Sunday, December 30, 2018

Portrait a Deux with U.S. Capital

Let's call it an Art Tasting Menu that lasted a weekend.

Amuse bouche
"One Year: 1968, an American Odyssey" at the National Portrait Gallery
This delightful starter, a small, one-room exhibition, whetted our appetite for what was ahead by featuring a psychedelic anti-war poster, a photo of RFK sharing a crust of bread with Cesar Chavez after his hunger strike ended, plus Hendrix, the Dead and Joan Didion in bell-bottoms leaning nonchalantly against a Corvette. So much happened that year.
Bonus: Learning that Mr. Wright once had a crush on Peggy Fleming.

Soup course
Despite lines at both, the portraits of Barrack and Michelle Obama were must-sees. The magnificence of Michelle's skin tones in Amy Sherald's portrait were as striking as the meaning-laden fanciful flower background of Kehinde Wiley's image of her husband.

Downside: Most people seemed to be there for the selfie, with little time spent looking at the portraits.

First course
"Eye to I: Self Portraits from 1900 to Today" at the National Portrait Gallery
With 75 pieces, this was a meaty look at how American artists chose to portray themselves. Forget selfies, these were drawings, photographs and even a life-size bronze tomb sculpture of artists such as Elaine de Kooning, Edward Hopper and Diego Rivera. I have no doubt that a young Andy Warhol adored the way he looked in his staged photograph.

Bonus: A chance to see how someone sees him or herself may be the most revealing glimpse possible into their state of mind.

Second course
"Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore's Forgotten Movie Theaters" at the National Building Museum
As much time as I spend at the Byrd Theater, how could I not be seduced by an exhibit about a city that, in its heyday, had 240 movie palaces? Vintage photographs of theaters such as the Apollo, the State and the Schanze - the latter a white theater in a black neighborhood, known for hosting Yiddish performers - accompanied photographer Amy Davis' images of the boarded up, renovated and demolished buildings today. As much an architectural exhibit as an oral history project, it also documented social segregation.

Bonus: Mr. Wright giving me the building's origins as the U.S. Pension Building, right down to the worn, sloped stairs built to be hosed down easily from any blood spilled by pensioners there on business.

Third course
"Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-50" at the National Gallery of Art
Although Lady G and I had sort of seen the Parks exhibit at the end of November, we'd been so enthralled with "Corot: Women" that we hadn't allowed enough time to fully take in the 150 pieces in this exhibit. For the second time, I left the National Gallery marveling at how adept Parks was right out of the gate. The man had no learning curve when it came to photography. Talk about born ready.

Bonus: After a stop for bagels, we arrived 10 minutes before the museum opened at 11 to find a line forming. But once inside, the lack of crowds was startling. Had people been scared away by the government shutdown? Dunno, but it sure made for spacious gallery walking.

"Japan Modern: Prints in the Age of Photography" at the Freer Sackler Galleries
After a stroll through the Enid Haupt Garden, we made our way downstairs to see the strikingly beautiful series of colored woodblock prints that looked nothing like woodblock prints. Most used ink and watercolor to transform the often heavy lines of a woodblock into something soft and colorful depicting the changing face - or remembered past - of late 19th to mid-20th century Japan. Like the shift from savory to sweet, the series of images was a welcome finale to a feast of art.

Bonus: The prints from the 1960s showed the influence of the cultural revolution taking place in the Western world, more abstract and definitely less traditional.

With so much art to dine on, meals had to be fitted in around gallery time, but we managed a four hour session at Cuba Libre's bar - killer black bean soup, crab guacamole with plantain chips, jardin salad and crab fritters - when we arrived in late afternoon, sipped through multiple glasses of a Portuguese white blend and left long after dark.

Even better was an extended late brunch at Jaleo where the hostess, unbidden, led us to the back-most table and shared that it was the best seat in the house. Next to a window with a view of bustling F Street and away from the masses, we'd landed in our own little private corner where our server confirmed that the crowds had dropped off precipitously in the past few days.

Every time I go to Jaleo, I discover a new favorite and today's was the flauta de tortilla de patatas, a long, crusty roll spread with chopped fresh tomato and a Spanish omelet with potatoes and onion as its centerpiece. Yum.

How did I not know that omelets belonged on sandwiches before now?

Anyone who thinks they don't like spinach needs to try Jaleo's version done with raisins, apples and pine nuts and get back to me on that. Dragon breath ensued after downing spicy garlic shrimp while ensuring that no one else was getting anywhere near us, but as long as you have two garlic breaths, the rest don't matter.

Of note this weekend was that there had been no dessert, but that was corrected this afternoon with chocolate custard rolled in chocolate cookie crumbs. It sat under a crown of the thinnest of bread slices, which had been caramelized, and near a scoop of brioche ice cream resting on more cookie crumbs. Divine and much appreciated.

In dessert, as in life, sometimes you do without until you find exactly what you need. Or want. Cookie crumbs? They're just a bonus.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Stick a Candle In It

Is it just me or has everyone else lost track of what day of the week it is?

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day felt like a weekend, except that the following day, Wednesday, felt nothing like a Monday. Meaning we had responsibilities.

The plan was to drive to the Northern Neck for some seasonal fam time, in this case with the parental units plus Sister #4 and her posse. My contribution to the evening meal was cookies and a Viennese torte which I'd wisely made before going to dinner the night before and a salad for which I needed to stop and get the ingredients.

Don't judge. Of all the things I needed to accomplish before the official holiday, somehow buying salad ingredients - a task neither sexy nor festive - had fallen through the cracks. At Ellwood Thompson, Mr. Wright demonstrated his superior planning skills yet again by suggesting we snag some lunch makings to tide me over for the long journey from J-Ward to the Rivah.

Car snacks, never leave home without them.

Except that I didn't want to eat in the car. A woman en route to spend the afternoon and evening with eight family members needs a more civilized way to fuel up than gobbling at 60 mph. Since he'd suggested lunch, I suggested the roadside table on Route 3 for the setting.

In 33 years of driving to my parents' house, I never fail to notice the small blue sign near a creek with a picture of a picnic table on it. Finally the day had come when I could see where that table was. Turns out it was multiple well-weathered tables scattered over a fenced-in grassy knoll overlooking the water. Although Route 3 wasn't far away, it felt like it was.

The picnic tables were splinter factories, old and rough, so I laid down my scarf on the bench rather than risk a hole in my cute tights. Our coats stayed buttoned to the top, but the turkey wraps and chickpea, herb and feta salad tasted wonderful in the crisp air. Sitting there munching on the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (Dad's favorite version of the cookie) I'd baked to take to Mom's with a view of pale blue water felt a picnic the holidays forgot.

It was also the peaceful interlude before the family holiday storm.

Don't get me wrong, visiting my parents when only one of my sisters and her family are there is infinitely preferable to going when multiple families convene. Still, their house is so much warmer than what I'm used to and currently so full of Christmas decor that sometimes to cool down and breathe easily, I just went out on the Ledo Deck. That's the  affectionate family name for the glassed-in porch, as opposed to the sleeping porch upstairs or the little porch off Mom and Dad's bedroom.

One of the most charming things about this house is its abundance of porches.

Non-stop conversation and gift unwrapping dominated the afternoon, but it was my brother-in-law I pitied because he'd been up at 4:30 a.m. making his red sauce for tonight's penne with sausage and meatballs.

And while I believe that everyone should have an Italian in the family willing to make such a sacrifice, he did seem to nod off a few times over the afternoon as a result. Or maybe, like me, he felt like he was in a sauna.

The big family meal went off without a hitch, the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers occupying the dining room while the millennials took up their positions around the breakfast nook table. We toasted each other with Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel Rose and my Dad's sentimental words.

Abstaining from Rose was the cook, who admitted to a preference for Chianti. That was Dad's cue to begin telling the saga of the Chianti bottle that has somehow made it 50-some years as part of their household.

As he explained it for those who didn't know - and, mind you, that's not me - he and Mom drank Chianti in the '60s and '70s because it was cheap. But one straw-covered bottle had been promoted to decor after the first time they stuck a taper in it and let it burn down during one of their dinner parties. After that, they made a point to change candle colors every time they burnt it so that the wax drippings would be multi-colored.

I don't want to brag, but in the early '70s, my resourceful father had even found candles made of various colors of wax so they dripped multicolored from one candle. As kids, this was nothing short of otherworldly to us.

To Mom, it was ridiculous to spend that kind of money on crazy candles.

As he's sharing this old chestnut, I quietly leave the table and return with the waxy bottle in question, which I happened to know now resides in Dad's bathroom. The oohs and aahs as everyone admired 50 years of waxy buildup was enough to melt even the toughest Grinch heart.

That or inspire that "Hoarders" show to try to track him down.

I'm not as sentimental as my Dad, so I have no comparable souvenir of my youth with which to dazzle others after the holiday meal ends. Fortunately for me, it looks like my parents will live forever, so there'll be no shortage of bon mots and youthful memories.

Meanwhile, by the time we returned to civilization, I was surprised to discover that we hadn't even turned the page on Thursday yet.

When we first began going down, my sisters and I used to marvel at how slowly time seemed to move on the Northern Neck. Mom's explanation was always that the "day was lasting nicely." It was code for interminable.

This week is lasting nicely.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Eggnog Chronicles

Where does a heathen even begin to find comfort and joy this time of year?

Eating and drinking, of course.

I'm not going to pretend that my many deadlines haven't made this holiday season a tad more frenetic than usual, but once the holiday known as Official U.S. Work Stoppage Days begins - as it did Monday for me and probably the previous Thursday or Friday for many people - I took full advantage.

Slept in. No writing allowed. Read Sunday's paper with Mr. Wright while regretting not having pre-ordered Nate's bagels for Christmas Eve afternoon munching. Only after a walk over there left me staring at a "SOLD OUT!!! Happy holidays!" sign did I begin regretting my lack of foresight.

But the real celebrating began with a 3:00 reservation at Can Can that carried us right through until it was time to get in line at the Byrd Theater for my annual screening of "It's a Wonderful Life."

And just for the record, in the quarter century I've been going to watch Jimmy Stewart regain his hope, this year was the very first time I only had to wait in one line. The master planner in my life had procured online tickets (granted, they weren't always available), allowing us to go directly to the "have tickets" line, bypassing the even longer box office line and resulting in far less shivering on Cary Street waiting time for me.

In what could only be called a Christmas Coincidence, upon arrival at Can Can the hostess led us directly to the same discreet table where we'd had our first date. Later in the meal, our server referred to the table by saying, "If you don't want to rush, this is the table for you," a fact we'd discerned on that marathon first date.

There couldn't be enough La Galope Rose to celebrate such an unlikely happenstance, though we enjoyed ourselves hugely trying, pairing it with butternut squash soup with maple creme fraiche - a marriage made in heaven, by the way - bacon and chives. A baguette as long as my forearm loaded with smoked salmon, Boursin, capers, spinach and red onion, along with a generous plate of dressed greens kept me happy while Mr. Wright tucked into Thai shrimp salad and we marveled at our holiday luck.

After two hours eating and sipping, our affable server (who was working  a 15-hour shift at the Jefferson on Christmas day) explained that we'd have to either move or leave because they had a six-top coming in. The Rose had made me bold enough to pipe up and tell him that we'd move, but we weren't leaving.

When Mr. Wright stated that we'd like to stay at that particular table, I clarified that we'd had our first date at that table.

"Oh, please stay," he said, putting one hand against his heart, grinning sweetly and scurrying off to set up the six-top to the right of us. He was still beaming at us when he returned to explain that he was getting off, but wishing us all the best.

With more La Galope awaiting us in the chilling bucket, I ordered the dessert special he'd recommended, an eggnog sorbet sprinkled with grated nutmeg and the most Christmasy dessert imaginable (sorry, buche de Noel).

Let's just say that I wasn't the only one who regretted that I'd only gotten one scoop instead of two.

Just as we finished the last of the Rose, our replacement server breezed by and we explained our predicament: we needed more pink to finish our celebration. He returned with half a bottle of La Galope and a smirk. "Another table ordered this and didn't finish it, so it's all yours."

Thanking him for the gratis wine, I shared why it made our return visit to this table even better. "Ohhh!" he said, also putting his hand over his heart.

We were unintentionally charming millennials left and right with our first date saga. It only occurred to us later that they probably thought we'd been together much longer than is actually the case.

Other than the online ticket masterstroke, the only other surprise at the Byrd was that organist Bob Gulledge was injured and out of action. Ever vigilant, manager Todd insisted we all join in for a collective get well video he shot, before substitute John DeMajo saved the day by playing the mighty Wurlitzer for the Byrd's annual Christmas singalong.

Although Todd had announced that all 1200 seats were occupied, I happen to know that the one in front of me and two beside me weren't, but still it was a near full house, meaning the balcony was opened. Turns out that's where Mac and her Mom landed, not that we knew that until after Jimmy Stewart had had his epiphany and she called my name as we exited the theater.

Start to finish, that was a Christmas eve.

Christmas day was almost as unambitious - minus the attempt at Nate's bagels and Frank Capra classic - but the real fun began when we got to Peter Chang's shortly after 4:00. The media had been clear that Chang's had been booked solid for both Eve and Day, but a phone call told us the real story: slide in between meals and you'll have no problem.

Done and done.

Can Mr. Wright and I take up residence on bar stools mid-afternoon and wile away Christmas Day with no regrets? Yes, we can.

With a Portuguese Rose stashed behind the bar, we proceeded to settle in for a leisurely meal with an ever-changing array of people on either side of us. While we nibbled on steamed vegetable dumplings (easily the most flavorful vegetable filling a dumpling has ever delivered to my mouth), we had two sets of stool mates, but by the time our entrees showed up, it was completely different people on either side.

My side even changed a third time. It's like people were stopping at a filling station, not out to savor a holiday meal.

Oddly enough, several of them wanted to order off the lunch menu, further complicating things for the bartenders, who had their hands full making libations for all the people stuck with family obligations and toddlers jumping on the banquette at their tables.

Midway through my Kung Pao chicken, mercifully downgraded from two pepper spicy to one pepper spicy after our thoughtful barkeep asked if I was really wanting it that hot (uh, no), I realized that our scallion bubble pancake hadn't yet arrived. You see, it's not just the sublime pleasure of having bread with Chinese food that I was missing, but the essential means of cooling my mouth when multiple bites of Kung Pao sauce left lingering heat there.

Our bartender looked abashed when I asked about it and returned from the kitchen assuring us it was in progress. Ten minutes later when I asked again, it was still nowhere to be found. The irony was that once it did, a second pancake arrived shortly after and I was foolhardy enough to send it away.

What did you learn this Christmas, Karen? Never pass up a chance to enjoy a bonus scallion bubble pancake when it arrives unbidden.

The only problem with Peter Chang's is that there are no dessert offerings, but the moment I overheard the bartender mention eggnog to the couple to Mr. Wright's left, my dessert radar went on high alert. When he got a second, we asked about it and his face got a devilish grin.

"Oh, it's good," he assured us, ticking off the whiskey, rum and liqueurs battling for dominance in a glass of cream and nutmeg, all in the name of holiday overindulgence. Mr. Wright immediately ordered two and Christmas got a little brighter in Scott's Addition.

It was around then that I spotted a curator/fellow music lover and his wife seated at a high table behind us and called out a greeting, leading to a quick catch-up session hindered by the hordes of wannabe diners lining the space behind the bar stools. Finally, he suggested I email him soon instead.

By then it was after 7 and every available inch of space in the restaurant was taken over by people foolish enough to show up at prime eating time at one of the mere ten restaurants open on Christmas Day. Not to sound Scrooge-like, but we had zero empathy for them.

As I sucked the final swallow of creamy eggnog up the straw, I commented to Mr. Wright what a sad sound it was to hear. As he quickly pointed out, that was an easily solved problem. No one looked more surprised than the barkeep when we asked for two more.

C'mon, everyone knows that one counts as dessert and one counts as an after-dinner drink. And on a day that mattered not one little bit to a heathen and one of the Chosen People, we were only too happy to extend our stay for the sake of more nog.

But we're also not animals, so after the second round, we decided to abdicate our stools to a latecomer who seemed willing to trade his right arm for a place to sit and eat. When we told him that we'd arrived at 4 to score the prime real estate we were now ceding to him, he realized he was in the presence of pros and thanked us appropriately.

There may be a more perfect way to observe the official U.S. Work Stoppage Days, but if it doesn't involve first date redux, an abundance of Rose and obscene amounts of eggnog, I don't see how it could have suited us better.

You don't have to ask us to please stay twice.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Catch the Wind

'Tis the season to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

But it's also a reminder of reason #894 why I love city living. Because when I have a 6:00 pickup and it's 5:35 before I realize my mistake, I can walk a mere two blocks to get the birthday card I forgot to get because Holiday Life.

As an added bonus, a woman checks out my legs at Rite-Aid and observes, "Cute tights, leggings, whatever they are." When I share that they're actually stockings, she's even more impressed.

Meanwhile, when Mr. Wright shows up, I am ready, card in hand, to head to the Tavern and Holmes' birthday dinner. Since I'm not a West End kind of a girl, I am completely unprepared for the hordes occupying nearly every table at the restaurant on a Sunday night. When the hostess asks if we want a table for two, I explain that we're there for Holmes' party.

A look crosses her face and she smiles knowingly. Holmes is a regular at the Tavern and well known by the entire staff. "It's that big table in the back," she tells us and takes off.

After much confusion and pointing at seats, it becomes clear that the pastiche of tables and banquette that has been put together is inadequate for the size of the birthday party and another table is brought in. The table's configuration resembles an amoeba, with odd-shaped offshoots.

When we finally sit down at the corner of the madness, conversation with Holmes' extensive family begins in earnest.

The woman next to me remembers me from one of these dinners a few years ago, even recalling what I do and who I write for. The gregarious brother  and old hippie who'd been down at the beach when I was visiting Holmes last summer waves and says, "Hi, beach buddy!"

But where we score the jackpot is with the woman seated next to Mr. Wright, a spitfire of a woman who lives in Annapolis and had the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-something along with a lifetime of stories to share.

One of the more fascinating facts gleaned over the next couple hours was that Newfoundland is pronounced new-found-land and not new-fund-land, as I've always heard, leading us to the subject of travel.

Turns out her son designs cruises for a cruise ship line and he's frequently designing custom cruises for her, so she's been everywhere, And don't even get her started about her disappointment that her Canadian cruise didn't go as far as the Bay of Fundy.

Besides a love of travel, where we found common ground was our shared distaste for shopping. Her entire wardrobe came from a dying Korean woman she knew who was her exact size and invited her to come peruse her closets and take everything she wanted before the Grim Reaper arrived.

"I had to go buy a big, used suitcase from the thrift store just to bring it all home!" she said. When the woman's aunt died, she got all her clothes, too, including a black velvet gown with lace cuffs and collar that she'd worn to many a gala event.

Truly, this woman was my spirit animal.

She told us about a trip to Florence where she spotted a painting in a shop window and uncharacteristically told her husband (a technological adviser to multiple admirals) she wanted it. After doing some calculations in his head to convert the price to dollars, he asked if she coveted it enough to pay for it out of her grocery money. When she said yes, he asked, "Your grocery money for how many years?"

Nope, not that willing.

Only then did she realize it wasn't a painting but a mosaic, which only made it more beautiful to her, but she was also sensible enough to realize it was just too expensive.

We heard about the 14-mile bike ride she took in Germany after years of not being on a bike. Asking about our plans, she shared how much she liked Portugal and the tapas in Spain. Then there was the time in the '80s when she and the Officers' Wives Club stationed in Heidelberg toured the Gucci factory, each of them leaving with a new Gucci bag and a Gucci belt buckle for their husbands.


How in China, the wives were served only one beer when drinking at a bar and how every bottled Coke had a different taste, leading the wives to conclude that they were concocting pseudo-Cokes in the back room and pouring them into Coke bottles.

The woman was a font of stories about Greece, Barbados and the bogs of Ireland, a country that appealed to her for its food, music and scenery.

As many trips as Mr. Wright has under his belt, he couldn't begin to compete with a woman who can boast of traveling to Estonia and Newfoundland.

As for her souvenir advice? "Refrigerator magnets! They don't take up room and they look great on your fridge." Spoken like a woman who's learned that memories are the best reminders of life adventures.

Her company was so charming and her enthusiasm for life so engaging, it wouldn't have mattered if the food had been bad, but it wasn't.

My crabcakes got high points for the lack of filler and that they were griddled, not fried, while the toothsome vegetable melange of carrots, green beans and onions accompanying the crab was perfectly cooked and seasoned. A special of grilled lemon pepper rockfish  got high marks from Mr. Wright and several others who'd chosen it.

It is bigger rockfish season, after all.

Come dessert time, Holmes' family was as different from mine as could be, meaning that only 2 of 16 ordered it, while I didn't hesitate to ask for a slice of chocolate pecan pie and offer to share.

What's a birthday celebration without sweets anyway?

By the time we got home, photos of the fun had already been posted to Facebook and there we were, smiling with the most well-traveled woman I've ever met. That she only wears dead women's clothing makes her even more of a role model to me.

Where we differ is I might've promised away my grocery money indefinitely for the chance to have an Italian mosaic and worried about the details only once I was back in the kitchen.

I'm going with the theory that no adoring man would have let such a charming woman starve to death. Not when great travel partners are so hard to find.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Rolling Sober Crowd

Because nothing says Christmas quite like men in women's clothes.

The holiday drag brunch at Laura Lee's was as good an excuse as any to assemble the manse crew to drink Christmas libations, gorge on a southern-fried brunch menu and watch grown men cavort in skirts.

Settling into our curved soft blue banquette at Laura Lee's with a fine view of the "runway," Pru noted that the vibe was pure Copa. All we needed was one of those little lamps that used to provide appropriately flattering low light to finish the effect.

Unlike the others who immediately determined their poison of choice - Pru's eggnog, Beau and Queen B's brunch punches - I was distracted when a writer friend dropped by the table to say hello. After she warned me to stay until the end so I could catch her in performance as Elvis, we talked about how the brunch was going.

"The earlier crowd was pure sit and quit," she shared. "We expected people to stay and get drunk, but it's been more of a rolling sober crowd." The problem for her was that she'd only signed on to play Elvis because she presumed the crowd would be trashed.

Looking around at tables of women clutching dollar bills, I felt safe reassuring her that they'd get there.

By the time I sat down, it was to finally order a Poinsettia to sip on and catch up with my tablemates. Meanwhile, fat, sweet blueberry muffins with vanilla buttercream had arrived and my posse was digging in like it was their first meal of the day. Not so for me.

That said, it was a bit like starting with dessert and that's not a complaint.

Miss Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside kicked things off with a lecture on drugs - "Stay away from the Booger Sugar" - but also didn't hesitate to toss out packets of pseudo-cocaine to the eager crowd.

I saw one guy pocket his, just in case.

The second performer arrived in a red sequined dress and Liza (with a "Z") haircut, belting out that holiday classic, "Christmas in Rehab" and leaving a generous lip print on one of the sole men in the room's ample forehead. Not long after, Beau, the drag brunch virgin, noted that the guy had already wiped it off, a rookie mistake if ever there was one.

Like the occupants of the other tables, we kept folded dollar bills at the ready to gift our entertainers, though Beau took some time learning the right methods to get his bills noticed. At one point, it felt almost like the performers were intentionally avoiding him, but eventually even his money was good enough (along with a comment about the panties he was presumed to be wearing).

Trying to defend himself as okay with being weird, Pru piped up, saying, "If we are together, I am not okay with weird." No need to mince words during mince pie season.

Today's host was Michael, the manager and organizer of today's frivolities. He also has a bushy red beard worthy of Yukon Cornelius, a fact he knew. Turns out he'd considered coming in today dressed as Yukon, "Lickin' the pick and everything!" he boasted, a remark meaningful only to fans of that classic "Rudolph" special.

Watching the fun didn't stop us from eating. Pru and Beau both went for the fried oatmeal with bacon and a fried egg under syrup, while Queen B opted for fried chicken with biscuit and hushpuppies, all of which I managed to wrangle bites of. My smoked fish over greens, onions and matchstick carrots was a tad overdressed in cumin lime vinaigrette, but tasty nonetheless, the hunks of fish smokey and meaty.

As more drinks arrived, the repartee got livelier, with Pru telling me that she'd been voted "Wittiest in Class" at age 17, a difficult standard to maintain over a lifetime. It made me glad no one had singled me out young and set a bar I may not have been able to maintain.

Far better to start low.

For Magnolia's next number, she arrived attired in a short Santa suit with cute white knitted tights and a white Afro wig with a giant, glittery poinsettia pinned in it, the ideal togs to lip-sync and dance to a Christmas conga song.

"Who likes Cher?" she asked of the room and the table behind us showed their Cher love. "Oh, just the table of homosexuals right here," Magnolia joked of the five young women. Pru and I had already noted the quintet's shared physical qualities - tall, straight blond hair, vacant look - and sure, they could easily have been pretty boys dressed as young hipster women of a certain ilk.

As she bent over to thank a table for cash, Beau got a glimpse of Cher 's derriere, noting, "She's got a butt like I do, which is to say, not at all." Ba dum bum.

Statements like that are given wide berth to lay on the table without commentary.

Afterward, Magnolia said it was her last song. "That took everything I have to skip," she explained. "Cher does two things - punches the air and skips and I figured if Cher could do it, so could I!"

Not sure I've ever seen Cher quite so beet red or winded, though 'tis not the season to judge.

Next came Cookie Pants, a performer in a gingerbread suit she used as an excuse to do a striptease down to an elf costume complete with striped leggings.

Magnolia's Grandma was in the house and he talked about how accepting she and his family had been of his proclivities. He wanted us to know that she insists there is no Christmas without Elvis, which is why we got a cross-dressing woman as the King, complete with pompadour.

That it was my friend from earlier meant I had plenty of bills folded between my knuckles when she approached our table singing "Blue Christmas."

Between the cash and our long-standing friendship, I was treated to a full-on extended breast nuzzle through her white polyester jumpsuit, enough to elicit cheers from the crowd. And, yes, we could see her black panties underneath, but we liked it.

By the time Elvis got back to Grandma and began hugging/dancing with her, Yukon Cornelius was tearing up, saying, "They're gonna make me cry!" and dabbing at his eyes. And he wasn't the only one.

At the front, Magnolia was in full waterworks mode. "This is making me cry!" she said watching her Grandma, smiling happily and wiping away the heavy makeup running down her face. "Ooh, it burns!"

Said no one ever at the Copa.

Shaking It Like Mary Magdelene

Twas four days before Christmas and all through the Ward
The students had left and I was near bored

It's not that I didn't have plenty of work
But I wanted some fun, 'tho not at the Quirk

So Mac and I went to Rapp to fill up on nog
But the price of one nog left us slightly agog

As fans of Rap Session, we were sad to hear
It's no more, Rappahannock made it disappear

We savored ours slowly, then had to beat feet
Choosing to land at Lucy's on Second Street

Cesar salad, fried oysters and for us to share,
Non-meatballs and spaghetti squash, beyond compare

We licked the plate clean of chocolate mousse pie
Admired vintage decor, then said our goodbye

Next stop: the November to see "Sister Act"
The musical's gotten raves and that's a fact

Lines such as, "This must be how Protestants feel!"
Mocked religion and made us laugh with much zeal

Set in the seventies, so bell bottoms galore
Polyester jumpsuits had me me begging for more

A song like "I Could Be That Guy" made us swoon
But not quite as much as that big solstice moon

For a day that began with river and sun
It led to what Mac likes to call Christmas fun

For heathens, it's just about good company
The nog and the music, that's bonus, you see

Now I head out for more, but not in a sleigh
2019 just means more time for me to say

Happy whatever to all and to all, have a ball!
I know I am.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Tomorrow, More Sun

Winter is on my head, but eternal Spring is in my heart. ~ Victor Hugo

Hello, Winter Solstice. And, may I say, helluva disguise you got there.

When we left for Christmas revelry in NOVA yesterday morning, it was chilly and the sky looked leaden. Driving home last night, it would have been warm enough to open the car windows had the rain not been falling in buckets. Not the transition I expected weather-wise.

Waking up to find that it was already 64 degrees this morning - we should have been suspicious when the heat barely ran all night - meant dressing for my walk with Mac like it was Spring. Or Fall.

But certainly not the Winter Solstice.

I compromised by wearing a thin t-shirt, an even thinner hoodie, my standard athletic skirt/shorts (often referred to by Mr. Wright as my pink tutu) and tights. Mac showed up in leggings, a t-shirt and a jacket, so I immediately began razzing her. A jacket?

For a smart woman, she sure can overdress.

We got two blocks away and I decided to go back for my sun hat because despite a sky full of turbulent and dramatic clouds, it was obvious the sun was trying to come through.

We got four blocks away and paused to tease a friend - the guy who works in the window restoration shop - about not having his garage door rolled up on such a glorious morning. He pointed to the multiple stacks of windows leaning against the door that were preventing opening it, a good reason, if unfortunate for him. I pointed to Mac, overdressed in a jacket, and asked if she could leave it there.

After all, what are friends for?

It was somewhere over on Fourth Street where we spotted the guy in the fur-trimmed, short red skirt (the  kind usually seen on Santa's shapely young elves), black socks and brown shoes, his bald spot a shining circle around which hung limp, gray hair. Very festive.

We got almost to Brown's Island before Mac suggested we walk Belle Isle instead, an idea that had also occurred to me, since we haven't been able to get on the pipeline in what feels like months. Mac said she needed to hear water today and with the James above flood stage, we were guaranteed plenty of roaring river sounds.

Walking across the pedestrian bridge, we got behind a couple of slow-walking guys and Mac asked them how with their much longer legs were they slowing our roll. One claimed he was already short of breath from walking, so just smiled and passed them by. 

On the island, the path was a muddy, puddle-filled mess, but the sounds of a rushing river was just what we wanted after a sweaty walk to get there. I'd long since tied my hoodie around my waist, but if you want to know how hot it was, I stopped in one of the Porta-Potties - holding my breath all the while - and took off my leggings so I'd be cooler.

That's right, I walked bare-legged on this Winter Solstice and I feel fine.

As if we weren't sweaty enough, I caved to Mac and we started home by walking up Brown's island Way, the ridiculously steep hill I usually avoid unless it's night time and I'm at the Folk Fest. But for Mac, I agreed to do it, even if it did mean pit stains to beat the band by the time we made it up to Second Street.

And although we never spotted another fur-trimmed mini-Santa skirt, we passed more than a few people in Santa hats, including one woman we said good morning to who iced us out. As Mac pointed out, if you're going to make the effort to wear a Santa hat, shouldn't you at least return a friendly greeting?

The first thing I did when I got home was open every window in my apartment to let in the sunshine and air far warmer than what my heat pump produces. It's a pain to open storm and regular windows, but there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to air out the place, especially given predicted temperatures in the '40 for the next week.

I know that my least favorite season, Winter, is just starting and there's nothing I can do about that, but I prefer to focus on the fact that starting tomorrow, daylight begins to return. Every day will be a tiny step closer to the weather and seasons that make me happiest.

Truth be told, I feel better already and not just because we're turning the page on losing daylight. Getting to take a sweaty walk bare-legged in shorts today is about the closest thing to a Christmas miracle a heathen like me could hope for.

I've no doubt the guy in the Santa skirt was feeling the same thing. Those of us with Spring in our hearts are so obvious.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

In Daylights, In Midnights

When a David Byrne song starts feeling holiday-like, it's probably time to step away from the gift wrap and cookie sheets.

Cruising along Route 360 this morning with the sky a pale blue, the odd angle of the December sunlight in my eyes and the unnatural warmth of the car baking my brain, I unexpectedly heard holiday thankfulness in the music.

Everyday is a miracle
Every day is an unpaid bill
You've got to sing for your super
Love one another

The mind is a soft-boiled potato
A jewel in a chocolate shell
I staple my love to your heart, dear
With memories and beautiful smells

You can kind of hear it, right?

It was my final pre-Christmas visit to help Mom and Dad prepare for the onslaught of family that will descend like locusts on the Northern Neck over the next ten days, a whirlwind of wrapping presents, baking cookies and deleting photographs (don't ask) for them.

During a brief break, I showed them the SNL cold open from Saturday, the one where the cast redid "It's a Wonderful Life" into "It's a Wonderful Trump," showing that idiot what the world would have been like if he'd never been put in office by the Russians.

My uber-liberal parents loved it, though I suspect it may have been their first episode of SNL. At least they got all the political humor.

By noon, I had eaten my weight in raw eggs.

That's because  I can't resist nibbling on cookie dough and today I made something like ten dozen cookies, so there was a lot of dough around. Mom and I mocked the recipe warning not to eat raw dough (because of the eggs), given that we've been doing so our entire lives and aren't likely to stop any time soon, no matter how much the medical science community tries to scare us.

As Hall and Oates once said, you've got to know that old habits die hard.

Frankly, as solidly as my days have been packed lately, I could justify dough-eating as fuel for the duration. Even for heathens like me, holiday season is a marathon, not a sprint.

It already seems like eons ago that Mr. Wright and I slipped over to the VMFA to see "Congo Masks: Masterpieces from Central Africa," but I think it might have been just last Friday. With the snowball that is my life rolling steadily downhill and getting bigger all the time, I thought it only prudent to get over there while I had a free moment.

The masks were a unique kind of artifact, but for me, it was the film of Congolese people wearing them and dancing in them that provided the best insight into why masks are so central to aspects of the culture. The films were also a fascinating timeline, since the ones from the '50s showed everyone in native dress, while the 1990 footage showed that Western clothing had reached the Congo.

I'm sorry, but it's disconcerting to see a man in a wooden mask with raffia hair wearing cargo shorts. Is there no point too remote on earth for these baggy bloomers to appear and degenerate native dress? Asking for a friend.

Most surprising was learning that masks are still being created and several newer ones are included in the show. There's one of Jesus from the second quarter of the 20th century and another of Elvis from the third quarter of the 20th century.

As to how either one wards off  evil spirits, well, the signage wasn't specific about that.

Also unexpected was a gallery full of musical instruments, the kind used to create the sounds that men in masks danced to. Favorite? The wooden trapezoid slit drum which could produce a half dozen tones because of the varying thickness of its sides.

Almost as long ago was a cozy dinner at Max's, tucked away at the far end of the long bar behind the enormous coffee machine, where we were out of view of absolutely everyone else in the place. Even the bartender had trouble even seeing us to pour Blanc de Blanc or serve us dinner, but the allure of being out of sight was too good to pass up.

Equally as good was an entree that could have been the poster child for vegetarian comfort food: grilled asparagus with sauteed mushrooms and Brussels sprouts leaves over pommes aligot, aka obscene cheesy mashed potatoes.

And before you go thinking we've become some kind of healthy vegetarians, know that two courses had meat and one had chocolate, so we still have our heads about us.

By 11 we were walking over to the Ghost Light After Party at the Basement, the latest incarnation of a piano bar in J-Ward. We found a table with a view, scored glasses of Rose and watched as local theater types took turns singing whatever the hell they wanted to, even when that included "My Heart Will Go On."

As I told the evening's host when he came over to chat, Mr. Wright had scored major points early on in our acquaintance when he'd copped to a love of show tunes while straight.

Let's just say he looked positively beatific when "Seasons of Love" began, but that's always a show-stopper because everyone in the theater community apparently knows every word, so it's inevitably a group singalong.

525,600 minutes
525,600 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunset?
In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles?
In laughter, in strife?

In 525,600 minutes,
How do you measure a year in a life?

Well, if you're asking Mr. Wright, he would say it's measured in something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. He's not wrong, either.

We didn't intend to stay until last call, but the songs kept coming - I'm not sure there's ever been a GLAP where "A Whole New World" isn't sung - and it was too much fun to tear ourselves away, so we got more Rose and stayed the course, walking home at 2 a.m. through deserted J-Ward streets.

Sunday, we started at the Byrd for that perennial mash-up of love stories, "Love Actually," which I've been informed is now actually considered a Christmas movie. Whether of not that's a fact is still up for grabs, but why wouldn't I want to see a romantic comedy with Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson and Bill Nighy?

That's some pretty appealing man meat right there, and of multiple varieties, too.

Afterwards, just to prove our range, we wound up in the front row at Gallery 5 for Silent Music Revival's holiday screening of director Jean Renoir's surrealistic 1928 film, "The Little Matchgirl." Spoiler alert: all her matches can't keep her warm and she freezes to death.

That Hans Christian Anderson was dark, I'm telling you.

Disco punk band Toxic Moxie provided an improvised soundtrack that I would put up against any SMR soundtrack I've heard and I've been going to the event practically since it began 11 years ago. Their ability to react aurally to what was happening visually onscreen was spot on and evocative in that way that synths are so good at conveying sadness.

The only problem with being non-stop busy all weekend was that Monday arrived with a to-do list for the week that encompasses all the holiday prep I've been doing for Mom but needed to do for myself plus six interviews, seven deadlines and the need to get my hired mouth to a new place multiple times, all by New Year's Eve.

And don't even get me started on the travel prep that jumps into high gear once the work obligations have been met.

Sign seen on an insurance office sign in Tappahannock this morning: "Say yes to new adventures."

Don't mind if I do. This heathen is ready to dive into the holidays solely so she can come out on the other side and get back to real life.

It may mean a lot less raw egg, but a whole lot more to look forward to. Just one question, though. How did those 525,600 minutes pass so quickly this year?

Ah, yes, the biggest adventure of them all. Talk about your whole new world...

Friday, December 14, 2018

My Kingdom for Someone to Ride With

Some Christmas presents come early and arrive in the form of words.

A: I learned from your blog that X and Y had broken up. You are my conduit to the Richmond social, food and art scene. Thank you.
K: It pleases me no end that you still catch up on my blog on occasion.
A: I don't catch up on your blog "on occasion." I've subscribed via a feed reader and read EVERY SINGLE ENTRY AS THEY POST.

Some Christmas music is just a new song from an old artist that evokes memories.

Hearing on the radio that David Bazhan is back making music with his band Pedro the Lion, I immediately fell for their new song, "Yellow Bike" which is as much a tribute to Christmas past - the song begins with him seeing the bike next to the Christmas tree - as any "traditional" song...with a far better guitar line.

And speaking of music, as if it wasn't enough to be reminiscing about childhood bikes and holidays, I also heard a live version of "Never Going Back Again." It was recorded on the "Tusk" tour and is part of a new Fleetwood Mac box set because, somehow, someway, the Mac has apparently been a band for 50 years.

Granted, I didn't discover them until the mid '70s but, yes, I was that college kid who went to all the shows with her best friend when they played multiple night stands.

Holy crap, I'm old.

But not too old to appreciate seeing a piece of classic feminist theater for only the second time in my life. Back in 2010 when I couldn't afford a theater ticket and wasn't yet on the Theater Alliance Panel, I'd ushered a performance so that I could see Henley Street Theater's production of "A Doll's House," my first time seeing it.

Planning to see TheatreLAB's production of the same, Pru and Beau had expressed interest, although Pru changed her mind, deciding she was no longer in the mood for Ibsen. That left the odd couple, Beau and me.

We started the evening at Longoven, a place I'd been but he hadn't. Walking in, a favorite bartender greeted me with a smile and we were led to a table underneath a giant wreath that gave off the most delicious evergreen aroma.

Carrying the "pink bubbles fo-evah" banner, I stayed true to form with Montand Cremant du Jura Rose, while Beau furthered his Hungarian curiosity with Evolucio Tokaj, the latest in a series he's had from that region.

Naturally this led to a discussion of the Balkan restaurant Ambar, where he'd first fallen hard for Hungarian wines. I've been to the one in D.C., while Beau's been to the one in Clarendon and both of us had been intrigued and wowed by a wine list covering places like Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Moldovia and Macedonia.

So many grapes, so little time.

Everything we put in our mouths was exceptional and highly creative, leading Beau to dub Longoven "non-safe eating," a term I love. One of my sisters used to regularly proclaim that "Only boring people get bored," but I'd tack on an addendum of, "Only boring people prefer safe eating."

Knocking it out of the park was a dish of smoked duck, over which rested a mound of turnip slices and turnip confit and topped with a leaf of grilled radicchio and horseradish cream. Delicately fried cauliflower leaves added the final texture and flavor. It was a dish that got better with each successive bite as my palate absorbed the brilliant combination of rich and bitter, soft and toothsome.

Waiting for our next course, Beau did his best to toss a compliment my way, observing, "Your hair always looks good, but tonight's dishevelment is less." The backtracking that followed may have been the humorous high point of the evening.

Next up was a risotto of seeds - sunflower, chia, pepitas, millet and quinoa - arranged in a circle like a wreath and bordered with autumn greens, a dollop of Fontina fondue at the center. It was vegetarian comfort food of the highest order and our only regret was not having a piece of crusty bread to sop up the remains with.

More Cremant arrived for me as Beau made the switch to the Loire with Domaine a Deux Sauvignon Blanc Touraine and we geared up for our shared large plate.

We'd chosen a favorite for both of us, skate wing, seared and riding atop cauliflower puree with maitake mushrooms and dollops of soubise, which combines two of my very favorite staples, onion butter, into a sauce. The edges of the wing were seared to golden brown crunch perfection and our server (a transplant from Raleigh) commented on how clean we'd licked the plate.

We are nothing if not eaters, Beau and I. And, unlike Pru, we both need a shift to sweet after multiple savory courses.

Intrigued by the combination of black sesame ice cream with black sesame sponge cake, both dehydrated and fresh, and a pear sauce, Beau's dessert was a fascinating shade of gunmetal gray and pastiche of sweet and savory.

Meanwhile, I savored a glass of 20-year Tawny Port with hazelnut sponge cake and hazelnut praline with rosettes of hazelnut mousse and the thinnest of slivers of dark chocolate, a dish that took a turn for the obscene with Comte ice cream.

Whoever thought of translating Comte into ice cream deserves a major award. It also convinced both of us that even the dessert-avoiding Pru could have been seduced by its cheesy richness.

When our server came over to inquire if she could get us anything else, Beau piped up, "What else you got?" Clearly the wine had kicked in and it was time to motor.

Some plays may lack traditional Christmas characters - the Grinch, Scrooge - but the fact that they take place at Christmastime more than qualifies them for December entertainment.

Full as ticks from a meal of non-safe food, we headed east to the Basement for a lesson in female empowerment. In a play oozing male chauvinism, the production was a solid reminder of how revolutionary Ibsen's script had been when it was written in 1879, but how it still resonates today.

I wouldn't change the smallest part of you, not in any way.

Even the music chosen to be played before and between acts reflected the kind of strong women Nora found herself becoming: Aretha, Adele, Carole King, Dolly Parton, Marian Anderson. Director Josh Chenard had chosen groundbreaking women to establish the mood.

I hardly saw you for four weeks. I was never so bored.

Watching Landon Nagel switch seamlessly from adoring, sweet-talking lover to bullying husband was disturbing and unsettling, like reading about abused women who choose not to press charges against the men who beat them because they focus on his "good" side. Nagel's ability to convey both convincingly speaks to his well-honed skills as an actor.

Although whether the sweat on his face was due to his 19th century costume or his passion in portraying Torvald, I really can't say.

I'm your husband. It's your job to indulge me.

Katrinah Carol Lewis wrung every possible emotion from the character of Nora as we watched her abandon the fantasy of a strong and happy marriage to go from docile wife to a woman who is driven to understand herself and her own needs before she can address any other aspects of her life.

"A Doll's House," for me, is the kind of play that reminds a 21st century woman how fortunate she was to come up during a time when women could be themselves and follow whatever (convoluted, in my case) path they chose. The confrontational scene near the end where Nora tells Torvald she's leaving him - and why - remains a classic of female empowerment.

And that door slam as the story concludes? Has there ever been a more satisfying ending to a play?

Or to a day more satisfying than one that began with learning that there are some people who read my ramblings every single time they post?

Some Christmas season evenings, I'm just grateful that my dishevelment isn't an issue for everyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Too Much Champagne is Just Right

If I was in charge of planning holiday celebrations, they would all include Champagne and eggnog.

But that's probably the bubbly and nog talking.

Our sole original intent was to make it to the Acacia Mini Bubbles dinner for three courses and three variations on the most festive of wines. Pru and Beau had both signed on for whatever the night held, with Beau (the non-bubbles fan), promising to show up with an open mind. While he's not as quick to have his head turned by sparkling wine as we are, he at least approaches these dinners with a willingness to have his mind changed.

And, truly, what more could a woman ask of a friend (or lover) than an open mind?

Driving to Acacia, Beau chose an unusual route that stranded us twice between double-parked cars on still snow-packed Mulberry Street, where Pru lived for many years. Some of our best friendship memories involve me going to Mulberry Street, where I'd scoop her up - planned or unplanned - and we'd have an adventure, many of them involving dancing.

Those halcyon, unemcumbered times are fondly referred to as the Mulberry Days and always spoken in a reverential tone. In fact, Beau slowed the car in respect as we drove on to Acacia.

As the front-of-the-house manager (and wife of the chef) greeted us, I couldn't help but be impressed with her attire: a t-shirt listing out the various forms of bubbly - Lambrusco, Cava, Prosecco, Cremant - with the most important, "Champagne," spelled out in silver sequins, a gift from her husband. Finishing it off was a ballerina-length black tulle skirt that turned the clever t-shirt into the most festive of attire.

When Pru noted that she had the same skirt, I couldn't resist suggesting that she wear it on New Year's Eve. If ever a girl can get away with tulle, it's at bubbly events or the turn of the calendar.

Moving on to more important matters, it should be noted that as always, Acacia's food offerings were superb.

Beginning with Azienda Agricola Brancher Prosecco di Valdobbiandene Superiore Extra Dry, we were immersed in sparkling wine. Accompanying the wine with its hint of residual sugar was smoked salmon atop a cauliflower pancake and topped with pickled onion, capers, egg dust and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Yet again proving the power of pairings, none of us were raving about the Prosecco until the fattiness of the creme fraiche obliterated the sweetness and made the Prosecco shine. Pru immediately dubbed it a perfect brunch sipper, reminding me of that Noel Coward quote, "Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn't everyone?"

Not often enough, no.

As an added bonus, wine rep Brandon became our hero after announcing that mankind should drink as much sparkling wine as possible and that Champagne is his favorite beverage, bar none.

He then went on to extol the beauty of the Prosecco region and assured us it was still an uncrowded oasis for bubbly lovers (note to self).

While devouring that tasty course, conversation turned to the long-term prospects of Pru and Beau, a couple who have known each other for 35 years. When the subject of Pru tiring of Beau came up, he noted that she would have to pry him out of her life with a crowbar.

"Like a barnacle," he explained, sublimating his manhood to the metaphor and cracking me up.

Next up was pure decadence: crab fritters atop braised cabbage with Surry sausage in a creamy truffle sauce. With this, Brandon had paired Mont Marcal Cava Brut Rosado, thus satisfying my love of bubbles and Rose in one fell swoop.

The exquisite and oh-so mid-Atlantic pairing of crab and pig made all three of us inordinately happy because, let's face it, the combination is about as Virginia as you can get. When I wished that this combination could become an entree, Beau reminded me that it would be obscene to have any more of it.

So excess is bad now, right?

I parted ways with my friends when it came to the main course. My choice was sauteed rockfish over spaghetti squash under a blanket of clam chowder sauce, served with Larmandier-Bernier "Longitude" Blanc de Blanc, the pairing a symphony of whites and beiges.

The dynamic duo opted for braised beef short ribs over Yukon Gold potatoes with sauteed Swiss Chard made even more delicious for being paired with what Brandon described as "not like any other Champagne you've ever had," Andre Clouet Grand Cru Brut Rose.

Between the unexpected strawberry notes and creamy mouthfeel, it was completely seductive, the only problem being they each had glasses of it and I didn't. Being friends, however, I did get tastes. Of note was how well the wine paired with the Swiss Chard, of all things.

When it came time for dessert, a shared chocolate cremeux was sufficient because everyone was in the mood for liquid dessert.

For me, it was my own glass of that Andre Clouet Grand Cru Brut Rose, while Pru decided to do a speedball: a cup of French press coffee plus a bastardized Irish coffee (no Bailey's) that redeemed itself with a massive float of whipped heavy cream.

The non-Alpha male among us debated the liquor menu long and hard before deciding he wanted 15-year old Singleton, neat, please. Pru, in fine form two-fisting caffeine, leaned over and observed, "None of that octoroon whiskey for him," referring to the blended whiskeys.

Get enough quality alcohol in a person and she'll say anything.

Knowing the best way to keep Pru happy all winter, Beau placed an order for the Cava and the Brut Rose and, on that note, we headed out into the night. My suggestion of a final stop at a holiday bar seemed a festive way to wind things down, so we drove to Carytown to check out Miracle on Cary, the latest incarnation of the Jasper.

Seeing a line come out the door was almost a buzz kill, one I mitigated instantly by suggesting Christmas Session instead. While I've been to Rapp Session's holiday pop-up in the past, neither of them had and they were easily malleable agreeable by this point.

Beau is fond of saying that I always get my way, but I prefer to think that I just verbalize what others are thinking. And, yes, I'm still campaigning for that fried chicken and grower's Champagne party, my friend.

Regardless of how we'd ended up there, Christmas Session was the right choice, festive and low-key with only a half dozen other people around. Looking at the drink menu encased in a Christmas card, I opted for the Ebenezer, a potent blend of Mezcal, Hornitos Reposado, Agave, Cocchi Americano and Hellfire bitters while the happy couple each asked for a Rebel Without a Claus.

Because our friendship is based on tasting reciprocity, Beau and I each took one sip of our drinks before handing them off to be tasted by the other. Immediately we both knew we'd ordered the wrong drink and the switch was made.

The Rebel, a creamy blend of kettlecorn-infused rum, Frangelico, heavy cream, simple syrup and mole bitters in a coupe glass tasted like swanky eggnog and smelled like nutmeg, a combination I found irresistible, while he needed smokey, strong brown liquors with a giant ice cube.

Pru and I were on our second round of Rebels and feeling fine when Beau started snapping pictures of us under the strings of colored lights like we were subjects in a holiday magazine spread. We kept the theme going by ordering a final Rebel, which our affable server delivered with two sets of straws for ease of consumption.

Picture-taking brought up the subject of me not using photos on my blog - my recent picture of a snow penis on my car being a natural starting point - which I reminded them is impossible because the dated Blogger platform doesn't support photos beyond the main image and profile photo.

Words, people, I'm trying to use words to paint a picture, not pictures. Anyone can do that.

By the time we rolled out of Christmas Session, we'd outlasted all the selfie-taking groups from Rappahannock, heard enough holiday music for the rest of the season and topped off our evening of bubbly with multiple glasses of Christmas Past.

A girl couldn't ask for much more on a Wednesday night.

Except maybe to get home to a mailbox with a sweet card from Mr. Wright full of words that made my night, as well as a note from a local curator telling me, "I so appreciate your writing and the way you make information about something visual come alive."

And that, dear reader, is why you'll never see the photograph of the snow penis here. I've got enough to do just making my adventures come alive.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Love is a Bohemian Child

I have two just questions, at least for right now.

Who changes their clock in the middle of the night? And will this slow death by snow ever end? Three days in and it feels interminable.

When I woke up in the middle of the night, I was inexplicably certain my bedside clock had stopped, so I checked another clock and reset it in the dark. Only once I got up and began making breakfast did I realize that I'd mistakenly set my clock half an hour ahead.

And, believe me, a snow day doesn't need to start any earlier than it already does, if you know what I'm saying.

While the snow didn't prevent me from walking, it definitely slowed down the process to the point that a four mile walk - usually an hour-long endeavor - took an hour and 20 minutes. A lot of that had to do with my inability to walk at my usual speed because of un-shoveled sidewalks, unexpected swaths of black ice when walking in the street to avoid icy puddles and detours due to enormous mounds of plowed snow deposited on sidewalks.

Pedestrians become secondary when it comes to snow removal.

Still, I was out of the house and seeing signs of life, so that at least was progress and there are worse ways to spend the afternoon than writing to the accompaniment of the sounds of snow shifting and melting outside. But after spending the last two nights at home, I also made a deal with myself that if got enough work finished, I was going to cut out in late afternoon to go indulge my inner documentary dork.

Besides mixing things up a bit, it was a chance to prove I could stay home three nights in a row and I know I have friends who doubted I could.

It was hardly surprising how uncrowded the Movieland parking lot was, not to mention finding only three other people in the tiny Criterion Cinema where I was seeing "Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words."

Two of them were older and obviously on a date, but they'd both lost the ability to whisper, so their frequent exchanges were loud enough for me and the other loner to hear every word. And he was one of those men who felt the need to explain every preview to her as if she hadn't just seen it with her own eyes.

Red flag, honey, cut bait while you can.

As for the documentary's subject matter, Maria Callas has interested me since the whole Jackie business. Back in those days, my family had subscriptions to three daily newspapers and I recall quite clearly that the Washington Daily News, an afternoon tabloid-format paper, always had the best juice in it.

So when they ran a piece about Onassis' plans to marry JFK's widow, they didn't stint on the fact that it broke Callas' heart because of their long-time relationship. It may have been the first time I'd ever read in a newspaper about a woman having an affair, so it piqued my curiosity and stuck.

Years later, I picked up "Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend" by Arianna Stossinopolous at one of the library's used book sales and learned a lot more about the diva. So it only took seeing the previews to tonight's movie once to know I needed to come back and hear the story of her life in her own words.

Because that was really the cool part of this non-traditional documentary. Director Tom Volf chose to only use interviews of Callas, along with home movies, filmed performances and press footage with an occasional overdub of American opera singer Joyce di Donato reading Callas' letters aloud.

Letters to people like Grace Kelley. Letters to Onassis. Letters that explained exactly where her head and heart were at any given time.

So without a talking head in sight, the story truly felt like it was being told by Maria herself, in all her perfect make-up and fashionable splendor.

An added bonus of the film was the extensive and dated footage of Europe, meaning I go to see Athens and the Acropolis in 1937 and Paris in 1963, neither much resembling the crowded metropolises I saw in the 21st century.

Pushed into a career in opera by a demanding stage mother, Callas talked repeatedly about a woman's value being in having a family and children, but that wasn't the hand she'd been dealt. "Destiny is destiny," she tells the interviewer. "There's no way out."

To add to the vintage vibe, some of the old footage had been colorized, giving it that over-saturated '50s look where yellow, orange and red reign supreme and blue is tough to find.

It was obvious how much of a Callas fan the director was because of the multiple live performances he included, and not just a snippet, but the entire aria. Seeing her perform onstage made it easy to see why her acting skills had been touted, along with her voice and technical skill.

But like with that long-ago Daily News, I reveled in the details of her love affair with Aristotle Onassis, whom she referred to as "Aristo," but whom she always described as a friend, not a lover. Tellingly, she said that Aristo made her feel "liberated and feminine" and that he was more than happy for her to take a break from a demanding career that had begun at 13 and never let up.

As a side note, I'd only seen photographs of Onassis in his late '50s and early '60s, but seeing him in his '40s revealed that he'd once been a very handsome, if very Greek-looking, man.

Everyone may know now who worships at the altar of divas, but back when Callas returned to New York City, her hometown, to sing after having been gone for seven years, it wasn't all that much different. A CBS correspondent roams the long line of people waiting to get into the Met, asking them why she's worth waiting all day to see.

All three men asked responded with praise and deference to the magnificent woman they idolized and, without profiling anyone, I'd guess that every single one of them was a gay boy. Slender, attractive and absolutely enthralled at seeing their heroine, they positively fawned as long as the CBS microphone was held in their face. One said he expected the ovation to be "standing and last 30 minutes."

 That's a true fan. Adorable.

But also of note was what that before there were rock stars, Maria Callas was an opera star of the rock star magnitude, the kind greeted at every airport and train station where she arrived with a gaggle of paparazzi hanging on her every word, at least when she deigned to talk to them. Performances sold out overnight when her name was announced as part of the cast.

And yet, the sad part was she didn't get the family and children she craved nor did she get the one man she truly loved, even if he did go back to meeting her in secret after marrying the world's most famous window.

It's like she told David Frost, "There are two people in me. I am Maria, but there is Callas that I have to live up to." Helluva trade-off to be considered the finest operatic female voice of the 20th century.

There are two people in me, too, but since I'm not the finest anything, I get to do whatever I want, even when it's not what others expect.

Destiny, shmestiny. Like Emerson said, the only person you're destined to become is the person you decide to be.

I'm shooting for liberated, feminine and almost always hungry. I like to think it's enough to keep me out of the diva category.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Closed for Snow

As goes Clay Street, so goes the world. At least, that's what I was hoping.

The moment I looked out the window this morning and saw that my street was passable was the moment I decided that my road trip to the Northern Neck was on, after all. If they'd gotten to Clay Street, Route 360 had to be clear.

Mom and Dad's pre-holiday to-do list awaited. I had to accept that absolutely nothing was going to happen in Richmond today with everything shut down and I needed to get out even if it meant driving an hour and a half away to escape the Hallmark holiday statis.

This girl was gone.

When I went down to clear off my car, a chore I expected to take 15 minutes but which took 30 given the foot of snow covering it, it was to discover that a very Jackson Ward thing had happened to my vehicle: there was a snow penis carved into the center of the hood.

I couldn't even be surprised. Instead, I went back upstairs, got my camera and took a snap of it.

That's because from the month I moved into this place - March 2009 - snowfall has meant male genitalia around these parts. The first one I ever saw was 3' high on top of a car and I tried to convince myself it was an aberration, except that the next morning I saw two: one on the hood of a truck, one in the truck's bed. Over the years, I've been able to count on seeing one whenever we have any appreciable snowfall.

Like so many things, it's just life in the Ward (insert shrug). I cleared it off, along with all the other snow that had blanketed my car and was on my way.

Driving east meant leaving J-Ward with its foot of snow and driving through Mechanicsville with its 7 or 8" (including the snow-covered windmill) to the Northern Neck where it wasn't much more than 4 or 5" and passing 17 snow plows along the way (I counted).

In the median between here and Tappahannock, I saw four vehicles abandoned, including a Fed Ex van, undoubtedly left yesterday since the roads were clear this morning.

Far more scenic was the landscape, with every evergreen resembling a Christmas card-worthy image of snow-laden branches. Large bushes like forsythia must have filled in and then over with snow, so that they now resembled giant Hostess Snoballs, minus the electric pink color.

For incongruous charm, it was hard to beat getting on the bridge in Tappahannock to see each of the docks along the shore covered in a carpet of snow. For sheer grandeur, nothing topped coming off it to see enormous, untouched white fields of snow as far as the eye could see. They didn't look real and no one would have found them believable if CGI had made them look that perfect.

When I stopped at Food Lion in Warsaw to get sour cream for Mom (the one ingredient she didn't have for the cake she wanted me to make today), the cashiers were standing in a gossip circle near the chip aisle, bored out of their minds and dreading the day ahead.

All was well at Mom and Dad's, where the heat is always set too high and Christmas decor is omnipresent. Things did smell wonderful, though, because the Christmas tree they'd gotten in Whitestone, while smaller than their usual ceiling-scraper (for which they both apologized, as if they were shirking their parental duty to only get a 7' tree), had a particularly fragrant scent that I love.

Besides the sour cream, Mom had asked me to bring the recipe when she couldn't find her copy. Mind you, this is a recipe she first shared with me in the '70s after a German co-worker made it and Mom got the recipe from her, a backstory I'd never heard before today.

That led to a conversation about her years working at the International Monetary Fund and how she'd been passed up for a promotion when her boss retired. Everyone was shocked when she didn't get it, but then word leaked that the woman who had was the IMF director's god-daughter. As recompense, when Mom decided to take early retirement, they paid her full salary for a year and a half before benefits began.

I reminded her that she'd used that time to move to this house full-time and do things like plant butter lettuces and cantaloupes and soak grapevines in the bath tub to make wreaths. "Yes, I did," she said, looking pleased with herself at the 30-year old memory.

Somebody's got to remember these stories and it looks like I'm it.

Dad, meanwhile, is in charge of writing out the dozens of Christmas cards they send out every season, as well as addressing all gift tags. It's not just that his handwriting is magnificent (though it is) but that Mom's resembles nothing so much as chicken scratch, a fact she attributes to years of using shorthand to take notes.

In any case, it's a holiday chore that necessitates a great deal of back and forth between them about people and memories.

When 1953 comes up because of a song, Dad reminds me that 1953 was the year he went in the army, a pivotal decision in his life, he now believes, because it set him on the path to meeting Mom. Needless to say, he still considers this the best thing that ever happened to him.

You listen to these stories your whole life and you can't help but be a believer in love and romance.

Driving back late this afternoon against a low-slanting sun, I could see that this morning's pristine fields had now been violated, whether by sun, birds or animals, but there wasn't much more traffic on the roads then there had been this morning and that had been ridiculously light.

It was clear everyone who could be was at home today. Well, not everyone.

Back at home, where the neighborhood felt emptied out and there were parking spaces galore, I briefly considered a movie but decided instead that with my social needs fed by the people who spawned me, I'd stay at home and accomplish any number of things I needed to do.

After putting a load of laundry in, I grabbed the snow shovel and began shoveling a path from my door and along the sidewalk (as the city requires) to the basement door. If I'm being honest, it felt great to do something really physical in the cold evening air after not getting in my walk today...or much movement beyond wrapping presents.

I was scraping away, getting into the quiet of the 'hood in between my scrapes, when my neighbor unexpectedly opened the front door to see me there with my shovel.

"Oh I thought you were my friend," he said unconvincingly and probably annoyed to have gotten up from his video game to find out. "She's supposed to be coming over, so when I heard something..." I continue shoveling and smile. He goes away.

Once I finish shoveling, I pause before going upstairs to enjoy how unusually silent the city is. No hum from I-95 drifting over, no passersby, just an unnatural quiet. It's lovely.

It's broken seconds later when two young women who live next door walk up, crunching through the snow, each with a large bag in her arms, probably from the 24-hour Rite-Aid. In a voice that can only be described as young and inexperienced, one squeals giddily, "He didn't even card me! I mean, he.."

Before she finishes, her cohort brags right back. "He didn't card me, too," clarifying either that this guy casts a fairly wide net when it comes to underage drinking or to establish that it was her narrative, as well.

Both sound tickled pink to have gotten away with buying lots of beer to wile away another snowy night stuck at home.

Shoveling the walk, getting trashed, we like our pleasures simple in J-Ward. And, man, you should see our snow sculptures.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Not Washing My Hair with Snow

What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?
~ John Steinbeck

Not to sound like sour grapes of wrath or anything, but I got your winter cold right here, mister.

Oh, sure, I can accept an early snow day for the beauty of the big, soft flakes falling when I wake up. I can even make the most of it on my walk by ensuring that my route takes me by Nate's Bagels, where a handwritten sign on the door warns that they'll be closing at noon due to safety concerns.

As the woman who takes my order explains, pointing outside, "If it's that bad on Cary Street, how bad is it on the side streets?" Pretty nasty, I tell her, having just walked two miles on side streets.

Fortunately for me, it was only 11:34 when I got there and they weren't yet out of everything bagels, so at least my effort wasn't in vain. Actually, it was the shortest line I've seen at Nate's since they opened, but even so, the walk home felt even wetter and colder than getting there had, but maybe that had to do with seeing a guy in shorts walking down Main Street.


Although I was optimistic enough to clean off my car once I got back, it was completely covered again within two hours, so basically it was just some additional cardio I did.

And although I happily looked out my windows dozens of times today to admire the falling snow, I'm really not a snow day kind of a gal. I don't have a fireplace and I don't drink hot toddies. I'm not going to go sledding or build a snowman (or, as is more common in J-Ward, build a snow penis). I'm not going to eat gingerbread or sip tea, either.

Any moment now, I expect the walls to begin closing in on me. The occasional cup of hot chocolate aside, I'm really pretty terrible at celebrating snow appropriately.

So I did the only logical thing: I worked. I edited a piece I'd been working on so I could submit it early, then wrote up the artist interview of the exhibit I'd toured yesterday. I worked out, baked cookies and cleaned the bathroom.

I watched as one of my Clay Street neighbors did periodic snow measurement updates and posted them online so I didn't have to wonder how deep it was outside. I read my Washington Post from front to back, ogling photographs in the travel section of Nevis and the British Virgin Islands, pictures that felt like a tease compared to what's outside my door.

And I realized as the day progressed and the snow kept falling that while I could get by today, tomorrow is going to be a wash. Already, businesses and institutions have announced that they'll be closed. There goes tomorrow's road trip, as well as my plans with Lady G for tomorrow night.

It's doubtful I'll even be able to work since there's no telling if anyone will answer my emails if they're not at the office. Le sigh.

My only hope is that the VMFA with its policy of being open 365 days a year will open tomorrow, allowing me to trek through this mess to be culturally entertained for as long as possible. But being a state institution, I'm not counting on it. Absent that life line, my sole shot at escape would be Movieland if they choose to open.

It's not like I don't have a stack of reading material to dip into. But much as I love to read, it's just tough to get conversation out of even the best of books. It's not the snow I mind, it's the cessation of social life.

Just because there's snow on the roof doesn't mean there isn't a bored extrovert inside.

Get Me to the World on Time

Ain't too proud to beg, or, more accurately, invite myself over.

Looking at a Saturday that involved a gallery tour by an artist I'm writing about, an interview with a curator and a protracted meeting of the Theater Alliance Panel I'm on, I didn't hesitate to call Holmes before leaving for my busy afternoon. My inquiry was simple: did he and the little woman have a bar stool available at their record-listening party tonight?

Bingo. Let me tell you, it's far more pleasant working through the afternoon and early evening knowing I'd wind up with a glass of wine in hand, listening to music with friends. They were making dinner at home, so we timed my arrival to coincide with post-meal cleanup.

You have to love hosts who immediately pour you a glass of Rose All Day, a French Grenache Rose that is currently Beloved's favorite and lead you to the man cave crowded with records, CDs, cassette tapes, a full bar and a wine fridge, sort of a bomb shelter for those who've just eaten.

To kick off our listening party, we usually begin with a 45 to set the tone before moving on to albums.  First up was Elvis Costello's "Allison," a slow start, but one that decided the era.

But to change things up, next Holmes pulled out another 45, this one of U2's "With or Without You," while Beloved and I marveled at the 1987 photograph of Bono on the sleeve. Clearly he'd still been in his "tortured Irish artist" phase, although Beloved put it best, noting, "He looks dirty. Like he's about to start digging potatoes."

And he did. Not yet developed was the grandeur poses of the humanitarian god he was to become.

And, mind you, I hadn't had anything to drink beyond a few sips of my Rose, so when Holmes turned the 45 over to play the flip side, "Luminous Times," it took but a second for me to realize that something was wrong. That didn't sound like Bono singing or the Edge's guitar.

Looking at Holmes for help, I asked if the 45 was on the wrong speed. Negative. He turned it back over and, sure enough, "With or Without You" was instantly recognizable. What the ...? He thought perhaps he'd accidentally hit the speed knob while changing records, but, no, it was on 45 rpm.

Maybe it was the Rose, but we debated the issue for far longer than we should have.

Only once Holmes took the 45 off the turntable and examined it did we see the problem. The flip side clearly stipulated, "Play this side at 33 rpm." We did and finally listened to the song as it was meant to be heard.

Bono no longer sounded like a member of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

All three of us looked at each other incredulously. Not one of us long-time music fans had ever seen a record with different speeds on each side of the same disc. It was almost like the young band (or perhaps artsy producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno) had been testing its fans to see if they were paying attention.

Check that, it was as if the lads of U2 purposely decided to mess with their listeners' heads. Apparently it never occurred to them that some people might be listening while drinking and not fully paying attention to such details on a Saturday night.

Instructing Holmes to look at the ceiling and randomly pull an album from under the bar, he came up with Rod Stewart's "Never a Dull Moment" and handed it to me for inspection. The moment I saw that "You Wear It Well" was on the album, I was on board.

Because it came out in 1972, we each began reminiscing about what we'd been doing then. For me, in my first year of high school, the song conjured up memories of hearing it on the college radio station, noticing its similarity to "Maggie May" and digging the fiddle parts. For my hosts, it was a college memory, so a lot more had been going on in their lives, though both had great memories of the album.

I mean, who wouldn't love hearing Rod the Mod's raucous cover of the Sam Cooke-penned "Twistin' the Night Away?"

Yet again, we succumbed to Holmes' two-record compilation of the best of the Zombies, a record we seem to regularly revisit for different reasons. For them, it's the soundtrack to their teen years, while for me, the Zombies' music sounds like the essence of the mid-'60s sound, which I was too young to be paying attention to when it came out.

The problem is, every time we put one of the records on, we pretend that we're only going to listen to one side, but inevitably, we can't stop ourselves. Classics like "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season" never get old, but the unexpected pleasure of "Tell Her No" also caused no small amount of dancing and excitement in the basement bar.

My new favorite? "She Loves the Way He Loves Her."

And let's not overlook the exquisite surprise of the Zombies' languid cover of Gershwin's "Summertime," which took mere moments to recognize despite its new-to-me arrangement. I have to admit, I never saw that one coming.

Despite our best intentions, last night we got through three sides before Holmes played the grown-up and pulled the plug.

As if music hadn't been enough to lure me over, Beloved had made sure that there was dessert in the house in the form of a multi-layer chocolate confection with layers of dark chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, a dense, cake-like layer and chocolate icing.

That the slice was more than enough for three was proof that there is a dessert god.

Next up was a new addition to Holmes' collection, recently acquired at Hardywood's record fair: the promotional album, "1969 Warner Bros/Reprise Songbook," which turned out to be a Whitman's Sampler of musicians, songs and oddities the record company was putting out to entice fans to buy more albums.

I was tickled to see a range from South African songstress Miriam Makeba doing a powerful rendition of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" to Joni Mitchell to the Kinks.

And while I'd heard the name the Electric Prunes (a name chosen, according to the liner notes, because it was so far out), only last night did I learn of the psychedelic band's early role in combining classical music with rock, as in their attempted "Mass in F Minor." What?

When Beloved insisted she didn't know the band, Holmes assured her she'd heard "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" while I just smiled along because I'd never heard of it either.

Along about then, my host decided to celebrate the start of bubbly season by opening a bottle of Tattinger "La Francaise" Brut and making Beloved smile ear to ear. "Now that is Champagne," she announced after one sip with eyes closed.

Indeed it was, though I'm partial to sparklers and could drink them any time they're offered to me.

Equally worthy of celebration, especially for Holmes, was a collector's item cut by Jimi Hendrix, originally recorded for "Are You Experienced?" and then held for "Axis Bold as Love." Only problem was that that album wound up being too tight to include it, so they pushed it forward to use on "Electric Ladyland," which was even tighter.

A pattern was developing.

Apparently "Red House" finally got released on something called "Jimi Hendrix Smash Hits," but for Holmes, ever the music student, it was hearing an unreleased track and its backstory that made his night.

Side three began with the unlikeliest of tracks - unless you read that it was Dr. Demento who chose and sequenced the tracks - of Tiny Tim laughing long and hard before segueing into a track by the Mothers of Invention.

In 1969, or possibly with enough drugs, I'm sure these choices made perfect sense.

When we got to a track by the Fugs - apparently the name is a Norman Mailer euphemism for f*ck - what cracked us all up was the liner notes about some of the guys in the band, one who taught courses in the sexual revolution at the Free University of New York and one who was proprietor of the Peace Eye Pornographic Gallery of Art.

What better qualifications for forming a satirical, lewd avant-rock band? And truly, did we need courses in the sexual revolution? Couldn't you just learn that stuff going to parties and shows?

Shaking his head, Holmes summed things up. "The Fugs were bizarre. They did songs called 'River of Shit' and 'Wet Dream Over You.'" So there was that.

As if on cue, another Fugs' track began and Holmes reacted instantaneously. "Oh, my god, this is 'River of Shit!'" Except that the track's actual title is "Wide, Wide River," but it's still about a river of shit.

Last up was Arlo Guthrie doing a comedic bit about the FBI and how it takes 25 years to train agents to become bastards, a long-winded riff on authority that probably played better in 1969 than now when democracy is under siege.

And, just like that, four and a half hours had gone by and we'd only managed to listen to three albums and two 45s, albeit one of the latter played multiple times until we discovered our stupidity and had polished off two bottles of wine.

Tiny Tim can laugh all he wanted, but an evening that swings from Gershwin to Tattinger with stops at the Peace Eye Pornographic Gallery of Art makes asking for an invite worth the risk.

Even better, when tempted with my companionship charms, Holmes didn't tell me no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. But he also didn't play that fourth Zombies' side, either.

Never a dull moment when you force yourself on friends.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

So Much Funukah

Leave it to a man from Chicago to show Richmond what a monument can be.

The plan was for Mr. Wright and I to walk over to the ICA for music based on art.

When we walked in, the woman at the desk asked if I was a member (natch) and then sent us upstairs to the third floor's True Farr Luck Gallery for the Provocations performance with Marcus Tenney. Turns out the Provocations series was inspired by architect Steven Holl's design intention for that unusually shaped top floor space.

Holl called it a "provocation for artists to engage" and with its white sculptural ceiling, church-like acoustics and opaque glass wall, there was plenty to inspire. Sitting squarely in the middle of the gallery was Rashid Johnson's "Monument," a towering, multi-layer installation made from a steel grid and filled with plants, grow lights, books, small TV screens and sculptures made of shea butter.

Walking around and through the installation, I told Mr. Wright that it reminded me of everything I wanted in my living space - minus the screens, of course and with the addition of somewhere to sleep - when I was in college. Shelves punctuated the grid with stacks of books - Hawthorne, James Baldwin - written by writers I only aspired to read when I was that young.

Naturally, I've long since addressed those aspirations.

Verdant plants of all sizes in colorful, sculptural pots softened the grid, turning it into an oasis of greenery that soared almost up to the impossibly high ceiling, with two benches inside for contemplation.

Signage told us that this was the Chicago-born Johnson's first major project south of the Mason-Dixon line. That a black artist chose to create a work called "Monument" in a city struggling to reconcile its avenue of monuments to treasonous white guys felt like exactly the kind of provocation architect Holl had in mind.

Well done, sir.

In a stroke of brilliant programming, the ICA is scheduling performers to "activate" the space with live performances created in response to "Monument." We'd come to see horn player extraordinaire Marcus Tenney show off his skills on flugelhorn and trumpet, so we found a bench with a view of him and "Monument" and settled in.

Within moments, a guy walked in and took up residence on the bench nearest us and turned his full attention to his phone. As Marcus began playing, the gallery filled with sound, his notes having enough room to soar to the rafters and fall back over our ears. Gradually, other people arrived to make their way around and through "Monument," but this guy just stared at his device.

Most of the people who entered the gallery were there with one mission: to take a selfie (or ten) as they made their way around "Monument" and then to leave. One beautiful young man in a yellow sweater posed against one of the grids and proceeded to instruct his obedient friend which angles to shoot him from. Over and over.

Shades of Bradley Cooper directing himself in "A Star is Born."

Meanwhile Marcus's music was filling the room as the opaque glass wall went from warmly lit from outside to a cool almost blueness once the sun dropped low. It was a remarkable change in light in the gallery that could only be experienced at one specific time of day.

Half an hour into Marcus' playing, we looked over and saw that phone boy now had his head lolling on his chest and was clearly sound asleep, despite the richness and volume of the trumpet notes resounding off the walls around him.

Not to be too judgey, but why come to a musical performance to look at your phone and then go to sleep?

When Marcus' performance ended, we set out for Dinamo, arriving to find a menorah on the bar and a basket with not only a dreidel, but instructions for the dreidel game and a basket of gold-wrapped chocolate money. We'd barely taken seats at the bar when a young girl at the table behind us spotted the basket, scooped it up and excitedly suggested a game to her family.

As one of the non-Chosen People, I found it all pretty charming.

Wearing flattering new glasses ordered off the internet, our server immediately remembered us as lingerers, saying she was only too happy to let us order our next course only after finishing its predecessor, but delivering a bottle of house white wine to sip while checking out the menus.

Even better than a game of dreidel was a special of smoked whitefish crostini smothered in red onion, the kind of generous starter that left us content and in no hurry for more food right away.

Next to us sat down a couple and he immediately ordered the t-bone with arugula while she wanted the snapper. Eyeing the gorgeous hunk o' red meat when it was put down before him, he apparently felt the need to explain his choice. Seems his doctor told him he has protein and sodium deficiencies, so he's doing everything he can to correct that.

His wife rolled her eyes, jealous probably. I know I would be.

All we wanted to know was how we could be diagnosed with the same thing so we could start calling steak our prescription drug. I'm telling you, that was one good looking steak he loaded up with salt.

After considering Grandma Ruth's brisket, we moved on to what is probably my favorite soup in the city, their lightly spicy fish soup with every kind of seafood and fregola, a bowl of warmth on a chilly evening.

Mr. Wright's choice was crostini with cured salmon, capers and cream cheese and he insisted I needed to up my Omega 3s, so I obliged by scarfing a crostini. A Nutella and sea salt cookie was about all I could manage after that, although another glass of wine seemed to go down easily enough.

By the time we decided to clear out for greener pastures, Dinamo was hopping and the dreidel basket was looking a little low on gold-wrapped chocolate coins. And, I'm not sure, but I think as we drove out of sight, I heard the strains of Adam Sandler.

So drink your gin and tonicah
And smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannukah
Have a happy, happy, happy Chanukah

Oy, or maybe it was Grandma Ruth wondering what I'm doing wasting a nice Jewish boy like that.

As the resident goy toy, how should I know?