Friday, November 2, 2018

Losing This Crowd

Nerd? I prefer intellectual badass ~ t-shirt seen on Second Street

Although I'm always excited about a new event in Richmond, I'm seasoned enough to know that often something that's wonderful the first year becomes something quite different in subsequent years. I know it's inevitable that word of mouth will make happenings more popular over time, but that doesn't mean it will necessarily remain my cup of tea.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Certainly the Folk Fest and InLight qualify because it will never matter how many thousands of people attend, I'm always going to be one of them.

But things like Flour, Fire and Fork? Nope, the first two years were fine, manageable and not so overcrowded that I felt like a number, but no more. Ditto the Brunswick Stew Festival. Unlike seven or eight years ago, we've reached critical mass with hip events and many have lost their luster for me.

But I'm always open to an inaugural event.

This is the first year of Maymont's Garden Glow, an idea inspired by the chief horticulturist seeing the beautifully lit autumn gardens during her first trip to Kyoto. Now Maymont's Japanese Garden has been re-imagined for night time with colored lighting highlighting trees, paths, ponds and structures, a feast for the eyes.

Walking from the parking lot to the Nature Center, a woman called out to us, saying, "It's beautiful! You're going to love it!" like she knew us.

But even before seeing the garden, I was having a splendid time en route. Mr. Wright and I had taken the rear-facing seats on the back of the golf cart, causing us to hang on with both hands to avoid being rattled out of the cart throughout the bumpy ride from the Nature Center to the Japanese Garden. Riding in an open air cart on a 70-degree night along Maymont's darkened walkways was nothing short of magical given the warmth and that you lost all sense of where in the city you were.

Less appealing was being let off with a cluster of people from our golf cart as well as the one behind us because it meant that we all entered the garden at the same time. Instinctively, Mr. Wright and I hung back - cue Wham! lyric, "I wish that we could lose this crowd" - allowing families with strollers and obvious slow movers to get ahead so we could enjoy the spectacle without having to suffer through stranger chatter.

The fact that it was a warm, still evening ensured that the ponds reflecting the trees and architecture had barely a ripple, making for a stunning mirror-like surface to amplify the effect. Some of the lights were the rotating multi-colored sort, so with a moment's pause, you could watch a scene change from brilliantly lit with a pink or orange light to subtly understated with blue or green.

In fact, my preference was for the simplest of lighting which allowed reflections of reality rather than colored versions, but that's just me.

Making our way around the darkened paths, we encountered guides and Maymont staff who graciously indicated the correct route to take to avoid the unpleasantness of overly bright lights. Because the lights were all positioned to be seen from a certain vantage point, reversing direction was a big no-no.

And because this is the 21st century, there were designated selfie stations for people to take advantage of extra light to capture their memory. Never mind that lingering at any point would have seared the memory into your brain, but we all know you can't post a memory on Instagram.

When we rounded a bend and came upon a magnificently-lit pond with trees along one side, a smiling young man asked if it was our first time around. It was, we shared, and he smiled on cue.

"I'm supposed to stop you and tell you to admire the reflection of the trees on the water," he intoned, gesturing with his arm toward the obvious. Although I dutifully looked and thanked him, once we got further along, I cracked wise about the guy's choice of words.

Really, he has to tell us he's supposed to stop us? Hilarious.

But it was even funnier on our second loop around when he asked again if it was our first loop. No, I told him, and you've already given us the "I'm supposed to stop you and tell you to admire the reflection of the trees on the water" speech, so we know what to do.

The look on his co-worker's face was priceless. "Dude, really, you couldn't dress it up a little more than that?" he asked, grinning at Mr. All Business. And I wasn't trying to get the guy in trouble, just to trying encourage more creativity in approaching people or at least realize that he should drop the part about being told to stop people. Pretty soon it was a group discussion.

The man at the center of it all had a defense at the ready, though. As we'd talked about his greeting technique, a crowd of a dozen or so people had gathered, all of them stopped and staring out at the reflection on the water. "See?" he said proudly. "It works!"

You can't argue with millennial logic.

The blue light-lit pathway was especially dark and we tested it by stepping a few feet off the pathway under the canopy of some evergreen trees. Although we were barely a yard off the path and facing it, it was as if we were invisible because people passed us by without so much as a glance over.

We could have been doing anything.

With up-lit trees, a lavender-lit wooden pagoda, an enormous light-covered mesh over a rock outcropping and a spotlighted waterfall, there was a lot to see, making repeat loops a necessity. Mother Nature contributed with occasional breezes dropping falling leaves, which only added to the drama of the scene. At one point, we settled on a stone bench just to take in the panorama.

When we finally finished our final loop it was less than half an hour to closing time. When we passed by some of Maymont's staff crowing about how well things had gone tonight given the large crowds, we paused. "Not one person has fallen!" a staffer said and considering how dark parts of the path were - as they should be for a light-based event -  that was really saying something.

A fine drizzle was just beginning to fall as we joined the queue to hop a golf cart for the ride back up the hill. We landed again on the far back seats of a golf cart that tried its best to get up some speed to make it up the hill without losing momentum, but sounded a little unsure about it. Mr Wright thought that given the cheerful mood on board, our night time travel by golf cart was reminiscent of Athens' Happy Train, albeit without souvlaki joints on every corner.

My first thought after experiencing Garden Glow was about how it will be different next year. Maymont has mentioned holding it in another of their gardens, say, the Italian gardens, but for an event inspired by a Japanese tradition, I don't see that working quite as well. But the notion of them trying to outdo this year in the same garden does hold a certain appeal.

I don't have to decide now whether Garden Glow will be a recurring event for me or whether once was sufficient. It's enough that I was there for the first, had a fine time and left with a head full of memories I can share. A year's a long time away.

Besides, as an intellectual badass, I like to keep things fast and loose.

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