Tuesday, November 27, 2018

At the Orange Bird

Believe me, we didn't set out to attend a school fundraiser.

After a week, Mac and I had plenty to talk about and a need to be entertained, so the plan was dinner and a movie. But when we arrived at Branch and Vine, we found a sandwich board welcoming diners to a fundraising night for Mary Munford Elementary School.

I mean, it's not like we were denied entrance or anything. It simply meant that a percentage of whatever we paid for our meals would end up in the school's coffers. Neither of us had any problem with supporting a good cause, even if we had no dog in this fight, so we stayed, despite tables covered in crayons and coloring pages.

The owner came over to take our order, leading to a discussion of grapes when he listed out his wine by the glass options, ending with Nero. "Nero?" Mac asked and before he could answer, I clarified that he meant Nero d'Avola and suggested she try the Sicilian wine because it's delicious.

Clearly the owner appreciated the help because he went on to lament how when he was coming up - you know, back in his day - the wine choices were Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. "And maybe some white Zinfandel," he concluded sagely.

At moments like that, you just smile and nod. Just bring the wine, please, sir.

As always, their sandwiches hit the spot. Mac had arrived jonesing for Giustino's pizza, but we had insufficient time to score a Southside pie and make it to the Criterion Cinemas in a timely manner, so I'd suggested a carb substitute. Both her Cubano and my turkey/Gruyere/sliced apples/tomato jam sandwich benefited from superior bread (my baguette, her ciabatta) and satisfied her itch.

Mine had the added bonus of Thanksgiving notes given the combo of turkey and sweet jam, which could just have easily been cranberry sauce, while the side we shared of sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts also tasted like it had roots in the holiday.

As we were finishing up our meal, more families showed up to have dinner for the cause, so at least we'd timed our visit to finish before the serious rugrat onslaught began. And if that sounds insensitive, just remember that Mac and I donated to Mary Munford this evening and you didn't.

Tonight's movie, "Green Book," was inspired by the true story of classical black pianist Don Shirley and Italian-American Tony Vallelonga, who was hired to be the driver for his 1962 tour of the South. The Green Book of the title is the handbook that used to be printed up advising black travelers where they could legally stay and eat without fear of reprisal.

It's especially galling to learn that it was still being produced as late as 1966.

Mac and I were both intrigued by the film after seeing previews since A) neither of us had heard of Shirley and B) we both became huge fans of Mahershala Ali after seeing "Moonlight" together. That it took place in an era that was both culturally fascinating and appallingly racist only made it more interesting to us.

Both the lead actors' performances were strong, but as with any period film, I made it my mission to look for continuity details that rang true and false.

Red and blue mailboxes, women wearing gloves and furs at parties, smoking everywhere, insisting that safe drivers use the "10 and 2" position on the steering wheel? All correct for the era.

But referring to Shirley as a black man rather than a Negro (or worse) or using the phrase "being black while traveling?" Sorry, those are both pure 21st century dialog and not a bit true to 1962. And no one, I repeat, no one in the Bronx, had all white lights on their Christmas tree in 1962. Period.

Both of us were surprised that the car driven had power windows, but Mac felt sure that it was only because it was a Cadillac. But my ignorance is rooted in life experience: I didn't have power windows on my car until 1998.

As for scenes at fancy events of tables covered in champagne flutes, well, it rubbed me the wrong way. It was somewhere after the mid-1950s that champagne coupes began giving way to flutes, but flutes didn't reign supreme until the '80s, so it seems unlikely at best that these places in the Deep South would have been ahead of the curve on the best glasses in which to serve Champagne.

The film had plenty of laugh out loud-worthy lines, too, such as when Tony is asked if he's a cop. "Do I look Irish?" he responds belligerently. But the one that tickled my fancy most was, "She has terrible grammar, but she's a nice person."

I know, I know, it's hard to imagine any redeeming qualities in a person with poor grammar, but apparently it can happen.

Driving home discussing what we'd just seen, we realized we'd both reached the same conclusion during the movie. We wanted to learn more about Don Shirley, this musical prodigy who'd played with and written symphonies for major symphony orchestras, but whose name was completely unknown to us. What if I've flipped past a Don Shirley album in the dollar bins at my local record store and missed a golden opportunity?

Maybe it's for the best. I like to think that the dollar saved instead went to help fund a grammar worksheet for some deserving youngster at Mary Munford.

Just doing my part any way I can. Nice people and terrible grammarians know it's all about the kids.

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