I couldn't wait to see his reaction.

When I finally stopped talking to the birthday boy and looked around, I couldn't believe how full it had gotten, with more people arriving every minute. Then when manager Todd took a poll as to who had come for the annual screening of "Phantom of the Opera" before, it seemed like fully half the room raised their hand. No one needed to know that I'd never seen any version of the Phantom before.

But how had I missed out on such a time-honored tradition?

Although I've seen plenty of silent movies thanks to the Silent Music Revival, this was my first with an organist playing the originally-composed score that would have been played in 1925. The precision timing of the score left me in awe of the composer's ability to provide sound effects and mood music for even the smallest moments in the film.

In what I'm sure was not an intentionally funny choice, every time the ballet dancers scurried away from one scary shadow or figure or another, two of the dancers would run and do a last minute pirouette before rejoining her cowering fellow dancers. It was as if the actresses wanted everyone to appreciate their dance moves even while running scared.

A girl never knows when the right person might see her in action.

And while there were the expected heavy-handed moments given that the movie is almost 100 years old - say, when the Phantom sat down to play "Don Juan Triumphant" once he's captured the girl's interest - the old-fashioned nature of the story - after the Phantom is drowned by a mob, it ended with the lovers on their honeymoon - and the pitch-perfect soundtrack were a big part of its charm.

That's something that scores of people apparently already knew, even if I hadn't. The good news is, if I show up next year, it'll not only be earlier, but I'll be able to raise my hand as a regular.

Even better if my boy James is there celebrating his 81st. We've got a tradition going now.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Between Jefferson and First

Today's lesson? Don't try to hide happiness.

When a favorite Gemini and I finally managed to meet for lunch - mind you, we've been trying to plan this since our birthdays in May - at Lucy's, the conversation necessarily started with her curious about my love life. Although she'd briefly met Mr. Wright back in May when we all wound up at the same restaurant, she needed details.

Trying to keep my giddiness under control, I started rambling calmly about him, about us, about things we'd done and places we'd gone, stopping only when she grabbed my arm. "Is there something bad about him or the relationship?" she asked, sounding concerned. "Why are you telling me this so matter-of-factly?"

Needless to say, gushing has become my usual M.O. when talking about this wonderful new phase of my life to anyone foolish enough to ask. But ever since Mac chided me about whining about the cold weather on the way to Folk Fest ("You have a man who loves you, so you don't get to complain about Fall!"), I've been trying to temper my over-the-top happiness.

I should have known a Gemini wouldn't let me get away with that crap.

As she devoured her salmon salad and I my shrimp po'boy salad, I proceeded to let loose with everything that's been happening in my life and how well it suits me. That, she told me, was what she wanted to hear.

Around the time the chocolate mousse pie with graham cracker crust showed up, we felt a presence behind us and looked up to find a familiar goateed face (writer/one of my former editors/radio host) standing behind our bar stools. "I'm here with P," he said. "Weren't you two here talking and eating last time we came here?" Not long after, when we went to leave, the duo were still standing at the door awaiting a free table. "Hey, weren't you two here last time we came here for lunch?" P inquired.

Geminis may be overly observant, but even we can't recall everyone who eats at the restaurants we do. We are, after all, concentrating on each other.

The subject of so much of my conversation showed up hours later for a J-Ward date that began by walking to Rogue for dinner. There, we took the only two available stools, only to hear the man to my left say, "Boy, they let anyone in here, don't they?"

There sat a local chef and now sommelier who's been off the radar for a hot minute, so, after introductions, I naturally asked what he had cooking. Giving me a pained look, he assured me he has something big in the works but legally can't say what it is yet. It was obvious the restraint he was displaying was wearing on him, so I assumed it was a matter of city incompetence or money shortages.

In any case, he assured me I'd know something soon.

Sipping Terre di San Venanzio Fortunato Prosecco while noshing on charred carrots jazzed up with harissa, yogurt, a generous amount of crumbled peanuts and capers followed by to-die-for sweet potato-filled cappalletti surrounded by broccoli rabe and caramelized pearl onions with dollops of ricotta, we left the chef to his ruminations. Meanwhile, Rogue's chef proffered a wave and smile from the far end of the bar.

When my chocolate cremeux with meringue stars, vanilla sponge cake and caramelized cinnamon ice cream with graham cracker crumbles arrived, I'd barely made a dent when the man to Mr. Wright's left elbowed him aside to ask of me, "What's that?"

I can't be the only woman impressed by a guy curious about a fabulous looking dessert, can I?

After selling the dessert hard, I polished mine off, suggested he order his own and we left to walk over to the November Theater for Cadence Theatre Company's production of "Between Riverside and Crazy." When the usher pointed out our seats, she said they were right in front of "this couple." Glancing at the couple, major figures in the local theater scene, I shouldn't have been surprised when they began cracking wise about the kind of people in the row in front of them.

Clearly everyone I know is a comedian.

The incredibly well-acted play, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2015, took us into the rent-controlled apartment of an older black retired cop on disability. His son, just released from jail and his girlfriend, live there too, along with a recovering addict. Everyone refers to him as "Pops" and appreciates his hard-won wisdom, even if he has been cranky since his wife died. He's also got a lawsuit pending against the department since it was a white cop who mistakenly shot him.

The dialog crackled with authenticity and not a few completely politically incorrect statements, but the play was most appealing because I had no idea where it was going. And I certainly didn't see Pops' sex scene coming,

No surprise for a recent Pulitzer winner, the play offered no answers about the state of modern life, but rather showed the good, the bad and the ugly and left the future in limbo, providing plenty to discuss with my willing partner, who saw shades of Redd Foxx's Sanford character in Pops.

This morning, at my yearly girl parts check-up, the nurse-practitioner's first question was whether anything was new. I assumed she meant health wise. Mid-exam, she asked the all-important question - "Are you involved in any domestic violence?" and I laughed out loud.

From there, I was off and blathering about this fascinating new person in my life. She stopped me only to complete the exam before asking what had happened next. She wanted all the intel and who was I to deny her a chirpy version? With a Q & A period (her idea).

I won't necessarily volunteer (although it's likely) to share my happiness, but if you ask, I will answer with many words, chirpy words.

Which I seem to have in spades these days. Not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

On Unbending Knee

For a day that began with injuries, it worked out splendidly.

The day got off to a rocky start when my right shoe got caught in my left shoelace as I was walking down the sidewalk to my basement to do laundry before my walk. In trying to drop my keys and hold on to the laundry basket, I hit the pavement, with my right hand and right knee taking the brunt of it.

Ouch and blood, lots of it.

Being the practical sort, I decided to carry on, using the hot water in the washer to rinse my hand and Kleenexes in my hoodie pocket to wrap around it to catch the blood as I set out for the river. The good news was that at least the laundry got started and walking ensured that my knee didn't stiffen up because of the workout it got on the hills, even if the blood-soaked improvised bandage was a bit unsightly.

But, man, I have to say, climbing the ladder at the end of the pipeline was a whole new challenge with damaged parts. At an interview at an art gallery after walking, I was pleased to find that my hand could still write without oozing too much blood on the pad.

My wounds were cleaned and dressed properly when Mr. Wright showed up for dinner and a movie, only to learn what a klutz he's thrown his lot in with, although part of the blame surely rests with the overly long shoelaces that require triple knotting to stay out of the way.

At Branch and Vine, we found the owner stocking wine on the shelves and a friendly face behind the counter. My first question was about what soups were available, and after she told us we had a choice of squash bisque and Mom's kale stew with sausage, she suggested we take a table and she'd come to us to take our order.

At what is purportedly a fast casual place, you don't have to tell me twice to let a pro wait on me.

The squash bisque, essentially a bowl of Fall, was thick and deeply flavorful and by the time the owner came over to ask how we'd liked it, it was pretty clear from the scraped clean bowl what the answer was.

I am a woman of appetite(s).

Sitting at a front window table, we had a fine view of the mural on the side of Bacchus, as well as a front row seat for the street theater of Meadow and Main, which involved an assortment of cyclists, pedestrians, and a woman walking by at least four times. Not to be left out were the many motorists who seemed to take the traffic light as more of a suggestion than a directive.

All I'm saying is, a cop could make his monthly quota on ticket-writing just sitting at that one intersection for the length of a meal, or at least the time it might take to polish off a Greek salad (accompanied by commentary about the contrast to our recent Greek salads in Athens) and a turkey and tomato jam sandwich with Gruyere and apple slices on a crusty baguette, like we did.

From there, we made our way to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture to see "G.I. Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II" along with what turned out to be a large contingent of JCC members and the usual Greatest Generation history crowd.

I happen to know from past events I've attended at the JCC that they're a welcoming bunch, even if I have been called out - "You're not Jewish, are you?" the gentleman sitting next to me at the brisket dinner and lecture had politely inquired - for not being one of the Chosen People.

I would think, however, that my good standing in the documentary dork department more than qualified me for tonight's film which told the story of the half million American Jews who served. And not always because their parents approved, either, as evidenced by one female veteran who observed that she didn't tell her parents before enlisting because they believed that the military "was no life for a nice Jewish girl."

Maybe not, but I'll bet her dating options increased a hundredfold.

One of those nice Jewish girls told the story of the romance she'd had with a soldier named Mike, who'd then been shipped back home. She assumed he wasn't interested, but in fact, unbeknownst to her, once back in the U.S., he'd sought out her family to ask for permission to marry her. After discovering that her family was Jewish, he'd written her a letter explaining that he had no desire to marry a Jew.

Because in 1943, apparently religion still trumped love. Sadly.

The documentary used plenty of interesting vets to share their memories (and old black and white snapshots) and that would have been enough, but director Lisa Ades also had Mel Brooks, Henry Kissenger and Carl Reiner sharing their stories of life as a Jew in the military.

Mel Brooks spoke about not being able to stay kosher in the military, rapturously describing his first melding of dairy and meat: a cheeseburger. In his typical humorous way, he immediately blamed the Jews for denying him such a pleasure up until that point.

Many told anecdotes about the prejudice they faced from fellow soldiers, but also there were stories of acceptance. The film made the point that for many soldiers, unless they'd been raised in a major city, basic training and deployment was their first time seeing, much less meeting, a Jewish person.

One guy said his bunk mate heard a rumor and asked him if he was Jewish. After he answered in the affirmative, his bunk mate never spoke to him again for the rest of their tour. Another recalled that he'd grown up thinking that everyone was Jewish and only learned differently once he'd enlisted.

All in all, it was a fascinating documentary and with images of concentration camps and liberating prisoners (Jewish soldiers helped by speaking Yiddish to the prisoners to tell them they were finally free), profoundly sad at times, too. I know if Mac had been with me instead of Mr. Wright, there'd have been some tears.

And if anything makes a person put her own life in perspective, it's hearing about the sacrifices of people willing to fight for their adopted country even as they were being called racial slurs and ostracized.

So I have a torn up hand, bloody knee and bruised arm and hip. I'll live.

Just don't deny me an occasional cheeseburger. I'm with Mel.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Soft Five Hours

I spent my evening surrounded by the fruit of VCU's loins.

Next up on VCU Cinematheque's ongoing tribute to Italian director extraordinaire Michelangelo Antonioni was "The Passenger," so I followed my sunny road trip with a brisk walk to the Grace Street Theater.

Brisk because sundown means I'm automatically cold and resenting it, even when culture awaits.

Although I've been to see several of the Antonioni films this semester and in the past, tonight's was the first in English. Maybe even more surprising than that was that the film had been made at MGM, featured a big American actor, Jack Nicholson, and was considered an homage to Hitchcock and, with his main character switching identities, to Hitch's masterful "North by Northwest."

The theater was unusually packed for the Tuesday night screening series, a fact I attributed to the name recognition of the star. That said, the movie was made in 1975 before every role Jack Nicholson played was essentially Jack Nicholson, resulting in the chance to see him disappear into the role and not overpower it with his own persona.

That alone was worth seeing.

But so was the French actress Maria Schneider, whom I knew solely from having seen in "Last Tango in Paris" way back when it came out, who played a strong, assured architecture student at a time when most women's roles were more decorative.

And not that she wasn't lovely (that her haircut in 1975 was eerily similar to mine in 2018 was a side bonus), but I was especially taken with her clothes because they were so spot on for that era. Everything she wore in the film looked like a variation of something I owned that decade, including the over-sized fabric bag she carried for a purse.

When it came to male style, Nicholson had multiple scenes wearing a button-down, short-sleeved shirt which he'd unbuttoned completely and tied at the waist. Whole lot of chest and chest hair there. If that was a thing anywhere but in the gay clubs in 1975, I don't recall seeing it.

Like any Antonioni film, effort was required to stay engaged and within the first 45 minutes, at least a  dozen students got up to leave, some of them running up the theater aisles as if they were making a break for it. No doubt they'd be incredulous to learn that some of us had come by choice and not because our professor dictated it.

I got a kick out of a scene where Nicholson is renting a car to begin his adventure as somebody else (a dead man) and when the clerk asks where he's going, he hasn't a clue. She points to a list of potential drop-off countries in Europe and he says, "Yugoslovia! I'll go to Dubrovnik."

I can only imagine how different Dubrovnik must have been in 1975 than it was last month when I saw it.

Walking out of the theater with the hordes of students, I overheard one say, "Once I knew what it was about..." as if it had taken a while to figure out. The irony there is that the professor had read a four-page introduction to the movie, including explaining what would happen in the story, as well as mentioning the notable 7-minute long tracking shot near the end, so if he'd been paying attention (say, not on his phone), he'd have had a clue.

I'm guessing listening to your professor is sooo 20th century.

One thing the professor had not shared, however, was that actual footage of a real assassination had been used by Antonioni, so as one who has great difficulty watching violence of any kind, I was completely unprepared for that. My issues aside, I'd have been curious to know if it even registered for students who've grown up with the ability to see to any horrible thing they care to online.

And, as the professor had warned us, the ending came as a complete surprise. Those who were glancing at their phones undoubtedly missed it entirely.

Another Tuesday night, another Antonioni film. It's like the gallerist I was recently interviewing observed, "Once Fall hits, there's just so much to do in Richmond." Tell me about it.

When I got back to J-Ward, I didn't even bother going upstairs. My next stop was the Rabbit Hole at Vagabond for the Randazzo Big Band doing Charles Owen (not that I knew who Charles Owen was) and I was already late because Antonioni makes no short films.

The room was quite full when I got there, so I slipped into a sliver of space near the door in the back to take in the satisfying sounds of 15 musicians playing in a very low-ceilinged room. Charles Owen, it turned out, was the bearded sax player whose music Randazzo had transcribed and was now being featured in the first set, and he looked mighty happy about it.

Mind you, this is a big band led by bass player Andrew Randazzo, who also plays with Butcher Brown, so besides a dozen horns of all kinds, there were some pretty great bass lines leading the way. And don't get me started on Devonne Harris on drums.

I gotta say, music fans in this town should get down on their knees every night and thank VCU's jazz studies program for the top notch musicians it spits out for us to enjoy.

Just when it felt like the room couldn't hold another person, Randazzo announced, "Okay, we're going to take a ten minute break. Just ten minutes! Then we'll come back and play Beyonce." From behind me at the bar, I overheard a guy knowingly say, "It'll be a soft ten minutes," and I knew he was right.

I think I'm safe in saying that no band in Richmond has ever stuck to a ten-minute break, least of all jazz cats.

The break gave me an opportunity to wiggle in for a better vantage point, which I found on the back corner of a couch where a couple occupying it told me to help myself to the edge of their space. The room was full of hair and lots of it, and looked to be crowded with long-time musicians and jazz students eager to hear their (slightly) elders.

A busy, young server came by, trying to clean up a bit during the break. When she picked up an almost full plate of fries from the couple's table, I joked that it was a waste of perfectly good fries. Her take was purely economical, though. "It's a waste of perfectly good money! Those fries cost $5!"

Clearly a woman who works hard for the money.

Behind me, I heard several musicians lamenting the difficulty of transitioning from touring to being back at home and more than one admitted that when on the road, they don't worry about the regular business of life at all.

I may not have a musical bone in my body, but I can sure relate to trying to balance the reality of daily life with time spent away, constantly trying to play catch-up.

Running into a favorite saxophone player provided the opportunity to learn that he's now teaching music in the Henrico County jail, a job with enormous challenges, I gathered. When I asked how many inmates were interested in music, he laughed, saying maybe one in each class. That's got to be tough.

The second set may or may not have included Beyonce (it's not like I'd recognize anything beyond "Single Ladies"), but it definitely featured several Butcher Brown tunes as well as one by Philly soul songwriter Thom Bell. Still, I think I was the only one who raised my hand when Randazzo asked if there were any Thom Bell fans in the room, although why he'd ask that of a room made up 90% with people born after grunge is beyond me. Optimism, I guess.

Around 10:30, a guy came in, assessed the crowded room and began moving through the tables and chairs, eventually settling himself on the floor beside a front booth, mere feet from the the saxophones. Prime real estate if you're willing to floor sit.

The evening closed with a Vince Guaraldi song the bandleader said was originally called "Minus Lucy" but became "Linus, Single Again," but all I know for sure is that the distinctive sound of brushes on drums and that kind of piano playing could only be Guaraldi.

Sort of like an Antonioni screening followed by a big band on a Tuesday night. Once you know what it's about, it could only be Richmond.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Come See About Me

One way or another, I'm living a song.

Mac and I walked this morning, the first time since Folk Fest and though the river is still high, we were able to get on the pipeline. It apparently made Mac so happy (frisky?) that she decided to vault the log that's been laying across the pipeline for months now.

I was just glad to be walking after missing so many daily constitutionals lately. Well, that or less nervy. Or agile.

After so much bad pizza lately in service of my hired mouth, when the work day was over, I headed directly to Riverside Drive for the most scenic route I know to stellar pizza. Add in having to wait on Forest Hill Avenue for a freight train to pass and I couldn't have asked for a more pleasant change of scenery.

At the counter of Giustino's Pizza, I joined two women having wine and pizza while discussing life and art. When the server overheard one say she was a fourth grade teacher, she asked her what she taught, resulting in a response of the expected subjects: science, social studies, math. When the server asked if she taught art, the woman looked sad. "No, but maybe if I'd gone that route and taught art, I'd be happier now. Everyone loves going to art class."

Do they? What if she had gone that route and was still miserable at 27 or 28, whatever age she was? I wonder what her solution would be then?

As I sat there eating my Bianca pizza, listening to a soundtrack of old favorite bands like Local Natives and Arcade Fire, a guy sat down at the counter and smiled hello. A male customer comfortably clad in sweats and ball cap came in to pick up his pie and - my guess? - head directly to his couch. A woman arrived to to buy a $50 gift certificate and all I could think was what a fabulous present that would be.

Happy birthday, here's the equivalent of 4 or 5 Giustino pizzas. Score.

After ditching the wheels, I meandered over to Black Iris Gallery, getting stuck behind a slow walker. Not wanting to be rude, I crossed the street at the nearest corner so I could go at my own pace. Mid-block, he crossed, too. Looks like we had the same idea, I said. Smiling, he agreed.

At least now I was in front.

When I got to Black Iris, I had time to check out the Diane Clement ("The Old Artist with the Dragon Tattoo") show of action paintings - think Jackson Pollak - primarily done outdoors and on raw canvas.

From the very first piece, a large format, unframed canvas of blues, white, arcs of black and red dots that could have either been a brilliant July sky at the river seen through trees or a view approaching a glacier with ice floes all around. And yet it was abstract.

Nearby hung a painting that was as different as could be. Mostly white over washes of blue near the top and blue-green near the bottom, it had small rectangles of mauve, rust and gold scattered around. The artist's words, "As much as I love heavy paint and texture, weightless layers give the elements flight and space."

What she said.

"Fitful and I Like It" was a smaller, darker action painting perfectly described in its title. And then, looking at it, it hit me: Diane Clement is as much a storyteller as a painter Each painting was a story.

From "My Homage to ADD"  to her commentary about a tangle of colors and drips, "I see ships' masts under predawn" to "The Bright Side of the Dark Side," this artist found meaning in whatever her gestures wrought. Never mind all the additional interpretations by anyone who saw them, so we're talking endless possibilities in non-representational art.

I'd come for music and been given an amuse bouche of art. Am I lucky or what?

When I finally made it to the bar, a small wood-paneled room in the back where I've seen dozens of shows, I found a ridiculously small crowd. One of the Black Iris guys asked my opinion of waiting for more people to arrive (I had all night, although, shhh, in my heart of hearts, I don't believe in punishing the punctual) as a few people trickled in.

Overhead, the sound system was pumping out the unlikeliest of mixes with the Supremes' "Come See About Me," Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" and, be still my heart, the Stylistics' "Stone in Love with You."

Who makes such a mix? And may I shake your hand?

At the bar, one of the band members was talking to a local about what a find Black Iris is. To explain, he compared it to a few bars he favors just north of the Nashville city limits. "So they're not on Air BnB or Uber or Trip Advisor's radar, which is good because you don't want them to blow up or they won't be fun anymore," he said. "You only know about them if you live there or someone tells you."

A small group was mingling nearby and the subject of where everyone was from came up. A tall brunette turned to me to include me in the question and before long we were talking about how D.C. has changed, especially the U Street corridor and around the 9:30 Club. That led us to how you hold on to your city - her Nashville, my Richmond - even as it's changing around you and becoming suddenly cool by outsiders' standards.

Engrossed as I can get in conversation, I shouldn't have been surprised when, after we'd covered several topics, she introduced herself as Chandra, coincidentally, one of the Watson Twins whom I'd come to see. When her sister Leigh appeared in matching snakeskin ankle boots, I knew it was show time.

The Watson Twins were only in my neighborhood tonight because they're on tour with Pokey Lafarge and Pokey's not playing the next two nights. "And we wanted to play music!" Leigh said.

I'm not going to claim I knew a lot of the Watson Twins' music, although certainly I heard plenty of that album "Rabbit Fur Coat" that they did with Jenny Lewis back in 2006. But I do know that no one harmonizes like family and an awful lot of people have used them to sing back-up on their records because of the beauty of their voices blended.

That was enough for me.

And since there were barely a dozen of us, chairs magically appeared in the dim, candlelit room with the faux spiderwebs stretching from wall to chandelier to bar and we all sat down to what felt like a private show, though it was open to the public. Chandra played acoustic guitar, Leigh did the snapping, clapping and tambourine playing and they'd brought along Brad (the guy espousing North Nashville) to handle electric guitar duties beautifully.

Leigh gave the audience their RVA story first. Growing up in Louisville, they'd become fans of Richmond punk band the Veil and saw them every time they came through town. Along the way, they imagined Richmond as this epic punk town, while their first visit proved it was just a great town with a good vibe.

Their new album "Duo," out last week and the first of their eight albums to be written together, provided much of tonight's set list, including the first song "Hustle and Shake." They said it was autobiographical about the difficulties of the music business but it was the sound of their voices harmonizing that took the breath of listeners and caused a delay in applause as we sat there with jaws dropped.

After doing "Playing Hearts," they told a story of their 92-year old grandma listening to the lyric, "I want it all, I want it now," and commenting to them, "I know how you feel!" as only a nonagenarian could. For "Crybaby," they took mics in hand and swung and danced in time as they sang the heartbreak lyrics.

A highlight was their cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," which had been used in a sex scene in a bathtub in a vampire film, spurring hopes that it would be their big breakthrough. But the song required a harmonica and when Chandra went to find hers and couldn't, Leigh offered hers.

Looking right at the audience, Chandra announced, "The only thing we don't share is harmonicas and men." Boom.

The twins were hugely appreciative of the people who'd come out  on a Monday night, saying, "When we sell out the National, don't worry about buying a ticket because every one of you is getting a VIP ticket on us!" Sounds good to me.

To introduce "Rolling Thunder," they explained - because it was always they, never just one talking, each finishing the other's thoughts...or correcting her - that it was about when your town starts to be taken over by developers and corporations and little local businesses you've loved go away so new places can take their place. About the 21st century evolution of urban life.

"We have 26 cranes in Nashville at any given time," Leigh observed, noting that a town isn't defined by that. "People are the authenticity of a town."

All I know is, sitting in candlelight at Black Iris listening to those two angelic voices after scarfing one of Giustino's pies felt pretty damn authentic. And given that it's Richmond, the pipeline and freight train didn't hurt, either.

Let the thunder roll.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Striding up That Hill

Out of countless quips that had me doubled over in laughter, surely this was the best line of the weekend: "Roundabout. Dig it!"

Commentary followed by directive, Yes, sir.

Since I last blogged Thursday, I've been to six restaurants - Metzger, Dinamo, Lee's, Adrift, The Walkabout and Willaby's Cafe - not including the one that shall remain nameless because I was reviewing it.

Of note was the brisket at Metzger, our kickoff to soup season at Dinamo (fish soup and matzoh ball soup) with a side of travel planning, a server named Karen at Lee's ("Open since 1939!") who referred to me as "this lovely lady," the mystery man taking notes at Adrift who wouldn't tell us why he'd come to Irvington 29 years ago or what's kept him there so long (and I asked), tequila and dancing at a dimly-lit Australian Outback-themed pub to the classic rock ramblings of Right Turn Clyde and a waterfront seat for what is still one of the best crabcakes on the Northern Neck at Willaby's Cafe.

Our only food miscalculation was in not having a slice of pie after lunch at Lee's, but I'd foolishly followed the lead of the large man in the booth next to us who, when asked about pie, patted his ample girth and declined by saying, "Nah, I think I'll save today's dessert for after dinner."

That's all well and good until an hour later when you want to kick yourself for not just going ahead and scarfing two desserts in one day.

I was supposed to have seen two movies, but "Psycho" in Chimborazo Park never happened because the organizers opted to show "Monsters, Inc." instead. Why, you wonder, especially after I'd donned fleece leggings jeans, two shirts, a sweater, gloves and a jacket had they let us down? Because "Monsters, Inc." had been the scheduled film a week earlier when Hurricane Michael blew through and they'd had to cancel. 

Judging by the crowd of couples, not families, around us, I'm going to go out on a limb and say we weren't the only ones looking forward to Hitchcock, although we were the only ones who packed up our chairs, blankets, wine, bourbon-laced coffee and took the party to Pru's porch a block away instead.

In addition to bow tie-tying lessons, it was there that Beau decided to delve into the origins of When Mr. Wright Met Karen and Pru repeatedly insisted to him, "You broke her!" when she wasn't giving a Power Point presentation about my past and my proclivities ("She would never!"). Meanwhile, the menfolk sipped single malt Scotch and those of us with no circulation mainlined Grillo while availing ourselves of the porch's heat lamps.

Beau and I weren't shy about saying yes to slices of Pru's freshly-made peach clafoutis, even if I am allergic to peaches. Moaning with pleasure as he ate, Beau also insisted it would make an ideal breakfast food when warmed, not that everyone is as dedicated to that meal as he and I are.

They must not wake up hungry every single day like I do.

What Mr. Wright and I did manage to see was "The Old Man and the Gun," purportedly Robert Redford's final acting role and a fine (and true) yarn that highlighted the excellent chemistry between Redford and Sissy Spacek while telling the story of a string of '80s bank robberies perpetrated by what became known as the "Over the Hill Gang."

The film opens with a caveat: "This movie is, also, mostly true." So while it wasn't a documentary, it at least came out of real life and we all know how much that appeals to me.

Exactly once I was mistaken for a Cubs' fan, mainly due to the over-sized sweatshirt I had on for warmth on my morning walk through Irvington. The thing is, I've learned that that logo is also an excellent tool for identifying guys from the south side of Chicago since it seems to get a sure-fire reaction in Virginia. 

At least three or four times, there was protracted discussion of indulgence and specifically, why, at this stage of life, it's perfectly fine to operate in such a mode. In other words, if you're going to mention interest in a piece of art located in a place you've never been, chances are someone is going to think it's a splendid idea to make plans to see it.

A file folder naturally follows and next thing you know, a plan is in place.

The past two weeks since we returned from Athens have been a sort of no man's land, not quite back to pre-travel status quo - witness I only walked once last week - with three road trips this week alone. I keep expecting life to settle down to something approximating normal, except I'm not exactly sure what that is anymore.

Hence the lapse in blogging.

But given how wildly happy I am, I'm not sure that I need to. It's enough to wallow in it, play catch-up with work and reading my stack of Washington Posts in between and look forward to whatever's next. Dig it?

This blog post is, also, mostly true.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Date Redux

It was kind of Groundhog Day-esque, except with completion.

Last Thursday, Mr. Wright and I had set out for dinner at Aloi before seeing "The Laramie Project" at Richmond Triangle Players. Both had been closed because of Hurricane Michael, so we'd punted.

Tonight was our do-over.

Aloi welcomed us in with dim lighting, multiple community tables and the end two seats at the bar. He had his prospect and refuge and I had my seclusion, so everyone was happy. Although a few tables were occupied, the overall vibe was underpopulated and low-key, which is to say, very un-Scott's Addition-like.

So we liked it, contrarians that we are.

And the food was even better. Intrigued when I saw mushroom pate on the menu, I was unprepared for how fabulous a non-animal version could be. The creamy pate of local mushrooms was given a crown of crushed hazelnuts and smoked cherry gelee with a sprinkle of cocoa and had fat slices of crusty brown bread for spreading it on.

It was an umami bomb in the best possible way and I can all but guarantee that I'll order it again the next time I go. It was that unique and that memorable.

A warm Fall salad dubbed the Edible Garden got major points for the toothsome cannellini beans, Brussels sprouts, savory roasted squash, baby rutabagas and turnips dressed with celery root puree and horseradish ricotta, albeit a tad too much of the latter. Still, a warm salad on a cold night is one of the very few benefits of this suddenly cooler weather (I really can't think of any others).

Every bit as impressive was steelhead trout tartare bound with grapefruit aioli and mustard seed layered over beets and crowned with strips of sweet shishito peppers and dill. The sweetness of the beets complemented the trout in ways I couldn't have imagined, so when our water cracker supply ran low, we asked for more.

Honestly, I'm here to say that it's a rare restaurant kitchen that can determine the correct bread/cracker to dip/spread ratio. Can we get a TED talk on this? I can't be the only person who always needs more carbs on which to spread whatever yummy topping I've ordered.

Quelle horror, once the second batch of crackers were history, I resorted to finishing the tartare via fork to mouth. I mean, come on.

At half an hour before curtain time, we took a chance on ordering dessert, confident that we could scarf it and still stroll over to RTP with time to spare. A citrus upside down cake with chocolate ganache caught my eye and the dense and delicately flavored cake - not to mention the dumpling-size dollop of ganache - with candied orange on top was refreshingly different from the usual dessert menu standards.

My only complaint was bathroom lighting so dim I couldn't be sure I was putting my lipstick on properly, but perhaps that's not a thing in Scott's Addition.

Too catty?

Walking over to RTP, we tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the difficult subject we were about to see. If most of us learned about Laramie, Wyoming because of Matthew Shepard's brutal death, most of us hadn't thought much about it since.

But watching eight actors play over 60 roles - effortlessly shape-shifting before our eyes from one character to another -  was enough to bring many of the details back, causing me to realize how much I must have read about the horrific crime back when it happened in 1998.

Turns out I'd absorbed far more than I thought, yet hadn't allowed myself to think about it for years.

What was perhaps most striking about the script was that all the dialog was taken from interviews that the Tectonic Theatre Project had done in the year and a half after Matthew died. The reactions go from self-defensive to more open-minded and some of the evolving that the Laramie townspeople do is nothing short of extraordinary. For a small town to have so much international media attention focused on them for so long naturally resulted in some soul-searching.

I was most struck by a character Annella Kaine (yes, Tim's daughter) played, where she ruminated on how what happened wasn't who Laramie was as a community. Except that, she concluded, it had happened so it was who Laramie was, sadly. That's a powerful acknowledgement of something many others hadn't yet grasped.

With two intermissions, the play was technically long, even as it felt like it unfolded in real time. Hurrying the story would have been a disservice to the memory of Matthew Shepard, whose parents attended a performance of the RTP production a few weeks ago.

Walking out of the theater, my head was going in multiple directions. I'd been gobsmacked by what director Lucian Restivo and RTP had done with this incredibly well-acted production and the ensemble work demonstrated just how much talent is in this town for any given play.

But I also couldn't help but think about hate crimes and the state of the country today. When Mr. Wright mentioned that Wyoming still doesn't have a law against hate crimes based on sexual orientation (although 31 states and D.C. do) 20 years after Matthew Shepard was murdered, I couldn't believe my ears.

Theater that becomes a rallying point for change is theater for the greater good. We should all be grateful to Richmond Triangle Players for being part of the solution rather than the problem.

Not to mention how good they look doing it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This Note's for You

The disadvantage of being a hired mouth is the intersection with my social life.

So after a road trip to Norfolk and a so-so meal in service of a review I haven't yet written, I said yes to dinner with Holmes and Beloved at Acacia even though I wasn't particularly hungry. That was mainly because the review meal hadn't satisfied my taste for something I wanted to eat and I knew Acacia would.

Beloved greeted me at Holmes' digs with an excited look and five pages of art history nerdiness. Seems that a Courbet painting entitled "The Origin of the World" that depicts the lower torso and girl parts of a mystery woman, a painting that was hidden from the public for years because of its scandalous subject, is big again. The painting is making news now because they have finally identified the subject: Constance Queniaux, a Paris Opera dancer, courtesan, mistress to rich men and companion to a celebrity composer.

Beloved had been amazed to learn of the piece and, wanting to share the information with a fellow art history nerd, immediately thought of me. That it now resides in the Musee d'Orsay, tragically the only major museum I did not visit when in Paris two years ago, makes it doubly intriguing for me.

Life goal?

Holmes quickly tired of our art geeking and suggested it was time to make our way to Acacia, where we took the center three stools at the bar and a smiling bartender introduced himself. Before the evening was over, we learned that he doesn't like to use his dishwasher at home, used to call a pair of twins by the same name in hopes of scoring points with the twin he liked and absolutely can not drink gin.

See: bar as confessional.

When we tried to order a bottle of Cremant de Loire, the sommelier steered us to Charles Bove Touraine Sparkling Rose instead, praising its fresh taste of berries. And when Holmes hears the word "berry," he's sold.

So sold, in fact, that he immediately made certain they had a second bottle on ice.

One of my favorite reasons to go to Acacia (besides reliably stellar food and top-notch service) is to watch the excitement on Beloved's face every time she verifies that they still have white anchovies over grilled Romaine and Forme d'Ambert on the menu. Then once they arrive, she always begins making the classic when-Harry-met-Sally noises until the last little fish is history.

It never gets old, at least for me.

Good as the escargot in garlic butter sauce was, it was the mushroom pancake underneath that rocked my world. An iceberg wedge with cubes of bacon, avocado, cherry tomatoes and red onion lost a bit in translation from a classic bleu cheese to a southwest ranch dressing, but maybe that's just me.

Although we talked about the pork cheeks, we also agreed that with a chef who is one with the sea, we needed to stay water-based.

Tempura flounder - the crust light and delicately fried - was everything fried fish should be and more and the two generous fillets over fried Brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms and crispy shallots in a Thai cilantro sauce was near perfection. Ditto the thick piece of mahi with roasted cauliflower, crispy potatoes and smoked paprika caramelized onion chutney under a Romesco sauce that tasted like it came out of the water this afternoon.

Whilst discussing how easy tempura frying is with our bartender, we finished with chocolate cremeux with caramel sea salt ice cream and chocolate crumbles bolstered by the last of the bubbles. By the time we said our farewells, the barkeep was lining up a row of Tecates to take to the kitchen staff. Night over.

For us, the record listening part of the night was just beginning. Holmes popped a bottle of Le Saint Andre Figuiere Rose and surprised us by starting, not with a record, but with a cassette tape that included Neil Young's 1988 big band record, "This Note's for You," his repudiation of the commercialism of rock and roll.

Oh, Neil, if you thought it was bad 30 years ago, you must be apoplectic these days.

But for Beloved and me, it was all those horns and woodwinds that spoke to us. Looking at what Holmes had written on the cassette box label dated June 19, 1988, there was the song listing, but also - and this is so Holmes - liner notes. On the back of the label he'd indicated where he'd pulled the songs from since they didn't all come from that album.

*BBC broadcast (1970)
Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Come a Time (1970) by Ian Tyson
Journey from the Past
Buffalo Springfield (again)

I especially enjoyed his editorializing - that "again" on the last notation - as if he was aware that he was indulging his own taste in sequencing the recording of the tape.

Our next musical selections came courtesy of me, or at least from a stack I had chosen from a crate of 45s last time I'd been over. Putting on Elvis' "Return to Sender," he explained that he'd chosen that because of a mail problem he's been having where mail that's not his continues to be delivered to his home.

"I'm just gonna write 'Return to sender' and be done with it," he said. "Just like Elvis." We're the kind of trio where there's always a story.

Reminding me that he's always insisted that Matthew Southern Comfort's version of "Woodstock" was the pinnacle, tonight he backed off that. Putting on a live 1974 jazz version of the song by the songwriter, he said, "Joni Mitchell crushes it. She reclaims her song with this version."

Granted, the L.A. Express can put their spin on anything they attempt and this version had all eh passion and energy her original did not. That said, what struck me as interesting was hearing Joni announce a 15-minute intermission after she finished the song. Somehow I never imagined that Joni had to announce her own intermissions, even back in the '70s.

There aren't enough words to describe Holmes' man cave, but the bar where we listen to music is the command central of it all.She and I sit on the outside of the bar. He sits behind it, with access to the records underneath and a complete understanding of where any particular CD and tape atop the bar can be found. It's eerie how he has the chaos organized in his mind so that he can put his hands on anything he wants in 15 seconds or less.

I know, because I heard Beloved count down until he located the Brass Ring last night. He came in somewhere between 13 and 14 seconds and it was in another room. Impressive.

Determined to further dazzle me, he called me into the library, a room overflowing with shelves of records and, as I was shown, drawers of cassette tapes. And while it's only two drawers, each one holds 140 tapes. I know because I counted one row and multiplied.

"These are a few of my favorites!" he said proudly, opening both drawers. I'm not sure 280 counts as "favorite," but I'm not here to judge.

While he and Beloved were busy dancing to some romantic song that he announced will be played at their wedding, I used the free time to apply a temporary tattoo on my thigh. You could ask why I'd do such a thing but I'd counter with why was there a tiny booklet labeled "Celebrate Your Holiday Week" with seven tiny presents in it on a stack of CDs?

Fair question, no?

After the smooching and romantic stuff, Holmes went back to playing 45s and we heard Bryan Ferry, Paul Carrick and Charlie Byrd.

I knew it must be getting late when Holmes exited the bathroom, asking Beloved what had happened to the second hand towel on the rack. "Karen had to use it for her tattoo," she explained nonchalantly, turning back to our discussion of whether the woman on the album cover was wearing a '50s or '60s jumpsuit.

And, always, there is the three way shared appreciation every time we hear a Hammond B-3 organ, an instrument we all love for its ability to place us in another part of our lifetime.

Back in the days before I would eat a full meal and then go out for a second one simply for the pleasure of  friends and music.

You know, my pre-tattoo period.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny

The best time to watch a depressing movie is after a day spent with my parents.

Ostensibly, I was there to help Mom clean out a closet that she felt had gotten out of control. In reality, that meant digging through decades of her stuff. We must have come across 15 purses, including several I suggested she could live without. "But I've had that purse since the year I started working at the Fund!" she says, affronted, clutching a navy blue bag.

P.S. Mom began working at the International Monetary Fund in 1967.

And bags, so many bags. Grocery shopping bags, a  tapestry knitting bag (no, she doesn't knit or do needlework), tiny, stylish bags that belong to another era when she didn't carry so much "just in case" in her purse.

But it also meant digging through boxes and boxes of unorganized photos and as I glanced through them, I found a handful depicting me and my five sisters posed in bikinis in front of the ocean. In the '70s pictures when we're pre-teens and teens, we're all sporting long, straight hair parted in the middle, but in the '80s version, everyone's hair is shorter and, for the most part, permed.

There's not a pair of sunglasses in sight in either photo, despite the bright summer sun.

By the time I found a group shot from 2004 aboard a boat (although the where and why escapes me), we are all grown women looking far more comfortable in our own skin. Only one sister wears a hat and, surprisingly, it's not me. And everyone except me has sunglasses on.

What a difference 30 years make.

Mom also enjoyed the stroll down Memory Lane, never more than when we came across the sole photograph of her as a child. During the Depression, snapping pictures of your first born was clearly not a priority.

Because it was such a beautiful day to be on the river - sunny, breezy and near 80 - we spent a lot of time, including lunch, on the screened porch. Mom and Dad were just coming off two days without power after Hurricane Michael and one of my nephews was there doing yard clean-up after so many branches fell.

For lunch, I reverted to childhood, making everyone fried bologna and cheese or grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, a big bowl of potato chips in the center of the table. Everyone was delighted with the menu. Afterward, I baked a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and served them up warm because I like to eat the dough my family is big on cookies fresh from the oven.

I shared with Dad what Mr. Wright had said about his spot-on baseball play-off picks - that it's rare to find an athletic man who's also analytical - to which he responded, "That's undoubtedly because so many athletes think they can coast solely on that." Not my Dad.

Closet and yard work finished, we lingered most of the afternoon chatting about family and trips.

"I could take an entire season of this weather," my Mom commented to no one in particular as a breeze ruffled the ferns on the porch. Me, I was just happy to be in shorts and not feel cold like I had most of the weekend.

And solely because I'd just come off such a sweetly pleasant day with the 'rents, I took a deep breath and headed to the Byrd Theater to see "The Hours." Now, I read the book when it came out and I saw the movie but my collective memory of both was a depressing one, so I knew that going in.

Instead of staying there, though, I focused on what a large and stellar cast the film had. Oh, sure there were the leads (Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman in a prosthetic nose), but also a terrific Ed Harris. And Claire Danes as the daughter, Miranda Richardson as her sister, Allison Janney as Meryl's lover, plus John C. Reilly and Jeff Daniels.

Do we make movies with that much star power any more or is it too cost-prohibitive?

The Byrd crowd was small. I suppose not everyone is up to being depressed on a Monday evening. For me, the low point was when a toddler went running across the lobby, her mother in chase, before the film even began.

"If you don't stop when I say 3, no computer for a week!" the mother yelled at the back of the four-year old, who did indeed slow down. Not "no bike" or "no going outside to play." No computer. Children can now be disciplined with the threat of no device usage.

Oh, for the sweet days of bikinis and no sunglasses...

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Dark of the Matinee

There is a certain charm to an afternoon performance.

Unlike an evening play where you have to eat at a ridiculously early hour to be in your seat before the curtain rises at 7:30 or 8, a matinee allows for a leisurely morning and, after the production is over, a leisurely dinner.

It's all so civilized.

Mr. Wright and I met Pru and Beau to see "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" in front of Virginia Repertory Theatre, where they were hanging about like a bad smell anticipating our arrival. Since our seats weren't together, we used the time to discuss the fact that no one except Pru had read the best-selling book that had spawned the play.

She was not impressed when she found us lacking. On the other hand, she already knew what was going to happen, while for the rest of us, everything that unfolded would be a surprise.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" managed to take the audience into the mind of a 15-year old boy who was both autistic and a savant when it came to numbers, a boy who couldn't bear being touched but was determined to accomplish something on his own.

The boy's determination to do some detecting to figure out who killed the neighbor's dog made for a sweet story, even as his father tried to shut his investigation down, while the discoveries he makes about his own family turned the simple detective story into something much heavier and darker.

Still, I found the production curiously satisfying since I never for a moment had any sense where the story would end up.

Leaving Virginia Rep, we made the easiest possible choice for dinner, heading directly across the street to Bar Solita, the latest offering from the Tarrant's team.

Right off the bat, they got major points for having taken the space conceived of by New Jersey bad boy chef (and #MeToo accused) Mike Isabella - a black, industrial, ornament-free cavern of a restaurant - and turning it into something softer with shades of green and yellow, curves and plants, all of which translated to Pru and I as having been accomplished with the obvious eye of a woman.

We especially liked the deep windowsills along the wall that provided room for multiple bottles of wine, purses, programs and anything else we wanted to stow.

Since Bar Solita is so new, it was a bit of a surprise that they were already out of the Sancerre Pru coveted, and for a moment, they thought they were out of our choice - Laurent Miguel Grenache Blanc - too, before managing to find a bottle of the easy-drinking wine. Meanwhile Pru and Beau made do with a Pinot Noir.

Everyone at the table was intrigued when we saw that they made a fig lemonade, so we each got one to satisfy our fig lust. Delicious, it was a tad light on fig for a true figophile.

Our server's first question had been if we'd come from the theater. Affirmative. With a bit of digging, I ascertained that the big news was that she had also read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time." Praise be, Pru was no longer alone in her literary leanings. The only problem was, our server explained that she had little memory of the story, so she wouldn't be good for discussing anything.

Pru may have thrown up her hands and given up at that point. We simply turned to food.

Mushrooms and sherry - garlic and olive oil-infused mushrooms roasted and lazing in a bath of sherry - were every bit as seductive as they sound. Next came shrimp swimming in garlic-infused olive oil with wedges of focaccia to soak up all that goodness with.

We were all so busy eating, sipping and talking that I regret to report that I have no clue what tapas Pru and Beau devoured. Tacos? Croquettes? I really can't say and they were less than two feet away.

Wisely, the Bar Solita folks had kept Isabella's wood-fired pizza oven. We made an excellent choice with the basil pesto pizza, notable for the roasted winter squash, housemade ricotta, red onion and shaved Brussels sprouts sprinkled with roasted and spiced squash seeds. Those seeds led to a discussion of toasting pumpkin seeds, something Mr. Wright is apparently fond of doing.

That he chooses not to salt them caused a mild conversational ruckus, but to each his own.

On the other side of the table was a breakfast pizza loaded with bacon, breakfast sausage, ricotta, mozzarella, red onions, sliced garlic and two eggs, which they claimed was delicious although unlike us, they couldn't finish it all. Amateurs.

As we dined, we covered all the important bases: bowtie-tying lessons, single malt Scotch, watching movies in the park and what we'd liked about Dubrovnik and Athens. We shared our new-found affinity for Mastika and our server, overhearing, texted a friend to find out if that was the same digestif she'd also fallen in love with. When she returned with a scrap of paper reading, "Mastica," we knew we were taken with the same Greek spirit.

Now, if only the Virginia ABC carried it. But they don't. A liquor run to Washington as part of my next museum trip now assumes greater urgency.

Dessert choices were a bit slim since, perish the thought, I wasn't about to eat baklava a week after returning from Athens. With no such issues, Pru and Beau couldn't resist the phylo-wrapped custard galaktoboureko, which also hails from Greece.

In fact, the only topic not nailed down as the sun set and we stayed put was when Pru is having her champagne and fried chicken party, although she claims the date is up to Beau. Inquiring minds are also curious about whether or not the absinthe fountain will come out for the big event, so stay tuned.

Because the beauty of a matinee is that you can have hours of these kind of discussions in between courses and bottles. The only end point is when the restaurant closes.

Gives a whole new meaning to afternoon delight.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Living Witness

The concessions are falling like dominoes.

First, there were the many layers of clothing worn to the festival Friday evening night. Afterward, I partially lowered the two windows in the living room before bed because I knew it was going to dip down to 50 that night. But when I awoke to find my apartment was 67 degrees - when a mere two days ago it was still peaking around 82-83 most afternoons - I find myself shutting all the windows before it gets any colder. Bad as it was when the cotton blanket went back on the bed two weeks ago, now I'm adding the lightweight bed spread on top of it.

And then, horror of horrors, I not only considered wearing jeans to the Folk Fest Saturday afternoon, I actually did wear jeans. Summer, I pine for you.

How did things degenerate so quickly?

At least the sun was shining when Mr. Wright and I set out to walk to the Folk Festival Saturday, although I knew standing on wet grass in the dark, shivering and cold, was in my future.

What I do for music.

Our first stop was the Dominion Dance Pavilion, except that for some reason, there's no pavilion this year. What's odd about that is that there was a pavilion, at least up through Thursday, a fact I know because Mac and I walked by it several times last week on our way to the Pipeline. But by Friday evening, it was just a dance floor and chairs with no raised stage and no covering. We'd tried to see Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus there Friday, but with zero view of the band and a whole lot of drunk bros on the dance floor, we'd walked away.

Things were marginally better in daylight - at least we could spot Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis' baby sister, if we squinted - in the distance, so we found chairs and sat down for some boogie-woogie piano classics: Hound Dog, Great Balls of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, you know the genre.

The dance floor was crowded with people getting their groove thang on, including not a few swing dancers who actually knew what they were doing. One woman in a red top had her choice of partners, cycling through one man after another, but dancing every song.

Before heading up the hill, we made a pilgrimage to admire the James running fast and hard, a churning brown froth that guaranteed I won't be getting on the pipeline anytime soon. The architect focused less on the mighty river and more on structural issues, commenting about how strong bridge supports have to be to take the kinds of stress a swollen river places on them.

The climb to Second Street was worth it for the energetic sounds of New Orleans bounce, thanks to Ricky B and his band (which included a tuba, as all good NOLA bands should) whipping the crowd up.

"We're gonna keep it up until the sweat drops down your draws!"  Ricky B. yelled, pronouncing "drawers" exactly like my Richmond-born father does. Later, at another stage, I overheard an older woman tell a stranger that she'd just seen a musician tell the crowd, "He told us to perspire in our underpants!"

Let's just say it lost a lot in her translation.

The distinctive beat, the call and response and the sheer stage charisma of Ricky B. made for an outstanding set that managed to get old and young involved waving hands and pointing with one finger to signify that we are all one race. If only.

After snagging chicken empanadas from La Milpa, we ate them standing on the hill watching Vishten, an Acadian duo singing songs of great beauty. At one point, the male of the duo asked the crowd, "Will you sing along with us?" and the crowd roared its affirmation. "In French?" he asked and got mostly laughter.

Near the end of their set, just as the sun was about to slide behind the Lee bridge, a two-car train passed slowly along the overhead track behind the stage and the man in the passenger seat waved enthusiastically at the crowd, causing thousands of people to wave back. A few minutes later, the train returned in the opposite direction and this time the driver waved at us and got the same reaction.

Given the scarcity of two-car CSX trains, we had to assume it was a Folk Fest special.

Right on time, Mavis Staples came out, a fireplug of a woman in a black dress with a hot pink wrap jacket, ready to dazzle the crowd, some of whom had been waiting in place through one or two previous bands to ensure they got to see her.

We had a fine perch at a crest on the hill and when the couple in front of us decided to pull up stakes, they invited us to take over their prime real estate, although how anyone can walk away when Mavis is singing is beyond me.

Besides singing every song from the depths of her soul, Mavis took on the very festival that had incited her. "This is your 14th festival, and our first time here! What took you so long to invite me?" She also had family in the audience, so she told us all the food they'd brought her - spoonbread, collard greens and black-eyed peas - and called out to each one by name. She was none too happy when she heard cousin George had stayed at home, but assumed he must be in bad shape to pass up hearing her sing.

After talking about her years spent marching with Martin Luther King (and being thrown in jail for it), she sang "Freedom Highway," the song her father Pops Staples had written for the cause. If she'd come out and only sung one song, that would have been the one. I don't think I'll ever forget hearing that voice belt out the anthem of the civil rights movement.

At the song's end, she must have sung, "I won't turn around" 12 or 15 times before stopping the band and yelling, "Because I have come too far!" and I felt goosebumps.

But it got better. "Pops wrote that song in 1962. I was there and I'm still here. I'm a living witness!" Mavis hollered and the mostly older crowd testified along with her.

Hearing the first instantly recognizable funky notes of "Respect Yourself" - mind you, I had the song on a 45 - was like flashing back to my young self when I first heard it. As much as the lyrics had resonated then, hearing Mavis sing, "Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day!" in 2018 (when white men just last year marched with tiki torches) all but ensured that the crowd would respond with cheers, applause and raised fists.

And, hopefully, by voting next month.

Add in a line such as, "Keep talkin' bout the President, won't stop air pollution," and we got yet another sad reminder of the current state of affairs.

Then it was back to 1967 and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," which caused the middle-aged crowd to sing their hearts out, not that any of us could compare to Mavis' voice.

As the coolness of the evening set in, a stagehand brought Mavis a black scarf and she wrapped it around her neck to warm those golden vocal chords. It also looked quite stylish with her pink-accented dress.

When she promised to take us down Memory Lane, my '70s self knew at once what was next. As the strains of "I'll Take You There," another 45 in my collection, filled the dusk air, I didn't even need to watch Mavis sing. It was enough to take in that song as the sun sank in the west and know that I got to hear Mavis Staples before I died.

Which, given the cold and damp of the Folk Festival, could be any moment now. Oy, is it Spring yet?